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Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Smoked Pimeñto Ĉheese Mac & Cheese: Soulful and Southern Spoonfuls

Mac and Cheese is an integral part of kitchens, families and meals all over the country.  In many ways, it's hard to go wrong, especially if you're privy to the box variety, which is still possibly the #1 best seller among convenience foods.  Today's recipe is not one in the same.  I used two recipes I created and rolled them into one to create this ooey gooey and inviting version of America's Favorite and a Southern American staple, Smoky Baked Pimento Cheese Macaroni and Cheese.  I came up with this Sunday, after considering the union many times over.  I was actually due to make a batch of my Smoked Pimento Cheese for the family and for my younger brother to try, he is in from New York for a visit.  Sunday dinner was upon me, so I also needed to get a menu going to complement some fried chicken and my Southern Style Green Beans, so Mac and Cheese would round out the roster.  
Southern Style Green Beans!
Our family is fond of Nascar and we like to listen to the races and maybe place a few little friendly wagers to make it all interesting.  I've picked Ty Reddick as the up and comer to set these other drivers on their ears, forcing veterans like Denny Hamlin, "The Closer "Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex jr. and Keselowski to show and prove on the track more and more each week!  Reddick is on his way to great things I think, shoutout to him and his team.  Oh yeah, mac and cheese, this will surely be a food fan favorite, especially if you are a lover of the two dishes separately.  Prep is a cinch and the payout is a victory burnout.  It will leave the baking dish as fast as a Nascar race to the checkered flag!  Culinarians, start your engines or should I say ovens...

1 lb. cooked macaroni, cooked in salted water for 8 minutes, then shocked in cold water, drained and tossed with a little olive oil.
1 12 oz. can evaporated milk
1 8 oz.  pkg. EACH regular cream cheese and Neufchatel (lower fat cream cheese)
1 8 oz. pkg. three cheese blend, Cheddar
1 8 oz pkg. sharp Cheddar, shredded
6 oz. EXTRA Sharp Cheddar, shredded
4 tbs. butter, unsalted
1/2 c. mayonnaise, optional but optimal
2 tbsp. diced pimento, drained and pressed free of excess moisture
2  tsp. liquid smoke, hickory
1 tsp. onion powder
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. celery seed powder
1/2 tsp. Jalapeno powder, optional
SPST (Salt and Pepper to Suit Taste)
Olive oil for drizzling

Bring all cheeses and butter to room temperature before beginning.
Preheat oven to 375*F.
In a large bowl, mix all ingredients starting from the cheeses down.
Fold in macaroni in two to three batches, blend well.
Spread in a large baking dish, sprayed with nonstick spray, butter or drizzled with olive oil.
Cover tightly with foil and bake until for about 35 minutes, until heated through and the top has set.
Remove foil and bake for an additional 10 minutes or until desired caramelization is reached.
Let stand for several minutes before serving.
Makes enough for a Sunday dinner with Monday covered!

*You may use substitutions wherever you see fit.  This is including, but not limited to lower fat mayonnaise, reduced fat cheeses and fat free evaporated milk.  

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Good Enough to Eat

My love of cooking and creating recipes started quite literally decades ago.  When I was nine years old, I made my first official recipe, with no recipe, a Peanut Butter Skillet Cake.  I simply added some self rising flour, granulated sugar, creamy peanut butter, large eggs and some oil to a bowl and mixed it up.  I then baked the mixture in a 350*F oven until it was browned on top and looked done.  I didn't measure a thing, I didn't even have measuring tools, but I made it.  My family of tasters consisted of my Dad, Mom and my big brothers, plus of course my little brothers and sister.  I can only recall what my Dad and older tasters reactions' were from so long ago.  Overall, they all loved it,  we ate the slices warm from the pan, cut like wedges of good ole fashioned cornbread.  The cake was somewhat dense and perhaps a bit on the sweet side, but otherwise, not bad for a nine year old . The family and I also had a bit of a tummy ache afterwards, but who says it was by fault of my cake, for certain.  
My second experiment was with turkey.  I sliced and breaded strips of the turkey breast and cooked it in a frying pan, with scarcely enough oil to create a memorable texture, maybe a little margarine.  I then added Worcestershire sauce to the cooked protein and simmered into a kind of 'gravy' I guess you could say. It wasn't that bad actually, maybe even almost good. I was maybe 11 then.  I followed no protocol or written recipe, I simply worked with my on hand ingredients.  I was still quite 'green' in the kitchen, using only the techniques gleaned from occasionally watching Graham Kerr and The Frugal Gourmet, PBS awesomeness or the ones  I had devised in our massive playhouses in the woods. Certain plants with these tiny red berries on each bunch were designated as "chicken" and another "beef", yet others still for greens and other vegetables that we used in our cuisine de art.  Mud of course, was the most common ingredient, made from scratch, because we had easy access to water sources and lots of banks and wooded areas from which we could procure dirt, both black and the highly coveted red variety.   

Mud became whatever food we could dream of . We made cakes, meatloaves, bread, casseroles, soups,  more cakes, pies, you name it, anything we had eaten at home with our families, was recreated in our playhouses, with all the adornments that tiny pebbles, various types of foliage, pine needles , pinecones and acorns could afford us.  Man, those were the days...the playhouses of old, produced the most masterpieces, works of inedible art, that in fact, sometimes looked so damn good, we had to take a pretend bite, sometimes a real one, though we always spat it out, laughter erupting though our little crew, proud and unabashed.  We worked hard at cooking and cleaning our piecemeal abodes.  Hell, we even swept the forest floors in keeping with our duties as females to provide and tend the pretend 'children' and 'home', while our husbands were off at work.  LOL. , "Yes, we done come a long way like those Slim a*% cigarettes, from Virginia"...Outcast; Elevators (Me and You) ATLiens album.
 Our parents were all out until early evening at work, we were on summer break, we were wards of our older siblings, more unwatched than watched.  This was fine, in our rural little village, with our one country store, near the lake, back in the woods, literally over the river and through the woods, where everyone knew everyone, from your sisters and brothers, mother and father, their mothers and fathers, cousins, aunts and uncles, who were also our neighbors and "How's your Mama nem? was more of a statement greeting, as opposed to an actual question. The latter statement/greeting is still king among interactions amongst the people we run into, that either grew up with or worked for or with my Dad and Mom.  Though now, it's Mom alone, who they ask about, since Dad decided he had run the race he was born to run and became my Ethereal Guardian in 2009, rejoined once again, with his parents and siblings on the other side, even my brothers Doug and Keith.  How time does fly.  
I moved up from my mud pies and tree leaf salads to actual physical food when I was around 13.  I began to gorge on cookbooks and tutorials, magazines and other media about cooking and the culinary arts. Reading was the most affordable way to experience different cultural and ethnic ingredients.  I was memorizing herbs, spices and pairings with foods, long before I actually was able to cook with them.  At 15, my first job was in a supermarket, Winn Dixie, where I learned about the fruits and vegetables that we didn't already grow in our gardens at home.  I learned more about meats and various cuts therein.  When I was 16, while some girls were making scrapbooks about their college room designs, I was making my first cookbook for my college life, from cutouts of various magazines, in the back portion of an album my sister Brenda gave me as a graduation present. The album was filled with my achievements through high school, photos and newspaper clippings, featuring my highlights and awards, a priceless memento from a most thoughtful soul.  I gained more and more knowledge through the cookbooks Brenda had on her stand in her kitchen.  Every time I went to visit, I would pick them up and read them like the latest teen magazine or romance novel, they were my first true love affair. I remember when I thought Quiche was pronounced "Quickie", only spelled much fancier and Hors d' Oeuvres  read "Whores de Ovaries".  I thought they didn't sound very appetizing, no pun intended.  One, two, skip a few and here I am.  I have more stories, but they are for another time... Being a Culinarian was apparently in my veins from the beginning, I just hope I can live up to my destiny's expectations. So far, so good, good enough to eat.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Deep Dish Pulled Pork Tostada Pie: Ninja Foodi

Pulled Pork is the star of this recipe and a great idea for what to do with leftovers.  This deep dish version of a tostada is packed with layers of delicious and nutritious goodies like salsa, pulled pork, vegetarian beans, crispy hatch chilies, Peppadews, tortillas and loads of Colby Jack cheese.  All the flavors are sealed inside with a special sour cream topping that's baked right along with the tostada. The recipe is easy to follow and great for the kids to give a helping hand.
 All the food groups make an appearance in this pie and be served by itself or with some yellow rice or veggies for an authentic trip South of the Border on steroids.  I used my Ninja Foodi for this which really made it a cinch.  When using the oven, simply cover tightly with foil and remove the foil during the last 10 minutes for browning of the top. Easy, Elevated and Delish! 


1 1/2 lb. pulled pork ( cooked)
1 box taco shells, hard 12 ct.
12 oz. Colby Jack Cheese, shredded
1 12 oz. can Vegetarian beans, drained and rinsed
 1 12 oz. jar Medium salsa
1/2 c. Peppadews, sweet and spicy, drained
1/2 c. crispy fried Hatch Chilies
8 oz. sour cream
1 large egg
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. Smoked Paprika
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. onion powder
Dash Hot Sauce or to taste
SPST. (Salt and Pepper to Suit Taste)
Start with a drizzle of olive oil in your Foodi and layer in half of hard shells, broken in half at the fold. Overlap is fine.
Place half of pulled pork over the shells.
Half of Salsa.
Sprinkle with 1/3 of cheese.
Add beans and spread over cheese.
Scatter in Peppadews.
Another 1/3 of cheese.
Second half of shells.
Second half of pulled pork.
Sprinkle Hatch Chilies.
.Add remaining Salsa.
Add Remaining Cheese.
In a medium bowl, combine sour cream, beaten egg, hot sauce and spices.
Mix well and spread over top.
Place on bake setting @350*F.
Bake for 30 minutes, until golden and bubbly.
May cover with foil during cooking until last 5 minutes , then remove to caramelize the top. 
Let Stand for several minutes before cutting.
Makes about 10 servings.
Delish at room temperature.

Monday, July 20, 2020

TEN Salad

This salad is an easy and delicious one, featuring lentils.  I call it TEN Salad, because there are basically 10 ingredients combined to make a cohesive and interesting side dish or main dish, depending on your mood.  Lentils cook really quickly, even more so when soaked for a few hours.  The sidekicks provide complimentary freshness and crunch, as well as a wealth of nutritional value and a taste that's welcome and suitable alongside just about any protein.  All the right places are activated on the palate and this salad can be served at room temperature.  Serve on a bed of  mixed lettuce or butter lettuce cups for a 'green taco' or lettuce wrap. Unlikely ingredients become best friends, with a versatile vinaigrette and some familiar crispness from some garden goodies, guaranteed to have you satisfied and keep you that way, Let's get to it...

2 cups, lentils, soaked and cooked to al dente in Sazon Tropical or chicken stock, then shocked in cold water
1 medium cucumber, quartered, seeds removed and medium chopped
1/4 c. thinly sliced red onion, soaked in cold water for 5 minutes
 2 tbs. chopped Sweet and Tangy Peppadews in jar
1/4 c. good quality olive oil
2 tbs. apple cider vinegar
juice and zest of one lemon
2 tbs. buckwheat honey
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
SPST, (Salt and Pepper to Suit Taste)
In a medium bowl, combine all the ingredients starting with the Peppadews on down to garlic Powder.
Blend well, this is your vinaigrette.
Pour lentils into bowl atop the vinaigrette. 
Top with cucumbers and onions.
Cover and let stand for 5 minutes.  Toss to serve immediately or leave as is until time to serve then toss ingredients together! 
Makes about 6 servings or 3 main course servings.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Mixed Berry Sake Jam w/ Cardamom, Preservation Elevation

Canning and Preserving our harvests from year to year and season to season allows us to enjoy the same joys of one time to the next.  Aside from the traditions of our families or thorough newly found practices, many have come to embrace our foodstory with the ways we make it last. I am relatively a novice with spunk. Canning and the preservation of food has always been a part of my life, since I was a girl.  I participated in those long and arduous days, produce and our livestock had to be prepped for the long winter months.  There was a position for every one of us.  All the toils and efforts were worth every drip of sweat and sometimes tears, because I had made friends with the hogs, even given them names, silly little girl me.  I knew that those were labors of love and provisions to sustain our family. Our family is comprised of  generations of farmers and land holders. The efforts almost like the Fable of the Ant and the Grasshopper and reminiscent of House Stark's mantra in Game of Thrones, Winter is Coming! Our Dad, in all his wisdom and hard work was definitely the Ant.  Plus, we live in a rural and rough in the winter village, a far off land even, because our nearest town is 10 miles away, one way, one road really and the going most certainly got tough, if not impossible, at least by car.  
I love traditional things, but I also like being inventive and having recipes I write include my personal expressions of who I am.  This jam is one such offering.  I infused this strawberry and blackberry jam with Sake and Cardamom.  My sister Bonnie and I picked the blackberries on Sunday Morning together, down in a hollow, near their hunting cabin.  This is also the place where I found my first Morel Mushroom, some years ago.  
After we looked at the garden kept by Bonnie and her husband, checked the crawfish traps in the creek and admired their fish in the manmade pond, we set off to pick the blackberries that the birds and a very vigilant black bear hadn't eaten.  
The day was heating up fast and the viable berries were mostly a memory.  At least the bear did the dangerous job of making a path through the bush, laying the thorny, prickly and hurty tendrils or canes that held vibrant gems to each side, so we were able to get in closer to the treasures towards the back of the bushes.  We ended up with about 1 pint, for which I was grateful and wanted them to have a most excellent outcome. We hope to catch the next flight of berries that for now, are but crimson, hard and unripe.
I ordered the Cardamom pods straight from Sri Lanka at the beginning of this year.  I enjoy Cardamom.  It is a must have for my Roasted Pumpkin Cream Pie recipe, freshly ground with my Mortar and Pestle.
The aroma and flavor is fruit forward with warm, lemony notes, inviting and much brighter than pre- ground.  
The following recipe is purely simple and delicious  There are only a handful of ingredients, easy to acquire, and not requiring too much time.  I didn't add pectin to this recipe either,  the seeds have natural pectin that is released during the cooking and mashing process.  After the hulling and slicing of the strawberries, the rest is smooth sailing.  I hope you enjoy this as much as my family and I did.
5 lb. strawberries, washed, hulled and trimmed of tops, larger ones cut in half or quartered, depending on size.
1c. pure cane sugar
1/2 c. Traditional Sake
6 Cardamom pods, in a small cheesecloth pouch
1 pinch of Himalayan Salt
Juice and peel of one lemon 
Combine fruit, sugar and salt in a non reactive cooking vessel and let sit covered for 1 hour or overnight.
When ready, add remaining ingredients except Sake and bring up to a boil over medium high heat, in a heavy bottomed, non reactive saucepan or pot. 
Once boiling, reduce to medium and cook for about 15 minutes.
Using a potato masher,  press and mash the berries, but leaving some chunkiness for texture.
Cook until jam is reduced and thickened, about 45 minutes.
Add the Sake during the last 20 minutes of simmering to help retain the flavor.
Let sit in fridge overnight to thicken more after cooling at room temperature or add straight to canning jars as per instructions and method.  
If you let it sit overnight, determine whether the desired thickness is reached , if not simmer a bit longer, 5 to 10 minutes more at a time and bring up to temperature and continue canning as per instructions.
Remove Cardamom pouch and large pieces of lemon peel before placing in jars.
Makes 12 half pint containers with enough left over for an 8 oz. jar to consume now!  
Refrigerate ready to eat jar for up to 6 months.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Buttery Bourbon Peach Cobbler

Peaches are in full swing here in Virginia and man are they delicious!  The plump, brightly hued orbs of sweet and juicy 'fruitmeat' is the perfect accompaniment to both shellfish, fish and pork, even poultry.  A nice, chunk filled cobbler is easy to assemble and can be ready for your next dessert slot in no time. I was in the local supermarket looking for peaches and Elba Butcher Shoppe had just what I needed.  They have peaches by the peck, the bushel or pair, right now and I wanted to have enough for more than just one recipe.  I saw this wonderful recipe for a brown sugar cake with a Peach Bourbon Frosting and it peaked my interest.  I must create something inspired by that article, but first, I needed to complete the request of my oldest daughter, Genesis. Besides, any time is a good time to pull out my vintage Emile Henry pie dish, the beautiful ruffled retired one, "Paprika" edition. I just love it. It was a gift, a most wonderful one I might add. It is a humongous dish, made in the 90's, a full 11 inches across!  That's a mighty dish for pies and cobblers, even meat pies and quiches.

  Genesis has some firm likes and dislikes, but I know for sure she enjoys a fresh peach or two, with pleasure and gratification.  I like to grab enough for the girls to snack and go, mom included.  There's a certain nostalgia involved in eating fruit within its season, during it perfectly, wonderfully ripe time, it's a much different experience for the palate. Just Bliss.  This recipe is simple and full of flavor.  The Bourbon may be added or taken away, I wanted to add some depth of flavor, with some oaky undertones and elevation, Maker's Mark does just that and there's plenty left to either serve alongside,  save for another day or to make a boozy shake to go along with it!  

 5 lbs. or 16 c. fresh peach slices, 1/4 to 1/2 inch cut (this dish is huge, 11 inches across, 2 inches deep, you can use 2 regular deep pie dishes, but you will also need two more crusts)
1 stick of butter, unsalted
Juice of one medium lemon
2- 9 inch pie crusts, either store bought or homemade
1  c. pure cane sugar or brown sugar or to taste
1 tbs. Pumpkin Pie Spice
Pinch Pink Himalayan Salt
3 tbs. cornstarch
2 tbs. Maker's Mark or good quality Bourbon
SPST, (I used some freshly cracked black pepper grinds to compliment the Bourbon and sweetness of the peaches.)
 Preheat oven to 350*F. 
In a small bowl, combine sugar, salt, cornstarch and spices. Stir with fork to mix well. 
In a large bowl, add peaches, lemon juice and Bourbon.  Toss to coat.
Sprinkle evenly with sugar mixture and combine in a folding fashion until evenly coated. 
Lightly grease pie dish with a small piece of the butter and press one of the crusts into the bottom and up the sides.
Place small pats of butter across the first crust.
Add contents of bowl and spread evenly.
Add remaining pats of butter and cover with second crust.
Make slits to vent.
Bake until golden and bubbly, about 50 minutes.
Let stand before serving.
Makes Smiles and is perfect with some Vanilla Bean Ice cream or Butter Pecan! 

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Popup 'Chatters' With Family

Taking a break from the heat and the kitchen to talk with family is always a welcome endeavor, even when you feel like you aren't prepared.  My sister Gayle, who is also our neighbor, came by to chat for a bit.  She felt for a snack and I was on board, because I was due for some sustenance too.  I was able to come up with a few 'snacky snacks' for us to share.  With a little help from some random items I had in the fridge and pantry, I created us a fun little platter of melodious flavors, a little unconventional, but no shame here, no props, no fine china, just a meal between sisters, my friends.  
For our chat platter or "Chatter" I came up with some black and white grapes, deli sliced black forest ham, sandwich turkey, sliced pepperoni, slivers of Colby Jack Cheese, multi-grain crackers, Nutter Butters, rice cakes smeared with yummy Justin's Honey Almond Butter, topped with some fantastic Wilkin and Sons LTD Morello Cherry Preserves.  We even had an amazing jar of Riga Gold Brisling Sardines,delicately smoked and perfectly packed in olive oil, in a glass jar, which I was saving for an occasion, just like this one and a side car of Himalayan Pink salt, fresh cracked pepper, Kalamata olives and Dijon mustard.

We casually snacked off plain, white paper towels and used some plastic cutlery, a knife and two forks, to select from our shared meal. We sat on the shaded portion of our newly remodeled patio, at the picnic table that hosted our niece's 8th birthday party, just days ago, the vinyl tablecloth still intact, sporting sprinkles, swirls and ice cream cones, full of color.  If we would have closed our eyes, we could've  been outside any cafe in London, France, Italy or Spain, the wind in our hair, the breeze sweet with summer, yeah, the vibe was marvelous like that.  Gayle loved the flavor combinations, as did my sister Hollie, myself included.  

We had a pleasant time, even in the heat, enjoying each others company, while the moments lasted and the day was more fabulous than hot, more mellow than muggy and just Awesome, Everything was Awesome! Things don't have to be perfect to be perfect, make memories when you can.  One day, it is all we will have....
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