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!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Sweet potatoes, mushroom soup and Halloween

I'm looking forward to Halloween, but no more so than my husband and son who have been busy decorating the house and yard. We've got skeletons hanging from trees, ghosts blowing in the breeze, bagged leaves in pumpkin bags and real pumpkins ready for carving. I was in the fall spirit a couple of days ago while grocery shopping and put some sweet potatoes in my cart. My husband loves them in casseroles, grilled or any way you can offer.

So far this day has been glorious -- bright blue skies, sunny, and vibrant fall colors. I had plenty of help this morning to dust and mop and sweep and now I'm making cream of mushroom soup in my slow cooker. The house smells oniony and earthy and comforting. Pics and details to come soon on the cream of mushroom soup and whatever I whip up with the sweet potatoes.

Get outside and enjoy these beautiful fall days with your family. And I encourage you to share some of your fall fun with me here, whether it is recipes, cooking tips or other enjoyable passtimes. Happy Fall, friends.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Brown sugar chicken

This recipe is from 365 Easy Slow Cooker Recipes and just downright delicious. I'm giving full credit to Nicole Phillips and her terrific book -- I didn't change a thing in the recipe, although I think I used slightly less than two pounds of chicken. And I really did use the Domino "Brownulated" sugar in this dish. It pours like granulated white sugar -- no clumping!

My husband grumbled when I told him I was trying a new recipe, but raved (I mean RAVED!) when he tasted this dish. It is sweet and salty and sour and fantastic. Plus, you might already have all the ingredients on hand.

I know this is a slow cooker dish, but I made it in the oven. I covered and cooked the chicken for about an hour at 350 degrees. The following instructions are for a slow cooker.

You'll need:
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken, cut in 1-inch pieces (I used boneless thighs)
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup vinegar
1/4 cup lemon-lime soda (I used diet Sprite)
1 teaspoon black pepper
Cooked rice, to serve

Place chicken pieces in a slow cooker. Combine remaining ingredients, except rice, and pour over chicken. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours. Serve with rice. Serves 4.

When I made this dish, I used about 1.5 pounds of boneless chicken thighs. I think (at least based on my family) it yielded about 5 servings. And it is one of my husband's new favorites.

To make it in a conventional oven, cut the chicken in pieces and place them in a 3 quart casserole dish.

Blend all the sauce ingredients and pour over the chicken.

Yes, it's got plenty of garlic, but that is what makes it good!

I baked mine in a 350 degree oven for about an hour. Cover the dish with foil -- you don't want this sticky, sweet sauce splattering around in the oven.

Serve over cooked rice...

...and forgive the horrible kitchen lighting in this photo!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

New-fangled beef vegetable soup

I have made countless pots of beef vegetable soup, but always used ground beef. Last week, I came up with a revised take on the recipe, using stew beef and a pouch of black pepper seasoning from the spice aisle. This seasoning packs a punch, so I recommend using no more than half the package. Use the remainder to season another dish. The tomatoes with chipotle peppers gives this dish a wonderful smoky heat.

For beef vegetable soup, you'll need:

1 pound stew beef
3 potatoes, diced
14.5 can corn, drained
14.5 can green beans, drained
15 ounce can diced tomatoes with chipotle peppers
4 cups water
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1/2 package cracked black pepper seasoning (or 1 teaspoon cracked black pepper)

Season the stew beef with the black pepper seasoning, then brown the beef in a medium skillet. Add the beef and the remaining ingredients to a 6-quart slow cooker. Stir well to combine. Cook on low for 8-10 hours. Yield: 10-12 cups.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Pineapple ginger pork

I found this recipe in a wonderful cookbook called 365 Easy Slow Cooker Recipes. It reminded me of Hawaiian Chicken, a dish my mother made when I was a child. That dish used chicken, onion, green pepper and pineapple chunks. I modified this recipe for Pineapple Ginger Pork, skipping the oyster sauce and sliced water chestnuts and substituting green peas and a cornstarch slurry for the (called for) snow pea pods and tapioca.

You'll need:
1 pound boneless pork shoulder, cut in 1-inch cubes
2 tablespoons cooking oil
1/4 cup chicken broth
3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
1 teaspoons grated fresh ginger (I used 1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger)
15 ounce can pineapple chunks
4 medium carrots, diced
1 large onion, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup frozen green peas
2 teaspoons cornstarch mixed with 1/2 cup water

In a large skillet, heat the oil and brown the pork in two batches. Drain fat. Drain the pineapple, adding the juice to a 6-quart slow cooker. Combine all the remainig ingredients except the pineapple, peas and cornstarch/water mixture. Mix well and cook on low for 8 hours. About 30 minutes berfore serving, turn the cooker to high. Add the peas; mix the cornstarch and water and add it to cooker. Mix the pineapple in, just before serving. Yield: 6-8 servings.

This dish is salty and sweet. We loved it, although my youngest son did not like the warm pineapple in the dish. He is used to eating pineapple cold, so having it in a hot dish threw him a bit.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Great granola

I made a huge batch of granola last week, after my youngest son saw a similar recipe on television and was intrigued. I loved the idea because you can control sugar and fat in homemade granola, a product that is notoriously high in both in store-bought versions. And it made the house smell like childhood! The aroma was a cross between oatmeal cookies and pecan pie -- yum!

What you'll need:

3 cups quick-cooking oats
1/2 cup coconut
1 cup of nuts (I used a combination of pecans and sliced almonds)
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2-3 tablespoons of honey
1/2 cup of raisins

I had my best helper on hand for mixing and stirring.

Blend all the ingredients in a large bowl, except for the raisins.

Use two sheet pans and spray them lightly with non-stick spray. Divide the granola between the pans and bake for an hour to 75 minutes at 300 degrees. Stir every 15 minutes. (Yes, like making Chex Mix!)

Here's what it looks like after baking...

Let the granola cool completely, then add the raisins.

This recipe makes about 5 cups of granola, or about 10 half-cup servings. Miles enjoyed this with milk, but it could also be added to fruit or yogurt. Adjust the ingredients to your liking -- you could add dates, currants, white raisins or other ingredients. Enjoy!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Pork chops and gravy for dinner

This is an old-school, blue plate special kind of dinner. It's not healthy by any stretch of the imagination, but a great comfort food dinner for once in a while.

You'll need

5-6 boneless pork chops
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
Salt and pepper
Vegetable oil
1/2 cup milk
1/2 to 3/4 cups water

In a large skillet, heat vegetable oil about 1/4 inch deep. Season the chops with salt and pepper, then dredge them in the flour. Add the chops to the hot oil.

Fry the chops for about 8 minutes, turning once. Remove the chops to a plate to rest.

Your pan should have plenty of carmelization from the chops. This browned coating is full of flavor and is the basis of your gravy.

Remove any excess oil, leaving about 2 tablespoons. Sprinkle in about 2 tablespoons of flour and blend with a fork, scraping up the browned bits from the pan.

I combine the water and milk. Add the liquid to the pan, stirring constantly. You can use the same fork, or a wire whisk.

Cook until the mixture is thickened and bubbly. You can add additional water, if necessary. Making gravy is something you have to practice and get a feel for. How do you like my new gravy boat from Pier 1?

I served the chops with rice and greeen beans -- a classic blue plate kind of dinner.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Basil harvest, step by step

Basil is one of my favorite herbs, for its flavor and for its ease to grow in the garden. Basil has a rich history over thousands of years and nearly as many uses. I kept a small kitchen garden this year, with basil, Thai basil, rosemary, thyme, parsley, cilantro and Roma tomatoes. It was an easy grouping to take care of, planted in a sunny part of a flower bed and nearest the kitchen door. If I needed some fresh parsley for a garnish, or a few sprigs of rosemary for a marinade, they were only steps away.

I bought two small basil plants at the State Street Farmers Market this spring. Each were less than 6 inches tall when I transplanted them in the yard. They grew like gangbusters and provided numerous meals throughout the summer. I pulled the plants up last week, ahead of any killing frost.

I had quite a lot of basil on my hands.

After washing and drying the leaves, I pulled them off and spread them out on paper plates to begin drying. Here's what the leaves looked like after about 12 hours.

Then after about 24 hours...

On the second day, the leaves were largely dry, but still slightly pliable. I finished drying the leaves in the microwave, at 15 second intervals. When the leaves were completely dry and crumbly, I packaged them in a small container.

I started with about 3 cups of fresh basil that shrunk to about a 1/2 cup of dried basil. But the end product will pack a punch in any Italian dishes, soups or stews to come this winter. I leave the leaves whole and crumble them when I add them to a dish. Here are some ideas for using your own.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Ranch makes pork dinner delicious

My family loves Ranch dressing on anything that doesn’t move – carrots, cucumbers (my youngest son); pizza crust or anything resembling bread (my husband); noodles, vegetables (my daughter). Ranch is notoriously high in calories, so I usually buy low-fat or no-fat versions. Recently, I bought the seasoning packets to make Ranch dressing at home, thinking I would use non-fat yogurt in place of sour cream or mayonnaise.

Instead, I have used the packets to season meats, vegetables and other dishes. I came up with this dish after seeing how much my husband loved pork chops seasoned only with the Ranch seasoning.

You’ll need:
1 pound pork chops (chops with bones are fine)
1 cup carrots
2 cups diced potato
1 medium onion, sliced thin
1 Ranch flavored seasoning packet
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup red wine

Place the vegetables in a 6 quart slow cooker. Add oil and sprinkle half the seasoning packet over the vegetables.

Mix the seasonings and vegetables.

Dredge the pork in the remaining Ranch seasoning, then brown the pork in a medium skillet.

Place the chops over the vegetable mixture...

Deglaze the pan with red wine, scraping up any browned bits.

Pour the wine over the chops and vegetables. Cook on low for 7 to 8 hours. If the chops have bones, you may want to remove the meat from the cooker, debone it and return the meat to mix with the vegetable mixture.

This dish is hearty and satisfying and has a great flavor. Yield: 6-8 servings.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

More chances soon to win 'Start Your Ovens' book

Earlier this year, I hosted a cookbook giveaway for "Start Your Ovens: Cooking the Way it Ought'a Be." It's the official cookbook of the Bristol Motor Speedway and a service project by the Junior League of Bristol TN/VA.

I am going to give away additional copies of the book soon. Look for details in posts on this blog. You can read more about the book and recipes I have already featured here.