Friday, December 4, 2020

Ham and Beans

I grew up in northwest Indiana, a stone's throw from Chicago. It was the best of both worlds, small-town rural suburbia and big city highlights.


It was not until I began to teach in a more central part of the state that I discovered "Hoosier" and Hoosier menus. Ham and beans was one such cuisine. It was often served in the school cafeteria with a piece of cornbread or a yeast roll. It was delicious.

It is stick-to-your ribs comfort food at its best. Warm and starchy. Redolent with smoky ham flavor. It uses the most simple of ingredients one usually has on hand. Sometimes I make a cheat version and just use canned seasoned butter beans and throw in some chopped ham.

But it's fun to play with different raw beans and soak them overnight until they puff up.

My ham preference, if I can find them, is smoked whole ham shanks. It has been several years since I found any grocery store that stocked them. Instead, I now use smoked ham hocks which are more available. They carry a ton of flavor, but not much meat, so I buy a small ham steak that I chop up to add later.

This is basically a bean soup but with the "soupy" part. 

  • 16 - 20 oz. dried white beans (Navy, Northern, etc)
  • 2  smoked ham hocks
  • 1 onion, halved
  • 1-2 whole cloves
  • 2 carrots, sliced and diced
  • 2 celery ribs, sliced and diced
  • 1 medium garlic clove, peeled, smashed finely diced or pressed
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Tabasco to taste
  • Worcestershire sauce to taste
  • 1 small ham steak (or a thick slice of deli ham)
  • Smoked paprika (optional)

Soak the beans: The day or night before, go over your dried beans and remove any "stones" or odd-looking beans. Place them in a colander. Now place the colander inside a large bowl. Fill with cold water until the beans are covered. Change the water several times. The beans will almost double in size.

I like to wash my ham hocks. I give them a good rinse under hot water. Then I place then in a sieve and slowly pour boiling water over them. Why? Well, they're just gross looking. 

Make the stock: Place washed hocks in a pan. Cut the onion in half and stud with one or two whole cloves. Add to pan. Fill pan with water just until it covers everything. Sometimes, I throw in a can of chicken stock. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for a good hour or so. Remove the hocks and allow to cool. Discard onion. Strain the stock.

Now add your beans to the pot. Slice and dice the other half of onion. Add carrots and celery. Mix. Remove meat from the hocks. Cut up. Cut up the ham slice. Add meat to the pot. Bring to just a boil. Remove any scum that floats to the top. Reduce heat and simmer for 1-2 hours.

After about an hour, give the ham and beans a taste. I like to add a few shakes of Tabasco Sauce and 1-2 teaspoons of Worcestershire. If they are not "smoky" enough, give a few shakes of smoked paprika.

If you need to add more liquid, add a bit of water or canned chicken stock. 

Towards the end of cooking, note their consistency. If you like them thick, mash some against the side of the pan. Or add one tablespoon of soft butter to one tablespoon all-purpose flour. Mix well and drop by teaspoonfuls into the stew. Cover and simmer until thickened.

Traditionally, ham and beans is served with cornbread and a bit of diced onion on the top for garnish.

This is not my photo, but it shows the consistency you are looking for:







Thursday, September 24, 2020

Smoked Sausage Casserole

Ready for the oven. Lots of colors and textures.
Update: This became my number one recipe of 2020. I always say that a good recipe is like a good date. It is inexpensive, fulfilling, you want to do it again and you want to tell everyone about it--even your family. Thanks to my Face Book friends who suggested I add the green beans. I have also made this with Kielbasa. I think it is the blend of dried herbs that sets this apart from other similar recipes. And don't forget the sour cream!
AUTUMN is certainly casserole season. Hearty meals of humble ingredients that are easily assembled and easy on the wallet. Often, they can be prepared the day before and are on the table in no time. Usually baked in one pan or dish, clean-up is not complicated. They are comfy and filling. What's not to like?
I have been making this casserole for the past week. Day after day. Honestly, I have not tired of it. I love the flavor. I love the long slow cook in the oven and smell of the sausage and seasonings as it permeates my apartment. Every ingredient just naturally complements each other: potatoes, carrots, onions, string beans.
No green beans in this one, but just as good!

The first time I made it, I couldn't get the seasonings right. The first try was awful. I was out of Italian seasoning, so I used Herbes de Provence. Big mistake. After a few tries, I think I got it just right. Of course, feel free to add your own. But don't skip the celery salt.
Look for sausage when it is on sale or BOGO. And stock up/freeze. My preferred brand is Hillshire Farm smoked beef sausage. I prefer it to Ecrich. A pound of sausage with veggies can satisfyingly feed several people. But this is also a simple dish to prepare for just one or two. Or, in addition to making a larger dish, make a smaller one, too, to share with a friend or neighbor. 
This is really more of a process than a recipe. Add how many veggies you would like. Go easy on the dried seasonings. A little goes a long way and remember it will bake for two hours, so that is a long process for the tastes to mingle. Avoid slicing your sausage too thin. You don't want it to dry out while it cooks.

And this is important. Use tin foil to really seal this tight. I recently made this in a dish I don't normally use. I was not able to fasten the foil as secure as I would have liked. I noticed a real difference. The sausage was not as juicy. In fact the dish lacked moisture. The veggies were a bit underdone. By sealing this tight, you create a steamed environment.

  • 12-16 ounces smoked beef sausage
  • 3/4 large sweet onion, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 3-4 medium red potatoes, scrubbed, cut into chunks
  • 1 cup baby carrot pieces 
  • 1 cup fresh string beans, cut in half or thirds 
  • Butter
  • White wine, (optional)
  •  Sour cream for serving (optional)
  • Seasoning:
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley flakes
  • A good pinch or two of each: dried thyme flakes, rubbed sage leaves, dried marjoram leaves
  • A shake or two of garlic powder (not much)
  • A shake or two of celery salt
  • A few grinds of pepper
Cut the sausage into 2-inch rounds. Add to a bowl. Add the vegetables and seasonings. Mix to coat. Add to a 11x 7-inch baking dish or pan. Dot with butter. If desired, sprinkle with 1-2 tablespoons white wine. The onions will tend to break apart and as they bake they almost disappear into the sauce, so keep that in mind.
Cover tightly with aluminum foil or lid. Bake for two hours at 300F degrees (I've also baked for three hours at 200F).  Remember, the sausage is already cooked, you are really just cooking the veggies and creating a sauce.

If your butter is soft, just add to the mixture to coat. That's what I did here.

Remove from oven. Keep covered for up to 30 minutes. Carefully remove the foil avoiding any steam that may escape. Stir. Serve, if desired, with a bit of sour cream on the side.

Here is a "small" version where I only used potatoes and onions. Delish!

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Blueberry Pie


I was organizing my computer when I came across a file of blueberry pie pictures I had taken several years ago. But, for some reason, I never posted the recipe. I think I was going to do some research into blueberry farming and then got waylaid .... You know how that goes.

This recipe is based on America's Test Kitchen. It uses several handy little secrets. First, to keep the filling from spilling and spreading when the pie is cooled and cut, it uses a grated Granny Smith apple. Genius. The apple is loaded with natural pectin and acts as a thickener without having to mix in copious amounts of starchy additives such as flour, tapioca or corn starch. You will not taste the apple as it just kind of melts into the blueberries. Lastly, to concentrate the blueberry flavor, this recipe makes a kind of "jam" to use in the filling. I rarely have tapioca on hand, so I just skip that and add a few tablespoons of flour. I also substitute lime for the lemon. It makes for a "fresher" tasting pie. I think.

I rarely make my own crust. It's just as easy to purchase the pie dough at the grocery store. Just use a reputable brand. Easy-peasy. The ATK crust uses vodka.

Here in the South it is difficult to get what I call "real" blueberries unless they are trucked in from the cooler and wetter mountains to a local farmers market. Heat and berries just do not go well together. I've never used frozen or canned berries.

I hail from Southwest Michigan where growing conditions are perfect for growing blueberries: sandy soil and plenty of water.  Michigan annually produces 92 million pounds of product.

The most difficult aspect of preparing a fruit pie, for me, is gauging the amount of sugar to use. Of course, it all depends on the sugar-content of the fruit you are using. Add too much, and the fruit flavor is lost; too little and you end up with a too-tart pie. If my blueberries are plump, juicy and sweet, I use less sugar.

I am not a believer in a big fruit pies. I use smallish pans and never pile the fruit a mile high. I like a good ratio of crust to fruit which one gets in a smaller pie. A ten-inch fruit pie can often just fall apart--and that's why one makes cobblers in oblong pans.

For one 9-inch pie:

  • 6 cups fresh blueberries (about 30 ounces)
  • 1 Granny Smith apple, peeled and grated on large holes of box grater
  • 2 teaspoons grated zest and 2 teaspoons juice from 1 lemon (I use limes)
  • 3/4 cup sugar (5 1/4 ounces) [depending on sweetness of berries]
  • 2 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca, ground (I just use flour)
  • Pinch table salt
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces 

Measure 3 cups of berries into a saucepan and over medium heat. Using a potato masher or similar tool, mash berries several times to release juice. Continue to cook, stirring frequently and mashing occasionally, until about half of berries have broken down and mixture is thickened and reduced to 1 1/2 cups, about 8 minutes. Let cool slightly.

Meanwhile, line a 9-inch pie plate with dough of your choice. (Hint: if you are using a ceramic dish, I suggest lightly greasing or buttering it.) Place the grated apple in a clean towel or dish rag and wring/squeeze out the juice until all that remains is the pulp.

Place the apple pulp in a large bowl. Add the cooled blueberry mash, remaining fresh blueberries, citrus, sugar, tapioca or flour, salt. Gently fold to combine.

Transfer to your pastry-lined dish. Dot with butter. Roll out your top crust. Crimp edges under bottom crust and securely pinch together using a fluting method of your choice. You don't want all the juices leaking out. Cover the edges with a tin saver or tinfoil to prevent over browning.

Be sure to vent the top crust so the steam can escape. Here, I cut out a small circle and then made four slashes. I always use for to coordinate with the directions of Earth.

Bake in a 400 F. degree oven for 30 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350 and finish baking another 30-40 minutes until crust is golden brown. If your is smaller, you will need to adjust baking times.

Cool completely before cutting.

Because blueberries prefer a slightly acidic soil, their autumn foliage can be breathtaking, especially if  it covers acres of land to the horizon.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Stuffed Peppers

I was the gardener in the family. I was forever digging up the yard and planting something, much to my father's chagrin.

Growing up, my immediate farming mentors were our neighbors Ann and Maureen, creative lovely people who worked for a candy company in the city next to us. Candy!

When I was older and after we had moved to a different town, I realized they were gay. Back in the 1950's, who knew? Apparently, the whole neighborhood. But no one cared. They were talented. Creative. And fun to be around. 

As a child, I just loved their gardening acumen and interest in ...  well ... everything. They even wove rag rugs. They made great homemade fudge. In the summer, they would sometimes have early morning breakfasts on the grill. It was like a vacation. They loved my family.

Maureen was the gardener. She was, ironically, a heavy smoker. And she had asthma. But she was the one who taught me how to plant tomatoes. And peppers. She would often get out her tin watering can, put in a bit of Miracle Gro, and away we would go .....

I loved when my mother made stuffed peppers using those I had grown. Sometimes she would put them aside until she had enough to feed a family of seven. I would eye the pile ...

Unless you grow your own, the days of inexpensive peppers is a bygone era.  As is ground beef. And cheese. Still, this quintessential American dish can be economical if you plan ahead and look for sales.

When I was a young cook on my own, I often used ketchup for stuffed peppers. I loved the Crock Pot version. It was sweet. Just a bit of acidity. Kind of like that which I grew up.

Today, not so much. Instead, I like a bit of complexity. 

I rarely use ketchup. I reach for cheese. And black olives. And a great bottled marinara instead of just a canned tomato sauce.  In this case, I used RAO which is not cheap! But, it is, as far as I'm concerned, and America's Test Kitchen, the best on the market! The point is to turn it up a notch with something more flavorful that canned tomato sauce.

Choose a cheese of your choice. Here I used mozzarella.
Target had RAO on sale for only 5.99! I bought three jars (always examine the expiration date). The cheese was on sale. And I got the peppers for a great price (79 cents each). I love the sweeter taste and visual play of colored peppers, but at almost two bucks each, I don't think so. The meat was also on sale. So, it all worked out.

I used "sweet" Italian sausage but I added a pinch or two red pepper flakes to the meat mixture. It's your call.

I also like to slice the peppers down the middle. That way, you can get in more of the meat filling. Again, it's up to you. If you want to fill them from the top, go right ahead (but you may need to cook them a bit longer).

These are great served with mashed potatoes to soak up some of the lovely tomato sauce. For a great summer meal, don't forget the corn on the cob. For dessert, a berry cobbler would suffice.

This recipe makes quite a bit, so it is easy to prepare some for neighbors or friends to bake at home. I find it easy to make two at a time and then I store the extra meat filling and sauce in the fridge to make a couple more the next night and the next. You could, of course, make ahead and freeze. Like Stouffer's!

Finally, stuffed peppers are somewhere between a meatloaf and stuffed cabbage rolls, so use the seasonings and mixes you and your family enjoy.

Just out of the oven, I added a mix of cheeses I had on hand. I liked the contrasting color.

  • For the sauce:

  • 1 large red onion, sliced and diced
  • 1+ tablespoon olive oil plus more for the peppers
  • Pinch or two of salt
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 2 cups jarred marinara sauce (I use RAO)
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste (optional)
  • 1 good tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • Juice from one 4 oz. can sliced black olives
  • 1-2 teaspoons white sugar or to taste

  • For the stuffing:

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1/2 pound Italian sausage
  • 2 cups cooked rice or 1 package Uncle Ben's original or Basmati ready rice
  • 1 cup fresh Parmessan cheese (I use "shaved" pieces and break them apart)
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • 1/4 cup dried bread crumbs
  • 2 large cloves garlic, or 4 medium, grated, minced or pressed
  • 1 10-ounce can diced tomatoes (I use Heinz "fire roasted")
  • 1 4-ounce can black sliced olives, drained (save the juice)
  • 2 + teaspoons coarse salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper of your choice
  • Several pinches red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 4 large peppers (here I used green)
  • Sour Cream for serving (optional)

Slice the peppers in half. Clean out the seeds. Using a melon baller, remove the interior ribs and white pith. Very lightly, add a few drops of olive oil inside each pepper. Using your fingers, rub in the olive oil, including the outside. Set aside.

In a large bowl, add the beef, sausage, onion, garlic, Parmesan, parsley, salt and pepper, drained black olives, bread crumbs. If using, add red pepper flakes. Lightly mix to combine being cautious not to compact the meat while mixing. Incorporate the canned, diced tomatoes. (If desired, add several squirts of ketchup.)

In a medium/large frying pan, add the olive oil over medium-high heat. When hot, add the diced red onion. Add a pinch or two of salt. Sautee until tender. Remove half of the onions to add to the stuffing mixture. To remaining onions in the pan, add the beef broth, black olive juice, balsamic vinegar and marinara sauce. Simmer over medium heat. Add sugar a little at a time (or none!) until you are satisfied with the taste.

In a 13 x 9 baking dish, add the sauce from the frying pan. Stuff each pepper evenly with the meat mixture. Spoon a bit of sauce on top. Place shaved pieces of Parmesan on top of each pepper and sprinkle a few drops of olive oil on top.

Lightly spray the underside of a large piece of aluminum foil to fit over casserole dish. Secure as firmly as possible.

Bake in a 375 F degee oven for about 40 minutes. Carefully remove foil and continue to bake another 10 minutes or so or until the peppers themselves are tender. Remove from oven. If desired, sprinkle with a bit more cheese of your choice. It will melt on its own. Top with sour cream, if desired.

If using smaller baking vessels, proportion the sauce, peppers and stuffing accordingly. They may require less baking time.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Blueberry Cornbread

It's sad to believe that summer is coming to such a swift end.

Before fresh, local blueberries leave your favorite farm stand, I urge you to give a hand to this simple-to-prepare recipe from America's Test Kitchen. Neither sweet like a cake nor savory like  a classic cornbread, it is somewhere in-between. On it's own, it is perfect for a weekend breakfast with a hot cup of coffee or tea. With eggs and bacon or sausage, how can you really go wrong?

When I make recipes like this, and to make baking quicker and smoother, I mix the dry ingredients the night before--and often grease the pan, too. The following day, all I have to do is to measure out the wet ingredients, add to the dry, spoon into the pan, place in the oven and that's it. I'm done!

To remove the cornbread from the pan, place a wire rack over it and flip. Use another wire rack to flip again right-side up. Because there are so many blueberries, it is easy for the bread to crack along  the "blueberry fault lines." So be a bit careful and avoid "playing" with it.

The dusting of sugar on top of this "cake" does not really act as a sweetener. Instead, it creates a nice crispy top, so be sure to exercise some patience to evenly cover the entire surface.

I'm not so sure this would work with frozen blueberries, so I am not going to suggest doing so. I feel they might "bleed" into the batter to make it blue.

  • 1 and 1/2 cups AP flour
  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 3/4 cup white sugar + 1 tablespoon for dusting the top of the batter
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 12 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups or 10 ounces fresh blueberries, washed and dried

Grease a 9-inch cake pan. Dust with yellow cornmeal (optional).
Pre-heat oven to 375 F.

Whisk together the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Set aside

Whisk wet ingredients in a smaller bowl then add to dry ingredients. Mix just until combined. It is not necessary to mix out all the lumps, but no dried flour should remain.

Carefully fold in the blueberries and then mound the mixture into your prepared cake pan. Smooth the top. Sprinkle with the one tablespoon of sugar.

Bake 40-45 minutes if using a light-colored pan. A dark-colored pan will take less time, so check after 30-35 minutes. It is done when the center bounces back a bit and a sharp knife comes out clean of batter.

Allow to cool in the pan for about 20 minutes before removing from the pan and another 20-30 minutes before cutting. Cover unused portions and/or store in refrigerator.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Cheap Bacon or Salami Crisps

To die for! Great with eggs. Pile it on a BLT! Scatter on a salad. 

As a child, I never really cared for a salami sandwich. It was "chewy." I loved the taste, but not the texture.

It was not until I was a retired adult working in a deli that I understand the science of salami. It was really quite simple. To fully appreciate its taste, it is paramount to slice it paper thin. No, I take that back. Paper is too thick. Think Saran-wrap or cling-film thin.

I learned this from New York Italians. And I've never looked back. I have one customer who insists that her salami be shaved! Do you know how long it takes to shave one pound of salami? I love Genoa salami. Sliced thin, it almost melts in your mouth.

The other morning, while preparing my customary day-off breakfast of two fried eggs and toast, I set out the salami on the counter as I rummaged the fridge looking for some melon.

While my pan was heating, I spied the salami. "What the heck," I thought. I threw in two paper-thin slices and stared at the miraculous alchemy.

The round disks immediately shrunk before my eyes and began to bubble and crisp. I quickly flipped them and wow! It almost sounded like popcorn as the second side immediately crisped to a lacy brown. I removed them to paper towel to drain. There was not much grease in the pan. After about a minute or two, the disks cooled to a delicate potato-chip crispness that literally melted in my mouth.  I was blown away. And the taste was better than any bacon I had ever tried. 

I did several more batches. It was astounding.

Fried salami is several times cheaper than bacon. It fries much faster. And it is cleaner with less grease.

Why Genoa? It has peppercorns in it and bit more spices.


  • Paper-thin slices Genoa salami.
  • Non-stick pan.
  • Paper towel. 

Turn on your vent fan. Heat a non-stick pan on high. Lightly place thin slices of salami into pan. They will immediately sizzle and shrink. After about 30 seconds, they will begin to turn brown on the edges. Flip. The tiny white pieces of fat will "pop" like popcorn. When brown, about another 30-40 seconds, remove to paper towel to drain. It all happens very fast, so DO NOT WALK AWAY from the pan.

If making a large batch, place the crisps on a baking tray and pop into a 150-200 degree oven to keep warm and crisp.

For subsequent batches, you may need to turn down the heat a bit.

Like bacon, I would guess one could also "bake" it in the oven. But fried is much quicker and more fun to watch as it immediately transforms itself into bacon. Feel free to experiment with your own thicknesses.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Tuna Loaf with Gruyere Cheese

Simple. Elegant. Delicious. Thanks, Chef Eric!

I was pleasantly surprised by this simple recipe. It is from French Chef Eric over on You Tube. It was divine. Resembling a quiche in texture, the flavors were subtle. It was good warm and at room temperature, but I really enjoyed it cold from the fridge, thinly sliced. And it was a cinch to prepare.

I deviated from the original recipe in several ways. First, I added dried onion to the custard mix. Second, I used a quality jar tuna, not canned. I think that did the trick. The result was not at all "fishy." I used some heavy cream with the milk simply because I had it on hand. I also used dried ancho chili powder instead of the Cayenne. And I added a big pinch of baking powder to give the loaf a bit of lift.

I plan to tweak this even more in the future, subbing fresh parsley for the cilantro, perhaps using different dried herbs, such as dill or my favorite, fines herbs. (Note: I have prepared it this way and loved it. ) Chef Eric says one may substitute the tuna with canned salmon. It is on my to-cook list.

So, go ahead and give it a try. I think you, too, will be divinely surprised. Here is the link to Chef Eric's video on You Tube:

  • 3 large eggs, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup whole milk or 1/4 cup heavy cream mixed with 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1 tablespoon dried onion flakes (optional, but I prefer)
  • 7 oz. tuna in oil, undrained. I used jarred, TonNinno brand
  • 5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup grated Gruyere cheese
  • Salt and Pepper to taste (less salt, more pepper)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne (or something similar) or to taste for heat
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped cilantro
Without the cilantro:
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped parsley, curly or flat
  • Omit the cumin and thyme but add 1 tablespoon "fines herbes"
Other Additions:
  • Chopped Pimentos, 2 Tablespoons
  • Sliced Black Olives, 2-4 Tablespoons

In a medium bowl, whisk eggs. Add milk or cream/milk mixture. Add dried onions, if using. Add tuna and oil. Mix. Add flour. Mix. Add cheese. Mix. Add the remaining ingredients and stir.

Grease and flour a loaf pan. The bottom of mine measured 7 x 3.25 inches. Feel free to line the bottom with buttered parchment paper if you are concerned about sticking.

Pour custard-tuna mixture into prepared pan. Bake in a 400 F oven for about 35-40 minutes or until a wooden skewer comes out clean.

Cool a bit and then carefully remove from pan.

The French use a tuna loaf for picnics.
It travels well and is delicious cold or at room temperature.

I prefer this cold, in thin slices. Do serve with a chilled, dry white wine or cold iced tea. I like mine with a bit of sliced beets, avocado or watermelon on the side. It is also great with scrambled eggs. Also good with a Remoulade sauce on the side.

Here it is sliced warm ... still delicious.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Corned Beef in the Instant Pot

Through the years, I have prepared corned beef in the crock pot, in the oven, and stove top. While I love the flavor of a corned beef in the crock pot, it often produces a roast that is fall-apart overdone and next to impossible to thinly slice. I have done the 3-3-3 oven method, my mother's favorite: three cups of water, three hours, at three-hundred degrees. But it really depends on the size of the corned beef.

I mostly prepared corned beef in a large pot on top of the stove, slow simmered, periodically testing it for doneness by poking it with a long-tined fork. That's fine, if I'm home and have the time. All three methods suffuse the house with an aromatic, St. Paddy's Day flavor.

This year, however, I did mine in the Instant Pot. And, by far, it produced the nicest corned beef. It was flavorful (crock pot virtue) without falling apart. It sliced absolutely beautifully! It was tender and juicy. I prepared three since my store had a terrific sale. The one below is the one I liked the best. And it's the most simple.

For the first one, I added celery, potatoes, carrots, onion, garlic, and beer. I used the obligatory spice packet. The result was a corned beef that, because of the beer, was a bit bitter as were the veggies. And I should have used more dried spices.

For the second, I only used one onion a large garlic clove, and the enclosed spice packet. It was okay, but it still lacked that St. Patrick's Day PUNCH of flavor.

For the third, (pictured) I used no veggies at all. NONE! I DOUBLED the dried spices. I added one large clove of garlic. And I reduced the amount of liquid. It was IRISH BLISS! 

All three of my corned beefs were 2-3 lbs. While the texture of all three ended up the same, tender and juicy, easy to slice, the third, by far, had the best flavor. (See your manual for the best cooking times according to the size of your roast.)

Unlike traditional recipes, I prefer my cabbage and potatoes "clean," so I boil them separately and season with some of the beef juice along with butter, salt and pepper.

  • 1 corned beef, flat cut, 2-3 lbs.
  • 1 packet spice mixture that comes with the beef mixed with:
  • 1 heaping tablespoon dried pickling spices*
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 large clove garlic, smashed, peeled, cut in half

Remove corned beef from plastic wrap and rinse thoroughly under cool water. Place the steel trivet into the IP. Place washed beef on top. Drop in the garlic. Add the two cups of water. Sprinkle with the dried spices. Cover. Lock. Place vent to seal. 

Pressured cook for 75 minutes on "meat and stew" setting. Allow to self-vent for 15-20 minutes. Vent until lid opens. Remove corned beef. Cover with foil and allow to sit and additional 10-30 minutes. Slice and serve.

For warmed-up leftovers the following day, I made latkes, or potato pancakes. They paired remarkably well with the beef and were a real treat! Terrific for breakfast with a fried egg.

This was a great combo!

*I use McCormick Pickling Spice (you may need to visit a few stores before find pickling spices. It has a very long shelf life!)

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Everyday-Is-Thanksgiving Casserole

Somewhere in my memory, I remember eating such a delicious and savory casserole as this. It was like Thanksgiving in a pan. Just prior to this recipe, one week, to be exact, I thought I had found it. I was so excited that I got too carried away and made all of what you see below. Unfortunately, it was in vain. The ingredients were certainly there. Countless brushes and tubes of paint, like ingredients, does not a great artist, or cook, make. 

Boring. Bland. Not much taste.

After some thought, I re-interpreted what I thought were the mistakes of the recipe and added different-but-similar ingredients. Voila! I created this recipe. I loved it. Add a bit of cranberry "anything" on the side, a bit of sweet potato or mashed, and it's Thanksgiving any time of the month. And without all the fuss. I can't imagine anyone turning his nose at this simple, everyday feast.

As casseroles go, this certainly fits the definition. Comforting. Easy. All-in-one. Generally inexpensive. Little cleanup. If, however, you are one not inclined to be limited by definitions and, say, verge on the side of complexity, even a tad, you are still in luck. Feel free to include simple ingredients, such as some chopped onion and celery in a bit of butter with pork sausage to add to the stuffing mixture. Trust me, it's worth cleaning that extra pan. And don't forget this recipe around Thanksgiving. Leftover turkey will work quite well. Oh, and it is kid-friendly!

I love Bell's--if only for the box! Seriously,
I can't imagine a better poultry seasoning.

Some do's and don'ts: Do not crisp the stuffing mixture. You want it moist, so keep a loose sheet of foil on top. Do not over-dilute the Alfredo sauce. Do not skip the extra Parmesan cheese, even if it's out of that famed "no-no" green can. Do strive to keep an even ratio between the chicken layer and the stuffing layer. Too much chicken and you lose the great flavors of the stuffing. Of course, one could be bad and just double the stuffing layer. And, yes, I have thought about it. Decisions such as those, on a casserole level, are usually decided by one's budget.

This is more of a process than a recipe. It results in a 11 x 7 pan of cozy deliciousness. Oh, and it freezes well, so you may want to make two.

  • 3 cups chopped/chunked rotisserie chicken (save the skin and finely chop)
  • 1, 15-ounce jar mushroom Alfredo sauce (I use Bertolli)
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream (use at least two but no more than four)
  • 2 tablespoons milk or cream
  • Bell's Seasoning (my personal favorite) or poultry seasoning
  • Dried, whole thyme 
  • Parmesan cheese (I use shaved)
  • 1 box chicken stuffing mix (I use Stove Top)

Lightly grease an 11 x 7-inch pan or dish. In a medium bowl, toss the chicken with a bit of the Bell's or poultry seasoning. Add about a tablespoon or so of the Parmesan. Spread in the bottom of your casserole dish.

I sprinkled on some shavings of Parmesan cheese.
In the same now-empty bowl, combine the Alfredo sauce, sour cream and milk or cream. Mix. You still want it a bit thick, but not too liquid -like. It should be a bit thinner that mushroom soup from a can. Spread on top of the chicken. You could also add more Parmesan cheese -- or cheddar or whatever you have on hand to use up.

Keep the sauce a bit thick, not too thin.

Wipe out sauce bowl. Empty contents of stuffing mix into the bowl. Add some Parmesan to your taste. I like to add a bit more Bell's and dried thyme flakes. Add wet ingredients. Cover and allow to sit several minutes to thicken.

Spread by tablespoons on top of the chicken/sauce mixture.

I sprinkled on a bit of whole dried thyme. Thyme and chicken are great partners. Always use less, not more.

Bake in a 350-degree oven for about 30 minutes. Tent loosely with tin foil. Remember, all the ingredients are basically already cooked. You just want to warm everything through until bubbly.

Cool ten minutes before serving. Makes great leftovers--if there are any.

Note: Stove Top Stuffing mix and jarred Alfredo sauces are often on sale or BOGO. That's when I stock up.

March in North Carolina. My cat, Boo,
is concentrating on a mole's progress ...

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Cherry Cobbler

A great dessert to chase away the winter blahs.

The most difficult part of this recipe is finding the cherries. The next most difficult part is paying for them. They will not be cheap. A simple fifteen-ounce can of tart cherries will set you back at least five bucks! I have seen them as high as seven! But, for a dessert with multiple servings, five bucks is, after all, pretty economical.

A specialty or up-scale grocery store should stock tart cherries.

This recipe is based on my peach cobbler; except, I use cherries. It is important not to make this too sweet. The first time I made it, I used a bit of cinnamon and allspice. It is best to just leave it alone and let the cherries do the talking. But, do add a few drops of almond flavoring. The topping of slivered almonds looks nice but is not at all necessary.

As you can see from the picture, this is not a "true" cobbler in the all-encompassing fruitness of cobbler definitions. It borders more on the unfortunately-named "dump-cake."  But it is easy to prepare and the buttery cake-like interior pillows the tart cherries beautifully.

Don't even be tempted to use canned pie filling.

  • For the cherries:
  • 1, 14.5-ounce can red tart cherries
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 heaping tablespoon cornstarch
  • A few drops almond extract

  • For the batter:
  • 1 cup sugar (reserve two tablespoons)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup or one stick butter

Preheat oven to 400 F. Have your batter ingredients measured and ready to go.

Drain cherries but reserve the juice.

Place cherry juice, sugar, and cornstarch in a small pan and bring to a slow boil over medium heat. Cook until juices thicken to a kind of syrup. Remove from heat. Add the cherries and almond extract.

Place butter in an 11 x 7-inch baking dish and place in the oven to melt. You want the dish hot, so don't skip this step.

Prepare the batter. Mix all ingredients in a medium bowl whisking until smooth.

Remove dish from oven and immediately pour in the batter. The melted butter will be displaced and seek the edges. Don't worry. Now, using a spoon, strategically place the hot cherries and syrup evenly over the batter. 

Sprinkle with the reserved two tablespoons of sugar. If desired, sprinkle with slivered almonds. Return to oven and bake for 25 minutes.

Remove. Allow to somewhat cool before serving.