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

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. 


4 tablespoons powder sugar
Dash of vanilla extract

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.