Poor Man’s Gumbo

Poor Man’s Gumbo is one of the reasons I keep halved, seeded jalapenos in my freezer in a freezer bag. Since I also have those baggies of bacon, four slices apiece, in my freezer, this becomes a pantry dish that we can make anytime we aren’t sure what to make for dinner. The bacon is sprinkled on top, so the amount can easily be cut down, as well. Either way, the only real change I make to this recipe is I add salt, a couple of times. Once with the sauteed celery and onion, again once everything is in the pan, and possibly a third time at the end to adjust for seasoning. A bit of pepper doesn’t hurt it, either. Leftovers make a great lunch for the next day.

Wilted Kale with Bacon and Vinegar

Wilted Kale with Bacon and Vinegar is one of the reasons we started buying bacon several pounds at a time and freezing some 4-slice portions in individual baggies. You can really use any kind of kale – we grow several kinds in our winter garden. My kids will still only eat a bite of this when forced, but I love it.

Crazy Cake

Crazy Cake is a recipe I originally got from my grandma when I was a teenager. Many years later, it’s still the best chocolate cake recipe in my book. It’s fairly difficult to screw up as well, which makes it a good starter recipe. Guests to our birthday parties always remark at how moist and flavorful it is. We reduce the sugar to 1 3/4 C and the unsweetened cocoa powder to 1/3 C. It makes 1 9 x 13 inch, 2 8-inch cakes or about 20 cupcakes. If you wish to turn the cake out of the pan, I strongly recommend lots of baking spray and lining the bottom with parchment paper. Grandma said you could just sprinkle it with powdered sugar, but since I’m a frosting girl, I always frost it. For a tangy counterpoint, serve with fresh raspberries.

Foolproof Oven Baked Brown Rice

Foolproof Oven Baked Brown Rice is the only way I ever cook brown rice. We do own a rice steamer, which I am utterly devoted to for jasmine or California calrose rice, but this oven recipe gives brown rice an extra something that it doesn’t get in a rice steamer. I even made this for a party once, and it was a big hit. Sometimes I freeze individual portions in baggies for those times when I don’t have a whole hour to devote to cooking my rice; it freezes well.

Easy Homemade Ciabatta Bread

Easy Homemade Ciabatta Bread is hands-down my favorite bread recipe. As this is a yeast bread, you still need a couple of hours’ rising time, but as most yeast bread recipes require either multiple risings or an overnight rot, this is still the simplest bread recipe I know. It makes a great side for any soup, and we learned almost accidentally once that the leftover bread makes fantastic French toast. As we live in the wet northwest, I reduce the water quite a bit — down to just 1 1/4 cups of warm water.

Roasted Garlic Chicken

Roasted Garlic Chicken is the only reason I keep oregano growing in my backyard.  I recommend using dark-meat, skin-on, bone-in chicken for this. If you have the time, dry off the skin with paper towels, and let the chicken hang out uncovered on a platter in the fridge for two or three days before you prepare it. Doing this will allow the skin to dry out, resulting in extra crispy skin.  Serve with fresh corn on the cob, mashed potatoes, or bread so you have something to drizzle your garlicky chicken juices onto.