POT ROAST...Autumn On A Plate

I don't know about you, but for me one of the best things about Autumn is the return to menus that include oven roasted meats and one-pot dinners.

We're enjoying another visit in Indiana, and our Indy grand daughters LOVED this pot roast dinner I made the other night.

And if you've never had carrots fixed this way, you're in for a treat!  (Our grand kids love them!)

To prepare the chuck roast, I dried the meat with paper towels, then rubbed the roast with some extra virgin olive oil and a generous sprinkle of salt and pepper.  Then I browned the meat on ALL sides in some extra virgin olive oil in a thick roasting pan.

I quartered an onion and smashed three cloves of garlic and threw all of it into the pan with the meat. Then I poured one can of Dawn Fresh by Georgio Mushroom Steak Sauce (if you can find it in your grocery store) over the meat. (I love the stuff.  It's a huge head-start in making flavorful gravy!)

Then I plopped on the roaster lid and roasted the meat, covered, for about 2 1/2 hours at 300 degrees.

About one hour before dinner, I increased the oven temp to 350 degrees.  Then I added peeled and quartered carrots and lots of quartered mushrooms.  I put the lid back on and returned the pan to the oven for another hour.  (The only mistake I made?? Not adding MORE CARROTS! The girls LOVED them since the carrots become sweet and almost caramelized when cooked this way. )

When ready to serve, I removed the meat and vegetables from the pot, and I thickened the pan drippings with a "slurry" made by stirring several tablespoons of flour into a small amount of water until smooth, then streaming the mixture into the pot with the meat juices that had developed in the pan.  I stirred constantly until the mixture came to a boil and thickened.  

COOKING TIP:  You will never know how thick your pan sauce will be until it comes to a BOIL. That's when you know if you need to add more liquid to thin the sauce, or more flour and water mixture to thicken it more.

As you can see, I served the roast with garlic mashed potatoes and some steamed broccoli.

Ahhhh...Autumn (and a rainbow)  on a plate...And three happy little girls at the table.

Autumn in the Heartland...

From Iowa City...

To Indiana...

As the old poem goes...


I hope you are enjoying the season...

Purse Snatchers...BEWARE!

All my days spent as a cruise specialist and travel agent have helped to make me very aware of my surroundings when I travel...even if my travel only consists of a trip to the grocery store.

Here is my TRAVEL TIP to help keep your purse safe...

Simply fasten the baby strap through the handles of your purse.

And make a copy of all of the credit cards and the other cards you carry in your purse.  (Insurance cards, etc.)  Simply go to a copy machine and place all of your cards face down on the machine and make a copy.  Keep this copy in a safe place at home.  That way if your wallet IS ever stolen you'll know exactly what cards were in the wallet and you'll know what information has been compromised!

Better safe than sorry...

Cooking Tip? Cooking Stations

Many of you have asked me how I can prepare four or five dishes and then SERVE them during the time allotted in a culinary class, so here is my secret...

Arrange ALL the ingredients you will be using in a recipe in various stations around the room...

Mac and Cheese Station

Chocolate Waffle Cookies Station

Green Beans Station...

Chicken Nugget Dipping Sauce Station
This makes it so much easier to work neatly and efficiently.  So try it in your own kitchen.  I think your dinner will appear on YOUR table much faster...and with less stress.
Bon Apetit!

My Final Class of 2014...COOKING WITH KIDS!

Recently I taught my last Kirkwood Community College culinary class...Cooking with Kids (Ages 4 to 8) I wanted to share the talents of my little chefs with all of you!

Meet my newest class of Chefs... Birthday Girl Violet, and her friend Adeline...And Caroline, my little "Grad Student" in her THIRD cooking lesson in my kitchen!

My tiny chefs not only learned how to prepare our meal, but they also learned the proper way to set the table.  (And their manners during mealtime were impeccable!)

They were GREAT listeners, and they did a SUPER job in making the table look festive!

A job well done!!

Then it was time to COOK!  Here they are, carefully removing the ends of the green beans...with cheese spreaders!  (A great SAFE tool for little hands...)

The chefs helped me create a RAINBOW SALAD made with apples, carrots, raisins, celery and vanilla yogurt...YUM!!!

And my little chefs did an AWESOME job in crushing the corn flakes for our homemade chicken nuggets!

Our Rainbow Meal continued with homemade Mac and Cheese, and those beautifully prepared fresh green beans...

And "What's for Dessert"?  Amazing chocolate cookies...made in a WAFFLE IRON!  
Those little chefs LOVED "making  it SNOW" with a sprinkle of powdered sugar over those warm chocolate cookies.  (And I made sure a little SNOW ended up on the chefs too!)  
Giggles are a welcome ingredient in MY kitchen!

Chefs Adeline, Caroline and Violet...waiting patiently for the next batch of cookies to come out of the waffle iron...We needed two more cookies for the Moms before we could build our desserts!

And they were pros at serving our desserts to their Moms!  
(Those warm waffle cookies topped with vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of caramel sauce.)

And what a surprise to discover this class included a birthday surprise for Violet!  So of course we sang HAPPY BIRTHDAY over our desserts...and then we watched while she opened her gift bag from her friend Adeline...

Let's just say all three of the ladies were THRILLED with the never-ending parade of items that spilled from that gift bag!!


And all too soon it was over, and the little chefs and their Moms headed dream about their new kitchen skills and the FUN they had in Miss Patty's Kitchen.

BRAVO Little Chefs!  You ALL got A's in MY class!

Chocolate WAFFLE IRON Cookies

FYI...your waffle iron is NOT just for breakfast anymore...
Here is a new way to make DESSERT!


1 stick butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup flour
5 tsp. cocoa powder

Mix well in order listed and refrigerate batter (if you have time) before baking.

Heat waffle iron and SPRAY GENEROUSLY with cooking spray (Both upper and lower grates.)
Place a heaping Tablespoon of batter in the middle of each section of the hot waffle iron and close the lid.  Cook until done...approx. 2 minutes.  

You may want to make one "test cookie" to see how long it takes to cook in your machine. My waffle iron has settings 1 through 6, and I use setting #5.  And you can change the size of the cookies, too. Just adjust the cooking time accordingly.

Remove from waffle iron and sprinkle with powdered sugar, or drizzle with icing, if you prefer.

You can also use these cookies as a cake-like base for other desserts.
Let your imagination run wild...and ENJOY!

Roasted Acorn Squash

Simple recipes are best...


Cut squash in half..CAREFULLY! And scoop out seeds with a large spoon.

Place cut side down in roasting pan and add about one inch of water.  Bake at 350 degrees about 30 minutes, or until tender.  

Flip squash over and add about a tablespoon of butter, a heaping tablespoon of brown sugar, a sprinkle of both salt and cinnamon.  Place back in oven for 10-15 minutes...

Remove from the oven and carefully mix all the goodness together...

Ahhh....Autumn in a shell...on a plate...

Candied Yams or Sweet Potatoes

Did you ever wonder what's the difference between yams and sweet potatoes?
Yams are more moist and they're more orange colored.  And "sweet" potatoes are actually less sweet than yams!  Go figure...

Here is a SIMPLE holiday side dish that's a snap to prepare...and my family requests it every Thanksgiving...

Simple ingredients...YUMMY results!
(I take the easy way out and use a BIG can of yams...about 29-32 oz. can.)

1 large can of yams, drained
(If you want to boil fresh sweet potatoes or yams and then slice them to make this dish...go ahead-knock yourself out!)

1 cup (packed) brown sugar
6 Tablespoons butter
6 Tablespoons half & half
1 tsp. salt

In a medium skillet, combine brown sugar, half & half,  and salt.  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is smooth and bubbly and begins to thicken.  Add the drained yams (or fresh-cooked ones) and stir GENTLY until yams are warmed through and coated with the sauce.  Be careful not to break up the soft yams.  (If using fresh-cooked ones, don't overcook them in the first place.)

As with most of my recipes, you can adjust the amounts.  If you like less sauce, add more yams, etc.  Or you can even mash the yams and mix with the sauce...Place in a buttered casserole dish and top with chopped pecans, cinnamon, marshmallows,  etc.  Or add walnuts...Just have fun and make MY recipe YOURS!

Sometimes I place the mixture in a small casserole dish and keep warm on low heat in the oven...or you can re-warm them in the microwave before serving.  It all depends whether I need more space on top of the stove or in the oven to finish dishes for a big holiday meal.

But no matter whether you call them yams or sweet potatoes...or how you prepare them or serve them...I'm guessing that serving dish will be EMPTY when dinner is over!

The Midtown Family Restaurant

OK...It's a TOUGH job...but SOMEBODY has to do it.

We're still searching for that Iowa City breakfast spot we want to make our new favorite.  So recently we stopped into the Midtown Family Restaurant on Highway One...

Check out their website...

The menu looked promising, and the food was OK.  (Again...just OK.)

The problem?  TOO MUCH GREASE! 
In fact, I asked for a second napkin so I could BLOT MY TOAST to remove excess butter!

Everything on my plate resembled an oil slick.

Maybe oatmeal at home is where we'll end up.

Stay tuned...

HELPFUL HINT...How To Get RID of Fruit Gnats

If you've ever been tempted to throw out your fresh fruit because the fruit is a magnate for fruit is a solution!!

Place about an inch of Apple Cider Vinegar in a container.  (Glass, coffee cup, bowl...whatever you want.)  Then cover the top of the container tightly with a piece of plastic wrap.  Poke tiny holes in the plastic and place in the area where the fruit gnats seem to congregate.  Leave the container there for AT LEAST FOUR DAYS.  Apparently that is enough time for the life cycle to be competed for all the gnats in your house...and they'll all be taking a final swim in the pool of vinegar. 

Give it a try...And refill your fruit bowl!

Tips For The Perfect Meringue Topping

I'm not much for sweet desserts...
But sometimes a Lemon Meringue Pie is JUST right!

Making meringue is a tricky cooking technique, and it may not turn out perfectly the first few times...but keep trying.  And don't be discouraged.

I've researched these MANY tips and suggestions for making Meringue Topping for Lemon Pie...

There is a raging debate on whether to use fresh eggs, older eggs, cold eggs, room temp eggs, etc.  I say do whatever works for you.  (I'm still's a  crap shoot every time for me!)

Make sure there is NO YOLK in the egg whites.  NONE.  Or the egg whites will not whip correctly.

Do NOT make this pie on a humid day...unless you don't mind the meringue "weeping" little sugar syrup droplets on top.  (It won't change the flavor of the pie...just the appearance.)

Use fine sugar for the meringue if you have it, and add the sugar VERY slowly as you beat the egg whites.  (Try 2 Tablespoons sugar per egg white used.) This will also help to prevent "weeping".

Do NOT stick your finger in the egg whites to taste how sweet you've made it.  Even the small amount of oil on your fingertip can deflate the meringue!  And make sure ALL of your utensils and bowl are squeaky clean and dry...and free from ALL cooking oils and water!  

Don't use a plastic bowl to make meringue.  Plastic can hold traces of oil or grease.  Use a glass or metal bowl...but copper bowls are not suggested since they can make the egg whites an "off" color.

Add a small amount of Cream of Tartar to the egg whites (1/8 tsp for each egg white) to help them form stiff peaks.

Bake the meringue at 350 degrees to brown it.  If you cook it faster, the top will brown but the egg whites underneath may still be raw.  I've read that ten minutes at 350 degrees is enough to cook the egg whites thoroughly. 

When making a pie, seal the meringue completely to the crust!  This will keep the topping from shrinking away from the edge of the pie.  

Top the pie with meringue while the pie filling is STILL HOT.  That will start the egg whites to cook even before you stick the pie in the oven.

I hope at least some of these tips are helpful to you...

And can always eat your mistakes and start over!

Cooking Class...EASY DISHES and Tips for Holiday Meals

I love cooking.  
And I love people.  
And I love helping people learn to love cooking!  
It brings joy to my heart to gather a group of like-minded strangers together for an evening of cooking, learning, tasting and sharing...and to watch them become "foodie friends" before the class is over!

That's exactly what happened at my final ADULT cooking class through Kirkwood Community College this Autumn.  (I still have one Cooking With Kids class scheduled on October 14.)

Here are the dishes I prepared...with help from my willing and able students...

Parmesan Herb Crusted Bacon Crackers
Peel and Eat Shrimp
Potato Gratin
Rice Pilaf
Candied Sweet Potatoes
Wine Poached Pears (with a Wine Glaze, and a Sour Cream, Honey and Cinnamon sauce)

All of these recipes can be found on the web version of my blog...
Or simply go to Google and type The Epicurean Explorer and the NAME of the recipe (example... The Epicurean Explorer Potato Gratin) to find it on my blog. 

And...By the way...
STRAIGHT A's across the board for my students...You were AWESOME!!!

Bring on the BACON!
Parmesan Herb Crusted Bacon Crackers

Peel and Eat Shrimp...With Homemade Cocktail Sauce

Potatoes for Gratin...BEFORE

The Baked Gratin...AFTER
Rice Pilaf Ingredients...

Candied Sweet Potato Ingredients...

Peel Those Pears...
Time for Dessert!   
Now...Head to your Kitchen, Cook up a Storm...and 
with your Family and Friends!