Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Brad's Blue Ribbon Baked Potato Soup

Several of my friends in East Texas were making a recipe for potato soup and adding their comments on Facebook. I read their comments several days and just couldn't believe that it was so great. It was potatoes, bacon, onions, & cheese, nothing really exciting or different. I decided to make it and just see what all the fuss was about. I will say upfront that this is hands down the best Baked Potato Soup I have ever eaten. It rivals some of the best restaurants soups I have enjoyed in my life. If you make this soup, please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

Brad's Blue Ribbon Baked Potato Soup

4 large baking potatoes
2/3 cup butter
2/3 cup flour
3 cups milk
3 cups of half & half
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
4 green onions, chopped
12 slices bacon, cooked crisp & crumbled
1 1/4 cups shredded cheddar cheese
8 oz. sour cream

Wash the potatoes, pierce with a fork and bake in a 375 degree oven until fork tender.
Let potatoes cool then cut in half and scoop out pulp.
Melt butter in heavy sauce pan over low heat. Add flour & stir until smooth. Cook 1 minute, stirring constantly.
Gradually add milk to butter/flour mixture.
Cook over medium heat stirring constantly until thick & bubbly.
Add potato pulp, salt, pepper, 2 tbs green onion, 1/2 cup bacon and 1 cup cheese to milk mixture.
Cook until thoroughly heated. Should be slightly thick. Stir in the sour cream. You can add extra milk for desired consistency.
Garnish with cheese, bacon, and onion on each individual serving.
Makes 6 -8 medium size servings.

As with all wonderful recipes the person who shared should be recognized. The story I received was it belonged to Brad, although I'm not sure who he got it from. But Brad, here's to you knocked my socks off and that's just not easy to do! I will say you come from a long line of wonderful Southern cooks who taught you well. Maybe next time I make it we can wait to eat until we take the pictures.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Weber grills aren't just for guys anymore!

I have a fantastic Weber grill. Everyone in this family knows it's Mom's grill! When we were building our home, the contractor offered a gas line on the deck for a grill. We had always had a gas grill that used butane bottles and they were always empty when you wanted to use it. My husband got those eyes that said "I want that!", so we had the gas line to connect the grill. When time came to purchase the grill he researched it like he was going to split an atom. I heard for weeks the pros and cons of all the gas grills on the market.

At our local home show a grandfatherly man from a locally owned hardware store had a display of Weber grills. As I listened to him explain that grill, it was like cherubs were singing in my ears and their harps were touching my soul. I had never felt anything for a gas grill. It was always that greasy thing in the backyard that never had any butane and the birds built nests in them. I had to have this grill on my new deck, but I couldn't let my husband know how much I wanted this very grill. I could see that little boy look in his eyes and will admit I didn't tell him I wanted it. Did I do that to just be mean, no...I just love to watch him when he acts like that!

When we walked in the hardware store, they had rows and rows of beautiful Weber grills, all shiny and new. My husband, knowing I'm very frugal, went to the less expensive grills. I looked at those grills acting uninterested but polite. The salesman was trying to convince me that even though it was smaller and had less bells & whistles, you still were buying a Weber. I walked around looking at the grills while he talked with my husband. I know they were developing a plan of attack to convince me we had to have a Weber. I looked up and said " How about this one?" It wasn't the top of the line because we didn't need a monster grill, but it was much better than the one they were standing by. Both of their jaws dropped and they both looked like little boys who just got that Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. The salesman because he was making a better sale and my husband because he thought his frugal wife had been replaced by aliens!

We bought that grill and it sits on the deck right now. It is covered with snow and ice but if I wanted to be brave and use it..I could just light my grill and it will melt all the snow in a minute. Did you notice that I said my grill? My husband burnt the first three things he cooked on that grill. He always said he did that because of the propane and cheap grills! I took over the Weber and will give instructions to anyone that wants to learn to cook wonderful burgers, great chicken and most anything you want. My sweet husband refers to it as "my wife's grill". So I bought him the nicest steam cleaner for when he cleans it!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Cooking Tex-Mex is easy!

Tex-Mex is soul food in the South. I never really tried to perfect my Tex-Mex cooking at home when we lived in Texas. It is easier to find a great Mom & Pop Tex-Mex restaurant and support them, but after leaving the South I had to learn to cook like they did! I went in search of recipes for my favorite dishes and realized I didn't even have a Tex-Mex cookbook.

I found Robb Walsh's "The Tex-Mex Cookbook" and my love affair with homemade Tex-Mex was born! I really don't know Robb Walsh other than his cookbooks but he must have the best job in the world! I sat and read the book like a novel and was mesmerized by the stories and the history he shared. I purchased this book in 2005 and it is my go-to book for all things Tex-Mex. I love the fact that a lot of the recipes come from Texas restaurant that I have enjoyed over the years.

El Fenix is the oldest Tex-Mex chain in Dallas, opening in 1918 and still going strong. As a little girl in the 1960's I remember Friday night dinners were always at El Fenix in Dallas. We lived in Waxahachie and it was about a 30 minute or so drive so it always seemed like such an adventure. This was my first recollection of this wonderful cuisine so when I saw their name in this cookbook I was hooked. Walmart stores carry their hot sauce and it's always in my fridge. Great memories in every bite!

My husband is the webmaster for my website and for dinner he is getting Cheese Enchilada's with Chili Gravy, his very favorite..or maybe Old Borunda Stacked Red Chili Enchilada's ...or maybe Green Chili Chicken Enchilada' many choices. Los Tios Mexican Rice and Mi Tierra's Frijoles Charros are the best and guess what? They are in the same cookbook. Hope to get pictures before he devours it!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Southern Ladies always serve dessert....

Resolve to Change #6
Food is not the enemy...make friends with your cookies!

We all love dessert! In the south it's just expected after a big family dinner. The only problem is we never know what a true serving actually looks like. I had Blue Bell Ice Cream for dinner last night and the serving size was 1/2 cup. I dished up the meager bowl and looked at it with extreme sadness. I realized it was the same size as the two huge bites I stole from the carton when I brought it home from the store! I felt a little weak in the knees. Wow..1/2 cup Ice Cream sure looks like less than 1/2 cup of cooked carrots.

Not to be deterred from keeping with my Southern roots and providing a sweet treat at the end of a meal,I searched for alternatives. I measured a serving of fresh berries and it looked like it was so much more food than the ice cream. I added low fat frozen yogurt and crushed nuts to the top and had a yummy parfait. Serve this in a beautiful crystal parfait glass and our Southern grandmas' would proud!

There are so many new recipes for healthier dessert recipes. Many cookbooks are available that focus on sugar free recipes or reduced sugar recipes. You can substitute applesauce for the oil and for a real fiber builder you can substitute black beans. I haven't tried this one yet but those who have say it's good...I'm still trying to find the courage to eat Black Bean Brownies! I love Cooking Light's magazine and website for desserts, they focus on the taste of the food as well as the fat and sugar content.

When you put all these Resolve to Change points together, you eat healthy. You are not on a diet...that should be taken out of our language. It brings about such bad memories of cardboard food and feeling guilty. Food should be eaten as close to the way God provided it as possible. Mostly life should be enjoyed and lived to the fullest, just nice to feel good while your doing it!

Friday, January 14, 2011

You have such a glow about you....lay off the chemicals!!

Resolve to Change #5
polyphropeolenonexephrine...I don't want to eat that!!

When I was in Nursing school the hardest thing for me was to learn to pronounce chemical names. Nothing is as funny as hearing 20 Texans butchering the pronunciation of the Latin language. We needed to sound educated while speaking and most of us have been letting those words roll off of our tongues now for years. I know preservatives are needed to give longer shelf life and make our foods safer but I choose to limit the amount I ingest.

Monosodium Glutamate,the dreaded MSG that is used in restaurants to enhance their food flavor, is the most well known additive that causes people to immediately feel ill after consuming. I am so sensitive to this that I can take a few bites and know if it contains MSG. We finally have a Panda Express here and they use no added MSG in their foods, which means anything with heavy sauce could have some. I can eat there without getting ill!

I have to grocery shop at less busy times of the day or people get a little frustrated with me. I read the labels of everthing that I buy and if it contains more than one preservative it usually doesn't win the trip to my cart! MSG never makes the cut and nitrites are vey limited. If the first or second ingredient is a preservative I not only don't buy it, I most likely stand in the isle muttering to myself about my loathing of dirty food.

I just retweeted an artice from Eat This NotThat. The article is for a healthy cake but the subject was Twinkies having polysorbate 60, a petroleum product used to make plastic. How much of our food has less chemicals and additives than the cardboard box it's sold in? We have such an increase of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromylagia, Autism, and Auto-Immune disorders that have no known causes, we have to start somewhere changing things. I choose to start with eating things as close to their natural state as possible. I refuse to carry a dictionary to the grocery store, but I have looked up an ingredient on my Blackberry!

I started about 5 years ago mixing my own spice blends, dip mixes, breading mixes with only pure ingredients. Being a Texan the first thing I needed was a Chili mix that would do lots of things for me. Seasoning other food as well as making great chili would save me so much time cooking. Spicey Mama's Texas Chili Seasoning was born and it's such a good all purpose seasonig for all things Tex-Mex. We love to smoke meat,but all the rubs are mostly sugar and salt, which makes it not the healthiest for blood sugar or hearts. So I developed Killa-Dilla Rub that is salt free and has reduced sugar. I rub it on pork, beef and chicken and it's great sprinkled on oven baked steak fries. Dip mixes and breading mixes are my new project and my husband loves that he is the taste tester!!!

We deserve to have safe food that taste good but doesn't make us glow! My company is called New Southern Pantry. We can keep our Southern taste but approach the food in a new way. Just repeat after proprxplyopeptheyine, not a real chemical but watch maybe coming to a grocery store near you soon!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Butter, Oil, and Shortening , yes you can eat them but not with a spoon!

Resolve to Change #4
Don't give me Trans really!

In 1998 the World celebrated the 125th anniversary of margarine. In 1920 as we entered World War I, the shortage of butter brought on the dependence in America to the synthtically produced spread. If you didn't have cows to milk and make your own butter then you ate margarine. People became accustomed to the artifical butter and didn't have the craving for that rich buttery taste.

Butter came under a great deal of scrutiny when it was found that the high levels of saturated fat could cause heart disease in some people. Many people were advised by their doctors and nutritionist to switch to margarine. Then we did an about face and could no longer use the margarine because of trans fats which were found to raise LDL, the bad cholesterol and lower HDL,the good cholesterol. So we chunked the stick margarine and went to the tub, which didn't have trans fats. Now in 2011 butter is on the list of things to use sparingly with heart disease, due to the saturated fats...feels like we are little mice on a wheel!

I will admit I eat butter very sparingly because my family has a history of heart disease. You really can't use tub spread on fresh corn on the cob! I cook with canola oil or olive oil, but you have to remember that they all have LOTS of calories. My favorite thing to do is use 1/2 teaspoon of melted butter to 1/4 cup canola oil when a recipe calls for oil. It gives it that buttery taste we need but with much less saturated fats. Trans fats are the final answer after all this research. They are in so many of the fast food items that I have given most of those up.

When you are looking for information on your health and diet, be sure the source is trustworthy and un-biased in their writing. There are so many scams for diet and advice on the Internet that it makes you want to just say enough already, just give me the facts. I always lean towards medically based sites because they seem to be less radical and more fact based.
This website at the Mayo Clinic gives great substiutions for recipe ingredients. I have also listed it in my favorite websites on my blog.

Moderation is the key to a good life and it is the hardest thing to accomplish at times. When I shop for food I look for labels with very few ingredients. Why do I want to eat things with names I can't pronounce? My feelings on preservatives and additives are very strong...and Southern women don't mind telling you just how we feel!!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Put down the deep fryer and back away!

Resolve to Change #3
Protein is your best friend...really!

I love fried food. Growing up in the South we tend to just look for things to deep fry. Who would have ever thought that the lowly pickle could be sold at a restaurant for $5.95 if you just deep fried it? Deep fried cheese? Come on what were we thinking when we did that one! Deep fried foods are some of the most addictive morsels on the planet. I worked in a family-owned restaurant years ago that was buffett style Southern food. I learned to batter, fry, and make gravy from the most incredible person in the world. We even made hot water cornbread that was deep fried. Her name was Miss Pearl and she scared the life out of me. She had control of that little kitchen and even the owners trembled when she spoke!

She taught me so much about cooking Southern style, but the one thing I remember hearing her say all the time was "Child, if your grease ain't right, don't even try to fry" The wrong temperature of your grease can just boil your food in oil...not real healthy! So for myself I have chosen to only have fried food ever few months. I love Chicken Fried Steak, I have a post explaining that love in detail...but I only make it about 2 times a year. And yes I use a thermometer, because even though Miss Pearl is gone to her heavenly reward she put the fear of God in me about lukewarm oil.

When we think of protein our mind goes to the meat counter. That isn't the case so we need to expand our protein lists. I love yogurt, low fat cheeses, milk (this ones tough for me),and low-fat cottage cheese. Peanut or other nut butters are great sources of protein as are eggs. For those who are vegetarians there are more options today than ever.

Harvard School of Health has a great website on dietary needs.

Being an overweight child I was on a diet at 9 years old so..not something I feel all warm and fuzzy about! Following a specific diet has never worked for me, I actually hate the word diet because it brings up negative, unhappy feelings even before I begin. I'm a diabetic so I eat 6 times a day. That keeps my blood sugar level and I feel much better. When I decided to get healthier (you notice I didn't say lose weight),I researched many views on what that really meant related to food intake. Most of the sensible dietary guru's all are saying the same thing. I tend to reference the GI Diet by Rick Gallop alot, but South Beach, Weight Watcher's , Nutri-System ..etc all follow the same path. It's a healthy approach to living so that is what counts.

Oh and by the way...I'm not skinny or thin, or even where the charts say I should be. I would love to lose about 40 more pounds this year, but I'm healthy and happy and that is what life is all about. "As God is my witness I will never diet again", okay so I'm not Scarlett but you get my point!!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Vegetables were not created to be limp!

Resolve to Change #2
Don't kill your veggies...they've done nothing wrong!

Until about 20 years ago my vegetable plate would have been corn,green beans, and lettuce salad. I hated this seemingly unneccesary food group with a passion. Those funky colored English Peas could make me run crying from the table. Don't even begin to make me try greens of any kind. I ate salad that consisted of iceberg lettuce, bacon bits (those hard red kind) and cheese. I added the boiled egg and Thousand Island dressing to my salad. These were my "vegetables".

I have grown leaps and bounds since then, but still need work on a few of those greens! Upon examining what I hated about vegetables I discovered it was the way they were prepared. The overcooked, limp, mushy things on my plate really took away from my Southern meals. Why would you cook beautiful pieces of fried chicken and make fluffy mashed potatoes to only plop down mushy vegetable to complete the plate?

Over the years I have learned to eat so many vegetables I never thought I would enjoy. Cooking a vegetable until it loses it's color also drains it of all it's nutrients. Vegetables should be steamed, sauted, grilled or eaten raw to retain their health benefits. I am so addicted to farmers markets and love asparagus grilled with fresh garlic and olive oil. Frozen vegetables are the next choice after fresh for taste, but even canned veggies retain some nutrients to provide our bodies with what we need.

Be kind to the little green your asparagus...handle with care your sweet little carrots...don't send them to the party all limp and mushy!! Try this recipe this spring when the asparagus is fresh, it's so easy and guick, don't cook too long!...No limp veggies!

Roasted Fresh Aspargus with Garlic
Wash and clean the amount of asparagus needed to serve 5-6 spears per person.
Pat dry with towel, snap off woody ends and place in shallow ovenproof dish
Toss with 1 tabespoon of olive or canola oil
Finely chop 2-3 cloves of garlic, add to asparagus and salt lightly if desired, Toss well to coat.
Bake or grill at 325 degrees for 10 minutes or until spears begin to turn brown, may need to turn during cooking time,depending on your oven or grill.

Check out some really good information at the American Dietetic Association

Monday, January 10, 2011

New Years Resolutions ....that can last a lifetime

Resolve to Change #1
"Give me the whole grain & nothing but the whole grain!"

As an RN I know what to do but don't always do it. I found myself in a situation several years ago that changed my life. I was 45 years old, had no energy,and had lost all desire to change. I had been diagnosed with Diabetes in 1991 as well as Systemic Lupus, Thyroid disease and Hypertension. I had developed chronic pain and depression to add to these other lovely problems. My family tend to be "big boned" as we say in the south but that's just a nice way of saying FAT! I had struggled with my weight since childhood and was losing the battle in the worst way. When I looked at how I cooked I didn't see a problem at first, but after being honest I saw monsters I didn't want to acknowledge. I just played Scarlett and said" I'll that about that tomorrow"

The first problem was I didn't cook at home more than 50% of the time. The second problem was I made nothing from scratch anymore. Everything I had was a mix or boxed product. I have always been a great cook but the health issues slowly became the excuse for cooking quick foods or going out to eat. I knew that I had to make a change if I wanted to feel better. This was about the time the glycemic index diet became all the rage. I studied everything I could get my hands on and slowly began putting these principles in place. After a month of eating whole grains instead of white refined grain, I noticed an increase in energy and less pain all over. So I made up my mind that I would try this way of eating to see if this was a fluke. It was not a fluke.

It takes more than just changing from white flour to whole wheat flour, you have to commit yourself to never wanting to be who you see in the mirror right now. I went slowly with the changes, but everytime I changed something and felt better I picked up the pace. In 3 months I was well on my way to being 20 lbs lighter and feeling much better.

Diabetes and other diseases are affected by what we put into our bodies. If we have a way of controlling this then it seems like we would, but we have a free will. I don't always make the right choice but do try to make more right than wrong. I made up my mind then that I wouldn't always be perfect..but I would be healthy. I joined the YMCA and started water aerobics the next week. The more I move and exercise the better I feel...huh?? that's what the Doctor said would happen! Just don't tell him I said he was right.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Fried Black-Eyed Peas to start the New Year right!

Black-eyed peas and cabbage or greens in the South on New Year's Day is a must. Sadly as a southerner I don't like either items in the traditional way that we serve them. I refrain from commenting on the condition of those greens that my family and friends gobble down without thinking twice. When I was a little girl and my daddy washed the underside of the lawn mower, I thought for sure those were collard greens that were washing out. Since then I have never been able to eat a whole bowl of that green gold that everyone loves. They are one of those foods that just fall outside my comfort zone. My grandmother always said you had to eat at least a spoonful of greens and peas for good luck in the New Year. I did what she ask because I loved her, but I never loved either of those foods.

After becoming an adult and realizing that greens didn't have to look like the lawn mower wash out and peas weren't evil, I have learned to tolerate greens and like peas. My husband loves greens and when I can get them fresh at the farmers market I cook those for him and I try a little each time. Black-eyed peas are not readily available in Nebraska, but the frozen or dried peas are pretty good. This year my husband asked for something he saw on Food Network. Fried Black-eyed peas, yes southerner's will try to fry anything. These were actually very good and addictive and I will say taste nothing like a black-eyed pea! If there are any left over store in a glass jar in the fridge. I think these would be great served on salads or mixed in with a snack mix that is savory.

Fried Black-Eyed Peas

2 cups dried black-eyed peas
6 cups water
1/2cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped poblano or any chili pepper
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
2 Tablespoons chopped cilantro
2 Tablespoons of cooking oil
Ham bone or ham hocks (could use bacon)

Soak peas overnight, do not put in fridge. If you forget you can soak in hot water for 1-2 hours before cooking, peas need to give to pressure a little bit when squeezed.
Chop onion, peppers, cilantro and garlic. Place oil in heavy dutch oven and heat oil to medium-high. Add onions & peppers, saute till soft then reduce the heat to low and add cilantro & garlic sauting 1-2 minutes.
Add ham bone or ham hocks, saute for 2-3 minutes on medium heat then add water to cover. Approximately 6-8 cups of water depending on the size and depth of your pot. Drain & rinse soaking peas well then add to dutch oven
Bring to a slow boil at medium high and then reduce heat to medium low. Cook till tender, usually about 1 1/2 hours. Check on peas while cooking and add more water if needed. Peas are done when they are soft but still have texture when tasted. Can't be mushy and really soft to fry correctly.

To fry the peas:
Cool peas and drain off all the liquid. In a deep fryer or deep heavy saucepan place 1 cup of canola or peanut oil. Heat to 325 degrees and cook by the spoonfuls for 5-7 minutes. Remove from oil and drain on paper towels. Dust with your favorite seasoning while hot. I used New Southern Pantry All Purpose Seasoning but anything that adds the kick you like will work.
Can be stored in glass container in fridge for several days.