Friday, December 28, 2012

Black Eyed Peas & Cabbage: A New Year's Day Tradition

Many cultures have their own traditions and superstitions about the New Year.  My family is no exception.  We eat black eyed peas and cabbage every New Year's Day.  The black eyed peas represent health and the cabbage (green) represents wealth.  I have never missed out on this tradition.  Ever.  When my husband took me to New York to visit his family for Christmas and New Years, I searched every market till I found a can of black eyed peas.  Then I picked up some cole slaw from a deli.  It wasn't the tastiest meal, but I kept up tradition.  My Maw Maw Ida would've been proud.  She was very superstitious!  She even took the first leaf off the head of cabbage and nailed it up over her front door for good luck.  So, as you can see, the tradition has been ingrained.

Let me tell you something, cabbage was never my favorite thing to eat.  Especially smothered cabbage.  My Mama used to cook it all the time and boy did it stink!  Me and my brother could smell it from out in the yard.  Ugh!  However, as I've gotten older, I've found new ways to cook it and actually like it now.  It's even great just shredded on tacos or on top of a pulled pork sandwich.

Black eyed peas, on the other hand, are one of my favorites.  Especially when my Mama cooked them with the ham bone left over from Christmas dinner.  The sweetness of the ham with the earthiness of the peas...just so good!

Here are a few recipes you can make on New Years Day:

You've probably heard of stuffed cabbage.  It's ground beef and seasonings rolled up in cabbage leaves and baked in a tomato based sauce.  This recipe gives you all the flavors of stuffed cabbage without all the stuffing and rolling.  It just simmers together in a pot.  Easy!


1 lb ground beef
1 onion, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 (28oz) can stewed tomatoes
1 (6oz) can tomato paste
1 1/4 cup water
1 1/2 tsp dried parsley
1 1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp sugar
3/4 tsp pepper
1 small head cabbage, shredded

Brown ground beef.  Drain.  Add onion and cook for 5 minutes.  Add garlic and cook 1 minute.  Add stewed tomatoes & tomato paste and stir to break up.  Stir in water, parsley, salt, oregano, sugar & pepper.  Simmer 5 minutes.  Add half cabbage and cook, covered 5 minutes.  Add remaining cabbage and simmer, covered for 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.

If you cook a ham for Christmas, save the bone.  Put it in a large freezer bag and freeze it.  Take it out a few days before New Years to thaw and use it to make your black eyed peas.  It gives them such a good flavor! If you don't have a ham bone you can buy ham steaks and dice them up or even use bacon.  Bacon will give the peas a smoky flavor, while ham gives them a salty sweetness.  Your call.


1 lb dried black eyed peas
ham bone (or bacon, or diced ham)
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
cajun seasoning (or salt and pepper)
chicken broth (enough to cover the peas)

The night before you want to cook these, soak the peas in a big bowl of water.  The next day, drain and rinse them.  Put them in a slow cooker.  Add ham bone (or chopped bacon or ham), onion, garlic.  Add enough broth to just cover the peas.  If you add too much, they won't be creamy.  Season to taste with cajun seasoning.  Put on the lid and cook on high for about 4 hours.  Don't take off the lid or stir or anything during this time.  After 4 hours, remove lid and stir.  Smash some of the peas against the side of the slow cooker.  Then, stir.  Do this several times.  This will help the peas get creamy.  Put the lid back on and let cook for another hour.  Remove the ham bone.  Serve with rice, if desired.

So, try these recipes on New Year's Day.  I hope they bring you health and wealth for 2013 and beyond.  Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Thin Mints!

Have you ever had Thin Mint Girl Scout Cookies?  They are so good!  Chocolaty, minty, and crispy all at the same time!  Yum!  Well, today I am making a version of these that are so ridiculously simple to make that you won't believe it.  Partly because of the unexpected ingredient in the recipe.  But, trust me, they taste just like the Girl Scout cookies.  Chocolate and mint go so well together and are perfect flavors for a Christmas treat!  Another in the line up of goodies that make a great a gift (if you don't eat them all yourself).  You'll definitely want to give these a try.


1 12oz pkg semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 tsp peppermint extract
1 sleeve Ritz crackers (odd ingredient, but so good!)
1 peppermint candy cane, crushed

Using a double boiler (or microwave) gently melt the chocolate.  Stir.  Blend in the peppermint extract.

 Dip crackers in melted chocolate, coating completely.  Gently shake off excess chocolate.

 Place on wax paper-lined cookie sheet.  Sprinkle with crushed candy cane.

 Refrigerate for 30 minutes or until set and firm.

See, I told you these were easy!  And you won't believe how much they taste like the original.  They make a wonderful gift.  I've packed these up in Christmas tins with pretty tissue paper and given them as gifts to my kids teachers.  They loved them!  If you need something to bring to a party, these are perfect.  You can make them ahead of time and keep them in the fridge.  Enjoy!

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Oreo Truffles!

Who among us does not enjoy a stack of Oreos with a glass of milk?  Unless you're a health nut (or a liar) you love Oreos.  I know, they are not the best thing in the world for you, but this series is about Christmas treats.  So treat yourself (and your friends & family) to this next recipe, made with an entire package of Oreos!

My daughter loves these.  She wanted to bring them to her class Christmas party yesterday, so she helped me make them.  Here's how we did it:


1 package Oreos, divided
1 (8oz) block cream cheese, softened
1 package white or chocolate almond bark (candy coating found in baking section at grocery store)

Take out 9 Oreos and finely crush them in a food processor; set aside.  You can use these as garnish on top of the truffles (We did not use these for garnish this time.  We wanted these to be little snowballs, so we used blue sugar instead)  Crush the remaining Oreos to fine crumbs.  Place the crumbs in a big bowl and add the softened cream cheese (make sure it's at room temperature or it will be too hard to mix!)  Mix until well blended.  Roll mixture into 1 inch balls (we used a small scoop to ensure they were all the same size)

After you've scooped them out, roll them with your hands so they will be pretty and round.  Then put them in the fridge to firm up.  Meanwhile, melt the almond bark according to the package directions.  You can do it in the microwave or a double-boiler.  We used the white almond bark.  Once it was melted, we put half in a separate bowl and tinted it green with food coloring.  Then we added about 1/4 tsp peppermint extract.  That way, half of our truffles would be mint flavored.

Once the balls have firmed up a little in the fridge, dip each in the melted coating.  Use a fork so the excess coating can drip off.

Using a toothpick, place the truffles onto a cookie sheet lined with wax paper.

Immediately sprinkle with reserved crumbs or sugar to garnish.  If you wait, the garnish won't stick because these start to firm up pretty quickly.

Once they are all dipped and garnished, refrigerate for about 1 hour to set.  Store leftovers in fridge.

The mint green truffles taste like Junior Mints candies!  Here's what they looked like:

A great way to package these for gifts is to put each into a mini cupcake liner.  Then wrap them up in a cellophane bag with a pretty bow.

So, there is the recipe for Oreo Truffles.  These are so rich and delicious!  They are perfect to put out for a party and make a great gift.  Enjoy!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Stained Glass Cookies

Next, in my series of Christmas treats is a really fun, really pretty project.  It may look difficult, but it's not.  I thought it would be hard, too, at first.  I've actually had this recipe for years and never attempted it because I figured it would be too much trouble.  But, something made me give it a try and I'm so glad I did.  It was easy and these cookies turn out beautiful!  Here's how I did it:

*Note:  you will need aluminum foil, cookie cutters - large and small sizes.


Sugar cookie dough (store-bought or use my recipe from the Christmas Cookie post)
Jolly Rancher candies

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line cookie sheets with aluminum foil.  Roll out the cookie dough on a floured surface to about 1/4 inch thickness.  Cut out desired shapes.  Transfer to foil-lined cookie sheets.  Using a smaller cookie cutter, cut out centers of the cookies.  (you can bake the centers at another time and make mini cookies or re-roll them with the scraps of dough to make more cookies)
Bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes or until golden and almost cooked through.

Meanwhile, place like-colored Jolly Ranchers into small zip bags and crush them with a rolling pin or small pot.

Fill cutout centers of the cookies with the crushed candy.  Return the cookie sheet to the oven for 2 minutes or until the candies are melted and smooth.  Do not overbake or the candy will lose it's color.  Transfer to a rack and cool completely.

  Then, carefully peel the aluminum foil away from the cookies.

They turn out so pretty!  Perfect for Christmas!  You can see through them, just like stained glass.

So, don't be intimidated by these cookies like I was.  As you can see, they are so simple to make.  And wouldn't these be pretty all boxed up as a gift?  They'll think you're Martha Stewart when they see these!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Mrs. Tommy Jo's Pound Cake

Growing up, my church would hold "Dinner on the Grounds" once a month.  I would get so excited for these church potlucks, not because of the cookies or brownies, like most kids.  No, I couldn't wait for Mrs. Tommy Jo's pound cake.  It was the most delicious thing I had ever tasted!  So buttery and wonderful that it made me wolf down the myriad of casseroles on my plate just so I could be first in line for dessert.  My Mama just recently revealed that she had gotten the recipe from Mrs. Tommy Jo, who is now an angel no-doubt making her heavenly pound cake for the Lord.  I baked one right away and sure enough, it brought back all those memories of church, friends and fellowship.  A perfect cake for Christmas!  So, I thought I'd share it in my month-long series of Christmas treats.  It's perfect for taking to a pot luck (obviously) and it makes a great gift.   Here's the recipe:


3 cups + 4 TBS plain flour
3 cups sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 cup milk
2 sticks butter, softened
1/2 cup shortening
5 eggs
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Sift together flour, salt and baking soda.  Set aside.  In a large bowl, cream butter, shortening and sugar together with an electric mixer until light and fluffy.  Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each.  Mix in vanilla.  Alternately add milk and flour mixture as follows:  Add 1 cup flour, mix.  Then 1/2 cup milk, mix.  Then 1 cup flour, mix.  Then 1/2 cup milk, mix.  Then, the last of the flour and mix well.  Grease a bundt pan.  Pour batter into prepared pan.  Bake at 325 degrees for 1 hour and 20 minutes.  Let cool in pan for 15 minutes.  Then turn it put onto a cooling rack to finish cooling.

This cake turns out buttery and dense - it's the perfect cake!  You'll love it!  You can dust it with powdered sugar if you like, but I think it's great just as it is.

Pound cake is nostalgic and classic and traditional - just like Christmas.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Coconut Joy Bars

I've decided that all this month I am going to be blogging about Christmas treats!  What could be better?  Every post will be a delicious goody that you can make for your family, bring to a get-together, or give away as gifts.  I've already shown you how I make my sugar cookies.  Today I want to show you how I make a homemade version of a Mounds or Almond Joy in bar-form.  These are so rich and delicious!  I made them for Thanksgiving.  I needed to use some leftover coconut milk, because I made my Daddy his favorite Coconut Cream Pie and it only uses half a can.  I saw this recipe in a magazine and gave it a shot.  They were a hit!  Here's how I did it:

This recipe make an 8x8 square pan.  You can easily double the recipe and make it in a 9x13 pan.


1/2 a (14oz) bag of shredded coconut
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 TBS powdered sugar
1 stick butter, at room temperature
1/4 + 1/8 cup granulated sugar
2 1/2 TBS + 1/2 tsp cornstarch*
1/2 can coconut milk, stir it well first
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

*This may seem like a weird amount of cornstarch, but this is half of 1/3 cup.  So if you double the recipe, use 1/3 cup cornstarch.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a dry skillet over medium heat, toast 1/2 cup of the coconut until lightly golden on the edges, stirring often.  Be careful not to burn it!  Line a 8x8 square baking dish with foil (let the foil extend over the side a bit) and butter the foil.  In a food processor, finely grind the toasted coconut.  Add flour, powdered sugar, and a small pinch of salt.  Pulse to blend.  Add room temperature butter.  Pulse until blended.  With a spatula, spread dough in an even layer into prepared dish.  Bake 25 minutes or until light golden brown.  Cool on a wire rack.  Here's what the baked crust looks like:

While the crust is cooling:  In a medium-sized pot, whisk granulated sugar, cornstarch and a small pinch of salt.  Whisk in coconut milk until smooth.  Turn on the heat to medium-high and bring mixture to a simmer, whisking frequently.  Simmer for 2 minutes or until very thick, whisking the whole time.  Remove from heat and fold in the untoasted coconut.  Here's what it will look like:

Cool this slightly, then spread it over the cooled crust.  Place the chocolate chips in a microwave safe bowl.  Microwave in 30 second intervals, stirring after each, until almost completely melted.  Stir until smooth.  This does not take long.  Spread the melted chocolate over the coconut filling in the pan.

Chill in the refrigerator until the chocolate is set.  Use the foil to lift out of the pan.  Cut into small bars.  Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to 3 days.  Here's what the finished bars look like:

They taste like a Mound's bar!  Yum!

If you want to make them more like an Almond Joy bar you can make these variations:  Use milk chocolate chips instead of semi-sweet and sprinkle some slivered almonds over the coconut filling before you spread on the chocolate.

So, there you have it.  Coconut Joy Bars are another sweet treat you can make this holiday season.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Christmas Cookies Make Me Smile!

Christmas cookies make me smile.  Not only are they delicious, but beautiful and colorful, too.  Call me corny, but there is nothing better than blaring some Christmas music and baking up a big batch of cookies.  It just makes me happy!  Some of my fondest memories involve baking Christmas cookies.  I used to make them with my Mama when I was a little girl.  When my kids were little, they loved helping me bake cookies (now they just want to eat them). They would help measure the ingredients (that's how I taught them about fractions) and then they would sprinkle the colored sugar onto the cookies before we baked them.  They also helped me bag them up in pretty cellophane bags.  We always gave Christmas cookies as gifts to their teachers, neighbors, family, etc.  Since December is right around the corner (and I had volunteered to send a snack to my son's school), I decided to put on some Christmas music and bake some cookies.

These are basic sugar cookies.  I like this recipe because I always have the ingredients on hand (nothing weird involved).  You can either sprinkle them with colored sugar before you bake them or "paint them" with an egg yolk cookie paint (recipe to follow).  I used colored sugar.  This recipe yields about 4 dozen (depending on the size of your cookie cutters).


2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature (leave it on the counter for about an hour)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.  Set aside.  In the bowl of a mixer (if you don't have a big stand mixer, use a hand-held electric mixer) beat softened butter and sugar for 3 minutes (until fluffy and light).  Beat in egg.  Then, beat in vanilla.  Reduce the mixer speed to low (or you'll have flour everywhere, trust me) gradually add in the flour, a little at a time.  Mix just until incorporated.  Shape dough into 4 disks.  Put each disk between 2 pieces of wax paper.  At this point, you can stop and freeze the dough. (if you want to make them ahead to save time later on)   Just wrap each disk in wax paper then put in a freezer bag.  Freeze them until you need them.  Then, you can just take them out, let thaw, and follow the directions from here on out.

Roll each disk between 2 pieces of wax paper to 1/8 inch thick.  This makes clean up easier, plus you don't have to worry about flouring a board or your rolling pin.

After you roll them out, chill them in the fridge for 30 minutes (or freezer for 15).  THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT!  If you try to cut the cookies out now, before chilling, the dough will be too sticky and you won't be able to get them off the wax paper.  It'll be a big ole mess!  Chill the dough!

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Using floured cookie cutters (I dip them in a bit of flour to keep them from sticking), cut out cookies.

Place them on an ungreased cookie sheet (you can line your cookie sheet with parchment paper if you like).  I like to use a nonstick cookie sheet.  These cookies don't spread too much, but don't crowd them.

The scraps that are left after you cut out the cookies can be gathered together and rolled out again(don't forget to chill the re-rolled dough).

Sprinkle each cookie with colored sugar.

 Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes or until very light golden on the edges.

Let cool for 5 minutes on the cookie sheet then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

*Variation:  If you don't want to use colored sugar, you can make "cookie paint".  Separate an egg.  You just need the yolk.  Mix food coloring with the beaten yolk to get desired color.

Paint the cookies (with a pastry brush) before they go in the oven to bake.  This gives them a shiny, transparent look.

You could even do both.  Paint them and sprinkle sugar on them.  Have fun with it!

So, give yourself a shot of Christmas Spirit.  Blare some Christmas music and bake up these cookies.  Whether you give them away as gifts or eat them yourself, you're guaranteed a smile!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Got Leftover Turkey? Make a Gumbo!

One of the joys of the holidays is leftover turkey.  It's so delicious!  Somehow, it tastes even better the next day between two slices of bread.  How does it do that?  It's a mystery.  But, if you get tired of turkey sandwiches (heaven forbid!), then try making a gumbo.  If you're not from around here, you may be thinking "Gumbo?  How do I do that?"  Well, that's what I'm here to tell ya.  It's easy, but it takes time to do it right.  Sure, you could use a boxed mix.  But don't!  A real gumbo, made from scratch, is one of life's great pleasures.

If you really want to go authentic, you can make your own turkey broth.  If not, just use store bought chicken broth.  (If you have leftover chicken instead of turkey, that works fine, too!)

To make turkey broth:

Get a big pot.  Put some bones leftover from your turkey (strip the meat off first) into the pot.  Add an onion (cut into quarters), a large carrot (cut in half), a stalk of celery (cut in half) some fresh parsley (a great use for the stems) and some salt (not too much).
Fill with cold water till the water level is a few inches above the bones and veggies.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for about an hour.  The longer you simmer, the better the broth.  Let it cool a bit, then pour the liquid through a fine mesh strainer.  Voila!  Homemade turkey broth!  Put it in a big jar or zip bag and keep it in the fridge till you need it.


2 cups leftover cooked turkey (or chicken)
1/2 lb smoked sausage, sliced
1 large onion, chopped
1 large bell pepper, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 small cloves garlic (or 1 big), minced
3 green onions, chopped
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup canola oil
cajun seasoning
hot sauce, optional
4 cups homemade turkey broth or store bought chicken broth

The first thing I do is cut everything up.  I want the meat and veggies to be ready before I start making the roux.  If you don't know, a roux is a mixture of flour and fat used to thicken a sauce or stew.  There are various degrees of a roux.  You use a light roux in a basic white sauce.  If you've ever made homemade mac and cheese, you've made a roux.  But, a roux used in a gumbo has to be a deep caramel color.  This is what gives the gumbo it's signature flavor.  This can take a while and you can't walk away from it (don't go answer the phone!).  It has to be tended to, but it's so worth it.  Trust me.

Here's how to make the roux:  In a large pot over medium heat, add 1/2 cup oil and whisk in 1/2 cup flour.  Keep whisking until smooth.  Then, continue to whisk slowly.  This is how it will look to start:

Continue to cook this, whisking slowly, until it turns a deep, beautiful caramel color.  Like this:

This will take a while, about 25 - 30 minutes or so.  As some Cajuns say, "Long enough to drink a beer or two."

Once the roux is done, add the onions, celery, bell pepper, garlic and green onions.  Season with salt/pepper/cajun seasoning.  Cook for a few minutes to soften them a bit.

Add the sausage.  Stir.  Then, whisk in 4 cups broth.  Season again to taste.  Add hot sauce if you want more spice.  Bring it to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for about an hour.

Then, add the turkey.  If you add it before, it will get stringy and gross.  The turkey is already cooked, you just need to heat it through.  So, once you add the turkey, just simmer for a few minutes.  Then, it's done!  Enjoy the fruits of your labor!  Serve the gumbo over rice.

I'm not going to pretend this isn't a lot of work.  But, great things take time.  So, pick a day when you've got the time and make some gumbo!  It's worth the effort, I guarantee!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Thanksgiving Side Dishes

As stated in my earlier post, I love Thanksgiving!  Getting all of the family and friends together to eat (and not worrying about buying the right gift for everyone) is my idea of a perfect holiday.  Every year we go to my Mama's house for Thanksgiving.  We have a big extended family.  There's always a lot of people coming and going.  It's never a formal sit-down.  I used to hate that growing up.  I always wanted the "Norman Rockwell painting" of Thanksgiving Dinner.  You know, a giant table filled with a spread of food, set with fine china and a beautiful centerpiece.  My Daddy at the head of the table ready to carve the glorious, perfect bird.  Everyone dressed in their Sunday best with perfect hair and table manners.  But, the reality was very different and so much better.  My Mama would be up at the crack of dawn cooking.  I would wake up to the smell of turkey and dressing.  We always had Thanksgiving at lunch time because my Daddy and brothers were anxious to get to the hunting camp.  That weekend was always the start of deer season, a very big deal in the South!  Plus, we always had extended family dropping by at different times.  So, it was sort of like a Thanksgiving buffet that lasted all day.  The table was filled with so much food you could hardly fit it.  And everyone who came over had a smile on their face.  I'd say that's a perfect holiday.

Since I talked about the turkey last time, I thought I'd share some recipes for Thanksgiving side dishes.

This recipe is my daughter's absolute favorite.  It's plain and simple and came from the back of a soup can, but if I don't make it on Thanksgiving, I get an earful!


2 cans green beans, rinsed and drained
1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
dash of pepper
1 small can (6 oz) french fried onions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Mix together soup, milk, Worcestershire sauce and pepper until well combined.  Stir in green beans and 3/4 of the can of french fried onions.  Transfer to a casserole dish.  Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.  Stir, then sprinkle with remaining french fried onions.  Bake an additional 5 minutes.

When I was in college, Southern Living magazine came to my university and put on a cooking show.  I was lucky enough to get to help out backstage.  Afterwards, all of us were given cookbooks as a thank-you for helping.  This next recipe came from that book.  It tastes like a dessert.  But, since it's made with sweet potatoes, technically it's a vegetable (that's what I tell myself anyway).  Whenever I make this, everyone loves it and wants the recipe.  So, here it is.


3 2/3 cups cooked, mashed sweet potatoes*
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1/4 cup milk
3 TBS butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt

3 TBS butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup flaked coconut
1/3 cup all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Combine first 7 ingredients.  Beat with an electric mixer on medium until smooth.  Pour into a greased 9x13 baking dish.  Set aside.  Make topping by combining softened butter, brown sugar, pecans, coconut and flour with a fork.  It should be crumbly.  Sprinkle this on top of the sweet potato mixture.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

*The best way to make the cooked sweet potatoes - Get 4 medium size sweet potatoes.  Clean and dry them.  Put them on a cookie sheet sprayed with cooking spray.  Bake in a 400 degree oven until soft.  When you can easily stick a knife in, they are done.  Cool them.  Peel them.  Mash them.

You can use canned sweet potatoes.  I have done this in a pinch.  But make sire you rinse them well!  they come packed in syrup and that will make your dish too sweet.  Bake them yourself if you can.  It really does make all the difference.

I don't have a pic of this yet, but I know I will be making it for Thanksgiving, so I'll add it later.  If I don't make this one, my daddy and husband will not be happy.

*Here it is.  (told you I'd have to make this for Thanksgiving)

The great thing about this recipe (other than the taste) is that you can make it the day before and keep it in the fridge.  Just take it out and let it come to room temperature, then warm in the oven.  I've even served it at room temp.  It's yummy either way.

The last recipe I want to share is very special to me.  It's my Maw Maw Fannie's cornbread dressing.  Well, this is a modified version of it.  She used to put oysters in hers and my Mama puts chicken in hers.  This is a faster version that uses chicken broth, but no actual chicken.  I get that familiar taste, without it taking all day to make.  Make sure you season this well.  Use more salt and pepper than you think you'll need.  The cornbread can be bland if you don't.


1 9x9 cornbread, baked and cooled (don't use sweet cornbread)*
2 Tbs butter
1/2 bunch celery, diced fine
1 bunch green onions, diced
1 bunch fresh parsley, diced
about 3 cups chicken broth (you may need more or less)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a large bowl, crumble cornbread into fine crumbs.  Saute celery, green onions and parsley in butter until softened.  Salt and pepper.  Add this to the cornbread crumbs.  Mix well.  Add enough chicken broth to make the cornbread very wet, but not soupy (about 3 cups).  Season with salt and pepper (a little more than you think you need).  Transfer into a greased casserole dish (or cast iron skillet) and cover with foil.  Bake 20 minutes.  Remove foil and bake an additional 10 minutes or until brown on top.

*Corn bread recipe - Honestly, I use Martha White Self-rising Yellow Cornmeal Mix and there is a recipe on the back of the package.  But I do have a scratch recipe:


1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup milk
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup oil

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Mix cornmeal, flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl.  In a separate bowl, mix milk, beaten egg, and oil.  Add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients.  Stir only enough to combine.  Transfer to a greased pan or cast iron skillet.  Bake at 425 degrees about 25 minutes or until lightly browned.

Here's what the finished dressing looks like:

So, there are some of my favorite Thanksgiving side dishes.  I hope you make and enjoy these with your family and friends.  Even if you don't have the perfect Norman Rockwell holiday, you'll look back, like me, and realize that you didn't need all that.  My Daddy may have been in a hurry to go hunting on Thanksgiving day, but he always bowed his head and gave thanks for what he had.  That's the memory I truly treasure, not a perfectly set table.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Thanksgiving Turkey with Creole Butter

Thanksgiving is without a doubt my favorite holiday!  First of all, I love to cook.  Second of all, I love to eat. This holiday was made for me!  I love the sight of a big bountiful buffet.  The smells are great, too.  Pumpkin and cinnamon and nutmeg, oh my!  But, my favorite part of Thanksgiving dinner is the turkey!  My son (aka pickiest eater ever) will not eat most Thanksgiving foods, but he's a turkey junkie!  So, I must make turkey and make it good!

People have a tendency to freak out about cooking a turkey!  Maybe because it's so easy to mess up.  You don't thaw it out properly, or you over cook it and it's too dry, or it's just plain bland.  I am no turkey expert, but I have figured out how to make a delicious, flavorful bird that my family loves.  Here are some of my tips.

The first thing you have to do is make sure you thaw the turkey properly.  Give yourself several days.  Put the turkey on a platter in the fridge.  Do not thaw it on the counter!  Depending on the size of the bird, it should thaw in 3 to 4 days in the fridge.  If you don't have the time for proper thawing, buy a fresh bird that hasn't been frozen.

If, after thawing several days in the fridge, you find yourself on Thanksgiving Day and the turkey still feels a bit frozen, I have a tip.  Get yourself a clean (new) 5 gallon bucket from the hardware store.  Put the turkey in the bucket (still wrapped in the original packaging) and slowly run cold water over it.  Let it sit in the cold water for about half an hour.  This should finish the thawing process.  But, don't try this if it's completely frozen solid!

The next thing you need to do is make sure you remove the neck and giblets.  I've made this mistake before! I left the bag of giblets in the turkey when I cooked it.  Ugh!  Anyway, make sure you remove everything that the store stuffed inside the cavity of the bird.  Sometimes, they even put a packet of gravy in there.  I don't like to use that.  Throw it away.  I'll give you a very easy recipe for homemade turkey gravy.  So much better!

Now that you've removed everything you don't need, it's time to start seasoning.  I know this is a no-brainer but I'm going to remind you to wash your hands thoroughly.  I am a freak about salmonella!

But before I talk about seasoning, let me mention that I use an oven bag to cook  my turkey.  I know that is heresy to some people, but I find it cuts the cook time so much and really keeps the turkey from drying out.  The skin still comes out crispy.  I love them.  I use Hefty brand because they open from the top and are self-venting.  Easy to use!  Here's what they look like:

Get a large roasting pan and put the oven bag into it.  Open it up and add 1 Tablespoon of flour to the bag.  Shake it up to coat the entire bag with flour.  Set it aside until the turkey is ready to go in it.

I like to keep seasoning simple.  I like to enhance, but not overpower the taste of the turkey.  I have a Cajun injector needle.  You can get these in many supermarkets or online.  I have the Tony Chachere's brand.  Here's what it looks like:

It's basically a giant syringe and needle used to inject a marinade into the turkey (or you can use it for chicken or roasts, etc.)  The first time I bought it, I used the marinade that came with it.  It's good and you can use that if you want.  But, I decided to start making my own.  Once you have the injector, you can make up any flavor marinade you want.  I made my own creole butter.  Super simple.


Cajun Seasoning
ground thyme
ground sage
onion powder

Melt some margarine (real butter tastes better, but can burn).  Add in all seasonings to taste.  That's it.  You can make as much or as little as you want.  Just make sure it tastes good to you.  Simple.

Then, you just inject this Creole Butter into all parts of the turkey.  I make sure to do a little more into the white meat, to keep it moist.  It's easier to get the marinade into the injector if you pour it into a narrow glass.  This just makes it easier to suck it up into the injector needle.

After you inject the turkey, rub any remaining marinade all over the bird.  Then, salt and pepper the turkey inside and out.  Put it inside the oven bag and seal it up.  Tuck the corners of the oven bag into the pan so they don't stick out.

Bake times can be found on the information inside the box of oven bags.  It all depends on the size of the turkey.  I cooked one the other day (as a reward for my son) and a pre-thanksgiving warm-up.  It was almost  9 lbs and it took about two hours.  Most birds come with a pop-up timer.  Make sure you put the turkey in the oven with the timer facing the window of your oven, so you can see it.

Once the turkey is done, take it out of the oven and set it somewhere to rest.  But, carefully cut open the bag right away (don't let the steam burn you!).  I find it can get soggy if you leave it closed while resting.

There will be lots of juice in the bottom of the bag.  Take out about a cup of this.  It's like liquid gold!  So flavorful!  And you'll need it for the gravy.


2 TBS real butter
2 TBS flour
1 cup reserved juice from turkey
1 cup chicken broth
ground thyme
ground sage
salt and pepper

In a saucepan, melt butter.  Whisk in flour.  Keep whisking and cooking flour for a few minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.  Sprinkle in a little ground thyme and sage (not too much, you can always add but you can't take away).  Add in turkey juice, whisking constantly.  Add in chicken broth, whisking constantly.  Turn up the heat and bring to a boil.  Then reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes, whisking occasionally, until thickened.  Taste it and see if you need to add more seasoning.  That's it.  Serve over turkey or mashed potatoes or both!

I wanted to take a picture of this grand, beautiful turkey that I made, but my son got a hold of the turkey before I could snap a photo.  So, I went ahead and carved it.  But, here is a pic of it on the plate. My husband says this pic looks like an ugly TV dinner.  Oh well!  I promise it came out beautiful.  Plus, hungry kids are more important than pretty pictures (don't you think?)

So, I hope I've helped to take a little anxiety out of making a Thanksgiving turkey.  Remember, it doesn't have to look perfect, as long as it tastes good.  Besides, Thanksgiving is about being together with family and friends giving thanks for all of your blessings.  That's all that really matters.  That and sweet potato pie, of course.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Big Italian Dinner (including homemade bread!)

Today's post is about a big Italian meal!  Who doesn't love that!  Let me start by saying I am a carb-lover!  I don't care how fattening it may be.  My philosophy is I'd rather eat a little bit of something delicious, than a lot of something diet!  So, if you are afraid of carbs, look away! (not really, keep reading please)

The title of this post does not lie.  I made homemade Italian bread from scratch!  It wasn't as hard as I imagined.  In fact, it was empowering!  It made me feel like a super woman.  If I can make bread from scratch, I can do anything.  I can rule the world!  Ok, maybe not, but it felt great!

I'm going to start with the bread because, although it's easy, it does take time.  The dough has to rise twice.  So, do this on a day when you've got a few hours to spare.


1 cup warm water (use a thermometer to check that it is between 105 - 115 degrees)*
1 envelope (.25 oz) active dry yeast
2 1/2 - 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour (you may not need it all)
1 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon cornmeal

*if you don't have a thermometer, use hot tap water - not boiling!  If it's not hot enough, the yeast won't rise and if it's too hot, it will kill the yeast.

Place 1/4 cup of the warm water in a large bowl.  Sprinkle yeast over the water.  Let stand 5 minutes or until the yeast is dissolved.  Add remaining water, 1 cup of the flour and salt.  Mix until well blended.  Stir in enough of the remaining flour to make a soft dough (not too sticky, not too dry).

Sprinkle some flour onto a board (or your counter top) and place dough on board.  Knead dough until smooth and elastic, about 6-8 minutes.  (you knead by pressing the dough out, then folding it over on itself, then pressing it out again, give it a 1/4 turn and repeat)

Place dough in a bowl with a little bit of oil in it, turning dough to coat all over with the oil.  Cover with a clean dish towel and let rise in a warm place (I run my microwave empty for 2 minutes to warm it up, then put the dough in there to rise) until double in size, about 30-45 minutes.

Grease a baking sheet.  Sprinkle cornmeal on sheet.  Punch down the dough.  Place the dough onto the baking sheet and press it out into a (12 inch) circle.  Starting on one side, roll the dough into a loaf.  Pinch the seam to seal.  Taper the ends to form an oval loaf.  Cover with the clean dish towel and let rise until almost double in size, about 20 minutes. (your baking sheet probably won't fit in your microwave, so just set it on your stove top to rise)

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  Make 3 slashes in the top of the loaf with a knife.  Bake until browned, about 25 minutes.  Transfer to a rack to cool a little bit.  I like to brush the top with a little melted butter before serving.

You can also use this recipe to make Dinner Rolls.  On the step where you form the circle of dough, form 8 rolls instead.  Then put them onto the prepared baking dish, cover and let rise.  You wouldn't bake them as long, just until browned, maybe 15 minutes or so.  I've never tried rolls, so not sure of an exact bake time.  Just keep an eye on the them.

On to the spaghetti.  Since I made the bread from scratch, I took a little help on the meat sauce.  It uses store bought marinara as a base.  But, don't worry, I doctor it up so it tastes homemade!


1/2 lb ground beef
2 links mild Italian sausage (remove the casings)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 jar marinara sauce (your favorite spaghetti sauce)
1 (15oz) can crushed tomatoes (or diced)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup sugar (I like a sweet sauce-if you don't, just use 2 TBS sugar - you still need a little to balance the acidity of the tomatoes)
salt and pepper
3 big leaves fresh basil
1 lb spaghetti

In a large skillet or pot, brown ground beef and crumbled sausage.  Drain fat.  Add garlic and cook for a few minutes.  Add jar of sauce, can of crushed tomatoes, 1/2 the tomato can of water, sugar and Parmesan cheese.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Meanwhile, cook spaghetti.  When sauce is done, take off the heat and stir in the torn fresh basil.  Stir a bit of the sauce into the cooked and drained spaghetti (this will keep it from sticking together).  Serve sauce over spaghetti.

Easy and delicious.  Tastes like it took all day.


1 pkg Romaine hearts, washed and chopped (or use the packaged pre-washed romaine)
1 large can sliced black olives
Italian dressing
Parmesan cheese

Place romaine lettuce and olives in a large bowl.  Dress with Italian dressing and toss.  Top with Parmesan cheese.  That's it.  Quick and easy!

So, if you're in the mood for a big Italian dinner, give these recipes a try.  Put them on the table, gather the family and (as my old school Italian husband would say)   Mangia!