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Archive for the ‘Cooking’ Category

January’s issue of Southern Living had a recipe for homemade condensed cream of mushroom soup. I’m glad to know I am not the only cook that has a love/hate relationship with canned cream of mushroom soup. It’s a secret weapon in my pantry and recipe books: an ingredient I rarely talk about and certainly never brag about, even though it sure does hold a lot of food together.

But food snobbery aside, it is high in sodium and fat, and contains a few things I can’t pronounce, and would rather not eat. And it’s no longer a cheap ingredient. It was possible at one time to buy cream-of-anything soup at the low price of 4 for $1. Then the sales went to 3 for $1, then 2 for $1 and now you’re lucky if you find it for under a buck per can.

That’s where this recipe entered the scene. It is not an ultra frugal recipe (although if you find fresh mushrooms marked down, it could bring the cost down considerably.) My guesstimated cost was somewhere around $8 to make this batch. But it is significantly lower in sodium, and has no preservatives.

I modified homemade-cream-mushroom-soup-sl-lSouthern Living’s version…not on purpose. I dumped in the whole quart of heavy cream before I realized it only called for half that amount. But the final results were what I was looking for, and after using almost half the soup in a couple recipes, I was left with the equivalent of four cans concentrate. They are in my freezer, waiting for the next recipe that calls for condensed cream of mushroom soup.  Here’s Southern Living’s version and here’s my modified version.

Condensed Cream of Mushroom Soup

Ingredients:
3 8-ounce cartons of button mushrooms (whole or sliced – you’re going to dice them. I substituted one can of mushrooms for one carton of fresh, because I had one in the pantry and I wanted to use it up.)
1/2 cup butter, divided
1/3 cup flour
4 cups heavy cream
2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened (you can use light, fat-free or Neufatchel; the texture may vary slightly)
1/4 teaspoon Better-than-Bouillon chicken concentrate
2 ounces water

Directions:
Place 3 tablespoons of the butter in a large, deep skillet. Add the chopped mushrooms (I’d recommend dicing them fairly small unless your family likes chunks of mushrooms in their foods.)

Cook, stirring, over medium-high heat until the mushrooms sweat out their juices and the juices evaporate – approximately 10-12 minutes. This step takes the longest and you really want to keep a close eye on them.

Remove the mushrooms from the pan and set aside.  Add the remaining butter and flour; whisk into a roux and let bubble for a minute or two over medium heat; do not let it brown.  Gradually add the cream, whisking smooth. Add the cream cheese and stir until smooth. Re-add the mushrooms. The mixture should be velvety and thick – much like the texture of condensed cream of mushroom soup. Cool and divide among 7 or 8 small (10 or 12 ounce) freezer containers or quart-size freezer bags. I portioned out 7 generous servings from this recipe but I’ll stretch it to 8 next time. Thaw before using.

For additional modifications, you can try substituting half-and-half for some of the heavy cream (it may make it “soup-ier”) and low-fat or no-fat cream cheese. Better-than-Bouillon also makes a reduced sodium concentrate that would reduce the sodium content even further.

Happy eating,
Terry

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Around here, the past couple of winters have been really mild. Uncommonly mild, even. Last year, we watched and waited for winter to arrive, and it never did. Not really, anyway. We just kind of shivered our way into spring.

But apparently THIS winter has decided to settle in and give us a good run for our money, at least in terms of temperatures. If I could ask for anything, I would like a little snow to go with the cold. Please and thank you.

This is how our week is shaping up, weather-wise.
forecast
I know, I know. I shouldn’t whine. This is nothing compared with some parts of the country, where minus signs frequently appear in front of temperatures, and polar vortex is NOT a noteworthy weather phenomenon. But here in middle Tennessee, we live on the teetering transitional edge between north and south. And some years, our average lows hover in the mid-30s – not exactly tropical, but not exactly locked in the icy clutches of winter, either.

Part of me is glad I don’t have my greenhouse up and running this year and  part of me wishes I did. Even on a cold, blustery winter day, a little sunshine and a space heater can make it feel like spring. But there is a big price to pay – namely the cost of keeping the inside above freezing every night.

While we start the inevitable countdown to spring (I generally begin marking off the weeks to last frost as soon as Super Bowl Sunday has come and gone), I’m focusing my time and attention on indoor stuff: cleaning, organizing, crafting, cooking and exercising. Maybe not in that order.

Last week’s menu had several new items from January’s Southern Living recipes. This week’s menu has a few more recipes from that issue. I’ve finally embraced the no-knead bread recipe, and we’ve eaten two loaves in as many weeks. I don’t know why it took me so long to give it a shot, but I’m glad I did. I got February’s Southern Living in the mail over the weekend and there are several more good-sounding recipes in it, so my family can rest assured they will get a nice mix of old favorites and new foods over the next several weeks.

I’ve kept up with my daily Bible reading and the 52-week organizing challenge; this week is pantry and spice rack cleanout. Luckily for me, I had done a pantry re-org before Christmas, so I’m coasting for a few days. Next week’s challenge is to set up a home recycling center, which is unnecessary because we have curbside recycling, and they sort everything for us, so if the temperatures aren’t bitterly cold, I hope to use that week to clear out a lot of the clutter in the garage. No promises, though.

I like to think of it as part of the organization challenge, but whatever you call it, I’ve abandoned any pretense at limiting my Fiesta collection. And so I’ve begun the hunt for a new/second hutch for the kitchen…a two-piece style with a breakfront so I can eek out a little more counter space as well as have more display room for my vintage dishes, and lower cabinets and drawers to stow cookbooks and linens and a few less-used cooking and serving pieces. I found a Hoosier-style oak cabinet last weekend at an antique mall, and I loved everything about it except the width (too narrow) and the price (too high.)  I’m holding out hope that stalking Craigslist will eventually yield the piece with exact dimensions and price I’m looking for.

So how is your winter going? Are you like me, and ready for it to be over and done with already? Or are you settling in and enjoying the season?

Happy Monday,
Terry

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I turned the big 5-0 last February.  To answer the inevitable responses to that statement,

No, I have no idea where five decades went. I just know they went really fast.
and
No, I really don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.

But with certain milestone birthdays come certain “health screening” procedures, whether you feel all grown-up or not.

Yeah.

Monday and yesterday were consumed by one of those procedures. You know, the one where you devote considerable time to NOT eating, and ummmm, “prepping”…which is far worse than the procedure. The procedure itself is fairly unremarkable, because you get sedated, and then you sleep. And sleep and sleep. At least that’s how mine went, and yesterday afternoon involved eating, napping, eating, napping. (Side note, the results were good news – a clean bill of health.)

january-2014 SL magazineAnd now that THAT’s behind me (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun), I’m going to make good on making some one-dish wonders highlighted in this month’s Southern Living magazine.

Rarely does one article have multiple dishes that appeal to me, but this one hit the jackpot with three. This week’s menu lineup includes:

1. Tomato-Basil-Spinach Pasta – I’m adding shrimp and some Italian sausage to mine;
2. Paella-style Orzo with Fish and Herbs which is a great use of orzo in my pantry and tilapia in the freezer; and
3. Hammed-up Macaroni and Cheese to use up some of the left-over spiral ham slices from earlier in the week.

I’m pretty hopeful the rest of the week will go better…although that napping was pretty awesome.

Happy cooking,
Terry

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624px-XRF_12daysYesterday was the 12th day of Christmas, if you’re keeping up with the rather archaic tradition. But I didn’t give or receive 12 drummers drumming. No…my true love braved the wind and tucked away the last of the outdoor decorations in their storage tubs while I dismantled the Christmas tree.

Today the decorations and tree will head back to their space in the attic, and that will conclude the holiday season.  I am very grateful to be indoors because baby it is definitely COLD outside. We are expecting to hit 8 degrees (F) today. I’m not sure we’ve dipped down to single digits in a couple of years, and I really don’t remember the last time we had such a chilly day.

With the first week in 2014 past, here’s where I’m at on my resolutions, which address four areas: spiritual, cooking, health and cleaning/organizing.

Our church family has been challenged to all participate in a Bible reading challenge and I’m tracking through the Bible in chronological fashion, thanks to One Year Bible’s easy Facebook links. This one should be like riding a bike. (The one I fell off last fall, so close to the end. Sigh.)

I’m also planning to try Reddit’s 52 Weeks of Cooking challenge. The first week was eggs, and I took a stab at shirred (baked) eggs on Saturday. Let’s just say I need to give them another go…and not overcook them. The concept has great potential for weekend Eggs Benedict if I can perfect the cooking time. This week’s challenge is to try a Polish dish. I like stuffed cabbages, but my family is not fond of them, so I’m not sure what we’ll do…maybe pierogies?

To counteract the effects of taking a cooking challenge, my healthy side will continue incorporating more juicing into my weekday meals, and I’m gong to reintroduce myself to my Body Pump classmates and the treadmill. I lost a solid five pounds in the weeks leading up to the holidays and – more importantly – lost my sweet tooth. Not a single piece of Halloween candy.  Alas, the sweet tooth found its way home for the holidays, but if I lost it once, I can do it again.

On the cleaning/organizing side of things, I am…intrigued by this weekly challenge. It looks interesting, but we’ll see if I can stick with it long-term.

So how are you settling into 2014? Do tell!

Happy Monday,
Terry

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New Year, New Foods

I’ve been mentally contemplating a “laundry list” of new foods I want to try to make in the new year. Why wait when you can jump right in on New Year’s Day?

Despite grafting myself in (via marriage) to the south, I have been slow to warm up to black-eyed peas. For the longest time, Pam’s black-eyed pea salad  was the only recipe I liked well enough to incorporate these humble legumes into a meal. But times and tastebuds change, and this year, Hoppin’ John (bottom right in the picture below) was on the New Year’s Day menu, along with dirty rice (small blue ramekin) and shrimp gumbo (in the Dutch oven and dark blue bowl on the left). Side note – I do love my Fiesta shallow bowls/deep plates…they come in so handy, whatever you call them.

IMG_5265Like most southerners, I’ve eaten my share of dirty rice and gumbo (and made a few attempts to make my own) over the years.

I’ve never been particularly thrilled with my own efforts, so I scrapped those old recipes and tried half-size versions of two new ones. Coastal Living’s Gumbo was easy and delicious; Prairie Woman’s Hoppin’ John was also a winner. Paula Deen’s dirty rice was a tad heavy on the chicken livers (which was my fault – the tub I bought didn’t indicate volume, so I guessed it was a pound, and I think it was larger than that), and even when I cut it in half, it made a HUGE batch. So for smaller families, I’d suggest cutting it to 25% and easing up on the chicken livers – maybe just a couple in there.

So what else is on my list of must-try-foods in 2014? I won’t spoil all the surprises, but here are a few that are warming up for their chance at bat:

Tavern thin pizza (I am homing in on a cold-rise pizza crust that will give me the texture I’m looking for)
Crusty artisan bread in my trusty cast-iron Dutch oven
Tuna pot pies
Poblano pepper-smothered steak

And I’m also going to try Reddit’s 52-weeks of cooking challenge.

What new food adventures are you ready to embark upon this year? Life really is too short to eat the same ‘ol, same ‘ol all the time (even though we have our favorite recipes just like everyone else.) And the worst thing that can happen with a new recipe is that it bombs – if it does, your next meal is only a few hours away. So I dare you to plunge in – look through a cookbook or recipe site – and find something new to cook …soon!

Happy cooking!
Terry

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A couple weeks ago, we got a lot of rain, and rain makes a lot of things grow…things like zucchini. When I could finally get to the garden without getting stuck in mud, I discovered I had several ‘Eight Ball’ zucchini that were much larger than their namesake. I dug up several bread and cake recipes, and then I remembered this quick zucchini side dish.  I also happened to have two ears of roasted corn left over from a previous evening’s dinner, so I cut the corn off the cob and tossed it in the mix. We declared these fritters a winner. Which is a good thing, because I daresay I’ll be picking zucchini all summer long. And since Tuesday was “corn fritters day” (seriously), here’s my contribution to the celebration. IMG_4197

Corn & Zucchini Fritters

Ingredients:
1 cup grated zucchini, salted and drained*
1 cup fresh, cooked corn (roasted or steamed corn, fresh or frozen)
1/2 teaspoon diced jalapeno (pickled; use raw if you want it zestier)
1 scallion, sliced thin with a bit of the green top
1-2 eggs (1 large or extra-large, 2 small or medium)
1/8 cup cornmeal
3/4 cup flour
1/8 cup Ritz cracker crumbs (about 4 crackers, crushed)
Coarse pepper to taste
Oil for frying

*I place my grated zucchini in a colander, sprinkle with a teaspoon of salt, let set for a minute or two, then gently press out the excess liquid. You can also wrap the grated zucchini in a piece of cheesecloth and squeeze it to achieve the same result. Since they are salted, I didn’t add any more salt to the recipe. If you drain yours using another method, you may want to add salt to taste.

Directions:
Heat a thin layer (about 1/2 to 1 inch) of oil over medium heat in a deep skillet (my cast iron chicken fryer works perfect – no popping grease over the edges.)

In a mixing bowl, combine vegetables and egg(s). Stir in dry ingredients and mix just until blended; do not over-mix.  IMG_4198When oil is hot, drop by heaping spoonfuls into skillet and gently flatten.  Fry for approximately 3-4 minutes on each side, until a deep golden and crispy around the edges. I forgot to add the coarse pepper to my mix, so I sprinkled it on the upward-facing raw fritters before turning them.
IMG_4193Drain on paper towels and serve hot and plain, or with a bit of sour cream and salsa to ramp up the taste even further. Makes 5-6 fritters. Recipe can be doubled. Cooled and/or frozen fritters reheat well, although they’ll be softer.

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Well, that title is a mouthful, now isn’t it?  A few weeks ago, I had a craving for an ice cream dessert and banana pudding, so I smushed them together and voila, a dessert was born.  It is an easy dish to throw together and requires about 4-5 hours of freezer time. So if you, too like banana pudding and frozen desserts, this one is a perfect ending to a warm weather meal. 

Frozen Banana Pudding Pie

Ingredients:
Vanilla wafers (enough to cover the bottom and one row along the sides of a 9-inch springform pan
1 small box instant pudding mix (I used banana-flavored, but you could use vanilla)
1/2 carton good vanilla ice cream, slightly softened
1 1/2 cups half and half*
3 bananas, sliced
Whipped cream for garnish

Directions:
Prepare pan by placing vanilla wafers in a single layer on the bottom and around the sides of the pan. Slice bananas over the wafers. Set aside.

In a medium or large mixing bowl, beat together the pudding mix and half and half until thickened. Add ice cream and continue mixing just until it’s combined – work fast, because you don’t want the ice cream to melt more than necessary. Pour the mixture over the wafers and bananas. Cover and freeze. (Note: you may have to wrap the bottom with foil to prevent oozing until it hardens; I did.)

To serve, allow to stand for 10 minutes or until just soft enough to slice. Remove springform band; slice and top each slide with whipped cream; serve. Makes 8-10 servings.

*You can skinny this down considerably by using some or all of these substitutions: low-fat wafers, sugar-free pudding, reduced fat ice cream. You can also substitute whole milk for the half-and-half. But I don’t recommend using anything with less fat content than whole milk, as 2% or skim will form ice crystals.

Happy cooking,
Terry

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