Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Southern Style Creamy Grits


Call me a grits loyalist.  I love grits.  I especially love grits with cheese.  I do not eat oatmeal, and I do not eat cream of wheat, and I most certainly do not put sugar in my grits.  And I never use instant grits!  I use Quaker Quick Grits, which say “5 minutes”, but I cook them much longer, so that they are creamy.  Jim Dandy grits are good too.  I’ve used the store brand in a pinch, but they definitely were not the same.  Whether breakfast or dinner, cook up some grits, make some eggs, maybe add some biscuits and bacon, and you’ve got a meal. 

GRITS Ingredients and Instructions

1 cup grits (for 3 or 4 servings)

3 to 4 cups of chicken broth or water

Salt to taste

1- Pour grits in saucepan, and rinse. 

2- Add 3 cups of broth or water.  If you are using plain water, add about 1 tsp of salt.  I used to cook grits with water and chicken bouillon powder or paste.  I’ve recently started cooking grits with homemade chicken stock, which makes them “slap your grandma” good.  The organic chicken broth from Costco is fantastic. 

3- Cover and start cooking on medium high.  My stove burners have a 1 to 10 dial.  I start off on a setting of 6 for 5 minutes.  I set the stove timer, and stir the grits, and reduce heat by 1 every 5 minutes, for a total of 20 minutes, ending on the setting of 3.  

4- Add additional liquid if needed, up to 1 cup. 

5- Add salt if needed. 

Tips & Alternatives

If you have used water instead of chicken stock, I suggest you add 2 Tbsp of butter or Ghee the last 5 minutes of cooking for richness. 

You could use 2 cups of water or chicken broth, and 1 cup heavy cream or evaporated milk, for creamy, rich grits. 

Try stirring in a couple ounces of cream cheese, cut into cubes. 

I always stir in some cheddar cheese.  I put the cheese in after I have plated.  When you add cheese while cooking, it seems to take more, and if you don’t eat all the grits, you’ve wasted some perfectly good cheese. 

Fresh, ripe tomatoes are great with grits. 



Tomato Gravy


If you know anything about Southern cooking, you can imagine that I grew up eating lots of fried meat with rice and milk gravy.  My favorite is probably battered and fried cubed steak with rice and gravy.  As a tasty variation, my mom occasionally made milk gravy with tomatoes.  Tomato gravy is certainly good with some type of fried meat, such as chicken, pork chops, or cubed steak.  I suppose you could eat it over rice or potatoes, but we usually had tomato gravy over grits or biscuits.  We’d often have “breakfast for supper”.  Mom usually fried some breakfast meat such as sausage or country ham, and then used the dripping to make tomato gravy, a variation of her milk gravy. 

Tomato Gravy Ingredients

Cooking oil, or pan drippings from fried meat

3 to 5 heaping Tbsp plain flour

2 to 4 fresh tomatoes, peeled and diced, or 1 can diced tomatoes with juice

1 can evaporated milk (this gives the gravy richness)

16 oz milk, whole or 2%

Water as needed

Salt and pepper to taste


1- Gravy is best when you start with “pan drippings” in a hot skillet.  For example, the oil that you would fry breaded chicken or steak in, which would have some browned flour and pieces of the breading.  If you don’t have pan drippings, use vegetable cooking oil, enough to cover the bottom of the pan about ¼ inch deep. 

2- Pan and oil should be hot, and stove burner on medium high.  Whisk in flour 1 heaping Tbsp at a time.  I use about 4 Tbsp, but it does seem to vary according to location.  When I lived in IL, it seemed to take less flour.  I’m assuming this has to do with altitude, humidity or some other atmospheric factor.  Make sure you use ample flour.  You can always add more liquid if the gravy is too thick. 

3- The flour should be completely blended in liquid oil, and not be a thick paste.  Heat until flour is browned but not burned, stirring constantly. 

4- Add tomatoes.  They should sizzle.  Cook the tomatoes on medium high for a minute or 2.  You will probably have a paste consistency at this point. 

5- Reduce heat.  Add half of the milk quickly, stirring vigorously.  It will thicken up quickly.  Blend in the remaining milk. 


6- Add additional milk or water as needed to have a nice consistency. 

7- Season to taste with salt and pepper. 

8- Simmer on low for 5 to 10 minutes. 

9- Serve over grits or biscuits.  My mom is partial to refrigerated Hungry Jack Flaky Buttermilk Biscuits.  In case you’re not experienced in the art of cooking grits, I’ll provided my method and tips in another post. 

10- If you have leftover gravy, be warned that it will be thicker after sitting &/or refrigeration.  Sometimes I whisk in extra liquid before refrigerating. 


Saturday, January 26, 2013

Easy Family-Style Chicken Pot Pie


I’ve always loved chicken pot pie.  A few years ago a friend made a super simple, family-style chicken pot pie with frozen pie shells.  I’ve been making my own ever since.  I’ve used frozen pie shells, frozen gluten-free pie shells, and refrigerated (rolled, in a box) pie shells.  I’ve made it with chicken, and I’ve made vegetarian pot pies many times, with a variety of different vegetables.  It’s always good. 

I like to use a large shallow baking dish.  As much as I enjoy the crust, the pot pie is too dry when placing top and bottom crusts, so I skip the bottom crust. 


Chicken Pot Pie Ingredients
3 cups diced cooked chicken

2 cans cream of chicken soup
1 can cream of potato soup

2 soup cans milk
1 bag frozen mixed vegetables, or vegetables of your choice

1 deep dish frozen pie shells, thawed, or one refrigerated Pillsbury Just Unroll pie crust



1.  Grease the bottom of a 11” X 13” baking dish. 

2.  Add soups and milk to baking dish.  Whisk to combine. 

3.  Add vegetables and chicken.  Stir to combine. 

4.  Top with pie crust.  Don’t worry if there are gaps. 

5.  Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for about 1 hour. Turn up oven temperature if needed to lightly brown crust.



My friend used several thawed regular sized frozen pie shells.  She carefully pieced them together to cover the entire bottom of the baking dish.  As I said above, in the shallow baking dish, it made the pot pie too dry.  I just put a single crust on top.  The frozen crust, especially the gluten free crust, breaks into pieces.  I just evenly space the pieces around the main center piece.  The refrigerated crust more amply covers the pot pie. 

I typically use a traditional vegetable mix of peas, carrots, and corn.  The HEB store brand frozen mixed vegetables has peas, carrots, corn and lima beans.  I’ve used many different vegetable combinations.  Try vegetables such as broccoli, asparagus, artichokes, butternut squash, mushrooms, and leeks. 



Friday, January 25, 2013

Mom’s Strawberry Layer Cake

My brother made this Strawberry Cake

This is my mom’s Strawberry Layer Cake, sometimes called Texas Strawberry Cake.  She uses frozen sliced strawberries in the cake batter and the frosting.  Compared to other layer cakes, these layers are relatively thin, therefore this is a relatively small layer cake. 

My mom has an excellent reputation for homemade cakes, stemming from her own sweet tooth.  She always wanted sweets around the house, so we always had cakes and pies.  All of her sisters and sisters-in-law were good cooks too, but she was the best known in the bunch for sweets.  Everyone always wanted to know what cake or dessert Mom was going to make for church functions or family dinners. 


1 box white cake mix

1 box strawberry Jell-O

½ cup frozen strawberries in syrup

4 eggs

½ cup vegetable oil (Mom uses Wesson)

½ cup water


1.  Combine cake mix with strawberry Jell-O. 

2.  Add eggs, one at a time, and combine with mixer. 

3.  Add other ingredients. 

4.  Pour even amounts of batter to each of three greased and dusted layer cake pans. 

5.  Bake layers according to time and temperature given on the cake mix package. 

 Strawberry Cake done as a sheet cake


This frosting can be tricky.  Mom says it is the humidity that sometimes makes it runny, so you would need to add more sugar or less of the strawberry juice. 

1 stick butter

½ cup frozen sliced strawberries in syrup

½ box powdered sugar

Pinch of salt


1.  Melt butter.

2.  Add strawberries with syrup, powdered sugar and salt. 

3.  Mix thoroughly.

4.  Frost layer tops and sides. 


Strawberry Cake done as a sheet cake for my brother's birthday

My Fast and Easy French Fry Casserole

French Fry Casserole has become a guilty pleasure at our house.  This is something we concocted.  You may be familiar with Tator Tot Casserole (recipe below).  Somehow that classic morphed into something else at our house.  One night my brother brought home leftover French fries.  And it wasn’t just a few fries, it was a boatload.  He brought the fries into the house to make sure no one wanted them before he threw them away.  We don’t really enjoy cold fries, and don’t think they reheat particularly well.  But this was such a huge portion of French fries, it seemed to be wasteful to throw them away.  So this was the practical beginning of French Fry Casserole.  It was our solution for what to do with leftover French fries. 

Since our first French Fry Casserole, we have saved even small amounts of fries in the freezer, so sometimes our casserole is a real hodge podge of different sizes and shapes of fries.  Occasionally we bake frozen fries especially for this casserole, and sometimes we buy our favorite fast food fries. 

Looking for a fast and easy, but devilishly tasty dinner?  This is an easy dish to prepare, and relatively quick to get into the oven.  We try not to prepare this casserole often, and we try not to prepare it late in the evening, because we always have second helpings and stuff ourselves silly. 

French Fry Casserole

Leftover French fries, the equivalent of about 1 ½ to 2 McDonald’s or Burger King large orders of fries
1 ½ lb ground beef

Lawry’s Seasoned Salt
Lawry’s Garlic with Parsley

2 cans cream of chicken soup
2 soup cans of milk

16 oz frozen mixed vegetables

1.  Preheat oven to 350°. 

2.  Season ground beef with seasoned salt and garlic powder. 

3.  Brown meat in a large skillet.  Drain oil from meat.  I just tip the pan and spoon off the excess oil. 

4.  Add cream soup.  Use a spatula to get all the soup out.  Add two soup cans milk, swirling to rinse the cans.  Stir to thoroughly combine soup, milk, and hamburger. 

5.  Add mixed vegetables to meat and stir to combine. 

6.  Distribute fries in the bottom of an 11” X 13” casserole dish. 

7.  Pour meat and vegetable mixture over the top of the fries. 

8.  Bake casserole at 350° for 45 minutes. 


Traditional Tater Tot Casserole


2 cans of cream of chicken soup

1 soup can of milk

1 1/2 lb lean ground beef

1 bag of frozen tater tots


1. Brown ground beef in a large skillet. 

2. Mix soup, milk, and browned ground beef.

3. Spread in the bottom of a greased casserole dish, 9” X 11” or similar volume dish.

4. Place a layer of tater tots on top.

5. Bake in preheated 350 degree oven until thoroughly warm, about 40 minutes.


My Turkish-Inspired Spinach Entrée

Here is another one of my Turkish-inspired dinner favorites, Yumurtali Ispanak.  It has chopped spinach, ground beef, seasoned salt, and cheese.  The Turks make it with ground lamb, and crack eggs over the top, but I usually skip the eggs.  (I don’t like the texture of egg whites.)  This entrée is super easy and quick to make.  It’s one of my favorite ways to eat cooked spinach, and the one I make most often.  (I also like Indian Saag Paneer.)


1 lb lean ground beef or ground lamb
2 bags frozen chopped spinach, about 1 lb each

Lawry’s seasoned salt

5-6 eggs (optional)
Shredded cheddar cheese

Nutmeg (optional)



1.  Place ground meat in a large skillet, or Dutch oven pot.  Sprinkle with about ½ tsp of Lawry’s seasoned salt, and brown meat. 

2.  Add frozen spinach.  Sprinkle with about ½ tsp of seasoned salt, and cover.  Cook on medium for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Color of the spinach will change from bright green to a darker color. 

3.  Stir to ensure spinach and meat are evenly mixed, and evenly distributed in the pan.  Crack eggs into top of spinach mixture, spacing evenly. 

4.  Sprinkle eggs lightly with nutmeg.  Cook until eggs are firm, about 10 minutes. 

4.  Sprinkle with shredded cheese before serving. 

Serving without egg, sprinkled with cheese

Thursday, January 24, 2013

My Turkish-Inspired Green Beans and Rice Pilaf

I was stationed in Turkey for 3 ½ years in the early 90s.  I loved being there.  I enjoyed the travel, the people and the food.  I won’t say that I’m proficient at Turkish cooking, but I have my adaptations of some of my favorite Turkish dishes.  Turks use a lot of tomatoes, onions, peppers and garlic.  Meat is usually lamb or ground lamb.  This is my version of Turkish Green Beans, or Zeytinyağli Taze Fasulye.  It is a tava- or stew-like dish.  Turks would use ground lamb.  I substitute ground beef.  It is typically served over rice pilaf, truly one of my favorite treats from my time in Turkey.  This can be a delicious, healthy, low-fat meal. 

Ingredients for Turkish Green Beans (Zeytinyağli Taze Fasulye)

1 large can of tomato juice, about 46 oz
1 can diced tomatoes, about 15 oz

2 large cans green beans, about 46 oz each, or 1 large bag frozen green beans
3-4 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into pieces, about 1”

2 lbs ground beef
1 egg

1 large onion, chopped
8-12 garlic cloves

Lawry’s seasoned salt
Lawry’s garlic powder with parsley

Chili powder

1- Pour tomato juice and tomatoes into a 6 qt Dutch oven pot. 

2- Add green beans and seasonings. 

3- Add onions. 

4- Leave garlic cloves whole, or cut into thin horizontal slices.  Add to pot. 

5- Bring to low boil, covered. 

6- Once green beans are in the pot, start preparing meat mixture. 

7- In a large bowl, mix eggs, seasoned salt and garlic powder with hamburger. 

8- Form “footballs” with meat mixture by cupping fingers against the palm of your hand. 

9- Drop meat footballs one at a time into simmering pot.  Cook 30 minutes. 

10- Add cubed potatoes.  Continue simmering on low for 20-30 minutes, until meatball texture softens and potatoes are fork-tender. 

11- Remove garlic cloves if desired (if you only want the flavor.) 

Serve Green Beans over Rice Pilaf and enjoy!  Break off a piece of crusty French bread, which will be close enough to Turkish ekmek. 

Use extra lean ground beef, and serve over regular rice (boiled in water and drained) for a low fat meal. 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Rose Mary’s Zucchini and Beef over Rice

This meal deserves a much better name, but I haven’t come up with one.  Back in the mid-90s I made a vegetable dish with zucchini, tomatoes, red peppers, and onions, topped with Parmesan cheese.  I think this entrée evolved from that dish.  Prior to this, I lived in Turkey, which influenced the dish as well.  When I first started making zucchini and beef, I carefully measured my meat and rice, to track what I ate according to Weight Watchers (pre-points).  This is the kind of dish that you want to make a big batch, to ensure you have leftovers. 


Zucchini and Beef Ingredients

3-4 medium zucchini, sliced very thin

2 lbs ground beef

1 large can of crushed tomatoes

1 can diced tomatoes

1 medium onion, chopped

2-4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced (or minced)

Lawry’s seasoned salt



1.  Place ground beef in a large skillet.  Break meat apart.  Sprinkle with about 1 tsp Lawry’s seasoned salt. 



2.  Add chopped onions to meat.  Brown ground beef in skillet.  When meat is cooked, drain if desired.  I usually use good quality, relatively low fat hamburger, and don’t drain the meat because the fat imparts a lot of flavor. 

3.  Transfer meat and onions to a large pot, like a Dutch oven.  Add tomatoes, garlic, and about 2 tsp Lawry’s seasoned salt.  You could use a variety of tomato products.  Sometimes I use a can of diced tomatoes and a can of spaghetti sauce. 

4.  Cover and simmer on medium heat for about 45 minutes, until meat texture is tender. 

5.  While hamburger-tomato mixture is cooking, wash zucchini, then slice very thinly.  I use the long slot on my grater.  You could use a mandoline. 

6.  After meat and tomatoes have simmered, add zucchini.  Stir zucchini into mixture to coat.  Cover and return to simmer.  Cook until zucchini is tender, about 20 minutes. 

7.  Serve over rice.  I serve over Turkish-style rice pilaf.  Skip the rice for a low carb meal. 


If a lot of fat cooks off the hamburger, tip the pan so the oil drains away from where you’re serving from.  If you have leftovers, you can easily scoop the hardened fat off and discard. 

Turkish-Style Rice Pilaf


I lived in Turkey for 3 ½ years, and definitely enjoyed the food.  One of the basic Turkish staples is rice pilaf, which reminds me a lot of rice-a-roni in the way it is prepared.  I cook pilaf fairly often, because it goes well with lots of dishes.  I like it with Turkish dishes like Shepherd Salad, Green Beans, and Tavas (stews).  I also like it with a zucchini and beef dish that I make, and in La Madeline’s Tomato Basil Soup. 


Ingredients for Rice Pilaf

1 cup Uncle Ben’s converted rice, long grain

1 cup medium grain rice, such as Hindoe

5 cups water

1/3 cup small pasta

¼ cup olive oil

2 tablespoons butter

Chicken bouillon powder or paste



1.  Pour olive oil in large pot, like a Dutch oven.  Heat over medium high until hot. 

2.  Add pasta, like Mexican fideo, ½” pieces of spaghetti, tiny stars, orzo, or other small pasta. 

3.  Stir frequently to prevent burning.  When pasta starts to brown, add butter.  Don’t add butter too soon, as it burns easily.  The pilaf would be fantastic with the pasta cooked exclusively in butter, but that would be tricky to accomplish.  Cook pasta until browned. 

4.  Measure and rinse rice.  I do not use a strainer, so some water remains.  I like the texture of the medium grain rice, but the pilaf tends to get gummy if using only medium grain.  The long grain Uncle Ben’s rice helps prevent the pilaf from getting gummy. 

5.  Add rice, water, and chicken bouillon to pasta. 

6.  Cover and cook on medium for 25 minutes or until water is absorbed.  Best not to peek, which I would not do until at least 20 minutes.  If rice is still “wet”, cover and continue to cook over slightly lowered heat.  When cook time is complete, stir to fluff. 




Saturday, January 19, 2013

Easy Classic Meatloaf

My Mom is a terrific cook, but I was never crazy about her meatloaf.  Too much sage.  As an adult, I discovered the Lipton Soup meatloaf recipe.  I’ve been using it for years now.  My only complaint about the recipe is that it is too salty for my taste, so I use 2 ½ pounds of hamburger instead of the recommended 2 pounds.  I make a shallow, thin meatloaf, more like a sheet cake instead of a traditional loaf, and I make a tomato sauce topping. 

Meatloaf Ingredients

1 envelope Lipton ® Recipe Secrets® Onion Soup Mix

2 ½ lbs. ground beef

3/4 cup plain dry bread crumbs*

2 eggs

3/4 cup water

1/3 cup ketchup

Meatloaf Sauce Ingredients

1 cup ketchup

1 small can tomato paste

1/3 cup molasses, or ½ cup brown sugar


1.  Preheat oven to 350°.  

2.  Place ground beef in bowl.  Add onion soup mix.  Other varieties of Lipton Soup work also, such as Beefy Onion, or Onion Mushroom. 

3.  Add ¾ cups dry bread crumbs.  I use Progresso plain or Italian.  I have also used quick oats.  Alternatively you can use 1 ½ cups fresh bread crumbs, or 5 slices of bread, cubed. 

4.  Add eggs, water, and ketchup.  Combine all ingredients.  I start out with a large spoon, but ultimately do the final mix with my hands. 

5.  You can shape into a traditional loaf, on a 9- X 13-inch baking pan, but I press meat mixture flat, utilizing the entire baking dish.  Then I poke a few holes in the center, so that the meatloaf will cook evenly. 

6.  Combine tomato paste, ketchup, and molasses (or brown sugar).  Spread over meat mixture. 

7.  Bake for 45-60 minutes at 350°.