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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.

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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.

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.

There is always room on the dessert table for easy snacks on the go, and nothing fits the bill better than homemade cookies. Here are some of our favorite recipes that are always a hit at every pitch-in.

Snowballs
Snowball CookiesThese cookies are known by many names, but they are snowballs to us, and they have been a family favorite for decades. These are a joy to make, go together quickly, and bake for only a few minutes. Cream together butter, sugar, vanilla, and your choice of almonds or pecans, and roll them in powdered sugar, and you’ll have a new family favorite! Get the recipe here.

Peanut Butter Cookies
Peanut Butter CookiesPeanut butter cookies served warm have always been a favorite around our house! These cookies taste great without the additional sprinkle of sugar on top, but they do have some additional eye appeal with those sparkling crystals on the surface. These are good any time, but, for the youngsters, they take on a whole new dimension when served alongside a cup of hot chocolate for dipping! The recipe is located here.

Spritz Cookies
Spritz CookiesLea has been making these cookies since before we had children. They are one of her favorite Christmas cookies. She often colors the dough with a few drops of green food coloring and sprinkles them with red colored sugar. The green Christmas trees really look nice on a tray of Christmas goodies. The recipe is located here.

Snicker Doodle Cookies
Snicker Doodle CookiesThe Snicker Doodle is a classic cookie, and is a very widely available old-fashioned recipe. But, you just can’t argue with delicious! So, although this may be a recipe that exists in every cookbook, old and new, and on every baking site, here is the version we have used for years. If nothing else, this is simply a reminder of how delicious cinnamon, sugar and butter can be when creamed together! This was one of our children’s favorites, and now the grandsons clamour for them. The recipe is located here.

Chewy Oatmeal Cookies
Chewy Oatmeal CookieChewy and moist, these cookies are the basis for so many potential variations it challenges the imagination. You could add chocolate chips, if you like, or your favorite dried fruit, chopped nuts. Or, use canned pumpkin, mashed banana or applesauce to moisten. Instead of vanilla extract, you can substitute with 3 tablespoons of dark rum. This cookie is so versatile, you can use it as the basis for a whole cookie section with endless varieties of variations. Find the basic recipe here.

We all have friends and acquaintances who are known for one or two dishes that are their specialty and theirs is the oft requested contribution for every pitch-in. Perhaps one of these recipes will become “your” dish! Have some fun, and give them a whirl!

No one wants to take “just-another-same-same” dish to the pitch in dinner with friends or family. What we want is a dish with lots of visual appeal. Whether it comes from color or texture, we want everyone who passes by our dish to notice it. Here are a few of our favorites.

Sauteed Green Beans with Onions and Bacon
Green Beans with Onions and BaconHere is a green bean dish that certainly stands out from the others, particularly because most green beans turn gray from being overcooked. Boil these for four minutes and then immediately get into a cold water bath to stop the cooking and keep the beans bright green. Add crispy bacon and sauteed cocktail onions, and you have a winner! Get the recipe here.

Whole Sweet Corn with Cream Cheese
creamy-creamed-cornThis recipe comes as close as possible to the flavor of the creamed corn at one of our favorite BBQ joints in Central Texas. Combining heavy cream, cream cheese, butter, sugar, salt and pepper in a slow cooker, it is a delicious blend of flavors that goes very well with every barbecue dish. Get the recipe here.
For a spicy version see Poblano Creamed Corn.

Blue Cheese Cole Slaw
Blue Cheese Cole SlawLea adapted this recipe from a cooking show on television. This combination goes really well with spicy foods such as Southern Fried Chicken, Hot Chicken Wings, Spicy Jamaican Jerk Rib-eye Steaks, etc. It is also a real eye-catcher when completing with all the other dishes at a pitch-in. Get the recipe here.

Make Ahead Mashed Potatoes
Make Ahead Mashed PotatoesMashed potatoes are always a welcome staple, but they are pretty time consuming, and difficult to time just right if you have to travel to that pitch-in. These potatoes come out of the oven light and fluffy, and no one will know that these were made ahead of time. It’s a great time saver. Get the recipe here.

Marjorie’s Corn and Peas
Corn and Peas Side DishThis is another amazingly good recipe from the Thistlethwaite family. I fondly remember a number of delicious Thanksgiving dinners when Marjorie (J.B.’s mother) would bring this delicious vegetable dish. Combining shoe-peg corn and frozen peas with sour cream and spices, it goes together quickly, and certainly stands out on the table. Get the recipe here.

These dishes not only show off your cooking skills, they also stand apart from the other dishes for your pitch in dinner with friends or family. When you present one of these super star dishes, everyone who passes by is sure to notice it, and the flavors always deliver on the promise.

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