Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!

Here we come down to the final countdown of the holiday season. We'll have a family gathering tomorrow at my parent's house; then my brother and family will be heading back to Cincinnati on Friday, and my husband and I will start our final prep and frantic activity before leaving on Monday to go back to Georgia.

In the meantime, I'm making some "hoovy doovies" (as we say at my house) for my family tonight, along with some goodies for the family dinner tomorrow.

Tonight we'll be having cocktail wieners in "secret sauce", the best queso dip with chips, and either pastrami sandwiches on sub-buns or beef fajitas, not sure which. I also have some chocolate peanut butter chip cookies I made last night (just the standard recipe from the back of the Reeses' peanut butter chip package, no secret to this one!) and some snow-drop cookies I made this afternoon. We'll probably toast the New Year in with eggless eggnog, if we're still awake.

Tomorrow's menu will include black-eyed peas with rice; Mexican cornbread; coleslaw; and a variety of chips and dips and desserts. For my contribution, I've already made a pot of black-eyed peas--my Mom makes hers with the leftover ham bone from Christmas, I make mine just like I do 10-bean soup, with chicken and ground meat. I have poppy seed cakes in the oven as we speak--one to take to family dinner tomorrow, one made as two loaves to gift to a couple of people. I'll also be making spinach dip and crab spread, (made with a combination of crab and shrimp this time) and will probably take a plate of leftover cookies.


I love the smells going on in my kitchen right now--peas are simmering, cocktail wieners are parboiling, cakes are baking...Ummmm, makes me want to bottle this up and give it away!

Hoping you and yours will have a happy and safe New Year!

Good cooking, and good eating!

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Secret's in the Sauce

With New Years coming up, the last of the parties and family gatherings will be bringing this holiday season to a close. But whether you're hosting a cocktail party of just snoozing in the new year at home, one of everyone's favorite party foods is the ubiquitous cocktail wiener. I know it seems a little, how shall I say this--Un-fancy--but face it, they're always the first to go at any gathering that has them--partly, I think, because of the recognition factor, and partly because they're actually good if done well.

While the simplest way to serve these is just heated up and then put on a plate with toothpicks stuck in them, the most popular way to do these is probably swimming in barbeque sauce.

I've discovered a secret, though, to a sauce that looks and tastes similar to bbq sauce, but tastes better, somehow, without anyone being able to put their finger on the difference. Unless they're in the Secret Southern Society of Cocktail Wiener Servers, of course.

My secret? Don't use barbeque sauce, use chili sauce. No, not chili, chili sauce. It comes in a bottle, right next to the cocktail sauce and the tartar sauce, between the ketchup and the worchestershire. Buy one bottle of chili sauce for every package or cocktail wieners you're planning to serve.

My next secret? Parboil the wieners first, before you put them in the sauce. Just put them in a pan, cover with water and bring to a boil. Simmer for just a minute or two, then drain the water off. This gets out some of the excess fat.

Next, add one bottle of chili sauce and a couple of tablespoons of grape jelly to your pan, and heat on low to medium heat, stirring until the jelly is dissolved. Add the cocktail wieners, bring to a bubble, and simmer on the lowest possible heat.

Another secret? Don't just pour sauce on them, heat, and serve. Let them simmer for a while in the sauce, and let the sauce darken and reduce just a little bit. You don't want syrup, but you do want it to thicken just slightly. If you have one of those little crock-pots, put wieners and sauce and all in it and let them cook on low for awhile. Take the lid off for the last 30 minutes or so to allow some evaporation and the sauce will thicken right up.

Try this one out, without telling anyone that you're using a different sauce. They won't be able to tell what's different, they'll just be able to taste a subtle something that I think sets these apart.

Good cooking, and good eating!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Cooking

Almost time to call it quits for the day. I've washed dishes and wiped down the counter tops what feels like a dozen times today. But everything is ready, for tomorrow, at least! We'll be having Christmas dinner at my parent's house. My contribution is cranberry relish, poppy seed cake, sweet potato casserole, and spinach dip. (It's adapted from the recipe from the Knorr vegetable soup/dip seasoning packet)

Ingredients:
  • 16 oz sour cream
  • 1 c mayonnaise
  • 1 packet of vegetable soup/dip mix (Knorr or Lipton works for me)
  • 1 box (about 10 oz) of frozen, chopped spinach, thawed

Mix the sour cream, mayo, and dry soup/dip mix. When the spinach is thawed, squeeze the excess water out of it, then stir into the sour cream mixture. The recipe on the box calls for chopped green onions and water chestnuts; sometimes I add the water the chestnuts for crunch, but most of the time I forget to buy them, so I usually make it just as listed here. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight. Serve with crackers

Besides the things I made today to take to my mom's for dinner tomorrow, within the last few days I've made snowdrop/sand tarts and chocolate chip cookies, pasta bake, and queso dip. I've also bought the makings for crab spread, seasoned crackers, and eggless egg nog, or Just Nog as I like to say. Oh, and Hanukkah donuts. (The only reason I haven't made these yet is because I don't want to have to clean the stove!)

We'll be enjoying all of these and maybe more at some point during the holiday season. I mention all of these to say this--the recipes that I post here are things that I really make and eat. One of the things that helps me get into the holiday spirit is when I finally reach the place that I start cooking. Even if I do have to clean the kitchen up a dozen times in a day. Okay, maybe a half-a-dozen. I love to cook, both for my family and for others, those simple things that we all like to enjoy while we're enjoying the season and each other.

So, from my kitchen to yours this holiday season, good cooking, and good eating!

___________________________________

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Cranberries a Whole New Way

I don't like cranberry sauce. Not any way I've ever tried it. I never eat it, ever, not for any holiday.

I did discover a few years ago, however, that I like fresh cranberries, and things made with fresh cranberries. So when I friend from work brought me a little dish of this relish to sample one year, I jumped all over it. Everything is done in the food processor-the hardest thing to do is getting the oranges ready--and that's not difficult, just messy, so you might want to do that part over the sink.

Ingredients:
  • 2 large navel oranges
  • 1 1/2 lbs fresh cranberries
  • 1/2 c sugar
  • 1/4 t cayenne pepper
  • 2 T minced mint leaves

Cut off the peel and all of the white stuff from the oranges. All you want is the flesh of the orange, no membranes or peel. (You might want to save some of the orange peel and make orange zest to use in other recipes. Or make some little curly things to garnish the serving dish. Or not.)

Put everything into the food processor, and chop. Refrigerate until serving, and that's it.

This is absolutely the best stuff, it has a tartness and bite to it that complement the sweetness.

Edited to add: I made this on Wednesday for Christmas dinner the next day. I knew it was tart, but I wanted a second opinion--my Mom and I added about 1/4 cup more sugar Thursday morning. I think my cranberries were a little unripe. As in pucker up your mouth. So always apply the taste test to everything, don't just depend on a recipe, there are too many variables, especially with fresh ingredients.

Good (un)cooking, and good eating!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

It's Snowing Down South

No, not that kind of snow. The only kind of precipitation we ever get for Christmas is rain. Occasionally sleet.

But I am making one of my favorite cookies this afternoon--Snowdrops--hence the snow reference. These cookies are also commonly referred to as Sand Tarts, and I think they're the same or similar to one called a Mexican Wedding Cookie. I think the only difference between all of these is the shape--Snowdrops are made into little balls, which flatten a little on the bottom as they bake; Sand Tarts you make little balls and flatten them before you bake them; and Mexican Wedding cookies are usually mad1e into little half moons or crescents--or sometimes I think they look kind of like little footballs (!)

Here is the version I made this afternoon:
  • 1 c butter or margarine, softened
  • 1/2 c powdered or confectioners sugar
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 1 c finely chopped almonds or pecans
  • 1 T vanilla extract
  • 1 c self-rising flour
  • additional powdered sugar to roll cookies in after baking

Cream together butter and powdered sugar; add salt, vanilla, and nuts; gradually stir in flour. This makes a very dry and crumbly dough. Shape the dough into little balls--larger than a marble, smaller than a walnut. Bake at 325 F for 15-20 minutes. Remove to wire rack and let cool . Roll in powdered sugar.

Note: I use self-rising flour almost exclusively, unless a recipe states that you absolutely-must-or-the-recipe-will-fail use all-purpose flour. I usually just leave out the salt and baking powder that the recipe calls for, or in this just the salt. I have no idea if these would turn out differently using all-purpose flour and salt instead of self-rising flour, because I've never made them that way.

Also--I always make these with pecans, I've never tried them with almonds, although I'm sure they'd be just as good. You might even want to add a little almond extract to the dough if you decide to use almonds.

One of the things I like about this recipe is that it doesn't make a huge batch. I love to bake cookies, but once I've mixed everything and done about the third pan into the oven, I'm ready to be through. With this one, it makes about three cookie sheets full, and that's all. So you have to time to do other things, like bake a different kind of cookie. Or blog.

At any rate, these are a pretty, light tasting, not overly sweet cookie, and if you do any kind of baking at all, you probably have all of these ingredients on hand most of the time, so they're any easy, quick cookie for any time of the year, not just Christmas.

My apologies for not posting pictures--we are at home in rural Louisiana for the holidays, and it just takes too long to upload pictures using dial-up. I'll try to post some pictures later.

Good cooking, and good eating, and happy holidays to everyone!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Quick Hanukkah Donuts (Updated)

Tonight (Sunday, December 21st) is the first night of Hanukkah. Traditional foods to serve during this Feast of Dedication are dishes cooked in oil. Now you know that for a southern gal, my first thought goes to fried chicken. But to keep things a little more traditional, let me tell you how I make a quick and easy fried donut.

You need three things to make these--oil, biscuit dough, and powdered sugar.

The first thing on the list is oil--I use canola oil if I have it, or whatever light vegetable cooking oil I have on hand. I've used olive oil, corn oil, or just a generic "vegetable oil" blend.

The second thing you need is powdered or confectioners sugar to roll the finished donut in. No glaze or frosting unless you just want to make some.

And last but not least, any refrigerated or frozen (thawed before cooking, please!) biscuit dough you have. I use what I call "canned biscuits"--the refrigerated biscuits that come in a tube--you can usually buy them with four tubes shrink wrapped together.

My mom and my aunt used to make these for us kids in an electric skillet. You could use a fryer if you have one. I don't, so I usually do these in a regular frying pan. I have to confess--sometimes I use my dutch-oven sized soup pot, because the taller sides keep the grease from popping everywhere. I hardly every fry anything, not because it's bad for you, but because I hate to clean the stove afterward!

Put about an inch of oil in your cooking vessel of choice. Heat the oil to a medium high heat. Sorry this is not more scientific. I do this the old fashioned way--I use a tester donut. Or two. (The gal who fries the donuts gets to eat the testers.) I fry these until they're lightly browned on the bottom, then flip them and fry until they're brown on the other side. Let them drain on some paper towels, then roll in powdered sugar. If they get brown on the outside but are still doughy on the inside, your oil is too hot. Reduce your heat just a little and try again. Just be sure to remember that adding several cold blobs of dough at a time will bring the temperature of your oil down a little more than just adding one, so a panful may take a little longer than just one or two at a time.

Updated to add: I made these Friday night using a fryer I borrowed from my mom--I cooked them at 170C/338F for two minutes on each side, and they came out perfect--done on the inside, but not too brown on the outside.

I usually try to get a little assembly line going. Open the biscuits and separate them; fry the donuts; drain and slightly cool; then roll in powdered sugar. If you try to do too many things at once--roll one batch while the next is frying, for instance--you'll probably end up with overcooked on the outside/undercooked on the inside blobs of dough. It's too easy to get the oil too hot. Don't ask me how I know this. It's better to fry a batch or two, then roll a batch or two. If you have someone to help you, so much the better.

Variations:

If you want to get a little fancier, you can make a glaze. I did make chocolate covered donuts once by microwaving a small bowl of leftover chocolate frosting, then dipping the donuts in the hot frosting. When it cools, it firms back up and looks pretty.

Since a donut is basically just sweetened fried bread, you can use any kind of bread/roll/biscuit dough you want to use. Yeast rolls, biscuits; fresh, frozen, or refrigerated.



Point of interest--did you know that most home cooks used to make donuts as a twist, not round? That's how you knew they were done on one side--the cooked dough puffed up, and the twisted shape allowed the donut to roll itself over. All you had to do was fish them out when both sides were brown.

I hope you enjoy this simple treat, at Hanukkah or anytime.

Good cooking, and good eating!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Twice Cooked Pasta

Sorry, just a catchy name for Pasta Bake!

Today in the bloggy progressive dinner is main dish time--this may not be something you'd want to serve for a fancy dinner, but it's easy, versatile, and some of it can be done ahead of time!

By now in the holidays, you may have gone to several parties and events, and be starting to tire of rich food. Don't give up now, you still have a couple of weeks to go before you're done! This recipe is perfect for those running-on-empty kind of days. It's one those quick-and-easy versions that you can always make more complicated when you have more time. Yeah, right, like that's ever going to happen. But I digress. It's also a bit of a break from the usual party food and holiday fare.

Sorry for the inexact measurements, this is another of those "just-wing-it-and-you'll-be-fine" recipes.

Ingredients:
  • 1 lb ground meat
  • 1 jar of spaghetti sauce
  • 1 packet of spaghetti sauce seasoning
  • 1 box of rotini or penne pasta
  • mozarella, provolone, parmesan, or Italian blend grated cheese

Brown the ground meat, drain, and return to pot. Add the jar of spaghetti sauce. I always run a little water into the jar, out the top back on, and shake it, then pour into the pan, to get every bit of sauce out of the jar, and lest you think this might make it watery, I'll let you in on my Big Spaghetti Sauce Secret--add a packet of spaghetti sauce seasoning to the jarred sauce. It makes it a little thicker, and adds an extra punch of flavor. I also tend to add a sprinkle or two of generic Italian seasoning and garlic powder (be sure not to use garlic salt, the sauce already has enough sodium in it) Bring this to a bubble, cover, and let simmer.

Meanwhile, boil your pasta according to the package directions. I like to use a mixture of rotini and penne--I usually just throw in a couple of handfuls of each, according to how much of this I want to make. Pasta Secret--for a dish that you're going to cooking again, be sure to leave the pasta a little al dente so it won't turn to mush. Drain the pasta, rinse with cool water, and allow to drain well.

Pour the pasta into a greased or Pam-sprayed casserole, dutch oven, or 9 x 13 baking dish. Add the sauce, and stir. Add as much or as little cheese on top as you'd like. I like a lot. So does my family. I usually use a mixture of mozarella and parmesan, Italian blend, or whatever grated cheese I have on hand. I think I've even used Mexican Blend in a pinch.

Cover and bake at 350 for at about 20-25 until heated thoroughly. Sometimes I take the cover off at the end so the cheese will brown a little on the edges.

I serve this with garlic bread, breadsticks, crescent rolls, or Italian herb bread from the bread machine.

Variations:

Obviously you can vary the type of meat, from beef to turkey to Italian sausage

Use your own from-scratch-sauce if you have time, or if you have some leftover

Vary the pasta. I've even done this with spaghetti in a pinch. (Don't ask me why we didn't just have spaghetti--that would have been too easy!)

This makes a good take-to-someone dish--just put it all in a disposable pan and let them do the final baking at their convenience.

This has become one of my family's favorites lately. Somehow it seems different from just having spaghetti, I'm not sure why. I do like that I can use leftover sauce and pasta--just remember, it you mix it together straight from the fridge, allow some extra baking time to be sure it's heated all the way through.

Good cooking, and good eating!

Monday, December 15, 2008

A Bloggy Progressive Dinner

Have you ever been to a progressive dinner? I've been to two of them, and they were both so much fun! Both times it was a ladies only event, and we caravaned from house to house, having a separate course at each stop. Appetizers at one house, salads at another, main course and dessert at still others. All I can say is, much hilarity ensued!

Well, we in the blogosphere are invited to a bloggy progressive dinner, hosted by Amy at The Finer Things in Life. Each night this week, Amy or one of her blogging friends is playing hostess, featuring their recipes for their assigned course. But wait, there's more!! Besides their own recipes, other blogging women can link to their own recipes in that day's category.



This is your chance to visit some new-to-you blogs, and maybe get a new recipe or two along the way. I linked my eggless eggnog and seasoned snack crackers to the beverage and appetizer courses already. Come back every night and see what new sites and recipes you can find!

Good cooking, and good eating!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Make Your Own Sweetened Condensed Milk

This time of year most of us do lots of extra cooking and baking, especially what I call "goodies". It can be easy to go through your supplies quicker than you realize, sometimes, and be ready to make something before you realize you're out of a key ingredient.

A lot of cookbooks and recipe sites list all kinds of recipes for "substitutes". I've seen the one about adding vinegar or lemon juice to regular milk to make a substitute for buttermilk; and using white sugar and syrup combined as a substitute for brown sugar.

This recipe is one I've never seen before until recently, though, so I thought I'd share

How to make your own sweetened condensed milk

In a blender or food processor, combine the following:
  • 1 c hot water
  • 2 c sugar
  • 2 c instant non-fat dry milk
  • 6 T butter or margarine, melted

This makes three cups, or the equivalent of 2 cans of sweetened condensed milk.

Here's hoping that you never have to use this recipe, but glad you have it now in case you need it!

Good cooking, and good eating!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

If It Doesn't Have Any Egg In It, Is It Just Nog?

Eggless Egg Nog

One of special treats to indulge in at this time of the year is Egg Nog. I've always wanted to learn to make homemade eggnog, but the recipes all seemed so complicated. Separate eggs, cook the custard, beat the whites, fold in, way too many steps for this everyday cook. Not to mention that everything you read warns against using real (raw) eggs, you have to buy special egg white powder, who does all of that? So I've become a real connoisseur of good "store-bought" eggnog--trust me, all brands are not created equally! The problem with good eggnog, though, is that it's 1. expensive, and 2. extraordinarily full of fat and calories.

So imagine my delight when I found this recipe! It's super simple to make, inexpensive, and everything in it is a "regular food" ingredient, nothing exotic!

Ingredients:
  • 1/2 gallon milk of choice
  • 1 pkg instant French vanilla pudding mix
  • 1/4 c sugar
  • 2 t vanilla
  • 1/2 t ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 t ground nutmeg

Whisk together pudding mix and about a cup of milk. When it's all blended, and dissolved, add the sugar, vanilla, and spices. Pour into a 2 quart pitcher, add the rest of the 1/2 gallon of milk, and stir well. This gets better after it's refrigerated for a couple of hours, but you will need to stir it every time before you serve it, the spice float to the top and bottom.

I made this yesterday, and it's delicious! It tastes just like eggnog, the only difference is, it doesn't have the "thickness" or body that most eggnog has.


Variations:

Use Splenda and sugar-free pudding mix, and skim milk for a really lo-cal version.

For someone lactose intolerant or with allergies, you could use your substitute milk of choice.

I made this with 2% milk yesterday. I wouldn't do this regularly, but for a real treat for Christmas eve or for a special party, I could see using some half-and-half or cream for part of the milk, just to make it a little thicker and richer.

I'll be making this often this year.

Happy (un)cooking, and happy sipping!

Edited to add: Sun, Dec 14th, Joy at Five J's is hosting the first night of a bloggy progessive dinner. Tonights feature is festive holiday drinks. Check it out and see what other delectable drinkables you may find!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

How Many Beans Can You Count in This Picture?



I'm not a big fan of some kinds of beans, but I love 10-Bean Soup. Some packages even boast 16 Beans (I've never counted, so I'll take their word for it!) 10-Bean soup is actually a mixture of dried beans and peas. and it makes the most delicious beans and rice dish.


The first step to any kind of beans is to soak them. The basic method is to use about 2 quarts of water for a regular-sized package of beans, and to soak for several hours or overnight. Since I usually forget to put my beans on to soak the night before, I usually do the boil-and-soak method.



Put the beans in the pot, and cover with a couple of inches of water. Bring them to a rolling boil, then put the lid on the pot and turn off the burner. Let them soak at least 30 minutes. Afterwards, they'll look something like this:



Be sure to discard the soak water, no matter whether you used the boil-and-soak method or the traditional overnight soak. I pour mine into a colander and rinse them, as well. Then put the beans back into the pot, and cover with fresh water.


Getting rid of the soak water is the secret to making good beans that don't, how can I say this? Give you gas. You remember the old schoolyard rhyme? "Beans, beans, the musical fruit, the more you eat, the more you'll..." You know. Toot. There's something about discarding the soak water that discards the not-so-sweet after effects, too.

But I digress. After you've covered them with fresh water, bring the whole thing to a boil again. At this point, I start to add some of my seasoning. (Brief endorsement here--I love Tone's beef and chicken stock base. It's like bullion, only it's a paste. It has a higher fat content than the dry powder, and I think a richer taste. I also use the Tones dried onion flakes. I happen to like the flavor that onion gives to many dishes, but not the "mouth feel" I guess, of biting into a piece of onion, so I use dried onions almost exclusively. I get these in large containers at Sam's Club.) This week I used the chicken base, because that's what I had already opened (!) I put about a tablespoon of the chicken base, and then 2 or 3 tablespoons of dried onion flakes.


Once the beans returned to a boil, I put a couple of boneless skinless chicken thighs in there, straight from frozen. After the chicken was cooked through, I fished it back out and diced it, then added it back to the beans, along with some cooked ground meat (leftover from an earlier recipe.) I let all of it simmer until the large beans were tender, At that point I added my other secret seasoning--a liberal dose of Tony Chay Chay's (Tone Cachere's!) seasoning blend.

And then, because I am from Louisiana, after all, I served it all over rice. Yum.


And here is the finished product. I'm not a food stylist, so it doesn't look the greatest, but trust me, it's delicious. (And no bad after-effect!)
Happy cooking, and happy eating!
___________________________

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

What Do You Do If the Cake Falls, or, True Confessions of a Fallen Cake Baker

When my sister and I were teenagers, we liked to make goodies--cakes, candies, cookies, etc. One day we made a cake in a regular 9 x 13 pan, just like dozens we'd made before, but it fell. Don't know how a flat cake falls, but this one did. So we did what any self-respecting teenager would do. Filled in the hole with frosting. Yep, the finished cake looked smooth and beautiful. It just had about 2 inches of frosting piled in the middle. If you got a piece from the edge, it had more cake than frosting. If from the middle, guess what??

Well, that's what I was thinking about today when I took a cake out of the oven. Too bad this one doesn't have frosting!

Some of you may have seen my earlier post about my World Famous Poppy Seed Cake ;0), I was making one that week to take to my in-laws for Thanksgiving, and took a few pictures to post. The finished product turned out a little bit lopsided, though, so I never took the final picture.

Today I decided to make another one, and photograph the finished product.

Well, guess what? Not only did it fall, it tore coming out of the pan. I've made this cake dozens, if not literally hundreds, of time, and I have never had this cake fall. Never. Ever. So it made absolutely the worst looking finished cake. Well, maybe not the worst of all time, but Not Pretty.

And what did I do with this ugly, lopsided cake? I took a picture, anyway. And then I ate it. Yum.

So, here it is in all of it's glory.

Before
During


First Attempt


Grand Finale


So, what do you do if the cake falls? Eat it.

Good cooking, and even better eating...
_____________________________________

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Easiest Fresh Rolls You'll Ever Make

Today's recipe is one of the simplest (is that a real word?) ones I've ever found for fresh homemade quick rolls, and the perfect solution for those times you need just a little something more to round out dinner. (Also good for those holiday mornings when you wake up in a cold sweat, realizing that you forgot to buy rolls). We made these in home-ec class in high school, (more years ago than I care to remember or admit!) and my teacher called these "Bachelor Rolls", because they were so easy that even a bachelor could make them. (Wouldn't exactly be considered politically correct these days, would it?)

I ran across this recipe again not long ago, so I thought I'd share it here.

Ingredients:

  • 1 c self-rising flour
  • 2 T mayonnaise (it has to be real mayo, not Miracle Whip or similar dressing)
  • 1/2 cup milk

Mix everything together, and pour into lightly greased (or Pam sprayed) muffin cups. Bake at 450 degrees F until lightly browned. (Sorry not to be more specific, it's been a while since I've made these--I'd set the timer for 10 minutes and go from there!) This makes 6 rolls, but you can easily double or triple this recipe.

What I like about this recipe, again, is that these are everyday ingredients that you probably have on hand most of the time.

While not strictly a party food, I think these would be great to serve with a meat and cheese tray, along with one of condiments and relishes, for your guests to make their own mini-sandwiches.

Good cooking, and good eating!

_____________________________

Monday, December 8, 2008

My Favorite Peach Cobbler

I love peach cobbler. There are lots of different kinds of cobblers, from the traditional pie-crust type, to one with more of a crumb topping. This one has a batter that rises to make a thick, almost cake-like top. It's so easy to throw together, too, from everyday ingredients that you probably keep on hand already.

To make this, first take a stick of butter, put it in a about a 2 qt baking dish. Put in the oven at about 350 to melt while the oven is heating while you mix the batter.

Mix together:
  • 1 c self-rising flour
  • 1 c sugar
  • 1 cup milk

Once the butter is melted, pour the batter into the melted butter in the baking dish. Drain one can of sliced peaches, reserving some of the syrup. Spread the peaches over the top, and drizzle a little of the syrup can over the top (not much, or it'll be too juicy). Bake for about 20-30 minutes, until the crust starts to brown and the center seems to set.

And now for the secret. Once it's cooked, dot the top with butter, and sprinkle lightly with sugar, then put the cobbler back into the oven till the butter melts and top browns a little more. I don't know what this does, but the crysatilized sugar adds just the right touch of taste and crunch to the top of this.

Let this sit just a few minutes to firm up, but not too long--this melts in your mouth when you serve it hot. My favorite way to eat this is warm with a little bit of "canned cream" (evaporated milk, undiluted and straight from the can!) poured over the top. Of course fresh cream would be good, too. Or Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla ice cream.

Variations:

To make this in a 9 x 13 pan or equivalent, you'll need to double this recipe.

I have a friend who used to make this with home canned peaches. Once by accident she made it with pears--she thought they were white peaches when she opened them. We liked it so well, she made it with pears from then on--the only other thing she changed was to sprinkle a little cinnamon on top with the sugar when she made it with pears.

You could probably make this with other fruit, but it's so good, I usually stick with the peaches.

What's your favorite cobbler?

Good cooking, and good eating!

__________________________

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Feeling a Little Crabby Today, Two

I know I just gave you a crab salad/spread recipe, but now in the party season I want to give you another, totally different one. This one makes a pretty presentation, is super easy, and is, as always, delicious.

  • 1 8 oz pkg cream cheese, softened
  • 1 bottle of cocktail sauce
  • 1 can of crab meat, drained, or equivalent in frozen or fresh (cooked) crabmeat

Spread the softened cream cheese directly onto your serving plate, almost to the edge. Pour the bottle of cocktail sauce into the middle, and spread almost to the edge of the cream cheese. Take the drained crabmeat and break it apart, and sprinkle on top of the layer of cocktail sauce.

Serve with butter type crackers, like Ritz or Town House.

Note: this is NOT one that should be made very long ahead of time, as it can tend to start getting a little watery if it stands a long time.

Variations:

You could use little cocktail shrimp,or chopped up larger shrimp, in place of the crabmeat.

This recipe, like most of the ones I use, is deceptively simple. Everything can be kept on hand in your grocery stockpile, put together at the spur of the moment, if necessary.

Good (un-)cooking, and good eating!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Meatballs With a Surprise Inside

I found this recipe on-line a couple of years ago, when I was looking for something lo-carb and a bit different (and easy, as always). As usual I've tweaked it and changed it a little. These make the best super-simple meatballs, with a surprise melty cheese center.

Start with:
  • 1 1/2 lbs of lean ground meat (I've only done this beef, but you might be able to use ground turkey with some seasoning adjustments)
  • 1 pkg taco seasoning (this is just the regular envelope of taco seasoning you buy next to the taco shells or with the seasoning packets at the grocery store)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 block of sharp cheddar, cut into cubes (I used a package of already cubed cheese that you find next to the grated cheese, mine was a mixture of mozzarella and cheddar cubes)

Combine the meat, taco seasoning, and eggs until well mixed. Take about a tablespoon (or a little more, depending on the size of your cheese cubes) of the meat mixture, and mold around a cube of cheese, to form a small meatball. Bake these on a cookie sheet with a lip, or in a shallow baking pan, at 425 degrees for about 10 minutes, or until the meat is cooked through and the cheese is melted.

You can change these up by varying the cheese and the seasoning in the meat. I've made the taco seasoned meatballs, and I've made them using a packet of spaghetti sauce seasoning in place of the taco seasoning. I usually grab a bag of mixed mozzarella and cheddar cheese cubes, both of these go well with either seasoning. If you want to change up the seasoning, and the cheese, I think the possibilities would be endless.

These meatballs are so simple and easy to make, and they beat pre-made, frozen meatballs, hands down. Use them for party food just as they are, or serve the taco meatballs with queso as a dipping sauce, and spaghetti sauce with the Italian. (I think the Italian meatballs would make a wonderful meatball sub, too).

Change the seasoning/cheese combination for something a little more sophisticated if you'd like, but try these, they are so easy, and taste so good.

Happy cooking, and happy eating!

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Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Secret to Good Queso Dip

I can remember the first time I tasted queso. It was at a family get-together, and I think my aunt brought it.

It was homemade, and we thought it was So Exotic.

We even called it by an exotic name--"Ro-tel cheese dip".

Back in the "olden days", Ro-tel tomatoes came two ways--with green chilies, or without. The recipe was so simple--one can of Ro-tel tomatoes to one pound of Velveeta. Which meant if you bought the big box of Velveeta, you needed two cans.

These days, you can buy untold varieties of Ro-tel tomatoes. I saw some the other day that were flavored with lime juice and cilantro. (Something about that sounds sooo good.)

They also come already diced, which is where the problem lies. Most people, these days, when they make ro-tel dip, just chunk up the Velveeta and pour the diced Ro-tel tomatoes over the top, then melt it all together in the microwave. Now, I have to say, it's not bad that way. But if you use the old recipe of two cans of diced Ro-tel to two pounds (the big box) of Velveeta, it's not the right consistency, and to me, it doesn't taste as good as the way we did it back in the "olden days".

And how did we do it "back in the day" before Ro-tel came already diced? We opened up the two cans of Ro-tel, dumped it into a blender or food processor, and more or less liquefied it. Then chunked up the Velveeta, poured the liquefied Ro-tel over the top, and melted it in a double boiler, or very carefully in a regular saucepan, on top of the stove.

Stay with me, now! I'm not advocating ditching the microwave!! Melted is melted, I don't care which way you do it! BUT--and this is the BIG SECRET--whether you buy the old fashioned, whole Ro-tel tomatoes, or whether you buy the diced ones---throw them in the blender and liquefy them all first.

You may not think it would make that much difference, but it does, TRUST me. The flavors of the tomatoes and the spices blend with the cheese so much better.

Microwave on about 80%, and stop and stir every few minutes or so. Once it the Velveeta gets melted and you can really stir and blend it together, it looks disgusting, but persevere! Continue to stir, and all of a sudden, it will go from weird looking mixture to the Best Cheese Dip Ever.

Now you know I can't do a recipe without giving you some variations. Add one of the following stir-ins for something different:
  • cook and drain 1/2 lb to a pound of ground meat or pan sausage and stir into dip
  • add a small container of chopped or sliced black olives
  • for a creamier dip, use one can of Ro-tel, one pound of Velveeta, and after melting, add an 8 oz container of sour cream and a packet of ranch dressing mix.
  • add a large can of chili when you add the tomatoes; heat and stir all together

But my very favorite way to eat this dip is just plain, made from two cans of liquefied Ro-tel and the big box of Velveeta.

Pass the Ruffles, please.

Good cooking, and good eating!

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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Feeling a Little Crabby Today

One of my absolute very best favorite dips/spreads to make and eat is technically called "Crab Salad". I use this as a spread with crackers. If you wanted to make it a little more healthy, or are watching carbs and/or gluten, you could probably put it on celery sticks.

Here is the basic recipe:

  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 c mayo or Miracle Whip
  • 1 t garlic salt
  • 1 t worchestershire sauce
  • 1/4 t pepper
  • 1/2 c grated cheddar cheese
  • 6-8 oz crab meat

Allow the cream cheese to soften, then mix in mayo/miracle whip and seasonings. Once well blended, sitr in grated cheese and crab meat. Refrigerate for several hours-overnight is best, it lets the flavors really blend. It gets really stiff when cold, be sure to remove from the fridge for a while before serving, to allow it to soften back up a little for ease of spreading.

Most of the time I use imitation crab meat--you know the stuff I'm talking about--I drain it, and chop it fine before adding to the cream cheese mixture. If I do use real crab meat, I break it up a little with my fingers before mixing it in. I double this recipe a lot, and when I do, I usually use one package of the fake crab meat, and one can of real crab meat, or frozen if I can find it. (I seldom have the budget for fresh crabmeat, but by all means use fresh if you have access to it). If you buy canned, fresh, or frozen crab meat, buy the cheaper stuff, not the more expensive white or lump crab meat. Save the expensive stuff for a fancier recipe than this one.

As far as seasonings go, I use Tony Cachere's Creole seasoning mix in everything, so I use about a teaspoon of Tony Chay Chay's as we call it in my family, and leave out the garlic salt & the pepper. I do use the worchestershire sauce, though.

If you don't like crab, or you have someone who is allergic to shellfish, leave out the crab meat, add about an extra cup at least of grated cheese, to make it more like a cheese ball.

I usually put this in a pretty pink fluted glass serving dish that I have, that has a matching round serving dish that I use for the crackers. You can garnish it with a little parsley if you'd like.

Tune in tommorrow for another good dip/appetizer recipe.

Good cooking (sort of) and good eating!

Monday, December 1, 2008

It's My Party, and I'll Fry if I Want To

It's hard to believe that it's December already. If you're like most people, you may be facing an endless round of parties and social occasions, right up to the holidays and beyond. Whether you're throwing a party, having a family get-together, or contributing to a pot-luck, it can be easy to get so caught up in elaborate preparation and cooking that hospitality becomes a burden instead of a gift that we give to people we love.

If this has happened to you in the past, the easiest way to avoid a repeat is in the planning stages. First of all, food doesn't have to be elaborate to taste good. Good food, simply prepared, and presented in an attractive way are really all that's needed to make most of your guests happy.

I'll be posting recipe and menus ideas that can help you to Keep It Simple Sweety, so that you can Have Your Cake and Enjoy Eating It, Too.

So, take a deep breath. Let it out. And begin.

Unless you enjoy making something that has 27 ingredients and takes 15 incremental steps. In that case, you're on your own!