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.

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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.

Suddenly it’s Summer, but Where Did Spring Go?

A couple of weeks ago I had the oven cranked making “Winter” meals. Now we’re wearing out the grills and swimming in Emily’s pool. Go Figure!

When I think of winter food, comforting soups come to mind. I probably won’t have the soup pot simmering again until next fall, but these soups are both luscious recipes worth saving. Let me share them with you. The first is Italian Sausage, Bean, and Kale Soup. I first made this on one of those damp and gloomy days when nothing but a bowl of slightly spicy warmth would do. A brothy concoction of good-for-you beans and kale is brightened up with the addition of crumbled Italian sausage.

Here in the South, the warming spring days are interspersed by surprisingly chilly ones. Those cooler days are known as “winters”. We have Locust Winter, Dogwood Winter, and Blackberry Winter, all named for the vegetation that is typically blooming at that time. It was during Dogwood Winter that Michael requested the second soup, Grandma’s Cream of Potato Soup. If you are watching your carbs, or for that matter your waist, this is not the soup for you! However, it surely is good, and we can’t behave ourselves all the time, can we?

We also indulged in a more frugal feast, Pork Wellington. Unlike its’ beef cousin, this dish is easy all the way around. Easy to prepare, easy on the wallet, and easier to finish off in one meal. How easy is that?

And while we’re making things easy, how about some Easy Parmesan Dinner Rolls? The only thing that’s hard about these rolls is remembering to start them early in the day. They begin with frozen roll or bread dough, so they do need time to thaw. I make them in a muffin tin, making the individual rolls simple to serve, but you could make them in a single baking dish as well.

My muffin tins have had a workout lately. Continuing on the single serving approach, I used jumbo muffin tins to bake individual portions of Mushroom Meatloaves and Gravy in Mashed Potato Bowls.  We had two for dinner that night, and you-know-where the other four went. I’m never gonna get to the bottom of those freezers!

Broccoli, Cheddar, and Ranch Chicken Calzones are another easy recipe that uses purchased dough. This time it was pizza dough from the bakery department of the grocery store. You can find a similar dough in the canned biscuit section as well. And while you’re taking shortcuts, the recipe makes its’ own Ranch style sauce, but the bottled dressing can be used instead.

Are dates a seasonal thing? I hadn’t really though about it, but I’ve noticed that the grocery stores are featuring packages of pitted dates. Well, a package of them jumped into my grocery cart the other day. When I got home I realized that I had purchased them with no plan in mind. That’s unusual for me, but I’m glad I did. After looking at several date centered recipes on the internet a few of them morphed into Date-Nut Breakfast Muffins. Add a smear of cream cheese and you’ve got a high fiber breakfast on the go. When will I ever put those muffin tins away?

When those dates jumped into my grocery cart they convinced a fresh pineapple to stow away with them. Now I had another fruit with no plan! Although Michael and I like fresh pineapple just as it is, it’s difficult for us to consume the whole fruit before it goes bad. Fresh Pineapple Upside-Down Cake solved that problem and satisfied Michael’s sweet tooth at the same time. The fresh pineapple taste in this dessert is amazing!

Well, it’s Strawberry Season and time for our annual trek to Brown Farms for buckets of sweet strawberries. Truth be told, we’ll be making more than one trip. Strawberry recipes are soon to come. Until then,

Be thankful for what life gives you.

It’s a Sad Day

My favorite little independent grocery store was finally driven out of business. The well known, probably largest, national retailer opened up just a mile down the road. Food Valu had been in business out here for thirty years or so. In fact, when we first moved here that store was the only one around. It was a family owned and operated store that took pride in personal service, and that service kept the little store running for a good year after the big store opened, but they just couldn’t compete. I originally promised myself that, while I would use the big store to purchase hard goods, I would not purchase groceries there. I knew what the result would be. Unfortunately, I did not keep my own promise. Although my purchases alone would not keep the smaller store in business, the rest of the local population followed suit. Independent grocers simply don’t stand a chance!

On a brighter note, I have another new kitchen toy! I recently purchased a sous vide immersion circulating cooker.  I must say, learning the ins-and-outs of this new appliance takes a bit of effort, but I’m getting there.  The first lesson learned, though, is read the recipe.  I got a bit cocky last night and just about ruined a couple of steaks.  I should have seasoned and seared the meat before I vacuum sealed it for the cooker.  I did not, and the steaks were not as juicy and flavorful as they could have been.   The pork chops that I had previously cooked, following the recommended steps, turned out perfectly!  Lesson learned.

I also tried a new dessert recipe that came from FineCooking.com,  German Chocolate Bombes.  Watch out!  Having a low threshold of boredom that drives one to continuously try new things can get you in a lot of trouble!  In order to make the bombes I had to purchase some special silicone molds, and since I purchased those I was obligated to devise other ways to use them.  Thus, Chocolate Covered Cherry Bombes came to be. They use the same cake bottom as I found in the FineCooking.com recipe, but the bombe itself is much less complicated. If you don’t want to purchase individual bombe molds, the recipe can be converted from individual servings into a single larger bowl.

A couple of other new recipes recently entered the catalog of menu options. First up was a Zucchini Hamburger Pie. This savory selection was easy to make using my favorite refrigerated pie crust, and as good as it was, I imagine it will be even tastier when the summer zucchini and tomatoes come in. This recipe would adapt well to a vegetarian entree if the beef was left out, and perhaps a little extra mozzarella was layered in.

We also enjoyed Italian Sausage, Bean, and Kale Soup. This is another recipe that would become a satisfying vegetarian offering just by omitting the sausage. The recipe makes much more than two people can consume, but the leftovers were just as comforting a couple of nights later. The remainder found a home in the freezer.

Since Michael doesn’t really care for most fish, I have a hard time keeping “Fishy Friday’s” selection varied. It’s pretty much limited to shrimp, scallops, and tuna. Oh, and crab and lobster, but only on sale! Anyway, I’m always looking for recipes in this category. The newest was Tuscan Shrimp in Garlic Cream Sauce. This is another of those dishes that came about by combining a couple of recipes written by others and morphing them into a something else. So often, recipes I find surfing the web have ingredients or techniques that we don’t have or care for, but by mixing a few up, eliminating or adding ingredients, we have a delicious new dinner.  (Some better than others.  It’s trial and error you know.)

Michael and I recently celebrated the anniversary of our first date with a recreation of the meal we shared that night, “Stake an’ Biskits”, otherwise known as Steak and Biscuits, from Ireland’s restaurant. It’s simply thin slices of beef tenderloin that are seared and served in generously buttered biscuits along with fries. Simple, but good, especially when accompanied by a side of memories.  That restaurant is long gone, but the memories are not.

Be thankful for what life gives you.

It’s been a Crazy Month!

(mostly for personal reasons), but once again The Sticky Menu Plan has saved us from the scourge of the fast food lanes. I always try to mix up my weekly menu plan with one or two complex meals, a couple that are less time consuming, and a back up meal or two that take no time at all, often planned leftovers. Using my Sticky Menu system these meals can be interchanged pretty much at will, and that’s happened a whole lot lately. Having my own fast food in the freezer didn’t hurt, either.

Amidst all the craziness I did manage to do a little cooking. You remember that ham I baked? Some of it went into a Broccoli, Ham, and Rice Casserole. That recipe yields a good bit, so half of it went into the freezer. While I was at it I cooked up and extra batch of rice.

Following my commitment to never waste a smidgen of that ham, the bone was stewed with some saved up vegetable trimmings to make broth. Some of the broth and the last smidgens of ham were turned into a lovely pot of Slow Cooker Creamy Lentil Soup. Full of fiber and flavor, my lentil soup is definitely on our short list of cold weather comfort foods. As a bonus, it costs very little to make, as most of the extra ingredients came out of the pantry.

Probably the quickest and healthiest meal we ate this month was a big batch of Shrimp Fried Rice, using the extra rice I cooked up earlier in the week. You won’t find a recipe for the shrimp on this blog because I used the Pork Fried Rice as a road map, subbing in the shrimp and adding some extra veggies. Please feel free to do the same yourself, using any protein you like along with any bits of vegetables that might be hanging out in your produce drawer.

Green Chile Chicken Enchilada Bake was my latest “Try Me Tuesday” entree. As originally written, this casserole seemed a little dry. I added a can of diced tomatoes with green chiles (Ro-Tel). I also threw in some extra peppers that I had frozen from last summer’s garden. We were out of the fresh spinach that the recipe called for, and the roads were too icy to drive to the store. In went a can of black beans instead. Our dinner that night barely resembled the original recipe, but it sure was good. That just goes to prove the point that, with the exception of baked goods, recipes are only a guide line. Doctor them up to suit your own taste.

Take care to avoid this season’s flu, and,
Be thankful for what life gives you.

It’s January, so I’ll be “Hammin” it up, again

The Holidays always bring bargain prices on hams. I don’t cook a ham for any of our special meals, but I always pick one up for January. A Baked Ham is one of the most frugal of protein purchases, and with the aid of my Ham Math is guaranteed to cook perfectly every time.

Leftover Ham holds endless possibilities beyond the “day after” ham sandwich or add anything quiche. Try updating that sandwich to a Garlicky Grilled Ham and Cheese or put a new twist on it with a crispy Ham and Cheese Quesadilla , just oozing with your favorite cheese.

Garlicky Grits and Ham are delicious any time of day, from a filling breakfast to a Breakfast for Dinner night. If garlic isn’t your thing, just leave it out.  Certainly, the lists of casseroles and quiches are too numerous to name.  Just browse my recipe pages.  I’ll bet that you run out of ham before you run out of ideas.

And one more thing…When you think you’ve used up every bite of ham on that bone don’t dare throw it away!  You still have a pot of Fat-free Ham Broth to stew. From Bean and Ham Soup to Brunswick Stew to simply seasoning vegetables or rice, if you have a stash of this broth you can add a delightful savory flavor to your favorite recipes, so Ham it Up.

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