Monday, November 14, 2011

Food for Thought...

As all of my blog followers know, I don't update this blog on a consistent, regular basis.  It's more like this:  I add a bunch of posts and then you don't hear from me for a while. Then in a couple of months I add some more posts and then I go silent.  I'm sure most of you have figured out it's not because I've stopped cooking, but because when I finally have a minute to sit down and post, I get as many in as possible to leave you with as much "food for thought" as I can.  So, hang in there with me.  Someday I hope to get more consistent again!  Enjoy for now - see you in a while!  :)

Mac-n-Cheese for Family Movie Night

We have started a new little tradition of Family Movie Night with the girls and they absolutely love it.  We find a family movie and eat dinner and other fun snacks while watching it.  The girls live for this day once per week.  This particular night I made mac-n-cheese with peas and ham.

This recipe originated with my Aunt Laura when my sister and I were kids.  It's a hit every time! 

Aunt Laura's Mac-n-Cheese with Peas & Ham:
(My stove top version)

White Sauce - 
2 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. flour
1 cup milk
Salt & Pepper to Taste
Melt the butter and stir in the flour until smooth and bubbly.  Then add the milk, constantly stirring until thickened.  Add salt & pepper to taste.

8 oz. macaroni
8 oz. extra sharp cheddar cheese
1 small ham steak, cubed
1 cup frozen peas
Toasted breadcrumbs (see instructions below)

Cook the macaroni according to the package directions.  In a large skillet or pan, combine cooked macaroni, white sauce, cheese, ham, and peas.  Mix together over medium heat until cheese is melted. 
For the toasted breadcrumbs, pour 1/2 cup of seasoned breadcrumbs into a small saute pan and swirl the pan over high heat until they start to brown.  Sprinkle over each serving or over entire casserole as the topping.  Voila!  It tastes almost as good as putting it in the oven!

I have these adorable enamel crocks that made for a more contained, personal meal and added little more fun. 

Sunday Dinner

Several weeks ago my parents came over for Sunday dinner and I just wanted to have a nice meal since I had to stay home from church with all of my sick kiddos.  Well, this menu surely didn't disappoint!  We had stuffed mini sweet peppers for appetizers.

Then we had steak with blue cheese sauce, mashed potatoes, and green beans.  It was a simple, hearty meal and oh, so good!

I found my recipe for the steak on Pioneer Woman's blog and the stuffed Pero sweet peppers on the back of the bag.  Angelina helped me by holding the peppers upright while I piped the stuffing into them. 

I also used a london broil (my personal favorite cut) because it was 3 times less expensive than the ribeye that the original recipe called for.

The Best Pecan Pie

I have a very deep respect for the elderly and the things they can teach us.  I also usually assume they are good cooks because they've been at it so long.  So, when I was told that my pecan pie might even be better than my uncle's southern mother's pecan pie, I felt very honored because she was an incredible cook.  However, all I can say is that I just followed the recipe from Betty Crocker's cookbook.  It's a no fail recipe and it's just in time for Thanksgiving!

P.S.  Always make your own crust.  Store bought is just plain old nasty!

Kale Chips

I've heard of kale chips, but I've never actually had them.  So, when our good friends gave me their food dehydrator due to moving, I thought I'd try them out.  I coated the chopped kale with olive oil and sprinkled kosher salt on them.

Then I cut pieces of parchment paper to fit the trays in the dehydrator and let them dry for several hours while rotating the trays from bottom to top.

The end result was really good and actually kind of addicting!  The only thing I learned is that you can't keep them in an airtight container because in a couple of days they become rancid.  I think it is due to the oil I coated them with. 

Recipes from Martha

Martha Stewart's Living magazine had a baked sweet potato topped with sauteed brussel sprouts, blue cheese, pecans, and dried cranberries.  It looked amazing and it really was!  It was really filling too. 

Then sometimes I like to have cooked chicken on hand for sandwiches, salad or chicken salad. I always use Martha's poached chicken recipe and then I use the liquid it's cooked in as chicken broth.  It works great every time.  Store the chicken in an airtight container for the next couple of days for instant meals!

Chocolate Shortbread Bars with Reeses Pieces

I found this recipe for Chocolate Shortbread on one of my new favorite blogs, Picky Palate. She used Candy Corn M&Ms but according to her story it is quite the hunt for these things, so I just saved myself the trouble and used Reeses Pieces.  They're my favorite anyway!   These didn't last long and were very good!  If you can eat just one, you won't completely destroy your diet! 

A Very Good Burrito

I stumbled across this recipe for Sweet Potato Burritos and gave it a whirl.  The reason I chose this recipe that particular night was because I had all the ingredients on hand. I was honestly surprised at how good it was, plus it's healthy to boot!  The entire family liked it too.  This means success in my book. 


I NEVER fry anything! Here are my reasons:
1. I've had friends and family catch their house on fire while doing it.
2. My cousin was badly burned while doing it.
3. It's fattening and clogs your arteries.

However, I made an exception a couple of months ago for my all-time favorite thing in the world - hushpuppies.  These are so good!  I did take every precaution I could think of.  I put them on the back burner, I used my handy screen cover while doing them and I tried to keep the oil at a simmer rather than rolling boil.  Anyway, all was safe and sound in the end. 

I used House Autry's mix for them - this is the best breading and mix according to my very Southern, Uncle Dick.

Applebees' Tequila Lime Chicken

Applebees has their famous Tequila Lime Chicken that is about the only reason to go there anymore.  However, we don't get out much these days with 3 children in tow.  But, I found this recipe and was able to make it at home and we even got to have seconds! 

Seeing as I do not have tequila on hand, I found a neat way to substitute it:  use lime juice and a couple drops of agave syrup.  For people like me who really don't know the difference, it made the chicken taste great!

Tequila Lime Chicken:
1 cup water
1/3 cup teriyaki sauce
1/2 lime, juiced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon tequila
1 teaspoon liquid smoke
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 pound boned, skinned chicken breasts
1/4 cup real mayonnaise, low fat okay
1/4 cup sour cream, low fat okay
2 tablespoons spicy, chunky salsa
1 tablespoon milk, low fat okay
1 teaspoon Cajun blackening spice
1/4 teaspoon dried parsley
1/4 teaspoon hot sauce
1/8 teaspoon dried dill weed
1/8 teaspoon cumin
1 cup shredded colby jack cheese

Whisk together the first 8 ingredients, coat chicken in mixture, and marinade for at least 2 hours.

Whisk together the next 9 ingredients, cover, and chill until needed. Grill the marinated chicken breasts for 3-5 minutes per side, or until cooked through. Discard marinade. Brush grilled chicken with reserved dressing, sprinkle with cheese, and broil until cheese has melted.

Pumpkin Cake Balls

As I'm sure most of you have noticed, cake balls are very trendy.  With that said, I volunteered to make cake balls for a fund raising banquet that my amazing friend Mandy catered for an amazing ministry - Ithaca Pregancy Center.  Please check out their website here: Ithaca Pregnancy Center and see how they have intervened and helped the unborn babies' voices be heard.  
So, the point was that Mandy was making dessert platters of assorted, small desserts.  If you've ever had a cake ball you'll have to agree that they're really rich and although the first small bite is good, you usually don't want any more.  I wanted these to be good and seeing as it was a Fall banquet, I also wanted to use pumpkin.  I remembered this amazing cake from Kraft: Luscious Four-Layer Pumpkin Cake  

Here's the specifics to make this into cake balls: 
Yield: about 60-70 tsp. size cake balls

1 pkg. (2-layer size) yellow cake mix
1 can  (15 oz.) pumpkin, divided
1/2 cup milk
1/3 cup  oil
4 eggs
1-1/2 tsp.  pumpkin pie spice
Bake in a large sheet cake pan at 350 for 30 min. 
Meanwhile combine:  
1 pkg. (8 oz.) PHILADELPHIA Cream Cheese, softened
1 cup  powdered sugar
Once the cake has cooled, mash the cake into the cream cheese and sugar mixture until it is well combined.  Roll into uniform balls and dip in melted white chocolate and sprinkle a pinch of cinnamon on top before the chocolate sets.  

These were so good they were the hit of the evening!  A great dessert for a great cause!

Jewish Apple Cake

My dear friend, Judy, made this cake for us one time and I just had to have the recipe.  It is so good fresh and if you have the joy of having any leftovers it gets better every day!  This is a great Fall cake and works wonderfully as a dessert for a big group of people.  The pieces are large and quite filling.  I served ours with a dallop of fresh whipped cream.

Jewish Apple Cake 
Preheat oven to 350. Grease & flour bundt pan or angel food cake pan.
5-6 thinly sliced, peeled apples
2 tsp. cinnamon
5 tbsp. sugar
Sprinkle cinnamon and sugar over apples and mix to coat.  Set aside.
2 cups sugar
1 cup oil
4 unbeaten eggs
1/3 cup orange juice
3 cups flour
3 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 cup. coarsly chopped nuts
Place half the batter in the pan then layer half the apples on top.  Repeat.  Bake cake for 90 min.  Cool the cake on a rack for 15-20 min. before removing from the pan. 

Campfire Breakfast

One morning this summer we woke up to find Jeremy made us breakfast on the campfire in our backyard.  As we were preparing to eat on the picnic table, it started raining so we had to move our breakfast inside.  As you will see the girls were grumpy about that, but after a bite of the nice, hot meal they got over it!