This summer, I feel an identity crisis is coming on (again). My last child will be graduating from high school this weekend and is preparing to move away from home. Wow, an empty nest. Inhale and exhale!
About 21 years ago (my first identity crisis,) my husband and I decided that I would try to stay at home with our first born. It was something that we were not sure about because I loved my work and I had an exciting, enriching, and time-consuming job. I was not ready to give it up, but we decided that I could try staying at home with our baby daughter and see if it worked.
To my amazement, I loved it. I love being a mom and I loved staying at home with our daughter. She was my playmate and I was hers. My friends were shocked, as were all of my immediate family. Most in my family would be more likely to describe me as a “natural born killer” than a “natural born mother,” and no one was sure that the stay-at-home thing would be good. It was just as exciting and much more time-consuming than any other job I had before.
About three years later, we welcomed our son and by this time my identity crisis was over, and I was enjoying all the benefits of being a stay-at-home mom. I missed work and my coworkers, but my “new coworkers” at home were just as interesting, although a little combative and demanding at naptime. We got along just fine and I enjoyed the fringe benefits of the first steps, bedtime books, and early morning cuddles.
However earlier this month, as I packed my son’s last school lunch, the feeling of another identity crisis hit me like a ton of bricks. What the heck will I do with my time when both of my children are gone? I know my husband has been thinking about this for a while as he dreads the endless ‘honey do’ lists and projects that I will create. I guess my basic plan is to just cook a lot and figure out what is next: crisis averted!
These are some ridiculous but fun things to make when you have extra time on your hands or need a distraction. Allow me to begin by saying that these recipes will not be for everyone. None of the recipes are too difficult but each will take some time. The results for your effort will pay off as the homemade versions of these foods are amazing.
Fried Chicken Sandwich with Homemade Buttermilk Herb Ranch Dressing
We have participated in the battle over who makes the best chicken sandwich and let’s all be honest: It was just an excuse to eat more fried chicken. ANY fried chicken sandwich is pretty good, but this homemade version is tough to beat.
2 cups (or one jar) leftover pickle brine
3 small boneless skinless chicken breasts, about 6 ounces each
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
2 1/2 teaspoons paprika, I prefer smoked paprika
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon celery salt
2- 48-ounce bottles canola oil
6 hamburger buns, lightly toasted
Lettuce and kosher dill pickles
Place the chicken breasts between two pieces of plastic wrap and gently pound with a meat mallet or rolling pin until they have an even thickness of about 1/2 inch. Cut each breast into two pieces. Place the chicken in the pickle brine and allow to marinate for at least four hours or overnight.
When ready to cook chicken, mix flour, baking powder, paprika, cayenne pepper, celery salt, 1 tablespoon kosher salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoon black pepper in a large bowl and set aside. Pour oil into a medium Dutch oven or cast-iron skillet until it is at least two inches deep. Heat oil to 350°.
Remove the chicken from the brine and dredge it in the flour mixture shaking off any access flour. When the oil reaches 350°, carefully lower several pieces of chicken into the oil. Do not overcrowd the pan. Cook chicken for five minutes on each side and carefully remove with a slotted spoon. Keep chicken warm in a 300° oven until ready to serve.
Serve on toasted hamburger buns with lettuce, pickles, and some buttermilk herb dressing
The fresh flavor from the herbs and consistency of this dressing makes it worth the effort. It really is so much better than the bottle.
1 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons buttermilk
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons finely sliced green onions
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh chopped parsley
1 tablespoon fresh chopped chives
1/4 teaspoon fresh chopped thyme
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
Whisk together all the ingredients cover and refrigerate for at least one day. Serve with chicken sandwiches or as a salad dressing or vegetable dip.
I grew up on hot tamales and they are still one of my favorite things to eat. What I call “Mississippi hot tamales” are not like the more traditional tamales found in Texas or Mexico. These are not made with masa dough and a shredded meat filling. Mississippi hot tamales are made of ground meat and cornmeal, and a lot of good spicy seasonings.
When I was younger, my mom would run by the hot tamale man for a quick dinner or pick up a few dozen after church. The hot tamale man in Vicksburg was something to see. He had a big rolling cart and would park his cart at a busy intersection in Vicksburg. He made the best tamales and would wrap your dozen (or two, or 10 if you were lucky) in old newspaper to keep warm for the ride home.
2 medium or large onions, finely chopped in a food processor if possible
2 or more cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
3 lbs., ground beef, turkey, pork, venison or any combination
2 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon red pepper or any other ground pepper such as chipotle chili powder
1/2 cup regular corn meal
1/2 cup water
1 cup tomato sauce
3 tablespoon chili powder
Thoroughly combine all filling ingredients and refrigerate until ready to roll. Meat filling can be made the day before.
To make tamales:
Soak a large bag of dried corn husks in warm water until they are soft and pliable. Dried corn husks can be found at most major grocery stores.)
Combine: 2 cups regular corn meal and 1 teaspoon red pepper in a large rimmed cookie sheet. Take a heaping tablespoon of filling and roll to form a cigar or pencil shape. Then, roll the filling in the cornmeal being sure to generously cover the filling. Wrap in softened corn husk.
In a very large stockpot, layer tamales, alternating directions of layers and placing seam side down to make sure the husks will not open during cooking.
Once all filling has been used, combine: 2 cups of water (or more as needed), 1 large (48 oz. can) of seasoned tomato juice, and 2 tablespoon or more chili powder. Pour over layers of tamales. Be sure there is enough liquid to cover tamales and add more if needed.
Bring to a simmer and cook on low for one to two hours until the tamales have taken on most of the liquid and have plumped. If top tamales are still “grainy,” continue to cook on low until most of the liquid is absorbed.
Homemade Worcestershire Sauce
This is one of those recipes that really is a labor of love but totally worth the extra effort. Store bought Worcestershire sauce is a great flavor enhancer to almost any recipe, but this homemade version is more like a syrup or super-concentrated glaze and really adds a kick to any dish.
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 ounces of fresh horseradish root; peeled and chopped (not the kind in the jar)
2 two medium onions, diced
2 fresh jalapeño peppers, seeded and finally diced
6 cloves of garlic peeled and chopped
3/4 teaspoon coarsely ground fresh black pepper
2 cups of water
4 cups white vinegar
1 cup dark molasses
2 cups dark corn syrup
1 can of anchovy fillets, 8 to 12 chopped
12 whole cloves
1 tablespoon salt
1 lemon, peeled and chopped
Put oil, horseradish, onions, jalapeños, and garlic and a large stock pot and sauté over medium heat until the onions are translucent. Add the black pepper, water, vinegar, molasses, dark corn syrup, anchovies, cloves, salt, and lemon. Stir thoroughly and bring to a boil. Then lower to a simmer and cook on low to medium heat for one hour until the mixture coats the back of a spoon. Strain the mixture using a fine sieve into a medium sauce pan and then reduce by half over a medium to low heat. Sauce should be somewhat syrupy and it will thicken as it cools. Store in the refrigerator for up to two months.
We made this for the first time during the spring pandemic lockdown. It gave me a little something to focus on rather than crawling the walls.
To prepare your pickling mix:
Mix: 3 cups water
1/4 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoons coriander seeds, crushed
1 teaspoon peppercorns, crushed
1 tablespoon mustard seeds, crushed
Put all pickling ingredients in a pot and heat until sugar is thoroughly dissolved. Using a flavor injector needle, inject a good bit of the pickling mix all around a 4 1/2-pound beef brisket. Put brisket in a deep dish and pour the remaining picking mix over it. Store in the refrigerator for three days being sure to turn it at least once a day.
After three days, take it out and soak it in water for eight hours. Pat dry.
4 tablespoons fresh coarsely ground black pepper
2 tablespoons coriander powder
1 teaspoon mustard powder
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon paprika
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons onion powder
Combine rub ingredients and massage into the beef brisket that has been coated with oil. Allow brisket to rest in the refrigerator overnight.
The next day smoke meat on low heat (about 300 degrees) for about eight hours until the internal temperature reaches 145°. Allow to rest and slice on the bias.
My daughter has become quite the baker and over the Christmas break she decided to try a recipe for bagels. They were delicious and while it takes patience and time for the dough to rise, the recipe itself is pretty easy.
7 cups of bread flour
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 1/4 teaspoon yeast
2 1/2 cups warm water
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon baking soda
Various toppings for the bagels including: everything bagel spice, sesame seeds, dried minced onion, shredded asiago or Parmesan cheese, or cinnamon-sugar for a sweet option.
Whisk together flour, salt, and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer. In a separate container, combine the water and honey and stir thoroughly. Add liquid to the flour mixture and mix the dough on low speed in your stand mixer until ingredients come together.
Kneed in mixer for several minutes until the dough is quite stiff and not at all sticky. Coat the sides of a large bowl with oil and place bagel dough in the bowl, turning the dough to coat it all with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise until it has doubled in size, about two hours.
Meanwhile, line two baking sheets with parchment paper and nonstick spray. After dough has risen, punch down and divide until about 12 pieces. Shape each piece into bagel shapes by forming into a rope and overlapping the ends to make a circle or by poking a hole in the middle and working it until it is about two inches in diameter. Place each bagel on the prepared baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap allowing to rest in the refrigerator overnight.
When ready to bake the bagels, preheat the oven to 500° and put a very large pot of water on to boil. Add baking soda to water and bring to a boil. Remove bagels from the refrigerator and allow to sit out at room temperature for about 15 minutes while the water comes to a boil. Boil each bagel about 30 to 45 seconds flipping them at least once. Transfer them back to the lined baking sheets and top with preferred toppings. The baking soda is important in achieving that rich brown bagel color.
Once all bagels have been in the water bath, bake until they are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped, about 11 minutes.
Peanut Butter Cups
Yes, Reece’s Cups are amazing but this recipe is very easy and you can use chunky peanut butter. Even better than store bought cups.
2 cups of creamy or chunky peanut butter (whichever type you prefer)
1/2 cup +1 tablespoon melted butter, divided
2 3/4 cup powdered sugar
1- 12-ounce package of chocolate chips (milk or dark depending on your preference)
Stir peanut butter, 1/2 cup of butter, and powder sugar together over a very low heat. Press mixture into a nine inch pan. Melt chocolate in microwave oven and stir in last tablespoon of butter. Spread the chocolate on top of the peanut butter mixture. Refrigerate for 10 minutes to reset chocolate. Cut into one inch squares and remove from the pan. Store at room temperature.
Pumpkin Dog Treats
Several years ago, my veterinarian suggested that I give one of my dogs pumpkin each morning to try to regulate her digestive system. I did not want to scoop out pumpkin each morning so I found and adapted this dog treat recipe. It may be silly to make your dogs special treats, but now that my kids are gone, my dogs are my babies.
These are easy and inexpensive to make. They are healthy and I know what's in them as opposed to some store-bought treats that are filled with lots of preservatives in other ingredients that may not be good for your animals.
2 1/2 cups regular or whole wheat flour
3 large eggs
1/2 cup canned pumpkin, not pumpkin pie mix
2 tablespoons peanut butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup dried oats
Mix all ingredients in the bowl of electric mixer or with hand mixer. Add additional flour or outs to make the dough workable. Roll out the dough to 1/2-inch thickness and cut into desired shapes. Bake in a 350-degree oven for about 40 minutes or until hard. Store in an airtight container.
*Not sure how you check this, but be sure your dog is not allergic to peanut butter.