My “Search for Sensational Sides” was only partially successful.

I guess old traditions are traditions for a reason, not easily replaced. I changed up the side dishes that accompanied our Easter ham this year, but I’m not sure which, if any, of those new dishes I’ll serve again next year.

Bored with plain old Mashed Potatoes, this years’ potato offering was a dish of Creamy, Cheesy, Au Gratin Potatoes. These were a big hit, with very few leftovers, BUT… I had to triple the recipe to make a large enough casserole and gruyere cheese isn’t cheap. The cheese alone cost $14.00, so I don’t think I’ll make that for a crowd again. At least, not as part of a multiple recipe menu with lots of other expenses.

Not as popular was my substitute for the good old Green Bean Casserole. This years’ entry was Roasted Green Beans with Mushrooms. I cooked up a double batch of those, too, and I think I may have been the only one to even touch them. I can only eat so many left over veggies, no matter how well I may like them, and I didn’t think they would freeze. Sadly, too many green beans and mushrooms went to veggie heaven. Scrap that recipe, at least for family dinners.

Sue Ellen’s Corn Pudding was just a little bit different take on the usual corn on the cob or cream style corn from the freezer.The kids seemed to like that one especially well, even though it was slightly over cooked. (I won’t tell if you don’t!) Corn pudding freezes well before it’s baked, so it’s a good dish for two if you’d like to make up a batch and freeze some just to have a different veggie on hand. It doesn’t reheat well after baking, though, as it tends to dry out, so bake just what you need.

Of course, no matter how many people you have for dinner, if you bake a ham there will be leftovers. This years’ entry to the ham leftover collection was a Ham and Noodle Casserole. This one’s nothing exciting, but pleasant comfort food. Definitely a respectable leftover recipe to be made again, sometime.

And at last, there was nothing left of that ham but the bone with a few scraps of meat clinging to it. Should that be thrown away? Never! First, a big pot of Fat-free Ham Broth must be made. After that, I cooked up a couple pounds of navy beans using the same recipe as for Southern Style Pinto Beans, substituting my flavorful ham broth for the water and adding those last few bits of meat from the bone to the pot. Now the ham had given all it had to give, but I still wasn’t done.

Just one more dish for Meatless Monday was almost meatless. That ham broth snuck a subtle bit more flavor into a skillet of my Pasta with Beans and Greens. I guess, technically, the skillet was no longer meatless, but there wasn’t any meat in it, so who’s counting! Sometimes you take what you can get!

Be thankful for what life gives you.

Where have I been?

Well, I can’t exactly say, but what I can tell you is I’ve developed a couple of exceptional recipes along the way. Of course, when I say “developed”, take that with a grain of salt. Yes, some I’ve hatched from scratch, but some are a compilation of several other recipes that I’ve modified to suit our tastes or what I have on hand.

I’ve been playing with my electric pressure cooker quite a bit lately. It does make life easier when I can crank out “roasted” chicken for recipes and a batch of Rich Chicken Stock all in the same afternoon. I took advantage of all that chicken in a couple of recipes, both for the table and the freezer.

The first of those recipes was Chicken Stuffed Shells Florentine. While I visualized the recipe calling for ground chicken to be spiced with Italian Sausage Seasoning, I started with my pressure cooker shredded chicken and added the spice blend after the fact. That method was acceptable, but I think the chicken would have carried better flavor if I had stuck with the original ground chicken plan, seasoning the chicken as it cooked.

Kicked Up Chicken Enchiladas got a little boost with the addition of some steamed broccoli.  I know, it sounds a bit strange to add broccoli to a dish of Mexican origin, but it was quite good. Those enchiladas are on the spicy side to start with, but the broccoli added a little something to keep them from being just so plain.   I should have dipped each corn tortilla into the sauce  to soften them before filling, but frankly, I just forgot to write that common procedure into the recipe. Because I didn’t do that, all my enchiladas cracked open.  I’ll have to write that step into the recipe… Lesson Learned.

The last of the pressure cooker chickens didn’t go to waste either.  There was just enough left for a batch of Baked Chicken Salad. That recipe was given to me years ago by an old friend, Linda Keen. The original recipe called for water chestnuts, but Michael doesn’t care for those, so I substitute diced red bell peppers. Take your pick.  This recipe is an excellent excuse to buy a bag of potato chips!  You’ll need them for the topping, but it’s kind of like when a recipe calls for wine.  You don’t need the whole bottle of wine for the recipe, so what do you do with the rest of the bottle?  Well, what will you do with the rest of those chips?

Rounding up the wonderful world of chicken was a new recipe, Mushroom Chicken Piccata with Penne and Asparagus. Oh My, is that stuff ever good! It may just be one of my new favorite springtime dishes. I know asparagus is now available year-round, but to me, it’s just different in the spring when it hasn’t been shipped up from Chile or where ever, so to me, fresh asparagus + lemon + chicken = Spring!

No, we haven’t just eaten chicken all this time, those dishes just seemed to flow together for this post!  It’s been so long, I could’t possibly bore you with all we’ve had on the menu lately.  Now that grilling season’s rolling around again you might want to think about setting up a Brat Tub. We did recently, and then we knew for sure that summer was on its way, at least in Alabama. We always grill the whole package of brats and throw the extras in the fridge for lunches later in the week.

If you’re lucky enough to catch a good roast on sale Perfect Prime Rib is a treat we usually reserve only for holidays and special occasions, but who can argue with $4.99 a pound? The next day’s French Dip Sandwiches can’t really be called “leftovers” can they?  Don’t forget to make True Au Jus with that roast so you’ll have something to dip those sandwiches in.  The thick piles of thinly sliced roast will just melt in your mouth.

Pork didn’t get left out of the picture this past month, either.  Boston Butts went on sale for $.99 a pound!  That just screams smokey Pulled Pork Barbeque.  The only problem with that recipe is it makes enough to feed a small army, more than Michael and I can possibly consume, even allowing for leftovers.  There I go filling the freezers again.

Loaded Lentil Soup was a warm and filling Meatless Monday menu item, although I did cheat just a bit by sneaking in a little andouille sausage to start the pot off. That Cajun sausage packs so much flavor! A little goes a long way, so while the soup was technically not meatless, meat was not the main protein. Who’s counting? Sometimes it’s the thought that counts, right?

With Easter coming I’m on a new quest…”The Search for Sensational Sides”. It seems that every year it’s the same old thing with the Easter Ham: Mashed Potatoes, Green Bean Casserole, Deviled Eggs, and maybe my favorite but fattening Broccoli Casserole, and on and on. You get the picture. While traditions certainly have their place and I can’t just ditch them all, I’m in search of something new. Maybe not all at Easter Dinner, (children need roots), but mixed in, some then and some to add interest to that leftover sliced ham another day. Hmmm, a new challenge. I need that! Check back!

Be thankful for what life gives you.

Sometimes it gets expensive to have such a low threshold of boredom.

I’ve always got to try new things, most often new recipes. As a result, my kitchen resembles a small grocery store. As long as it’s not too exotic, whatever the recipe ingredient, I’ve probably got it in one form or another. Come to think of it, most of our grocery expense is incurred by my habit of frequently purchasing a large variety of fresh produce, and that’s a good thing. I try to grow what I can in the summer, and buy what is available at the farmer’s market, but in February those sources aren’t an option, even in Alabama. The grocery store’s produce department is really cashing in on my habit, but utilizing a wide variety of produce makes such a difference in the complexity of my dishes.  We try to have a House Salad before dinner as many nights as possible, and plenty of veggies on the side, as well.

If you follow The Sticky Menu Plan you may have noticed that I rarely prepare the same recipe twice, but almost always have a plan for the leftovers. Epicurious magazine calls these “nextovers”, and I think that is a wonderful, fitting name for planning what’s next. Baked Ham makes for a glorious traditional Sunday dinner, but without a plan, that seven pound ham quickly goes to waste, especially in a small household like ours.  So what’s next?  Ham and cheese sandwiches get old fast and plain ham doesn’t freeze well at all.  That’s when I go exploring.  At last count, I had around 30 recipes featuring ham in my data base, and those are just the ones I have personally prepared, many are my own creation.  Can you imagine how many different ingredients are in all those recipes?  Creativity and a low threshold of boredom can get expensive!  That’s when my freezer inventory becomes important. Often, folks package foods for the freezer with the best of intentions, but somehow those meals just fall into a black hole, never to be seen again, but I guess that’s another subject.

Last week’s Baked Ham certainly didn’t go to waste at all.  It did serve as the traditional Sunday dinner, as well as evening sandwiches after we took Emily out for a birthday lunch on Monday.  However, that ham’s other scheduled meals for the week,  Asparagus and Ham Lasagna and Ham Tetrazzini, skipped the dinner table and went straight to the freezer along with a fair quantity of Fat-free Ham Broth and some Southern Style Pinto Beans.

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We celebrated Valentines Day quietly at home. One of my gifts to Michael was his traditional gift dinner of sautéd chicken livers.  If you know us, you know this dinner is a gift because of my extreme dislike of all things liver.  Michael surprised me with a beautiful bouquet of red roses!

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Wednesday I rescued some chicken from the fridge before it went out of date and turned it into a Chicken Cobbler. This version of chicken pot pie is always the perfect balance of filling and crust, at least for our taste. The leftovers reheated well on Thursday, too.

Friday’s Seafood Enchiladas were a bit of a disappointment. For some reason the filling was a bit dry and lacked flavor. I must have over cooked it. That can happen quickly, especially if you let yourself get distracted by a Friday evening glass of wine!

Speaking of Friday, it’s already Friday afternoon, again, and I’m a week behind, again! Well, it’s not because I’ve been sitting around doing nothing! I’ll be back soon.
Be thankful for what life gives you.

We’re living in a winter wonderland?

I wonder where the heck winter has gone?  It’s not in North Alabama, that’s for sure!  I know many of you in other parts of the country have had it rough this year, but this January our thermometer registered in the seventies on eight days and only stayed below freezing for one.  Now don’t take me wrong, I’m not complaining about my personal comfort, or for that matter our power bill, but what’s up with this global warming?  It’s going to wipe soups and stews right off my menus.  (Now don’t get upset with me.  I do take environmental issues extremely seriously, but this blog is not the platform for that.)  Well, I guess we’ll just have to turn off the heat, open the kitchen door, and keep on cookin’!

Super Bowl Sunday started the week off with one of my favorite food groups, “football food”, also known as junk food in dress up clothes.  Why is it that a football game give us permission to chow down on huge amounts of fat laden proteins and carbs with very few veggies in sight?  Well, whatever the reason, we are always happy to comply.  Michael’s special pizza is reserved for the University of Alabama’s game days, so we skipped that one on Super Bowl Sunday.  Instead, I borrowed The Pioneer Woman’s recipe for Meat Pies and added my own recipe for a Meat Pie Dipping Sauce.

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Tiny Twice-Baked Potatoes stood in place for their full sized cousins on the snack plate. Those little two bite munchies are even more delicious if you top them with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of finely chopped chives, but I forgot the sour cream and didn’t have any chives.  We didn’t miss the addition.  The potatoes were delicious on their own.

A new variation on an old theme was Spinach and Artichoke Stuffed Mushrooms. There is one problem with this recipe. It makes too much! Michael and I both love stuffed mushrooms of any kind, and are often tempted by spinach and artichoke dips, but by the time we manage to make ourselves stop eating these as appetizers there usually just isn’t room for anything else. Well, we couldn’t even finish half of this stuffed mushroom recipe, as tasty as it was. Meatless Monday became leftover Football Food Monday.

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The beauty of The Sticky Menu Plan is that you have the ability to pick and choose what you have for dinner on any given night. Tuesday’s dinner was slated to be Beef Stew for Two, but I just wasn’t in the mood. I wasn’t in the mood for beef and I wasn’t in the mood to cook. Stickies started dancing around the calendar and one more dinner of Grillades along with their companion, Quick and Light Cheese Grits waltzed right out of the freezer.  Sometimes the freezer is a wonderful thing.

Since the Grillades jumped in to save the day on Tuesday, Wednesday’s dinner was filled in by Thursday’s Frito Chili Pie.  I have no real recipe for this absolute junk food.  You just open a personal size bag of Frito corn chips, pile in some hot Chili along with some cheese and maybe a little lettuce, tomato, or onion, and there you are.  Were we on a junk food roll or what?

OK, back to the grown up world of cooking something with at least a little nutritional value. On Thursday I went back to Tuesday’s plan for Beef Stew for Two. With mushrooms and pearl onions, this is one of my favorite versions of beef stew. As I sometimes do, I left out the potatoes and served the stew in Mashed Potato Bowls. If you choose this option, go ahead and multiply the recipe. The stew will freeze well without the potatoes, which tend to turn mealy in the freezer.

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We wound up the week right on schedule with one of Michael’s favorites, Bay Scallop Po’Boys. Those were on the menu last week, but the man at the fish counter had other ideas. No scallops were available last Friday. Sometimes those darned stickies have to slide a long way, but the po’boys were worth the wait.

It looks like this week will be another warm one, we’ll see.
Be thankful for what life gives you.

If you can’t say something nice….

Don’t say anything at all. That’s what my Grandmother always taught me, and that’s the approach I’ll take now. We started the week with a belated 14th birthday celebration at Kaij’s choice of restaurant. Kaij is partial to white carbs topped with saturated fats and that is exactly what this place serves. Kaij was happy and it was his birthday, so we all were happy too. Enough said.

Meatless Monday Michael and I cleansed our palates with a nice pot of Free Broccoli Soup. This batch of soup wasn’t as free as the name indicates, as I started from scratch by purchasing the broccoli, but with the whole bunch of broccoli costing a whopping $2.50 who’s counting? I didn’t use all of the broccoli and there’s plenty of soup left for lunch later in the week, as well. That “free” soup goes a long way. Goldfish crackers make fun cheesy croutons if you keep those on hand, too.

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Tuesday’s international fare wound up being a bit more complicated than I originally intended. The beef fajitas turned into both Steak and Chicken Fajitas because we wanted to break in the new grill that Santa brought Michael for Christmas. As long as we were having a christening, regular old flour tortillas wouldn’t do, either. All of a sudden I found myself making Mexican Gorditas to serve them in. What a pain! Oh well, no pain, no gain. The combination sure was delicious.

Wednesday evening I remembered what my freezer inventory was designed for and actually used it! Once I decided that I was in the mood for chicken (again) the chicken inventory page revealed that some very nice Herbed Chicken Croquettes were awaiting my attention. The freezer also produced a couple of cups of Rich Chicken Stock with which to make gravy. I added some Mashed Potatoes and a side of Roasted Broccoli with Garlic and Lemon and that used up the rest of the broccoli.  Wednesday’s dinner was delightfully full of comfort food but cost next to nothing.  Almost everything came from the freezer or pantry.

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Thursday’s dinner was another Mexican fusion, La Marina. I borrowed this recipe straight from one of the restaurants we frequent. It may not be fair to refer to this dish as a “fusion” but I think of it as such because it features grilled fresh veggies and a mushroom sauce rather than the more common refried beans and red sauce. La Marina is much lighter and fresher than the usual Mexican restaurant offering.

We finished out the week with Cajun Jambalaya, minus the shrimp and the photo. Minus the shrimp because Michael was Shrimped-out for the week and minus the photo because it got late and I just forgot to take one. Oh well, use your imagination! Better yet, make yourself a batch of Cajun Jambalaya to enjoy.

We caught a good quote on TV last night, but I sure can’t tell you who said it. Any way,
Now if you are still in your twenties, that won’t mean much to you, but for the rest of us, go for it!
Be thankful for what life gives you.

And my new favorite is…

Chicken and Gnocchi Soup!!  I recently met a group of friends for lunch at a popular chain restaurant where I sampled this soup for the first time.  (Okay, maybe I don’t get out much.) While the concept of the soup was intriguing, the presence of chicken and gnocchi was almost non-existent.  It was basically cream of chicken soup with a little bit of shredded carrot and a leaf or two of baby  spinach for decoration.  Needless to say, I was disappointed by that soup and felt challenged as a home cook to do better.  Although I may be blowing my own horn, I do think my version more than met that challenge.  I did cut back on the amount of cream in my recipe to let the chicken flavor come through as well as to reduce the amount of saturated fat, but one could certainly add as much cream as they liked. (Do you think the restaurant uses real cream anyway?)  At any rate, you won’t have to look hard to find the chicken or gnocchi here, and I think plenty of creaminess remains. As a bonus, a generous two cup serving is only 370 calories by my computer’s calculation.  I did leave out a bit of the broth in the bowl for this photo.

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In all my excitement over that silly soup I’ve jumped ahead of myself here. Let me back up to the beginning of the week with Sunday’s supper of Stuffed Cabbage Rolls. I hadn’t made those in quite some time and had forgotten how satisfying they are. Cabbage rolls do take a little bit of work since you have to craft each portion individually, but the softened cabbage leaves are very forgiving and the assembly really takes very little time. The flavor of the cabbage seems to sweeten as it bakes, encasing little individual meatloaves. Of course, a second pan of cabbage rolls went into the freezer for another night.

As one meal went into the freezer another came out. (Gosh, I wish I could keep the dishes rotating like that. My freezers wouldn’t be so darned full!)  Meatless Monday’s made ahead meal was Ricotta Stuffed Zucchini. I did have to add some extra Marinara, also from the freezer, as the pasta seemed to have soaked up all available moisture in the freezing process.

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When you make Stuffed Cabbage Rolls, only the large outer leaves of the cabbage are required, and the larger the leaves the better. This leaves quite a bit of extra cabbage. Now you have two choices: you can serve extra cabbage on the side or save it for another day. This time I chose the later and on Tuesday we had Corned Beef and Cabbage. We don’t usually have corned beef until St. Patrick’s Day, but why not? I sometimes find myself trapped by tradition. How dumb is that? And besides, I love corned beef sandwiches.

I think I have mentioned before that our dogs may be just a little bit spoiled, haven’t I? Well, Bella has been battling food allergies, but one of the things she can eat is pork. Boneless pork loins go on sale often and are easy to cut into strips to dehydrate into dog treats (keep refrigerated). We have been eating a lot of pork lately! Thursday’s dinner was Pork Carnitas, courtesy of Bella. Carnitas have just a hint of citrus flavor and a melt in you mouth texture. the recipe is a two stage process, so after I have completed the first stage I split the pork into batches and freeze some for later. There I go filling that freezer again!

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Friday was an exercise in flexibility. My intention was to fix Bay Scallop Po’Boys, but a trip to the seafood counter came up empty handed. Frozen scallops weren’t an option either, as I wasn’t willing to invest $27.00 in the bag that was available! Nothing else in the seafood counter looked particularly appealing, so I decided to just forgo “Fishy Friday” for the week. So now what? Back to that pork loin. I had ground the end pieces and meaty chunks that didn’t lend themselves to being cut into lean strips. Waste not want not! I’ve been mulling a new recipe over in my head and decided to try it out. Pork Stuffed Acorn Squash attempt number one was the result. Let me just call it a work in progress. The recipe shows promise, but this first effort came out dry and the spice blend was definitely off. Next pork loin I’ll try again, but until I get it right I won’t post a recipe.

If you follow this blog, or at least read it on a regular basis, you may realize that I’m a week behind, AGAIN. This current week the menu has been rather boring and uneventful, so I may just forgo it all together and try to get a jump on the next week. I do need to be more prompt. The only excuse I can offer is that we old retired folks get kind of busy sometimes. (WINK)
Be thankful for what life gives you.

Have you ever made Stone Soup?

There’s no real recipe for Stone Soup. It comes from a children’s fable in which a stranger comes to a town in the midst of famine. All the town’s folk are hoarding what little food they have, but the wily stranger convinces them to contribute to a community pot of soup. Thus, you never know what will wind up in a pot of Stone Soup. It’s made up of whatever odds and ends have accumulated in the refrigerator or freezer. You know, a little frozen corn, a few leftover green beans, maybe some rice. Add some broth and a can or two of diced tomatoes if you like and you’ve got Stone Soup. It’s different every time.

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While I did make a big pot of Stone Soup on the weekend, Sunday’s dinner was Pork Chops Diablo. These succulent and savory chops turned out to be fork tender thanks to a slow covered braise. I hadn’t made them in a while, but I’ll be sure to make them again soon.

Monday night was the College Football Championship and thus the last football food of the season. Sadly, The University of Alabama lost in the final moments to Clemson, but admittedly, it was a good game. Michael enjoyed his special pizza and I my Reuben Sandwich. It’s probably a good thing we won’t be gorging on football food again until fall. I don’t need to have to buy larger jeans.

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That pot of Stone Soup came in handy on Tuesday. I just wasn’t in the cooking mood. Wednesday, however, it was back to the kitchen. I had thawed a pair of Cornish Hens and they needed to be cooked. Cornish Hens with Cornbread and Ham Stuffing takes a little pre-planning, but it is a spectacular dish. Had I given it some thought, I should have invited friends to share that dinner with us. I intended to have the second bird for dinner on Thursday, but Michael surprised me with dinner out instead, so that one just slid down the calendar to Saturday, and that was fine.

It’s still grilling weather here in North Alabama. In fact, Friday afternoon the temperature here hit a balmy 72 degrees! Tuna grilling weather for us. Are you jealous? Well, don’t be, Just think of us in August when we’ll probably be sweltering at over 100 degrees. It all evens out you know.

Be thankful for what life gives you.