Happy Fall, Y’All !

Fall is finally here. Finally. This afternoon it’s a beautiful, sunny, crisp 61 degrees. The daytime temperatures here in North Alabama never fell into the 70’s until October 11th, and that was only for a couple of days. It was still in the 80’s on the 15th. I think Mother Nature is somewhat confused this year. The trees are still gloriously green, and I’m not complaining. There’s still plenty of time for the trees to change into their fall foliage, and time to get into the “Fall Foods” of stews and braises. For now, we’re still grinnin’ and grillin’.

Tequila Lime Chicken frequently falls onto our grills. After a quick marinade this succulent chicken cooks up in no time and you can count on it to be reliably tender and juicy. While we’ve got the grill fired up we often throw on some zucchini as a side. I just brush it with olive oil and sprinkle with whatever seasoning appeals to me at the time, often just garlic salt and black pepper. Zucchini is a blank canvas.

It seems that we, like many of the rest of you, frequently rely on boneless chicken breasts for dinner. With endless preparation possibilities I rarely get bored. My latest entree was Easy Chicken Cordon Bleu . Wrapped in puff pastry and baked, this Cordon Bleu is much simpler to prepare than the traditional breaded and fried version, and it’s less messy as well.

The onset of fall brings an end to tomato season. I always hate to see those fresh garden tomatoes go. There’s nothing to compare. The last of this summer’s crop went into an Italian Tomato Pie. What better way to say goodbye for the season to my favorite summer produce.

The end of tomato season brings in apple time.  I can never resist buying half a bushel or more, but then when I get them home I have to figure out how I want to use them.  Worry not, I have countless apple recipes, but with my self-confessed low threshold of boredom I’m always looking for more.  This year’s newest is Washington Apple Cake. Fortunately, this moist bundt cake stays fresh longer than most. It’s hard for the two of us to polish of a whole cake, but we managed!

On a sad note, Michael and I feel certain compassion for the folks of the Florida Panhandle. We spent the first night of our honeymoon at Mexico Beach. Although we haven’t stayed there since, we drive through every year on the way to our St. George vacation. The last time was this past Labor Day week. Little did we know. It will never be the same again. But still…

Be thankful for what life gives you.

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Everything Old is New Again

Remember the days when your slow cooker was all of the rage? Now it’s the Instant Pot, or electric pressure cooker. I’ve gotten many requests for pressure cooker recipes. Well, guess what? You may have plenty of those recipes and don’t even know it! Here’s why… Most slow cooker recipes can be easily converted to the quicker pressure cooker just by following these guide lines:

1. If desired, brown your meats on the saute setting before you proceed with the rest of the recipe.
2. Saute most crunchy veggies just a bit before adding liquids.
3. The timing is the tricky part. You may have to experiment a bit. For bite sized ingredients and pastas try 6 minutes under pressure to start with and go from there. For larger cuts of meat or chicken, start at 20 minutes, or 8 minutes per pound.
4. Most pastas need a quick release to prevent over-cooking.
5. Excess moisture can be stirred off using an uncovered pot on the low saute or soup setting.
6. To thicken sauces use a cornstarch or flour slurry – a Tbsp or two dissolved in cold water and stirred into very hot or boiling contents.

Here’s a recipe I converted from my slow cooker collection for you to try; Saucy Pasta with Sausage, Peppers, and Tomatoes.  It’s a one pot meal with all the flavors of Italian sausage and peppers, but in pasta, rather than on a bun.  If you have any fresh basil, sprinkle a little on top of each serving.

Are you a baked bean lover?  Try these Pressure Cooker Baked Beans. They cook up in less than an hour, and you can make them as saucy or thick as you like. Remember though, baked beans will thicken up a bit as they start to cool.

An excellent feature of the electric pressure cookers is their ability to tenderize tough cuts of meat very quickly.  My standard recipe for Beef Stroganoff calls for New York strip steak, quickly seared and set aside while the rest of the dish is prepared. Don’t take me wrong, this is an excellent recipe, but that’s not a cheap cut of meat, and if you over-cook it you’ll be sorry. My new recipe, Beef Stroganoff for the Instant Pot, calls for stew meat (usually chuck roast), which traditionally calls for a long, slow braise to become tender. Not in the pressure cooker!  As a bonus, the noodles are cooked right in the same pot instead of serving up on the side.

Every time I get a new toy I tend to go crazy playing with it. No, I haven’t cooked everything in my new electric pressure cookers! Case in point, Cajun Chicken Pasta. This one’s a keeper! Although the ingredient list appears long, the ingredients are fairly common, except maybe the optional chorizo sausage, and they all contribute to an amazing layering of flavors. This is not another boring chicken dinner.

In case any of you have noticed that I haven’t posted much lately, I have an excuse: We’ve been at our favorite place on earth. I did take my computer to the beach house, but it never made it out of the bag! Can you blame me?

Be thankful for what life gives you.

My New Favorite Ingredient is…

(drum roll please)  Frozen Dinner Roll Dough! I started playing with this super star ingredient after Michael tried the chicken pot pie at a local restaurant. They used a similar product as their top crust and it worked very well; not too heavy as with many biscuit tops, and more substantial than a simple pie crust. When you’re cooking for two, frozen dinner roll dough is just the ticket. Take out what you need and keep the rest in the freezer. That’s exactly what I did to top our Two Chicken Pot Pies a couple of nights after our restaurant meal.

Experiment number two: The frozen roll dough worked well as a top crust, so let’s see how it does on the bottom.
The guinea pig here was a batch of Bacon Quiche Tarts . Success! The original bacon tart recipe that I referenced from my archives used canned biscuit dough. The frozen rolls, thawed in the fridge over night, produced a more substantial breakfast tart that reheated beautifully in the microwave the next day. I have a bag of these zap-and-go breakfasts in my freezer right now. What’s next? Mini Calzones? Well, maybe!

And speaking of breakfast, how about a Hash Brown Breakfast Pie? This breakfast pie is so versatile… use any kind of breakfast meat, bacon, ham or sausage, or keep it vegetarian with a few chopped veggies like bell peppers or mushrooms, even spinach. I cut my standard recipe in half and used a 6 inch pie pan to create the perfect weekend breakfast for two, but how about Breakfast Pie for dinner? Why not?

Meatless Mondays are often a struggle in this household. We are so ingrained in our carnivore habits. One convenience item that recently jumped into my shopping cart is shelf stable potato gnocchi. The nutritional virtues of gnocchi is debatable, but as a textural stand in for meat it has earned a place at our table. Try this recipe for Gnocchi with White Beans. The mild cannellini beans up the protein levels in this low fat offering, but if you are watching your carbs, this may not be the dish for you.

I recently received a request for more electric pressure cooker recipes.  I’m still experimenting and don’t have many recipes, most of them still works in progress, and most of them still could use some tweaking!  Here’s one that has seemed to work out well; Pressure Cooker Cuban Pork Tenderloin. One pressure cooker advantage to this one pot entree is the texture of the rice. Brown rice can be tricky to cook. Stove top, I’ve had it turn out scorched on the bottom, undercooked and crunchy, or just plain mushy. Very rarely does stove top plain brown rice turn out just right on its own. That’s why I use converted brown rice when I want plain brown rice. Enough about the rice. Cuban Pork Tenderloin is packed with layers of succulent flavor!

We have a new graduate in the family. Preschool graduation is the first of many. “Oh, the places you’ll go!”   Congratulations, Xander!

Be thankful for what life gives you.

I’ll Never Learn!!!

Every summer I put up roasted chile peppers from my garden to use throughout the year, and every year I do the same dumb thing. I try to peel the last of the skin off the peppers with my bare hands. Yes, the delicate skins on some of the peppers are difficult to peel, and yes, latex gloves are really clumsy, BUT, hot peppers are hot for a reason. You may not notice it right away, but the peppers WILL burn your hands and that chemical burn is hard to soothe. Soaking your hands in an ice water bath may feel like it’s helping, but in reality all you are doing is spreading that pepper oil further along your skin, and as soon as you take your hands out of the water the burning resumes. I have better things to do than sit with my hands in a bowl of ice water for the next foreseeable future. Fortunately, this year I did find something of a remedy on the internet. If you find yourself in the same predicament, try this: First, douse your hands really well with rubbing alcohol. Then scrub the heck out of your hands with dish soap. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Usually three repetitions will suffice. Your hands may still burn just a little, but not like they are on fire. Lesson learned? Maybe not! Ask me next year.

Along with peppers, I always grow as many tomatoes as I can manage as well as a few fresh herbs. Every summer, the peppers, tomatoes, and herbs all jump into my Dutch oven together to become a pot of Rotelle . This multi-purpose condiment is a flavorful addition to Mexican recipes, but it’s also an excellent topping for nachos or simply served as a dipping sauce for tortilla chips. This recipe makes a big batch, although it can easily be scaled down. Simmer it until the sauce thickens to your liking.

A couple of new recipes recently made it onto the menu.

Mexican Manicotti is a tasty fusion of Tex-Mex and Italian. Creamy cheesy filled pasta tubes are nestled into a rich beefy sauce, then baked. This recipe uses no boil lasagna noodles that have been soaked in boiling water as the shell. It doesn’t get much easier than that! I split this dish into two portions and froze half for one of those busy, no-time-to-cook days.

King Ranch Chicken Pasta Soup is my newest addition to a growing collection of electric pressure cooker recipes.  Although July isn’t what I would think of as soup season, this is more like a very saucy pasta rather than a steamy, warming soup.  Call it what you will, it’s very good and very easy to make.

Have I mentioned that I’m now in love with electric pressure cookers?  Having a self-proclaimed low threshold of boredom, I’m having a great time exploring what these gadgets can do,  I’m not a paid spokesman for any one company, but I do feel the Instant Pot brand may be superior.  I originally purchased a large cooker from another manufacturer, but the smaller Instant Pot versions are, in my own opinion, the better choice, both in construction and function.  I’m just sayin’.

I’m getting a little long winded here.  Maybe my Blogger’s Block is finally going away.  Anyway, do you remember last winter when I wondered whether or not our koi and goldfish could survive in a frozen pond?

Well, here’s the answer!

 

Be thankful for what life gives you.

Forty Five and Counting!

This Wednesday Michael and I celebrated out 45th wedding anniversary. Time flies! We celebrated with a little stay-cation. The dogs went to spend the night camp and we drove up to Chattanooga for a late lunch. Lunch was not as good as it has been at that same restaurant in past years, but if I can’t say anything nice, I won’t say anything at all. Michael also remembered the occasion with flowers and candy. I guess I’ll keep him!

I’m almost ashamed to admit it, but I did very little cooking this week. Notice I said “almost ashamed”.  I’m really not!  One dish that did come out of the oven started in the freezer.  A container of Not So Sloppy Joes was folded into frozen puff pastry to become Sloppy Joe Turnovers. A House Salad topped with My Buttermilk Dressing and a side of Cream-Style Corn for the Freezer rounded out a simple, no effort supper.

I try to prepare some sort of fish or seafood on Friday nights, but since I had shrimp and grits in Chattanooga that wasn’t a big concern.  Friday nights’ fare was another straight from the freezer casserole, Mexi-Mac.  If you decide to try this freezer friendly recipe, be sure to leave the macaroni on the firmer side.  It will soften up a bit in the freezer.  As with many frozen casseroles, try to think ahead and move the dish to the fridge to thaw ahead of time.  It will heat more quickly and evenly if you give it a head start.

 

Michael has always had a sweet tooth. I think he got it from his mother. She fed her six kids sweets to keep them happy. Well, in an effort to keep my guy happy, I try to fix one dessert a week. Since I don’t care for sweets myself, (give me a block of cheese!), that one dessert generally lasts most of the week. This week it was Simple Boston Cream Pie. Fancy desserts don’t get any easier than this. You bake up a boxed one layer cake mix, split it and fill with instant pudding, and melt some chocolate chips with cream for the topping. That’s it!

Oh, Happy Fathers Day!  More on that later.

Be thankful for what life gives you.

On a Roll!

Some weeks are more productive than others, and this has been one of those weeks. Well, actually a couple of weeks. Let me share some new recipes with you.

I recently acquired a new toy, a 3 quart electric pressure cooker, so of course I had to experiment, a LOT! One of the first dishes I made was Chicken Chile Spaghetti. Just a bit creamy and just a bit spicy, this recipe makes quite a large casserole. The recipe is designed to fill a 9×13 baking dish, but since there are just the two of us I split it into three loaf pans. There I go, loading that freezer up again.

 

Next up was a pot of Cuban Pork Tenderloin. A half cup of orange juice, along with a few other spices, adds a subtle twist of flavor to the pork, rice, and beans. This recipe, like many other pressure cooker recipes, could be prepared on the stove,  but it would take hours to tenderize the pork. By using the pressure cooker the pork is fork tender in half an hour and the rice and beans maintain their integrity.

Not everything was cooked in that pressure cooker, thank goodness.  On the lighter side we enjoyed an Avocado Cobb Pasta Salad, inspired by The Food Network. Michael doesn’t care for most pasta salads, but this one seemed to please him. I think the combination of the unusual avocado dressing and the rows of toppings rather than a mixed up bowl of ingredients drew his interest. Perhaps this arrangement of components would satisfy picky eaters, too. It would be a simple thing to avoid unwanted items.

My favorite dinner of late was Creole Shrimp and Sausage Gravy Over Biscuits. I’m pretty proud of this one. If Shrimp and Grits married Sausage Gravy this would be their baby. Andouilli sausage lends a Creole tang, while a touch of heavy cream balances the shrimp stock flavored sauce.  I served this creamy creation over my White Wheat Biscuits, but bake-and-serve frozen biscuits would work as well.

We’re in a break of the local fresh fruit season.  The strawberries are gone and it’s too early for peaches or blueberries.  I don’t usually care for canned fruit, but Peaches and Cream Pie is an exception. The recipe can be found in many church and ladies’ club cookbooks, so that tells you something. The pie makes its’ own gooey crust and the peaches are topped with a cinnamon sugar cheesecake type layer. The only thing that’s hard about this pie is waiting for it to chill. If you jump the gun and try to slice it sooner, you’ll have a mess on your hands (or your plate) !

Be thankful for what life gives you.

Strawberry Season was Gone in a Flash!

But not before I got to try out a couple of yummy new recipes…

The first was a simple Strawberry Cake. Although this cake is simple to make, starting with a boxed cake mix, it is no less special. A layer of strawberry filling brings a punch of berry flavor and a creamy topping adds a touch of decadence. One can bake one large sheet cake or split it into two rounds and freeze half for later or to share.

My scaled down Strawberry Slab Pie makes six to nine servings, rather than the large 16-or-so serving version. I think any recipe using fresh berries tends to soon start weeping and getting soggy. Making this smaller pie eliminates that problem. Once you start eating, it’s hard to stop.  A thin layer of cream cheese filling help protect the crispy crust, as well.

I hope you had a good Memorial Day!  The weather here wasn’t much to write home about, but it certainly could have been much, much worse.  Luckily, when we are smoking in our Big Green Egg all Michael has to do is set it and forget it.  Our traditional Smoked Ribs were no problem, even in the rain. I couple of bastings with homemade Rib Sauce and these messy marvels were cooked to perfection.  Don’t forget the napkins!

Nothing goes better with ribs than potato salad. This year I tried something a bit different, Two Potato Potato Salad. This version of the old classic combines two kinds of potatoes, russets and baby reds, for an interesting combination of textures. It’s creamy and chunky both at the same time. I don’t care for mustard in my potato salad, but you could certainly add it. Also, we prefer dill pickles, but if sweet pickles are more to your liking you can certainly use those instead.  Remember, except in baking, most recipes are just a guideline.  Add or subtract ingredients at will and make that recipe your own.

And as always, be thankful for what life gives you.