Slow Cooker Hoppin' John!

Ever since I was a little girl, my mother has always cooked black eyed peas and cabbage, along with corn bread on New Year's day.  She was always very adamant about us having to have this for health, wealth and good fortune.  I didn't realize until I got older that most folks in the south believed this bit of folklore or superstition.  Some actually cook some form of greens instead of cabbage...turnip greens, mustard greens or collards, but my mother always cooks cabbage.  If you go to any grocery store in our area the week before New Year's Day, there will be a big display of black eyed peas and plenty of heads of cabbage. If you wait until the night before New Year's Day, there won't be any left.

  The belief is that the black eyed peas represent good fortune and prosperity and the greens or cabbage also represent know, because they are 'green'.   Some say this tradition with the black eyed peas came about during the Civil War, because the northern troops burned all of the crops and took everything from the southern folks that was good to eat, but because black eyed peas were only grown to feed to the livestock they left those alone.  The southerners had to eat them to survive.  Others say that the tradition started over 1500 years ago in Europe and was brought to this country.

I have a secret confession to make, I don't really like the taste of black eyed peas.  I know I am supposed to like them, they are a southern thing and I am writing about and trying to further southern foods and culture, but I just don't like black eyed peas.  Just cooked by themselves, they taste a little like dirt to me. I thought I might be odd in this thinking, but I have an aunt that says the same thing. 

Now if you dress the ugly little critters up some and give them enough spice, I can eat them up.  Needless to say, growing up in a family where you had to eat what was put in front of you, I have eaten plenty of them just plain.  However, when I started cooking them for my own New Year's good luck, I knew they had to be dressed up a little.  Otherwise, I was just going to have to do without luck. Hoppin' John was the perfect solution.   This is a thick soup of black eyed peas, rice, spices and some type of meat...pork mainly.   Here is what you will need for this:

1 lb. dried black eyed peas, washed
8 cups water
4 chicken bouillon cubes (I used Knorr)
1 Tbs. bacon drippings
1 medium onion, diced
1 medium green pepper, diced
2 stalks of celery, diced
1 Tbs. garlic, minced
1 lb. breakfast sausage,  crumbled and browned
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. Cajun Seasoning (I used Tony Cachere)
dash of Tabasco sauce (according to your taste)
2 cups rice, uncooked
jalapeno rings for garnish

Place all of the ingredients, except the rice in a slow cooker.  Cook on low for 8 hours or overnight.  Cook rice.  Place a scoop of rice in each bowl and ladle the Hoppin' John over all.  Now you have black eyed peas that most anyone will want to eat!

  Hoppin' John!

Cinnamon French Toast Casserole!


I really like breakfast dishes that can be made the night before and just popped into the oven in the morning.  It makes having a nice breakfast for overnight guests or just family really easy and hassle free.  This French Toast casserole needs to be assembled the night before and then all you have to do is bake it and maybe cook some bacon or sausage to go with it.   Here is what you need for this:

8 slices bread (slightly stale bread works best)
1 stick butter, divided
1 cup brown sugar
6 eggs
1  1/2 cups half and half (can use whole milk)
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. vanilla
pinch of salt
1 cup chopped pecans

Melt 6 Tbs. of butter and mix with the brown sugar.

Spray a 2 1/2 quart square or rectangular casserole dish with nonstick spray.  Lay 4 of the bread slices in the bottom, overlapping if necessary.  I used sliced Italian bread.   Sprinkle half of the butter/brown sugar mixture over the bread.

Lay the other 4 slices of bread over the first 4 and sprinkle with the rest of the butter/brown sugar mix.  Dot with the other 2 Tbs. of butter and sprinkle the cup of chopped pecans over the top.  In a mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, half and half, cinnamon, vanilla, and salt.  Pour this mixture over all.  Press the bread down to get it all wet with the egg mixture.  Cover tightly and refrigerate overnight.  The next morning remove from refrigerator and preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Bake for 40-45 minutes.  If it starts to brown too much on top, cover with foil. I usually remove it at about 40 minutes and it never browns too much, but all oven are different.
Remove from oven and let stand for about 5 minutes before serving.  You can sprinkle with some powdered sugar and serve with maple syrup.   This serves 2-4 people, if you have a bigger crowd, just double everything and prepare in a 9"x13" baking dish.
French Toast Casserole!

Grape Salad!


This grape salad is going to be one of our new family favorites.  I made this for my annual Christmas bash this year and those who tried it, loved it.  I had made a version of a 'grape salad' in the past and it was also very good, but this one is just as good and just a bit different.

This salad is great served alongside a meal, as a dessert or even as a fruit salad on a brunch menu. This is also as good in the summer as in the winter months.  It's easy to put together and can be made the night before.  Here is what you will need:

1 8 oz. cream cheese, softened (can use light cream cheese)
8 oz. sour cream
1/2 cup sugar
2 lbs. seedless red grapes, sliced in half
2 lbs. seedless green grapes, sliced in half
8 oz. frozen whipped topping, thawed slightly
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup chopped pecans

Blend the cream cheese, sour cream and sugar together until light and fluffy.  Add the sliced grapes and teaspoon of vanilla.  Fold in whipped topping.  Pour into a pretty glass bowl or trifle dish.   Mix brown sugar and pecans and sprinkle over the top.  Chill for several hours or overnight.

Party Cheese Ball!

This is the oldest recipe I have for a cheese ball.  I got this recipe from my sister-in-law, years ago and it is still one of my favorites for making a cheese ball.  It's also simple, without a lot of different ingredients. Cheese balls are good to keep on hand during the holidays in case guests drop in or you need something to take to a casual get together.  They also make nice gifts.  The flavor of this cheese ball just gets better as it ages also.  Here is what you need:
2  8oz. pkgs. cream cheese, softened  (can use light cream cheese)
2 cups cheddar cheese, shredded
1/3 cup bleu cheese crumbles (optional)
1 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
1 pkg. onion soup mix (I used Lipton)
dash of Tabasco sauce to your taste
2 cups chopped nuts (pecans or walnuts)
Blend softened cream cheese with Worcestershire sauce, onion soup mix and Tabasco sauce.  Mix in cheddar cheese and bleu cheese if you are using it.  Cover and chill until it's firm enough to roll into a ball.  You can divide this and make two smaller cheese balls. 
Spread chopped nuts on a sheet of wax paper.  Roll cheese mixture into a ball and roll in the nuts to coat the outside.  Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for several hours.  Take the cheese ball out about an hour before serving.  Serve with crackers.

Kentucky Jam Cake with Caramel Icing!

Jam cake is just synonymous with Christmas for most of us who grew up in Kentucky and I am sure in many of the other southeastern states.  My mother used to make one every year in the week or so before Christmas.  It was always a special cake that I looked forward to, but it really wasn't as much the cake I loved, but the caramel icing.  Caramel icing is just the best thing you ever put in your mouth.   This cake only gets made at Christmas by most folks as far as I know and if you have ever made one, you know why.
This particular jam cake recipe came from my sister-in-law and she got it from her sister-in-law. I don't know how old the recipe is, but I know it's been around for many, many years.  It's the best jam cake recipe I have ever eaten.  It is a really moist cake and it just seems to get moister each day as long as you keep it wrapped tightly.  It does have quite a few ingredients, so here is what you will need:
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
3 eggs, separated  (the beaten whites go in last)
2  1/2 cups all purpose flour, sifted
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1 jar prune baby food
1 cup blackberry jam
1/2 cup strawberry jam
1/2 cup pineapple jam
1/2 cup cherry preserves
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup pecans, chopped
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Cream butter and shortening together.  Add in sugar and beat until fluffy. Mix in the egg yolks. 
 Place egg whites in a separate bowl and beat until stiff peaks form.  You fold these in at the end.  Sift together the flour, soda and salt. 
Mix in all of the jams, the prune baby food and the seasonings. 
Alternately mix in the flour and buttermilk.  Don't over mix, just basically incorporate it all.  Stir in the chopped pecans. Finally fold in the beaten egg whites. 
Prepare 3 nine inch cake pans by lining them with parchment or wax paper.  Spray the insides well with nonstick cooking spray.  This cake has a tendency to stick because of all of the jam in it, so be sure to line the pans and don't skip that step.
Evenly distribute the batter between the pans and shake the pans around to get any air out. Turn the oven down to 325 degrees and bake for about 30 to 35 minutes.  A toothpick inserted in the middle should come out clean.  Remove and cool completely before icing. 
Caramel Icing
1/2 cup butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup cream ( I used half and half and it worked fine)
1/4/ tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
1 lb. of powdered sugar
Melt butter in a heavy saucepan on the stove and dissolve brown sugar in it.  Add the cream and salt.  Bring up to a boil and cook for 2 minutes.  Remove from heat and beat in the sugar and the vanilla. You need to use an electric mixer for this.  If it seems too thick add 1 Tbs. cream at a time until it's where you want it.
Immediately stack and frost cake.  You have to move fast, because this icing will start to thicken.  It's best if you keep it on some low heat or in a pan of hot water as you work with it.  If it starts to get too thick to work with heat it a little and add a dash of cream.

Evelyn's Kentucky Colonel Bourbon Balls!

Every year at Christmas, a dear friend of our family would make all of us her special bourbon balls.  Sadly, she passed away this fall.  Evelyn and my mother had been very close friends for years, but she was special to all of us.  She was just like part of our family.  You have never met a sweeter lady. When I started doing this blog and the holidays approached, I told my mother one day that I wish I had gotten Evelyn's bourbon ball recipe and Mama said that for some reason she did ask her to write it down right before she got sick.  To most people that ever had bourbon balls, Evelyn's bourbon balls are much better for some reason.  They were her thing she made that none of the rest of us tried to improve on, because you couldn't and you just knew it.  She must have made dozens of these things, because she always gave all of us a nice size tin.
Now, let me warn you, Evelyn's bourbon balls pack a wallop.  They are not for the faint of heart or taste  She always said her 'secret' was that she soaked the nuts in bourbon overnight to begin with.  That is what made the difference.  I serve these at my annual Christmas party for the family and our oldest nephew says there should be a two bourbon ball limit and if he has more than that, his wife has to drive 
 I have decided that I will take over as the official 'bourbon ball' maker in Evelyn's honor, but I am not sure I can ever live up to her standards.  RIP Evelyn and thank you for your kindness and your friendship through the years.  You were a special lady.
Here is what you need for these bourbon balls:
1 cup pecans, chopped
1/4 cup good KY bourbon plus 2 Tbs.
1 lb. box of powdered sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened to room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla
1  12 oz. pkg. semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup paraffin
Soak the nuts in 1/4 cup good bourbon overnight.  I always get asked what I mean by 'good bourbon'.  I mean good quality, not the cheap stuff...something like Maker's Mark is good for this.  
Mix together butter and sugar with an electric mixer, add vanilla until creamy.  Add the pecans with bourbon and add 2 Tbs. additional bourbon.  Place in the refrigerator to chill for several hours.  Roll into teaspoon size balls.  Place on wax paper and cover loosely.  Place the rolled bourbon balls in the freezer to freeze.  Some recipe don't tell you to freeze them, but they are really hard to dip without falling apart if you don't.
Melt chocolate with paraffin in a double boiler and blend until smooth.  Dip the balls while still frozen in the warm chocolate and place on wax paper or nonstick aluminum foil works really well.  I like to go back after dipping them all and drizzle a little chocolate right on top for a pretty look.    When you start dipping these in the chocolate, you have to work fast before they start to thaw or they become hard to work with. Also keeping the chocolate over the warm water to keep it melted is important because the frozen bourbon balls will chill it quickly.  If you don't have a double boiler just place a sauce pan in a larger pan with water in it. Place in the refrigerator and chill for several hours.
Evelyn's Kentucky Colonel Bourbon Balls!

Traditional Southern Deviled Eggs!

You are just about always going to find a plate of deviled eggs at any southern holiday meal or picnic or special occasion gathering.  It's just what we do. Strangely enough, they are always gone at the end of the gathering matter how many you make it seems.
Each person has their own 'recipe' for deviled or dressed eggs.  It isn't rocket science so it's very much up for interpretation folks, but I do have younger people and less experienced cooks ask me about the best recipe for making them.   Here is how I make them:
12 eggs, hard boiled
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1/2 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. mustard, yellow or Dijon
dash of salt and black pepper
dash of celery salt
dash of Tabasco sauce (optional)
paprika or Cajun seasoning for garnish
Place eggs in enough water to cover them.  Add a tsp. of vinegar and a dash of salt and they will peel much easier.  Also, if you can, don't use really fresh eggs that you just bought.  They are much harder to peel than eggs you have had in the fridge for a few days.  Bring to a boil and boil for just a minute with cover on pan.  Turn heat off and let sit for about 12 to 15 minutes in the hot water.  Run under a couple changes of cold water and peel.  They will peel much easier.
With a sharp knife cut down the center lengthwise.  Remove the yolks and place in a bowl.  Mash with a fork.  Add the other ingredients and stir together until smooth.  You can fill them with a spoon or put the filling in a piping bag and pipe it in for a very pretty presentation.  Sprinkle with just a little paprika or I like to sprinkle with just a bit of Cajun seasoning which gives them a little more spiciness.
Another optional seasoning that I sometimes use for variety is to add 2 tsp. of dry ranch dressing mix.  It gives the eggs a really good flavor.
Traditional Southern Deviled Eggs!

Layered Pea Salad...a Southern Favorite!

This is a salad that has been around a long time.  I am not sure when people began making it, but it was probably in the 1970's or earlier?   Some call it 7 layer salad, some layered pea salad and some just call it pea salad, which is what we have always called it.  It's an interesting mixture of ingredients that you layer in a pretty bowl or trifle dish and then 'ice' with mayonnaise and sugar.  Yeah, I know, only in the south.  But if you are not from the south or haven't ever had this pea salad, don't be so quick to judge.   It's delicious, it can be made ahead and it will feed a crowd. My mother wouldn't think of not having a pea salad in the fridge when my sister and her family are coming to visit.  It's one of their favorites. There must be something that folks like about it, because it's still around and people are still asking about how to make it. You will always find it at a church potluck or many times at holiday meals.   Here is what you will need to make it:

4 cups of chopped salad greens (usually iceberg lettuce)
1 medium sweet onion, chopped
3 stalks of celery, chopped
4 hardboiled eggs, sliced or grated
1 bag frozen peas, thawed or 1  15 oz. can baby peas, drained (like LeSeur)
2 cups mayonnaise mixed with 2 tsp. sugar
2 cups grated cheddar cheese
7-8 slices crisp cooked bacon or 1 pkg. real bacon bits (the bacon bits hold up better if you are making it the night before or to travel)

Place chopped salad greens in a pretty salad bowl or trifle dish. Next layer chopped onion and sliced celery over that.  Next layer the peas over that.
Layer the egg over the peas.  Some just sliced the eggs, I usually grate them.
Mix the mayonnaise and sugar and spread over all, sealing to the edges. Sprinkle with cheese and bacon or bacon bits.  Refrigerate until time to serve.  This can be made the night before.  Sometimes to change it up a bit I add 2 tsp. Ranch dressing and 3 Tbs. Parmesan cheese to the mayonnaise mixture and add a layer of water chestnuts after the egg layer.  You can add or leave out whatever your family likes.

Peanut Butter Pinwheels!

These peanut butter pinwheels are very similar to what some people call "potato candy", but these are made with cream cheese instead of potatoes.  I like both, but I think these have a richer flavor.  It's cream cheese, so how could it be bad, right?   This is actually easy to make.  The key is to get the white 'dough' stiff enough.  Here is what you will need:
1 8 oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened
1/2 stick or 4 Tbs. of butter, softened
2 lbs. powdered sugar (that is one large bag or two boxes)
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups creamy peanut butter
Cream together the cream cheese and butter.  Add vanilla.  Slowly start mixing in the powdered sugar a little at a time until it's a stiff 'dough'.    Sprinkle a little powdered sugar onto a large sheet of wax paper and roll the mixture out into a rectangle.   It should be thin enough to roll but not so thin that it won't hold together when you roll it.   Spread the peanut butter in a thin layer over all.   Roll up in a tight roll with the wax paper and wrap tightly in plastic wrap.   Refrigerate for several hours, overnight is best, and then slice in thin slices and place on a tray. 
Peanut Butter Pinwheels!

2 Ingredient Fudge...No Joke!


This fudge is so easy, I almost didn't make a post of it, but it's so good I had to share.  The same reader that sent me the 3 Ingredient Peanut Butter Cookies also sent me this 2 Ingredient Fudge recipe.  For those of you who thought that they could not make fudge, you now can.  Once again, I was skeptical that this was really good, but once was.  I need to quit second guessing  

This is all there is to this: 

1  16oz. container vanilla frosting
1 18 oz. jar of good creamy peanut butter (like Jiff)

Place the vanilla frosting in the microwave and microwave on high for 60 seconds.  Be sure to remove the foil on the top.   When it has completely melted, remove and stir into the peanut butter.  Blend together well and pour into a 9"x9" pan that has been lined with buttered wax paper or nonstick foil.  Refrigerate until firm, then remove from pan and peel off foil or paper.  Cut in 1 inch squares. This is really creamy and rich fudge and no on will know it was this easy. You can pretend you stood over the boiling pan with the candy  thermometer half of the afternoon.    I did sprinkle 1 cup of chopped peanuts on top of mine for a better looking presentation.

2 Ingredient Fudge!

Slow Cooker "Cowboy Steak and Bean Stew"!

This is a hearty stew that you can just throw in the slow cooker and cook all night or all day and you have a wonderful warm meal waiting for you when get home from a long day of work or Christmas shopping.   This is also economical and healthy.  You can double the recipe and feed a fairly good size crowd also if you are having visitors for several days during the holidays.  This would be perfect for one of the more casual days and is a good change from all of the holiday dinners. You can place this in an oven proof dutch oven and cook it in the oven also or on the stove top.  Here is what you will need for this stew:
1 - 1 1/2 lbs. beef steak, cubed (I used top round)
2 Tbs. oil
1/2 lb. dried white beans (navy or great northern)
7 cups of water
1  1lb. can of crushed or stewed tomatoes, undrained
1 cup onion, chopped
1 cup celery, sliced
1 cup potatoes, diced
1 cup turnips, diced (optional, if you don't care for turnips add more potatoes)
3 beef bouillon cubes or 1 can beef broth
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. seasoned salt
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. chili powder
2 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
dash of Tabasco according to your taste
Brown the steak in the oil in a skillet.  Wash the dried beans.   Place the steak, beans, water and all of the other ingredients in the slow cooker and stir together.  Cook on low for 7-8 hours.  Taste for seasoning, it might need a tad more salt.
If you are going to bake it in the oven, mix it all together in an ovenproof Dutch oven on the stove top and bring to a boil.  Cover and place in the oven at 325 degrees for 4 hours.
"Cowboy Steak and Bean Stew"!


Ruby's Opera Creams!

This recipe for "Opera Creams" is my late mother in law's recipe and undoubtedly, my favorite homemade Christmas candy.  I have not had this candy in over twenty years.   My sweet mother in law passed away very unexpectedly over 20 years ago and she was the only person I knew who made this candy.  No one in my family and friends had even ever heard of it and to this day, I don't know where she originally got it.  I never thought to get  her recipe for it and after she passed, I looked high and low for a recipe that might come close to it.  My mother thought she had a recipe so she made it and bless her heart, it wasn't even close, but I didn't want to tell her that.   So, I eventually just gave up. 
When I started writing this food blog, I started asking all of my family and friends for recipes for the things they make that are really good, so I got with my sister in law about a lot of her recipes, because she is a fantastic cook.   I mentioned how I wish I had gotten the Opera Creams recipe and she told me she had all of her mother's recipe files and books with her handwritten recipes in them and that she did, indeed, have the Opera Creams recipe. 
 I don't know why I had never thought to ask her before. She did warn me that she had tried to make them and they never did taste as good as they had when her mother made them.  So I got the recipe and gave it a whirl.  My husband says they turned out just like his mothers, although for me, none will taste just like hers did,  but they brought back good memories of her for both of us.  I even found the little candy dish she always kept them in after she made them.  Food is so important in our lives and brings back such memories of those who made it for us.  If we keep the food and the recipes alive, we keep part of those folks alive for us to remember always. 
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
2 Tbs. light corn syrup
1/8 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup chopped walnuts
 Place sugar, cream, milk, corn syrup and salt in a heavy saucepan.  Cook over low heat until it comes to boil, stirring frequently.  Cook until it reaches the soft ball stage on a candy thermometer or around 240 degrees, stirring constantly.  This takes some time to reach so be patient.  When it reaches the soft ball stage, remove from heat and stir in vanilla and the 2 cups of chopped nuts.  Pour into a buttered 8"x8" dish.   Allow to cool completely and set up before cutting into 1 inch squares.   This candy actually improves with age.


Best Dang Fudge You Ever Ate!

Several of you have asked for a recipe for good 'old fashioned' chocolate fudge.  I take it that when you ask about that, you mean the type of fudge you stand and stir and have to bring to a soft ball stage and pray that you don't end up eating it with a spoon or it doesn't turn out grainy, which is even worse.   This fudge recipe is 'old fashioned' tasting and a little more trouble than some of the quick and easy type fudges I have been posting, but it is much easier to get good results. I really do think this is the best fudge recipe I have ever tried and it always turns out perfect if you follow the recipe exactly!   Here is what you will need:

4 cups sugar
1 cup half and half
1 cup butter
12 oz. unsweetened chocolate chips
12 oz. milk chocolate chips
25 lg. marshmallows or 6 cups mini marshmallows
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup nuts, chopped

Mix half and half, sugar, vanilla, and butter in a large heavy saucepan.  Bring mixture to a boil, stirring constantly.  Boil for 2 minutes.  Turn the heat off.  Add the marshmallows and stir until melted.  Add the chocolate one kind at a time and stir until melted.  Add the nuts.  Pour the mixture into a buttered 9"x13" pan.  If it thickens up too much to pour into the pan, turn the heat back on for a few minutes.

Let this cool completely and set up before cutting into squares.  This takes several hours.  You can put it in the fridge once it cools.

To change the flavor, you can use a 1 pkg butterscotch chips for one of the chocolate chips or if you prefer a dark chocolate fudge, use 2 packages of the semi-sweet chocolate chips or 2 packages of the milk chocolate chips if you prefer a milder chocolate flavor.   I prefer using one of each for a perfect blend.

Cut this in small pieces, because it is really rich, but absolutely delicious!
This recipe makes a lot of fudge, so you have plenty for gift giving if you like!

3 Cheese Sausage Balls!

Sausage balls have been around since at least the 1970's as a yummy appetizer for parties, tailgating and such.  They are really great if the mixture of ingredients and cooking time is just right. However, they can be a little dry if you aren't careful and usually are really best when first out of the oven.  This recipe adds an ingredient that makes these sausage balls a little more tender and moist.  Cream cheese does good things to most recipes and it isn't any less impressive in these cream cheesy sausage balls.  I also added just a touch of Parmesan along with the traditional cheddar cheese.  Try them and I think you will decide they are much better. Who would think you could improve on a sausage ball? Here is what you will need:
1 1lb. roll of breakfast sausage, hot or mild
1  8 oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened
1  1/2 cup baking mix (like Bisquik)
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
dash of garlic powder
1/4 tsp. Cajun seasoning like Tony Cachere's (optional)
dash of Tabasco sauce (optional)
Mix uncooked sausage and cream cheese.  Mix in all of the other ingredients until well blended.  Roll into 1" balls about the size of a small walnut. 
Place on a cookie sheet sprayed with nonstick cooking spray. I use the nonstick Reynolds Wrap.  Place in a preheated 375 degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes.  Don't overcook.  Remove and serve.

Mama's Old Fashioned Divinity!

Divinity is a southern confection that like so many other old southern confections is just about becoming extinct as a homemade candy.  It's an airy, sweet and yummy candy that is a little temperamental and at times difficult to make.  My mother has made this ever since I can remember. There is one thing I do remember Mama always saying before the day we would be making Divinity and that was "If it isn't raining or looking like rain tomorrow, we will make Divinity".   She still says that anytime we talk about making it.  She is absolutely right about that also.  Divinity is so light and full of sugar that if the humidity is over 50%, it will not set up and 'dry', because it just absorbs that moisture in the air.  Actually, it is best to not make several homemade candies when it is humid or rainy out.   That is not just an old wives tale.   Mama has included a secret ingredient in this recipe to make this divinity 'almost' fail proof if you follow the directions, but you still need to make it on a clear day.  Here is what you will need:

3 cups sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup water
1/4 tsp. salt
1  1/2 tsp. vanilla
3 egg whites
1 tsp. baking powder
1 pkg. unflavored Knox gelatin (this will help guarantee they set up and won't affect the taste at all)
pecan halves or maraschino cherries

Place sugar, salt, syrup, and water together in a heavy saucepan on medium heat and bring to a boil.  Cook until this reaches a soft ball stage.  Use a candy thermometer to determine this.  You will need to be stirring this frequently while it comes up to this temperature.

Place egg whites and baking powder in a mixing bowl and beat until they peak, like you would for meringue.

When the syrup comes to soft ball stage or about 240 degrees on your candy thermometer,  it is ready to beat into the egg whites.  First, add the package of Knox gelatin to the egg whites, then slowly pour the hot syrup in beating it constantly the whole time.  Beat this until it loses it's gloss or about 4 to 5 minutes.  Add the vanilla in right at the end.

If you have a stand mixer, it makes this whole process much easier.  If not, you might want to enlist a helper to make it.

Drop by teaspoonful onto greased wax paper.  You have to work quickly with this or it will start to set up too much before you get them all dropped.  If you are doing this by yourself, you can spread this in a pan and after it sets up you can cut it into squares.  You can dress these up by pressing a half pecan in each piece or a maraschino cherry looks pretty also.  You can also make this in different festive colors by just adding a drop or two of food coloring.  These will dry and set up fairly quickly and then they can be stored in an airtight container or tin.

Mama's Old Fashioned Divinity


Kentucky Bourbon Brown Sugar Ham!

Baked ham is always good for a holiday meal or an anytime meal actually, but we think of it for holidays usually.  What I like about a ham, is that you not only get a wonderful meal out of it initially, you can get so many meals and uses out of the leftovers.  It's rare that you would ever eat a whole ham at any one meal, unless you have a really large crowd.  This is what is sometimes called 'city ham'...not by those of us that actually know what country ham is most of time, but they call it that at Cracker Barrel it seems and it does help to differentiate between the two. What I am trying to say is this recipe is for 'city ham' not a country ham, which is a whole different process.  You can buy a fully cooked ham or a semi cooked ham, a boneless ham, semi boneless ham or bone in ham...doesn't matter one bit. This recipe is not really for a 'fresh ham' which requires different cooking times and is more like cooking pork loin. 
  Different brand hams will be available in different areas of the country, but I prefer a Kentucky Legend Ham (imagine   I like to buy a whole ham if possible, but if you do bake a half ham that has been cut, put that cut side down in the pan to prevent the ham from drying out.  That brings me to the spiral cut hams, I am not a big fan. I know they are really popular and Paula Deen sells the heck out of them and for a cook that doesn't really know what to do with a ham, they are a pretty good option.  You can put that packet of stuff they stick in there with them on it and warm it up (ewww) and it will be good to go, or at least edible.  I find that with this cooking method that I like to use,  they tend to dry out, because of being spiral cut.  They are just not as suitable for this long slow cooking method.

 Even when hams say "fully cooked" and you read things written by foodies and experts and such that say, "you can take that ham right out of the package and slice it and eat it"...please don't do that.  That would turn even me against ham and I love everything about a pig...well almost.  In my humble opinion, you also cannot simply warm those hams up in the oven to 160 degrees (which is also said a lot).  Now if you do, it won't kill you  or anything, but the flavor just won't be there and it won't be tender and juicy and succulent like a ham that is baked properly.  Some people prefer a semi boneless or bone in ham over a boneless ham and the ones with the bone will be a little more flavorful, but the boneless ham gives you more bang for your buck, carves better and will feed more people...both, cooked this way are excellent.
Anytime I bake a ham, people always ask where did I buy it.  They always think it's from a ham store or something, which is funny to me.  I would never pay what those places charge for a baked's crazy.   You can bake a much better ham at home with the right method.  Here is what you will need:

1 ham, fully cooked or semi cooked
whole cloves
1 can pineapple slices, juices reserved
2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup good Kentucky bourbon
2 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbs. prepared yellow mustard

With a sharp knife score your ham in about 1" squares.  It is probably already sort of scored somewhat, but just make those cuts a little deeper in squares.  Place a whole clove in every other square.  You don't have to do each one, cloves go a long way and can be overpowering. Place the pineapple rings over the ham. Reserve the pineapple juice.  The pineapple rings help hold the glaze on the ham and sweeten it.  You can also stick a maraschino cherry in the middle of each pineapple ring for a pretty presentation.

Preheat oven to 350.  Mix pineapple juice, brown sugar, bourbon, Worcestershire, and mustard and spread over the ham. Pour about 1 cup water in the bottom of the pan.  Cover tightly with heavy duty foil and bake for 1 hour.  Remove and baste the ham again with the pan juices.  Cover with foil again and cook for another hour. Turn the oven off.  DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN. Let the ham sit in the oven until it completely cools down.  This does wonderful things to a ham that you cannot do any other way.  When you take it out and uncover it, the ham will still be hot, unless you left if in there for a couple of days or   Sometimes I put one in the night before a couple of hour before bedtime and then turn it off after the two hours and let it just hang out in the oven all night long.  Take it out in the morning and carve it.   It's just perfect!  There are two things that make this ham better than most, the bourbon and the cooking method.  Don't change either one and you will be pleasantly surprised!

Kentucky Bourbon Brown Sugar Ham

Rocky Road Brownies!

This is my mother's "Rocky Road Brownie" recipe that she has been making for years.  She always makes these when her grandchildren are coming to visit, along with tons of other sweets.  These grandchildren are all pretty much grown now, the youngest being a set of twins who just turned twenty, but when they are all around you would think not one of them is over five years old.  Of course, that is what is so special about both being a grandparent and having grandparents, the relationship doesn't have to actually grow up.  It's the one place, you can always go back to and still be that dependent, adored child that never does anything all that wrong or disappointing, because grandparents never see it from any viewpoint, but yours.   Every person should have that "Nana" or "Papaw" that adores them like they were five all of their lives.  My son and his cousins have had that and will have that as long as they have their Nana and Papaw and for that, today, I am very thankful.  I hope they are as thankful and realize how blessed they are.  I think they know, even if they don't always express it as much as they should.  

These are a 'from scratch' brownie, but they couldn't be easier.  They look really appetizing and make a nice item for a dessert tray or even to make as a home baked gift for that special person that would be inexpensive to give.  Here is what you need for these brownies:

2/3 cup butter, softened
1  3/4 cup sugar
3 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1  1/2 cup self rising flour
2 cups miniature marshmallows
1 cup chopped nuts (optional)
6 oz. chocolate chips
1 tsp. shortening

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cream together the butter and sugar.  Add in the eggs.  Mix in the cocoa powder, flour, and vanilla.

Spread in a well greased 9"x13" baking pan.  Bake for 25-30 minutes.  Don't over bake this.

Remove from oven and sprinkle the top with the nuts if you are using nuts and the marshmallows.  Place back in the oven for 5 minutes.  The marshmallows should be just starting to slightly brown.  Watch carefully so the marshmallows don't get too brown.

Melt the chocolate chips with the shortening in the microwave for 1-2 minutes and stir to blend well.  Drizzle the melted chocolate over the top.  We use a squirt bottle to do this and it makes a thinner line and you can control where it goes a little better, but you can just drizzle with a spoon.  Anything with chocolate drizzled over it makes a nice presentation!  That's it..."Rocky Road Brownies"!  Aren't they easy? 

Aunt Vel's Southern Ambrosia!


Ambrosia is a southern classic on the holiday table and there are literally hundreds of variations on the basic idea of ambrosia.  This recipe is my Aunt Vel's and it is a fairly straightforward ambrosia, which I like because it's not too sweet or overly complicated.   It is great with baked ham or roasted turkey.  My husband is our fruit lover in the family and he really loves all ambrosia and fruit salads. This ambrosia is one of his favorites.  This is what you will need for this:

1 cup flaked coconut
1 cup pineapple tidbits, drained
1 cup mandarin oranges, drained
1 cup nuts, chopped (pecans or walnuts)
1 cup sour cream
2 cups miniature marshmallows
2 Tbs. powdered sugar
maraschino cherries for garnish (optional)

Mix all of the ingredients together until combined, chill and serve. So simple and so good!  If you are looking for a little more variation in an ambrosia type salad, you might also want to check out Pina Colada Ambrosia or Banana Split Salad!

Southern Ambrosia!

Unstuffed Pepper Soup!

I love stuffed peppers, but when I make them, I end up eating them by myself most of the time.  Nobody in my household is crazy about the green pepper, but if you somewhat disguise the green pepper in soups and stews and such, they have eaten quite a few of them actually.  Onions have to have the same disguise.  This soup is like taking a stuffed green pepper and  a cabbage roll, something else I like, but rarely make for obvious reasons, and deconstructing them and then rearranging them into a more palatable soup for some folks (husbands, kids).  
Did you notice my use of the word 'deconstructed'   To think they say television is not educational.  I learned that one on the Food Network.  I take it to be a fancy schmancy way to say, taking the ingredients in a recipe apart and putting them back together in a different 'less constructed' way.  Heck, we have been doing that in the south for years now.  Sometimes, just because we don't have time for all of that 'constructing' and sometimes for the same reason I am doing it here...the art of disguise. 
I love this soup for several reasons, it's economical, fairly fast to make, very healthy and delicious. Here is what you need for this:
1lb. to 1 1/2 lb. ground chuck
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced  (can use 2 green if that is what you have)
1 medium size sweet onion, diced
1 cup celery, sliced thin
1 Tbs. minced garlic
1/2 head of green cabbage, chopped
1 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes
1 can light red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups V-8 juice
6 cups water
2 Tbs. beef bouillon granules or 4 beef bouillon cubes
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. seasoned salt
1/2 tsp. Cajun seasoning (I use Tony Chachere's)
1/2 tsp. celery salt
1 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
dash of Tabasco sauce (optional)
1 cup rice, uncooked
Brown ground chuck with onion and garlic until it is no longer pink.  Drain any excess grease. Add the celery and green and red pepper and sauté lightly.  Add all of the other ingredients except the rice.  Bring to a boil and boil for about 2 minutes, stirring ingredients to mix well.  Turn down to simmer, cover and cook for 30 minutes.  Add the rice and simmer for another 30 minutes.  If the rice is tender, it is ready to serve.  Taste for salt and pepper, you may need to add just a little, but probably not.