Category Archives: Recipes

Sausage Gravy and Biscuits…Made for Northerners

I went to college “Down South,” where sausage gravy and biscuits were part of every morning’s ample cafeteria buffet offerings. However, being a northerner, I rarely ever tried it, and when I did, it seemed a little bland and heavy. The first year after graduating, I taught high school in North Carolina (also “Down South”) and noticed that biscuits and gravy were popular there as well. Forty years later, I’ve realized that sausage gravy and biscuits are a much loved breakfast offering for about half of America, the U.S. military generally, and I don’t know who else around the world, so I decided it was time to make peace with sausage gravy. The only way I could really do that was to give it a little more kick, and the easiest way I’ve found to do that is to add a little chopped up, spicier brats. Here’s what I’ve done, and it passed muster with my northern family. If you have a really terrific recipe (maybe a secret family recipe from the South), I’d love to have you share it with us as well. After all, cooking is an art worthy of lifetime learning, right?!

Sausage Gravy and Biscuits with a Flair
(Serves 4-6)

Start by baking 8 large biscuits, either from scratch or according to the directions. Once they’re in the oven, start the gravy. (Biscuits take 10-15 minutes to cook, so they should be done just about the time the gravy is done.)Sear in a hot skillet on high heat: 1/2 pound ground breakfast sausage
2 large bratwurst sausages chopped into bite-sized pieces (with whatever level and type of spiciness you might enjoy; I tried one with pepper and cheese and another with mushrooms and provolone cheese, but my guess is that a lot of varieties would add a pleasant flair).Optional: A sprinkling of onion powder and garlic powder. (Being a breakfast item, my husband doesn’t like much of either of these lest it effect his breath during his work day, but they would both add flavor.)  Turn the heat down to medium and continue frying until the meat is completely cooked through and nicely browned. Turn the heat down to low, add  1/2 cup flour and stir until the meat is evenly coated and even the flour is starting to brown. (Scrape with a spatula to keep anything from burning.) Continue cooking, adding 3 cups of milk, one at a time, making sure the gravy mixes smoothly and doesn’t form any lumps.
Salt and pepper to taste (You can even add a little crushed red pepper if you really like spice.)Ladle the sausage gravy over the biscuits and serve piping hot! I think one of the reasons I didn’t like it in college was that it wouldn’t be hot enough by the time I ate it. Congealed gravy is never appetizing. 😦            “Let the heart of them rejoice that seek the Lord” (Psalm 105:3).

Chocolate-covered Sea Salt Pecan Toffee (If You Love See’s…)

My oldest brother has been spoiling our family with a big box of See’s chocolates as a Christmas gift for the past 25-30 years, which is a super highlight of the seasons’ taste treats! In fact, I practically have to hide the box and wait until all Christmas comers have arrived before doling out the delectable chocolates. About seven years ago, our son Jonathan and his wife moved to Spokane, Washington, which is one of the locations where they actually make See’s chocolates, and you can go to the shop and pick out your favorite flavors. After many taste tests, Alan and I both decided that their California brittle crunch was our top choice, and so I started trying to figure out how to reproduce them at home.  I’ve come up with my own recipe, which isn’t exact (I think they use almonds, and I’ve used pecans roasted with sea salt…and mine aren’t as crunchy), but they definitely melt in your mouth and disappear from the platters fast!

Chocolate-covered Sea Salt Pecan Toffee
(makes about 5 dozen pieces of candy)

In a large cooking pot add:
1/2 cup water
2 cups granulated white sugar
2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup corn syrup
1 pound butterBring to a boil, stirring often to keep the candy from sticking. Make sure all the sugar has dissolved.  While the toffee is cooking, heavily butter a large cookie sheet and place it on a wooden cutting board. Also take this time to grind up 12 ounces of pecans into very small pieces. (This in not quite ground fine enough, but do not turn it into a totally consistent powder).  Lower the heat to a simmer and continue cooking until the “medium soft-ball” stage (about 300°F), where a drop of syrup placed in cold water forms a chewy ball. (If you take your fingers and gather the syrup out of the cold water [see below], it should form one medium soft ball.) *Note: I use a metal spatula to stir and scrape the bottom of the pan to make sure nothing sticks or burns. This will probably take about 10-15 minutes. Once the syrup has reached the medium-ball stage,turn the heat down to low and add the 12 oz. chopped, roasted, salted pecans. (Those nuts on the right are a better consistency than those on the left.)                                  Stir them until they’re completely mixed in.  Add 1 teaspoon baking soda, stirring gently until it’s thoroughly mixed. Let the mixture start to rise… then remove it from the heat and pour it directly onto the buttered cookie sheet.  The next part is a little tricky. Let the pan cool until it can be cut, but not until it’s completely cool. This takes about 25 minutes.  When the toffee can be cut without immediately losing its shape, cut it into small pieces. (I do 9 lengthwise slices by 7 wide, but do them however you want!)  Microwave  24 oz. chocolate chips and 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in a bowl for 2 minutes.                                               Remove from the microwave                                               and stir until smooth.  Take a toothpick and make a tiny dot where each cut begins and ends around the entire perimeter of the pan,                                             then spread the chocolate                                              evenly over the entire pan.  Let it cool about 10 minutes, and then run your knife gently along the same tracks. The chocolate won’t be hard yet, but that’s okay. It still prepares the way for even pieces when it’s completely cooled. Depending on where you cool your candy, it may take an hour or two before the chocolate is completely cool without being so hard that it breaks into  uneven pieces. At that point, take a knife and cut along the same lines one last time. If you’ve done it right, when you remove the candies, they should come out in neat pieces. (However, bigger pieces of nuts can make things a bit uneven, as you see above.) it’s not an exact replica of See’s candies (which are entirely enveloped in chocolate, BTW), but it’s close enough to make us smile and saves mega bucks over trying to buy See’s!  I hope you and your loved ones enjoy them. They do make great Christmas gifts and are popular at Christmas parties or the office.We will rejoice in thy salvation, and in the name of our God we will set up our banners: the Lord fulfill all thy petitions” (Psalm 20:5).

Exquisite Candied Fruitcake

Fruitcakes have a terrible reputation, and if you don’t like candied fruit, then no recipe is going to make you like fruitcake, but here is a recipe that I’ve developed after many years of trying to imitate our family’s favorite, which used to be called “Texas fruitcake.”  Unlike most traditional fruitcakes, which dry out and end up being discarded after a month in the back of the fridge, this recipe is absolutely loaded with whole candied fruits and pecans, and tastes so scrumptious that I have to stash one or two or they’re gone before all the Christmas gifts are under the tree. Here it is, from my home to yours, just in time for the holidays!

Exquisite Candied Fruitcake
(makes 3 loaves)

First, collect your ingredients, because they’re not something most people keep around the house:
16 oz. candied red cherries
16 oz. candied pineapple
2 six-ounce containers of candied green cherries
12 (or 16) oz. roasted, salted pecans
1 pound butter (well, you might have this ingredient at home)Next: load the following ingredients into your mixer:
1 pound softened butter (not a second pound; just the one mentioned above)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
3 eggs. Beat all these ingredients together until totally whipped. Add:
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice. Beat all these ingredients together until it looks like soft cookie dough. Next, add all the fruit and nuts, and stir carefully by hand just until it’s all mixed.                                                  The next step is crucial!  Cut out parchment paper and fit it to the bottom of each loaf pan with about 4-5 inches of paper hanging over each side. This lining is what will enable you to lift the fruitcake out of the loaf pan without crumbling after it bakes and cools. Divide the batter equally into three pans, smoothing out the mixture. Preheat the oven to 325°F. If you have an artistic flair, you can save some of the candied fruit and nuts and arrange flowers on the top, although I didn’t this time.Bake the cakes for 75 minutes at 325°F. They will still be quite soft, but they should be a deep, golden brown in color. Set them on the counter until they are entirely cool. In fact, it won’t hurt them if you let them rest overnight, although if you do that, pull the paper flaps down and cover all three pans loosely with more parchment paper to keep them from drying out too much.After they are completely cool, gently lift the cakes out of their pans by pulling on the parchment paper. If the ends don’t want to come loose, try gently separating them from the sides of the pans with a plastic knife. Once you can tell that the paper isn’t sticking, lift them out completely. These fruitcakes are super rich, so a small piece goes a long way, but it’s so good that nobody will really want a very small piece! They can be eaten fresh (although I always keep them wrapped in saran wrap). They can also be wrapped up to save for later (can last a month in the refrigerator although they also freeze just fine), or they can be gift wrapped and shared!

O give thanks unto the God of heaven: for his mercy endureth for ever.
(Psalm 136:26)

Pumpkin Pie Pancakes

If you love punkin’ pie (as we used to call it when I was little) as much as our family does, then you might enjoy this moist, pumpkin pancake recipe. I developed it in honor of Thanksgiving coming up this week. Actually, I was also trying to imitate a favorite autumn breakfast from a nearby restaurant, where they serve “pumpkin pecan pancakes” each fall. Mine turned out a little more like pumpkin pie than regular pancakes, but I think they might also be a little healthier (being half pumpkin and nuts), and the home team gave them two thumbs up, so I want to pass along the recipe and see if you like them as much as we do!

Pumpkin Pie Pancakes
(Makes eight, 4-inch pancakes)

1 15-0z. can pumpkin (or two cups of homemade pumpkin puree)
1 cup of your favorite pancake mix
1 egg
1/4 cup melted butter
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup roasted, salted pecans (optional, but I think they really add!)
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamonMix all the ingredients together thoroughly by hand (don’t whip), and fry on a well-buttered griddle at medium heat for about two or three minutes on each side. (This is a lower heat than needed for regular pancakes, but you also have to fry them longer.) Pat them down and make sure they’re cooked through on both sides, crispy and brown but not burned (of course!). Serve them piping hot with butter and syrup…and possibly bacon and/or eggs. I usually eat an egg and a slice of bacon with three pancakes, but pumpkin pie pancakes are more filling, and I was completely full with just two pancakes and one strip of bacon. (Just if you’re estimating how much to make relative to how many regular pancakes you might eat.) Let me know if you try them and like them, will you? Or, please let us know if you experiment and find something you like even better. Thanks!

Psalm 100 (NIV)

“Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
    Worship the Lord with gladness;
    come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
    It is he who made us, and we are his[a];
    we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

4 “Enter his gates with thanksgiving
    and his courts with praise;
    give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
    his faithfulness continues through all generations.”

Cranberry Sauce Shaped Like a Can…or…How About Home Made?!

If you’ve ever seen Ernest Saves Christmas (and I wouldn’t recommend it for high value, but our kids did love it when they were little and it became a bit of a cult classic around our home), you might remember the line about how Ernest loved all things Christmas, including “cranberry sauce, shaped like a can.” Actually, that’s the way I also ate it when I was little, unless my mom sliced it into round, can-shaped slices (jellied). Or, sometimes she served “whole berry” sauce (from a can) and mashed it up to look more attractive. Fifty years hence, fresh cranberries are readily available this time of year in America, and homemade cranberry sauces and relishes are both simple to make and a whole lot yummier than anything you can buy in a can! I was testing my recipe for cranberry sauce on an 80+ year-old friend who was over for dinner recently, and he teased me, “For somebody who seems to worry about your weight, you sure write about food a lot on your blog!” 🙂  (Notice how svelte he still is!)

True enough, but part of good health and weight management is learning how to use less sugar in what you do allow yourself, and my theory is that most people are going to want a little cranberry sauce with their Thanksgiving dinner in a couple of weeks. Good nutrition isn’t just what foods you eat, it’s also about avoiding unnecessary additives and preservatives, using fresh ingredients that still have their nutritive value intact, and using “less”of  those ingredients which tend to cause weight gain (sugars, starches, and fats being among the chief offenders).

Therefore, I’m bringing you my own, less-sugared versions of cranberry dishes that are among America’s favorite Thanksgiving sides. If you’ve not discovered these tart complements for your turkey dinner, why not try making your own? They’re simple to make and sure to please!

Cheery Cranberry Sauce
(serves 6±)

12 oz. cranberriesWash the cranberries to remove any unwanted stems or leaves. Add: 1/4 cup water
1/2 cup sugar (most recipes call for a cup, so you might want a little more, but try it first. My taste-testers thought it was fine with only half the sugar).
1/8 teaspoon salt (can be left out if you’re trying to avoid salt)Bring to a boil, stirring often until all the sugar has melted. Reduce the heat and let the berries simmer until almost all the berries have “popped” (about 5-7 minutes)Keep warm and covered on the stove top until you’re ready to serve it. (If you don’t eat it all the first night, cranberry sauce will last a week or more stored in an air-tight container in your refrigerator.)

Cranberry-Orange Relish
(Serves 6-8)

12 oz. cranberries (wash them, as above)Chop up one entire seedless orange into about 8 large pieces (skin and all)
Add 1/2 cup sugar (or start with 1/2 and test; 1/2 cup is enough for me, but that’s pretty tart; my son likes it a touch sweeter)
1/8 teaspoon salt (can be left out if you’re salt-sensitive)
*Many people enjoy adding 1/2 cup walnuts or pecans. This is a good option, but only if you’re going to eat it all quickly, as the nuts will get soggy in a day or two. Otherwise, the relish lasts quite well for almost a week.Grind it all up in a Cuisinart (or other food processor) until it’s in “itty-bitty pieces.” (Stop before it liquifies.)Place in a serving dish and keep it chilled in the refrigerator until it’s time to eat.

I will praise the name of God with a song,
and will magnify him with thanksgiving
” (Psalm 69:30).

 

 

Gourmet Steak’n’Swiss Mac’n’Cheese

Last weekend Alan and I took our daughter and grand kids out for lunch, and we both thought the kids’ macaroni and cheese looked yummy. In fact, we exchanged glances that conveyed a clear, “I’d like some of that, wouldn’t you??” But, isn’t mac’n’cheese supposed to be reserved for kids? Well, it’s becoming a popular item on menus for adults, and so I thought it would make a good topic for a Saturday food blog. Of course, plain old macaroni and cheese can be made by reading the suggestion on the side of the container, but if you’d like some ideas to get you started on making your own gourmet version, here’s one to try:

Gourmet Steak and Swiss Mac’n’Cheese
(Serves 6-8)

Prepare 1 pound of macaroni according to the directions on the package (which means adding the macaroni to boiling, salted water and stirring for about 5 minutes until it’s al dente (“to the tooth;” not quite cooked through so it would still be firm if bitten…but don’t yet, because it wouldn’t taste very good)

Chop up and saute together with 2 tablespoons of butter in a frying pan:
1 medium onion
1 fresh pepper (yellow, red, orange, or green)
2 stalks celery
Flavor with:
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2  teaspoon Montreal steak seasoning   When tender (about 5 minutes on medium heat, stirring often; you can prepare this while your macaroni is boiling), add:
1 small jar (8 oz) of chopped, grilled and marinated artichoke hearts (obviously, all my suggestions are optional, since if you have mac’n’cheese…what else do you really need?)2 medium tomatoes, chopped into bite-sized pieces 1 grilled 8-oz steak, chopped into bite-sized pieces the pound of macaroni that’s either been drained or has absorbed the water
(I try to use just enough water so the macaroni cooks without having to discard any excess water (because it have some nutritive value), but that requires using only about 2 cups of water and watching/adding more if needed, so if you don’t want to take time to experiment, you can always use the recommended amount and just drain off the excess before adding the macaroni to the skillet.) 8 oz Swiss cheese (shredded or in slices)
2 more tablespoons of butter 8 oz. grated Parmesan cheese   Continue heating until the cheese and butter melts and everything  is well blended. Serve it as a meal in itself, or with a side salad and some fruit. If any of the ingredients I mentioned are on your “bad” list, try a few veggies that you love. You can’t go wrong, and you’ll probably come up with you very own, new and unique family favorite comfort food!  Want something else to comfort you? How about some spiritual comfort food?

Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified” (Galatians 2:16).

Bold’n Golden Banana Bread

Another favorite way of using up over-ripe bananas in our family—particularly on chilly fall days—is making a loaf of banana bread, which is really more dessert than bread but can also be used for breakfast if you’re in the mood. I like to add quite a bit of spice to give it a bolder flavor, and our kids love to add chocolate chips or nuts, but I grew up with plain banana bread, so I still think the old, classic taste is comforting and yummy without needing any extra pizzazz!

Bold’n Golden Banana Bread
(makes one rather large loaf; can serve 8-12)

2 ripe medium to large bananas
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 stick (1/2 cup) softened butterBlend until fairly uniform and bananas are no longer lumpy bumps Then add together into mix:
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup walnuts or other nuts (or even chocolate chips) as possible options, although it’s also great plain   Blend together briefly until thoroughly mixed, but don’t whip or beat it.
Pour into a well greased loaf pan and bake at 350°F for 50-60 minutes or until it’s a deep, golden brown, nicely rounded on top, and doesn’t indent much when touched. Serve it still warm (if possible), either with or without additional butter.   My lips shall utter praise, when thou hast taught me thy statutes. My tongue shall speak of thy word: for all thy commandments are righteousness” (Psalm 119:171-172).