It Doesn’t Have to be Fat Tuesday

Cajun FiddlerMy hubby loves Cajun food. (For the record, I like Cajun food, but hubby LOVES it.) And although we have Cajun food at times throughout the year, we both always look forward to Fat Tuesday (the day before Ash Wednesday) as an excuse to indulge in some yummy Cajun cuisine.

I often find inspiration for our Cajun meals from Razoo’s Cajun Café, and one dish of theirs I’ve used as inspiration is their Jalapeño Catfish. According to their menu, the fried catfish is served with a jalapeño cheese sauce, but it doesn’t taste cheesy to me — I make our home version with a jalapeño cream sauce.

The catfish in this dish at Razzoo’s is coated and seasoned differently than how I usually do my “fried” (either “oven-fried” or sautéed in a skillet), but thanks to a cookbook gifted to me by my hubby several years ago entitled “Around the World in 450 Recipes,” I came across a recipe for fried fish in their “Cajun & Creole Cuisine” section that I used as a springboard to create my own take on Jalapeño Catfish.

Using my wee food processor, I whiz the dry breading ingredients together so that they provide a fine texture on the fish. By sautéeing the fish in a non-stick skillet, the fish “fries” and crisps up with a small amount of oil. The heat in the sauce can be adjusted  to your personal taste by the quantity of jalapeños you use in the sauce, as well as whether or not you de-rib and de-seed the jalapeño. (I usually use two jalapeños, de-seeding and de-ribbing one of them.)

I’ve been meaning to post this recipe for quite some time, but life responsibilities have kept getting in my way! The last time I made this (for Fat Tuesday 2022, which fell on 01-Mar-22), I wasn’t able to get a picture of the food at that time, but I did get a pic of it the following day, when I reheated the remains for our supper.

IMPORTANT SAFETY NOTICE: Whenever you’re working with hot peppers, such as jalapeños (or even a milder pepper, such as a poblano), it is VERY IMPORTANT that you wear gloves while handling the peppers, as the capsaicin oils in the peppers could irritate your skin to the point of blistering it. I always wear disposable gloves so I can just toss them out when done. It is also VERY IMPORTANT not to touch your face, most especially your eyes, while handling peppers. Once you’re done handling the peppers, carefully remove the gloves (I always peel them off so that they’re coming off “inside out” to help avoid the risk of accidentally coming into contact with those concentrated pepper oils) and discard them, and then carefully disinfect the area where you were working with the peppers.

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Jalapeño Catfish (Makes 4 servings, can be adjusted up or down)

For the Catfish:

  • 4 good-sized catfish fillets (approximately 1 1/2 to 2 pounds total)
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch (cornflour)
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal (I prefer yellow cornmeal)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon (or less) reduced-sodium seasoned salt
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 whole egg (or 1/4 cup of egg substitute)
  • Squirt or two of yellow mustard
  • Splashes of milk as needed (anywhere from 2 to 4 tablespoons to 1/3 to 1/2 cup)
  • Vegetable oil (a few tabelspoons) for cooking fish in non-stick skillet
  • Cooked rice, for serving

For the Cream Gravy:

  • 1 or 2  sliced jalapeños, (I use 2, de-ribbing and de-seeding 1)
  • 2 or 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 to 3 tablespoons of butter
  • 2 cups milk (I typically use 1% or 2%) or a mix of evaporated milk and milk to equal 2 cups (NOTE: If using 1% or 2% milk, you may need to use a bit more flour and/or simmer for a bit longer.)
  1. In a deep plate, pie plate, or similar container, beat together the egg, a squirt or two of yellow mustard, and splashes of milk; set aside.
  2. In a food processor, whiz together the flour, cornstarch, cornmeal, and seasonings (oregano, thyme, seasoned salt, cayenne, and paprika) (you want to lose the “gritty” feeling of the cornmeal); place in another deep plate, pie plate, or similar container.
  3. Place a small amount (1 or 2 tablespoons) of cooking oil in a non-stick skillet and heat over medium-high heat. (Add additional oil if needed in small increments as fish cooks.)
  4. Dredge fish fillets first in egg mixture, then in seasoned cornmeal mixture. Sautée in skillet until done (approximately 3 to 5 minutes per side, depending upon the heat of your skillet and thickness of fillets), turning once. Remove to a platter and keep warm.
  5. Depending upon whether any oil remains in the skillet, add in 1 to 3 tablespoons of butter and heat to melting. Add in  jalapeños and sautée until they begin to soften (around 3 to 5 minutes). Stir in flour and brown over medium to medium-low heat. Gradually stir in milk, stirring constantly. Bring to a simmer (low boil) and simmer, stirring constantly, for at least one minute (I usually simmer for three minutes or so). Sauce will thicken upon standing.
  6. To serve: Place fish fillet over rice and then add jalapeño cream sauce to taste.
  7. Store leftovers in refrigerator.

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Pick Yer Poison

This past Tuesday (01-Febrary-2022) marked the kickoff of Chinese New Year/Lunar Festival for the Year of the Tiger. While hubby and I enjoy Chinese food year ’round, I look forward to trying something new and/or doing something I don’t prepare as often.

For lunch, we did storebought vegetable egg rolls and potstickers along with homemade egg drop soup and Crab Rangoon — yummy!

For our supper that night, I made Ramen noodles (to which I added a couple handfuls of frozen peas) — one eats noodles, unbroken, for Chinese New Year’s for luck, health, and prosperity in the coming year — along with a variety of fresh and fresh frozen stir fried vegetables (onion, bell pepper, carrot, mushrooms, and sugar snap peas). Our dessert was baked fresh fruit — Fuji apples and Bosc pears this time, as that was what they had at the store — seasoned with Chinese Five Spice Powder, dotted with butter, and sprinkled lightly with some vanilla and almond extracts; once the fruit was soft, I sprinkled in some almonds and let it bake for another 5 minutes or so, then stirred in no-sugar-added mandarin orange slices, drained. For trying something new, I decided to do my take on Slow Cooker Hoison and Honey Chicken Drumsticks. Hubby teased me, insisting that I was saying “Poison” instead of “Hoison,” and wanted to know why I wanted to poison the chicken!

Slow Cooker Hoison and (Sugar-Free) Honey Chicken Drumsticks, Ready to Devour!
Chili Noodles and Assorted Stir Fried Vegetables
Baked Fruit Seasoned with Chinese Five Spice Powder

I liked this recipe because it uses the slow cooker, thus freeing up my skillet solely for the stir fried vegetables.

Me being me, I

  • Used my homemade Hoison Sauce,
    • Reduced the amount of honey in the recipe, and
    • Otherwise adjusted the recipe to better suit our tastes.

The original recipe I used as a basis called for 2 pounds of chicken drumsticks (8 drumsticks). My package of drumsticks contained 10 drumsticks and weighed almost 4 pounds, so I doubled the sauce recipe. That probably wasn’t necessary, and I ended up with about 2 cups of sauce leftover. I have frozen it, figuring I could use it the next time we make these drumsticks (and there will be a next time, because they are YUMMY!).

I also let the chicken sit in the refrigerator overnight, seasoned and uncovered, which gives the chicken a nice texture, whether you cook it in the slow cooker or in the oven.

So the next time you want something yummy with an Asian flair, give these Chicken Drumsticks a try!

Slow Cooker Hoison and Honey Chicken Drumsticks (8 to 10 drumsticks, allow 2 to 3 drumsticks per serving)

NOTE: As noted above, I had about 2 cups of sauce leftover, which I have frozen for a future meal. If you don’t want that amount of sauce leftover, you could halve the sauce amount.

  • 3/4 cup Hoison Sauce (I made my own)
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar-free honey
  • 6 tablespoons ketchup (I used no-sugar-added ketchup)
  • 2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (I used Asian Reds flakes)
  • Minced garlic to taste
  • 8 to 10 chicken drumsticks (the sauce amount above will likely do about twice that amount)
  • Chinese Five Spice Powder to taste
  • Coarse ground black pepper to taste
  • Whisper of sea salt to taste
  • Cornstarch, if desired, to thicken sauce after cooking
  • Three green onions, chopped, for garnish
  1. Dry off chicken drumsticks. Season both sides to taste with Chinese Five Spice powder, coarse ground black pepper, and the barest whisper of sea salt. Place, UNCOVERED, in refrigerator, preferably overnight.
  2. Mix together Hoison sauce, honey, ketchup, soy sauce, pepper flakes, and minced garlic.
  3. Spray slow cooker with cooking spray OR line with disposable liner.
  4. Place chicken in slow cooker, pour sauce over chicken. Turn chicken pieces to ensure each is covered in sauce.
  5. Cook on LOW for four hours; check chicken for doneness. (Meat should be tender when pierced with a knife tip.)
  6. Remove chicken from slow cooker.
  7. If desired, thicken remaining sauce with a slurry of cornstarch mixed with water; drizzle additional sauce over chicken as desired. Garnish with green onion and serve.
  8. Refrigerate leftovers.

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Cubism, Anyone? Take 2

Actually, I’m not talking Cubist art — ‘though that’s cool, too! — but cube steak. 🙂

As Wikipedia tells us:

Cube steak is a cut of beef, usually top round or top sirlointenderized by fierce pounding with a meat mallet, or use of an electric tenderizer. Many professional cooks insist that regular tenderizing mallets cause too much mashing to produce a proper cube steak, and insist on either using specialized cube steak machines, or manually applying a set of sharp pointed rods to pierce the meat in every direction. This is the most common cut of meat used for chicken fried steak.

And chicken fried steak is the topic of the day, ladies and gentlemen, as hubby and I have  decided to treat ourselves to some chicken fried steak, homemade mashed potatoes, country gravy (sometimes called “white gravy” or “milk gravy”), another as yet to be determined veg, and homemade biscuits (from baking mix) for supper tonight. We haven’t had any since this pandemic hit the fan here last year. Hubby had always cooked his chicken fried steak in the deep fryer, and for some time, I followed his lead, but a couple of years ago, I decided to cook it the way I used to — brown/cook the steaks in a large, non-stick skillet with just enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan. This method also has the added bonus of letting me make homemade gravy with the pan drippings.

Cube steak is a very lean cut of tenderized (“cubed”) beef. I like to purchase a highly tenderized cut referred to as “cube steak” or “beef cutlets” that makes a chicken fried steak that is fork-tender. You can also purchase a lean rump roast (cut intoT 1/2″ or so slices) or round steak and tenderize it yourself by beating the heck out of with the tenderizer side of a meat mallet. Chicken fried steak is more or less a Southern take on Wiener Schnitzel. As Wikipedia tells us:

Chicken fried steak (also known as pan-fried steakCFS or country fried steak) is a dish consisting of a piece of steak (tenderized cube steak) coated with seasoned flour andpan-fried. It is associated with Texas cuisine. Its name may be due to the similarity in preparation styles between chicken fried steak and fried chicken.

Chicken fried steak resembles the Austrian dish Wiener Schnitzel (known in Latin American cuisine as milanesa), a tenderized veal or beef cutlet, coated with floureggs, and bread crumbs, and then fried. It is also similar to the recipe for Scottish collops.

The precise origins of the dish are unclear, but many sources attribute its development to German and Austrian immigrants to Texas in the 19th century, who brought recipes for Wiener Schnitzel from Europe to the USA. Lamesa, the seat of Dawson County on the Texas South Plains, claims to be the birthplace of chicken fried steak, and hosts an annual celebration accordingly. John “White Gravy” Neutzling of Bandera in the Texas Hill Country also claims to have invented the dish.

Chicken fried steak isn’t the nutritional disaster that many think it is: even when you deep-fry it, the trick is that if you get your oil hot enough for what you’re making, whatever you’re frying, be it vegetables or meat, will “sear” on the outside, with the result that the food actually absorbs relatively little in the way of oil. And remember, it’s made with a very lean cut of meat. Or, if you pan-fry it in a non-stick skillet, you’re using relatively little oil. (Hubby wasn’t quite certain about the steak the first time I pan-fried it in the skillet, but all those doubts vanished after he ate it.) 

 

I promise you, this tastes so yummy, you’ll be singing along with the Zac Brown Band 😉 (Go on, give it a listen — you know you want to! The lyrics are presented right there for you, too!)

Chicken Fried Steak (Double – Dipped) (Number of servings depend upon amount of steak and heartiness of appetites; I usually fry up extra so that we have some for snacks, chicken fried steak sandwiches, and/or another meal)

  • Desired amount of cube steak, cut into steaks or strips
  • Beaten egg and buttermilk (approximately 1 beaten egg to every 1/2 to 3/4 cup buttermilk)
  • All-purpose flour seasoned to taste: recommend seasoned salt (I use reduced sodium seasoned salt, and not much of that), paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, and coarse ground black pepper
  • Oil for frying (suggest Canola)
  1. Remove cube steak from ‘fridge and allow it to lose a bit of its chill.
  2. Lightly beat together (with fork or whisk) the egg and buttermilk.
  3. Season flour to taste.
  4. Set up baking rack(s) upon which to place cooked steaks to let them “rest,” if desired.. (Suggest placing waxed paper or parchment paper on a cookie sheet(s) and placing rack(s) on the sheet.)
  5. In a large, non-stick skillet, add just enough oil to coat the bottom. Heat over medium-high heat..
  6. Dredge steak first in flour (you can first coat in unseasoned flour, if you rather), then in egg/buttermilk wash, then in the seasoned flour. Place in heated skillet to cook. (Add and season more flour and/or more buttermilk/egg as necessary until all pieces are coated.)
  7. Cook steaks, trying to turn only once, until cooked through, roughly 5-6 minutes per side (it will depend upon the heat in your skillet and size of the steak pieces — for example, steak fingers are likely to cook up more quickly, a skillet with a slightly lower temperature might require a bit longer to cook per side).
  8. You can place the chicken fried steak directly on a paper-towel lined plate or platter and keep it warm in the oven ’til you’re ready to eat (there may be some risk of some of the steak coating “sticking” to the paper towel), or you can do as Alton Brown of the FoodNetwork suggests and place it on a rack and let it finish “crisping up,” and then place it on a platter.
  9. Store leftovers in the ‘fridge. Delicious cold, or will re-crisp nicely in the oven or toaster oven at 325F – 350F or after 5 or 10 minutes, flipping over/turning half-way through for best results. Chicken fried steak sandwiches are a delicious way to give a fresh take on leftovers.

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Chuy’s, Not Chewbacca!

Who doesn’t love Chewbacca?

Just a few weeks after my mom died in 2018 (the day after Thanksgiving), hubby and I were in Tyler in mid-December on a Saturday — he was getting a radio/CD/sound system installed in his Dodge Challenger — and we opted to have lunch at Chuy’s. Here in Texas, we’re spoilt for choice for good Mexican and TexMex food, and Chuy’s is an instiution. Originating in Austin, they have really yummy food and a fun atmosphere. In keeping with the tradition of the original Chuy’s, their buildings have a pink facade and the decor always includes at least one velvet painting of Elvis.

That Saturday, hubby opted for one of their daily lunch specials, which was Pork Tacos  (i.e., Green Chili Pork Tacos). Hubby absolutely loved them and after devouring his first one, asked if these were something I thought I could make at home. He let me have a bite of his so that I could have a base flavor profile to work with, and I told him I thought I might be able to make something to replicate them. It wouldn’t be exactly the same, of course, but my own facsimile of the flavors.

Original Austin Chuy’s, courtesy of By LoneStarMike – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10934383

So, I got to researching recipes and brainstorming. One of our local grocery chains, Brookshire’s, often has pork loin roasts on sale (“buy one, get one”), so I had already decided to use a lean pork loin roast as a base. As my research continued, I also thought that the method I use for our Gyros — with, of course, the flavorings changed for Tex-Mex — would work well.

I first made it in January of 2019. My inital take on this was yummy, but a bit too salty, even though I was using reduced sodium salt and also less salt than used in recipes I had researched to use as a springboard, so I reduced the salt. We’ve enjoyed it a few times since then. It’s quite versatile –you can enjoy it as tacos (we typically enjoy it as soft tacos, but you could make crunchy tacos with it, as well), burritos, use it as an enchilada filling, or as a topping in nachos. You can eat it as is, shredded from the slow cooker, or, as I do with my gyro filling, sear/”fry” it in a dry non-stick skillet to crisp and brown it — if doing that, you could also add in some sliced bell pepper to taste, as well, making it a bit more like a fajita.

So pour yourself a cerveza or a (sugar-free, for me!) margarita, listen to some mariachi music, and enjoy!

Pork Carnitas/Green Chili Tacos (Number of servings depends upon size of roast, size of appetites, & how you serve it)

For the meat:

  • 2 to 2 1/2 pounds boneless pork loin roast
  • 4 ounces chopped green chilies, UNDRAINED
  • 1/4 olive oil (or canola oil)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons lime juice (if using fresh lime, add lime zest, if desired)
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons vinegar (suggest apple cider vinegar, but white vinegar will work, also)
  • 1 teaspoon reduced sodium seasoned salt
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 3 teaspoons (1 tablespoon) cumin
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons oregano
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 2 or 3 chipotle peppers (chopped/sliced) in adobo (and a bit of the adobo sauce)
  • Splash or two of Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 medium to large onion, sliced

To serve, include your favorite Tex-Mex garnishes/condiments, such as:

  • Flour tortillas, corn tortillas, crispy taco shells, chps for nachos — whatever you want!
  • Salsa
  • Sour cream or Greek yogurt
  • Shredded lettuce
  • Guacamole
  • Diced tomato
  • Black olives
  • Shredded cheese (do yourself a favor and grate your own!)
  • Slice jalapeño
  • Whatever floats your boat & you have on hand!
  1. For the meat: Mix together all ingredients EXCEPT the boneless pork loin and the sliced onion. Marinate the pork loin, turning occasionally, for at least two hours, or overnight. (I mix the marinade together in a CrockPot liner, placed the liner in the CrockPot, the pork loin into the CrockPot, and put the CrockPot in the ‘fridge.)
  2. Add sliced onion. Cook on low 8 to 10 hours or on high 4 to 6 hours — meat should be easy to shred with two forks.
  3. Use as is from the CrockPot as filling for tacos, burritos, enchiladas, nachos, or any other yummy use you can imagine. Alternatively, in a non-stick DRY skille, remove desired amount of meat and onion from slow cooker and brown in the skillet over medium to medium-high heat WITHOUT adding any oil or cooking spray to crisp/sear. You may want to add in some sliced bell pepper to sear along with it.
  4. Refrigerate or freeze (with the cooking liquid!) leftovers.

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One Pan Taco Mac

Hamburger Helper helped her hamburger help her make a great meal! 😉

Ah, Hamburger Helper. Wikipedia tells us that it’s been around since 1971. It promises a quick, easy, one-dish meal that you just round out with a vegetable (tossed green salad is often shown in the commercials).

I’ve been making my own version of “hamburger helper” for years. It all started when I was casting about for something quick and easy for supper one night, and a recipe for “One Pan Curly Roni” on the back of a package of American Beauty pasta caught my eye. Ever since, I’ve been doing all sorts of variations on what hubby and I refer to as the “one pan roni,” varying the seasonings and ingredients based on what we have on hand, what flavors sound appealing, and how many folks we’re feeding. Regardless of how I make it, it always helps my hamburger (or ground turkey, or Italian turkey sausage, or whatever I happen to use) make a great meal — although that helping hand has yet to show up in my kitchen 😉

I love making homemade one-pan dishes. I keep them healthy by using lean meats (such as 93/7 or greater ground beef or ground turkey), cooking in a non-stick skillet to reduce the amount of oil needed, and because I try to focus a bit more on protein instead of carbs, I usually use a lesser amount of pasta than is called for in many such recipes — or that is provided in the box of Hamburger Helper. Whole wheat and/or higher fiber pasta would work well, also, and help boost the nutrition. Also, you may note that I don’t include any salt, either.

It cooks on the stovetop, so it’s great year-round, whether you’re suffering under the sweltering heat of summer or the damp cold of winter. It requires little effort in the way of prep and it doesn’t require lengthy simmer or cook time. And it’s an economical, yet tasty, way to stretch the number of servings from a pound of meat — and it’s economically affordable to add some nutritious extras to get even more servings if, say, you’re feeding a horde of hungry kids (pre-teens and teens are like black holes when it comes to food — they can’t get enough!) or have some unexpected guests drop by.

Tonight, Taco Mac sounds good to us, so that’s what we’re having! This recipe makes about 4 or 5 servings (6 or more if you add the optional can of corn or some frozen corn), but you can quickly, easily, economically, and nutritionally increase the number of servings by doing any one or combination of the following:

  • Add another can (or two) of beans, rinsed and drained
  • Add in a can of tomatoes and/or tomato sauce
  • Add in some more pasta (and some more liquid, as well)
  • Add in some diced green, red, or yellow bell pepper (if peppers are in season and affordable)

Making your own “Hamburger Helper” variations at home is fun, easy, economical, and nutritious, even if the helping hand doesn’t show up. 😉

And vegetarians, you needn’t feel left out — I think you could either substitute another can or two of beans in place of the meat, or use your favorite vegetarian ground meat substitute.

One-Skillet Taco Mac (Makes about 5 or so servings; you can easily increase the servings as described above)

  • One pound lean (93/7 or greater) ground beef or ground turkey
  • 1/2 to 1 onion, diced/chopped
  • 1 packet taco seasoning (or season to taste as you would tacos)
  • 1 can beans, rinsed and drained (If making with turkey, I strongly urge that you use black beans, pinto beans, or white navy beans; otherwise, almost any bean you would use with TexMex would work — Ranch Style, pinto, kidney beans, chili beans, black beans)
  • 2 (8 ounce) cans tomato sauce (or one 15-ounce can)
  • 1 can (4 ounces) sliced black olives, drained (optional)
  • 1 can (4 ounces) chopped green chilies (optional)
  • 1 can (15 ounces) corn, rinsed and drained (optional) or frozen corn
  • 6 ounces elbow macaroni or other tubular pasta
  • Splash of vinegar
  • Splash of Worcestershire sauce (Vegetarians — leave out or use a vegetarian substitute)
  • Additional seasonings to taste, if desired: chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, paprika
  • Condiments as desired: Grated/shredded cheese (such as reduced fat cheddar, Monterey Jack, reduced fat American cheese — whatever you would like), (lite) sour cream, guacamole, sliced jalapeño, etc.
  1. Lightly oil or spray a large non-stick skillet. Brown ground meat. Add in onion and brown onion a bit.
  2. Add taco seasoning and water as called for on seasoning packet and simmer.
  3. Add in splash of vinegar, beans, black olives (if using), green chilies (if using), tomato sauce, splash of Worcestershire, any additional seasonsings desired, and about 3 cups of water. Stir.
  4. Add in pasta and bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until pasta is done — about 10 to 15 minutes.
  5. If mixture is too thin or “soupy,” simmer, with the lid off, until it reaches desired consistency. (Remember that it will thicken a bit upon standing, too.) Or, alternatively, you can stir in a bit of cornstarch mixed with water and bring to a boil, stirring constantly, until thickened.
  6. Remove from heat. Let rest for about 5 minutes before serving. Garnish each serving as desired.
  7. Refrigerate leftovers.

It smells so yummy and tastes so good, you won’t believe it’s such a quick and easy meal. 🙂

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Sugar, Sugar

I don’t know about you, but I have never really cared for Sugar Cookies.

While there’s no denying that they’re a go-to cookie for decorating and/or cutting into shapes, I’ve never thought they offer much in the way of taste. They tend to be like sweetish cardboard, if you ask me.

But for whatever reasons, during the Festive Season last year (I tend to think of Halloween through to New Year’s as being the “Festive Season”), I got a very strong urge to bake and decorate Christmas cookies.

Which would mean making Sugar Cookies.

Now, I had a sugar-free Sugar Cookie recipe from Splenda.com — the irony, I know! — but given that I found regular Sugar Cookies bland and boring, I didn’t see anything in the recipe for sugar-free Sugar Cookies that would make it taste any better to me.

Which would mean I’d have spent time and effort in making, baking, and decorating cookies that I wouldn’t want to eat.

So, I started researching Sugar Cookies in a serious way, as well as consult with baking friends. Key takeaways for me from my research were the following:

  • Give the dough adequate time to chill, as it will dry out the dough and improve the flavors.
  • Use other extracts in lieu of or in addition to vanilla, such as almond.
  • Add citrus zest and/or citrus extract (although fruit extracts can have overpowering flavor profiles).
Based on the results of this research and consult with fellow bakers, using the Splenda recipe as a springboard, I developed the recipe I share here.
 

And peoples, I am here to tell you that this makes incredibly yummy Sugar Cookies. These are cookies that you actually want to eat, and that anyone you gift them to will enjoy eating. 

There’s no need to limit these solely to Christmas, either — using a variety of cookie cutters, you can cut and decorate them into shapes suitable for almost any occasion, or just cut them into rounds for no particular occasion at all!

I used the Betty Crocker Paintbrush Cookie decorating method that I used to do with my late mom when I was growing up and that my stepson and I did to decorate the cookies, but you could also decorate them with sugar-free frosting.

So if you get an urge to bake and possibly decorate some Sugar-Free Sugar Cookies, give this recipe a go! You’ll be singing “Sugar, ah honey, honey!” 😉 

Sugar-Free Sugar Cookies (Number of cookies depends upon size and type of cookie cutters you use)

  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup butter-flavored Crisco (vegetable shortening)
  • 1 cup Splenda granular (or other sugar-free sweetener that measures cup for cup like sugar)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • Lemon zest (or orange zest) to taste (I used the zest from 1 large lemon)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 3/4 teaspoon vinegar (white or cider)
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups cake flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  1. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, mix together the butter, butter-flavored Crisco, vanilla extract, and almond extract with a mixer or rotary beaters, until butter is softened.
  2. Add in the egg, water, vinegar, and citrus zest (or extract) and mix briefly.
  3. Add in flours, salt, and baking powder. Mix on low speed until dough is formed. DO NOT OVERMIX.
  4. Remove dough from bowl and place on a lightly floured work surface. Divide dough in half. Pat each half into a circle and cover/encase in cling wrap. Refrigerate dough FOR AT LEAST ONE HOUR, allowing dough to chill.
  5. Preheat oven to 350F. Line cookie sheet with parchment paper OR lightly oil or spray cookie sheet with cooking spray.
  6. Remove dough (work with one half at a time) and roll out on a lightly floured work surface to approximately 1/4 inch thickness.
  7. Cut into desired shapes with cookie cutters. Place cookies on prepared cookie sheet. (NOTE: If you plan to reroll any scraps, form scraps into a circle and return to the refrigerator until you’re ready to roll them out and cut them.)
  8. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until lightly browned on the back.
  9. Cool on a wire rack.

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Do the Mashed Potato!

For most of us, the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, as with almost all holidays this year, will be quieter because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

But just because it may have to be celebrated differently this year than in past holidays, we can still be thankful and we can still feel and be festive.

When planning a holiday meal or any festive occasion, organization and planning ahead are key. I do as much prepping ahead of time as I can, spreading the workload out, so that I, too, can enjoy the holiday. For example, I’ll make my pie crust, bread roll dough, homemade sugar-free cranberry sauce, and chop the onion and celery for my dressing the day before Thanksgiving. Usually, I bake my pumpkin pie the day before Thanksgiving, as well, but given that it will only be hubby and me and our holiday will be quieter, I’ll actually be able to bake it on Thanksgiving day.

For most of us, mashed potatoes are a staple for Thanksgiving, as well. They’re at their best freshly made, but scrubbing, peeling (if you peel them), and cooking the potatoes are tasks that take time. While I’ve researched doing mashed potatoes ahead of time before and even have a recipe to make them in the CrockPot, I didn’t find much inspiration.

Until last year, that is. I took inspiration from Alton Brown’s method for Whipped Potatoes and Williams-Sonoma’s Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes to devise my own methodology.

Alton Brown is most insistent that mashed potatoes MUST be made from Idaho potatoes. And, Alton being Alton, he even explains the science behind it. I will say, though, that I have also made yummy mashed potatoes from red or yellow potatoes — I use whatever I have on hand. They may not be quite as fluffy as if they were made from Idaho potatoes, but they are still yummy.

According to Alton, cut potatoes will keep up to 24 hours without discoloring when covered in cold water and kept in the refrigerator. So you can prep your potatoes up to 24 hours in advance, if need be.

Another key to fluffy mashed potatoes is removing starch from the potatoes before cooking and mashing them. I like to rinse and drain mine several times, and if I prep them ahead and keep them in the refrigerator, I also drain away their soaking water and rinse them again before cooking them in fresh water.

Both Alton’s and Williams-Sonoma’s methods call for using a ricer. I do not have a ricer. I simply cook the potatoes until tender, drain them, and use my old fashioned potato masher (it belong to my hubby’s paternal grandmother). If needed, I use my rotary mixer to finish them off (I tend not to want to bother with my corded mixer for this, but you can certainly use your corded mixer).

I tried this method out last year for Thansgiving and deemed it a success — we had yummy, freshly made mashed potatoes, but the most time-consuming part of the prep had been accomplished the day before. Even though it will be a quieter holiday this year, I think I’ll employ this method again.

Who knows — you may decide you want to take some of that time saved on the holiday to learn how to do the Mashed Potato!

Prep-Ahead Mashed Potatoes (Number of servings is dependent upon amount of potatoes prepared)

  • Desired quantity of potatoes
  • Butter, melted (2 TABLESPOONS of butter for EVERY 1 POUND of potatoes)
  • Milk, heated (1/4 CUP of milk for EVERY 1 POUND of potatoes) (add more if needed)
  • Salt to taste
  1. Scrub potatoes. Peel if desired. 
  2. Chop into fairly uniform chunks (for even cooking).
  3. Rinse potatoes several times in water or place in collander and rinse.
  4. Place in container or cooking pot, cover with water, and refrigerate for up to 24 hours.
  5. When ready to cook the potatoes, drain away the water they soaked in, rinse the potatoes, place in saucepan, and cover with fresh water, lightly salted if desired.
  6. Bring water just to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer potatoes until they are done (soft and pierce easily with a fork or knife; amount of time will depend upon the amount of potatoes you’re cooking).
  7. Meanwhile, heat — but do not boil! — the milk, melting the butter in the milk.
  8. Drain potatoes of cooking water. Mash with potato masher, adding melted butter and warmed milk as you go. Season to taste with salt. Whip lightly and quickly (a minute or so) with rotary mixer or electric mixer if desired.
  9. Refrigerate leftovers.

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Best of Both Worlds

I haven’t posted in a while — lost my cooking mojo for a time after my mom died, as well as dealing with other varagries of life — but I’m going to try and get back to posting a bit more.

There’s no doubt the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all of us, some more than others. Beloved and I have been adhering strictly to public health recommendations: we go out only for essentials, and when we do, we wear a mask, maintain distance from others (at least 6 feet), and wash our hands often.

This means that our Thanksgiving holiday coming up in a few weeks is going to be quieter and smaller than it typically is, as it will be just hubby and me. While I could mourn and grieve over not having the same kind of celebration as in years past, instead, I am reminding myself that we will come out the other side of this pandemic at some point (history — the Flu Pandemic of 1918 – 1920 — and public health experts give hope that we may be able to return to something more resembling “normal,” possibly near the end of next year or as we enter 2022), so I’m just taking it one holiday at a time and trying to focus on the positives. For example, for Thanksgiving, since it will just be hubby and me, the pace will be more relaxed and perhaps I’ll experiment with some new dishes or flavors.

As hubby and I have been discussing what we want on our quiet Thanksgiving menu this year, the very first thing he said was “We’ve GOT to have the World’s Best Turkey!” This flattered me but also surprised me, as I’d thought we might go the route of a bone-in turkey breast or perhaps a turkey tenderloin. However, I’ve checked and it would seem we can obtain a small whole turkey (“Li’l Butterball Young Turkey” ranging from 6 to 10 pounds), so we will be having that! (Once we get one from the store, that is!)

While I’m no novice to cooking whole turkey (or chicken), several years ago, I delved into researching a variety of techniques and methods for cooking a whole turkey. As a result of this research, I developed my method that results in a turkey with crispy skin but has moist, tender meat — the best of both worlds. The first time I made it, hubby declared it the World’s Best Turkey and my late mom said, “Write down, RIGHT NOW, while it’s fresh in your mind, how you made this because you’ll want to make it this way again!”  And so I scribbled my methodology and instructions on the inside of my Bella Roaster Oven booklet.

To make this turkey, you will need an electric roaster oven large enough to hold your turkey. Another reason I like making turkey this way is that your turkey only spends an hour in your oven and finishes the rest of time cooking in the roaster, thus freeing up your oven for other items.

To make clean-up in the electric roaster easier, I carefully line it with sheets of extra-wide, heavy duty aluminum foil.

Another key element to the success of this turkey is letting the turkey dry out and rest in ‘fridge overnight before baking it. We’re fortunate in that our office trailer (we are self-employed) is just across the road from our home, so we can use the refrigerator there for storage. If you need to make room in your ‘fridge for the turkey overnight, get a large cooler (or multiple smaller ones), fill them with ice, and store other items from your ‘fridge in the cooler(s) overnight to make room for the turkey.

Making the turkey this way results in a turkey that is nicely browned on all sides, but is so tender and moist you will likely be able to just pull off the drumsticks and wings, and you can practically “carve” it with a butter knife! And because the turkey is unstuffed and the drumsticks are not bound together, it will take less time to bake.

Another nice thing about using the electric roaster is that it can “rest” in the roaster, and should the turkey become done before you’re ready for it, it’s very easy to just keep it warm in the roaster until you’re ready…or while you do the Turkey Hokey Pokey! 😉

 

World’s Best Turkey (Number of servings and cooking time will be dependent upon the size of your turkey)

  • Whole turkey of desired size
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Lemon juice to taste
  • White wine to taste (I prefer dry wines, so I typically use a Pinot Grigio)
  • Olive oil
  • Onion (to stuff in bird cavity)
  • Lemon (to stuff in bird cavity)
  1. Remove giblets from turkey cavity and carefully rinse out cavity.
  2. If desired, cut away the gristly tail end.
  3. Thoroughly dry turkey cavity and all sides of turkey skin.
  4. Tuck turkey wings onto back.
  5. Rub turkey skin all over with olive oil and season to taste with salt and pepper (I like to use sea salt and coarse ground black pepper).
  6. Place turkey, BREAST SIDE UP, in a roasting pan or on a platter and let rest in refrigerator overnight.
  7. Remove turkey from refrigerator and let it lose some of its chill (it can sit out safely for 30 to 60 minutes or so).
  8. Preheat oven to 450F.
  9. Prepare basting liquid to taste with melted butter, lemon juice, and white wine (you can also add in some lemon zest from a lemon if you like).
  10. Place turkey, BREAST SIDE DOWN, in roasting pan. Baste turkey with butter/lemon/wine mixture.
  11. Brown turkey, BREAST SIDE DOWN, for 30 minutes.
  12. Remove from oven and CAREFULLY rotate turkey to BREAST SIDE UP. Brush with butter/lemon/white wine mixutre. Stuff cavity with onion and lemon.
  13. Return to oven and brown turkey for another 30 minutes.
  14. Place turkey BREAST SIDE UP in electric roaster set at 325F to finish cooking (baste again if desired). Cooking time will be dependent upon the size of your turkey.
  15. Let rest for 45 minutes to an hour before serving.
  16. Refrigerate leftovers.

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Don’t Pass Me Over!

We had a quiet Easter this last Sunday, which is probably just as well, as beloved was recovering from a bad cold and I was struggling with coming down with a cold. And, I still don’t really have my cooking mojo back.

In trying to develop a menu, I remembered that we had a (relatively small, at just over four pounds) beef brisket in the freezer. After some thought, I decided to give a nod to Passover by making a brisket and, after some Googling, a Potato Kugel to go along with it. I mean, I’ve never eaten kugel before, much less made it, but whenever has that stopped me? I decided to round the meal out with green beans almondine: I purchased fresh French green beans in a microwaveable package (to steam them); once steamed, I tossed with a bit of butter, sprinkle of salt, sprinkle of pepper, and toasted almond slivers. Easy but special enough for a holiday.

Oh, and of course, I made some deviled eggs.

This menu also would be easy to adjust for more servings if the kids and grands would be joining us; if they came, I would increase the volume of the sides; if they didn’t, we could have leftover brisket for several days and just a few more servings of the sides. (We are never wholly certain when we’ll see them for holidays or not, so I try to keep somewhat adjustable menus in mind.)

I have my take on a Jewish-style Spiced Beef Brisket, and it’s very yummy, but the rich, spicy flavors of it put me more in mind of fall and winter than spring. However, there is a brisket recipe that I’ve long wanted to try. I first heard about it when watching a Lidia Bastianich holiday special several years ago wherein she — and her grandchildren, it was very sweet — visited different families to partake in their cultural holiday traditions. One of the families they joined was a Jewish family for one of the nights of Hanukkah, and a woman — whose name escapes me, but who I believe is now known as an accomplished cook/chef — brought her mother’s brisket. She’d said her mother, ironically, was not known as a good cook, but that her brisket — which was brisket coated with a bottle of ketchup — always earned raves.

My intrigue for this type of recipe increased when, upon Googling “Passover Brisket,” while I came across a variety of brisket recipes, a simple one made with onion soup mix and ketchup (or chili sauce) popped up. With some additional Googling for “Passover side dishes,” I came across Potato Kugel, and decided to make it as a side.

NOTE: To be Kosher for Passover, foods consumed must be free of chametz (any one or more of five types of grains) and foods containing yeast…more or less a gluten-free diet. I did not make efforts to make the brisket and kugel Kosher for Passover. If you want to make these foods Kosher, then 1) ensure all products used are designated Kosher and 2) for Passover, substitute the cornstarch used in the kugel with matzo meal, potato starch, or a similar Kosher for Passover option.

So, using this Pioneer Woman recipe as starting point, I decided to give Passover Brisket a try. Me being me, I opted to do half (no-sugar-added) ketchup and half chili sauce. I also added a splash of Worcestershire and some red wine. Other than trimming fat from the brisket (it was a flat-cut trimmed brisket, but there was still a rather significant fat cap on one side, which I trimmed away), it was an incredibly easy recipe to do, mostly hands-off, and because it cooks “low and slow,” it didn’t overheat the kitchen on a warm spring day. The chili sauce gives it a hint of heat, while the (no-sugar-added) ketchup gives it a bit of tang and hint of sweet.

As for the Potato Kugel: As with many classic dishes, there are a number of variations, from very basic versions with only a few ingredients to more complex ones that incorporate a variety of ingredients and seasonings. I opted to use Tori Avey’s recipe as a springboard. Because it was going to be just hubby and me, I made a relatively small kugel that I baked in a 1 1/2 quart (6 cup) casserole. Bonus: I baked it in my toaster oven, which meant I didn’t overheat my kitchen on a relatively warm spring day!

20190421 Easter Potato Kugel

Potato Kugel — Crispy on the Outside, Moist and Soft on the Inside

Potato Kugel requires peeled and grated potato and grated onion, which makes it a more labor-intensive dish, especially if you’re making a larger-sized batch. You can use a hand grater, the grating attachment on a food processor, or, as I did, use a “VeggettiPro” or other type of implement that can “spiralize” vegetables. While it was delicious made with onion, I think it would be even more fabulous made with leeks.

Hubby enjoyed it well enough to have it be a repeat, so I told him that whenever he gets a hankering for it, just ask for the “Passover Brisket.” 🙂

Whether you make it for a holiday or not, I promise you, it will be YUMMY!

Passover Brisket (Number of servings depend upon size of brisket; for a brisket more than 5 or so pounds, suggest you increase the amount of sauce accordingly)

  • Beef brisket, trimmed of most fat (you want to leave a bit, but not too much)
  • 1 bottle (12/13 ounces) ketchup (I used no-sugar-added ketchup)
  • 1 bottle (12/13 ounces) chili sauce
  • 1 package dry onion soup mix
  • Splash of Worcestershire sauce
  • Dry red wine (eye-ball it, I probably used a 1/2 to 3/4 cup of wine, you may use more or less as you wish)
  1. Mix together ketchup, chili sauce, dry onion soup mix, and Worcestershire sauce. Pour wine into empty ketchup and chili bottles, shake to release any remaining ketchup and sauce, and stir into ketchup/chili sauce/soup mixture.
  2. Place brisket in a 13″x9″ pan. Spread half of ketchup/chili sauce mixture over meat. turn meat and spread remaining mixture on other side of meat.
  3. Cover and let marinate in refrigerator for 12 to 24 hours.
  4. Remove from refrigerator. Turn meat and ensure it is coated on all sides. Cover pan securely with foil.
  5. Bake at 275F (no  need to preheat!), turning and basting half-way through, until fork-tender, approximately 6 to 7 hours.  NOTE: Brisket, like ribs, can be unpredictable and can sometimes take much longer to bake than anticipated. Remember — it can be easy to keep it warm, but you can’t rush cooking it, so err on the side of caution as far as the amount of cooking time needed.
  6. Slice meat against grain (I sliced it in its baking dish) and serve with rendered sauce.
  7. Refrigerate or freeze leftovers.

 

Potato Kugel  (Serves 5 as written, can be adjusted up or down, just adjust size of baking vessel accordingly)

  • Five small to medium-sized potatoes (I didn’t weigh them, but it was probably around 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds), peeled and grated or spiralized
  • 1 small onion, grated or spiralized (NOTE: I think a leek would yummy, as well)
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons corn starch (I eye-balled it)
  1. Grate or spiralize potatoes, keeping them in a dish of iced-cold water as you go to prevent their discoloration.
  2. Grate or spiralize onion; set aside.
  3. Pour 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons of oil (I used Canola oil) into casserole dish. Place dish in oven as it preheats to 400F.
  4. While oven is preheating, beat together two eggs. Drain potatoes in a colander and use paper towels or clean dish towels to squeeze water from them.
  5. In a medium-sized bowl, toss together potato, onion, and a sprinkling of salt and pepper to taste. Pour in egg and toss potatoes and onion with eggs. Sprinkle in cornstarch and toss.
  6. Once oven is preheated and pan is hot, CAREFULLY remove hot pan from oven. Using a heat-proof brush, brush oil up along sides of pan.
  7. Give potato and onion mixture one final toss and pour/spread into hot pan.
  8. Brush another tablespoon or so of oil on to top of kugel.
  9. Bake until crispy on top (and hopefully on sides) and baked in the center, approximately 70 to 90 minutes (things tend to take a bit longer in my toaster oven). NOTE: If it’s browning too quickly, cover top with foil. If it is baked all the way through but not browned on top, then broil for 3 to 5 minutes to brown the top.
  10. Let rest for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.
  11. Refrigerate leftovers.

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Do You Dip?

Cajun FiddlerIt’s Fat Tuesday today. It’s a low-key celebration for us this year, as I’ve yet to regain my cooking mojo after losing my mom the day after Thanksgiving last year (23-Nov-18).

So for an easy but festive Cajun-style lunch today, I opted to do a take on the shrimp basket available at Razoo’s:  beer-battered shrimp (store-bought and baked),  jalapeño hush puppies (store-bought and baked), and crinkle cut fries (store-bought and baked).  To make it Cajun, I made a batch of Cajun Dipping Sauce.

This zippy sauce is great for sea food as well as fries — it adds a nice zip to almost anything that is dippable — and will make you consider dipping things that you might not dip otherwise! 😉

Light Miracle Whip, light mayonnaise, ketchup, chili sauce, lemon juice, Cajun seasoning, and hot sauce to taste — that’s all it takes! Stir it up and let it hang out in your ‘fridge for an hour or so for the flavors to meld before you start dipping.

Although I’ve shared my Cajun Seasoning recipe before, I’ll include it again here, for convenience. You can, of course, purchase Cajun Seasoning in most stores — myself, I’m partial to Tony Chacere’s Creole Seasoning — but as part of my Googling, I came across recipes for making one’s own Cajun seasoning. Making your own seasoning has the benefits of not only being more affordable, but also of being made to suit your tastes (such as being hotter or milder, lower in sodium, reduced in sugar or sugar-free, and so forth). Using Emeril Lagasse’s recipe for inspiration, I whipped up my own version of Cajun Seasoning to suit our tastes.  I just mix it up in a Ziploc baggie and keep it in my pantry.

Oh, and what’s on our menu for tonight? Blackened catfish made with my homemade Blackened Seasoning, New-Orleans style beans (tinned) and rice, my take on Rachael Ray’s corn sauté, and “Frenchy” bread (a Razzoo’s staple, it is sliced French bread buttered on both sides and grilled).

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

 

Cajun Dipping Sauce (All measurements are approximate; I eye-balled it; adjust quantities as desired)

NOTE: 1/2 cup fat free Greek yogurt could be substituted for the Miracle Whip and mayonnaise

  • ALL MEASURES ARE APPROXIMATE
  • 1/4 cup light Miracle Whip (salad dressing)
  • 1/4 cup light mayonnaise
  • Roughly 1/4 cup ketchup
  • Couple of tablespoons of chili sauce
  • Squirt/splash of lemon juice
  • Cajun seasoning to taste (I used a couple of teaspoons total)
  • Dashes of hot sauce (I used Razzoo’s Cajun sauce) to taste (optional)
  1. Stir together salad dressing, mayo, ketchup, chili sauce, and lemon juice. Add in seasoning and taste; add in more if needed (remember you can always add in more, but you can’t take it out!). Stir in hot sauce if desired.
  2. Store in refrigerator. Let flavors meld together at least one hour before serving.

Cajun Seasoning (Adjust to suit your own tastes)

Don’t fret over exact measurements; rounded spoonfuls are fine.
Note that 3 teaspoons = 1 tablespoon.

  • 3 tablespoons paprika
  • 1 teaspoon Cayenne pepper
  • 2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons oregano (dried)
  • 2 teaspoons thyme (dried or powdered)
  • 1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt (I used reduced sodium)
  • 1 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  1. Mix all ingredients together. (I like to put them all in a Ziploc bag, close it, and shake it together to mix them.)
  2. Store in a sealed container (I use a Ziploc bag).

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