Sausage Bean Casserole

In which I am prepared…and not so much.

I am a planner.  Some people (not mentioning any names here, but I’m calling you out…) say that I’m a control freak. I prefer the term “prepared”.  I just find that things seems to flow better if I know what to expect.  There is comfort in it. Side view of S&B casseroleBy the time this post publishes, I will be on a work trip to Canada.  My husband and kids will be home by themselves.  Because I’m me, I want to have some things prepared for them to eat before I leave.  It’s just easier for everyone if they don’t have to think about it.  Plus it makes it less likely that they will default to pizza every night that they aren’t eating boxed macaroni and cheese.  My husband is a getting to be a much better cook because he’s had to take over a lot of the initial meal prep with our work schedules, but when the cat’s away, the mice will play.   (Which is a really gross cliche to put on a food blog.)Extreme Close Up S&B CasseroleAnd speaking of making sure my family is taken care of, I decided to take my blog writing on the road today and worked from a coffee shop this morning.  The boys are with their dad and we brought the girl with us because she’s been wanting to get back there and play in their super cool kid area.  The coffee shop is known as the town’s living room.  We chose a table near the kids’ area, got her a muffin and a chocolate milk that she won’t eat or drink until much later because she already had 3 breakfasts and really just wanted to play.  There were a couple of women sitting at table near us.  One of them was slightly younger than the other, but if someone had said that they both had grandchildren, I wouldn’t be surprised.  Except, I kind of feel like neither of them had ever had kids since they started loudly talking about how terrible we are for bringing our child to a coffee shop and not spending time with her.  One of them looked like an old church lady.  She would lean forward and whisper something to her companion who would comment outloud about how neglectful we are.  It makes me crazy.  I feel the need to justify myself and my choices.  But it doesn’t matter.  They wouldn’t get it.  And now they are talking about child psychology. I just can’t even.

Anyway, back to this casserole.  The recipe specifically says to make it in two pans.  This is so that you can throw one of them in the freezer for another time.  Which is perfect if you are trying to take care of your family long distance because you have to do things…like work.    This is also one of those recipes that is easy to change up based on whatever your food preferences are. Doing low-carb?  Use quinoa instead of rice.  Hate kidney beans?  Use something else.  Don’t feel like going Italian?  Use Chorizo or breakfast sausage or chicken sausages of whatever sort, use vegan whatever…I don’t know. (I’m still shaking my head about those ladies.)Close up S&B casserole

A note: when baking this, keep it covered.  If you don’t keep it covered, the rice won’t cook.  Someone at my house learned this the hard way when he was cooking the second one or something else similar.  (Aren’t you glad I don’t name names, sweetie?)  Seriously, though.  DO NOT try to cook it uncovered unless you like crunchy burnt rice (and no one does).Sausage Bean Casserole




Zippy Beet Salad

In which you can watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat.

It’s time to break out the recipes that make you go hmmmm….


One of the things that helped foster my dislike for Jell-o (other than old church ladies who put mayonnaise on it instead of Cool-Whip) was the meat gelatin I ate while visiting a friend in Poland for Easter.  It was layers of vegetables and meat and hardboiled eggs ensconced in gelatin.  There was some sort of sauce to put on top.  I’m sure it’s fancy gourmet food.  At another time in my life, in another place, it might’ve been amazing.  At that point in time, however, it was just not my thing.  DSCN3154When we read literature about Russia and Poland, we think of foods like cabbage rolls and borscht.  (See what I did there?  Linked the two thoughts) Cold weather vegetables that store well.  Which makes this whole recipe make a lot more sense.  So put on your fur coat, study up on a little Boris and Natasha and get ready for this recipe.

I did not pickle any beets this year.  (Or really any other year, although I think I have a recipe for pickled beets that I should make.)  We resorted to buying a jar of pickled beets at the grocery store.  The girl was being extra helpful and tried to unload the grocery cart.  Despite warning her, she dropped a full jar of pickled beets on the unyielding tile floor of the grocery store.  Nothing like the smell of vinegar and embarrassment. DSCN3178

As you get to the point of finely slicing cabbage, just grate it in the food processor like the onion.  I can never slice cabbage thinly enough for my own taste.  I even have some decent knives (that might need to be sharpened), but I still can’t get it to the point I like it.  Maybe I just find thick cabbage or something?  If you don’t do this, you will end up with the mess that I got.  DSCN3172

Zippy Beet Salad could actually be good.  I mean, yeah, it’s weird, there is no getting around that.  But the thing that threw it off most was the cabbage.  It was long and stringy and there was a lot of it.  More than there should be for the small amount of gelatinized beet juice.

You will notice from the pictures that I tried to mold this salad.  My darling Mother-in-Law sent me her favorite Jell-o mold.  It didn’t work so well for me on this recipe.  I ‘d try it again with one of those creamy salads with things like crushed pineapple and marshmallows.  But you can see the star on the top.  DSCN3153

If you don’t like beets, this will probably not be the dish that will change your mind about it.  If you do…try it.  It’s not the worst thing you’ll put in your mouth.

Zippy Beet Salad


Mystery Cookies

In which Nancy Drew appears.

When I was very young (probably between 4 and 6) my mom walked in on me reading two Nancy Drew books at the same time. I would read one page of one book and then one page of the other book and then turn both pages at the same time.  I have a vague memory of this.  I explained to her that the stories were too formulaic and boring and therefore needed to be spiced up.  (Not quite in those words, but that was the thought.)Mystery CookiesFrom a very early age, I loved a good mystery.  More often than not, the books I have checked out in Overdrive are mysteries.  The really good ones have twists that you never see coming.  The silly ones are fairly obvious from early on and I spend most of the book waiting for the characters to catch up to where I already am.There was one book I read a few years back where the main character knew who the killer was by asking for them for an answer to a cryptic crossword.  I was confounded at the time, but have since learned to do cryptics.  Not nearly as well as my friend that takes existing crossword puzzles and then writes his own clues to the answers.  Also, not nearly as well, as our other friend who just has the sort of brain that overthinks everything (Yes, mom, even worse than I do.)  I do best when I have someone else with whom I can discuss the possibilities.  Mystery CookiesI am usually pretty good at sussing out secrets.  Not always to my benefit.  Occasionally, though, there are things that I just never see coming.  Like when my half-brother became my half-sister.  Never saw that coming.

Some of these recipes are like that.  Where I just have no idea what it is that I’m supposed to expect.  Like “Japanese” Chicken or Deviled Hot Dogs.  Then there are others that give me an idea, but don’t give me a lot of details.  Unbaked Cookies is a good example, as are most of the cake recipes.  I spend a lot of time assessing what I know about cooking and applying that logic.  That’s part of the appeal about doing this blog for me.  Solving the mystery of these recipes, taking some pictures, trying them out so people know what to expect.  It’s so easy these days to search for a recipe online.  Most of them have explicit how-tos and pictures.  It wasn’t always quite so easy.  Mystery CookiesThis recipe was an easy one.  It just didn’t have a title.  Or instructions.  It’s probably a good thing that the thing I like to read best after mysteries is cookbooks.  Yep.  Just read them like novels.  It’s a great way to see how ingredients are supposed to go together and which foods pair well with other foods.  It gives you an idea of the culture and values of populations.   Shows you how much time people have to cook or bake.  It’s an anthropological study (read: mystery).  DSCN2619

Another note about these cookies, I don’t like creamy peanut butter.  I know, I know, it might call one to question all sorts of things about me, but I said it.  Peanut butter without nuts is just like paste.  Texture needs to happen for me.  It needs some crunch.  It needs to be more than just glue that sticks to the roof of your mouth.  You may point out that this recipe calls for cornflake crumbs and that should provide the texture I say I need, but that’s crisp, not crunch.  Incidentally, these cookies are delicious.

Mystery Cookies

Mystery Cookies

I cup margarine (2 sticks) creamed with 1/2 cup peanut butter, 1/2 cup granulated sugar, 1/2 cup brown sugar.  When while creamed, add one egg and 1 tsp vanilla.  Add 1/2 tsp baking soda, 1 1/3 cups of flour, 1/4 tsp salt.  After everything is mixed together, gently mix in 1 cup of cornflake crumbs.  Bake for 12-15 minutes at 350°.  Yield is 4 dozen.


Breakfast Pie

In which I remind you about the most important meal of the day.

Time to get crazy.   I’m doing a special bonus recipe off my normal Tuesday and Thursday posting schedule.  Woo hoo!  Apple Breakfast Pie

In all honesty, this is because I made something similar for breakfast this morning and was trying to to remember where I got the idea. (clears throat…of course it was great-grandma).  I don’t know why I don’t do stuff like this more often.  It’s so freaking easy.  It doesn’t require a lot of time or attention or anything else.  Bisquik Breakfast Pie

Get out your big yellow box of Bisquik, chop some apples and go to town.  This one is adaptable.  For breakfast this morning, I topped the biscuits with raw beaten egg, ham, goat cheddar, and some Italian herbs.  It makes a lovely breakfast.  Cinnamon Apple Breakfast Pie (2)

This thing is so easy, you could probably even make it with your first cup of coffee before you get ready to start your Monday.  Breakfast Pie

Selma’s Chicken Liver Pate

In which my brother submits a guest post.

I asked all of my siblings if they’d like to make a recipe and submit a guest post.  My brother, Greg Ehrendreich, agreed.  I sent him a few different recipes to choose from.  He chose this one.  If anyone else would like to submit a guest post, please contact me.  If you’ve made one of these recipes and your take is different than mine, I’m interested in your thoughts.  If you changed something up to make it gluten-free or healthier and had great results, tell me about it.  If you have a recipe from your grandmother you’d like to use, I’d love to hear about it.  If your grandma didn’t cook and you’d like to use one of my grandmother’s or great-grandmother’s, let me know.

When my work decided to hold a potluck holiday party, I knew where to turn for inspiration. My dear sister had been asking me to do a guest post for her blog, so I asked her to supply some recipes. She sent several options – a weird chopped herring recipe that had crumbled sponge cake (?!) in it, an orange meringue pie that would probably have been great but would not have traveled well on my bike commute, and Selma’s Chicken Liver Pâté, which is what I decided to make.

I know that my sister would have preferred that I make this recipe exactly as written, for the sake of authenticity, and then discuss how I would change it to modernize it. But look at that recipe and think about it a little bit and you’ll see how impractical that would have been. (I would’ve been fine with it in any capacity.  I’m just excited that he wanted to play along.)

To start with, the recipe calls for ¼ lb each of chicken livers and mushrooms – but each of those comes in 1 lb quantities from the store and it wasn’t like I had another chicken liver recipe I was just aching to make. Therefore, I made a quadruple batch. In retrospect, that wasn’t a good call. Nobody needs that much pate. My wife and I both love liver, but even after taking half of it to the holiday party, I still had more left over than we could eat before tiring of it. Maybe someday I will thaw out the portion I put in the freezer to see if it froze well, or maybe someday I will just toss it out when I find it in a freezer burned lump forgotten in a back corner. Only time will tell.

Then there is the fact that 10 Tbsp. of butter times a quadruple batch = 40 Tbsp. of butter. That’s 5 sticks. I didn’t even have that much butter on hand, and if I had, I still just couldn’t. I used 2 sticks of butter for the quadruple batch. It was plenty.

Once it was bubbling away in the cast iron, wow did it start to smell great in my kitchen. I could have just dug in to that pan with a spoon and a loaf of good bread (if I wasn’t on a low carb diet since last September…another reason I didn’t make the pie). inthepan

Now, let’s talk about seasoned salt. I get it, it’s an old recipe. But I haven’t had plain old “seasoned salt” in my spice shelf for decades. What I did have though is Cavender’s All Purpose Greek Seasoning. Which is great stuff and I highly recommend it. My Chicago Greek coworker says that in his family they literally put it on everything. (This is where I insert that I would’ve used Penzey’s 4/S salt.)suppliesThe Spotted Cow was not part of the recipe, but was a vital part of the cooking process. I was whipping this up after coming home from dinner at my mother-in-law’s house and had a pleasant buzz going so it would have been a shame to not keep riding that while I cooked. Spotted Cow is one of the benefits you get from having a sister who still lives in Wisconsin.

Once everything was all cooked and ready for blending, that’s when I realized that I had forgotten to hard boil the eggs. Thanks to my InstantPot, that hurdle was promptly overcome. The eggs was another place where I cut back from what was called for in the original recipe – I only did 4 eggs for the batch instead of 2 per recipe quadrupled to 8 because I was lazy and didn’t want to have to peel that many eggs. Sue me.

I am allergic to tree nuts, so I subbed in pine nuts for the pistachios. Lightly toasted the pine nuts in a dry pan until they were golden brown and added them at the end after the blending just as it calls for with the pistachios. I didn’t really measure, just used the whole package.

I also realized once I was all done and molded into bowls that I had forgotten to add the lemon juice, but I didn’t want to try to hand mix that in or re-blend it and lose the whole pine nuts into the mush. It wasn’t vital. Your mileage may vary.

The result was not pretty. It was a grey lump. It might have looked nicer if I had some kind of fancier mold instead of just a metal mixing bowl. It was prettier in cross section, though.

Reactions from my coworkers were mixed. I solicited their feedback and prepared a chart. My sister may have mentioned that she has one nerdy brother and one artistic brother. Guess which one I am…

Reactions to Selmas Chicken Liver Pate

Here’s my thoughts on improvements to the recipe:

  • Don’t quadruple it. Find something else to do with ¾ of a pound of chicken livers. Nobody wants that much pate.
  • As I noted before, you definitely don’t need that much butter. For a single recipe, I wouldn’t go over a single stick. Probably only a half stick.
  •  It definitely could take some additional spice beyond what the seasoned salt provides. A heavy hand with some coarse black pepper would have been a good start, as one of my coworkers noted. It is very sweet and rich so additional spice would have helped balance it.
  • The lemon juice that I forgot might have also helped balance the sweetness with some acid. Cider vinegar would work well as a substitute there and would give a different flavor profile.
  • Some kind of final add-in – like the nuts – is definitely necessary to provide contrasting texture. You could get fun with this. Chopped cornichons, different kinds of nuts (if that’s your thing), coarsely-chopped hard boiled eggs (in addition to or subbed in for part of the blended-in ones), capers, chives, crispy bacon bits…you could really change it up with your choice of accessories.

Thanks, Sis, for the recipe and the opportunity to share it with your audience. (Thanks, Greg, for doing this!)

Selma's Chicken Liver Pate


Oven Stew

In which I am freezing.

It has been so cold!  My house is having trouble keeping up with the temperatures, or at least the room with the thermostat is.  Let me just take a second to complain about flawed logic with thermostat planning.  If you put a thermostat in the room that contains the fireplace, that room will get nice and toasty and your thermostat will say that the temperature of the house is comfortable.  Your body will probably feel otherwise if you take a step outside of the room that is being heated by the fireplace.  Likewise, if your thermostat is in a room with a ton of possibly leaky windows, the temperature of the room registers as colder than it should be.  Then your furnace runs continuously and the rest of the house is warmer than you’d like, even though the thermostat is not showing that.  On a related note, I think I need to reconsider the placement of my thermostat.DSCN3443

These are the sorts of days where hibernation makes sense.  Of course there are a thousand projects I could be doing, but it just seems like a lot of effort to get moving.  It’s the sort of day where I just want dinner to cook itself without a lot of intervention from me.  As I was pouring over recipes, I found a recipe for Oven Stew.  It is the perfect recipe for frigid, lazy days.  DSCN3450I made this recipe while my son had a friend over. His friend saw the onion on my cutting board and said, “Is that an onion?  I like onions.”

“Like raw onions?” I asked.

“Any kind of onion.” He stated.

“Like on something…or….?” I questioned, confused.

“Like anything.  Chopped up in pieces.  Can I have some?”

“Like for a snack?”  I queried, still trying to figure this kid out.

“Yeah, like 50 of them.”

“Um…I’m cutting up cheese and sausage for you guys.”  During this whole thing, I was trying to decide if this kid was for real.  We’ve all heard about those old men that will eat onions like apples after they finish their braunschweiger and Limburger sandwiches, but a kid?!?

He is an awesome kid, even if I was a little surprised by his request.

I ended up not giving them onions as a snack and just put the onion into my oven stew.  When his mom came to pick him up later, she commented on how good the house smelled. “It’s my great-grandma’s recipe.” I replied.  (But then again, it seems like they all are these days.)DSCN3451

This recipe does not say to add water to the pan.  Do it anyway.  It’s not stew without the water.  It also doesn’t call for tossing the beef cubes with flour and browning them before adding them to the pan.  Do that also.  It just makes for deeper flavors in the stew.

Have you ever had oven stew?  It is incredible and easy.  Once you are done putting everything into the pot, you are done.  You can just walk away.  That makes this an ideal recipe for the crockpot if the temperature outside isn’t so cold that you want your oven on all day to try to warm up the house.

We ate ours with homemade bread.  But you do you and eat it with whatever you want.

Oven Stew

Oven Stew

1 1/2 pounds of beef cut into cubes
1 cup chopped celery
1 can of tomatoes
1 TB sugar
6 carrots, cut
2 TB minute tapioca
1 large onion, sliced
4 medium potatoes, quartered
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix ingredients well in pan or kettle with tight fitting cover.  Bake at 250°.  Do not disturb while baking.

Christmas Sugar Cookies and Peanut Brittle

2 Days Until Christmas…

2 days until Christmas…

It seems appropriate to finish off my cookie plates with classic treats that are as good today as they were when my great-grandma made them.  These are the sorts of treats that most American kids grew up eating.  I am not sure I remember a single Christmas without Sugar Cookies and peanut brittle.  DSCN3532Being a very modern woman, I’ve dabbled in other types of brittle.  We’ve made bacon almond brittle with hints of rosemary and chilis.  We’ve tried pecan brittle with a bit of orange rind.  I’ve even tried to make brittle in the off-season.  Somehow, though, we always find our way back to peanut brittle.  It’s crunchy and caramel-y.  It’s chunky, salty, and sweet.  This is better than the weird boxes of peanut brittle you can pick up at the drug store.  It’s worth risking the burns. DSCN3531 Another thing to note, I had a heck of a time finding appropriate peanuts to put in the brittle.  I just wanted some Spanish peanuts.  I feel like I used to see them all over, but I went to a couple of different stores and didn’t see them.  I used cocktail peanuts instead, lightly salted. DSCN3529 There are an insane amount of sugar cookie recipes available.  This one is one that you should not make according to the recipe.  If you follow the recipe, the thing you make will be a sweet quiche-y sort of thing.  It will not be cookies.  The recipe is missing flour.  I don’t know how the proofreader missed that.  After consulting various cookbooks, I determined that for the amount of fat and eggs in the recipe, about 5 cups of flour was the right amount.  I was slightly wrong.  I think 4 1/2 would’ve been better.  I added a couple of tablespoons of milk to hold everything together.

The best part of making sugar cookies is decorating them afterwards.  We cheated this year and bought cookie frosting.  I get a break on this one, I made 6 different kinds of cookies and 6 different kinds of candy in 2 days.  It allowed me to sit down with the kids and decorate with minimal clean up after.  The kids love to decorate cookies.  They are getting quite accomplished at it.  There was some marbling going on and some fancy sugar work.

That wraps up the cookie plate for this year.  Plates were taken to neighbors, plates were taken to work.  We are going to need to have people over to help us eat the rest of them.

Christmas Sugar CookiesPeanut Brittle(Velva)