New Year’s Peas & Greens

Good morning, friends!  I hope this post finds you rested, relaxed and recuperated after a long holiday season.  With just one more “event” to go before a return to normal life, I’d like to share a couple of my favorite traditional New Year’s dishes.

Greens are a staple side-dish on our table year ’round, as they’re low carb, high in fiber, full of vitamins and utterly delish!  On New Year’s, however, they take center stage, along with a big dish of limas or a piquant salad of marinated black-eyed peas.   Beyond being amazingly delicious, a meal of pork, greens and peas is supposed to bring you luck for the following year.  I can’t vouch for the verity of that tradition, but I don’t mind giving it a try each year!

While the cooking time may vary, the procedure for making a steaming pot of greens is about the same, no matter the variety you choose.

  • First, buy more than you think you’ll need.  What may seem like an extraordinary amount of raw greens will cook down to fit in a small bowl.
  • Greens need to be soaked in a deep sink full of cold water to allow the sand to rinse off.  Most likely your greens were grown in sandy soil and if you don’t soak and rinse them really well, you’ll end up with grit in your teeth!
  • Fold the leaf in half lengthwise and cut away the thick, coarse stem on the back of the leaves.  You don’t have to do this, but I really dislike the fibrous bites of stem from tougher greens like collards.
  • Allow plenty of cooking water/broth.  Some greens can be quite bitter, so plenty of cooking water will let the bitterness cook out…and the resulting pot liquor is absolutely delicious!

Ingredients for Classic Southern Greens

1-2 Tablespoons olive oil

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 clove of (minced) garlic

4 cups chicken broth (add additional as needed)

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 large turkey leg or ham hock

2# collards, mustard, turnip greens or kale, well-cleaned and chopped

salt & pepper

vinegar or hot sauce, to taste

Instructions

In a large pot, cook onions in the olive oil till tender.  Stir in garlic and cook till fragrant.  Add chicken broth, smoked meat and pepper flakes, bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer for 30 minutes.  Remove the turkey leg or ham hock, allow to cool then pick the meat off the bone and return to the pot of broth.  Add the greens to the pot a handful at a time so they can wilt down in the hot broth.  When all the greens are wilted, cover and simmer for approximately 20-30 minutes for kale or mustard, an hour for collards, or till they reach the desired texture.  Stir occasionally.  Season to taste with salt and pepper, then serve with vinegar or hot sauce.  For my vegan and vegetarian friends out there, simply omit the chicken broth and turkey/ham and replace with vegetable broth and a bit of adobo sauce for that wonderful smoky flavor.   

Okay, moving on to my favorite black-eyed pea recipe…black-eyed pea salad!  I know it sounds strange, but I’ve never developed a taste for a big old pot-full of black-eyed peas.  Any other pot of beans or peas, yes, but black-eyed peas, no.  I was introduced to this dish at a friend’s restaurant in Beaufort, SC and was instantly hooked!  It’s spicy, savory, filling and makes a great main dish during crazy hot weather.  It’s also a perfect spin on the dish that’s traditionally served for “good luck” on New Year’s Day.  Here’s all you need…

Ingredients for Black-Eyed Pea Salad

1 large tomato, diced

1 medium red onion, finely chopped

1 small red bell pepper, finely chopped

1 jalapeno, finely chopped

2-15oz cans of black eyed peas

1/4 cup white wine vinegar

1/4 cup olive oil

1 Tablespoon of Dijon mustard

salt & pepper to taste

Instructions

Combine the tomato, onions, peppers and peas in a largish container with a tight-fitting lid.  In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, oil and Dijon mustard.  Pour the oil and vinegar mixture over the chopped veggies and peas and combine gently.  Cover tightly and place in the fridge for at least 8 hours or overnight, then salt and pepper to taste.  *I personally double the marinade because I love it so much!  But that’s just me.

Alongside your beans and peas, serve a thick slab of buttery cornbread (not the sweet stuff!) and finish the meal with a slice of lemony pound cake or traditional banana pudding.  That’s good eats, I don’t care who you are!

Till next time, best wishes for a prosperous New Year from my family to yours.

 

 

Infused Sugar In Only 2 Steps

 

Okay, I’ll confess that I don’t eat a lot of sugar anymore….but….I used to LOVE my sugar!  In my tea, coffee, iced tea, in cereals, on my winter squash and sweet potatoes.  I unabashedly had a love affair going on with the sweet stuff.  Today, I try to avoid it but when I do indulge, it’s a real indulgence.  (No sugar in my coffee, but I would love a sliver of sweet tater pie, thanks!)  If we choose to indulge, shouldn’t it be of the best quality and the most amazing flavor possible?  That’s my thinking.

Now our grannies have been making infused sugar for ages…not only did it flavor the sugar, it also dried and preserved whatever they added TO the sugar.  Bonus.  And you know how I love bonuses!  Infused sugar is a simple way to add a kick of flavor to everyday foods, use food scraps (such as citrus peels) to reduce waste and it’s also a great, frugal gift that the giftee will appreciate every time they use it!  As with most edibles, there’s a ton of room here for personalization, so if these recipes sound a little meh to you, use your imagination to create blends you will love!

How To Use Infused Sugars

Oh my word, you can use infused sugars anywhere and in anything!  Imagine lemon-infused sugar in your hot tea, lavender infused sugar in your sweet tea, a chili-lime infusion for flavoring ribs or a pork loin, a cayenne infusion for dusting your hot cocoa (trust me!)  or an orange-vanilla bourbon infusion to glaze a ham or to flavor whipped cream for a pound cake.  You could also sprinkle it on top of pancakes or oatmeal, sweeten your coffee, dust fresh fruit with it or add it to your buttered toast.  Doesn’t that sound amazing?!  I gotta tell you, this is making me rethink the whole sugar-free diet thing lol.

 

What You Need To Make Infused Sugars

So as I stated above, the sky is the limit when it comes to infusions, but there are a few rules.  No, not rules, guidelines. There are a few guidelines.

    1. Whenever possible, buy organic sugar.  I know sometimes it feels like you’re being beat over the head with this whole organic thing, but I think in terms of sugar, it’s important to use the best quality product, even if that means spending an extra dollar or two.  With something as elemental as flavored sugar, the difference in taste really will shine through.  Now you CAN use plain old white beet sugar, but brown sugar, cane sugar or even coconut sugar will yield the most interesting flavors, so I highly encourage them!
    2. As much as possible, use dried herbs, flowers, citrus or flavorings.  To yield the best results, you need to use the driest ingredients possible.  It’s not a deal breaker, BUT any moisture you add can create hard lumps and slow the infusion process, so drier is better!
    3. To store the finished product, you need a glass container with a tight-fitting, sealed lid.  No plastic containers please, as it can give an undesirable flavor to the sugar.  I love the old bale-top storage jars, but for gifting, a simple jelly jar with a 2-piece lid works great.

How To Make Infused Sugars

This is the easy part, friends!  To make infused sugar, simply combine the flavorings with the sugar, seal tightly and let it sit for a couple weeks so that the flavor is spread throughout the sugar.  Now there is an exception and I’ll get to that in a minute.  But first, some simple recipes!

Vanilla sugar:  Cover 1 vanilla bean with 1 cup of sugar.  Seal tightly in a jar.

Espresso sugar:  Combine 1 cup of sugar with 1 tablespoon of crushed instant coffee granules.  Seal tightly in a jar.

Lavender/floral sugar:  Combine 1 cup of sugar with 1 tablespoon of dried culinary flowers (lavender, rosebuds, chamomile, etc).  Seal tightly in a jar.

Cinnamon sugar:  Cover 1-2 cinnamon sticks with 1 cup of sugar.  Seal tightly.

Pumpkin spice sugar:  Combine 1 cup of sugar with 1/4 teaspoon each ground cloves, ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg and ground ginger.  Seal tightly.

Cayenne sugar:  Combine 1/2 teaspoon of ground cayenne with 1 cup of sugar.  Seal tightly.

Now we’re going to branch off and make a few sugars using fresh, liquid ingredients.  The procedure isn’t that different, but you have to leave the jar sitting open at least overnight so that moisture from the ingredients can evaporate.  If you don’t, you’ll have some seriously lumpy sugar!  Before you seal these sugars in jars, stir them and check for moisture.  If the sugar feels moist, let them sit opened for another 12-24 hours.

Citrus lime sugar:  Combine 1 cup of sugar, 1/4 teaspoon cayenne, 1/4 teaspoon of chili powder and 1 tablespoon of fresh lime zest.  Mix thoroughly then let sit opened overnight for best results.

Citrus vanilla bourbon:  Combine 1 cup of sugar with 1 tablespoon of fresh orange zest, 1/2 vanilla bean and 1/2 teaspoon bourbon.  Shake thoroughly to combine then let sit opened overnight.

But don’t stop there!  Imagine your favorite liquors (especially rum and amaretto) or citrus infused into sugar to garnish drinks.  Any combination of spices (cinnamon, allspice, ginger, cloves, nutmeg) will give a warm, holiday flavor to any drink or even better, sprinkled over a dessert.  Brown sugar, sea salt and pungent spices such as black pepper, cayenne, chili and cumin would make an incredible dry rub for a bbq!  Any combination of sweet, spicy and pungent that suits your taste buds is perfect by me!

Again, if you plan on gifting these, think presentation.   Use a small, air-tight container; no Gladware, unless the recipient really likes Gladware, whatever, but be sure the seal is tight or you’ll end up with one giant sugar cube.  Go to Pinterest for some cute downloadable labels and accessorize with items you think may go along with your sugars: some good quality loose leaf tea, your favorite cocoa, a homemade sugar cookie mix, barbeque accessories or whatever floats the recipient’s boat.  I guarantee this will be a handmade gift somebody is going to love!

3 Steps to a No-Stress Cheese Plate

 

Cheese plates are one of my favorite things.  I know you’re shocked about that, especially after the confession in my most recent Waste Not! post, but it’s true.  I love to search out seasonal and regional cheeses and enjoy them as a snack or simple lunch.  But beyond that, I also love to put together more elaborate cheese plates for both holidays and quiet nights at home in front of the fire!  In fact, one of my children’s favorite things to do during winter is to enjoy a cheese plate (which they call a snackie supper) in the living room while watching a family movie—it’s the ONLY time that we don’t eat at the table, so it’s a really special treat for them.  And it’s totally hygga and an escape from the winter blahs!

I think for many people, there’s a real apprehension about serving a cheese plate, especially for a holiday party, because they believe there are so many elaborate “rules” about how to prepare one.  I’m assuming that’s because cheese plates are rooted firmly in French culinary tradition and man alive, do French culinary folks love their rules!  That fork here, this wine there, this course, that sauce, pinky up, elbows down, don’t slurp.  Frankly, it’s exhausting and I have no desire for their rules.  But here’s the thing:  all cultures going back hundreds and hundreds of years or more have their own version of the French cheese plate.  If you deconstruct the idea, a cheese plate is nothing more than an offering of small amounts of seasonal, regional foods.  A few ounces of cheese is combined with fresh fruits, a regional condiment and perhaps a bit of bread or meat and turned into something nutritious and filling.  It’s a great way to turn humble homemade, homegrown or foraged foods into something amazing and I think that’s the direction we need to take when we’re putting together a cheese plate.  Forget the French rules, mon petit ami, and concentrate on the nutrition, flavors and experience!

So I’ll not give you any rules.  I’ll not tell you how to pair cheese, fruit and wine together because who needs that stress?!  But I’ll tell you there are only 3 steps to putting together a primo cheese plate that would be suitable for any humble supper OR holiday party and they are: 1) choosing the cheeses, 2)picking out complimentary foods and 3)presentation.  This is what works for me, but you change it up however will work for you!

Choosing The Cheeses

When assembling a cheese plate, I try to pick out 3-4 good quality cheeses and for my home, I only have 1 hard, fast rule:  No Velveeta or American singles.  Those barely qualify as food; in fact, the package indicates it’s not even a cheese, but a pasteurized cheese food product.  (What the heck IS that anyway?!) I typically go for a fresh cheese (such as a marinated mozzarella), an aged cheese (sharp white Irish/English cheddar), a cheese in the Swiss family (Gruyere or Emmental) and a hard or blue cheese depending on what’s available.  There’s no magic combination when you’re picking out cheese; just go for a range of flavors and textures that you think everyone will enjoy.  If possible, shop local cheese shops (Young’s Jersey Dairy, y’all!) but when that’s not possible, just look for the best quality you can afford.  My general rule of thumb is to plan for 4-6 ounces of cheese per person, give or take.  But that’s not a rule.  More of a guideline.

Complimentary Foods

After I’ve chosen the cheeses, I try to add at least one each of the following foods:  a sweet, a sour/spicy and a salty/savory.  That sounds complicated, but it’s really not.  The goal is to provide a variety of flavors as well as nutrition and what you use is entirely up to you.  For me, it’s an opportunity to raid my pantry and showcase homemade goodies, but I’ll also use whatever happens to be available in the fridge at the time.  Don’t get hung up on this:  serve what you enjoy.  That’s the bottom line.  For my family, our normal cheese plate includes:

For the sweets: apple slices, dried fruit, honey or even good quality fruit preserves or chutney

For the sour/spicy: pickles, pickled peppers, marinated olives, mustard, jalapeno jelly

For the salty/savory: brined olives, toasted nuts, dipping oil, roasted red peppers, cured meats, caramelized onions

Whenever possible, I try to offer seasonal items too.  In summertime, we love a handful of ripe cherry tomatoes and fresh raspberries; in fall, ripe pears and apples;  in winter, cranberries, black walnuts and orange marmalade; in spring, strawberries and fresh herbs.

If the cheese plate is a side to a simple meal like a salad or quiche, I’ll stop here.  If however the cheese plate IS the meal, I generally bulk it up with some thinly sliced ham, cocktail shrimp or smoked turkey and a crusty loaf of bread or crackers.  That will provide enough fat and protein to satisfy any appetite!

Presentation

Again, don’t get hung up on the rules.  We don’t need no stinking rules!  I encourage you to make it look beautiful and easy to pick from, but beyond that, it’s your call.  I generally use a large wooden cutting board lined with parchment paper or a heavy  platter for serving and I go for an orderly-disorderly look.  Wedges, crumbles or rounds of cheese are placed between piles of sliced meats, small bowls of preserves, chutneys and pickles with a scattering of nuts and dried fruits here and there.  Really.  That’s it.  The only caveat I would offer would be to keep plenty of space between the cheeses so your mozzarella doesn’t end up tasting like your blue cheese.  Ick!

Listen to my heart, friends…I know that many of you, like my family, live on modest budgets.  At the end of the week, when the bills are paid, the kids are fed and our obligations are met, there’s not a lot of time or money left over for hosting holiday parties.  BUT I also know, based on the response to my Practicing Hospitality post, that many of us want to be people who welcome others into our homes.  So let me challenge you to step outside of your comfort zone.  Use these 3 simple steps to create a holiday cheese plate and then open your doors to your friends and neighbors.  Simple fare, a silly game and a bit of holiday music will make for a night of fun and fellowship!  My best—-A

 

Posted to the SimpleLifeMom Homestead Blog Hop

 

Winter Squash & How To Use Them

 

This is going to sound condescending, and honest-to-goodness, I don’t mean it to….but til 2 weeks ago, I thought everyone knew that winter squash were food.  Yes, they’re very pretty sitting in a fall display on your porch, but they’re food.  I can understand why people believe they’re just for decoration, with all the beautiful drawings we see this time of the year of the Colonists’ homes with piles of squash and pumpkins on the porches at the first Thanksgiving.  But they weren’t there for pretty, they were there because they were just harvested and were being kept as storage crops.  They’re food, folks!  Up til the 50s and 60s, squash were a common storage crop that was grown in all gardens and stored in cool, dry cellars, crawl spaces and barns because they would keep for 6 months or longer and provide fresh food in the dead of winter when nothing else was available. Anyway, after I gained that bit of knowledge, it occurred to me that there are those among my beautiful readers who have no idea what to do with a squash.  Nor why bother.  Let me help you there because you are missing out on one of autumn’s most delicious crops!

So as you can see from the beautiful picture above, winter squash come in a hundred different sizes, shapes, colors, textures and flavors.   There are enormous pink and blue hubbards and green-striped cushaws that can run up to 20# or more, down to itty bitty, emerald green acorn squash that are barely big enough to feed one person.  Some of them are great winter “keepers” while others won’t last more than a few weeks.  But for the most part, all squash are the same.  They’re all cousins in the pumpkin family and as a rule, they can be prepared the same and used interchangeably in most dishes.  Let’s start at the beginning and learn how to pick one out, how to prep it and how to cook it.

Picking A Winter Squash

When you’re picking out winter squash, whether to store overwinter in your basement or cook immediately, you’re looking for the same characteristics.  Winter squash should feel quite heavy for their size as they typically have a thick layer of moist fruit inside the “shell”.  You want to check it over for gashes, mold or soft, bruised spots; if you find those, that is not the squash for you.  Check to be sure there’s a nice 2 inch stem on top; short/no stems can allow disease and general yuckiness into squash, so avoid that one too.  Last, pick a squash appropriate to your dish; there’s no reason to buy a blue hubbard and have 20 pounds of cooked squash sitting in the fridge if it’s a dinner for two.   The most popular squashes you’ll find at groceries and farmers markets in the fall are delicata, acorn and butternut, all of which are delicious!

Butternut Squash
Delicata Squash
Acorn Squash

 

Prepping A Winter Squash

I’m not going to lie to you:  getting INTO the squash is the hardest part of prepping it to eat.  If you’ve ever carved a pumpkin, you know how difficult it can be.  But I think carving a pumpkin is easier than a squash because squash are roly-poly and want to roll all around your cutting board.  So be careful.  Using a sharp, appropriately sized knife, you want to split the squash in half lengthwise, that is from pole to pole.  Not equator!  Once you’ve cut it in half, use a large spoon to remove the seeds and stringy bits inside the cavity of the squash and you’re all ready to roll.  And yes, you can bake the seeds just like pumpkin seeds.

How In The World Do You Eat This Thing?!

Unlike pumpkin, that we traditionally ONLY eat in pie form, squash can be eaten dozens of different ways.  In our house, we love simple baked squash.  Take the squash and place it in a baking dish, cut side up and brush the squash with a little bit of oil or melted butter.  Roast in a 400 degree oven for 30-40 minutes or until the densest part of the squash is fork-tender.  Carefully remove the squash from the pan and scrape the flesh into a serving bowl.  Top with brown sugar, cinnamon, maple syrup, honey, chopped nuts or whatever appeals to your taste buds!

Another favorite for us is Roasted Squash with Apples and Cranberries.  You simply cube the raw squash, toss it with butter, diced apples, fresh/dried cranberries and bake.  Something about those tart berries against the sweet squash and apples just makes this dish come alive!  I really love this served alongside a roast chicken or pork loin.

A third very popular squash recipe is Butternut squash soup (though any squash can be substituted).  There are very simple, savory recipes out there, such as this one from Food Network or sweeter versions that include green apple and cinnamon from Simply Recipes.  I tend toward the apple version because the I love the tang of the apple against the sweet squash.  Either direction you go, it’s only a matter of simmering the ingredients in broth til the squash is tender, pureeing til smooth and seasoning with the appropriate spices.  It’s seriously easy, my friends!

Last idea for today is a stuffed squash. I’ll be totally honest with you:  I don’t like stuffed squash.  I think it’s because the squash is so sweet and mild that it’s often overwhelmed with savory spices, heavy meats and fillings in the dressing.  The whole idea sort of gags me, to be honest, but I think that if someone stuffed the squash with a milder, sweeter filling, like this sweet cornbread and apple dressing, I believe I could have a go at that one.  All you do for stuffed squash is prep it as we did above, brush with butter or oil, stuff the cavity with the dressing of your choice and bake til the squash is tender and the dressing heated through.  So simple!

Anyway, the next time you see winter squash marked down at the end of the season, or thrown out because they were only purchased for décor, I hope you’ll snag them and give them a try.  They’re a delicious, nutritious, simple way to eat local and seasonal all winter long!

 

Shared to the SimpleLifeMom Homestead Blog Hop

South Carolina-Style Mustard BBQ DIY

 

 

Alrighty, last week I shared my favorite eastern Carolina sauce with you and while it’s still my all-time, favorite, go-to sauce for smoked meats and earthy greens, I also like a good mustard-based BBQ sauce now and then.  Another quick and easy holiday gift for your foodie friends for Christmas, this sauce also has it’s roots in the immigration of the 1700s.

During the early days of South Carolina’s statehood, the rich soil along the Santee/Broad River watershed was available via land grants to German immigrants wanting to establish family farms (as opposed to English plantation-style farming).  Along with their Lutheran faith and European farming methods, the German settlers also brought mustard with them, which they adapted to fit the smoked and grilled meats they encountered in the Carolina Lowcountry and Coastal Georgia.  And so, South Carolina BBQ sauce was born. There’s your history lesson for today, boys and girls! 

While slightly sweeter than it’s eastern cousin, South Carolina sauce packs a 1-2-3 punch of vinegar + yellow mustard + hot sauce that is only slightly mellowed by the addition of brown sugar.  Amazing on beef brisket, roasted chicken, pulled pork or any other smoked meat, it’s also delicious on fried potatoes and served on a cheese plate with crackers, cheese and sliced meat.  I don’t discriminate, my friends: I’ll eat this stuff on anything.

Now if you try this and you find it’s a bit piquant, it’s so easy to adjust the flavors.  Adding a touch of molasses or honey will both sweeten and add an earthy flavor.  Tomato paste will add body and sweetness.  Chipotles in adobo sauce will add a kick of smokiness and extra heat.  What I’ve posted below for you is a basic, all-purpose sauce, but you can doctor it anyway you want to make it suit your palate.

To make a South Carolina BBQ sauce you need the following ingredients:

3/4 cup of cider vinegar

3/4 c prepared yellow mustard (any brand)

1-2 T light brown sugar ( to your taste)

1 1/2 T butter or oil

2 t salt

2 T Worcestershire sauce

1/4 t fresh ground black pepper

2 t hot sauce to taste (we like Texas Pete’s)

Directions!

Combine all ingredients in small saucepan. Whisk to combine and stir occasionally while simmering for 20-30 minutes.  Taste and adjust seasoning to your taste.  Let cool and refrigerate overnight before using.  You’ll want to use this within 2 weeks, give or take.    To preserve it, simply ladle into 1/4 pint jars, cap with plastic storage lids and freeze.

This recipes  DOES take a little more time than the vinegar-based eastern Carolina sauce, but it can easily be doubled and frozen in Mason jars for use later, so it’s worth your trouble.   And like the eastern Carolina BBQ sauce, this isn’t found in most national grocery store chains, so it will be a real treat to friends who enjoy tastes of other regions!

Now if you’re planning on giving this as a gift, you’ll need to keep the BBQ sauce frozen til last minute.  (This could probably be safely canned, but given the variation in the acid levels of prepared mustard, it’s best just to freeze it.)  To gift this sauce, I’d create a simple cheese plate with crackers, sharp cheese, pickles,  smoked sausage and a jar of the sauce tucked into a basket with a cheese knife and a small Cutting Board.  OR, go the BBQ route and stock a small Grilling Basket with a BBQ mop, bar towel, a thermometer and a jar of last week’s eastern Carolina sauce.  Both are very inexpensive, very practical gifts that you can personalize for the lucky individual you’re giving it to.

Shared on Simple Life Mom Homestead Blog Hop

Waste Not – Cheesy Goodness!

 

My family has been on  low/er carb diet for nearly 2 years now and cheese plays a huge role in our daily diet.  We use it as a binder and “breading” in place of grains, as a quick snack in the afternoons and as a necessary, beneficial fat that makes our brains happy!   We love everything from a fresh, marinated mozzarella to extra sharp cheddar and Petunia’s favorite, sweet, nutty Gruyere.  As a result,  I’m typically guilty of having 15 bags of partially used shredded cheese, a few hard cheese rinds and several blocks of opened imported cheddar shoved in the back of the cheese drawer at all times.  I’d be lying to you if I said any different.   To prevent waste, I’m always looking for new ways to use up those last little bits left in the packages and the following recipes have become my go-to recipes when my cheese drawer begins to get a bit fuller than usual.

Recipe 1- Authentic cheese sauce.  This is the real stuff, my friends.  Not Velveeta!  Now I know that you’re looking at the recipe and questioning the nutmeg: trust me.  A pinch of nutmeg takes this cheese sauce to another level.

  • 2 T butter
  • 2 T flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1.5 cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1/4 t mustard powder
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • salt and pepper to taste

Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat; whisk flour, mustard powder and nutmeg into butter until smooth. Pour milk into flour/butter mixture and whisk to combine. Cook and stir until mixture thickens, about 3 minutes. Reduce heat, add shredded Cheddar and stir until cheese is melted, about 3 minutes more. Season with salt and pepper. 

Using this same method, substitute mozzarella cheese for the cheddar, omit the mustard powder and add garlic (to taste) for a very passable fettuccine sauce!

Recipe 2- Low Carb Cheese Sauce.  This is my go-to low carb cheesy fix!  It’s great on veggies, eggs, meat or anything else for that matter and is ready in just minutes!

  • 3 T cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1-1.5 cups of shredded cheese (any combination works!)
  • Salt, pepper, nutmeg and mustard powder to taste

Over low/med heat, combine the cream cheese and heavy cream, stirring frequently and using a whisk as the cream cheese begins to break up.  When the cream cheese and heavy cream are melted and smooth, add in the shredded cheese and whisk til smooth.  Season to taste and serve warm.

Like above, the use of mozzarella cheese and garlic makes a very good, low carb fettuccine sauce to top spaghetti squash, chicken, veggies or your choice of food!

 

Recipe 3 – Low Carb Cheese Nachos.  These are so simple, I’m almost embarrassed to share the “recipe” with you.  For this recipe you need shredded cheese and, well, that’s it.  Cheddar, pepper jack or any other favorite cheese will work well for nachos.   Heat your oven to 375 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Put 2T mounds of shredded cheese on the baking sheet, leaving room for the cheese to melt and expand.  Pop in the oven til the cheese it melted thoroughly and slightly crusty on the edges.  Let cool til firm and then use as a “nacho chip” with your favorite toppings.  Or you can use 1/4-1/2 cup mounds of cheese to make some pretty awesome taco shells/tortillas as well.  Following the same instructions, bake them til they’re bubbly and crisp, allow to cool slightly, then drape them over a rounded surface to form the “taco” shape.  My husband actually prefers these to the real thing now!

Recipe 4- Fathead Pizza Dough.  Friends, after being on a low carb diet for a while, finding this recipe was a total game changer.  If you roll the dough out thin and bake it til it’s really crunchy, you’ll end up with the best low-carb thin crust pizza you could ever imagine.  AND it’s just as good cold the next day!  I love making a Philly-style pizza, topped with shredded beef, sautéed onions, peppers and mushrooms and covered in gooey Provolone or Swiss cheese!  This is so good, I can’t even explain it to you!

  • 1 3/4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 3/4 cups almond flour
  • 2 tbsp cream cheese
  • 1 egg
  • pinch of salt to taste
  • 1/2 tsp dried rosemary/ garlic or other flavorings optional
  • your choice of toppings such as pepperoni, peppers, olives, shredded beef, mushrooms, herbs etc
  1. Mix the shredded/grated cheese and almond flour/meal in a microwaveable bowl. Add the cream cheese. Microwave on HIGH for 1 minute.
  2. Stir then microwave on HIGH for another 30 seconds.
  3. Add the egg, salt, rosemary and any other flavorings, mix gently.
  4. Place in between 2 pieces of baking parchment/paper and roll into a circular pizza shape (see photos above). Remove the top baking paper/parchment. If the mixture hardens and becomes difficult to work with, pop it back in the microwave for 10-20 seconds to soften again but not too long or you will cook the egg.
  5. Make fork holes all over the pizza base to ensure it cooks evenly.
  6. Slide the baking paper/parchment with the pizza base, on a baking tray (cookie tray) or pizza stone, and bake at 425F for 12-15 minutes, or until brown.
  7. To make the base really crispy and sturdy, flip the pizza over (onto baking paper/parchment) once the top has browned.
  8. Once cooked, remove from the oven and add all the toppings you like. Make sure any meat is already cooked as this time it goes back into the oven just to heat up the toppings and melt the cheese. Bake again at 425F for 5 minutes.

Don’t these simple recipes sound amazing?!  They’ve proven to be lifesavers more than once as we reduce the amount of grains in our diet and increase beneficial fats.  And as I said earlier, they’re great ways to use up those little bits of cheese here and there, reducing waste and saving money!  What are your go-to recipes when you have an abundance of cheese laying around?

Shared on the Simple Life Mom Homestead Blog Hop

Eastern Carolina Style Sauce DIY

 

Just as I promised last week, here’s an easy and inexpensive gift to share with the foodie on your Christmas list!  Eastern North Carolina style sauce isn’t readily available in most chain grocery stores; in fact, unless you have roots in Tidewater/Greater Appalachia or frequent soul food restaurants, I’d  bet that you’ve never enjoyed this simple bbq sauce before! It’s a great way to share a taste of a different culture with someone who truly appreciates traditional, regional cooking.  And the fact it’s finished in under 10 minutes, that’s a real gift too!

If you travel America (or just really enjoy eating!), you’ll find each region has it’s unique sauce for topping smoked or grilled meats.   Just as our culture evolved based on immigration, climate and the availability of resources, so did our food. South Carolina has it’s mustard-based sauce, Alabama it’s mayo-based white bbq sauce, Kansas bbq is thick and tangy, Texas bbq sauce is more akin to a thin glaze.  Many of them are cloyingly sweet, tomato-based and laden with carbs, but eastern Carolina-style is completely different than anything you’ll find in any steak house.

Brought to the southern East Coast by way of the Caribbean, it’s the original bbq sauce!  This vinegar-based sauce has very little sugar and is slightly spicy with an acidic kick that cuts through the smokiness of a pile of pulled pork.  It’s extremely thin, great for mopping as it doesn’t burn under heat and doesn’t mask the flavor of bbq under a thick, sugary sauce.  But don’t stop with bbq…Carolina-style sauce tastes amazing on beans, potatoes, eggs, soups, stews and a hundred other dishes.  My sweet Petunia douses her collard greens with it and I have to admit it’s pretty doggone tasty that way too!  In fact, I don’t think I’ve eaten any dish that Carolina sauce didn’t improve!  Admittedly, it’s not for sissies.  It’s spicy, pungent, tart and salty all at the same time,  but what it can do to a simple meat or veggie is just amazing!

So are you intrigued enough to try it?  All you need is a few, very basic ingredients!

Eastern Carolina-style BBQ Sauce

2 cups of apple cider vinegar

2 teaspoons hot sauce (we use Texas Pete’s)

2 tablespoons sugar (white or light brown sugar or even honey)

1 tablespoon salt

2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes

2 teaspoons finely ground black pepper

Combine all the ingredients in a sauce pan, bring to a quick boil to dissolve the sugar and remove from heat.  Allow the sauce to cool then transfer to a covered container and refrigerate for several days before using.   As a total bonus, this sauce can be poured into Mason jars, sealed with a 2-piece lid and water-bathed for 10 minutes to be shelf stable and easier to gift…but I wouldn’t leave it on the shelf too long.  I store mine in a pba-free condiment bottle in the fridge as the acid in this sauce will eat straight through a metal lid!

Come back next week as I’ve got a great South Carolina mustard-based sauce that will make a great gift as well!  Til then!

Posted to Homestead Blog Hop!

Waste Not – Potatoes

Thanksgiving is right around the corner and if you’re family is like mine, you’re going to have a glut of leftovers come Black Friday.  No matter how well you plan ahead, that just seems to be the case!   When I was growing up, all the leftover dressing, gravy and turkey at my mamaw’s house got thrown into a big casserole with a few fresh ingredients and called “Company’s Coming Casserole”….which I loathed entirely but ate it because my mama and mamaw said so.  I think living through war-time rationing, the Depression and the 1970s inflation crisis lead women to be super frugal with leftovers even as they were more willing to spend large amounts of money on a feast.  Looking back, it was a bit paradoxical on their part, but that’s what makes the “good old days” so fascinating.

Now I don’t mind eating holiday leftovers, but they can’t look like leftovers, savvy?  My children seem to be of the same mind; they’ll eat leftovers as long as they don’t look like what they ate for dinner yesterday.  In my house, creativity is the name of the game when it comes to leftover food!  So in that spirit, let’s reinvent some of our Thanksgiving leftovers into something everyone will look forward to.  Ma Ingalls would absolutely approve!

Invariably, we have leftover potatoes sitting around on Black Friday, so I’d like to offer you an easy way to use them up, starting first with those mashed potatoes.   Tater cakes have long been a favorite of my kids and it’s a great way to use that last cup or two of mashed potatoes.  It’s difficult to give you an exact recipe for tater cakes because the amount of flour necessary will depend on the consistency of your leftovers.

 

 

Here’s roughly what you need for potato cakes:

2 cups of cold, leftover mashed potatoes

1 egg

1 c of flour

1/2 cup shredded cheese

1/4 c diced onion

salt and pepper to taste

1t chives

A sleeve of crushed club crackers, crushed potato chips, bread crumbs, almond flour or something along those lines—optional but delicious and highly recommended!

To make your tater cakes, combine the mashed potatoes, egg, cheese and herbs and begin to slowly incorporate the flour.  You’re adding enough flour to create a batter that looks and feels a bit like a  cookie dough.  It’s going to be very soft, but it’s more manageable than the plain mashed potatoes.  Place the crackers/chips/crumbs onto a plate and carefully spoon approximately 1/4 cup of the mashed potato mixture onto the crumbs.  Using your fingers, thoroughly cover the mixture with crumbs and then flatten gently into a patty.  It’s going to be soft, so very carefully transfer the patty to a med/high pan with olive oil and panfry until the egg in the patty begins to set up and the crumbs brown up.  Gently flip and fry the other side as well.  Carefully place the fried patty on a paper lined plate and keep warm.  As they cool, they’ll set up firmer and will taste amazing!  Use them as a side or a main dish.

Okay, now if you have leftover boiled/baked potatoes, I have a recipe that may be just a bit outside of your comfort zone, but try it nonetheless!  My Mamaw and Aunt Vicky ran a candy store out of her summer kitchen and potato candy was a perennial favorite!  I won’t lie to you, it’s cloyingly sweet but there’s actually a bit of nutrition hidden under all the sugar, so I don’t mind making it once or twice a year.  And once or twice a year is typically plenty to satisfy everyone!

Here’s what you need for potato candy:

1 small potato, baked or boiled, peeled and cooled completely

2T of milk

1t vanilla extract

pinch of salt

1-16oz bag of powdered confectioner’s sugar + extra for dusting

1/2-1 cup peanut butter

Using a mixer, mash potato, milk, salt and vanilla extract til smooth and runny, then slowly incorporate the bag (yes, it may take the entire bag, give or take!) of powdered sugar into the potato mixture until you have a sugar cookie-like dough.  It may take less powdered sugar depending on the size of your tater, so just work slowly, incorporating the sugar a cup or two at a time.  Sprinkle powdered sugar liberally onto a dough board, countertop or parchment paper, add the dough and roll into a large rectangle.  Spread the peanut butter thinly (1/8-1/4 thick) to cover and then carefully roll the dough jelly-roll style.  Wrap in foil or parchment paper and refrigerate until completely cold and then slice into 1/4-1/2 inch thick slices.  A single 1/4 inch slice will generally satisfy the worst sweet tooth!

Next week, I’ll have a few more Waste Not ideas for your Thanksgiving leftovers, but I’m curious if you have any amazing leftover ideas to share with the class??

 

Posted to Simple Life Mom Homestead Blog Hop

A Hard Nut To Crack

As I talked about in the post last week, black walnuts are in season and abundant this year!   At our last home, we had access to just a few black walnut trees on a neighboring property.  Now we’re on a property with dozens and dozens and dozens of black walnut trees, with thousands of walnuts laying in the driveway rotting and dead spots all over the front yard from the tannin in the husks.  This year we decided we needed to figure out SOME way to make use of those nuts to prevent both waste and a big mess, but as you know, black walnuts are difficult to both clean and crack.  But I think we hit upon a few good ideas this year, both for the cleaning and the cracking.  All you’ll need is a cage/trap/perforated metal containment of some sort and a power washer.

We gathered about 15-5 gallon buckets of really grossly-ripe walnuts from the front yard and dumped them 1 bucket at a time into an old live trap.  It was clean, don’t fret about it.

My darling husband set the power washer to the strongest spray setting and turned it on the walnuts, rolling the cage from front to back every minute or two to ensure all the nuts were receiving the full brunt of the spray.  (Pardon the blurry picture…there was gunky overspray splattering everywhere!)

 

 

After approximately 5 minutes of power washing, the nuts were clean and we spread them on a sheet to dry in the grass.

 

 

So step 1, the cleaning, is done.  Now onto step 2, which is far more difficult.  For the past 14 years, I’ve tried numerous methods for cracking black walnuts.  I’ve tried the small handheld versions you find at Walmart and broke about 3 of them.  Tried a mallet.  Tried a brick.  Used a vise.  Ran over them with my Jeep.   Some of the methods worked, some of them failed miserably, most of them resulted in mangled black walnuts with glass-like shards of walnut shell crushing the meat that had to be picked out in miniscule bits.  Yes, it IS that hard to crack a walnut shell.  I seriously don’t know how the squirrels do it.  This year, my husband decided it was time to take the plunge and invest in a quality nutcracker to harvest all those expensive nuts!  And oh did he find a good one!  We love the Master Cracker for Black & English Walnut, Plus Filbert Nut/hazelnut, Pecan, Macadamia, Chestnut- American Made!

If you’ve ever tried to crack black walnuts, you KNOW how difficult the process is but this cracker is so easy to use, my sweet Petunia did it one-handed without breaking a sweat.

So here are some of the features that we like.

  1. The grip is rubber-coated, so it’s comfortable to use, even after a hundred walnuts.  It’s also easy to wipe clean.
  2. It has a large wooden base, approximately 5X20 inches, so you have a very secure surface to work on that won’t slip and slide around.  I love that I don’t have to clamp this to a countertop or bolt it to a work table.
  3. It has interchangeable cracker cups, so you can crack small nuts like hazelnuts right up to large, tough black walnuts.  There is literally no nut you can’t crack with this cracker.  Except a coconut, possibly.
  4. It has a heavy spring so the lever-action feels very secure.  There’s no slop or play in the handle, is what I’m saying.
  5. The ratcheting action of the handle allows it to crack even the hardest nuts with almost no force required.  A child can use this cracker with no problem.
  6. It’s American-made.  Love that!  Apparently there’s a very similar Chinese-made product that costs far less…but as with most things,  you get what you pay for.  Check on youtube for a side-by-side comparison and you’ll see what I mean.

I think my only “complaint” is that I wish the base had a more durable finish for cleaning up afterwards.  It appears to have a rubbed-oil finish, but a gloss would make it easier to wipe up any black walnut mess!  Not that that interferes with the function of the cracker, just saying.

Now I’m not going to lie to you, it’s not cheap.  This model runs over $100, but given the price of black walnuts at the grocery and the fact we have thousands of them wasting in the front yard, it was a sensible purchase for my family.  This cracker will most likely pay for itself in just a year or two, especially given how much I love black walnuts!

I don’t do product reviews often, and when I do, it’s only for products that really work well and save me time and labor.  This cracker does both, so I’m very comfortable recommending it for those of you looking!  Til next time!

 

Posted to SimpleLifeMom Homestead Blog Hop.

Waste Not – Soup Broth

Let’s continue in our “Waste Not” series with one of the simplest, most nutritious items you can possibly make in your kitchen…soup stock!  Homemade soup broth is the ultimate in resourcefulness, nutrition and flavor, if you ask my opinion…and when you read how incredibly easy it is to make it at home, well, you’ll never buy that bland boxed stuff again, I promise you.

Here are the some of the benefits of making your own:

  1. It’s free.  Consider the veggie peels, cores and tops that you throw away every time you cook.  Consider those beautiful meaty bones and the flavorful fat you remove from cuts of meat and toss in the trash.  That’s free nutrition, my friends.  They may not seem like much, but trust me, it adds up quickly if you make an effort to save it.
  2. It’s nutritious.  When you simmer those veggie peels, fats and bones for hours (or use an Instant Pot LUX60 V3 6 Qt 6-in-1 Muti-Use Programmable Pressure Cooker, Slow Cooker, Rice Cooker, Sauté, Steamer, and Warmer) you are leaching every possible bit of vitamins, minerals and beneficial fats that you can from what would be scrap.  In previous generations, simple soup broth was a home remedy for every kind of tummy trouble and weakness following an illness or childbirth.  And it’s an easy way to add a boost of nutrition to soups, stews, cooked grains.
  3. It’s delicious!  There is a huge difference between homemade broth and the stuff you buy in the boxes at Walmart.  In simple dishes like chicken soup, the taste difference is remarkable.  It adds a layer of flavor, creating that “old-fashioned” flavor that we recall so fondly from our grandmother’s cooking, a flavor that you simply cannot achieve with boxed broth or bouillon cubes.
  4. It’s easy.  While the simmering of the broth takes a good long while, the labor involved is pretty much nill.  I keep gallon-sized ziplock bags in the freezer ready to receive scraps and when that bag is full, I make broth.

 

Here’s how you do it!

To make a simple veggie broth, all you need is a good quantity of veggie scraps.  (Approximately 1-to-4 ratio is best; 1 cup of scraps to 4 cups of water.)  Carrot peels and tops, onion peels, celery leaves and stems, garlic peels, bell pepper cores and stems, the green tops from leeks, lettuce leaves, kale stems and herbs like parsley, bay leaves and chives.  Pretty much anything can go into broth, but you’ll want to avoid starchy veggies (potatoes) as they’ll make your broth cloudy and strong-flavored veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts) as they can be overpowering in the stock.  Following the 1-to-4 ratio, simmer the scraps, herbs and water for about an hour or til the veggies are absolutely limp.  Allow it to cool and then carefully pour the broth through a strainer into quart freezer bags and lay them in the freezer flat to freeze.

 

Quality meat/bone broth from scrap is just as simple, though it takes a bit longer.   I use the carcasses from roasted chickens or turkeys, or the bones from steaks, ribs and roasts to make broth.  (If you don’t use cuts of meat that result in a large quantity of bones, that’s okay!  Simply drizzle several pounds of chicken wings, beef knuckles, ox tails, ribs or any other inexpensive boney meat with olive oil and roast at 400 degrees til very brown, approximately 1 hour.)  Now, take those beautiful roasted bones and add them to your stock pot with onion peels and a couple “glugs” of apple cider and water to cover.  Simmer the bones for several hours.  You’ll notice that thinner bones like chicken wings will begin to be pliable and rubbery (that’s good!) and that much of the marrow will have cooked out of the beef bones (that’s good too!).  Don’t rush this step; the longer the broth cooks, the better the flavor and more nutritious it will be.  Alternately, you can pressure cook the broth in an Instant Pot for an hour or on a low setting in a crock pot for 12-18 hours.  When the broth has simmered for the appropriate amount of time, allow it to cool, pour through a strainer and freeze flat in quart-sized freezer bags.  You can also freeze the bits of meat that cook off the bones; they make great additions to soups!

To use:

When you’re ready to use your homemade stock, simply thaw it, season to taste with salt and pepper  and use it as you would commercially prepared stock.  Use it as a base for soups and stews, use it to replace water when cooking rice, barley or potatoes or simply season and enjoy it in a mug to sooth a head cold, queasy tummy or sore throat.  It’s also a delicious tea or coffee replacement when you need a mug of something warm but don’t want the caffeine.

BONUS!

As a total bonus, homemade veggie and bone broth can also be pressure canned to be made shelf-stable and ready in your pantry in a moment’s notice!  For the veggie broth, simply pour the finished broth into prepared Mason jars, leaving 1 inch of headspace and process at 10# of pressure for 20 minutes/pints or 25 minutes/quarts.  For the bone broth, you need to allow the broth to cool completely so that the fat congeals on the top.  Remove the congealed fat, heat the broth to a boil then pour into prepared Mason jars leaving 1 inch of head space.  Process at 10# of pressure for 20 minutes/pints or 25 minutes/quarts.  Gotta love those bonuses, my friends!

I hope you’ll try your hand at making homemade soup broth.  As I’ve shown you, it’s simple, nutritious, delicious and FREE!  Don’t throw those scraps away!  Reap every bit of nutrition you can out of the food you paid good money for—-Ma Ingalls would approve!!  Til next time, my friends!

 

Posted to the Simple Life Mom Homestead Blog Hop