Sharpe Family Caesar Salad

Though a Caesar salad is a great choice any time, I enjoy making it as a one-dish winter meal. There is something so satisfying in the texture of the fresh romaine lettuce, the crunch of croutons, and the thick flavorful dressing; it just seems that this salad is the perfect pop of flavor for taste buds grown tired of heavy bland offerings.

The recipe, from good friends, Susan and Larry Sharpe, appears in my “Missouri to Maui” cookbook and it is simple to prepare with just six ingredients. I do have a few tips for preparing this salad: prep your lettuce early on so there is time to rinse and dry it thoroughly. If you don’t dry the lettuce sufficiently you will find that the dressing breaks down, diluted by any moisture still on the lettuce so don’t skip or rush the lettuce prep. I find it helpful to rinse the lettuce then layer it between large towels to dry. Once dry, I use my kitchen shears to chop it into coarse pieces. Another tip: mince the garlic early and use your fingers or a wooden spoon to smash the garlic around the sides of a wooden salad bowl before making the remainder of the dressing. Using a wooden bowl is a must here as the texture of the wood allows the smashed garlic to permeate the salad when tossed.

The dressing will be thick; if you have smashed the garlic in the serving bowl first, it consists of just of the parmesan (grated by hand from a large block, no substituting!), the freshly squeezed lemon juice, and the olive oil. It is the thickness of the dressing, well mixed into every bit and morsel of the salad that provides the distinctive flavor of a Caesar salad.

One note on croutons. You certainly can buy them packaged if you have a favorite brand, but nothing is as simple as preparing your own. I sometimes make them on the stove, in a skillet, using butter and seasonings, or, as i did last night, preparing them in the oven on a baking sheet after tossing them in olive oil and seasonings. The cooking blog, The Pioneer Woman, has quick recipes for each method. It’s always a good idea to freeze any left over partial loaves of French bread for making your own croutons because they can be used in so many ways. Last night all I found in the freezer was a package of sliced wheat bread squares so that is what I used and they were delicious though too flat for my liking. Croutons are easy to make, remember that!

So, just six ingredients and a little foresight about prepping, and you will soon enough have a salad to satisfy your every taste bud. Why not prepare it on the next cold night and jazz up your table? This dish is  great with a bowl of soup or a meat dish  such as a steak or venison, or, as it was very much enjoyed last night, just on its own, unaccompanied. After all, the bowl is chock full of salad AND bread AND cheese, PLUS extra flavor. You really don’t need anything more. Enjoy mightily!

Sharpe Family Caesar Salad

Ingredients

1 large package Romaine lettuce, coarsely chopped (at least 4 stalks)
Prepared plain croutons or homemade croutons

Dressing

2-3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup olive oil
2 T. freshly squeezed lemon juice
3/4 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

Directions Coarsely chop romaine lettuce and place in serving bowl; add crotons. Prepare the dressing, in deep mixing bowl, by using the back of a wooden spoon to smash garlic cloves against the sides of the bowl. Add oil and lemon juice, whisk briefly. Add Parmesan and whisk well; mixture will be thick. Do not make the dressing too early, just before serving is best. Add dressing to lettuce and croutons, folding thoroughly, coating well. Serve immediately.

Cold Weather Vegetable Beef Soup

Disclaimer: I have already posted a recipe for Vegetable Beef Soup, but because I made it differently this time around, and because I want to be more active with my blog, today I am bring back this especially-good-in-winter soup. The photo of the ingredients in the pics above is correct, but for the recipe in today’s bubbling soup pot, I added more vegetables (corn and lima beans). In my opinion, a good soup recipe is one that is versatile and allows the freedom to add or subtract ingredients according to what the cook has on hand, so here is the recipe, revised, below.

One thing that doesn’t change is that I always make this soup after I have cooked a beef roast and have meat left over. I knew I would be cooking up this particular pot of soup after hosting our annual “Class of ’67 and Friends” party at my house this month. I buy a roast large enough to feed the dozen of us around the table (the roast featured in French Dip Sandwiches on party night) and one I know is also sufficient for a large pot of Vegetable Beef Soup. You can’t go wrong that way as several meals result from one six pound roast. What could be easier?

Today is a perfect day to enjoy this soup here in our corner of southern Missouri. It is sunny and bright outside, but, oh-so-cold. Check your freezer for any leftover roast (or get to the store if you must), and bubble up this delicious rich soup, filled with the vegetables of your choice, and laden with chunks of your leftover roast. Use the saved broth in which the roast cooked if you have it for even more savory spoonfuls; your taste buds will thank you! The featured pic is of today’s recipe variation. Warm Soup, Warm Heart!

Vegetable Beef Soup

Ingredients

1 T. vegetable oil
3/4 lb. boneless beef sirloin steak or beef top round steak, cut 1/2” cubes
3 cups V8 100% Vegetable Juice
1-3/4 cups beef broth
1/2 tsp. dried thyme leaves, crushed
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1 cup potato, cut into cubes
1/2 cup carrot
1/2 cup onion, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup celery, sliced thick
1/2 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
1/2 cup canned or frozen lima beans
Shredded cabbage, to taste

Directions Heat the oil in a 4-qt. Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the beef and cook until it is well-browned, stirring often. Pour off any fat. Stir the vegetable juice, broth, Italian seasonings, pepper, potato, carrot, onion, celery, corn and lima beans into the saucepot and heat to a boil. Reduce the heat to low. Cover and cook for 30 minutes or until the vegetables and meat are tender. If you want a thinner broth, add water as soup cooks. Adjust seasonings to taste.

Stovetop Tapioca


It is so definitely time to return to posting on this blog again. It would be ideal, of course, if I could say that I haven’t posted because of some YUGE thing that has gone on these past (many) months, but it is truthfully more honest to just say what is true: there is no one reason why I haven’t been active on the blog. Busier than ever now that I have joined the ranks of ‘retired people everywhere’, I just haven’t gotten here to get the job done.

I do intend to change this pattern of neglect, however. It is a new year, 2017, and tapioca is something I seem to crave always as a new year begins. I cannot think of any valid reason for feeling that way, but I do know it is true. Please don’t feel that cooking tapioca on the stove is too difficult; as long as you have a double-boiler, you’re all set. I used Reece’s brand of pearl tapioca and it does need to soak overnight. That isn’t any big deal, so you can start there. Gather all your ingredients, use your double-boiler, and get going on it the next day, after soaking. If all else fails, you can find a crockpot recipe.

There is a tapioca debate in our family (and maybe yours). Some folks like it well-chilled and other prefer it warm. THAT choice is up to you and your personal taste. I am a “really cold” tapioca person myself but I am just as happy to enjoy it warm if that is how it is served. Another family quirk, for me, is that I remember mama serving peaches with tapioca and that is the way I best enjoy it. There is something perfect in the way the juice from the peaches coats those transparent tapioca bubbles. It’s good enough to become a traditional New Year’s resolution: Make Tapioca Before The Week Is Out! Follow the directions on the package and be mindful that LOW HEAT means just that! Don’t allow the mixture to boil at all while cooking. Once cooked, I sat the mixing bowl on the front porch and just let it chill! Happy New Year, dear ones!

Stovetop Tapioca Pudding

Ingredients

1/2 cup Reese small pearl tapioca
2-1/2 cups milk
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs, separated
1 tsp. vanilla

Directions

In a bowl, soak tapioca in 2 cups of room temperature water overnight. Drain water.

In double-boiler, heat milk just until no longer cold. Add salt and tapioca. Continue heating until small bubbles appear at sides of pan. Cover, turn heat to very low and cook for one hour. Make sure that mix mixture does not simmer or boil.

Separate egg whites from yolks. Beat egg yolks and sugar together until light yellow in color. Add a little of the hot mixture to the egg yolks and blend thoroughly then add the egg yolk mixture to the saucepan, stirring constantly. Place the double-boiler over medium heat and cook until the tapioca mixture is very thick, about 15 minutes.

Beat egg whites until stiff. Slowly fold the egg whites into the hot tapioca mixture. Stir in vanilla. Serve warm or chilled. Serves 8.

Sweet & Creamy Rice Pudding

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There isn’t much I look forward to more than a creamy dessert waiting to be enjoyed and today that meant rice pudding with golden raisins. Make it early in the day and allow it to cool, on the countertop or in the fridge, and you’ll be rewarded in the evening with smiles all around.

This recipe, originally from Paula Deen, can be found in my “Missouri to Maui” cookbook. I altered the recipe only by using golden raisins instead of the dark as the golden variety always plumps better, retaining their burst of flavor. I also used short-grain rice; although the original recipe doesn’t mention what type of rice to use, I prefer short-grain sticky rice any time I’m cooking. Do use a double boiler to prepare this as the condensed milk cannot stand much heat. Don’t forget to keep an eye on it and stir frequently. Adding the vanilla after the pudding finishes cooking supplies both flavor and a hint of color to the dish.

If you’re a rice fan and a pudding person, combine those likes into a fabulous treat for yourself and those around your table. A healthy dollop of whipped cream or cool whip only adds to the fun. Enjoy!

Rice Pudding

Ingredients

½ cup uncooked rice
3 cups boiling water
½ t. salt
1-14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
4 T (1/2 stick) butter
½ cup golden raisins
1 T. vanilla

Directions Measure rice, boiling water, and salt into top of double boiler. Cook over rapidly boiling water until rice is tender, about 40 minutes. Stir in condensed milk, butter, and raisins. Cook, stirring frequently, over boiling water until slightly thickened, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla Serve warm or chilled. Serves 8.

Kielbasa & White Bean Cassoulet

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A cold winter’s day is the perfect time for hauling out your slow cooker and readying ingredients for this thick creamy cassoulet. The recipe, from Simple Living’s January 2016 issue, is one that turned out a total winner last week. If you have a slow cooker, put it to use; set-it-and-forget-It, then thoroughly enjoy!

The prep for this recipe is 20 minutes, tops. Chop the onion and mince the clove garlic, slice the kielbasa and you are ready to go. With a cooking time of 5-7 hours, there is plenty of time for preparing the baguette croutons needed when you are ready to serve. This recipe is so easy that I decided to give it a try one minute and had the cassoulet in the crock pot, heating up, then simmering, 20 minutes later. Nothing could have been easier.  I did use both dried thyme and parsley flakes and not the fresh called for in the recipe and both were perfectly fine substitutions.

The smoky kielbasa is a perfect complement for the creamy white beans and the diced tomatoes add their own tart flavor to the mix. I found the buttered and toasted baguette pieces a worthy, and tasty, contrast to the dish. Whether you want to add another vegetable on the side, or just treat this dish as a complete meal in itself, you will be feeling very accomplished and very satisfied if you give this one a try.

Slow-Cooker Kielbasa & White Bean Cassoulet

Ingredients

1-1/2 cups dried white beans
1 lb. kielbasa, cut into 1” pieces
3 cups chicken broth
1-14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 t. fresh thyme leaves, chopped
8-1/2” slices of baguette, buttered & toasted, cubed
¼ cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Sea salt and ground black pepper, to taste

Directions Combine beans, kielbasa, broth, tomatoes, onion, garlic, thyme, and ½ t. salt in a 4-to-6 qt. slow cooker. Cover and cook until the beans are creamy, on low for 7-8 hours or on high for 5 hours. Season with salt and pepper. Serve individual bowls of the cassoulet topped with baguette cubes and parsley.

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