Category Archives: Recipe

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.

A Delicious Breakfast (Brunch, Lunch, or Dinner)

Whenever I visit Manhattan to see my friend Susan, we often have breakfast at Pret a Manger. One of my favorite menu items at Pret is their Ham and Spinach Frittata. I also love their “Pret’s Famous Ham & Cheese” sandwich. I judge a sandwich by its bread, and Pret’s baguettes have a perfect crisp crust and chewy center. However, I have had their Ham and Spinach Frittata more often than I have had their ham and cheese sandwich. It’s been over a year since I was last in Manhattan, and I have been having a bit of a craving for their frittata.

I have an app on my iPhone called AnyList, which I use to collect recipes. AnyList helps me organize my recipes and quickly add recipes from other sources, like email messages, websites, and blogs.  I used to copy and paste all my recipes into a Word document, but then I found it wasn’t easy to find a recipe when I needed it. AnyList also allows me to tap on ingredients to add them to my shopping list, and I can plan an entire week or month of meals with the meal planning calendar.

Every day, I get an email from Taste of Home, and if there are recipes I want to save, I can easily do so with the AnyList app. I clicked on the link in Monday’s email for the “Recipe of the Month.” Clicking on the link was the only way to see the recipe they described as a “spring dish can be served for breakfast, brunch or dinner.” The email described the dish as pretty, colorful, and absolutely delicious. They also said it always wins compliments. How could I resist checking out this recipe? It turned out to be a recipe for a Bacon and Asparagus Frittata, which looked easy enough and reminded me of Pret’s ham and spinach frittata. So, I did a Google search for ham and spinach frittata and found one for a “Ham, Cheese, and Asparagus Frittata” at The Rustic Foodie. It’s actually a ham, cheese, asparagus, and spinach frittata, and I made it for breakfast on Tuesday, halving the original recipe.  It was delicious, and the addition of the asparagus was perfect. My cast iron skillet was too small, so I finished it in an 8″ x 8″ cake pan (a very versatile piece of cookware). Even at half the recipe, it was a lot of food for just me. Yesterday, I made the recipe again but omitted the asparagus and made a quarter of the original recipe so that it would fit in my cast iron skillet. It tasted just like the Pret version.

I had never tried to make a frittata before making this recipe. I always thought it was a little too involved. However, it turns out to be exceedingly simple and easy to make. I prepped the ingredients the night before so that they were ready to go when I got up in the morning. In just twenty minutes, I had a lovely breakfast with minimal effort. It beat my usual breakfast of a sausage and cheese English muffin, my version of a McDonald’s Sausage McMuffin, except that mine is better. I use English muffins from the Vermont Bread Company, which makes all the difference (I’ve tried numerous different English muffins brands, and I have found that the Vermont Bread Company makes the best.) As I said before, without good bread, a sandwich is just mediocre.

I hope y’all will enjoy this recipe.

Ham, Cheese, and Asparagus Frittata

Prep Time: 15 min
Cook Time: 20 min
Serves: 8

Ingredients

  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped ham steak (make sure ham is precooked)
  • 2 cups chopped asparagus
  • 2 cups chopped fresh spinach
  • 10 eggs
  • 1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 cup grated cheese (any variety—I used Cabot’s Seriously Sharp Cheddar)
  • salt (adjust to taste)
  • pepper (adjust to taste)
  • 1/2 cup chopped green onions or chives (optional, but I used some chopped chives)

Preparation Steps

  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Chop all of your ingredients – ham, asparagus, and spinach and then grate the cheese.
  3. Heat cast iron skillet and add cooking oil of choice.
  4. Add chopped ham steak and cook for 3-4 minutes or until lightly caramelized.
  5. Add chopped asparagus and sauté for 4-6 minutes or until slightly tender.
  6. Deglaze with cooking stock if necessary.
  7. Mix eggs, heavy whipping cream, grated cheese, and generous pinch of kosher salt and pepper.
  8. Add the egg mixture to the pan and then toss in spinach. Gently fold spinach into the egg mixture.
  9. Cook for 2-3 minutes on stove top until the edges start to set.
  10. Top with chopped green onions or chopped chives.
  11. Transfer skillet to oven and cook for 10-14 minutes.

Notes
This Ham, Cheese, and Asparagus Frittata recipe is easy and makes a healthy breakfast. This baked vegetable frittata is great for brunch or a quick dinner!


Cooking Under Pressure

Last week, I bought something that I have been wanting for a few years, an Instant Pot. I had never used one before because I will be honest, I’ve always been a little scared of cooking with a pressure cooker. However, I finally gave in and decided to give it a try. I had come across a few recipes that called for using an Instant Pot, so I decided I’d finally buy one. I am glad that I did. The first thing I cooked using it were some thick-cut pork chops, and they came out juicy and tender. However, I would probably not cook something like pork chops in it again because you don’t get the sear on the pork chops like you would if you were frying them in a pan. The next recipe I made was chicken tacos. Now, this was a recipe that came out very well. Here’s the recipe:

Instant Pot Chicken Tacos

Prep Time: 2 min
Cook Time: 15 min
Servings: 4 servings

Ingredients

  • 3 boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons taco seasoning (store-bought or homemade)
  • ½ cup chicken broth
  • ¾ cup salsa
  • ¼ cup tomatoes with green chilis (I usually use Rotel)
  • Taco shells or tortillas
  • Topping of your choice: cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, salsa, and/or sour cream

Preparation Steps

  1. Salt and pepper chicken breast.
  2. Place chicken breast in the bottom of the Instant Pot.
  3. Add chicken broth, taco seasoning, salsa, and tomatoes and green chilis into a blender (I don’t like chunky sauce so I put all of it in the food processor or a blender and blend until smooth, but you can just mix the ingredients together without blending them). Pour mixture over chicken breasts.
  4. Close and lock the lid and turn the steam release handle to Sealing.
  5. Press “Pressure Cooker” and cook on high for 15 minutes.
  6. While the chicken is cooking, heat the taco shells or tortillas in the oven for 8-10 minutes at 325 degrees.
  7. Either let the pressure release naturally or use the quick release.
  8. For a thicker sauce, simmer on sauté mode for 5 minutes.
  9. Shred chicken with two forks. Combine with sauce in Instant Pot.
  10. Spoon chicken onto taco shells or tortillas and add preferred toppings.

Simple and delicious. I’m glad I got the Instant Pot. It does make cooking quicker and simpler. Also, the chicken was much more tender than whenever I tried to make it on the stovetop.


Happy Thanksgiving!

Like many of you, I will be spending Thanksgiving alone. I plan to cook a full meal and have leftovers for several days. I don’t usually do this just for myself, though I have spent Thanksgiving by myself; however, I have made a small meal in the past. This year, I feel I have some things for which to be thankful. Thanks to the Botox injections, my migraines seem to be under control for the first time in decades. I have had a few migraines the past few weeks, but I believe that has more to do with my abscessed tooth than my usual migraines. I am also thankful that my friends and family have so far remained safe during the pandemic, and I am grateful for my continued good health during this time. I am thankful that my diabetes seems better controlled with my new medicines, and I have even lost weight (close to 30 pounds now). I am grateful that I still have a job when so many are looking for work due to the hardships placed on the economy because of the pandemic and the federal government’s inadequate response. I am thankful for all my readers who visit this blog daily and comment and encourage me to continue to write. Finally, I am thankful that I can make a Thanksgiving meal with all the trimmings during these challenging times. Feel free to comment below about what you are thankful for this year.

I am posting my menu and the recipes for what I am cooking today. I hope that all of my American readers will all have a wonderful Thanksgiving and that those outside the United States will also enjoy a joyous holiday season. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

________________

Menu

Dutch Oven Braised Turkey

Cornbread Dressing

Candied Sweet Potatoes

Cheesy Potatoes au Gratin

Green Beans

Cranberry Sauce

Coconut Custard Pie

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Click below to see the recipes.


Read It and Eat: Southern Literary Recipes

There are a lot of things the South is known for, both good and bad, but one of the great things is food. In New Orleans, you have Creole and Cajun food that finds its origins in the multicultural background of Louisiana. North Carolina, Memphis, and Texas are all known for their barbecue, each with a distinctive style that makes them unique. The coastal areas of South Carolina and Georgia have their own low country boil and seafood specialties. Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia each fight over which one invented Brunswick stew, one of my favorite southern stews, and people all over the South have a different recipe for it.

The South is also known for its literary traditions that date back all the way to the humor traditions of the “old southwest,” which mostly is comprised of the states west of Georgia and the Carolinas. The Southern Renaissance of the 1920s and 1930s saw some of the most famous works in southern literature. This time period gave us William Faulkner, Robert Penn Warren, and Tennessee Williams. The post-World War II period was dominated by women: Zora Neale Hurston, Eudora Welty, Flannery O’Connor, Carson McCullers, and Harper Lee. Throughout it all, “Southern Gothic” permeated many of the most famous works with its dark romanticism and southern humor. Southern Gothic authors included the likes of Dorothy Allison, Walker Percy, Ambrose Bierce, Anne Rice, Poppy Z. Brite, Truman Capote, Faulkner, Welty, O’Connor, and Williams.

While there is a lot to dislike about the South (racism, right-wing politics, homophobia, religious zealots, etc.), you can’t go wrong when you combine the South’s love of food and it’s love of a good story. Probably the most famous marriage of the two is Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café by Fannie Flagg. In Flagg’s novel, the titular restaurant is the go-to spot in Whistle Stop, Alabama, for satisfying meals—and heartwarming company too. Flagg describes the quintessential dinner: “Idgie and Ruth had set a place for him at a table. He sat down to a plate of fried chicken, black-eyed peas, turnip greens, fried green tomatoes, cornbread, and iced tea.”

I used to love to pick the tomatoes while they were still firm and green, slice them up, and fry them. You’ll find them as a popular side, an appetizer, or offered as an off-the-menu seasonal special that’s prepared in a new, creative, flavorful way, usually with some type of special sauce or topped with seafood, such as shrimp Remoulade. I’ve even had them as the main dish on a BLT, which is quite delicious. While this Southern staple deserves its fame by simply being delicious, it also has Alabama native Fannie Flagg to thank for its unwavering popularity. In 1987, Flagg published the novel Fried Green Tomatoes, which would later be adapted into a major motion.

Anyone can make fried green tomatoes and enjoy them at home. To serve four to six people, the ingredient list is fairly simple and straightforward: cornmeal, flour, buttermilk, vegetable oil, seasoning salt (or Cajun seasoning if you want a kick), and pepper. The recipe starts with unripe green tomatoes, which are soaked in buttermilk and coated with flour and cornmeal mixture, and fried. Start with three medium-size green tomatoes, which you need to slice into ¼-inch slices, dredge through the cornmeal mixture, and fry until golden brown.

Ingredients

  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • ½ cup cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon + 1 teaspoon seasoning salt, divided (preferably Lawry’s)
  • ½ teaspoon pepper + ½ teaspoon pepper, divided (you can substitute Cajun Seasoning)
  • 3 green tomatoes, cut into ¼-inch slices
  • Vegetable oil

How to Make It

Step 1
Soak the slices of green tomato in buttermilk with seasoning salt and pepper; set aside. Combine ½ cup all-purpose flour, ½ cornmeal, 1 teaspoon seasoning salt, and pepper in a shallow bowl or pan. Dredge tomato slices in cornmeal mixture.

Step 2
Pour oil to a depth of ¼ to ½ inch in a large cast-iron skillet; heat to 375°. Drop tomatoes, in batches, into the hot oil, and cook 2 minutes on each side or until golden. Drain on paper towels or a rack. Sprinkle hot tomatoes with salt.

It’s just that simple, but the next recipe is not. In To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout Finch’s neighbor, Miss Maudie Atkinson, makes a bourbon-loaded Lane cake that’s famous all over the town of Maycomb, Alabama. Miss Maude says in the book, “I’ll make him a Lane cake. That Stephanie’s been after my recipe for thirty years, and if she thinks I’ll give it to her just because I’m staying with her, she’s got another think coming.” Honestly, I have never eaten a Lane cake. I was always thought of this cake as a very fancy and complicated cake to make and to be even more honest, I am not a great baker. I can cook up a storm, and if I have a recipe, there is nothing I can’t cook. But when it comes to baking, I have only two specialties: a cranberry cake and cherry-pistachio cookies.

More than 100 years ago, Emma Rylander Lane of Clayton, Alabama entered the annual baking competition at the county fair in Columbus, Georgia. She took first prize. The cake came to be known as The Lane Cake and gained literary fame in 1960 when it was featured in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. In March 1966, Southern Living featured the cake in its second issue. It is still a popular layer cake; however, it has undergone many changes since Mrs. Lane’s original recipe, mostly in the filling ingredients. Many bakers use other fruit in the recipe instead of the raisins. Coconut, pineapple, and pecans are popular additions. In North Carolina, chopped apples and cinnamon are used along with raisins, and apple brandy makes a good addition to the fruit.

Recipes for this cake vary from kitchen to kitchen and state to state. Part of the charm is making your own creation with ingredients that your family likes or are popular for the season. This isn’t one of those desserts where you can pop in and out of the kitchen; it takes some effort, but the moist cake, I am told it is totally worth the wait. It’s packed with Southern flavors like toasted pecans, coconut flakes, and dried peaches. The Lane Cake is topped with a Peach Schnapps-infused frosting that’s both incredibly unique and fluffy. Bourbon is one of the primary components in the dessert, which helps the flavor to improve as it ages.

1898 County Fair Winning Recipe

Cake Ingredients:

  • 3 1/4 cups sifted cake flour
  • 2 teaspoons double-acting baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 8 egg whites

Instructions:

Step 1
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Put wax paper in the bottom only of 4 9-inch cake pans.

Step 2
Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.

Step 3
In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter. Gradually add the sugar, mixing well until light and fluffy.

Step 4
Combine the dry ingredients with the creamed ingredients gradually while adding milk as you go. Mix together well and add vanilla while mixing.

Step 5
Separate the egg whites from the yolks and save the yolks for use in the filling. Beat egg whites with an electric mixer in a separate glass bowl until soft peaks form. Gently add the beaten egg whites to the cake batter. Be careful not to over mix (see tips below). The batter will be smooth but look slightly granular.

Step 6
Divide the batter evenly into the 4 pans. Bake in a 375-degree oven until the edges shrink slightly away from the side of the pans and cake tester or toothpick inserted in the center of each layer comes out clean—approximately 20 minutes. Place pans on wire racks to cool for 5 to 10 minutes.

Step 7
Turn the layers out of pans onto wire cooling racks; remove the wax paper and turn the layers right side up; cool completely.

Recipe for Filling:

  • 8 egg yolks
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup seedless raisins, finely chopped
  • 1 cup pecans, chopped
  • 1 cup bourbon or brandy (or other alcohol of choice) or grape juice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Step 1
In a bowl, beat egg yolks well. Add sugar and butter to the egg yolks and continue to mix well. Put in a 2-quart saucepan and cook over medium heat; stirring constantly until thick (this might take as long as 15 to 20 minutes to get thick).

Step 2
When thickened, remove from heat. Stir in raisins, pecans, bourbon, and vanilla.

Step 3
Cool slightly. Spread generously between each cake layer.

How to Make the Frosting

You can use your favorite frosting recipe for this cake, or the Seven Minute Frosting recommended here. Some people frost just the sides of the cake and put the filling mixture on top with just a rim of frosting around the edge to keep the filling in place on top. It’s your choice.

Seven Minute Frosting:

  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 6 large egg whites
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Step 1
Set a heatproof glass bowl over a pan of simmering hot water. In a bowl put the sugar, corn syrup, 1/4 cup water, and egg whites. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently until mixture registers 160 degrees on a candy thermometer (about 2 minutes).

Step 2
Remove the bowl from the pan. Using an electric mixer, beat the mixture on high speed until glossy and soft peaks form (about 5 minutes). Beat in the vanilla.

Step 3
Immediately frost the sides and top of the cake.

1966 Southern Living Recipe

This version of the Lane cake is complete with a peachy makeover and an unforgettable meringue frosting.

Ingredients

Cake Layers:

  • 2 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups butter, softened
  • 8 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 3 cups all-purpose soft-wheat flour (such as White Lily)
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • Shortening

Peach Filling:

  • Boiling water
  • 8 ounces dried peach halves
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 8 large egg yolks
  • 3/4 cup sweetened flaked coconut
  • 3/4 cup chopped toasted pecans
  • 1/2 cup bourbon
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Peach Schnapps Frosting:

  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup peach schnapps
  • 2 teaspoons light corn syrup
  • 1/8 teaspoon table salt

How to Make It

Step 1
Prepare Cake Layers: Preheat oven to 350°. Beat the first 2 ingredients at medium speed with an electric mixer until fluffy. Gradually add 8 egg whites, 2 at a time, beating well after each addition.

Step 2
Sift together flour and baking powder; gradually add to butter mixture alternately with 1 cup water, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Stir in 1 Tbsp. vanilla extract. Spoon batter into 4 greased (with shortening) and floured 9-inch round shiny cake pans (about 1 3/4 cups batter in each pan).

Step 3
Bake at 350° for 14 to 16 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire racks 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks, and cool completely (about 30 minutes).

Step 4
Prepare Filling: Pour boiling water to cover over dried peach halves in a medium bowl; let stand 30 minutes. Drain well and cut into 1/4-inch pieces. (After plumping and dicing, you should have about 2 cups peaches.)

Step 5
Whisk together melted butter and the next 2 ingredients in a heavy saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, whisking constantly, 10 to 12 minutes, or until thickened. Remove from heat, and stir in diced peaches, coconut, and next 3 ingredients. Cool completely (about 30 minutes).

Step 6
Spread filling between cake layers (a little over 1 cup per layer). Cover cake with plastic wrap, and chill 12 hours.

Step 7
Prepare Frosting: Pour water to a depth of 1 1/2 inches into a small saucepan; bring to a boil over medium heat. Whisk together 2 egg whites, 1 1/2 cups sugar, and next 3 ingredients in a heatproof bowl; place bowl over boiling water. Beat egg white mixture at medium-high speed with a handheld electric mixer 12 to 15 minutes or until stiff glossy peaks form and frosting is spreading consistency. Remove from heat and spread immediately over the top and sides of the cake.


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.


    Cookies

    Yesterday, we exchanged gifts at work since I am leaving today heading for Alabama. I made cookies for everyone at work this year. Last year, everyone got a cake, but I had a request for cookies, so cookies it was. One of the cookies I made, and I made four varieties, was a simple sugar cookie. It’s adapted from a recipe called “The Best Rolled Sugar Cookies.” I scooped mine instead of rolling them out. They are so buttery and sugary that you can’t help but love them. The recipe turned out so well (with a few modifications) that I wanted to share this recipe with you.

    The Best Sugar Cookies (It makes about 60 cookies.)

    1 1/2 cups of butter, softened
    2 cups of white sugar
    4 eggs
    1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
    5 cups of self-rising flour
    (You can also use 5 cups of all purpose flour, 2 teaspoons of baking powder, and 1 teaspoon of salt, instead of the 5 cups of self-rising flour, but I find using self-rising flour easier in this recipe.)

    1. Start by creaming together the butter and sugar in a large bowl.
    2. Then beat in eggs and vanilla.
    3. Stir in the flour.
    4a. Here is where it’s deviated from the original recipe. In the original recipe, it calls for chilling the dough for an hour. This is called for if you plan to roll out the cookie dough to 1/4 to 1/2 inches thick and use cookie cutters to make cute little shapes.
    4b. I chose to scoop out the dough using a 1 inch cookie scoop and rolling the dough into a ball and placing a few inches apart on the pan. I try to fit twelve cookies per pan. You can roll the balls in sugar or in red and green sugar sprinkles to be more festive, though I did not do this (mainly because I couldn’t find the sprinkles I wanted).
    5. Either way you choose I suggest lining the pan with parchment paper before placing the cookies on the pan.
    6. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
    7. Place cookies in preheated oven for 6-8 minutes if you rolled out the dough, or 10 minutes if you scooped the dough.
    8. Cool before serving. If you are going to icing the cookies make sure they are cooled completely. For icing you can use a mixture of water or milk and confectioners sugar. It should be thick enough to spread and thin enough as not to soak into the cookie.

    So there you have it, the best sugar cookie recipe. They are absolutely yummy. I made a batch from leftover dough last night and ate the whole pan of cookies. If I didn’t eat the whole pan I might have one day been able to have abs like the guy in the picture, but is it worth it?

    I know my instructions are a little wacky, but I like to explain every step as opposed to minimal instructions that can lead you astray.

    Enjoy!


    Pimento Cheese 

    As a native southerner, there are things that I truly miss about the South. Most of those things have to do with food, because it sure as hell isn’t the politics. One of those foods that I have been craving is a simple blend of cheese, mayonnaise and sweet peppers known across the South as pimento cheese. Some people will say there is nothing like the homemade variety, but I always enjoyed the store bought kind. However, you can’t buy it in the north, so if I want some, I’ll have to make my own.

    The recipe for most pimento cheese consists of mixing just six or so ingredients. Typically, it includes sharp cheddar cheese, mayonnaise, pimentos and some simple seasoning, such as salt and pepper. Common variations on the recipe include the addition of onions, cream cheese, garlic or Monterey jack cheese.

    Pimento cheese is so ingrained in the lives of many Southerners that we don’t realize our passion for the stuff doesn’t exist outside the region. Call me a hick, but I was shocked when I realized people outside the South had never heard of the spread. It makes a great sandwich or as an appetizer when put on celery or a cracker. Combine it with pepper jelly and put it on a cracker and you’ll swear you’ve died and gone to heaven. My mother would often make finger sandwiches and she’d have pimento cheese and chicken salad, separately of course, but on the same platter.

    But you don’t have to travel down South to enjoy authentic pimento cheese: Its basic ingredients are readily available everywhere, and it’s a cinch to make. It can take as little as 15 minutes to go from inspiration to completed dish. I almost asked my mother to sneak some on the plane but figured with current regulations, she wouldn’t get very far. She and my niece will be flying up on Thursday. More on that tomorrow.

    Classic Pimento Cheese

    Serves 6 to 8 as an appetizer, makes about 2 cups

    10 ounces extra sharp cheddar cheese, grated
    1/2 cup mayonnaise
    1 (4-ounce) jar pimiento peppers
    1/4 teaspoon onion powder
    1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
    1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
    1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
    2 dashes Worcestershire sauce
    1/4 teaspoon horseradish sauce (optional)

    To make your pimento cheese chunky-style, for spooning atop crackers, or digging into with a fork: Stir all ingredients together in a bowl, mashing with a fork. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Refrigerate for at least one hour and preferably overnight.

    To make your pimento cheese smooth, especially good for fancy piping and dipping: Increase mayonnaise to 3/4 of a cup. Combine all ingredients in a food processor, and puree until smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Refrigerate for at least one hour and preferably overnight.


    Cranberry Cake

    image

    If you look over to the top left corner, you will see something new (actually it’s been there about a week). It is a post that I will be featuring. Currently, it’s of a cookie recipe that is one of my favorites, but not one that I’m making this year (Occasionally. I will be changing my featured post, so keep a watch for changes in that space). This year, I’m making another of my favorite recipes, this one is for Cranberry Cake. It’s an old fashioned butter cake, very rich, but the cranberries offset the richness with just the perfect tartness. As you know, I’ve been feeling pretty low, but baking, and cooking in general, tend to make me feel better. If you try this recipe, please let me know what you think. This recipe is originally from The Kitchn, but I made a few modifications. Enjoy.

    Cranberry Cake

    Makes one 10-inch springform cake. Alternately: Four 4-cup loaves or 24 to 30 cupcakes.

    All ingredients should be at room temperature before you begin.

    3 large eggs
    2 cups sugar
    3/4 cup unsalted butter, cubed and softened at room temperature for 1 hour
    1 teaspoon vanilla
    1 teaspoon almond extract, optional
    2 cups all-purpose flour
    1 teaspoon salt
    2 1/2 cups cranberries (12-ounce bag)

    Optional pecan topping:
    1/4 cup unsalted butter
    1/4 cup dark brown sugar
    1 cup pecans, unroasted

    Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly grease a 10-inch springform pan (or a collection of smaller pans. This make 10 to 12 cups of batter.) I used two 6-inch springform pans.

    Use a stand mixer or hand beaters to beat the eggs and sugar until very smooth and increased in volume. If using a stand mixer, beat on medium speed for 4 to 7 minutes, using the whip attachment. If using hand beaters, beat on high speed for 6 to 8 minutes. The egg and sugar mixture will double in volume and turn very pale yellow, leaving ribbons on top of the batter when you lift the beaters.

    Beat in the butter, vanilla, and almond extract, if using. Beat for 2 minutes or until the butter is smoothly incorporated.

    Use a spatula to fold in the flour, salt, and cranberries. The batter will be quite thick. Spread gently into the prepared pan.

    To prepare the optional pecan topping, heat the butter in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the sugar and stir. Add the pecans and cook for about 2 minutes, stirring, until the butter and sugar mixture is shiny and smooth and the nuts are well-coated with the butter and sugar. Spread over the cake batter.

    Bake 60 to 80 minutes for the springform. For smaller pans, start checking after 30 minutes, but expect small loaves to take at least 40 minutes. I have found that it usually always takes at least 60 minutes. Tent the cake with foil in the last 30 minutes of baking to keep the top from browning (this is especially important for the pecan topping).

    Cool for 20 minutes then run a knife around the inside edge of the pan and remove the cake. Cool for an hour before serving.