Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Homes For Our Little Feathered Friends

I’ve had some bluebird houses laying around for about 18 months waiting for the spirit to move me to install them and it finally did. Encouragement 1 - A couple of weeks ago the neighbors advised they had cleaned them all out and that several were in bad shape – so I now know they need replaced and there are no residents in them. Encouragement 2 – Before Christmas, I asked the youngest grand if she wanted to help me fill the bird feeders, which she eagerly did. While filling them, I asked if she’d like to help me install some houses when she returned from WV to which I got a happy yes. Then Tuesday morning, even though it was pretty cold out, she asked if we were going to install them today, to which I less than enthusiastically replied sure.

We installed four new ones and here’s a pic of two of them going up. I’m wearing my chile pepper pants.

It's fun to do grandpop things with them, especially when it's meaningful and educational.

Happy New Year and have a great day, Go Vols tonight.


Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Great Salsa – My Opinion Of Course

I hate to brag and I’m not an expert so I won’t say that Bev makes the best salsa on the planet BUT, I’ve eaten a lot of it around the country and her’s is the best I’ve eaten. She does it to taste and for this batch used our home-grown tomatoes (the canned one’s during the winter), onion, our garlic, fresh lime juice, cilantro, cumin, and our jalapeno (cumin is a key ingredient). She rough chops all but the tomatoes and puts it in the food processor with a little tomato and processes into small but visible pieces. She then adds the remainder of the tomatoes and processes briefly until there are still some tomato chunks.

It was so good that once we started eating chips & salsa as an appetizer, it just became dinner.

Have a great day


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Chicken & Dumplings - Comfort

A new one got added to the meals-we’d-like-to-eat-while-we’re-here list, homemade chicken and dumplings. What could be better comfort food on a cold day in the South.

Bev did the cooking today and she started by stewing a whole chicken along with a package of boneless, skinless breasts (we just happened to have several of them in the freezer). She stewed the whole chicken for a couple of hours and the breasts for about an hour. Our friends David and Laurie gave us some Tulocay’s Made in Napa Valley Poultry Rub the other day, so she sprinkled in a little of it along with a heaping teaspoon of chicken base and some butter buds.

After cooking, the chicken was cooled and removed from the bone and the broth was cooled to facilitate some fat removal – only had to sit out in the 30* garage to do the job. Here’s the broth after chicken removal and the pulled chicken.

About an hour before dinner, she began reheating the broth and chicken. She made her dumplings from Bisquick and dropped them in the pot by the teaspoon full.

Many people use rolled and cut dumplings in this dish, but we prefer the lighter texture of drop dumplings. This is a shot of my first bowl full.

They went down real easy and we had nothing else so we could eat our fill of the dumplings.

Have a great day.


Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas Day At Last

As I’d mentioned earlier, most of our family and none of the little kids were here for Christmas day, but some returned from a visit to West Virginia last night and all of a sudden it was like Christmas morning at “Almost Heaven South.” It’s hard to beat the fun of watching the little ones experience the joy of opening presents and for them it happened twice – once with each set of grand parents.

We had told them they couldn’t open the gifts until we ate a quick bite of dinner, so they patiently waited, but did get under the tree and sort everything by giftee – note the piles behind them. They wanted to be ready when opening time came.

Here they are hard at it and actually doing a very good job of keeping the wrapping paper picked up.

Have a great day.


Sunday, December 27, 2009

Sausage Gravy And Biscuits

Throughout most of his life, my dad did very little kitchen cooking – he of course ran the charcoal grill – and I had no idea he was a real cook. Later in life he did more and more of the cooking at his house and it turns out his mama taught him well. I still use many of his recipes and techniques today. I wish he’d lived next door rather than 600 miles away, so I could have learned a lot more. In hindsight, I wish I’d either have loved to cook as a child or I’d been made to do it whether I wanted to or not. Because now, I’d love to be able to make a pie crust like my mom, a pot roast and yeast rolls like grandma, and you get the point.

One of the dishes Dad did teach me was simple sausage gravy and that means it has sausage in it. Around these parts most restaurants serve more of an off-white paste with a little bit of a sausage flavor – my understanding from one of them is that they tried putting more meat in the gravy and the customers complained. Oh well, to each his own I guess.

Here’s the way he taught me to make it. Over medium heat, start by browning your favorite breakfast sausage and breaking into small pieces – I usually use Wamplers (from Lenoir City), Swaggerty’s (from Sevierville), Sloans (of Vonore) store made or my own. For this recipe leaner is better as I don’t drain the grease unless it has a lot.

When the meat is brown and the grease has been adjusted, sprinkle in your flour in two batches and cook for a few minutes, stirring frequently. I have a wooden spoon with one flat side that works well for the stirring process.

Begin adding your milk about a cup at a time, stirring constantly and getting the fond from the bottom of the pan. I like to under-add the milk then add more to achieve the desired consistency. Turn the heat up a little and bring to a low boil – stirring constantly. Cook about 5 more minutes, add salt and pepper to taste, and adjust milk if needed. When at the desired consistency it’s ready. I was too busy to snap a picture during the milk adding process, but here's the finished product.

The recipe I used for this batch was:

1.6# Pork breakfast sausage
½ cup Flour
5 cups Milk
1 tsp Kosher salt
10 grinds Black pepper

Serve it up over some hot biscuits, take your Lipitor, and dive in. I usually don’t side it with anything as I make it so seldom, I don’t want anything else to detract from it.

Have a great day.


Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas Dinner Sure Was Good

Since our kids are rarely here for Christmas dinner due to location and other commitments, we like to host a dinner for friends in a similar situation – those who might have a grilled cheese sandwich at home or go to Cracker Barrel for dinner. We usually have between 8 and 16, depending or what others have going on. This year there was 8 of us but it was very different. A three generation (mom, daughter, granddaughter) group of lady friends advised last week that we would be doing them a big favor if we allowed them to bring all of the food. Well Duh – even I’m sharp enough to recognize a great deal when it slaps me in the face.

Dinner was a spiral ham, broccoli casserole, spinach maria ala Calhouns, sweet potato pie, fruit salad, hot rolls (the one thing we provided), and pecan pie.

This is my plate.

This is the recipe for Spinach Maria

5 (10 oz) Packages frozen chopped spinach
4 ½ cups Milk
1 tsp Dry mustard
1 tsp Granulated garlic
1 ¾ tsp Crushed (dried) red pepper
½ medium Yellow onion
1 Tbsp Butter
5 Tbsp Melted butter
6 Tbsp All purpose flour
8 oz Velveeta cheese
4 oz Monterey jack cheese
1 ½ cups Grated cheddar cheese (for topping)

· Thaw spinach in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Squeeze as much excess water as possible out of the spinach.
· Heat milk and spices in 4 quart saucepan on medium heat to just below a boil (190 degrees). Reduce heat and simmer.
· Finely chop onion and saute it in 1 T butter on medium heat for 5 to 8 minutes. Add to saucepan.
· Combine the 5 T melted butter with the flour in a small saute pan. (This is the first step of making a roux, which will thicken the sauce.) Mix until completely blended. Cook on low heat 3 to 4 minutes to make roux.
· Add roux to milk in saucepan and mix well. Continue to cook until the sauce thickens.
· Cut the velveeta, cheddar, and jack cheese into small cubes and add to the sauce pan.
· Continue to mix until all the cheese is completely melted and blended into the sauce. Be careful not to burn the sauce while the cheese is melting.
· Remove from heat. Allow to cool for 15 minutes.
· Stir in drained spinach. Maybe placed in several containers and frozen.
· Add shredded cheese before freezing or at time of baking.
· Bake for 30 minutes at 350 F.

The pecan pie.

Everything was delicious and I told them that since it made them fell good to do the cooking, we could make it a weekly deal if they’d like too. :)

Hope everyone had a great Christmas.


Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas To All

It’s Christmas Eve here at “Almost Heaven South” and Bev and I are enjoying a quiet evening with her sister and mother – watched the second half of “White Christmas.” Most of our family is off to other parts and we’ll be having our family get together on Dec 30. The dish Bev likes to have today is potato soup and cornbread and so it was. You’ve likely seen lots of different recipes for potato soup, but I doubt many as basic as this.

Peel, dice and cook potatoes in enough water to cover.
When tender, add milk with a little flour blended in, butter, salt and pepper.

Ladle into bowls and top with crisp bacon pieces, chopped green onion, and shredded cheddar – many folks would put these in the soup but Bev likes them on top. Serve with a nice hot piece of crusty cornbread. Definitely good eats on a rainy Christmas Eve.

Have a great day


Leftovers Make A Good Breakfast

I’m still working on the breakfast fatty from Mondays BBQ cook and we have leftover mac and cheese in the fridge. Since both of these are on my favorite foods list, I decided they would make a good breakfast on a cold Christmas Eve morning. I just nuked everything and added a piece of Bev’s homemade toast, and I’ve got the day off to a good start – even slept in today. Here’s a pic of my plate – I added a little cheese since I forgot to put it on the inside. I see I managed to cast a shadow on the plate – good thing I don’t have to make a living on my photography.

This little titmouse is about to hop on the kitchen window feeder.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

It’s BBQ Day Again – Ribs And Fattys

Our Kids visiting from South Korea will be with us for 8 full days during their stateside visit, and that’s how much time we have to provide them the meals they’ve been missing. Arrival day on Friday was homemade vegetable soup, Saturday was chargrilled steak and Monday was BBQ baby backs, mac and cheese, and garlic cheese biscuits – all favorites of everyone.

We used a mac & cheese recipe we like from one of the BBQ forums and the ribs were my typical – sprayed with apple juice and rubbed with my rib rub plus Billy Bones XXX Cherry, cooked until almost falling off the bone tender (Bev likes them that way), sprayed down a time or two during cooking with apple juice then glazed twice with Tennessee River BBQ Sauce. Here’s a plated pic.

Our son specifically requested one of those fatty's he'd been reading about on my blog, so I did a stuffed breakfast fatty and a regular one. The breakfast fatty was stuffed with sautéed onions, roasted red peppers, hash brown potatoes and scrambled eggs (forgot the cheese - again), then I put a little of my pork rub on the outside.

We had it for breakfast Tuesday morning - just warmed up in the microwave and slapped it on a garlic cheese biscuit leftover from dinner last night - very tasty.

Usually when I BBQ, I cook for us, friends and family and I usually keep the smoker full all day cooking a variety of different meats – so I stay pretty busy for 12+ hours not counting prep time the day before. For this cook, it was five slabs of baby backs, the pizza fatty I’d made on Dec 3 and stuck in the freezer, a stuffed breakfast, and a regular fatty. It was almost like having the day off and I enjoyed being able to sit down to a nice meal without being tired.

Last night we went to a Mexican restaurant and they were able to tick off chile rellenos as another of the foods to eat while here. We still need to get in the smoked pizza fatty, sausage gravy and biscuits, fried crappie & hush puppies, ABT's, smoked prime rib and stuffed pork loin. We have four days to do it in after they return from visiting their other set of parents - should be no problem.

Have a great day.


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas Tree Finally Up

Now that the grandkids arrived from South Korea and had a day to rest, it was time to get our Christmas tree up. About 10 years ago, I planted some Norway Spruce’s to be harvested and used as Christmas trees on special occasions – and this year is one of those special occasions. We considered cutting the tree and having it up when the travelers arrived, but decided, they may not get many opportunities to do this. With all the snow in the area over the weekend, I was hoping we’d have a little to shake off the tree and drag the tree along the ground on, but alas no snow just more cold rain.

Here it is before we cut it and it turned out to be taller than I thought – over 10 feet.

The grandkids watching the cutting process - they're not yet ready to handle the chain saw.

We have vaulted ceilings so we can use a tall tree, but it was also too big around, so I wacked about a foot off of it, and removed the lower branches up a couple of feet. Here it is on the stand and ready for trimming.

Beverly installed the lights then turned ornament hanging over to the kids – at least as high as they could reach.

The tree is now ready for Santa's arrival. I don't believe I've ever seen ornaments hung quite so thickly on a tree, but they had a good time - and that was the primary objective. Now if we can just figure a way to have an undecorating event after the first of the year.

Have a great day.


Monday, December 21, 2009

Funny But Likely All Too True

One day a florist went to a barber for a haircut. After the cut, he ask for his bill, and the barber replied, “I cannot accept money from you, I’m doing community service this week.” The florist was pleased and left the shop.

When the barber went to open his shop the next morning, there was a ‘thank you’ card and a dozen roses waiting for him at his door.

Later a cop came in for a haircut, and when he tried to pay his bill, the barber again replied, “I cannot accept money from you, I’m doing community service this week.” The cop was happy and left the shop.

The next morning when the barber went to open up, there was a ‘thank you’ card and a dozen donuts waiting for him at the door.

Then a congressman came in for a haircut, and when he went to pay his bill, the barber again replied, “I cannot accept money from you, I’m doing community service this week.” The congressman was very happy and left the shop.

The next morning, when the barber went to open up, there were a dozen congressmen lined up waiting for a free haircut.

And that, my friends, illustrates the fundamental difference between the citizens of our country and the politicians who run it.

Have a great day,


Sunday, December 20, 2009

Rib Eyes For Dinner

On November 23- link, I posted about getting a good deal on strip steak. Last week, Krogers again was offering a deal on National Beef, only this time it was whole choice rib eyes for $4.99/lb. We bought a couple of them, cut one into steaks and ate some for dinner last night. They were well marbled and perhaps even a little too fatty. Here’s a pic of the whole piece.

The second steak off the roast.

The steak pile after trimming.

Our plate of meat headed for the grill - it included two filets from out of the freezer.

About ready to come off the grill.

I commenced to eating and forgot to get a pic of my plate, but it included the steak, a baked potato with butter, bacon and green onion, caesar salad, and garlic bread made from freash baked homemade bread - my favorite part of the meal.

The meat was good, but not as tender or flavorful as I expected from the amount of marbeling - perhaps it needs more aging. For the price, it is still a good value. I may cut the other one into two roasts for smoking.

Have a great day.


Saturday, December 19, 2009

Christmas Comes Early To "Almost Heaven South"

If you’ve been following my blog, you know our granddaughter Alex came to live with us in May while the rest of her family remained in South Korea. The family's plan had been to stay in the orient for their entire 3 year tour of duty and take all of their vacations enjoying the sites of that part of the world. However, missing their oldest daughter got the best of them and they flew home for Christmas. The best part is, with a lot of effort and near failures, we were able to make it a surprise visit for Alex.

They arrived safely yesterday and only a couple hours late in spite of the storms moving through the area. Hopefully, their luggage will show up today. Korean Air flew them half way around the world on time and with all their stuff, but Delta couldn’t make it happen for a 45 minute flight, even though they were in Atlanta 5 hours prior to flight time. Enough railing, here’s some picks of the reunion.

We missed out on the snow and this is one time, I'm glad of it.

Have a great day.


Friday, December 18, 2009

Butter Beans Ala Mary

I haven’t had butterbeans since I was a teenager – I guess technically I’ve never had butterbeans as what Mom served she just called dried limas. But since this recipe starts with large dried lima beans. I’m going to take a leap and say they are the same thing. I was reading my favorite blogs the other day and came across a recipe for butterbeans from Mary over at Deep South Dishes on Dec 10. I pretty well followed her recipe except I used a center slice of ham from the market and a quart of rich chicken broth made with my chicken trimmings from Wednesdays BBQ day. I only took a pic of my finished bowl as everything else was pretty basic.

I thought the flavor was delicious, but next time I’ll use two pounds of beans for the recipe amount of liquid, then add a little more if needed. It turned out more like soup than the bowl of beans I was wanting. I will definitely make it again.

Have a great day.


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Wednesday Was BBQ Day

Wednesday was BBQ day here at “Almost Heaven South.” I fired up the Stumps about 6:15 am in balmy 28* weather – at least compared to most of the country. I cooked some of the usual items – 2 briskets (one as burnt ends), 2 butts, 2 split chickens, 2 packages each of chicken breasts and thighs for pulled chicken, and 3 slabs of baby backs. I rubbed the chicken with Billy Bones Original, the beef with Beefmaster, and the pork with my pork rub plus XXX Cherry.

My buddy Joe came over to help and make sure the margarita’s were up to par.

They were right tasty.

Here’s a few pics of the finished BBQ product. First up is pulled chicken.

This is the butt prior to pulling - bone slid out easily.

This is the pulled pork. After pulling, I mix in a little rub, salt and any collected juices. It's great that way or ready for sauce if desired.

This is the brisket after chunking for burnt ends.

The finished product. Not really cooked enough to become burnt ends as the brisket flat doesn't contain enough fat to keep from drying out before a good bark forms. But they are very tasty for what they are and the friend I did them for thinks they're great.

Sweetie's helping get ready for Christmas by entertaining her pretend friends.

Hope you're having a great day.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Fish Followed By Seafood

Tuesday morning when I asked Bev about dinner plans and suggested grilled pork chops, she came back with a suggestion of scallops and shrimp. Even though we had fish Monday night, I’m always up for seafood and since I spent my kitchen time, prepping meat for Wednesdays BBQ cook, she did the cooking.

I also decided to run a little allergy test on myself. The last time we had these shrimp and for the first time in my life I broke out in hives after dinner. Knowing my sister developed a similar allergy and years later discovered it was the preservative rather than the shrimp, I wanted to find out what affected me. The shrimp bag is marked ‘contains sulfites’ and online research shows folks are allergic to it, but I drink wine containing sulfites without issue, so on with the test.

We had a bag of precooked popcorn shrimp in the freezer, which I tried first. I ate a half dozen of the little fellers with no effect.

Next, I ate the scallop dish for dinner, and I ate plenty, with no impact except serious enjoyment.

Finally, I sautéed and ate two of the suspect shrimp and had no ill effects - maybe I needed to eat a few more and maybe the shrimp were not the problem. At any rate, since they were only sauteed, I got a good idea of their flavor and it was bad - what's left goes in the trash and we won't buy them again - I may need to build a shrimp pond.

Oh, what about dinner you say - it turned out great - we decided to just have the scallops and a side salad (except for my allergy test shrimp). The scallop dish was one Bev dug out of the archives and the last time we had it was more than ten years ago. We served it then as an appetizer for some Canadian friends who were visiting. I’m not sure how Bev remembered the recipe or found it – guess her Alzheimer’s is not as far along as mine. The dish is called ‘Scallops Provencale’ and recipes for it are readily available. It’s basically sautéed scallops with diced tomatoes, garlic and herbs tossed in. For this one, the sautéed items are all put in a dish, topped with bread crumbs and browned under the broiler.

The scallops were sliced in half, seasoned with S&P, lightly dusted with flour and sauteed in olive oil.

The tomatoes and other flavorings were added.

They were cooked until slightly thickened.

Here they are out of the oven.

And onto my plate. Better picture huh?

It was also BBQ prep day and I’m cooking some chicken. Since I split the chickens and removed the backbone (along with the giblets and other trimmings) I had some good broth making materials. As usual, I put it in a pan, covered with water and cooked on very low all night. After fat separation it’s into the freezer for future use. We don’t have to buy much broth anymore and ours is so much richer than store bought. Here’s a pic using the new camera settings I just learned about.

And to top the evening off, Bev made up a big batch of excellent pecan sandies.

Have a great day.