Monday Meals: Basic pork roast

Pork roast is one of the staples in my freezer. It’s something I grew up on and have continued to share with my family.

A quick search on Pinterest or Tastespotting will reveal that it’s also a beautifully blank canvas on which you can create a variety of tastes.

Make it sweet, make it spicy. Make it stuffed, make it saucy.

Occasionally I’ll branch out and try these variations, but usually I stick to the slightly adapted version of my mom’s tried-and-true recipe.

It’s pretty easy, and because I use a crock pot it’s one of those “set it and forget it” type meals that are perfect for busy weekdays or hectic holiday weekends. Also, it’s great for when you’re feeling stabby. You’ll see why in a bit.

Savory Pork Roast and Gravy

1 3-lb pork roast
1 onion, sliced
3 cloves garlic, sliced
½ cup pickled peppers of your choice
2 cups water or broth
Seasoning salt
Pepper
1 Tbsp olive oil

Start with a fresh or defrosted pork roast, whichever cut you prefer. This time, I had a sirloin roast in the freezer. Stab your roast repeatedly on all sides. This is great for relieving holiday frustrations.

Stuff each hole with alternating garlic and pepper slices, then liberally coat with seasoning salt and pepper. This time, I used Cavender’s Greek seasoning (this stuff is amazing and I put it on just about anything), kosher salt and black pepper.

Heat oil in a skillet and sear all sides of the roast.

Place the sliced onions in the bottom of the crock pot, set the roast on top and pour the water or broth (I used some leftover veggie broth) over the top.

Cover and cook on low for at least 4 hours or until a meat thermometer reads 145 degrees Fahrenheit. I left this one to cook for about 6 hours, and it was fall-apart tender.

It’s traditional in my family to thicken the gravy with a tiny bit of cornstarch slurry and to serve with rice and some kind of greens.

Check out Glory canned vegetables if you get a chance, they’re my favorite when I’m too lazy to make a side dish from scratch.

Monday Meals: Caramel Apple Pie

I know a lot of people closely guard their favorite recipes. Some won’t even write them down for fear of sneaky pilferers. I have a cousin who makes a great banana pudding and said she’d tell me how if I promised never to bring it to a family function, because it was her thing. (I promise, Jenny, I’ve never served it to anyone you know, and I gave you full credit when I did make it.)

When I decided to share my apple pie recipe, I admit, I felt a little naked. This pie is, along with my praline-filled carrot cake, my thing. But I’d love for you to take it and maybe make it your thing if you’d like. This is me, learning to share.

But first!

You know when you take a stand on something and then later you go against what you said? Awwwwwkward.

Awhile back my friend Denae asked me to write a guest post for her about holiday traditions, but I ended up breaking tradition. Oops.

Follow me here and see how I screwed up.

I was featured on New Mom Adventure

Now on with the pie. Pronounced PAH with a Southern drawl. Get it right. 

Last year, our sweet neighbor had a bumper crop of apples, and he would walk through the neighborhood once a week and drop off huge bags full of fruit.

I had apples in bowls, apples on countertops, apples taking up every drawer in the fridge.

And my husband hates fruit.

Except.

Except if it’s baked in a pie.

Now, believe it or not, I had never made a fruit pie before. I spent an afternoon hanging out on AllRecipes.com reading reviews of different recipes. It was overwhelming.

People are fanatical about their pie, especially apple pie. Nobody makes pie better than mom/grandma/Aunt Sue and don’t you even try to pretend like you can serve storebought crust and call yourself an American.

I was so stressed out that I turned to the bottle.

And then I had an idea.

Instead of soaking the apples in lemon juice, like one recipe suggested, what if I marinated them in Maker’s Mark, then seasoned them, then made a caramel-ish sauce and drizzled it over everything?

And what if I went ahead and bought premade crust at the store, but made up for it by cutting a latticework top?

So I made one. It lasted a day thanks to some visitors with hefty appetites. (Really, my husband ate the whole thing, but he made me write that.)

The next day, my neighbor showed up again with two bags of apples. Peeling and coring all that by hand did not sound like fun, so I went and picked up one of these brilliant things, and spent an entire weekend baking pies.

I sent one to the apple man, one across the street, one next door. Pie for everyone!

I was really looking forward to a repeat performance this year, but my neighbor’s trees did not yield a single apple. Not one. We were very sad.

Fortunately, there’s no shortage of them at the market and even though they’re not free and they don’t taste nearly as good, they’ll still make a pie. Or four.

Mamamash’s Caramel Apple Pie

1 premade pie crust in a pan (freezer section)
1 premade pie crust, rolled (refrigerated section)
1/2 cup unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup water
8 tart apples – peeled, cored and sliced
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons Maker’s Mark plus 1 shot
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 can 7UP

In a tall glass, mix a shot of Maker’s Mark with a can of 7Up over ice. Put your feet up and sip while your husband/kid/friend who owes you a favor peels, cores and slices the apples.

Place apples in a bowl with cinnamon, nutmeg, whiskey and juice.

Melt butter in a sauce pan. Stir in flour. Add white sugar, brown sugar and water; bring to a boil. Reduce temperature, and simmer 5 minutes.

Fill your bottom crust with apples, mounded slightly. Cover with a latticework crust.
Learn how to do that here.

Gently, slowly, ever-so-carefully pour the sugar and butter liquid over the crust.

Cover the edges with foil or pie crust savers and bake 15 minutes at 425 degrees F (220 degrees C). Reduce the temperature to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C), and continue baking for 35 to 45 minutes.

Monday Meals: Talkin’ Turkey

Last year I hosted Thanksgiving at my house, which meant not only did I have to clean behind the toilet and wipe off the three inches of dust that collected on the ceiling fan, I also had to provide the turkey.

Now, I’m a pretty experienced cook but the thought of tackling the turkey freaked me out. I couldn’t face the possibility of burning the bird and having to serve cold cuts along side our beautiful casseroles and perfect pies.

Luckily, my mom had come into town and she walked me through the basics. I also added in a couple of ideas of my own and we ended up with a fantastic turkey and a magical meal.

I had a few requests from friends to share my turkey tips, so here you go.

Mamamash Talks Turkey: Do’s and Don’ts

DO plan ahead. Most turkeys are sold frozen, so you’ll need to plan for defrosting time. It takes 24 hours to defrost 5 pounds of turkey, so do the math and realize that 20-pound bird you’ve purchased needs four days just to reach a non-frozen state.

DON’T defrost the bird in the sink. It must be kept cold. Place the turkey in the refrigerator in a jelly roll pan lined with paper towels so you don’t end up with unwanted juices mingling with the fresh produce. Salmonella is not a good way to lose the holiday weight.

DO remember to remove the giblet bag once your turkey is defrosted. It’s not a nice surprise to pull it out in the middle of carving your bird at dinner.

DO brine your turkey. Once your turkey is defrosted, you’ll need an extra 12 hours to brine it. The night before, while you’re off marinating yourself in martinis in order to calmly handle your houseful of relatives, soak the bird in a salt solution in order to increase the moisture holding capacity of the meat. You can choose from many brines, like this one here, or this one, or this.

DON’T substitute one cup of table salt for one cup of kosher salt when making your brine. Table salt is much saltier.

DO continue to keep your bird chilled while brining. You must keep your turkey chilled to at least 40 degrees Farenheit during the brining process. If your brining container won’t fit in the fridge, put the turkey in a cooler, cover with ice, and pour the brine over the top. Stick it in the garage overnight if it’s cool outside. Last year, my turkey hung out in its cooler in the bathtub. To be completely honest, it was very odd to be doing my business next to a large dead bird, but definitely worth it.

DON’T attempt to deep fry a frozen or wet turkey. It will explode and burn down your house. Seriously, Google fried turkey mishaps. You’ve been warned. In fact, here are some great tips for frying birds.

DO let your turkey come to room temperature before cooking it. It will roast/fry/smoke more evenly that way.

Now, if you’re smoking or frying your bird, check here and here for tips on those two methods. I’m going to continue on discussing how to roast the perfect turkey.

DON’T be afraid of the butter. Pull a Paula Deen and set out a whole stick of butter, y’all. Soften it, then gently separate the skin from the bird and rub that butter all over the place. Give the bird a nice butter massage.

DO be creative. If you want to use herbs, place them inside the gap you’ve made between the breast and skin. If you like citrus, throw some orange slices into the bird’s cavity. Be sure to salt and pepper the skin as well. If you don’t have a roasting rack, line the bottom of a roasting pan with carrots and celery stalks to elevate the bird.

DON’T ever cook the turkey with stuffing inside. Yes, I know that’s how your mom did it. No, the fact that fact that you never got sick doesn’t discount the fact that it’s a recognized health hazard. If you must have your dressing flowing out of the turkey as you place it in all its glory on the table, stuff it with separately cooked stuffing when you pull it out of the oven.

DO truss up the bird’s legs for more even roasting. Also, it looks cool. Look, you’re a chef!

DON’T forget to preheat the oven. It can take 30 minutes for a cold oven to reach 325 degrees Farenheit.

DO roast the bird with its foil-covered breast side up in the oven at 325 for 20 minutes per pound if previously frozen and 12 minutes per pound if fresh.

DON’T even think about peeking until about 45 minutes before you estimate the turkey to be done. Remove the foil so the breast will brown and check the internal temperature. Baste with the pan juices.

DO ensure that the meat reaches 180 degrees at deepest spot between the leg and the breast.

DON’T immediately cut into the bird. Tent it with foil and let it rest for 20 minutes so the meat can absorb all the juices back in.

DO lay claim to your favorite piece before allowing anyone else near the bird. After all, you’re the one who’s been working on this dish all week and if you want a leg, dammit, you get a leg.

If you happen to run into a turkey emergency, don’t forget the awesome experts at the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line. I’ve never used their services, but I’ve heard that they are enthusiastic and very helpful.

Also, if you’d like to bring something besides green bean casserole to your family’s celebration this year, try this corn casserole from  The Bearded Iris.

Good luck and have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday Meals: Tomato Basil Soup and Grilled Gruyère Sandwiches

The bright red leaves are almost gone on our beautiful silver maple in the front yard, and the temperatures have been teasing their way toward freezing for the last week or so.

I’m prone to developing the winter blues, so to avoid spending the next several months in fetal position in the corner, I’ve tried to focus on the fun things about the season: warm fuzzy socks, flannel sheets and fabulous food.

While I was delightedly browsing soups, stews and crock pot creations, hubs spoke up and said he’d really like some tomato soup and grilled cheese.

Now, he’d probably be happy with Campbell’s out of a can and a couple of pieces of Wonderbread with a slice of American slapped in between, but I had other ideas. Ideas that involved fresh basil, and cream, and roasted tomatoes. Ideas that called for rich smoked cheese and fresh crusty bread.

Ideas brought to fruition with the help of Tastespotting, which led me to SpoonForkBacon.

Go on, look. It’s drool-worthy. The recipes are fresh and easily recreated, the food styling is enticing and the photography is gorgeous.

I decided to try the Creamy Roasted Tomato and Basil Soup and made a couple of small adjustments to fit the contents of my pantry. I paired it with some grilled cheese sandwiches made with Smoked Gruyère and just a touch of mustard, and we all sat around dipping crusty, cheesy goodness into the rich soup and watching the Chiefs endure an ugly beating from the Dolphins.

I like to think the men were crying because the food was so good, and not because it was such a devastatingly sad game.

Creamy Roasted Tomato & Basil Soup
Serves 4

10 Roma tomatoes, sliced lengthwise
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp butter
1 medium yellow onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tbsp dried thyme
1 (28 oz) can diced tomatoes
2 cups fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
2 tbsp dried basil
1 tbsp sugar
2 cups chicken broth
salt and pepper to taste
2/3 cup heavy cream

Drizzle tomatoes with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and bake at 375 degrees for about an hour.

Sauté onion in butter until the bits begin to brown. Add garlic and thyme, sauté for another couple of minutes.

Add the can of tomatoes, dried and fresh basil and sugar. Lower heat and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes.

Add broth and roasted tomatoes, cover and continue to simmer for another 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Carefully transfer soup to blender (or use an immersion blender) and blend until smooth.

*Pro Tip: Don’t fill the blender to the top then blend on high unless you like tomato-spattered walls.

Pour the soup back into the pot and slowly stir in the cream. Continue stirring over low heat for five minutes. Ladle into bowls and serve with Grilled Gruyère Sandwiches.

Grilled Gruyère Sandwiches

1 loaf good, thick-cut white bread
8 oz Smoked Gruyère
½ cup yellow mustard
1 stick butter

Grate the cheese. Try not to eat it all before it ends up in the sandwiches.

Butter one side of the bread. Spread a small amount of mustard over the other side and place on a griddle set to low heat, butter side down. Sprinkle cheese over the mustard, top with another slice of bread, buttered on top. Turn when the bread reaches a dark, golden brown.

Slice in half and serve.