From the very first day it premiered 3 years ago, I have been a faithful viewer of The Chew.  From Michael Symon’s funny giggle and banter with Mario Batali to Carla Hall’s witty personality, I just love it!  This week a couple of recipes made me take notice but specifically Carla’s Cheesy Baked Spinach Dip.  dip
  • 2 tablespoons Unsalted Butter
  • 1 tablespoon Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 medium Yellow Onion; finely diced
  • 2 tablespoons Flour
  • 3 cups Milk
  • 1 packet Hidden Valley® Original Ranch® dip mix
  • 6 ounces Cream Cheese
  • 1 cup Swiss Cheese; shredded – preferably Gruyere – divided (I must admit, I double!)
  • 10 ounces Frozen Spinach; thawed and squeezed to remove excess liquid
  • Salt
  • Optional:  2 oz can of chopped jalapeno peppers
Preheat oven to 350°F.
  • Over medium heat, melt Butter with Olive Oil in a sauce pot. Add Onions, season with Salt and sauté for 3-4 minutes or until soft and pale golden. Sprinkle in the Flour and stir until a dry paste forms.
  • Slowly whisk in Milk, trying to avoid lumps. Stir in the Hidden Valley® Original Ranch® dip mix and reduce heat to low. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes or until thickened slightly.
  • Stir in the Cream Cheese and half of the Swiss Cheese until melted. Add the Spinach and remove from heat.
  • Divide mixture between two small oven safe baking dishes. (This can be prepared a few days in advance and stored in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer)  Notice, that in the picture Carla did hers in miniature ramekins but I chose two separate dishes (One with the original recipe and one with my added change of jalapeno peppers and hot sauce)
  • Place the baking dishes on a rimmed sheet pan and top with the remaining Swiss Cheese. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown and bubbly on top.DSCN0115

Bottom Line:  Bland (Sorry, Carla)!  Even the one that I added the jalapenos to fell flat.  There are so many better recipes out there for if you are going to have this type of decadent dish!  This one needs a lot of help and it isn’t worth making in your kitchen. 

That being said, another recipe I tried from the same show turned out perfectly and I will be sharing it soon…Stay tuned!


The Super Bowl didn’t turn out like I had wished for this Peyton Manning fan but this recipe ALWAYS WILL!  It originated from the Food Network Channel’s Money Saving Meals by Sandra Lee and it is always turns out perfectly. 

Her version has pickled onions but I generally prefer to serve mine with a crunchy vinegar slaw on top and a couple of kosher pickle slices.  It is a great option for tailgates, family get-togethers, or to take to your former Farragut Middle School colleagues for lunch (they loved it!)  I always make enough to have leftovers to freeze or use with other recipes like my famous Brunswick Stew!

One major change I have made in this recipe is in the choice of the marmalade.  I tried it that way and it was a little too sweet for my taste so now I use a Red Pepper Jelly and it truly makes the dish!makes the dish!

Pulled Pork (Makes approximately 24 Sliders and save half for another dish!)

  • 1 (10-pound) bone-in pork shoulder, picnic cut    
  • 1 medium onion, chopped   
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce    
  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic    
  • 2 teaspoons salt    
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper    
  • 1 cup red pepper jelly
  • Slider Rolls
Place the onions in the bottom of a 5-quart slow cooker. Place the  pork shoulder, fat and skin side up. in the slow cooker. In a medium  bowl stir together soy sauce, garlic, salt pepper and orange marmalade. 
Pour mixture over the pork. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours.
Pull the pork out of the crockpot and break apart.  Pour the leftover broth in the crockpot in a freezer safe bowl (This is a great addition to a soup stock later).  Put the meat back in the crockpot along with a little of the broth to moisten.
Serve on Slider Buns with the following recipe of Mustard BBQ Sauce and your choice of toppings!

  Mustard BBQ Sauce

  • 1/4 cup yellow mustard
  • 2 tbsp. minced garlic
  • 1/4 cup cider vinegar (store brand)
  • 1 cup barbecue sauce
  • 1/4 cup water (this is my addition because I don’t like it too thick)

In a small saucepan over medium heat, whisk all the ingredients together. Cook for 5 minutes and remove from heat.

Super Bowl Hot Wings with an Asian Twist! Happy Chinese New Year!

One of my favorite things to make on Game Day is Hot Wings (actually Hot Drummettes for me) but I am always looking for ways to change things up so I came across a  couple of ideas that looked uniquely delicious for this upcoming Super  Bowl Weekend!  (Go Broncos!)  Also, this would be a great appetizer to celebrate today’s Chinese New Year! 

My first inspiration came from a new show on the Food Network on Saturday  mornings (in a previous blog, I explained my obsession with this network and especially on weekend mornings) called The Kitchen.  One of the hosts did an Asian version of the wings but what caught my eye  was that she used French Fried Onions as the crunch.  I knew I had to  try it! 

One confession I must make is that I actually do not like the “wing” part  of the chicken so I used drummettes because they are much meatier and  tender for my tastes.  Other than that, I didn’t change a thing!

                                                         Sticky Onion Crunch Wings

For the wings/drummettes: 

3 pounds chicken wings or drummettes, whole or separated    

Kosher salt freshly ground black pepper    

Peanut or vegetable oil, for frying    

1/2 cup French-fried onions (I like French’s), crushed 

    For the sauce: 

1 cup hoisin sauce    

1/2 cup pomegranate juice    

1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar    

2 garlic cloves, grated or minced    

1 tablespoon prepared horseradish    

4 scallions (white and green parts), finely chopped    

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper


Put the wings on a baking sheet and season both sides with salt and pepper. Let stand at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours. To make the sauce, in a small saucepan, mix together the hoisin,  pomegranate juice, brown sugar, garlic, horseradish, scallions, and a  few grinds of black pepper. Cook, stirring, over medium-high heat. When  the sauce starts to boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until  thickened, about 20 minutes.  

Taste and season with salt. In a deep heavy pot, Dutch oven, or deep fryer, fill with oil to a  depth of about 6 inches, and heat to 360 degrees F. Working in batches,  fry the wings; the oil temperature will settle at about 350 degrees try  to maintain that temperature by adjusting the heat while you fry. (We used our deep fryer outside) 

Fry  the wings until golden brown, 12 to 14 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Put some of the sauce in a large mixing bowl and toss the wings in  batches, adding more sauce as needed, until completely coated. Put the  onions into another large bowl, add the sauced wings in batches and toss to thoroughly coat. Serve warm.

Bottom Line:  I loved these and will be serving them along with my traditional style recipe!

Baked Pickles…A Healthy Super Bowl Option

I like to have a few “healthy” options for my guests but in a way that won’t make them feel like they are missing the good  stuff.  The January 2014 issue of Cooking Light Magazine fit the bill with their Baked Pickle Chips using Panko Crumbs!  8 pickle chips only have 59 calories and .4 grams of fat…hard to beat! 

I am a “dipper” so I have included an “added bonus” to this recipe and am sharing a light ranch dipping sauce recipe I use often…adds to your  calories but hey, it’s the Super Bowl! To save time, you could easily  use a light version of a Buttermilk Ranch Dressing just as well!

                                                             Baked Pickle Chips      


1/2 cup  panko                                 

2 tablespoons   all-purpose flour                                 

2 egg whites, lightly beaten 

32  low-sodium kosher dill pickle chips


Preheat oven to 450°. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Add  panko; cook 2 minutes or until golden, shaking pan frequently. Place  panko in a shallow dish. Place flour in another shallow dish; place egg  whites in another shallow dish. 

Pat dill pickle chips dry with paper  towels. Dredge pickles in flour; dip in egg whites, and dredge in panko. Arrange pickles in a single layer on a baking sheet. 

Bake at 450° for 8 minutes on each side or until crisp. 

(I ended up only baking 4 minutes on the second side because they seem to be browning too fast and I always use an oven thermometer)

 Bottom Line:  Very good considering the fat/calories. For my taste, I would definitely add some cayenne to the flour but I do love my spice!  

Buttermilk Ranch Dip

1/4 cup fat free sour cream 

1/4 cup fat free Greek yogurt 

1 tbsp light mayo 

1/4 tsp garlic powder 

1/4 tsp onion powder 

1/4 tsp kosher salt

1/2 tbsp chopped fresh chives 

freshly ground pepper to taste  

1 tsp white balsamic vinegar  

1/3 cup 1% low fat buttermilk

Combine all ingredients and refrigerate for at least an hour before serving (I usually make this a day ahead and sometimes even add Hot Sauce, of course!)

Pork ‘n Beans by Clean Eating…A Crock Pot Not Your Mama’s Soup Beans!

On this very snowy day in Knoxville, Tennessee, I wanted to share a recipe that I made over the weekend.  Clean Eating magazine was my inspiration since I wanted a crock pot recipe low in calories and fat but hearty in this frigid weather. 

Let me begin by saying when you look at the ingredients in this recipe, you will not see very many spices or seasonings and I knew I would have to change this for my tastes.  My result added more to the sodium content but kept the fat and the calories right on target.  This recipe only has 319 calories for a very filling serving (including the cheese) and only 5 grams of fat!

                                                                       Pork n’ Beans w/ Cojita Cheese 

                                                     (courtesy of Clean Eating Magazine’s Winter’s Best 2013 issue)  

   Cooking Time:  6 – 8 hours (plus soaking time)

  Serves: 8


  *1 lb dry pinto beans

*1 lb pork tenderloin, trimmed of visible fat and cut into 1/2-inch chucks

*1 tsp sea salt (I used kosher and A LOT more – use your taste buds as a guide)

*1 Tbsp Onion Powder (my addition)

* 1/2 tsp. fresh ground black pepper

*1 Tbsp Red Pepper Flakes (my addition)

*1 Tbsp Hot Sauce (my addition)

* 1 tbsp safflower oil (you could use olive oil without too many added calories)

*1 green bell pepper, finely chopped

*1 white onion, finely chopped

*3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

*2 jalapeno peppers, finely chopped

*1 Tbsp unsalted tomato paste (I used salted)

*2 cups of unsalted diced tomatoes 

*1/4 cup crumbled cotija or feta cheese (the cotija was actually easy to find at Kroger!)

*1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves

*Several lime wedges


Place beans in a large bowl and cover with water by about 3 inches.  Cover and soak overnight. (You could also use the quick soak method on the package of beans). Drain and rinse soaked beans and transfer to a 5- to 6-qt slow cooker.  Add enough hot water to cover by 1 inch. Cook for 2 hours on high.  Add pork and cook for 3 hours on high, checking once or twice to ensure pork-bean mixture is just submerged in liquid; add more water as needed so beans remain submerged.  Stir in salt and pepper and cook until beans are tender, about 1 – 1 1/2 hours on high.  

(Now here is where I take a little change to the recipe.  It originally states to do this next step 30 minutes prior to beans being tender but I did this next step as soon as I put the pork in so the flavors could meld.) Heat oil in a large skillet on medium-high.  Add bell pepper and onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender (approx 12-15 min).  Add garlic, jalapenos, salt, pepper, onion powder, red pepper flakes, and tomato paste and cook for an additional minute.  Add tomatoes (I used my frozen tomatoes from last summer’s garden) and simmer until liquid reduces by about three-quarters.  


With a large ladle, scoop and discard most of the cooking liquid in slow cooker, so beans are moist and not too soupy.  Add tomato mixture to bean mixture and stir to combine.  Keep on low until serving. (I left it in for a coupe of hours so flavors could really develop).

Ladle beans into serving bowls and top with cheese and cilantro.  Serve with lime wedges.

Bottom Line: With the small changes I made, this recipe was AMAZING!!  I could not believe this beautiful bowl was only 319 calories so I didn’t feel so guilty about adding some corn muffins.  I initially thought the pork would be tough and taste “boiled” but it was soooo tender and melted in your mouth.  My husband LOVED this and this will be a frequent winter recipe in our house!

🙂🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 

On a typical Saturday morning, no matter what I am doing, one thing is for certain:  The TV will be on in every room and it will be on one channel….The Food Network Channel.  I find that I can get recipe ideas while I am doing simple household chores and look out for those that catch my eye.  Such is the case last Saturday when Trisha’s Southern Kitchen was airing and her Baked Spaghetti captured my attention!

 Now normally, this is not something that I would be drawn to since Jeff and I process our own homemade spaghetti sauce in the summer.  The Pitt Italian Sauce is hard to beat as a spaghetti option but still something about this recipe seemed tantalizing.  After reading the recipe, it seemed pretty solid but I knew I would have to kick up the flavor just a bit based on our tastes.  The results are in………..

 Adapted from “Home Cooking with Trisha Yearwood” by Trisha Yearwood (c) Clarkson Potter 2010

Ingredients (*- my personal additions)

Cooking spray, for greasing pan
6 slices bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 clove garlic, minced
1 medium onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped (I used a mix of red, green, and yellow)
Three 14 1/2-ounce cans diced tomatoes with liquid
One 2 1/4-ounce can sliced black olives, drained
1 to 2 tablespoons dried oregano
*Salt (to taste)
*Pepper (to taste)
*I tbsp Onion Powder
*1tbsp Red Pepper Flakes
1 pound ground beef, browned and drained
12 ounces thin spaghetti, cooked and drained
2 cups grated cheddar (5 ounces)
One 10-ounce can cream of mushroom soup
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

Directions  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9-by-13-by-2-inch baking dish with cooking spray.  In a large skillet, cook the bacon until slightly crisp. With a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain.

Sauté the garlic, onion and bell pepper in the bacon drippings until tender. (At this point, I took the liberty of adding salt, pepper, onion powder, and for some hare, a little red pepper flakes. So glad I did! Note: Don’t add red pepper flakes if you will be serving this to children or anyone that may have a sensitive stomach).  Add the tomatoes, olives, oregano, bacon and the cooked ground beef and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes

Place half of the spaghetti in the prepared baking dish; top with half of the vegetable-beef mixture; and sprinkle with 1 cup of the cheddar.   

Repeat the layers. In a bowl, stir together the cream of mushroom soup and 1/4 cup water until smooth, and pour this over the casserole. 


  Sprinkle with the Parmesan and bake, uncovered, for 30 to 35 minutes, or until heated through.


Bottom Line: This was delicious and other than the addition of a couple of my own ingredients, I wouldn’t change a thing! Thank you, Trisha! Kid-Friendly and Hubby-Approved!!

This past weekend I shared a picture of one of our favorite meals:  Braised Beef Short Ribs.  This recipe originates from The Food Network courtesy of Chef Anne Burrell.  I have made this several times and It always turns out perfectly.  Chef Burrell serves it over mashed potatoes but I prefer a quick cooking polenta with Southern Greens on the side as shown.  Tomorrow I will share with you how I used the leftovers!


6 bone-in short ribs (about 5 3/4 pounds)
Kosher salt
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 large Spanish onion, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 ribs celery, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 carrots, peeled, cut in 1/2 lengthwise, then cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1 1/2 cups tomato paste (I prefer only 3/4 cup)
2 to 3 cups hearty red wine (I prefer half beef broth and half red wine)
2 cups water
1 bunch fresh thyme, tied with kitchen string
2 bay leaves

Season each short rib generously with salt. Coat a pot large enough to accommodate all the meat and vegetables with olive oil and bring to a high heat. Add the short ribs to the pan and brown very well, about 2 to 3 minutes per side. Do not overcrowd pan. Cook in batches, if necessary.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
While the short ribs are browning, puree all the vegetables and garlic in the food processor until it forms a coarse paste. When the short ribs are very brown on all sides, remove them from the pan. Drain the fat, coat the bottom of same pan with fresh oil and add the pureed vegetables. Season the vegetables generously with salt and brown until they are very dark and a crud has formed on the bottom of the pan, approximately 5 to 7 minutes. Scrape the crud and let it reform. Scrape the crud again and add the tomato paste. Brown the tomato paste for 4 to 5 minutes. Add the wine and scrape the bottom of the pan. Lower the heat if things start to burn. Reduce the mixture by half.
Return the short ribs to the pan and add 2 cups water or until the water has just about covered the meat. Add the thyme bundle and bay leaves. Cover the pan and place in the preheated oven for 3 hours. Check periodically during the cooking process and add more water, if needed. Turn the ribs over halfway through the cooking time. Remove the lid during the last 20 minutes of cooking to let things get nice and brown and to let the sauce reduce. When done the meat should be very tender but not falling apart. Serve with the braising liquid.

*Note:  I changed temperature to 325 degrees and achieved a more tender meat               

One of my favorite go-to magazines when I need a recipe that is usually  delicious but also accurate in the directions is Fine Cooking Magazine.  I knew immediately when I saw the cover of the Feb/March edition that I had my first recipe to test for my new blog, Recipe Realities. 

                                                Beef and Three-Bean Chili


  • 4-1/2 Tbs. vegetable oil      
  • 2 lb. beef sirloin tips or lean chuck steak, trimmed of excess fat, and cut into 3/4-inch dice      
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper      
  • 2 cups chopped yellow onion      
  • 2 to 4 medium cloves garlic, chopped      
  • 1 fresh poblano chile, chopped      
  • 1 cup chopped fresh yellow bell pepper      
  • 2 Tbs. chili powder      
  • 1 Tbs. ground cumin      
  • 1 Tbs. tomato paste      
  • 2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme      
  • 1 tsp. ground coriander      
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne      
  • 3/4 cup hard cider      
  • 2-1/2 to 3 cups beef broth (homemade or lower-salt store-bought)      
  • 2-1/3 cups cooked pink beans (home-cooked or canned from one 19 oz. can, rinsed and drained)      
  • 2-1/3 cups cooked black beans (home-cooked or canned from one 19 oz. can, rinsed and drained)      
  • 2-1/3 cups cooked dark red kidney beans (home-cooked or canned from one 19 oz. can, rinsed and drained)      
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh or thawed frozen corn kernels      
  • 1 Tbs. cider vinegar      
  •          Garnishes: diced red onion, grated Cheddar, diced tomato, chopped fresh jalapeños, lime wedges, green onions

Heat 2 Tbs. of the oil in a heavy-duty 6-quart pot over  medium-high heat until shimmering hot. Pat the beef dry, and season with 1-1/2 tsp. salt and 3/4 tsp. pepper. Cook half of the beef,  undisturbed, until browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Flip and cook, turning  occasionally, until well browned, 2 to 3 minutes. 

Transfer to a large  plate. Add another 1 Tbs. oil to the pot, and brown the remaining beef;  transfer to the plate along with any liquid from the pot.

Add the remaining 1-1/2 Tbs. of oil, the onion, and garlic to  the pot. Sprinkle with 1/2 tsp. salt and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened and lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in the poblano, bell pepper, chili powder, cumin, tomato paste, thyme,  coriander, and cayenne, and cook, stirring, until fragrant, 1 to 2  minutes. 

Pour in the cider, turn the heat up to high, and cook, scraping the bottom of the pot to loosen any browned bits, until most of the  liquid is evaporated, about 2 minutes.  Add the broth and bring to a simmer.

Turn the heat down to medium low. Purée 1-1/2 cups of the beans in a blender or food processor, adding a little stewing liquid as  needed, and then stir the puréed beans into the stewing liquid in the  pot. Return the beef, along with any accumulated juice, to the pot. Add  the remaining whole beans. 

Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally,  until the meat is tender, about 1 hour. If the chili gets too thick,  thin it with a little water.

Add the corn to the chili and cook until tender, about 10 minutes.

Stir in the vinegar, and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with the garnishes.

The final product….

My Take:  The base of this chili is amazing and you can do so many things with it but for me using sirloin instead of a ground protein or a shredded chicken or beef,  make it seem more like a stew than a chili.

Bottom Line:  Substitute the sirloin and you have a winning recipe!  

Why the Recipe Realities Blog?

Day after day we all see recipes in a cooking magazine or on a foodie television show that we think, “I would love to make that!” But is that recipe really one designed for the home cook?  I understand the concept of food photography, but will my finished product resemble their picture?  These are questions that we will uncover together by testing those recipes, giving feedback, and helping the home cook to make good choices so we all can become even better in the kitchen!

I am new to blogging so I hope you will join me in this journey of Recipe Realities!  Stay tuned for this weekend’s first recipe reality test…Fine Cooking Magazine’s Feb/March Cover Recipe:  Beef and Three Bean Chili


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