Sunday, December 18, 2016

Cream Cheese, 🍑 Jelly 🍑 and Bacon Spread

We recently had an author's event at the library. One of the trustees prepared the most delicious (and extremely easy) dishes for the guests to enjoy. When Thanksgiving rolled around, I knew my bunch would love it. The original dish called for pineapple preserves. I substituted with the homemade reduced sugar peach jam I made this past summer to make this just a tiny bit healthier. In my opinion, the pineapple was much better but we are still being mindful of our sugar intake, so there you go.

1 block cream cheese, softened
Pineapple preserves (or flavor of your choice)
4-6 slices of firmly cooked bacon crumbled/chopped
 Using plastic wrap, smoosh the cream cheese to spread out in the serving dish.
Top cream cheese with jelly.
Top jelly with bacon crumbles. Serve with crackers.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

🎄 Rum Balls 🎄

Here it is as promised...FINALLY! When I started working at the library, I heard all about the different events and the numerous contributions Mrs. Pankey (who retired late summer) made to make the events a success. There's no way I can compete with the scale of her efforts as my responsibilites differ than hers (and she epitomized the word dedication) but I can definitely incorporate as many traditions as possible. We recently had our Christmas Quarterly Tea. It appears several of the attendees were very fond of Mrs. Pankey's rum balls. 

I know what you're thinking..."but you aren't a baker!" You've heard me say it numerous times. However, I was willing to try my hand at them. When Brianna handed me a copy of the recipe Mrs. Pankey used, I was all in! No bake...YES!! The recipe Mrs. Pankey used was from  Taste of Home.

I decided to make a batch ahead of time to test as I would need to prepare a triple recipe for this event. Shocker: I had all ingredients except vanilla wafers. Do not buy the mini wafers, You will not have enough in the box. My thinking was they'd be easier to crush. Do not use a mini food processor. You'll be crushing them forever and a lifetime. In a pinch, plain graham crackers are the perfect fill in if you need a little bit more.

These were easy to make, but it did require a little time rolling them out. The taste was good but the rum didn't kick in until just right after you swallowed. The longer they sit,  the more you'll enjoy that kick. ;-) These cookies are fairly soft. The original recipe called to store in an airtight container. I did that in addition to storing in the refrigerator.

As a side note, when the testing was complete and everyone seemed pleased with my offering, I got a little bit of a shocker. One of the young ladies informed me that consuming one of the rum balls was the first time in her life she had consumed any type of alcohol. I apologized to her mother, whom I have known for years, and received absolution from her. We raised our kids to act better than we did and that's all I'll say on that subject.

2.5 cups crushed vanilla wafers (regular size)
1 cup finely chopped pecans
1 cup confectioners' sugar
2 tbsp. plus 2 tsp. baking cocoa
1/4 cup rum (plus) *I used Bacardi 151 white rum
3 tbsp. honey
2 tbsp. water
Additional confectioners' sugar to coat the balls

 In a large bowl mix the crushed vanilla wafers, pecans, cocoa and confectioners' sugar.
Stir until dry ingredients are well blended and is clump free.
 Add honey, water and rum to dry ingredients.
 Stir all ingredients. If too wet, add a little more crushed wafers or confectioner's sugar.
Roll into 1" balls. On a large piece of waxed paper spread out confectioners' sugar and coat the balls.
Coat all the balls and store. I put a layer of waxed paper between the layers.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Peanut Butter Cornflake Clusters

It is easy treats like these PB cornflake clusters that will make one blow their good eating habits out the door. I made a batch of these for Thanksgiving and whatever was left would be treats for work. Well, it didn't work out that way. My kids and grandkids inhaled them and I opted for PB cornflake squares for work. (January 2012 post)

These came to mind one evening when Andy and I were discussing the ones the junior high school cafeteria served back in the 70s. They were a huge block---guessing 3" x 3" if not more---and you'd give away just about anything on your tray to garner one of your friends'.

After a quick grocery run, I picked up the ingredients and decided to fix them at the cabin so I would have one less thing to fix for Thanksgiving. I believe we sampled one that afternoon and then had one for dessert that night. Andy confessed he ate one additional one when he got  up to turn on the coffee pot or some other midnight kitchen run. Oh yea. They are that addictive!

6 cups cornflake cereal 
1 cup light corn syrup
1 cup sugar
1 cup creamy peanut butter

Measure out six cups of cornflakes in a large bowl.
In a medium saucepan, heat one cup each of sugar and corn syrup.
Stir constantly until the sugar dissolves.
Remove from the heat and stir in the peanut butter.
Mix until well blended.
Pour sugar/syrup/peanut butter mixture over the cornflakes. Carefully, but quickly blend well until flakes are coated. Drop spoonfuls of the mixture on waxed paper. Let the clusters set-up. Store in an airtight container.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Peppermint Almond Bark

If I could only get through the holidays of Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas; I could easily by-pass sweets. I've had an instance at work recently where a few sweets for a snack was needed for groups who generously donate their time to decorate some Christmas trees. Now ya'll know I'm not a baker, but this girl can put together a plate of treats when needed. The great part? You don't even have to turn on an oven. I'll be sharing several recipes over the next few days but don't think Andy and I have totally back slid on eating healthy. Like I said, I "have" to do this. LOL! The Peppermint Almond Bark is one of my favorite Christmas treats to fix. Using this basic recipe, you can substitute the white with chocolate bark; and the peppermint with nuts and mini marshmallows to make a Rocky Road version or any combination you prefer.
 In a large bowl, carefully break up the squares of one package of white almond bark, with a knife on a cutting board. Cook for periods of 15-20 seconds, stirring between time settings, until the blocks are smooth and creamy. Stir in one teaspoon of vegetable oil.
 Crush King Leo Peppermint candy (sticks or the puffy kind) work fine. I put several sticks in a sandwhich bag and use the flat side of my meat cleaver until I have small pieces.
 Stir peppermint into the almond bark mixture until it is well blended. If you really want to boost the flavor,
you can add a few drops of peppermint extract.
Line your counter-top with waxed paper and spread the mixture out. Try to get it thin--around 1/8" or more, but not so thin it breaks off too easily. Let this mixture set-up until firm--around 30 minutes. Peel the wax paper from the candy and break up into chunks. Store in an air-tight container.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Pumpkin Juice Punch

My trusty drink dispenser was jazzed up by Elizabeth which sat near the Sorting Hat created by Laura. Special guest Hedwig kept an eye over the assembly of fully costumed attendees.
The library where I work hosted a Harry Potter Trivia event recently. Although I am an avid reader and my boys loved to read Harry Potter, I never had the urge to read it. That is until we had the trivia event coming up and I was totally clueless to help organize the event. I set to reading the first book and found myself turning the pages rather quickly. Elizabeth and Laura (two of my very creative co-workers) had created an incredible display and now the items totally made sense. The display case photo album can be seen on Facebook.

When it came time to think about what we would serve for a beverage; I thought about pumpkin juice. After reading the recipes out there and realizing pumpkin was really an ingredient, there was no way I was going there. Let's say my mixture had a pleasant pumpkin color but the flavor was totally awesome and contained not one hint of pumpkin. (Let's save that for a pie drowning in whipped cream.)

Basically I made a variation of my Sun-Drop Punch. Everything was diet and caffiene free except for the sugars in the fruit juice. By the time the group noshed on unique flavored jelly beans and triple chocolate cupcakes with chocolate icing (in lieu of Harry's birthday cake), I thought we could pull back on some of the sugar in the drink. They all seemed to love it and everyone had an incredible time painting wands, playing table-top Quiddich, black out poetry, posing with props in the photo booth and several rounds of trivia with the Hufflepuff house (and one Slytherin) beating out the others. Now if I can fit in the Elsa gown I'll be donning for our special "Frozen" story time next week!

(Chill everything before mixing)

2 - two liter Sun-Drops (Diet, caffiene-free is a good option)
1 - two liter Diet Orange Crush
1 - 64 oz. bottle of pineapple juice
1 - 12 oz. can frozen lemonade
1 - 12 oz. can frozen orange juice

Pour all ingredients in a punch bowl and mix well. Add several scoops of ice to keep chilled.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Pressure Cooker Shredded Taco Chicken

This may look a little plain on the outside, but when you take a bite....WOW! Get ready for a flavor explosion! My new kitchen toy has not made it off the counter yet. I'm still in love with my pressure cooker and can't wait to keep trying new recipes out. I had a great "lesson learned" moment when I was fixing the chicken. There is a valve that you pop out and clean and pop back in. I must have not had it seated 100% properly as there was a little steam the point it didn't ruin the chicken but the bottom of the pan was not a pretty sight. There was no water left in the pan at all when I raised the lid! I've gotten so comfortable cooking with this I walked off and didn't check it. Lesson of the day: If this happens to you, baking soda (left to soak) and a wooden kitchen utensil will remove the cooked on mess from a non stick surface without ruining it. In spite of a brief moment of drama, the chicken tasted absolutely delicious!

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 cup water
1/4 cup dried onions
1 pack chicken taco seasoning
1-2 tsps. minced garlic

Soft tortilla shells (we found some net 5 carbs)
3 colored peppers, deseeded and sliced
1 large onion, sliced
Shredded cheese
Sour cream
 Pour one cup water in inner pot. Place chicken breasts inside pot.
 Evenly sprinkle seasoning on top of chicken.
 Sprinkle dried onions and garlic on top of seasoning. I used the dehydrated onions I put up this year.
Put the lid in the locked position. Set the pressure button to CLOSE. Press the COOK button and set the time to thirty minutes. The zeros will rotate until the cooker gets to the right pressure. Once the time runs out, the cooker will move to KEEP WARM. At this point, CAREFULLY RELEASE THE STEAM by moving the button to the RELEASE POSITION allowing a few short bursts and then moving it to that position to dispel the rest of the steam. I can't express the safety issue enough. The lid and steam and HOT, HOT, HOT! Be very careful when releasing the pressure. Once all steam is released, and only then, you will be able to move the lid to the UNLOCK position.
Using my PC mix and chop tool, I shredded the chicken. I moved it to a separate pan, even though this tool is non-stick pot friendly, due to my little oopsie.
You can roll up whatever you'd like into your soft tacos. My preference is sauteed peppers and onions, World Table Roasted Salsa Verde and shredded cheese inside and a little sour cream on the outside. (You can tell I went back for seconds in this picture!)

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Farmer's Pork Chops

This Farmer's Pork Chop recipe from Paula Deen's The Lady and Sons Savannah Country Cookbook is one I've had forever and a day is and old family favorite. The flavor of the pork chops baked on top of the potatoes and onions....mmmmm! mmmmm! It is simply Comfort Food at its best.  Now mind you, I haven't fixed it in a long time as we have been modifying our diet to eat a lot healthier. I'm proud to say Andy is totally out of the woods and I've added some good recipes back into the menu with a few stipulations. Regardless of how good it tastes, we do not eat the whole pan and back off on the quantity of potatoes, rice, etc. Offset the "bad" by adding more broccoli or green beans for example, as a side.

There is a little more effort required in fixing this, but it's still easy.  (It's also on the menu tonight!!) The recipe calls for eight pork chops and potatoes to serve eight people. As you see, when I worked on this dish last, I had five chops as they were pretty big. I also added more onion and reduced the potato count. This does make a lot of food, so modify as necessary but keep the white sauce amount the same.

4-5 bone in 1/2" thick pork chops 
4 medium-large potatoes
1  large sweet onion
Salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbsp. Lawry's Seasoned salt
1 cup all purpose flour
1/3 cup vegetable oil
White Sauce (Prepare first)

1 stick butter
1/2 cup all purpose flour
Salt and pepper to taste
4 cups milk
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large pan, melt stick of butter and set off the heat. Quickly stir in the flour and add salt and pepper to taste. Place back on the stove eye after butter and flour are mixed well. Slowly add in milk a little at a time until well blended. Keep whisking so that you don't get any lumps! Remove from heat.
Using your mandolin slicer, thinly slice potatoes and onions. In a large greased casserole dish, alternate layers of potatoes and onions and lightly season each layer. Evenly cover with the white sauce. Place in oven uncovered and bake for 15 minutes.
 Mix flour and seasoned salt in a pan and coat both sides of all the chops. Lightly brown both sides of the chops on both sides. Don't cook them completely through. If the potatoes are done, lay them on top. If they are still baking in the oven, set the chops on a plate and add as soon as you take them out.
Once all chops are browned, place dish back in the oven and let them finish baking for 45 to 60 minutes. The sauce will be nice and bubbly and the potatoes will be fork tender.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Pressure Cooker Pulled Chicken

For the majority of my adult life, I have been scared to death of using a pressure cooker/canner. A few years ago I let that fear go and bought a pressure canner to put up green beans Andy raised in our garden and haven't looked back.

I've gotten in the habit of living with Andy's extremely early work schedule since I've been off this summer. So what is on TV before four in the morning? A little news but mostly infomercials. Normally we ignore that type of thing unless it has something to do with cooking. Then we change the channel before we can get the offered doubled for just the cost of shipping and handling and a 30-day no questions asked guarantee.

Last year I was relating this particular cooking gadget to Vince the day after a sleepless night. He was telling me how EVERYONE at the Cali plant had one of these pressure cookers and absolutely loved cooking and canning tuna with them. He had me sold on this being a necessity in my kitchen. An electric version that was a lot smaller than the stovetop version I used to can green beans was starting to show up on my horizon. Being the procrastinator I am when it comes to ordering stuff off the internet (not wanting to sit in front of the computer after being there all day), I put it off for another day.

As luck would have it, they started appearing in stores. Momma's birthday money gift to me put the 8QT. cooker on my counter and it's not been moved since. (options are 6, 8 & 10QT for this brand) I didn't get the extra bonus for ordering from the internet (whatever gadget that would have been) but let's say the experimenting has begun and I love, love, love cooking with it.

The cooker has a recipe book included, but I got this for simplicity so I'm testing the timing on dishes you can put on the table fast with very little effort. The first two things I fixed were not photographed as I was a little skeptical and I hate that because they both turned out AWESOME!!! For time on two three pound partially frozen whole chickens: 38 minutes once pressure was reached. Did I mention you can brown the meat with this thing? Seriously!! There is no reason to not cook with this thing around. Ziti and meatballs? 8 cooking minutes and you just dump ingredients in the pot.
 With pressure cooking comes steam. Be sure to attach the condensation collector on the back of the device! Read the owner's manual!!! There's a lot of important information in there. Safety first!!

Place five boneless, skinless chicken breasts in the inner pot.
Add 1-1/2 cups of barbecue sauce and 3/4 cups of water. I recommend using tongs to position chicken so that some of the barbecue sauce/water gets under the chicken. Also, use plastic/silicone tools so you don't scratch the surface of the inner pot.
 Put lid on top by lining up with UNLOCK and sliding counter-clockwise to the LOCK position.
 Slide the button on top to CLOSE so the cooker can start building pressure.
 Select COOK and push the button until you get to thirty minutes.
The zeros will rotate until pressure is built up. Then the timer will start counting down.
 While your chicken is cooking, fry up some hoe cakes. I've been using cooking spray instead of frying in oil and we like them so much better and they are not as greasy. Hopefully they are slightly healthier???
 The cooker will flip over to KEEP WARM/CANCEL automatically when the timer runs down.
 CAREFULLY give the button a few quick flicks to start releasing some pressure. Then flip it over to the RELEASE position to let the pressure completely release. THE LID AND STEAM ARE VERY HOT!!
Be careful you don't get burned by the steam. Once the steam is dispelled; you will hear a valve drop. After you hear that, you will be able to move the lid to the UNLOCK position. If the lid doesn't move, it's because there is still pressure. This is a safety feature.
 The chicken will be cooked and the sauce will look a little juicy.
 I chose to remove the chicken breasts to a pan to shred.
You can do it inside the pot but I didn't want to scratch up the inside.
Return the chicken to the pot and mix in the barbecue sauce until all is coated throughly. I added another 1/2 cup of sauce and put the lid back on with it still set to keep warm.

If you make a sandwich with the hoe cakes; use a slotted spoon to remove some of the juice. If you're eating open faced on hoe cakes, spoon on the chicken and some of the sauce. 

Friday, September 23, 2016

Ending My Summer Vacation In Alaska

Mendenhall Glacier, Juneau, Alaska. My sister can see part of the glacier from her living room. What a view!
This summer has been absolutely incredible! I spent a few months enjoying time off from a public job. This was the first time in my adult life I have ever done something like this. During that period I marked so much off of my to-do list, Andy was wondering when I was going to take a day off from working and just enjoy myself. Let me assure you, getting things done around the house I've put off for YEARS; spending time with Alli and Aydan, canning, blogging and more allowed me ample time to think and put things in perspective and didn't feel like work. In addition, that time allowed me to start enjoying life again. Never again will I let a job control my life. I've got my priorities straight.

With the goal of minimizing and making life less complicated; with a friend, I opened a booth at a local store with all my goodies I quit using. I'm sure you've noticed I had time to post more Recipes and  Ramblings. Plus, it put me in the frame of mind to look for and find a position that will bring joy and let my creative side shine through! I'll make that announcement public soon.

The best thing of all was the time off allowed me to RELAX and ENJOY a visit with my sister and brother-in-law at their new home in the beautiful state of Alaska. We have been planning this trip since April when my sister made the move 3000 miles away and we both can't wait to go back.
Leaving Salt Lake City, Utah
My husband had never flown in his life but he got broken in well on this excursion. Plane changes in Salt Lake City and Seattle (with an eight-hour layover) and arriving in Juneau a mere 18 hours later after take off in Nashville was a serious reality check. His seat was near the window on each leg of our journey so he could really enjoy the beauty of our country from a different perspective.
Mt. Rainier on the way to Seattle, Washington.
During our eight-hour layover in Seattle; my friend Nancy, whom I  haven't seen in ten years, met us and showed us the sights around this beautiful city.
Andy wouldn't go up in the Space Needle...He'd had enough of heights. You know I had to experience it!
 Sometimes the best photos in life just magically happen. Yes, it was a very long, long day.
I don't think he has seen this picture. (Shhhhhh!)
Nugget Falls with my sister Dawn. Mendenhall Glacier is immediately to the left of these falls.
Even with a late arrival, we were all up early and ready to hit the trails. My brother-in-law graciously had a list of every single place he thought we should visit and eat. The thirty degree temperature change was most welcome after 80+ days over 90 degrees in Tennessee. 
Warnings to be on the look out for bears didn't stop us from hiking the Nugget Falls Trail to get back to the glacier and falls. We experienced a little rain that morning, but after that; we had a remarkable week of cool and sunny weather. The beauty in Alaska is absolutely breathtaking. There is so much of the landscape left unspoiled and we were blessed to take it in.
 Well, you can't say we weren't warned as we started out hiking the Perserverance Trail the next day.
 Andy and Don check out the waterfalls and creek flowing below.

My sister comfortably taking in the view near an extremely steep cliff.
We sure enjoyed visiting Alaska with these two as our tour guides.
On our trip to enjoy the Tracy Arm Fjords, our captain Adam Underwood fished out a huge chunk of glacier ice. After we released it back to the water, I wished we had saved it to break up for our toddies that night.
The water, as we got closer to the glacier, was the most beautiful emerald green or aqua blue depending on how the sun was hitting it. Captain Adam said we were in waters 1000+ feet deep.
Everywhere you looked, there were waterfalls, mountains and incredible scenery. There were no signs of civilization, with the exception of a random tour boat, for the majority of the day. Talk about being unplugged!
Cotton candy blue icebergs were everywhere.
This huge chunk of floating ice was immediately to the right of Sawyer Glacier.
There are no words to describe the beauty of Sawyer Glacier up close.
The vivid blues seen that day are forever etched in my mind.
Captain Adam congratulating Don on his great catch.
Notice this native Alaskan had on a t-shirt and we were all bundled up.
Don's 68 pounder was a keeper! The filets he grilled were delicious!!
Fishing for halibut in 200+ feet of water gave your arms a great workout!
My little ten pound halibut was a mere baby I released back into the water to grow.
We were able to see whales all along our 45 mile journey to Tracy Arm Fjords.
Well, hello there!

Our arrival back to the harbor in Juneau after a day of sightseeing and fishing gave us this incredible view.

You only go around once so why not experience a tram ride straight up the side of Mount Roberts?
Andy took a lot of grief from friends with his "death grip" on the bars.
Cruise ships were coming in and out of the port everyday. This shot shows how steep the incline was.
Thank goodness our guide up the mountain distracted Andy enough to make this climb.
The top item on my bucket list was to view the Northern Lights. To be blessed with viewing them not once, but twice on this trip was more than I could ask for. Every night I looked and hoped and on the third night I saw a faint glimmer of green over Thunder Mountain. The next thirty minutes of viewing the lights dancing across the skies were the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.
Two nights later, we were given another 15 minute show. Not as showy as the previous viewing, but just as glorious with the addition of the clouds.
Watching the sun break the horizon (even through a dirty window) was a beautiful sight to behold as we started our journey back home to Tennessee.
We can't wait to go back!