Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve preparations

I was up early and in the kitchen this morning, trying to finish up some dishes that can be made ahead for Christmas. By 8:30 a.m., I had cooked bacon for Pea Salad, and made some extra bacon for Brussels sprouts tomorrow. I made a batch of peanut butter balls and put them in the fridge to harden.

I ran other errands mid-morning and have spent most of this afternoon cleaning. Once I mop, I am calling it done.

Yesterday afternoon I made sweet potato crumble (it's in the fridge covered and waiting to be baked) and a double batch of Chex Mix. I aim to enjoy time with my husband, children and in-laws tomorrow, so do-ahead dishes are a must. Tomorrow I just need to bake the ham, prepare the potato casserole (in the slow cooker, of course!) and assemble the dishes. I hope you are having a restful, happy Christmas season. And please try some of my favorites soon!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Honey pecan spread

I was introduced to this terrific recipe by my former sister-in-law. She would whip this up a couple days before Christmas so we could enjoy it on plain bagels or toast on Christmas morning. It is so easy and delicious. In a web search, I found numerous variations, including this one that includes cinnamon.

The version I love is three ingredients. I just made a batch this afternoon to enjoy on Sunday.

You'll need:

8 ounces cream cheese (fat free is fine)
2-3 tablespoons honey
1/4 cup chopped pecans

Blend the ingredients in a bowl; cover and refrigerate until needed. You can use this spread on any bread, but I love it on toasted plain bagels.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Frank's + Rotel, a happy pairing

I came up with this recipe in my never ending quest to devise new recipes for dinner. I’ve seen similar recipes that use tortilla chips, but I decided to use flour tortillas and layer then in lieu of noodles for “Mexican” lasagna. This recipe wasn’t that much of a stretch from family favorites like enchiladas, but the best addition was Ro*tel tomato sauce, a newer offering I notice in local grocery stores. I have long used Ro*tel products, like the seasoned tomatoes, but the sauce is a newer addition on local shelves. The sauce comes in two varieties, original and mild. Both are delicious and worth trying, if you love Mexican dishes.

I have a tried-and-true enchilada recipe I make, that incorporates cream of mushroom soup. I used that basic idea when making this recipe, as well.

You’ll need:

1 pound ground beef, browned and drained
6-8 flour tortillas
1 can Ro*tel tomato sauce (original or mild)
1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese, or a blend of Cheddar and Monterrey Jack

In a 9x13-inch baking dish, spread a couple of tablespoons of the tomato sauce. Add 2-3 tortillas, tearing to fit the pan. Top with 2-3 spoonfuls of cream of mushroom soup, one-third of the ground beef and one-third of the cheese. Top with half the can of tomato sauce, then repeat layers two more times. I had a few extra tortillas, so I topped the whole casserole with the tortillas and cheese. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 20-30 minutes or until the casserole is bubbly and browned.

I served this dish with rice, diced jalapenos and Frank’s RedHot. It comes in multiple varieties, but the original is still my favorite.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Beef with mushroom gravy

My husband and youngest sons are meat lovers, so I fashioned this dish especially for them. The dish is a cross between beef stew and beef stroganoff, with homemade cream of mushroom soup. It is easy and delicious.

Beef with mushroom gravy

2 pounds beef stew meat
2 tablespoons oil
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup red wine
1-2 tablespoons worchestershire sauce
2 cups cream of mushroom soup (or one 14.5 ounce can)
Chopped parsley to garnish

Heat oil in a medium skillet. Season the meat with salt and pepper, then dredge lightly in flour. Brown the meat in the skillet.

Move the meat to a 6-quart slow cooker. To the skillet add the red wine and worchestershire sauce. Blend completely, then pour over the meat.

Add the cream of mushroom soup. I defrosted a container of homemade cream of mushroom soup. Please try my Magnificent Mushroom Soup recipe, if you want a great homemade version!

Blend all the ingredients and cook on low for about 8 hours.

The meat is so tender and flavorful! I served this with pasta and green peas. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Faye's Favorite Cranberry Dish

My mom has swooned for this dish for more than a decade. We first tried this recipe in 1998, after it appeared in the Coalfield Progress' annual gift and recipe guide. Many thanks to Barbara Younce of Haysi, Va., for sharing this gem. It is sweet and tart (very tart!) with a delicious, crumbly oat topping. We made this one for Thanksgiving and I may try it again for Christmas. My husband is a huge cranberry fan!

Cranberry-Apple Casserole

3 cups peeled, chopped apples
2 cups fresh cranberries
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar

Combine fruits, flour and sugar and place in a greased, 2-quart casserole dish.

3 packs instant oatmeal, cinnamon spice flavor (or 1/2 cup oatmeal, plus 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon)
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter or margarine
3/4 cup chopped pecans
Combine all topping ingredients until crumbly and combined. Spoon over fruit. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Crunchy, sweet holiday goodness

This is one of the best sweet potato dishes I have tried, and a family favorite for Thanksgiving or Christmas. It comes from Gracie Steele of Clintwood, Va., who shared this recipe in The Coalfield Progress' Christmas Gift Guide in 1998. The potatoes are silky and sweet and the topping is nutty and crunchy. It is a great textural change and a delicious holiday treat.

My daughter made this dish while we were in Norfolk for Thanksgiving and it was quickly devoured. She made a second batch a couple days later, with similar results. The recipe calls for pecans (which Hannah doesn't like). You could substitute walnuts or other nuts, or leave them out entirely.

Sweet potato casserole

3 cups mashed sweet potatoes
1 cup sugar (white or brown)
Dash salt
2 eggs
1/2 stick margarine or butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
Mix ingredients well and pour into a baking pan.

1 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup flour
1 cup chopped nuts (pecans or other favorite nuts)
1/2 stick margarine or butter
Mix toppings ingredients until moist and crumbly. Sprinkle on top of sweet potatoes. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Suzanne's Secret Six-Minute Sauce

This is one of my daughter's favorite recipes and a foolproof way to transform leftovers into something special. We'll all have leftover turkey this week, so consider putting some of it in this easy sauce. This recipe produces a velvety sauce in the microwave in 6 minutes. Seriously. I started tinkering with this method as a teenager, once I learned the magic thickening power of cornstarch. You can add items to the recipe that you enjoy, but here is the basic method.

You'll need:
2 cups milk
1 tablespoon butter or margarine
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/4 white wine (optional, but I love it)
2-3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper

You can use any glass container, but I prefer a 4-cup glass Pyrex measuring cup with a spout and handle. This lets you stir and pour easily. Add all the ingredients to the container and stir to combine. Blend the cornstarch completely; the cheese will not incorporate until the sauce is hot.

Here's what it looks like to start:

Place the container in the microwave and heat on high for two minutes. The butter will start to melt and the sauce will look like this:

Stir the sauce and heat for two more minutes. The sauce will tighten up more and look like this:

Again, stir thoroughly and give the sauce 1-2 minutes more (based on the power of your microwave). I find that three rounds of 2 minutes each is perfect at my house.

You sauce will now look like this:

I added about a cup of cooked chicken, a half cup of sauteed mushrooms and some steamed spinach to produce this:

Yummy, huh? This is a great way to use roasted chicken, like I suggested on Sunday. This is one of my daughter's all-time favorites, plus it is easy and quick to prepare. And you don't have to whisk or try to avoid lumps. This is a lump-free method that yields about 3 cups of sauce.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Perfect roast chicken

I realize most people have turkey on the brain, since Thanksgiving, the whopper of all turkey holidays, is just days away. Consider this my urging to learn the basics of roasting chicken. I roasted a pan of chicken thighs last week and made two delicious meals from it. For about $5, you can feed a family at least twice.

For simplicity, and easy cleanup, consider the method I use to roast chicken. Line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place the chicken pieces on the foil. Sprinkle with lemon juice, then follow with a liberal sprinkling of salt and pepper. Roast the chicken at 400 degrees for about 45 minutes, until the skin is crackly crisp and the meat is tender. Let cool, skin and debone for any recipe that calls for roast chicken. Or serve with whatever accompaniments you enjoy.

I think roasting chicken parts -- bone-in breasts or thighs, especially -- is a cost-saving and time-saving method for great meals. So if you love chicken salad, chicken casseroles or pretty much any dish with chicken, roast a batch on Sundays and enjoy it throughout the week. Some favorite offerings to come later this week.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Cary's Sweet Potato Casserole

Church cookbooks are one of the greatest places to find excellent recipes -- family favorites that are tried and true for generations. Ascension's Cooking Secrets from the Church of the Ascension in Norfolk, Va., is chock full of fantastic recipes. Basically, you can open the book to any page, make that recipe and be happy. The church is full of amazing cooks, including Cary Cross. Her offerings are throughout the book -- -main dishes, dips, soups, desserts and casseroles. I was honored when she suggested I share her sweet potato casserole, after seeing one I recently posted. Everything Cary makes is great, so consider this one for Thanksgiving.

Cary's Sweet Potato Casserole

4 sweet potatoes, cooked and mashed
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup milk
Mix all the ingredients together and place in a greased baking dish. Use a mixer or do it by hand. Sprinkle on the topping.

1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/3 cup butter, softened
1 cup chopped pecans
Mix all the topping ingredients together. It will be crumbly. Put over sweet potatoes and bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes. Enjoy.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Sparger's Pecan Pie

Last week I had the profound pleasure of speaking at a book club at the Marion, Va., branch of the Smyth-Bland Regional Library. The library is top-notch, as were the ladies who make up this club. I came home with an autographed copy of “Blood on the Constitution,” by R.S. Sukle. Sukle was an occasional letter writer when I was opinion page editor at the Bristol Herald Courier and it was a pleasure to meet her in person, and talk to the club about regional programming by Blue Ridge PBS.

My trip also included an in-person visit to a longtime friend, Becky Sparger, who invited me for dinner at her home after the library event. I met Becky when she joined the reader advisory panel of the Bristol Herald Courier about two years ago. She continues to serve on this panel, and deserves praise for driving from Marion to Bristol for the monthly night meetings. I enjoyed wonderful hospitality in Marion and the pleasure of meeting Becky’s husband, John; her parents, Dr. and Mrs. James Patterson, and Ellen Bane Hull, another book club member. Becky and John hosted this crowd at their home, where we enjoyed London broil, twice baked potatoes, broccoli, angel biscuits and a delicious pecan pie.

Becky was gracious to share the recipe. It is nutty and luscious, with a fantastic homemade crust. It was a perfect way to end a perfect meal.

Becky and John Sparger’s Pecan Pie

For the crust:
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup Crisco (occasionally I use butter, my son always does)
5 - 7 or so tablespoons ice cold water

With a pastry blender, mix the flour and salt, then add the Crisco. Cut in until it resembles coarse crumbs. Add water and stir until a soft dough, then wrap and chill or freeze. If using frozen dough, let thaw but still be cold. Roll the dough on a floured surface, then place in a 9-inch pie pan.

For the pie
2 tablespoons brown sugar
3 eggs
3/4 c white sugar
1 1/3 cup dark brown corn syrup
1/2 cup (1 stick) melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 cup pecans, slightly chopped

Mix all together and pour into unbaked pie shell. Bake at 350 for 1 hour. Pie will still jiggle when you get it out. Don't worry. It is best made one day ahead of time to give it a chance to "set." You can add 1/2 to one cup of chocolate chips and 1/4 cup bourbon for a Kentucky Derby Pie. Add an extra egg or use 3 large eggs to compensate for the extra fluid. Cook the same way, same temperature (350 for one hour).

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Maple-mustard pork roast

This dish is hearty and delicious – a perfect offering for dinner as the weather turns colder. When I started brainstorming ideas for a new pork roast dish, I aimed to include Dijon mustard. But then, I spied the Inglehoffer brand stone ground mustard in the refrigerator door. It is spicy and sour and chock full of mustard seeds. That’s when I forgot about the Dijon.

You’ll need:
2-3 pound pork roast (I used a sirloin roast)
1 tablespoon stone ground mustard
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon fresh, chopped rosemary
1 teaspoon diced garlic (one clove)

Place the roast in a 6-quart slow cooker. In a small bowl, combine the mustard, maple syrup, rosemary and garlic. Pour the mixture over the roast and cook on low for about 8 hours. I turned the roast halfway through cooking.

After 8 hours, the roast will look like this:

Amazing how it browns up in the slow cooker, don’t you think?
I sliced/shredded the roast in portions and served it with penne pasta and fresh broccoli. Serve it and stand back!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Suzanne's smothered chicken

This one is an oldie, but a goodie. I started making this recipe in the early 1990s, when I worked long hours at a small newspaper. It is a delicious recipe, easy to make and a perfect recipe for moms who work late and still want a homemade dinner (like me). You can use canned mushrooms in this dish (I've done it many times for speed and convenience), but fresh mushrooms make it even better.

You'll need:

6 chicken thighs
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon cooking oil
1 medium onion, sliced in rings
1 pound fresh mushrooms, wiped clean and sliced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 cup red wine (use chicken stock or apple juice, if you don't use alcohol)

Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a medium skillet, then brown the chicken thighs on both sides. Put the chicken thighs in a 6-quart slow cooker.

In the same skillet, add the mushrooms and cook over medium heat until they are slightly browned. Add onion, oregano and basil.

Deglaze the pan with the wine, then pour all over the chicken.

Cook on low for about 8 hours until it looks like this:

Looks terrific, right?

I served the chicken with rice and peas and it was fantastic -- tender, tasty and easy!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Herbed turkey legs

In keeping with the holiday theme, here is an easy recipe for turkey legs. Turkey legs and thighs are often available and are so much easier to cook than a whole turkey!

I roasted the turkey legs with a variety of fresh herbs from my herb garden. I can't say enough about the importance of using fresh herbs, especially since most are so easy to grow. Rosemary and thyme are perennials and need hardly any human care. Plant them in a sunny spot where they will get some rain, then reap the benefits.

You'll need:

3-4 turkey legs
1 teaspoon oil
Salt and pepper
Fresh rosemary, thyme and sage

These herbs are the essence of holiday cooking and are easy to grow in any sunny area. I picked 2 large sprigs of rosemary and about 6 small sprigs of thyme. I bought some fresh sage becuase it is not an herb I am (yet) growing. Rinse and dry the herbs. Pat the turkey dry and place it in a roasting pan. Slip some of the herbs under the turkey skin, then toss the rest around the meat. Rub the legs wth a small amount of oil, then sprinkle with lemon juice -- I squeezed 1/4 of a lemon over the meat, then tossed the lemon wedge in the pan. Season with salt and pepper, then cover with foil.

Roast the legs in a 400-degree oven for an hour to 90 minutes. Remove the foil for the last 20 minutes or so to brown the meat. I made gravy from the pan drippings and served the turkey with gravy, peas and the sweet potato crunch. Delicious and easy!

Sweet potato crunch

As the weather turns colder, and we move closer to Thanksgiving, I've had holiday foods on the brain. We had pumpkin pie last week, and sweet potatoes a few days ago. Both pumpkin and sweet potatoes are rich are carotene, Vitamin A and other important nutrients. Try to watch the sugar and fat when you use these ingredients!

Last year, at Thanksgiving, my mother-in-law made a terrific sweet potato casserole. This was my attempt to re-create it this week.

You'll need:

3-4 medium sweet potatoes
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1/4 cup evaporated milk
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

For topping
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1 tablespoon butter or margarine
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup brown sugar

Wash and dry the sweet potatoes, then prick them all over with a small knife. Rub them with the one teaspoon oil, place on a baking sheet and bake in a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes to one hour. Remove from oven and let cool until you can handle them. Peel the sweet potatoes, cut in 1-inch pieces and place in a large mixing bowl. Add butter, milk, brown sugar, cinnamon and cloves. Mash with a potato masher until all is smooth and combined. Put the mashed sweet potatoes in a 2-quart baking dish that has been sprayed with non-stick spray. Mix all the topping ingredients in a medium bowl, using a small fork to incorporate completely. Sprinkle the topping evenly over the sweet potatoes. Bake the dish in a 350 degree oven for 20-30 minutes, or until the top is browned and bubbly. Cool slightly before serving. Yield: About 4 1-cup servings.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A chicken in every pot

Several weeks ago, my husband asked me whether I could make chicken stew. Everyone makes beef stew, it seems, but what about changing the recipe and using chicken? It was a great idea, so I jumped on it and came up with this dish. Readers of this blog know I am a big fan of beef stew, so I used the basic technique to come up with this.

Chicken stew

You'll need:
1 pound of chicken, cut in 1-inch pieces
2 teaspoons cooking oil
3 potatoes, diced
2 cups carrots, diced
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup barbecue sauce
2 cups water
2 cups corn (frozen or canned)
2 cups diced tomatoes, with chipotle peppers
Salt and pepper
Chopped parsley to garish

In a medium skillet, brown the chicken in oil.

Put the diced potatoes and carrots in a 6-quart slow cooker.

Add the browned chicken and diced tomatoes.

Deglaze the skillet with white wine, then add to the cooker. Add barbecue sauce, water and corn. Stir well to combine and cook on low for about 8 hours.

Garnish the bowls with chopped parsley. Yield is about 10 cups.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Turkey legs to come

I've got three turkey legs in the freezer for a shortened version of Thanksgiving dinner this week. I saw this delicious recipe on, but it calls for pomegranate molasses, something most people don't keep on hand. You could add a splash of pomegranate juice (Pom) and some molasses, or you could try the recipe without it. I am a big believer in using what you have on hand, or adjusting the ingredients to suit your tastes and ingredients.

I'll post my own turkey leg recipe soon -- gotta get them thawing first!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Hot stuff pasta

This recipe was born out of desperation and a desire to use what I had on hand. Sound familiar? I used some kielbasa, diced jalapenos, cheese and peas and made a pretty terrific dinner. This recipe can be modified to suit your family's heat tolerance -- cut back on the jalapenos or skip them altogether. I'll bet you have most of these ingredients now, so consider this recipe when you need to make a quick and easy dinner. If you can make a basic white sauce, you can whip this dish up in no time.

You'll need:

1/2 pound kielbasa, diced (half of a package)
1 tablespoon oil
1 teaspoon diced garlic
1 teaspoon diced, pickled jalapeno peppers
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 to 2 cups milk
1/2 cup grated Cheddar cheese
1 cup green peas
8 ounces cooked, drained pasta

In a medium skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the kielbasa and cook until slightly browned.

Remove the meat from the skillet with a slotted spoon. Add the garlic and jalapenos to the skillet, then blend the flour to make a paste. Cook for about three minutes.

Stir in the milk, using a wire whisk, until completely blended.

Cook over medium heat about 5 or 6 minutes until the sauce thickens slightly. Blend in the Cheddar cheese.

Blend the sauce completely. Add the diced kielbasa and green peas to the sauce and cook another 3-4 minutes until all is heated through. Serve over pasta. I garnished the dish with some minced parsley from my herb garden -- pretty, huh?

Yield: 4-6 servings.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Magnificent mushroom soup

Many people use condensed cream of mushroom soup as a binder or additive for casseroles or a base for sauces and stews. I’ve used countless cans in casseroles and sauces, but I love to eat cream of mushroom in any form. It’s been a favorite soup of mine since childhood. I happily chose it over chicken noodle (or any other) when my mother would whip up a quick lunch. This was much to my brother’s chagrin – he was not a fan, and of course we had to share whatever can my mom opened.

When I was in college, I worked a variety of waitressing jobs. At one, the cook always made a soup at lunch. I loved eating a bowl of cream of mushroom soup on days that was the special. And it was one of the first homemade soups I made to eat off my wedding china as a new bride.

Canned cream of mushroom soup can be improved significantly with just a few sautéed mushrooms and a splash of sherry. But lately I have wanted to make a large batch to freeze and use for future casseroles. Sometimes I can find condensed cream of mushroom for as little as $1 per (14 ounce) can. This is roughly 2 cups of soup. I aimed this week to compare the cost and taste of making a homemade version.

The short answer: My version yielded about 8 cups of soup and cost about $4 to make. That’s similar to the discount condensed soup at the store. But the flavor of this soup is incomparable. If you love cream of mushroom, to use in casseroles or just to eat, consider making a batch yourself. You house will smell fantastic!

You’ll need:
1 pound mushrooms, sliced (I used white button mushrooms)
2 teaspoons butter or margarine
½ cup white wine
½ onion, diced
4 cups chicken stock
1 teaspoon each, dried basil and oregano
3 cups milk (or cream)

In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Cook the mushrooms and onions in two batches, until they are slightly browned.

Place mushrooms in a 6-quart slow cooker. Deglaze the pan with the white wine, scraping up any browned bits. Pour the wine over the mushrooms in the cooker. Season with salt and pepper. Add the chicken stock and dried basil and oregano.

Stir to combine, cover and cook on low for about 6 hours. Turn the slow cooker off and let the soup mixture cool for about 30 minutes. Using an immersion blender, blend the soup. I left some larger pieces of mushroom, because I love it that way. Stir in the milk and combine thoroughly. This soup is thin, but could be thickened with cornstarch or flour.

I packed the soup in four plastic containers, 2 cups each. The soup can be used immediately, or frozen up to three months.

If you are a mushroom soup fan, give this easy, tasty recipe a try!