Meatloaf

Meatloaf is one of those old reliable classic American recipes. I can remember when my mom made this for dinner when I was a kid, usually served with mashed potatoes and corn.

The recipe starts with ground beef. I typically use a 90% lean ground beef I buy in bulk. I have a favorite stainless steel bowl I use for mixing anything I make with ground beef.

Ground Beef and Bowl
Ground Beef and Bowl

I try to buy between 6 and 7 pounds of beef at a time when I can. I bring it home and use a kitchen scale to break it up into one-pound portions, or as close as I can get, depending on how much meat was in the pack I bought. Then I individually wrap each piece in plastic wrap, and store 3 or 4  together in 1-gallon storage bags. I squeeze out as much air as possible and freeze the bags until needed.

The other ingredients for this dish are onion and garlic powder, or fresh onion and garlic if you have them, salt and pepper, soy sauce, worcestershire sauce, tomato sauce, an egg, two slices of bread, and your favorite cheese.

Meatloaf Ingredients
Meatloaf Ingredients

First place the ground beef in a bowl and add all the spices, including soy and worcestershire sauce. I don’t have exact measurements for these as my mom never measured. I learned to sprinkle a generous amount of the powders, and a few splashes of the sauces into the mix.

Beef and Spices
Beef and Spices

Next add your egg. The next step is where my mom’s recipe diverges from standard ones. You can use bread crumbs if you like, but my mom used to use actual slices of bread. She would take two slices of bread, wet them with tap water, wring out most of the water, then break them up into pieces and mix them into the meat mixture.

You can optionally add other things you like to the loaf, such as bell peppers.

Beef Bread and Egg
Beef Bread and Egg

Mix everything together well (I use my hands for this), and shape into a loaf shape. You can use any sort of baking dish for this, I use a 2.5 quart casserole dish that has a lid.

Raw Meatloaf In Casserole
Raw Meatloaf In Casserole

Place your loaf into the dish, cover, and bake at 350 degrees for one hour.

Baked Meatloaf
Baked Meatloaf

Remove the loaf from the oven and drain off the excess fat. Pour 1 cup of tomato sauce over the loaf. I use 2 cups normally because my husband loves extra sauce with his meatloaf.

Meatloaf and Sauce
Meatloaf and Sauce

Then top with your favorite cheese. I use 4 slices of whatever cheese I have on hand, usually American or cheddar.

Cheese On Meatloaf
Cheese On Meatloaf

Cover your meatloaf, return it to the oven, and bake an additional 30 minutes.

Baked Meatloaf and Cheese
Baked Meatloaf and Cheese

Slice your meatloaf and serve with your favorite side dishes. I slice mine into eight slices, and we eat two slices per meal, so we usually get two meals out of one meatloaf. Spoon the sauce over the top and serve.

Meatloaf Meal
Meatloaf Meal

Meatloaf

1 pound of ground beef
2 slices of bread, wetted with water and partially wrung out (or bread crumbs)
1 egg
garlic and onion powder or fresh onion and garlic to taste
salt and pepper to taste
soy sauce and worcestershire sauce to taste
other vegetables as desired, such as peppers or mushrooms
1 cup of tomato sauce
4 slices of cheddar, American, or some other cheese

Mix all ingredients except for tomato sauce and cheese in a bowl. Shape into a loaf and place into a casserole or baking dish with a lid. Bake at 350 for 1 hour. Remove from the oven and pour off the excess fat. Pour tomato sauce over the top and cover with cheese slices. Cover and bake for an additional 30 minutes. Allow to rest 5 minutes before slicing and serving. Serves 4-8.

Chicken Casserole

I met one of my oldest friends, Terri, through playing Dungeons & Dragons many years ago. In addition to our love of role-playing, we also both love gardening, canning, and cooking, and she passed on several recipes to me. This is one of those recipes.

This casserole can be time consuming to make from scratch, but several parts of it can be made and saved ahead of time, to just be combined when ready. If you keep pre-cooked chicken in the freezer, as I try to do when I can, and have homemade chicken broth in the freezer or pantry, or canned broth, most of the work is already done and you can skip ahead to assembling the casserole.

If not, we start with a pot of water. This will be the base of our broth. I usually start with about 3 quarts of water or so.

Pot of Water
Pot of Water

Put your pot of water on High, and assemble your broth ingredients. I use onion powder, garlic powder, 5 chicken bouillon cubes, and some butter to start the broth. We’ll also need two cans of cream of chicken soup (or homemade if you have it) and some stuffing mix to assemble the casserole. I prefer stuffing crumbs to cubes for this recipe, but you can use cubes instead if you like.

Ingredients
Ingredients

Put the broth ingredients in the pot as its heating and prepare whatever chicken you are going to use.

Broth Ingredients in Pot
Broth Ingredients in Pot

I use two large boneless skinless chicken breasts, or about two pounds of meat. I keep mine frozen, and for this recipe you don’t need to defrost them first. As soon as the water comes to a boil in the pot, carefully add the chicken breasts. Reduce the heat just enough so the pot won’t boil over, and let the chicken boil until done, 20 to 40 minutes.

Breasts in Broth
Breasts in Broth

Once the chicken is cooked, remove it from the broth and let it cool until you can handle it. Let the broth continue to boil while you chop up the chicken into bite-size chunks. Place the chicken into your casserole dish. I use a 2 1/2-quart casserole for this recipe.

Chopped Chicken in Casserole
Chopped Chicken in Casserole

In a bowl, combine your cream of chicken soup with 1 cup of milk. Use a whisk to get rid of lumps as you mix them. Pour the mixture over the chicken in the casserole dish.

Chicken and Soup In Casserole
Chicken and Soup In Casserole

Continue boiling down your broth until there is approximately 2 cups left in the pot. Remove the pot from the heat and let it cool a bit first if you plan to use your hands to mix the stuffing. I let it cool 15 minutes on the counter.

Boiled Down Broth
Boiled Down Broth

Add your stuffing mix to the broth and mix together. You can use a spoon, but I prefer to use my hands, that way I can better feel how wet or dry the mix is and whether it needs more mixing.

Mixing Stuffing
Mixing Stuffing

Then arrange the stuffing on top of your casserole.

Stuffing On Casserole
Stuffing On Casserole

Bake the casserole at 350 degrees for 40 minutes. Your finished casserole should be hot and bubbly. Let cool for a few minutes before serving.

Finished Casserole
Finished Casserole

If you have pre-cooked chicken, you can make the broth using only 1 quart of water, boiling it down to half. If you use canned or homemade broth, just place 2 cups in a pan and heat it just to boiling, then mix your stuffing with it. If you use your own broth but start with raw chicken, boil the chicken in plain water until done then chop, and heat your broth to mix with the stuffing as above. In this case, discard the water used to boil the chicken.

As an aside, when I started making this recipe years ago, stuffing came in a 16 ounce (1 pound) bag. These days it comes in a 14 ounce bag for the same price. Manufacturers apparently realized that if they just keep raising prices, eventually consumers complain and stop buying their product. So instead, they just put less product in the packaging, then eventually make the packaging smaller, hoping we won’t notice the difference. I’ve noticed. Take a look at the products you buy, they’re all getting smaller and less for the same money. It’s the same as raising the price.

Chicken Casserole

2 tablespoons of butter
Garlic powder and onion powder to taste
5 chicken bouillon cubes
2 pounds of chicken meat
2 cans of cream of chicken soup
1 cup of milk
1/2  of a 14oz bag of stuffing mix (16 oz if you can still find it)

Place 3 quarts of water in a pot and bring to a boil. While it’s heating, add onion and garlic powder to taste, as well as 2 tablespoons of butter and 5 chicken bouillon cubes.

When the water comes to a boil, add chicken and cook 20 to 40 minutes or until done. Time will vary based on the type and size of chicken you use. When chicken is done, remove from pot and let cool enough to handle, then chop into bite-size pieces. Let broth continue to boil while chopping. Place chopped chicken into the bottom of a 2.5-quart casserole dish.

Combine soup and milk in a bowl, whisk until smooth then pour over chicken.

Boil broth until 2 cups remain, then remove from heat and cool a bit. Combine stuffing mix with broth and arrange over the casserole.

Cover and bake casserole at 350 degrees for 40 minutes. Casserole should be hot and bubbly. Cool for a few minutes before serving. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

 

Crock Pot Chili

In the middle of summer, when the temperatures soar and being outside is like being in a sauna, it’s nice to stay indoors in the air conditioning. When you think about making something for dinner, the last thing you want to do is heat up the kitchen by cooking over a stovetop or firing up the oven. Crock pot to the rescue! I love my crock pot. You just put ingredients in it, turn it on, and forget it until it’s done hours later. It doesn’t heat up the room, it doesn’t require constant care and stirring, nothing could be easier.

Chili in summer? Sure! We eat chili dogs in summer, why not chili? This isn’t the sort of chili that goes on hot dogs, because of all the beans, but this yummy stew tastes great any time of year, freezes well, reheats well, and is exceptionally easy to make with a crock pot.

The four main ingredients to this recipe are beans, meat, tomatoes, and spices. As with any recipe, you can add, subtract, or substitute as you like to meet your own tastes. First, let’s talk spices. I use chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper, fresh onion and garlic, and a packet of chili seasoning mix. You can, of course, omit the packet and just mix individual spices you like, but I like the convenience and taste of this spice mix, and I do supplement it with my own as well.

Spices
Spices

Next up is the crock pot itself. If you don’t have a crock pot, I would recommend you get one. You’ll never be sorry. They are so convenient and easy to use and clean. I have two of them. The smaller one is an older 4-quart model. I also have a bigger 6-quart cooker but I don’t use it very much because my recipes don’t fill it, and it’s hotter than my smaller one, so tends to overcook smaller recipes.

Crock Pot
Crock Pot

Chili without beans is just beef. I add a variety of beans to my chili for varied taste and texture. Use fresh or home canned wherever you can, but all I have available to me at the moment is store-bought canned items. I use 1 can of dark red kidney beans, 1 can of light red kidney beans, and 2 cans of pinto beans. Make sure you thoroughly rinse and drain your beans before using. I think the pintos add a nice smooth gravy-like consistency to the chili. I also use two cans of tomatoes, 1 can always stewed tomatoes, and the other either another can of stewed or something like diced or chili spiced diced tomatoes. Chili spiced ones already have spices in them, and a thicker tomato sauce, which is nice, but if I use them I usually cut down on the spices at the end of the recipe so they’re not too strong.

Beans and Tomatoes
Beans and Tomatoes

First get your beans drained and just pour them into the crock pot. Here you can get a better idea of the different beans. I’m hoping to grow all these in my garden next year.

Beans In Pot
Beans In Pot

Next up is the tomatoes. Your tomatoes should be at least diced, if not smaller. I mentioned I use stewed tomatoes, mainly because I like the flavor of them. They contain celery, peppers, and onion in them. But as you can see in this picture stewed tomatoes come in fairly large chunks not good for chili.

Stewed Tomatoes
Stewed Tomatoes

For this reason I chop them up fairly small in my food processor before using them in most recipes. Once chopped to whatever size you like, add them into the pot with the beans.

Tomatoes In Pot
Tomatoes In Pot

Next I chop up a whole onion and use a generous portion of garlic. I love garlic.

Onions and Garlic
Onions and Garlic

Now for the beef. I use one pound of ground beef for this recipe. This is the only actual cooking part of this recipe. Brown it in a skillet over medium heat on the stove, chopping it up as it cooks into small pieces. I also add generous amounts of onion and garlic powder, and a pinch of salt and pepper while browning it. If you wanted to avoid any stovetop cooking, you could have the beef pre-cooked and frozen for use as needed. You could also put your onion and garlic into the skillet with the beef to cook if you wanted instead of putting them into the crock pot raw, but that’s a matter of personal preference.

Beef In Pot
Beef In Pot

Now for the spices. The packet directions call for adding the spices to the meat in the skillet, but I just pour them into the crock over the cooked meat, along with a handful of chili powder and some cumin.

Spices In Pot
Spices In Pot

Mix everything together. The chili at this point may seem overly dry and thick, but don’t worry. As it cooks, the veggies give up their liquids and mix with the spices into deliciousness.

Raw Chili In Pot
Raw Chili In Pot

All you have to do now is put on the lid, turn the pot onto high, and let it cook for about 6 hours. You can also cook it on low for 10-12 hours if you want to set it before work and eat it for dinner when you get home.

Cooked Chili
Cooked Chili

Just give it a stir and serve in bowls. You can top it with cheese, sour cream, green onions, or anything else you like. I usually top mine with plenty of cheddar cheese and serve with bread, rolls, or biscuits. You can freeze leftovers and they reheat wonderfully, or just pop them in the fridge, they probably won’t last long.

Finished Chili
Finished Chili

Crock Pot Chili

1 1-pound can dark red kidney beans, drained
1 1-pound can light red kidney beans, drained
2 1-pound cans pinto beans, drained
1 pound ground beef
1 large onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cans stewed tomatoes, or 1 stewed and 1 diced or chili-spiced diced tomatoes
1 packet of chili seasoning mix
2 tablespoons of chili powder
1-2 teaspoons of ground cuminsalt and pepper to taste
onion powder and garlic powder to taste

Brown ground beef in a skillet. Add garlic and onion powder, salt and pepper to taste while cooking. Chop meat into small pieces as it cooks. Layer ingredients in crock pot, give it all a good stir to mix well, then cook on High for 6 hours. (Or 10-12 hours on Low.) Serve in bowls with your favorite toppings, accompanied by bread, rolls, or biscuits. Makes approx. 3 quarts.

 

Sausage Gravy

Last week I posted my biscuit recipe. This week I’m going to cover the gravy that goes with those biscuits.

Gravy basically consists of four things – meat, fat, flour, and milk. The key to the recipe is having the right ratio of all those things. It’s also important to know what to do and how to fix it if your ratio goes off.

The base ingredients we begin with are the fat and the meat. You can use any fat you like – bacon fat, butter, shortening – but I use butter. The meat is usually some kind of pork sausage, but you can also use beef or any other meat you like. I used to always used chipped beef because I like the flavor and texture better than sausage, but the beef I used has become too expensive. If you do use sausage, use a quality sausage. Cheap sausage will get the job done but you have more gristle and bone chips and whatnot to deal with. You can also use shredded leftover roast beef.

Sausage and Butter
Sausage and Butter

Place the butter in a pan to melt on medium heat. I like to use a nonstick pan with high sides for this. Once the butter is melted, break up the sausage and add it into the pan.

Raw Sausage In Butter
Raw Sausage In Butter

As the sausage is cooking you can add any spices you like into it. I like to add onion powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper into mine. You could also used minced onions and garlic, or dehydrated minced onion. Cook until the sausage is cooked through and lightly brown.

Cooked Sausage
Cooked Sausage

Once the sausage is ready, add the flour.

Add Flour To Sausage
Add Flour To Sausage

Mix it in thoroughly to create a roux, then continue to cook and stir for about 1 minute to help get rid of the raw flour taste.

Cooked Roux
Cooked Roux

Now you’re ready for the liquid. Add in the milk and water and turn the heat down just a bit. Continue to cook and stir until the gravy thickens to the consistency you like and is hot and bubbly. Taste it a few times while it’s cooking and add more salt or pepper if needed to suit your taste.

Gravy
Gravy

If the gravy gets too thick, add a bit more water or milk. If it’s too thin, just continue to let it cook until the liquid evaporates. Never adjust it by adding more flour! That will throw off the ratio and ruin your gravy.

When it’s as thick as  you want it, remove it from the heat. Serve immediately over biscuits, toast, or whatever you like. The leftovers will keep for about a week in the fridge.

Gravy Over Biscuits
Gravy Over Biscuits

Sausage Gravy

1 stick of butter
1 pound ground sausage or other meat
Onion powder and garlic powder to taste
1/2 cup of flour
2 cups of milk
1 cup of water

In a skillet, melt the butter. Add meat and cook until cooked fully and lightly browned. Add flour and mix well, continue to cook for 1 minute. Add milk and water, continue cooking until liquid bubbles and reaches desired thickness. Serve over biscuits.

Buttermilk Biscuits

I am a native of New York state who moved south to escape the horrible cold winters there. When I moved to Virginia I discovered many things that were different here other than the weather. People waved at each other all over the place. That took some getting used to, as I would look at them and think, ‘Do I know that person? Why are they waving at me?’ It took me a while to figure out what Nabs were. Restaurants all over the area served biscuits. Biscuits?

Back home biscuits were something you might have with dinner, like dinner rolls. They weren’t served in most restaurants. Breakfast sandwiches came on croissants or english muffins or bagels. But in Virginia they came with fried chicken on them, or steak, and for any meal of the day. I didn’t really think much of them until I was introduced to their legendary sidekick, sausage gravy. I think gravy and biscuits are now my favorite thing about Virginia, and my favorite breakfast. I had to learn to make this wonderful meal.

I researched lots of recipes online, on TV, and from various people who lived here. I finally found a recipe that I liked, but it was still missing something. Here we have a chain of restaurants called Hardees. In the west they’re known as Carls Jr. They serve the best biscuits I’ve had, and I wanted mine to be more like those. So I tweaked my recipe and baked a lot more biscuits until I was satisfied that I had the ones I wanted. Now I’m going to share them with you!

The first step is to preheat your oven. You need a hot oven to make biscuits, at least 400 degrees. I use 450, but some people even crank it all the way up to 500.

Preheat Oven
Preheat Oven

To make this recipe, it’s helpful to have some specialized tools. A bench scraper, a biscuit cutter, and a pastry cutter are all useful, as well as a whisk.

Tools
Tools

For baking the biscuits, any sort of sheet or baking pan will do, but I prefer these half-sheet pans similar to the ones bakeries use. You can get them online or at restaurant supply stores or some wholesale clubs like Sam’s.

Half Sheet Pan
Half Sheet Pan

While the oven is heating prepare your dry ingredients. You’ll need flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Use a large bowl to mix them together.

Dry Ingredients
Dry Ingredients

I use a whisk to mix them, as this aerates the mix and helps everything distribute more evenly.

Dry Mix
Dry Mix

Everything added after this needs to be cold. The fats and the buttermilk should be chilled, and not taken from the cold until they’re ready to be added into the mix. Some recipes even use frozen butter, grated into the mix with a grater. I tried that method, but it’s more of a pain than anything else, and the butter is just as well cold as it is frozen. Refrigerated butter is just fine.

Next add the fats – butter and shortening. I also keep my shortening in the refrigerator, so it’s cold. You can use all butter or all shortening here, but I think the biscuits have the best texture and flavor when you use both.

Fats
Fats

Toss the shortening into the flour mixture, and cut the butter into small pieces to toss in.

Add Fats To Dry
Add Fats To Dry

This is where a pastry cutter shines. You can use a fork or even your fingers to mix and crumble up the fats into the flour, but it’s easiest and you get better results using a pastry cutter. If you use your fingers work quickly, because you don’t want your body heat to melt the fats.

Cut Fat Into Dry
Cut Fat Into Dry

Mix them in until the fats are in small pea-size pieces and the mix is crumbly.

Pea Sized Crumble
Pea Sized Crumble

Now it’s time to add the buttermilk. It should be cold, so I usually measure it out into a measuring cup in advance and keep it in the fridge until I’m ready for it. Add it all at once and mix it in. You can use a spoon or spatula, but it gets hard to mix with a utensil quickly, so I use my hand. You could possibly use a mixer for this, but you only need to mix until the dough comes together, which doesn’t take long at all, so I don’t bother.

Cold Buttermilk
Cold Buttermilk

The dough will be sticky, but that’s fine. Scrape it out of the bowl onto a well-floured surface. For this part you can either use a rolling pin or your hands. I use my hands. If you use a rolling pin, keep it well-floured so the dough doesn’t stick to it. Dust the dough with a little flour and flatten it out into a rectangle shape. Then fold one-third of it over onto the top, then the other side. Press the dough down and turn it 90 degrees. Press into a rectangle and fold over again. Repeat this about 4 or 5 times. The bench scraper makes this part easy, especially if the dough is sticking to your surface.

Fold Over Dough
Fold Over Dough

Be careful not to overwork the dough, or it will get tough. Spread it out a final time to about an inch thick. Now use your biscuit cutter to cut out rounds. Do not twist the cutter when cutting, just press straight down and remove the biscuit. I use a 3-inch biscuit cutter, which I think makes the perfect size biscuits. Place each biscuit onto your baking pan. Most recipes will tell you to place the biscuits touching each other, so they hold each other up as they rise. They will come out good that way, but I don’t do that. I like mine to be a bit crispy on the outside edges, so I place them on the sheet not touching each other. Take the extra bits of dough left from cutting and mix back together and keep cutting until there is no dough left. The last bit of cuttings can probably be shaped into a biscuit without cutting. You should get 12 to 14 biscuits, depending on how large you cut them.

Biscuits Cut On Pan
Biscuits Cut On Pan

Press down on the top of each biscuit gently with your thumb to make a small impression. This will help the biscuits rise more evenly and not puff up too much. Then the part which helps make these more like Hardees biscuits. Placing them not touching on the pan was the first part. Now before they go into the oven, brush them all with melted salted butter. I only had unsalted butter on hand, so I just added a pinch of salt to my melted butter.

Brush With Butter Before Baking
Brush With Butter Before Baking

Now into the hot oven they go. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until they are light golden on top.

Biscuits Out Of Oven
Biscuits Out Of Oven

While they are still hot, brush them again with melted salted butter. Let them cool a bit before eating if you want to eat them still warm, or eat when cooled. You can place them into sealed bags and freeze them for later. They freeze well and when thawed taste just as good as when they came out of the oven. I had to have one still warm with butter on it. Yum!

Finished Biscuits
Finished Biscuits

If you like a more traditional fluffy biscuit that’s not so crispy on the outside, Place the biscuits touching on the pan, and brush with butter only after they’ve baked. Either way these biscuits are delicious. The recipe makes 12-14 biscuits, depending on how large you cut them, but you can make multiple batches to freeze if you like.

Buttermilk Biscuits

4 cups of flour
1 1/2 tablespoons of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons of coarse salt like kosher
1/2 stick of butter, cold
4 tablespoons of shortening, cold
2 cups of buttermilk, chilled
Additional butter melted for brushing biscuits
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

In  large bowl combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Using a pastry cutter, fork, or your fingers, mix the fats into the flour mixture until the mixture is crumbly. If you use your fingers work quickly so the fats don’t melt.

Pour in the cold buttermilk and stir just until the dough comes together. The dough will be very sticky. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface , dust the top with flour, and gently press the dough out and fold over on top of itself 5 or 6 times. Press out to 1 inch thick and cut biscuits. Place on baking sheet just touching each other. Bake until tall and light gold on top, 15 to 20 minutes. Makes 12-14 biscuits.

(See description above for more tips and variations)

Veggie Refrigerator Pickle

My husband loves pickles and pickled vegetables of all kinds. Once we started having a bounty of cucumbers and peppers, we had to decide what to do with them. This quick and easy refrigerator pickle recipe to the rescue. You can use any vegetables you like in this recipe, you don’t have to have sterilized equipment and canners. We just used old pickle jars from the store that were washed and dried thoroughly. You stash them in your fridge for a few days, and they’re ready to eat.

First we start with the veggies. We used a mix of peppers, cucumbers, onions, cauliflower, celery, and carrots, but use whatever you have or like pickled.

Veggies
Veggies

We used a green bell pepper, a red hungarian hot wax pepper, and a jalapeno. Next up are the spices. Black peppercorns, homegrown ground cayenne powder, dill, coriander, mustard seed and celery seed.

Spices
Spices

Now, just chop your veggies up into whatever size pieces you want. Keep in mind you need to pack these into jars, and eat them easily, so they should be in some sort of bite-sized pieces easy to pack into a jar. Here you can see all the veggies chopped into the various shapes and sizes we chose.

Chopped Veggies
Chopped Veggies

Add your water, vinegar, sugar and garlic into a pot to boil.

Garlic and Vinegar
Garlic and Vinegar

When it’s done, separate the garlic and spices into your jars, with a little of the hot liquid to help the powders dissolve.

Spices In Jar
Spices In Jar

Now just pack your jars full with the veggies. Make sure you get some of each veggie into each jar. If you have too many veggies and end up with a few left over, just use them on pizza or in a salad.

Stuffing Jars
Stuffing Jars

Then fill each jar with the vinegar solution. Leave a little space at the top, but you don’t need much. If you end up not having enough solution, just make another half or whole batch of the vinegar, water and sugar solution and keep filling.

Filled Jars
Filled Jars

Let the jars cool, then put on the lids and pop them into the fridge. You can eat them in just a few hours, but it’s better to let them sit for at least 2 days before eating them. They’ll stay good for up to 3 months.

Finished Pickle
Finished Pickle

Refrigerator Veggie Pickle

4 cups of water
2 cups of white vinegar
1 cup of sugar
2 tablespoons of kosher salt
1 head of garlic, 10-12 cloves, cut in half
Several sprigs of fresh dill, or a pinch of ground dill per jar
1 teaspoon of celery seed
1 teaspoon of coriander seed
1 teaspoon of mustard seed
1/2 teaspoon of black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon of pink peppercorns (optional)
A pinch of fresh ground cayenne per jar (optional)
2 cucumbers sliced into rounds, spears or other shape you prefer
2 carrots, peeled and sliced into rounds and/or sticks
2 stalks of celery, sliced
1 bell pepper
1 jalapeno pepper
1 hot hungarian wax pepper
1 medium onion, sliced
1 small head of cauliflower

You can use any combination of vegetables you like to equivalent amounts of those given. This is the combination we like to use. You can also substitute ground versions of any whole spices if you don’t have the whole versions.

In a medium saucepan, bring 4 cups of water to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, and add the garlic. Cook for 5 minutes. Add the salt, sugar and vinegar and bring to a boil once more, stirring to dissolve the salt and sugar.

In jars of your choice (we used 4 24-ounce jars, which would be equivalent to 6 pints or 3 quarts if you use mason jars) place a few sprigs or a pinch of dill in each jar. Divide the spices equally between the jars. Remove the garlic from the brine and divide among the jars. Add a bit of the brine to each jar to help dissolve any ground spices used. Then pack the jars full of vegetables. The jars should be tightly stuffed.

Bring the brine back to a boil, then pour it over the vegetables to fill the jars. If you end up not having enough brine to fill all the jars, prepare another half batch using only water, vinegar, and salt. Boil the extra brine and fill the jars.

Let the jars cool on the counter uncovered. Once cooled, cover and refrigerate. You can eat them within a few hours, but they are best if left for a couple of days before eating. They’ll keep in the fridge for up to three months. Makes 6 pints or 3 quarts.

Spaghetti Sauce

My husband loves spaghetti. So much so that I think he would eat it every day if he could. My mom would make hers with meatballs that had been slow-simmered in the sauce. Today I am going to cover the sauce portion of the recipe, meatballs will be another post at some point in the future.

The ingredients for this recipe are simple. Stewed tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste, onion, garlic, and a few herbs and spices. Ideally, I’d be wanting to use tomato products from the garden, but I don’t have any this year, so canned will do. Please note that I am making a DOUBLE batch in my photos, so double the recipe at the end if you want to match the photos.

Spaghetti Sauce Ingredients
Spaghetti Sauce Ingredients

The first step, and for me usually the worst, is chopping up the onion. I must be one of those people overly-sensitive to onions, because I can’t cut one without tearing so bad that I can’t see, necessitating multiple pauses to get away from the onion and clean up my eyes with water and paper towels. I may get some of those swim goggles to try wearing for chopping. I may look ridiculous, but if it helps me to see….

Chopping Onion
Chopping Onion

Once the eye-burning part is over, the recipe goes together pretty easily. Place your olive oil in a pot, and add the onion and garlic. I like to use a non-stick pot for making this sauce, it can stick and burn on the bottom otherwise if you’re not careful.

Onion and Garlic in Oil
Onion and Garlic in Oil

Set your heat to about medium and cook and stir the aromatics until they are translucent. All recipes say that, but I’ve never really figured out what translucent means. I just cook them until they turn the color of the oil, soften a little bit, and smell really good, maybe 5 minutes or so. If the garlic starts to brown, it’s time to move on.

Cooked Onions
Cooked Onions

Next add all the tomato ingredients.

Tomatoes Added
Tomatoes Added

Next up are the herbs. I usually add a handful each of dried basil and parsley flakes per batch. (See my chicken soup post about how I measure by handful.) At this point you can add any additional herbs or veggies you might like to your sauce, like oregano, mushrooms, etc.

Herbs Added
Herbs Added

Stir everything together so it’s smooth. At this point I also add salt and sugar, and sometimes some grated parmesan cheese. Then add water to the sauce, enough so the sauce is just a tad runny. As the sauce cooks it will thicken, so if you don’t add water you’ll have paste at the end. Turn the heat down to medium-low, cover, and let it simmer for 30 minutes to an hour, or until the sauce is the consistency you want. Mine averages around 40 minutes.

Cover and Simmer
Cover and Simmer

While the sauce is simmering, you can bring another pot of water to a boil for your pasta. I normally use regular spaghetti noodles, and I boil mine for about 10 minutes. I really don’t like al-dente pasta, so I tend to overcook mine just a bit, but I like it that way.

Boiled Pasta
Boiled Pasta

Some recipes will have you add oil or salt to the pasta water, and I’ve tried that but never noticed any difference in the texture or taste of my pasta, and it never seemed ot help with sitcking, so I don’t bother. I use a metal pot and stir the pasta frequently with tongs while it cooks, and that’s the only way I’ve found to really stop sticking. Put some pasta on a plate, top with sauce and cheese, and serve with some sort of bread. I prefer a nice italian or french bread with mine, if I have any. Garlic Texas toast is nice, too.

Finished Spagetti
Finished Spagetti

Easy Spaghetti Sauce

3 tablespoons of olive oil
3-4 cloves of garlic
1 16-ounce can of stewed tomatoes or crushed tomatoes
2 6-ounce cans of tomato paste
1 8-ounce can of tomato sauce
1 tablespoon each dried basil and parsley
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon of sugar, or to taste

In a large pot, heat the oil and saute onion and garlic until just soft but not brown. You can use onions, mushrooms, peppers, or any other vegetables as desired as well. Add all tomato ingredients and mix smooth while heating. Add herbs as desired. Add water until sauce is just shy of thick. Add salt and sugar to taste. Cover and reduce heat to simmer. Cook for 45 minutes and serve over pasta. Serves 6-8.

 

Italian Chicken Noodle Soup

What’s more healthy and hearty than chicken noodle soup? Hot broth, tender pieces of chicken, lots of fresh veggies… yum. Some of my fondest memories as a child were of coming inside after a long hard day of playing out in the snow to a big bowl of this soup. Much of the prep work can be done ahead of time, too. If you prep everything ahead, all you need to do is pop everything into a pot and let it cook!

The backbone of this soup is the chicken. You can boil up your chicken as the first step of the soup like the recipe suggests, but I usually have some ready in the freezer. I buy rotisserie chickens when they go on sale, strip off the meat and keep it bagged up in the freezer. When it’s time to make soup, I just thaw it in the microwave enough to break it apart, and toss it in the soup when it’s time. One chicken’s worth of meat is enough for one recipe of soup. Alternately you can use a whole raw chicken or 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts. If you boil your chicken, boil it 20-30 minutes for breasts. Chop up the meat and set it aside for later.

If the chicken is the backbone, the rest of the skeleton is the veggies. I use a standard mix of carrots, celery, and onions, but you could add corn, beans or whatever other veggies you like to the soup.

Vegetables
Vegetables

Next you need a big pot of water. I have a stock pot I use mainly for making this soup. Fill your pot with 5-6 quarts of water (that’s just shy of a gallon and a half). Your stock pot should be at least of 8-gallon capacity. Turn the heat on high to get it started heating up.

Stockpot with water
Stockpot with water

While the water is heating chop all your veggies to whatever size you like. I chop mine rather small. I also add a couple spoonfuls of pre-minced garlic. If I were to use fresh, I’d probably pop in 4 or 5 cloves, because I like a lot.

Chopped veggies
Chopped veggies

Pop all your chopped veggies into the pot of water.

Veggies in pot
Veggies in pot

Add in 6-8 chicken bouillon cubes. If you preferred, you could probably use chicken broth in place of the water and the cubes, but you’d need a gallon and a half or so of broth.

Chicken boullion
Chicken bouillon

At this point we add what gives this soup it’s Italian flavor. I add a handful of dried basil (approx. 1-2 tablespoons), and a can of stewed tomatoes. You can also add oregano or any other herbs or spices you like. I also add in a handful of dried parsley and two bay leaves. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Handful of basil
Handful of basil

Let all the veggies cook for an hour. The water should go down a bit, but not too much.

Boiling start
Boiling start
Boiling finish
Boiling finish

 

 

 

 

 

After the veggies are cooked, add in your chicken.

Chopped chicken
Chopped chicken

Next add dry pasta of your choice. I add about 6 handfuls of egg noodles, which is roughly half a pound.

Egg noodles
Egg noodles

Let that cook for another 30 minutes and your soup is complete.

Finished soup
Finished soup

Serve it up in bowls, accompanied maybe by a nice crusty bread.

Soup is served
Soup is served!

Italian Chicken Noodle Soup

1 whole chicken or 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
4 carrots
4 stalks of celery
1 large onion
2 cloves of garlic
2 large tomatoes (may substitute a can of stewed tomatoes)
Parsley, basil, salt and pepper to taste
2 bay leaves
1/2 pound of pasta of your choice
6-8 bouillon cubes
Other veggies or herbs as desired

If using pre-cooked chicken, set aside. Otherwise, boil chicken in a pot of water for 1 hour or until done. (Boneless breasts are usually done in 30-40 minutes.) While the chicken is boiling, chop the vegetables. When the chicken is done, remove from the water, chop, and set aside. Place the vegetables into the water. Add herbs and cook the vegetables for 1 hour. Place the chicken back into the soup along with the pasta, and cook for another 30 minutes. Serve and enjoy. Makes approx. 5 quarts of soup.

 

Pizza With Homemade Crust

Pizza is one of my favorite foods. But take out pizza is expensive and hit-or-miss on quality, and frozen pizza tastes like eating the box. What is one to do? Make your own!

For a long time I avoided making anything involving dough because of the long wait times while things rise, then rise again. I didn’t want to spend hours rising dough and all day to make a pizza! I finally found some recipes online with short rise times, and after some experimentation and adapting to my taste, I found a combination that I like. Making a fresh homemade pizza for dinner isn’t a long chore any more, and it’s delicious and made exactly the way you want it.

It starts out with yeast. You can use any kind of quick- or rapid-rise instant yeast, but I’ve had no luck with the yeast that comes in a packet, so I buy the kind that comes in a glass jar and keep it in the freezer until its needed. I use bread machine yeast for this recipe, because it’s usually what I have on hand, and I find it works well for just about any recipe, machine or not. The yeast goes into a  bowl with sugar for fuel and warm water to wake it up. I warm the water in the microwave for 30 seconds. Don’t make it too hot, or it will kill the yeast. At this point you should also turn your oven up to 450 degrees to preheat.

Yeast and sugar
Yeast and sugar

Gently mix the yeast so that the sugar dissolves and leave it to sit for 10 minutes. You’ll know it’s ready when your yeast mixture is foamy. If it doesn’t foam, throw it away and start again with fresh yeast.

Yeast mixture
Yeast mixture
Foamy yeast
Foamy yeast

Next up the dry ingredients. While you’re waiting for your yeast to foam up, get a bowl big enough for your final dough and add your dry ingredients. This is where you can get really creative and make the crust your own. The base is flour, garlic powder and salt, but I also add onion powder. I’ve also made it with parsley flakes, but you can add dried basil, oregano, italian seasoning, or any other herb you like to this. Even some grated parmesan if you like. Just be careful with the amounts. You don’t want to add more than a teaspoon or so to the dough of anything you add. You can use any flour here you prefer. I use all-purpose, but you could also use bread flour or whole wheat, or even a gluten-free flour.

Dry ingredients
Dry ingredients

We also want to add some oil to this, but I don’t like dumping it into all that flour and then adding the wet yeast mixture, so I just put the oil into the yeast mixture before dumping it into the flour.

Add oil to yeast
Add oil to yeast

Now mix everything together to form a dough. You can use a spoon, and if you have a stand mixer this might be even better. I have one, but I tend to just use my hands to mix everything. I may try the stand mixture and a hook next time. The dough can be sticky, and I find it’s even more so when the weather is very humid, as it has been here lately. My dough this time was pretty sticky, but that won’t hurt anything. Once you have everything mixed together, set the bowl aside and let it rise. I usually rise mine for 10 minutes, then turn the dough over and rise another 10 minutes, to help get rid of some of the stickiness.

Mixed dough
Mixed dough

While your dough is rising, it’s time to prepare your pizza pan. If you have a pizza stone, awesome! But I don’t, so I use a 16″ aluminum pizza pan. If your pan is smaller you can break the dough up into smaller pieces, or make a thicker crust. You will probably have to cook it a bit longer if it’s thicker. You can probably also set some aside and use it for making bread or rolls. I’m one of those people that usually won’t eat my pizza crust, but give it to my dogs as a treat. But this crust I end up eating. I like to dip it in bleu cheese dressing. Yum! To prepare your pan, grease it with a solid fat of some kind. I use butter. Just run it around the pan, then dust the pan with a little corn meal. This will help keep your crust from sticking to the pan, and help it to cook better on the bottom.

Grease the pan
Grease the pan
Dust with corn meal
Dust with corn meal

When your dough is finished rising, spread it out on your prepared pan. I put a little oil on my hands to help stop the dough from sticking to them as I’m spreading it. Spread it to the thickness you prefer, and leave a rim around the outside edge.

Spread dough
Spread dough

The next step is to pre-bake the dough. I do this because once the toppings are on it doesn’t take long to cook them, and usually the dough isn’t quite done yet. Bake your crust for 10-15 minutes, until the dough has dried and just begun to brown a bit.

Pre-baked crust
Pre-baked crust

While the dough is baking, time to grate up your cheese. Every pizza has a base of mozarella to start with. I don’t buy that pre-grated dried up stuff that doesn’t taste like cheese. Take the extra time to buy a block or chunk of mozarella and grate it yourself. It will be much fresher and tastier.

Grated mozarella
Grated mozarella

Next is the sauce. I admit, I use a jarred sauce for my pizza only because I haven’t yet found a pizza sauce recipe that I like. When I do, I’ll use that. If you know of a good one, feel free to let me know in the comments.

Apply the sauce
Apply the sauce

You can use as much or as little sauce as you like, and you can use something other than traditional tomato sauce here. You can use a white sauce, like alfredo, or even no sauce if you prefer. Now add your grated cheese.

Add mozarella
Add mozarella

At this point you can get creative again! Put anything you like on top of this pizza. Pepperoni, onions, mushrooms, olives, sausage, chicken, whatever you like. I’m making this one a 4-cheese and half pepperoni pizza, because I don’t like pepperoni but my husband does. I added cheddar, asiago, and romano cheese to my mozarella.

Cheeses added
Cheeses added

I also like to add a drizzle of olive oil over the cheeses. This helps the cheese stay moist as it cooks. I don’t like my cheese dry or browned, and usually it will get that way in the time it takes to cook the pepperoni.

Oil and pepperoni
Oil and pepperoni

Now cook your pizza. This can take anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes, depending on your oven, the thickness and moisture of your dough, and the toppings on it. Just cook it until the crust and toppings are at your desired level of doneness. I cooked mine for 15 minutes, but it probably could have gone for another couple of minutes. The longer you cook it the crispier your crust will get.

Finished pizza
Finished pizza

Slice it up any way you like and enjoy. I have leftovers for lunch. Yum!

Homemade Pizza

1 packet or 2 1/4 teaspoons of rapid-rise or instant yeast
1 teaspoon of sugar
1 cup of warm water (105-110 degrees F)
2 1/2 cups of flour
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 – 1 1/2 teaspoons of any other dried herb or spice desired
2 tablespoons oil
Butter or other solid fat for greasing pan
Corn meal for dusting pan
1 cup or 1/2 jar of pizza sauce, alfredo sauce, or other sauce as desired
1/2 pound of mozarella cheese
Other cheeses as desired for topping
Other toppings as desired

Add yeast, sugar, and water to a bowl. Mix gently to dissolve sugar, then let stand 10 minutes or until foamy. In another bowl, combine flour, salt, and herbs. When yeast is ready, add olive oil to yeast mixture and pour into dry ingredients. Mix well into a dough. Let stand to rise 20 minutes, turning the dough over half way through.
Grease a pizza pan with a solid fat, then dust lightly with corn meal. Spread the risen dough on the pan and bake for 10 minutes or until crust is dry and lightly browned. Top with sauce, cheese, and other toppings as desired. Bake at 450 degrees for 10-20 minutes or until cheese is melted, toppings done, and crust at desired crispiness. Slice as desired and eat. Makes one 16″ pizza.

 

Vanilla Ice Cream

I love ice cream. My favorite flavor is vanilla, and though I will eat it with chocolate chips or sprinkles or hot fudge on top, I really like it best just plain or on the side of a nice hot piece of pie or cobbler.

Several years ago I decided to switch from drinking regular milk to soy milk. I thought this would be a healthier option. I tried a few different kinds and decided I liked the taste of Silk Double Vanilla soy milk best. For two years I drank this in place of milk and then I started getting sick. I would have terrible stomach cramps so bad I would have to just lie in bed and wait until they passed, usually hours later. It got worse as time went on, and I knew it had to be something I was eating or drinking. I narrowed it down to the Silk soy milk. When I stopped drinking it, the pains stopped coming. Why? I went online to find out what was in the soy milk that was making me sick, and found other people with similar stories. The culprit was carrageenan. This is a food additive used as a thickener in many dairy products including heavy cream, buttermilk, eggnog, ice cream, chocolate milk, and powdered chocolate drink mixes. Because it’s derived from seaweed it’s considered a natural ingredient and approved by the FDA. But many people like myself eventually become sensitive to it through exposure over time. I later found out it’s also used in laboratories to induce gastrointestinal distress in lab animals so they can test remedies, so this side effect is well known.

In trying to avoid this ingredient I had to cut all the aforementioned products out of my diet. Oh no! I love buttermilk biscuits, and eggnog on the holidays, and heavy cream in sauces, and chocolate milk with donuts, and ICE CREAM! Well, I couldn’t go through life without ice cream, and even though I eventually found one or two rare brands that were free of this ingredient, they were expensive and really weren’t that great tasting. That’s when I got the idea that I could probably make my own at home. It would be less expensive, free of artificial ingredients, and like most things home made, great tasting! My husband was nice enough to buy me an ice cream making machine online, and it’s one of my most treasured appliances now.

I’ve tried quite a few different recipes for ice cream, but this one is the easiest and uses only four ingredients. How great is that?

Four ingredients
Four ingredients

For this recipe, I recommend using a metal pan, preferably stainless steel. You do not want to use non-stick for this. First up, dump your sugar in the pan.

Sugar
Sugar

Next up, add your cream.

Cream
Cream

Then, add the milk and vanilla. Crank up the heat to medium and slowly heat the milk mixture until it just starts to simmer. Do not boil it.

Steaming ice cream base
Steaming ice cream base

Next, turn off the heat and pour the hot mixture into a bowl that can be covered. I use a stainless steel bowl that I have that had a lid. Let the mixture cool on the counter to room temperature, then cover and place it in the fridge overnight to chill.

Pouring Into Bowl
Pouring Into Bowl

The next morning, prepare your machine. My machine is pictured below. Although the label on mine says it makes 2 quarts, when you churn your mixture it gets filled with air and expands, so I only make 1.5 quarts, or 6 cups of base. It expands to fill the machine’s bowl pretty well.

Ice Cream Machine
Ice Cream Machine

This is the type of machine where it has a bowl that you keep in the freezer until you’re ready to use it. It’s very simple to use and clean, and I just keep the bowl stored in the freezer all the time, so it’s always ready when I want to use it. If you plan to make a lot of ice cream, I’d suggest getting a second bowl, so you always have one ready to churn while the other is being cleaned, or for making a bigger batch at one time.

Freezer Bowl
Freezer Bowl

You want to have the bowl out of the freezer and in the machine, the lid and paddle on top, and the machine on and running when you bring your base out of the fridge. While the machine is running, carefully pour the base out of the bowl and into the machine. If you want to add anything to it like fruit, chocolate chips, nuts, etc, you can add it now. If adding fruit, I would chop it into pieces if needed and freeze it before adding it.

Pour Into Freezer Bowl
Pour Into Freezer Bowl

The hardest part of this whole recipe is the waiting. Waiting for the mixture to heat up to a simmer, waiting for it to chill, waiting for it to churn, then waiting for it to freeze so you can eat it! (Ok, sometimes I cheat a little and eat some soft right after it’s churned.)

Set your timer for 30 minutes and let the machine work its magic. When you come back you’ll see that the base has thickened and expanded into a loose soft-serve consistency.

Churn Done
Churn Done

Doesn’t that look yummy?

Churn Paddle
Churn Paddle

At this point you can technically eat it, but it’s very soft and will melt quickly. Scoop it out of the freezer bowl into your container of choice, put a lid on it, and put it in the freezer to freeze completely, at least an hour, but preferably overnight.

Soft Ice Cream
Soft Ice Cream

That’s all there is to it. Once it’s hardened a bit just scoop and enjoy like any normal ice cream. It’s all natural, with no preservatives or chemicals.

Home made ice cream
Home made ice cream

The four ingredients to this recipe are milk, cream, sugar, and vanilla. There are many combinations you can use. I will post the original recipe below. The milk part is half-n-half in the recipe, but you can also use whole milk or any kind of milk. The higher the fat content of what you use, the better it will taste, but I’ve made this with 1% milk when I was out of everything. The ice cream tasted more like ice milk, but it was still tasty. I normally use whole milk, because I can use the remainder for other things like cereal, coffee, or just drinking.

The cream part of the recipe is heavy whipping cream. I can’t use that because of my sensitivity to the carrageenan in it, so I use half-n-half here or light cream, which isn’t available in some stores.

For the vanilla part of the recipe I use vanilla extract, but you could also use a vanilla bean, which would give your ice cream that signature look of little vanilla bean bits in it.

The original recipe has also been modified for the size of my machine. The original makes one quart, and if I double it for my 2-quart machine it overflows, so I make 1.5 quarts.

Vanilla Ice Cream

3 cups of half-n-half
1 1/2 cups of heavy whipping cream
1 1/2 cups of sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons of vanilla extract

Combine all the ingredients in a metal pot and heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Heat just until a bare simmer is reached, then remove from the heat and pour into a metal bowl. Let the mixture cool to room temperature, then cover and place in the refrigerator overnight to chill. The next morning, prepare your ice cream maker, turn it on, and then pour in the chilled ice cream base. Let churn for 30 minutes. Place the finished ice cream into containers and freeze for at least an hour before serving. Makes 6 cups, or 1.5 quarts.