Category Archives: Food

Cooking vs. Baking

I can cook most anything. Sometimes, I use a recipe, but sometimes I don’t. However, baking is a different story. Other than cookies, I’ve never been much of a baker. I can make a very tasty coconut custard pie, but I inevitably overfill the pie crust and it overflows when cooking and causes a hell of a mess. Before i go further, let me explain what I think of as the difference between cooking and baking. For me, cooking usually refers to a savory dish that you eat as part of a meal, whereas baking is sweets or desserts made in the oven, such as cookies, cakes, or pies. For a more detailed and precise definition of the two, see this article about “Cooking vs Baking.” Cooking is an art, while baking is more of a science. With cooking, you can experiment with the ingredients to make the dish a creation of your own, and the variations can be endless. Baking, however, requires exact measurements. The order in which ingredients are added is also often a factor in baking. While I can follow a recipe just fine, I’ve often not been very successful with more elaborate cakes. Cookies and pies, I’ve pretty much mastered. The exception is pound cakes.
I have been craving a good pound cake for a few days now, and I plan to make one. But, what kind should I make? My mother is a master at cake making, and while measurements have to be exact during baking, my grandmama could make most of her cakes with her eyes closed. Also, pound cakes are usually a pretty simple recipe with only four ingredients and one measurement: a pound each of butter, flour, sugar, and eggs. But there are many variations of the pound cake: classic, butter, sour cream, cream cheese, etc. I love a good buttery pound cake, but my favorite is a brown sugar pound cake, so that s what I plan to make, a Brown Sugar Pecan Pound Cake. I doubt I’ll have the energy to make one after work tonight, and I probably won’t make one tomorrow night. However, this weekend is supposed to be cool (our high Saturday is 65) and rainy, so what better day to make a cake and have the oven on for over an hour.

This recipe is a Southern twist on a classic. I’ve never made this particular recipe. It comes from dinnerthendessert.com,which claimed that this Brown Sugar Pecan Pound Cake is rich, moist and full of pecan crunch and takes just over an hour to cook. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Brown Sugar Pecan Pound Cake

Prep Time: 10 min
Cook Time: 1 hr
Serves: 12 Servings

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup Unsalted Butter
  • 1 cup Brown Sugar, (packed)
  • 1/2 cup Sugar
  • 3 large Eggs
  • 1 teaspoons Vanilla Extract
  • 1/2 cup Whole Milk
  • 1 1/2 cups Flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon Baking Powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon Salt
  • 1 cup Chopped Pecans

Preparation Steps

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees and spray a 9×5 loaf pan with baking spray.
  2. In a stand mixer on medium high speed, add together the butter, brown sugar and sugar until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.
  3. Add in the eggs one at a time until fully combined, then add in the vanilla.
  4. Add in the milk and flour, baking powder and salt (alternate them in thirds) until just combined.
  5. Add in all but a handful of the chopped pecans and stir.
  6. Pour batter into the loaf pan and sprinkle on the rest of the pecans.
  7. Bake for 55-60 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Busy Weekend

Do you ever have one of those weekends when you feel it never was? When you were so busy that you end up feeling like you never had a weekend at all? This weekend was one of those. On Saturday, I went to Burlington to get a few things that I can only get up there. The problem was that the one thing I needed was from Target, and they were out of stock of the item. Ugh! I did have some other stuff to get while I was in Target, but I could have probably gotten all of them closer to home and not have to spend the better part of my day going to Burlington. It’s about an hour’s drive up there.

Also, while I was up that way, I went by Best Buy to look for a microwave. I’ve never had a microwave in the years I’ve lived in Vermont, and I recently bought a baker’s rack and microwave stand for my kitchen. I’d never had a microwave up here because I tend to cook things on the stove or in the oven, but it would be very convenient to occasionally throw something in the microwave and get it done quicker. Plus, I miss popcorn. I have tried to make it on the stovetop, but it’s a bit of a pain. I think I know which one I want, so I will order it and have to go back and pick it up since they only had the display model in stock. After going to Best Buy, I then went to Walmart to get the rest of the items I needed. I don’t mind going to Target, but Walmart is really hell on earth. Honestly, there is a reason why there is a website called People of Walmart. It’s frightening. After all of that, I was exhausted.

Yesterday, I tried to find the item I had wanted at Target locally. Some places carry it on occasion, but not always. I had no luck. However, I did eat at this wonderful little restaurant in Barre (BARE-ee), Vermont, called The Quarry Kitchen & Spirits. If for any reason you ever find yourself in Barre, I’d suggest going there. I got the French dip sandwich (something that is really hard to find in Vermont), and it was delicious. I haven’t had one this good in years. It’s probably my favorite sandwich, so I will be going back to this restaurant.  Also, they had very good fried pickles.

The rest of my day was spent making English muffins. I mentioned a few months ago that the Vermont Bread Company went out of business, and I loved their English muffins. I have been trying to find a brand that I liked as much, but while I have found some that are decent substitutes, none were as good as the ones from Vermont Bread Company. I thought, “Why don’t I try to make my own?” I looked up a recipe and found one at King Arthur Flour and went down to Norwich, Vermont, to get all the ingredients and some English muffin rings. When I got there, I saw that they had a “White Whole Wheat English Muffin Mix.” It looked fairly simple to make, if not a little time-consuming, so I bought a box to try. However, I just hadn’t had the energy to make them until yesterday. 

I mixed the dough and let it rise for 90 minutes, and then, I was ready to make the muffins. I heated the skillet, greased the rings, set them on the skillet, and sprinkled in some semolina flour. Per the instructions, I put 1/3 cup of dough in each ring and spread out the dough. I had a hard time getting the right amount in each ring, so while they were in the first twelve minutes of cooking on one side, the dough rose much more than I anticipated. I then removed the rings and flipped over the English muffins to cook ten more minutes on the other side. They turned out beautiful but really big. I then put them on a rack to cool. When I finished cooking the twelve muffins the mix makes. I made four of them at a time, and four of them were big, four were too small, and the last four were huge. 

Two of the “big” ones were actually fairly perfect in size. (They were the ones I ate last night.) Once they cooled, I sliced one in half and popped it in the toaster. They didn’t have the nooks and crannies that most people think of when they think of English muffins. So, they looked dense, but they were still light. When they finished toasting, I put some butter on the two halves and some strawberry jam. The whole process took about three hours, so at first, I thought, I probably won’t be making these again. Then, I tasted them. OMG! They are so good. I would never have imagined they’d be this good. If you have three hours, like to cook, and are so inclined, I highly recommend making them. They were the best English muffins I have ever had, even if they were a bit misshapen (one even looks like a Mickey Mouse that a four-year-old would try to draw, LOL).

All in all, it was a very busy weekend. Now today, I have to go to work feeling like I never had a weekend. Maybe I’ll take a day off this week if I can.


Road Trip

I will be spending most of my day in a car with my boss. We have to drive up to the northern part of the state to look at some artifacts someone wants to donate. We know we will be bringing back at least one donation, but I’m not sure how many more. Sadly, my boss does not look like the guy in the picture above. My boss is kind of dorky. We will also be professionally dressed and not in workout clothes, LOL. It’s going to be a long day. He’s expecting us to be back by lunch, but I expect it will be more like the middle of the afternoon. He told me yesterday that we will also be visiting another museum, but I have no idea why. He didn’t say, and yesterday was a vacation day, so I didn’t ask. I’m sure he thinks he told me; he always thinks he tells us stuff. However, he’s constantly forgetting to tell us things we need to know. He’s a really nice guy, just an incompetent and inefficient dumbass.

Tonight, I have plans to go with a friend up to Burlington to eat at a new barbecue place. The menu looks good, so I hope the food is actually good. A lot of times, Vermont restaurants put their own Vermont twist on food, especially when it’s a food where simpler is better. This place doesn’t indicate on their menu that they’ve put a Vermont twist on it, but we will just have to wait and see. The only food twist that’s apparent on their menu is their cheesy gravy tots, which sound like a southern version on poutine.


The Dinner Date

My date Saturday cooked me dinner. It was originally supposed to be an early dinner, which I thought meant 5 pm or 6 pm at the latest. However, we did a lot of talking over coffee first, and he started cooking dinner around 7 pm. The had decided he wanted to grill and air- or dry-steak. Dry-aged beef is apparently known for its richer flavor and more tender texture than its fresh-cut counterparts. We went to a butcher shop near his house to get the steak cut fresh. Apparently, it is best to have a thick cut of meat, in this case about 1.5”, instead of two thinner steaks. I’ll be honest here, when I saw it, the steak did not look that appetizing. In fact, it looked like it had gone bad, but that’s because a lot of the moisture is taken out of it, similar to the curing process for prosciutto. I do love a good steak, so I kept an open mind.

He also roasted some root vegetables—carrots and parsnips—and sautéed some greens, which included collard and Swiss chard. He finished the greens with a balsamic sesame reduction. There was also a cucumber and tomato salad in a tasty yogurt (I think anyway) dill dressing. Everything was perfectly prepared, and while the steak was more rare than I normally prefer, the taste was divine. It was only seasoned with a little salt and pepper before it was grilled, but the taste was pure steak. Unless you’ve had dry-aged beef, I cannot describe just how good this was. The roasted root vegetables and the greens were also very good.

The whole meal was fantastic. My cooking is usually more on the simple southern cooking side, though I can make a few high end dishes. This was more on the gourmet side, and he obviously enjoyed cooking for someone else. I felt honored that he made me such a meal. We ended the night with a simple blueberry cherry parfait with layers of whipped cream and Mascarpone mixture. 

As I was leaving, I told him how much I’d enjoyed the museum, the conversation and company, the the delicious meal. I also told him I hoped I’d see him again. He said that we’d definitely see each other again and that he had a wonderful times as well. Now, the question is do I text him and if so, when? Or do I wait and let him make the next move? I have never been good at this part of a first date. I have tried both approaches and I’ve rarely gotten a second date. Only three or four times in my life have I gotten multiple dates. I just don’t know.

Also, because I was there until nearly midnight, I fear that I overstayed my welcome, but one friend told me that you don’t talk for ten solid hours if you didn’t like the person. I really enjoyed talking to him and spending time with him. He’s a very nice man, so I guess time will tell if this will be a friendship, a romantic relationship, or if it will just fizzle away. I do hope it’s friendship or romance, but time will tell.


Fourth of July Traditions

When I was growing up, our family had five big holidays that we celebrated: New Year’s Day, Easter, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. New Year’s Day was always celebrated with traditional foods (pork, greens, and black-eyed peas) and with my paternal grandmama’s family. Easter was a holiday for just my parents, sister, and me. We always had ham, macaroni and cheese, and the other vegetables varied. Independence Day was always celebrated with my paternal granddaddy’s family. Thanksgiving was always celebrated with my mother’s family, and Christmas was numerous gatherings with all the different branches of my family. Each of them was a very special occasion that I always looked forward to.

The Fourth of July was always particularly special. My granddaddy had his own barbecue pit and would cook pork and beef ribs. Ive always preferred pork ribs. My grandmama would make the sauce that would go on them. Granddaddy also would grill some corn on the cob, too. Grandmama would make baked beans and potato salad. My mama would make the coleslaw. Daddy would go early in the morning to help Granddaddy barbecue the ribs, while Grandmama made iced tea and lemonade for refreshment. Everyone else who came generally brought a dish and they often varied according to who came that year. After lunch and around the middle of the afternoon, we would usually cut up a watermelon, and many of the years, Grandmama would get out the ice cream churn and make her special ice cream. There is just nothing like my grandmama’s homemade ice cream. Well, maybe Bluebell’s Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream, but only the Light Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream. The regular is too sweet.

Family would come from as far away as Arizona to be at Granddaddy’s Fourth of July barbecue. All of the nearby family members would have some out of town relative staying with them. Sadly, the largest gathering was the last. My granddaddy died of cancer in 2001 and that Independence Day every member of the clan came from far and wide. Granddaddy was bedridden at the time, so my daddy did the barbecuing. Granddaddy was so sick, he was no longer able to eat much, but he was so happy everyone came that year. He died just three weeks later. He had held on for that last barbecue, which tells you how special it was to him.

While we keep up with most of the other holidays, the Fourth of July has never been the same. It’s always been a much smaller affair after Granddaddy died. Daddy usually still cooks ribs, but they are now made with Mama’s BBQ sauce recipe instead of my grandmama’s. In the last five years, I have only been back for the Fourth once. It’s just not the same.

This year, I will be cooking some ribs, baked beans, and scalloped potatoes just like my mama taught me. Well, the ribs will be cooked in the oven, something unthinkable for the rest of my family, but I do not have a grill. This year it will also be a solitary affair. I found one small rack of ribs at the grocery store. I was surprised the supermarket had a small rack of ribs, but they did and only one of them so, I bought it.

Happy Fourth of July, Everyone!


Vermont Cuisine?

As a Southerner, I believe the South has the best culinary traditions in America. I know some people will disagree; they’ll say we fry too many things. And that’s true. We do fry just about anything edible. I grew up on my grandmama’s and my mama’s cooking; both were fabulous cooks. I use the past tense because my grandmama passed away, and these days, mama doesn’t cook a whole lot. In fact, when I’m home, I usually do the cooking. But what I cook, I learned from them. Also, I used to watch the Food Network religiously when it was more informative programs and not cooking game shows like it is now.

When I moved to Vermont, what Vermonters call food was a shock. It is often bland and poorly cooked. The fact is, when Vermonters make anything “fancy,” it has at least one of four ingredients in it: maple syrup, apples, cheddar cheese, or kale. I like apples, especially hard apple cider which they make exceptionally well. I also think Vermont cheddar cheese is some of the best you can eat. However, I prefer turnips or collards to kale, and I like thick cane syrup instead of runny maple syrup.

Many restaurants have a dish called “The Vermonter,” and they are all different; each one usually has at least two of the four ingredients mentioned above—if not all four. For me, those ingredients do not necessarily go together. For example, take this Vermonter: raisin bread, sliced ham, Vermont cheddar cheese, apple slices, and apple butter. Sometimes it comes with a side of maple syrup and sometimes people will even put kale on it. 

Yankee pot roast, invented in New England, is supposed to be one of their most famous dishes, but every time I’ve had it, it was tasteless and under-seasoned. Food here is just bland. If you order an open-faced sandwich which should be on toasted bread with warm sliced meat and gravy, you get plain white bread (untoasted) with cold meat and gravy. Why can’t these people cook? It’s so frustrating. Their only good dish, poutine, they stole from Quebec, and trust me, Vermonters can even mess up French fries.

They do have decent Italian restaurants, but that’s because of the large immigration of Italian sculptors who came here to carve the many deposits of granite. However, nearly all other ethnic cuisine is the worst. I can’t find a decent Chinese restaurant, and don’t get me started on what they call Mexican food. Thai food is hit or miss as is Japanese. I hear the Vietnamese restaurants are excellent, but I’ve never liked Vietnamese food. Those are about the only varieties you can get around here.

Vermont did have one attempt at a “Southern” restaurant in Montpelier once. It eventually closed. It was not terrible, but the owner put a Vermont spin on the food. She tried to make it “fancy,” and it failed. Only the small group of Southerners I know who live up here really understood it was not “Southern.” There are few barbecue places, and truthfully, they are often fairly good, even if they use maple syrup in their barbecue sauce instead of brown sugar. Prohibition Pig in Waterbury is probably my favorite restaurant in Vermont. The only problem with Pro Pig is they refuse to take reservations. It is a small restaurant and the wait can be 2-3 hours. Bluebird Barbecue in Burlington is also good, but the one time I ate there, the air conditioning wasn’t working. It was unbearable. The restaurant was featured on “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives,” but they didn’t make barbecue for the show. They made ramen. WTF!

Anyway, that’s my diatribe on Vermont food. Every once in a while, you can find a gem amongst the rhinestones, but it’s rare. You know it’s going to be bad when the state’s emblem for their most famous food product looks like the bottom half of a man peeing into a bucket.


Quarantine Cooking II

Quarantine cooking has become a thing and, of course, gay men are giving it a twist when they post photos of their culinary masterpieces. So far, I have not posted pictures of my culinary experiments, but I have posted a few recipes.

While earnest amateur chefs and bakers across the nation are posting photos of their perfect banana bread online, gay men are letting the goods speak for themselves. And they don’t mean the pavlova (in case you don’t know, that’s a meringue-based dessert named after the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova).

Photos of men holding up the treats they’ve created in lockdown are everywhere on Instagram, from #quarantinebaking to #gaybaking. But what many of them have in common isn’t eggs and aprons – it’s usually abs and pecs.

I’m continuing to try out new recipes. Over the weekend, I made ham and cheese scones. They were so yummy.

Ham and Cheese Scones

Ingredients:

• 2 cups all-purpose flour
• 1 tablespoon baking powder
• ½ teaspoon garlic powder
• ½ teaspoon kosher salt
• ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into cubes
• ¾ cup buttermilk
• 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
• 1/3 cup diced ham
• 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives (or 1 tablespoon dried chopped chives)

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat; set aside, or use butter, Crisco, or cooking spray to grease a cast iron scone/cornbread skillet.
2. In a food processor, combine flour, baking powder, garlic powder and salt. Add cold butter, and pulse until the dry ingredient resembles coarse crumbs. (You can also just use your hands if you don’t have a food processor).
3. Pour dry ingredients into a bowl and stir in buttermilk, cheese, ham and chives until a soft dough forms. (You may need to use a little more buttermilk to get all ingredients combined.)
4. Working on a lightly floured surface, knead the dough 3-4 times until it comes together. Using a rolling pill, roll the dough into an 8″ circle, about 1-inch thick, and cut into 8 wedges. (I have a cast iron scone/cornbread skillet that I use)
5. Place scones onto the prepared baking sheet. Place into oven and bake for 18-20 minutes, or until firm to the touch and lightly browned. Mine took about 25 minutes. (I used half the dough and refrigerated the rest to use the next day, which I then baked 30 minutes because the dough was chilled.)
6. Serve immediately.

If you leave out the garlic, cheddar cheese, ham, and chives, it’s a very good biscuit recipe.

I also made some cornbread the other day. While I have made cornbread many times with self-rising cornmeal, it’s just too hard to find while exiled up here in yankee land. So I found a recipe for using regular yellow cornmeal. I again used my cast iron scone/cornbread skillet.

Southern Cornbread

Ingredients:

• 1 tablespoon bacon drippings or Crisco
• 2 cups cornmeal
• 1 teaspoon baking soda
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1 ¼ cups buttermilk
• 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Directions:

1. Preheat pan with bacon drippings or Crisco and butter: Put the bacon drippings or Crisco and butter in a 9 or 10-inch well-seasoned cast iron skillet and put the skillet into the oven. Then preheat the oven to 400°F with the skillet inside. (If you don’t have an iron skillet, you can use an uncovered Dutch oven or a metal cake pan.)
2. Make the batter: Whisk together all the dry ingredients (cornmeal, baking soda, salt) in a large bowl. Pour melted butter and or Crisco into the the bowl of dry ingredients. Add the buttermilk and stir until combines. It may take a little extra buttermilk.
3. Pour batter into hot skillet and bake: When the oven is hot, take out the skillet (carefully, as the handle will be hot!). Add the cornbread batter and make sure it is evenly distributed in the skillet.
4. Bake at 400°F for about 25-30 minutes, or until the edges are beginning to brown and a toothpick inserted in the center of the bread comes out clean. The cornbread should be a golden brown color.
5. Rest bread in skillet, then serve: Let the bread rest for 10 to 30 minutes in the skillet before cutting it into wedges and serving.

I also tried something completely different, a crab rangoon pizza. I love crab rangoon and this sounded pretty appetizing.

Crab Rangoon Pizza

Ingredients:

• 1 (16 ounce) package pizza dough
• 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
• 6 tablespoons chopped green onions or chives, divided
• ¼ cup shredded Parmesan cheese, divided
• 4 ounces frozen crab meat, thawed
• 4 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese
• 2 tablespoons sweet chili sauce

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F (230 degrees C). Spread pizza dough onto a baking sheet.
2. Bake in the preheated oven until slightly brown, about 7 minutes.
3. Mix cream cheese, 1/4 cup green onions or chives, 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, and crab together in a bowl; spread onto the pizza crust. Top with mozzarella cheese, remaining Parmesan cheese, fried wonton strips, and remaining green onions or chives.
4. Bake in the preheated oven until cheese is browned and melted, about 8 minutes. Drizzle sweet chile sauce over top.

The crab rangoon pizza did taste remarkably like crab rangoon; however, if I were to make this recipe again, I would roll out the dough and cut into individual small triangles, circles, or squares and serve it as a party hors d’oeuvres. I also have to say that I found the sweet chili sauce a bit difficult to find, but that may be because I am in Vermont; however, it is worth finding for this recipe. One other thing, the original recipe called for frying wonton strips but I skipped that step. I hate deep frying anything. I’m not particularly fond of frying many things at all, only country fried steak, pork chops, and chicken.

I also made a very good medium well steak. I started with a marinade. This recipe makes enough for cooking steaks several times. It’s also good on chicken or pork.

1 1/2 cups soy sauce
¼ teaspoon liquid smoke
¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoons sugar
1 dash black pepper
1 dash paprika
½ teaspoon garlic powder

Simply mix all the ingredients together and then pour over steaks. Marinate steaks for a few hours then your ready to cook your steaks.

Perfect Oven Baked Steak

Ingredients:

• 2 beef steaks, 1-inch thick (any type will do, I prefer New York strips)
• 1-2 Tablespoons canola oil
• 1-2 Tablespoons butter
• Salt and pepper for seasoning

Directions:

1. Remove the steaks from the fridge and bring to room temperature, about 15-30 minutes. Trim any excess fat.
2. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Place a large skillet in the oven while it is heating. Remove pan from oven and place on the stove over high heat.
3. Dry steaks with a paper towel. Then rub the oil over the steaks and generously season with salt and pepper. Once the pan is very hot place the steaks into the pan. Let each side cook for 1 minute, or until seared. Use tongs to flip.
4. Then place the pan in the oven for 4-6 minutes. Flip and cook the other side an additional 4-6 minutes (see notes below for instructions on doneness). Check the center with a meat thermometer or slice with a knife to check for doneness. You want to remove the meat 5° before it reaches the desired temp. Temperature will continue to rise while resting.
5. Remove pan from oven and allow to rest for a couple minutes. Add a slab of butter on the top of each steak or make a pan sauce.

Pan Sauce:

Place cast iron skillet on stovetop with temperature on medium high. Add a tablespoon or two of marinade to the pan along with 1 cup of beef stock. Add a few sprigs of fresh thyme. Then add three tablespoons of butter one at a time melting each before adding another. Let sauce reduce by half. This should take about 5 minutes.

A Few Notes:

How to test your steak for doneness:
Rare: 125°F (red): Sear outsides then bake about 4-6 minutes in oven until temperature is around 125°F and color is red.
Medium Rare: 130°F (deep pink): Sear outsides then bake about 6-8 minutes in oven until temperature is 130°F and color is deep pink.
Medium: 140°F (light pink): Sear outsides then bake about 8-10 minutes in oven until temperature is around 140°F and color is light pink.
Medium well: 150°F (slightly pink center): Sear outsides then bake about 10-12 minutes in oven until temperature is around 150°F and color is slightly pink center.
Well done: 160°F (little or no pink): Sear outsides then bake about 12-14 minutes in oven until temperature is around 160°F+ and color is little or no pink.

With this steak, I suggest twice baked potatoes and a simple green salad. If you’ve never made twice baked potatoes, they are very simple and oh so very yummy.

Twice Baked Potatoes

Ingredients:

• 2 large russet potatoes
• Canola oil to coat
• Kosher salt
• 2-3 tablespoons butter
• 2-3 heaping tablespoons sour cream
• ½ cup shredded cheddar cheese
• ¼ cup bacon bits
• 1 heaping tablespoons of dried chives or 2 tablespoons of fresh chives
• Several slices of your favorite cheese (I like American for this)
• Salt, pepper, and garlic powder to taste

Directions:

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees and position racks in top and bottom thirds. Wash potatoes thoroughly with a stiff brush and cold running water. Dry, then using a standard fork poke 8 to 12 deep holes all over the spud so that moisture can escape during cooking. Place in a bowl and coat lightly with oil. Sprinkle with kosher salt and place potatoesdirectly on rack in middle of oven. Place a baking sheet on the lower rack to catch any drippings.
2. Bake 1 to 1 ½ hours or until skin feels crisp but flesh beneath feels soft.
3. Let potatoes cool slightly and split in half. Scoop out potatoes leaving about ¼ inch of potato on the skin.
4. Mash potatoes and mix in sour cream, cheese, bacon bits, chives, and salt, pepper, and garlic powder.
5. Line potato skin with sliced cheese and bacon bits, leaving enough sliced cheese to top potatoes.
6. Spoon ¼ of potato mixture in each potato skin half. Top with sliced cheese.
7. Place potatoes on a baking sheet and bake an additional 5-10 minutes allowing cheese to melt.


Quarantine Cooking

While I have been working from home, I have had the chance to do some real cooking. I have always loved to cook, but I am often too tired from work to really take the time to make a good meal. However, working from home does not tire me out as much, and I am able to really cook. I can also put food on to cook while I am still working. The other day, I made red beans and rice. It’s a simple recipe: prepare red kidney beans as instructed on the package with andouille sausage, salt, pepper, and one chopped onion. Then simply serve over rice. In all it takes about four hours to cook the beans if you use the quick soak method, otherwise you should soak the beans overnight. Once the beans have been soaked, it’s just a matter of boiling them for about 2-2 ½ hours.

With this post, I am presenting four recipes that I have made recently. The “One Pan Garlic Herb Chicken and Asparagus,” I made last night, it is a recipe I adapted from one on the Crème de la Crum website. The “Broiled Chicken and Artichokes” came Taste of Home, and the “Roasted Chicken with Croutons” came from Katie Lee on the Food Network Show The Kitchen. The last recipe, “Joe’s Tilapia Picante with Salsa Rice” is one I came up with about ten years ago when I was trying to figure out how I wanted to cook some fish. The “Salsa Rice” that I make with it is adapted from a recipe on the Taste of Home website. The green beans that I also serve with this recipe was something I put together when I cooked this dish the other night in order to have something green with my dinner.

None of these recipes are very hard to make. In fact, they are actually quite simple, though some have a lot of ingredients. I hope you will try some of these and let me know what you think of them.

One Pan Garlic Herb Chicken and Asparagus

Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes
Servings 4

Ingredients
• 3-6 chicken thighs or boneless skinless chicken breasts (breasts pounded to even ½ inch thickness)
• salt and pepper, to taste
• 1-pound asparagus, ends trimmed
• 3 tablespoons butter, divided
• 1 tablespoon minced garlic
• ½ teaspoon dried basil
• ½ teaspoon dried oregano
• ½ teaspoon dried thyme
• ½ teaspoon onion powder

Pan Sauce
• salt and pepper, to taste
• ¾ cup chicken broth
• ¼ cup white wine
• 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
• 2 tablespoon butter
• chopped fresh rosemary, thyme, sage
• 1 jar (7-1/2 ounces) marinated quartered artichoke hearts, drained

Instructions
1. Season chicken with salt and pepper on both sides. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Stir in garlic and herbs and cook another minute or so until the garlic is fragrant.
2. Reduce heat to medium, add chicken to skillet, and cook for 5-7 minutes, then flip and cook another 5-7 minutes. (Chicken should be nearly, but not completely cooked through by this point)
3. Move the chicken over the side of the skillet and add remaining 1 tablespoon butter to the empty portion of the pan. Once the butter is melted, add asparagus. Season asparagus with salt and pepper, to taste. Cook, rotating throughout, for 4-6 minutes until tender and chicken is completely cooked through.
4. Set cooked chicken and asparagus aside.
5. To make pan sauce, pour chicken broth and white wine into skillet. Add chopped fresh rosemary, thyme, sage.
6. Add butter one tablespoon at a time until you have added both tablespoons. Add mustard and reduce sauce by half, about 4-5 minutes.
7. Add artichokes and allow them to be warmed through.
8. Slice chicken and place chicken and asparagus on a plate with the artichokes and pour pan sauce over chicken and asparagus.

Broiled Chicken & Artichokes

Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
Servings 4

Ingredients
• 4 boneless skinless chicken thighs or boneless skinless chicken breasts (breasts pounded to even ½ inch thickness)
• 1 jar (7-1/2 ounces) marinated quartered artichoke hearts, drained
• 1 tablespoons olive oil
• ½ teaspoon salt
• ¼ teaspoon pepper
• ¼ cup shredded Parmesan cheese
• 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley or 1 ½ teaspoons dried parsley

Instructions
1. Preheat boiler. In a large bowl, toss chicken and artichokes with oil, salt and pepper. Transfer to a broiler pan.
2. Broil 3 in. from heat 8-10 minutes or until a thermometer inserted in chicken reads 170°, turning chicken and artichokes halfway through cooking. Sprinkle with cheeseand parsley. Broil 1-2 minutes longer or until cheese is melted.

Roasted Chicken with Croutons

Prep Time 30 min
Cook Time 1 ½ hours
Total Time 2 hours
Servings 4

Ingredients
• One 4- to 5-pound roaster chicken
• 1 tablespoon kosher salt
• 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
• 1 teaspoon garlic powder
• 6 sprigs fresh thyme
• 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
• 1 head garlic, sliced in half
• 1/2 medium yellow onion
• 1 baguette
• 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

Pan Sauce:
• 2/3 cup white wine
• 1/3 cup chicken stock
• 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon pieces
• 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
• 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
• Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Serving:
Dijon mustard, as needed

Instructions

For the chicken:
• Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. When hot, put a cast-iron skillet in the oven to preheat, about 5 minutes.
• Dry the chicken with paper towels. In a small bowl, mix together the salt, pepper and garlic powder. Generously season the chicken inside and out with the salt mixture. Stuff the chicken cavity with the thyme, rosemary, garlic and onion.
• Slice the baguette on the bias into five 2-inch-thick slices. Spread some butter on one side of each slice. Carefully remove the hot skillet from the oven and arrange the baguette slices buttered side down in the center of the skillet. Place the chicken on the baguette slices, making sure all of the bread is covered by the chicken. Roast until the chicken is golden brown, an instant-read thermometer reads 165 degrees F and the juices run clear, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board and tent with foil. Let rest for 10 minutes before carving. Remove the baguette slices from the skillet and reserve.

For the pan sauce:
• While the chicken is resting, put the skillet over medium-high heat. Pour in the wine and scrape with a wooden spoon to remove all the brown bits. Add the chicken stock and cook until the liquid is slightly reduced, about 2 minutes. If any juices from the chicken have collected on the cutting board, pour them into the skillet now. Add in the butter piece by piece, waiting for each to melt before stirring in the next piece. Stir in the rosemary and thyme. Season with salt and pepper.

For serving: Carve the chicken and serve with the baguette slices, pan sauce, Dijon mustard and vegetable of your choice.

Joe’s Tilapia Picante and Salsa Rice

Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes
Servings 4

  • Ingredients
    • 4 Tilapia fillets (You can use your favorite delicate white fish: catfish, flounder, etc.)
    • 1 jar of salsa (I like restraint style, but use your favorite salsa)
    • 1 stick of unsalted butter (You can use ½ stick if you like)
    • 1 cup of white wine
    • Salt and pepper to taste
    • 1 can of green beans (you can use frozen or fresh if you prefer)
    • ½ cup chicken broth
    • 2 cups prepared rice
    • 1 to 1 ½ cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese
  • Instructions
    1. In a large skillet combine salsa, butter, and wine over medium high heat. Stir until combined.
    2. Pour sauce in a food processor and blend until smooth (this is optional if you want a chunkier sauce).
    3. Return sauce to skillet, reserving one cup for later.
    4. Place fish in the sauce and cover skillet, cooking until fish is done and is flaky.
    5. While fish cooks, in a small saucepan, pour ¼ cup of sauce over green beans and add ½ cup of chicken broth. Cook until beans are to your desired doneness.
    6. Take ¾ of the reserved sauce and combine rice and Monterey Jack Cheese together.
    7. Place a spoonful or two of the rice mixture on a plate with a fillet of top, spooning some of the sauce over the fish and rice. Serve with green beans on the side.


    From the Sublime to the Ridiculous

    As I said yesterday, Susan and I had Thanksgiving dinner at Il Mulino. We started out with a cheese and meat tray and had Caesar salads, thankfully with Boston lettuce and not romaine. It was really delicious. Next they brought out the main course: turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, green beans, and cranberry sauce. Then for dessert we had pumpkin cheesecake. All of it was quite delicious. The only thing that I thought could have been better was the dressing. I prefer cornbread dressing not regular bread dressing. But overall, it was sublime.
    We had a relaxing afternoon before heading out to find dinner. We didn’t plan particularly well, and many places were not open. We finally settled for a Sicilian restaurant called Norma’s. We did not like this place. While the salad was good, the lasagna we both ordered was leas than impressive. In fact we could barely eat it.  I’m guessing the noodles were handmade and overcooked. They were mushy and not al dente. The ragu was cheap tasting and the Italian sausage was nonexistent. To make matters worse, the cheese was substituted with bechamel. Overall, it was 15 thin layers of mush and the tomato sauce tasted canned. We gave up trying to eat it. It was just ridiculous, so we left and got ice cream: caramel and waffle cone for me and Cherry Garcia for Susan.
    Then we went back to my hotel room to watch the Egg Bowl. For those of you not familiar with the Egg Bowl, it is the annual rivalry football game between Mississippi and Mississippi State. I was pulling for Ole Miss because their quarterback, John Rhys Plumlee is incredibly sexy. Ole Miss lost.

    Christmas Eve

    In our Christmas tradition, my whole family gathers on the night of Christmas Eve, then my immediate family gathers on the night of Christmas. Christmas Eve is just presents for the little ones and we have an assortment of finger foods. On Christmas morning, we go to my sister’s house to have breakfast and see what Santa Claus brought my niece and nephew. Then there will be a light lunch followed by the major dinner of the holidays. On Christmas night, we start out with shrimp cocktails.  Then we’ll have ham and turkey, chicken and dumplings, cornbread dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, and green beans. We’ll finish off the meal with chocolate pie and sweet potato pie. My mother generally begins cooking days in advance so that she will have everything ready for Christmas night. Besides Thanksgiving, which I don’t get to come home for, this is my mother’s meal to show off her incredible cooking skills. My cooking skills are shown off next week at New Year’s Day, but more on that next week.