"Because life is good, home cooking is best, and there is always something to be grateful for." - Christy Jordan

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

This just in: It's peach season!


I have been waiting for this to roll around for so long. I LOOOOOOOOVE peaches and anything with peaches in it, but y'all already knew that :)

Y'all should probably go ahead and prepare yourselves for a ton of peach recipes throughout the summer. I will have peaches in my kitchen all summer and I've been writing down all these yummy looking peach recipes for months, so I am ready to get cookin'! I'm talkin' peach cobbler, peach ice cream (just tried a new recipe last night!), peach tea, peach cake, peach pancakes, peach muffins, peach mojitos, maybe? I do have that mint plant in my backyard now. The possibilities are endless! However, there's a kink in my plan to inject 12 peaches into my diet everyday.... the rest of the members in my household are not as big of fans of peaches as I am. I think they'll see the light by the end of the summer. Or they're going to have to learn to like them because I am not backing down!

This past weekend mom, daddy and I went to the Rangers game, but someone (me) got the time mixed up and I thought the game started earlier than it did. We pulled up to the ballpark and there's no traffic and no one to even take our parking pass stub... we thought it was weird. I guess we should have taken it as a clue that we were early..... really early. So that meant we had time to kill. Naturally, I suggested that we go to the Farmer's Market!

Win, win right? I thought so. My big mission at the Farmer's Market was to find a big ol' barrel of peaches to take home with me. I bought two baskets :) Which was about 12-15 peaches I think? MMMM HMMMM! We also got some blueberries, blackberries, watermelon, spinach and corn. God, I love summer!

Do y'all love peaches as much as I do?  What's your favorite peach recipe? I think cobbler is the most popular and the most well-known.

Well this is a recipe for fried peach pies. I know what you're thinking..."YUM!!"

And you thought right! These are absolutely, positively delicious. Fried pies are nothing new, but they are fantastic any way you can get them. I just happen to prefer peach!

So after I just went on and on about peach season and how much I love fresh peaches...here's the deal. This recipe uses dried peaches. Which means you can make them any time of the year! Woo hoo!

 Straight out of Southern Plate! 

This recipe is from my girl Christy Jordan's cookbook Southern Plate, which is probably my most favorite cookbook. I've made so many recipes out of it and all of them are incredible. Her food is simple, southern comfort food. How can you beat that? 

This recipe is already so simple, but a shortcut can be made which will make this recipe EVEN easier. Believe it! Instead of making your own dough, you can use refrigerated pie crust and just cut out circles, or you could use refrigerated canned biscuits (like Pillsbury) and roll them out a bit to thin them out and make them bigger. I've never used the pie crust, but I have used the biscuits method and they were AWESOME. So feel free to do what you want! This is the old-fashioned way.... which is just as delicious.

Let's get to fryin' some pies!

Fried Peach Pies
Recipe adapted from Southern Plate 

6-7 oz. dried fruit (peaches, apples, apricots.... whatever you like!)
2 c. water
1 c. sugar
4 tbsp. (1/2 stick) butter or margarine
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

2 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1/2 c. shortening
1/2 c. milk, plus more if needed
vegetable oil

We need to start by making the filling. That sweet, peachy, delicious filling.

Get you a bag of dried peaches (or whatever dried fruit you want). The bag should be 6-7 ounces of fruit.


Dump those beauties into a saucepan and add your sugar and water.


What we're doing here is reconstituting the fruit. The hot water will make the peaches plump back up and make them soft. Then the sugar will sweeten them (obviously) and it will come together to make this gorgeous, chunky sauce/filling. To. Die. For.

Just you wait!

This mixture is going to have to boil for a while. It takes about 15-20 minutes to plump them back up!


The water will turn a pretty orange color. You can tell they're done cooking once they look full and juicy. You'll also be able to tell by stirring them. They won't feel as hard.

Meanwhile, let's make the pie dough! Super easy.

Start with dumping the flour and salt in a medium sized bowl. Whisk those together so everything is fully incorporated.

Note: This amount of dough doesn't really match up with how much filling you're making. If you want to use all the filling, double the recipe for the dough. I had filling left over and it's still sitting in my fridge. I'm not worried. Maybe I'll just stick a spoon in it and eat it for breakfast tomorrow? Or I'll whip up more dough later this week and fry up more pies! 

You need 1/2 cup of shortening now. I love the sticks of shortening. It makes measuring shortening so easy. No one likes to scoop shortening out of a big container and mushing (technical term) it into a measuring cup. YUCK. The sticks come in 1 cup measurements and have all the measurement lines you need on the package. Love it.

Since we need 1/2 cup, just slice this in half.

Remember how we talked about cutting butter and/or shortening into flour? We've gotta do it again! 

I use my Grandma's pastry blender, but you could use two forks or two knives. The point of this is to cut the shortening or butter up into small pieces so they're distributed throughout the flour. These little pockets of butter or shortening are what makes pie dough flaky!


Now pour in the milk and stir until it soaks up the flour and the dough gets sticky and comes together.

Now dump it out onto a floured surface and knead it together a few times. This just helps the dough come together and helps with the consistency.  Since we're not rolling this out yet, it doesn't have to be any particular shape.

Break the dough into 10 balls that are about the same size. Now you have your pie dough ready!

Note: Like I said earlier, you don't have to make this dough from scratch. You could just buy refrigerated pie crusts or a can of refrigerated biscuits (not the flaky ones). If you use the refrigerated pie crusts, you could use a small bowl as your "cookie cutter" and if you use the biscuits, just roll them out so their thinner and flat... or until they're about 5 inches in diameter.

This recipe is definitely old-fashioned...which, to be honest, is why I like it. I love recipes that you know have been in people's families for years. These recipes have stuck around for so long for a reason... because they're good! Of course, there's something to be said for using shortcuts and I'm all for it, but I wanted to try it the old-fashioned way!

The peaches should be good and soft now. Get out your potato masher and mash away! We need to break them up a little bit.

Once those are all broken up, add your cinnamon and margarine (or butter). The cinnamon will make it even more delicious! It gives that spiced, peach cobbler type taste to it. The margarine will make the mixture rich. You also need to add the lemon juice, which will brighten the filling up and give it a tangy bite.

Stir those in until the margarine is melted and everything is combined.

 YUM. Does anyone have a spoon?

The filling is finally ready! Bust out your rolling pin, folks! Flour a surface and plop one ball of dough down. Roll it out so it's about 5 inches in diameter. These are little bitty hand pies!

Oh! While you're assembling the pies, get out a medium skillet and set it over medium heat. Pour in about 1/4-1/2 inch of oil. Let that heat up while you're getting the pies ready.

Once the dough ball is rolled out, spoon a heaping tablespoon of filling in the center.

It's important to not fill these too much. The filling will just pour out and it will be a mess. You'll get the hang of it after the first one.

Okay, back to the pies.  Once your filling is on the dough, dip your finger in some water and run it around the edges. This acts like a glue so the dough will stick together. Now fold over one side so you make a half moon shape. Don't worry if the circle isn't perfect and doesn't match up perfectly.

Use a fork to press the edges together and make a pretty crimp pattern.

Perfect! Keep repeating until you've assembled all the pies. The oil should be hot now. Place two pies in and let them fry away! They will cook for about one minute on each side.

You will know the oil is ready when it bubbles around the pies once you put them in. It will also get kind of loud!

I only did two pies at a time, because if you put too many in, it's not only harder to flip them, but it brings the temperature of the oil down. The process will take a little longer, but you'll be making it easier on yourself, I promise!

Use tongs to flip the pies over. They should be golden brown and look crispy and flaky!

Once they're done, remove them from the oil and place them on a plate with a paper towel on it. This will help absorb the excess oil. Keep repeating until all the pies have been fried. 

When they're all finished cooking you could sprinkle them with powdered sugar or even cinnamon sugar would be good! Or you could shovel them all in your mouth at once. Your choice.

Feel free to scoop some vanilla ice cream on top. Just a suggestion :)

I put mine on a plate and topped it with some whipped cream. DEEEEEEELISH.

I hope y'all enjoy! This is a great recipe to make when you need to feed a crowd. I think everyone will like them because they've got that comfort food factor. They're good warm or at room temperature. They were eaten for breakfast the day after I made them. Don't worry, no one left one for me. They're were all gobbled up!

Now I'm already thinking about what other kind of fruit I could use. Wouldn't it be cool to make a couple different flavors and mix the pies up so no one knows which flavor they're getting?!?! Blueberry, peach, apple... cherry, apricot... okay. That's too much work.

Let me know if you make these and what you think! I know you'll love them as much as I do! 

Before I go!! Check out my flag cake I made for Memorial Day...

I just used a boxed white cake mix and baked it in a sheet pan, but I fancied it up by using milk instead of water and adding some vanilla bean paste. Then for the frosting I beat a block of cream cheese into a container of Cool Whip. I sweetened it a tad with 1/4 c. of powdered sugar (by the way, this mixture is ridiculously good. I could eat it by itself with a spoon. A big spoon.) Then I just cut strawberries in half for the stripes and placed some blueberries on there. 

Cute right? I got the idea from my roomie Val :) She makes it every year and it just sounded so good that I had to make one myself! I'm going to use this frosting recipe on other things. I got the idea because it's the filling in that strawberry pretzel salad we all know and love (You haven't had it? Where have you been? Call me immediately and I'll make one. You need some strawberry pretzel salad in your life.) and I thought it would be good. I was right! It's so light and delicious!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

My FAMOUS Stuffed Shells

That's right, I said famous. This is the first recipe that is really my own. I kind of just made it up. I saw someone on Food Network make stuffed shells one time, but I didn't like what they put it in, so I changed it. 

That's the beauty of cooking. You can adapt recipes to your taste. Claire Robinson on Food Network always says, "Be your own chef!" I think a lot of people look at recipes and think "Oh I don't like this one ingredient, so I won't like this recipe." Uhh, HELLO?! Change it! I am always omitting things in recipes (like peppers...yuck) Always keep an open mind when it comes to food. It is so flexible and it really is an art. Be the artist of your own plate.

Okay. That sounded lame, but I'm goin' with it. 

Now don't go around saying that I told you that you could omit things you don't like in every recipe. There really are some recipes that are just not meant to be changed. For example, you won't catch me scarfing down a stuffed pepper anytime soon. We all know I don't like peppers, so I'll just get something else while everyone enjoys their disgusting meal of the worst vegetable ever being stuffed with God knows what. The peppers are the main part of that recipe, so just leave it alone.

I'm talking about making smart swaps. Like swapping chicken for beef, or omitting little ingredients in things if you're not a fan. I tend to omit peppers and tomatoes in things.

Baking is another thing though. Swapping is not encouraged. Baking is all about being precise and it should not be messed with. We'll talk about this later.

Anyways, this is the first recipe that I can really call my own. I'm not saying I discovered it or created it because I'm sure there are recipes out there that are really similar, but this is how I make stuffed shells.

Cheesy, chicken and spinach stuffed, yummy, deliciousness.

This was the most requested thing I made at school. My roommate Erin loves these shells and I've been asked for this recipe several times. One of the best things about them is that they can feed an army. We always had leftovers (which are even better the next day) and they last forever.

So basically, you should try them. And then let me know what you think. 

And feel free to change the recipe if you want! I won't be offended! You could absolutely cook some ground beef or ground turkey and use that instead of shredded chicken. You could omit the spinach or use arugula instead. 

Heck, you could omit the chicken and the spinach and just stuff these bad boys with cheese! I'm talkin' to you vegetarians!! Just use the ricotta and then get some really good, shredded italian cheeses, like parmesan, mozzerella, romano....and you can leave the spinach in. You get the picture.

Onto the recipe!

Chicken & Spinach Stuffed Shells

1 pkg. jumbo shells
1 jar of your favorite tomato sauce
1 jar of your favorite alfredo sauce
1 (2 lb) carton of ricotta cheese (whole or part-skim)
1 small onion, chopped (or half of a larger onion)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 half of a bag of baby spinach
1 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. dried parsley
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
2 tsp. your favorite seasoned salt (I use Johnny's)
1/4 c. parmesan cheese
1 bag of shredded mozzarella cheese or italian blend cheese
shredded chicken (either chicken you cooked yourself or from a rotisserie chicken from the store)

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. It's important to salt pasta water because it helps flavor the pasta. Just trust me.

In the meantime, go ahead and chop your onion up.

Get out a large skillet and get it heating up over medium heat. Pour in about 3 tbsp. of olive oil and let that get hot. Once it's hot, slide in the onion and let it start cooking away.

Get out a couple big handfuls of spinach and give them a rough chop. There is no science to this. Just run your knife through them a few times so they're not in big, leafy pieces any more. (Sorry, I forgot to take a picture!) The thing with spinach is that it looks like a ton of greens when you toss it in the pan, but I promise it cooks down and will turn out to be a lot less than it looks. So get out more spinach than you think.

Once the onions have been cooking for a few minutes and start to look translucent, slide in the spinach and toss it all around so the spinach gets coated in the oil. It should wilt pretty fast.

As you can see, I didn't add enough spinach. No worries! Just chop up some more and throw it in. Then let it wilt with the rest of it.

Once that is wilted, chop up a couple cloves of garlic and slide them in. We're doing the garlic last because garlic can burn really quickly. If you burn your garlic you'll end up being completely pissed off, you'll have to fish it out and it won't smell good. (I've been there.) Toss all that around so everything is combined well.

Oops, I forgot to tell you to shred the chicken up ahead of time. Whoops! Okay. Make sure your chicken is shredded....then toss it in!

 I just bought one from the store. Easy! They're only about $5 and you can use the meat in anything.

Your mixture should look like this! Onions translucent and everything is cooked down and smells awesome.

If things start to look a little dry in the middle of the cooking process, just pour in a little more olive oil. I try and have everything coated in olive oil because it keeps it moist, but the oil also adds a lot of flavor. Once everything is combined, take this mixture off the heat and let it cool for a little bit. Then let your mouth water because it smells so dang awesome.

That big pot of water should be boiling by now. Dump in the box of shells and let those cook for about 10 minutes or so.

Now let's get that yummy ricotta mixture together.

Thank you, Target, for reading my mind that I was going to make these this week and putting the ricotta on sale. I love you.

Dump the whole container into a bowl.

It doesn't look very pleasant when it first comes out, now does it?

Break that up and get it to a smooth consistency. Now it's time to mix in all those seasonings! Use whatever you want here. I use dried parsley, dried basil, dried oregano, seasoned salt, garlic powder, and parmesan cheese, but honey, just see where the wind blows you. It will be tasty no matter what!

All combined and pretty :)

Your pasta should be cooked by now, so drain it in a colander and run some cold water over it. This will not only stop it from cooking, but you're going to have to handle the shells with your hands and you don't want them to be hot when you're doing that!

While the pasta is cooling off, combine the chicken/spinach mixture with the ricotta mixture. Now you have the filling for these beautiful shells!


You're probably wondering when I'm going to talk about the sauce in this dish. Would now work? Okay, what I do is I combine a jar of tomato sauce with a jar of alfredo sauce. Yes, I understand this probably sounds weird, but it works. 

You see, I don't love straight up tomato sauce and my roommate Erin doesn't love straight up alfredo sauce. So the natural thing to do was meet in the middle and combine the two. I've made it this way ever since! However, feel free to do what you want. Use just tomato or just alfredo and use something else. Maybe something homemade? (Overachievers!)

Dump the two in a bowl and stir until it's all combined. Get out the pan you're going to use. I used a large baking dish... I want to say it was 15"x10" or something in that ballpark. Pour some sauce in the bottom and spread it so it covers the bottom. This will keep the shells from drying out while they're in the oven and it will keep them from sticking to the bottom. Make sure you leave enough sauce so you can pour some on the shells once they're in there!

Here comes the messy fun part! It's time to stuff the shells!

Set up a little assembly line for yourself. You want the baking dish nearby and the filling nearby. I usually do this near the sink so I don't have to move the colander.
Take a shell and open it up in your palm. I cup my hand so it sits open while I stuff it.

Then spoon in enough filling to fill it (a heaping tablespoon or so... use your best judgment).

 I tend to overstuff them because who wants to cut into a barely stuffed shell? Not me!

By the way, if you come across a shell that is not, let's say, in it's best shell form, just don't use it. Some will be ripped and broken and they just aren't pretty. You can use those last if you absolutely have to.

Once the shell is stuffed place it in the baking dish. I like to line them up in rows so they look nice. Just keep repeating until you can't fit anymore in the dish! You'll probably have a little filling leftover and some shells leftover. No biggie!

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spoon the remaining sauce over the shells, but don't drench them in sauce. They don't like to swim.

Top with some shredded cheese and then cover the dish with foil. I like to bake them covered at first so they get heated through and then I remove the foil so the cheese will melt and brown.

To die for.

Cover this slice of heaven and put it in the oven for 30 minutes. This will allow it to get piping hot and delicious. Then remove the foil (be careful, it's hot!) and pop it back in the oven. Bake for another 15 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and slightly brown. You may have to crank the heat up a tad.
 Just took the foil off!

Let these cool for a little bit once you take them out of the oven. I've burned my mouth on them several times in my life and it's painful. Take it from me and do yourselves a favor. Sit on your hands if you have to!

Spoon a few shells out onto all your friends' plates and watch their mouths water. Then bask in all their compliments and give them the recipe. 

Then enjoy a few for yourself, along with a slice of Texas Toast. They'll be just as good the next day too :)

Hope y'all enjoy!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Pecan Toffee.... It's easier than you think!

Ahhh.... toffee. Don't you love it? I do. I've always loved it. Almond toffee, pecan toffee, plain toffee... I'll take it any way I can get it. I was a Camp Fire Girl (NO... not a Girl Scout) and we sold candy instead of cookies. Camp Fire Girls were ready for anything the world threw at them. We had cute little red vests with patches sewn all over them. I still have mine and I earned so many patches that I ran out of room on the outside of my vest so there are some sewn on the inside. Just sayin'.

I remember when that time of year rolled around when it was time to sell, sell, sell some candy and there was a box of toffee or "almond roca" you could buy and each little toffee log was wrapped in pretty gold paper. They were the only candy option that was individually wrapped...they were special. They seemed so fancy. They weren't just your regular ole' chocolate covered cherries or peanut butter/chocolate combo....no, these were fancy and sophisticated. Or at least they made me feel fancy and sophisticated when I ate them. Those are definitely two words you could use to describe a 7-year-old Camp Fire Girl, right? Thanks for agreeing with me.

If you've never had toffee you are MISSING OUT. Honestly. It's so good. And homemade toffee? Can't beat it.

This recipe is from Southern Living (my Bible) and I've had my eye on it for a while. Last night I was itchin' to get in the kitchen and do something. The job hunt is totally stressing me out and when I get stressed I bake. It helps me clear my mind and let's me focus on something else. So I went back to this recipe and off I went to the kitchen!

Toffee is easier than you think. The only crucial thing you need is a candy thermometer. I bought one last year at school because I attempted another toffee recipe (it wasn't nearly as good as this one) . They're not expensive and it's too hard to try and eyeball when it's at the right temperature. But really, don't try making this recipe if you don't have one. It's important that the toffee is cooked to a certain temperature!

Okay, let's get down to it! 

Pecan Toffee
Recipe adapted from Southern Living 

1 1/2 c. chopped pecans, divided
1 c. sugar (2 sticks)
1 c. butter (Use REAL butter. Don't try using margarine. I've tried before, it's not good!)
1 tbsp. light corn syrup
1/4 c. water
1 1/2 c. semisweet chocolate chips

Get out a medium saucepan and toss in your two sticks of butter, sugar, corn syrup and water. Turn it on to medium-high heat and let it all melt together. This will take a few minutes.

Here's the deal... I didn't see that I was supposed to add the water in with this until I read the recipe again a few minutes later. So here's the butter, sugar and corn syrup all together! Just make sure you add the water in with this.

While that's melting, chop up your pecans finely. Yeah I know, you can buy a bag of "chopped pecans" and that's what I usually buy because they're so easy, but for this recipe specifically I think that finely chopped pecans are better. I started with halves so I had to do a lot of chopping!

 I don't know why I chopped from right to left? That is not normal.

 Meanwhile, the mixture is melting away...

Are your pecans all chopped? Okay good. 

I decided to get cute with it! Benihana's does this with fried rice!

Now get out a small baking sheet and lightly grease it. Just dab a paper towel into a tub of margarine or shortening and wipe it down good.


Now sprinkle about 2/3 of your chopped pecans on the baking sheet. You don't have to do it all the way to the edges (I did) because the toffee mixture doesn't make enough to spread over the whole cookie sheet (I didn't know this). Just a little tip :) OH, also, put the baking sheet on top of two oven pads. The mixture is going to be SO hot and it might not be good for your counter.

The butter/sugar mixture should be bubbling now so stick in your candy thermometer! It should have a little clip on it so it will sit up and attach to your pot.

What we're looking for here is for the mixture to reach the "hard crack stage". This is labeled on the thermometer and it's at 300 degrees. This is easy. Seriously. You don't even have to stir this! Just let it bubble and cook away until that little red line reaches 300 degrees! Simple!

Not quite there. But do you see in the yellow where it says "hard crack"? We need it to get there!

See, the color is starting to change and get caramel-y. Almost there!
 .... and we're there! 

Now turn off the heat and pour the toffee mixture over the pecans on your baking sheet (which is laying on top of oven pads) and immediately spread it as far as it will go without leaving holes in between. Act fast because the mixture starts cooling immediately!

Now get out your chocolate chips and just sprinkle them over the whole mixture. The heat from the toffee mixture will melt the chocolate chips and all you have to do is spread those bad boys around.

Is there anything better than melted chocolate?

Do what you want with this... I chose to lick it. I considered it a wise choice.

 Now liberally sprinkle the remaining chopped pecans over the whoooooooole thing. 
Mmmm hmmm.
Put the baking sheet in the fridge and let it refrigerate for a few hours until everything is set up and firm. Or if you're impatient, throw it in the freezer for a little while. 
Once it's all set up, break it into pieces and scarf it all down. To break it up, I just got a knife and jabbed it under the toffee to lift up some pieces. Just break them into smaller, bite-size pieces. Once it's all broken, put it in a ziploc bag or airtight container and store it in the fridge.
You'll have a hard time not eating all of this. It's going to call to you from the fridge. The thought of it's chocolatey-nutty-caramely-crunchy yumminess is going to be on your brain constantly and before you know it you'll be making another batch.
Oh, this makes good gifts too! But that's only if you don't eat it all yourself. It happens. I'm not judging you.