5X5 Super Deluxe PizzaSometimes an extravagant, once-in-a-while, homemade, super deluxe thin crust pizza is the only thing that will fill the bill, and it isn’t something you can order from the local pizza shop. This one is special. It is substantial. It is a party of flavors that burst to life in your mouth. And, it is super easy to put together. Five meat flavors, and five types of cheese with a homemade pizza sauce that delivers intense tomato flavor to a ready-to-top pizza crust.

The Sauce
Homemade Pizza SauceThe recipe for this sauce is located here. You can, of course, use any pizza sauce you prefer. Ours has a deep, complex, tomato flavor derived from a base of dense tomato paste, onion, garlic, Italian seasoning, and smokey Paprika, finished with Parmesan cheese. The beauty of pizza is that you can choose whether to use store bought, or put some love into making your own. For this pie we started with a Ultra Thin, Ready to Top, pizza crust from the store, and heated it for about 15 minutes at 425 degrees (F) to melt the toppings together.

The Meats
Bacon, Ground Beef and Ground SausageMeat selection for the pizza is, of course, a matter of taste. For ours, we cooked bacon to the crispy stage, so we could later crumble it. We also cooked a half pound of ground beef seasoned with salt and pepper, and a half pound of ground pork, seasoned with a level teaspoon each of Italian Seasoning, onion and garlic powders, and worcestershire sauce. We also stewed, then drained, a handful of mushrooms in beef stock to intensify the beef flavor in the pie.

The Meat Layer
Thin crust pizza with meatsThe meat layer is a thing of beauty for meat lovers. It starts off with a layer of pepperoni, topped with seasoned ground beef, Italian flavored ground pork, crispy bacon crumbles, and finished with the mushrooms stewed in beef stock. We then topped this layer with sliced black olives and thin sliced green bell pepper. Any veggies you like could finish this layer with just the flavors you prefer.

The Cheese
Assembled 5X5 Meat and Cheese lover's pizzaWe always order extra cheese when we buy a pizza, so it only makes sense that we would use multiple cheeses on our own pie. We used a packaged Mexican blend of Cheddar, Monterey Jack, Asadero, and Queso Quesadilla, from the diary section of the grocery store, and crowned that with a big handful of shredded whole milk Mozzarella.

As you can see, the ingredients stack up high into a mouth-watering blend of our favorite combinations. Flatbread embellished with toppings dates back to antiquity, when any manner of combinations were used to add flavor. This pie certainly does that well, and your own favorites can be combined to create a pizza that boldly becomes your own homemade classic.

Pouring batter into baking panCooking should be fun, and there is little more rewarding and fulfilling than sharing the kitchen with a grandchild who likes to learn. We have a young grandson who loves to be in the kitchen when we are preparing anything from soups and salads to desserts. He is one of those children who snacks continuously, and enjoys trying most new food items to which we introduce him. He uses one of those 2-step ladders to reach the counter top, and even likes to prep and sanitize the work area, under close supervision, of course. In this photo he is pouring the cake batter to make a pineapple upside down cake.

Recently, during a visit, out of the blue, he stated that we should make a pie. A few months ago he and I made a raisin pie with a lattice top, and he enjoyed learning to cut and place the lattice on top. Checking what we had on hand to make a quick pie, I found a deep-dish graham cracker crust in the freezer, and in the pantry were a can of apple pie filling and another of lemon pie filling, along with a box of Crumble Crisp Topping. A perfect project for the little guy! Here’s how we put it together.

Steps in Sour Apple and Graham Cracker CrispIngredients:
1 Deep dish Graham Pie Crust (two layer)
1 can (21 oz) apple pie filling
1 can (15.5 oz) lemon pie filling
1 box (10 oz) Crumble Crisp Topping Mix
2 Tbsp butter, melted (or amount specified by the topping mix)
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 375 F
2. Place the room temperature graham pie crust on a cookie sheet
3. Place in preheated oven for 5 minutes, then cool before filling
4. Add the apple pie filling, spreading evenly over the crust
5. Sprinkle the cinnamon over the layer
6. Add the lemon pie filling, spreading evenly over the bottom layer
7. Prepare the Topping according to instructions on the box
8. Spread the crumb topping evenly over the pie, spreading to the edge
9. Place in oven, on the cookie sheet, and bake 25 minutes.
10. Spoon into bowls while still warm, and, if desired, top with a scoop of ice cream.

This quick and easy dessert was a hit with the family! The contrasting sweetness of the apple and lemon pie fillings, combined with the Crumb Topping made for a festival of flavors going on with every bite. It was fun to make, and fun to eat! And, if you have little ones that like to help, this goes together quickly, keeping their interest, and the short cooking time gives them almost instant rewards. Enjoy!

We couldn’t help it (Grin) The title really does say it all, though. A hardy chili soup is a wonderful warmer upper for these bone-chilling cold days of winter. Beefy, and full of delicious flavors, chili soup can range from one extreme to another. In our own soup category we have chili soups mild enough for children, and those 2-alarm varieties for those who like to sweat as they enjoy the earthiness of browned beef combined with all those delicious tomatoey flavors. We have even made a pork-based chili, and, of course, a no-meat version that delivers the flavor so well you almost forget that its vegetarian!

Basic Chili Soup
Basic Chili SoupEvery chili starts with the basics and builds from there. This version is a very versatile recipe developed for our grandsons, ranging in age from 4 to 9, all with different preferences for how much spiciness and heat they like. We serve the basic chili with sides of sour cream, grated cheese, and a variety of hot sauce(s). This basic recipe can also work as your base chili soup, allowing you to add flavorings, adjusting the ingredients, to develop your own recipe. The recipe is here.

Campfire Chili (Mild)
Larry's Campfire ChiliLarry used to really enjoy cooking up a big pot of this chili soup over a campfire, starting it right after lunch and letting it cook all afternoon, blending its flavors with the smoke from the wood fire. The aromas were tantalizing, and by dinner time everyone was anxious to dive in. Serve with a dollop of sour cream and shredded cheddar cheese on top, or take it in what ever direction you like by selecting some of your favorite sides. Here’s the recipe.

Larry’s Chipotle Chili Soup (Medium Heat)
Chili with Mild HeatFor those who like a little bit of heat in their chili, here’s a recipe that uses delicious chipotle chilies in adobo sauce that delivers just enough heat to sit on the back of the tongue without overpowering the pallet. We also use lean ground beef and fire roasted tomatoes for that great outdoor flavor that’s almost too big to fit in a bowl. The recipe is located here.

Gene Vaughn’s 2-Alarm Chili (Hot)
Gene Vaughn's Chili in Black PotThis recipe was one of Larry’s dad’s favorites. Gene enjoyed cooking for “all the guys” on National Guard drill weekends. His recipe has adapted and embellished from the Army’s 1944 Cook’s Manual, Recipe #321 (Chili Con Carne). Adjust the seasoning if you don’t want it hot as it does carry a lot of spicy flavors, mellowed by the chocolate flavor. Find this hot-as-you-like-it recipe here.

White Bean and Pork Chili (Mild)
White Bean and Pork ChiliA delightful change from most chili soups, the mild Poblano and green chilies add the chili flavor you might think you’d miss without chili powder, but the flavor is there, and the chilies are quite mild. This flavor goes very well with corn chips, and can be elevated to another level by adding slices of avocado and squeezing more lime juice over them. The recipe is located here.

Vegetable Chili (No-Meat)
No-Meat Vegetable ChiliHere’s a vegetable chili that even meat lovers will like. Dice the veggies for this in a larger dice than usual, about the size of a kidney bean, to give those meat eaters the “toothiness,” or, “bite,” that is usually associated with meat. Adjust your seasonings to taste, and you’ll have a dish that everyone at the table will find comforting and delicious. Here’s the recipe.

Spoon Dumplings for Soup
Black Pot Spoon DumplingsLooking for something a little special? Take any soup or stew to a whole other level by adding simple spoon dumplings just like great-grandma used to make. This recipe was handed down by Lea’s grandmother, and has long been a family favorite. These dumplings are moist and silky, adding another layer of flavor and texture to elevate your dish. Here is the recipe.

Do you struggle with guessing how well done your steak is? Do you make a calculated guess based on thickness of the steak, heat of the fire, and a length of time to the desired doneness? Sometimes that works, but often it fails dismally. So, is there a better way? How do steak houses seemly get it right every time? Have you noticed that they don’t poke them with meat thermometers? Any time you poke a hot steak you let all those delicious juices run out into the plate where they are wasted. Professional chefs can tell when a steak is done just by feeling it, and you can learn how to do the touch test too.

Chefs have developed four primary “touch” methods, including the “Face Test,” where the firmness of the steak is compared to various areas of the face. But, we don’t like the idea of our cooks touching their face while they’re cooking food, so we are going to discuss three other methods that use hands, which are more likely to be clean every time. Each of these methods takes a bit of practice, which is a great reason to cook (and eat) more steak.

Spring Back Touch Method

  1. Lightly press the center of the steak with your thumb. If it feels really soft, or jelly-like, it is still rare.
  2. When the center of a steak has a little more resistance and just springs right back, its perfectly medium rare. (It’s important that it springs back!).
  3. If it’s just firm and hard, and has no springiness, it’s well done (overcooked, in our humble opinion).

Fist Touch Method

  1. First, make a relaxed fist. The fleshy area of your hand between your thumb and forefinger is soft, which is how a rare steak feels.
  2. Now, slightly clench your fist. It will feel a little firmer, like medium doneness.
  3. The last step: Clench your fist tightly, and that area will feel like well-done meat.

Palm of the Hand Method
Palm tests for steak doneness
We like this one best: Here’s how to do the Palm method:

  1. Hold your hand out, palm up, and relaxed. Poke your hand by the base of the thumb with your other index finger. This is what raw meat feels like.
  2. Now, make an OK sign with your hand by touching your forefinger and thumb together. Feel the same part of your hand. It’s a little firmer. This is how meat feels when it’s rare.
  3. Move your other fingers to your thumb in the following order. As you do, you’ll notice the pad of your hand will get progressively firmer:
  4. Touch your middle finger to the tip of your thumb. That’s how a medium rare steak feels.
  5. Next, touch the tip of your ring finger to your thumb. This is what a medium-well will feel like.
  6. Lastly, touch your pinkie to your thumb. That’s the equivalent of a well-done steak.

Both these methods are fairly easy, and once you get the hang of it, you’ll cook perfect steaks every time.

Sound sound too complicated? It really isn’t, but we realize that the touch method can appear to be, until you get some practice in. In the meantime, if you would rather continue using an instant read thermometer, here are the temperatures for doneness:

  • Extra Rare – 115-120 degrees
  • Rare – 125-130 degrees
  • Medium Rare – 135-140 degrees
  • Medium 145-150 degrees
  • Medium-Well – 155-160 degrees
  • Well Done – 165 degrees

What happens if the steak has a gorgeous crust, but the temperature clocks in too low? It’s time for pan roasting! Fire up the oven and preheat it to 400 degrees F. Meanwhile, put your steak on a roasting rack on a baking sheet with sides. Stick it in the oven. It’ll finish cooking without getting too dark.

For other insights into proper techniques for cooking that delicious piece of steak, see our notes on 7 Tips to Cooking Great Steaks.

Have you ever noticed the cooks in your circles that have a favorite dish that is always requested for pitch-in dinners? There’s always the dessert folks, and the brisket baker, and, of course, the popular deviled egg favorite. Deviled eggs are always a hit, and so is the person that makes them. And, preparation isn’t that hard to do, it’s mostly a matter of boiling eggs and mixing up the yolks to go back into the egg whites. The problem with boiled eggs is the boiling and peeling. And, it seems there are always one or two that crack and leak some egg whites during the boiling stage.

There is a much better, more reliable, method that delivers great hard cooked eggs; steaming! I learned to steam eggs, rather than boiling, a few years ago while watching one of Alton Brown’s Good Eats episodes. This method has a few real advantages over boiling eggs, not the least of which is the ease of peeling them without destroying the wonderful smooth surface of the skin, and there are no cracked eggs caused by jostling about in boiling water. This method is reliable and provides perfectly hard cooked eggs.

2 1/2 Qt saucepan with steamer basketAll you need is a saucepan with a steamer basket and a lid, or, for larger batches, a Dutch oven with steamer basket and lid.

The keys to getting this just right are:

  1. Decide whether you want your egg yolks, soft, medium or hard;
  2. Decide how many eggs you want to cook in a batch (minimum is 4, I’m told);
  3. Determine how long to steam the eggs
  4. Plan the process, and get tools and accessories ready

This all comes more easily after you try it a couple of times. I usually cook in batches of 12-24, so I will focus on the Dutch oven process. As mentioned, you can cook small batches of 4 or more eggs in a saucepan with a steam basket, although I have not experimented with the smaller amounts. I have found some info on the small batches, which indicate:

  • 6 minute active steaming in a single layer for soft yolks
  • 10 minute active steaming in a single layer for medium yolks
  • 12 minute active steaming in a single layer for hard yolk with bright color

The reason I use the term “active steaming” is because warm up time doesn’t count. If you put cold eggs straight from the refrigerator into the pan, you have to recover the heat you lost when you lifted the lid, and you have to heat the egg to room temperature before any real cooking begins. So, you put in the eggs, you replace the lid, and you watch for steam to begin to escape from your vessel, then start your timer. I also read in various comments that if you steam your eggs in a double layer, it adds about two minutes to active steaming time to get the same results as listed above.

Here’s my process for steaming 18 Extra Large eggs, which is the maximum I can get in my Dutch oven steamer basket in a single layer.
18 eggs in steamer basket

  1. Remove the (extra large) eggs from refrigeration 30 minutes before cooking begins, and place on the counter next to the steamer basket
  2. Add at least one inch of water to the Dutch oven up to 1/2 inch below where the bottom of the steamer basket will be
  3. Cover the Dutch oven with the lid, and bring to a boil over high heat, and when steam starts escaping, reduce the heat to medium high, to produce a steady simmer (indicated by steam escaping)
  4. Meanwhile, arrange the eggs in the steamer basket
  5. Remove the lid from the Dutch oven, drop in the steamer basket loaded with eggs, and replace the lid
  6. Watch the Dutch oven for signs that steaming has begun, and when it appears, start your timer for 12 minutes for soft yolks, 14 for medium, and 16 for hard
  7. While the timer is running, prepare an ice bath. I do this by emptying my ice maker tray into a clean sink and adding enough water to cover the eggs
  8. When the timer is finished, turn off the heat, remove the lid (lift the edge away from you) to release built-up steam
  9. Basket of Steamed Eggs in Ice Water Bath

  10. Move the Dutch oven to an area near the water bath, and lift the steamer basket out, and place into the ice bath
  11. If you are going to peel the eggs right away, let them sit in the bath about 3 minutes so they are cool enough to handle, and yet are slightly warm in the center

Larry with Pot of Hot BrothTo peel your eggs, roll them on a hard surface so that you crack the middle of the shell all the way around. I use the palm of my hand to roll them, but I’ve also seen chefs use the handle of a knife, too. If everything works well, you should be able to peel the cracked part off pretty easily, and then pull the ends off in whole pieces. I have had varying degrees of success with this, and believe that fresher eggs peel more easily. The longer they sit in the refrigerator, it seems, the more I have to pick away at tiny pieces to get them peeled. By the way, I use these large batches of eggs to make Pickled Eggs, an occasional, fun, treat for the family.

We love a tender, juicy, well-cooked beef steak. Because preparing it perfectly involves proper technique, temperature control, timing, and seasoning, cooking a steak is a great test of your culinary skills. Cooking the perfect steak might not be as easy as you wish, but with practice, and some insight, you can quickly master it. Here are six tips on how to cook the perfect steak every time.

1. Get Your Grill On

Grilled Rib Eye with Baked Potato

Grilled Rib Eye Steak

Grilling is the best way to cook a steak, whether indoors or out. And, the way to best grill a steak is to get the grill very hot. Place your steak on it. Stand back. Don’t touch it. After about three minutes, use a long pair of tongs to flip it over. Grill it for another two minutes or longer, depending on how thick it is. Don’t poke it with a thermometer, or cut into it to see what color it is, because the hole or slice will just let all the juices leak out, and your steak will be dry and chewy. A medium-rare steak will be light pink at the center and between 130° and 140° F.

Grilling times depend on how thick the steak is cut. However, in every case, the grilling should be done on a very hot grill directly over the heat source. To cook your steak to medium-rare:

  • 3/4 inch thick – cooks 3-5 minutes per side
  • 1 inch thick – cooks 6-7 minutes per side
  • 1 1/2 inches thick – cooks 7-8 minutes per side
  • 2 inches thick – 10-12 minutes per side

grilling-times-by-steak-thicknessThese suggested times will vary, depending on how hot your grill gets. A little practice will help you nail down the perfect timing. Additional methods of cooking vary by the type of steak you’re serving, and there’s some great insight on cuts of meat and cooking techniques here.

2. Warming Things Up

T-Bone Steak, uncookedWhether you’re cooking a thin strip steak, or a thick porterhouse, you have to plan ahead, and that means taking the steak out in advance of actually cooking it. This gets rid of much of the chill, and lets it approach room temperature. The warmer the meat starts out, the less time it takes to cook the center, and therefore, less time the outer layers are exposed to high heat which can cook them beyond the desired doneness.

So, how long is “well in advance”? For the thinner cuts, twenty minutes to a half-hour on a cooling rack will do. If your steak is over an inch thick, plan on 45 minutes to an hour or more. Remember that the top will warm more quickly than the center (or the bottom surface if it is not exposed to air, such as when it is placed on a platter). This is why we recommend the cooling rack for this step. Remember, too, that once any surface reaches room temperature you have about two hours before dangerous bacteria begin to grow in that surface.

3. Marinading and Seasoning

Horseradish and Pepper Crusted Rib Eye

Horseradish and Pepper Crusted Rib Eye

When it comes to marinading and seasoning, this is the time to be bold. You can’t flavor the inside of the steak, so the flavor has to come from the exterior. Your marinade should point in the direction you want your flavor to go, or create a complementary contrast. Larry’s General Purpose Marinade is a perfect basic mixture that can easily be modified to suit your needs. Soak your steak in the marinade for at least ten minutes per side. If turning the steak, use tongs. We don’t want any holes that will let juices drain out during cooking.

In addition to providing great flavor for your steak, seasoning also aids the formation of a gorgeous crust. What we want to achieve here is big, bold flavor. We sometimes create our crusts from a thick coat of seasoning. Use coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, and season generously so that you can actually see the salt and pepper. If you want to use a flavorful rub to create that crust, visit our dry rub page, which lists some simple, easy to make rubs for various pallet pleasing flavors. You can easily modify these basic rubs to let your favorite flavor dominate.

4. Chilling Out About Resting Your Meat

Smoked Rib Eye Steak

Rested before slicing

Aside from over or under-cooking and incorrect seasoning, not allowing meat to rest properly is probably the cooking blunder of which we are all most guilty. Cutting into hot meat before it has properly rested lets all the juices run out, causing dry, chewy, meat. Here’s why: when you place your steak into the hot pan or grill, the juices are forced away from the heat towards the center, increasing the concentration of moisture in the middle of the steak.

When the steak gets flipped over, the same thing happens on that side. The center of the steak becomes supersaturated with more liquid than it can hold on to. So, when you slice it open, all that extra liquid pours out. By resting the steaks, you allow all that liquid in the center time to migrate back out to the edges. How long to let it rest? For thin cuts, 5 to 10 minutes will do; for larger, thicker steaks, plan for 10 to 15. Don’t worry, your steak will not get cold, it will still be quite warm, juicy, and delicious.

5. Slice Across the Grain

Roast Beef on Meat Slicer

Slicing Roast Beef

There seems to be some confusion around cutting meat “against the grain,” or, “across the grain.” Those terms mean the same thing, but what is that meaning? You see in the photo in the next paragraph the fat that lies between the muscle fibers in that cut of meat. To slice “across the grain” means to cut those long strings of muscle into short pieces so they can be chewed more easily. Flank steak, skirt steak, brisket, and London broil have visible lines in the muscle. These are typically long, flat, and prized for the flavor, rather than tenderness.

Fat marbling in beef

Grain visible in beef

These cuts of meat are usually sliced in a way so that the fibers are cut through, making the meat more tender and easier to eat. Notice the horizontal lines of fat running in long lines throughout the raw steak shown here. If you slice in the same direction as those lines, you’ll have to chew through those long fibers that will end up like strings. If you cut across the lines, however, the knife will have already done that work, and the meat seems to be more tender. Try slicing thinly while holding the knife at a 45-degree angle for a more elegant presentation. You can also shave the meat on a meat slicer like the one shown above.

It isn’t usually an art form, but serving well prepared and handled steaks will get you a reputation for knowing what you’re doing, and you will get more comfortable taking better cuts of meat to the fire. Getting it right every time takes practice, but it is a skill you can definitely develop, and hopefully these tips will help those that want to step it up. Do you have favorite techniques you like to use?

Google recently released their “Google’s Year in Search 2016.” One category included was a listing of the top-searched food recipes for the year. We took a look in our own collection to gather our recipes for these delicious, and sometimes, just fun, items to create our own list of favorites in 2016.

1. Green Bean Casserole
Green Bean CasseroleThis classic casserole might be the star of your holiday table, but it isn’t just for holidays and pitch-in dinners any more. In 2016 home cooks were bringing this side dish to their table throughout the year, and we commonly see at least a couple of versions of this dish on pitch-in dinner tables. We are always delighted to try other’s approach to this staple. Here is our recipe for a Green Bean Casserole, with Mushrooms, Bacon, Onions and two optional Cheeses.

2. Brussels Sprouts
Brown Butter Brussels Sprouts with Cipollini OnionsThe Brussels sprout continues to be super popular this year; it’s the only green vegetable that got its own Google search spot in the top 10. Here is our recipe for Brown Butter Brussels Sprouts, and, you might also like our Browned Brussels Sprouts with Cipollini Onions.

3. Hashbrown Casserole
Hash Brown CasseroleCasseroles continue to dominate the top 10 list, and for good reason; they can be prepared ahead of time, chilled, warmed, and served later, making them very versatile and reliable. One of the most popular recipes searched is the ever-popular hashbrown casserole. This has been a Christmas Breakfast staple at our house for many years, and I prepared it a number of times for Men’s Breakfast at church. Get the recipe here.

4. Guacamole
GuacamoleAnother simple-to-make delicacy made it to the top of the charts this year. It’s guacamole made from wonderful Haas avocados. Avocados are full of monounsaturated fat and nutrients, especially potassium, B vitamins, 11 different carotenoids, and vitamin E. It makes a great dip with tortilla or corn chips, excels when planted by the spoonful on top of entrees, sides, salads, and even when served sliced in soups and tacos. The process is quick and easy, and produces a luscious, silky smooth dip with a hint of lime. You’ll find our recipe here.

5. Chicken Marsala
Chicken Tenderloin MarsalaThis is a delicious, classic chicken dish that used to be taught in junior high school cooking classes. Our Italian-American version calls for breaded chicken breasts that are braised with Marsala wine, mushrooms and onion. Paprika provides a smokiness to offset the sweetness of the wine. Quick and easy to assemble, this dish is ideal for a simple weeknight dinner, and is elegant enough to gain status as a longtime favorite for entertaining company. You can find our recipe here.

6. Chicken Tetrazzini
Chicken TetrazziniIf you’re not familiar with Chicken Tetrazzini, this essentially is a bowl of luscious pasta loaded with lots of chicken and mushrooms. This is one of Lea’s favorite dishes, to make, and to eat. If you have time to make your own delicious egg noodles, you can take this dish to a whole new level. Get the recipe right here.

7. Snow Cream
Homemade Ice CreamSnow cream can be one of two distinct desserts; a cream-based dessert with one or more flavoring agents added, or, a dessert in which snow is mixed with a sweetened dairy-based liquid to make an ice cream substitute. We rarely see snow here in Central Texas, so we tend to go with the cream-based version. Get the recipe here. Our recipe is located here.

8. Buttercream Frosting
Buttercream frosting on mini-muffinsIt’s great that there are enough cooks out there that want to learn to make their own buttercream frosting, rather than giving in to the ease of buying it at the store. It’s completely simple to make, and totally essential for baking when you want that extra measure of flavor that comes only from homemade buttercream. Our recipe includes a tip to avoid getting the frosting too runny. The recipe is located here.

9. Pork Chops
seared-pork-tenderloin-medallions2_smlThe ever-popular pork chop topped this year’s Google search charts again, which is not so surprising considering how easy or elegant this homey dinner staple is to prepare. We have lots of pork chop recipes on our Entrees page, and one of our favorites, Apple-Ginger Thick Cut Pork Chops, is located here.

10. Turkey Gravy
Pan Gravy with Chicken Fried ChickenSearches for turkey gravy rose to new heights in the last few weeks prior to Thanksgiving, and, according to Google, it was very popular this year! Once you learn to master gravy making, you can pretty much turn pan drippings and fond from any dish into a silky smooth and extra flavorful pan sauce or gravy to serve with your meal. Here’s our recipe and some tips to help.

These delicious recipes are essential for every recipe starter collection, and all have countless versions that have been developed by seasoned cooks over the years. Historically, the most adventurous cooks had extensive libraries of cookbooks to use for inspiration and exploration. Trading recipes with others who had an interest in expanding their meal offerings was a very common practice. Today, there are many other ways to find a recipe, including that quick search on the web, including our own collection. We hope you enjoy our tried and true recipes, and look forward to hearing about your favorite variations, too.

Terminate that chill and warm up with comforting tomato soup!

Bowl of Tomato SoupServed steaming hot in an over-sized mug, with a toasty brown grilled-cheese sandwich, tomato soup takes us back to those childhood days when this cool weather treat seemed really special. Comforting and warming all the way to the tummy, most of us probably had the canned soup most often. But, I still fondly recall the aromas coming from my great-grandmother’s kitchen during canning season when she was “putting up” tomatoes while making tomato soup from scratch. And, there is no tastier way to terminate a chill than that bowl or mug of tomato soup! Today, making homemade tomato soup is simple. Open a couple cans or jars of tomatoes, sauté some aromatic vegetables, and blend it all together. That’s it!

Selecting Tomatoes

Chilies and TomatoesWhile ripe fall tomatoes can make a delicious end of season tomato soup, when it comes to the classic flavor we remember, canned tomatoes are best. They provide a consistent flavor because they are picked, processed, and canned at the peak of perfection. We have found that crushed tomatoes have the preferred balance of acidity and flavor for soup, and they don’t have to spend a lot of time in the blender or food processor to break down. They have a texture between firm diced tomatoes and smooth tomato sauce, and they provide a fresh, full, flavor that is great for pasta sauces and smoother soups.

Home Canned Crushed Tomatoes

Crushed Tomatoes

We also use a small amount of tomato paste in our soups. Tomato paste comes in small cans, usually six ounces each, and also in 4.5 ounce tubes, and they are the most cooked down of all the canned tomato products with eighty per cent (80%) of the water content removed. The paste has a very concentrated flavor and a much darker color.

While the amount of paste in most recipes is small, compared to the crushed tomatoes, you really can’t develop that deep, rich, flavor we all love in tomato soup without it. Keep both canned tomatoes and tomato paste on hand for tomato soup anytime, and you’ll also discover many other uses for them.

Blending and processing hot tomato soup can be messy and even dangerous. See our tips on how to be safe while completing this essential task.

Creamy Tomato Bisque
Creamy Tomato Bisque One of our favorite soups is a steaming mug of tomato “bisque,” by definition a creamy, highly seasoned soup of French origin. It is classically based on a strained broth of crustaceans or shellfish, but it can also be made from roasted and puréed fruits, vegetables, or fungi. Our bisque uses fire roasted tomatoes, heavy cream and a sprinkle of Parmesan to develop an earthiness and silkiness. Get the recipe here.

Tomato Soup with Parmesan Cheese
Tomato Soup with ParmesanHere is another of our tomato soup recipes that has you do the puree while the product is still cool. I have found this to be much easier to handle than trying to pulse the hot soup in a blender or food processor. This recipe incorporates orange juice, a natural pairing with tomato, maple syrup for a touch of sweetness in the background, and cilantro for a fresh citrus note. This one, like the bisque, we finish with a sprinkle of grated Parmesan cheese. The recipe is on our soup page, here.

Tomato Vegetable Soup
Tomato Vegetable SoupOur tomato vegetable soup is a recipe we developed in the church kitchen while cooking large batches for fellowship dinners. This is a comforting and filling soup with just a hint of citrus from orange juice. We use homemade Emeril’s Essence in this version to take it just slightly to the cajun side where it blends so well with the mixed vegetables. Find the recipe here.

Rich and flavorful tomato soups are winter warmer-upper favorites that are chock full of vitamin C, and a great way to get the antibiotic effect of the onions and garlic. If you’re fighting a winter cold or flu, you can also whip up a delicious dairy-free version to keep the mucus factor down. It will still be delicious and give you a welcome boost. Tomato soup; the winter chill terminator!

Now that Christmas dinner is past, and the leftovers have been relegated to stews and casseroles, it’s the right time to be thinking about a change of pace with dinners that differ from seasonal classics while still delivering on flavor. Pork may be the ideal alternative, and we’ve collected a few of our favorite pork chop dishes to help you with mealtime planning.

Apple-Raisin Thick Cut Pork Chops
Apple Raisin Pork ChopThis is a delicious main dish that has been a favorite for generations and passed down in cookbook after cookbook. The apples and raisins combine to create a fruity and savory flavor, while apples and pork are just a natural pairing. Combined with touches of ginger, mustard and cinnamon, this hardy mealtime offering is well liked by diners of all ages. Get the recipe here.

Balsamic Glazed Pork Chops
Balsamic Glazed Pork Loin ChopHere’s a dish that hits all of the taste buds with a sweet-sour sauce, umami flavor from a quick browning sear in a very hot pan, and salt and pepper seasoning to taste. Thick center-cut pork chops finish in a balsamic vinegar and brown sugar sauce. These chops are as attractive as they are tasty, and really turn up the satisfaction ratings. Get the recipe here.

Coriander Boneless Pork Chop Cubes
Coriander Pork CubesLooking for a savory pork chop recipe with a dash of pizzaz? These thick cut pork chops get cubed into bite-size portions, marinaded, seasoned, and pan seared for that great earthy umami flavor that comes from a quick, hot, sear. Served over chicken flavored couscous or rice, and finished with fresh chopped coriander or parsley, this flavorful combination will become a family favorite. Get the recipe here.

Grilled or Roasted Stuffed Loin Chops
Stuffed Thick Cut Loin MedallionThis can be a really fun adventure. Have your butcher cut some extra thick loin medallions. You’re going to marinade them, stuff them, grill or roast them, as you like, and prepare a dish that is not only attractive and tasty, but will dominate the table when you dress it with a drizzle of hot balsamic reduction, and garnish with a cilantro or parsley twig. Get the recipe here.

Vino Pork Loin
Pork Loin Bites over CouscousThis is a savory plate of comfort food that is certain to please the heartiest of appetites. Taking a Cajun cue from Emeril’s Essence, we use a homemade version of the spice to bring pork to a whole new level. Use as much, or as little, as you like, to make this dish your own. We like it served with a side of Island Rice Pilaf. Get the recipe for this delicious pork dish here.

From roasted to pan fried, and smothered to breaded, our selection of savory and sweet pork chop recipes will give you many tasty options for your mealtime. Bone-in or boneless, thick-cut or thin, budget-friendly pork chops are a favorite option for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Pork chops is what is “in”!

American Apple Pie
Pie with baked and browned crustWe always chuckle when we hear, “As American as apple pie.” The first recipe for apple pie was written in 1381 England, and used figs, raisins, and pears as sweeteners. Early apple pie recipes rarely called for sugar, an expensive and hard-to-get item at the time. (Never fear . . . our recipe calls for sugar). This is an excellent, and easy to make apple pie. Get the recipe here.

Old Fashioned Cherry Pie
Old Fashioned Cherry PieThis is the classic cherry pie of old, made from fresh sour cherries (we list some alternatives in case you don’t have a cherry tree in your back yard). This recipe even includes directions for making your own delicious pie crust from a very old recipe Lea found in an old church cookbook many years ago. The recipe also is listed below. It is, by far, the best pie crust we have ever had. It is very easy to make, and it never fails to please. Find the pie recipe here.


Classic Peach Pie

Peach Pie with Butter Dots

Peach Pie with Butter Dots

The delicate flavor of the peach is very unique and produces a very delicate aroma and taste sensation that is highly valued throughout the world. The sweetness of the ripe peach is due primarily to the natural sugars giving the fruit a very sweet taste. Served with an outstanding flavorful crust, the peach pie becomes a work of art that is well received at the dining table. This peach pie is classically prepared, and quick and easy to assemble. Mix peaches, cinnamon, nutmeg and tapioca for a special treat that will bring them back for more. Get the recipe here.

Raisin Pie
Raisin PieBefore there was refrigeration, fresh fruits were not readily available, but most homes had dried raisins on hand. This pie became a favorite because the ingredients were always available and the pie kept well. Some recipes include milk, making it more like a custard pie, and others include water, but they all seem to agree on the necessity of a double-crusted pie, usually with a lattice top. Get the recipe here.

Nestle’s Toll House Pie
Nestle's Toll House PieLarry wasn’t kidding when he summed up what this pie is; a chocolate chip cookie on a pie shell! Why is the toll house cookie one of the best loved cookies, and why is this pie version of it so special? Let me count the ways; Butter, sugar, brown sugar, vanilla, chopped nuts, and a whole lot of semi-sweet chocolate chips on a pie crust! Get the recipe here.

Lea’s Pumpkin Pie
:ea's Pumpkin PieLea received this recipe on a postcard from Dottie Vaughn in 1970 when we lived at 924 Sunset Ridge Drive, Danville, Illinois. This recipe has always been our favorite pumpkin pie! The original recipe name was “Prue’s Pumpkin Pie”, but Lea figures that she has made it enough, she’ll will make it her own! Creamy pumpkin mixed with brown and white sugar, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger delivers the silkiness and flavors that have well passed the test of time. Get the recipe here.

Old Fashioned Homemade Pie Crust
Lea's Pie CrustNothing shouts “home-made!” like a buttery pie crust. Yes, you can easily make your own homemade pie crust, and the result is so much better than store-bought frozen pie crusts. The most classic pie or pastry crust is made with butter, but can take some practice to master (f you handle it too much it will end up tough). A more forgiving pie crust is one that is made with a mixture of butter and shortening. That way you get the flavor of the butter, with the easy flakiness that comes from using shortening. Our recipe goes one better: butter flavored shortening! Get the recipe here.

You can be this year’s pitch-in dinner rock star, with tried and true recipes for some of the best flavors that have withstood the tests of time! With easy-to-follow instructions on how to prepare each recipe, you’ll easily master old favorites with new successes.

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