Don’t Boil That Cabbage Down! Escallop It!

Comfort Food Sunday

Comfort Foods Day

Flora and I are still working our way through The Pioneer Woman’s cookbooks. So far we have really enjoyed both the cooking process and the flavors. We like to compare what the recipe says to what we would normally do or consider other ingredients to complement the flavors, as we do with every recipe we come across. We have tried some of them again with alterations to fit the desire or the budget. We have not been disappointed with The Pioneer Woman’s recipes or our alterations! Her recipes have proven that it is a whole lot easier to cook than many people believe it to be.

We were quite hungry when we decided on the menu for this particular Sunday: Classic Pulled Pork from Dinner Time, Bratwurst with Onions and Mushrooms (because I didn’t think I had quite enough pork for everyone…), Mae’s Escalloped Cabbage from Come and Get It, Creamy Rosemary Potatoes from Accidental Country Girl, and Cheesy Chive Biscuits from A Year of Holidays. We won’t pretend it was a healthy meal, admitting we seriously overdid it, but it was totally heartwarming and satisfying. We also didn’t plan very well: we chose too many dishes that required oven time, and, well, my oven is pitiful. Somehow, though, we got it all to come together and still be hot when served.

Bratwurst with Onions and Mushrooms

I love onions. I love mushrooms. If you have followed us at all, you may have noticed our tendency to put them in (or serve them with) just about everything. Since I was cooking up some brats, you just know we had to smother them with onions and mushrooms! When I cook brats (or many other sausages) I generally boil them a bit first, to render out much of the fat. Then I can brown it in a pan, add in the mushrooms, onions, and maybe some green peppers, and let them all caramelize to perfection. On this particular occasion, I didn’t pre-boil the wurst, and it was still really good, but it took so much longer to cook and didn’t really brown very well. Totally delicious, just the same. We did not follow a Pioneer Woman recipe for these.

Mae’s Escalloped Cabbage

The surprise of this meal came in the cabbage dish. I must confess that the recipe calls for Cheez Whiz, and I just don’t do Cheez Whiz. Ever. This open distaste for the stuff made me the brunt of Cheez Whiz jokes (and texted photos) for a few days afterward, but that was okay. I made my own cheese sauce inspired by The Pioneer Woman’s Baked Potatoes with Broccoli Cheese Sauce. What makes it special is that you combine both cheddar cheese and pepper jack cheese in it. It was perfect! I do a few extra things to my sauce, like rubbing the bottom of the pan with a slice of garlic before starting, and adding in just a touch of mustard for extra zing.

To make the Escalloped Cabbage, cut a head of cabbage into 6-8 wedges. Make sure you don’t cut the core out yet! Parboil the cabbage wedges for about 2-3 minutes (next time I may do 4-5 minutes to satisfy those who prefer more tender cabbage), then cut the hard core out and lay the wedges on a baking sheet. Pour the cheese sauce over the cabbage and top off with a dash of paprika on each wedge, then let it bake. I thought I was going to like this but I had no idea how much I would end up LOVING it! This is a keeper. (For me, it will never be made with Cheez Whiz. You should know, though, that it is something The Pioneer Woman says is amazing and we just need to trust her on it! I will leave that up to you…)

Creamy Rosemary Potatoes

This was a lovely twist on scalloped potatoes: a creamy, cream-cheesy baked dish with thinly-sliced potatoes and some crushed rosemary. I was concerned that the flavor would be overwhelmingly rosemary, but it wasn’t! It was sweet and savory – quite decadent, in fact. I am sure we will make these again for some of our special meals. This dish comes out of the oven with a golden brown crust and a fragrance that is divine!

Cheesy Chive Biscuits

These are your classic drop biscuits. They were yummy. It was recommended in the recipe to use a scoop to scoop the biscuit dough, and that was something I had never thought of doing before. Flora had, of course! When the biscuits came out of the oven, she brushed some melted butter with chives over the tops of the biscuits. YUM!

Classic Pulled Pork

We’d made this recipe before. Generally it calls for the cut of meat to be pork butt, which has a variety of meat textures and a higher level of fat for the barbecue. It is not my favorite cut of pork for that very reason – I am a meat weenie. This time we used two roasts that I cut from the ends of a large pork loin (leaving the center to be cut into pork chops). The meat was a lot more consistent and didn’t feel like I had to examine every bite to see what I was getting. (MEAT WEENIE!) It was amazing, and we will go back to this pulled pork recipe probably every time we want BBQ. Outstanding!

At the End of the Day…

We were stuffed silly. This was totally NOT a combination of dishes that we would recommend for a healthy meal, but each of the dishes will be the main dish in a meal of its own later. There were no complaints for this happy, food coma’d crowd!

This Is Some Down Home Cookin’!

Hamburger Steaks with Mushroom Gravy, Hasselback Potatoes, and Broccoli

If I had to bring up one food item that makes me think of down-home cooking, it would have to be gravy. I love savory foods, and gravy can go on meat, veggies, bread… I absolutely love gravy on French fries, no lie! So the idea of making a dish with gravy is always very appealing, even though I don’t get to very often.

The meat, though… It took me many years to learn to enjoy meat, and I am still not much of a fan of ground or processed meats. (Except for Spam, for some reason. What’s with that? And please don’t tell me what’s in it, I really don’t want to know.) Anyway, I absolutely hated the texture and flavor of meat when I was a child, and it used to drive my mother crazy. She had many ways of making dollars stretch by using hamburger, sausage or ground poultry, so the challenge was always on to get this kid to eat it. Knowing how much I loved gravy, my mother used to cook Salisbury steak and cover it with her amazing gravy, serving it with potatoes and other scrumptious veggies. I would take all that luscious gravy and put it on my potatoes and veggies, leaving that miserable meat patty to suffer, naked, in silence. If she insisted, I would eat it, but it was never my desire to do so. I think in the long run she was just really happy that I loved vegetables the way I did. (And, thank you, Mom, for teaching me to be creative in my cooking! You are the BEST!)

I figure that I have gone decades despising Salisbury steak or hamburger patties, etc., so it is time to overcome that distaste. If any recipe could bring me out of this misery, I knew I could find it in one of Ree Drummond’s books. Sure enough, The Pioneer Woman’s book, “Come and Get It,” has a recipe that looks absolutely delicious. It is Hamburger Steaks with Mushroom Gravy (pg 113-115). Gravy! Mushrooms! It sounded great. Besides, if I didn’t like the meat, I could scrape all of the gravy onto my Hasselback potato (pg 280-281)!

Hamburger Steaks

Do you want to know what caught me most by surprise in this recipe? The hamburger steaks are just hamburgers. I have covered the flavor in my hamburgers over the years with added onion soup mix, Worcestershire sauce, onions, BBQ sauce… whatever I could find to add flavor. These “steaks” were just hamburger, pressed into oval patties, and lightly sprinkled with salt and pepper. That’s all. I was sure I was going to hate these things.

Mushroom Gravy

But the gravy! Wow! Mushrooms, beef broth, red wine, Worcestershire sauce, and thyme make for the most amazing gravy. Ever. I had to have Flora cook the gravy, because I kept wanting to dish out a cup of it, or snag some mushrooms from it. She had more self-control than I did by far!

Hasselback Potatoes

These potatoes are beautiful, and they take a little more effort than I expected. They are sliced in thin slices, but not all the way through the potato. Once the potatoes are sliced, you place them on the baking pan (lined with parchment paper for easiest cleanup), then you brush a mixture of melted butter and olive oil with chives, salt and pepper over the potato and between the slices. They come out as delicious as this sounds, kind of a cross between baked potato and soft potato chips.

We also made some broccoli, but we didn’t do anything special, other than steaming it until it was tender.

The Verdict Is In: Guilty as Charged.

Pioneer Woman, you are convicted of coming up with a way to cook with hamburger that I absolutely LOVED. You are sentenced to keep cooking and coming up with the lovely recipes that have been turning our families on since we started this blog. Seriously, I really do have to thank you for this one. Who would have thought plain hamburger would have made me so happy? I sure didn’t! It really did seem like steak with gravy.

Do I Hear… Happiness… In Here?

Why, yes, Miss Hannigan, you do! Flora is my idol when it comes to making desserts: pies, cookies, cakes, brownies… You name it. She even has a bunch of those recipes memorized. This has come in handy repeatedly. So what treat did Flora have for us today? She made no-bake cheesecakes. Yes, that’s right, Cheese-Cake-S. They are so good! We were trying to decide what topping to make, and when I opened the fridge, an apple fell on my foot. Solved that problem: We would make some fried apples and caramel sauce to serve on top of the cheesecakes for whomever wanted it.

This is happiness on a plate! I never would have planned on having fried apples on cheesecake, but I am so glad it happened. And the caramel sauce… absolutely perfect.

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 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”

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!

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.


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.

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!