Sunday, December 30, 2007

Menu-Plan Monday

...and we're back! I hope your holidays were tasty!

Here's what's coming up at our house this week:

Monday
Shepherd's Pie

Tuesday
McDonald's (after 4-wheeling)
OR
Grilled Chicken Salad with spinach, toasted almonds, feta, and homemade raspberry vinaigrette

Wednesday
Loosemeat Sandwiches
Jo Jo Potatoes
Corn Dish

Thursday
Roast Chicken
Homemade Noodles
Salad

Friday
Chicken Tetrazzini w/Spinach

Saturday
Extended Family Christmas: Subs and munchies

Sunday
Pot Roast w/gravy
Glazed Carrots
Rissole Potatoes

I have lots of planned recipe posts this week, so stay tuned!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Meatloaf

Everyone has a meatloaf recipe, right? I've had a bunch. I've tried meatloaf recipes from umpteen cookbooks, and it never ends up being what I want it to be: juicy and flavorful without crunchy bits in it, with a sauce on top that complements without overwhelming. After lots of experimentation (remember, I have 50 pounds of ground beef in my freezer), much of it prompted by make-do situations, I think I've hit on it: my ideal meatloaf.

I realized it after one bite, proclaiming to Abe that this was the best meatloaf I'd ever made. He agreed. The good news: it is even better the next day on a sandwich, which is (let's be honest) the real reason meatloaf exists.

So, hey: give this a try! It's easy. And juicy and flavorful and delicious.

Meatloaf

2 lb. ground beef
1 med. onion, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped (how finely you chop the onion and celery depends on your personal preference.)
2 Tbsp. parsley
Salt to taste
4 Tbsp. butter
4 slices white sandwich bread, crumbled (don't stress about this too much--just tear into pieces.)
2/3 c. milk
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 tsp. pepper

For the Glaze:
1/2 c. ketchup
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp. mustard
1 Tbsp. brown sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a frying pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Saute the celery, parsley, and onion in the butter until the celery and onion are tender. Set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, add the bread pieces, salt, pepper, and milk. Make sure the bread is all covered with the milk and allow to soften for just a minute or so, until the bread is all soupy and soggy. This is a very important step. Then, add the ground beef and eggs to the bread mixture, toss in the cooled onion, celery, parsley, and butter, and combine well. I do this with my hands, since I've never found a spoon to be effective in mixing the ground beef.

In a small bowl, combine ingredients for the glaze and set aside.

Line a cookie sheet with sides with foil. It is important that you use a pan with sides, since the meatloaf will give off a bit of fat and you don't want it to spill all over the bottom of your oven. Now: You can either shape this into one large loaf, two smaller loaves, or tiny individual loaves. I usually do two loaves, for two reasons: 1) it speeds up the cooking process somewhat, and 2)then I can have slices the next day for my sandwich. But obviously, you can do whatever you want; just adjust the cooking time accordingly. At any rate, slather the top with the glaze before you pop it into the oven.

True confession time: I use a digital cooking thermometer set at 160 degrees, stick the probe in the middle of one of the meatloaves and just wait for the alarm to go off, so I don't set a timer for the meatloaf and don't therefore know exactly how long it will take. Also, your cooking time will vary according to how wide/deep your loaf is. But if I had to guess at cooking times, I'd guess thusly:
One large loaf: approx. 1-1.5 hours
Two medium loaves: 45 min to 1 hour
4-6 mini loaves: 30-40 min.
No pink should remain, and any exposed beef should be a nice, deep brown. Remove from the oven, let it sit for a few minutes (makes it easier to cut), then dive in and enjoy!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Christmas Morning Sticky Rolls

I got the idea for this one from my dear mother-in-law. She makes these delicious rolls every time we get together for Christmas (which, except for this year, is not usually Christmas Day). In fact, she usually makes at least two pans of them, because they go FAST. They are ridiculously easy to prepare, and perfect for Christmas morning, since you do all of the work (if you can call it that) right before you go to bed the night before.

The recipe calls for a bundt pan or a tube pan. Easy enough. The first year that I pulled my wonderful husband away from his family on Christmas morning so that he could celebrate with mine, I thought I'd bring a bit of home to him and make these rolls. The only glitch was that the pan that I found to use wasn't a bundt or tube pan, it was an angel food pan. With a removable bottom.

I didn't honestly think anything of it . . . until I smelled the acrid odor of burnt sugar and saw smoke billowing from the oven. Putting two and two together ("Get there FASTER!") I realized that using the angel food pan with removable bottom was misguided. The caramel syrup that had leaked out of the bottom of the pan and charred on the bottom of the oven was proof enough of that. My mom and I tried to salvage the rolls, but to no avail. So let this be a lesson to you: bundt or tube. Not angel food.

And now for the recipe, which is pretty darn similar to my mother-in-law's, with only a few modifications.

Land sakes, you're going to love this one.

Christmas Morning Sticky Rolls

1 pkg. frozen yeast rolls--use 12-14 (or 16; whatever) rolls
1 stick butter or margarine, melted
1/2 pkg. cook-n-serve butterscotch pudding (instant pudding will not work)
1/2 c. brown sugar, tightly packed
3/4 c chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)

Spray a tube pan or bundt pan with cooking spray. Sprinkle nuts in the bottom of the pan, if using.

Evenly distribute rolls in the pan, then sprinkle pudding mix evenly over them, followed by the brown sugar. Evenly.

Pour melted butter or margarine evenly over all. "Evenly" is a good word to make it seem like you're actually doing something which requires skill.

Cover pan with a cloth or plastic wrap and let the rolls rise (on the counter--you don't even have to put them in the refrigerator!) 6-8 hours or overnight. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 20 minutes, or until golden brown.

Loosen rolls from the side of the pan with a knife and immediately invert onto a serving plate. Leave pan over the rolls for a couple of minutes to allow all of the caramel mixture (and nuts) to pour out. Remove pan and serve warm.

Serves shockingly few, because everyone will want to eat the whole pan. Move fast so you get some!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Posting Will Resume...I Promise!

Hello, all!

I have seen a few new visitors in the comment section, which is exciting! Hopefully, I'll be able to maintain those visitors with tasty recipes and intriguing menu plans...

but not today.

In fact, I have something to confess: even though I have (intermittently) posted menu plans, I have not followed them, even a little. I hope you don't think less of me, but I have a good reason: I have been sick. Progesterone poisoning. Because I am carrying a baby.

Yep, a baby!

I've been posting plans to keep up the ruse--we're usually cautious not to share our news too much within the first trimester (both of our mothers had multiple miscarriages, so I've always been a bit fearful), so all of the pretending that I was cooking a lot was intended to throw you off the scent. Ellen's comment on one of the menu posts ("No chicken?") was a wink-wink sort of comment, since she knew the good news, and also knew that because of my "morning" sickness (a misnomer if ever there was one) I have been completely unable to cook any chicken, or pork, or any meat except beef, if I was able to cook at all. I am now wrapping up my first trimester and all of the sickness and fatigue that entails, and things should begin looking up in the kitchen! In fact, I was able to bake some chicken last week, which is a big step in the right direction.

So, faithful reader, thanks for checking back in, and I have a really easy Christmas Morning recipe to share with you tomorrow, so stay tuned! It will become one of your new favorites, I promise!

Friday, December 7, 2007

Baked Potato Soup


(Sorry for all of the funky spacing you're about to see. Silly Blogger is having its way with my post.)

BooMama has created a Soupatcular bloggy carnival today so people can showcase their favorite soup recipes. I've given you this recipe already, but it's a good one! So if you haven't tried it yet, get to it! And while you're at it, check out lots of other tasty soup recipes at BooMama's blog.


This soupy story begins post-college. I had procured a job teaching with an educational company called Readak that sends its teachers for a month or two to private schools all over the world to teach kids better study skills. My first assignment was in Orlando, Florida, where a lovely single lady who taught at my first school offered to house me during my stay there. At her house, I ate well--home cooked meals, as you might expect. I had no complaints, except for the fact that, as a good southern girl, she had been taught that vegetables must be cooked until they are grey and mushy. She told me it was the southern way. Hopefully that isn't true. One day, I cooked--and when I told her the fresh green beans shouldn't take any more than about seven minutes or so, she looked at me like I had flipped. Of course, she drank her Sweet Tea so sweet, it was practically syrup, so to say we came from different culinary backgrounds would be an understatement. Moving on...





My second assignment took me to a boarding school just a bit north, in Altamonte Springs. There, I was housed by the school in one of the spartan "hotel" rooms on their campus usually reserved for visiting parents. When I say the room was spartan, I mean it--no phone, no TV, no refrigerator, no cooking device of any kind--so I did all of my eating (ALL OF IT) out. I tried the cafeteria at the school, hoping for a lower-cost meal option, but the school was a Seventh-Day Adventist school, and they served only vegetarian fare. Apparently, the highlight of their menu was their faux sea scallops. Considering I don't even like the real thing, I opted out of that particular delicacy, and all of the other pseudo-meat meals they offered. I had family in Florida at that time, though, and they recommended to me a then-new restaurant called Bennigan's. Yep, that Bennigan's. They told me that I must go there, and that furthermore, I must partake of their Baked Potato Soup. Having no reason not to take their recommendation, I went, and suffice it to say that I loved that soup. Thick, creamy, and served steaming, topped with generous portions of crumbled bacon, cheddar cheese, and sliced green onions, it was a comfort food I eventually came to crave--even when it was November in Florida and still hotter than Dante's Inferno. I think it goes without saying that I made many trips back to Bennigan's for this comforting soup--though, it's so thick and so rich, the name "soup" barely applies.





Fast forward a few years, when I've moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where they drink tea that isn't syrup and green beans that aren't mush. That Bennigan's soup was still a favorite, but since I was now paying rent and utilities and working full-time for a non-profit ministry, I had considerably less disposable income to apply toward meals out. I determined to re-create Bennigan's soup at home, so I set about scouring the internet for a recipe that sounded similar. I found two. The first used mashed potatoes and chicken broth as a base; it looked healthy and relatively easy, and, as a connoisseur of mashed potatoes, I was comfortable with the cooking processes involved. When my parents came to visit shortly thereafter, I decided to try out this fantastic recipe for dinner, wanting to show them just how delicious and life-changing this soup could be. We were all very disappointed. The recipe said it was a copycat recipe, and "just like" the original, even promising that we "wouldn't know the difference!" But we did. I tossed that recipe bitterly, cursing its failed promises of deliciousity.





I still had the other recipe I'd found, but two things held me back from trying it: 1)I was so disappointed at being burned by the first recipe, I just wasn't ready to trust again, and 2) it required that I make a roux, which sounded way too difficult.





Fast forward again, to the beginning of my marriage. I was unemployed at the time, and so had all sorts of time to experiment in the kitchen. Feeling adventuresome, I made another dish that called for a roux, and found it to be very easy--all you do is melt an amount of butter, add an equal amount of flour, whisk until no lumps remain, and cook over low heat for just a minute. What had I been afraid of all those years? It turned out my fears were completely unfounded. Roux were simple. And then an alarm sounded in my head--a ROUX! I knew how to make a ROUX! Maybe, just maybe, it was time to dust off that second Baked Potato Soup recipe and give it a go. So I did. Lawsie. It was good. It was very, very good. It quickly became The Recipe That Everyone Wanted a Copy Of, and I was happy to acquiesce. Over the years, I have tweaked the original recipe, so now, it's even better. It has become a family favorite, and that's the truth. So without further ado, here's a recipe that will change your life.





Baked Potato Soup





6 lg. russet (baking) potatoes


3/4 c. butter


3/4 c. flour


6 c. milk


3/4 tsp. salt


1/2 tsp pepper


1 tsp. chicken base (like Better Than Bouillon, available in your soup aisle)


8 oz. sour cream





Garnish with:


Shredded Cheddar cheese


Crumbled bacon


Sliced green onions





Bake potatoes at 400 degrees for 1 hour. When they are cool enough to handle, scoop out the potato and discard the skins. Slightly mash up the potatoes, and set aside.





In a large pot, make a roux with the butter and flour. Gradually add milk, whisking well to avoid lumps, and cook over medium heat just until thickened and bubbly.





Stir in potato, salt, pepper, and chicken base. Cook just until potato is heated through--do not boil.





Add sour cream, and again, just heat through. It won't take long.





Sprinkle individual servings with the cheese, bacon, and green onion. Add a lovely salad, and you've got yourself a humdinger of a meal!





Serves 6.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Menu-Plan Monday

April, rest assured we did not really believe that you ate McDonald's all the time. Of course, we didn't know you were such a caffeine addict, either, so I guess there's a lot we have to learn about you. :)

On to this week's menu plan!

Monday
Meat Loaf
Scalloped Potatoes
Steamed Broccoli

Tuesday
Pork Roast
Herby Noodles
Green Beans Amandine

Wednesday
Cuban Sandwich Panini
Yellow Rice
Black Beans

Thursday
Taco Salad (using leftover yellow rice and black beans)

Friday
Out to dinner and a concert!

Saturday
Fend for Thyself

Sunday
Roast Beef
Roast Potatoes
Roast Carrots

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Menu-Plan Monday: The Return

Honestly, I'm touched. I didn't think anyone would notice if I missed a few Menu-Plan Mondays. We've been out of town, you see, visiting with my family. I wasn't planning a menu while we were away because it wasn't my show. But now we're home, the family is hungry, and I've got some planning to do.

So thank you, April, for making me feel needed. :) And come Sunday night (or Monday morning--who are we kidding), I will once again post a menu plan, and you will be freed from the greasy snare of McDonalds!

Perhaps in the meantime, I will post a recipe. You'll just have to wait and see!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Alton Brown's Turkey

A few years ago, we had (temporarily, it turns out) trimmed down the number of people at Abe's family's Thanksgiving meal. Where we usually have a crowd numbering about 30 or so, on this particular year, there would be only about 8. My mother-in-law usually makes the turkey, but her oven had been unreliable for a few years and was finally kaput and awaiting replacement, so because our number was so small, the task automatically fell to me.

I've cooked a good many things in my life, but up until that point, a Thanksgiving Turkey wasn't one of them. Needless to say, I was glad to know that if I wrecked it or dried it out past the point of palatable, very few people would be affected. Even so, I know the reception that dry turkey receives (not good, not good at all), and I figured that if we were going to spend that much time and money preparing a big bird for this feast, it may as well be really good. So I studied up. Boy, howdy, did I study.

I watched hours of Thanksgiving-related shows on the Food Network, scoured cooking magazines and websites for helpful hints, and I can honestly tell you that one TV special--Alton Brown's "Romancing the Bird"--and its turkey recipe changed my life. I followed all of his instructions to the letter, except for the brining, even investing in a digital cooking thermometer with an alarm on it.

The results were astonishing.

It felt as if it had been years since I'd had a piece of turkey I had enjoyed, and now, here was a 30-pounder (I know) that I could enjoy every morsel of! It was tender, it was flavorful, it was juicy . . . it was good eats. Good work, Alton.

After all was said and eaten, here's what I think helps make Alton's turkey great: 1) the aromatics, which not only keep the cavity from drying out, but also impart a wonderful flavor to the meat, and, most importantly, 2) the thermometer. With this thermometer (mine cost $10), you insert the probe into whatever meat you're cooking (turkey, in this case), set the alarm to go off when the meat has reached a desired temperature, and walk away. Never, ever, ever trust a pop-up timer that comes with a turkey--they will almost always cause you to dry out your turkey. With this digital thermometer, there's no chance that your turkey will get overly done. It will be perfect--moist and juicy every time.

There's also the fact of the resting. Give your turkey a good half hour to rest out of the oven before you carve into him--that way he'll retain all of his juices and stay moist. Don't worry that he will get cold; there's plenty of mass there to keep him piping hot.

This year, I plan to give brining a try. I hear it makes a remarkable difference in the flavor and juiciness of the bird. And I figure, if Alton's recipe is as good as it is without the brine, it will be even better with it.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving! And if you're cooking the turkey this year, definitely invest in a digital thermometer with alarm--you will wonder how you ever made a turkey without one!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Pineapple-Almond Rice Pilaf

This recipe was born of necessity one night when I was making Hawaiian Ham Steak. What goes with Hawaiian Ham Steak? I thought. Not noodles. Not mashed potatoes. Maybe au gratin potatoes, but we eat so many potatoes as is; we need a rice dish.

Well, I have this leftover pineapple. And I love rice pilaf . . . how can I make this work?

I found a recipe for "Rice Baked in Chicken Stock" in The Joy of Cooking and modified it a bit so it would use up the remaining pineapple and also include almonds (just 'cause I love 'em.). This recipe is very easy, and mostly hands-off, once you get past the browning part. It's prefect with the Ham because its flavors won't overwhelm the Ham and complement it very nicely; also, you can begin preparing it, and in the time it's finishing in the oven, you can put together the ham dish. Nice!

Pineapple-Almond Rice Pilaf

1/2 c. chopped onion
1/2 c. slivered almonds
1/4 c. (1/2 stick) butter or margarine
1/2 lg. can pineapple chunks, drained; quarter the chunks
1 1/4 c. uncooked long grain rice
2 1/2 c. chicken broth or stock
2 Tbsp. dried parsley
2 Tbsp. melted butter (optional)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

In a heavy, lidded saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add onions, rice and almonds to the butter and saute until onions are translucent and the rice and almonds are beginning to toast. Add pineapple, and stir to combine. Then add chicken stock and parsley, stir to combine, and cover with lid.

Place in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes. Remove from oven and let stand a few minutes before you remove the lid. Then stir in melted butter (optional, of course), and serve alongside the ham, pineapple, and glaze.

Pilaf serves 4-6 as a side dish.

"Hawaiian" Ham Steak

There are certain things you can be sure of, when you're approaching a new dish: Whenever you see the phrase "French" vanilla on your ice cream, you know that it has eggs in it. Likewise, call anything "Florentine," and it will undoubtedly include spinach. That's the way it is with "Hawaiian"--its inclusion in the name of anything usually means that there's pineapple in it somewhere. Do Hawaiians have a corner on pineapple? So Florence-ians (or whatever they're called) have a corner on spinach? Are the French the only ones who use eggs in ice cream? Hardly. These are culinary stereotypes, people. Culinary stereotypes I will now perpetuate.

My apologies to any Hawaiians I might offend in the process.

One rainy, fall day, I was trying to think of what to make for dinner when our house was STRUCK BY LIGHTNING! The house was fine, but when the bolt struck, I was touching ham with one hand and a can of pineapple chunks with the other. The jolt ran a current through me from the ham to the pineapple, I had a moment of supreme clarity, and this dish was born!

Not really. There isn't much back story to this dish; I don't even remember when I started making it. But it's so (embarrassingly) easy and so (surprisingly) good, I have to share it with you. So here's all the back story I've got: I thought ham and pineapple with a brown sugar glaze sounded tasty, and slightly tropical, but didn't want to prepare an entire ham, so I found these Ham Steaks and hawaiianized them.

Sorry, Hawaii, if this really has nothing to do with you, but it was a tasty dish and needed a name, and besides, it had pineapple in it, so my hands were tied. Here's my simple recipe for

Hawaiian Ham Steak
approximate time: 10 minutes

1 lg (1lb. or greater) bone-in ham steak
1 lg. can pineapple chunks, drained, divided, juice reserved
2 Tbsp. brown sugar

Preheat a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Lightly score the fat around the ham steak to prevent curling, and place in the pan. Brown on each side, about 1-2 minutes.

Drain the pineapple chunks, reserving the juice, and quarter the chunks (or, alternately, you could buy the giant can of Dole Pineapple Tidbits and skip the quartering.). Toss half of the pineapple bits into the pan, still over medium-high heat, until they start to brown and caramelize a bit. Then add all of the juice and the brown sugar to deglaze the pan, and whisk to combine. Allow mixture to come to a boil and reduce slightly, then add the ham back into the pan until it is warmed through. (Save the other half of the pineapple bits to make Pineapple-Almond Rice Pilaf, a great accompaniment)

Cut the ham into sections (removing the bone) and serve with the caramelized pineapple. Drizzle with the sauce, and say Aloha to great flavor!

Serves 2-3.

Maple-Sesame Bacon Fried Rice

I hate to say it. I really do. But at the risk of sounding like a cheesy broken record, I was sure I'd hate this dish when I first heard about it. It's fried rice, but it sounds like breakfast: eggs, bacon, maple syrup. When I think of fried rice, I don't think of waffles. I was sure this would just be strange.

Sigh. But if you've read posts of mine before, you know the ending: I loved it. Of course. How predictable. One of these days (maybe even later today) I'll post a recipe that I was sure I'd love . . . and did.

This recipe originated (in my life, anyway) with my mother-in-law. For years, my in-laws tapped sugar maple trees and had the sap boiled down into syrup, which they then sold. It was quite an operation: they would work out a system with their neighbors wherein they'd tap their trees, and in exchange for this privilege, they'd give the homeowners a share of the syrup. Each tree would be drilled several times and have surgical tubing inserted for the sap to run through, then the tubing would run over to a central barrel which would collect the sap. Then, every day or so, someone in Abe's family would come along with a truck with a massive collection tank on it, and use a pump to empty out the barrels. Then, the sap would be delivered to a man who ran a syrup-making operation. He'd process and bottle the syrup for them, then they'd collect it and sell to others. In fact, one of my first dates with their son was an afternoon of collecting sap from all the trees in the neighborhood and taking a tour of the syrup-making building. It was a grown-up field trip.

So as you can imagine, they're all about maple syrup in their household. His dad will pour it over ice cream, drink it in coffee, even use it to sweeten water for drinking. Still, I thought using it in Chinese food was a stretch. When I saw Nancy pouring it over rice and celery, I thought she was nuts. But then I ate it . . . and ate some more. And, man--it was different, but in a really good way. Really good.

I've made a few modifications to her original recipe to (marginally) up the nutrition- and Asian-quotient. I know it will still sound strange when you read the list of ingredients, but it's delicious! Give it a try!

Maple-Sesame Bacon Fried Rice

4-5 c. cooked rice (preferably made the day before)
4 eggs, scrambled
3 ribs celery, diced finely
1 c. minced onion
9 strips of bacon (but I've used more on occasion), 3 Tbsp. rendered fat reserved
1/2-2/3 c. frozen peas
2 Tbsp. sesame oil
3 Tbsp. maple syrup
1 1/2-2 tsp. soy sauce

Fry up bacon in large frying pan until almost crisp and fat is mostly rendered. Remove bacon from pan to drain and cool, and reserve 3 Tbsp. of the rendered fat. (if it hasn't rendered that much, add a little vegetable oil to the pan to make approx. 3 Tbsp. of fat to fry in.) When the bacon is cool, chop it up into pretty small pieces--larger than bacon bits, smaller than slices. Simultaneously, scramble the eggs (I do this in a separate pan, but you could also do it in the hot pan with the other stuff--that's up to you.).

To the pan (and the 3 Tbsp. fat), add the celery and onion, and saute over medium heat until the celery is beginning to get tender. Then add the rice, bacon, scrambled eggs, and peas. Up the heat to medium high, and start stirring.

In a small bowl, whisk together the sesame oil, maple syrup, and soy sauce. Drizzle over the warm rice mixture and stir to combine.

You can be the judge of when it's done--make it piping hot and a bit crispy, or just warm it all the way through. Either way, just make sure the peas are thawed and warm. Then enjoy!

Serves 4-6.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Menu-Plan Monday

Well, folks, I wasn't able to write down my recipes next week, so Soup Week will be postponed until I can get those done. In the meantime, here's this week's menu. I will post several of the menu recipes this week!

Monday
Burgers
Potato Wedges

Tuesday
Steakhouse Salad
Biscuits

Wednesday
Maple-Sesame Fried Rice with Bacon
Egg Rolls

Thursday
Tomato Soup
Grilled Cheese

Friday
Hawaiian Ham Steak
Pineapple-Almond Rice Pilaf

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Shepherd's Pie and Garlic Smashed Potatoes

Ask my mother what my favorite food is. Go ahead, ask her.

I'll wait.

Mashed potatoes, right? Does she know me, or what? I could eat mashed potatoes almost daily. In fact, I could definitely eat potatoes daily (and I'm sure my husband feels that we do, some weeks), whether they be au gratin, fried, roasted, baked . . . but always and especially mashed. Creamy, hearty, filling, soul-satisfying, and loaded with carbs, mashed potatoes have everything I look for in a food.

So when I met this dish called Shepherd's Pie (in St. Croix, USVI, of all places), whose base is ground beef, gravy, and corn and whose top is--wonder of wonders!--a sheet of fluffy mashed potatoes, I was immediately enamored of it and needed it in my life as a permanent fixture. I guess you could say I enjoyed it.

I then did what any beef/corn/mashed potato-obsessed person would do: I went straight home and re-created the recipe. Now, a disclaimer: this is not authentic Shepherd's Pie. So if you're British and your Mum made this dish for you growing up, you'd better get the recipe from her, because this is definitely an American knock-off, and it probably won't cut it for you. Real Shepherd's Pie has lamb; this does not, because I only eat lamb at the occasional passover or when I'm on a missions trip in the Faroe Islands. And most Shepherd's Pie recipes call for a tomato product in the base, but I don't enjoy the tomato/potato combination, so I leave that one alone. So forgive me for straying so far from the original, but whatever you call it, this casserole is scrumptious, low-brow, and most importantly, easy to prepare.

Below, I've posted three recipes: one for the Original Shepherd's Pie (a la St. Croix), one for Skillet Shepherd's Pie, and one for good old Garlic Smashed Potatoes. Enjoy!

Original Shepherd's Pie

1 lb. ground beef
1/2 lg. sweet onion, minced
1 clove garlic, minced finely (optional)
1 1/2 c. frozen corn (or peas, or a mixture of both)
1 envelope brown gravy mix (two if you like it really saucy; in that case, double the water, and bump the thyme up to 3/4 tsp.!)
1 c. cold water
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
ground black pepper to taste
4 cups prepared mashed potatoes
Butter
Paprika

Preheat oven to 375.

Brown ground beef. Add onion and garlic and saute over medium-low heat until onion is soft; drain.

Push the beef off to one side of the pan. To the pan, add the brown gravy mix, water, thyme, and pepper. Bring to a boil and simmer for a minute or two, until the gravy thickens.

Spread the beef and gravy evenly in the bottom of a casserole dish. Sprinkle the corn uniformly over top of that, and gently spread the mashed potatoes over top of the corn. Dot the top with small bits of butter and sprinkle with paprika. Bake for 35 minutes or until the top is as golden brown as you like it. Then stick your head in it like Mama's Little Piggy and enter a coma of bliss!

Serves 4-6.

Shepherd's Pie Skillet

(see above ingredients)

Prepare ground beef, onion, garlic, and gravy as in the original, but add the frozen vegetables directly to the skillet with the beef and gravy and let simmer for 3-5 minutes. Skip the oven altogether and serve over a big pile of mashed potatoes.

Serves 4-6.


Garlic Smashed Potatoes

6-7 lg. russet potatoes
4-5 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
3 Tbsp. butter, sliced
1/2 c. warm milk (microwave at medium power for 40 seconds or so)
1/4 c. sour cream
Black pepper

Scrub potatoes thoroughly and chop into roughly 1-in. cubes. Do not peel unless you are motivated to do so--I am most certainly not. Place in a large sauce pan with your chopped garlic and just cover with water. Place over medium high heat. When the potato pot comes to a boil, add a tablespoon or two of salt to the water. Cook potatoes until easily pierced with a fork, about 15 minutes.

Drain well; add potatoes and garlic back to the hot pan and wait 30 seconds or so for some of the moisture to evaporate. Add butter to potatoes, and mash away with your potato masher until they are as lump-free as you like them. (We like them fairly lumpy at our house.) Gradually stir in milk until the potato/garlic mixture is almost moistened enough. (Leave them a little bit stiff and dry, because you're going to add the sour cream next, and you don't want them to end up soupy. You can always add more milk later if the sour cream doesn't get your potatoes to your desired level of creaminess, okay?) Add the sour cream, and stir to distribute it well. Season with pepper to taste.

Serves 6 as a side dish.
(Try these potatoes topped with French's French Fried Onions--delicious!)

Monday, November 5, 2007

Menu-Plan Monday

Happy Monday, all! This week is supposed to be cold in our neck of the woods. Yay! More soul-warming comfort food! Coming up this week, look for my recipe for easy Shepherds' Pie and an even faster skillet version for busy nights!

Next week, I will be doing a series of posts on soups (my favorite!). I originally thought this week would be a good Soup Series week, until I realized that I have never written down accurate recipes for some of the soups I make most often. I just throw stuff in until it tastes right, which is not super helpful when other people ask for the recipe. So this week, you'll find said soups on the menu--I plan to make them and record once and for all exactly what I put in them and the process involved.

In the meantime, here's this week's menu!

Monday
Shepherd's Pie

Tuesday
Chicken and Broccoli Alfredo

Wednesday
Western Ribs
Mac and Cheese
Steamed Peas

Thursday
Creamy Chicken and Wild Rice Soup

Friday
Taco Soup

Saturday
Choir Retreat--Family Fends for Itself --Film at Eleven

Sunday
Mama will be out of town with friends! Yay!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Hot Chicken Salad

This is another dish from the "I was just being polite" category. I'm starting to notice a trend here--some of my all-time favorites started out as Things I Will Not Eat. Usually, the only reason I eat them is to be polite, but then, magically, their flavors embrace me and I end up craving them fortnightly. (Except for the unfortunate apple/pineapple/hot dog/curry dish I sampled in the Faroe Islands. I will always have unpleasant memories of that one.)

So this one started with my friend Cathie. She brought the recipe to me and told me it was wonderful. We have a lot of things in common, Cathie and I, so I thought maybe I'd like it, too, if it was her favorite. Except it was a hot casserole with mayonnaise and hard boiled eggs. Ewww. Still, it turned out she was right--it was amazing. (Except for the eggs, which I eventually omitted. But that's just me.) It has it all: warm, crunchy, creamy, hearty, easy . . . so it's a no-brainer as a winner.

I believe I can down a pan of this in one sitting--not that I've ever tried. But I'm sure I could if I had no regard for my waistline, or the fact that the rest of my family needs to eat, too. This recipe is one of the most oft-requested ones in my file, and it's usually requested by people who thought it was weird to begin with but then, like me, were converted by its somewhat addictive flavor. So beware...life will never be the same once you've tried

Hot Chicken Salad

2-3 c. chopped cooked chicken
2 c. cooked rice
1 (8 oz.) can sliced water chestnuts, roughly chopped
1 c. diced celery
1 can cream of chicken soup
3/4 c. mayonnaise
1 tsp. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. rubbed sage or poultry seasoning
salt and pepper to taste
3/4 c. cornflake crumbs
3 Tbsp. melted butter

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine the chicken, rice, water chestnuts, and celery.

In a small bowl, combine the soup, mayo, lemon juice, sage, and pepper. Mix well. Add to chicken and rice mixture, combining thoroughly.

Lightly grease a 2-quart casserole dish or a 9x13 pan, and spread mixture evenly in pan.

Combine cornflake crumbs with butter and sprinkle evenly over casserole.

Bake for 30-40 minutes.

Yield: 6 servings

Menu-Plan Monday

Last week got all mixed up, so this week has a few carry-over meals. It's supposed to be a beautiful fall week, though, so I'm geared up for more cool weather classics!

Monday
Beef Vegetable Soup
Garlic Cheese Bread

Tuesday
Pork Chops with Cherry Garlic Glaze
Green Beans

Wednesday
Pasta e Fagioli with Tortelloni

Thursday
Hot Chicken Salad
Salad

Friday
Leftovers

Saturday
Men Working--Lunch TBA
Sloppy Joes and Baked Mac and Cheese, maybe?

Sunday
Chinese Takeout!

As always, you can check out more menus at orgjunkie.com!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Pumpkin Muffins

Here's another tasty, easy seasonal treat! I got this recipe from friends at church, Jon and Shea. (Whose daughter, incidentally, is promised as a bride for my son.)

A little disclaimer: one of my least favorite things in life is pumpkin pie. Pumpkin anything, really. So I first tasted these muffins just to be polite. Jon and Shea are my friends (and perhaps more importantly, fellow Waiting for Guffman fans), so I didn't want to be rude about their baked goods, even though I knew these muffins they made had pumpkin in them. More confusingly to me, I had been told by one person that they were pumpkin muffins, but then Jon himself told me that some of the muffins were spice and some were carrot. Huh?

I still didn't understand, but then I tasted the "carrot" pumpkin muffins. They were good. Really good. Dense, moist, flavorful...they had all the hallmarks of a perfect muffin. The next day, at a meeting at church, I tried the "spice"pumpkin muffins. Hey, I still didn't really get it, but I didn't care. A good muffin is a good muffin, no matter what it's called or what's in it.

I finally broke down and got the 411 from Jon. The muffins are really easy, he told me. You just combine a box of cake mix, a can of pumpkin, and water.

Suddenly things became clear.

Later that week, I went to the store to buy canned pumpkin (because heretofore, canned pumpkin had never had a purpose in my pantry) and a spice cake mix, and whipped some of these up for Abe. He ate three for breakfast the next morning.

So here's Jon and Shea's recipe...

Pumpkin Muffins

1 box cake mix of your choice (carrot, yellow, and spice apparently work very well--I've also heard that chocolate works great, too)
1 15 oz. can of pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling--just plain pumpkin)
Water*

Preheat oven to 350. Mix together the cake mix, pumpkin, and *the amount of water called for on the cake mix box.

Portion into a muffin pan whose cups have been greased or lined with muffin papers. A 1/4 c. measuring cup works perfectly for this task and creates uniformly-sized muffins.

Bake muffins for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Immediately remove from pan to a cooling rack.

I'm not a frosting girl, myself, and wouldn't normally put frosting on a muffin, but the carrot variety are quite good with a cream cheese frosting.

Yield: approx. 20 muffins

Monday, October 22, 2007

Caramel Corn

"Are you kidding me???"

-Me, after my first bite of this caramel corn.

Well, I had never made caramel corn before. It's just so darn easy to buy, you know? But last Christmas, I was in a pinch and was making a basket of goodies for some extended family members as Christmas gifts. I purchased some lovely baskets and filled them with (if I recall correctly) homemade hot chocolate mix, a batch of Double Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookie dough (refrigerated, of course), chocolate covered pretzels, and this caramel corn. So, you know, meant for dieters. And those on South Beach.

Suffice it to say that my baskets held less caramel corn than I had originally intended, mostly because we ate some of it. Okay, half of it.

Give it a try sometime this fall! Fresh, still-warm-from-the-oven caramel corn has very little to do with the store bought stuff. It's a wonderful treat!

My Amish Friend's Caramel Corn
(from Allrecipes.com)

7 quarts plain popped popcorn
2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup margarine (or butter)
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Line two large baking pans with parchment paper. If you have no parchment paper, just grease them really well. Divide the corn between the two pans.

Preheat the oven to 25o degrees.

In a medium saucepan, combine sugar, corn syrup, margarine (or butter). Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring to blend. Let the mixture boil for 5 minutes, and be sure to stir constantly.

Remove from the heat and add the vanilla and baking soda. The mixture will be light and foamy. Pour immediately over the corn and stir to coat. Don't stress out about the "coat" part, though--the next step is to bake it for an hour, stirring to redistribute every 15 minutes. That redistribution will get it plenty coated.

Line your countertops with waxed paper, and dump the corn onto the waxed paper to cool. When the corn has cooled, break it into pieces to separate. Store in an airtight container!

Serves 1 (if that 1 is me.)

Menu-Plan Monday

Well, the past two weeks have been busy to beat the band, and frankly, I'm ready to slow down. This week's menu features a lot of our comfort favorites. I can't wait!

Monday
Chicken Caesar Salad with Spinach, Pine Nuts, and Homemade Garlic Croutons

Tuesday
Chicken and Corn Chowder
Steamed Broccoli

Wednesday
Chili 4 Ways
Carrot Sticks

Thursday
Pork Chops with Cherry Garlic Glaze
Sauteed Green Beans with Toasted Sesame Seeds

Friday
Pasta e Fagioli with Tortelloni
Baby Greens Salad with Feta and Toasted Almonds

Saturday
Lunch for the Masses TBA

Sunday
Roast Beef, Roast Potatoes, Roast Carrots (Crock Pot)

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Menu-Plan Tuesday?

How? How did you survive without my menu plan yesterday? Did you rock yourself in the fetal position while waiting in vain for me to post? Did you need extra time with your therapist to work through your Menu Plan abandonment issues? I am so, so sorry. I know the world depends on these posts, and I didn't mean to send things into a tailspin!

What's that? You hadn't even noticed?

Sigh.

It's just as well. We had a rough day here, beginning with two sick kids and zero naps, and culminating with my stepping on a very old, very sharp rusty nail and obsessing about lockjaw for the rest of the day. Oh, and also a trip to Sam's that completely filled my trunk. And front seat. So between the snot wiping, child wrangling, and obsessing, the Menu Plan was the last thing on my mind.

So Hallelujah for Tuesdays! And Children's Tylenol Cold!

So here it is, for what it's worth. I just came up with it right this minute, so I'm sure it's boring. I'm going to stop talking now.

Monday
We had an Italian Chicken Pasta Salad, and finished it all.

Tuesday
Kielbasa
Mashed Potatoes with French Fried Onions
Peas

Wednesday
White Chicken Chili

Thursday
Stuffed Shells

Friday
Beanie Weenie (It'll just be me and the kids, so we're going low-tech here)

Saturday
Leftovers (I'm sure we'll have many many to choose from)

Sunday
Takeout--Let somebody else cook!

Friday, October 5, 2007

Simple Garlic Croutons

First, an apology: the story accompanying the Baked Potato Soup recipe was terribly long and, I'm afraid, somewhat boring. Hopefully, that won't keep you from trying the recipe--it really is fantastic! In an attempt to redeem myself and keep you as a loyal reader (whoever you are...Mom), I offer this next recipe with a much briefer explanation.

Yesterday, I had scheduled Steakhouse Salad for dinner. Part of the joy of a steakhouse-style salad is the big, fat, garlicky croutons that adorn it. Knowing we don't enjoy boxed croutons (too hard; can't spear with fork), I thought I'd make my own.

I purchased day-old french bread from the grocery store, at a cost of only 77 cents, cubed it, and made a batch of fresh croutons. I ate a few and offered a few to Abe before I left to get my hair cut. When I returned, Abe held out the depleted bag of croutons. "There might be enough left for your salad. Sorry. They were a bit too tasty, and we ate them."

In desperation, I cut up five cheapo hamburger buns, used the same crouton-making method, and thereby supplemented our crouton supply for dinner.

By the end of the evening, we had polished off all but FOUR croutons. Which means that, between the four of us, in the span of three hours, we polished off an entire loaf of french bread and five hamburger buns. And also dinner.

So they're really tasty, and phenomenally easy. Try them! You might never go back to store-bought.

Simple Garlic Croutons

1 french baguette, or bread of your choice, cut into 1-in. cubes
4 Tbsp. butter
2 tsp. bottled minced garlic
1/2 tsp. juice from the bottled minced garlic

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.**

Spread bread cubes onto a large jelly roll pan (cookie sheet with sides). (Line it with parchment paper to facilitate easy cleanup!)

In a small saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add garlic and garlic juice, and saute for a minute or two, stirring frequently to keep butter from separating.

Drizzle bread with the butter/garlic mixture, and toss with hands (or spoons, whatever) to make sure all the bread has butter on it.

Bake for about 7 minutes, stir, and bake for another 5-7 minutes, or until the cubes reach your desired level of toastedness.

Enjoy!

Serves as a lovely snack for 2 adults and 2 toddlers, or as croutons (and then some) for a salad for 6.

**My new favorite way to preheat the oven is to crank the broiler to high for a few minutes, then switch the oven over to bake. In my gas oven, this method cuts preheating time in half or less, since the broiler typically heats more or less immediately.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Baked Potato Soup

This soupy story begins post-college. I had procured a job teaching with an educational company called Readak that sends its teachers for a month or two to private schools all over the world to teach kids better study skills. My first assignment was in Orlando, Florida, where a lovely single lady who taught at my first school offered to house me during my stay there. At her house, I ate well--home cooked meals, as you might expect. I had no complaints, except for the fact that, as a good southern girl, she had been taught that vegetables must be cooked until they are grey and mushy. She told me it was the southern way. Hopefully that isn't true. One day, I cooked--and when I told her the fresh green beans shouldn't take any more than about seven minutes or so, she looked at me like I had flipped. Of course, she drank her Sweet Tea so sweet, it was practically syrup, so to say we came from different culinary backgrounds would be an understatement. Moving on...

My second assignment took me to a boarding school just a bit north, in Altamonte Springs. There, I was housed by the school in one of the spartan "hotel" rooms on their campus usually reserved for visiting parents. When I say the room was spartan, I mean it--no phone, no TV, no refrigerator, no cooking device of any kind--so I did all of my eating (ALL OF IT) out. I tried the cafeteria at the school, hoping for a lower-cost meal option, but the school was a Seventh-Day Adventist school, and they served only vegetarian fare. Apparently, the highlight of their menu was their faux sea scallops. Considering I don't even like the real thing, I opted out of that particular delicacy, and all of the other pseudo-meat meals they offered.

I had family in Florida at that time, though, and they recommended to me a then-new restaurant called Bennigan's. Yep, that Bennigan's. They told me that I must go there, and that furthermore, I must partake of their Baked Potato Soup. Having no reason not to take their recommendation, I went, and suffice it to say that I loved that soup. Thick, creamy, and served steaming, topped with generous portions of crumbled bacon, cheddar cheese, and sliced green onions, it was a comfort food I eventually came to crave--even when it was November in Florida and still hotter than Dante's Inferno. I think it goes without saying that I made many trips back to Bennigan's for this comforting soup--though, it's so thick and so rich, the name soup barely applies.

Fast forward a few years, when I've moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where they drink tea that isn't syrup and green beans that aren't mush. That Bennigan's soup was still a favorite, but since I was now paying rent and utilities and working full-time for a non-profit ministry, I had considerably less disposable income to apply toward meals out. I determined to re-create Bennigan's soup at home, so I set about scouring the internet for a recipe that sounded similar. I found two. The first used mashed potatoes and chicken broth as a base; it looked healthy and relatively easy, and, as a connoisseur of mashed potatoes, I was comfortable with the cooking processes involved. When my parents came to visit shortly thereafter, I decided to try out this fantastic recipe for dinner, wanting to show them just how delicious and life-changing this soup could be.

We were all very disappointed.

The recipe said it was a copycat recipe, and "just like" the original, even promising that we "wouldn't know the difference!" But we did. I tossed that recipe bitterly, cursing its failed promises of deliciousity.

I still had the other recipe I'd found, but two things held me back from trying it: 1)I was so disappointed at being burned by the first recipe, I just wasn't ready to trust again, and 2) it required that I make a roux, which sounded way too difficult.

Fast forward again, to the beginning of my marriage. I was unemployed at the time, and so had all sorts of time to experiment in the kitchen. Feeling adventuresome, I made another dish that called for a roux, and found it to be very easy--all you do is melt an amount of butter, add an equal amount of flour, whisk until no lumps remain, and cook over low heat for just a minute. What had I been afraid of all those years? It turned out my fears were completely unfounded. Roux were simple.

And then an alarm sounded in my head--a ROUX! I knew how to make a ROUX! Maybe, just maybe, it was time to dust off that second Baked Potato Soup recipe and give it a go. So I did.

Lawsie. It was good. It was very, very good.

It quickly became The Recipe That Everyone Wanted a Copy Of, and I was happy to acquiesce. Over the years, I have tweaked the original recipe, so now, it's even better. It has become a family favorite, and that's the truth.

So without further ado, here's a recipe that will change your life.

Baked Potato Soup

6 lg. russet (baking) potatoes
3/4 c. butter
3/4 c. flour
6 c. milk
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tsp. chicken base (like Better Than Bouillon, available in your soup aisle)
8 oz. sour cream

Garnish with:
Shredded Cheddar cheese
Crumbled bacon
Sliced green onions

Bake potatoes at 400 degrees for 1 hour. When they are cool enough to handle, scoop out the potato and discard the skins. Slightly mash up the potatoes, and set aside.

Make a roux with the butter and flour. Gradually add milk, whisking well to avoid lumps, and cook over medium heat just until thickened and bubbly.

Stir in potato, salt, pepper, and chicken base. Cook just until potato is heated through--do not boil.

Add sour cream, and again, just heat through. It won't take long.

Sprinkle individual servings with the cheese, bacon, and green onion. Add a lovely salad, and you've got yourself a humdinger of a meal!

Serves 6.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Menu-Plan Monday/Freezer Expose

If you ever want to know about a person, look in their refrigerator. At least, that's apparently the principle behind Rachel Ray's Celeb Fridge feature in her Everyday magazine. Well, I'm no Celeb, but I do have some pictures to show you. And they're not of my fridge, they're of my freezer--more specifically, before and after shots. The Before shot was taken hours before we received our beef order from Abe's dad. The After is, well, after. What a difference a quarter of a cow makes . . .

Below the photos (and don't think I didn't catch some flak for taking them in the first place), I've posted my menus for this week. We're celebrating our 5th anniversary on Tuesday by going on a double date to The Melting Pot with Tim and Beth, who are also celebrating their anniversary. I am going to wear my fat jeans to ensure I have adequate room to put all of the delicious food I intend to eat. Nothing says "Happy Anniversary!" better than cheesecake dipped in liquid dark chocolate, and a lot of it.




And in the interest of full disclosure, here's a shot of the freezer door:
This bottom shelf, here at the bottom of the door picture, is filled with venison and elk. I do not cook or eat venison. Or elk. So there it shall sit, until Abe decides to do something with it...

Also, I have 6 chickens coming from Abe's mom and 4 coming from another family. I am excited about this, because I know these chickens are hormone-free and free range, and pretty much organinc, so they're probably better for my family, but if any of you have any suggestions about how I can possibly fit 10 chickens in this freezer, I'd really appreciate it.

Now, for our menus:

Monday

Creamy Chicken and Wild Rice Soup

Salad

Tuesday

Out for dinner!

Wednesday

Steakhouse Salad

Garlic Crostini

Thursday

Been and Bean Empanadas

Yellow Rice

Friday

Homemade Pizza

Saturday

Who knows? Sloppy Joes, maybe? (I have 45 lbs. of ground beef--I may as well use it)

Sunday

Roasted Chicken (Crock Pot)

Mashed Potatoes (refrigerator)

Roasted Carrots (also Crock Pot)

P.S. There's a strong chance that one of these menus will get switched out for one of our all-time family favorites, Baked Potato Soup. I plan to post the recipe for this delicious cool-weather classic later in the week whether I make the soup or not, so stay tuned!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Menu-Plan Monday

Here's the plan for this week:

Monday
Pork Chop and Rice Hot Dish
Green Beans Amandine

Tuesday
Chicken and Dumplings
Spinach Salad

Wednesday
Sliced Beef and Gravy
Noodles
Peas

Thursday
Spinach and Ricotta Tortellini Soup with Cannellini and Chicken
Salad

Friday
Mini Meatloaves
Mashed Potatoes w/ French Fried Onions
Salad

Saturday
Beef Barbecue Sandwiches
Broccoli Slaw w/ Peanuts

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Alfredo Sauce

I cannot recall my mother ever serving Alfredo sauce to us when I was a kid. Sad, I know. She probably thought it wasn't healthy enough or something. What a misguided lady. She meant well, though.

When I was in college, different student groups would sponsor "skip-a-meals"--meals where you'd sign your student ID away so that the money that would have been spent on that meal would be donated to a starving child somewhere. I guess the idea was that you'd fast for that meal--and not only would you be giving money towards the cause, you'd be experiencing the hunger these poor children must be feeling. Well, almost everyone would sign their ID away, because who wants to be the only student who was selfish enough to take food from a starving kid's mouth? But almost everyone skipped the fasting part of it and simply went out to eat that night, because college kids are nothing if not sacrificial. And hungry.

So on skip-a-meal evenings, we routinely made the trek to Fazoli's in Marion and feasted on all the free breadsticks they would throw at us. And while I had never had Alfredo sauce before, for some reason, when we were there at Fazoli's, it sounded delicious. The first time, I ordered it with chicken, broccoli, and tomatoes, and it turned out to be so wonderful, it became my standard order.

Years later, I no longer skip meals unless I'm in a coma (which is hardly ever), but I do still enjoy Alfredo sauce. In fact, Fettuccine with Chicken, Broccoli, and Alfredo is a favorite in our house. But my mom was right (I assume--she usually is); Alfredo sauce is not what you'd call healthy. There were years in the 90s when it was referred to as "Heart Attack on a Plate," which is probably not far from the truth.

So when I stumbled upon this recipe from the Kraft Kitchens, I had to give it a try. Fortunately, it turned out to be a very, very tasty way to enjoy Alfredo Sauce with only a fraction of the guilt.

(Or the high price at the grocery store.)

Best of all, it's extraordinarily easy, takes about 5 minutes to make, and requires things you most likely have on hand.

Alfredo Sauce

1 1/4 c. chicken broth (I use Better Than Bouillon, and it's the best--and the most economical)
1/4 c. flour
1/3 c. softened 1/3 fat Neufchatel cheese (in the Cream Cheese section)
3 Tbsp. Parmesan cheese (or more, if you like)
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper (I bumped up the amount of pepper because I like my Alfredo peppery, but you can reduce it if you're so inclined)
2 Tbsp. parsley

Whisk together the chicken broth and flour in a medium sauce pan.

Stir in cream cheese, Parmesan, nutmeg, and pepper. Cook over medium heat, stirring with a wire whisk constantly, for 2 minutes, or until mixture boils and thickens.

Add parsley; toss with pasta. Garnish pasta with additional Parmesan and parsley.

Makes 4 servings.

Menu-Plan Monday

Well, here it is, Tuesday, and I forgot to post this week's menus. No one seems to be suffering without them! Still, here's the plan for the week:

Monday
Chicken Alfredo with Basil and Spinach

Tuesday
Roast Beef
Roast Potatoes
Glazed Carrots

Wednesday
Hot Chicken Salad

Thursday
Saucy Short Ribs
White Rice
Steamed Peas

Friday
Fair food (again! Please don't judge us!)

Saturday
Leftovers

Sunday
Aglio e Olio

Monday, September 17, 2007

Chilly Chocolate S'mores

I made this one up just tonight, and it went over BIG. And why wouldn't it? It's chocolate. And chocolate chips. Mini marshmallows. Graham Crackers. So much yum, in such a compact little package.

It's really quite simple, and it was born of a serious chocolate craving, which, I am happy to report, this cool treat more than satisfied.

Here's my recipe for

Chilly Chocolate S'mores

1 sm. pkg. sugar free and fat free instant chocolate pudding
1 c. milk
4 oz. whipped topping (like Cool Whip), thawed (about 1/2 a container)
1/2 c. mini marshmallows
1/4 c. chocolate chips (or more if you want--this ain't rocket science)
9 whole graham crackers

Whisk together pudding mix and milk until no lumps remain, then stir in cool whip until well combined. Toss in your marshmallows and chocolate chips, and stir (you'll probably want to switch over to a spoon at this point, unless you want to fish marshmallows out of your whisk later).

Line a 9x9 in. pan with plastic wrap to facilitate easy removal of the chocolate mixture later.

Pour chocolate mixture into plastic wrap-lined pan, and place another piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the mixture. Press down gently to smooth chocolate into an even thickness in the pan, then wrap loose ends and place pan flat in freezer. Chill at least 1 hour--or until firm, but not solid.

Lift plastic wrap out of pan and cut frozen mixture into 9 even squares. Break graham crackers in half, and make sandwiches out of two graham halves and one square of the frozen chocolate mixture.

You can eat all of them right away, if you wish, but I bet you could also make them up into sandwiches, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, pop into a plastic bag, and freeze for future consumption (though I don't think our current batch will make it that long). In that case, I think you'd have to thaw them for a few minutes before you eat them. I'm also experimenting with simply refrigerating them, but I'll have to get back to you on that one.

Makes 9 cool sandwiches. (Each sandwich is about 156 calories.)

This recipe could have many different incarnations--watch:

1) Graham crackers, cool whip, vanilla pudding, and drained crushed pineapple
2) Chocolate graham crackers, cool whip, banana cream pudding, and banana pieces
3) Chocolate graham crackers, cool whip, vanilla pudding, peanut butter chips, chocolate chips
4) Cinnamon graham crackers, cool whip, vanilla pudding
5) Chocolate graham crackers, strawberry cool whip, vanilla pudding, diced strawberries
6) Chocolate graham crackers, cool whip, butterscotch pudding, chocolate pieces
7) Graham crackers, cool whip, cheesecake pudding, blueberries, 1/4 tsp. lemon peel
8) Chocolate graham crackers, cool whip, cheesecake pudding, chopped maraschino cherries
9) Chocolate graham crackers, cool whip, banana cream pudding, crushed chocolate sandwich
cookies
10) Graham crackers, cool whip, vanilla pudding, diced canned peaches

You could also make a basic concoction (say, cool whip and vanilla pudding) and swirl in chocolate fudge sauce or caramel, or even your favorite preserves, thinned for a few seconds in the microwave. Just mix the cool whip, milk, and pudding, and pour into pan. Drizzle swirls of topping over pudding mixture, chill for a few minutes in the fridge (just to set the topping so it doesn't stick to the plastic), then cover with plastic wrap, and freeze until firm.

The possibilities are endless.

Now, here's another idea: there's this very easy, very refreshing Jello pie--Cool 'n' Easy Pie--which sets up with a fairly similar texture in the fridge. I've never tested this theory, but I imagine you could use the basics of this Pie recipe and make up a few thousand other spins on this Chilly Sandwich idea, what with the wide range of gelatin flavors available in the grocery store these days. If you give it a try, let me know!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Good Old Fashioned Pancakes

Pancakes are another food item I've experimented with a bit. I love a good pancake, but I think really good ones are hard to come by--sometimes they're too thick, sometimes too thin. Sometimes chewy, sometimes crumbly. Sometimes they taste like fried wallpaper paste. Mmm-mmm good.

The title of this recipe is Good Old Fashioned Pancakes, so I had high hopes. They were pretty good the first go-around, but I thought they could be improved, so I made a couple of adjustments. Just minor changes, really, but they really added a punch of flavor.

So tomorrow morning, when you're in the mood for pancakes, give these a shot!

Good Old Fashioned Pancakes

1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
3 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. white sugar
1/4 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg*
1 c. milk
1/4 c. maple syrup
1 egg
3 Tbsp. butter, melted

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, and nutmeg*. (I just use a whisk or wire mesh sieve to accomplish this--no need for an actual sifter.)

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the milk, syrup, egg, and butter. Mix until smooth.

Heat a lightly oiled pan or griddle over medium heat. Using a 1/4 c. measuring cup, scoop batter onto griddle. When bubbles come to the raw surface, it's time to flip.

To keep warm, place finished pancakes in a single layer in a warm (200 degrees) oven until all the pancakes are done. Serve hot.

Yields: 8 servings

*Nutmeg: why freshly ground? It really is a totally different flavor than bottled ground nutmeg. (Like the difference between fresh and dried cilantro, but that's a topic for another time.) Plus, while bottled ground nutmeg starts to lose its flavor after just a couple of months after opening, a whole nutmeg will keep more or less indefinitely, and be wonderfully flavorful every time. I use a Microplane grater or the really really fine grating side of my box grater to grind it.

I purchased a container of 16 whole nutmegs a year ago at an Amish store for $1.69, and even though I use nutmeg every time I make a cream sauce, these pancakes, or apple pie, I'm still on my first or second nutmeg. So not only is it more flavorful, it's cheaper, too!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Very Favorite Barbecue Sauce

It's important for you to know that I take Barbecue sauce very seriously. Truly. I am extremely particular: I want it to be sweet, but not too sweet, tangy without numbing my taste buds, flavorful without being overpowering. It must be tomatoey but with a good dose of vinegar, thin enough to flow, but thick enough to stick to my meat. Let me say from experience: there is not much barbecue sauce out there that makes me happy.

On our honeymoon, though, Abe and I went to a restaurant in Gatlinburg called Calhoun's. Specializing in ribs, it was an absolute treat; in fact, during the week we were in the Smokies, we ate there three times. Their biscuits were as light as a feather, their corn muffins tender and tasty. Their sides were perfect--not afterthoughts at all, but genuinely good in their own right. And their ribs: oh, their ribs. Falling apart-tender, smokey and flavorful, with that wonderful bit of crisp char on the edges of the plentiful meat, they would have been fantastic on their own. But then they added the sauce. The sauce was an awakening for me: I had been accustomed to sauces like Bull's Eye and Kraft, and even Sweet Baby Ray's, which is pretty good, but Calhoun's tangy combination of flavor and spices, sweet and heat, made it truly memorable. I would bathe in the stuff if I didn't think it might be hard on my eyes. We took home two or three bottles, and when friends went to Gatlinburg on vacation, we commissioned them to bring home several bottles of this mystically tasty sauce.

Sadly, we haven't had any couriers of late. We have run out of Calhoun's sauce, and I do not have the personal strength to call them and have them send some to my house. It somehow seems too desperate.

So I've tried grocery-store sauces: Sweet Baby Ray's, as I mentioned, and even Emeril's. They were...good. But I did not want to bathe in them. And one day, after watching one too many Barbecue specials on the Food Network, wherein people whip up their own award-winning sauces, I thought, why not? I can do that. So I set out to make my own Barbecue sauce, just the way I like it.

I did a fair bit of research into other Barbecue sauce recipes, just to see what types of things people put in them, and after a little tinkering and a batch or three, I think I've got it. We had it the other day on some roasted chicken, and Abe stopped and said, "This is good." It's pretty hard to elicit comments like that from him lately--it's got to be something pretty special.

So after too much ado, here's my recipe for my Very Favorite Barbecue Sauce. It's a long list of ingredients, but assembling it is a snap.

Very Favorite Barbecue Sauce

1/4 lg. sweet onion (Vidalia or Walla Walla, for instance), grated (or very nearly pureed)
3 Tbsp. butter
1/4 c. water
1/2 c. apple cider vinegar
2 c. ketchup
1/3 c. apple juice
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
2 Tbsp. honey
2 Tbsp. molasses
1/4 c. maple syrup
1 Tbsp. liquid smoke
1 1/2 tsp. ground mustard
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp. cayenne
1/2 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1 bay leaf

In a medium saucepan, melt butter. Saute onion in butter over low heat until onion is very tender, about 10 minutes. Add the rest of ingredients, and whisk together thoroughly. Note: I have found that it's easier to incorporate the spices if they are first whisked into one of the liquids, like the ketchup.

Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes.

Store in an airtight container in the fridge. Makes about 3 cups of sauce.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Honey Oatmeal Wheat Bread

Back in the day, before I spent my time sorting through endless piles of laundry, cooking for the masses, and changing diapers (my current lot in life), I was the Publications Coordinator at a non-profit Christian ministry, serving as an editor, writer, and eventually, graphic designer. As a 9-to-5 kind of gal, my yen for cooking was shelved; I was positively too tired after a long day to do any real cooking, so dinner usually consisted of a bag of microwave popcorn or a bowl of instant stuffing. Fancy!

But working at a small Christian ministry has its perks--namely, potlucks. (It ain't the benefits, that's for sure.) Sweet, wonderful potlucks. Those magical days when everyone brings their best thing in, and you stuff yourself until there is just no more room, and then you hit the dessert table. Middle-American gluttony at its down-home finest. The brilliant part was that the men on staff didn't cook at all, so their wives would send something yummy in with them, and that's how I came to enjoy a variation of this tasty bread.

J.J., our IT guy, brought these "Heavenly Honey Oatmeal" rolls in to share. After one bite, I was hooked. With a delicate, tender crumb, just the right amount of chewiness, and a perfect hint of sweetness from the honey, this is the sort of bread you just keep going back for. His wife Christie was kind enough to share the recipe with me.

But I was still a Career Girl with no real time or energy to cook, so this recipe sat in my recipe file, dormant, for years. Years. Then I got married, left my job, settled in as a homemaker, and acquired a bread machine. Mostly, I made the loaves featured in the recipe booklet that came with the appliance, so this recipe still sat unused. But gradually, as I became more and more enamored of cooking and comfortable with basic techniques, I wanted to stretch my culinary legs a bit more, making more from scratch. Homemade bread seemed like a logical next step, so I retired the bread machine and started kneading.

Out came Heavenly Honey Oatmeal bread, which I turned into loaves, instead of rolls. And since I had become a bit more concerned with making food as healthy as we could palate (which is to say, just a tiny bit), I replaced some of the all-purpose flour in this recipe with whole wheat flour. Luckily, I think the wheat flour actually enhanced the already "heavenly" flavor of this bread, which, when toasted and spread with butter, tastes a whole lot like an Auntie Anne's pretzel. Swear. But if you don't have whole wheat flour on hand, you could use all all-purpose flour, and it will still be downright delicious.

It makes two loaves, so like the Brothers' Bread, it is perfect to make on a day when you can share the second loaf with someone. Or, you know, you could just tell everyone that it just makes one loaf and eat the other one in the front closet by yourself.

(But that's up to you.)

Honey Oatmeal Wheat Bread

1 c. quick-cooking oats
2 c. boiling water
1 package (or 2 1/4 tsp.) active dry yeast
1/4 c. warm water (110-115 degrees F)
1/3 c. honey
1 Tbsp. butter
2 tsp. salt
2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. milk
2 Tbsp. oats

Mix oats and boiling water. Let stand 15 min., or until the mixture has become lukewarm.

Sprinkle yeast over the warm water, and let sit 5 minutes, or until it has become foamy.

Add proofed yeast, honey, butter, and salt to the oatmeal mixture, and mix well.

Stir in the wheat flour, and then as much of the all-purpose flour as you can. (I use a Kitchen Aid mixer, which makes this oh-so-easy, but you can do it by hand, too. Especially if your name is Beth Culp.) Remove from mixing bowl and knead for 2 minutes. cover, let rest 10 minutes. Then knead again, adding flour as needed to combat stickiness, 12-15 times.

Transfer dough to a greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm, draft-free place for 1 hour. Punch down, and transfer to a lightly floured surface. Divide in half, then shape each half into a loaf, placing each loaf into a greased loaf pan. Cover again with plastic wrap (this time, loosely), and let rise until doubled.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Brush each loaf with milk and sprinkle with oats. Bake for 45 minutes in preheated oven. Turn out onto wire rack to cool. Enjoy!

Yield: Two loaves, many happy tummies.

P.S. Beth, people will always need bread. We Be Bakin'.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Menu-Plan Monday

Fall is on its way! And suddenly, the door opens to a long-forgotten world of culinary pleasures. Shepherd's Pie, welcome back! Pot Pie, we've missed you so! Apple Pie, we've never been so glad to see you! (I'm sensing a theme.)

Alas, no pie on the menu this week, but we are looking forward to a menu full of comfort favorites. I'm also trying to economize a bit better, too, so you'll see some elements repeated during the week.


Last, we're heading out to the fair this Friday, so no meal for that day. Just wonderfully greasy food and a giant case of heartburn. Can't wait!

Monday
Chicken Stew
Mashed Potatoes
Salad

Tuesday
Two-Saucy MockZagna

Wednesday
Turkey Club Panini on Homemade Honey Oatmeal Wheat Bread
Pasta Salad

Thursday
Tomato Soup
Grilled Cheese

Friday
Fair Food

Saturday
Homemade Pizza

Sunday
Takeout

Monday, September 3, 2007

Menu-Plan Monday

Happy Labor Day! I hope you've had a relaxing day! Here's what's on the menu for our family this week:

Monday--Labor Day
Grazing...

Tuesday
Western-Style Ribs
Baked Mac and Cheese
Steamed Peas

Wednesday
Italian Sausage
Onions and Peppers
Risotto (my first time!)

Thursday
Taco Soup
Rice

Friday
Maple-Bacon Fried Rice

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Bronco Beans

My mom used to make this rich bean dish when I was a kid. I hated it. Of course, I wasn't a very adventuresome eater back then--I didn't let my foods touch each other on the plate, much less in a casserole dish.

Now that I am older and more sophisticated, I recognize the simple beauty of a casserole that includes canned beans, bacon and ground beef. Bronco Beans are not low-calorie, low-fat or low- anything else; they are made up of a veritable truckload of carbs. The recipe calls for ketchup and brown sugar. It is lowbrow food at its sloppy finest, so if you are looking for something to serve at a swanky dinner party, do not make this.

If, however, you are having a barbecue or potluck and want to come home with an empty dish, this is a great go-to recipe.

And a small disclaimer: I lost my mother's recipe (sorry, Mom), so this may not be exactly her concoction per se, but it tastes pretty close. I'm sure if I've omitted anything truly important, she'll comment on it.

Bronco Beans

1/2 lb. bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 lb. ground beef, browned with 1 medium onion, diced
1 can pork and beans, undrained
1 can dark red kidney beans, drained
1 can butter beans (or Great northern beans, if you prefer), drained
1/2 c. ketchup
1 c. brown sugar
3 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. mustard powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine bacon, beef and onion, pork and beans, kidney beans, and butter beans.

In a separate bowl, thoroughly mix the ketchup, sugar, vinegar, and mustard. Combine with the bean mixture in a large casserole dish.

Cover, and bake for 1 hour.

Serves 8 as a side dish.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Menu-Plan Monday

Nothing fancy this week, just good ol' comfort food. Have a good one!

Monday (lots of men working on our roof today)
Pizza
Veggies/Dip
Fruit
Cookies

Tuesday
Chef Salad

Wednesday
Steak
Crock Pot Baked Potatoes
Broccoli

Thursday
Ravioli with Italian Sausage

Friday
Chicken Pasta Salad

Labor Day Weekend
Who the heck knows? Burgers? Brats? Grilled chicken? All of the above?
Potato Salad

Friday, August 24, 2007

Cilantro-Lime Rice and Black Beans

Mixed marriages are tough. To recap, my husband is a country boy and I am a city girl. He likes mushrooms, I think they look like brain matter and taste like dirt. He loves pork, and I am decidedly on the fence. But here's another: I love Qdoba. He does not.

Oh, he'll eat there every once in a while, just to humor me, but I know it's not his favorite.

How I love a Naked Burrito, though--that steaming bowl of cilantro-lime rice, black beans, pico de gallo, adobo chicken, and shredded cheese makes my soul sigh. Ahhhh, comfort.

Who wants to spend the money, though, when we have all of those components at our house? We can feast for pennies on the dollar of what a Qdoba meal for four would cost. So I decided to re-create Naked Burritos at our house, and I must say, the results were astonishing.

It was a little labor intensive, since I made everything from scratch. (Well, mostly: the beans I used were canned black beans, which I doctored with garlic, bay, cayenne, and cumin). I made two kinds of salsa--the pico de gallo salsa for me, and the roasted corn salsa for Abe. I even roasted the corn myself. And I had never made Adobo chicken before, but it was easy and fantastic.
But even with all of that tasty stuff, a Naked Burrito wouldn't be what it is without the fresh simplicity of Cilantro-Lime rice. And it couldn't be easier to prepare!

p.s. The whole meal came together in about 35-40 minutes, so while there are a lot of components to prepare, it still works as a weeknight dinner.

Cilantro-Lime Rice

1 c. basmati rice or other long-grain rice, well-rinsed
2 tsp. olive oil (keeps the rice grains separate a bit better)
1/2 tsp. salt
1 3/4 c. water
3 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh cilantro
2 Tbsp. fresh lime juice

Bring water to boil in a medium saucepan. Add olive oil, rice, and salt. Stir just to make sure the grains are separate, then cover and simmer over low heat for about 17 minutes. While the rice cooks, go find a clean dish towel or a couple paper towels; when the timer goes off for the rice, remove the rice from the heat, remove the lid, place the towel(s) over the pan, and replace the lid. This will catch some of the steam and keep the rice from getting gummy. Let the rice sit for about 10 minutes.

Remove the lid, and fluff the rice a bit to allow any remaining steam to escape.

Toss in cilantro, and drizzle with lime juice. Stir gently, just to combine.

Serves 4 as a side dish.


Today's bonus recipe, which pairs perfectly with the Cilantro-Lime Rice, is Black Beans. Both of these recipes are modified from recipes that appear on a vegan food blog called Nutrition Ambition. I can't take credit for these beans, but there you have it. They are so yum...

Black Beans

1 can black beans, undrained
pinch cayenne
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1 crushed garlic clove
1 bay leaf

Combine all ingredients. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 10 minutes. Remove the bay leaf and garlic clove before serving. This recipe is easily doubled or tripled as you need!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Menu-Plan Monday

Well, last week didn't go exactly as planned: we learned early in the week that my great-aunt had passed away, so the menu plan was rearranged to use up the fresh produce I'd already purchased so it didn't rot in the fridge while we traveled to Ohio for the funeral. As a result, you'll see some carry-over ingredients from last week, though I have tried to re-purpose some of them to suit my fickle tastes.

This week, I'm sticking with some comforting favorites. That's okay sometimes, right?

Monday
My Aglio e Olio with Roasted Chicken
Green Beans
French Bread (because I do eat carbs)

Tuesday
Naked Burritos

Wednesday
Garlic and Herb Pork Filet
Oven Roasted Potatoes
Glazed Carrots

Thursday
Chicken Salad Sandwiches
Fruit Compote

Friday
Grilled Brats with caramelized onions
Grilled Corn on the Cob
Bronco Beans

Saturday
Ham and Turkey Club Sandwiches on Brothers' Bread
Chips
Cookies

Recipe to come this week: Bronco Beans

And I'd like to give a big shout out to my Aunt Mary, who promised she'd come by my blogs for a visit. Hope your trip home was uneventful and your dinner party successful!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Glazed Carrots

I first made this dish in college, long before my culinary journey really got underway. Here's the scene: five girls (all from 1st East Olson) and five guys (all from 1st West Wengatz) convene for a night of home cooking and a skit at the nearby home of one of the guys (put on by the girls, the skit was the hilarious yet poignant tale of the five guys' fate in the "Mr. Taylor" competition. More than eleven years later, it still makes me laugh).

The guys were hosting the evening, but the girls were planning it, and each girl was given a task. I don't remember all of the specifics of who did what, but I do remember that Liz and I, who most enjoyed cooking (and probably had a boy we wanted to impress), muscled our way into being the cooks, giving others tasks like "linens" and "table decoration." We made a baked chicken with a teriyaki-like sauce (pineapple juice and soy sauce thickened with a cornstarch slurry), hasselback potatoes, and glazed carrots. Elementary stuff, it was, but if memory serves, it still turned out pretty tasty. One of the guys, no doubt being flattering, even said, "You need to give my mom a cooking lesson." Perhaps an overstatement, Jeremy, but a nice sentiment anyway.

I remember thinking that the carrots were going to be a very bland element of the meal--indeed, none of the meal had real "punch," so I figured something was in order. And for some reason, even though the sauce for the chicken was on the sweet side, I decided to go with a sweet glaze for the carrots, too.

My current recipe varies only slightly from that original dish; back then, I didn't know the joy of steaming vegetables, so those carrots were boiled (and very likely overcooked). And I'm pretty sure I assembled the glaze in a saucepan, but now, I skip that unnecessary dish. But even with those changes, the spirit of the dish is still the same, after all these years: simple, tasty, and satisfying.

p.s. If I had known how things were going to turn out with the guy I was trying to impress, I woudn't have bothered trying to impress him. Then again, my husband loves these carrots, so perhaps it was for the best.

Glazed Carrots

4 large carrots
2 Tbsp. butter (approx.)
1 Tbsp. brown sugar (approx.)
salt and pepper to taste

Peel the carrots, and slice them to uniform thickness (about 1/4 in.), slightly on the diagonal. Slicing on the diagonal increases the surface area and, I believe, speeds up cooking time.

Steam carrots, either in a steamer basket in a pot on the stove, or in an electric rice cooker/steamer. I prefer the electric steamer, finding it a bit more foolproof, but a basket would certainly be a cheaper purchase, if you're looking to break into the world of steaming. Either way, be sure the carrots are not in any way submerged in the water, and steam to desired tenderness. I'm not going to tell you how long this takes, because the time will depend on both the thickness of the carrots and your preferred level of doneness. Just taste one after about 10 minutes and judge from there.

Cut the butter into smaller portions; slices are fine, or a dice. The goal is to get them to melt faster, so as long as it isn't just a huge hunk of butter, you'll be fine.

Place butter and brown sugar in the bottom of a medium bowl. When the carrots are done to your liking, discard the steaming water and dump the carrots into the bowl with the butter and sugar. Toss until the butter is melted and brown sugar is dissolved. Season with salt and pepper as desired, and serve.

*Note: you may also use baby carrots right out of the bag, but they will take a few more minutes to steam. They are just as delicious, though, so if these particular carrots are your millieu, go forth with gusto.

Serves 4.