Fat and Happy

Yes, I said it. Fat and Happy after this amazing meal we made on Sunday! Still following The Pioneer Woman cookbook series, we decided to make Ranch-Style Chicken (Food From My Frontier, pp 208-209), Broccoli Cheese Potatoes (Come and Get It! pp 240-242), and we sauteed some spinach with mushrooms and garlic.

Ranch-Style Chicken

I am not a fan of chicken, especially of working with it while it is raw. Gag! This chicken recipe tested this distaste to a good extent because you have to halve the breasts horizontally. If I had to go through this, it had better turn out like unicorns and rainbows and anything else that is beautiful!

We didn’t have as many people here this weekend, so we followed the chicken recipe verbatim. We used 6 chicken breasts, halved them as directed, and marinated them in some honey, dijon mustard, lemon juice, paprika, hot pepper flakes and salt. They were cooked on the grill, topped with some bacon that had been cooked to chewy state, and some cheddar cheese. I really did not think I would like this. I stand corrected: It was love at first bite! It was worth moving past the trepidation, and I will definitely make it again!

Broccoli Cheese Potatoes

As if baked potatoes were not enough, we made them with the broccoli cheese sauce recipe, using both cheddar cheese and pepper jack. We also cooked up some sweet onions. They were supposed to have been cooked to crispy, but when they were thoroughly browned and carmelized, we didn’t want to cook them further. Honestly it was hard not to gobble them up on the spot! We also cooked the onions in a bit of bacon drippings. (SHHhhhhh. Don’t tell!) The onions were a garnish on the sauce, and it was quite pretty to look at. What I was not prepared for was the incredible flavor mix between the bacon-kissed carmelized onion and the cheddar-broccoli sauce. It was absolutely incredible with the sweetness of the onions and the savory sauce. I wanted more, much more, but I behaved myself. It was really hard to do!

Spinach

Spinach is one of my favorite vegetables. Flora told me about a sale on spinach at Aldi’s; we picked up a couple of bags and some beautiful Baby Bella mushrooms. Now remember, the chicken had been topped with bacon and cheese, right? Well… we decided to share the bacon flavor with the spinach and mushrooms. We sauteed some mushrooms and garlic in a touch of the leftover bacon drippings and added the spinach. We just cooked it until it wilted. (And YES. That is a full TWO bags of spinach.) We added a touch of salt when the spinach was ready. Delicious!

But Wait, There’s More!

Did someone say, “What about Dessert?” I sure did! We decided to make The Pioneer Woman’s Blueberry Cake Shakes (Come and Get It!, pp 362-363), and boy are they an inspiration to try some other flavors in the future. Wow! The shake is made with vanilla ice cream, milk, a little bit of cake mix and some fresh blueberries. Plop on some whipped cream and sprinkle a few Jimmies on it, and it is the best milkshake I have ever had.

Our beautiful meal was now ready, set, go, GONE, and it was a huge hit. I would not have changed anything in any of the recipes we followed. Not a thing. Pioneer Woman, you hit a bullseye! Thank you for your inspiration.

South of the Border Sunday

Today we decided to go south of the border for lunch, figuratively speaking. Maybe next week we will head toward Asia, but today it was to Latin America. In her book, Dinner Time, The Pioneer Woman has a recipe for Burrito Bowls. Flora and I had talked about cooking it quite a while ago, but completely let it slip by. It was the perfect choice for today.

Burrito bowls are basically burritos or fajitas without the tortilla, each ingredient layered into a bowl. I like the simplicity of the seasonings and the fact that you pick and choose what you want. Choices offered were rice, steak, chicken, vegetables, black beans, lettuce, pico de gallo, cheese and avocado slices.

Cilantro-Lime rice

The perfect base for this meal was rice. The rice is cooked in chicken broth, then enhanced with cilantro and lime zest and juice. I am not a cilantro fan; I am one of those for whom eating fresh cilantro can be like chewing on a bar of soap. However, we did want to try it the way it was written to see if, by some miracle, the lime juice would tame the soapiness of the cilantro. As it turns out, it was pretty good. Next time, though, I will either use a *small* amount of freeze-dried cilantro, or skip it altogether. This rice was really the perfect start for the burrito bowls.

Here Comes the Meat

The recipe called for sirloin steak and chicken thighs. You cut them into bite-sized pieces (strips would have worked as well), season them in their separate bowls, and cook one after the other on fairly high heat. We kept the chicken and steak separate up until plating time, when we offered them side by side on a platter for easy access. The seasonings on the meat were salt, chili powder and cumin. And it was perfect, especially when it had the flavor of the lime juice from the rice or the pico touch it. Perfect.

Black beans go well with these burrito bowls, so we cooked some up with the same seasonings used on the meat. Easy Peasy!

Viva los Vegetales!

If you have seen any of our other posts, you know we love our vegetables. The meat was fantastic, and the vegetables were even better. The recipe called for zucchini, squash, onion, red and yellow bell peppers and a jalapeno pepper. We left out the jalapeno because there just weren’t any decent looking peppers at the store today. In its place we added some mushrooms. (Again, I love how easy it is to make substitutions in these recipes to match your own preferences!)

The skillet used to cook the meat was also used to cook the veggies, so you get a wonderful marriage of flavors there! The recipe does not call for as many veggies as we cooked, and it would have been easy to get them to cook more quickly, taking on the color from the high heat and remaining seasonings if we had used less, but we wanted more. Since we cooked a lot of veggies in a very large pan, the veggies did create a lot of liquid in the pan as they cooked, even on higher heat. In order to get the veggies to turn golden, I made sure to remove the liquid once it started to pool. This way the veggies would carmelize and not turn to mush.

I do believe my lunch tomorrow will be any remaining veggies. That thought makes me quite happy.

Pico de Gallo

Pico de Gallo is basically a condiment that I can usually take or leave. Again, it is usually quite rich in fresh cilantro, and that is just not my favorite (soapy) flavor. Obviously, I was not the only one we were cooking for today, so we used the fresh cilantro, just not as much as you get in the pico de gallo served in restaurants.

Pico is basically a blend of small-diced tomatoes, corn, onion, salt, lime and cilantro. Some people also throw in some heat in the form of jalapeno. There was some plump corn on the cob at the grocery store today, so we cooked up 4 ears of corn and cut the kernels off for the pico. We juiced some fresh limes for the rice and pico today, and it was scrumptious. Even with the cilantro!

All the Fixin’s

We set out some lettuce, black beans, sliced avocados, shredded sharp cheddar cheese and salsa to go along with the meat and veggies. We also made a quick queso dip (Velveeta-style cheese product, nuked in the microwave until melted, with a can of diced tomatoes and green chilies stirred in). So many things would also go with this: sour cream, tortilla soup, chips, etc. We had plenty of food for the bowls, so we didn’t add anything else. Honestly, I didn’t even put salsa on mine. It was so tasty; it really did not need it.

Burrito Bowls. We Will Do This Again.

The bowls were both delicious and filling. The flavors of the lime and chili powder/cumin complemented each other so well, and are a prominent combination in Latin American cuisine. This meal is going on our list of keepers, because with only slight adjustments (less rice and corn, maybe), it is a very healthy dish, tastes absolutely fabulous, and leaves you satisfied.

Mushrooms and Meatballs… Mmmmm

We had a really hard time, that weekend in April, deciding what we really wanted to eat (although we did have a special request from Flora’s husband to make some mushrooms). We decided to cook Burgundy Mushrooms (Accidental Country Girl, p 202). What goes great with mushrooms? Why, meatballs, of course! We decided to make the Whiskey Mustard Meatballs (Food from My Frontier, p 112), an excellent choice.

Flora wanted potatoes and there are so many recipes to choose from among “The Pioneer Woman Cooks” series. Crash potatoes, mashed potatoes, twice baked, stuffed, and skins; the list goes on. I think the thing that pushed us to our final decision was the bacon in her Twice Baked Potatoes (Accidental Country Girl, p 152). Twice-baked it would be! The vegetables were easier: Flora went to Aldi’s and the asparagus caught her eye. We would be fixing Roasted Asparagus (Dinner Time, p 280). She also picked up an eggplant that was just too pretty to resist. We would end up slicing and frying it.

Burgundy Mushrooms

The mushrooms weren’t actually “Burgundy” mushrooms, since the wine I had on hand was a lovely Cabernet Sauvignon. The mushrooms simmer for several hours in order to cook down the liquid ingredients, so we started those first. The liquid ingredients include butter, wine, Worchestershire sauce, and water with bouillon cubes. With the Cabernet, the mushrooms cooked down to a deep purple color and were absolutely delicious.

I did not have any dill seed, so it was omitted (and, honestly, not missed), but we did include garlic salt, salt, and pepper. We love mushrooms SO MUCH that we actually quartered them, rather than cooking them whole, so there would at least be the visual impression that we had more of them.

Whiskey Mustard Meatballs

The meatballs were made with beef and pork, Dijon mustard, and bread crumbs, using an egg as a binder. They were browned first, then we finished cooking them in some broth, Crown Royal, more Dijon mustard, Worstershire sauce and cream. We didn’t go overboard on the sauce because we knew certain people (every adult in the house) were going to put those luscious mushrooms right over top of their meatballs. I was worried about a flavor clash; fortunately there was not one!

Twice-Baked Potatoes

What can I say… bacon, cheese and potatoes are heaven in a bite. Flora got these baking while I working on the meatballs. The recipe calls for luscious dairy (sour cream, butter, and sharp cheddar cheese) along with the bacon, green onions and seasonings. They do take a bit of effort and stubbornness: you bake them, scoop them out, mix up the insides with the yummies, then stuff the hollowed out skins the the mixture and bake again. Please take my word for it: they are totally worth the effort. We concluded that next time we will need to make a larger recipe.

Flora is really good with kids, and she took the time to show my granddaughter how to do the potatoes. Melted my heart!

Roasted Asparagus

The Pioneer Woman’s recipe for roasted asparagus is absolute perfection. That is, until you start to feel you can improve upon perfection by adding the flavors of lemon and garlic on the asparagus. We modified her recipe ever so slightly by using a lemon-infused olive oil, lemon pepper, and a bit of garlic salt. I didn’t think perfection could become even more perfect, but somehow it did.

Fried Eggplant

We didn’t follow a recipe for the eggplant; Flora made an egg wash and set up some corn meal, flour and seasonings. Whenever I use eggplant, I prefer to sweat out the bitterness before cooking it. That is accomplished by sprinkling salt over the slices and leaving them in a colander for a while. After sweating the slices, we fried the breaded eggplant slices in vegetable oil. I really didn’t think anyone else besides Flora, her husband David, and myself, would even try it due to the potential for picky eaters among our numbers, but it disappeared very quickly!

When all was said and done, this was a delicious meal with some of our favorite comfort foods. It plated up well, too! We will definitely be making those potatoes and mushrooms again, and SOON. The meatballs were wonderful, too. I have used the Whiskey-Mustard sauce with other meats quite successfully.

Wait! What about Dessert? PIES!

I am sure it has become clear by now that Flora loves baking, even more than cooking. She decided to treat us to three of her specialty pies: Coconut, Chocolate, and Lemon Meringue. How to choose? Eat a piece of each! You will not be disappointed.

I can just hear Andie MacDowell singing:

Pie, Pie, me oh my! Nothing tastes sweet, wet, salty and dry all at once. Oh well, it’s pie. Apple! Pumpkin! Minced meat an’ wet bottom. Come to your place every day if you’ve got ’em. Pie, me oh my, I love pie.

from the movie “Michael”

Playing Ketchup. Catsup. Catch-up!!!

Happy Summer!

It has been an eventful summer already, filled with family activities and responsibilities. Yes, I said that word. Flora got to go work with Joni and Friends for two weeks, her own kids were at camp and visiting the university their daughter will begin attending in just a few short weeks. They are heavily involved in scouting, so there are always events to either run or enjoy. Our families have still had the opportunity to share several meals together during this time, but, well you know. Responsibilities. Daggone, I said it again.

My responsibility now is to get this blog caught up, featuring the meals we have tried together, what we liked and didn’t, what we might do differently, and how much FUN we have had cooking together! I think maybe if I start scheduling in time several times a week to blog, you may just get to see posts more regularly. Besides that, it does me good to share my love of cooking, foods, and flavors!

A few passing thoughts about the cooking we have been doing from the Pioneer Woman’s cookbooks. She tends to prepare meals with higher fat and calorie levels than we want to eat (even though they are *so good*), and it is totally understandable with her hard-working family. In most cases, though, it is easy enough to lower the fat and calorie levels as you go with either substitutions or omissions of some ingredients. The more you try it, the more natural it becomes. Also, I really love how Mrs. Drummond comments in her recipes the things she might add or do differently if she was just cooking for herself or for the kids. She accounts for tastes and preferences, and I find it really inspiring.

So, I will be playing catch-up for a few weeks. I may be on here more than you care to see! But we do love what we are doing and will definitely continue at our own pace.

“An-ti-ci-pa-a-tion, it’s making me wait…”

Sometimes We Just Do What We Have to Do

Pulled Pork

Pulled pork is one of those dishes that just makes you happy. Usually you cook the pork for anywhere from 7 to 9 hours to get it to its most scrumptious, fall-apart doneness. I found a 7-lb pork loin at Costco (I LOVE YOU, COSTCO!) that I would swear jumped up and down in the refrigerator compartment, yelling “Buy me! Buy me!” It was beautiful. The only problem was that I just did not have 7- 9 hours for cooking. I had church to attend and Flora’s family was coming over right afterward. Her husband had to work that evening, so we wanted to prepare the meal as quickly as we could.

Enter the Instant Pot. I was going to use my electric pressure cooker, but it, uh, died. Flora’s husband, David, ran home and grabbed her Instant Pot for us to use. We decided to follow most of the Pioneer Woman’s recipe for Classic Pulled Pork, but we would use my own experience with pressure cooking to cook it in the Instant Pot instead of the oven. Now that we knew we were going to cook the pork, we planned out the rest of the meal.

The Meal

We chose to cook the Pioneer Woman’s Classic Pulled Pork from her Dinnertime book, pages 228-300. We knew we would have to make some slight changes to the recipe, but they would be few.

To accompany the pork, we chose Rice Pilaf, also from Dinnertime, pages 320-321, and one of my favorite Black Bean and Corn salads, sort of like a Cowboy Caviar, but without blackeye peas and hot peppers. For dessert, we had my favorite Lemon Meringue Pie, which nobody makes better than Flora!

Starting with the Pork

The Pioneer Woman’s recipe for pulled pork calls for a pork butt/shoulder to be cooked whole. Since I was going to use an Instant Pot and needed to make as much as I could fit in it safely at once, I decided to slice that beautiful loin into chops about 1-1/2″ thick. You make a rub out of brown sugar, chili powder, paprika, garlic powder, salt, black pepper and cayenne. Ideally you would rub it all over the pork shoulder, wrap it tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate several hours or overnight. I ended up rubbing it into each loin slice and wrapping the slices individually. They were refrigerated for about 2 hours.

I knew I would need to cook the pork in the Instant Pot for 35-40 minutes under pressure, so Flora and I decided to chop the vegetables for the pilaf and make the black bean and corn salad before cooking the pork, to give it time for the flavors to marry.

Black Bean and Corn Salad

So Fresh!

This is one of my favorite go-to salads throughout the Spring, Summer, and Fall seasons. It has a goodly amount of vegetable protein in it for those of us who lack in that area, and is just delicious. Here’s my recipe, and it makes enough to feed my army:

  • 1 small to medium bag frozen corn, thawed, OR corn kernels cut from 6-8 ears grilled fresh corn on the cob
  • 2 to 3 cans black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 3 Roma Tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 red onion, 1/4″ dice
  • 1 red bell pepper, washed and seeded, 1/4″ dice
  • 1 yellow, orange or green bell pepper, washed and seeded, 1/4″dice
  • cumin, 1 tsp
  • lime juice – to taste. I generally use about 2 limes
  • olive oil, drizzled, don’t go overboard.
  • cilantro, to taste. I prefer about 1-2 tsps. dried. Use a lot more if fresh.
  • salt and pepper – to taste

Mix it up, play with the combinations of cumin, lime and cilantro to find your mix. This one is more limey, less spicy.

Rice Pilaf

As I made the black bean salad, Flora prepared the vegetables for the rice pilaf (onion, celery and carrot.) Once it was time to start the pork, we started cooking the rice pilaf. Basically it is rice cooked in chicken broth and white wine, along with the vegetables and salt and pepper. (We omitted the bay leaf called for in the recipe.) You start by sautéing the vegetables in butter, then add the wine and cook until it is reduced by half. Add your rice, broth, seasonings; cover and simmer until the liquid has been absorbed.

I have to be totally transparent here and let you know the rice pilaf was the big surprise of the dinner! It went very quickly, everybody loved it and there was a bit of frustration among the kids when there were no seconds. I highly recommend this dish!

Cooking the Pork

Since I was using a small Instant Pot, I knew I would not be able to cook all of the pork loin at once. I put 2 onions (quartered) in the bottom of the pot, added about 3.5 lbs of pork loins, and added 1 cup of chicken broth. I set it on manual for 35 minutes, let the pressure release 5 minutes naturally, then speed released the rest of the pressure. There was enough AMAZING pork in there to shred enough for everyone to at least have a first helping while I let the second round cook. With the first batch, I took most of the resulting liquid from the pot and put it into a saucepan, to which I added a goodly amount of my favorite BBQ sauce, Sweet Baby Ray’s Original. We let that simmer about 10-15 minutes, shredded the pork and poured the sauce over it. WOW!!!!!

Twenty Thumbs Up!

This amazing meal was a hit all around. There were 10 people in the house, and everyone gave it two enthusiastic thumbs up. All that was left was dessert.

I feel like Flora really gets the short end of the stick in this blog because I don’t always see everything she does. She knows Lemon Meringue Pie is my favorite, so she brought over the supplies and she made it fresh. Fresh lemons were very briefly microwaved to help her get more juice from them. She did make a point of telling me that you want to be sure to do this BEFORE you zest them. Sounds like sage advice to me!

Just look at these pies before they got meringued! I could have buried my face in them right then and there. I am not kidding.

But, I was a good girl. I waited for the meringue and it was definitely worth the wait.

Ree Drummond, our dear Pioneer Woman, we sure do love your cookbooks. You have our hearts and our kitchens! We also love how your recipes inspire us to add our own little twists here and there. Thank you!

What’s a “Slider” Anyway?

Happy Spring!

Happy Spring, y’all!

For years now I have been hearing folks talk about sliders, but had no idea what they were. Come to find out, it’s just a little meat sandwich on a dinner roll. That sounds simple enough, so we decided to try them. The Pioneer Woman, of course, had a recipe for them, so Flora and I made them a few weeks ago using that recipe. It is nothing like my own favorite hamburger recipe, so I was a bit dubious at first, but we did it her way anyway. I am so glad we did!

We decided to try three recipes: Mushroom Swiss Sliders with Spicy Fry Sauce, Crash Hot Potatoes (both from The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food from My Frontier), and Flat Apple Pie (from the book, The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl). We had chips and California Onion dip as well. It wasn’t the most nutritionally sound meal, I admit.

Mushroom Swiss Sliders

Reading through the recipe for the sliders, I was surprised to find the recipe calls for cream.

In hamburger.

Heavy whipping cream in hamburger.

I simply could not wrap my head around it! The meat also had a touch of salt, pepper, and Worcestershire Sauce mixed in.

By the way, did you know that making a dent in the middle of each burger patty after you shape it will keep it from swelling up into a golf ball? Great tip for grilled burgers!

*** Still stuck on Heavy Whipping Cream in my Hamburgers, just sayin’.***

Love the ‘Shrooms!

The mushrooms were sautéed with onions in butter, white wine, and a touch of Worcestershire sauce. I could have eaten the whole pan of them as they cooked! When the burgers were just about done, we covered the top of each burger with mushrooms and some Swiss cheese.

Crash Hot Potatoes

Crash Hot Potatoes are potatoes that you boil in salted water until they are done, set out on parchment paper, and mash them down. (I didn’t have a masher, so I used a glass bottom. It sufficed.) Next drizzle olive oil over them, sprinkle on some salt and pepper and maybe some fresh herbs, and bake until they are golden. I didn’t bake them as long as that, but they were still delicious.

Spicy Fry Sauce

The spicy fry sauce is mayonnaise, ketchup, and spice (I used a bit of siracha.) It is sauce from Heaven, wonderful on the burgers. And the potatoes. And the chips. And everything else we tried it on!

The Verdict Is In…

So the verdict on the Heavy Whipping Cream in hamburgers? Absolutely amazing. It helped the meat keep its shape and softened it, giving it a wonderful texture.

I don’t want to start using cream in everything, but I just may keep it in my burgers! The sliders are definitely a keeper. I am adding this recipe to the Family Cookbook!

Flat Apple Pie

Flora made the flat apple pie as I was cooking the burgers. The concept was simple: lay the pie crust out on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet, place spiced apples in the center, and fold up the edges. Then bake.

A little secret for a richer apple taste: use a mix of apple varieties in your apple pies to bring out the wonderful sweet and tart flavors. We used Gala and Granny Smith apples in these pies.

I have to confess, we both love cinnamon in our apple pies, so we added a bit when the recipe didn’t call for it. That was a good idea! We also love the syrup that is formed when you mix the apples with the sugars, so we poured it on the crust with the apples, thinking that the folded up pie crust would hold it in.

It doesn’t. Don’t do that unless you want to do some serious cleanup work! Still, though, it was delicious!

Bringing it home:

The meal was so satisfying. We wrapped it up by serving the pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and some caramel sauce. It was the perfect finish for this meal!

A Little Bell Pepper Trick I Know

I like to find little tricks (“Kitchen Hacks”) that speed up food preparation and cut down on mess. I have never been a fan of chopping bell peppers because of the seeds and membrane in the middle.

Did you know that where the membrane grows inside the pepper creates a crease in the outside surface? It runs all the way from the top to the bottom of the pepper and looks like this:

The secret to quick and clean pepper slicing is to follow the creases down the pepper. You will end up with nice clean slices that you don’t have to trim or scrape out, and all of the membranes and seeds are left together in a single piece, ready to toss!

I hope you find this helpful!