Quick & Easy Cream of Mushroom Soup

The basic ingredients for Cream of Mushroom Soup- things I keep on hand at all times.
The basic ingredients for Cream of Mushroom Soup- things I keep on hand at all times.

One thing I have encountered in my quest to cook healthy food which means very little from cans and nothing from boxes is the challenge of finding good casserole recipes that do not call for canned cream of mushroom soup.  Most of our favorite recipes from “the old days” had cream of mushroom soup in them.  Even before we made the changes in our diet, I must say that I found the huge sucking sound that the canned soup made as it slid out of the can into a cylinder shaped blob on top of the other ingredients a little disturbing and disgusting.  However, I did not know any different.  Now that I have been cooking from scratch and eliminating as much processed food as possible, I just can’t stand it.

As with all packaged food, somewhere out there is a recipe that was once the standard that the “counterfeit” food was based.  So, I went looking.  First I looked at my Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking- which I love- and found the soup took two hours to cook after assembly.  Well, given that I needed the whole casserole done in 2.5 hours, this was not going to work for me.  I then turned to the internet and specified “quick” in my search and found a lovely short recipe that could be done in 30 minutes.  Now granted, the recipe in the French cookbook is probably a show stopper and one I would do for a main course soup, but this one was quite good.

Of course, the recipe below is not like the one on the internet because there were some flaws and extra steps that were not necessary.  I also prefer cream in my soups- it is after all, cream of mushroom soup.  So, I used the recipe as a base and formulated my own.  Give it a try, I know you will like it.  This recipe takes the place of 2 cans of cream of mushroom soup so it is an easy swap in your favorite recipes.

Simple and Quick Cream of Mushroom Soup

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 cups sliced fresh mushrooms
  • 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 4 cups of broth
  • 1 cup cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper

Directions

  • In a large saucepan, saute onion in butter until tender. Add mushrooms and saute until tender add more butter if needed.
  •  Stir in flour and cook for 5 minutes more
  •  Add broth stir until smooth.  Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened.
  •  Reduce heat. Stir in the cream, salt and pepper. Simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes, stirring often.
  •  Yield: 4-6 servings.

Goulash- Our Way

A family favorite from the farm that will satisfy your tummy and soul.

I know that there are variations on this dish and what I grew up calling Goulash is not what those of that culture call Goulash.  However, my kids love this and if you say “Goulash” this is what they expect.  I love it because it is simple and good, very filling especially when it is cold outside- and it only uses one pot to boil pasta and one dutch oven for the rest.  I like to use ground turkey in this dish because there is no excess grease to drain off and that makes preparation much easier.

Goulash-

Ingredients:

1/4 cup chopped onion

2 lbs of ground Turkey

1- tablespoon of cumin

1- tsp of paprika

1- pint of stewed tomatoes (if you don’t can your own you can use a 14 oz can of stewed tomatoes)

1- ear of corn with kernels cut off the cob (1- 14 oz can of corn)

1- pint of ranch or chilli style beans (1- 14 oz can of ranch style beans)

Salt and pepper to taste

16 oz of pasta- elbows, shells, or bow-tie- really any small pasta that you like.

Boil pasta according to your liking.

While pasta is cooking- In a large dutch oven, add a tablespoon of olive oil and cook onion until clear.  Add meat and brown.

Add remaining ingredients and heat through.  When pasta is done, add to mixture.  Correct the seasoning with salt and pepper.  Feeds 6-8 with some leftovers for lunch.

All done- Enjoy!

Chicken Pot Pie

Did someone say “Chicken Pot Pie?”

Pot Pie is one of our favorite recipes.  Golden brown crust that is flaky and filled with warm veggies and tender chicken swimming in gravy- that is comfort food!  Any type of chicken will do, breast, bone-in thigh, whole chicken, whatever you have on hand.  If you boil a whole chicken, you will only need about 1/3 of the meat, so you can freeze the rest for another meal!  By boiling the chicken you will get the broth that you need also.

The herbs in the recipe are 3 of my favorite.  Each of these is very easy to grow and you can cut them fresh from your Garden almost year round.  Sage, Parsely, and Thyme add a warm comforting flavor very common in Southern food.

Pie Crust- click link for recipe

Filling:

2 tblsp. butter

1 tblsp. flour

1 breast and 2 thighs of chicken- any chicken parts will work

16 oz chicken broth

1 tsp each of ground sage,parsley, and thyme.

12-16 oz package of frozen mixed veggies

Salt & pepper to taste.

In a heavy sauce pan or dutch oven, melt butter and add flour.  Cook flour for 5-7  minutes without browning (this will keep the filling from tasting pasty)

Add broth, chicken, veggies and seasoning, bring to a boil.  Remove from heat, broth should be thickened.

Roll half the pie crust out and place in a deep dish pie pan- a 9in cast iron skillet works great.  Pour or ladle filling into crust.  Roll out the other half and lay over the top.  trim the edges of pie crust, cut 5 slits in top of crust.  Bake at 375′ for 30 minutes or until top is golden brown.  Let cool for 15 minutes, serve and enjoy.

Beef Carbonnade- Flat Out Good Food

This beef in beer stew is just flat out good.
This beef in beer stew is just flat out good.

I have a thing for cookbooks.  Some people have a hard time passing up a great pair of shoes, I have a hard time passing up an appealing cookbook.  More often than not, I only try a handful of recipes but if I find one outstanding recipe that makes the book purchase more than worth it.  Two years ago I picked up a cookbook, The Food Of France.  The book was worth the price just for the pictures. However, I found many good recipes in this book and one of them I choose for our Christmas Dinner- Beef Carbonnade.

Beef Carbonnade is a simple dish with only a few ingredients.  What makes this just so good is that the beef is cooked slow so that it is so tender it melts in your mouth with such deep flavor coming from the onion, garlic, herbs and beer.  You need to have the beer to make this recipe taste so good you remember it for a long time.  If you must, you can switch the beer for beef broth, but this will give you a dish that, while still good, is not really all that memorable.

Following is the recipe, however, not exactly like it was in the book.  I know, I am not even French and I am tweaking their recipes- I just can’t help myself.  However, what I changed was the amount of food.  This recipe will feed 6 were as the one in the book will only feed four.  I did also change the amount of garlic.  One clove is never enough. The recipe below calls for 6 onions- these are medium size onions.  If you have been to the Farmer’s Market and have come home with onions the size of large grapefruits you can use 4 of those if you want.  The onions cook down in to this thick sauce that is just mouthwatering good especially when soaked up with some wonderful french bread.  So, the more the better.  I use a cast iron dutch oven, but you can use whatever you have in your kitchen.

Beef Carbonnade

1 oz butter (real butter, not margarine)

Cubed Beef- so glad I have kitchen help- Jonathan- for this step
Cubed Beef- so glad I have kitchen help- Jonathan- for this step

2-3 tablespoons of olive oil

5-6 lb beef rump roast or chuck roast- cubed 1 inch in size

6 onions

5 garlic cloves – crushed

2 tsp of brown sugar

1 tablespoon of plain flour

4 cups of beer (one of the large single cans of a malt beer works great)

4 bay leaves

a small bunch of thyme sprigs

1 loaf of really good french bread

Preheat the oven to 300′    Melt butter in a large skillet with a tablespoon of oil.  Brown the meat in batches over high heat and lift out onto a plate

Add another tablespoon of oil to the pan, reduce heat to medium.  Add onion and cook for 10 minutes. Add garlic and sugar and cook for another 5 minutes, adding oil by the tablespoon if necessary.  Lift onion out onto a second plate.

Stirring in the flour after the beef and onion have been cooked.
Stirring in the flour after the beef and onion have been cooked.

Reduce heat to low and pour any juices that have drained off of the meat, then stir in the flour.

Remove from the heat and stir in the beer a little at a time stirring well, the beer will foam.  Return to heat and let the mixture gently simmer and thicken.  Season with salt and pepper.

layer meat and onion in a dutch oven, tucking the bay leaves and thyme in between the layers. Season with salt and pepper as you go.

Pour liquid over the meat, cover with a lid and cook in the oven for 2.5-3 hours or until the meat is tender.

Serve with the sliced french bread toasted lightly on both sides.

This main dish goes great with potatoes of any kind, green beans  or sweet peas.

Our Favorite Pancake

We can now eat out without any tears.
We can now eat out without any tears.
I love traveling with our kids.
I love traveling with our kids.

There was a time when Tony and I gave up eating breakfast out while traveling with our children.  The night before we left on vacation I would make up a batch of sausage & biscuits, pigs in a blanket, and breakfast burritos.  Most trips began before dawn and we would pile our four children, my nephew, and often times my cousin- Stephanie, aka the nanny- into the Excursion and a way we would go.  Then we drove and ate as we wanted.

This sounds crazy given how much Tony & I love to eat breakfast, but when the kids were little it was a bad experience.  The problem was that they always wanted to order pancakes.  I would tell them, “Now , these won’t taste exactly like mine.”  They would then swear up and down that they wanted pancakes.  So, Tony would order them pancakes and the food would come.  Then, they would take a bite and cry, “These don’t taste like yours!”  Refuse to eat anymore and drive Tony crazy.  Therefore, we gave up breakfast on the road.  Once at our vacation destination which was usually a house or cabin rental, I would resume cooking breakfast and all would be good.  I guess I should take it as a compliment that no one ever measured up to me.

Below is the recipe for our favorite pancakes.  When Cheyenne, now 19, was a preschooler she would know what I was cooking by the ingredients that I got out.  If I varied the recipes she got very upset.  One morning I decided to add vanilla to the batter and pour the pancake batter over a super then apple slice that I had browned in the pan.  She had a fit and went without breakfast that morning- a very good breakfast I might add.  I never tried to change up the pancakes again.  With her will of granite and flair for drama, there were plenty of battles to fight and the pancake recipe was simply not a battle I cared to fight.

Our Favorite Pancake

1 1/4 cup flour

3 tablespoons sugar

1/2 tsp salt

3 tsp baking powder

1 1/2 cup milk

2 tablespoon of olive oil

1 egg

Mix the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl.  Mix the liquid ingredients in a smaller bowl, beat slightly.  Add liquid to the dry mixture and mix.  Batter will be slightly lumpy.

Heat large skillet over medium heat.  Add a small amount of olive oil to pan, once hot pour in batter to make the size of pancake you want.  Once there are lots of bubbles popping on the pancake and the bottom is browned, flip pancake over.  Cook another 1-2 minutes- until center is cooked through.  Repeat until batter is gone.

The batter above make for a thin pancake.  I like them thin so that I can have nice crispy edges that are golden brown.  If you like a thicker pancake, reduce the amount of milk and cook over lower heat.

That is it.  So simple and so good.

Blueberry Mega Muffin

 

If the winter weather gets you blue, a taste of summer will lighten your mood.  This summer we took advantage of the you-pick Blueberry Farm near us.  We had lots of fun picking and eating the fresh berries and now have some tasty goodies in the freezer.  The following recipe is the only blueberry recipe that all my family agrees on as great.  I hope you enjoy it as well.

Blueberry Mega Muffin

Ingredients

Batter

2 cups flour

2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cup fresh blueberries (frozen are fine)

1/2 cup butter

3/4 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 cup milk

Strudel

2 tablespoon flour

5 tablespoon sugar

1/2 tsp cinnamon

2 tablespoon butter, diced

Directions

Preheat oven to 375′

Combine flour, baking powder, salt, in medium bowl and set aside.  Sprinkle a tablespoon of flour over blueberries- this will help keep the blueberries from coloring all the batter.

In large bowl beat butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.  Add eggs and beat well. Stir in vanilla

Add dry ingredients and milk to butter mixture.

Fold in blueberries

Pour into 9 inch cast iron skillet ( you can use a muffin pan for traditional muffins)

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a knife inserted comes out clean.

Enjoy!

 

Sweet Corn Bread- So Good.

Golden and Good!
Golden and Good!

With the  weather turning cold here in Texas, now is the time for chili, soups, and stews and of course- corn bread.  My bunch likes their bread on the sweet side.  This corn bread has a fluffy texture, a nice crumb and it holds together even with a nice slice of butter on it.  No more boxed mixes, this is too easy!

One note on the honey- buy your honey locally from an individual if possible.  The honey found on the shelves at most grocery stores has been cut and diluted with corn syrup.  YUCK!  Most farmer’s markets and health food stores have REAL honey.  Plus, when you eat honey made by local bees you will get the health benefits and help with allergies.  Not to mention, you are helping a local farmer and businessperson.

I hope you try this, you will be glad you did.

Holly’s Corn Bread

1 1/2 cups flour

1/2 cup of corn meal

3 tablespoons of honey

1/2 tsp salt

1 tablespoon baking powder

2 eggs

1 cup milk

1/4 cup olive oil or melted butter (real butter- not margarine)

Heat oven to 425′

In a mixing bowl stir together the dry ingredients.  In small bowl or 2 cup measuring cup- combine all the liquid including the eggs and beat together.  Stir liquid into the dry ingredients just until mixed- do not over beat.  Pour batter into a 9X9X2 greased baking pan or a 9 inch cast iron skillet- my personal favorite.  Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.

Mmmm, now that food.
Mmmm, now that is food.

Enjoy!  The wonderful aroma of fresh cornbread cooking will warm your soul and satisfy your hunger.  What do you like to eat on a cold day?

Sauce Bechamel

The only thing that will make this sauce better if fresh raw milk.  Me & my Saanen dairy goat kid.
The only thing that will make this sauce better if fresh raw milk. Me & my Saanen dairy goat kid.

A few years back, when I decided that in the way of eating my family deserved better, I found myself in a quandry.  You see, when you cut processed and boxed food out of your diet you cut out a lot of convenience- at first glance.  Because of the lack of teaching basic fundamentals in the kitchen, most of us don’t know how to cook quickly and from scratch.  The truth of the matter is that if you master a few certain sauces, you can make a gourmet meal in the amount of time it takes to cook up Hamburger Helper.

I hesitate to use the word “sauce” because I am concerned that those reading this will think of the little buckets of BBQ sauce handed out with the non-food items we eat from the drive thru windows.  But in real cooking, a sauce is the body of the dish, it brings the ingredients together.  It’s the part of the dish you can’t leave behind, why do you think the French love sauces and bread. You have to have the wonderful bread to soak up every last bit of sauce left on the platter- either that or you will find yourself using your fingers which is frowned upon in certain circles.

Anyway, as I say we were cutting box dinners out of our lives.  This may sound funny, but around my house we  really liked the Tuna Helper. I added peas and carrots to it and this made a tasty lunch for me and the kiddos.  So, I really wanted to figure out how to recreate that at home.  I knew that somewhere was a real food version of the powdered sauce that came in the box.  I stumbled upon a recipe for Bechamel Sauce, it sounded creamy and good.  Once I had made it and tasted it I knew that this was the sauce I had been wanting for our lunches.  I cooked up some pasta combined it with the sauce, tuna, and peas.  What a tasty dish and so, so simple.  I must admit that the first batch of Bechamel was a bit thick, but with a little practice it was perfect.  My daughter, Savannah, quickly picked it up and now makes a mean sauce without ever consulting a cookbook.

This sauce goes well with any sort of poultry, fish, shellfish, and most vegetables.  A great addition to the basic sauce is garlic, as a matter of fact, garlic is the basic recipe for our family.  I add garlic to just about everything given that this is an herb that has so many great health benefits.  Once you learn this sauce, quick meals made from real food are easy to assemble and are as nutritional as they are tasty.  Recipes of this type are what folks need to be able to make meals that have the convenience and speed of boxed dinners but the nutrition of whole foods.  Now some of you may take a look at the ingredients and worry about fat and calories.  However, read the ingredient labels on the ingredients- butter, milk, wheat, garlic, salt.  Now, go read the ingredients label on the boxed dinners in the pantry.  Stark contrast in the least.

Sauce Bechamel

2 Tbsp unsalted butter (real butter not margarine)

3 Tbsp flour

2 cups milk with 1/4 tsp of salt

1 clove of garlic minced (optional)

In a heavy saucepan or 9 inch cast iron skillet (which is what I use), melt the butter then stir in the flour , by the way this is what is called a Rue.  Cook together at a foam, but not hot enough to brown the flour add the garlic at this time.  After 2 minutes, stir in milk.  Stir quickly with a wire wisk or slotted metal spoon and bring to a boil, boil for approximately 1 minute. Salt and pepper to taste.

All done- its that easy.

An easy recipe using this sauce would be to add 2 cups of diced cooked turkey (or chicken), 1 cup of cooked peas or carrots, and 16 oz of cooked pasta and heat through- this will feed up to 6 people.  You don’t get much easier than that!

What is your favorite easy and healthy meal?

Chicken & Dumplins- Now that is comfort food!

Did someone say "Chicken & Dumplings"?
Did someone say “Chicken & Dumplings”?

A favorite food of the whole family is chicken and dumplings.  No matter the size of the pot, the pot will be empty.  As a matter of fact, no holiday meal is complete without this dish and  much to my surprise, not all families feel this way about dumplings.  I was shocked the first holiday that I spent with my new in-laws and found that they did not serve dumplings with the dinner.    Well then, I decided to make them and bring them as my contribution to the holiday dinners.  It’s funny, now there is another family that expects the chicken and dumplings to be at the holiday dinners.  Of course you do not need a holiday to eat good food and this dish is so great on cold winter evenings.

To get the best results, use the homemade biscuit dough recipe below for the dumplings.  There are plenty of short-cut recipes that use canned biscuits or tortillas, all I can say is YUCK!  It may take time but good food is worth the time.  Really, its not just food you are making, but memories as well.  It is worth taking time to do it right.  The recipe is simple and easy no need for shortcuts.  Also, cooking time is really important once you drop the dough in and put the lid on the pot.  The one common thing I hear when people talk to me about making dumplings is that the dumplings cook away.  The problem is simple- you cooked it too long.  That is why you put the lid on for 10 minutes, no longer.  You will be glad you cooked from scratch when you see your family’s happy faces.

From our family to yours- below is a recipe that is our family favorite.
Ingredients:
1 whole chicken
1 tsp Poultry seasoning
2 tsp Fresh Sage (dried is fine if you do not have fresh, reduce to 1 tsp)
Salt and pepper to taste
Biscuit dough (recipe below)

Place chicken in a large stock pot or dutch oven.  Cover with water to about 3 inches above the bird.
Boil until chicken easily pulls of the bone- about 1hr- 1 1/2 hrs.
Remove chicken from pot and let cool.  Pull chicken from bone and discard the skin and bones.
These steps can be done in advance and let cool in the refrigerator or freeze the shredded chicken and broth in freezer until you are ready to cook.

Once the chickens is shredded return to the pot and bring to a rolling boil on high heat.  Once boiling rapidly, drop the biscuit dough in by the spoonfuls, how large of dumplins depends on your family preference.  After adding the dough, dump the contents left in the bowl of dough into the pot.  Reduce heat to low and cover.  Boil for 10 minutes, do not lift the lid and remove from heat after 10 minutes.

Serve once cool enough to handle.

Biscuit Dough:
2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp of baking powder
5 tbsp of butter or Crisco
1 cup of buttermilk

Mix dry ingredients. Cut in butter until there are small pea-size bits of butter.  Stir in milk.  If you don’t have buttermilk, you can add 1 tsp of vinegar to one cup milk.
The dough will be very wet.  Now for dumplins, sprinkle a liberal amount of flour over the top.  Now pinch off pieces about the size of a large marble.  The extra flour keeps the dough from sticking to your fingers and adds lose flour to the broth that will thicken it.

Simple and Easy Pie Crust

Pie crusts have become an item in the kitchen that so many people are afraid to make for themselves.  There has been a lot of talk of how hard a pie crust is to make.  All this talk of difficulty has most people eating those nasty things that come pre-made and labeled as pie crust.  That is such a shame because pie crust are not that hard if you have a few tips with which to start.

A pie crust has just a few ingredients and the instructions are simple.  I do believe that most people have trouble because they are trying to measure exactly.  The thing is when you are doing pastry, it has as much to do with the “feel” of the dough as the measurements.  The flour, salt, and Crisco (or butter) are exact measurements, but the water added is where the “feel” comes in to play.  It may seem funny, but the weather plays a huge role in pastry making.  Things like humidity in the air will affect how much water you add to the flour mixture.  So, if the recipe says “add 2 tablespoons” know that on any given day that might mean a little more or a little less.  You add water until the dough comes together and forms a ball- that simple.  Add a little at first and then add more as you need to, you can always add more water, but you can’t take it back.

Recipe:

2 cups flour

1/2  tsp salt

3/4 cup  unsalted butter

7  tablespoons water- added 2 tblsp at a time- more or less

Mix flour and salt together in mixing bowl

Now add the butter and “cut it in”. This means you use a pastry blender, fork, or two knives and keep mashing and cutting the butter until it is little pieces, about the size of a pea, and the mixture is crumbly.

see the larger chunks, this is the butter in little pieces. Once you get to this, stop cutting in

Now, you add the water.  Start with 2 tablespoons and stir with a fork.  Then add 2 more tablespoons of water.  You will see the dough start to form large chunks.  Add more water until the dough sticks together and makes a “ball”.  This ball will not be perfectly round.

See how all the dough is stuck together? this is the ball

 

Once you are at this stage, reach into the bowl, take the ball and shape it just a bit and then divide it in half.  Then take each half and round out the balls. Since the dough will be a little tacky to the touch, get a little flour on your hands.

this is half the dough shaped in a ball

 

Now, flatten out the ball and start to make the crust.

pat and flatten the ball into a flat circle

 

On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough until it is about 1/4 inch thick.  Once the dough is larger by about and inch than the pie plate you are cooking in, the crust is big enough.

Get a little flour on the rolling pin so the dough won’t stick

This pie is for a dinner potpie and I like to use a cast iron skillet for those.

Getting the dough off the rolling surface can be a little tricky- if you slide one hand under and then flip it over your top hand, then slide the bottom hand under farther and keeping working it that way, the dough comes up easy without ripping.

slide the hand under and flip it over the top hand

repeat the step

We have lift off! Once you do that step about 4 times the crust is off the work surface.

Now place the crust into you pie plate or deep dish.  The bottom is done.  What kind of pie you are doing determines if you will need a top crust.  If you do, once the pie shell is filled, repeat the rolling out steps with the second ball of dough and lay it on top.  Trim what hangs over and press the sides together.

There you have it!  Pie crust made at home are SO much better.  Don’t be discouraged if you have to make a few to really get it down, nothing worth doing is easy the first time.