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.

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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.

Ready, Set, Go!

And here we are, smack dab at the beginning of a new year. Are you ready to make the most of it? Well, I’m sure going to try!
New Year’s Eve was quiet, and for us, that’s a good thing. There was plenty going on in town, but we just had no desire to go freeze our fannies off in 9 degree weather, only to worry about the drunk drivers on our way home. Nope, television entertainment in front of a nice warm fire was all we needed. I did try a new snack recipe, Cheesy Thumbprint Appetizers with Hot Pepper Jelly. This is another of those recipes that I’m not sure where it came from, but I’ll keep it.

Our New Year’s Day dinner was the traditional, well, almost. In the South, that dinner follows a set menu. One must serve pork, because hogs always root forward, black eyed peas, for good luck, fortune, and money in coins, and greens, for more good fortune and folded money. Michael doesn’t care for traditional greens like collards, so I substitute cabbage. That’s green, right? Well, we’re still financially solvent, so I guess cabbage counts.

The pork was another story.  I though I was so smart when I pulled what I assumed was a trimmed pork tenderloin out of the freezer to cook for New Years dinners’ Braised Pork Tenderloin with Mushroom Pan Sauce. The tenderloin was trimmed alright, but what I failed to notice was that it was also seasoned with Rib Rub for the grill. Whoops! We grill outside most all winter long, but not when the high temp for the day is 25°.  Mushrooms and rib rub aren’t the best of friends either,  so I just skipped the mushrooms and continued with the braise.  It was delicious.  I’ll make that mistake again sometime soon.

I have set a goal to try a new recipe or ingredient each “Try Me Tuesday”.  This week it was Slow Cooker Creamy Lentil Soup. That one did double duty since “Meatless Monday” wasn’t at all meatless this week. The jury is out on that soup recipe. I enjoyed it the first day, and Michael put his game face on, but unlike most soups this one wasn’t better the second day. Something, maybe the pureed chickpeas, turn gritty. The texture of the second day soup was just not good. So, unless I can find a way to reduce the quantity to one meal, I won’t be making it again.

Take a look at how cold it’s been here in North Alabama! That’s the frozen fountain in our little backyard fish pond. It has NEVER frozen like this before. I have no idea how our koi are doing. When we built the pond it was recommended that you have a minimum depth of 18 inches to keep fish. That we have, but will it be enough? I guess we’ll find out.

Be thankful for what life gives you.

Apples anyone? Here’s something new…

Gingersnapple Sheet Pie. Not quite a pie, and not quite a bar cookie, this unusual dessert combines the best flavors of fall. A cool apple topping is layered over a soft ginger cookie crust, chilled until firm, then cut into squares.  Served warmed or cold, this recipe literally came to me in my sleep!

Or maybe you’d prefer an Apple Cobbler warm from the oven. This ones a little different with browned butter and vanilla bean. Try it with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream on the side for a sweet creamy contrast.

These apple offerings are the result of our annual trip to Scotts Orchard, just north of town.  It’s a trek I drag Michael on each fall.  I just can’t resist fresh from the farm produce and regularly bite off more than I can chew.  I then have to find ways to use all that bushel of seasonal goodness.  With the apple harvest, some recipes are just a given.  Apple Pie Filling is always stashed in the freezer, just waiting for a crust. I almost always slow cook a batch of Apple Butter, followed by a batch of Apple Butter Cinnamon Rolls.

Along with my usual freezer stash of pie filling I tried another new pie recipe this year, Warm Apple Buttermilk Custard Pie.   I found that it’s best chilled in the fridge for a few hours to set up really well, but then warmed a bit in the microwave to serve each slice.  This one’s a keeper!  Try it for breakfast with a dollop of vanilla Greek yogurt.  No, I don’t eat leftover pizza for breakfast,  but this pie has fruit, eggs and buttermilk.  I’d call that breakfast food.

A couple of dinner recipes were recent stand-outs.  If you follow this blog you might recall that I postponed (moved the sticker down the menu calendar) Zippy Summer Shrimp. Well I finally made it, and that recipe is a keeper as well. I don’t recall where the original recipe came from, it was just in my files, but I tweaked it just the tiniest bit to resemble a shrimp dish served at Pappa Joe’s restaurant in Apalachicola. Success!  I served it along side fettuccine bathed in Lite Alfredo Sauce. That combo will be showing up on the menu calendar again soon.

Another new recipe that turned out well was Garlicky Cheese and Mushroom Stuffed Chicken. Wow! Talk about flavor! This is not your usual bland boneless chicken breast. Some of the cheese did seep out, but I just plopped it back onto the chicken. I suppose you could avert this issue by cutting a pocket into your chicken breast rather than booking it, but I find that process frustrating. I can never get enough filling into those tiny pockets. The choice is yours.

Well, I started this post with dessert and finished with the main dish. Maybe we should start eating that way! Be thankful for what life gives you.