Tag Archives: holiday

Ready for the Forth?

Before I get started, it looks like someone may have hacked into this account. If you received a post about a new recipe for homemade Marinara, that post didn’t come from me! I’d like to know if you did receive it.

Anyway, every year, our Forth of July menu stays pretty much the same, just as do Thanksgiving and Christmas. You know, ribs, potato salad, cole slaw, and corn on the cob. Same old, Same old. Maybe it’s time to change things up a bit.

Let’s start with the protein selection. Grilling is still a requirement. After all, it is the Forth of July! Do your kids love their hot dogs? Make those hot dog buns do double duty with Bacon Cheeseburger Rolls. No need to buy a second bag of hamburger buns. The way these all-in-one burgers fit right into those hot dog buns help your condiments stay put. No sliding off the bun.  And besides, this presentation is kind of fun!

Not a fan of red meat?  How about trying Grilled Bruschetta Chicken? Fresh basil and home grown tomatoes are both coming into season about now, so use them to pack fresh flavor into not so boring chicken breasts.  For the juiciest chicken, take it off the grill just before it’s done and tent it with foil.  Carry-over cooking will take care of the rest.

Now, about that potato salad…Gotta have it, right?  Let’s twist it up a bit and cut out some of those carbs with UnPotato Salad. While this salad still has that old fashioned potato salad taste, the base of it is actually cauliflower, but you’d never know it. Amp up that potato taste and texture by mashing one boiled potato into the dressing. If you’re a mustard fan you can add that, as well.

And now for the kid’s favorite Mac ‘n Cheese. Let’s twist that up a bit, too by serving Mac and Cheese in a Bacon Bowl. Any recipe for mac and cheese will work here, but I like my Low Guilt Mac and Cheese. It’s super creamy, but stands up well in the bowl, Bacon bowl, that is.

Cole slaw?  Turn it green by serving a crispy Broccoli Salad in creamy sweet and sour dressing instead.  Crumbled bacon and dried cranberries or raisins add interest to the palate.  I think the key to this salad is cutting the broccoli into small bite sized pieces. Larger florets are difficult to manage without a knife, and who wants to cut their salad?

If you prefer your broccoli hot, try Grilled Broccoli.  The slightly caramelized florets carry a subtly smokey flavor, punched up by a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese and a squeeze of lemon.  You just can’t get this flavor out of your oven!

That corn on the cob?  Try using grilled corn cut off the cob instead of the canned corn called for in a batch of Southern Caviar. This addictive appetizer recipe does make a large amount, but it stores well in the fridge IF you have any left. Try using diced homegrown tomatoes instead of the recipe’s canned “Ro-Tel” for a wonderful fresh taste.

Of course, no Forth of July celebration would be complete with out dessert! The possibilities are endless. One of our favorites is Fresh Fruit Custard Ice Cream. I make it with whatever seasonal fruit looks the best at the farmer’s market. Dark cherries are available at the grocery this time of year, too. Finely dice or puree the fruit for the best result, and don’t forget the secret ingredient, vodka! Just a tablespoon doesn’t change the taste or make the ice cream alcoholic, but makes a dramatic difference in the texture. Your ice cream scoop will thank you!

Have a happy and safe Forth of July, and don’t forget to 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.

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.

Are you ready?

There are just a few days left before the biggest foodie celebration of the year! Even if you don’t consider yourself to be a foodie, on this one day of the year you are. Whether you’re the cook or the consumer, our Thanksgiving gathering is all about the food, and that makes us all foodies. Yes, Thanksgiving is a day of gratitude, as it well should be, but among our many blessings are our culinary traditions. We all have certain dishes that must be included in the holiday menu, and sometimes we adventure out to try something new, but old or new those recipes benefit from some planning. It helps to set a timeline. I started mine in early November!
Today, (Monday), I’ll double check my lists and make my final shopping trip. At least I hope it will be my final shopping trip. It seems something else always pops up, but it’d easier to run into the store for one thing than fight the crowds for your whole grocery order. I also plan to utilize the meals I have stashed in the freezer this week. There is enough cooking to do without throwing in big dinner preps, so tonight it will be Very Veggie Chili straight from the freezer. In order to make my Cornbread Dressing I’ll need a recipe of Iron Skillet Cornbread, so I’ll sneak a small piece out for Michael to have with his chili.
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Tuesday will be devoted to preparing all the veggies I’ll be needing. I figure out how many portions of diced or sliced onions, carrots, etc. all my recipes will call for and then assemble the cut vegetables into kits. Doing all the veggies ahead this way is a great time saver and eliminates waste, as well. I’m not left with a quarter of an onion or half a stalk of celery. Those just get rolled over into the next recipe. While I’m at it, Grilled Chicken Fajitas will be nearly ready to cook. All I need to add is the chicken and condiments and dinner is served.
Wednesday will be busy, but thanks to what I’ve done in advance, not at all stressful. I already have Rich Turkey Stock in the freezer from the turkey I cooked at the beginning of the month. I’ll just assemble the Cornbread Dressing, make a double recipe of Roast Turkey Gravy from that stock, and put together the Spinach and Artichoke Spread. I think I’ll pick up a baguette to slice and serve with the warm spread. Everything will be ready to go to Emily’s on Thursday.
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When I look out my window, it’s kind of hard to realize that Thursday actually is Thanksgiving. The trees are still dressed in green!  These are Bradford Pear trees that typically bloom in February.  Surely they will have dropped their leaves by then!
I hope all of you who celebrate Thanksgiving have a wonderful holiday with friends and family.
Be thankful for what life gives 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.

Don’t ya hate it?!!

Just when you think you have a good system in place it all crashes! I had planned a wonderful, elaborate, picture filled post of all of Michael’s pre-surgery dinner dishes and his birthday weekend. Well, my little camera decided it didn’t want to play anymore and refused to share the pictures with the computer, so here we are. We’ll just have to wing it!  Some of these photos are pre-camera crash and some archived.
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We worked our way through the pre-surgery dinner list and savored every fat laden bite! Probably the healthiest dinner we ate wasn’t healthy at all, grilled Steak Burgers . Ok, grilled is usually healthy, but burgers? At least I ground the meat myself, so we know what was in there.
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Next up, Michael’s all time favorite, Sauted Chicken Livers. Yuck!!! As I’ve said before, cooking those chicken livers for him is a real gift. I don’t like anything about them, even the way the house smells when the livers are long gone is bad.
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While Michael enjoyed his livers I played with a new sandwich recipe from a fellow WordPress.com blogger, Southern Abroad. She came up with a recipe for Grown Up Caprese Grilled Cheese that is absolutely decadent. I’m going to try to remember that one as a reward to myself the next time chicken livers are on Michael’s menu.
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Next on the list, Chicken Fingers with Buttermilk Gravy, another indulgent treat. I used to make these when the kids were small. They were always gobbled up faster than I could fry them. The chicken fingers lasted a little longer this time, (no kids), but not by much. If you try this recipe, make sure you have plenty of gravy for dipping and a pile of mashed potatoes along side.
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Michael really does have a sweet tooth, and one of his favorite breakfast items is my Ricotta Pancakes slathered in either real maple syrup or Fresh Blueberry Sauce. These pancakes freeze well and reheat in the microwave in a flash, so I usually try to keep some on hand.
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Another frequent breakfast item around this house is a simple Spinach and Cheese Omelet. We especially like these when breakfast is running a little late, more towards brunch. They are a good way to use up that last bit of spinach that didn’t make it into a House Salad. I often add mushrooms to these little omelets if I have those on hand. I saute the mushrooms in butter first and set them aside to add with the spinach.
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When you’re cooking for two, it’s always a good plan to avoid waste by using your ingredients in multiple recipes. Both the Fresh Ricotta Cheese for the pancakes and the spinach I used in the salads and omelets made another appearance in Calzones for Two. Somehow, I always over-stuff my calzones so they turn out looking more like a football than the pretty restaurant version. Who says “less is more”? Not me!
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And that brings us to the birthday weekend and my camera crash.
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Aaron, Jen, and Xander arrived rather late on Friday night. That evening I put together a “Berry Good” French Toast Bake to pop in the oven on Saturday morning. I love make ahead breakfast casseroles when I know a big day of entertaining lies ahead.
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Rather than the French bread the breakfast casserole called for I used Whey Bread and the texture was a bit firmer, but just right. I have always been bothered by throwing away the whey that’s left from making ricotta. This bread is a very flavorful and versatile use of that.  (And the last picture from my camera.)
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Michael’s birthday dinner was a Mexican Buffet. Surprised? Probably not! Here’s the menu:
Grilled Chicken Fajitas
Cheese Enchiladas, both red and green
Taco Seasoned Beef for tacos
Simple Refried Beans
Salsa Rice
and all the shells, sauces, and fixings, including Guacamole
We polished it all off with a Creamy Vanilla-Caramel Cheesecake.  Gosh, that was good!  Kaij and Kelton decorated it like a birthday cake, candles and all.
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Now, what do you buy a 67 year old man who has everything for his birthday? Lottery tickets! I drove up across the Tennessee state line and bought $67.00 worth of scratch off lottery tickets. Don’t take me wrong, we only do this for the entertainment value. We don’t bet the house payment thinking we’ll get rich. It just doesn’t happen that way. The anticipation of those scratch offs sure is fun though! And it didn’t hurt that Michael won over $100.00 this time. Happy Birthday!
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Sunday, Michael and Aaron had a project to work on and Kaij and Kelton had their own things to do, so Xander, Jen, and I were left to our own devices. What better to do than cook? Xander helped me bake a batch of Peanut Butter Cookies. That really is a no-fail recipe. I packaged some up for Xander to take home, but he forgot and left them here. Oh well, more for Michael!
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Michael has had his surgery and we’re in recovery mode now. Everything seems to be going well.
Be thankful for what life gives you.

Got Ham?

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Well, I finally used up the ham that was left over from our Easter dinner, but it took some effort!
(Oh, as a side note: I don’t use any sort of glaze on my Baked Ham because I don’t want the carry-over flavor in the recipes I prepare with what’s left. The basic ham flavor is just fine with us, but I suppose some sort of glazey sauce might be good served on the side.)
There were only five of us for a rainy Easter Sunday dinner this year. Even though my ham weighed just six pounds there was still enough left to last a good week, but I managed to use it all down to the last litle bits. Here’s where it all went.
Even though I try, Monday is not always Meatless, as was the case this past week. We had Leftovers of course! That was a good thing though. It gave me the time to break down the ham into the portions I needed for the rest of the week. I also used this advanced prep to turn the ham bone and vegetable trimmings into a flavorful cooking broth for other dishes.  The Mashed Potatoes were repurposed as well.
Tuesday night I served Michael one of his favorite dinners, Scalloped Potatoes with Ham and Mushrooms.  I have several recipes for scalloped potatoes and ham, but I think this one might be the best.  It’s a little lighter than most and the flavors all seem to stand on their own.
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The smallest scraps of ham that I harvested from the whole went into Ham and Potato Cakes. These cute little patties are good for breakfast, lunch or dinner. This time I made a Maple Mustard Sauce to serve on the side. The remaining mashed potatoes evolved into a similar recipe, Cheesy Potato Cakes . Those were bound for the freezer. If you’re wondering why I cooked up so darned many mashed potatoes, there’s a very simple answer. I bought too many because the 15 pound bag was less expensive than the 5 pound bag, and all those potatoes would soon be going bad. Now the work is all done and I have quick and easy side dishes good for any time of the day.
Wednesday’s dinner was a break from the ham, my saucy Chicken Cobbler. Well, at least it was supposed to be saucy until I used the wrong size baking dish and it boiled over. Time to clean the oven!
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One more Ham dish made it’s appearance before the end of the week. My Ham and Eggs in a Garlicky Grits Crust are not for the faint of heart. They are garlicky! Of course, that is easily toned down, but face it, we love garlic. It’s supposed to keep you healthy, right? Well, maybe that’s just because nobody else wants to get too close to us, but hey, whatever works!
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We finished the week out on Fishy Friday with my second attempt at Lobster Mac and Cheese. I think this second version of the recipe is just what I was trying to create. Steeping the shells and a slice of lemon in the pasta cooking water amped up the lobster flavor a bit. (The water was strained before the pasta was cooked.) The cheese sauce was better balanced this time, too. The only thing that might improve this recipe is more lobster, but around here lobster is expensive. You can’t have everything.
Next week will be filled with fattening comfort food, but we’re not just being indulgent. We have good reason. The week after that Michael is scheduled for gall bladder surgery and we don’t know how it might force him to change his diet. I asked him for a list of dinners that are on the “occasional” list because they are just too fat ladened. Here’s his list:
Sauteed Chicken Livers
Country Fried Steak with Gravy
Chicken Fingers with Buttermilk Gravy
and Red Lobster
I think it will take a while to recover from that menu! Anybody have any gall bladder friendy recipes they’ like to share? I’d love to have them. Just contact me here.
Be thankful for what life gives you.