My Healthy Plate; Shrimp Bowl

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Makes four servings

One can yellow corn

One can or one cup frozen peas

One bell pepper

One onion (or two cups of a frozen bell pepper and onion mix)

Four servings of shrimp

Four servings of rice

Four servings of beans

Cook the rice in your preferred method. This is one of the only times you’ll see me do this, but I cook the rice plain, without any seasonings, for this recipe. The other elements of this dish have enough flavor that the rice doesn’t really need anything.

Cook the beans in your preferred method. I like to boil them with bell pepper and onion, and I’ve come to prefer cooking a big batch of dry beans and freezing some. Doing this lets me take advantage of the price decrease of dry beans versus canned, and also gives me the convenience of having prepared beans on standby.

Defrost, if needed, your shrimp. Peel and de-tail, if needed. Sprinkle with one packet of Sazon and set in the fridge to marinate, at least 30 minutes but preferably longer.

Chop bell pepper and onion. I like a pretty rough chop for this recipe, as it gives a better bite, but you can cut them as small as you like. 

Saute in hot cooking oil. Add salt and pepper, and your preferred seasonings. I like chili powder, cumin, smoked paprika, and oregano. 

When the onion starts to go translucent, add about half a cup of water, the peas, and the corn, and cover. Let simmer for 3-5 minutes, then remove lid. If pepper and onion are tender, remove from the heat. If not tender, add a little more water and continue to simmer until tender.

Saute the shrimp in a little cooking oil. Sometimes I cook them in the remaining seasonings from the pepper and onions, it depends on . Cook the shrimp, stirring frequently, until done. 

Assemble everything, sprinkle with cheese, and enjoy!

Remember when I said last week, that rice and beans are a great staple to keep in your pantry and build meals around? Well this week’s recipe has the same building blocks of beans and rice, and is a great option if you, like me, made a big batch of beans and now need ways to cook them.

I first made this meal a couple of months ago, and it has since become one of my favorites. Something about this exact combination of vegetables and spices just makes me really happy. And it’s a really colorful meal, too, so it’s visually appealing. 

Shrimp makes a great freezer staple, if you’re trying eat more healthy. It is super high in protein, as I’ve found most fish is. I have started keeping a bag of frozen shrimp or fish in my freezer at all times. It’s also great to have as a quick meal option, since both fish and shrimp defrost relatively quickly.

I haven’t experimented with variations to this recipe yet, but I’m sure you could make any changes you want. It works well with chicken instead of shrimp, and of course you could do red kidney beans or black beans instead of the pintos I used. For the vegetables, I think there are only certain vegetables that would work well in this meal. Carrots or broccoli may work well, though this will also be up to your personal taste.

This has been one of my favorite meals lately, and I really hope you enjoy it, too!

Budget Friendly; Rice and Beans

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Rice and Beans with Baked Chicken

One bag of dry black beans, cooked according to bag directions

A third of a bag of frozen peppers and onions

chili powder and cumin to taste

Rice, two servings

one cup chicken broth

one tbsp Sofrito

one large chicken breast, or two thighs

one packet Sazon seasoning

1/2 cup salsa

I cooked the entire bag of beans, then divided them into one cup portions, which will ultimately make two servings of 1/2 cup each. I froze all but four servings, and cooked the remaining with chili powder and cumin.

I cooked two servings, half a cup dry, of rice in chicken broth and a tablespoon of sofrito. I used my rice cooker, but you could cook it in any way you want.

I let the chicken sit for a few minutes with the Sazon seasoning, then placed on a baking sheet and spread with salsa. I baked at 375 F for about 15 minutes, until the internal temp read 165.

I don’t think we could discuss budget meals without talking, at least briefly, about rice and beans. It is one of the most common suggestions when you start looking into inexpensive food, and I think it deserves at least a short discussion. I don’t intend for either ingredient to make regular appearances in this series.

The thing with rice and beans, is you have to get creative with them. I would never tell you to cook plain rice and plain beans and that be the entire meal. You have to add seasonings and spices to them both, and I normally serve them as sides with something else. This week, I made chicken baked with Sazon, rice cooked in chicken broth and sofrito, and black beans cooked with onions, bell peppers, chili powder, and cumin. 

Along with being creative with the flavors, I have found dry beans take some practice. The first time I made them, I don’t think I let them cook long enough, and they weren’t very good. Of course, the next time I overcooked them, and they weren’t very good that time, either. But now that I have more experience, I do think they are a great pantry staple. I’ll probably never solely rely on dry beans, as they do take some planning and forethought. Lately, I have cooked a bag of dry beans, served part of the pot in that week’s meals, then froze the rest in one cup measurements in freezer bags. 

Rice has nearly as many cooking methods as varieties. It might be fun to experiment for a while, until you figure out exactly what you like. I find a good rule of thumb is to use chicken broth, normally in the form of the “Better than Bouillon” paste that I always have on hand. In the past, I’ve added ginger, garlic, sesame oil, sofrito, spices, salsa, and frozen vegetables.

There are also a ton of cooking methods for rice. You can boil it in a saucepan, cook it in a pressure cooker, or use a rice cooker. I think the absolute best kitchen gadget is a rice cooker. You can find them really inexpensive online or at a store like Walmart, and they are so useful and easy, I really think they are worth the money. When I first got one, my family was skeptical, but it has turned into one of our most used kitchen appliances (behind my coffee maker, of course).

A note on cost, yes, rice and beans are really cheap to cook. But they are not a meal unto themselves (unless you just really want to only eat rice and beans). They are budget pantry staples because they are really versatile, so they can be served with chicken, sausage, pork chops, nearly anything. My two favorite meals are chicken baked with salsa and Sazon with rice and beans cooked with peppers and onions, and smoked sausage with red beans and rice.

Budget Break Down

Rice; $1.49/32 oz = $1.49/ 20 = $0.07/serving

*I found varying information on how many servings of rice are in one 32 oz bag, and went with the smaller number of 20.

Dry Black Beans; $1.49/16 oz = $1.49/14 servings = $0.11 /serving

Frozen Chicken Breast; $7.99/ 3 lb = $7.99 / 6 = $1.33/ serving

Frozen bell pepper and onion; $1.39/ 12 oz = ($1.39/ 3)/ 14 = $0.03

Sofrito; $2.49/12 oz = $2.49/ 10 = $0.25

Sazon; $1.29/ 1.41 oz = $1.29/ 17 = $0.08

*this number may not be totally accurate. I don’t remember exactly how many packets are in the small boxes, as I usually get the largest box I can find.

Salsa; $1.29/ 16 oz = $1.29/ 8 = $0.08

Total; $17.43 = $1.95/ serving

February; Date Night Ravioli

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I love being creative and trying new things with meals, and lately I’ve been experimenting with French cuisine. I recently found a second hand copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and it has kicked me into a French phase with my cooking. The book is a wealth of information, and I think it will prove to be a great resource. I think the only “French” thing about this meal is the order of the courses. I quite like the French course order, as to me it makes sense to have the warm food first, then move to the cold food. Although, I don’t normally serve meals in courses, so it’s a new thing to me.

Course One; Hot Crab Crostini

Course Two; Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli

Course Three; Salad

Course Four; Cheese Plate

Course Five; Nutella Crepe Cake

All the courses laid out together, with the additions of a glass of white wine and a small cup of Limoncello.

Hot Crab Crostini

(makes 8, or 4 servings for this particular meal. You could have it as two servings, if there are fewer other courses)

¾ tsp mayo

½ tsp onion powder

⅛ tsp garlic powder

⅓ tsp lemon juice

¾ tsp water

⅛ tsp hot sauce

2 oz cream cheese

4 oz imitation crab, chopped

4 slices of loaf bread

1 Tbs bread crumbs

1 Tbs grated Parmesan

Combine everything except the crab and microwave for about 20 seconds, until the cream cheese is soft. Stir in the crab meat as well and set aside until ready to assemble.

Lightly toast regular sliced bread, then use a shot glass to cut small circles out of the bread. I try to avoid the crust, and I use the scraps to make the bread crumbs for the topping.

Combine the bread crumbs and parmesan cheese

When nearly time for the meal, place the toasted rounds on a baking sheet, top with a mound of crab mixture, then sprinkle with bread crumb mixture. Broil for a few minutes, until tops are toasted to your liking. 

Serve on a small plate.

Spinach Ravioli with Lemon Garlic Sauce

Two servings of pre-made ravioli

2 Tb olive oil

2 Tbs butter

5 minced garlic cloves

1/4 tsp red pepper flakes

1 tsp dried parsley

1 Tb lemon juice

Salt and pepper

2 oz grated parmesan

Boil ravioli according to package directions, drain.

Heat oil and butter on medium heat until radiating heat. Add garlic and red pepper flakes, and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. I like for the garlic to start turning golden brown. Remove from heat. Add the ravioli, lemon juice, cheese, and parsley. Serve, I prefer pasta bowls.

I think the ravioli filling should be the star, and this sauce lets the spinach and ricotta filling shine.

Course Three; Salad

Lettuce or salad mix of choice (I like romaine and spinach, but all my grocery store had was iceberg)

A small carrot, shaved into strips with a vegetable peeler

Parmesan cheese

Croutons (I cut up the scraps from the crostini to use as croutons)

A light dressing, I used a basic Italian vinaigrette

Course Four; Cheese

A few slices of whatever cheese you like. I’ve been trying out new ones lately, so we had a Whiskey Maple Gouda and a bit of Parmesan. I plated it with a few slices of bread with a small bowl of olive oil with italian herbs and salt. The plate stayed on the table for the entire meal, and we ate from it throughout, so I’m not sure this technically counts as its own course.

Course Five; Nutella Crepe Cake

⅓ C. flour

1 egg

½ C milk

Dash salt

Bigger dash sugar

Butter or cooking spray

Nutella

I used a much smaller pan than is normally used for crepes, so it made a smaller cake that is more appropriate for two people. 

Set the pan over medium heat to preheat.

Combine all ingredients (except butter/ cooking spray and Nutella), and whisk briskly. I mean go to town and whisk the you-know-what out of it, you don’t want any lumps. 

Turn the heat up slightly, and either melt the butter or spray with cooking spray. Using a ¼ cup measuring cup, hold the pan in one hand and dip out an almost-full ¼ cup of batter. Pour the batter into the pan, then quickly rotate pan in every direction to completely coat the bottom. 

Cook for about one minute, until it starts to color slightly on the bottom and the edges are dry. Then use a spatula to carefully flip. And don’t worry, the first one always looks terrible.

Cook on second side for about 30 seconds, then remove to a small plate. Top with a small spoonful of Nutella, then start second crepe. As second crepe is cooking, spread the Nutella over the first one, and don’t worry if it doesn’t go all the way to the edge. 

When second crepe is finished cooking, stack on top of first, and again top with nutella.

Follow this order until crepe batter is gone. I prefer not to top last crepe with Nutella, but instead I sprinkle with a little sugar right before serving.

Set aside to cool and set slightly. Can be eaten warm or chilled, according to your preference.

Order of Operations;

The very first thing I did was to assemble the salads, except for the croutons and dressing. They were basic salads of lettuce, shaved carrot, and parmesan cheese. I put them into bowls then refrigerated until it was time to eat. Then I sliced the cheese onto a small plate and refrigerated that, as well. Next, I made the crepes and assembled the cake, also refrigerating until meal time, as I like it chilled and set. Then I mixed up the crab dip and prepared the bread for the crostini, but didn’t assemble until time to put them in the oven, as I didn’t want the bread to get soggy. Then I boiled the ravioli and started the sauce. Before I combined the ravioli and the sauce, I assembled the crab crostini and broiled for a few minutes, until the tops were toasted. Then I combined the ravioli and sauce, plated everything, and supper was ready! 

For February, I wanted to show a date night meal, since Valentine’s Day is coming up, and I’m sure a lot of people will plan a special meal. I think this meal is relatively simple in each part, but the combination of everything together gives it a fancy feel. My husband and I enjoyed this meal as a Wednesday night supper, but I think it would be great for a special occasion.

There are quite a few recipes in this post that originally came from elsewhere, then I modified. I’ve included the original links, but I’ve also posted the recipes as I made them. Some were as simple as reducing the number of servings, but I also made some proportion and ingredient changes, as well. 

Another thing I’ve been trying to do lately, is actually cooking for two people. For most of my experience, I was always cooking for at least five people, normally more. So cooking for two has been a new experience for me. Thankfully, my husband and I both enjoy leftovers, so it hasn’t been a huge issue. I would still like to get better about cooking for just the two of us.

I also want to note that there are a lot of shortages at the grocery stores in my area. This meal would look very different if I had been able to find everything I wanted, but I was still happy with how it turned out. My point is, don’t feel restricted to exactly what I did. Feel free to make substitutions and changes as needed (or wanted). 

I hope you can take some inspiration from this meal. Whether you follow the same menu, or pick and choose between the recipes. Whether you share this in a romantic meal, or with friends. I hope you have fun, stay safe, and eat good food!

Lessons from the Kitchen; Creamy Tortellini

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Ingredients

Diced onion

Minced garlic

16 oz sausage

20 oz tortellini

28 oz crushed tomato

Chicken broth

2 tbsp cream cheese

16 oz spinach

16 oz shredded cheese

Spices (depend on personal taste)

Saute the onions until fragrant and translucent. Add sausage, garlic, and desired spices, and cook until sausage is browned.

Add tortellini, tomato, and broth. Bring to a boil, then turn to medium low and simmer until tortellini is cooked through and the liquid is reduced. 

Add spinach and cream cheese, stirring until spinach is wilted.

Add shredded cheese and combine. Serve.

This is one of my husband’s favorite meals, and I love it, too. I don’t think I’ve ever had an Italian dish I didn’t like, so it’s no surprise I like this one. However, there is a lot of room for creativity with this recipe. 

Substituting a different flavor of sausage, different spices, and different cheese could give this dish an entirely different flavor. While I normally make it with Italian sausage, seasoning, and cheese, I really want to experiment with it.

One of my ideas has been a breakfast style dish. I think a breakfast sausage and cheddar cheese would be a great flavor combo. I also want to try Mexican flavors, by using chorizo sausage, a Mexican cheese, and a spice mix of chili powder, cumin, and paprika. I might even try adding black beans instead of spinach to the Mexican version. 

This is a great meal to practice your recipe creativity with. It is easy to halve, which would let you practice without committing to the entire 8 servings that the original recipe makes. I encourage experimentation with all cooking recipes, though baking is a different case. I hope this dish helps you get more comfortable with altering recipes.

I have a few suggestions for how to change this recipe, in addition to the different flavor profiles I talked about above. I think the vegetable aspect would be easy to change, and in fact the original recipe I adapted this one from didn’t have any vegetables in it. You could try corn, sweet peas, kale, even potatoes. Just make sure to adapt the cooking time accordingly. Something like potatoes would take a while to cook, whereas the kale could be added at the end, like the spinach. I don’t personally like kale, but I know a lot of people love it.

You could also use ravioli instead of tortellini, and I would like to make a seafood version one day. I love lobster ravioli, and I think this could be a great dish with lobster ravioli and shrimp. A cajun flavor profile would also be really good, I think. Andouille sausage and a cajun spice mix, maybe some shrimp, sounds really good.

My Healthy Plate; French Onion Chicken

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I introduced the budget friendly series last week, and today it’s time for the “Healthy Plate” series. 

French Onion Baked Chicken

One onion

Two or three cloves of garlic

1 tbsp flour

1 tsp sugar

Salt and pepper

Chicken

One cup chicken broth

2 tbsp white wine or vermouth

Slice the onion very finely, and saute in a little cooking oil. After the onions start to color, add sugar, salt, pepper, and garlic. 

When onions are golden brown, add flour and mix together well. Add chicken broth to deglaze the pan, then add the vermouth/wine. 

Place in the chicken and bake at 375 for 15-20 minutes, until chicken internal temperature is 165.

I’ve been trying lately to learn more about nutrition and how to eat healthy. I want to find a sustainable, healthy way to eat. In this process I came across a model called the “Healthy Plate,” which was created to replace the food triangle. So this series is going to be recipes that I’ve made that fit into the new model.

Today’s meal is baked chicken with rice, green beans, and a salad. I’ve found salad to be a really easy way to add vegetables into a meal and make it align more with the “Healthy Plate.” I also made green beans, which I cooked with chicken broth, onion, and a crushed garlic clove. I just used two cans of cut green beans, as the fresh green beans have not looked good at my grocery store lately. 

I love french onion soup, and I’ve been experimenting lately with baking chicken. I’ve found that when I bake chicken in some kind of broth or liquid, it results in the most tender, juicy chicken. So I’ve been trying it out with any kind of liquid I can think of. French Onion was just a result of that brainstorm. 

For the french onion flavor, I originally considered using cans of french onion soup. I still think that could be good, but this time I made it more like a thicker version of french onion soup and just added the chicken to it.

Unfortunately, I only had enough chicken for two servings. However, I saved the leftover onion soup, and I think it will still be good to bake more chicken in when I get more. My husband and I both like leftovers, and this was a great thing to add to the freezer. I’m looking forward to an easy, last-minute meal one day.

Budget Friendly; Shakshuka

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I have two new series I’m starting, in addition to the Lessons in the Kitchen series and seasonal meals. One is healthy meals that follow the “Healthy Plate” model, and the other is a Budget Friendly series. Today’s dish I almost couldn’t decide which series to put it in, since it could work in either one. I eventually decided it works best in the budget series, and has the benefit of being very healthy. 

After the holidays, I always have to watch my budget. Between traveling, eating out, and going to holiday events, it makes an impact on my budget. I also have noticed grocery store prices increasing, as I’m sure many of you have noticed, too. I thought since I’m focusing on adding more budget meals in my personal life, ya’ll might like some inexpensive recipe ideas, too.

Shakshuka is a super easy, flexible meal. The most simple way I make it is with onion, bell pepper, tomatoes, eggs, and spices. Usually I add other ingredients (like ground beef or beans) to make it stretch a bit further, and I like to experiment with the spices, too. It’s a great dish to add into your normal rotation of recipes, as it’s simple, inexpensive, and easy to experiment with.

I used canned and frozen ingredients (except the eggs and tortillas), but you could instead use fresh ingredients, of course. I also included beans, but didn’t use dry beans. If I had used dry beans, it would have decreased the price further. You could also not use beans at all, and just have the vegetables and eggs, of course, but it’s a good way to make the meal go further.

I also like to serve this with some kind of toasted bread. This time, instead of toast, I fried a couple of tortillas in a little oil. They were really good, and I’ll definitely serve them with this meal again in the future.

The below recipe makes 8 servings, and it’s a great dish for leftovers. I will poach as many eggs as are needed for the first night, then divide the rest up into containers. Each night I use a small frying pan, heat up the tomato base, then poach the eggs.

The way I made this dish came out to be $10.65 for the entire order. Since I expect this to make eight servings, with one egg and one tortilla per serving, the cost per serving is just $1.11. I didn’t include the oil or seasonings that I used because those are very infrequent purchases. Also, the seasonings and oil are highly customizable. 

Eggs = $1.39 (12 ct) = 0.12/egg

Beans = 2x $1.38 (Dry beans = 1.49/16 oz)

Tomatoes = 2x $1.19

Pepper and Onion = $1.33

Tortillas = $2.29 (20 ct) = $0.12/tortilla

Garlic = $0.50/ head

Basic Shakshuka 

28 oz can of crushed tomatoes

28 oz can of diced tomatoes

8 Eggs

1 Bell pepper

1 Onion

Spices

Saute the bell pepper and onion.

Add tomatoes and spices. Bring to a boil, then simmer until desired consistency (this is up to personal preference, but I like mine pretty thick).

Use a spoon to make wells in the tomato, and crack eggs into them. Poach eggs in the tomatoes for 4 minutes.

Serve. I like to serve it with some kind of toast.

Shakshuka with Red Kidney Beans

28 oz can of crushed tomatoes

28 oz can of diced tomatoes

8 Eggs

12 oz bag frozen diced onion and bell pepper blend

4-5 garlic cloves

2 15 oz cans red kidney beans, drained

1 ½ tsp chili powder

½ tsp cumin

½ tsp smoked paprika

1 tsp Italian seasoning

1 tsp roasted garlic

Saute the bell pepper, onion, and garlic.

Add tomatoes, beans, and spices. Bring to a boil, then simmer until desired consistency (this is up to personal preference, but I like mine pretty thick).

Use a spoon to make wells in the tomato, and crack eggs into them. Poach eggs in the tomatoes for 4 minutes.

Serve. I like to serve it with some kind of toast.

Potato Soup

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Belated happy New Year, everyone! I hope you had a great holiday season. It was great to spend time with some of my family, and now I’m excited to get back into the normal routine. I have a couple of new recipe series planned for the next few months, and I can’t wait to share them with ya’ll. For today, I hope you enjoy this simple comfort meal.

We’re starting off the year with one of my favorite winter meals. I love everything potato, and growing up my favorite soup was always potato soup. It’s a warm, hearty meal, and I love it on chilly January nights. Not that we’ve had many chilly nights so far this year, but it’s still a good meal.

Potato Soup Recipe

8 servings

10 potatoes, peeled and chopped

1 onion, diced

4-5 cloves of garlic, minced

1 lb bacon

⅓ C. bacon grease or butter

⅓ C. flour

3 C. chicken or vegetable stock

2 C. Milk

1 can cream of chicken soup

Salt pork (optional)

Basil

Cilantro

Paprika

Salt

Pepper

Shredded cheddar cheese (optional)

  1. In a dutch oven, cook bacon. When almost done, add a few pieces of salt pork. Remove bacon to cool and crumble, and reserve ⅓ C. drippings.
  2. Saute onion and garlic with salt pork, salt and pepper. Remove pork and toss potatoes in the vegetables. Remove from pan and set aside.
  3. Heat ⅓ C. bacon fat or butter, stir in flour and seasonings and cook until golden, stirring frequently. Add broth and one cup milk and bring to a boil.
  4. Add potatoes and vegetables, cream chicken soup, and last cup of milk. Simmer until potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes. Top with bacon and cheese.

Have fun, be safe, and eat good food!

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Southern Thanksgiving

It’s almost that time of year. When everyone’s diets go out the window and I completely blow my grocery budget. The holidays. And I don’t know about other parts of the country or world, but in the South, we don’t skimp on the holidays. Everything has full fat butter, and most things have sugar in one way or another. It’s delicious, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Growing up, we normally had Thanksgiving turkey, but we also almost always had a ham at Thanksgiving. Definitely ham at Christmas. And frankly, I like ham better than turkey. It isn’t ever dry, and it normally has a lot more flavor.

Thankfully, my husband also has fond memories of sugar ham, so he doesn’t care if we have that instead of the more traditional turkey. We both have a favorite way for it to be cooked, the way our grandmothers made it. Seeing the crock pot with the ham, with rounds of pineapple and little red cherries, will always remind me of Christmas and my dad’s mom. 

I love having ham because it’s also pretty easy to make. All it needs is a few ingredients and to sit in the crockpot for as long as it can, which makes it a pretty hands off meal. I made us one this year earlier in November, and it was a great reminder of the holidays and what is to come. A ham for two people is pretty reasonably priced, and I found one for about ten dollars that lasted us for three meals, a total of six servings. To go with it I made macaroni and cheese and roasted asparagus. I was originally going to do fresh green beans, but the green beans at the store didn’t look good, so I switched last minute to asparagus.

I’ve shown how I cook asparagus before, but I just roasted them at 375 fahrenheit for about twenty minutes. I like to drizzle them with olive oil, salt, and pepper. You could also add garlic and onion powder, or pretty much any other seasonings you would like.

I’ve been using the macaroni and cheese website from The Pioneer Woman for almost ten years at this point, and it has never let me down. I even follow it almost exactly, which doesn’t happen often. Sometimes I don’t include the egg, and it turns out fine. I also like to add a little smoked paprika and a few dashes of hot sauce at the same time as the other spices. It doesn’t make it hot or spicy at all, just gives a really good, almost smoky flavor.

Hams are sold with the fresh meat in the grocery store. They come in multiple sizes, so you kind of have to guess how much you need. I got a pretty small one, and it made about six servings, but if I was cooking for more than two or three people, I would go ahead and get one of the bigger ones. They sell some of them “spiral-sliced,” which I love. It makes it a lot easier to serve, and it means the brown sugar and juices can flavor more of the ham. The one I bought was labelled as a “Picnic Shoulder,” but unfortunately I don’t remember the weight.

Sugar Ham

Picnic shoulder, or spiral sliced ham

Brown sugar

Sliced pineapple

Maraschino cherries

Coca-cola or Dr. Pepper

Place the ham in a crockpot. If it is a really big ham, you may have to slice part of the top off for it to fit. Just work with it until you can fit the whole thing in the crock pot. Sometimes if the lid just won’t seal, I’ll use aluminum foil, then layer a towel over the top for added insulation. Be careful if you do this, as the aluminum foil will get hot.

Pack brown sugar onto the top of the ham, and as far down the sides as you can reach.

Lay pineapple slices around the outside of the ham, using toothpicks to keep them on the sides.

Dot cherries in the middle of each pineapple slice, and in any other gaps you may have, using toothpicks to keep them in place.

Pour 8 – 12 ounces of Coca-cola or Dr. Pepper over the ham. 

Cook on low for eight hours, or as long as needed, or on high for 4 – 6 hours. Periodically baste the juices over the ham.

Lessons in the Kitchen; Lemon Onion Tilapia

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It’s always a good idea to have a few easy, quick recipes on hand, and especially so with the upcoming holiday season. I like having recipes that mostly use things I generally have on hand, and ones that don’t take much effort are even better. This recipe definitely checks all those boxes, and I keep it on my menu rotation pretty frequently. It has the added benefit to me of the memory of the afternoon when my grandma taught me this recipe.

I use Tilapia, typically, but you can use any kind of fish. I like keeping individually wrapped tilapia filets in my freezer, and eat them a lot for lunch and occasionally for supper. A basic white fish like Tilapia, Whiting, or Cod are good to keep on hand because they are so versatile. There are tons of sauces and toppings you can put on them, and multiple ways they can be cooked, too. It’s also one of the recipes you can buy in bulk at your regular grocery store.

For sides, you can make whatever you like. I try to have some sort of vegetable, but I also like having some kind of carb, too. Tilapia is a light fish, so I like having something filling, like rice, as a side. This time I made fried rice with peas and egg. The rice isn’t so much a recipe as it is a method, but I’ve included instructions below anyway. It should get you started. Of course you could always do a more simple white rice, steamed veggies, and/or salad. This one is really up to you. If I made it this week, I would probably make sides of white rice and blanched spinach with sesame oil and garlic. Next week, I might just stick a simple salad and toast with it.

Lemon Onion Tilapia

One Tilapia filet per person 

Half a lemon per person

Quarter onion per person

One tbsp butter per person

One clove garlic per person

Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375. Slice the lemon and onion, then layer half on the bottom of your dish.

Add the tilapia, then cover with the remaining lemon and onion. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper. Add crushed garlic clove and butter to the pan, then bake at 375 for 20 – 30 minutes, until done.

I like to cover the pan with aluminum foil for the first 15 – 20 minutes, then remove it for the final baking time. The fish should flake easily and be opaque when it’s done cooking. Periodically spoon the butter and juices back over the fish during bake time.

Fried Rice

Cooked rice (white or brown, however much you want)

Some kind of frozen or canned vegetable (I normally use frozen sweet peas, but corn or carrots would work really well, too)

Sesame oil

Canola oil

One egg

Soy sauce

I try to cook the rice ahead of time. Heat a little oil in your pan, then add your rice.

Stir for a moment as the rice cooks, then make a hole in the middle. Add your egg and scramble to cook. Once cooked, add frozen peas and mix everything together.

Add sesame oil, soy sauce, salt, and pepper to taste. Literally, taste the rice and adjust seasonings as needed. 

Mustard Pork Chops; or, a Cure for Homesickness

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For the simple recipe cards of all the below recipes, click the buttons below.

I won’t lie, as the weather has turned cool and the autumn has arrived, I’ve been a bit homesick. I’ve spent three of the last four autumns in the mountains of North Georgia, and you can’t beat a North Georgia Autumn. Watching the mountains turn from green, to seeing the first tree turn bright yellow, then slowly the rest of the forest changes to a beautiful mix of red, orange, and yellow. And when I get homesick, I make familiar food. I can’t tell ya’ll how much I enjoyed this recipe. It was delicious, and so much fun to make. It’s a variation on a meal that I had countless times as a kid, and it was the perfect cure for the little bit of homesickness that was creeping in. 

I used thick cut, bone in pork chops, but you can use whatever you want/can afford. I would normally use a boneless thin cut, but I wanted a little treat for myself and my husband. Just get what will work best for you, but remember that the thinner the cut, the quicker it will cook. My suggestion in that case is to increase the heat when you sear them so they will color more quickly. You want them to be undercooked when they go into the oven, so they won’t dry out.

For the greens, I used a half mix of turnip greens and collard greens. I like using a mix of different greens, and would have included mustard greens but I couldn’t find any in the store. I was ok with that though, as I wasn’t sure I’d even be able to find collards. Feel free to use just one type of green, or to use frozen if that’s all you can find. 

Black-eyed peas are the best with greens and cornbread, in my opinion. I suppose you could substitute them with pinto beans, if you really want to, but I would recommend at least trying black-eyed peas. Dry, canned, or frozen will work with this recipe, and just like the greens, they can stay simmering on the stove for however long you need. 

The cornbread is the most difficult thing for me to tell you how to make, as I don’t typically use any measuring cups. I’ve estimated measurements for the recipe, but feel free to use less or more depending on how many people you’re feeding. I really recommend using a cast iron skillet for this, as I don’t know that any other type of pan would give the same result. Don’t let any cast iron snobs dissuade you, Lodge or any off-brand of cast iron is just as good as a high-end brand. The quality of cast iron really depends on how well you care for it.

As far as the order of operations for this meal, it isn’t too difficult as the greens and beans can stay on the stovetop for as long as you need them to. I’ve known my mom to leave greens simmering on the stove for entire afternoons. But the very first step should be to make the sweet tea, if you’re going to include that, as it is best when it has time to cool down. Then get the greens and beans going. I recommend making the cornbread next, even though it will have cooled down by the time the pork chops are ready. The chops and cornbread both need the oven, but at different temperatures. So either make the cornbread first, or allow it extra time to finish cooking.

The recipes below are for six servings.

Sweet Tea (½ gallon)

Two large tea bags (I prefer Tetley, but I couldn’t find that brand so I used Luzianne instead)

About ¾ cup of white sugar

Fill a small saucepan with water, and boil. When the water begins to boil, add the two tea bags and turn off the heat. Allow to steep for at least 10-15 minutes, then pour over the sugar in a half-gallon pitcher. Stir to dissolve sugar, then fill the pan (with tea bags still) with water again and add to pitcher. Continue until pitcher is cool and put in fridge to cool.

Greens

Two bundles greens (I used one turnip greens and one collard greens)

One and a half yellow onions, diced

Four or five garlic cloves, smashed

Few dashes of hot sauce of your choice

One cup chicken broth, bouillon, or bouillon paste

A few pieces of ham, salt pork, or bacon

Two or three tablespoons butter

Rinse the greens very, very well. This is really important as if there’s any dirt or sand left on the greens it can cause an unpleasant texture.

Rip each leaf into several pieces, removing the tough center stem. Add all ingredients, plus a cup of water, to a large pot and set on high.

Bring to a boil, then lower heat to medium to continue simmering. Simmer for at least twenty minutes, or as long as you want. You can eat them as soon as the greens wilt and become tender, but they’re better the longer they cook. Salt and pepper before serving, and strain before dipping onto a plate or bowl.

Black Eyed Peas

Half a yellow onion, diced

Two cans black eye peas, or a bag of frozen or dried beans

Two or three cloves of garlic, smashed

A few pieces ham, salt pork, or bacon

One or two tablespoons butter

Add everything to a saucepan and simmer for at least fifteen minutes, or as long as you want. You can eat it as soon as the beans are warmed through and tender, but they’re better the longer they cook.

Cornbread

Two cups cornmeal

⅓ cup vegetable oil

Two eggs

About two cups of whole milk or buttermilk

About two tablespoons of Crisco

Turn the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit, put the Crisco in your cast iron skillet and place in the oven.

Mix the other ingredients in your mixing bowl, saving half the milk to the side for now. When the oven has preheated, or after five to ten minutes if your oven, like mine, doesn’t have a preheat notification, mix the rest of the milk into the batter. It should be the consistency of cake batter, and when it rested it will have absorbed some of the milk, which will make the end result more soft and tender.

Carefully remove the skillet from the oven, the oil should be very hot. Add the batter to the pan, carefully as the oil should bubble and fry the outside of the cornbread.

Return to oven and bake for 15 – 20 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to rest for a few minutes, then run a butter knife around the edge and flip onto a plate. Be careful as the pan will still be hot.

Pork Chops

One cup mustard bbq sauce (the recipe is linked in a button above)

A few tablespoons vegetable oil

Salt and pepper

Six pork chops

Sear the pork chops in a hot skillet and vegetable oil. You want the pan to be on pretty high heat so the pork chops will sear well but quickly, as you want them to be raw when they go into the oven. Work in batches if needed, as they will sear best if they are not touching when in the pan.

Place on a rack on a baking sheet, brush with mustard sauce, then place in the oven. Bake for twenty to thirty minutes, brushing on more mustard sauce every eight to ten minutes.

They are done when a thermometer, inserted into the thickest area, reads at least 165 degrees.

The History of Our Food; Sweet Tea

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I want to start off by saying, yes, I love sweet tea. It is quite literally in the name. But I thought I would take today to give an overview of the history, cultural significance, and proper brewing method for what’s fondly referred to as the “house wine of the South.” 

History

There has been no official, academic research on the history of sweet tea. The most frequently cited source during my own research has been a book called Housekeeping in Old Virginia by Marion Cabell Tyree. It seems to have the oldest recorded recipe for sweet tea, which apparently at that time was made with green tea, not black as is the custom today. 

Ms. Tyree’s book suggests sweet tea has always been a status symbol. However, while today it stands as a symbol of your upbringing and culture, it was first a symbol of wealth. Sugar and ice were expensive in the 19th century Southern states, and serving a drink so heavily sweetened and cooled would have been a flaunt. It also was apparently spiked with alcohol, and frequently. Referred to as punch back then, it seems like not much has changed in the South. We certainly still enjoy our alcohol, although spiked sweet tea is not something I think I’ve ever had.

Cultural Significance

I personally am interested in the cultural history of sweet tea and how it relates to “The South.” The book I mentioned above was published in 1879, but it’s highly likely that sweet tea had been served at southern parties and gatherings for decades previous. It turned into a staple in the Deep South, but in recent years it has spread throughout the country. It seems there is some correlation between the rise of sweet tea outside of the South and the spread of McDonald’s. Some Texans in an article I read over at “Texas Monthly” claimed they had never heard of the stuff until McDonald’s started carrying it. Whereas I never knew iced, unsweet tea was common.

As sweet tea has spread, obviously it is more accessible outside of the South. This has led to it becoming less of a cultural marker. Instead of being a sure sign of someone’s place of birth and raising, it could now just mean that someone likes fast food. I’m not trying to keep it from anyone, and I’m not trying to say that Southern culture is the best as it certainly has its faults (along with every other culture). But it doesn’t mean what it once did. This may not be a good or bad thing. It’s just a thing I’ve noticed. 

So if we are losing certain markers of Southern culture, what does it mean to be Southern? To be hospitable? To be racist? These things exist in other cultures and regions, too. Is it our obsession with keeping up appearances and keeping our dirty laundry to ourselves? Even that is not ubiquitous. The only thing I can figure that really sets us apart is our food. It’s part of the reason I insist on cooking southern dishes, no matter where I am. It’s why I’ll never pronounce the “l” in “salmon,” and especially when I say “salmon patties” (one of my favorite meals). You can’t find proper fried chicken, greens, or banana pudding anywhere else. 

Nothing will sway me from my position, regardless of health factors. Trust me, everyone knows sweet tea is unhealthy, that’s besides the point. And yes, I also know that there is a high diabetes and stroke rate in the South. I blame office jobs. So much of Southern cooking is based on the appetite of farmers and manual laborers, which is what all of my grandparents were. Now that we work office and desk jobs, with far less physical exercise and little to no change to our diets, we are noticing the health issues.

I remember the shock with which I read a “Texas Monthly” article in preparation for writing this article, and the absolute hatred with which people spoke of sweet tea. Yes, it’s imported from Georgia and the rest of the Deep South, and apparently old Texans (emphasis on the old), don’t like it. A few people were quoted in the article as saying they never remember seeing sweet tea on menus until 2006 or 2008, and many blame McDonald’s for the spread of the sweet drink.

I’ve linked the article at the bottom of this post, and I recommend reading it if you have any interest at all in the subject. It was certainly enlightening.

I come from the land of sweet tea. As I’ve mentioned before and will likely mention again, I am the first person in recent history on my dad’s side of the family to live outside of Georgia. I may have one or two distant cousins who live in East Alabama, but that’s as far as the family has spread. 

I was allowed to drink sweet tea before I was allowed to drink Coca-Cola (because of the caffeine, ironically). It was the drink of choice at church potlucks, and normally there were several gallons of sweet tea, with perhaps one of unsweet tea and a few two-liter bottles of different kinds of coke. I remember being a kid and graduating from the “play outside and stay out of our way” group to the “help us set up but do exactly as we say” group. One of the first jobs given to young girls at church potluck dinner was to set up the drink table. We would estimate a rough number of people at the dinner (which was at lunch time), fill that many cups with ice, and then fill at least half of those with sweet tea. More people would end up drinking sweet tea, but some people (myself included) had a preference for one lady’s sweet tea over another. Though they never would have said so out loud. 

Clearly, it means something to me. It isn’t just a drink, an option I may or may not have, but a symbol of my culture and upbringing. Which is something I’m proud of, by the way. I’ve told my husband that we can move anywhere in the country, as long as I can still order and find the ingredients to make sweet tea. 

Brewing Method

I will admit, I think my sweet tea is one of the best. It doesn’t help my ego that several people have told me my sweet tea is the best, ranging from my baby brother to my childhood best friend. It’s part of the reason why I named my blog “Ms. Sweet Tea.” And today, I’m going to share how to make a gallon.

I want to point out that the only special thing is the method I use. A lot of people will argue over the exact process, and generally each person has their own preferred method. This is probably why people end up favoring one person’s sweet tea over another’s. I also don’t believe in adding anything besides tea bags, water, and sugar. If you need baking soda, you’re doing something wrong. I’m sorry, but I had to say it.

You’ll need;

Three or four large tea bags. I prefer Tetley, but in Texas I can’t seem to find that brand, so I revert to Luzianne, Lipton is ok too.

White sugar. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t measure this until I started brewing it in half gallons. I generally do about ¾ cup white sugar per half gallon, but I also adjust the sweetness level to the crowd that will be drinking it.

Fill a sauce pan nearly all the way with water and bring to a boil. Turn the heat off but leave the pan on the stove top and add your tea bags. Let them steep for ten to fifteen minutes. I like for the water to still be warm, but otherwise I let it sit for as long as I can. Pour over the sugar in a pitcher and stir to dissolve (the tea being warm helps with this). Then refill the pan with warm tap water, with the tea bags still in the pan, then add to the pitcher. Fill the pitcher to the top in this same method.

Relevant Links

That Texas Monthly article; https://www.texasmonthly.com/the-daily-post/sweet-tea-line/

The Wikipedia article; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sweet_tea

Housekeeping in Old Virginia, by Marion Cabell Tyree; https://books.google.com/books?id=ZxUEAAAAYAAJ

Lessons from the Kitchen; Basic Spaghetti Sauce

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Welcome to the second installment of Lessons from the Kitchen. I personally love Italian food, and of course the most basic Italian dish (in America, at least), is spaghetti. There are so many ways to eat spaghetti, and so many different ways to make it, that it is a great basic dish. Once you understand the basic formula, you have access to countless variations, only limited by your own imagination. 

For the recipe card with basic instructions and fewer photographs, click the button below.

One of the best things about spaghetti is you can tailor it to the level of effort you want to put in. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with jarred or canned spaghetti sauce, but sometimes I want a more homemade version. The basic sauce recipe below is great for days when you want to put in slightly more effort, but you don’t want to start with fresh tomatoes.

I want to point out that the sauce in this recipe is vegetarian, but I frequently make it with some type of meat. If you want to make a meat sauce, just saute whatever you want to use (ground beef, ground sausage, etc), then start at step one in the recipe below. I frequently use ground italian sausage, but you can use whatever you like. Just make sure you use less oil when you start to saute the vegetables. 

For this particular meal, I made a side of breaded chicken. It was simple to make, and I go into a brief overview below the spaghetti sauce recipe. It isn’t a formal recipe, but perhaps one day it will be. 

I also toasted some bread, which I dipped into olive oil mixed with an Italian herb mix. I sliced mozzarella and manchego cheese that I had found on sale at the grocery store, prepared a basic caesar salad with store-brand dressing, and added a glass of wine to complete the meal. It was a little more extravagant than I would  normally prepare, but I felt like treating myself and I must say, it was a delicious meal. Of course you can substitute whatever cheeses, bread, or wine you like, or any other side dish you  might fancy. 

Spaghetti Sauce

1 can crushed tomatoes

1 can tomato sauce

1 medium onion, diced

1 small bell pepper, diced

4 cloves garlic, minced

Olive oil

Heat the olive oil in a sauce pan, then saute the onions and bell pepper until the onions start to go translucent around the edges.

Add the garlic and saute until the garlic is fragrant and has just a little bit of golden brown color.

Add the cans of tomato, bring to a boil, then turn onto low and simmer for as long as you can. Be careful, as tomato sauce pops and splatters a lot if it boils too rapidly, so only let it come to a gentle boil, then cover with a lid as it simmers. The longer you are able to let it simmer, the more flavorful it will be.

Boil pasta according to box directions. Do not rinse. A lot of people wonder how to know how much pasta to make. I typically either do a full or a half box, but a quart box would be easy to visually estimate. Just use the back of the box and the “servings per container” number to estimate how much you need. Of course, I typically round up at least one serving, but I really love pasta.

For the chicken, I butterflied two chicken breasts, then coated them in an Italian herb blend bread crumbs with salt, pepper, and grated parmesan cheese. I then pan-fried them in a little canola oil, and when they were done I topped with two slices of mozzarella cheese and broiled for a few minutes. For a simpler, less labor-intensive version, the chicken can be baked on some aluminum foil at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 to 30 minutes. 

Until next time, have fun, be safe, and eat good food!

Weeknight Chicken Enchiladas

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I love Mexican food, and it’s one of the staples in my personal recipe repertoire. However, for a weeknight meal, I don’t always have the time or effort to make a sauce or tortillas from scratch. So I have a shortcut version of chicken enchiladas for those everyday meals. This recipe is also great as it’s perfect for a crowd. One of my favorite ways to use this dish is to double it and take to my father-in-laws house for a big family meal.

I have included short notes on how I make rice and beans to go with this dish, which is a great way to extend this meal into more servings. With a side, I find this typically makes 8 total servings.

A note on timing. For this meal, I find the easiest way to time the meal is to start the chicken cooking in the pressure cooker, start the rice and beans, then when the chicken is done to prepare the enchiladas. If you are using precooked or slow cooked chicken, I would probably go ahead and get the enchiladas in the oven, then start the rice and beans. The good thing about this meal is everything will keep warm really well, so it’s ok if everything isn’t done at the same exact time. If the timing doesn’t line up, just leave the rice on warm or low, leave the beans on low, and leave the enchiladas in the oven with the temp at 200 degrees fahrenheit.

Chicken Enchiladas

Two cans red enchilada sauce

One can green chile enchilada sauce

3 lbs boneless chicken (both dark and white meat work in this recipe, so use your personal preference or budget to decide. Generally, dark meat retains more moisture and white meat can be drier)

Two cups mexican shredded cheese blend

16-18 small tortillas (flour and corn both work, but corn can cause a bit more work as they are more difficult to work with but have a better flavor)

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Cook the chicken your preferred method. I like to place it in a pressure cooker with about ½ a cup of water, season with chili powder, cumin, salt, pepper, and garlic powder, and cook for about 15 minutes. When it’s done I simply drain the water and use the bowl of the pressure cooker for the next step.
  • Shred the chicken and combine with the can of green chile enchilada sauce.
  • Set up an assembly line with the tortillas on one end, then the chicken mix, then a 9×13 pan. Have your red enchilada sauce nearby, first pouring a small amount in the bottom of the pan to help keep the enchiladas from sticking. 
  • Place a small spoonful of the chicken mix into a tortilla, roll, and place in the pan. It can take a little experience to know how much chicken to put into each enchilada, so err on the side of not enough. I find that it normally takes less than I first think.
  • Once all of the chicken is rolled into tortillas and placed in the pan, cover with the rest of the enchilada sauce, then cover with cheese. 
  • Bake for about 30 minutes. It’s done when the cheese is well melted and the sauce is bubbling around the edges.
  • Let cool and enjoy!

Rice and Beans

In this version of rice and beans, I put a lot of flavor in the beans, but leave the rice more plain. I like the balance as I usually serve the beans on top of the rice, but if you want more flavor in your rice you can add a ½ cup of salsa, diced tomatoes and green chiles, or mexican style spices.

For rice, I follow the formula for my rice cooker and add a teaspoon of chicken bouillon paste.

For the beans I use one can of black beans or pinto beans, half a bell pepper, half an onion, one clove of garlic, and a little oil or butter. I sauté the pepper, onion, and garlic in the oil for a few minutes, just until the onion starts to go  a bit translucent, then add the beans and simmer until warm and the rest of the meal is ready. Serve over the rice.

Lessons from the Kitchen; Cheeseburgers and Fries

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Welcome to the first chapter of Lessons in the Kitchen, where I teach you how to cook and help you expand your recipe repertoire. Today’s meal is cheeseburgers and home fries, one of my favorite meals. You can continue reading for full explanations with photos, or click on the buttons below for recipe cards without explanatory photos.

Below is a basic recipe and instructions for four people, but it can easily be increased to serve more. I typically plan for either ⅓ or ½ pound patties for the burgers and about one good sized russet potato per person. If you are only cooking for one or two people you can freeze leftover patties, just layer the patties between wax or parchment paper and seal in a freezer bag. Leftover hamburger buns can also be kept in the freezer by placing in a large freezer bag.

A note on ground beef. The fat content of ground beef is something I never thought about until I started doing my own shopping, and there are a lot of options. The main thing to remember is that the higher fat content will give you a juicier burger, but those patties will also shrink the most in the cooking process. Generally, the more fat content, the juicier your final burger will be. Honestly, trial and error tends to be the best method to determine your personal preference.

A note on meal timing. One of the most difficult and intimidating aspects of cooking a meal is timing everything to be done at about the same time. For this meal, I find best results from preheating the oven and getting the fries in the oven for their first fifteen minute bake time, then starting on the hamburgers. This is also a good idea because it reduces the chances of cross-contamination from the raw ground beef onto the potatoes. If you do struggle with timing and one dish is done before the other, just place either on low heat or on a plate in the microwave or oven to keep warm.

Cheeseburgers

2 pounds ground beef

Salt

Pepper

Garlic powder

Olive oil

  • Open the pack of ground beef and transfer to a plate. Throw away the trash and wash your hands. *Note; I always use a cast iron skillet to cook burgers, if you do the same go ahead and set it on a low heat to preheat the pan.* 
  • Sprinkle salt, pepper, and garlic powder over the surface of the meat. Use your hands and mix the ground beef up to distribute the seasonings. 
  • Divide the meat into four equal portions of roughly ½ pound each, I normally do this by eye. Form each into a rough ball, then flatten. You want the patties to be about as thin as you can make them, and you can make the sides smooth or leave them a bit rough based on personal preference. If you are not confident in your ability to divide the pounds evenly, you can use a digital scale to make sure each patty is roughly the same size. Wash your hands again. 
  • Turn your stove on to medium heat, then line a clean plate with paper towels and place to the side. Drizzle a little olive oil in the pan, and when hot lay the patties on the pan. Do NOT move them immediately after placing in pan. You want a good sear to form when they hit the hot metal, and moving them around will disturb that process. 
  • When the edges start turning brown and they move easily, flip each patty. After a couple of minutes, start checking more regularly on their doneness. This can be checked a couple of ways. My favorite kitchen tool is a digital thermometer, which you can get for about $10 at Walmart. Ground beef should always be cooked well done, which is about 160 degrees fahrenheit. If you don’t have  a thermometer, there are two other ways to check. One is to gently press on the patty with a spatula and notice what color the juices are that come out. If the juices are pink or red, then it’s not done, but they are done when the juices are clear. The other way is to make a small cut into the center of one of the patties and look at the color of the ground beef. You want it to be one color, no pink. 
  • When they’re done, place them on the paper towel lined plate and top with sliced cheese of your choice. Transfer to a bun after they’ve cooled slightly and drained. One of the easiest ways to elevate a burger is to slightly butter the bun and toast it to your liking.

Homemade Baked Fries

About one potato per person, depending on potato size

Canola oil

Salt

Pepper

  • Turn oven to 425 degrees fahrenheit. Either wash or peel your potatoes, I prefer to leave the peel on my fries. 
  • To slice the fries, first slice a potato in half lengthwise. Then, make a parallel cut to the first to slice each half in half again. Lay each plank on it’s wide flat side, then slice into three or four. You want a general equality in the size of each fry. This will be impossible, since potatoes are not square, but the ideal fry would be a long square stick. 
  • Place the fries on a baking sheet, drizzle with vegetable oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Use either your hands or a pair of tongs to toss the fries and ensure equal coating of oil. 
  • Place in the oven for about fifteen minutes, then remove from the oven. Flip all the fries over, making sure each one is on a new side, then return to the oven for an additional fifteen minutes. 
  • To check if the fries are finished, pierce with a fork. A done fry will be easily pierced, but if there is much resistance, they may need ten or fifteen minutes longer.
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Lessons from the Kitchen; Introduction

This is the first installment in a series called “Lessons from the Kitchen.” While I hope my readers can learn from all of my recipes and posts, this series is intentionally planned to be educational. I firmly believe that anyone can cook. After all, following a recipe is just following instructions. So this series is for anyone who has decided to take the leap and really learn how to cook. 

The main point of this series is to teach you how to cook for the every day. Simple, quick weeknight suppers, basic desserts, and go-to recipes for a party. I’ve selected recipes that I use very frequently, and I hope they’ll make up the core of your recipe book, too. 

Format of this Series

I know that cooking, and cooking regularly for oneself or one’s family, can be a daunting task, especially to a beginner. So I’ve compiled twelve sets of recipes to help teach you how to cook and add some recipes to your repertoire. 

We’ll start with some recipes that require closely following the instructions, but then we’ll move to some recipes that I encourage you to modify according to your personal taste. Each recipe has a note as to which category it falls into. These are also daily recipes, the types of meals and dishes I cook on a regular basis, so you can really get a lot of use out of them. The last four parts of the series will be “Impressive” recipes, those are meant to help you show off your new cooking skills a bit.

Requirements

While this is meant to teach you how to cook, there are some basic cooking skills required. I’m assuming you know how to crack an egg, and boil water, and not hold the sharp end of a knife. But really there isn’t much previous knowledge required to get started. 

My biggest pieces of advice are to read the recipe carefully multiple times, and to plan plenty of time for the cooking of each meal. I suggest finding a weekend or evening when you don’t have anything planned, so you can relax and take your time. Then just put on some relaxing music, grab some water (save the wine for the meal, it’s best not to cook while tipsy), and enjoy yourself!

Kitchen Safety

It is very important to stay safe in the kitchen. A lot of harm can be done, either by physical injury or food poisoning, if you don’t take the proper care when preparing food. I’ll go over some of the basics here.

Be very aware when you are cooking of what is hot and what is on. If you take a pan off a stove eye, turn the eye off immediately. Keep oven mitts handy and always use them, even if you think the item has cooled enough to handle. In the same vein, keep pot and pan handles facing towards the back of the stove. A handle hanging out into the kitchen could be bumped into and cause a hot mess, or if you have kids, could cause an unexpected trip to the hospital (my mother-in-law knows this from personal experience, thanks to my husband).

Be careful with knives. They say a sharp knife is safer than a dull knife, but both must be handled with extreme care. Keep out of reach of children at all times, and never leave a knife submerged in water where it can’t be seen. Keep a firm grip on your knife when using by pinching between your thumb and the first knuckle of your index finger. You should also grip the handle as close to the blade as you can, as this gives the most control.

When preparing raw meat, wash everything as often as possible. Wash your hands after handling raw meat before touching anything, wash cutting boards and knives immediately, and wipe down your counters with a soapy, hot washcloth. It is super important to prevent cross-contamination. It’s also really important to make sure all meats are cooked to an edible temperature. There is a temperature guide below, but I honestly tend to use a search engine just to double check in the moment that I remember the right temperature needed.

Chicken, turkey, other poultry; 165 degrees

Ground meat; 160 degrees

Pork; 145 degrees

Fish; 145 degrees

Steak; at least 145 degrees

How to Use a Recipe

Some of you are probably thinking this section is pointless, but allow me a few moments to make my point. To really develop your cooking skills and recipes, you need to do more than simply reading through a recipe on your phone. 

I like to use a three ring binder and a pen, but you can also use any kind of notebook and writing tool. I like the binder and loose leaf paper because I can remove the needed recipe and won’t have to keep the whole book in the kitchen while I cook.

When you want to try a new recipe, first read over the whole recipe, and make sure you have all the ingredients needed. I always write out recipes by hand on the loose leaf paper I keep in my binder. There are multiple reasons for this. I’ve found from personal experience, that I remember things best when I write them down. It’s good to be really familiar with the steps in a recipe, so you don’t have to stop in the middle of every step to check what you’re meant to be doing. I also frequently change and tweak recipes, so having them written down on paper allows me to make notes about what I’ve changed, so I can make it again in the future. 

I’m sure you’ve heard of “mise en place,” and if you haven’t, it is a fancy french term for getting your ingredients ready before starting the steps. It is very useful, even in the home kitchen. I typically don’t measure the ingredients out, which is what most professionals do, but I like to set all the ingredients out beside my mixing bowl or the stove. Then as I measure and add to the recipe, I set them aside in another spot. This is really helpful in keeping track of what you’ve added to the recipe. 

Basic Utensils

I distinctly remember moving into a house in college, and realizing that I didn’t have any kitchen utensils. I had been cooking regularly for over five years at that point, and it still took me a while to figure out exactly which kitchen tools and utensils I needed to purchase. So I’ve compiled a list below of the most basic kitchen tools, and an additional list of things I prefer to have, if possible.

Basics

Any standard spatula

Serving spoon

Slotted spoon

8×8 or 9×13 casserole dish (size depends on how many servings you typically cook at one time)

12 or 16 quart pot (to boil pasta)

12-inch skillet (my personal preference is cast iron due to its versatility, but you can get another type if you prefer, just make sure to read the label regarding washing and oven use)

Simple food thermometer (Digital is preferred but any food thermometer will work)

Extras (Can get by without but can make life easier)

Whisk

Rice Cooker

All-in-one cooker (something with both pressure cook and slow cook settings)

Small (6 or 8 inch) skillet (again, my preference is cast iron, but other types will work as well)

14 inch skillet with lid

Dutch oven

Ingredient Selection

I fully believe in using the generic, store brand of products when that’s what you can afford. Goodness knows I’ve been on tight grocery budgets before, so don’t worry if that’s what you can afford. Now, I do spend a bit more on ingredients, but I still don’t go all out. I shop at the most inexpensive grocery store I can find and there are certain things I buy name-brand, and certain things I buy cheaper, but it all depends on your own personal preference.

If you can afford it, and you have freezer space, buying in bulk is often cheaper in the long run. Things that you eat often, for me chicken, ground beef, and various types of pork, can be bought in larger quantities for a lower price per unit. This is more of an investment up front, but it can pay off in the future. And you don’t have to go to Sam’s Club or Costco to buy in bulk. Normal grocery stores typically do the same thing. 

Menu Planning

There is a high value in planning out what meals you’re going to eat ahead of time. This can be done in week increments, or by the month. I like planning for each month at a time, because it allows me to do one big grocery shopping trip each month. Then I’ll go back as needed to pick up things like fresh fruit and vegetables, milk, and bread. It’s easier and less stressful to me. 

If you plan for a month at a time, it can be helpful to plan so that you’ll be able to buy things in bulk. For example, I’ll often plan two or three meals that use chicken thighs, then buy one large pack. I’ll open the pack when I get home and separate into separate containers depending on how much I need for each meal. It can be a good way to save a bit on groceries. 

Another note on saving money at the grocery store; generic, store brand canned vegetables are exactly the same as the name brand. Frozen or dried vegetables are cost-effective, too, it just depends on what will work best for your recipe and what you have time for. Dried beans definitely take a lot longer than canned or frozen, but they are typically the cheapest version. 

Until Next Time

I hope you find this information helpful as we launch into our first recipe next week. Especially if you are a beginner cook, please look over the things I’ve talked about today and familiarize yourself with kitchen safety. I can’t wait to get started and I hope you enjoy this series! Until next time, have fun, be safe, and eat good food.

Comfort Food and Collard Greens

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The idea of “comfort food” is interesting to me.

I grew up in West Georgia. My dad’s family has lived in the same hundred miles going back over two hundred years, and my maternal grandmother grew up in the Appalachian mountains of North Georgia. So one might say we’re a Southern family, and certainly a Georgian one. And the fact is, what most Americans consider “comfort food” or “Soul food” to us is just weekly and daily occurrences. Cornbread, black-eye peas, macaroni and cheese, and collard greens – or just “greens”, as it’s often a combination of several different types of leafy greens- were made, consumed, and enjoyed regularly. Fried steak with gravy, pork chops, salmon patties, and hamburger steaks are entrees I ate with gusto several times a month. Meatloaf was reserved for Sunday’s after-church dinner, as was pot roast. It’s just always odd when I see common childhood meals referred to as “comfort food,” as though you can’t eat those foods as often as you want.

This topic crossed my mind when I went to supper with a dear friend of mine. Neither of us had been to that restaurant before, a place in downtown Austell, GA called the South Cobb Diner. The food was superb. The company was fantastic of course, an old friend I had fallen out of touch with and proceeded to spend two hours catching up. But the food. It was amazing. Sometimes at restaurants one or two things on the plate will taste sub-par or even canned, but everything was clearly fresh and homemade. Fried steak, Vidalia onion gravy, cornbread, macaroni and cheese, and collard greens.

I have had a love-hate relationship with greens over the course of my life. Apparently when I was very young I would happily drink “pot likker,” which is the term I’ve always heard for the liquid left after the greens are cooked. I had low iron so that was probably really healthy for me. Then for most of my childhood I hated even the sight of greens, along with most boiled vegetables (unfortunately, vegetables in the South either come fried or boiled, so there were frequent grumblings and arguments about how many boiled things I had to eat). Now, greens and I have a tentative agreement that hinges on the presence of Franks hot sauce (as they say, I put that sh*t on everything, sorta).

All that to say, greens don’t often stand out as something I particularly enjoy. But these greens. Ya’ll. I think they changed my life. I would love to figure out how to make them. The only issue with greens is this; the recipe. No one I know is particularly fond of using a recipe if they don’t need it, and I come from a long line of women who glance at a recipe and then mostly ignore it and do what they want. So my concern is that there probably aren’t very many written recipes for greens, and they’re probably all just a list of ingredients.

My first foray into the world of collard greens (henceforth just “greens”) came on a Monday afternoon. The menu for the night was greens, hoppin’ john, and cornbread. I have made the latter two dishes more times than I can count, but as stated above, it would be my first try at greens.

I used the list of ingredients I was given, tried my best, and… they were ok. Not the best, not inedible (I guess), but just, eh. I think greens might just have to be the thing I can’t cook. And honestly, that’s ok with me. I can cook plenty of other dishes that are delicious, so I think I’ll manage without knowing how to cook greens. But if you want the other recipes, click the links below.

Shrimp Bowl Recipe Card

Makes four servings

One can yellow corn

One can or one cup frozen peas

One bell pepper

One onion (or two cups of a frozen bell pepper and onion mix)

Four servings of shrimp

Four servings of rice

Four servings of beans

Cook the rice in your preferred method. This is one of the only times you’ll see me do this, but I cook the rice plain, without any seasonings, for this recipe. The other elements of this dish have enough flavor that the rice doesn’t really need anything.

Cook the beans in your preferred method. I like to boil them with bell pepper and onion, and I’ve come to prefer cooking a big batch of dry beans and freezing some. Doing this lets me take advantage of the price decrease of dry beans versus canned, and also gives me the convenience of having prepared beans on standby.

Defrost, if needed, your shrimp. Peel and de-tail, if needed. Sprinkle with one packet of Sazon and set in the fridge to marinate, at least 30 minutes but preferably longer.

Chop bell pepper and onion. I like a pretty rough chop for this recipe, as it gives a better bite, but you can cut them as small as you like. 

Saute in hot cooking oil. Add salt and pepper, and your preferred seasonings. I like chili powder, cumin, smoked paprika, and oregano. 

When the onion starts to go translucent, add about half a cup of water, the peas, and the corn, and cover. Let simmer for 3-5 minutes, then remove lid. If pepper and onion are tender, remove from the heat. If not tender, add a little more water and continue to simmer until tender.

Saute the shrimp in a little cooking oil. Sometimes I cook them in the remaining seasonings from the pepper and onions, it depends on . Cook the shrimp, stirring frequently, until done. 

Assemble everything, sprinkle with cheese, and enjoy!

Nutella Crepe Cake

⅓ C. flour

1 egg

½ C milk

Dash salt

Bigger dash sugar

Butter or cooking spray

I used a much smaller pan than is normally used for crepes, so it made a smaller cake that is more appropriate for two people. 

Set the pan over medium heat to preheat.

Combine all ingredients (except butter/ cooking spray), and whisk briskly. I mean go to town and whisk the you-know-what out of it, you don’t want any lumps. 

Turn the heat up slightly, and either melt the butter or spray with cooking spray. Using a ¼ cup measuring cup, hold the pan in one hand and dip out an almost-full ¼ cup of batter. Pour the batter into the pan, then quickly rotate pan in every direction to completely coat the bottom. 

Cook for about one minute, until it starts to color slightly on the bottom and the edges are dry. Then use a spatula to carefully flip. And don’t worry, the first one always looks terrible.

Cook on second side for about 30 seconds, then remove to a small plate. Top with a small spoonful of nutella, then start second crepe. As second crepe is cooking, spread the nutella over the first one, and don’t worry if it doesn’t go all the way to the edge. 

When second crepe is finished cooking, stack on top of first, and again top with nutella.

Follow this order until crepe batter is gone. I prefer not to top last crepe with nutella, but instead I sprinkle with a little sugar right before serving.

Set aside to cool and set slightly. Can be eaten warm or chilled, according to your preference.

Spinach Ravioli with Garlic Sauce

Two servings of pre-made ravioli

2 Tb olive oil

2 Tbs butter

5 minced garlic cloves

1/4 tsp red pepper flakes

1 tsp dried parsley

1 Tb lemon juice

Salt and pepper

2 oz grated parmesan

Boil ravioli according to package directions, drain.

Heat oil and butter on medium heat until radiating heat. Add garlic and red pepper flakes, and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. I like for the garlic to start turning golden brown. Remove from heat. Add the ravioli, lemon juice, cheese, and parsley. Serve, I prefer pasta bowls.

Hot Crab Crostini Recipe Card

(makes 8, or 4 servings for this particular meal. You could have it as two servings, if there are fewer other courses)

¾ tsp mayo

½ tsp onion powder

⅛ tsp garlic powder

⅓ tsp lemon juice

¾ tsp water

⅛ tsp hot sauce

2 oz cream cheese

4 oz imitation crab, chopped

4 slices of loaf bread

1 Tbs bread crumbs

1 Tbs grated Parmesan

Combine everything except the crab and microwave for about 20 seconds, until the cream cheese is soft. Stir in the crab meat as well and set aside until ready to assemble.

Lightly toast regular sliced bread, then use a shot glass to cut small circles out of the bread. I try to avoid the crust, and I use the scraps to make the bread crumbs for the topping.

Combine the bread crumbs and parmesan cheese

When nearly time for the meal, place the toasted rounds on a baking sheet, top with a mound of crab mixture, then sprinkle with bread crumb mixture. Broil for a few minutes, until tops are toasted to your liking. 

Serve on a small plate.

Creamy Tortellini

Ingredients

Diced onion

Minced garlic

16 oz sausage

20 oz tortellini

28 oz crushed tomato

Chicken broth

2 tbsp cream cheese

16 oz spinach

16 oz shredded cheese

Spices (depend on personal taste)

Saute the onions until fragrant and translucent. Add sausage, garlic, and desired spices, and cook until sausage is browned.

Add tortellini, tomato, and broth. Bring to a boil, then turn to medium low and simmer until tortellini is cooked through and the liquid is reduced. 

Add spinach and cream cheese, stirring until spinach is wilted.

Add shredded cheese and combine. Serve.