Tag Archives: comfort food

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.

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.

Sometimes it gets expensive to have such a low threshold of boredom.

I’ve always got to try new things, most often new recipes. As a result, my kitchen resembles a small grocery store. As long as it’s not too exotic, whatever the recipe ingredient, I’ve probably got it in one form or another. Come to think of it, most of our grocery expense is incurred by my habit of frequently purchasing a large variety of fresh produce, and that’s a good thing. I try to grow what I can in the summer, and buy what is available at the farmer’s market, but in February those sources aren’t an option, even in Alabama. The grocery store’s produce department is really cashing in on my habit, but utilizing a wide variety of produce makes such a difference in the complexity of my dishes.  We try to have a House Salad before dinner as many nights as possible, and plenty of veggies on the side, as well.

If you follow The Sticky Menu Plan you may have noticed that I rarely prepare the same recipe twice, but almost always have a plan for the leftovers. Epicurious magazine calls these “nextovers”, and I think that is a wonderful, fitting name for planning what’s next. Baked Ham makes for a glorious traditional Sunday dinner, but without a plan, that seven pound ham quickly goes to waste, especially in a small household like ours.  So what’s next?  Ham and cheese sandwiches get old fast and plain ham doesn’t freeze well at all.  That’s when I go exploring.  At last count, I had around 30 recipes featuring ham in my data base, and those are just the ones I have personally prepared, many are my own creation.  Can you imagine how many different ingredients are in all those recipes?  Creativity and a low threshold of boredom can get expensive!  That’s when my freezer inventory becomes important. Often, folks package foods for the freezer with the best of intentions, but somehow those meals just fall into a black hole, never to be seen again, but I guess that’s another subject.

Last week’s Baked Ham certainly didn’t go to waste at all.  It did serve as the traditional Sunday dinner, as well as evening sandwiches after we took Emily out for a birthday lunch on Monday.  However, that ham’s other scheduled meals for the week,  Asparagus and Ham Lasagna and Ham Tetrazzini, skipped the dinner table and went straight to the freezer along with a fair quantity of Fat-free Ham Broth and some Southern Style Pinto Beans.

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We celebrated Valentines Day quietly at home. One of my gifts to Michael was his traditional gift dinner of sautéd chicken livers.  If you know us, you know this dinner is a gift because of my extreme dislike of all things liver.  Michael surprised me with a beautiful bouquet of red roses!

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Wednesday I rescued some chicken from the fridge before it went out of date and turned it into a Chicken Cobbler. This version of chicken pot pie is always the perfect balance of filling and crust, at least for our taste. The leftovers reheated well on Thursday, too.

Friday’s Seafood Enchiladas were a bit of a disappointment. For some reason the filling was a bit dry and lacked flavor. I must have over cooked it. That can happen quickly, especially if you let yourself get distracted by a Friday evening glass of wine!

Speaking of Friday, it’s already Friday afternoon, again, and I’m a week behind, again! Well, it’s not because I’ve been sitting around doing nothing! I’ll be back soon.
Be thankful for what life gives you.

And my new favorite is…

Chicken and Gnocchi Soup!!  I recently met a group of friends for lunch at a popular chain restaurant where I sampled this soup for the first time.  (Okay, maybe I don’t get out much.) While the concept of the soup was intriguing, the presence of chicken and gnocchi was almost non-existent.  It was basically cream of chicken soup with a little bit of shredded carrot and a leaf or two of baby  spinach for decoration.  Needless to say, I was disappointed by that soup and felt challenged as a home cook to do better.  Although I may be blowing my own horn, I do think my version more than met that challenge.  I did cut back on the amount of cream in my recipe to let the chicken flavor come through as well as to reduce the amount of saturated fat, but one could certainly add as much cream as they liked. (Do you think the restaurant uses real cream anyway?)  At any rate, you won’t have to look hard to find the chicken or gnocchi here, and I think plenty of creaminess remains. As a bonus, a generous two cup serving is only 370 calories by my computer’s calculation.  I did leave out a bit of the broth in the bowl for this photo.

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In all my excitement over that silly soup I’ve jumped ahead of myself here. Let me back up to the beginning of the week with Sunday’s supper of Stuffed Cabbage Rolls. I hadn’t made those in quite some time and had forgotten how satisfying they are. Cabbage rolls do take a little bit of work since you have to craft each portion individually, but the softened cabbage leaves are very forgiving and the assembly really takes very little time. The flavor of the cabbage seems to sweeten as it bakes, encasing little individual meatloaves. Of course, a second pan of cabbage rolls went into the freezer for another night.

As one meal went into the freezer another came out. (Gosh, I wish I could keep the dishes rotating like that. My freezers wouldn’t be so darned full!)  Meatless Monday’s made ahead meal was Ricotta Stuffed Zucchini. I did have to add some extra Marinara, also from the freezer, as the pasta seemed to have soaked up all available moisture in the freezing process.

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When you make Stuffed Cabbage Rolls, only the large outer leaves of the cabbage are required, and the larger the leaves the better. This leaves quite a bit of extra cabbage. Now you have two choices: you can serve extra cabbage on the side or save it for another day. This time I chose the later and on Tuesday we had Corned Beef and Cabbage. We don’t usually have corned beef until St. Patrick’s Day, but why not? I sometimes find myself trapped by tradition. How dumb is that? And besides, I love corned beef sandwiches.

I think I have mentioned before that our dogs may be just a little bit spoiled, haven’t I? Well, Bella has been battling food allergies, but one of the things she can eat is pork. Boneless pork loins go on sale often and are easy to cut into strips to dehydrate into dog treats (keep refrigerated). We have been eating a lot of pork lately! Thursday’s dinner was Pork Carnitas, courtesy of Bella. Carnitas have just a hint of citrus flavor and a melt in you mouth texture. the recipe is a two stage process, so after I have completed the first stage I split the pork into batches and freeze some for later. There I go filling that freezer again!

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Friday was an exercise in flexibility. My intention was to fix Bay Scallop Po’Boys, but a trip to the seafood counter came up empty handed. Frozen scallops weren’t an option either, as I wasn’t willing to invest $27.00 in the bag that was available! Nothing else in the seafood counter looked particularly appealing, so I decided to just forgo “Fishy Friday” for the week. So now what? Back to that pork loin. I had ground the end pieces and meaty chunks that didn’t lend themselves to being cut into lean strips. Waste not want not! I’ve been mulling a new recipe over in my head and decided to try it out. Pork Stuffed Acorn Squash attempt number one was the result. Let me just call it a work in progress. The recipe shows promise, but this first effort came out dry and the spice blend was definitely off. Next pork loin I’ll try again, but until I get it right I won’t post a recipe.

If you follow this blog, or at least read it on a regular basis, you may realize that I’m a week behind, AGAIN. This current week the menu has been rather boring and uneventful, so I may just forgo it all together and try to get a jump on the next week. I do need to be more prompt. The only excuse I can offer is that we old retired folks get kind of busy sometimes. (WINK)
Be thankful for what life gives you.

I don’t like “Resolutions”

To me, making a resolution implies that there is something wrong, something I need to fix. I know I’m not perfect, no one is, by why spoil all the wonders of a New Year by concentrating on what needs to be changed? Many of us spend too much time worrying about what we should be doing instead of enjoying all we could be doing.

I do look forward to the New Year, though. To me, it’s like I’ve been given a great big box of new crayons with which I can color my life any way I choose. I don’t need a coloring book, either, just a clean pad of paper. Any kind will do! So let’s get a fresh new calendar and some more stickies and start coloring in our new menus, shall we?

The week before Christmas went by in a blur of freezer food, soups, and leftovers, but by Christmas Eve Eve, (Friday night), all the preparations were complete and it was time for Michael and I to relax and enjoy the holiday. Since we would be splitting Christmas Eve and Christmas Day between Emily, Aaron, and their families, Friday night was just for us.  We splurged on a decadent dinner featuring Perfect Prime Rib with its ebony crust that guards a perfectly pink and juicy interior.

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Creamy, Cheesy, Au Gratin Potatoes were an equally perfect side dish, festively rich for a holiday dinner.  A good Gruyere cheese provides a velvety texture that isn’t matched by other varieties of cheese, but gruyere can be a little pricey and sometimes hard to find.  While these potatoes are easy enough to prepare any night of the week, I save them for special occasions.

Both Christmas Eve at Emily’s and Christmas Day afternoon at Aaron’s were just as they should be. Comfortable and relaxed holiday celebrations full of family, fun, and fabulous food. Both of our children have inherited the cooking gene and neither they nor their families will ever starve.

Monday was a travel day for Michael and I, as we had to make the short trip home from Aaron’s. The easiest dinner option then was Drippy French Dip Sandwiches made with the leftovers from that Perfect Prime Rib. You know, although I have good intentions, Monday is rarely Meatless, but I do try to make up for that another day in the week. That’s what the stickies are for!  I can slide them around at will.

Tuesday we stayed in the comfort zone with more freezer food. This time a couple of bowls of White Chicken Chili just magically appeared on the dinner table. I love it when that happens!

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After Wednesday’s Mexican restaurant visit, I once again took the easy way out and visited the freezer for Thursday night’s dinner. I think I see a pattern beginning to develop here, don’t you? Anyway, with meatballs in the freezer Meatball Subs are never far away. Pull out a couple of sub rolls, a little Homemade Marinara, add a little cheese, and dinner is served. If you want to try to pretend to be healthy have a House Salad first, but if you don’t have time, I won’t tell!

Now I’m preparing for the New Year.
Saturday, New Years Eve, is a big day around these parts, but not for the reason you might think. The University of Alabama is in a semi-final playoff game for the College Football National Championship. Roll Tide! After the game is over we’ll begin our New Years celebration with the rest of the world to usher in 2017. Michael and I always stay home for all those festivities. We live a way out of town and don’t care to take our chances with all the post midnight drinkers on the roads. We’ll have our own festivities, thank you, starting with football food and ending with a glass of bubbly.

New Years Day dinner is pretty much the same every year, rooted in Southern tradition.
The main attraction is always pork. Folklore has it that because pigs root in a forward motion consuming pork will keep your life moving forward. Foul, however, will have things in your life up in the air and flying away. Don’t ask me what beef will do for you. I don’t think that long ago our Southern ancestors wanted to kill the milk cow! So as not to tempt fate, I always serve pork on New Years Day. Our favorite is a Herbed Pork Rib Roast.

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Another traditional new years dinner item is black eyed peas, but I substitute the pink eyed purple hull peas we grow in our own garden. Those were common in the Old South, as well, representing coins and bringing good fortune. They say the Yankee soldiers left those alone, along with the collard and turnip greens in the fields because they didn’t think those peas or greens were fit for human consumption. Little did they know!   Eating the field greens are supposed to bring folded money, and who couldn’t use a little more of that?   Cabbage may sub in for the field greens for Michael, as he’s not fond of those.  I’m going to cook some collards for myself, just because I do like them.  One way or the other, we’ll both eat greens!  I’m  looking forward to a happy and prosperous New Year and wish you all the same. HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Be thankful for what life give you.

I thought this was going to be a quiet week…

Not!!!
The only difference between my schedule and that of you folks who work a forty hour week is that you get paid to work and I pay for you to work. This last week was filled with nothing but back to back appointments, and The Sticky Menu Plan had to do its job. Thank goodness it did. Not one single fast food bag graced our trash can.
I don’t remember what I originally had in mind for our Sunday supper, but more of that Beef Stroganoff came out of the freezer.
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I have been trying to whittle down the freezer contents for some time now. I’m afraid I’m way behind schedule for my usual summer freezer defrosting and inventory. By doing a periodic assessment of my freezer contents I almost never have food go to waste.  if you would like to keep your own inventory, click here: Inventory0001
Meatless Monday’s planned dinner was a total wash and this is why. I really do not like it when people do not stand by their word. Case in point: I ordered a potato ricer from a company selling on Amazon. They advertised that the ricer would arrive on Friday or Saturday. With joyful anticipation I posted that I would be making Ricotta Gnocchi on Monday. I even made a batch Of Fresh Ricotta Cheese for the recipe. The ricer did not arrive as promised, but on Sunday and email informed me that it would ship on Tuesday. Tuesday! Really? By the time the darned ricer got here the ricotta would be dead.  I seriously considered canceling the order, but I guess that would be cutting off my nose to spite my face.  OK, Michael, here comes another batch of Ricotta Pancakes, and Ricotta Stuffed Zucchini were substituted for Monday’s gnocchi dinner, plus another container of those stuffed zucchini cluttered up the freezer again. I can’t win! That freezer will never be less than full.
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By the time the darned potato ricer arrived the ricotta was long gone and I wasn’t about to make another batch. I’ll put that off till next week. I did learn a new recipe, though, Spaetzle, or German Dumplings. I’ll post that recipe and where it came from next week as well. Until then,
Be thankful for what life give you.

Peaches!

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Mother Nature always has her own way of making things right, and one of the best rewards for living here thru our hot and humid Southern summer days are her sweet and juicy peaches. I don’t believe you’ll enjoy these same lucious jewels anywhere else. There is something almost mystical about sitting in the shade with a bowl of homemade Peach Ice Cream, but eat it fast before it melts!  If you eat it quickly enough, you might even be able to get a second bowl.
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One long forgotten treat is this Fresh Peach Pie. The recipe came from my husband’s family. It’s a unique single crust pie in a custard base, truly something different and refreshing.
It was a quiet Forth of July weekend for us. We used to go all out with crazy fire works battles and the whole nine yards, but since Bella came along we can’t do that anymore. Lizzie doesn’t care a bit, but Bella is deathly afraid of all the noise and spends the whole holiday shaking in fear. We just can’t contribute to that. Oh well, we save a lot of money by skipping the fire crackers!
Since the Forth fell on Monday this year, we made Sunday’s meal meatless with a version of Quinoa Confetti Stuffed Zucchini stuffed into poblano peppers instead of the zucchini, which were wilted.  When one veggie doesn’t look so good, just move on to the next.  I could have used eggplant, too.
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Monday, The Forth, was celebrated with our obligatory Smoked Ribs and a new to us side dish, corn roasted on the grill. To tell you the truth, I wasn’t impressed with the corn.  We eat corn frequently, but I haven’t tried grilling it before.   I probably didn’t do it right.   Anybody have a good recipe for grill roasted corn to share?
Tuesday’s dinner was much better. We enjoyed Mississippi Roast for the second time. This is a recipe I originally saw on “The Pioneer Woman” and it’s unbelievably simple. You just throw whatever cut of beef is on sale into the slow cooker with an envelope of au jus seasoning and a few pepperoncini peppers with a little of their juice and let it rip!
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The leftovers made deliciously messy open faced french dip sandwiches for Thursday night, no cooking involved. I just shredded the leftover roast into a smaller slow cooker and let it do its thing till it was time to eat.
Friday night was one of my favorites! It’s a dish I’ve copied from Applebee’s restaurant for Tequila Lime Chicken and Shrimp with Avocado Cream . Oh gosh, I love that stuff! I’ve been working on copying the recipe for a while now,and I think I’ve got it pretty close. You don’t taste the tequila much, it just marinates the chicken and shrimp. I suppose you could substitute something else if you prefer not to use alcohol.
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Well, that finishes it up, except for one more peach recipe, Peach Turnovers. These are incredibly easy to throw together, and you can make the turnovers with what ever fruit you have on hand. The only catch is, you do need to eat them right away. They don’t keep well. What a hardship!
Be thankful for what life give you.