I’ve realized I’ve been cooking for over 4 decades now in some capacity. I began cooking with my mother making biscuits and cookies when I was a young kid and bumbled my way along through my mid-twenties when I began to try and learn how to cook properly and what cooking and food were all about. That is the age that I probably started taking dating more seriously and saw that cooking was a skill that helped in that pursuit as well.
Plus I had a job so I could afford ingredients beyond mac and cheese and frozen pizza. I already had a formidable library of recipes and cookbooks from my grandmothers and mother that was expansive. I still have a massive cookbook library but use the internet and apps and technology more than relying on them anymore. Just as I put my trials and recipes and thoughts and attempts her on my website than refer and make notes in my cookbooks anymore.
I’ve learned how to cook. Meaning what methods work best and why for different foods and what foods are comprised of, in starch and sugar content and fibrous vegetables and the differences between apples and potatoes and a vast compendium of knowledge amassed from cooking from so long. I wish I could say the same for my guitar playing, but that doesn’t keep me and my dependents through the years alive and healthy like cooking does. There’s also a very big economic benefit in learning to cook for yourself. Whether you’re cooking for four or one and 1/2, you become adept at managing scale as well. And learning measurements and all sorts of scientific skills.
When I had a larger family to cook for, the best investment I had was a deep freezer. I could buy and cook at scale. Now that I’m cooking just for myself and my young daughter, a vacuum-bag sealer is a great thing to have. I can save portions and don’t waste food. A lot of quality Tupperware containers are helpful as well.
I always have to be mindful of what everyone’s tastes are as well. Who doesn’t like mushrooms or onions or spicy foods or whatever. When cooking for me and my daughter I have to be careful of not over spicing foods or making things too hearty or savory or visually unappealing. I need to know what she likes and what she’ll try and eat. I’m lucky in that she’ll try everything and trusts me to not trick her into giving her something she may not like. I love having a deep level of trust with her like that. She knows I won’t try to gove her something I don’t think she’ll like, and I can cook all sorts of things that are comprised of ingredients that I know she likes. Eggs are very versatile so I can make omelets, quiches, and she likes spinach and cheese so those are great ingredients that I can use in a lot of ways. Wraps, and salads.
Something I try to make the best use of is one-dish meals, where I can use the slow cooker and cook a lot of vegetables into something that’s pretty easy, cheap and will last a long time and fill us up and we both like.
We don’t eat a lot of meat, and when we do, it’s lean like fish, shrimp, chicken or lean beef. I feed us roast beef instead of ham or turkey because it’s a low-fat high protein, low sodium and I feel healthier than most hams and turkey products that are sold out there. I use low-sodium white albacore tuna instead of chunk tuna fish which reminds me of cat food. It’s just better. I don’t use American cheese, I use whole traditional cheeses that are mild like provolone of buffalo whole milk mozzarella. I use sharp or extra sharp cheddar when a kick is needed.
I use the freshest seafood I can find and if fresh isn’t available I use flash-frozen whole cod, dolphin, grouper or actual fish, not tilapia or scrod. Same with vegetables. If I can’t find fresh I use flash-frozen. Living where I live now it’s different than when I lived in the South and along the coast where everything was farmed or caught fresh. Things have to be flown or trucked into Lousiville so I have to adapt. Or pay premiums, which lately hasn’t been possible.
So all this is a long prelude to what I’m cooking tonight. Cecelia loves mashed potatoes and carrots and peas and green beans, and It’s late January and 34 degrees out. So a nice hearty stewy type of dish would be nice.
Beef stew and Pot roast are too manly and meaty for a four-year-old girl. But something along that track. Shepherd’s Pie is great but is made from lamb, and I see no need to kill a lamb to feed my little family. But Shepherd’s Pie with beef is called Cottage Pie, and I can make something along those lines.
So I put on my mad scientist’s hat and here’s what I came up with, which I think should turn out nicely. The results for any project rest in the preparation, which is where most people make short cuts. That’s where the integrity of the meal lies and is the same in life, It’s what’s done when no one is looking. And it makes most of the difference in the output.
So here are the ingredients I used:
1 2-2 1/2 lb chuck roast. I bought it whole and cubed it myself. You could use low-fat ground beef but I wanted to take advantage of the low and slow method of cooking.
1 Whole yellow onion, diced
1 package of baby carrots, 16 oz. Using peeled chopped is fine too.
1pkg ranch dressing, powdered
1 pkg Italian dressing, powdered
1 pkg savory pot roast seasoning mix, powdered
1 can cut green beans, no sodium. A package of frozen green is fine.
1 pkg frozen sweet peas 16 oz. A big package of frozen mixed vegetables would work here too, including corn and lima beans. Even better. Use what you have or what’s on sale.
a mixture of AP flour, garlic powder, kosher salt, fresh ground pepper to coat cubed meat in
I cubed the beef, coated it in the flour/garlic powder/s&p mixture and browned it in a little canola oil in a pot. I set it aside and drained the fat.
I made a bed of baby carrots and onions in the slow cooker and layered the meat on top of that. I mixed and sprinkled the 3 packages of seasonings on top of the meat evenly. This type of seasoning is something I shy away from usually, but I know from experience, heavy seasoning is needed in this type of dish and I was curious what mixing the 3 types of most used store-bought seasoning mixes would yield. I poured the low sodium beef broth over that and gave it a gentle stir. See below for the results.
I go easy on the sodium for a number of reasons. Health being #1. Salt being over-used in place of flavor is another. Seasonings should bring out the flavor of the food, not replace it. Salt is inserted where there’s a lack of quality, like in salted butter and a lot of fast foods. It’s not healthy, and most people use table, or iodized salt, which is unnecessary. We’re not in jeopardy of getting scurvy anymore, and Kosher or sea salt is preferable. It has a cleaner taste and it doesn’t bounce off the food as table salt does. It’s flaky and should be sprinkled on at the right time. There’s a quick lesson on salt.
I put that on low for 8 hours.
With about 4 hours left I put in the green beans and frozen peas and stirred. Normally I would be tempted to put sliced mushrooms and chopped celery in but I had no celery and my daughter doesn’t like mushrooms, yet.
It turned out pretty good, but I’d probably leave out the ranch dressing mixture and rely more on aromatics like onion, garlic, carrots, celery, and gentle seasoning. I don’t like packaged seasonings, but for some reason, I went all-in on this one. I regret it and would rely on my own sense of taste and use fresh seasonings instead. Always better. I know it, and this was proof.
For my daughter and what I think would be better overall, next time I’ll cube the beef into smaller bite-size pieces. It was good this way for me, a fully grown adult male, but I can imagine it being too much for a young girl. It would also make it more tender, which wouldn’t be a bad thing.
Vegetable soup has many variants as anyone who has ever eaten soup knows. I grew up on vegetable soup my mother made, which had ground beef in it, making less vegetably, plus okra and lots of butterbeans, which are what we called lima beans, and other ingredients which ended up being very good. But more of a concoction resembling something between Brunswick stew(My mother was born in Brunswick, GA.), which is fantastic stuff but not for the novice cook with little time on their hands, and a beef stew/vegetable soup/gumbo. I have all her recipes, and I haven’t seen one for it, so it likely was something she learned to make from trial and error or her mother or my other grandmother Virginia, who was the best cook in the entire family, taught her. That was back when every kitchen, in the South at least, had a big vat of Crisco handy for frying your chicken, okra, fish, hushpuppies, fritters, green tomatoes, crabs, oysters, and pretty much everything when you grew up in South Carolina near the ocean.
Point being, there are as many ways to make vegetable soup as there are vegetables. But I’ve zeroed in on a way to make it that’s pretty easy, and a big hit with my daughter makes a lot and is cheap. It’s hearty, too and perfect for when the weather starts dipping. I use my crock-pot which makes it a no-brainer. Those criteria are what I base a lot of my cooking on these days. That hasn’t always been the case whatsoever, so I’ve learned how to cook a lot of stuff, which makes cooking easier and easier. It’s learning science and how to combine tastes, over many years, is all. I’ve made everything from stuffed whole squid, cut into rings, tentacles fried as an appetizer, to chateaubriand, and everything in between. Learning to cook is an invaluable skill, and it keeps you healthy because it makes you think and know exactly what you’re putting into your body. It makes you shy away from fast food garbage and processed and refined foods that aren’t natural. I’m not a health-food nut like some trendy Californian that only eats grain-fed organic blah-de-blah. But I know how to read labels and understand what is good and what to avoid. And the cooking method is essential as well. The less damage you do to the cells of your ingredients, the better. Boiling is violent, for example. Frying isn’t that bad for you appropriately done. Most people don’t keep their frying medium at a constant temperature as necessary, which is where things go wrong. I don’t fry much because to do it right involves a lot of dishes that have to be washed and stations and is an operation that’s out of scale for just myself, or me and my daughter. And I don’t want her to think frying everything is the right path, because it certainly isn’t. But one of my favorite foods is fried chicken. I rarely eat it, though. I probably eat more lobster than fried chicken.
I didn’t mean for this post to turn into a cooking lesson or an introduction to my personal diet, but if you’re making vegetable soup, it’s good to use whole, fresh vegetables if possible. Flash-frozen is also fine. Canned is starting to get into the oversalted and nutrition-loss territory. And then you need to have some excellent knife skills to prep your vegetables. It all comes with time and practice, I guess. I’ve been doing it for a long time now. And I plan on teaching my daughter everything I know, and she seems eager to learn, which is terrific, I think. That will make her healthy, independent, and of higher worth as a wife and family member for sure. As long as your family cares about staying healthy, and eating well, which I’ve learned the hard way, not everyone cares about. They’ll say they do, but then buy frozen-quick-fix one-pot meals or head to White Castle and behave much differently from what they say. I witness it. I choose not to do that, which I’m positive will be meaningful in how our bodies age and maintain health and cells. Diet was the reason my sweet dog Annie lived so long and healthily. I made sure I fed her well and not Alpo, which is what most Americans eat, and why most Americans are morbidly obese and out of shape. And probably why we’re now starting to not live as long despite medical breakthroughs occurring all the time and technology are allowing us to live longer if we choose. You can’t feed yourself a diet of garbage between 20 years old and 80 years old and expect your body to be running like it was back at 20, though. The fuel we use is essential.
I’ll get off my soapbox and back to the kitchen now. There are no real hard lines with this type of recipe. It’s adding more of what you like, less of what you don’t, but remember everything here has a purpose beyond taste. Here’s what I use as a basis for my vegetable soup:
Combine it all in a slow-cooker and cook on low for 5-6 hours. Don’t overcook it, or it’ll be mushy, which is gross.
Beyond that, I add whatever I have around. My daughter said she loved tomato juice one day, so I bought some for her. She took one sip and decided she hated it(go figure). So I’ll add a can of tomato juice when/if the soup gets too thick. I’ll also add chicken broth if tomato juice isn’t available, which it usually isn’t. Can of peas? Toss them in. A bag of frozen corn, okra, or butterbeans? Go for it. Note that Okra tends to act as a thickening agent, so you’ll want to loosen up your soup some with the above-stated juice or broth or below-stated stock. Cabbage is good too but I tend to leave out Fall vegetables like squashes. Chopped cauliflower, yes. Chopped broccoli? You choose.
Another variation is I’ll add shredded chicken to it. I’ll either buy a cooked bird from the grocery store and pick it apart to put on there, or cook one myself in the crockpot or bake it, which is cheaper, avoids some additives, and you can buy a good quality bird, versus who knows what the grocery store used. They usually don’t tell you. You also can boil a chicken for about an hour with herbs, but that presents a tossup. You render out a lot of fat, but you also boil out a lot of flavor and juices and are left with pretty dry “boiled meat.” So I tend to avoid boiling chickens if I can. Baking them and cooking them in a crockpot is easy and not too messy if you know what you’re doing, and it yields some stock you can later use. It allows you to use some vegetables past their prime or the parts you usually toss out as aromatics. I try not to waste anything at all, and do a pretty good job, which is another reason learning to cook pays off. It’s thrifty.
If you want to add beans, like black beans, it’s perfect, too. But I rinse my canned beans, because the juice, which contains most of the sugars the beans leach off, is what’s responsible for the gassy aftereffects associated with eating beans. You can avoid that issue by rinsing the sugars off your beans well. If you use dried beans, good for you, but messing with dried beans and legumes is another worthwhile post. They’re healthy things that humans should embrace more of. We’ve lost the time and desire it seems when Facebook and TikTok and Fortnite awaits.
I let it cool to a temperature that’s above the danger zone for bacteria and put it in reheatable containers that are good portions for myself and my little girl, so all I have to do is reheat it in the microwave, put it in a bowl and serve. It goes very fast, so I never even have to freeze it.
This is a dish I make a lot because like almost everything I post here it’s easy, cheap, fast and makes the house smell unbelievable. You’ll think you’re in Italy. And my 4 year old loves it, which is important. You can add sausage which has been rendered, shredded chicken, meatballs, or whatever meat you like, too. But I like the vegetarian version and sometimes add a few handfuls of steamed, seasoned broccoli florets before baking.
3+ cloves of garlic
28oz can crushed tomatoes
3 cups mozzarella cheese
1 box ziti pasta
4-5 fresh basil leaves
1 tsp dried Oregano
Kosher S & P to taste
Preheat oven to 400 degrees
Start water for pasta to boil.
Pour about 2 TB of olive oil in large saute pan and add garlic and saute until soft, about 1 minute
Add crushed tomatoes, salt & pepper and oregano and basil, chiffonaded, simmer for 10+ minutes
Cook pasta until al dente. Drain.
Add Tomatoes to pasta.
Oil 3 qt baking dish. Add tomato sauce/pasta just to cover the bottom of the pan. Add a healthy layer of cheese. Repeat until the last layer is cheese. You can also top with parmesan.
Spray foil with cooking spray and cover. Cook for 20 minutes. Uncover and cook for 10 minutes until the top is browned and bubbly.
It may seem strange that I post so many recipes on this website, but as someone who cooks a lot, it makes it easy to find recipes that I cook often but may forget the exact measurements or times or ingredients. So it’s a quick reference, plus these recipes are really good, so I thought it’d be nice to share.
I have a giant 6 Quart KitchenAid crockpot that I use all the time. A few times a week. I have the “Easy Serve Lid” but if I bought one again, which I would, I’d just get the regular lid, for $24 less. I rarely use it. Somebody might, if they use it to serve from, but it’s not helpful to me. This is the best slow cooker I’ve ever used, for a variety of reasons. If you’re ever in the market, I suggest giving the one I linked to up there a close look.
Chicken Bog is a South Carolina dish, called Chicken Purleau in Sumter. But it’s known as Chicken Bog everywhere else. It’s an inexpensive, hearty dish that goes a long way. It’s really tasty and uses rice, which is a southern staple. It’s usually found at barbeque joints in SC and family dinner tables when there’s a crowd to feed.
I’ve made it many times and have learned a few things. It’s easy to make, but it’s also easy to make where it’s disappointing, which may lead people to not make it again, which would be a shame. That’s because it needs lots of seasoning. The rice and chicken don’t provide a lot of flavor on their own. A common way to cook it is to boil the chicken and use the stock to cook the rice in. That boils a lot of flavor out of the chicken. And sometimes I use chicken breasts, which really need to be heavily seasoned. But it’s a very lower-fat option. Cooking a whole chicken renders a lot of fat which needs to be skimmed. But the trade-off is more flavor, of course.
A store-bought rotisserie chicken could be used as a time-saver. But there are a lot of additives you may not want to eat in those, plus the convenience erases some of the value cooking your own provides. Cooking a whole chicken couldn’t be easier, and there are multiple ways to do it. Bake it, boil it, slow-cook it, grill it, and so on.
The sausage you use is your own choice. I’ve had every type imaginable in it and it’s all good. Cooking it in a pan beforehand renders a lot of flavors, especially if you scrape and use the fond from it. Andouille is great but higher-fat. Kielbasa is also a favorite but not the lowest fat. Smoked turkey sausage is the lowest fat but not the most satisfying.
If you boil or slow-cook the chicken, you’ll end up with a good base for chicken stock. I put in chopped onion, a few celery stalks and carrots chopped, and maybe a green pepper chopped up along with salt and pepper and some garlic while it cooks. I skim the fat and add 33% less sodium chicken broth to make about 5 cups to cook the bog in.
A tip: when you’re cooking the bog in a pot, versus a crockpot, you have to be careful not to overcook it and burn the rice. If you do, it’s ruined.
So with that prologue out of the way, here’s the recipe:
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 medium onion, chopped
14 ounces smoked sausage, halved and sliced 1/2-inch thick
3 garlic cloves, minced
5 cups chicken broth, divided
2 cups uncooked medium grain rice
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 chicken (about 3 pounds), meat removed and shredded
3 stalks celery
Instructions for slow-cooker
In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and sausage; cook until sausage is lightly browned. Add garlic and cook 1 minute longer; transfer to slow cooker.
Stir in 4 cups broth, rice, salt and pepper. Cook, covered, on low until rice is tender, 4-5 hours. Stir in chicken and remaining broth. Cook, covered, on low until chicken is heated through, about 30 minutes
Instructions for chicken-in-the-pot
In a large pot, add celery, carrot, onion, pepper, seasoning, and chicken. Cover with water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour.
Remove chicken and reserve liquid. Shred chicken and discard skin and bones. Set aside.
Skim fat from liquid in the pot. Strain vegetables. (Quick tip: put in fridge or freezer to let the fat solidify faster, and use a fat-strainer)
Add broth to stock to make 5 cups. Add rice, sausage, and chicken.
Bring to boil, reduce heat to simmer, cover and cook until rice is done, about 20 minutes. Make sure it doesn’t burn. Don’t lift the lid off the pot any more than necessary.
Fluff with fork and stir. Season as desired, if necessary.
Chicken Bog – YUM!
The Chicken Bog in this photo is too soupy. This is before the rice has been cooked, obviously, and this looks like long-grain rice and chopped chicken instead of shredded, which is fine but not authentic. It should be fluffy rice and chicken and sausage when done.
Some notes after I published this
I’ve been making this a lot lately, Autumn being the perfect season for it, and it just being so cheap and easy and my daughter likes it, so I’ve been making it about every other week until we get tired of it. So I’ve been trying different little ways to see what makes it better.
I’m cooking my whole chicken in my big crockpot and using aromatics to keep the chicken from sitting on the bottom. Some carrots, celery, coarsely chopped onions(like in quarters-coarse). This is an excellent way to use past-their-prime vegetables. I hate wasting food and try to use everything for something. So putting a bed of vegetables on the bottom of a slow-cooker with a chicken on top is a great way to make some stock.
I put cut up oranges or lemons inside the bird while it cooks. I buy tangerines and apples for my daughter which often she doesn’t eat the whole thing or the bag of citrus is too much. So I’ll stuff the bird with what’s left of an apple or a bag of tangerines that we’re not going to be able to eat before they expire. Same with onions or garlic cloves.
I’ll season the bird with chopped garlic, some seasoning without salt, lemon juice, or whatever strikes me or I have on hand. I cook it on high for 3-1/2 hours and let it cool in the cooker until I can handle it to remove the bones and skin and fat. I use three big bowls for that process, which isn’t the most fun, but it’s necessary and what adds the love to the dish. I remove the aromatics from the cooker and pour the drippings into a separation/strainer/measuring cup thing I have to yield usually 1 cup of stock. I discard as much fat as I can.
Meanwhile, I cut the sausage on the bias into slices and render it in a deep non-stick Calphalon pot. I remove that and pour out the grease but save what’s cooked on the bottom, which is fond. I put the pot on the burner and turn it up to high and once it’s good and hot, I slowly pour some chicken broth in it while stirring to release the fond. You don’t want to burn the fond and you don’t want to burn off the broth you’re pouring in and you don’t want to warp your pot, which putting cold liquid not a hot pot or pan will do. So just watch what you’re doing.
Once you’ve scraped the fond from the bottom and the bottom of the pot is “clean”, pour your stock and broth into the pot to make 5 cups. I find 1 cup from cooking the bird plus a 32 oz. box of Swanson’s no-sodium Chicken Broth is perfect. Bring that to a boil. It shouldn’t take but a few minutes.
Pour 2 cups of medium grain rice in. That’s a 1 lb bag of Minute Maid. There’s a difference between long-grain and medium grain. Don’t fool yourself. Bring back to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to a simmer and set a timer for 20 minutes.
Cooking rice is what throws most people off. Cooking rice properly isn’t easy. You have to know your range and what “High” heat and “simmer” means to it, your pot(how heavy/thick it is) and that you have a lid that fits properly. You’ll come to appreciate a glass lid so you can see what’s going on in there and determine your rice’s doneness.
Rice is done when you don’t see any bubbling going on, don’t smell anything burning, and there’s a good separation between the grains when you look through the lid. It should look moist and full, and not gluey and gloppy.
Remove the pot from the burner and carefully remove the lid. There’s a lot of steam in there. Gently fluff the rice with a large fork and make sure to fold the bottom rice up to the top and you should be good. Stir in the sausage and chicken well, season to taste, and serve.
As we head into fall, there will be no lack of pumpkin-spiced everything and fall harvest motif junk at every turn. But apples become a big thing and are a big thing year-round. They’re cheap and plentiful and can be used, like pears, as a base for a lot of juices and recipes. And when you walk into a grocery store or market, you’ll see a dozen different varieties offered. And I’ll bet most of the time, if not always, most people just walk over to one section and ignore the rest: Red delicious. That may be untrue in parts of the country where apples are grown a lot, but in the South where I grew up, Red Delicious was the standard and staple in every lunchbox and used for everything, no matter what. The rest were exotic.
Which would make a good behavioral study, as to why we go decades, if not our whole lives entrenched in such a decision when there’s absolutely no reason. We’re creatures of habit, but this would seem extreme. Nonetheless, hopefully, this post will change that.
Different apples are good for different purposes, from baking with to eating as a snack. And adventuring out of the Red Delicious routine is something that should be done immediately. It’s probably the lamest of the apples, once you start trying other varieties and seeing what you like better. There are sweeter ones, and ones whose cell composition are better-suited for cooking with. And the prices don’t veer that much, meaning you aren’t going to have to pay a fortune for a Gala, which is what I prefer for eating.
Here is a graphic which outlines the different types from most sour to sweetest. But again, their crunchiness and composition are slightly different as well, which should be considered when baking or cooking with them.
Something I plan on making with my daughter this fall are baked apple doughnuts, which I’m sure involve brown sugar, which she’ll like. She’s part hummingbird, I’m convinced.
Potatoes are another pantry staple that I think people don’t venture out of their ruts with. Most everyone grab a Russet potato, and that’s that. But the differences between the many potato types make all the difference in the end. Some are more starchy and some are better for mashed and for stews and so on. It’s worth taking the little amount of time to learn the differences for what will change your cooking for the better forever, I think.
Not bad. But it made me think of a chocolate pie my mother used to make that I think may be even better, and easier. There’s nothing wrong with making your own chocolate mousse of course and creme fraiche is easy enough to make, but a lot of southerners opt to use Cool Whip and chocolate pudding when possible. Don’t get me wrong. I think creme fraiche is better. But it doesn’t keep nearly as well as Cool Whip does. It tends to break. SL’s recipe would be preferable if you’re serving guests and it’s going to be eaten immediately. But that’s not how things are eaten at my house. If you are going to impress guests, I’d use creme fraiche instead of Cool Whip in the recipe.
DEEP DISH CHOCOLATE PIE
Melt 1 stick butter
1 cup AP flour
1 cup chopped pecans(toast them if you want, or use pistachios)
Mix all together and form a crust with this mixture. Bake 20 minutes at 350 degrees, allow to cool completely.
Mix 8oz cream cheese, one cup confectioner’s sugar one cup Cool Whip. Blend thoroughly and spread over crust.
Mix 2 small packages of instant chocolate pudding with 3 cups cold milk. Pour over cream cheese mixture.
Add 1 cup Cool Whip to make finish layer. Garnish with chocolate chips, shavings or powder.
This is a pie I grew up on and it’s super-rich, so no need for big helpings. And that’s coming from somebody who can put away the rich stuff. My grandfather had a pecan grove in Georgia, so we always had tons of pecans on hand. But you can use whatever nuts you want, or even a graham cracker or Oreo crust. Nothing’s written in stone when cooking or baking. Well, some things are, but a lot isn’t.