Coka-Cola and Lance Toasty crackers

My best friend, Keith and I took an early morning trip to a small town not too far from here to visit a man who is tearing down an old feed mill, old as in, over a hundred years old. We have started a new business, one we have talked about for years, making furniture. Not just ordinary furniture, but useful beautiful pieces from re-cycled wood and “burn pile” furniture parts and various things that most people throw away. I’ve always been a “use it up or wear it out” kind of a girl. I’ve never had the kind of money that would allow anything else. If you think about it, that philosophy has been kind of missing in this society, since about WWII. American prosperity has trashed our oceans, our landfills, our lives, our bodies. But I was so lucky to have been raised by my Granny, Thelma Eaker that lived and scrimped through that war and the rest of her life. So I generally don’t buy new, and if I or Keith can make it, I don’t  buy it at all. I really like old well made chairs and couches, so I taught myself to re-upholster. Seriously, not that hard. When was the last time you bought a couch for $200? I just got a 1950’s french made mid-century Walnut trimmed beautiful couch for just that, heavy as a Volkswagen. That’s because 65 years ago a real artisan took the time to make a beautiful piece of furniture, out of beautiful real materials. That’s what we want to do, but with up-cycled materials headed for the land fill or the burn pile. So early this morning we headed out to meet a man who thinks like us. Just one of the benefits of our new business, we get to meet people, really interesting good people who think outside the box.

So we take off for Carthage, 2 lane road, Keith is driving. That was kinda the first problem, we are like little kids we are so excited to be going on this adventure. So he is talking, I am talking about what all this guy has and what all we can make. And about 15 miles into the trip I get motion sickness.  So the last 5 miles into Lebanon I am barely holding on to the breakfast we had at 6:30. He pulls into a truck stop to let me drive. I am reeling from nausea. He runs in and get me a Coka-cola and Lance Peanut butter toasty crackers. The exact cure for the flighty stomach. I know, I know… Coka-cola is seriously bad for you, with the high fructose corn syrup but I only drank about a third and it is my cure all for icky stomach. A Mexican coke would have been so much better, it is made with sugar, but I didn’t have time to hunt one down. So feeling better we took off again with me driving. We are so excited to be doing this, sometimes we just look at each other and go “man we should have started this 10 years ago.” But things happen in their own good time.

I guess you have noticed this post isn’t exactly about food. But it is about all the things that feed my passion for food. My Granny Thelma, my husband Keith and my son Nate, and the love and joy I have for all these people. So wish us luck!! But this feels right, our journey is going in a true direction. Food is coming back next blog, I promised you cake and pie and you will get it.

In the meantime…stuff 025thelma_nate~     

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Macaroni (not pasta) salad

Summer to me is a tall glass of fresh iced tea, slightly sweet and a tomato sandwich. A tomato sandwich made with fresh white bread, Dukes Mayonnaise and a tomato freshly picked off the vine, perfectly ripe and juicy, tasting like the sunshine sweetness from which it was made, with just enough salt and pepper to bring out the tomato-ness of the whole thing. A sandwich you have to lean over and eat fast because the bread starts soaking up the juiciness as soon as you get it made. Thats summer to me. Tomatoes were plentiful on Granny’s farm, so much so that we gave away almost as many as we used. So it is not surprising that if I went to her and said, “Granny I’m hungry.” She would make me a tomato sandwich. And pour me a glass of tea that she had made that morning before the heat set in for the day. A tomato sandwich after a full day of swimming and sunshine in the summer heat is about the best thing on earth.

I’m guessing that is where this macaroni salad came from. I’ve never met anyone else who makes it this way. She probably made it up. Thats the way she cooked, making stuff up along the way. I recall very few recipes that were actually written down in her kitchen.

Macaroni salad, when I was growing up was a simple cold delicious salad, with a mayonnaise base. A meal by itself or a as side with a sandwich.  Basically the only dried pasta you could buy in the foothills of North Carolina back then was a simple macaroni and maybe a spaghetti noodle at the big grocery in Forest City. But the tiny grocery store that Granny went to, where my Uncle Arthur was the butcher, only sold Creamette Macaroni. We were of Scots descent with a little German thrown in so I never even had spaghetti at home until we moved to Tennessee. We ate what we grew. We grew a lot of tomatoes. We ate a lot of tomatoes. When I give you this recipe you are going to think “WHAT?” this is so simple, it can’t possibly be good. It is good. This is that first tomato sandwich of the season good. When you go into your own backyard and pick a perfectly ripe tomato warm from the sun, slice it thick, salt and pepper it really good and place it gently on some thick white bread that has been coated with a good mayonnaise, and you take that perfect first bite that is creamy and salty and sweet from the tomato, and the juice slides out of the corner of your mouth and dribblers off your chin good.

Grannys Macaroni Salad

Because it is so simple you HAVE to use really good ingredients.

Here are my suggestions,

Dukes Mayonnaise, the best mayo EVER!(Did you hear about the guy who wanted to be buried in a Dukes Jar? He might be my long lost cousin. And the Dukes people made him his own personal jar with his name on it to be buried in. Seriously this happened! Like not very long ago.)

Perfectly ripe tomatoes 8 to 10 of them, hopefully from your own back yard…but if not, your local farmers market, Bradleys are good, perfect combo of tart and sweet, or almost ANY heirloom variety. Forget grocery store tomatoes they are shipped green and gassed to make them turn red, and any flavor they might have had is lost when they are refrigerated. I won’t even eat a tomato in the wintertime, it just pisses me off. There is a part of Tennessee that grows very a sweet and piquant tomato that I used to buy in Knoxville and those were called Grainger County tomatoes, they were excellent.

Barelli Macaroni (yes I like it better than Creamette, it has little ridges that hold onto the creamy goodness), a 1 pound box, cook it in well salted water, salty like the sea, according to package directions. (yes,taste the water its the only way to tell)

Sea salt and black pepper

While the macaroni is cooking, cut up the perfectly ripe tomatoes in 3/4 inch cubes (leave the skin on it helps to hold their shape) and put them with their juice in the bottom of a large bowl, I just cut them over the bowl, salt and pepper them to taste. Add aprox. 1/2 cup of Dukes and stir to combine. Let them sit there while you are finishing the macaroni.

Now I am not an al dente kind of a girl, but in this recipe do slightly undercook the pasta, just right past al dente. But not mushy. Drain it well. Pour it over the tomato mixture in the bottom of the bowl, it will slightly warm the tomato mixture and the macaroni will absorb the tomato goodness. Let it sit about 1 minute. and stir it up. Add more salt and pepper and a dab of mayo if needed for the creaminess factor, but not too much, you want to taste those beautiful tomatoes. Get you a big bowl of it and a glass of cold iced tea. If you catch yourself in the mirror while you are eating, what you will see is a very happy person who looks like a mule eating briars, grinning like a fool.

Yes this is as good hot as it is cold, my mid-western husband who didn’t even like tomatoes when we got married can eat about a half gallon of this hot or cold. We have actually made a meal of just this, but it is wonderful as a cold side with grilled hamburgers or cold fried chicken on a picnic.

Just simple and good food.

Oh by the way this makes a bunch, like “Church Supper” bunch or relatives from out of town bunch, so if you are just a normal family you might want to cut the recipe in half.


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Chick, chick, chick….chick-in!

IMG_0966Lets start with chicken salad, one of my favorite cold salads served on a bed of crisp lettuce or on a sandwich made with crusty bread or a buttery croissant.

When I was a child, chicken salad was boiled chicken cooked in salted water, with celery and pickles and mayo, it was good and serviceable and made a nice little tea sandwich on white bread with the crusts cut off. In other words, kind of plain. Then I discovered chicken salad with grapes and celery, great on a bed of lettuce. But it kind of left me with the idea that it could be better. In my early 20’s I had to come up with some chicken salad that could be served on sandwiches for a bridal shower and I was thinking that grapes on bread wasn’t quite the thing, also I felt like the chicken needed more flavor. So I tried to think of a way to make it better. Chicken is a wonderful thing, it will absorb the flavor of what you cook with it. I was thinking first thing cook the chicken so it has more flavor, and instead of grapes use crushed pineapple, and for crunch use chopped pecans. I had made in my young past a particularly taste filled soup when I stewed the chicken with lots of vegetables and the chicken itself needed no additional seasoning, so I started there…

You can start with a whole chicken, or parts, or if you are really in a hurry boneless skinless chicken breasts. But the key is… you must cook your own chicken (stay off the canned chicken aisle at the supermarket that is for when your dog is sick), because it is chicken salad… right? So the chicken has to taste really good. And NO rotisserie chicken doesn’t work well either, I will give you a short cut at the end just be patient.

If I do a whole chicken I always throw in a couple extra breasts just to make it meatier and to get a better ratio of white to dark meat. But remember if you do a whole chicken you will have to pick the chicken, however this makes the best stock you have ever tasted so be sure to strain and freeze the stock.

Get the largest pot you own (you are going to need it), you also need a lid to fit that pot,

  •  1 whole chicken, plus 2 to 3 chic breast
  • Other things you need,                                                                                                                Dukes Mayonnaise                                                                                                                      2 cans Dole Crushed pineapple in its own juice                                                                        10 to 16 ounces of whole pecans (chop them yourself they taste better)
  • vegetables and spices listed below
  1. 8 carrots cut into 3″ pieces (don’t bother to peel them)
  2. 5 white onions cut in half then in quarters (3″onion aprox.)
  3.  8 cloves of garlic peeled slightly crushed
  4.  1/4 cup of whole peppercorns
  5. 5 dried bay leaves
  6. 3 tablespoons of dried rubbed sage
  7. 3 tablespoons of poultry seasoning
  8.  5 sprigs of fresh thyme
  9. 1/2 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes
  10. 3 boxes of chicken broth plus enough water to cover chicken (next time you make this you’ll have the stock in the freezer)
  11.   At least 1 teaspoon of sea salt (you will be tasting it once the chicken is cooked (about 45 minutes into the cooking) to adjust the salt levels, you may need to add more.
  12. Throw all of that in a really large pot on high heat and bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer, perch the lid on it allowing some steam to escape and cook for aprox. 1 and 1/2 hours or until the chicken is falling off the bones. Basically what you are doing is infusing the chicken with all the flavors you want it to have without actually putting it in the salad itself. Keep the chicken covered with liquid adding broth or water as needed.

By the way no matter what I am making with chicken (casserole, soup,dressing) I use this method to cook the chicken, it is the secret to my Thanksgiving dressing and gravy, that and sautéed chicken livers, but I will be talking about that in October.

Once the chicken is done, cool it enough to get it picked good, getting rid of all the bones, gristle and skin. Strain the vegetables out of the stock and put the stock in freezer containers for the next time you make soup or chicken salad. Taste the chicken…it doesn’t need a thing, right?

Oh, by the way, while the chicken is simmering away, take the 2 cans of Dole crushed pineapple and strain them in a colander mashing all the juice out with your hands and paper towels.

Also chop about 10 to 16 ounces of pecans.

As for the sweet pickle relish, I highly recommend Wickles Pickle Relish (it is not made with high fructose corn syrup), its made the old fashioned way with sugar and peppers and cucumbers and spices in the great state of Alabama, where my best boyfriend, Nick lives. If you can’t get it where you are… here is their website, you can order it there or just bug them to put it in your local store.

Now you have huge bowl of really tasty chicken, the rest is super easy. All the work is on the front end and seriously once you have this method down and start using it, you don’t even have to measure anything just throw it in the pot, so not really hard.

Take the huge bowl of shredded chicken and mixed in the well strained crushed pineapple, the chopped pecans, and then about a half cup of Wickles Relish slightly strained, taste it, if you want more pickles add more. You will notice that the mixture is already quiet moist with flavor. Now for the last thing, Dukes Mayonnaise, about 1/2 to 3/4 cup is all you need, we are looking for flavor here not drenching the flavor we already have with mayo. So add it slowly, let it still crumble a bit. Taste it, now you really understand why you made so much.

Get you a big old plate of the stuff (you know, just to make sure it really tastes good) and put the rest in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Serve it with fresh sliced tomatoes and cucumbers and crisp lettuce and ice tea.

My son really hates Mayonnaise, but he loves loves loves this chicken salad and it really doesn’t have much mayo in it.

Now for the short cut, use the braising method I described for boneless skinless chicken breasts (about 4 maybe 5 will fit in a 12″ skillet) on Feb. 25th 2014, “Brazen Braising” and add in small pieces of the veg and spices I listed above omitting the salt until you can taste the broth. Once cooked, shred the breasts for the chicken salad, it doesn’t make as much and you don’t have the stock to put in the freezer and it doesn’t taste quite as good but its better than having NO chicken salad. Also cut back accordingly on the pineapple (use 1 can) pickles and pecans and mayo.

Next will be more salads and a dessert or two. Happy eating!

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Summer food, summer memories…

My Granny’s house was a little white frame house, with a big front porch, set back off the road. A deep pine wood was behind it. The land rolled down to a spring fed creek, clear enough to drink, that stayed cold all summer and was the setting for many safaris and cowboy games. She always had puppies and cats and chickens and oddly enough parakeets in their own little house outside. There were fruit trees and grape arbors, and vegetable and melon gardens. The flowers and roses took over the yard. If you were hungry you almost didn’t even have to go inside to eat. But if you did go inside, there in that tiny hot kitchen, wonderful things were being made…almost all the time. Especially in the summer. Summer stretched from May, when the strawberries came in, to October when the pumpkins and winter squash were ready for harvest. Even after the 1st frost the turnip greens were harvested, that was when they were the sweetest. It was the garden of my life, it was the place where I took root, it was the place where I was “growed up”, if that seems a strange phrase to you, please let me explain. Being “growed up” means many loving people and hands were directly responsible for who I turned out to be as an adult, and those loving adults took that responsibility VERY seriously. I lived with Granny, there at that tiny farm, full time until I was 5 years old and stayed with Granny every afternoon after school through second grade. The summer I turned 8, we moved to Tennessee. My grieving started that summer, the summer of 1965. It is now the summer 2014 and I can’t believe I’ve been away so long. I’ve been trying to get back there my whole life…

When I cook in my Tennessee kitchen now, I am back in that kitchen, when I grow tomatoes (cherokee purples) that are the size of pumpkins I am back at that farm. When I taste fresh picked corn, cut off the cob, by the tiny pocket knife I take with me to the farmers market, it almost tastes as good as it used to, something about that soil at Grannys farm with mica sparkles all through it, down by the creek, made her corn really sweet.

One of the things we did here in the south in the summer is eat a lot of  cold salads. I am not talking about lettuce here folks. I am talking chicken salad, macaroni salad, tuna salad, aspic, pimento cheese salad, potato salad, egg salad. Dishes where the food part could be cooked EARLY (4 a.m.) in the morning before the heat set in, mixed with other yummy stuff, stored in the refrigerator and whisked out at mid-day to provide a filling but cold lunch, along with a few lettuce leaves and some big juicy slices of fresh (never refrigerated) tomatoes and bread and butter pickles on the side. Even dessert was cold, jello salad (sorry, it was the early 60’s), banana pudding, ice box pie, cold bread pudding, cold coconut pie with meringue piled high. You couldn’t really keep a cake very long in the summer since most icings were butter cream, unless you had room in the refrigerator or a cold larder, they would melt right off the plate. One exception was pound cake, which was small and plain and excellent with fresh fruit on top, Granny cooked a lot of those early in the morning. What a wonderful smell to wake up to. So for the next month or so that is what I am going to be posting here in my world, those recipes updated, no real Jello will be used, but gelatin and fresh fruit juice, with sparkling fresh fruit suspended in it, will certainly make an appearance.

I hope you will join me this summer of 2014.

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Spring, cool mornings looking back

I love this time of year when it seems everything is new and bursting out in bloom. I feel young again, the earth feels new again to me. Its really just the circle of life on the good earth or the spiral. I had a Art Professor in college, David Bigelow, that said that life is not a circle… it is a spiral. That seems right to me. Since then I’ve seen that image in my mind, a spiral ever ascending upwards toward the final turn in life until you are gone from this earth. A bit simple I guess, but why must everything be complex. The best life I have ever know was simple. As I have probably mentioned before, I did the most important part of my growing up in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains. All the strength that my life required, at times it has been considerable, has come from my first five years there on my Granny’s farm. Growing good food, listening to stories in the front yard on Saturday night, drinking sweet tea and eating homemade cake, catching lightnin’ bugs… simple pleasures, that fed my soul. Those first years, I was surrounded by strong, kind, beautiful, intelligent women, who, as far as I knew, ran the world. Men were around and they were also kind and good looking… but not essential, necessarily, to the ongoing day to day life decisions. It would be an understatement to say I came from a matriarchal family, back when that was not common at all, especially in the south, in the late 50’s. So from a young age independence was a part of who I knew myself to be, simple as that. Decisions I can make, asking for help making them… that’s a foreign concept to me. It has caused me considerable “issues” with the various men in my life, some of whom I married. But now 3/4 of the way up my spiral, looking back down at all the springs and summers and falls and winters of my life with the decisions I have made and the consequences, good or bad, that came because of them, I know, I would not change a thing. I would never hit the reset button. I have love and honesty and truth in my life, some of it hard won and harder still to bear, but truth none the less. I have people who share the truth with me, good friends, my son (who is my very breath) and a good husband that can’t quiet believe this life he signed up for. I asked him once why was he attracted to me in the first place, he said you were so different from anyone in my family, such a strong personality I couldn’t help myself. Have I mentioned he is a brave man? Some would say reckless, but that ring of the spiral is 18 years gone, that decision made and tempered in fire, it is unbreakable.

Of course, he also mentioned my cooking as being one of the things that drew him to me, but on our first date he cooked for me, one of the sweetest things he has ever done. I pretty much was a goner by then and he hadn’t even kissed me yet. But way back then he was a skinny man, almost 6 feet and about 145 pounds, skinny, SKINNY man. After hanging out with me for about a year he was closer to 185. I’d like to think that was love but it was probably just my cooking. There were lots of things he did not like, having not really grown up as a southerner. Cornbread being one of those things, if you can imagine, fried green tomatoes being another, because he didn’t like tomatoes. I’ll have to say that Indiana has some of the BEST sweet corn I have ever had, but a good tomato from a southern woman’s back yard garden is hard to beat. Here lately, because spring is in my head, my stomach has been growling for some fresh vegetables that even this far below the Mason-Dixon are not even sprouts yet, I have been hankering for some fried sweet corn and sliced fresh tomatoes and wilted lettuce salad with biscuits and cantaloupe for desert. One of my favorite meals as a child. And the first time my sweet husband had my fried corn I thought he was going to fall over his mouth was so happy. I guess some would think this was a vegetarian meal, it kinda is… except for the POUND or TWO of bacon that you have to fry off first just to make the corn and the hot dressing for the salad.

Make you some biscuits and get them ready to stick in the oven.

Slice some fresh Tomatoes and lightly salt.

Slice up a cantaloupe or 2 and put that out on a platter lightly salted.

The very first thing to do is shuck a lot of fresh picked sweet corn, about 2 to 3 dozen ears, now here is the thing, this is a big production so make a lot… so you have leftovers. And it freezes well after you cook it. Corn fresh picked is one of the best things on earth, but it needs to be shucked right before you cook it and it needs to be cooked within 12 hours of picking it. Once you have all that shucked,  cut it off the cob with a sharp knife and make sure you scrape the milk out of the cobs into the bowl. You will end up with about 7 to 9 cups of corn.

First step, fry off some bacon, thick sliced and a good brand. I have actually broiled it off in the oven on a broiler pan so the drippings collect underneath, whichever way you choose, brown it until it is crispy. Set aside on paper towels. Now the best part, pour off about 1/3 cup of bacon grease for the hot dressing for the wilted lettuce. My friend Jennifer McCarter, her Mama called it killed lettuce, but she was from the Sevierville, Tn. mountain area, which is the Appalachians, my family was from the Blue Ridge so they spoke a different dialect of Southern Mountain.

Take the rest of the bacon grease (at least a half cup, I know but its a lot of corn) and put it in a very large skillet, you might have to do this in batches, but just split up the bacon grease as needed. Add 1/2 stick of salted butter and let that melt over med heat until the grease start to sizzle. Pour in the fresh cut corn and let it fry turning and stirring a lot to keep the sugars in the corn from burning. Fry it for 3 to 4 minutes, adding salt and a little bit of white pepper(I don’t really like pepper too much it seems to take over any dish you put it in) I also add red pepper flakes 1/2 teaspoon to add a bit of heat. All you are trying to do is to bring out the sweetness of the corn and let it brown just a little, if you overcook it you will lose the fresh flavor and it will turn to  mush. Dump the corn back in your big bowl, and in the same skillet add another 3 or 4 tablespoons of bacon grease and the other half of the stick of butter once it melts on med-low temp add 1/2 cup of flour (this is the gravy part) let that cook until it is a light tan color and gradually add whole milk (3 cups or so) while stirring like the devil with your good arm scraping the bottom to get all that good stuff and let it thicken to a gravy like consistency. Pour the fried corn back in and mix well. Take about half the fried bacon and put it in a food processor and grind it up to a very fine consistency and put it in with the fried corn. If you just crumble the bacon in it gets soggy. Adjust for seasoning, adding more salt if needed (probably won’t need it). I learned that last step when I was going to make this for a pot luck and sent my husband to the store to get bacon and he bought low fat bacon when what I needed was full fat bacon. Needless to say grinding up bacon and putting it in with the corn has turned out to be one of the best changes I have ever made in a recipe.

Stick your biscuits in the oven to cook while making the dressing for the wilted lettuce.

Back where I come from we generally had just iceberg lettuce and spinach in our salads but you could go wild and use almost any kind of greens. Thin sliced spring onions are a must also and a few mushrooms but keep it fairly simple. Crumble leftover bacon on top.

Hot Bacon Dressing

1/3 cup of hot bacon grease in a little skillet                                                                                    1/3 cup of olive oil                                                                                                                               2 tablespoons of minced sweet onion or shallot                                                                               2/3 cup of rice vinegar                                                                                                                 1 teaspoon  Dijon mustard                                                                                                                    1 to 2 teaspoons of sugar                                                                                                            fresh herbs (handfull) parsley, basil are good

Heat grease and olive oil in skillet add onions and cook slightly, stir in Dijon and vinegar with a whisk add sugar and melt that in, take off heat add salt and white pepper to taste and lastly add fresh chopped herbs, pour hot over salad greens and serve immediately.

Serve the main course of fried corn along with the tomatoes and cantaloupe and hot buttered biscuits. Some people cut the tomatoes up and put them in their fried corn and it is yum!

I wish I could have this right now! But it is only the 1st day of spring and I’m wanting it too soon.
veg and schooch 218

Pink corn we got last summer at the farmers market!

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Brazen Braising and other ways to handle cooking supper 8 days a week!

So, I have decided to change my middle name to Braising, not Brazen as most of you who know me would assume. Not Brazen, as in that old southern put down she’s just a “Brazen Hussy”. This comment is usually whispered in loud tones by blue haired older women, about some young cute girl who’s skirt is a bit too short and make-up a bit too heavy, (God knows I WISH that were me now, that actually was me like 30 years ago, but I digress), directly followed by the comment, “Lord knows what she does when no-one is’a watching.” (I wish I was doing something when no-one was watching.) But Braising, as in my new favorite cooking method for any kind of protein. I have lately braised chicken and pork loin and pork chops and beef roast and chicken, I haven’t tried fish yet but that may be next. It is easy, easy,easy and tasty, tasty delicious. And it allows you to switch it up for different flavors so that the family on the home front doesn’t feel as if they are eating the same thing each night. Not nearly as exciting as brazen, but hey its good food!

You can even do this with FROZEN chicken breasts, if you are like me… a bit lacking in the forethought and planning department.

The first thing you need is a good heavy skillet with a lid that can handle at least a 400 degree oven, a 12″size with straight sides will handle a meal for 4 people. Most new ones even with glass lids can handle up to 425 degrees.

You will need for this recipe, your protein, chicken, pork chops, London broil roast, chuck roast etc. Corresponding box of broth, chicken or beef, or I have even used petite chopped tomatoes. I have also used hard cider which goes especially well with pork and basil and rosemary, whichever one you pick you will need at least 30 to 32 ozs of liquid, and corresponding dried spices. For an Italian flavor I like Marjoram or basil, for good old warm comfort food, I like sage and thyme with a bay leaf, Salt and pepper are very important and red pepper flakes if you like.  Also VERY important DRY your meat thoroughly before you season it well. We want it to SEAR when we put it in the skillet not boil it. I usually season 1 side, put that side down in the roaring hot skillet and season the other side while its in the skillet.

Get the skillet, add 1 to 2 tblsps olive oil, I put about that much butter also, get the skillet searing hot, when that begins to sizzle place your  well seasoned roast, chicken, pork chops seasoned side down in the hot skillet and let it brown and sear well, don’t move it around just let it brown until it gets that caramelized color that gives you the excellent taste you are gonna want. If it seems like it is sticking remember it will release from the pan once its seared. Yes you can check it by barely lifting one corner and checking for browness! DO NOT put the lid on or it will release its juices and start to boil and you will have very tough meat. DO NOT be a whimp and turn the heat down or it will boil! Stand over it while you are searing you will get to sit down later when the braising is going on. Once it has seared, after you have seasoned the up side, flip it over and thoroughly sear the other side.

You have just added an amazing amount of flavor to your protein.

Next step, while still on the stove top, add just enough broth or cider to come HALFWAY up the sides of the meat or chicken. At this point add fresh spices or veg to add flavor, onion chunks, celery cut 2″ long, garlic smashed and cut up fine etc. Bring broth to a boil in the skillet on the stove top and THEN put the lid on and place it in a 350 degree preheated oven. Check it in about 30 to 45 minutes if it is chicken or pork chops to check for done-ness and tenderness, add more broth to keep the level halfway up the meat . If its not done stick it back in the oven until it is. A pork loin roast or a chuck roast will take an hour and a half or longer. If chicken breast is frozen you will need additional 20 to 30 minutes for oven time. A London broil takes longer to get tender as it has very little fat. The same would apply to venison or other wild game.

Once the meat is done, remove from oven and place back on stove top, remove the meat or chicken from the juices and let it rest on a plate, while you make the pan sauce or GRAVY! YUM! Add the rest of the box of broth or liquid to the skillet. Then all you do is take 2 tablespoons of melted butter add 2 tablespoons of flour mix that together in a separate bowl and stir it into the pan juices with the additional broth. Bring to a simmer to thicken slightly and place meat back in skillet. Let it cook for an additional 5 minutes and you got dinner with I might add…GRAVY.

There are so many ways to vary this recipe, you can turn the oven down to 325 degrees if you need it to take longer to cook.

Here are some suggestions for combinations, all are prepared well salted and peppered during the searing process with additional spices according to what I am preparing.

Pork loin, rosemary and basil S&P to sear and onions and celery added to braise. Use 1 bottle of hard cider(Wicked Orchard is my favorite) for braising while in the oven and add 1 16 oz can of chicken broth to make the gravy, using the butter and flour method, which is delicious, especially over mashed potatoes, with sauteed apples and roasted Brussel sprouts on the side.

Chicken breasts, dried sage, bay leaf and small amount of red pepper flakes. About halfway through oven time add chunks of seasoned raw carrots, onions and potatoes,and celery for a 1 pot meal. Make sure liquid level stays high enough to cover half way up meat and veg. Serve with cornbread or rolls. You don’t even have to thicken the gravy on this one, the potatoes do that for you.

Chuck roast or London Broil seared with rosemary and thyme braised with onions, beef broth, a little red wine(1/2 cup) and bay leaf  in the oven until almost done add lots of sliced mushrooms and thinly sliced bell pepper, more thinly sliced onion about 30 minutes before its done. Remove meat and veg from skillet back on stove top and for the gravy part mix 1/4 cup of sour creme with flour and stir into pan juices with additional beef broth, let it thicken add beef and veg back in and serve over wide noodles for a stroganoff, crusty french bread on the side.

And this was a new one for me, no oven necessary. I needed to prepare dinner the other night and had thawed chicken breasts but really not much else, except for canned chopped tomatoes and 1 jar of Alfredo sauce, but 1 jar of sauce is not enough for 3 people. And I always have pasta of some kind. So I seasoned the chicken with S&P and marjoram, seared it off as usual, turned the heat on the stove top down to med/low and put the lid on the skillet to force the heat inside the chicken and cook it all the way through. When it was almost done I dumped 1 can of petite diced tomatoes with the juice on top of the chicken and let it simmer another 5 minutes, then I added the jar of Alfredo sauce and mixed it in with the tomatoes, and let it simmer for another 5 minutes. Stuck it on top of some cooked linguine and supper was ready in about 30 minutes. I have kinda always though jarred Alfredo sauce is too heavy but the addition of the chopped tomatoes added that bit of acid that really lightened it up. And it was yum.

Here’s the thing, this all seems fairly simple to a cook who has been flying by the seat of their pants for years, I get it… if its too simple for you go make the coconut cake that is on this blog. But if you are like me and make dinner almost every night of forever for hungry men, its a relief to have a simple formula that ALWAYS turns out good, that you don’t have to think about too much that you can keep stuff on hand for, just a simple and good meal that uses fresh veg and meat and takes less time then running to the corner taco stand.

Enjoy friends!

Oh and one more piece of advice… if you get the chance, young or old, male or female, to be a “Brazen Hussy” JUST DO IT, its so much fun.


Posted in Coconut Cake, love and family, SOUTHERN FOOD, Southern Living, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Family and Gratitude and Gifts

Family is who you choose. Not who you were born to. Common fact known by those of us who are happily married. We chose this person to be our family. That is how I ended up with my wonderful husband, Keith Miller. 17 years ago, my son and I were slogging through my attempt at single parenthood, my MORE than full time job, NO social life, facing my sons teen aged years with just me to figure it out. This situation is something that many of you have faced or are facing now.
You understand I was a little worried and really lonely.
Then one day… I see this young man working on the landscaping at my neighbors house next door. He had on a pair of hiking shorts and work boots and the sun was setting behind him. He had curly blond hair and the sun just lit it up like a halo around his head. It was another 6 months before I really met him. 10 months after that we were married. I’ve never looked back with any thought that what I chose, or more importantly… what chose me that day, was a mistake. He and I and my son Nathaniel, we became family. We are family today. Tempered by life and its challenges, but stronger because we faced them together. We don’t pretend with each other, we tell the truth, we deal with the consequences. It makes us love each other more, and respect each other deeply. Often it is not easy, often it is “knee walking, praying to God” HARD! But we do it and I am so very grateful that I have someone who sees the real me and loves me for who I am. He does the same for my son. They are best friends and I am so very grateful for that.
What I got that day was the best person that could have happened to me.


There are a few other people that I am so very grateful for, people that somehow by some miracle or some great design that I cannot see, were chosen to be my family. This is not random, it cannot be. My best friend through all my adult life, my sister, my confidant, the one person who I can tell anything to is Shelly Baughman. She and I were meant to be friends and sisters.

The first time I remember seeing her was 33 years ago, I was 23 years old. I had been lying in bed, VASTLY pregnant and sick with toxemia. All the windows were open in my tiny 900 square foot house, and the breeze was blowing the warm spring air into the room as I lay there listening to the children play across the street at the elementary school. Then I heard someone talking on my front porch. I waddled into the living room to see who it was, pulled open the front door, 2 women about my age were standing there, talking about the color my house was painted. It was Shelly and her friend Rosalie.

The 2nd time, I came into contact with her, it was actually her daughter and husband I met at Vanderbilt Childrens Hematology clinic when my son was 3. Sally, her daughter started playing with my son and a big green stuffed frog. I remember her laughter and how delighted Nathaniel was with her. He  was sick with Leukemia. Sally was being treated for Leukemia also. Steve, her father told me they were from Murfreesboro, where we lived. I didn’t actually realize the connection.

The 3rd time I came into contact with them, about 6 months later, was in the bathroom at clinic, Shelly was holding Sally’s head while she threw up in the bathroom. I thought Shelly looked familar, I still didn’t realize the connection. Then a few months after that Sally left her book satchel at clinic and the nurses knew we were both from Murfreesboro. I took the satchel  by their house on my way home, they lived on the street behind our house.

The fourth time I met her, I walked into the Art and Frame shop that was my first real job since the birth of my son, Shelly was standing there, sweeping the floor, she laughed and said,”I give up, I guess we just need to be friends.” We have been since that day. We had a lot to talk about, we still do, I try not to call her every day, but I want to.

There is another person that is my family. I’ve loved him since the moment I met him 11 years ago. He is the one person I know I could call for any reason…. say if I needed some help in hiding a body. He is “ON MY SIDE”! Like, no matter what. That’s a good friend. He’d also make sure I got a good lawyer if the need arose. I’m never going to need help hiding a body but its good to know its there. He’s my best boyfriend in the world, Nick Nichols, from the great state of Alabama and ALL that that implies. Yes, we are polar opposite, politics wise, yes we argue about just those things. Yes, he makes me madder than a hornet, sometimes on purpose, but he is my “Southern Gentleman Friend” and I love him with a deep and abiding respect for who he is and how clearly he see’s me. He is my family. I am his family. We did not choose this, it was chosen for us. We have cried and laughed together so often, it feels like we have know each other all our lives. Maybe we have.

And most importantly, my son Nathaniel Davis, the love of my life, the one person who made me realize what family really was. He is the reason I breath every day. He is my gift, he chose me and I chose him long before I ever knew I would have a son. It has been an incredible journey. I never could have imagined I could feel this wealth of love for any one person, he opened my heart. My need for his happiness became so much more important than even my need for my own. Looking back I see that everything I have ever endured in pain or in happiness has prepared me for him. Dear Son, you have given me insight, you have given me strength by showing me yours, you have made me grateful for each day on this earth that I get to be your mother and your friend.lasteset 342

And lastly…but not least, but certainly shortest, my hound dog, Shelby Lou, her highness, Schoochie La Loochie, who protects me each night while I sleep, and makes me smile each and every day. She is my little Beagle Bundle of Joy! I found her and she found me one fall day in Gatlinburg, when I was working and living over there. She was the funkiest smelling adorable dog I had ever seen. By the second night in my tiny travel trailer she had climbed up on my bed and into my heart.lasteset 309

These people and 1 hound dog are my gifts this Holiday Season. I don’t need presents under the tree. I have Love. I have Family. I am so very gratitude filled by these wonderful souls that I get to call family that it spills out of my eyes and runs down my cheeks.  

Merry Christmas Friends, thank you for letting me share.

Posted in love and family, Southern Living, Uncategorized