Don’t Give Up on Me, Baby

The past few weeks have been eventful. Flora and her family were away for a weekend, so we didn’t get to cook together. My garbage disposal broke and flooded my kitchen and lower level. I didn’t get to cook for about 10 days! Vertigo has hit hard this weekend, I don’t know whether I will be able to cook tomorrow or not. Soooooo…

This blog means so much to Flora and me. So, please don’t give up on me, baby. I hope to be back online in a few days.

There’s Comfort In That Cup

My kids currently range in age from 16 to almost 36, and there is one thing, and only one thing, they all have in common. When they don’t feel well, there is nothing more comforting than Mom’s homemade soup. Even my grown kids will call and ask for it when they are not feeling well. I don’t make it any better than anyone else, but it is made with so much love and care, and somehow I think you can taste that. It is comforting and healing. It is good for the soul.

As for me, I have been dealing with persistent vertigo for almost a year now. This weekend has been especially tough, so I decided to bring my own soul some comfort in the form of potato soup.

Soups are generally easy to make. They can be made of just a few ingredients, or you can throw everything you have at them. Potato soup is simple, and it is flexible in that you can change it up according to your tastes or cravings.

Potato Soup Ingredients:

  • olive oil
  • 5 lbs potatoes, washed and diced
  • 2 large onions, diced
  • 4 ribs of celery, diced
  • 2 to 3 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
  • 2 to 3 cups half-n-half
  • 6 cups chicken broth
  • 6 cups water (or 6 more cups chicken broth, depending on your preferences. Using more broth instead of water will give the soup a richer flavor.)
  • salt and pepper to taste

When I am making soups, I like to begin it mise en place. That French phrase means to have everything in its place before you start cooking. Seasonings and spices are measured and set out, all of your required dishes are handy, and so forth. This makes is easy, for one thing, to see if you are missing anything, and for another, to have everything ready when you need it. Have you ever started cooking and found yourself going back and forth to the pantry, cupboard, and fridge to get the next ingredient you will be using? It is a time and energy waster in most cases!

How I dice my vegetables for soup really depends on my mood and how thick the soup or stew will be. For potato soup, I prefer small dice, which means uniform 1/4″ cubes. (Medium dice is about 1/2″ cubes, and large dice is 3/4″ – 1″ cubes.) Whatever size I choose for the soup, in most cases I make all of the cut ingredients (meats and vegetables) the same size.

To start the potato soup, dice the vegetables. I chose to cut the celery ribs in half lengthwise, then cut 1/4″ pieces. It may not be cubes, but it is very close in size to the potatoes. I also chose to go ahead and put the onions and celery pieces in the same prep bowl, because I will start cooking them together.

In a large pot, heat a teaspoon or two of olive oil, then add in the onions and celery. Sauté over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the vegetables become fragrant, then add the 6 cups of chicken broth; stir to mix the flavors. Add the potatoes. (The broth will not be enough cover the potatoes.) Add about 2 teaspoons salt and a bit of pepper if you like, and stir again. Add the water (or chicken broth, if you chose to go with the richer flavor); cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the vegetables are tender. With the small-diced vegetables, this should take about 10 minutes.

To thicken the soup you are going to use your blender, the butter and half-n-half. With a slotted spoon, remove 2 to 3 cups of the vegetables from the soup and place into the blender pitcher. Add 2 tbsp butter and 1/2 cup half-n-half.

Blend until smooth, then add back into the soup pot and stir. Repeat this process 3 – 5 more times until your soup is as creamy as you like it to be. You will want to make sure you leave some of the veggies in the pot to keep it interesting. You may wish to add more salt if it needs it at this point. I usually garnish each serving with cheddar cheese and/or chives. That, my friends, is your basic potato soup!

When I said this soup was flexible, I wasn’t kidding. You don’t have to use the full stick of butter if you don’t want to, but I love the flavor it adds. You can use milk instead of half-n-half if you are concerned with the fat content; it just may not get quite as thick. You can add chopped cauliflower or diced carrots when you add the potatoes if you wish. (If you want to add broccoli, steam it and add it after the soup is done unless you want green soup.) Many root veggies would also work well. Once you have thickened the soup, you may personalize it to match your mood. Throw in some cooked bacon or ham. Maybe a cup or two of grated cheddar cheese or corn. If you want even more flavor, you might want to add just a bit of Ranch dressing mix (the powder) or top with a dollop of sour cream. Make it your own, and enjoy!

Roasted Pork

Cooking can be so much fun! Watching raw items become something beautiful and savory is so fulfilling for me. Making them become so is my love language, my way of pouring out love on those around me.

It’s been a long week. Work, birthday, work, Valentine’s Day, work, getting a dental crown, more work. Okay, it’s been overwhelming! But knowing we were going to share some yummy goodness this weekend gave me a lot of purpose for getting through it! Flora and I had decided we would make a few more dishes from Ree Drummond’s book, “The Pioneer Woman Cooks Food from My Frontier.” We had settled on Herb-Roasted Pork Tenderloin (which also included recipes for roasted vegetables and polenta), and Citrus Butter Cookies. Friends, we chose well!

As always, we end up having to make little changes to the recipes due to availability of ingredients in our stores. For example, it appears every family in America cooked pork tenderloins this weekend, because I could only find one of them. That simply would not do for our families, so I chose to cook pork loin roasts instead. These are bigger, usually have a bit more fat on them, and take a longer to cook through. We adjusted the cooking time accordingly. We got a little creative in the vegetables we chose to roast with the root vegetables; however, the selection was left up to the cook anyway.

We chose to follow the recipe in order, so we roasted veggies, cooked polenta, and started the roasts last.

Roasted Vegetables

The recipe called for root vegetables, so we used turnips, onions, potatoes. We also had carrots but totally forgot to add them! To the root veggies we added butternut squash (which adds a sweet surprise), acorn squash and zucchini, and a full stalk of celery. Next time I might omit the celery. It was delicious but unnecessary. Oh, yes – we threw in some mushrooms, just because.

Caramelized roasted veggies

The veggies were tossed with olive oil and pepper. It was an incredibly beautiful dish! The Pioneer Woman recommends also adding salt at the beginning, but we chose to add it later. If you add salt to vegetables as you are starting to cook them it actually causes moisture to sweat out, hindering the lovely caramelization we wanted from the root veggies. I would have added it after the caramelization started, but I totally forgot! If anyone wanted salt they were welcome to add it to their own.

Polenta

As the veggies were roasting, we started simmering cornmeal in chicken broth to make polenta. It cooked about 25 minutes until it was smooth and there wasn’t any liquid left. At that point we spread it out on parchment paper in a cookie sheet to cool. Once it was cooled enough, we cut it into triangles and fried it in some vegetable oil. The recipe called for olive oil, but I didn’t want the olive oil flavor to overwhelm the corn. Plus, I am cheap; that would have been a lot of olive oil.

Next Up: Herb-Roasted Pork Loin

As mentioned earlier, the recipe called for pork tenderloins, but I could not find enough to feed us all, so I picked up four pork loin roasts instead. I dressed the outside with salt, pepper and Herbes de Provence, as per the recipe. I enjoyed the flavor of the herb blend so much I may use it on roasted vegetables next time! The pork loins were roasted at 425 degrees for about 25 minutes, just long enough to allow it to finish cooking thoroughly as it rested 15 minutes after coming out of the oven, at which point it was sliced..

Did You Know:

Any time you are going to use dried herbs, rub them between your hands or fingers before putting them in or on your dish. This releases the fragrant oils from inside the dried leaves and greatly enhances the effect of the herbs in your food!

Oh, Yeah! Spinach!

While I was shopping for ingredients for these recipes, I had a sudden hankering for spinach with garlic and lemon, my favorite way to eat spinach. I remembered seeing a similar spinach recipe in this Pioneer Woman cookbook, so I picked up three bunches of fresh spinach. The recipe is easy, you tailor the amount of olive oil and garlic to your particular tastes. As for me, I LOVE garlic! Since no one objected I used three small bulbs of garlic, chopped into large pieces. The garlic was cooked in olive oil just until it became fragrant, then in went the spinach. This recipe did not call for lemon juice, so I left it out. Totally delicious!!!

The dinner was lovely to both look at and to taste. I was surprised how much my husband loved the polenta! I guess we shall be having that a little more often.

For Dessert: Citrus Butter Cookies

Flora loves to bake. Have I mentioned that before? I mean, she has a gift and really loves it. She chose to make these cookies. They had a bit of juice and zest from lemon, lime, and orange fruits. The beautiful citrus zing in these cookies actually came from the glazed icing which was drizzled across them. The dough was rolled into balls and baked, then the glaze applied. To drizzle the glaze evenly, Flora poured it into a Ziploc bag and snipped a small hole across the corner. Voila!

So do you think they were good? My husband certainly thought so! Everybody who tried one expressed how absolutel7y amazing they were. Yes, were. None left.

Let Me Sum It Up for You

This meal was amazing on so many levels. Very simple instructions. Very delicious. Relatively inexpensive to cook for an army. Delicious as leftovers. Pioneer Woman, my hat’s off to ya!!!

By the Cup or By the Bowl, You’ll Go Back for More

This Sunday we prepared two more recipes from “The Pioneer Woman Cooks Food From My Frontier”: Corn Chowder and Apple Dumplings. For the most part we followed the recipes, doubled, and they were no disappointment to the palate!

Corn Chowder

Simmering corn chowder: perfection in a pot

I cannot begin to tell you how excited I was to make the corn chowder. For one thing, it uses fresh corn-on-the-cob (you slice the kernels off of the raw cob before adding to the soup.) Of course we had to sample the kernels before adding and they were incredibly sweet. This recipe calls for bacon (yes!), chipotle peppers in Adobo sauce (yes, again!), green chilies (do I dare say it?), and the typical chowder ingredients, to include broth, cream, and onions. The biggest change we made was to use a whole package of bacon instead of the 4 strips that the doubled recipe called for. I mean, really, 4 strips? We took a vote and it was unanimous. Use the whole pack of bacon. One thing that added tremendous flavor to the recipe is the way you were directed to start cooking the bacon, add the onion after a few minutes, then the corn after a few more before adding any liquid. They were cooked together for a few minutes so their flavors could marry. Absolute genious, Ms. Drummond. Genius! Since we had added the extra bacon, we removed some of it before adding the broth and cooked it up to crispy to use for garnish. GREAT IDEA! The corn had sweetened it up and I just don’t have the words to describe the succulent flavor.

This chowder turned out absolutely amazing! Super creamy, wonderful combination of sweet from the corn, salty from the bacon, and a little bit of spice from the peppers and Adobo sauce. Flora does not care for spicy food, but she said she really liked this balance of spice and flavor. There is one thing we will change when we make it next time: we will substitute half-n-half for the heavy whipping cream. Half-n-half has approximately 1/3 the fat as the heavy cream does (heavy cream is approximately 38% fat, and half-n-half is 12% fat). In my own experience, it will still make a wonderfully creamy chowder. We might even behave and use the specified amount of bacon.

Nah, we probably won’t.

Next up: Apple Dumplings

I loved the simplicity of this recipe. Use prepared crescent roll dough and wrap each piece around a slice of apple. The recipe called for Granny Smith; since we were doubling it anyway we decided to try Gala apples for the second recipe.

The Pioneer Woman provides a fantastic recipe involving butter, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and Mountain Dew. (Really, Mountain Dew!) The only thing we really didn’t follow in this recipe was to pare the apples because we all love cooked apples with the skins on. We will pare them next time, for sure, since the skins made them just a little difficult to “cut” with the edge of a spoon. You will want to use a spoon, I promise, because the syrup is off the charts scrumptious! We kept the leftover syrup to pour on our waffles this morning!

The Pioneer Woman has a family of hard laborers working their ranch, and I am sure they quickly burn off the calories from the incredibly rich meals they eat. We… well, we do not really “labor.” Flora and I have decided to look for lighter, yet still delicious, substitutions in the recipes we review, and to find some that are not quite so heavy to begin with. Next week we will be fixing another recipe from the same book: Herb-Roasted Pork Tenderloin with roasted root veggies. We will fix a dessert from the book as well; I am just going to pretend that calories don’t exist on Sundays. I can’t wait!

Again, the book we are going through right now is “The Pioneer Woman Cooks Food from My Frontier” by Ree Drummond.

We Are Up to No Good!

Today we are making Corn Chowder, Buttered Rosemary Rolls and Apple Dumplings. These recipes are also from The Pioneer Woman Cooks Food From My Frontier. We are starting to realize the recipes in this book are going to be challenging to our waistlines! But doggone, they are so good.

While everything is cooking, let me throw in a teaser:

These are the apple dumplings, just going in to bake. Oh, my!

Cooking this corn chowder today has me thinking about my favorite soups. I love soups, they help heal the body and warm the heart. There are a couple of soups our family relies heavily upon: potato soup, cabbage soup, and kitchen sink soup. My husband, Jon, has even started trying his hand at soup making and is doing very well at it. We will post our favorite homemade soup recipes over the next few weeks.

We will post our results from today’s cooking after it is all done and cleaned up, along with any changes we had to make and changes we would consider in the future. Don’t let that make you think for a second that we don’t like what’s cooking – it is totally scrumptious!!! As long as you are not baking, most recipes have room for modifications to meet the budget, pantry, or diet. Talk to you soon!

To “Leftovers” or Not to “Leftovers”: That Is the Question

Because food really is my love language, I talk with many people about cooking. Do you enjoy cooking? Do you use recipes? What is your favorite type of food? and What is your stance on leftovers? While that last question actually seems to offend some (they don’t do leftovers!), leftovers are a staple for us. I believe, no, I know Flora feels the same. There are so many possibilities with leftovers!

I am wife to one, mother to seven plus their spouses/significant others, and “Mamaw” to five. We ARE an army! I have always cooked in bulk and planned my meals with leftovers in mind: how much do we want to have and what do we intend to do with them? The fact is that my household eats on their own schedule while I am at work, so it is great to have food ready for them to simply heat up if they don’t feel like cooking and they are sick of Ramen. (Yes, I said Ramen. Why is that a teenager’s go-to???)

So what do I do with leftovers? Some leftovers lend themselves to repurposing. For example, there was the Peach-Whiskey Chicken we cooked this past weekend. There were several pieces of chicken left, and I knew they would disappear quickly, but there was also a goodly amount of sauce left over. The sauce is rich and sweet, so I thought a great repurposing would be to cook some sausages (Li’l Beef Smokies or Andouille) and add the sauce to them to get that lovely sweet-salt interaction. I fixed this meal with the smokies, rice, and a side of broccoli and it did not disappoint!

Sometimes leftovers lend themselves to just being eaten as they are. Leftover hamburgers, hotdogs, pizza, pasta, casseroles, etc are all great to either reheat or eat straight from the fridge.

Then there is the “soup bucket.” Left over vegetables, meats, tomato sauces, gravies, whatever, can be layered into a freezer-safe container or bag and stored in the freezer (I add to it meal by meal), then used all together to make what my mom always called, “Kitchen Sink Soup.” She called it that because it has everything but the kitchen sink in it. It’s the soup that warms your soul on a cold day, a wonderful comfort soup. I limit the contents of the bucket to the foods I know my kids will eat in soup, of course, but it can be a life saver! Throw the whole thing in the crock pot or the pressure cooker or in a big pot on the stove, along with whatever else you may want in the soup, and just let it simmer. Kitchen Sink Soup, I love you!

The moral of the story is this: don’t fear leftovers. Of course, don’t keep them if you’re not going to use them. Nobody wants dishes that come when called living in their fridge. But don’t be afraid to do some intentional leftovers! They are money- and time-saving, and some of my very best creations have come from leftovers.

Better Than Chicken

Okay, it IS chicken, but it is by far the best chicken I have ever had! This weekend Flora and I decided to prepare three recipes from Ree Drummond’s book, The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food From My Frontier.

Peach-Whiskey Chicken and Roasted Cauliflower

Peach-Whiskey Chicken

Since the chicken would take the longest to prepare we cooked it first. Our families are large, so we tend to cook for an army when we are together. The recipe called for 12 chicken drumsticks, we cooked 24. We followed the recipe for the peach-whiskey sauce, except for two changes. For one, the fresh peaches in our grocery were anything but fresh, so we used two large cans of sliced peaches, drained. Second, we could not find peach preserves, so we used a peach spread, and since this jar held just over the 1-cup that the recipe called for, we put it all in. We debated doubling the sauce recipe to go with the extra chicken, but decided not to. It was a good decision! The outcome: this was some of the very best chicken we have ever eaten! Four thumbs up!

Next up: Roasted Cauliflower

The Pioneer Woman’s recipe for Roasted Cauliflower was delicious. The only change we might consider making next time would be to try less (or no) panko. The buttered panko was delicious, but with this meal it was a bit much. When you roast the cauliflower, you break it into pieces and roast it on a cookie sheet for 20 minutes, then place in final serving dishes, top with the buttered panko, and roast for another 5 minutes. We thought it would be wonderful with just the butter. Super delish, even our kids loved it!

Finally: Knock you Naked Brownies – YUM!

This is the recipe that we ended up making most changes to. This was partly due to our need to double the recipe and only finding enough caramels for a single batch, and partly due to not reading ahead to see that these brownies really should have gone into the fridge for a while to set the melted caramel and chocolate layer in the middle. Friends, it did not matter that we only made one recipe of the middle layer and two recipes of the brownie dough! And even though the warm brownies were super, super sloppy, these brownies were absolutely sinful. Sinful, sinful, sinful!

Flora is a wonderful baker. She is also a preschool teacher and has a wonderful way with children. My granddaughter was with us for the weekend, so Flora put her to work! She showed her how we can use a glass bowl over some hot water to melt caramels so we don’t burn them (or ourselves!)

They worked together to make the brownies, and this child had a blast!