Sunday, December 29, 2013

New Year's Day Hog Jowl

If you live in the South, you know come New Year's Day you better have a pot of black-eyed peas, hog jowl, turnip greens or cabbage and corn bread. Otherwise, you are staring the new year down and asking for bad luck, no blessings and a lack of money to come your way. The hog jowl comes from the cheek of the pig. It's pretty fatty and the rind is tough as nails. I personally cut that off, but Andy leaves it on when he's fixing it. The taste is very similar to bacon, but just short of as good.

One of our vendors gifted all of us with a bag of dried black-eyed peas and a chunk of hog jowl to cook in the peas. I can guarantee that I will be cooking that up for all who come to eat with us on Wednesday. Mike shared that his understanding of the tradition dates back to the civil war. He said the South was so poor that the only things they had to sustain themselves through the hard times were dried peas and the scraps off the pig.

There's an old belief that the bigger the pig you eat on New Year's Day, the fatter your wallet will be. Who am I to tempt fate? In the poor South, it was believed that a pig represented health and wealth. One pig could sustain a family through the hard winter months. Another fact is that a pig cannot turn his head around without turning his whole body around...so the pig is forward looking, possibly looking forward to a prosperous year.

During the war, black-eyed peas were considered animal food and not worthy of the Union troops. Therefore there was plenty of it. It is said that eating such a humble food on New Year's day will lead to being blessed.

The cabbage, collards or turnip greens represent your "green or folding money." It is said each bite of greens represents $1000 towards the upcoming year. Again, who am I to tempt fate?

Cornbread represents your pocket money because of the gold color of the bread.

About a week before the New Year, Andy hits the store and starts buying up several pounds of hog jowl. We always have it for breakfast at least once before the big day. We limit it because we know our blood pressure probably shoots sky high.

Hog jowl will curl up like crazy in the pan. Make little slits all down the "rind" side to make it easier to fry. I like to trim off the rind as there is no way to chew that up.
Fry up just like you would prepare bacon. I like to cook this on a medium-low temperature. Just look at the fat content and you can imagine how much grease is created. I also believe the grease from hog jowl is hotter and pops more than bacon. Fact or fiction? I don't know, just don't get "popped!"
Turn until both sides are cooked well. I like mine to be a little on the browner side. If the fat is undercooked, it's just too rubbery for me to eat. Let the hog jowl drain well on a paper towel lined plate.

This batch was served up with biscuits, fried eggs and molasses. On New Year's Day, we will be serving it with black-eyed peas, cabbage and cornbread.

Raspberry Almond Thumbprint Cookies


One of my favorite cookies to imbibe in at this time of the year are shortbread cookies. They're not overly sweet. Don't get me wrong, I do like a sweet treat like my chocolate oatmeal cookies, but if something's too rich...I just can't eat as much. :-) A few weeks ago we had to do a presentation for a local group. The lady who arranged the event included us in their lunch. The food was awesome, but the dessert she prepared was insanely good...simple thumbprint cookies.

Carla was kind enough to share her recipe with me and I couldn't wait to fix these wonderful treats. Julie, Chelsea and myself decided to fix our bosses each a tray of goodies for Christmas and these cookies were first on my list of things to include. I did not change one single thing from the way she fixes them. They are perfection as is. Another great thing is that I keep all of the ingredients on hand. Mmmm, I could  have been fixing these all along!

INGREDIENTS:
2 sticks of unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup raspberry jam (I use Smuckers seedless Raspberry) 

GLAZE:
1 cup powdered sugar
2 to 3 teaspoons water
1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract
This recipe makes 3 1/2 dozen cookies  

DIRECTIONS:
Combine butter, sugar and 1/2 teaspoon almond extract in large bowl. Beat at medium speed, scraping bowl often, until creamy. Reduce speed to low; add flour. Beat, scraping bowl often, until well mixed. Cover; refrigerate at least 1 hour.

Heat oven to 350°F.

Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Place 2 inches apart onto ungreased cookie sheets. Make indentation in center of each cookie with thumb (I used a wooden spoon end. If you "wallow" it around a little, it makes the perfect pocket for the jam!) (Edges may crack slightly). 
Fill each indentation with about 1/4 teaspoon jam.

Bake for 14 to 18 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Let stand 1 minute on cookie sheets; remove to wire cooling rack. Cool completely.

Combine all glaze ingredients in small bowl with wire whisk until smooth. Drizzle over cookies. I filled a sandwich ziplock bag with the glaze and barely nipped the end to drizzle the glaze. Once the glaze is set, place in an airtight container. **They won't last long!

Kix Candy Clusters

Kix candy clusters is one of those desserts that make you feel just a little less bad about eating. One of the main ingredients is Kix cereal, probably one of the most low-sugar cereals out there. It's hard to explain, but this simple tasting cereal sure is a great combination with the M&M's, white chocolate and the salty peanuts. They aren't super "rich" so you might catch yourself eating more than you should.When the boys were younger, they and their friends would go through a batch of these in no time. I didn't fuss too much because you know Kix are "Kid-Tested, Mother Approved." (LOL!)

This recipe came from Mrs. Wanda Kirby. The first time I ate one of them I immediately knew I had to fix them for Dale and Andrew. The original recipe called for just three ingredients...I added the M&M's later to give them a little kick. If you have someone who is allergic to peanuts, you can substitute them with pretzel pieces. I've made them this way before and they're good, but in our house, majority rules and they like the peanuts. This is one of the easiest things you can fix. Just be sure to cover a wide area on your counter with wax paper. This recipe does make a lot.

INGREDIENTS:
Kix cereal
1 package almond bark
1 medium bag M&M's
Dry roasted peanuts
In a glass bowl, break down 1 package of almond bark. Heat in the microwave to melt per the directions on the package. Remember to stir often and do not overcook.
Transfer the melted mixture to an extra-large mixing bowl. Start adding the cereal  Quickly blend cereal until it is evenly coated and before the coating starts to set up. I use about 3/4 of the box. You want to leave enough extra coating to accommodate the peanuts and M&M's.
 Stir in about 3/4 of a bag of M&M's and around 1-1/2 to 2 cups of dry roasted peanuts. Blend well. Again, do this quickly before the chocolate starts to harden.
 Once all the ingredients are coated well, using two spoons, drop spoonfuls onto a wax paper lined counter.
Let them sit until the coating hardens. Store in an airtight container or gallon ziplock bags.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Homemade Venison Summer Sausage

Last year, our brother-in-law Don started sharing his homemade deer sausage. We went nuts over the flavor and couldn't get over how good it was. Since then, Andy has been thinking about processing his own summer sausage.We have toured every sporting goods store checking out and comparing different meat grinders and sausage stuffing machines. And you know the spice options are just more than you can even begin to pick from. Since the weather this winter has been pretty miserable, Andy did some searching and came across "Bud's Homemade Summer Sausage" which used beef. It took him two tries, but Andy has hit a home run with his variation incorporating deer meat. And the kicker? If you're using ground meat, it doesn't require any equipment or a casing to process! The recipe below is for a 1 lb. roll. You might as well double or triple up. It doesn't last long.

INGREDIENTS:
1 lb ground venison*
1 Tbsp Liquid smoke
1 Tbsp Morton Salt Tender Quick
1/4 teaspoon coarse ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon mustard seeds 

Day 1:
The day before you want to process the summer sausage, mix the meat and spices in a bowl. Place the seasoned meat in a gallon zipper bag and roll into a 2" loaf. Refrigerate overnight.
Day 2:
Pre-heat the oven to 300 degrees.
Line a baking sheet with some aluminum foil. Place a rack on top. Place the loaf on the rack.

Bake for approximately 2 hours or until the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees. Allow to cool completely. Vaccum seal and freeze or refrigerate and use.

*We used deer meat processed with a small amount of beef fat.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Left over Turkey Dinner Pockets


I had to pull this one back out...This is what we will be doing with our Thanksgiving leftovers. They are very easy to make and you can make use of what's left in those little bowls after a holiday meal.
Leftover Turkey Dinner Pockets
  • 1 8 count can Jumbo biscuits
  • 2/3 cups mashed potatoes
  • 1/3 cup cranberry sauce
  • 1-1/4 cups diced cooked turkey
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp. Water
  • 1 cup turkey gravy, warmed
Heat oven to 425 degrees. Spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray.
Beat egg and mix water.
Separate biscuits. On a floured surface, flatten/roll out each biscuit into a thin round. Place 1 teaspoon of mashed potatoes, ½ teaspoon cranberry sauce and a few pieces of turkey in the center of the round. Brush with egg wash around the edges.
Fold edges up and over filling. Pinch to seal turkey pocket. Place on cookie sheet. Once all biscuits are filled; brush tops with remaining egg wash.
Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. Serve with warm gravy.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Cheesy Smothered Chicken

This dish is similar to a chicken dish you can get at a certain steakhouse. If you are like us, we enjoy the variety you can find eating out, but we're such homebodies it has to be a special occasion to blast us out of our comfort zone. I've seen several versions of this recipe floating around Pinterest and just had to try my hand at it. I looked back at my pins and couldn't even find where I pinned it to give credit where credit is due. This is definitely a keeper. Andy and I usually don't fix chicken breasts, but these turned out very moist.

INGREDIENTS:
3 boneless, 1/2" thick* skinless chicken breasts. *pounded
6 slices bacon
1 container sliced mushrooms
2 cups shredded Colby-Jack cheese
Lawry's season salt

HONEY MUSTARD:
1/4 cup mustard
1/3 cup honey
2 Tbsp. Hellman's mayo
2 teaspoons minced onion


DIRECTIONS:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Season chicken with Lawry's and place back in refrigerator.
Fry bacon in a skillet. Drain on paper towels and crumble when cool.
Cook chicken in bacon grease on medium heat until lightly browned (about 5 minutes per side).
Lay chicken on a baking sheet. Brush each chicken breast with the honey mustard.
Cover chicken with a layer of mushrooms, bacon crumbles and top with shredded cheese.
Bake chicken for 30-40 minutes. Cheese should be melted and chicken cooked thoroughly.

Deer Jerky

Today the house is smelling like a meat curing station. You never know what Andy is going to be up to, but I can assure you if it has something to do with food, he's just as bad as I am. He'll keep on until he fixes it and then fixes it again like he wants it. My brother-in-law Don has been treating us to his deer summer sausage for a few years. The taste is incredible. I have no idea what blend of spices he uses, but it's a good one. Andy has had it on his mind to try his hand on it. Last weekend we were walking around Gander Mountain and he was checking out all the grinder and stuffing machines. Yesterday I came home from work and he had several pounds of ground deer meat mixed up with a counter-full of spices. He also asked me to test some jerky he had processing out in the little cottage kitchen. That got me thinking that I hadn't even posted our jerky. Wow. I have really been behind.
Like I've said in the past, there is nothing wrong with simple as long as it tastes good. There are too many things in life that are hard, we like to keep cooking good and easy. Many years ago Andy found Oster Jerky Seasoning. It's a nightmare to find now, but we have always liked the way the deer jerky came out using this blend. Just ask my niece Brookie (Brooklyn). She was over one day when the dehydrator finished a batch. She sampled a few pieces and liked it. When she got ready to leave she asked Andy if she could take some home. Of course! Well, he didn't realize her idea of some was almost all. She grabbed a gallon Ziplock bag and cleaned several trays out. That girl loves this jerky! My brother would have a fit if he knew what she did.

It reminded me of the times all of our kids would devour the jerky within a day or so of making it. These particular batches were made from sliced meat, not the ground variety. It was a painstaking process. Andy thought he'd teach the kids a lesson by making them help him on the whole process. I believe they ate it even faster. Lesson not learned. Now he hides it. Even from me!
We are fortunate to have a little room we call our "cottage" on our property. It's nothing fancy, but it's the perfect place to fix foods that are pretty strong smelling. It's where I banish him to when he decides to fix chittlins'. Whenever we fix anything that can get a little messy, we like to slit a kitchen garbage bag and lay it over our work area. We like to spray a light coating of oil on all of the dehydrator trays. It makes clean up easier and the jerky just pops right off.
 Mix the whole pack of the spice/cure mixes with 1 pound of ground deer meat. Blend well.
 Stuff the meat into the jerky press.
Extrude onto trays. This option created the flat strips. There is another fitting that will form sticks. However, one time Blair and I were awarded the task to finish some jerky Andy started. Our weak arms had a hard time extruding the meat and the kids kept calling them cat turds (sorry, but true story). They couldn't get enough of them and they were gone in no time flat, no matter how they looked.
 Fill tray and continue until all meat is pressed.

Set dehydrator to 165 degrees. We recommend checking at the five hour mark and go from there. You want to make jerky that has a nice chew and isn't overly dry. Last year we started taking the timer we use on our Christmas tree lights to program the dehydrator. This is perfect when we get a late start. We use this trick when dehydrating tomatoes also.
Be sure to store the jerky in Ziplock bags or an airtight container.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Pelicans on the Elk River Fall 2013

You might wonder, "what do pelicans have to do with a food blog?" Well, absolutely nothing unless you take into consideration that I got to enjoy our annual group of pelicans while they were feeding on "our side" of the river this past weekend. For three years now, we have enjoyed the white pelicans, seagulls and courmarants who have called the Elk River home from late October to early spring. When the river is dropped to winter pool, the other side looks like a huge island because the water is so shallow. Our side isn't much better, but we still have a small amount at the end of the dock.Because of that, we notice them feeding close by only every once in a while. Several hundred joined in for a feeding frenzy and I was loving it!