Category Archives: Cooking

Plain and Simple French Toast

It wasn’t until I was a grown-up, living on my own in my first apartment, when it occurred to me that people actually use a recipe to make French toast. My mom never used one, and I followed suit, using as many eggs as necessary for the amount of bread I intended to use and whisking in some milk until it looked right. A touch of vanilla, sometimes some cinnamon, and the mixture was ready to go.

The real key to delicious French toast is the bread. You want a delicious French toast? Use some of my mom’s homemade sourdough bread. Can’t get that? Try Trader Joe’s sliced brioche bread. It is fantastic!

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So here’s how I make French toast, perfect for a weekend morning or to liven up a regular ol’ weekday!

Ingredients

  • 2 eggs, cracked and beaten well
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 4 or 5 slices of bread
  • Butter, 2 tbsp for skillet and plenty for French toast
  • Maple syrup, powdered sugar or other toppings

Directions

  1. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in skillet or griddle over medium heat.
  2. Whisk together eggs and milk in a shallow bowl. Stir in vanilla. You can also add in a little cinnamon if you’re so inclined. Sometimes I am!
  3. Dip the bread into the egg mixture, taking care to carefully coat each side of the bread. Allow the excess to drip off before placing each piece on the griddle. Continue with each piece of toast.
  4. Cook in skillet or griddle for about two minutes, then flip. You usually don’t have to cook that side as long.
  5. Serve! I like my French toast plain and simple, with melting butter and warm syrup. But if you want to get fancy with powdered sugar, fruit or however you like it!
  6. Enjoy!

 

If you try this recipe, simple as it is, share about it on social using #UnfinBus!

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Fe Fi Fo Fana: Banana Pudding

I know it’s a widely considered a Southern dish, and I consider myself a Midwesterner at heart, but banana pudding has always been one of my favorite desserts. I like it in all of its forms: homemade custards topped with meringue and toasted in the oven. The recipe on the back of the Nilla Wafers box. Or the recipe I’m sharing with you today—which I have no memory of how it came into my arsenal of banana pudding recipes—which involves instant pudding, whipped topping and sweetened condensed milk.

Sounds a little weird and maybe gross? Wait until you try a bite!

And with the hottest part of summer preparing to bear down on us, you’re going to need some easy, delicious cool desserts for backyard barbecues and picnics, right?

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Ingredients

  • 1 large package instant vanilla pudding (I always used the Jell-O brand)
  • 2 1/2 cups of cold milk
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk (14 ounces)
  • 1 container Cool Whip or whipped topping (the large one)
  • Sliced bananas (to taste, but usually 2-3)
  • Vanilla wafers (I use Nilla Wafers because they are the most delicious!)

Directions

  • In a large bowl, mix together the pudding and milk. You can stir or whisk, but your goal is to make sure there aren’t big lumps of pudding mix.
  • Fold sweetened condensed milk into the pudding mixture. Blend well.
  • Fold in half of the container of Cool Whip. Trust me; this is genius. And delicious. But I also must admit that for a big part of my childhood, I ate Cool Whip by itself because I think it’s delicious. Mock and yell IMG_0061at me if you must, but I still like it!
  • In a large, pretty bowl, line the bottom and maybe a little of the side with vanilla wafers. Top with sliced bananas, as many as you like.
  • Layer on banana pudding.
  • Top with vanilla wafers and sliced bananas, then pudding. Continue to layer until all of the pudding is used up. Your final layer should bea layer of pudding.
  • Top the final layer with the remaining half of whipped topping. You can decorate that with crushed vanilla wafers.
  • Then, refrigerate for at least a few hours before serving. I prefer overnight, but 2-4 hours is probably sufficient. This allows all the flavors to meld.

It’s an easy dessert, but a delicious one that’s sure to please a crowd. And who wants to spend a long time slaving over a stove in a hot kitchen in the summer? Not me!

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July 4 demands cobbler.

As you can tell from the recipes I’ve posted lately, I’ve been on a cobbler kick.

Actually, since I made and posted my blackberry cobbler recipe a few weeks ago, a friend of mine has been nagging me for a blackberry peach cobbler for her. Since I made the plain ole’ blackberry cobbler for a get-together with work friends, she didn’t get to have any. . . . but she was hosting July 4 at her house and her blackberry peach cobbler seemed like the perfect dessert for me to bring.

Blackberry peach may seem like a weird combo, but don’t knock it IMG_3935until you try it. I dreamed it up several years ago after I made a blackberry peach smoothie, and it was delicious. Around the same time, a pie place in town that I really like (The Loving Pie Company), served up a blackberry peach pie—so if people who make pie for a living think it’s a good idea, I had to try it.

Y’all, it was delicious. And definitely worth making again to celebrate Independence Day. So, with no further ado, the recipe. (And, guys, if you haven’t caught on, my cobbler recipes are all variations of the same recipe. So, get the crust recipe here. )

Blackberry Peach Cobbler Filling: 
1 1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons flour
4 cups fresh peaches, peeled and sliced (You can use frozen, but fresh is so, so good. I used Peach Truck peaches.)
3 cups fresh blackberries, rinsed (Once again, you can use frozen, but I got some beautiful organic ones 2 for $5 at Kroger.) 

1/2 cup water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup butter
2 tablespoons sugar

Instructions
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

2.IMG_3939 Follow the directions here to prepare the crust.

3. Make the filling. Combine sugar and flour and mix well. Add peaches, blackberries, water, and vanilla. Stir. Spoon into baking dish and top with butter, cut into smaller pieces.

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4. Top with the remaining crust and pinch edges of crust together. Cut slits into the top crust (or use your star cookie cutter) to vent the cobbler. Sprinkle with sugar.

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5. Bake at 400 degrees for 50-60 minutes until the crust is golden brown and the filling bubbles. Enjoy warm with vanilla ice cream and friends!

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Blackberry cobbler to warm your heart

I like dessert.

Cakes, pies, puddings, ice cream. I like it all—but my absolute favorite is cobbler. Especially when it’s warm and topped with melting vanilla ice cream.

My favorite cobbler is peach, which there’s already a recipe for on this site. My second favorite? Blackberry. (My other second favorite is blackberry peach. Think it sounds weird? It’s DELICIOUS!)

But today’s post deals with blackberry cobbler. I recently made this for a get-together with friends, and I came home with an empty pan. I mean, the people almost liked the pan clean. I took that as meaning the recipe is a success. So, here it is:

Ingredients
Crust: 
4 cups flour
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cup shortening
2/3 cup water (give or take) 

Filling: 
1 1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons flour
2-3 cups blackberries (I’ve used frozen and fresh. Fresh mix up better, but frozen may be easier to find or less expensive)
1/2 cup water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup butter
2 tablespoons sugar

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 13×9 pan.

2. Make crust. Combine 4 cups flour and salt, mix well. Cut in shortening (using a fork or pastry blender). Continue doing so until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs. Add water 1 tablespoon at a time, tossing and mixing. Add water until dough is formed and moist enough to form a ball. I sometimes have to add more than 2/3 cup. Divide dough into 2 pieces and set one aside. Roll the other out on a floured surface until it is big enough to line the bottom and sides of your pan.

IMG_38723. In another bowl, make the filling. Combine sugar and flour and mix well. Add blackberries, water, and vanilla. Stir. Spoon into baking dish and top with butter, cut into smaller pieces.

4. Roll out the remaining dough and use it to top the cobbler. Pinch the edges together. Cut slits in the crust and sprinkle with the 2 tablespoons of sugar.

5. Bake at 400 degrees for 50-60 minutes until the crust is golden brown and the filling bubbles. Enjoy!

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Skillets are for more than frying: Skillet Apple Pie

One Sunday when I was at my parents’ house during the holidays, my mom made skillet apple pie. She’d seen the recipe in a magazine and decided to try it one day and it had quickly become a family favorite—well, for most of the family. Because I live in Nashville, I hadn’t gotten to try my mom’s take on the skillet apple pie, but I had eaten it in restaurants.

But understand this: homemade (when done right) is so, so, so much better than store-bought or reheated from frozen (which is what a lot of chain restaurants do).

Last week, I bought a bunch of apples, mostly because I ran in to Aldi’s to stock up on some canned goods, the apples were there, it was a good price, and I’d been wanting fried apples. I had a few left over and as I was driving home yesterday decided I’d do something nice for myself and make an apple pie. But were four apples enough?

I decided to call the expert and ask my mom. She said it would probably be OK (though probably a little less than ideal) as long as they weren’t tiny. Then, she reminded me of the cast iron skillet and recipe for skillet apple pie she’d given me (and my sis-in-law) for Christmas.

And the idea was born.

So, I headed to the store to buy pie crust (the recipe calls for pre-made; yes, I know how to make from scratch pie crust!) and made it happen. The result was delicious and a nice way to carve out some peace in a busy week.

With no further ado, let me present the recipe with my adjustments. It’s based off the original Southern Living recipe, which you can find here.

pie2Skillet Apple Pie

4-6 apples, peeled, cored, and cut into bite sized pieces (I think the recipe says wedges, but I don’t like huge chunks.)
1 tsp. cinnamon (give or take, I tend not to measure cinnamon)
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 pkg. pie crusts, pre-made
Extra sugar and/or egg whites for topping the crust

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. On the stove top, melt the butter in your skillet.

2. Core, peel, and chop the apples. Toss with cinnamon and 3/4 cup sugar and set aside for a bit.

3. Add the packed brown sugar to the skillet and let it melt down into a beautiful brown syrup of deliciousness. I pondered adding just a touch of apple juice to this, but resisted. I still think it would be nice.

4. When the brown sugar has dissolved and the butter is completely melted, remove the skillet from heat. Place one of the pre-made piecrusts on top of the syrup.

5. Pour the apples on top of the bottom crust.

6. Top with the remaining crust and pinch the edges together. Cut 4-5 slits in the top to vent the pie, then brush with egg whites (if so desired) and sprinkle a little sugar over the top crust.

7. Bake in the 350-degree oven for an hour to 1 1/2 hours. The recipe suggested shielding the crust with aluminum foil in the last 10 minutes so that it doesn’t get too brown, but since I didn’t have any, I didn’t do that. My oven only needed right at an hour to get the pie done, so you’ll need to watch the pie and remove it when the top starts getting very brown.

8. Let the pie sit for about 20-30 minutes, if you can. It’s really hot when you first take it out of the oven, especially with that brown sugar syrup, so unless you want to burn the lips off your face, wait a bit. But do enjoy with a little vanilla ice cream! It’s DELICIOUS!!! And EASY!!!!

Smiling (with tears in my eyes)

Last weekend, I pulled out a well-worn cookbook from my shelf and thumbed through it, looking for the recipe I needed. I could even picture it in my mind, the first recipe on a right facing page somewhere in the salads section.

The cookbook is my favorite cookbook, one you can’t buy anywhere. It’s the cookbook my mother compiled for me when I first moved to Nashville. She wrote in some of her favorite recipes with little notes about who they came from. She asked important women in my life to write their recipes in the book. And she got my Grandma Polly to write some of her recipes, too.

It was one of her recipes I was looking for that afternoon. And I soon found it, clearly written in her handwriting, the handwriting she’d had before her first stroke that made writing, especially cursive, difficult. Dana Irwin’s mostaccioli salad, the title read, and the woman’s name and my grandma’s handwriting brought back a flood of memories.

So I made my grocery list from the recipe and left the book lying open on the table so that I could make the salad on Saturday afternoon after my long run. And later, after I’d made the salad and tucked it into the fridge to marinate overnight, I thought to myself, I’ll have to tell Grandma that I made this. She would like that.

That thought came naturally, unbidden. And it didn’t take but a moment for the truth to sink in and a wave of grief flowed over me once again. Grandma Polly passed away in 2007, and I can’t tell her that I made a recipe she’d once lovingly written into a cookbook as a gift for me. But still the thought came, and in that moment, I would have given anything to be able to just talk to her, to tell her about making that recipe and what was going on in my life and hear her say things that made me feel loved and important, blessed and beloved.

But with the grief also came something else—a smile.

A sense of peace.

Hope.

I’m not sure that grief ever just goes away, but I am sure that the Man of Sorrows who is well acquainted with grief comes alongside us and uses it to show us His hope.

And we can smile—with tears in our eyes—and trust Him in all things.

Food for thought: Savory Potato Soup

I’m a big potato soup fan, but I’m kind of picky about my potato soup. O’Charley’s is famous for their loaded baked potato soup, but to me, it’s too think and too cheesy. I still want to taste the potatoes when I’m having potato soup. A lot of potato soups are just too thick. I want a little body to my soup, but I don’t want it to feel like mashed potatoes in my mouth. And canned potato soups—well, after you’ve had homemade, they’re just a little sad.

So, several years ago, I started making my own potato soup. Sometimes, I make a loaded baked potato soup with tons of cheese and sour cream stirred in at the very last moment. But sometimes, I just want something simpler and more homey, so that’s when I pare the recipe down and make a savory potato soup that I don’t mind eating as leftovers.

And after you try it, you’ll want to eat it all, too!

The Ingredients
4 large baked potatoes, peeled and cubed*
8-10 slices of bacon, cooked, drained, and crumbled
2/3 cups all-purpose flour
7-8 cups of milk (You can use part milk and some chicken stock for flavor if you like. This is also give-or-take, so you can add more or less when the soup reaches the consistency you like.)
4 green onions, chopped
1/3 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
2/3 cups butter

In a large stock 20120213-192348.jpgpot, melt the butter. When it has melted, whisk in the flour. When combined, gradually stir in the milk (or milk and chicken stock), stirring constantly until the roux is thick and coats the back of the spoon well. At that point, stir in the baked potatoes, chopped green onions, and crumbled bacon. Season with 1 tsp salt and pepper (adjust to your taste). Reduce the heat and allow the mixture to simmer.

At this point, I added about 1/3 cup of shredded cheddar cheese. I just wanted a little of cheddar’s taste and color, so I just added a littl20120213-192356.jpge. You can add up to 1 1/4 cups if you’d like a cheesier soup. Also, if you want to make a loaded baked potato soup, this is when you’d stir in 1 cup of sour cream. I didn’t choose to do that this time, but I have before and it’s delicious! Allow the soup to simmer for 10-15 minutes, then ladle into a bowl and top with a little finely shredded cheddar cheese.

Then, enjoy!

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* I h20120213-192339.jpgave washed the potatoes really well and cooked them in the oven, then cubed them and used them in the soup. I’ve also recently discovered a product at the grocery store called Simply Potatoes. It’s basically potatoes already cubed and ready to cook. I used those in this soup, but you would probably want to pop them in the microwave for a bit before adding them to the soup so that it won’t take too long for them to cook through. Read the package for how long to microwave them.

Food for Thought: Crock Pot French Dip Sandwiches

Admission: I’m the French dip sandwich’s biggest fan.

And if you’re ever in the South, stop in at a Rafferty’s restaurant and get one of theirs. You won’t be sorry! I mean there’s the bread and the roast beef and the melty cheese. What’s not to like?

But I digress. As I said in my first recipe post this year, I edited the 100th anniversary cookbook for my church at the end of last year. One of the very first recipes I edited was one for crock pot French dip sandwiches, and I’ve wanted to make it ever since. Finally, last week, I pulled together all the ingredients and made it happen—and I’m going to share it all with you!

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The recipe:

1 chuck roast (3-4 lbs.)
2 cans beef consommé
1 pkg. Italian dressing seasoning (I used Lipton’s onion soup seasoning b/c it’s what I had on hand.)
1 pkg. of rolls/buns
Swiss or provolone cheese, if desired

What to do:

Pour the two cans of consommé into the crock pot. Place the chuck roast (defrosted, if you got it out of the freezer) in the crock pot and sprinkle the seasoning over the top of the meat. See, EASY! Cook the meat in your crock pot for 6 to 8 hours. The recipe in the cookbook says to cook it on high for that long, but I really don’t think that’s a great idea—at least with my crock pot. I cooked it for that long on low and it was PERFECT.

When you get home from work or wherever, toast the rolls/buns in the oven with a little butter, then place the meat on the rolls and top with a bit of cheese, if you’d like. Use the juice left in the crock pot as the au jus. And be prepared to eat your weight in roast beef and au jus, because it’s delicious!

I served mine with oven baked rosemary-Parmesan fries. Recipe follows.

Oven baked Rosemary-Parmesan fries

3-4 large potatoes, depending on size and how many people you’re serving
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons garlic salt
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper
Rosemary to taste (I used fresh chopped rosemary and it was about 1 1/2 teaspoons. Use less if using dried herbs.)
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, finely grated
1/2 cup olive oil (give or take)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Wash and peel the potatoes if desired. Cut into wedges or fries. Place in a bowl, sprinkle with seasonings and herbs, then toss with olive oil. Make sure the potatoes are all coated with the mixture. Place the potatoes in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Bake for 45 minutes, until the potatoes are browned and crunchy. While the fries are still warm, toss with the Parmesan cheese. And enjoy!

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Living the dream

It’s in my Twitter profile and how I describe myself on the “About” page of this site.

Writer.

A word that sits there, staring me in the face day after day.

Yes, I write. I write devotions for work. I edit, rework, and rewrite submissions for the magazine. I draft emails, write a column each month for the magazine, and write on this blog.

But as 2011 faded into 2012, that word started to haunt me a little. Can you call yourself a writer if you never really write?

The answer came more quickly than I’d wanted: a resounding no. I can write it in my descriptions of myself, but if I don’t actually write I’m not a writer. And truth be told, besides this blog, I wasn’t doing much to exercise the gift or talent outside of my work.

For years I’ve told friends about things I wanted to write. A half-finished story I’ve worked on for years that really has no direction. “When I write my cookbook, I’ll make sure this gets in,” I’d say when someone complemented me on a dish I’d made. I’d talk about all the things I wanted to write, but I’d never actually write them.

So, this year, I’m taking the time to sit down and write. Maybe not every day, but more often than not, I expect to find myself sitting in my “office” (read: guest bedroom where my desk is) tapping away on the keyboard for a few minutes to an hour. And all these writing appointments have a goal: to write that cookbook.

I’ve actually even mentioned it to a few people, which is a new thing for me. Usually, I keep my

istockphoto/ © Christine Glade

dreams close to my chest, and only reveal them when they’re so close to fruition I can’t fail.

I could fail on this one. I could quit halfway through and never finish it. But I’m putting it out there, and I’m working on it. It may never be published or sold in a bookstore, but by the end of this year, I’m hoping to have a manuscript of my very own cookbook—a collection of essays and recipes.

It may be the worst idea ever—but at least I’m taking the chance to live the dream. And maybe, just maybe, it will become a reality.

Pasta for the new year: Pasta YaYa

Loyal readers know that I spent a good portion of my free time last year editing a cookbook for my church. For many of my cooking posts this year, I’m planning to try out recipes from that cookbook.

(And in case you weren’t aware, church cookbooks have some of the BEST recipes in them—mostly because they’re recipes submitted by real people who actually cook food that regular people want to eat.)

OK, off my soapbox.

So this past weekend, I set out to try out a recipe and was looking for something hearty and easy to serve for dinner. I also wanted something good, since I’d been eating leftovers for most of the week. So I picked a pasta recipe called “Pasta YaYa.” Here it is for your perusal:

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The Players

Pasta YaYa

4 tbsp. butter
1/2 tsp garlic
1/2 cup green onions, chopped
3-4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
3/4 lb. pork sausage, browned and drained (I omitted this. Not because I don’t like sausage but because I didn’t have any!)
2 cups chicken broth
1 lb. rainbow pasta (rotini), cooked and drained (I didn’t have rotini or bowtie pasta, so I used spaghetti noodles broken into smaller pieces.)
1 cup heavy cream (I didn’t have heavy cream, either, and am trying to keep my food a little lower on the fat content, so I used lowfat milk thickened with flour. Heavy cream would DEFINITELY work better.)
2 tbsp. blackening spice

(To make blackening spice, combine: 8 tbsp. paprika, 2 tbsp. granulated garlic, 2 tbsp. onion powder, 1 1/2 tbsp. dried thyme, 1 tbsp. dried oregano, 3 1/2 tbsp. salt, 1 1/2 tbsp. black pepper, 1 1/2 tbsp. white pepper, 1 tbsp. cayenne pepper, 1 tbsp. dried basil. Store in a tightly covered jar. You can use it on other things—like chicken—too!)

In a large saucepan or deep skillet, melt the butter and saute the garlic and green onions for a couple of minutes. Not too long, though! You don’t want burned garlic. Add in the chicken (cut into small pieces) and cook until the chicken is white and cooked through. Add sausage, chicken broth, and cooked pasta. Simmer for two or three minutes. Add cream and reduce for one minute. When ingredients have heated through and the cream has reduced somewhat, mix in 2 tbsp. of the blackening spice mixture (more if desired). Simmer for a minute or two more, then serve.

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My review: It’s pretty simple and just a touch spicy. I’m not sure it’s the BEST pasta dish I’ve ever made, but I’ll likely make it again—with the sausage!
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