Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Italian Sloppy Joes

SUPER EASY-TO-FIX ALERT! If you can saute a few veggies, open a can and fix some garlic toast, you're golden with this one! Seriously, anytime we have left over hamburger buns, traditional sloppy Joes are probably going to be on the menu. With a few substitutions, the Italian version blows that one out of the water. This dish is almost good enough to like more than lasagna. We paired it with a big healthy salad of Romaine lettuce, tomatoes, red onions, black olives and cucumbers. Since it's just Andy and myself, we had it again a few nights later. This recipe will feed four people or more depending on how you divide out the garlic toast.

1 lb. bulk pack of Italian sausage (we do homemade)
1 large pepper (color of your choice)
1 onion
1 can of spaghetti sauce (we use Delmonte Traditional Pasta Sauce, 24 oz.)
1 box of garlic toast (8 slices/box, baked per directions)
Parmesan cheese to top*
*I'm thinking melt some Mozzarella on top the next go around!
 Saute the chopped peppers and onions and Italian sausage. Drain off the fat.
Stir in pasta sauce and heat through.

Arrange one to two slices of garlic toast on the plate. Pour meat sauce on bread. Top with Parmesan cheese and serve.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Apple Jelly Made With Peelings and Cores

Who doesn't have apple trees growing their backyard or know someone who does and is letting them go to waste? Andy and I were picking apples (Granny Smith aren't quite ready yet) and I told him about a couple of apple trees that were growing on the land I owned many years ago. I remembered how our Amish neighbors always asked if they could gather them. Being the city girl I was, I said yes and couldn't understand how anyone could eat those little ugly apples. Little did I know, they were on to something. Fresh fruit raised with no pesticides, nasty coating  and who knows what else? Now I know better. These are so tasty, juicy, and are so much more healthier to eat. Spots and all.

If you're worried about the ugly spots, please read "Unconventional Stories From A Young Apple Farmer" blog to reassure yourself. I have canned these apples numerous times, made apple butter in the crock pot and have loved the results. Yes, it's easier to buy a jar from the store, but I know what I am serving (and not serving) and the taste is better in my humble opinion.

A few years ago my friend Claudia told me about this handy contraption she found that peeled, cored and sliced apples. It was inexpensive, but not cheaply made. Yesterday I went through about 70 apples for canning and I got them processed pretty quickly. I didn't keep track of how many apples I used for the apple butter the previous day but I did remember what my friend asked me when I made apple butter last year. "What did  you do with your peels and cores?" Uhhhh. Threw them away?? She let me know I made a big mistake! "You could have made apple jelly!"

You don't have to tell this girl something like that twice. Claudia adds a lot more spices to her jelly but I make apple butter so I went with the plain ol' Sure-Jell recipe after I (to quote her), "cooked the crap out of the cores and peels."
I had to share the process of using my toy to make the peeling job easier. Anyone who has used a hand peeler to prepare fruit for canning can relate. Just suction this to your counter---preferably near your sink.
Be sure to remove the stems from the apples. And here we go!!
Notice all the little adjustments on this baby. You can take off less apple or more. Due to the odd shapes I was encountering with these "farm fresh" apples, I found a happy medium so my apple butter didn't have peels and I had enough fruit to make a rich apple juice.
Seriously, I called my friend and went on about how much I loved this.
Now how cute is this? Pull the apple rings off and remove the core from the prongs. I had the peels falling in a bowl in the sink.
I stirred in a little lemon juice while I was peeling, but they still turned a little. Put the peelings and cores in a large pot; cover them with water and set the temperature to medium high.
I kept the lid on the pot while they were cooking. I needed 7 cups of juice to make 12 jelly jars.
 This is what I ended up with after letting them cook for about three hours.
After straining the cores and peels, I ended up with 12 cups of juice.

Because jam and jelly making is such a quick process, I don't always have step-by-step pictures for each variety. But you can click through each flavor listed and see all of them. The instructions are broke down for using the Sure-Jell pectin. In my opinion, the instruction brochure layout needs to be revised to make sense. By that I mean the directions are not on the same side of the sheet. They did this on the reduced sugar brochure and I love it! I have always had success using Sure-Jell and when it comes to canning, I'm looking for easy, safe and consistent results. Who wants to spend a lot of time and have poor results?

I cannot stress enough how careful you need to be. The mixture will be very hot and you are dealing with boiling water. Be sure you don't have any kiddos underfoot when you are doing this.

Sterilize your jars (I do mine in the dishwasher), lids and rings (I boil these in a pot of water on the stove).
Get out your canning tongs to pull the jars from the pot; canning funnel and the magnetized tool to pull your lids and rings from the hot water and a clean cloth to wipe the jars down prior to sealing them.

I set my canner on the stove and set the rack in the pot raised for easy access and fill with water so that when the jars/rack are submerged, the jars will have one to two inches of water above them. (You can always add more boiling water if needed) I put the lid on the pot and turn the heat on high.

  1. Measure out with a liquid measuring cup (not dry), seven cups of apple juice.
  2. In a small bowl, measure nine cups of sugar (regular, not artificial) and set to the side.
  3. In a large pot add the juice and and bring to a boil.
  4. Stir in one box of Sure-Jell. Stir constantly. Add 1/2 teaspoon of butter to reduce foaming. Bring this mixture to a boil.
  5. Add in the sugar. Bring it back to a full boil and let it cook for 1 minute. Remove from heat.
  6. Remove any foam with a spooon. This will be very hot! Put the excess foam in one of your used bowls to discard later.
  7. Using a ladle, pour up the mixture into the jars through your canning funnel and leave 1/4" head space. Wipe the jar top and sides before placing a lid and ring on them.
  8. Space the filled jars around the raised up rack. When all jars are filled, carefully lower the rack into the water. Add additional boiling water, if needed, so that the jars are adequately covered. Put the lid back on the pot, bring to a boil and process for 5 minutes. (Jelly is 5 minutes, Jam is 10 minutes)
    When that time is up, turn off heat and carefully remove the pot from the stove eye. When removing the lid (with a pot holder), be careful of the steam that will be released!! I remove my lid with it pointed away from my face.
  9. Fold up a towel on your counter.
  10. With my canning tongs, I carefully move my jars to the towel to cool. If any of the jars didn't seal, be sure to refrigerate and consume first. If you don't hear equal "pings" for the quantity of jars processed and the lid springs back when you poke the middle of the jar, it didn't seal correctly. 24 hours later, I move them to the box my jars came in, mark the date on them and store them. 

Monday, August 22, 2016

Roasted Frozen Brussels Sprouts

I hear from a lot of people that they can't stand to eat Brussels sprouts. We are not those people. Granted, I have had a few bags of them that had a little "earthy" taste to them but I keep going back. I don't know what it is about them, but we can eat them like candy when they are roasted. When you read about all the health benefits of including these in your diet, maybe you could give them one more try. We started out fixing them with bacon and thought that was wonderful until we fixed them in a delicious gratin. Roasting them will not replace the gratin, but if you want EASY, here you go. Andy grilled a pork tenderloin; I steamed some carrots and we had a delicious, healthy meal in no time.
Spray casserole dish with olive oil cooking spray. Evenly spread out the contents of a 24 oz. bag of frozen Brussels sprouts. Lightly spray Brussels sprouts with olive oil and season to taste. I use Lawry's garlic salt with parsley flakes.
Roast in a 350-375 degree preheated oven for 45-55 minutes or until the veggies have a slight tinge of brown. (Not to be confused with burnt!!) My oven tends to cook a little slow. I used 375 degrees and it took 55 minutes.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Jalapeno Popper Corn Fritters

Guest Recommendation and Contribution: Trent Kincanon 

Recently Andy had his work buddy Trent send me a FB message complete with the recipe and pictures for some Jalapeno Popper Corn Fritters. To quote Trent, they were: deeeelicious!! He gave me permission to use his pictures and said he Googled the recipe when I asked where it came from. I did a quick search and found the original recipe on ClosetCooking.com. I have followed Kevin Lynch's Closet Cooking blog for a long time so I don't know how I missed this one. Trent messaged me and Andy followed up with a text immediately after asking me to fix some. This week's menu is planned but Saturday night is looking pretty good for a plate full of these. We make squash fritters and potato fritters and love to eat them (more than we should). I feel pretty confident this one will probably get into regular rotation.

I love it when longtime blog followers want to contribute! I have one friend who is supposed to be sending me his jambalaya recipe and another for Lavender scones so look for their upcoming contributions.
Great photo composition Trent! Now what's in the red "Solo" cups?
2 cups corn (4 ears)
1/2 cup flour
1 egg
1/2 cup cheddar cheese, grated
1/4 cup cream cheese, room temperature
2 or more jalapeno peppers, diced
2 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled (optional)
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon coriander, toasted and ground
2 green onions, sliced
1 handful cilantro, chopped
1 lime, zest and juice
2 tablespoons oil

Mix the corn, flour, egg, cheddar cheese, cream cheese, jalapenos, bacon, paprika, coriander, green onion, cilantro and lime juice in a bowl.
Heat the oil in a pan over medium heat, form into 1/4 cup patties.  
 Note: Use enough flour that the mixture holds together to form patties.
Cook until golden brown on both sides, about 2-4 minutes per side.  
Option: Top with Cooking Closet's jalapeno popper dressing or, sour cream as pictured.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Grandma's Au Gratin Potatoes and Cabbage Casserole

When I started this blog in January 2012, I would have never dreamed of reaching the big 500.
I humbly thank you all for visiting as often as you do. ---Denise Grisham
Every Wednesday night is "Momma Night." When my Father passed away many years ago, we started having her over to eat supper with us on Wednesdays to give her a tasty reason to get out of the house. Typically, a phone call to my Aunt Kay is placed right after we eat on those nights. "Well, what did you serve your Mother tonight?" is the first question asked. If I tell her any type of pork, she ooos and aaaahs as I describe the meat and the accompanying veggies. One evening I had fixed au gratin potatoes. If you remember that post, we discussed my Grandma's recipe which included cabbage. As typical with my family, recipes were never written down.

When she made a recent visit, I thought I would surprise her with my version of this family favorite. Using the basic prep for the au gratin potatoes with her remembered layering of vegetables, my dish was a hit. She swears they tasted just like what Grandma used to make.

2 medium-large potatoes
1 medium sweet onion (Vidalia when available)
Salt & pepper to taste
3 tbsp. butter
3 tbsp. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
2 cups milk
1-1/2 cups shredded Sharp Cheddar Cheese (or your preference)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat a small casserole dish with cooking spray or softened butter.

 Chop cabbage and line the bottom of the casserole dish. Season each layer with salt and pepper.
 Slice onion and break up into rings. Lay on top of the cabbage.
Peel potatoes and slice them to an equal thickness so they will cook evenly. (Between 1/8" to 1/4") I use a mandolin slicer (carefully!) for consistent thickness. Layer on top of the onions.
Here is my favorite part. Melt the butter in a saucepan and whisk in the flour and salt. Keep stirring until well blended. Slowly add milk while continually whisking so you don't end up with lumps. As is starts to thicken, add the cheese and blend with a spoon until it's nice and creamy.
Distribute the cheesy sauce over the whole dish. 
Cover with aluminum foil. Bake for about 1-1/2 hours.

Carefully check the doneness of the potatoes during the last fifteen minutes. Slowly remove the foil so you don't get burned by the steam. If your potatoes are done, put the dish back in the oven uncovered and let it bake so that the cheese sauce can "get a tinge of brown" like Andy says. If you cut your potatoes too thick and they require a lot more time, I'd cover them back up and check again fifteen minutes later.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Beef Ribs Smoked on the Bubba Keg

Do you see the juices glistening on this rib? Yes, they were that tender and that juicy! I always think of the beginning of The Flintstones cartoons and the drive in scene when I think about beef ribs. These ribs were massive! We have been wanting to fix them for some time and picked one lazy weekend summer afternoon. If you're from the South, you know how miserable the heat and humidty are...which made us choose the Bubba Keg to smoke these on. You can throw them on and pretty much forget about them until they are done. Just be sure to monitor the temperature! We grilled corn and okra to round out this delicious meal.
 Save yourself some clean up time and line your counter with a kitchen sized garbage bag.
The membrane was removed; the meat was then slathered in yellow mustard and rubbed 
down with our favorite rib rub.
 Place on the bottom rack of the Bubba Keg smoker.
The smoker settled and Andy kept the heat around 225 degrees.
These were smoked for approximately 3-1/2 hours.
Final cooking time will be determined by the pounds of meat you are smoking and the smoker temp!
Be sure to adjust accordingly!
Now this is what some ready-to-eat ribs look like!
Be sure to let the meat rest for about 15 minutes before cutting into them.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Squash and Zucchini Casserole

Summer 2016 will go down in our books as the "Summer of Squash." It is now August and we are stilling picking squash from the same plants. For us, this is unheard of. We've always planted a second time to get us through the summer. Amazingly, the deer have chose to totally ignore the summer squash. Unfortunately, my spaghetti squash and zucchini were not afforded the same treatment. Remember in the movie Forrest Gump where Forrest and Bubba are on the bus and Bubba was listing all the different ways to prepare shrimp? Well, you now have an idea of what we have gone through this summer.

Here's a simple layered casserole that has made it to the table several times this summer. We are totally in love with Mr. Spice House Salt-Free Seasoning (even though I did use a little salt with this dish). This seasoning was a special order courtesy of a friend of mine sending me a gift certificate. I have used it on steamed carrots, broccoli and more.

I'm not giving exact amounts of anything on this because I just used whatever veggies I had on hand and seasoned each layer as I built it. One stick of butter was thinly sliced and distributed through the layers.
Squash and/or zucchini
1 medium sweet onion
Season to taste
1 stick of butter
Shredded cheese
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a casserole dish with cooking spray. Slice all vegetables. Break the onion slices up. Make one layer of squash/zucchini and onions. Season to taste. Randomly place butter slices on top of veggies.
 Repeat layers until casserole dish is full.
Top with shredded cheese. (I used Colby-Jack) Cover with aluminum foil.
Bake in preheated oven. Check after 30 minutes. Vegetables should be cooked, but not mushy and cheese melted. Bake longer if necessary.

I served this with grilled country style ribs and fresh sliced tomatoes from the garden. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Cornbread Dressing

Yes, it August. With August, most Southerns know football season will soon be upon us and before you know it you will find yourself Christmas shopping and getting ready to prepare the family holiday menu.

Should cornbread dressing only be served on the holidays? A big pan of chicken and dressing now and then will usually tide us over but there are times I want to serve dressing as a side to a roasted chicken (aka baby turkey). If you can plan ahead, it can be really simple. Just pull a vacuum sealed pack of crumbled cornbread from the deep freezer along with stock saved and frozen from roasting a chicken or preferably a hen. When I don't have a supply in the freezer, I just make a big skillet of cornbread (Just double the recipe.) No chicken stock? I love chicken flavored "Better than Bouillon" to make broth. Just add 1 tsp. of the base per cup of water and you'd think it was the real thing.
In a large bowl, finely crumble 7-8 cups of cornbread.
Hard boil, peel and chop four large eggs. I like to use my egg slicer and cut both ways.
Chop 1 small sweet onion.
Combine cornbread, eggs, onions, 1 tsp. each of salt and pepper and 2 tsp. poultry seasoning.
Mix the dry ingredients well before adding the broth. Start with 3 cups of chicken broth. Add more if necessary.  

Before pouring this in the casserole dish, I like to take my spoon and smooth out the mixture. If moisture comes to the top, it's right. It took me fixing this several times to get a good visual of what to look for. You don't want it soupy, but if there isn't enough broth, it'll be too dry.  

Give a quick taste to see if you need to add additional seasoning.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pour in a 9x13 casserole dish. Bake for approximately 25 minutes. If the dressing starts to set too quickly and it doesn't have the color you are looking for; you can always set your oven to broil to lightly brown the top. Watch carefully so it doesn't burn!