Sunday, December 28, 2014

Hearty Vegetable Soup



Raise your hand if you're sad the holidays are coming to an end. You can't see it but my hand is raised. Why does it go so fast? I attempted to slow down a little this December but for some reason the time continuum did not get to memo that it was also supposed to slow down. Oh well. Such is life. It was still a fantastic season and we were able to do some fun things! Plenty of cookies were baked, trees were decorated and lot's of gifts were opened. I am truly blessed and I hope all of you had a wonderful holiday season. 

Now, raise your hand if you ate WAY too much during your festivites.  Again, my hand is up. Actually both hands are up. Shew, I feel the need for a detox. Ok, we all know that's not going to happen because I love to eat. However, I'm going to lighten things up a bit and have some vegetables that aren't covered in cream or cheese. I know, I know. They're delicious but I need a break before I eat more super satisfying, delicious, special occasion foods later this week. 

This is one of those recipes that even people who claim to not know how to cook, can make. If you can open some bags, a can and can read, then you can make this. All you do is soften the fresh vegetable, throw the rest of the ingredients in and let your stove top do the work! Easy peasy. 

I created this vegetable soup recipe years ago after one of my families many, many trips to the Smokey Mountains. My parents used to drag us there twice a year for long weekend getaways. One of the things I always looked forward to during those mini vacations, was our excursion to the Apple Barn. Ever been there? I totally recommend it. The apple fritters and apple butter are ah-mazing. I can taste it right now. The vegetable soup though, is out of this world. It's a basic soup with basic vegetables (please don't put sweet potatoes in my veggie soup. Sorry.). White potatoes, onions, green beans, corn, peas, lima beans, celery, you know. All the good stuff. They kick their soup up a notch though by adding white pepper. It's such a simple concept but adds such a great warmth to an already soul soothing soup. (I just totally got distracted by a piece of brisket on tv. What was I even talking about? Ohhhh soup. Got it.) 

This soup really is souper easy. Haha... Sorry. I really could not resist. I use mostly frozen vegetables. I'm glad that after years of a bad reputation, frozen vegetables are making a comeback. I've always used them and have never understood the fuss. They're all frozen at the peak of freshness and they aren't covered in salt and preservatives. I do use two cans though--tomatoe juice and canned tomatoes. I have no shame in my game. Especially since I used all of my canned tomatoes from my garden. It didn't take long. I'll fix that with my next garden! 

Word of warning: this soup is a little on the spicy side so it might not be a big hit to the little ones. I've never experimented with that so you will want to cut back on the white pepper. Maybe just 1/2 teaspoon. I serve this up in a big ole' bowl with a side of peanut butter crackers because growing up we always had peanut butter crackers with our soup. Don't ask me why. I don't know. It's just what we did and this always brings happy memories for me. 

Hearty Vegetable Soup                                                          Printer Friendly

2 tablespoons butter
1 onion, diced
1 cup carrots, sliced
1 white baking potato, cubed
2 cloves garlic, diced
2 cups frozen green beans
1 cup frozen Lima beans
1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained
2 cups frozen peas
1 1/2 cup frozen corn
1 (46 ounce) can low sodium tomato juice
1 1/2 teaspoons white pepper
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon celery salt
Salt

In a large Dutch oven or stock pot, melt butter over medium heat. Add onions and carrots. Cook for about 5 minutes or until onions have softened. Add garlic and stir in white pepper, black pepper, garlic powder, celery salt and salt. 

Next, add green beans, potato, Lima beans, tomatoes, and tomato juice. 

Bring to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce heat and simmer for 30-45 minutes. About 10 minutes before serving, mix in corn and peas. 

Adjust seasonings, remove from heat and enjoy! 

Friday, December 19, 2014

Southern Style Green Beans with Bacon and Brown Sugar


Green beans. Bacon. Brown sugar. If those words don't conjure up happy thoughts, I don't know what will. I come from a family full of green bean lovers. You'll find them at every family potluck, normally prepared by my Aunt Carolyn. She makes the best green beans and I always make sure I have plenty of space on my plate for a hefty serving. 

I'm sure I've mentioned this a time or two (or a thousand), but my family will pretty much eat anything as long as you put sugar in it.  I don't know what that's all about. I've cut back on the sugar but I do add some brown sugar to my green beans. I can't help it. It's soooo good. Especially with bacon. There is just something about the combo if bacon and brown sugar that gives me the winter warm fuzzies. It's kind of like a vision of sugar plums dancing in my head. Ahhhhh.... 

What I'm about to tell you will shock and surprise you. When it's winter and fresh green beans are not in season, I use canned green beans. That's right. Canned. Rarely, and I mean rarely, will you hear me say I use anything canned, unless I can it myself and unfortunately I do not have a big enough garden for green beans. One day I will though. One day. There is something about frozen green beans that I just don't like. It's a texture thing. They're so rubbery, no matter what you do to them or how you cook them and I just can't deal. If you can, then by all means, knock yourself out. 

Southern Style Green Beans with Bacon and Brown Sugar                Printer Friendly

4 cans of green beans, rinsed and drained
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 small onion, diced
1/4 cup brown sugar
6 slices bacon, diced 
4 cups of water
Salt and pepper

In a Dutch oven cook bacon over medium heat until done. Remove from pan. 

In the same pan add onion and garlic. Cook for about 2 minutes. Add green beans, brown sugar, water, salt and pepper. Lower heat and simmer for about an hour.  Taste and adjust the seasoning. 

Remove from heat and serve! 

Chicken Noodle Casserole



My grandmother was the kindest, gentlest soul you could have ever met.   She had a fantastic laugh but was relatively reserved a majority of the time.  From what I understand, she made amazing fried chicken. That must be where my mom's pickiness comes from. I have so many random memories of this wonderful woman, like the cookies she kept in her refrigerator, the juice glasses we always drank out of at her house, the fact that I rarely saw her wear anything but dresses. She had a great love for Kentucky basketball and I know she's in heaven cheering on the Cats this season.

I spent all that time telling you about Gom-gom because this Chicken Noodle Casserole belongs to her and it is one of my favorite things in the world (I'm pretty easy to please--low maintenance). It's everything a casserole should be but mostly it's just good old comfort food. The orignal recipe calls for a can of cream of chicken soup and if you want to use that, knock yourself out. I've modified it in order to cut out as many preservatives and chemicals as possible. It's kind of my thing.  This can be thrown together pretty quickly assuming you're like me and keep cooked, shredded chicken in your freezer.  Seriously people, if you learn one thing from me it should be that. Throw it in the crockpot, shred it, portion it, freeze it. Learn it, live it. You'll thank me. 

I've not met anyone who turned their nose up to this dish. Even the man friend was impressed. I believe his exact words were I was expecting something boring and flat. More impressive than that was the 4 year old who ate it! I love seeing children who eat good stuff. 

Chicken Noodle Casserole                                                  Printer Friendly

Serves 6

8 ounces egg noodles, cooked
2 cups shredded chicken
1 1/2 cups sour cream
2 cups low sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
6 pieces of bread, buttered and cubed
Salt and pepper, to taste 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

In a small sauce pan, cook flour and butter together over medium heat until it forms a roux, about 4 minutes. Pour in the 2 cups of chicken broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about  5 to 10 minutes. 

Remove from heat and transfer into a large mixing bowl. Add sour cream, chicken and noodles. Mix well. 

Pour into a 9x13 casserole dish and top with the buttered, cubed bread. 

Bake at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes or until hot. 

Serve with a mixed green salad or your favorite steamed vegetables. Enjoy! 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Brown Sugar



Who doesn't love Brussels Sprouts?  The answer?  A whole bunch of people.  Including most of my family.  My father is the biggest adversary of them that I have ever seen.  However, this Thanksgiving, he went back for seconds.  Yep, another brussels sprout convert--as long as they are made with bacon and brown sugar.  I know, I know.  You're thinking really?  Sugar? Trust me, I wouldn't normally add sugar but this was a special occasion and yes,  I'm implying that it is A-OK to eat anything you want on a holiday.  (I should probably enter a disclaimer here about food allergies, illnesses, blah, blah, blah.  You're an adult.)

I absolutely love this time of the year.  Christmas decorations are going up everywhere.  Twinkly lights are draped over anything that will stand still.  Holiday music is streaming 24 hours a day on a local radio station and the air is full of excitement.  Speaking of 24 hour a day Christmas music,  I'm learning that apparently there are only about five different songs that have been remade approximately 487 times.  I seem to recall much more variety as a child.  Or maybe I just wasn't paying any attention.

Hopefully you all had a super Thanksgiving and the holiday spirit is alive and well with you.  I, once again, fulfilled my yearly tradition of eating wayyyy too much.  I mean, how can it be avoided?  All that delicious food in one place--corn pudding, mashed potatoes, broccoli casserole, rolls, green beans, turkey, gravy, dressing.  Mmmm dressing.  I think dressing is my favorite thing about the holidays.  I should really start having it more.  Maybe I'll add it to my roast chicken menu.  Yeah, that's the ticket.

Wait, what is this post about? Oh yeah, Brussels sprouts. I got distracted. Food has that affect on me. Go, make these sprouts now.  I'll spare you the details of how I could not stop snacking on these when I pulled them out of the oven. I wanted to lick the foil. Ok. Maybe I actually did lick the foil. Don't tell. 



Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Brown Sugar                             Printer Friendly

2 pounds fresh Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
5 slices of bacon, diced 
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon Canola oil
Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. 

In a large bowl add sprouts and canola oil. Mix well. 

Add the remainder of the ingredients and stir. 

Pour into a foil lines baking sheet. 

Bake for 30-45 minutes or until bacon has cooked through. Serve immediately. 








Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Swiss and Thyme Potatoes Au Gratin



I have an obsession with potatoes. I can't help it. I don't even care what form they come in as long as they end up on my plate. Mashed, fried, salad, baked, cubed, shredded, sliced--yes, please. I love them so much that I occasionally dream about them. That's how this recipe ended up on my blog.

Au gratin potatoes weren't really something I had much growing up. I'm not sure why. Probably because I was too busy stuffing my face with mashed potatoes during my childhood (couldn't get enough and please pour ALL the gravy on them. No really. All of the gravy).  I remember seeing the Betty Crocker kind on the shelves of the grocery store but I didn't really understand the concept of potatoes in a box. I still don't to be honest. In fact, I don't get the concept of any food product in a box. Especially if it is this easy to throw together. But seriously, why kind of potatoes can be kept in a box with a "sell by" date of May 1, 2045? 

In the winter, one of my favorite herbs is thyme. I'll put it on anything--except chocolate. I might try that now actually.  I love it with any meat and I've been experimenting with it on some different veggies. I'll get around to sharing that eventually. However, there is nothing like the combination of thyme and potatoes. It adds such a burst of flavor that I  drooling over my keyboard right now.  When you add the Swiss cheese it just really knocks it out of the park. If you kicked it up and subbed gruyere for the Swiss you're really talking about nirvana. For some reason, it's difficult to find gruyere 'round these parts so I normally just end up with Swiss. 

Ok. Enough about cheese. Just get yourself a mandoline to save a ton of time and get to work on these Swiss and Thyme Potatoes Au Gratin. You'll thank me later. 

Swiss and Thyme Potatoes Au Gratin                                      Printer Friendly

3-4 russet potatoes, cleaned and thinly sliced
1 small onion, diced
1/2 tablespoon dried thyme
2 cups milk 
1 1/2 cups Swiss cheese, shredded
Salt and pepper, to taste
Butter

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Butter a 9x13 baking dish. 

Place 2 layers of thinly sliced potatoes in baking dish. 

Sprinkle the diced onion, half of the thyme, salt, pepper and 1/2 cup of the cheese. 

Place an additional 2 layers of potatoes on top. 

Pour the milk over the entire dish. 

Top with remaining thyme, salt and pepper. 

Cover with foil and bake for 50 minutes.

Remove foil and sprinkle the remaining cheese on top. Bake for an additional 20 minutes. 

Remove from oven and let rest for about 10 minutes. 

Serve and enjoy! 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Easy Shrimp and Cheese Grits



Is there anything better than comfort food when the wind chill is 3 degrees?  I think not.  I find it interesting that the south creates some of the warmest, most soul pleasing dishes when in reality, the deep south never gets that cold.  Kentucky is a different story.  We love calling ourselves southerners, including myself, but this time of the year there is no place I'd rather be than the sunny beaches of Florida.  Or some tropical paradise in the caribbean.  Frankly anyplace that doesn't have snow or arctic blasts!  A girl can dream, right?

I've recently created a monster by introducing the man friend to grits.  No one is more surprised than me.  Although I wouldn't necessarily consider him a picky eater (actually I kind of do.  He won't eat burgers or anything formed into a shape, like meatloaf.  Who doesn't eat burgers?), I didn't expect him to actually ask for grits after having them once.  Low and behold the guy is full of surprises and he asked for shrimp and grits and crusty bread.  Since I will do anything for the people I care about, I served up this dish for him.

I'm not going to pretend to be the best seafood preparer in all the land.  As a matter of fact when we do eat shrimp he is the one that takes on the task of cooking them.  The very first meal he ever made for me was a shrimp po boy and imagine my surprise to find perfectly cooked shrimp on that amazing sandwich.  To say I was blown away is putting it mildly.  Hence, my guy is now my go-to for shrimp.  He will even devein those suckers.  I'm pretty lucky.  I'm going to let you in on a little secret now.  His special seasoning is a $1 cajun mix that you can apparently get at any Kroger store and it is good.  Three of my favorite things are now going on in this mix--him, seafood and saving money.



I had recently posted a grits recipe and explained all about Weisenberger Mills.  I'm in love with their grits.  They cook up so smooth and delicious so it's all I use.  You can order off their website here. And you are welcome.  Now let's enjoy some Easy Shrimp and Grits!

Easy Shrimp and Cheese Grits                                                    Printer Friendly

Serves 4

For the Grits

1 cup grits (if using quick cooking, follow their directions)
4 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 cup heavy cream (milk will work too)
2 cups of shredded cheddar cheese (feel free to use more)

In a large sauce pan or dutch oven, bring water and salt to a boil.  Whisk in grits and garlic powder.  Lower heat and let simmer for 20-25 minutes or until grits have thickened.  Stir in heavy cream and cook for 2-3 more minutes.  Remove grits from heat and stir in cheese until completely melted.  Serve immediately.

For the Shrimp

1 pound shrimp, deveined and cleaned
Cheap cajun seasoning
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons Olive oil

In a large skillet, melt butter and olive oil over medium low heat.

Rinse shrimp in a colander.   Pat dry with a paper towel.  Sprinkle on the cajun seasoning to taste, remembering that this stuff has a lot of sodium in it so go easy.  You can always add more later.

Transfer shrimp to skillet and saute for about 5 minutes or until they have all turned pink, turning at least once.  Remove from heat.

Place as many shrimp on top of a bowl of grits as you like.  The more the merrier!  Enjoy!


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Glazed Mini Pumpkin Muffins



Tis the season for all things pumpkin. It's getting a little out if control though. I'm starting to imagine Bubba from Forrest Gump-- pumpkin pie, pumpkin ravioli, pumpkin chili, pumpkin roll, pumpkin--well, you get it. I keep waiting for pumpkin sushi. 

Don't get me wrong. I love pumpkin, especially in the muffin, bread or pie categories (whoopie or otherwise). Maybe one day I will become brave enough to add it to my savory dishes.  Oh who am I kidding? This is the first pumpkin flavored anything I've even had and it's the middle of November! It will be a while before savory pumpkin dishes become my priority. 

These mini muffins are super popable and slightly addicting. Mini muffins are such a great on-the-go breakfast. I normally portion them out in baggies and literally all I have to do is grab them on my way out the door! They also freeze extremely well. If you're going the freezer route I would nix the glaze until they thaw. I've never experimented with glaze and freezers but that sounds like a good winter project. 

Speaking of winter, it's snowing. Like, REALLY, snowing. In my opinion this shouldn't be happening in the middle of November in Kentucky.  However, these muffins go great with a cup of piping hot coffee! 

Thanks to Damn Delicious for originally posting these with a streusel topping. If only I had brown sugar. Who am I and why don't I have brown sugar? 

Glazed Mini Pumpkin Muffins                                                      Printer Friendly

Yield: 48 mini muffins

Adapted from Damn Delicious

2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 cup sugar
1 (15 ounce) can pure pumpkin
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and pumpkin pie spice. 

In a separate bowl beat the eggs, add pumpkin, vanilla and butter. Mix well. 

Pour the pumpkin mixture into the dry ingredients.  Stir together making sure you don't over mix. 

Scoop about a tablespoon of the mixture into each mini muffin hole. Bake I'm a 350 degree oven for 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the muffin comes out clean. 

Remove from muffin tin. Cool on a wire rack. 

Glaze

4 tablespoons powder sugar
Dash of vanilla extract
Milk

In a small bowl mix the powder sugar, vanilla and enough milk to thin to your desired consistency. Pour into a plastic sandwich bag, snip off a corner and drizzle over muffins once they have cooled. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Memaw's Corn Pudding



Um, can someone please tell me how it is already the second week of November?  I mean it.  Where has this year gone?  With the holidays quickly approaching, I thought I would share some of the Pepper family's staple side dishes for pretty much any family gathering we have.  First up, my memaw's corn pudding.

Now those of you not from the southern parts of these United States probably just made a face and possibly even made some derogatory comment.  I might even do the same had I not been raised on the stuff.  Just go with me on this.  It's creamy, sweet, rich and delicious.  In fact, my mouth is watering right now.  I cannot wait to dig in to this delectable side dish.

Back in the day, the corn for this dish used to come from my aunt's farm.  I think now would be the appropriate time to tell stories about how my mom, sister and I used to shuck the corn, remove the silks and prepare the corn for the deep freezer. Honestly, I only remember doing that once.  My mom will now accuse me of lying and tell me that I never did that.  I did.  I promise.  At least once.  In all honesty though, I wish I had more stories like that.  They're character builders.

It's starting to feel more and more like the holiday season every day.  We've been pretty lucky weather wise so far but rumor has it that winter will be here shortly.  I'm praying that it's nothing like last winter.  Does anyone remember that other than me?  It was miserably cold and being somewhat of a Florida girl it was not easy for me to handle.  One word of advice: Layers.  For real.  Just pile on as many shirts as you can find and there is nothing wrong with wearing multiple pairs of socks.  It was all the rage in the 80's.  Remember?

Now don't hate me, but I've decided to put my tree up this weekend.  Before you ask, no, I'm not overlooking Thanksgiving.  I LOVE Thanksgiving.  A day dedicated to being grateful for everything I've been blessed with AND eating.  What is not to love about that?  And honestly, I have a multitude of things and people to be thankful for.  While this year has been slightly rough, the good times have far outweighed the bad and I couldn't be happier for some new relationships that have been formed.

With that being said, I thought I would make a big meal for my decorating committee--roasted chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans and yes, corn pudding.  It sounds decadent because it is.  I don't eat like this every day.  I'm assuming we'll be famished after decorating all day and we'll need something to get our energy back up!

I've rambled on enough here and there's some decorating that needs to happen!  Check back soon for holiday pictures but for now, enjoy this corn pudding recipe!

Memaw's Corn Pudding                                                         Printer Friendly

8 eggs
3 1/3 cups milk
2 teaspoons salt
1 cup sugar
16 ounces frozen corn
4 tablespoons flour 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

In a mixing bowl, whisk the eggs and the milk together. Stir in the salt and sugar. In a separate bowl mix together the corn and the flour. Add to the milk and egg mixture. Pour into a greased 9x13 pan.

Bake for 1 hour or until the pudding is completely set.  Enjoy!!



Sunday, November 9, 2014

Easy Ham and Cheese Crescents



This morning, at 5:30, I created a bucket list.  It consists of one item: Sleeping until 8am.  I'm not asking for much, right? That's what I thought.  Still, this one simple item manages to evade me.  Someone recently told me that it takes your body a week to adjust to the time change.  We're past that.  Maybe next weekend?  For now I'll just sit here and drink my delicious coffee from my favorite coffee house, Coffee Times.

Coffee Times is a magical place.  It's not your typical, conglomerated, big business coffee shop.  It's a local spot filled to the brim with character.  I mean To. The. Brim.  One can find anything coffee related there from unique coffee cups to tea pots to journals and fun napkins.  Yes, napkins can be fun.  Not only can you get a fantastic cup of joe (or tea), you can get a great lunch or delicious sweets which are locally made.  The baristas are so great at this place and the amount of beans that you can choose from to take home and brew yourself is mind blowing.  Seriously.  Look them up online and if you're ever in Lexington, check them out--or any of the local coffee shops.  We have a ton which makes the 45,000 Starbucks in this city unnecessary.  I'm not sure what my vendetta towards that place is all about.  Maybe I'm just irritated because they've swayed way too many people into drinking bad coffee.  I'll stop now.

So lately, I've noticed that the man friend has been ham and cheese crazy.  It doesn't matter what meal it is but after watching him chow down on a ham and cheese bagel at McGee's Bakery (another local Lexington gem that you must check out) for breakfast a couple of weeks ago, I had an idea. When I saw that crescents were on sale, the idea came to fruition.  I like to surprise him by making freezer dishes.  That way they won't spoil in the fridge and he can grab as many as he wants and throw it in the microwave.  Kind of a grab and go idea.  He was the inspiration behind the freezer breakfast burritos and now the Easy Ham and Cheese Crescents.  Food is how I show my love and it's my favorite gift to give.

Easy Ham and Cheese Crescents

1 package crescent rolls
4 slices ham
4 slices cheese (I used American)
1 egg, beaten

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Unroll the crescents.  Cut each slice of ham and cheese in half.  Place a half slice of ham on the wide end of the crescent and top with a half slice of cheese.  Roll up the crescent starting with the wide end.  Place on a baking sheet.  Brush with the egg.  Repeat with the 7 other crescents.  Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden brown.

At this point, you have two options.  Devour these buddies while standing over the kitchen sink or let them cool, wrap in wax paper, place in a freezer bag, put them in the freezer and give them to someone you like.  You can reheat them in the microwave for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Cajun Cheese Grits with Bacon



Grits. Cheese grits. Cajun Bacon Cheese Grits. See the progression there? Grits are a delicious southern staple to begin with but kicking it up with Cajun seasoning AND bacon? I've said it before and I'll say it again--bacon makes everything better. I. Mean. Everything. Brussels sprouts, pimento grilled cheese sandwiches, potato soup.... I could go on for days but I'll stop there. You already know what I'm talking about.


There is something so comforting about a bowl of warm, creamy, cheesy grits. Comfort food is where I'm at right now. Especially with out first snow forecasted for tomorrow night. This news does not delight me in the least but I guess I can't complain. We did actually have some semblance of a fall this year. In years past we've gone from 90 to 40 overnight. Not cool. Clearly I will be dreaming of soups and stews from this point forward. That part I'm excited about. Trudging to work in the snow, not so much! 

Living in Kentucky with all things "Kentucky Proud", we are extremely fortunate to have Weisenburger Mills which produces anything from flour to baking mixes to, you guessed it-- grits! You can check out their website and order online! 

Cajun Cheese Grits with Bacon

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 slices of bacon, cut into pieces 
1 cup grits
4 cups water
1/2 cup heavy cream
2-3 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 1/2 tablespoon Cajun seasoning 

In a large pot, melt 1 tablespoon butter. Add in bacon and cook until brown and crispy, about 10-15 minutes. Remove all the grease from the pot except for a tablespoon or 2. 

Next, add the grits. Stir the grits for about 30 seconds. Pour in 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil. Stir in Cajun seasoning. Reduce heat and simmer for 20-25 minutes. Add in the heavy cream and simmer for 5-10 minutes or until desired consistency has been reached. 

Finally, stir in the cheese and the bacon. Taste to adjust seasoning. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Buffalo Chicken Potato Skins



What is it about buffalo wing sauce?  It makes everything better--chicken, shrimp, cauliflower, pizza and yes, potato skins.  I swear you could slather it on shoe leather and everyone would attempt to eat it.

Appetizers have always been one of my favorite food groups.  Honestly, the only thing I love more than appetizers is steak.  And soup on a chilly day.  Or anything hot off the grill.  I have a lot of favorites.  I'm allowed.  I make my own food rules.

I was perusing Pinterest the other day and saw a pin for Philly Cheese Steak Potato Skins and then I drooled.  Potato skins have become a super versatile dish.  I've made them with barbecue chicken, pulled pork and now, buffalo style chicken.  Yum-o.

Years ago I got into the habit of buying split chicken breasts when they're on sale, throwing them in the crock pot (ok, I don't really throw.  Gently place is more accurate), shredding it and freezing in one cup portions.  It's a rare occasion when you can't find bags of chicken in my freezer.  As an added bonus I use the bones to make homemade broth which I also freeze.  Have I ever mentioned that I love saving money?

Don't have a stock pile of shredded chicken on hand?  No worries.  You could use leftover rotisserie chicken or in a pinch, canned chicken.  I would just recommend rinsing it first.


Buffalo Chicken Potato Skins

5 potatoes, baked and cooled*
1 cup chicken, cooked and shredded
3/4 cup Franks Hot Sauce
2 tablespoons butter 
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 to 1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
Green onions

In a small saucepan bring butter, hot sauce and brown sugar to a slow boil over medium heat. Add chicken to the sauce pan. Continue to cook over low heat for about five to ten minutes. Remove from heat. 

Meanwhile, slice potatoes in half length wise, being careful to not rip the skin.  With a spoon, scoop out the center of the potato leaving a well in the center. 

Place potatoes on a foil lined baking sheet. Place some shredded cheese in each potato--about a tablespoon for each half. Next, spoon in the buffalo chicken into each potato skin. Cover each potato half with shredded cheese. 

Place baking sheet in a preheated 400 degree oven until cheese is gooey and melty--about 10 minutes. Enjoy!!

*I coat my potatoes in olive oil and salt the skin.  Bake in a 375 degree oven for 45 minutes to an hour. Until they are fork tender.  Delish!





Sunday, August 24, 2014

Mushroom and Swiss Chard Risotto


Comfort food in August.  Sometimes you just need it.  It doesn't make any sense.  It's 90 degrees yet I yearned for something hearty that would warm my soul.  You would think my soul would be sweating like the rest of me, but it wasn't.

The grocery store that I shop at has a lot and I mean A LOT of 10 for $10 sales and thank goodness it does.  It helps this single girl save SO much money (which is the reason I haven't really been blogging much in the first place).  Food is expensive.  Oh, who am I kidding?  Everything is expensive.  If only  my hourly wage could reflect the price of a gallon of milk. Ha ha…  good one, Aim.  This week they had mushrooms for $1.  Baby Bella mushrooms for a dollar.  Wha????? (I left the T out on purpose, don't be alarmed.  It's for emphasis on what a phenomenal deal that was.)

To me, mushrooms in themselves are a quintessential comfort food.  I could put them in anything and they just make it a heartier dish.  When I toyed around with the idea of being a vegetarian they were definitely my "meat".  I think I've explained before how I may have been successful with that but, bacon--oh, and steaks.  I need my iron, people!

I would love to say this would be a great Meatless Monday meal but I used chicken broth.  Veggie broth would work just as well, but I do recommend making your own like this one.   Don't even get me started on some of those store bought broths.  Seriously.  Don't. Get. Me. Started.  Ok, I got started--kind of.  I'm just saying, most households have everything they need to make a delicious broth.  Make a pot and store it in the freezer in individual containers.  Voila, you always have broth!  Most importantly you know exactly what is in yours.  I'm not sure how much time y'all have to read labels at the store but you should do it.  Gross.  No words should have that many consonants together.  Ok.  <takes a deep breath and steps down off soapbox>

Back to this creamy, decadent, comforting and surprisingly easy risotto.  So many people are intimidated by risotto. I was the same way and to make myself feel better I would say it's super pretentious and I'm not so why should I try it?  It's not difficult, it just requires attention and a lot of stirring but in the end it is completely worth it.  Don't say you can't do it.  You can.  Trust me.  I'll walk you through it. And it will no longer be pretentious.

Mushroom and Swiss Chard Risotto

Serves 4

Ingredients

2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup diced onion
16 ounce package mushrooms, sliced
1 bunch swiss chard, stems removed and roughly chopped
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
5-6 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon thyme
1/3 cup parmegianno cheese, shredded plus more for garnish
Olive oil
Salt
Pepper

Heat a couple of tablespoons olive oil (enough to cover the bottom) in a large sauté pan over medium low heat.  Add the garlic, onion and mushrooms and sauté for about 5 minutes. Season with salt, pepper and thyme.  Add in the swiss chard and cook for another five minutes or until it has wilted down.  Place the arborio rice in the pan.  Stir and let toast for four to five minutes.

Start adding the broth 1 to 1 1/2 cups at a time, stirring very often.  Once the broth has absorbed into the rice, add more.  (this is where risotto becomes tedious.  Hang it there!) It will take around 20-30 minutes for the rice to completely cook and you might not use all of the broth.   Taste it to make sure the consistency is correct and to adjust the seasonings.  Remove from heat and stir in the cheese

Serve as a main dish for four or a side dish for six and enjoy that warm belly feeling that is oh so comforting!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Memaw's Peanut Butter Cookies


I have many memories of my great grandmother.  Some of the memories I wasn't even around for and some of them leave me confused. Most often Memaw is described as a "character".  I'm not sure if this word is Kentucky specific or not but we use it a lot.  There are some fascinating, hilarious stories that are told of this lady that had a heart of gold.  She taught me how to knit, not very well though.  No one could come close the creations this amazing woman made from yarn.  Baby blankets, booties, hats--they were all beautiful and made with love.   Memaw was never afraid to speak her mind.  She would tell you exactly what she thought about every situation whether you wanted to hear it or not.  Even though she has been gone for several years, I can still hear her voice.

For most of my life, Memaw lived in an assisted living wing of a nursing home.  My cousins, sister and I would spend the afternoons racing on the patio.  She would always start us off with "One for the money, two for the show, three to get ready and four to go!" On rainy days we would find a random wheelchair and race down the hallways and she would always give us change to get a coke out of the machine upstairs.  She would feed us apples dipped in sugar--yes, dipped in sugar and she always had hard candy laying around for us to get hopped up on.  

I'm not sure why I remember peanut butter cookies when I think of her.  No one else seems to have even a vague memory of this.  I don't even particularly like peanut butter flavored food but one night last week I HAD to have some.  Isn't it strange when you get a craving for something you really don't love? Luckily, these are the easiest cookies you will EVER make.  Ever.  I promise. 

The absolute worst thing about making anything with peanut butter is that is sticks to everything and it's just a pain to clean up.  I'm gonna let you in on a little tip.  Non-stick spray.  Spray it on the rubber scrapper/spatula AND the measuring cup.  Easy as pie--er, cookies.  Whatever.



Memaw's Peanut Butter Cookies

Yields about 36 cookies

Ingredients

2 cups peanut butter
2 cups sugar plus more for decoration
2 eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

In a medium bowl combine peanut butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla.  Mix well.  

Roll dough into a one inch ball and place on a cookie sheet.  Flatten with a fork and sprinkle with the extra sugar.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for 8-10 minutes.  Let cool on the cookie sheet for 2 minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Freezer Breakfast Burritos



Warning: It is August. Summer is almost over. The hustle and bustle of back to school shopping is upon you. How did this happen? It feels like it was JUST April.  

I have bittersweet emotions about fall being right around the corner. On one hand I'm excited about football, the leaves changing (and blowing off the trees the next day), pumpkin flavored everything, the fall meet at Keeneland and the general coziness that goes along with this season. On the other hand I'm terrified that the next polar vortex is right around the corner. I am definitely not ready for that. I'm completely scarred from last winter. I guess I can't worry about snow, ice and frigid, below zero temps and instead just attempt to enjoy the rest of the summer. 

Seriously though, here in Kentucky, the kids will head back to school in a couple of weeks and I thought I would give you another post to ease the chaos of the mornings. Introducing Freezer Breakfast Burritos!  It's my newest addition to my weekday morning breakfast line-up. 

How easy is it to pull something out of the freezer and throw it into a microwave for a couple of minutes? I promise, that will take less time than sitting in line at the drive-thru. Plus, it's slightly healthier and being a burrito makes it convenient. It's a cute little hand held package.... I just called a burrito cute. 

Of course this is one of those recipes where the ingredients can be switched up for your preferences. The burrito is your oyster. (Q: How many times have I used the oyster line in this blog? A: too many) I decided to go with sausage, peppers and onions, eggs and cheese. Sounds somewhat tex-mex-i, right?? Throw on some hot sauce and you've got yourself a morning fiesta! Ole! 




Freezer Breakfast Burritos

Makes 8 burritos

1 pound sausage
1 green pepper, diced
1 small onion, diced
8 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon garlic powder 
2 heaping tablespoons sour cream*
2 tablespoons butter
8 tortillas
Shredded cheese
Salt and pepper
Olive oil


In a large skillet heat oil over medium to medium low heat. Add green pepper and sauté for about 5-7 minutes. Add onion and sauté for another 5 minutes or so. Break up sausage and cook with the green peppers and onion until browned and cooked through.  Remove from pan and drain off the excess grease. Wipe skillet with a paper towel and place back over medium low heat. 

In a mixing bowl, beat eggs. Mix in the garlic powder, salt, pepper and sour cream.  Melt butter in the skillet and pour in the eggs. Stir and scramble until cooked through, about 10 minutes. 

Meanwhile, tear off 8 sheets of wax paper and place a tortilla on each sheet. Place 2 tablespoons of shredded cheese lengthwise on each tortilla. Top with 1/4 cup sausage and 1/4 cup egg. Fold the ends of each tortilla in, tuck one long side of the tortilla over and roll. Wrap each tortilla in the wax paper, place in a gallon size plastic freezer bag, label and place in freezer. 

To re-heat tortilla:  Remove tortilla from wax paper. Place on microwave safe dish or paper towel and cook for 2 minutes. Let cool and enjoy! 


*Could also use 1/4 cup milk or heavy cream

Friday, August 1, 2014

Bacon, Lettuce and Fried Green Tomato Sandwiches with Cajun Mayo


Fried green tomatoes, bacon, spicy mayo, crispy lettuce…. is your mouth watering yet?   My garden is exploding with green tomatoes and I have been itching to get out there and grab a couple of 'em.  Fried green tomatoes are one of my favorite summer, southern treats.  

A quick internet search will provide thousands of different recipes for these crispy, fried delicacies and everyone seems to have their own opinions of how they should be prepared and eaten.  The most popular way to serve them is simply with a side of remoulade, and eaten with a fork and knife.  I think they should be eaten sandwiched between a soft, warm, toasty bun with crispy bacon, spicy cajun mayo and some cool, refreshing lettuce.  My, oh my.  

I've had an obsession with sandwiches lately.  It's an obsession that needs to stop.  All. The. Bread.  Seriously, it's addicting and I love it and it's not terribly good for you.  I actually feel kind of sorry for bread.  It's really been getting a bad reputation lately with everyone including that big, long, chemically named product in it that also happens to be used in the making of yoga mats, as an ingredient.  Don't get me wrong, we should all know what is going into our food and be as healthy as possible but sometimes, I wish I didn't care so much. 

Anyway, my garden this year has been a fabulous learning experience.  I started everything from seed, indoors and once the weather was nice enough and the plants had become stable enough, I planted them in the 2 raised beds that my dad helped me build from scrap wood.  The first thing that I've learned is that I need more beds because zucchini plants take up a lot of space.  Speaking of zucchini, there aren't many families who need 8 zucchini plants.  In my defense, I didn't think that all of my seeds would germinate.  They did.  And they thrived.  I had 19 plants total, half of which I gave away.  The garden has kept me busy and I look forward to having plenty of canned items waiting for me this winter, long after the garden has sadly gone away.  Eventually I will get around to posting some pictures and more of what worked and some things that didn't.  

For now, grab some green tomatoes and make this sandwich.  You won't regret it. 

Bacon, Lettuce and Fried Green Tomatoes with Cajun Mayo

Makes 4 sandwiches

Fried Green Tomatoes

2 large, green tomatoes, sliced
1/3 cup cornmeal
1/3 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1 egg
Salt
Vegetable Oil

Heat about a 1/2 inch of vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat. In a medium bowl, mix the cornmeal, flour, white pepper and some salt.  In another bowl, beat one egg.  Dip each slice in the egg and dredge in the cornmeal mixture, coating both sides.

Once the oil has heated, place slices in the skillet, cooking for about 5 minutes on each side or until the tomatoes are golden brown.  Remove from skillet and place on paper towel lined plate.

Cajun Mayo

1/2 cup mayo
1 tablespoon ketchup
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoon cajun seasoning
Hot sauce to taste

In a medium bowl, mix together mayo, ketchup, vinegar, cajun seasoning and a few dashes of hot sauce.

Bacon, Lettuce and Fried Green Tomato Sandwiches

8 slices of bacon, cooked
4 bun, toasted
Fried green tomato slices, halved
Shredded lettuce
Cajun Mayo

Split toasted bun and slather with the cajun mayo.  Add shredded lettuce and top with 2 slices of bacon and 4 halves of fried green tomatoes.  

Serve these up with some crispy potato chips and delicious, dill pickles. A perfect summer sandwich! Enjoy!



Monday, July 28, 2014

Summer Veggie Breakfast Casserole



My garden is overflowing with goodness! Zucchini, cucumber, tomatoes. I was running out of things to do with them! That brings me to my (sometime) Sunday routine. I try to use Sunday afternoons to prepare for my week by finishing up laundry and cleaning and trying to get some meals made for breakfasts and lunches.

One of my favorite things to make ahead is a breakfast casserole. I bake it on Sunday and then portion it into 6 equal portions, bag it up and either freeze it or stick it in the fridge, depending on how quickly I think I'll finish it off.  Just to clarify, I say 6 equal portions because this is the only thing I have for breakfast on those days.  If you're also having hash brown casserole, fruit and other breakfast accoutrements then by all means, cut the portion size.  

On this particular day, I had a zucchini and a tomato from the garden. That seemed like a pretty good start to me! The only other ingredients I thought it could use is an onion and some cheese. It took about 10 minutes to throw this together and then around 30-40 minutes of baking time. Can't get much easier than that! 

The icing on the cake, or in this case, the cheese on the casserole is that you know exactly what you're eating--unlike store bought freezer meals or fast food breakfasts. Simple, delicious and healthy! A great combination and another way to make mornings easier!


Summer Veggie Breakfast Casserole

yields 6 servings

Ingredients

8 eggs
1/3 cup milk
1/2 zucchini, roughly chopped
1/2 onion, diced
1 tomato, diced
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 cup Swiss cheese, grated
1/3 cup cheddar cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. 

In a mixing bowl, beat eggs. Stir in milk, salt and garlic powder. Add zucchini, onion and tomato. 

Spray a 9x13 inch baking dish with non-stick spray. Pour egg mixture into baking dish. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 30 minutes or until eggs are set. Sprinkle cheese on top of the casserole and bake for 5 more minutes or until cheese is melted. 

Remove from oven and let cool. Cut into 6 equal portions and place into containers or baggies to be eaten later in the week. 

Reheat in microwave for 35-45 seconds for refrigerated casserole. 

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Quick Bananas Foster


Butter, brown sugar, vanilla, bananas.  How crazy is it that those 4 ingredients can make such a delicious, simple treat? Bananas Foster is one of my dad's favorite desserts so this was another treat on Father's Day. What's that, you say? Father's Day was like, a month ago? Why yes, yes it was. 

Let me explain. It goes something like this. I have been super busy. I started a little business called It works!, moved in a roommate and I've been having the best summer anyone could possibly have. We've had family in from Florida, my friend Cara, her husband Andrew and their two beautiful girls Lexi and Ava came by also. It's just been busy. 

With that said and without further adieu, I give you my quick Bananas Foster. Serve this over vanilla ice cream for a simple, yet extremely decadent dessert. 



Quick Bananas Foster
Serves 4

3 bananas, peeled and sliced
1 stick butter, unsalted
1 cup brown sugar
Pinch of salt
Pinch of cinnamon

In a large sauté pan, melt butter over medium low heat. Stir in brown sugar and bring to a slow boil. Add bananas and continue to cook for 3-4 minutes until bananas have softened. Remove from heat. Serve over vanilla ice cream. 

Enjoy! 

Loaded Mashed Potatoes


Loaded Mashed Potatoes.  The effect that those three little words have on me is ridiculous.  Let's talk about this.  Mashed potatoes are delicious for starters, but when you kick it up a million notches by adding sour cream, cheese and bacon (yes, bacon), they are simply out of this world.

Mashed potatoes and I haven't always gotten along.  I always thought we did but I never made them the same way twice;  I taste as I go and I always think I end up with a pretty fantastic finished product.  My nephew Zeke told me otherwise a few years back.  I believe his exact words were, "These are the worst mashed potatoes I've ever had Aunt Aimee."  Fantastic. He was 5 or 6 so he couldn't really tell me why they were not pleasing to him and that just didn't help things out.  I just had to wing it and keep on testing them.  I now have several recipes that I use.

I came up with this one while attempting to plan some Father's Day festivities.  After everything we had done over the last couple of months celebrating my mother I thought it was only fair.  Dad being dad though, told me to not go to any trouble and he wouldn't tell me what he wanted so I needed to come up with my own menu.  No problem!  Steak it would be.  I could eat steak every day and if someone won't make a request, we will eat beef.  As far as the sides, I decided on a wedge salad with homemade ranch dressing, roasted garlic popovers and of course, loaded mashed potatoes.  Definitely a manly meal.  He must have enjoyed it.  He's still talking about it almost a week later!

I'm not very consistent with my mashed potatoes.  There are days that I want smooth, whipped potatoes and there are other times that I love a lot of texture, like with these.  There are so many components to make these delicious.  Crispy bacon, green onions, sharp cheddar cheese, sour cream--the list goes on.  So good!!


Loaded Mashed Potatoes

Serves 4

Ingredients

6 cups red potatoes, about 2 1/2 pounds, roughly diced
1/2 cup milk
6 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese, plus more for garnish
8 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
2 green onions, sliced
Salt and pepper
Water

In a large pot, place the diced potatoes and cover with water, about an inch or two above the potatoes.  Bring to a boil and continue to cook for about 20 minutes or until potatoes are fork tender.  Drain the potatoes and return to the pot or transfer to the large bowl of a mixer.  Mix in butter, milk, sour cream and garlic powder until you've reached the consistency that you prefer.  

Next, stir in cheddar cheese, bacon and green onions.  Taste the potatoes to check for seasoning.  Add salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to a serving bowl and top with grated cheddar cheese to garnish.  Serve and enjoy!

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Chophouse Pork Chops


Summer is unofficially, officially upon us.  Finally!  After the long, harsh winter we suffered through here in the Bluegrass, it is a welcome site!  And with the arrival of summer I have lost some all of my motivation.  Seriously.  All I want to do is lay by the pool (thanks to my neighbor who conveniently has one), sip on a frosty glass of iced tea and grill.  Please don't bother me with thoughts of doing anything else like, I don't know, working.  Oh, wait.  I decided to add a second job to my life.  It's hard out here for a single girl.  That's what I get for attempting to be responsible and trying to get ahead.  Ok, that's a lie.  I'm trying to catch up.  

Anywho, I was walking through the grocery store and saw some gorgeous thick cut pork chops and I knew that I would be grilling those bad boys for dinner.  A couple of summers ago I accidentally created a marinade for some pork chops simply by opening up my fridge.  I grabbed some tamari (wheat-free soy sauce) and worcestershire and just kind of stood there and stared at it for a while.  Obviously, it would need garlic.  What good marinade doesn't have garlic?  The answer is none.  It's a necessary ingredient.  After gathering these three ingredients I opened my cabinet and stared a little longer until I had an a-ha moment.  I needed a sticky sweet element and just happened to have some Country Rock Sorghum looking right at me.  Perfect!

Now over time, I've played with the ratios and this is what I've come up with that suits me the best.  It's the only way I'll eat grilled pork chops and I am a-ok with that.  The sorghum creates a sticky glaze and paired with the tang from the worcestershire and the salty richness of the tamari--Yum!  It just makes me drool.

If you're interested in ordering some Kentucky sorghum of your own, here is a link to the Kentucky Department of Agriculture's website where you can search for any of our Kentucky Proud products.  We have so many great items!!

With my grill being super old and not the most reliable thing on the planet, I've included this pork chop grilling guide.  Just make sure that the internal temperature reaches 145 degrees.


Chophouse Pork Chops

Makes enough marinade for 5 or 6 thick cut pork chops

Ingredients

1/3 cup sorghum
1/3 cup worcestershire
3 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
3-4 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed

Mix all ingredients in a bowl.  Pour over pork and let marinate for at least 2 hours.  Overnight is preferable.  

Grill, cooking to an internal temperature of 145 degree.  Serve with your favorite sides!  Enjoy every single bite!


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Sorghum BBQ Sauce



Let me preface this post by saying I am not even close to being a pit-master, grill-master or BBQ afficienado. I will most likely never be any of those things. However, I know what I like and I know that I wanted to be able to pronounce a all the ingredients in the sauce I was slathering on my ribs or soaking up with my pulled pork. 

I've made several attempts at the perfect barbecue sauce and this is the closest I've come to falling in love. I'm normally a sweet and sticky sauce type of girl and that's pretty much what this is. I've used Kentucky Proud sorghum in it so when placed under the heat, it will turn sticky--trust me. Don't get me wrong. I'm not prejudiced against other types of sauces. I love them all. It's just that my first instinct is to go for the sweet sauce. I'm not sure why. Must be that sugar addiction I've had since birth. 

Now, before you look at the list of ingredients, I must warn you that it is indeed long, but not nearly as bad as it looks. You dump it all in a sauce pan and let it simmer away for 20-30 minutes. See? Not that difficult. Grab everything out of your pantry and cabinets, set it on your counter and start measuring. Easy peasy. Don't be intimidated. 



You'll also notice that there are three different sweeteners in this sauce. Calm down. You won't be eating this every day so I suggest you start living a little!! 

Finally, I realize people take barbecue very seriously. To some it's a religion. Do I love barbecue? Yes. I'm very much a beginner when it comes to making it though. Please remember that! 


Sorghum BBQ Sauce

2 1/2 cups no salt added tomato sauce
1/3 cup sorghum molasses
1/4 cup packed turbinado or brown sugar
1 tablespoon organic cane sugar or white sugar
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons worchestershire 
1 tablespoon prepared yellow mustard
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 tablespoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/4 teaspoon liquid smoke
1-2 pinches of cayenne pepper

Mix all ingredients in a sauce pan. Slowly bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring frequently. Reduce heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. 

Remove from heat and let cool completely before refrigerating. 

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Benedictine and Watercress Sandwiches


I love entertaining.  I mean, I LOVE it.  Feeding people makes me happy.  Sadly, life gets in the way and doesn't leave a whole lot of time for friends to get together.  However, with my friend Lori's birthday coming up, I knew that would be a perfect chance to get a couple of my girls together for a lite lunch! 

Entertaining doesn't have to be difficult.  You don't have to slave over a stove for hours.  It doesn't need to be fancy or time consuming.  It's mostly about bringing people together.  So before you get yourself all stressed out, remember those words.  Also, don't try new dishes.  You're just asking for disaster.  

I've said it before and I'll say it again; in Kentucky we love our sandwich spreads.  Not only can they be used for sandwiches, but also as dips for crackers or veggies.  This benedictine is perfect for veggies.  It's light, cool and refreshing.  Perfect for a lunch on a warm summer day.  If you're feeling exceptionally daring you could add some buttermilk to it, thin it out and make it into a salad dressing.  I've not tried this.  It just occurred to me.  I will be walking straight into my kitchen when I wrap this up and trying that out though.

You're probably asking yourself, what in the world is benedictine?  Excellent question and I'm about to tell you.  It's a mixture of cucumbers, onions and cream cheese.  What could be better than that, right?  Think about this recipe when your garden is overflowing with those cucumbers later this summer.  It's a great way to use them up!  The most difficult part of this recipe is getting all the water out of the cucumber, which really isn't that hard.  So, you're welcome.  

Around these parts you can find benedictine in the grocery stores.  It's normally a mint green color.  The color frightens me.  There's no point in buying it when you can make it just as easily!

There are lots of things you can add to make this sandwich great.  I choose watercress because I like how this peppery herb kicks it up a notch and I wanted to keep it on the vegetarian side.  Many people add bacon, which, I mean, it's bacon.  You can't go wrong there, right?  Micro greens or any lettuce you might have growing in your garden would also be a fantastic addition.  Experiment with it and let me know what you come up with!


Benedictine Spread

Makes about 2 cups

Ingredients

1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and finely diced
1-2 tablespoon white onion, finely diced
2 heaping tablespoons mayo
1 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon salt
Black pepper

To start, peel the cucumber and slice in half, length-wise.  With a spoon, scoop out the seeds.  Roughly chop the cucumber and place into a food processor or food chopper.  Place in a fine mesh strainer to drain the water off of the cucumber or simple place the chopped cucumber on a paper towel and squeeze the water out of it.  

In a medium bowl, mix together cream cheese, cucumber, onion, garlic powder, mayonnaise, salt and black pepper.  Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.  It's best to refrigerate overnight.  

For the sandwiches, spread the benedictine on one slice of your favorite bread.  Top with a few pieces of watercress to add a peppery punch to your sandwich.  Top with another slice of bread.  Serve.

What do you like to serve when entertaining?  Who are some of your favorite guests?  I'm partial to my girlfriends and my parents.  


Monday, May 12, 2014

Gom-Gom's Chocolate Pie



My mother is not a picky person in general with the exception of two things--fried chicken and chocolate meringue pie.  In her opinion simple fried chicken is best.  Salt, pepper, flour.  That's how her mother made it.  I'm sure she fried it in lard in a cast iron skillet.  In my opinion, that's what makes it good.  I am afraid to even attempt fried chicken.  It scares me.  Mostly because I'm terrified of having a gorgeous, golden brown outside and a raw, disgusting inside.  Not only that, do you batter the chicken or just coat it in flour?  Oh, the humanity!  One day I may will try my hand at it. I love a challenge.  Fingers crossed.

The second strong food opinion my mom has is chocolate meringue pie.  She believes it should be served at room temperature.  Don't even think about bringing her a piece of pie that's been refrigerated. It will not fly.  She will constantly compare every pie she tastes to her mother's chocolate pie.  Legend has is it that my Gom-gom made the best chocolate meringue pie east of the Mississippi.  Ok, so there's no legend and no one has ever said that, but you would definitely think it the way my mom talks about this sinfully delicious dessert.

Since starting this blog, rediscovering my food roots is definitely something I've been very interested in.  I recently had one of my aunts give me Gom-gom's recipe in hopes of surprising my mother with it for Mother's Day.  It's impossible to surprise this woman.  Mostly because when I have cooking questions, she's the one I call.   One thing leads to another, I let it leak that I'm making this pie and she talks me into making a recipe that she thinks is "easier".  WRONG.  I mean, it was so wrong on so many levels that I can't even begin to explain just how wrong it was.  After two, yes, two failed attempts at that pie, I went back to the drawing board, Gom-gom's original recipe, and what do you know?!  Yeah, it worked perfectly.

Like any good recipe that's been handed down through the generations, I would not say this recipe is easy.  I would also not say that it's hard.  It just requires a little bit of patience and some time.  It's nice to get out of the microwaveable, instant world we live in sometimes.  I promise you, it will be worth it.  You have my word.

Pie crusts--I can barely deal at this point, but after two failed attempts at that as well, I found a genius over at Add a Pinch who claims to have the perfect pie crust, and you know what?  In my book she most definitely does.  It was SO easy!



Gom-gom's Chocolate Pie                                                                  Printer Friendly

Makes 1 (9 inch pie)                                                                                      

Ingredients

For the filling:
1 1/3 cups white sugar
4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup flour
3 egg yolks (reserve the whites for the meringue)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups hot water

In a medium sauce pan stir together the sugar, cocoa powder and flour.

Separate the eggs.  Place yolks in a small bowl and add a couple of tablespoons of the hot water to the yolks, stirring constantly.  This will prevent them from cooking and scrambling once you add them to the saucepan.

Place the saucepan with the dry ingredients on the stove over low to medium low heat.  Slowly incorporate the water, adding about 1/4 cup at a time and stirring well to combine.  Whisk in the eggs.  Once the eggs and water are fully incorporated, stir constantly with a spatula or wooden spoon until this mixture begins to thicken to a pudding consistency.  This may take anywhere from 10-20 minutes.

Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.  Let cool and pour into your pie crust.

For the meringue:
6 egg whites (room temperature)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup sugar

Place the egg whites in a mixing bowl (I recommend a stand mixer) and beat at high until peaks begin to form.  Mix in vanilla and sugar. *

Make sure the filling is completely cooled before adding the meringue.  Cover all of the filling, making sure that the meringue forms a seal all the way up to the pie crust.

Bake in a 325 degree oven for 10-12 minutes.

Allow pie to set and cool for a few hours before slicing.  I hope you enjoy this as much as my family and I do! What are some of your favorite recipes that have been handed down through your family? I'd love to hear them!


*There are many variables when making meringue, including the weather.  This is also not a "quick" process, so be patient.  Let the mixer do all the work.  You can also add cream of tarter which will help them thicken up quicker.  I have found that room temperature egg whites are the key though.  Eventually they will get where you need them to be.

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