Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Last Day of School

We have a time-honored (four years' worth!!!!) tradition for the morning of the last day of school:

Good-bye, second and fourth grades!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Feeling Foodie

For as long as I can remember, I've loved reading about food. Food magazines, cookbooks, you name it.

Over my career, I've gotten to write about food here and there, but now I get to do it a lot more!

I'm so excited and honored to be the newest contributor to Share - The Brookshire's Blog. Starting next week, you'll see my articles appear online several times a week and maybe even find their way into your inbox if you subscribe to Brookshire's newsletters.

As part of this glorious gig, I'll also be a contributor to Celebrate Cooking, the monthly cooking magazine you see at every check-out counter in the more than 150 Brookshire's stores in the South.

Oh yeah, and you might see me around the web, too.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Individiual Taco Pizzas

My kids love pizza.

My kids love tacos.

So we decided to combine the two.

What they DON'T like is the same toppings on their tacos. They only thing they can agree on is meat.

Thus the individual pizzas.

Curt's had fat-free refried beans, taco meat, salsa verde, lettuce and tomatoes.

Luke's had only taco meat and sharp cheddar cheese.

Mine had a little of everything, PLUS jalapenos!

We used 6-inch Mama Mary's pre made pie crusts, but you could make your own or use any brand you find in local stores. Not one of us finished a 6-inch pizza, keep in mind! 

This really isn't a recipe as much as putting fun things together on a pizza crust, which the kids can do themselves.

Taco Pizzas

Serves 4

4 pre-made pizza crusts such as Mama Mary's or Boboli

1 pound lean ground beef

Taco seasoning

1 14.5 ounce can fat-free refried beans, such as Ortega

Grated sharp cheddar cheese


Salsa verde

Jalapenos, sliced

Lettuce, shredded

Tomato, diced

Sour cream

Or anything else you can think of.

Cook ground beef, drain fat. Add 3/4 cup water and taco seasoning. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer.

Preheat oven to 450 (or follow package directions).

Spread fat-free refried beans over crust. Top with meat and cheese and salsas.

Reduce oven heat to 425 and bake until crust is golden and cheese is bubbly.

Remove from oven and top with other ingredients! Serve immediately.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

{Kids in the Kitchen} Corn Doggies

Luke LOVES corn dogs.

But I'm not such a fan of frozen/processed/deep-fried foods.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a firm believer in "everything in moderation." I mean, there are moms out there who preach steel-cut oats and serve Pop Tarts.

I just try to get it in balance. I can't serve organic, free-range food every night, but I *can* try to improve upon some favorites.

Tonight we tried self-named "Corn-Doggies." By "self-named," I mean, "Luke-named."

They were a HUGE hit, even if they were mostly boxed and mostly processed.  At least I had a *smidge* more control...

Luke's Corn Doggies

Makes 12 muffins, can easily freeze and reheat.

2 boxes Jiffy-brand cornbread mix
2 eggs
2/3 cup of skim milk

12 Jenny-O Turkey Hot Dogs

Preheat oven to 400.

Prepare 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners or non-stick cooking spray (I highly recommend paper liners).

Mix together Jiffy cornbread mix, two eggs and 2/3 cup of skim milk.

Beat with a wire whisk until well blended.

 Pour into paper liners into muffin tin.

Even if it's out of focus.

Slice hot dogs into thirds.  Make sure 8-year-old does not agree to having his picture taken executing this step...

Press two hot dog pieces into each cornbread muffin. Again, 8-year-old does not agree to have his picture taken. Use oldest pan you have, because it will look like a Rock Star in said pictures. Not.

Smooth cornbread mix over hot dog pieces.

Bake at 400 for 18 to 20 minutes, or until golden brown and pufffed.

Remove from oven.

Let cool.

Serve with ketchup and a side dish.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Receipt

Over the weekend I was frantically searching for my mom's recipe for Blueberry Buckle. I needed it for a blog post I was working on, soon to be seen on the website of a national grocery store chain.

I couldn't find the recipe anywhere because I never, EVER, put things back in the wrong place after I'm done using them.

 I DID, however, find a receipt, tucked into my recipe box, exactly where it belonged. But this wasn't just any receipt, it was a 58-year-old, slightly yellowed, handwritten store receipt from Sun Vacuum Stores, Inc, in Newark, New Jersey, when my Granny purchased her sewing machine in 1954.

This receipt brought back so many memories.

I have that sewing machine she bought in 1954. It's in my attic. I'd go get it to take a picture of it, too, but that little falling-through-the-ceiling-while-retrieving-Christmas-decorations incident has taught me never to go into the attic when no one else is home.

Plus that sewing machine weighs A TON, all steel and cast iron, no plastic parts, made in the U.S of A.

I learned to sew on that machine. My mom had taught me the basics, on another no-plastic parts model she probably bought in the early 1970s, but it was my Granny's machine that I packed up and shipped to Germany with my household goods when I moved overseas.

I'd set it up on my kitchen table and the sturdy machine made the not-so-sturdy table wobble. I spent hours at that machine, clumsily fashioning curtains, table linens, chair covers, blankets, and when I got a bit more adventurous and skilled, dresses. The machine featured two stitches - straight and zig zag. It only had one bobbin and a metal lever to raise and lower the presser foot.

It had a foot pedal for operation and used to hum merrily as the silver needle and bobbin whirred into action. The machine came with me back to the States, to Texas, and hemmed the soft flannel of my boys' baby blankets.

One day, I noticed the cords on the trusty machine were badly frayed. I knew I shouldn't use it any longer. I did ask a friend in the business to guess how much they'd be to replace. She shook her head sadly, "They just don't make them like that any more."

I'm sure I could get them replaced if I were determined to do so. I eventually got a shiny new sewing machine, full of plastic parts, which sits on a shelf in my laundry room. I never have mastered the multiple dials and settings and electronic presser foot on the new machine.

Maybe someday I'll channel my Granny again and pull out the new machine again. But I couldn't tell you, for the life of me, where that receipt would be.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Sweet and Spicy Barbecue Chicken Sliders on Buttermilk Biscuits

Feeding the boys can sometimes be challenging. Curt will admittedly eat almost anything, although this has been a recent phenomenon (we won't talk about the two years when ALL he'd eat was cheese toast and applesauce. Luke, on the other hand, could happily subsist on pizza and pasta. Tortellini, macaroni and cheese and ravioli, while yummy, are not the stuff a well-balanced diet is made of.

Sometimes meals aren't as healthy as I'd like them to be, but the boys devour them and get a sampling of protein, vegetables and carbs, all in one meal.

Last night's dinner was a huge success. I do the "barbecue chicken" in the crock pot and usually just toss the chicken in frozen. My crock pot cooks on thermonuclear speed, so I can go from frozen chicken to a completed dinner in about 4-5 hours, cooking on low. I make HUGE batches of barbecue sauce at one time and freeze the extras for meals like this. You can toss the sauce in frozen, too.

Sweet and Spicy Barbecue Chicken Sliders on Buttermilk Biscuits

4 chicken breasts

2 1/4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup minced onion
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup tomato paste
1/2 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 1/4 teaspoons liquid smoke flavoring
2 teaspoons whiskey (optional)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1 tablespoon dark molasses
1/2 tablespoon ground red chile powder (I used ground ancho peppers)

In a sauce pan heat the oil over medium high heat. Add the onions and cook for 5 minutes until slightly softened and the edges start to brown.

Add the remaining ingredients to the pan. Whisk well to incorporate. Bring up to a boil then reduce to a low simmer and allow to simmer uncovered for 1.5 hours or until sauce has thickened, stirring every 15 minutes. After the sauce has thickened and reduced and cooled a bit, I puree mine as the boys aren't fond of "chunks."

 Place chicken breasts and sauce in crock pot and cook on low, 6-8 hours (or depending on the thermonuclear speed of your crock pot). Remove chicken, shred with two forks, place back in sauce and heat through.

Serve barbecue chicken on buttermilk biscuits.

Buttermilk Biscuits

2 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons shortening
1 cup buttermilk, chilled

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Using your fingertips, rub butter and shortening into dry ingredients until mixture looks like crumbs. (The faster the better, you don't want the fats to melt.) Make a well in the center and pour in the chilled buttermilk. Stir just until the dough comes together. The dough will be very sticky.

Turn dough onto floured surface, dust top with flour and gently fold dough over on itself 5 or 6 times.

Press into a 1-inch thick round. Cut out biscuits with a 2-inch cutter, being sure to push straight down through the dough. Place biscuits on baking sheet so that they just touch. Reform scrap dough, working it as little as possible and continue cutting.

Bake until biscuits are tall and light gold on top, 15 to 20 minutes.

Note: I rarely have "buttermilk" on hand so I just make my own. Pour just under one cup  of milk and add 1 tablespoon lemon juice or white vinegar. Mix and let stand for about 5 minutes. Use as needed. 

Monday, May 7, 2012

Grilled Cheese

This post is about grilled cheese.


Grilled. Cheese.

I read about Halloumi...somewhere...probably Bon Appetit. It doesn't matter where, but when I read about a cheese that you could slice into slabs and place directly on the grill, I was sold.

I found Halloumi at my Happy Place, aka, Fresh, this weekend. Originally from Cyprus, Halloumi is a mixture of goat and sheep's milk and is set with rennet. It is unusual in that no acid or acid-producing bacterium is used in its preparation.

Because of its HIGH melting point, it lends itself to preparations such as slappin' it on the grill and goin' to town. I also read that it's very conducive to being fried. The high melting point comes from the fresh curd being heated before being shaped and placed in brine

I quickly dubbed Halloumi the "squeaky cheese." Much drier than most cheeses I've tasted, and with a nutty bite to it, Halloumi almost does "squeak" against your teeth as you eat it.

I read about several different ways to prepare it, but I wanted something simple. I settled on brushing the cheese with lemon-infused olive oil and sprinkling a smattering of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper over it. I planned to sprinkle it with spicy oregano from my herb garden after it came off the grill.

Most recipes I read said to grill the cheese over medium heat for two minutes on each side.

There they are, those beauties (surrounded by a few stuffed jalapenos that were already in the works).

Grilling didn't take long at all, even over medium heat.  The cheese quickly browned and bubbled up.

However, I was surprised when I bit into it that the cheese was not at all melty on the inside. I expected it to be at least a little soft and gooey, more like the cheese in a grilled sandwich. It wasn't...not at all...but the grill gave the cheese a smoky flavor and crisp crust. The spicy oregano was just the right touch.

I did accidentally drop a piece of the cheese through the grill grate and onto the coals/into the flames when I was flipping the cheese.

It burned.

And burned.

And burned, rendering a warm orange flame long after the gas grill had been turned off.

High melting point? That was an understatement!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Me and the Mint Julep

I thought this post was timely as the Kentucky Derby is being run on May 4 and 5 and the Mint Julep is the official unofficial drink of the two-day extravaganza.

I grew up with a rather romanticized notion of the mint julep. After all, Daisy and Gatsby sipped them in one of my all-time favorite books, "The Great Gatsby." And Daisy was oh-so-glamorous (mental illness and delusion aside), so, by association, so was the mint julep.

The mint julep is the drink I imagined Scarlett O'Hara would sip, sitting on the steps of Tara in her sweeping white day dress, her shoulders protected from freckling by the shade of her emerald parasol, a breeze blowing....But that's only if Scarlett were allowed to drink in public instead of nipping brandy from a hidden swoon bottle.

My first exposure to the mint julep in real life, instead of in my imagination, was at a reception for the Governor of Virginia at the Virgina Museum of Fine Arts, in Richmond. I was covering the event for the Petersburg Progress-Index. Actually, I have no recollection of what the event was for, but I do remember meeting dreamy Governor Allen and trying my first mint julep, which I almost spewed onto the Governor. I had been so excited to finally taste the drink I'd read about for years.

The drink was NOT the stuff dreams are made of, let me  just tell you. I expected something sweet and light, airy and effervescent. Instead I got a mouthful of...well...let's just say I Do. Not. Like. Bourbon. At all. I seriously had a hard time swallowing that first (and last) sip. Had I not been in public, at a reception, wearing a very cute navy blue raw silk cocktail dress accented with a sweeping smattering of small rhinestones (why can I remember the dress and not the event's purpose?), I would have spit it out. Promptly.

But in honor of my friends who love the tried and true, Southern-born-and-bred-staple, and in celebration of an event I will neither be watching nor participating in (oh the irony), I share with you the quintessential recipe for the Kentucky Derby mint julep. Silver cup optional.

The Kentucky Derby Early Times Mint Julep



2 Cups sugar
2 Cups water
Sprigs of fresh mint
Crushed ice
Early Times Kentucky Bourbon
Silver Julep Cups

No Derby Party is complete without the Mint Julep which has been the traditional beverage of Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby for nearly a century. Each year, almost 120,000 Early Times Mint Juleps are served over the two-day period of the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby. This is a feat that requires over 10,000 bottles of Early Times Mint Julep Ready-to-Serve Cocktail, 1,000 pounds of freshly harvested mint and 60,000 pounds of ice.

Make a simple syrup by boiling sugar and water together for five minutes. Cool and place in a covered container with six or eight sprigs of fresh mint, then refrigerate overnight. Make one julep at a time by filling a julep cup with crushed ice, adding one tablespoon mint syrup and two ounces of Early Times Kentucky Bourbon. Stir rapidly with a spoon to frost the outside of the cup. Garnish with a sprig of fresh mint.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Promises, Promises

I promised Curt yesterday, at the 4th Grade Track Meet, that I would NOT post this picture on Facebook.

"Do not post this on Facebook, Mom, period!" Curt told me.

So I didn't.