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.

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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.

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.