Lets Start the Year Off on the Right Foot

Or the left!
After all, this IS the Sticky Menu Plan and we get to change our minds whenever we want. Try Getting Started if you need a jump up. Otherwise, Here We Go will take you to the latest posts and recipes. You can always find links to both in the top menu.

I did a LOT of menu switching last week.  In fact, what we actually ate bore no resemblance to the plan, partly because our family celebrated the holidays with a brunch on the 29th.  As usual, my menu was excessive and we had plenty of leftovers that had to be used. When does a Baked Ham ever get completely consumed at the original occasion? Along with many of my tried and true recipes I wanted to try something new, a Spinach and Fontina Strata. I think that recipe could use a little tweaking. The biggest issue is the cheese. Young Fontina is expensive and hard to find. I don’t think it exerted its presence in this recipe strongly enough to justify the cost, nor the effort it took to track it down. I think Gouda or even Monterey Jack would work at least as well. The Challa bread could have used a little time to stale up, but I do think it was the best choice of bread.

The Clover Leaf Garlic Rolls couldn’t have been easier to make. No one would guess that they started out as frozen dough. I do think they are easiest to prepare if you start forming the rolls when the dough has just thawed but not yet begun to rise.

No holiday brunch is complete without a sweet ending.  Our new favorite indulgence in the Triple-Chocolate Mousse Cake. This is the third time I’ve made it without a single change to the recipe, and it has been predictably scrumptious each and every time. I highly recommend this entry from the internet, but I can’t remember who originally posted it to give them credit.

Speaking of sweets, what’s Christmas with out cookies and candies? Do you think Santa would just quit coming to our house if we didn’t leave him out a plate of goodies? We left him a couple of new ones this year. Delicate Mint Thins are made with fresh mint and dipped in dark chocolate. They are reminiscent of the traditional Girl Scout cookies, but on a grown up level. As delicate and delicious as they are, these slice and bake cookies are very easy to make.

Santa’s sweet tooth was probably satisfied by my favorite new candy, Butter Pecan Fudge . I think this is by far the easiest fudge I have ever made. It is absolutely foolproof! No candy thermometer is required, but it has the texture of old fashioned fudge that is cooked to “soft ball stage” and then beaten until your arm falls off. Nope! You just bring a creamy sugar mixture to a hard boil for five minutes before stirring in a few more ingredients, then quickly spread it into a buttered pan. Done! I think I’ll try to turn this method into an old fashioned chocolate version like my Father used to make as a special treat when we were children.

It’s a good thing Santa gets around in a sleigh rather than a motor vehicle. We have our own special beverage that we leave him each year. It’s eggnog, but we spike it with Wild Turkey Bourbon Whiskey. It’s as dangerous as it is delicious! Thanks, Betsy and Wendell for that Christmas Eve indulgence.

Be thankful for what life gives you.

Advertisements

Tired of Turkey?

We are! But before we move on I traditionally prepare the same recipe to use up every last smidgen of the bird… Turkey Poblano Chowder. Oh my gosh, that stuff is good! Just a little spicy and just a little creamy, this simple soup packs 37 grams of protein and 16 grams of fiber in each 520 calorie serving. That’s a fairly generous sized serving, too, almost 2 cups. I never do it, but you could “healthy it up” a bit by using milk in place of the heavy cream the recipe calls for.

Another traditional Thanksgiving recipe is my version of Cranberry-Orange Nut Muffins. I bake these up a day or two ahead of time to have ready on Thanksgiving morning. Add a smear of cream cheese for a satisfying mini-breakfast that won’t fill one up before the big meal. While cranberries are in season,  I pop a bag or two into the freezer to enjoy in all sorts of baked goods year round.

As I said, we’re “turkeyed out”, so a slightly spicy bowl of Shrimp and Sausage Creole was a welcomed change of pace. I guess I’ve gone pressure cooker crazy, because I cooked the shrimp and sausage in my 6 quart, and the brown rice in the 4 quart. Crazy as it sounds, that approach worked out well. Dinner was quick and easy with a predictable outcome. See Recipe Conversions for the Instant Pot for some tips.

This is hard squash season, a vegetable I don’t have much experience with, but I’m trying. Last week’s effort was Butternut and Kale Tortellini. Epic Failure! To start with, Michael likes spinach, but kale is a whole different story if you get my drift. The sauce was bland and boring, and to top it all off, the roasted squash sort of fell apart in the final dish. Three strikes and it’s out! Oh well, some times you win and sometimes……

Be Thankful for what life gives you.

It’s Planning Time!

Time to plan ahead, shop ahead, and cook ahead. The Holidays are almost here, so it’s time to get going in the kitchen.  So far, I’ve decided on my Thanksgiving menu, made a shopping list, and picked up a few items.

Turkeys were on sale for $.79/pound. I bought a small one and have already broken it down. I always cook one turkey in early November. No, I’m not crazy, and no, we don’t love turkey all that much! I cook the first turkey for the broth. It bothers me to make my Cornbread Dressing and Bread Stuffing with chicken broth. I’ll get those two sides made ahead and save the remaining broth for our Gravy and maybe some sort of turkey soup.  After I make the broth with them, the meat from the legs, thighs, and wings will go into the freezer for now, and we’ll have the breast Roasted  or maybe Smoked  for dinner tonight and sandwiches later.

My next task will be to make a batch of Iron Skillet Cornbread and White Wheat Biscuits for the dressing, then let them get stale for a few days before throwing that together.  Hard boiled eggs don’t freeze well, so I’ll stir those in right before the dressing goes into the oven. While the corn bread and biscuits are going stale I’ll let the bread for the stuffing get stale as well. I’ll chop all the veggies for both dishes at the same time. Two menu items will be in the freezer, ready to thaw out on the day before Turkey Day.

None of us really favor the dark meat, so I’m waiting for frozen turkey breasts to go on sale.  I prefer frozen because I know that turkey was probably frozen as soon as it was killed.  With a fresh turkey I don’t really know how long it’s been.  I’ll have to remember to move the turkey into the refrigerator in time for it to thaw, then the day before I’ll soak it in Brine. Using a probe thermometer will insure a perfectly cooked turkey breast.

I divide my shopping list into three portions:  Staples and dry goods that can be purchased any time go on the first list.  Fresher Items will be purchased closer to the day they will be cooked.  I try to avoid the grocery stores the week of Thanksgiving, so my last list, usually things I’ve added or forgotten, is limited to ten items.  Ten items because that’s usually how many items are allowed in the express lane, and yes, I do count.  One of my pet peeves is that person who jumps into the express lane with fifteen items.  You know who you are, and you are not the only person in the store who is in a hurry or has a small child or is just too special to wait!  Enough said.

I’m still playing with my electric pressure cookers.  Our Halloween dinner tradition has always been Chili, and the multi-cooker did an excellent job with that. White Chicken Chili turned out just as well. I also made up a pot of Cajun style red beans, but left out the andouille sausage for Meatless Monday. Someone in this house turned up his nose at that, but I won’t name any names. That same person surely hasn’t had a problem with my Pressure Cooker Cheesecake. Go figure!

Be thankful for what life gives you.

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.

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.