Thursday, May 21, 2015

Easy Brunswick Stew

I know what you're thinking, "Kathy, it's getting hot outside; why on earth would I want to make stew at this time of year?" but hear me out. Where I come from, Brunswick Stew is just as much a part of a barbecue as are ribs and burgers, and this recipe could not be easier to put together.

Every summer, a little roadside BBQ stand and food truck opens up along one of the main routes where we live. We noticed that every weekend, there were lines of people waiting to buy BBQ and we figured that it must be something worth checking out. Turns out we were right. In fact, food from this little roadside BBQ was the one of the first meals we ate in our new home 3 years ago, and it still serves some of the best ribs we've had since we moved up here to Virginia.

They are only open from May to November, so just before they close down, we order a couple of pounds of their ribs, chicken, and pulled pork specifically for this soup, which we devour when the temperatures have us huddled inside. We strip the meat of the bones and freeze in big Ziplock bags to sustain us till we can see that roadside stand open up again the following May.

Finding smoked or barbecued meat for this stew shouldn't be hard, just go to your favorite local BBQ joint and buy some. This original recipe comes from one of my Paula Deen cookbooks, but I found her version to be a little too sweet and it didn't include lima beans, which is sacrilege as far as I'm concerned.

This recipe is literally as easy as throwing everything into a pot and turning on the heat. The most effort you will have is cutting up the onion. I always double the recipe to include lots of leftovers, which reheat wonderfully.

Kathy's Easy Brunswick Stew
Recipe modified from Paula Deen

1-1/2 lbs. of cooked, chopped BBQ meat (pulled pork, chicken, ribs, etc.)
1 (28 oz.) can crushed tomatoes
1 (16 oz.) creamed corn (if doubling recipe, use 1 can regular corn undrained, and 1 can cream corn)
8 oz. frozen baby lima beans
6 oz. can tomato paste
1 cup water
¼ cup sugar
1 onion, diced
½ cup ketchup
¼ cup BBQ sauce (I use Sweet Baby Rays)
1 tablespoon liquid smoke
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon celery salt
Salt and pepper to taste

Put all the ingredients in a soup pot and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 15-20 minutes; add salt and pepper to taste. 

*Note: The original recipe was too sweet, so I reduced the amount of ketchup and BBQ sauce and came up with this version. If you feel your version needs to be more sweet, feel free to add more. 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Garden View

The kitchen is still coming along, but slowly. The upper cabinet doors are off and are being primed and painted, but there's less of an urgency. Our attention has been turned elsewhere.

Spring is full-on and there are things that need our attention outside, plus who can resist a gorgeous, cool, spring day? There's a reason why they call it spring fever. I have to say though, my allergies have been off the chart this year! It's really bad.

The vegetable and herb garden is taking off. My winter sowed tomato seedlings will get planted this weekend and the trellising for the cucumbers and raspberries will be put up. Some things are doing better than expected, some not so, but that is the beauty of gardening; you often don't know what to expect when trying something new.

This is a window garden view from our guest room. I love how much it looks like a formal potager garden. I think subconsciously, that is what I am going for. I make a garden plan each year, but that has about a 60% success rate, as I don't know what plants will do well in what beds the first time around. This garden gets a good 6 hours of sun a day, the back beds a little less. So, I know some things will do better in the back beds and some things do better in the front beds. The smaller boxes contain Russian Fingerling potatoes...another new experiment.

At some point, this maple tree will be taken down. I love it as a specimen tree, but it is too close to the house and its limbs are too brittle. Plus it gives me unwanted shade.

There used to be 3 huge maple trees in this whole garden space; that's where all the mulch came from and why we use raised beds. Although the trees were cut down, mulched, and the stumps ground, there are still thick roots that run underground. I would have loved to plant my raspberries on the left side of the garden, but those thick roots had other plans.

The big pile in the back, right-hand corner is my compost pile. It gets nothing but table scraps, dried leaves, grass clippings, and clean garden waste. I would love to find a good manure source, but I haven't been very proactive. The worms seem happy though, and I get a big joy to turn that pile and see their wriggling about "flexible and pink, like lips" as Margaret Atwood would say.  I had a hard time keeping earth worms in Florida, as the fire ants would eat them. Speaking of fire ants, we do have them up here! They're are not as fierce or prevalent, but they are definitely here. My old nemesis!

At some point, I want to put up a small garden fence around this area to define it more. We don't have issues with garden pests (knock on wood), with the exception of marauding crows. I have fantasies about getting chickens and I know that vegetable gardens and chickens don't mix for most of the time.

I have perennial beds elsewhere on the property that are getting most of my attention now. So between them, this vegetable garden, and the kitchen, I have to pace myself and work on one or all three a little bit each day.

Life could be worse, right? I am grateful for it all.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Crockpot Cincinnati Style Chili

To me, Cincinnati chili is more of a sauce than an actual chili. Also, there are NO beans in my Cincinnati chili in this household. If you want beans in your Cincinnati chili, go down to Texas, you big freak! Although, there are people who order and eat it this way…BLEH!

Okay, for the uninitiated, Cincinnati Chili is kind of a big thing in Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, and even in some parts of Florida. It’s a regional thing and a person can hardly spit in Ohio without hitting either a Skyline Chili restaurant, or its rival Goldstar Chili. Loyalties are fierce for which chain makes the best Cincinnati style chili. I am pro-Skyline all the way. Although I've never had Goldstar chili, why try another when you know you are eating the best?

Cincinnati chili has a very different flavor profile than its typical southern-based cousin. Skyline Chili was originally founded in the late 1940’s by Greek immigrants in Cincinnati, Ohio, so the chili has unusual ingredients like cinnamon and cloves, but you will also find the familiar ground cumin and chili powder. Cincinnati chili also has a finer texture than its typical, meaty brethren, and you can either have it with beans (yuck!) or not. Plus, there’s the whole spaghetti and oyster crackers thing.

I got into Cincinnati chili through my ex-husband, who is from Cincinnati. We used to make several pilgrimages a year to Ft. Lauderdale, where one of the few Skyline restaurants were located, to gorge ourselves on 4-ways and cheese coneys. Ever since then, I've been hooked and make a point to go to a Skyline whenever I am in one of the 4 states its restaurants reside.  Why the chain hasn't spread across the country, I’ll never know. WE NEED MORE SKYLINE CHILI RESTAURANTS!!! You can even buy their products in the frozen section of your grocery store like White Castle burgers. What’s up with that???

Anyway, I digress. Unless I move to Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, or back to Florida (NOT happening), I will have to make my own Skyline copy-cat. This is as close to the real deal as I have been able to find. If you blindfolded me and had me try this homemade version and a real plate of Skyline, it would be very hard for me to tell the difference.  The cheese isn’t as finely shredded, but I can live with that! Bibs are optional. :-)

Note, I usually double the following recipe, as you will DEFINITELY want leftovers. Also, you will need a handheld, stick blender or food processor to get the right consistency. 

Kathy’s Crockpot Cincinnati Style Chili
Recipe modified from:

1 lb. ground beef
1 large onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups water
2 cups crushed tomatoes
6 oz. can of tomato paste
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons of sugar
2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tablespoons chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 whole bay leaf
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon celery seed
1 1/2 teaspoons of salt

cooked spaghetti, optional
shredded cheese, optional (I use Cracker Barrel Extra Sharp Cheddar)
chopped onions, optional

In a large skillet, brown the ground beef with the diced onions. Once the meat is nearly brown and the onions are tender, add the minced garlic and cook for another minute or two.

Add the meat mixture and everything else (excepts the optional toppings, of course) to the crock pot, and cook on low for eight hours or high for four. About 1 hour before you serve, fish out the bay leaf and lightly puree the chili using a blender stick. You want the chili to have a fine meat texture, but not liquefied. If you've ever had real Cincinnati style chili, you'll know the texture I'm talking about. If you do not have a stick blender, carefully ladle the chili into a food processor, process accordingly, and return to crockpot. Continue to cook the chili for the remaining hour.

Lastly, taste the chili to check if it needs more salt or sugar and flavor to your preferences.

To serve, pile some spaghetti on the plate, top with the chili, then shredded cheese and onions

Monday, May 04, 2015

Kitchen Upgrade Status: Back in the (Range) Hood

Finally! We installed the range hood this weekend after grouting, caulking, and sealing the tile. It works like a charm and vents like a champ.

I was also able to re-install my VERY much missed oven/stove. We've been eating out of an electric skillet and crockpot for 6 weeks!

 It's actually starting to look like a kitchen again!

Now for the last stretch of this journey, I start working on those upper cabinets and building a false cabinet facing up to the ceiling. After the tiling and range hood marathon, going back to painting cabinets again is going to be a breeze!

Almost there!

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