Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Easy and delicious candy

I’m sure we all have easy Christmas recipes we can count on in a pinch — the kind of recipe you turn to when you need to make a special treat for the office Christmas party, for instance.

That happened at our house last week. I wanted to make something my husband could take to a party with his co-workers, but we didn’t have much time. I turned to a two-ingredient recipe and was so happy with the results.

I’m sure many of you have favorite “bark” recipes. The concept is simple enough — melted chocolate or almond bark is mixed with favorite ingredients, spread in a thin layer then left to harden before broken into serving-size pieces.

I’ve made several bark recipes over the years, but I haven’t done much experimenting.

There are so many mix-in options: dried fruit, nuts, miniature chocolate chips, toffee chips, pretzels, granola. You can also choose your favorite chocolate: semi-sweet, dark, milk or white or a combination swirled together. Vanilla almond bark is also a good option.

For my bark, I chose semi-sweet chocolate chips and a small can of mixed nuts. I also opted to pour the nuts on top of the chocolate rather than mix them into the chocolate.

The process couldn’t have been any easier.

I melted the chocolate chips in the microwave, then spread the chocolate in a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. After a few minutes, I sprinkled the can of nuts on top. (I didn’t chop the nuts.) I gently tapped the pan down so the nuts would sink in a little, then used the back of a spoon to press down as well. Then you wait!

We ran errands while the chocolate hardened, then I broke the candy into serving pieces. Some of the nuts did fall off in this process, but not many.

I thought the candy was delicious and it certainly was easy to make.

Easy Chocolate Candy
  • 2 cups chocolate chips
  • 1-2 cups mixed nuts
Pour chocolate chips into microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for 1 minute. Stir. Return to microwave and cook in 10 second intervals; stir each time. It will probably take a total of one minute and 30 seconds; chips will not lose their shape. At end of cook time, stir chocolate until chips lose their shape. Do not overcook.

Pour hot chocolate onto cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. With the back of a spoon or with a spatula, spread chocolate to desired thickness. Let sit for a few minutes. Sprinkle nuts on top. Pick up tray about an inch and gently tap it down so nuts sink in a little or with the back of a spoon, gently press nuts into chocolate. Allow chocolate to set. When cooled and set, break into pieces.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Christmas breakfast

I admit, I don’t do a lot of planning for breakfast at my house.

Sure, I make pancakes or waffles from time to time, but we all fend for ourselves with cereals, instant grits, muffins or bagels most mornings.

But come Christmas Day, I want a special breakfast, and I know that’s the case with many of you.

For years, I alternated between a simple sausage, egg and cheese casserole or an overnight coffee cake. Last year, I made a grits casserole, which I shared with my readers as well.

This year, I will probably do something different again, thanks to recipes I’m sharing today.

Two of these recipes came from new local cookbooks. One is from my church, Marsh Swamp Free Will Baptist in Rock Ridge, the other is from Fike High School. The third recipe is one I found online and loved and decided to make it as well.

Marsh Swamp’s “Still Saying Grace”

Beverly Boyette shared the recipe for apple-pecan french toast for the new Marsh Swamp cookbook. This recipe should be made the night before you serve it and chilled in the refrigerator. This delicious recipe requires no fancy ingredients, just some items you probably already have on hand plus a loaf of French bread, some apples and pecans.

I only made a few variations from Beverly’s recipe. I used brown sugar instead of granulated sugar because I adore brown sugar! And instead peeling and grating an apple, I left it unpeeled and diced it to save a little time. I also like the way the red peel looks on the finished product.

We loved this recipe. The toast had a wonderful flavor, and I enjoyed the texture of the baked bread. There were a few slices left over, so the next morning I toasted them in the toaster oven and had wonderful results. I’ll be making this one again, and not just for Christmas.

Beverly’s recipe is in the breakfast casserole section of the new Marsh Swamp cookbook. There are 379 recipes in the book in many categories from slow cooker roasts to turkey dressing. The desserts are varied as well and include an apple gingerbread pie, chocolate velvet cake, graham streusel cake and creamy dreamy pralines.

I’ve gone to Marsh Swamp my whole life and can vouch for these wonderful cooks! I can’t wait to try a number of these recipes.

I included more than a dozen of my own favorite recipes in the cookbook, including some of the most popular ones from my food column, including meatball soup with pasta, meatloaf, tomato pie, cheesy grits and sausage casserole and microwave pickles.

There are many things I love about a local church cookbook. The recipes usual reflect the tastes and traditions of the area and many have personal stories behind them. I especially love the ones in our cookbook that have notes.

For instance, the note for Doris Lee Barnes’ sour cream cake reads: “I baked this cake for many birthdays. I always wrote the date that I baked this cake, and in copying it for this book, I counted that I had baked this cake 23 times for different birthdays.”

Our three-ring binder cookbook is for sale from church members as well as at Barnes Equipment on Rock Ridge School Road and Forest Hills Hairstyling on Forest Hills Road across from the Moose Lodge. It’s $15 and would make a great Christmas gift!

Fike High School’s “Golden Demons Cookbook”

Also in time for Christmas giving is a Fike cookbook. The Future Business Leaders of America had the 94-page volume published to raise funds for member trips to state and national conferences as well as to raise funds for students who need financial help at the holidays, according to business teacher Paula Cobb.

“The Fike Golden Demons Cookbook” is $10 and can be purchased at the school. It’s the perfect size for a stocking stuffer!

The cookbook has recipes from students, teachers, staff members and parents.

There’s a wonderful variety, and a number of recipes caught my eye including Elvis Presley’s frozen banana sandwich from Wanda Etheridge, rainbow slaw from Pamela Letchworth and old-fashioned beef stew from Tyrone McCoy.

The recipe I’m sharing today would work well for Christmas morning. Orange cranberry muffins use an orange supreme cake mix as the base with colorful cranberries mixed in. The recipe is simple to make the day before for breakfast the next day.

Easy breakfast casserole

Finally, I tried a very good casserole last week. I have seen many versions online and adapted one for my family.

I made this casserole and the apple-pecan French toast in about 45 minutes. I was able to do it so quickly because I used pre-cooked turkey sausage crumbles instead of cooking my own sausage.

The casserole starts with a layer of refrigerated crescent rolls. The sausage is sprinkled on top, then the cheese and an egg mixture. Cover the casserole with plastic wrap and let it sit overnight in the refrigerator if you don’t want to cook it then.

My husband and I loved this. It was also delicious warmed over the next day in the toaster oven. I will make this again soon so we can have the leftovers for weekday breakfasts.

You can certain vary this recipe to suit your tastes, changing the cheeses or adding spices, such as oregano. I opted for salt and pepper only. I’m boring, I guess!

Breakfast Casserole
  • 1 package full cooked turkey sausage crumbles (I use Jimmy Dean)
  • 1 package reduced-fat refrigerated crescent rolls
  • 1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 5 eggs
  • 1/4 cup milk (I use skim)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Pepper to taste
Spread crescent rolls over bottom of 9X13-inch pan, pressing seams to make one large sheet. Bring up sides of pan a little to form a crust.

In a bowl mix eggs and milk. Stir in cheese and sausage, salt and pepper. Pour over crust.

If not cooking then, cover with plastic wrap and store in refrigerator.

When ready to cook, bake at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes. Make sure eggs are set and crust is a golden brown.

Adapted from Pinterest

Apple-Pecan French Toast
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 medium apple, peeled and shredded
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 loaf French bread, cut in to 12 1-inch slices
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • Maple syrup
Coat the bottom of a 13x9-inch glass baking dish with nonstick cooking spray or brush with melted butter. Combine eggs, milk, sugar, cinnamon, apples and vanilla. Place bread in a single layer in baking dish. Pour egg mixture over bread. Turn bread over to coat other side. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Sprinkle pecans over top of bread slices and drizzle with melted butter. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until puffy and brown. Serves with maple syrup. Serves 4-6.

Notes: In the photo, you’ll notice I used diced apples. I also had a wide loaf of French bread, so I didn’t have as many slices.

Orange Cranberry Muffins
  • 1 box orange supreme cake mix
  • 1 box (4-serving size) vanilla instant pudding and pie filling mix
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon grated orange peel
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries (do not thaw)
Mix ingredients. Place in baking cups in a muffin tin and bake at 325 degrees for 25 minutes.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Dipped in chocolate

If you’re looking for some delicious treats to fill a dessert table or if you’d like to make a few items to give away as gifts this Christmas, then keep reading!

With a few simple ingredients, you can make some chocolate-covered goodies that you can be very proud of.

On Sunday afternoon, in about an hour, my daughter and I made and decorated chocolate-covered Oreos, chocolate-covered graham crackers and caramel- and chocolate-dipped marshmallows. The house smelled like a candy store, and we loved it!

We started with the cookies, first dipping the Oreos into melted chocolate chips with a bit of vegetable shortening added. We tried various methods of dipping the cookies but found our fingers were the best tools for dipping. This is a rather messy recipe, so plan to get your hands coated with chocolate, and wear an apron to protect your clothes!

Once the cookies were coated, we placed them on parchment paper to set; waxed paper would work well, too. Before the chocolate got firm, we decorated with holiday sprinkles and crushed Oreos.

Once the cookies were completed, we moved onto the marshmallows. This was the recipe I was so eager to try. Whenever we go to a candy shop that makes its own chocolates, I always look for marshmallows dipped in caramel and chocolate. I love the combination of flavors and textures.

The recipe is very simple. Dip each marshmallow in melted caramel, let it cool and get slightly firm, then dip in melted chocolate. Anna decorated each one with a swirl of caramel.

The marshmallows were so good! They were gooey and delicious. They are so gooey, in fact, be careful and take small bites!

For a thoughtful, handmade gift, fill an inexpensive candy tin (we got one from Dollar Tree) with these chocolate treats, and your family and friends will be sure to thank you!

Chocolate Caramel Marshmallows
  • 1 11-ounce bag of caramel bits
  • 2 dozen marshmallows (might need more)*
  • 11.5- to 12-ounce bag milk chocolate chips
  • 1 teaspoon vegetable shortening
Melt caramel bits (you can find them in the baking section) according to package instructions.

Dip marshmallows into caramel; be careful not to get burned. Place marshmallows on parchment paper or wax paper and let caramel cool and begin to harden.

Once caramel has started to harden, melt chocolate and shortening in microwave safe bowl. Start with 1 minute cooking time. Stir and heat again for 15 seconds. Stir until chips lose their shape. Don’t overcook.

Dip caramel-coated marshmallows into chocolate and place on parchment or wax paper. Once chocolate has set a little, drizzle caramel on top.

These are gooey, so let cool completely before eating, and then, take small bites!

*We made 2 dozen marshmallows but could have probably made more if we had been more conservative with our dipping.

Chocolate-Covered Cookies
  • 1 12 oz. bag semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 teaspoon vegetable shortening
  • Oreos and graham crackers (we made 10 covered Oreos and 7 graham cracker quarters)*
Melt chocolate and shortening in microwave safe bowl. Start with 1 minute cooking time. Stir and heat again for 15 seconds. Stir until chips lose their shape. Don’t overcook.

Dip cookies into chocolate. Tap cookies on side of bowl to remove excess chocolate. Place on waxed paper or parchment paper to set. Decorate before the chocolate hardens.

*We probably could have made more but were overly generous with the chocolate!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Holiday ham

Please don’t let the dark edges on this ham fool you; it’s not really burned. And the family and friends gathered around my table on Thanksgiving night didn’t mind the appearance of the ham one bit. In fact, they competed for the dark edges of caramelized glaze.

I didn’t cook a turkey last week. Instead, I had a simple meal of glazed ham, layered salad, double baked potatoes, green bean casserole and yeast rolls. No one complained. In fact, I don’t remember the last time I got so many compliments on a meal — the ham, in particular.

I’ve cooked spiral hams many times, but I’ve never added a glaze. My son really wanted me to try a glazed ham, so I read a few recipes and adapted them to come up with a very simple, yet delicious, glaze that includes honey, butter, sugar and a dash of ground cloves.

The preparation is simple and involves lining a pan with aluminum foil for quick clean up and taking the ham out of the packaging. Once you’ve mixed and heated your glaze and brushed some all over the ham, it’s time to put it in the oven. I followed the minimum cooking time for my fully cooked ham (which weighed in at 9.7 pounds) and glazed it every 15 to 20 minutes. I used two timers to keep up with the overall cooking time as well as the glazing.

To apply the glaze, I used a silicon basting brush and added it in small applications to the surface of the ham. I also brushed some in between the slices as they started to fall apart during baking. I had only a little bit of the glaze left at the end of the baking time. Once the juices started accumulating in the bottom of the pan, I used them to baste the ham as well.

The result for me was a delicious mix of honey smoked ham with a sweet honey glaze. The dark edges intensified the sweetness.

I’m also including a longtime favorite recipe for the layered salad I’ve made for many years. My husband and I love this salad and enjoyed the leftovers the next few days, along with a slice of ham!

This pretty salad, along with the honey-glazed ham, will make nice additions to your holiday table this season.

Ham Glaze
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • A dash or two of ground cloves (if desired)
Mix all ingredients in saucepan and let come to boil. Remove from heat.

Cook ham according to package directions, basting with glaze every 15 to 20 minutes.

*Note: This was plenty glaze for my 9.7-pound ham.

Layered Salad
  • 1 head lettuce cut and torn into bite-size pieces (can also add other greens)
  • 1/2 cup celery, chopped
  • 1/2 cup green pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 cup red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 cup radishes (if desired; I don’t use anymore)
  • 1 cup frozen green peas, cooked 1 minute and drained
  • 1 cup grated cheddar cheese
  • 2-3 pieces cooked bacon, cut into small pieces, or bacon bits
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 cup cheddar cheese
Place lettuce in bottom of trifle bowl or large glass salad bowl. Next, layer celery, green pepper, red pepper, green peas, radishes and 1 cup cheddar cheese. (Layer so red is between the green vegetables and looks pretty when viewed from the side).

Combine mayonnaise, sour cream and sugar. Spread over top of salad, being sure to seal the edge of the bowl. Sprinkle with cheddar cheese.

Cover and refrigerate several hours or overnight.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Add some herbs for easy rolls

If you’re cooking the Thanksgiving meal tomorrow, you probably already have your menu planned, your groceries tucked away and maybe even a casserole or two chilling in the refrigerator.

In case you don’t have your dinner rolls purchased yet, I have a simple recipe you can make on Thanksgiving Day, or any day for that matter.

With frozen dough for rolls, you can customize tasty herb rolls that not only smell wonderful but also taste wonderful! But you must get started early to allow enough time for the rolls to defrost and then rise.

There's a herb roll recipe that I’ve made many times over the years that combines several herbs in the yeasty dough. The rolls smell wonderful as they rise and then bake. I remembered that smell and used three herbs for my easy herb rolls.

For my pan of 11 rolls, I simply melted two tablespoons of butter and then mixed in 1/2 teaspoon each of rosemary, thyme and oregano. Then, with a pastry brush, I brushed herb butter on the risen rolls and baked them.

The rolls were delicious! I've made them three times in the last few weeks and will make them again soon, I’m sure.

Editor's Note: There's been some confusion over an ingredient in last week's food column. For Dameron's Cranberry Salad, I used one large (6-oz.) box of strawberry Jell-O.

Easy Herb Rolls
  • 10-12 frozen dinner rolls (Not ready-to bake; I used Rhodes brand.)
  • 2 tablespoons butter (plus more to prepare baking dish)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
Take rolls from freezer and place in baking dish that has been prepared with butter; leave enough room between rolls to allow space to rise. Follow package directions for rising.

Melt butter and mix in herbs.

Once rolls have risen (about 5 hours), brush on herb butter, making sure to brush butter between rolls as much as you can and around the sides to coat.

Bake in 350 degree oven for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Remembering at the holidays

When Thanksgiving rolls around next week, Agnes and Buddie Page will certainly be remembering, fondly, the many holiday meals they shared with their son, Dameron. Many of those dishes were made each year at the holidays and are still very special to them.

Agnes sat down recently and wrote all about the passion for cookbooks, recipes and trying foods that she shared with her son, and she let me read those pages. In her writing, she poured out her heart and her grief, which is still very fresh, since Dameron’s death in April 2011 at age 35.

Agnes said she learned to cook from her mother. “I was the daughter that was always in the kitchen watching my mother cook and helping whenever she would let me,” she wrote. And Dameron learned from her. “During Dameron’s childhood, the two of us spent lots of time in the kitchen making cupcakes, candies and all sorts of party goods for school, church, 4-H or whatever the occasion.”

As an adult, Dameron continued reading cookbooks, saving recipes, taking cooking classes and watching cooking shows, his mother said.

“He was always sharing new ideas he had learned with my sister and me,” Agnes wrote. “He loved to try complicated recipes, unlike me who is always looking for a simple and quick recipe to try.”

When the holidays rolled around, Dameron would visit from his home in Chapel Hill. At Thanksgiving, he and his mother would work ahead to make all of their favorite dishes.

“We had so much fun decorating the dining room for the holiday and choosing as many different tableware, dishes and accessories as possible,” she wrote. “We wanted every table setting to be different for every meal.”

The Page family shared a very traditional Thanksgiving dinner, and one of their favorite side dishes was Dameron’s cranberry salad. I gave the recipe a try last week, and my husband and I both loved it and kept going back to have another bowl over the weekend. The congealed salad is similar to one I’ve made for years, but Dameron’s addition of apple and crushed pineapple to strawberry Jell-O and whole berry cranberry sauce makes it even more delicious!

I hope you’ll try the congealed salad, if not for Thanksgiving, then for another occasion.

And, thank you Agnes Page for sharing your story and your recipes and for reminding me and my readers how thankful we should be for family and good memories.

Dameron's Cranberry Salad
  • 1 16-oz. can whole berry cranberry sauce
  • 1 large box strawberry Jell-O
  • 2 cups hot water
  • 3/4 cup cold water
  • 1 cup finely chopped apple (Dameron used Granny Smith)
  • 1 20-oz. can crushed pineapple, drained
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans*
Dissolve Jell-O and cranberry sauce in boiling water. Crush cranberry sauce while you stir. Add remaining ingredients. Chill until firm.

You can also add in oranges or fresh cranberries if desired.

* I used walnuts because I was out of pecans.

Submitted by Agnes Page in memory of her son, Dameron Page

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Sweet potato bread

Over the last several weeks, I’ve watched many farm trucks go by filled with sweet potatoes from this year’s harvest.

I love cooking with sweet potatoes, and I love that so many are grown right here in Wilson County. North Carolina leads the nation in growing sweet potatoes, and Wilson, Nash and Johnston are all big acreage counties, according to Billy Little, agriculture extension agent. Little said 8,000 acres of sweet potatoes are grown in Wilson County.

At my house, we enjoy sweet potatoes baked and dressed with a little butter, cinnamon and brown sugar. One of my favorite side dishes for Thanksgiving is a sweet potato casserole topped with pecans (no marshmallows!) I also add diced sweet potatoes to my vegetable soup and even pot roast. They have a wonderful, sweet taste and pack a nutrition punch with beta carotene, vitamins A and C. Sweet potatoes are also rich in fiber. According to the N.C. Sweet Potato Commission, a medium sweet potato baked in its skin has 4 grams of fiber. That’s more than an envelope of instant oatmeal.

To highlight sweet potatoes, I tried a new recipe for sweet potato bread and really enjoyed it. I started with a basic recipe and changed it around, using white whole wheat flour, adding a few spices, cutting back on total sugar and subbing brown sugar for some of the granulated sugar. As a finishing touch, I sprinkled a little cinnamon sugar on top before placing the loaf pan in the oven.

The bread is very dense and flavorful and has a gorgeous brown crumb with an orange tint. And I love the spice combination; I was very glad I decided to add ground cloves at the last minute. The overall effect reminds me of zucchini bread.

Reggie and I had our first slice, still warm from the oven, topped with cinnamon butter. (Just soften the butter and mix in some cinnamon or cinnamon sugar.)

This is not a very sweet bread but is just right for a breakfast bread, I think. If you want a sweeter bread, go up a half cup on the sugar.

As a side note, I cooked my sweet potatoes in the slow cooker. I had cooked them that way a few weeks before when I made sweet potato muffins and had great success. I washed the potatoes and placed them in the crock, on a piece of aluminum foil — to make cleanup easier in case the sweet juices leaked out. I cooked them on high for three hours, then checked for doneness, piercing the middle with a toothpick. I left them in about another 30 minutes until the sweet potatoes were cooked through. I think this is a great way to cook a baking potato or a sweet potato. The flesh was wonderfully moist and cooked through. After the potatoes had cooled just a bit, I wrapped them in aluminum foil to use the next day.

Sweet Potato Bread
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 3/4 cups white whole wheat flour (could use all-purpose or a mix of all-purpose and whole wheat)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/3 cup apple juice
  • 1 cup cooked sweet potato, lightly mashed
  • 1/2 cup pecans, chopped
  • cinnamon sugar, optional
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix sugars and canola oil until combined. Add in eggs, then flour, baking soda, salt and spices. Mix in juice, sweet potato and pecans until combined. Pour into 9X5-inch loaf pan prepared with baking spray and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar if desired.

Bake for approximately 1 hour. Watch for burning around edges, but make sure bread is cooked in the middle. Cool slightly, then remove from loaf pan and wrap in foil to keep moist.

Warm bread is delicious with cinnamon butter. To make, mix a little bit of cinnamon or cinnamon sugar into softened butter.

Adapted from Allrecipes

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Easy chili

When Reggie and I were first married, I did a lot of experimenting with my cooking. I tried a lot of easy recipes, too.

One of those easy recipes came from a Campbell’s Soup cookbook that I received here at work as the food editor. The recipe offered variations on a chili or soup, where you chose which type of meat, canned soup and vegetables to put in your pot.

I have probably shared this recipe at some point over my years writing this column, although I couldn’t find it in our archives, but I wanted to publish it again because it is so quick and easy and perfect for a cold night.

The thing I like best about this recipe, however, is that all four of us like it! I can’t say that about many things I cook.

Anyway, this chili starts with a pound of ground beef browned with an onion. Mix in two cans of tomato soup, a can of mixed vegetables and some seasoning, and you’re done, except for the simmering.

Here’s the part that appeals to my kids (and their parents) and makes it so special: You top the chili with Cheddar cheese, which melts and forms the perfect complement to the tomato soup-based chili, and you eat it with corn chips! In fact, we sometimes forgo the spoon and just eat with the Fritos Scoops.

I made this chili many times in the early years of our marriage and then forgot about it for maybe 10 years. I started making it again a few years ago, and I have already made it twice this fall. I think it’s fair to say this recipe has withstood the test of time in my family.

Campbell's Chili Soup
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 2 tablespoons chopped onion
  • 2 cans (10 ozs. each) condensed tomato soup (not reduced-sodium/reduced-fat)
  • 1 can (about 15 ozs.) mixed vegetables (do not drain)
  • Chili powder to taste (I only use about 1/8 teaspoon)
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  • Cheddar cheese
  • Fritos and Tostitos
In Dutch oven or large skillet, brown beef with onion until done. Drain fat and rinse. Stir in soup, vegetables with liquid, chili powder and vinegar. Heat to boiling. Reduce heat to low; simmer, uncovered, 20 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Ladle into bowls. While chili soup is hot, sprinkle with cheese. Serve with corn chips or tortilla chips.

Adapted from Campbell's

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

We've got the pumpkin spice pudding!

*** The pudding gave out early afternoon. Thanks so much for stopping by. Sorry we didn't have enough for everyone. ***

It all started innocently enough, and I had the best of intentions. I promise!

I was walking through WalMart either the end of August or the first of September and spotted a box of pumpkin spice instant pudding mix by Jell-O. I picked up a box and immediately started thinking of how I could use this product for a food column recipe. The first thing that came to mind was to use it as I would a vanilla pudding mix when I add it to a yellow cake mix. The more I thought about it over the new few weeks, I decided I’d also add apples and pecans to the cake batter and top the finished product with cream cheese frosting with some cinnamon mixed in.

I finally made the cake, and it was a big hit at my house, so I shared it in my food column on Sept. 26. First, however, I did search the Internet for the pudding, and discovered it wasn’t anything obscure. Everything seemed okay. It’s a seasonal product by Jell-O. I figured it would be everywhere, just like Oreos with holiday frosting or holiday cake mixes.

Boy, was I wrong.

The emails and phone calls started the next day, both at work and at home. My dear and faithful readers were having a hard time finding pumpkin spice pudding mix in Wilson. They told me stories of how they had been to three or four grocery stores but couldn’t find it in stock there, and WalMart quickly sold out.

The calls and emails continued for the next few weeks, and people stopped me when I was out in public to ask where I bought the pudding mix. On one Saturday morning shopping trip at WalMart, three people asked me about the pudding.

I even had the staff at two Wilson stores approach me (they recognized me from my column photo) to say how many people had been in the stores looking for that pudding mix!

Some cooks came up with their own version of the cake. One reader told me she was going to use vanilla pudding mix and add in some pumpkin spice. I’ve had several people tell me they tried that as well and that the cake was very good. Another woman made the cake with a spice cake mix when she couldn’t find the pudding mix. And a few found the pudding mix when they were shopping at a WalMart out of town!

I have felt bad about this because I don’t want to disappoint my readers. So I got in contact with someone at Kraft, and she graciously arranged for 96 boxes of pudding mix to be delivered. It arrived on Friday, and if you want a box, come by and get it at the customer service desk. I’m guessing it will go quickly.

I am very grateful to Kraft for helping out with this, and I hope everyone who wants a box can get one. I apologize in advance if it runs out before you get here.

This whole experience has been humbling for me. I appreciate my readers more than you can imagine, and I hope you keep reading my food column and trying recipes. I love our little community of cooks!

Giveaway Today

Come by The Wilson Times customer service office at 2001 Downing St. today to pick up a box of pumpkin spice pudding mix. Business hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. One box per family, please. Supplies are limited, so we do not know how long the giveaway will last.

Easy Pumpkin Pudding Cake
  • 1 box yellow cake mix
  • 1 package (3.4 oz.) Jell-O pumpkin spice instant pudding mix
  • 1 1/4 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 apple, peeled and chopped
  • 1 cup pecans, chopped
  • 1 tub cream cheese frosting
  • Cinnamon
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine all cake ingredients and mix for 2 minutes with an electric mixer.

Pour into 13X9-inch baking dish that has been prepared with baking spray and cook for 26-30 minutes. (Can use other pan size options; refer to back of cake box for cooking instructions.) Sprinkle some cinnamon into frosting and stir to combine. Once cake has cooled, spread frosting.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Pretty pumpkin pretzels

If you have a little time between now and Halloween, pick up just a few ingredients to make this quick and easy Halloween treat.

My daughter saw these sweet pretzel treats on Pinterest and suggested we make them for the food column.

She made Pretzel Pumpkins one afternoon while I worked on another food column recipe. In no time, she had a small army of little pretzels covered with orange-tinted melted chocolate that looked very much like jack-o-lanterns.

The process is simple. You just melt the white chocolate chips with a tablespoon of shortening and stir in food coloring to make them the shade of orange you desire. Next, dip the mini pretzels into the melted chocolate, place on wax paper and add a green M&M for the stem. The chocolate sinks into the recesses of the pretzel and leaves an appearance of spooky eyes and a mouth.

Let the chocolate harden, and you have a lot of sweet treats for very little effort.

Pretzel Pumpkins
  • 1 bag mini pretzels (You won’t use the whole bag)
  • 1 bag M&Ms candy, needing only the green ones (We used M&M minis)
  • Orange food coloring (We used liquid food coloring)
  • 1 12-oz. bag white chocolate chips
  • 1 tablespoon shortening
Place chocolate chips and shortening in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave for 1 minute; stir until all chips are incorporated. If they don’t melt completely as you stir, microwave in 10-second intervals. Mix in food coloring. Dip pretzels into melted chocolate to cover and place on wax paper or parchment paper. Add a green M&M mini at the top of the prezel for the stem.

Adapted from Butter with a Side of Bread Blog

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

New recipes, new ideas

It’s been fun these last few weeks to see what new fall cookbooks have been released and which ones have been sent to my office.

Some of my favorites this year have been Southern Living publications, so I thought I’d share my thoughts as well as recipes from two.

If you’re already thinking ahead to Christmas gifts, I’d recommend both of these books.


That’s a long name for a cookbook, isn’t it! Once you get past the title and the colorful cover, you have a treat inside.

This 320-page softbound book is designed for cooks who like to think ahead and put food in the freezer for a later meal.

The first pages of the book give a beginner’s guide to what can be frozen and the best way to package foods for the freezer. Then it’s on to the recipes.

There are a number of recipes for such basics as a pizza sauce, a honey-barbecue sauce and even Double Berry Freezer Jam, and a chapter on double-duty recipes.

The double-duty recipes can make two very different recipes. For instance, one evening you make Beef Sloppy Joes and use eight servings of the sauce for the Sloppy Joes. You can then freeze 5 cups of the beef mixture to use in Sloppy Joe Shepherd’s Pie another evening. Do the same thing with an Old-Fashioned Pot Roast one night and freeze 5 cups of leftover meat for Beef-and-Bean Tostados.

One of my favorite recipes, and the one I will try first from this section, is Easy Barbecued Chicken that’s cooked in a slow cooker; following it is a recipe for Hearty Brunswick Stew using 3 cups of the leftover chicken.

The rest of the book is mostly recipes that would work well when made in advance and frozen for later use. They could also be divided in half, using one portion the night you make it and freezing the other half for another day when you don’t want to cook but don’t mind thawing!

Some recipes that caught my eye include Home-style Ground Beef Casserole, Beefy Minestrone Soup, Hamburger Steak with Sweet Onion Mushroom Gravy and Anytime Chicken and Dressing.

This cookbook has some interesting ideas for things to freeze for later use, including pimiento cheese. This recipe uses both Cheddar cheese and Velvetta, which I’ve never tried in pimiento cheese. There’s also a recipe for Hurry-Up Homemade Crescent Rolls that would be a big hit at my house. The recipe uses an all-purpose baking mix, such as Bisquick, which intrigues me.

There are many do-ahead desserts, too, but one I want to share today is White Fruit Cake. I’ve never made a fruit cake, but this one sure is pretty — filled with a mix of the traditional dried fruits. Once baked, the cake is covered with Orange-Bourbon Glaze and can be frozen for up to a month.

I really like this cookbook. I have found a number of recipes I want to try. I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys cooking or for holiday gifts.

“Southern Living: Fix It & Freeze It & Heat It & Eat It.” Oxmoor House. $19.95. You can purchase the book from online vendors.


It’s no secret that I have a weakness for trying new slow cooker dishes. I’ve been trying new dishes in one slow cooker or another since I was married 27 years ago. I love the convenience of doing a little prep work the night before and having the luxury of coming home to a simmering meal the next night!

This Southern Living Book grabbed my attention from the beginning, not only with it’s enticing cover photo of spicy Asian Barbecue Drummettes sprinkled with sesame seeds but also with the wording that there were “200 fresh, wholesome recipes — ready and waiting” inside.I was not disappointed when I started thumbing through this 288-page softbound book. In fact, I made two of the recipes in the first week: an adaptation of the drummettes and Butternut Squash Soup with Vanilla Bean. They were both so good!

Several features drew me to this book originally and keep holding my interest each time I flip through it. The photography is gorgeous and gives me a good idea of what I have in store if I try Shortcut Ravioli Lasagna, for instance, or Orange-Molasses BBQ Ribs.

Also, I love the variety in this book. Whether you are a novice cook or an old pro, you can find plenty of recipes to try in this book. Recipes range from beverages (including Caramel Apple Cider that I’ve promised my son we’d try) and desserts, to side dishes and main courses.

There are plenty of seafood recipes in the book for those who’d like to experiment with such fare as a Lowcountry Shrimp Boil that cooks in five hours or Seafood Gumbo that cooks in just over three hours. And there are several pasta dishes I’d like to try including Three-Cheese Penne Bake and a lasagna with Swiss chard.

Other recipes that caught my eye as appealing and different for slow cooker food include Chicken Tostadas, Beef Brisket Soft Tacos, and Hot and Spicy Black-eyed Peas that are packed with peppers, pepperoni, Mexican-style stewed tomatoes and rice.

If you’re new to the slow cooker or purchasing this book for a new cook, you’ll be glad to know this book also comes with an introduction and tips for using this handy appliance.

“Southern Living: Big Book of Slow Cooking.” Oxmoor House. $22.95. You can purchase the book from online vendors.

Anytime Chicken and Dressing
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 7 green onions, chopped
  • 2 celery ribs, chopped
  • 10 cornbread muffins, crumbled (about 3 1/2 cups)
  • 1/2 (16-oz.) package herb-seasoned stuffing mix
  • 5 cups chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped cooked chicken
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon poultry seasoning
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat; add green onions and celery and sautee 5 minutes or until tender.

Combine cornbread and remaining ingredients in a large bowl; add sauteed vegetable mixture, stirring well. Spoon dressing into a lightly greased 13X9-inch baking dish.

TO FREEZE IT: Cover baking dish tightly with heavy duty aluminum foil; label and freeze up to 2 months. To heat, let casserole thaw overnight in fridge. Uncovered and bake at 350 degrees for 55 minutes or until lightly browned.

TO EAT NOW: Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until lightly browned.

Makes 6 servings.

"Southern Living: Fix It & Freeze It & Heat It & Eat It"

Italian Sausage and Peppers with Rotini
  • 1 19.5-oz. package turkey Italian sausage links
  • 1 cup finely chopped sweet onion
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 medium yellow bell peppers, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 medium red bell peppers, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 26-oz. jar tomato pasta sauce
  • 4 1/2 cups (12 ozs.) uncooked rotini pasta
  • 6 tablespoons shredded Parmesan cheese
Mix all ingredients except pasta and cheese in a lightly greased 3- or 4-quart slow cooker. Cover and cook on low 6 to 8 hours. Cook and drain pasta according to package directions. Serve sausage mixture over pasta; sprinkle each serving with 1 tablespoon cheese.

Makes 6 servings.

"Southern Living: Big Book of Slow Cooking"

Mexican Macaroni
  • 1 8-oz. package elbow macaroni, uncooked
  • 1 10-oz. can diced tomatoes and green chilies, undrained
  • 1 10 3/4-oz. can cream of mushroom soup, undiluted
  • 1 8-oz. container sour cream
  • 1 4.5 oz. can chopped green chilies
  • 2 cups (8 ozs.) shredded Mexican four-cheese blend
Cook macaroni in boiling water for 6 minutes. Stir together macaroni, diced tomatoes and next 3 ingredients with 1 cup water in a bowl. Stir in 11/2 cups cheese. Pour mixture into a lightly greased 3-quart slow cooker; top with remaining 1/2 cup cheese.

Cover and cook on low 3 hours or until done.

Makes 6 servings.

"Southern Living: Big Book of Slow Cooking"

White Fruit Cake
  • 1 cup dark raisins
  • 1 cup golden raisins
  • 1 cup canned pineapple tidbits, drained
  • 1/2 cup dried currants
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 5 large eggs
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking power
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 2 teaspoons orange zest
  • 1/2 cup candied green cherries, quartered
  • 1/4 cup candied red cherries, quartered
  • Orange-Bourbon Glaze (follows)
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Stir together first 5 ingredients; cover and let stand 30 minutes.

Beat butter at medium speed with an electric mixer 2 minutes or until creamy. Gradually add sugar, beating 5 to 7 minutes or until blended. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating just until yellow disappears.

Stir together flour, baking powder and salt; reserve 1/2 cup flour mixture. Gradually add remaining flour mixture to butter mixture, beating at low speed just until blended after each addition. Stir in lemon and orange zest.

Drain raisin mixture and stir in cherries. Toss raisin mixture with reserved 1/2 cup flour mixture and fold into batter. Spoon batter into 2 lightly greased 8X4-inch loaf pans.

Bake at 325 degrees for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean. Brush hot cakes with Orange-Bourbon Glaze until absorbed. Cool in pans 10 minutes; invert cakes onto a wire rack and cool completely.

TO FREEZE IT: Wrap cake layers tightly with plastic wrap and loosely with aluminum foil. Label and freeze up to 1 month. Thaw at room temperature.

Makes two loaves.

Orange-Bourbon Glaze
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons bourbon
Cook orange juice and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat 2 minutes or until sugar is dissolved. Remove orange juice mixture from heat and stir in bourbon.

"Southern Living: Fit It & Freeze It & Heat It & Eat It"

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Sweets for Halloween

Halloween is all about sweet treats: candy corn, chocolate bars, popcorn balls, gooey taffy wrapped in seasonal paper.

The kids will get plenty if they go trick-or-treating, and the parents can get their fill as well with the goodies back home.

Since my children were little, I’ve made a buffet of sorts of appetizers and sweets that the family can munch on Halloween night while we wait for the trick-or-treaters to arrive.

Today’s recipe for Halloween mix would make a nice addition to that table.

It would also be perfect to take to a fall carnival or trunk-or-treat event. Either serve it from a bowl or put a cupful or two into individual seasonal plastic bags tied with matching ribbon.

This popcorn-based mix is one of those recipes that can be easily changed around to match the tastes of your family. It can also reflect what’s in your kitchen cabinets!

I started with a basic recipe, then started adding some of our favorite treats, including dry-roasted almonds. I also threw in some pretzels, which I love with almond bark drizzled all over them, and some Cheerios.

The recipe doesn’t take but a few minutes to make, but do allow the candy to dry before breaking it up and storing it.

I wasn’t so sure of adding the candy corn to my mix because I really couldn’t imagine almond bark on top of candy, but why not? It’s Halloween!

Halloween Mix
  • 2 bags microwave popcorn, popped
  • 1 cup candy corn
  • 1 cup peanuts
  • 1/2 to 1 cup dry-roasted almonds
  • 1 cup Reese's Pieces (could also use M&Ms in seasonal colors)
  • 1 cup pretzels (I used twists)
  • 1 cup Cheerios
  • 1 pound white almond bark (vanilla flavored)
In a large bowl, mix all dry ingredients.

In a microwave-safe bowl, melt almond bark according to directions on package. Pour melted almond bark over popcorn mixture and stir to combine. If you think you have too much bark, add some pretzels or cereal to balance it out.

Pour onto a large sheet of waxed paper or parchment paper and spread out. Once it has cooled and dried completely, break into smaller pieces and store until ready to eat.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Sweet pizza

My family loves (and begs for) fruit pizza. And because they love the sugar cookie topped “pizza” with a cream cheese filling and fresh fruit and glaze, I’ve often wondered what other kind of dessert pizza I could make for them.

In the last few weeks, my daughter and I have been scouring websites looking for seasonal recipes for fall and Halloween food columns. In that search, I saw several dessert pizzas and knew it would be easy to decorate them to reflect the season.

For a few years now, I’ve wanted to try a pizza with a chocolate chip pizza crust, so I chose a Pillsbury recipe for chocolate-peanut butter cookie pizza to make last weekend. Peanut butter and chocolate is a favorite combination with my family, so I knew I couldn’t miss with this recipe. I was right!

The dessert is very simple to put together. It starts with the cookie crust. I used slice and bake cookies on an inexpensive pizza pan I bought for my fruit pizza. The aluminum one-use pans would work as well. You have to work with the cookie dough to get it to spread evenly across the pan. But the body heat from your hands will help warm up the dough so it’s more pliable.

I overcooked my cookie crust; that’s what happens when you forget to set the timer! It didn’t really burn, but the crust was darker than I would have wanted. Anyway, it turns out that the more firm, crisp crust was a good thing. Even the second day we had the pizza, the crust was firm and not soggy.

Mix the cream cheese/ peanut butter topping for your pizza while the crust is baking and spread it on after the cookie has cooled.

Pillsbury suggests drizzling with hot fudge topping (we warmed ours first) and topping with chopped peanuts. We also added yellow, orange and brown Reese’s Pieces to ours to reflect fall decorations. Fall M&Ms would be pretty on the pizza as well.

We couldn’t wait for Anna to photograph this dessert so we could give it a try. It was so good. Rich, but delicious. You can feed many people with this recipe (Pillsbury says 12) because a small slice is really all you need.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookie Pizza
  • 1 roll (16.5 oz) refrigerated chocolate chip cookies
  • 1 package (8 oz) cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 cup frozen whipped topping, thawed
  • 3/4 cup hot fudge topping
  • 1/4 cup chopped peanuts**
Heat oven to 350 degrees. In ungreased 12-inch pizza pan, break up dough. With floured fingers, press dough evenly in bottom of pan to form crust.

Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. Cool completely, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, in medium bowl, beat cream cheese, peanut butter, powdered sugar and milk until smooth. Fold in whipped topping.

Spread 1/2 cup of the fudge topping over cooled crust.* Spread peanut butter mixture over top. Drizzle with remaining 1/4 cup fudge topping. Sprinkle with peanuts. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes or until serving time. Cut into wedges or squares.


* We did not put the fudge topping on the crust, only drizzled a little of it on the top.

**We added Reese’s Pieces to the top of the pizza

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Pumpkin spice

I’ve admitted before that I love to experiment and try new products. My latest find was Jell-O’s pumpkin spice instant pudding.

As soon as I saw that box in a seasonal baking aisle display, the wheels started turning.

I immediately planned to make a pumpkin cake, using a basic cake mix/ pudding mix recipe. Instead of the vanilla pudding I usually put in, I’d add the pumpkin spice pudding mix. And it must be topped with a cream cheese frosting.

So I bought the pudding mix and made the very simple cake. (I loved the way the pudding mix smelled when I opened the envelope; just like autumn and Thanksgiving dessert!). I decide to add a chopped apple and a cup of nuts to the batter as well. Both additions turned out to be a very good idea!

I have a wonderful recipe for cream cheese frosting, and I thought I might make it. But I decided since I went the easy route with this cake, using cake and pudding mixes instead of making it from scratch with flour and pumpkin and spices, I’d just use a tub of frosting.But I did dress it up a little bit. I sprinkled cinnamon into the frosting, without even removing it from the tub, and used a knife to mix it up. The color was very pretty, and the cinnamon added an extra bonus flavor to the frosting.

The cake was a hit at my home and with the extended family I shared it with. I liked the surprise of the soft apples in the cake and the soft crunch of the pecans.

This very easy cake was delicious and would be easy to share if made as cupcakes.

Easy Pumpkin Pudding Cake
  • 1 box yellow cake mix
  • 1 package (3.4 oz.) Jell-O pumpkin spice instant pudding mix
  • 1 1/4 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 apple, peeled and chopped
  • 1 cup pecans, chopped
  • 1 tub cream cheese frosting
  • Cinnamon
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine all cake ingredients and mix for 2 minutes with an electric mixer.

Pour into 13X9-inch baking dish that has been prepared with baking spray and cook for 26-30 minutes. (Can use other pan size options; refer to back of cake box for cooking instructions.) Sprinkle some cinnamon into frosting and stir to combine. Once cake has cooled, spread frosting.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Delicious breakfast

I’ve never really been an oatmeal-lover. In fact, it was only about two years ago that I had a bowl of oatmeal for the first time in recent memory. It was from Starbucks and was delicious topped with dried fruit, nuts and brown sugar.

But I can’t buy oatmeal every morning, and I don’t like the instant kind, particularly.

Instead, I decided to try baked oatmeal. I’ve seen any number of recipes in the last year for baked oatmeal, but I didn’t really understand the concept. Was it a quick bread? A version of oatmeal in a bowl?

Turns out, it’s more the latter.

I read a bunch of recipes and sort of put together a few of them to come up with the recipe I’ve made twice now, both with great success. My husband loves it, too, which surprised me. He loves grits and hadn’t been eager to try oatmeal.

You can add in your favorite fruits and nuts, but I chose an unpeeled apple cut into small chunks and pecans. I also added some cinnamon. I’d love to try it with blueberries and peaches sometime or maybe even banana and blueberries. Dried fruit would be delicious as well. If you like maple syrup (I don’t), you could use that as a sweetener instead of the brown sugar.

I let my oatmeal bake until it was a little brown on top.

Both times, I had a little bowl when it was hot from the oven, and it was so good. But I think the beauty of baked oatmeal is in the leftovers. Just add some milk into a bowl of the oatmeal and microwave for 20-30 seconds. Stir it up and you have this wonderful, creamy oatmeal with chunks of fruit and nuts mixed in. Reggie eats his cold.

The thing I love about eating this for breakfast (in addition to the good-for-you aspect) is that a bowlful really fills me up, and I’m not hungry as quickly as I am with my routine breakfast offerings.

Baked Oatmeal with Apples and Pecans
  • 1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1/3 cup chopped pecans
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons applesauce
  • 1 apple, unpeeled, cut into small pieces
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Prepare 8-inch (or similar size) baking dish.

Add all ingredients to a bowl and mix with spoon to combine. Pour into baking dish.

Bake at 375 degrees for 35-40 minutes or until lightly browned.

When warming leftovers, place oatmeal in a bowl with a little milk and microwave for 20-30 seconds. Stir.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Porcupine meatballs

I had never made porcupine meatballs before last week, and I don’t recall ever eating them before, either.

Just a mention of the meatballs, made with rice that pokes out like a porcupine’s quills, was enough to make me hungry for them, though.

To come up with a recipe to try, I browsed the Internet, studying recipes for porcupine meatballs. Most recipes I found used ground beef to make the meatballs that were then browned in a skillet and simmered in sauce.

But I wanted to make turkey meatballs; my husband and I enjoy several recipes with turkey meatballs, so I knew this was a good option for us. And I didn’t want to make the mess or take the extra step to brown them.

It was important, also, for the recipe to remind me of meatloaf because I wanted mashed potatoes to go with this. I figured if I chose turkey over beef I could splurge and make mashed potatoes!

I totally played around with this recipe, thinking of what I like about the meatballs and meatloaf that I make. I ended up using simple ingredients, such as onion, ketchup, salt and pepper. I was out of green pepper or I would have probably added that as well. I also thought about the sauce and what I thought would make it extra good. I added a little brown sugar to the tomato sauce for a delicious, slightly sweet flavor.

When it came to how to cook the meatballs, I resorted to the method I use for my favorite turkey meatball soup. After thoroughly mixing the turkey mixture, I made the meatballs with a small scoop and then dropped them one by one into a pot of simmering sauce. I made sure the meatballs simmered for 15 minutes after the last meatball was dropped in.

This method works well for turkey meatballs because they don’t produce the fat you’d have in a beef meatball, therefore, the sauce isn’t greasy.

I started worrying while I cooked that the dinner wouldn’t be good. I was so hungry and wanted to surprise my husband with a new and delicious dish. As soon as the meatballs were ready, I tried one, thinking if they weren’t good, I could just dump the entire thing and Reggie would never know I had cooked them.

Well, let’s just say I didn’t dump them out! These meatballs were exactly what I wanted. The flavor combination was perfect, and they were extra delicious served with mashed potatoes.

Reggie enjoyed them just as much as I did. We had plenty of leftovers, which we reheated two days later and shared with our son. The leftovers didn’t disappoint either.

One of the best things about this recipe is how simple it is and how quickly it comes together. It took me around 30 minutes from beginning to end to make the meatballs. I had started the potatoes boiling before I assembled the meatballs, so the total preparation time for this meal was probably around 45 minutes. It was time well-spent!

Turkey Porcupine Meatballs

  • Package of ground turkey (the brand I buy measures 1.3 pounds)
  • 1/2 cup uncooked Minute rice (heaping 1/2 cup)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • Small onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons ketchup
  • 1 15-ounce can and 8-ounce can tomato sauce
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
Mix tomato sauce, water and brown sugar in Dutch oven or other large pot and heat.

While the sauce starts to simmer, mix turkey, rice, salt, pepper, onion and ketchup until combined.

Using a small scoop or using your hands, form small meatballs. As you make them, drop into the simmering sauce. Once the last one is dropped in, simmer an additional 15 minutes or until cooked through. Simmer with lid on for half the time.

Delicious with mashed potatoes.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Celebrate Everything!

Debbi Baker Covington’s first cookbook was a big success and sold well among her Wilson friends as well and her catering clientele in Beaufort, S.C., where she lives with husband Vince.

The slim, paperback volume published in 2005 included recipes she grew up with and recipes she used in her catering business.

Her new cookbook is also packed with 182 recipes from Catering by Debbi Covington as well as a few from her youth, but the coffee table book is quite different and still reflects a sophisticated palate and menus that are popular with current food trends.

“Celebrate Everything! Delicious Menus for Festive Gatherings and Easy Entertaining” is filled with colorful images of the food that has made Covington so popular in Beaufort and led Southern Living to recognize her as a “master of entertaining” in a 2010 feature story.

Covington, a 1981 graduate of Fike High School and 1986 graduate of Atlantic Christian College, said her cooking style has changed so much and so fast in recent years.

Much of that has to do with the Food Channel showing the country new foods to try and with the availability of specialty food items.

It hasn’t been that long, she said, that she had to travel to Charleston or Hilton Head in South Carolina or Savannah, Ga., to get some food items she needed. When she came home to Wilson, she could shop in Raleigh. But now, many specialty food items are available in Beaufort and other locales, including lime leaves, Thai chili peppers and canned curry, leaving more room for experimentation.

Covington enjoys trying new foods in her travels and adapting them for her catering business. But she hasn’t always had that variety in her diet.

Growing up in Wilson, she mostly ate chicken, barbecue, chicken dumplings, fried flounder.“It was pretty much the same stuff,” she said.

After moving to Raleigh, she learned about Mexican food and had her first chimichanga. When she moved to Wilmington, she ate steamed oysters and clams. She was always willing to try something new, and she still is.

A more recent trip to the winery at Biltmore Estate and a good meal inspired her to go home and make a fabulous dish herself.

She’s always saying, “Wow! That tastes really good, but I can change it.”


“Celebrate Everything!” includes many of those adapted recipes and is set up by menus.

For instance, her Easter brunch menu has recipes for ham and cheese rye strata, pecan pie muffins, glazed carrots, green salad with fresh fruit and blackberry-basil vinaigrette and Mama’s deviled eggs. Her supper club menu features creamy red pepper soup with croutons, romaine and grapefruit salad with citrus dressing, red pepper and spinach stuffed chicken breasts, potatoes baked in sea salt with herbed butter, black walnut bars and sparkling water.

Covington, who writes a food column for Beaufort’s Lowcountry Weekly newspaper, has a number of favorites in her new cookbook and encourages those who buy the book to try all of the salads. She especially recommends the crunchy fennel salad with grapes, dates, olives and almonds in the Halloween chapter. The salad is very pretty, she said, and she likes the different textures.

“It’s amazing.”

Other favorites include drunken spaghetti and broccoli salad with lemon pepper-blue cheese dressing. Both recipes are in the chapter, “Celebrate the Sound of Music: A Midsummer Night Supper on the Porch.” And the praline pumpkin imperial is a really good dessert, she said, so is her mother’s coconut cake made with black walnut extract.

Gorgeous color photographs by commercial photographer Paul Nurnberg make the dishes especially inviting — which was Covington’s aim.

“You eat with your eyes first,” she said. “If you see what you’re going to eat, it makes you more inclined to try to make it.”

She also wanted to give ideas on how to present her menus and set up elaborate table settings as examples.

Covington made all of the food photographed in the 216-page book. She cooked in the mornings, and she and Nurnberg worked together to shoot photos of the food. Then she changed clothes and ate the food with friends who were photographed as well.

“Those were long days,” she said.

The dishes, china, serving wear, linens and decorative items are all Covington’s. She estimates that she has 50 sets of dishes and china, some that she inherited from her mother.

“Some people buy shoes; I buy dishes and sets of glasses,” she said.

Covington is pleased with the way her book turned out and has already sold quite a few of the books since its release this summer.

“I think it’s gorgeous,” she said.

“Celebrate Everything!” by Debbi Baker Covington is $34.95 and can be purchased locally at Barrett’s Printing at 409 S. Goldsboro St. It can also be purchased online at cateringbydebbicovington.com. Click “cookbook.”

Vanilla-Topped Brownies
  • 1 (21.5-ounces) package fudge brownie mix
  • 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 egg
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 (16-ounce) can chocolate fudge frosting
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare brownie mix according to package directions (but don’t bake). Spread into greased 9x13-inch baking pan.

In a small bowl, beat cream cheese, butter and cornstarch until fluffy. Gradually beat in sweetened condensed milk, egg and vanilla until smooth. Pour evenly over brownie batter.

Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until top is lightly browned. Cool thoroughly. Spread with frosting. Store covered in refrigerator.

Makes 24 brownies.

Debbi said her mother made these brownies at her bridesmaids’ luncheon in 1991.

Debbi Covington | “Celebrate Everything!”

Fish Tacos with Cilantro-Lime Slaw and Chipotle Mayonnaise

For the mayonnaise:
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 chipotles in adobo sauce
  • 1 tablespoon adobo sauce
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
For the slaw:
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • Zest of 1 lime
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • 1 (16-ounce) package coleslaw mix
  • 1/2 cup green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
For the tacos:
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Flour, to dredge
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 pound tilapia fillets cut into 8 equal strips
  • 8 (6-inch) flour tortillas
  • 1 avocado, sliced
Place mayonnaise, chipotles, adobo sauce and lime in a food processor and puree; set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, garlic, sugar, lime zest and lime juice. Stir in cabbage, green onions and cilantro; season with salt and pepper.

In a large nonstick skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Season flour with salt, pepper, chili powder and cumin. Dredge the tilapia in seasoned flour; shake off excess. Cook the fish until golden brown on all sides.

Meanwhile, warm the tortillas according to package instructions. To make the tacos, spread chipotle mayonnaise on the tortillas, fill with cilantro-lime slaw, fish and avocado. Serves 4.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Chocolate and bananas

Sometimes I’ll see a recipe that I want to try, and I can’t get it off my mind until I buy the ingredients and make the dish. Or, in this case, the bread!

Last week I was looking at Rachael Ray’s website because I wanted a skillet she was using on a recent show and hoped to see it somewhere on her site (I didn’t). What I did find, though, was a list of the most popular and newest recipes to her site. At the top of the most popular list was chocolate chip banana bread.

I have several banana bread recipes I make from time to time for my family, and I’ve always wanted to try a version with chocolate chips. I had two large and very ripe bananas at my house, so I decided to make the recipe when I got home from work.

I only changed the recipe a little. I used self-rising flour instead of all-purpose and dropped the baking soda, and I decreased the sugar from 1 cup to 3/4 cup and added 1/2 teaspoon vanilla.

The bread smelled so good as it baked, and I couldn’t wait to try it. Turns out it was as delicious as I expected. The chocolate chips are a nice complement to the bananas, and the bread is very moist.

I decided to make it a second time this week, this time using a little whole wheat flour. I also used mini chocolate chips the second time. That version was very good as well. It wasn’t as moist hot from the oven, but the next day, it was plenty moist and flavorful.

Both versions are delicious for a mid-morning snack!

The recipe creator at Plan B Mom blog also makes this recipe as muffins and has included the baking directions.

I’d love to try this recipe sometime with a mix of peanut butter and chocolate chips.

Chocolate Chip Banana Bread
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 3 bananas, mashed (1 cup mashed banana)
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Grease and flour a 8 1/2-inch x 4 1/2-inch loaf pan (or use baking spray, such as Baker’s Joy brand).

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, sugar, baking soda and salt. Mix in the oil, bananas and eggs. Stir in the chocolate chips (do not overmix) and pour into the prepared pan.

Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 70-80 minutes. Cool the loaf in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out and cool completely, right side up.

To make as 12 muffins, cook in muffin tins at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes. Start checking after 30 minutes.

Plan B Mom

NOTES: The first time I made this, I used self-rising flour and omitted the baking soda and salt. The second time, I used 1/2 cup whole wheat flour and 1 cup all-purpose flour and used the baking soda and salt. Both times, I reduced the sugar to 3/4 cup and added 1/2 teaspoon vanilla.

Also, my bread cooked much less than the time here. It was almost burning on the outside at 50-55 minutes but wasn’t cooked through in the middle. I lowered the temperature to 325 and cooked for another five to 10 minutes. So watch carefully while baking.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Fruit salsa

I’ve had so much fresh fruit in my house this summer that I thought it was the perfect time to try a fruit salsa recipe I’ve seen many times at allrecipes.com.

This summer at Bible school, the workers were treated to fruit salsa one night, and I loved it. I figured my readers would enjoy it as well, so I gave it a try.

Fruit salsa is basically a variety of fresh fruit cut into small pieces and mixed with a little sugar and fruit preserves. Most of us think spicy when we hear the name salsa, but there’s nothing spicy about it.

Fruit salsa’s ingredients can be adjusted according to your family’s tastes and to the fruit in season.

For my salsa, I used a cup of strawberries, a cup of blueberries, a gala apple and a kiwi. For the preserves, I chose peach. I made a small batch for just a few people and was finished with the recipe in less than 20 minutes.

I’ve read many versions of fruit salsa using a variety of fruits, including raspberries, blackberries, pineapple, mangoes, pears, oranges, bananas, pomegranates, nectarines, fresh peaches and frozen peaches, plums and grapes. Am I missing something?

You can also be adventurous with your preserve or jelly selection. Suggestions from those who have made salsa include orange marmalade; apricot, pineapple or blackberry preserves; strawberry or apple jelly; and even cranberry sauce!

This is a very pretty dish; I love the colors and textures. It would be a wonderful item for a party or shower and an equally good treat for a lunch box.

I served the salsa with Trader Joe’s cinnamon sugar pita chips. Stacy’s also makes cinnamon sugar pita chips. Allrecipes includes a recipe for homemade cinnamon tortilla chips, which I’ll include. I’ve made my own tortilla chips before, and they’re very good. But the store-bought pita chips are delicious and easy.

The next time I make this, I want to try it with a little bit of granola on top and skip the chips. It would also be delicious on pound cake.

If you love fruit, I think you’ll love this recipe!

Annie’s Fruit Salsa and Cinnamon Chips
  • 2 kiwis, peeled and diced
  • 2 golden delicious apples — peeled, cored and diced
  • 8 ounces raspberries
  • 1 pound strawberries
  • 2 tablespoons white sugar*
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar*
  • 3 tablespoons fruit preserves, any flavor
  • 10 (10-inch) flour tortillas
  • Butter-flavored cooking spray
  • 2 tablespoons cinnamon sugar
In a large bowl, thoroughly mix kiwis, golden delicious apples, raspberries, strawberries, white sugar, brown sugar and fruit preserves. Cover and chill in the refrigerator at least 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Coat one side of each flour tortilla with butter-flavored cooking spray. Cut into wedges and arrange in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Sprinkle wedges with desired amount of cinnamon sugar. Spray again with cooking spray.

Bake in the preheated oven 8 to 10 minutes. Repeat with any remaining tortilla wedges. Allow to cool approximately 15 minutes. Serve with chilled fruit mixture.

*Most reviewers cut back on the sugar in this recipe, and some eliminated it altogether.


Fruit Salsa
  • 1 kiwi, peeled and cut into small pieces
  • 1 gala apple, cut into small pieces (I did not peel it)
  • 1 cup strawberries, cut into small pieces
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar (I will use less next time or might even eliminate)
  • 1 tablespoon peach preserves
Mix all ingredients and chill until ready to eat.

I served mine with store-bought cinnamon pita chips.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Blueberry time

Lynn Kyle knows blueberries.

She picks them, she sells them and she cooks with them.

More than 30 years ago, Lynn’s dad, A.B. Tucker, planted five to six dozen blueberry bushes in the Buckhorn community. It was a hobby for him.

Lynn said he picked them each summer and sold them to the farmers market that used to be at the corner of N.C. 42 and Forest Hills Road.

The family always helped him out in the summer and took vacations on that blueberry money, she said.

Since the death of their parents, Lynn and her brothers have taken over the blueberry patch.

Lynn said the blueberries are totally organic and that no chemicals have ever been put on them. The bushes, which tower at 10 to 15 feet, have only been pruned a couple of times, she said.

There are several varieties of blueberries among the bushes, and Lynn and friend Lisa Lewis spend hours picking enough to sell for individual orders as well as at Wilson’s two farmers markets. Lynn said she and Lisa sell 60 to 70 quarts each time they set up at the markets. On Wednesday last week, they sold 62 quarts at the downtown market, which is open on Wednesdays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 207 W. Green St. They also go to the market at the Wilson County Fairgrounds from 7:30 a.m. to noon on Saturdays.

Lynn enjoys her time in the blueberry patch.

“My dad always said it was relaxing out there picking; it’s quiet and peaceful,” she said, adding she feels close to her mom and dad when she’s among those familiar bushes.

Lynn said the weather has been perfect for the blueberries this year, and they seem sweeter and plumper than in past seasons. She hopes they last until the end of July. Sometimes the season is longer, but this year they were ready a few weeks earlier than usual.

Lynn has a number of recipes for her blueberries, and she also puts them on salads, in smoothies and eats them with oatmeal.

She freezes them as well and pulls them out during the off season to enjoy them frozen.

“It’s a great snack,” she said.

One favorite dessert is what she calls blueberry bottom cupcakes. She mixes up a yellow cake mix by the box directions and stirs in up to three cups of blueberries before spooning the batter into cupcake holders. She said the simple recipe is delicious. She loves how the blueberries settle to the bottom of the cupcake.

Lynn is sharing two recipes today. One is a blueberry cheesecake recipe she adapted.

“When I made it, I, as usual, did not read all the directions, just mixed everything together,” she said. “The pie was supposed to be layered, not totally mixed together and put in the shell.”

Apparently her son, Trevor, preferred it that way because when she made it the correct way this year, layered, he told her he liked the old way better!

“So I played around and changed the original recipe to be better than the mistake one!”She’s also sharing her mom’s blueberry cobbler recipe, which only has a few ingredients.

Lynn said she’s well aware of the nutritional value of blueberries. According to a N.C. Department of Agriculture website, blueberries contain vitamins A and C as well as iron, potassium and magnesium. They are also a good source of fiber and carbohydrates and contain just 42 calories per half-cup serving.

Blueberry Cheesecake
  • 1 9-inch size deep dish baked pie shell or 2 regular size baked pie shells (I’ve also made it with 2 graham cracker crusts)*
  • 4 cups blueberries
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 package cream cheese instant pudding
  • 1 cup 2 percent milk
  • 1 package (8-ounce size) cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 8 to 12 oz. whipped topping
Simmer 2 cups berries with the water for 3 or 4 minutes. Mash berries with potato masher. Add combined sugar and cornstarch to the cooking fruit. Continue cooking until syrup is thick, stirring constantly. When about thickened, remove from heat and stir in remaining 2 cups berries. Set aside to cool.

Combine cream cheese pudding and milk. Beat until smooth. Add softened cream cheese and powered sugar. Continue beating until creamy and smooth. Fold in 1/2 of the whipped topping. When berries are cooled, pour into cream cheese, pudding and cool whip mixture. Pour into pie shells, top with remaining cool whip. Refrigerate until chilled. Enjoy!

*This recipe is also very good made without a crust, served more like a pudding with whipped topping.

Lynn Kyle

Charlotte’s Cobbler
  • 1 20-ounce can crushed pineapple in its own juice (undrained)
  • 1 quart blueberries
  • 1 box dry yellow cake mix
  • 1 stick butter, melted
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare a 9X13 baking dish with cooking spray.

Pour in crushed pineapple and spread over bottom of dish. Cover with blueberries.

Sprinkle yellow cake mix over the fruit and top with drizzled butter.

Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes. If the cake mix still has dry places 10 to 15 minutes into the baking process, move the mix around a little with a knife so it mixes with the melted butter.

Lynn Kyle

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

'No Whine with Dinner'

Cooking for picky eaters has its challenges.

There are those who won’t eat casseroles, don’t like nuts, refuse to taste anything with mayonnaise or think a food that even resembles a green vegetable is gross.

So what’s a parent to do in order to provide healthy meals for the family (including the picky eaters) that they will eat?

Registered dietitians Liz Weiss and Janice Newell Bissex have published a delightful book, “No Whine With Dinner,” that I have enjoyed reading and cooking from since I borrowed it from the Wilson County Public Library. Weiss and Bissex have a popular Website, MealMakeoverMoms.com and blog, Meal Makeover Moms’ Kitchen.

The authors have adapted and created recipes in a way that should appeal to the picky-eater’s senses.

I’ve enjoyed reading through this book and the comments on how the recipe was developed and how it was received. I’ve found a number of recipes I want to try, including hooray for hamburger soup, buttery brown sugar carrots and chocolaty pumpkin bars.

I’ve already made peanut butter power cookies, a very good soft cookie made with wheat flour and very little oil.

Later, I tried honey mustard chicken bites. The chicken was also delicious, but I must admit that my granddaughter would not eat them because she detected the honey mustard taste. The rest of us loved them, however.

In addition to the recipes and commentary in “No Whine With Dinner,” there’s a section at the end of the book that includes comments from 50 moms on how they get their picky eaters to try new foods. I enjoyed reading these suggestions as well, some of which I’ve tried myself!

This cookbook is a nice addition to a cookbook collection, especially for those of us who cook for children. And it’s especially nice when you can read it first from the library.

Peanut Butter Power Cookies
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup ground flaxseed or wheat germ*
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup 1% milk
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil or coat two large baking sheets with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.

Whisk together the all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, chocolate chips, flaxseed, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.

Combine the sugar, peanut butter, eggs, milk, oil and vanilla in a large bowl and beat on medium speed until well blended, about two minutes. At low speed, gradually beat in the flour mixture until just combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl if necessary.

Scoop the dough by slightly rounded tablespoons into 11/2-inch “blobs,” and place on the prepared baking sheets, about 2 inches apart.

Bake, one sheet at a time, about 15 minutes, or until the bottoms are golden brown (when done, the cookies will be about 21/2 inches in diameter). Cool for five minutes on the baking sheet before transferring the cookies to a wire rack. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Makes 3 dozen.

*I was out of ground flaxseed and don’t keep wheat germ so I omitted this ingredient.

Nutrition Information per Serving (1 cookie): 120 calories, 6g fat (1g saturated, 3g monounsaturated, 0.3g omega-3), 90mg sodium, 15g carbohydrate, 1g fiber, 3g protein.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Tomatoes and zucchini

We have certainly enjoyed the season’s produce at my house this summer — eating fresh peaches, blueberries, tomatoes, corn, squash, cucumbers, zucchini and snap beans.

I’ve bought produce at both of Wilson’s farmers markets, and we’ve appreciated the kindness of neighbors and friends who have shared the bounty of their gardens with us. It’s a good thing they like to share because our puny little backyard garden was a complete failure this summer.

Some of the vegetables and fruits have been prepared the traditional way for dinner at our house these last few weeks, but I’ve also been trying a few new things. One of my favorites — and my husband’s as well — is a layered vegetable dish that combines ripe tomatoes and zucchini. The dish reminds Reggie and me of a very favorite dish — tomato pie. But this recipe comes without the pie crust, which only adds fat and calories as we all know! (That being said, I’m including the tomato pie recipe here again because it is just so very delicious.)

This new super-easy vegetable dish can be adapted to your own tastes, but I used Mozzarella and Parmesan cheese with the casserole I made and added fresh basil to my layers. Instead of a heavy crust, I sprinkled Italian bread crumbs on my layers.

The preparation time for tomato zucchini bake is quick and basically involves slicing tomatoes, zucchini and sweet onions then layering those ingredients with a little salt, pepper, oregano and cheese. Don’t go heavy on the cheese; the vegetables are the star of this dish!

But I will say that the browned mozzarella is absolutely delicious to me!

You can make enough for just one person, or bring out the big casserole dish and make a large casserole for a crowd. As long as you have the tomatoes and zucchini, you’re good to go.

I’m glad I made enough for leftovers the next day because they were delicious as well!

Lisa’s Tomato Pie
  • One frozen or refrigerated pie crust
  • 3 to 4 medium, ripe tomatoes, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped Vidalia onions
  • Olive oil
  • 3 or 4 fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • Salt and pepper
  • Dried oregano
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup shredded Mozzarella cheese
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise (I used reduced fat)
Slice tomatoes and season with salt and pepper; drain juice for an hour or so before using.*

Cook pie crust for 10 minutes at temperature recommended on package. Prick the crust before baking.

While the crust is cooking, saute onions in a little olive oil.

Once crust is cooked, remove from oven (adjusting oven temperature to 375 degrees) and sprinkle a little of the Parmesan cheese on the crust. (Keep in mind that the Parmesan cheese will also be used in the pie’s layers, so don’t use too much.)

Layer tomato slices over cheese. Add a layer of basil, sautéed onions and a little oregano. Repeat layer, omitting basil this time.

Mix mayonnaise and Mozzarella cheese and spread on top of pie. Top with remaining Parmesan.

Bake in pre-heated 375 degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes until top is lightly browned and juice is beginning to bubble through.

Let sit for 20 minutes before cutting.

* Here’s how I drained my tomatoes: I cut the tomatoes into relatively thin slices, not paper thin, but thin. I placed them on a cooling rack that I positioned inside a jelly roll pan to catch the juice. Then I sprinkled salt and pepper on the tomato slices and let them drain. After an hour or so, I put the tomato slices on paper towels to soak up more liquid. If you only seasoned one side of your tomato, be careful to place it seasoned-side up on the paper towels so the salt and pepper won’t rub off. Quite a bit of liquid was removed from my tomatoes, and my pie was certainly not runny. But I also waited to cut the pie until it had cooled for at least 15-20 minutes, based on a reviewer’s suggestion, which also helped it firm up. For the other dish in today’s paper, I just placed the tomatoes between layers of paper towels to soak up the liquid.

Tomato and Zucchini Bake

I’m not putting specific amounts for this recipe because it can be adjusted based on how much you need. I used two medium to large tomatoes and two small to medium zucchinis and made 4-6 servings. I probably used less than a cup of Mozzarella cheese and maybe 1/4 cup shaved Parmesan.
  • Tomatoes, sliced
  • Zucchini, sliced
  • Vidalia or sweet onions, sliced
  • Butter for sauteeing onions
  • Fresh basil
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Oregano (or Italian seasoning if you prefer it)
  • Mozzarella cheese
  • Shaved Parmesan cheese
  • Italian bread crumbs
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Place tomatoes on paper towels and blot to dry or layer between paper towels to soak up extra liquid. While they dry, sautee onions in a little butter.

In a casserole dish, layer tomatoes, overlapping, zucchini slices and sauteed onions. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper as well as oregano. If you have fresh basil, add a chopped leaf or two to the layer. Top with a sprinkling of cheeses and bread crumbs. Do not use too much cheese or bread crumbs. These ingredients are supposed to enhance the vegetables, not overpower them. Repeat layers at least once.

Cover dish with foil and bake at 375 for 25 minutes. Remove foil and bake 15-20 minutes until cheese is golden brown and casserole is cooked through.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Easy summer meal

Sometimes a single ingredient will inspire me to cook or at least to try a new recipe. It might be fresh produce or a cut of meat that’s on sale. Other times, it’s something new.

At the grocery store recently, a new product caught my eye: shredded Velveeta queso blanco. I had purchased the same produce in block form but hadn’t seen the creamy white cheese sold as a shredded option. My daughter had used the block queso blanco in a dip and loved it.

On the back of the shredded cheese package was a recipe and photo for queso blanco quesadillas. The quesadillas looked delicious with lots of chicken, peppers and cheese inside crispy tortilla shells. I knew my family would love them. So I bought the cheese.

I make quesadillas from time to time, so the only real change here was the cheese.

I prepared the recipe a little differently. Instead of cooking the chicken with the peppers and onions, I did the chicken first, then the vegetables. I also cooked the chicken in a little fat-free Italian dressing for added flavor.

I normally warm the tortillas separately, but I followed the recipe and assembled the quesadillas, then warmed them in a skillet until they had a nice brown color and were a little crispy.

We had sour cream and salsa on the table for those who wanted them; the recipe also suggests serving with shredded lettuce and chopped tomatoes.

We really enjoyed our quesadillas. The family commented on how creamy the cheese was and how much they liked it.

It was a very simple dish to make and is perfect for meals on a hot summer night because you don’t heat up the kitchen.

Queso Blanco Quesadillas
  • 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into strips
  • 1/2 cup each red and green pepper strips
  • 1/2 cup sliced onions
  • 4 flour tortillas (8-inch)
  • 4 ounces queso blanco Velveeta, shredded
Cook chicken and vegetables in large nonstick skillet on medium heat 10 minutes or until chicken is done and vegetables are crisp-tender, stirring occasionally. Remove from skillet. Wipe skillet clean with paper towel.

Spoon 1/4 of the chicken mixture onto half of each tortilla. Top with Veveeta; fold in half.

Cook, in batches, in skillet 2 minutes on each side or until quesadillas are browned on both sides and cheese is melted.

Makes 4 servings.