An Adventure in Cooking

When I was little, I remember watching my Mom cook, and my Grandma’s in the kitchen with all kinds of good smells coming out of the oven. I wanted to grow up and cook just like them. But somewhere along the line, time, energy, and a variety of other things got in the way. I found myself looking for easier and easier ways to make things. I started looking to things like pre-made, processed, just add meat kind of meals. Hamburger Helper, Mac and Cheese, and frozen dinners replaced the yummy smells coming out of the oven. The ding of the microwave took the place of the ding of a timer. I stopped being creative, and started being tired. My spice shelf consisted of salt, pepper, and garlic powder. That was about it. Sad really.

But I never really lost my longing for home cooked foods. Maybe not the foods of my childhood. Much of the foods of my childhood were not that healthy. They were good, and home cooked. But fried, breaded, lots of carbs, calories, and love put into them. But I also never stopped loving recipes. I have always collected recipes. My mom’s old ones, my grandma’s favorites, ones cut from magazines, and then later, ones from online. I would read them, think about them, organize them, save them. And there they would sit. I have a recipe box that I love.  I have cookbooks I look at. I have online files and sites that I belong to. Collected, saved, and collecting dust.

However, this past year, I started another blog – it’s called A New Year, A New Me.  It was all about the changes I want to make in my life. Things I want to do, stop doing, and do better. One of the things I really want to do for me and my family is to change our eating. So, I thought what better way than to encourage myself by trying these recipes, making new foods, expanding our diets. I would like to make healthier choices, more interesting foods, try new things. Now don’t get me wrong. This is not a health food blog, a vegetarian blog, or even an advice blog. What I want to do is pull out all those yummy recipes and try them. As I do, I’m going to take pictures and post them with the recipe, and the results. Some will be healthier than others, some will be downright sinful. But, they will all be made by me, with love, from my kitchen. So, join me on a journey as I venture into the kitchen and once again enjoy cooking.

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Homemade Barbecue Sauce

Having looked at the ingredients of many bottled and pre-packaged foods has me looking for many ways to make things from scratch. I have found that freshly prepared foods have way better flavor. And in many ways is much better for you. Now, how organic you go is up to you. Such as this recipe calls for ketchup. I do used bottled ketchup. There are those who make their own. I am trying to find a balance between convenience and healthy eating. Should you choose to prepare your own ketchup, that is awesome. I’m not there yet.

This barbecue sauce was my first attempt at making a sauce from scratch. I was amazed at how easy and delicious it was. I used it to put over a pork roast in a crock pot. I then removed the roast, shredded it, put it back in to the crock pot and added a bit more sauce. My family went mad over it. Now I make my own sauce most of the time. You can vary the recipe to your taste, it’s very flexible. I’ll give you the main ingredients, then list some additions you can make to it.

Homemade Barbecue Sauce

Main Ingredients

1 1/2 cups Ketchup

1/2 cup Brown Sugar

3 Tbsp Vinegar (I used white, but you can use red wine)

3 Tbsp Worcestershire Sauce

1/2 cup Water

Combine all of these ingredients in a pot and simmer, stirring occasionally until thickened to desired thickness. Will keep in the fridge for around a week in a sealed bottle or container. Can be frozen and defrosted later, but loses some of its thickness.

This is a simple base for the barbecue sauce. It is the additional ingredients that will make it your own. Here are some ideas for what you can add to the sauce.

Added Flavors

1/2 cup Honey

2 cloves Garlic, minced

Minced Onions

1 tsp Mustard Powder

Chili Power – to your own tastes

Hot Sauce – to your own tastes, but only start with a drop or two

Liquid Smoke – follow the directions on your bottle

1/2 tsp Cumin (adds a bit of a smokey flavor)

2 Tbsp Prepared Mustard

1/3 cup Real Bacon Bits

 

Final Thoughts

I have made the sauce many different ways, adding one or more of these ingredients for flavor. It depends on what I am using the sauce on as to what I add to it. The honey sauce goes great on chicken, while we like it kicked up a notch for the pork barbecue. A nice way to do it is to make the base recipe in advance and then when reheating it, add additional flavors. But let the sauce simmer awhile if you do it that way to get a good combining of the flavors. I hope you enjoy creating your own mixtures for your family to love.

 

Mashed Potato Cups

I am a huge fan of mashed potatoes. I will take them any way I can get them. However, my family are definitely UN-fans of them. They really, really don’t like them. Sigh – so I don’t make them much – read that as NEVER. So, I have to content myself with having them at family get togethers where my other family members are mashed potato lovers also. So, when I stumbled upon this recipe that took mashed potatoes and made them into what appeared to be crispy cups, I was interested. Maybe by making them this way – they would like them. It was worth a shot. So, when my Mom gave me a dish of left over mashed potatoes, I thought – now is my chance. But it didn’t seem to be quite enough. So, I won’t tell a lie – I made a package of instant mashed potatoes that I had hidden in my cupboard for a quick mashed fix. Here’s the way it came out.

 

Mashed Potato Cups

4 cups Mashed Potatoes (I used 2 cups plain, and 2 cups of instant loaded baked potato mix- already made)

3 Tbsp Melted Butter (I simply put some butter on top instead of melting it first)

Non-stick Spray

4 Slices American Cheese

4 Tbsp Parmesan Cheese

 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees (more on this later). I mixed up the instant mashed potatoes and mixed them with the homemade mashed potatoes. I sprayed 2 full sized muffin tins with non-stick cooking spray. I put a scoop of mashed potatoes in each cup – filling it level. I didn’t melt my butter first – instead choosing to simply put some cold butter on top of each one.

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I put the muffin pans on a cookie sheet and placed in the oven. The original recipe said about 20 minutes. After 20 minutes – they didn’t even look slightly brown. But I am not sure my oven settings are accurate – it is a very old stove. So, I increased my oven temperature to 450. I left them in there approximately 15 more minutes. When I looked they were sort of browned. But not crispy at all. Unfortunately, I had held off dinner as long as I could. I had to finish them up. I pulled the cookie sheet out, sprinkled the Parmesan cheese on top, then broke each slice of American cheese into 4 pieces, placing one piece on top of each. I then put the tray back into the oven for 5 minutes. When I pulled them out, the cheese was melted, and they looked good – but not crispy at all.

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They did scoop out of the muffin tins fairly easily, they did not stick. And they did sort of hold their shape, but they were not solid like I thought they would be. The up side was – I got to eat mashed potatoes for dinner. Another bonus was after tasting a few bites, my youngest said that he thought he might like mashed potatoes which made me happy. But not at all what I thought they should have turned out like.

 

Final Thoughts 

While I thought this was a good idea, it did not turn out like I thought they would. Perhaps if my oven had been set higher to begin with, or if I had been able to leave them in longer, they would have been crispier like I wanted them to be. As it was – they only tasted like a pile of mashed potatoes with cheese on top. I will probably try this recipe again, raising the temperature, and leaving more time for them to stay in the oven to see how crispy they can get. But still – yum. Mashed potatoes.

Corn Chip Chicken

I love Mexican food. Unfortunately, my husband does not. So, I don’t get to eat much of it. But when I saw this recipe online, I had to try it. With taco seasoning and corn chips – as well as being easy – how could I not. And it didn’t sound too spicy, which is good too because my stomach does not do spicy. When my husband tasted it, even he admitted it was good. So, this is a definite keeper. My older son can’t wait to come over and try it. I will also be passing it along to others. It’s that good. We couldn’t even wait for me to get a picture before we dug into it.

CornChipChicken

 

 

 

Corn Chip Chicken
Serving Size: 6

6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
10 3/4 ounces can cream of chicken soup
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese ; divided (I used a Mexi-blend shredded cheese)
1 1/4 ounces pkg taco seasoning  (I just used the store brand taco seasoning)
2 cups corn chips ; crushed (I used Frito brand)

 

1. Arrange chicken in an ungreased 13X9″ baking dish and set aside.
2. Combine soup, one cup of cheese, and taco seasoning together and spread over chicken.
3. Bake at 450 degrees for 45 minutes. Removed from oven and sprinkle with crushed corn chips and remaining cheese. Return for oven until cheese melts – about 5 minutes.

Final Thoughts –

This dish was very good. All of my family loved it. It has a little bit of spice, lots of flavor, but it’s not really spicy. If you would like it to be spicier – I’m sure you could add to the recipe to make it that way. When we pulled it from the oven – we let it sit for about 5 minutes and then dug it. The topping was crunchy and delicious. However, my husband was at work, so I saved his for him. Sadly, when he came home and heated it up – the topping had gotten rather soggy. With that in mind – I would not say this is a good make ahead dish, or one that would freeze well. I would think the topping would be very soggy upon defrosting it. But, hot and fresh – it is delicious. Can’t wait to make it again. Two thumbs up on this one.

Broccoli Cheddar Soup

It is winter time where I am and while it has not been that cold here – I am a huge fan of soups. Especially cream soups. But never having made many soups, I wasn’t quite sure where to start. I looked at a lot of different recipes trying to figure out exactly which one I wanted to try. Finally settling on this one – I have to say it came out great. I will probably tweak it here and there the next time I make it. But everyone greatly enjoyed it as is. So, here’s my first attempt at Broccoli Cheddar Soup.

 

Broccoli Cheddar Soup

 

 

Broccoli Cheddar Soup

Serving Size: 8

-= Ingredients =-
1/2 cup melted butter
1/2 cup flour
4 cups whipping cream (I used half and half)
4 cups chicken stock
1 medium onion
1 pound fresh broccoli ; chopped (I used frozen broccoli – defrosted and drained)
1 large carrot ; grated
16 ounces sharp cheddar cheese ; grated (I used 2 cups of shredded Mexi-blend cheese, and some extra sliced American cheese)
salt ; and pepper to taste

 
1. In a large soup pot, melt your butter. Slowly stir in the flour to make a roux. Once it is all blended, slowly add your whipping cream, whisking constantly.

2. Then add your chicken stock, broccoli, carrots and onions. Simmer until the broccoli is cooked to tender. Use hand blender to blend until consistency you like

3. Reduce the heat to simmer and add your cheese, stirring until it is melted. Salt and pepper to taste and enjoy.

Final Thoughts:

This soup was excellent. The texture was perfect. I have a hand blender that I used to chop the broccoli finer and make the soup creamier. But I did leave some chunks as that is how I like it. If you do not have a hand blender – you can use a regular blender, but I would suggest only filling it half full, and allowing it to cool down a bit before putting it into the blender or it could explode. I also am thinking next time when making the roux I will add some minced garlic. I also think next time I will use the sharp cheddar rather than the Mexi-blend. I would also recommend using more cheese – but it will make it a thicker soup.  But for a first try – fantastic.

Kimber’s Meaty Lasagna

Being allergic to tomatoes I don’t cook much with them. Raw tomatoes are definitely out – but there are a few jarred sauces that don’t affect me too badly. I tend to us Ragu jarred sauce for most things as this seems to bother me the least.  But feel free to use any type of tomato sauce you like. Seeing as how my husband absolutely loves tomatoes and tomato sauce – I do try to make things for him. His absolute favorite dish is lasagna. Being a bit time consuming AND having tomatoes in it makes it a dish I don’t get to make all that often. But the other day I did take the time to make the dish for him – a huge pan that will last him for a few meals at least. He is a very happy man.

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My Meat Sauce

1 lb lean ground meat

1 lb ground sausage, mild

2 jars Ragu Meat sauce

1 Tbsp Oregano

1 Tbsp Basil

3 Tbsp Minced Garlic

For the Lasagna

15 Lasagna noodles

2 24oz Containers of Cottage Cheese (small curd)

2 lbs Shredded Mozzarella Cheese

To Make the Sauce – This is just my recipe – you can use any meat sauce recipe you like

I start by browning off the ground meat and sausage, then draining. I then add the minced garlic and spices and cook a bit longer. Then I add the 2 large jars of Ragu sauce. I simmer my sauce at least 4 hours – but you can let it simmer as long as you like. The longer – the thicker and more flavor.

To Cook the Lasagna Noodles –

When cooking lasagna noodles, you don’t want to break them up. I found I had to do them in two batches to get all 15 cooked because my pot wasn’t big enough. Bring a large pot of water to boil with a dash of salt and a splash of olive oil. When water comes to a full rolling boil, slide one noodle into the pot, allowing it to soften and sink into the water. Then add the next. Keep adding noodles until you either have them all in there – or if your pot isn’t large enough,  split them into batches.  Allow to cook until soft and mostly done. Don’t over cook them or they will be hard to work with and will fall apart in the lasagna.  Drain and set aside.

To Assemble Lasagna –

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Take large, deep baking dish.  You are going to want one that is at least 3 or 4 inches deep – as this lasagna has about 4 layers to it. Spread a thin layer of the meat sauce along the bottom of the pan. Lay a single layer of the lasagna noodles along the bottom. Mine takes 5 noodles to make one layer. Then spread another layer of meat sauce along the noodles. Spoon dollops of the cottage cheese on top of the meat sauce. Spread gently with the spoon. Then sprinkle liberally with the shredded cheese. Top this with another layer of the noodles. Then meat sauce, then cottage cheese, then shredded cheese. You should finish with a layer of noodles, meat sauce, then shredded cheese.

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When lasagna is done being assembled – cover the pan with aluminum foil. Spray the foil with no stick spray on the underside before covering and it will keep it from sticking to the cheese top.  Bake in the oven for an hour. Take out of the oven and remove the foil from the top. Place back in the oven and bake for an additional 15 to 30 minutes – until the top is as browned as you would like it.

When you remove the lasagna from the oven, allow it to sit for at least 15 minutes. This allows it to cool and set. If you cut into it immediately, it will all slide apart and the cheeses will ooze out. Allowing it to set will make it easier to cut and serve.

Final Thoughts –

I am not a huge fan of lasagna – but I do like it. I find it a bit time consuming to make, and as I have a small kitchen, and not many large pot and such, it can be challenging to make. However, I do have that wonderful, old, blue roasting pan that my mother in law gave me that is perfect for so many different things – including this huge lasagna. My family gives this dish two thumbs up and are very happy when I do go through the trouble to make this. And it does make at least 3 meals for my family. I do freeze a lot of it – it freezes well. A great winter recipe, and the whole house smells great when you are baking it.

Pork Chops with Apples and Stuffing

I am always hunting for new and interesting recipes. I love to collect them, sort them, organize them, and even occasionally try them. I saved this recipe recently from somewhere and thought it sounded really good. It helped that my mom had just given me a package of three pork chops that I had to use as they couldn’t be refrozen. When I saw the recipe it reminded me of Thanksgiving and the apple walnut stuffing I love so much. So, I decided to give it a try last night.

Here is the finished dish with one of the pork chops pulled out

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Pork Chops with Apples and Stuffing

Ingredients

1/2 teaspoon butter or margarine, softened (I just used a paper towel and greased the bottom)
2 unpeeled red baking apples, sliced (I have a neat little tool that slices and cores the apples at once – then I sliced those down lengthwise)
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon packed brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt
4 bone-in pork loin chops, 3/4 inch thick (about 2 lb), trimmed
1 cup apple juice or apple cider
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1 1/2 cups stuffing mix for pork or chicken (from 12-oz box or 8- or 12-oz canister)
1/4 cup sweetened dried cranberries (I didn’t add these as I didn’t have them on hand)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley (I just used dried flakes)

Directions

 Heat oven to 375°F. Brush 1/2 teaspoon butter in bottom of 13×9-inch (3-quart) glass baking dish. (I used my glass pie dish and it worked great) (Spread apple slices in dish. In small bowl, mix flour, brown sugar and cinnamon; sprinkle over apples. Sprinkle seasoned salt on both sides of pork (I didn’t season the pork as I didn’t think it was necessary); place pork over apples.
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In 2-quart saucepan, heat apple juice and 2 tablespoons butter to boiling over medium-high heat. Stir in stuffing mix and cranberries. Cover; remove from heat. Let stand 5 minutes. Fluff mixture with fork. Scoop 1/2 cup stuffing onto each pork chop. (I didn’t just use 1/2 cup – I put all of the stuffing over the top)
Spray sheet of foil with cooking spray; place sprayed side down over baking dish. Bake 40 to 50 minutes. Uncover; bake 5 to 10 minutes longer or until pork is no longer pink in center and meat thermometer inserted in center reads 160°F. Sprinkle with parsley. To serve, lift pork chops with stuffing to serving plates; serve apples on the side.
Final Thoughts
This dish was a big hit. Even my picky son loved it. It was sweet, moist, tender. The pork was juicy, the apples the perfect touch. Even the stuffing didn’t dry out. I have made lots of different pork dishes and often times find that the pork dries out. But between the apples and the stuffing – it was perfect. I do have to say that next time, I think I would like to try it with the cranberries, and I would probably try to season the pork, as it was a bit bland. But I don’t think I would add salt – to me, pork is already a bit salty and seems to really absorb a salt taste. Not sure what I would use to season it with, but something. This one is definitely a winner and a must try again.

2 Ingredient Pumpkin Cake

I love pumpkin. I love it pretty much any way I can get it. With fall here – it is the season of pumpkins. I can find my pumpkin latte in stores, pumpkin creamer. The list is endless. I also love to cook with pumpkin. So, when I heard about a 2 ingredient cake with pumpkin – I had to try it. How much easier can you get than 2 ingredients? And it was incredibly simple – and delicious. So – here for your enjoyment – the easiest pumpkin cake you will ever make – with a simple glaze topping.

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2 Ingredient Pumpkin Cake 

Ingredients

1 box cake mix – your choice of flavor (I used a spice cake)

1 15oz can of pumpkin (make sure it is pure pumpkin – not pumpkin pie mix)

Preheat over to 350 degrees. Grease the cake pan of your choice. I would recommend a 7 X 11. Mix the cake mix and the pumpkin with mixer for about 2 minutes. (It will be a very thick mix – not like cake batter) and spread into pan. I did not expect it to be so thick. To me it was more like a biscuit dough. But I spread it around in the pan.

Bake for about 28 minutes – until toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool then pour glaze over top.

Glaze Recipe

1 cup powdered sugar

2 Tblsp milk

1/2 tsp Pumpkin pie spice

Mix ingredients together until smooth

Final Thoughts

This is a very dense cake. As I said, it was more like spreading a dough than pouring a cake. However this takes nothing away from the flavor, the richness and the texture. We loved it. The top on mine was not smooth like the picture on the site where I got it. Mine was more bumpy like a drop biscuit.

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But to me – that just gave the glaze more nooks and crannies to cling to. This is a very simple, quick recipe and is definitely going on my make again list. Family agrees – a real winner.