Asparagus Gratin!

I feel that asparagus is very under utilized in southern cooking for some reason.  Possibly because fresh asparagus can be a little expensive and some just plain don't know what to do with it.  I prefer fresh asparagus to canned or frozen and always would rather use it.  This is a simple recipe for "Asparagus Gratin", but the results are wonderful and this pairs with any main course.  Even those who are not sure if they like asparagus might try this!   Here is what you will need:
1 bunch fresh asparagus (get the youngest, thinnest spears)
3 Tbs. butter
3 Tbs. flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/8 tsp. black pepper
1/8 tsp. lemon pepper
2 cups half and half (can use whole milk)
1 cup shredded cheddar Monterey Jack cheese blend ( can use just cheddar)
1/4 cups grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
Place about 1 -2 inches of water in a large skillet and salt it.  Wash the asparagus and break the woody ends off each spear.  When you bend the asparagus spear it will break naturally at the end where the woody part is.   On the really young asparagus, you won't have much of the woody part to get rid of.   Place the asparagus in the water and bring to a boil. Cook for about 5-7 minutes, just to blanch it.  Remove to a double thickness of paper towels to drain.  Discard the water and wipe the pan dry.
Place the butter in the skillet and melt.  Add the flour and whisk until it bubbles and cooks for a minute.  Add the seasonings and milk.  Whisk until it comes to a boil.  Turn down heat and add whisk until it thickens.  Add the cheeses.
Whisk until smooth.  Place the asparagus spears in a shallow dish.  Pour the cheese sauce overall. Place in a 450 degree oven on the highest rack for about 10-15 minutes.
It should be bubbly and just starting to brown on top! 
Serve immediately!  This is so good!  It's a great side for a steak or pork chops!

Cheese Puffs!

If you need a last minute appetizer that is also inexpensive and will wow your guests, these "Cheese Puffs" are your answer!   These are also great served with soups, pasta dishes or salads!   You can even make them larger, split them and fill them with Mama's Pecan Chicken Salad   or  Mama's Ham Salad!   That would be great for a bridal or baby shower!  Your guests will think you went all out and are so accomplished.  We won't tell them how easy these are!  
The dough you make for these cheese puffs, the fancy schmancy name is gougeres, is very different than dough for other baked breads you probably usually make.  This dough is cooked stove top partially and then finished in the oven to bake.  The method is what makes it puff and a little airy.  It might sound complicated, but it's really not.  Just follow the directions and it will work out well.  
Here is what you will need:
 6 Tablespoons butter
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1 cup water
1 cup all purpose flour
4 large eggs
3/4 cup shredded Swiss or Gruyere cheese (could even substitute cheddar)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. 
Line two large cookie sheets with parchment paper and spray with a little nonstick spray.
In a large saucepan, combine the butter, salt, cayenne, garlic powder, and water.   Bring this mixture to a boil until the butter is melted.  
Remove from the heat and add flour, stirring to incorporate it.  Return to low heat and stir constantly with a wooden spoon, until the dough pulls away from the sides of the pan and starts to form a ball.  Remove from heat again and stir in eggs one at a time.   Be sure to remove from heat or you will have scrambled eggs and that won't be a good thing! 
Stir until the batter is smooth and satiny looking.  Stir in the cheeses.
  Drop onto the cookie sheets in about 3/4 inch mounds.  I used a small cookie scoop for this and it worked perfectly.  You can use a teaspoon or you can put the dough in a piping bag and do it that way.  Make sure they are an inch apart, because they will expand some.  Bake for 25 to 30 minutes!
They should be golden brown!
You can serve these hot right out of the oven,  at room temperature or they also reheat well!

BLT Pasta Salad!


This is one of my favorite pasta salad recipes and it's always a hit whenever I take it to something.  Pasta salad is one of those things that can be really good or really blah.  This one is never blah.  I sort of just made this recipe up one day so I can't credit it to anyone really. 
Here is what you will need:
Penne pasta or you can use bow tie, ranch salad dressing mix, buttermilk, mayonnaise, sour cream, roasted red peppers, green onions, bacon, tomatoes, Parmesan cheese, Nature's Seasoning, Tabasco, taco seasoning (like El Paso), cheddar cheese. Notice that I used Barilla pasta.  I prefer Barilla pasta most of the time.  On many things, I just buy whatever is on sale or the store brands because I can't tell much difference, but I do think Barilla is the best dry pasta and it costs only pennies more and at times it's the same price as the store brands.
Chop the green onions including some of the green blades, the red pepper and the tomatoes.  Fry the bacon until crisp and drain on a paper towel.
Boil the pasta until it is al dente and then drain well.  Do not rinse it with cold water like so many recipes call for.  It mixes better if it's a little warm.  I just put it back in pot I boiled it in after I made sure it was dry, to mix all of the salad ingredients together.  Add the chopped vegetables, Parmesan cheese, Nature's Seasoning and the dressing which we will make next.

Mix the ranch dressing mix with mayonnaise, buttermilk and sour cream.  Add 1 Tbs. taco seasoning and a dash of Tabasco sauce to taste.  I usually add about 5 drops or so.   Pour over salad ingredients and mix lightly.

Chop the bacon and add it at the end.  Mix lightly again and put in a glass salad bowl.  You can chill it before serving or serve just as it is.  It's equally good either way. 
This is great to take to potlucks or to serve at cookouts! 

1 lb. penne pasta
6 slices bacon
1/2 cup sliced green onions or you can use Vidalia onion
1/4 cup chopped roasted red peppers
1 cup chopped tomatoes  Roma or cherry tomatoes halved works best)
1 cup Parmesan cheese
1 pkg Ranch salad dressing mix*
1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup sour cream
1 Tbs. Taco seasoning mix
dash of Tabasco sauce
1 tsp Nature's Seasoning or 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp black pepper
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese sprinkles on top (optional)

*You can use a good bottled Ranch dressing instead of making your own.  Just add 1/2 cup sour cream, the taco seasoning and Tabasco to about 2 cups of it and mix. 

Cheesy Chicken & Corn Chowder!

As you can tell, we love soups, especially in the cooler months, but we eat soup year round also.  I have so many family favorites I make a lot, but I also like to try new recipes and see if they become family favorites.   I do cook for sort of picky eaters so I have to modify some recipes and cook one thing for some and another for others.   This "Cheesy Chicken and Corn Chowder" is just perfect for a family of picky eaters, because it has ingredients most everyone will eat!  This might be one of my new favorites and I know it went over big with my husband.  He loved it!!!  
Here is what you will need:
3 cups chicken breast meat, cooked and shredded
10 slices of bacon, cut in 1" pieces
3 Tbs. butter
1/2 of a red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 sweet onion, diced (about 1/2 cup)
1 Tbs. minced garlic
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced fine (optional, but it adds a little kick)
1/4 cup flour
6 cups chicken broth (you can use instead 6 cups water and 3 Knorr Chicken Bullion Cubes)
1/2 tsp. seasoned salt
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
3 cups peeled and diced potatoes (about 3 large potatoes)
2 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels
1  1/2 cups heavy cream (can substitute half and half)
2 cups shredded Monterrey Jack Cheddar Cheese blend
additional cheese
chopped green onions
In a large Dutch oven or soup pot, fry the bacon until crisp.  Remove to a paper towel lined plate.
Add the butter to the bacon drippings in the pot, scraping the browned bits up.  When it's melted add the bell pepper, onion, garlic and jalapeno, if you are using it.  If you are not used to working with jalapenos, use gloves when you handle them, because the juices will burn sometimes. If you want a spicier soup, leave the seeds in.  Saute the vegetables until tender.  Add in the flour and cook for just a minute or two.  
Whisk in the chicken broth until smooth.  Add the diced potatoes. Add the seasoned salt, salt and pepper.  Bring up to a boil, stirring frequently.  Reduce heat and cook for about 15 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.
Add the shredded chicken and corn!  Cover and cook on low for about 20 more minutes! 
At the very end stir in the cheese and cream and heat through about 5 to 10 minutes.  You can use half and half instead of the cream, but the cream makes this so wonderfully decadent.  Can chowder be  It was, believe me!!! 
Garnish each bowl with the crisp bacon, additional cheese and green onion, if desired!
This is such a hearty soup and it's just a little different!  We loved it!


Johnny Marzetti...Kentucky Style!

When I was kid we played outside and when I say that, I mean we played outside all day long from the time we got up to dark and sometimes even after dark.   We played at other kids houses and they played at ours, but my mother had a rule that you could not go inside any one's house no matter what. If she found out you went in any one's house, you would not be allowed to go back.  I am sure other parents loved her rule and looking back it was a smart rule to make.  One day I was playing with some kids who I usually didn't play with, but the older of the two and I had two loves...softball and gymnastics, so we gravitated to each other.  They wanted me to come in their house so I could see their rooms and such.  I hated to say my mother would kill me if I went inside, so I decided to take a chance and go in for just a peek. 
As soon as that door came open, a smell that was like heaven on earth hit me right in the face.   It was tomatoes and garlic and cheese and I was always hungry no matter how much I ate back then.  I guess I just blurted out,  "What in the world is that I smell cooking?"    Their mother said,  "We are having Johnny Marzetti for dinner".     I said, "Who is he?"  They all looked a each other and died laughing and I was still confused.  Had a Johnny Marzetti moved in nearby and I had missed it?  Why were they laughing at me?  They explained that is was a casserole called Johnny Marzetti. I had never heard of food named after a man...very strange.  I asked what was in it, because I knew I needed to have my mama cook this.   They had the recipe and showed me what all went in it and I took it all in.  I was always very curious about food and recipes, even then.  
From what I understand Johnny Marzetti originated in Columbus, Ohio at Marzetti's Italian restaurant back in the 1920's maybe.  Some say the owner had a brother named Johnny he named the dish after.  It's theorized it was a way to use up the red sauce that was left over.   There are so many recipes for it now and my version is my own, but they all have meat sauce, pasta, onion, green pepper and some form of cheese in common. 
This is a budget stretcher and makes a box of pasta and  a pound of ground beef go a long way!  In these economic times, we all need more of these dishes. 
Here is what you will need:

 1 lb. ground beef, 1 jar or can spaghetti sauce of our choice, 1 can tomato paste, pasta, mozzarella cheese, cheddar cheese, pepperoni, salt, pepper, garlic powder.
1 lb. ground beef or chuck
1 cup pepperoni slices
1 jar or can pasta sauce ( I used Ragu Sweet Basil and Sun dried Tomato)
1 lb. pasta
1 small can tomato paste
2 cups water
1 Tbs. sugar
1 cup Parmesan cheese
1 cup Cheddar cheese
2 cups Mozzarella cheese
1 cup onion chopped
1/2 cup green pepper chopped
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. basil
1 tsp. garlic powder 

You can use 2 jars of pasta sauce instead of the tomato paste and water.  I think the tomato paste makes a richer meat sauce.

Cook the pasta just until al dente.  You can use just about any pasta you have on hand...penne, rotini, even egg noodles work well.  Pour them into a large casserole dish you have sprayed with cooking spray.
Brown ground beef with onion and green pepper. Drain any fat off.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and garlic salt.  Add pasta sauce, tomato paste, water, sugar and basil.   Stir and bring to a low simmer.  Simmer for about 20 minutes.
 Pour the meat sauce over the pasta and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.
Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese and cheddar cheese. 
Layer pepperoni on top of cheese and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese again. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes or until bubbly and starting to brown.
Johnny Marzetti...KY style!

Cherry Fluff!

This recipe for "Cherry Fluff" has been around for almost as long as I have!  I remember eating it as a child!  It's one of my husband's favorites, because he loves anything cherry.  This gets served a lot for holidays it seems or it used to.  We might forget about this one sometimes!  It's so easy and so good we should make it more often! We call this sort of thing a 'salad' in the South and it is good with ham or turkey, but it's technically more of a dessert!   Here is what you will need:
1 (21 oz.) can cherry pie filling
1 (20 oz.) can crushed pineapple, well drained
1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk (like Eagle Brand)
1 (8 oz.) container of frozen whipped topping, slightly thawed
1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)
In a large mixing bowl, mix all ingredients until combined. 
 Pour into a pretty serving dish and chill for 2-3 hours before serving! 
This is a great dish to take to potlucks or church suppers and it will disappear fast!

Kathy's Southern Corn Pudding!

This is not your grandmother's corn pudding!  By that, I mean that it is not the corn pudding with a dozen eggs in it that cooks up all light and souffle like.  This is a denser and hardier corn pudding and it is also something boys seem to love.  Can you tell I have always cooked mostly for boys?  This corn pudding is also very easy to put to together. 

Here is what you will need:

1 can cream corn, 1 can niblets corn, 1 Jiffy cornbread mix, 8 oz sour cream, 1/2 stick butter, 1 egg, 2 Tbs. sugar, and 2 cups cheddar cheese

Melt butter, add Jiffy cornbread mix, egg, sour cream, sugar and the corn.  Drain the can of niblets corn.  Mix well until all of the ingredients are incorporated.
Spray a 2 quart casserole dish with cooking spray.  Be sure to not skip this step, because this will stick.  Pour it in the dish and bake at 350 degrees for  45 minutes.  Sprinkle the 2 cups cheese over the top and return to oven for about 10 minutes or until cheese is melted and just beginning to brown.
1 can cream style corn
1 can niblets corn
8 oz sour cream
1 Jiffy Cornbread mix
1 egg
1/2 stick butter
2 Tbs. sugar
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

S'Mores Bars!

There is nothing like making S'Mores when camping out.  They are so good!  Since it's way too cold to be camping out or cooking out right now here, these "S'Mores Bars" will be the next best thing.  They are ooey and gooey and good!  Here is what you will need for these:
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
1 1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk (like Eagle Brand, not evaporated milk)
1 cup (6 oz.) semi sweet or milk chocolate chips
1 cup pecans or walnuts, chopped
1 cup miniature marshmallows
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.   Place the butter in a 9"x13" baking pan and place in the oven to melt.
Mix the graham cracker crumbs in with the butter and pat down to form a crust. 
Pour the sweetened condensed milk over the crust.   Sprinkle with the chocolate chips and the chopped nuts and press down with a fork. 
Place in the oven and bake for 25 minutes.  Remove from oven and sprinkle with the marshmallows.  Return to the oven.  Bake for 2 minutes more.  
Remove and allow to cool slightly, but not completely.  Cut in bars and remove from pan when they are still a little warm.  If you let them cool too much, they are hard to get out of the pan. 
  These make a great after school snack for the children!

Poppy Seed Chicken...Comfort Food At It's Best!

Poppy seed chicken is one of those 'best dishes' I said I was going to cover in the first post of this blog.  It has definitely always been one of my son's and all of his friend's favorites through the years.  My son had one friend who was sort of a picky eater and he stayed for dinner one night when I made this and he told my son "That's the best thing I ever ate".  After that night he kept showing up every night for dinner like clockwork which was fine because I always cook too much.  I finally asked my son, after about two weeks of him doing this, why he was suddenly eating with us every day.  He said, he thinks you are going to make poppy seed chicken again and he doesn't want to miss  It is just one of those dishes that makes you happy when you eat it.  It's also not hard to make and you usually have all of the ingredients on hand for it. I am not sure where I got the recipe to begin with and I have modified it a little (of course).   One warning, make plenty because you probably won't have leftovers.
Here is what you will need:
Chicken breasts (I used frozen ones I got at GFS), sour cream, 2 cans cream of chicken soup, butter, cheddar cheese, poppy seeds, Ritz crackers. 
The recipes calls for boiling the chicken, but I roast mine in the oven for better flavor.  I cooked 5 of these frozen chicken breasts (they are fairly large ones).  I sprinkled them with Lawry's poultry and chicken rub, pepper and dotted them with butter.  Cook until they are done but not too dry, let them cool and then chop them in small pieces.
Mix chicken, sour cream and 2 cans of soup until combined. Add 1/4 tsp black pepper and 1/4 tsp seasoned salt.  Pour this into a 9"x13" baking dish or a deeper 2 quart casserole dish sprayed well with nonstick baking spray.


Place 2 sleeves of Ritz crackers in a zip lock bag, seal it well and crush them with a rolling pin or you can just use the bottom of a heavy mug.  Melt the rest of the stick of butter you had left after dotting the chicken with it (about 3/4 of a stick) and when it is cool enough put into the bag with the crumbs.  Don't pour the butter into the bag when it's real hot, because it will melt your zip lock bag.  Add 1 Tbs. of poppy seeds and mix it around well. 
Cover the top of your chicken mixture with 2 cups of shredded cheddar cheese, then cover with your Ritz cracker, poppy seed mixture.   This is where I modified the recipe.  Most of the recipes I have ever seen do not call for the cheese layer and I think it makes a world of difference in the taste of the dish. 
Place it in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 40 minutes or until it is bubbly around the edges.  This can be served over mashed potatoes, rice or hot buttered egg noodles, but I usually just serve it with a vegetable, salad and bread and it makes a complete meal.  If you have a lot of people to feed, serving it over a carb of some sort will stretch the servings.

It's yummy!  We had it last night and there was not a bite leftover!