Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Mom, PLEASE!!!!

Mom, PLEASE!!!!  Does anybody else hear those words and your heart melts?  My children have those two words down to a a science.  I hear those words and look into their sweet faces and sometimes even my hardest resolve just caves.  My oldest child, Alberto is 26, and is married to a precious young woman, who I am proud to claim as a my daughter of the heart.  My youngest, Robin is 16 and she is my social butterfly.  I think my son must have taught his little sister all the tricks for when to use that phrase.  Now, mind you, they don't use it all the time, which makes it that much more effective when they do.   So, when my daughter Robin was begging for one of her favorites for dinner last night, yeah, I made it.  It does my heart good to do  special things for my family.  Cooking their favorites is such an easy way to do that.  A few years ago, they would have much rather eaten out, which makes them requesting that I cook even more special to me.  The recipe below is my take on O'Charley's Loaded Potato Soup.  It is not just like it, but it's wonderfully rich and flavorful and it really hits the spot on a cold, winter evening.

Until next time, enjoy the beauty around you, and laugh at the blunders.  Life is so much more enjoyable that way :)

  1. 1 Box Chicken Broth (1 Quart) 
  2. 3 cans of Campbells Cheddar Cheese Soup
  3. 1 Quart of Half & Half
  4. 1 Tablespoon Garlic Powder
  5. 1 teaspoon Paprika
  6. 1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
  7.  ¼ - ½ teaspoon of Cayenne Pepper (Season to your taste-start with ¼, if it doesn’t have enough heat for you, then add another ¼ teaspoon)
  8. 1 lb. of frozen hash browns (southern style-the kind that are cubed, no spices or peppers in it)
  9. 1 tablespoon Corn Starch mixed with ¼ cup cold milk (mix well in cup before pouring into soup)
*Suggested garnishes – shredded cheddar cheese, bacon bits, sour cream, chives 

Mix together first seven ingredients in large saucepan and combine well using whisk.  Add in frozen potatoes and cook on medium low heat until warm stirring frequently.  (Note soup is thin at this point).  When thoroughly heated through and potatoes have cooked completely (about 1 hour), then add corn starch mixture and turn up heat to medium high and stir until mixture is thickened to desired consistency. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Hurricane Sandy and Skillet Apple Pie

As I sat here at my computer this morning reading the news about Hurricane Sandy and the potential devastation that comes with hurricanes, it brought to mind all the hurricanes that have stormed through my little part of the world.  I live in the Florida Panhandle (about 50 miles from the beach) and therefore have weathered quite a few hurricanes.   Some were much more devastating than anticipated and there were some that I wondered what all the fuss was about.   My conclusion is that you can never truly predict what nature will do.  The best thing you can do is prepare for the worst and pray for the best.  One of the ways we prepare is to make some "comfort food."  What is comfort food?  Well, it can be different things to different people.  To some it might be sushi (not me, by the way), or a homemade schnitzel (again, not me) or in the South, it's usually casseroles and homemade desserts.   Whatever your comfort foods are, they tend to evoke feelings of well-being and well, comfort, like everything is gonna turn out alright.  I made one of my families favorite comfort foods last night, Skillet Apple Pie.   My daughter, Robin, has declared this the best apple pie ever.  Not that she's the best judge.  She's only had Walmart apple pie to compare it to, but it makes me feel good that she loves it.  My son and daughter-in-law who have much more experienced taste-buds have also declared it the best apple pie ever.   Last, but not least, my husband has declared it the most amazing apple pie ever and he's a very adventurous eater (he eats kinds of sushi that I don't even like to look at).  By the way, just like hurricanes, my cooking is unpredictable.  Last nights apple pie tasted alright but it wasn't quite a beauty or a blunder, more of a blooper.  The pie part was good but the ooey-gooey sauce on the bottom got a little burnt.  I cooked the brown sugar too high and too long (which is why there's the side note about cooking it on medium heat).  Just so you know, I was trying to load the dishwasher at the same time.  That's what I get for trying to multi-task in the kitchen.  I'd love to hear from you if you make it and let me know what you think.

Until next time, enjoy the beauty around you and laugh at the blunders.   It makes life much more enjoyable that way :)


2 pounds Granny Smith apples (about 2-3 apples depending on the size of the apple)
2 pounds Red Delicious apples (about 2-3 apples depending on the size of the apple)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon lemon juice (bottled is fine if you don’t have fresh)
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg (optional)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 (14.1-oz.) package refrigerated pie crusts

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Peel apples, and cut into 1/4-1/2-inch-thick wedges. Toss apples with cinnamon, lemon juice, flour and nutmeg (optional) and 3/4 cup granulated sugar.  

2. Melt butter in a 10-inch cast-iron skillet over medium heat; add brown sugar, and cook, stirring constantly, 1 to 2 minutes or until sugar is dissolved.  *Do not cook on high or it will burn the brown sugar and develop a slightly bitter taste.

3.  Remove from heat, and place 1 pie crust in skillet over brown sugar mixture. Spoon apple mixture over pie crust, and top with remaining pie crust. 

4.  Cut 4 or 5 slits in top for steam to escape.3. Bake at 350ยบ for 55-65 minutes or until crust is golden brown.  Let stand for about 30 minutes before serving.  
Optional Serving Suggestion:  Serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.

Friday, October 26, 2012

What's for dinner?

I am sitting here racking through my poor, pitiful brain trying to decide what's for dinner.  I asked my sweet husband to go on a mission to the grocery store and check what's on sale.  I have a feeling it's going to be chicken.   We eat a lot of chicken because it's usually less expensive than red meat.  We have to live on a budget, so unfortunately, my taste buds may want Prime Rib au Jus, but they get hamburgers (or chicken).  Sometimes I feel like I eat so much chicken, I'm gonna start clucking.  I have learned how to make excellent BBQ chicken though (of course, it only takes 1 ingredient - BBQ sauce).   I don't particularly like to cook things that require 25 ingredients.  I'm not saying those recipes are not wonderful, I just haven't worked my way up to that level yet.  (Much too many places to mess up, and I don't need any help in that area).  I honestly don't know if I ever will make it to that level of cooking.  Some cooks/chefs have reached the level of PhD in their cooking expertise, I'm more of a high school drop-out.  In high school, I actually took  a Home Economics class taught by a wonderful teacher by the name of Mrs. Hubbard.  We had to learn to balance a home budget, sew a blouse and cook.  Well, I balanced the budget (we got to go grocery shopping at the store, and boy can I shop) so I passed that with flying colors!  Next, we had to sew a blouse starting with a pattern.  My first problem came with cutting the pattern (I didn't know you were SUPPOSED to leave those stupid little triangles on the pattern so you could match the pieces of fabric).  Needless to say, I did not get an A on my blouse, although my sweet teacher took pity on me and gave me a B for effort, not because it resembled anything close to a blouse.  It looked more like......, well, let's just say it looked more like a thing.  Then, we get to the cooking phase of the course.  We started off with pudding (instant pudding)!  Success!!!  I got an A!  I was off to a great start and was excited to take on something much more difficult, like a scrambled egg.  Unfortunately, my teacher thought that we should try something a little more difficult in order to expand our cooking horizons.  We had to make a Lemon Meringue pie and you guessed it, that didn't go so well.  Everybody else in my class had these perfectly beautiful meringue peaks that were just slightly browned, mine looked like a bunch of goo.  I think I forgot to add in the cream of tartar, but that was so long ago, I don't quite remember.  Anyway, my meringue was flat and the filling was salty.  I put salt instead of sugar into the filling.  Everybody else took their pie to share with their friends, mine conveniently fell into the garbage can when I accidentally knocked it there.  So, there you have it, the story of my first cooking blunders.  Thankfully, I do cook better now than I did back in high school, although I still have my blunders as evidenced by my first blog (The bread brick).  Thank goodness my husband doesn't grade me on my cooking like my poor teacher had to.

P.S.  I was right, it's chicken for dinner.  Decided to do Baked Chicken with Garlic and Rosemary.  Easy and Delicious.

Garlic Rosemary Chicken
3-4 chicken breasts (skin on and bone in)
1/2 teaspoon Garlic Salt
1 Tablespoon of Olive Oil
1 teaspoon of crushed dried Rosemary
1/8 teaspoon crushed Red Pepper Flakes

Directions:  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Brush chicken with olive oil, mix dry spices together and sprinkle on top of chicken.  Bake chicken for about 45 minutes - 55 minutes (until juices run clear).  *Note:  time will vary depending on the size of the chicken breasts.   Let rest for about 10 minutes before serving.

Garlic Dill Potatoes
3 Tablespoons of butter or margarine
2 lbs. new potatoes
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon dried dill (fresh is amazing, but dried works just fine)

Directions:  Wash potatoes and cut into 1/4 inch slices.  Put slices into boiler with cold water.  Add approximately 1 teaspoon of salt to water and heat to boiling.  Let boil for about 15 minutes until tender.  Drain and toss with butter.  Sprinkle with dry ingredients and toss to coat.  Serve immediately.

Until next time, I hope you enjoy the beauties around you and laugh at the life's blunders, life is so much more enjoyable that way!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Queen and her Court Jester

Hello my dear blog friends,

I am writing this blog today in the hopes of being considered one of the new Deen Family bloggers.  Since Paula Deen is one of the people indirectly responsible for me starting this blog (because I got hooked on her Food Network show), I thought I would give it the old college try.  Paula Deen is undoubtedly the Queen of Southern Cuisine.  She's sassy, vibrant, and the epitome of the Southern Hostess.  If Wikipedia had a picture of the Southern Hostess, Paula's picture would be right next to it.  It's kind of funny, but in a way, she reminds me of my mother who was very much a Southern Hostess.  I guess that may be why I can relate to her, not because she's so likable (she is), but because she reminds me of my Mom.

My mom was THE BEST COOK that I know.  She could turn leftovers into a gourmet meal and set a table that would put Sandra Lee's (another one of my favorites) tablescapes to shame.  Of course, this was back when the only cooking show on TV was Julia Child, so she was self-taught through the "LEARN IT OR BURN IT" culinary academy.  Since she grew up during the depression, she learned to not burn too many things.  I always loved to watch her cook, she never measured anything (unlike me, who I measure with the accuracy of a chemical engineer), and it always turned out amazing.  The only thing my Momma couldn't make was sweet tea, bless her heart.  She NEVER put enough sugar in it.  Anyway, I always thought I would have plenty of time to learn the secrets of being a good cook, but she passed away unexpectedly one night from a blood clot in her leg that dislodged and went to her brain.  Of course, she was supposed to be on bed rest which is why she went to Milo's restaurant (an hour away) to get a hamburger and sweet tea.  She wasn't an ideal patient (in medical terminology, that means she's non-compliant).   Now, I only regret the time that I was busy doing something else and not spending time with her and sharing in her knowledge.  So, I have found the next best thing and that's to watch Miss Paula on the Food Network.  She makes me laugh like my Momma did and I am now learning all the stuff that I should have learned way back when.

Why should I get picked as the next Deen Team blogger?  Well, I'm not a great cook, but I'm getting better (much to my husband's delight).  I'm honest about my triumphs and failures, hence the title of my blog "Beauties and Blunders."  Besides if Miss Paula is the Queen of Southern Cuisine, everybody knows that a queen has her very own court jester.

Until next time, enjoy the beauty around you and laugh at the blunders.   It makes life much more enjoyable that way :)

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Autumn and French Onion Soup

Cool weather, falling leaves, fireplaces gently pluming light gray smoke, don't you just love Autumn?  I am in "Fall mode" today.  A cup of hot tea liberally sweetened and a couple of pecan sandies cookies while I sit looking out the window watching those beautifully colored leaves fall.

French Onion Soup

Since the weather seemed to call for it today, I am currently simmering some French Onion soup with the recipe that my precious daughter-in-law Silka shared with me from her Julia Child cookbook.  I don't know if it's the original recipe out of the cookbook or if she "tweaked" it before passing it along to me, all I know is that it's delicious!   It is also a very frugal recipe (I use 2 quarts of beef broth, 1 large sweet onion, salt, pepper, sugar, flour, butter, oil and a little dash of Worcestershire sauce) which is about $5.00 for the whole pot of soup.  Please keep in mind that this is not a "quick cook" recipe.  It takes some time but not a lot of effort.  You have to sort of baby the onions at first, cooking them low and slow until they caramelize, then once the beef broth is added, you just let it simmer and meld all those wonderful flavors together.  I like to serve it the traditional way with a toasted baguette slice with cheese broiled on the top.  All I can say is mmmmmmm, mmmmmmm, good!
French Onion Soup
Part 1
1 ½ lbs. of thinly sliced onions (approximately 2 medium onions)
3 Tbsp. of butter
1 Tbsp. of oil
A heavy bottomed saucepan with cover
Cook the onions slowly on medium  heat with the butter and oil in covered sauce pan for about 15 -20 minutes (until softened)
Part 2
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon sugar
Uncover, raise heat a little bit and stir salt and sugar in. Cook for 30-40 minutes stirring frequently (so they don’t burn) until they have turned a really dark brown color. Like the color of dark brown sugar.
Part 3
3 Tbsp. flour
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
Sprinkle in flour and stir for 3 minutes (This cooks out that raw flour flavor)
Part 4
2 Qts beef broth/stock
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
¼ cup White wine or sherry (This is optional.  I have left it out, and the soup is still amazing).
Stir in broth and remaining ingredients.   Cover with lid, turn soup on low/simmer and let simmer for about  1 - 1 ½ hours.  Stir gently every 15-20 minutes.

Serve with a sliced toasted baguette (french bread) with mozzarella or swiss cheese (gruyere is best but it is not available where I live, so I substitute with mozzarella or swiss) melted on top.  Enjoy J

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Heavenly Bread

Hello blog world!

I am in a very chipper mood because I would like to report my second attempt with my really old bread maker was a BEAUTY!  Yep, the bread turned out perfectly with a golden, crispy crust and a soft, fluffy middle.   I will tell you my secret to success (and it was a surprise to me), you have to follow the recipe.  I know, that doesn’t sound like rocket science but recipes sometimes are like astrophysics to me.  I can look at one and think, ok, that’s pretty easy, I can do that.  (I need to not think sometimes.)  All kidding aside, I followed the recipe exactly (which I didn’t the first time) and lo, and behold, I ended up with a beautiful loaf of homemade bread.  Yes, I know it’s a bread machine, but I’m still taking credit for it.    So,  here’s what I did differently.  I went to the store and purchased *BREAD FLOUR AND QUICK RISE YEAST.   The first time I used what I had in the pantry which was all-purpose flour and regular yeast.   I did not know there was such a thing as bread flour.  I had heard of cake flour but not bread flour.  (If you want to know the difference, see the below information –credit to   Anyway, I went to my local market and there it was sitting on a shelf.  They also had the instant yeast (also known as Fast-Rising, Rapid-Rise, Quick Rise, and/or Bread Machine Yeast).   I got home and hurried to get all my ingredients together.  I followed the recipe with the precision of a NASA engineer and when all ingredients were properly assembled and dispensed into the bread maker, I pushed that magic start button.   Then I had to wait FOUR hours.  Do you have any idea how long FOUR HOURS can be?  Since reaching mid-life, I have come to the conclusion that time speeds by.  That is so not true when I am waiting for something for FOUR HOURS.  I think I may have discovered a way to slow down the aging process, and it’s for me to make bread every day for FOUR HOURS.  Anyway, the beeper sounded on my ancient bread maker indicating the bread was FINALLY done.  I opened the lid tentatively and looked inside and to my amazement, I had a beautiful loaf of bread.  (Party dance).    My poor husband was willing to be my guinea pig and be the taste tester.   He pronounced it, delicious!   I am posting the recipe below and hope to hear from you about your adventures in the kitchen.   (Side note: my ancient bread maker died on the third loaf so further bread making exploits will have to wait for a new machine). 

Bread Machine Bread
1 cup warm water (110 degrees F - 45 degrees C)
2 tablespoons white sugar
1 (.25 ounce) package bread machine yeast
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3 cups bread flour
1  1/8 teaspoon salt

Place the water, sugar and yeast in the pan of the bread machine. Let the yeast dissolve and foam for 10 minutes (this is called “proofing” the yeast).  Add the oil, flour and salt to the yeast. Select Basic or White Bread setting, and press Start.  *Most bread machines call for the yeast to go in dry and not be activated.  Trust me, follow these directions,  the results are wonderful.

*Bread flour is a high-gluten flour that has very small amounts of malted barley flour and vitamin C or potassium bromate added. The barley flour helps the yeast work, and the other additive increases the elasticity of the gluten and its ability to retain gas as the dough rises and bakes. Bread flour is called for in many bread and pizza crust recipes where you want the loftiness or chewiness that the extra gluten provides. It is especially useful as a component in rye, barley and other mixed-grain breads, where the added lift of the bread flour is necessary to boost the other grains.  All-purpose flour is made from a blend of high- and low-gluten wheat, and has a bit less protein than bread flour (11% or 12% vs. 13% or 14%).  You can always substitute all-purpose flour for bread flour, although your results may not be as glorious as you had hoped. There are many recipes, however, where the use of bread flour in place of all-purpose will produce a tough, chewy, disappointing result. Cakes, for instance, are often made with all-purpose flour, but would not be nearly as good made with bread flour.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Homemade Bread Brick!

Well, it looks like this first post will start off with a blunder...  I decided to try and revisit my bread machine that has been sitting collecting dust for about 10 years (or more).  I pulled it out, cleaned it up, washed and dried all the parts,and I was ready to go.  I plugged it in and got ready for the taste of some homemade bread (sort of).  Can you call bread machine bread homemade?  Well, I think so, it will make me feel better especially when you see the EPIC FAILURE of the first loaf.  Anyway, I digress, I measured and poured all the ingredients, chose the crust setting and pushed the magic button (the one that says Start).  Four hours later, the wonderful aroma a fresh baked bread is wafting through our house and the beeper sounds indicating that the bread is done.   Woo Hoo!!!  I get so excited and I open the bread machine to find not a loaf a bread but a brick.  My hopes deflated just like my bread had done.  So, here is a pic of my bread blunder.  Don't laugh, it's not nice.  Ok, go ahead and laugh.  It should make somebody smile.  Since I am not a quitter, I will be trying this again, hopefully, with a much different result.  I'll post pics of the next attempt.