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 allrecipes.com, 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!