Hello, Old Friendly Meals


A familiar meal is like a warm blanket or a hug from a good friend.


As I was looking through a binder of recipes for a different project, I came across a printout of a Cooking Light recipe I first made way back in 1995 or ’96: Spanish Fork Chicken Stew. If I recall correctly, it was originally displayed served in a bread bowl, but I think I’ve only done that once over all the years I’ve made this stew. Even without a bread bow it’s an amazing, hearty soup that I somehow had never made for Todd. So on Monday night, while it was still a bit chilly in Southern Georgia, I made a big pot of this soup and it was as glorious as I remembered.


The next night’s supper was not quiet as successful. It was still supper, of course, and fairly tasty, but my potato-cheese ratio was a bit off and the Bacon-Wrapped Potato Volcanoes were not anywhere near molten, gooey goodness. That said, I stand by my opinion that Boursin and Chevre are superior substitutes for cream cheese in most savory recipes. The excess potato mixture made a nice bed for the smoked sausages that we baked alongside the potatoes, and baking is still an excellent way to prepare okra (far less “slimy” in the end).

Wednesday we had a bit of a mix-up regarding Duncan and his dog door, so the open night on the menu shifted from Saturday night to Wednesday. Instead of cooking, we opted to visit George and Louies, a place we had not been in a while (more’s the pity) and had some amazing seafood. The scallops were like butter, the fish fillet sweet and tender, and the oysters bursting with flavor. We really need to go there more often, though it’s probably just as well we don’t–the indulgence factor is high on this one.


It did mean we had fish two nights in a row, with Thursday night bringing the Wrapped Salmon with Spinach and Feta I’d originally planned for Wednesday. Probably the simplest aplpication of phyllo dough I’ve seen, using cooking spray instead of brushing with melted butter, but the resulting packets were nice and light. I can see us revisiting this recipe in the spring. Then again, it was feeling more spring than winter by Thursday, so it was fitting!


Friday night I returned to a Cooking Light recipe, this one from the current issue, with the Sausage Ragu over Polenta. (After finding a $5 subscription on Amazon around Black Friday I resubscribed and am already loving that decision!) I have nothing against polenta per se, but I much prefer slow-cooked southern grits, so that’s what I made instead. we get ours stone ground from a little country store and cook it low and slow for 45 minutes or so. I think I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s worth noting again, that Todd hated grits when I first met him, but only because he’d only ever had the gritty instant or quick kinds. If you’ve found yourself in the same position, give the long version a try.


Thank goodness for freezer meals as I wasn’t feeling very well Saturday, and the fact that all I had to do was add rice and water to the rice cooker and then, 10 minutes later, dump the bag of Chicken Curry with Peppers and Cabbage into a saute pan… well, that made the difference between making dinner and not. Something I’ve noticed with the freezer meals, though, is that they frequently need more seasoning. I’m not sure if it’s scientifically correct, but it seems like between the last time I made this freezer meal and the current one, the flavor broke down even more. Just something to keep in mind, along with being sure to rotate your freezer meal stores regularly (this one had been in the deep freeze since March).


Finally, Sunday night I made Taco Bowls. It was inspired by the pin from Damn Delicious but I deviated quite a bit. First of all, I added some shredded cabbage for crunch. Second, I cooked the corn (the pretty picture shows blistered corn cut straight from the cob, the recipe calls for drained canned corn–I compromised with frozen corn sauteed with garlic oil, salt, and pepper). Third, I added cheese and a bit of avocado queso. I mean, really, what is a taco (bowl) without cheese of some sort?!

So that was our week, what’s on the menu in your house this week?

Impromptu Panzanella and Other Stories


Now that we’ve caught up on the past menus, we can continue on they way we were. Last week was a comfort food sort of week: temperatures continue to drop and the schedule is starting to get heavy with holiday obligations on the horizon. Let’s tuck in to some tasty fuel, shall we?


We unintentionally played along with Meatless Monday (is that still a thing?) by starting with a Rainbow Vegetarian Pad Thai–I just thought it looked tasty! It was, even though I left off the peanuts and subbed the remaining spinach spaghetti for the more traditional rice noodles (more veggies!). The crunch of the carrots next to the softer chew of the noodles and zoodles was a nice addition to the dish and the sauce was pretty spot-on for Pad Thai. If I were to do it again I’d probably double it to have enough for leftovers, there was the barest of 3rd servings there, but probably only due to my noodle substitution stretching it out farther.


On Tuesday I made another batch of Cabbage Roll Soup and Beer Bread. I always forget how good this soup really is! Seriously, give it a try. I would normally make this in the Crock Pot but I really didn’t feel like fooling with it the night before or the morning of, so made it on the stove. It took about an hour but that was perfect as that’s how long the beer bread took to bake.

About the bread. I was, of course, making mine gluten free and used gf Bisquick. It required more liquid than the linked recipe called for (not surprising for converted items) but it occurred to me (after about 45 minutes) that, instead of adding more beer, it might have been a good idea to take a page from experience and add a couple of beaten eggs to the dough to give the whole thing a bit more stability. Like you do if you follow the GF Bisquick biscuit directions.

I’ll try that in the future, but it turned out okay enough without it. The bread was difficult to slice (the sugar makes for a nice, chewy crust) so we just tore hunks off the loaf. It was a little dense, but not unpleasantly so. And beer bread is a familiar taste/smell from my childhood–the only time Momma would buy beer is to make beer bread.


On Wednesday night my plan was to give into a fried shrimp craving with corn on the cobb and a salad. The only hitch was, the salad greens I’d bought went over a little sooner than expected, and I was leafy vegetable-less. But I’d already shaved a couple of carrots and halved a pint of cherry tomatoes–what to do?!

I’d picked up some Pretzel rolls on Sunday at Target (never go shopping hungry or PMSing, right?) so I decided to make a bread salad. I cubed up on roll, make an oil and vinegar dressing with lots of herbs, and tossed it all together. Todd thought I was making something up when I explained the bread salad concept, but it’s actually a real thing and goes by the name panzanella. He called it crouton salad, and I can’t exactly disagree. But it was good, so that’s all that matters.


Mmmm, Thursday. Who didn’t grow up eating Salisbury steak a few dozen times? This staple of frozen food sections and tv dinners is still damned tasty and the Salisbury Meatballs and Mashed Potatoes were definite nostalgia-fodder. Served with green beans, all it really needed was a little cube of molten apple “crisp” to complete the sensory memory. Except that the sauce, in this recipe, calls for adding a bit of barbecue sauce and I found that it overpowered the rest of the flavors. So if I were to make this again, I’d probably just skip that ingredient.

On Friday we drove down to Tallahassee for dinner out and then went and browsed the bookstore before heading home. It was a proper date night with an unexpected twist that I hope I can share more about soon.


On Saturday we attended the annual fete at Bradley’s Country Store, with Duncan in tow. It was his biggest crowd to date and while I think he might have been a little overwhelmed at all the people and all the other dogs, he did very well and sat pretty (most of the time) for adults and kids to pet him. That night I made Mongolian Chicken with rice and stir-fry vegetables for supper. This was another instance of being too lazy to set up the slow cooker (I really don’t know what my issue is with it, lately) but, once again, it was no problem to pop the chicken into the oven with the sauce and let it cook while the rice did. Sure, it would have been slightly easier to shred if I’d done the low and slow method, but really it wasn’t an issue.


We finished the week with Chicken Fried Steak Bites with Country Gravy and baked sweet potatoes. There really isn’t a lot to say about this meal–it was good, of course (hard to argue with breaded and fried cube steak, right?). It goes together pretty quickly and is super satisfying on a cold night.

Of course, it’s Thanksgiving week, now, and I hope you have your turkey all set to defrost. For anyone needing basic brining instructions, head over to our classic Todd’s Turkey post and check out our method. Hope you have a good one!

Retro Recipes 4: That 70s Chef


Continuing the trek through culinary time, instead of our backwards progression (regression?) I decided to hop back up to the early 70s and use these recipes cards that I remember flipping through as a child. They are The Betty Crocker Recipe Card Library, circa 1971. Let’s dig in!

Simple Supper, Special Dessert

Simple Supper, Special Dessert

Monday was Labor Day but Todd had just grilled steaks Sunday night, so I didn’t feel any need to grill again. Instead, I used the suggestions from one of their menu cards and combined the Smokies version of the mac and cheese with the Polka-Dotted Mac and Cheese from the Kids’ section of the card library. It doesn’t hold a candle to my usual mac and cheese, but it was fun. The big hit was the Little Pumpkin Custards, though, so good, so simple, and so great a way to usher in the unofficial start to fall!

Pizza Potatoes

Pizza Potatoes

On Tuesday I made a one-pot dish called Pizza Potatoes that used canned tomatoes, boxed scalloped potatoes, cheese, and pepperoni. I think it would have been much better if I’d sliced my own potatoes and made a quick sauce for them, but it was worth it for the experience. It’s definitely something I’d consider making again, with that change, because it was very tasty otherwise. A quick salad was all it needed, so it was good for the first day back at work after a long weekend.

Tuna Ring with Cheese Sauce

Tuna Ring with Cheese Sauce

On Wednesday I took advantage of Todd working late to spend some time making this Tuna Ring with Cheese Sauce. Sure, I was a touch aprehensive about the recipe in general, but we like warm tuna fish dishes, so it was only a tiny gamble. I also tried out a new-to-me gluten-free pizza dough mix by Pamela’s and we were very pleased with the crust. Probably one of the best gluten-free ones we’ve had, and I’ll definitely be ordering more of the mix (I just started ordering from iHerb and already I’m liking what I chose so far). The cheese sauce is a light blue cheese sauce and it was surprisingly good.

Banana Spice Cookies

Banana Spice Cookies

Again, with the luxury of time on my hands, I also made these Banana Spice Cookies from the Come for Coffee card section. I wasn’t sure about the lemon buttercream at first, but it paired surprisingly well. Desserts twice in one week? This was a lot more common back in the day, and these cookies were great to pack a couple for lunch or even for breakfast over the weekend (yes, they lasted that long).

Pork Chop Scallop with Creamy Coleslaw

Pork Chop Scallop with Creamy Coleslaw

According to the back of the recipe card, in addition to the Pork Chop Scallop, Green Beans, and Creamy Coleslaw, this meal also called for dill pickles, applesauce, and Old-fashioned Oatmeal Cookies. That would be quite the plate! Again, I used the boxed scalloped potatoes and they were a bit better in this recipe thanks to the milk, but it still would have been better fresh and wouldn’t have taken any longer on the stove.

Cheese-Egg Bake and Raspberry Ring with Creamy Fruit

Cheese-Egg Bake and Raspberry Ring with Creamy Fruit

While Thursday’s supper simmered on the stove, I got a much-needed jump start on Friday’s menu by hard-boiling the eggs for the Cheese-Egg Bake and putting together the Raspberry Ring with Creamy Fruit. And it’s good thing I did, too! Friday morning showed the raspberry ring was not anywhere close to solid, so I put it in the freezer for the day. I’m not sure if it was just a fluke (jell-o molds can be tricky things) or if I made a rookie mistake, but the icy raspberry ring turned out to be a big hit with Todd so I’m glad I persevered. And that the ring mold I ordered sepecifically for this recipe wasn’t wasted (no local stores had them, go figure, so Amazon Prime to the rescue!)

Chicken Fricasee with Dumplings

Chicken Fricasee with Dumplings

Aka my favorite Cracker Barrel meal, Chicken Fricasee with Dumplings and glazed carrots are my go-to order at this regular road trip stop. Usually when I made chicken and dumplings it’s more like a hearty chicken soup with the dumplings on top, This was more chicken gravy than soup, but we weren’t complaining.

This is probably a good time to mention that a lot of this week’s recipes called for cream of something soup and I’m not generally a fan of that as an ingredient. Any time you need a substitution for that, it’s simple enough to make a white sauce and flavor it appropriately. For cream of mushroom soup I add a dash of soy sauce to give it the savory, umami flavor without the high-FODMAP mushrooms (and Todd’s not a mushroom fan, so this is a two-for-one-solution). For cream of chicken, add some chicken stock or chicken base or bullion to the roux; cream of celery, add some celery salt. It’s really that simple. And for the chicken fricassee, you start by browning the floured chicken pieces in fat and then drain the fat and add the soup. Instead of wasting ingredients, I used the fat in the pan to make the roux, along with the leftover dredging flour (which generally cannot be reused because it came in contact with raw chicken).

New England Boiled Dinner

New England Boiled Dinner

For our Sunday dinner I opted for the classic New England Boiled Dinner, of which I’ve heard a lot about but never actually tried or made myself. Yeah. The upside is that I got to use my new cast-iron dutch oven. The meal wasn’t bad, of course, but it was a little on the bland side. The leftovers didn’t go to waste–I saved the excess cabbage and veggies for when we need quick soup additions and the 6 cups of broth for Todd to use later this week.

And, yes, I also made one more dessert. The Velvet Crumb Cake was a simple cake with a broiled coconut topping and, again, as gluten-free cakes go this one–made with gluten-free Bisquick–is pretty tender and tasty. It’s from the Come for Coffee section, so I’m totally justified in bringing it with me for breakfast this week, right?

We’ve got one more week in the 70s to come because I pulled double the cards I needed for a single week. Oh, and did you notice that I didn’t have a single take-out or leftovers night this week–it’s probably the first time in months that that’s happened!

How to Beat the Heat in Your Summer Kitchen


Growing up, I distinctly remember a few summers where Mom just didn’t cook much at all. Those were the summers where it was regularly 106, 107 degrees outside and we didn’t have air conditioning. We had a gas stove and oven, so cooking much of anything heated the entire front of the house way past sweltering.

Back then, Mom’s solutions were places like Ryan’s and Shoney’s with their kids eat free specials, drive through (my brothers were young, so a happy meal could totally fill them up), and–occasionally–cereal for dinner and then like.

Now, of course we have air conditioning in the Dollhouse, but after 100+ years the insulation is pretty much kaput, so the a/c isn’t always super-effective on the hot and humid days of a south-Georgia summer.

It’s enough to make cereal for dinner sound like a good idea again!

I haven’t quite gotten that far, yet. Instead, I planned this week’s menu to take advantage of some cold-cooking techniques and some chosen appliances that keep the ambient temperature at a comfortable level.

A Week of Meals: 6/27-7/3

A Week of Meals: 6/27-7/3

Monday: Salad Bar Salads

First I went for one of my no-cook favorites: Salad Bar Salads. The difference between Salad Bar salads and other dinner salads is partially in the presentation and partially in the customization. I like to take a little time and lay everything out on platters or in small bowls and set them out so the diners can choose what goes on their salads. This works well for picky eaters since there can be a little something for everyone, as much or as little as they want. I may have spent an hour or so slicing and dicing, but the most cooking I had to do was bring a small pot of water to a boil to hard-boil some eggs.

It’s also convenient for snacking later in the week on the leftovers.

Next, I consulted a book I reviewed a few years back: The No Cook, No Bake Cookbook. That gave me meals for Tuesday and Friday, along with some convenience items added in.

Tuesday: Rotisserie Chicken with Watermelon-Jicama Salad

The watermelon salad was pretty quick to prepare, though our watermelon was a lot juicier than the ones they used for the stylized photos. Still, it tasted pretty good with the salty feta cheese and crisp jicama, and the chilled rotisserie chicken from the prepared foods aisle of the grocery store meant absolutely no heat was required in the making of this dinner.

Wednesday: Zuppa Toscana with Bread sticks

A rainy night helps cool things down just enough to fire up the stove and oven. With the soup ready-to-cook in our chest freezer, I could have easily prepared it in the slow cooker to minimize the heat (and used the toaster oven for the bread sticks since it generates less heat than the full-sized oven), but I could also set the soup to simmer and leave the room. Not something I generally advocate, leaving the stove unattended, but if you have plenty of head-room in your soup pot and check it periodically, it’s relatively safe to do.

Thursday: Take-Out!

We ended up taking Duncan to the pet store after Todd got home from work so decided to pop through a drive-through on the way home instead of cooking. The choice of the night was Arby’s–I adore their Jamocha shake! (The turkey club was acceptable, but the shake was the star of the show.)

Friday: Tuna and Lentil-Stuffed Tomatoes with Fruit Cocktail

Another no-cook recipe, the stuffing calls for canned tuna and lentils. Canned lentils, once drained and rinsed, are supposed to be Low-FODMAP so I decided to give it a whirl. If (and that’s kind of a big if) I make it again, I’ll use chicken, leave out the capers, and substitute tarragon for the dill. It was okay, but not our favorite. The curry-yogurt sauce was tasty, though! Fruit cocktail is a delightful throwback to meals at my grandmother’s table when I was little, back in the late-70s, early-80s but when you just need a little something to round out an otherwise-complete meal? It totally fills the bill.

Saturday: Lemon-Pesto Noodles with Shrimp

Pasta is not generally a cold-prep food, but there’s a trick that you really need to know: rice noodles. Not the brown rice pasta in the gluten-free section, I’m talking about the thin rice noodles sometimes called rice sticks, rice vermicelli, or cellophane noodles. They barely need any heat to cook, just soaking in hot tap water will do if you’re going to add them to a stir-fry or soup. Since I was going to add a cool sauce of yogurt, homemade pesto, and lemon sauce, I employed another tool useful in avoiding a hot kitchen: the microwave.

Converting a traditional recipe into a microwave recipe is pretty simple. The biggest adjustment is time: I usually divide the suggested cooking time by 3, but some guides I’ve seen suggest only cooking for a quarter of the recommended time. If you’re making soup or something else with a lot of liquid, don’t add the fully amount at first–you can always add more, later, but there’s not as much evaopration going on in the microwave as there would be on a stove or in an oven. Finally, you want to avoid over-salting your food to be microwaved. Cut back on the strong seasonings and wait to salt everything until it’s finished cooking. Better safe than salty!

You can also find a lot of ready-to-microwave options in the Mug Meals book I reviewed back in 2014.

Sunday: Sweet Potato-Kale Turkey Burgers with Zucchini “Fries”

Another cool tool for cooking without heating up the house is an electric griddle. I was able to cook my “fries” on the large, flat surface, then follow up with the turkey burgers from our freezer stash.

Speaking of our freezer meal stockpile, it’s getting pretty low. Time to resupply and prep is coming soon, I think!

What’s your go-to supper plan for beating the heat?

My Favorite Risotto Recipe


Risotto has a reputation for being difficult or complicated. That’s far from the truth. Some people complain about how long it takes and that you have to constantly stir it (resulting in all sorts of “hacks” or short-cuts that claim to do it better in less time, but seldom do). Stirring constantly is what created the uniform texture of the risotto, it’s not something to be skipped over, and we’re only talking 20 minutes or so, during which you’re also adding broth in small amounts, so it’s far from the boring drudgery that many make it out to be.

In this week’s View from the Countertop video I show you just how simple it is to make my favorite risotto, and I’ve put the recipe below, as well. I don’t think I’ve ever had this turn out poorly, and I’ve served it alongside steak, chicken, and salmon. Since I was filming this batch, I can tell you that it took exactly 26 minutes from the time I started the camera (just before adding the butter to the pan) and turning it off after making up our plates. And that included going and scolding Duncan at least once for whining at the baby gate keeping him out from underfoot! Add maybe 10 minutes to prep the fish and chop the rosemary; even then this is not a lengthy meal to prepare!

Risotto Friuli-Style with Rosemary and White Wine

From Marcella Cucina, by Marcella Hazan, lightly adapted for Low-FODMAP diets
Serves 4-6

6 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 Tbsp butter
1 T garlic olive oil
1 T chopped fresh rosemary
2 1/2 cups arborio rice
1 cup white wine

2 Tbsp butter
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary

Salt and pepper to taste

Bring the broth to a boil and reduce to a simmer. You want the broth hot so as not to slow down the cooking process.

Melt the butter with the garlic olive oil in a large pot or pan over medium heat. Stir in the chopped rosemary and then the rice.

Raise the heat to medium-high and stir the rice in the butter mixture to coat every grain. Add in the wine and cook, still on medium-high, stirring constantly, until the wine is absorbed.

Add the first cup of broth (about 2 standard ladles worth) and cook and stir until the rice has absorbed the liquid. Then add more hot broth, this time only a single ladle or half a cup at a time, cooking it is absorbed, stirring constantly, repeating until all the broth has been incorporated. This part usually takes 20-25 minutes.

Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the mantecare ingredients. This adds creaminess and richness and is not to be missed! Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve while warm.

We ended up having two nights of take-out (I know, so sad). One was planned but the next night I had a horrible sinus headache and just couldn’t fathom the thought of being in the kitchen, so Todd went and picked up Chick-fil-a and I got to experience the amazingness of the Frosted Lemonade. Oh, man, I think I could have one of those every day and not get tired all summer. I’m definitely on a lemon kick.

Here’s what the rest of the week looked like:

Home-Cooked Meals 6/13-6/19

Home-Cooked Meals 6/13-6/19

Monday: Zucchini Crust Pizza
Another as-seen-on-Facebook recipe, this started with the basic crust recipe from Tastemade and I added a meat sauce, tons of mozzarella cheese, and some mini pepperoni slices. Why a meat sauce? It made no sense to me to dirty two dishes to make both the tomato sauce and brown the ground beef. And my zucchini yeilded way more than 4 cups of shreds, so I think we ended up with a double-thick crust. That mean it never crisped up enough to pick up like a slice of normal pizza, but the flavor was really good. I think if/when I make this again I’ll just use some self-rising flour (like gluten-free Bisquick or the like) for a little loft and layer everything in a casserole dish. It’d also make a good freezer meal, I think.

Tuesday: Vegan Corn Chowder
The problem with planning your menu with an eye on the weather is that the weather can shift and leave you with a serious mismatch. Such was the case with the rain holding off until Wednesday and it still being hot and humid on Tuesday night. Oh, well, we always enjoy this corn chowder (from What to Feed Your Raiding Party, the cookbook I wrote), regardless of the weather. I did, however, opt not to make the corn muffins I’d had in mind.

Wednesday: Coconut-Lime Chicken, Purple Rice, and Steamed Green Beans
This recipe from Once a Month Meals looks similar to what I have in our freezer meal recipe reservoir. Usually I’d bake this one, but grilling would be a good idea, too! The purple rice is the last of the bag I brought back from Disney Springs last fall. This time, just making it straight, I could taste a little more of the inherent sweetness in the rice and I definitely would like to pick more of this up next time I find it.

Thursday & Friday: Take out
Thursday was a lettuce wrap from Jimmy John’s (Beach Club is my absolute favorite) and Friday was a Chick-fil-a Cobb Salad and the aforementioned Frosted Lemonade. It was so hot and miserable I was definitely leaning more towards the cold foods, can you tell?

Saturday: Vegetarian Eggs Benedict
As spotted on Cast Iron Cookie, I wasn’t a huge fan of the Hollandaise sauce (it came out too thin for my liking) but the idea of using hashbrowns (Minimalist Bakers’ Hash Brown Haystacks, and I definitely recommend using an egg in the mix) for the base and adding greens instead of the Canadian bacon, that I was all for. Instead of just wilted greens I opted to make up a quick creamed spinach (but kept it fairly thick) for the middle layer. And can I just say that this was my best batch of poached eggs probably ever.

Sunday: Rosemary Risotto with Broiled Salmon
The reason for my being, this week. Since we already talked quite a bit about the risotto, all I did to the salmon was add some salt, pepper, lemon slices, and a sprinkle of dried dill. I put them in shortly after I started the risotto and it was all done at the same time.

That was our week, what’s on your plate for this week?