Zoodles anyone?

I have a new toy to play with, a spiralizer! These gadgets have been around awhile, but it’s new to me. I’ve had tons of fun playing with recipes that use it.

My first experiment was oven baked sweet potato curly fries. Let’s just call that a learning experience. Those fries were too skinny and turned out like tasteless potato chips.  I think I used the wrong sized blade. My second effort, Zoodles, or zucchini noodles, was much more successful. I can see those noodles as a replacement for traditional pasta in any number of recipes.

After gaining some confidence with the Zoodles and researching plenty of recipes on the web, I branched out a bit with Zoodle Tomato Pie, another success. Somewhat quiche like, this dish would work as a light vegetarian main dish but would also be good as a side. I might be tempted to sneak in some cooked, crumbled bacon or Italian sausage the next time.

Once I start playing with new recipe concepts I have a hard time stopping. It does take a little repetitive refinement to get a new recipe just right. My second cut at Zoodles turned up as a side to one of my favorite dishes, La Marina. La Marina combines grilled chicken with shrimp in a creamy mushroom sauce. I usually serve a side of grilled veggies and some sort of rice with this entree, and I have to admit I prefer that combination. Zoodles are jut too light and don’t carry the sauce like rice does.

And speaking of new recipes, how about some Maple Pecan Ice Cream? This one started out to be Butter Pecan, but the maple syrup just kind of jumped out and into the pot.  I let it stay.  The maple flavor isn’t overpowering, but it’s definitely there. I’ve got a secret ingredient that I put in all my ice creams…vodka! Since alcohol doesn’t freeze, the ice cream has a creamy but firm texture that is easily scooped. The vodka is undetectable, no boozy flavor or effect.

I try as hard as I can to cook seasonally, and made one more trip to the farmer’s market this week.  I almost missed the boat on summer squash for the year.  Only one stand was selling any, and the 10 pounds I purchased cleaned the guy out.  After I prepared this year’s batch of Summer Squash for the Freezer, I made some Squash Fritters for dinner. I suppose that recipe name is misleading. Most fritters are fried, I bake these. I just prefer to skip the mess of deep frying, but they would probably be more flavorful that way.  The recipe wouldn’t have to be changed, just the preparation.

The night we had the Squash Fritters I also made a pot of Southern Seasoned Green Beans, cooked with onions and a little bacon grease. Isn’t everything better with bacon? It seems that here in the South it is!  I do depart from the Southern ways with this recipe though.  My mother in law would have cooked the beans until they were very, very soft.  I prefer to leave a little bite to my beans.  It’s a fine line.

Michael got lucky this week. No, not THAT kind of lucky! I mean that instead of his usual one dessert for the week, I made him two. The grocery stores were all featuring sweet cherries, so I took the time to bake a Little Fresh Cherry Pie for Two. When you are only cooking for two a standard sized pie can often go bad before you eat the whole thing. That’s often the case here, since I rarely eat sweets. Scaling down recipes solves that problem nicely. I need to try to do that more often.

Before I go, I have a question for you. Where does a big dog sit to watch the news?

Anywhere she wants to!

Be thankful for what life gives you.

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My New Favorite “Convenience Food” is

Refrigerated Tortellini!

With a bag of these little gems in your fridge, and maybe a little imagination, you can have dinner on the table in the time it takes to pop the tortellini into a pot of boiling water.  Try a couple of these recipes…

One of my favorite Meatless Monday dinners is Three Cheese Tortellini with Roasted Red Peppers, Zucchini, and Spinach.  It’s colorful, (which means lots of vitamins), quick, and easy.  Not to mention delicious.  I usually top this with a little extra grated fresh Parmesan cheese, but that’s optional.

 

Another favorite, especially this time of the year when ripe garden tomatoes are abundant, is Fresh Tomato, Spinach, and Tortellini Soup. One usually thinks of soup as being cold weather fare, but this soup is so light and fresh I can happily eat it year-round. My most often chosen tortellini is the three cheese variety, but any flavor will work. The choice is yours.

While browsing through my tortellini recipes I found this one for Ranch Broccoli and Tortellini Salad. I haven’t made that one in a while, but I do have a head of broccoli sitting in the fridge, just waiting for an assignment. That salad sounds like a Meatless Monday candidate to me. I might even sneak in a little crumbled bacon.  Whoops!  No longer Meatless.

Well, as good as they are, I can’t eat tortellini at every meal. I tried two new recipes this week. One was a big success and the other a total failure. The failure, Achiote Pork Torta, won’t be mentioned on this blog again. I’m not even going to try to tweak that recipe. Let me tell you about the success…

While we were at a club warehouse store I stumbled upon a jarred butternut squash pasta sauce. It was on clearance at a really good price, so of course I brought some home. I could figure out something to do with it, right? After researching butternut recipes on the web and, as I often do, combining a few, Vegetable Lasagna with Butternut Sauce was created. Oh My Goodness, is that stuff good! While the recipe is written using fresh butternut squash, the jarred sauce makes it a lot faster and easier to prepare. We are going to that store again today. I hope they still have some!  If not, I like that veggie lasagna well enough to start from scratch.  That is, if I can find butternut squash this time of year.  Maybe in the freezer section?

Michael won’t deny the fact that he is a dessert junkie. I try to prepare some sort of dessert for him once a week. This week it was a cheery batch of cherry ice cream. I used my recipe for Fresh Fruit Custard Ice Cream, which is very versatile. Any fruit can be used, fresh or frozen. I most often stick to strawberry, cherry, or peach, but I’ve been toying with the idea of trying to make butter pecan. We’ll see!

I just got a new “toy” in the mail.  I’ll tell you all about it next week, after I’ve had a chance to work with it.

Be thankful for what life gives you.

I’m not Peter Piper, But

I’ve been picking peppers by the peck! Or so it seems. I’ve searched the internet for ways to use them all and combined a few ideas into two new recipes. Roasted Jalapeno-Tomato Salsa with Fresh Cilantro is more intense than your common grocery store condiment. It took a bit of tweaking to get the balance of peppers and fresh cilantro just right, and that’s still a matter of personal preference. When you make this recipe, I suggest you start small with those two ingredients and work your way up.

The second new recipe was for Jalapeno Cornbread Poppers, They were fun to make and fun to eat. I don’t think the peppers would freeze well, but I wonder how they would turn out on the grill? We may need to grill something this week just to find out. I’ll have to check my freezer inventory to see what’s available.  Some sort of pork might go well with the Poppers.

Michael and I have both been working overtime. Working overtime, you ask? Aren’t you retired? Well, yes, we are both retired from paying jobs, but we’ll never stop working. Anyway, while I’ve been playing with produce Michael’s been busy laying flooring. He finally finished the last room, and I must say he’s done an excellent job. Do you think I could get away with handing him a paint brush next?

All this work hasn’t left much time for day-to-day cooking, but we’ve managed.  We took the day off last Sunday, just to relax.  New York Speidies took no time to grill, and since they came from my freezer stash they took no time to prepare.  While I was poking around in the freezers I came up with some Cauliflower Baked Shells and Cheese.  I had frozen our two portions in a foil container, so all I had to do was pop it in the toaster oven. With the combination of pasta and cauliflower, this was the perfect side for that night’s dinner.

 

For Meatless Monday another round of my Roasted Vegetable Medley went straight from the garden to a sheet pan in the oven. The eggplant was so fresh I didn’t even bother with the pre-salting and rinsing business. There was none of the bitterness that eggplants tend to develop in storage.  More Homemade Marinara Sauce and some Cheese Grits also came out of the freezer to complete the meal.

Tuesday I went back into the freezer and pulled out My Best Meatloaf. That provided us with leftovers for the next couple of days, which we didn’t mind at all. By the time we finished working it was too late to cook a meal from scratch.

 

By Friday Michael had finished all but the trim on his flooring project and I was at a stopping point in processing the produce. It was time to start cooking again. I decided to try a new recipe that was published by one of my grocery stores. Now usually, recipes from the stores that push their products are pretty good. They want you to purchase that product again. Not this time! Bayou Shrimp, Beans, and Rice was a definite flop! Sadly enough, the recipe made a huge pot of the stuff and I’m afraid it will all go to waste. It was that bad. Maybe if I had left the shrimp out….

Oh well, this coming week will be less busy, although the tomatoes are picking up again and the peppers haven’t quit. Now I just have to pull a few stickies and put them on the calendar for my Sticky Menu Plan.

Be thankful for what life gives you.

Peaches and Zucchini and Corn…Oh My!

And tomatoes, too!
Summers’ bounty is keeping me busy, but I’m not complaining. I love it! To me, there are few things more satisfying than produce that comes straight from the farm, or better yet, my own garden. This year’s strawberry crop was lacking, to say the least. The weather was too cool and rainy for sun-loving strawberries, but all that rain set the stage for a splendid summer season.

I don’t grow my own peaches, but we are fortunate enough to have a peach orchard not too far from here. You can’t buy peaches much fresher than that unless you pick them yourself! Luckily, when you purchase a large basket of peaches not all of them ripen at the same rate. That gives me time to relish a variety of peachy desserts. I always prepare some of our old favorites like Fresh Fruit Cobbler and Fresh Fruit Custard Ice Cream.  Try the two of those together…warm juicy cobbler topped with cool creamy ice cream melting down the sides. That’s a bowl full of summer!

 

There are many more peach recipes on the Desserts page of this site if you’d like to check them out.  My newest is Peachy Bread Pudding with Caramel Sauce. I find it hard to let this decadent caramel sauce cool enough not to scorch my tongue, but trust me, it’s worth the wait. If you’re short on time though, purchased caramel sauce will work.  Warm it a bit in the microwave if you like.

 

While you’re on the Dessert page, check out my Chocolate Zucchini Cake . I like to make cupcakes and freeze a few for later. As good as these are, Michael and I can’t eat our way through all 24 before they go bad.  I have shared these with Kaij and Kelton.  I just don’t mention the zucchini and they don’t seem to notice.

If you go to the box on the right hand side of this page and do a search for “zucchini” you’ll find a wide range of recipes.  There’s everything from Apple Zucchini Bread to Ricotta Stuffed Zucchini and more.  It takes a lot of recipes to use up all that squash!  I just keep on cooking.

My Roasted Vegetable Medley takes advantage of everything growing in the garden, plus a little more. It’s good served over any kind of pasta or Cheese Grits, but I especially like it paired with Ricotta Gnocchi.  Top it all with a little Homemade Marinara and Meatless Monday’s dinner is ready.

It’s corn season, too! We go to Brown Farms for that every year. I buy a couple dozen ears and we spend an afternoon putting up Cream-Style Corn to enjoy all winter. This years’ crop was sweet and juicy thanks to all those spring rains. In fact, that corn is so sweet you’d swear I added sugar to the pot but I didn’t. It’s the best corn I’ve gotten in several years.

And then there’s the tomatoes.  We’re fighting that pesky squirrel again and I’m afraid it’s a losing battle.  Michael surrounded the garden with chicken wire and then put bird netting over the top of it all, but that darned squirrel gets in anyway.  I don’t know how he does it.  He only takes the ripe tomatoes, so Michael has been picking them just as they start to turn.  I wish we could leave them on the vines a little longer, but thanks to our “friend” that’s not an option.  Too bad he won’t try the jalapenos!

I’ve been making a couple of kinds of Homemade Marinara Sauce and freezing that as well. Some sauce is plain and some is thickened with our eggplant. I sometimes blend the Eggplant Marinara till its smooth. There’s another veggie the kids don’t know they are eating.
While I’m at it, I’ll turn some of the tomatoes into Pizza Sauce and I can’t forget Michael’s favorite Fresh Tomato Soup. I freeze the soup as a concentrate and add milk or broth when I cook it. Forget that stuff in the red and white can. This is so much better, either served as soup or in a recipe. Try Fresh Tomato, Spinach, and Tortellini Soup if you’d like a little variety in your lunch menu.  Of course, there’s still nothing better than a good old summer tomato sliced up and sprinkled with a little salt.

 

I almost forgot the peppers!  We grew two kinds this year, jalapenos and cowhorns. The cowhorns are a little spicier than the jalapenos. I combined the two, added a red bell pepper for color, and made a few jars of Pepper Jelly. The pepper jelly is good served over a block of cream cheese to spread on crackers.

Well, that’s about it for the produce patch this year. Now I just have to stop myself from going to buy out the farmer’s market. There’s no telling what kind of trouble I could get myself into there. Hmmm…some pink eyed peas might be nice!

Be thankful for what life gives you.

Thank Goodness for Freezer Food!

Michael and I have been very, very busy with a new project. We decided to rip up a large portion of our well worn, (well worn out!), carpet and replace it with solid hard wood. Learning any new skill takes a great deal of time, probably exponentially more than one would ever anticipate, at least for us. Anyway, putting down a new floor and doing it right doesn’t leave a lot of time for scratch cooking. Thank you Freezer Food!

Zucchini-Tortilla Casserole is one of our favorites. It’s one of those dishes that, while you’re making one, you might as well do two, and it freezes well to boot.  I freeze it in the baking dish that it will later cook in, then, after it’s frozen, use a hair drier to free the frozen casserole from that dish and  package for the freezer.  I also often use disposable foil containers.  It’s a simple thing to choose a meal from my freezer inventory, ready to pop straight into the oven.

Soups and side dishes, like Slow-Cooked Baked Beans, that I intend to heat stove top, are often frozen in recycled plastic containers like those that lunch meat come in. Again, they benefit from air-tight packaging after the contents are frozen. Having many of my sides frozen in identically shaped packaging makes them stack efficiently in the freezer, but I have one more trick up my sleeve. I corral like packages in reusable grocery bags to keep them organized and easy to retrieve from my chest freezer.

My little raised bed of tomatoes, squash, and peppers is off to a great start this year! I’m looking forward to putting up lots of Homemade Marinara and Freezer Tomatoes to get me through the winter.  Until then I have zucchini to deal with.  You should see the one that got away.  While we were working on the floor I neglected to the check the garden, as nothing had produced anything yet.  When I finally wandered out there to check I found a whopping four pounder…three pounds, fourteen and five eighths ounces to be exact.  Most of the time, by the time a zucchini gets that large it’s inedible, but this one was fine.  I scooped out the seeds and grated the flesh for zucchini bread.  Yumm!  Now, what to do with his cousins?

Be thankful for what life gives you.

My “Search for Sensational Sides” was only partially successful.

I guess old traditions are traditions for a reason, not easily replaced. I changed up the side dishes that accompanied our Easter ham this year, but I’m not sure which, if any, of those new dishes I’ll serve again next year.

Bored with plain old Mashed Potatoes, this years’ potato offering was a dish of Creamy, Cheesy, Au Gratin Potatoes. These were a big hit, with very few leftovers, BUT… I had to triple the recipe to make a large enough casserole and gruyere cheese isn’t cheap. The cheese alone cost $14.00, so I don’t think I’ll make that for a crowd again. At least, not as part of a multiple recipe menu with lots of other expenses.

Not as popular was my substitute for the good old Green Bean Casserole. This years’ entry was Roasted Green Beans with Mushrooms. I cooked up a double batch of those, too, and I think I may have been the only one to even touch them. I can only eat so many left over veggies, no matter how well I may like them, and I didn’t think they would freeze. Sadly, too many green beans and mushrooms went to veggie heaven. Scrap that recipe, at least for family dinners.

Sue Ellen’s Corn Pudding was just a little bit different take on the usual corn on the cob or cream style corn from the freezer.The kids seemed to like that one especially well, even though it was slightly over cooked. (I won’t tell if you don’t!) Corn pudding freezes well before it’s baked, so it’s a good dish for two if you’d like to make up a batch and freeze some just to have a different veggie on hand. It doesn’t reheat well after baking, though, as it tends to dry out, so bake just what you need.

Of course, no matter how many people you have for dinner, if you bake a ham there will be leftovers. This years’ entry to the ham leftover collection was a Ham and Noodle Casserole. This one’s nothing exciting, but pleasant comfort food. Definitely a respectable leftover recipe to be made again, sometime.

And at last, there was nothing left of that ham but the bone with a few scraps of meat clinging to it. Should that be thrown away? Never! First, a big pot of Fat-free Ham Broth must be made. After that, I cooked up a couple pounds of navy beans using the same recipe as for Southern Style Pinto Beans, substituting my flavorful ham broth for the water and adding those last few bits of meat from the bone to the pot. Now the ham had given all it had to give, but I still wasn’t done.

Just one more dish for Meatless Monday was almost meatless. That ham broth snuck a subtle bit more flavor into a skillet of my Pasta with Beans and Greens. I guess, technically, the skillet was no longer meatless, but there wasn’t any meat in it, so who’s counting! Sometimes you take what you can get!

Be thankful for what life gives you.

Where have I been?

Well, I can’t exactly say, but what I can tell you is I’ve developed a couple of exceptional recipes along the way. Of course, when I say “developed”, take that with a grain of salt. Yes, some I’ve hatched from scratch, but some are a compilation of several other recipes that I’ve modified to suit our tastes or what I have on hand.

I’ve been playing with my electric pressure cooker quite a bit lately. It does make life easier when I can crank out “roasted” chicken for recipes and a batch of Rich Chicken Stock all in the same afternoon. I took advantage of all that chicken in a couple of recipes, both for the table and the freezer.

The first of those recipes was Chicken Stuffed Shells Florentine. While I visualized the recipe calling for ground chicken to be spiced with Italian Sausage Seasoning, I started with my pressure cooker shredded chicken and added the spice blend after the fact. That method was acceptable, but I think the chicken would have carried better flavor if I had stuck with the original ground chicken plan, seasoning the chicken as it cooked.

Kicked Up Chicken Enchiladas got a little boost with the addition of some steamed broccoli.  I know, it sounds a bit strange to add broccoli to a dish of Mexican origin, but it was quite good. Those enchiladas are on the spicy side to start with, but the broccoli added a little something to keep them from being just so plain.   I should have dipped each corn tortilla into the sauce  to soften them before filling, but frankly, I just forgot to write that common procedure into the recipe. Because I didn’t do that, all my enchiladas cracked open.  I’ll have to write that step into the recipe… Lesson Learned.

The last of the pressure cooker chickens didn’t go to waste either.  There was just enough left for a batch of Baked Chicken Salad. That recipe was given to me years ago by an old friend, Linda Keen. The original recipe called for water chestnuts, but Michael doesn’t care for those, so I substitute diced red bell peppers. Take your pick.  This recipe is an excellent excuse to buy a bag of potato chips!  You’ll need them for the topping, but it’s kind of like when a recipe calls for wine.  You don’t need the whole bottle of wine for the recipe, so what do you do with the rest of the bottle?  Well, what will you do with the rest of those chips?

Rounding up the wonderful world of chicken was a new recipe, Mushroom Chicken Piccata with Penne and Asparagus. Oh My, is that stuff ever good! It may just be one of my new favorite springtime dishes. I know asparagus is now available year-round, but to me, it’s just different in the spring when it hasn’t been shipped up from Chile or where ever, so to me, fresh asparagus + lemon + chicken = Spring!

No, we haven’t just eaten chicken all this time, those dishes just seemed to flow together for this post!  It’s been so long, I could’t possibly bore you with all we’ve had on the menu lately.  Now that grilling season’s rolling around again you might want to think about setting up a Brat Tub. We did recently, and then we knew for sure that summer was on its way, at least in Alabama. We always grill the whole package of brats and throw the extras in the fridge for lunches later in the week.

If you’re lucky enough to catch a good roast on sale Perfect Prime Rib is a treat we usually reserve only for holidays and special occasions, but who can argue with $4.99 a pound? The next day’s French Dip Sandwiches can’t really be called “leftovers” can they?  Don’t forget to make True Au Jus with that roast so you’ll have something to dip those sandwiches in.  The thick piles of thinly sliced roast will just melt in your mouth.

Pork didn’t get left out of the picture this past month, either.  Boston Butts went on sale for $.99 a pound!  That just screams smokey Pulled Pork Barbeque.  The only problem with that recipe is it makes enough to feed a small army, more than Michael and I can possibly consume, even allowing for leftovers.  There I go filling the freezers again.

Loaded Lentil Soup was a warm and filling Meatless Monday menu item, although I did cheat just a bit by sneaking in a little andouille sausage to start the pot off. That Cajun sausage packs so much flavor! A little goes a long way, so while the soup was technically not meatless, meat was not the main protein. Who’s counting? Sometimes it’s the thought that counts, right?

With Easter coming I’m on a new quest…”The Search for Sensational Sides”. It seems that every year it’s the same old thing with the Easter Ham: Mashed Potatoes, Green Bean Casserole, Deviled Eggs, and maybe my favorite but fattening Broccoli Casserole, and on and on. You get the picture. While traditions certainly have their place and I can’t just ditch them all, I’m in search of something new. Maybe not all at Easter Dinner, (children need roots), but mixed in, some then and some to add interest to that leftover sliced ham another day. Hmmm, a new challenge. I need that! Check back!

Be thankful for what life gives you.