Southern Cookin' Makes You Good Lookin'

Random Rantings about Food and Such

DIY Velveeta, Caramel, Peppermint Syrup…and Acorns!

A short time ago, i said that i was trying to go through a gazillion bookmarked recipes and i still am.  A few lately have been one-hit wonders and not worth blogging about but today i’m giving you a boatload of possiblities, just in time for the holidays.

Homemade Velveeta

First out of the chute, Homemade Velveeta.  Now, while it may not be cost effective (especially if you buy store brand Velveeta or have a coupon), you will at least know that your version has fewer chemicals/preservatives.  It looks and feels a little grainer than its counterpart but melts just fine.  I’m actually looking forward to tweaking it and making a Mexican version, Italian version and mixing it up with unusual cheeses like Swiss.  Oh, and just a note.  Don’t know what i was thinking but i totally goofed on the dry milk and used good ol’ regular 2% milk…and it worked!

Homemade Caramel

Next up, Homemade Caramel.  Now, this will knock your socks off!  I didn’t tell my family what i was doing until after it was done and tried to make them guess what it was by tasting it.  They all had that slightly nervous, skeptical look until they put their chops around the spoon and said, “Caramel?”  Well, it is now but it started life as…sweetened condensed milk!  Yes!  I’m not kidding!  Check out the recipe to learn how to magically change SCM to caramel. ;0)

Next up in our bag of tricks is Homemade Peppermint Syrup.  We stopped by Daily Grind Friday night while Ashley was working to bring her some chow and to get something to drink, of course.  Since i’m not a coffee person (do you hate me now?), i always ask her suggestions on what to get.  She recommended a Peppermint Patty steamer.  Since i’ve got this thing for chocolate and peppermint, it was a great idea. Now she can make them for me at home (hint, hint!) since i made a jar of Homemade Peppermint Syrup.  It would be great for coffee, ice cream, chocolate-chip pancakes, etc.

Last, but not least…Homemade Acorns.  Mama sent this to me and i’ve been saving it to do for Thanksgiving.  They are soooo easy to make and are just as cute as a button!  Or rather an acorn.

Hope you find something in here that will make your cooking and your holidays just a little bit richer!  If i don’t see you before Thanksgiving, just know that i am grateful for your time.  You must be a special person to have read through my rantings.  Happy Thanksgiving and God Bless!

Homemade Velveeta

1 1/2 pounds (6 cups) of grated Cheddar cheese, divided into 2 cups worth

1 1/2 cups almost boiling water, divided into 1/2 cups

1/2 cups plus 1 Tbs. dry (powdered) milk, divided into 3 parts (see note above)

1/2 envelope (1 1/2 tsp.) unflavored gelatin, divided into 1/2 tsp increments

Line a loaf pan with plastic wrap.

Pour 1/2 cup water, 3 Tbs. milk and 1/2 tsp. gelatin in blender.  Blend until mixed.

Add 2 cups of Cheddar and blend well.  Pour into loaf pan.

Repeat process twice more.  Cover and refrigerate cheese overnight.

Yield: 2 lb. loaf

Homemade Caramel

1 can of sweetened condensed milk (not with a pop-top lid)

1 crock pot


Peel the label off of the can of S.C. milk.  Place a plate or a piece of aluminum foil in the bottom of the crock pot, since can will rust a bit.

Place can on top and fill pot until water is around an inch above the top of the can.

Turn crock pot on low and leave for 8 hours/overnight.

Allow contents to cool.  Enjoy your caramel!

Homemade Peppermint Syrup

1 cup water

1 cup sugar

3 peppermint candy canes, broken in large pieces

Put water, sugar and candy canes in a medium saucepot.  Simmer over medium heat, stirring constantly, until candy canes are completely dissolved.  Add a little red food coloring, if you want a deeper color.

Refrigerate overnight.

Homemade Acorns

1 box miniature Nutter Butter cookies

1 bag Hershey’s Kisses, unwrapped

1 bag miniature Semi-Sweet chocolate chips

Pour a couple tablespoons full of chocolate chips in a bowl and microwave until melted.

Using melted chocolate as your glue, attach the flat bottom of the Hershey’s Kiss to one side of the Nutter Butter.  Again using the melted chocolate, attach a mini chip to other side of Nutter Butter as the stem.

Makes as many as you’d like…or until you run out of ingredients.

Special Birthday Shout-Out to my Favorite Father-in-Law, Lornie Franz!!!  Hope you had a WONDERFUL day!

Pickin' and Grinnin' with Devin and Cody

Birthday Boy!


Biscuit Breakfast Bowls

Has it sunk in yet that, this time next week, we’ll be cooking Thanksgiving dishes in preparation for the next day?!?  Yowza!  Where has the time gone?  Well, this ol’ cook is making a list and needs to check it twice but the kitchen is getting ready to be naughty and nice for the next month.

Yesterday our little chef Ashley made the most fantabulous breakfast (which i am trying to get her to blog!), so i guess you can say she inspired me this morning.  After seeing some food blogs with cookie bowls, my twisted mind went to breakfast via the biscuit route (because i was thinking that would be a cool way to do strawberry shortcake–which i LOVE with biscuits.)  So this morning, using the idea of shaping a bowl using the bottom end of a muffin tin, biscuit bowls were created.

Biscuit dough around bottom of muffin tin cups

Biscuit Bowls

You’ll see how we had ours but the possibilities are enormous!  Can’t you imagine treating your family to a biscuit bowl buffet on Black Friday or Christmas morning?  How cool would that be?!  You could have a variety of breakfast meats, scrambled eggs, assorted veggies like peppers/onions/tomatoes, a choice of cheeses, grits, gravy,….and so on and so on!  And throw in some syrup and jam for those who want to add a little sweetness to the  mix.

Now i need to get my carcass up and work off my biscuit bowl.  ;0)

Buttermilk Biscuit Dough (the same dough i normally use for biscuits)

Self-rising flour, oil and buttermilk

2 cups self-rising flour

3/4 cup buttermilk

1/4 cup oil

Mix ingredients together until dough is formed.

Using a standard sized muffin tin (although mini-muffin-sized would be cool to try!), grease the bottom of the muffin pan.  Shape a handful of dough around the muffin cup.  Try to make the top, in this case, flat so that it will sit well later.

Bake in a 400 degree oven until done, around 7–8 minutes.

Eggs and ham

Cheese Grits

Fill with ingredients.  We had scrambled eggs with ham and grits with Swiss cheese.  Wish we’d had gravy! ha


Biscuit Breakfast Bowl

Leave a comment »

Oreo Cheesecake Cupcakes

Today is the birthday of two very special guys.  I can tell you some stories about one of them because he just happens to be my “baby” brother, Russ…but i’ll be nice because it’s his birthday.  Come back tomorrow and i’ll tell you those stories. ;0)

In honor of these awesome fellas, today’s special feature is Oreo Cheesecake Cupcakes.  Made these last week for a get-together for Stef’s work crew.  Of course, i tweaked it a little because a most joyous thing has occurred: Trader Joe brought out the Candy Cane Joe-Joe’s early!  WHEE-HA! It’s a good thing that these Joe-Joe’s and Chick-fil-A’s Peppermint Milkshake only come out at limited times or i’d weigh considerably more!  Anywho, i used the Candy Cane Joe-Joe’s in place of the Oreo’s and added some crushed peppermint candy on top.  Yeah, baby!  We’ll be making these bad boys again.

So here’s a cyber cupcake for you, little bro.  Hope you have a WONDERFUL birthday!  I may not say it often, but i’m thankful that God ended my reign of terror as an only child.  You are an awesome brother and an even better man.  Love you!

Oreo Cheesecake Cupcakes

22 Oreo’s (16 whole, 6 crushed)

2–8 oz pkgs cream cheese, at room temp

1/2 cup sugar (or Splenda)

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

2 large eggs (at room temp), slightly beaten

1/2 cup sour cream

pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 275 degrees.

Line 16 muffin tin cups with cupcake liners.  Place an Oreo on the bottom of each cup.

Beat cream cheese until smooth.  Gradually add sugar and vanilla.

Add eggs, a little at the time.  Scrape down sides of bowl while mixing.

Add sour cream and salt.

Turn off mixer and add cookie pieces, stirring by hand.

Pour batter into muffin cups, almost to the top.

Bake until filling is set, around 22–25 minutes.  Cool in pan for 15 minutes on a wire rack.  Refrigerate at least 4 hours.

The Grill Master

Birthday Boy Russ

Leave a comment »

Creamy Crock Pot Chicken and Crock Pot Salsa Cornbread

Welcome to Edition Two of “Cooking Through Your Bookmarked Recipes.”  Our special guests today are Creamy Crockpot Chicken aka “Easiest Dinner Ever” and Crock Pot Salsa Cornbread.

Verdict on the chicken: it was good and definitely easy!  The only complaint i have is that it was a little lacking in flavor (Michael said so too.)  So, although i haven’t tried it myself, i’m going to put a recommendation along with the recipe to help that.  Use your own judgment, though.  Try spicing it up yourself.  You may want to do something a little unusual like some curry powder instead of going the Tex-Mex/Mexican route.  It’s definitely worth doing, though.  We had it over rice and i’m thinking the leftovers (the recipe’s originator said that it’s even better the next day and thicker, also) will later be either thrown into tortillas, burrito-style, or made into enchiladas with a homemade red sauce and some yummy cheese.

The cornbread was quite good!  Last year i got 2 of those little bitty crock pots on clearance,  so put half of the batter in each of them.  That decreased the cooking time but still worked great!  Kinda reminds you of Corn Casserole but with some kick and not as “mushy.”

Creamy Crock Pot Chicken

2 1/2–3 lbs. chicken breast tenderloins (or breasts, halved)

8 oz. cream cheese

can of black beans, drained and rinsed

can of corn, drained

can of Rotel tomatoes

spices: Hidden Valley Ranch dressing mix, taco seasoning, cumin, chili powder, onion powder, etc.

Grease bottom of crock pot and place chicken on bottom.  Add spices to top of chicken.  Place cream cheese, beans, corn, and Rotel on top.  Cover and cook for 6–8 hours on low, stirring every two hours.

Shred chicken, if desired.  Turn crock off and let sit for 30–45 minutes.  Serve over rice.

Can be made the day before and put in refrigerator over night.  Will be less soupy.

Crock Pot Salsa Cornbread

2 (8 oz. each)  boxes corn muffin mix

1 can creamed corn

2 eggs

1/2 cup sour cream

1 can chopped chilies undrained

2 Tbs. butter, softened

3–4 Tbs. chunky salsa

Combine corn, eggs, sour cream, chilies, and butter.  Add muffin mix.

Grease a 3 1/2 qt. crock pot well.  Pour batter into pot.

Spoon salsa over top and cut into batter.

Cover and cook on high for 2 1/2 hours.  Turn heat off and cool with lid ajar for 15 minutes.

Loosen sides with a knife and invert onto plate.

Leave a comment »

Potato and Ham Soup and Reese’s PB Cheesecake Bites

Look out!  i am a woman on a mission.  Not once but TWICE yesterday my three scoffed–pshawed–Holy Cow! ed my bookmarks.  Okay, i will admit that when it comes to things i see and bookmark on the interwebs, i’m a hoarder.  My Recipes and DIY (crafts, etc.) bookmarks are out of control, but shame on them for pooh-poohing me for it.  At least i keep my mess confined to a computer.  (Mmm hmm!  You got that right!  You tell ’em, honey.)  So…because of the snorts and raised eyebrows, i have decided to do one of two things.  I have to either try the recipe (if i have tried it and it’s a keeper, it can stay) or i have to delete it if it’s something that i really am not THAT interested in.

Tonight they got recipe number one: Potato and Ham Soup.  We have an absolutely wonderful Loaded Baked Potato Soup recipe that, of course, i got from Mama and have been using for years and you just can’t beat it.  This one is a little different and probably a little healthier.  However,…everyone but me ended up putting sour cream and shredded cheese on their soup anyway because it’s potato soup and you HAVE to have that on potato soup. ;0)  i liked it just as it was.  Very thick and creamy and the flavors were a nice combination.

Now the dessert was not in my recipes-to-try bunch.  It was just a wild hair.  Had the won ton wrappers and bought the Reese’s on sale (Halloween leftovers) and it was just a matter of putting together.  I will say, though, that they probably would have been better with less PB cup.  i know–sacrilegious, isn’t it?  They overpowered the cheesecake part, you see.  If you have those new little tiny guys they’ve come up with, that would probably be just right or instead of halving the regular Reese’s cup like i did, use a third or a quarter instead.  They still got the thumbs up.

Got tomorrow’s recipe-to-try in the crock pot now.  Will let ya know how it goes!

Soup in the soup bowls from the first "every day dishes" i remember from childhood

Potato and Ham Soup

3 1/2 cups peeled and diced potatoes

1/3 cup diced celery

1/3 cup finely chopped onion

3/4 cup diced cooked ham

3 1/4 cups water

2 tablespoons chicken bouillon granules

1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste (didn’t add any)

1 teaspoon ground white or black pepper, or to taste

5 tablespoons butter

5 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 cups milk

Combine the potatoes, celery, onion, ham and water in a stockpot. Bring to a boil, then cook over medium heat until potatoes are tender, about 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in the chicken bouillon, salt and pepper.

n a separate saucepan, melt butter over medium-low heat. Whisk in flour with a fork, and cook, stirring constantly until thick, about 1 minute. Slowly stir in milk as not to allow lumps to form until all of the milk has been added. Continue stirring over medium-low heat until thick, 4 to 5 minutes.

Stir the milk mixture into the stockpot, and cook soup until heated through. Serve immediately.  (Add more milk if soup gets too thick.)

Reese’s Peanut Buttercup Cheesecake Bites

16 won ton wrappers

16 Reese’s Mini Reese’s Peanut Butter cups or 1/4 or 1/3 of a regular Reese’s cup

1/4 cup cream cheese, softened

1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar

In a bowl, beat cream cheese until creamy.  Add confectioner’s sugar and beat until thoroughly mixed.

Place one won ton wrapper on a board or plate.  Spoon 1 tablespoon of cream cheese filling in center of wrapper and place Reese’s cup on top.  Fold opposite corners across the middle, using a little water on finger as the glue to hold them together, forming a pillow or square.

Spray a cookie sheet with cooking oil spray.  Place wrappers, fold side down, on sheet and spray with oil.

Bake at 425 degrees for 10–15  minutes.

Leave a comment »

Easy, Healthier Chicken Parmesan

Some people are just plain brilliant.  Take Chef John who posted this recipe at  He said he loves Chicken Parmesan but  had been trying for years to come up with a way to make it without frying, hence cutting down on fat and calories.  Then one day it hit him…croutons!  We tried it tonight for supper and will tell you right now–the man is brilliant.  He’s right about what happens with the croutons.  With the way he placed the ingredients, the croutons are crispy and crunchy (and cheesy!) on top but moist and flavorful on bottom from soaking up the marinara sauce.  The only thing i will add to his recipe is this: 35 minutes was not enough cooking time.  Now if you use chicken tenderloins, that may work but for full fledged chicken breast, you need at least 45 minutes.  I even cut the breasts in half before cooking but the thickness of them dictates the amount of cooking time.  Also, with that length of time, it’s going to get pretty brown on top, so you may want to drape a piece of foil over it after the first 20 minutes or so.  One other thing: i used Rothbury Farms new Texas Toast Croutons–which were fabulous–but wish i had crushed them up some.  A few of the really big ones i had halved but wish i’d gone smaller than that, just to make it easier when serving and eating.  If you get a bag of those itty, bitty croutons, you should be good.

Well, the ol’ tummy has a happy and feels like breaking into a Dean Martin song.  Hey, Mambo!  Mambo Italiano!  Enjoy the Chicken Parmesan.  It’s Amore!

Easy, Healthier Chicken Parmesan

2 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
red pepper flakes, to taste
6 boneless skinless chicken breasts (enough to fill a 9 x 13″ pan)
2 cups marinara sauce
1/4 cup chopped basil
8 oz Mozzarella cheese, shredded
4 oz Parmesan cheese, grated
1 (5-oz) package garlic croutons

In a 9 x 13″ pan, sprinkle olive oil and add garlic and red pepper.

Layer chicken pieces on top of oil.  Pour marinara sauce over chicken.

Sprinkle basil over sauce.

Sprinkle half of the Mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses over sauce.

Layer croutons on top of cheese.  Sprinkle remaining cheese over croutons.

Bake at 350 degrees for a minimum of 35 minutes (more likely 45 minutes to an hour.)

Leave a comment »

Michael’s Favorite Potato Casserole

When you no longer need a recipe to make a dish, it’s a staple.  This is a staple in our household.  True story: Michael and his family came into town two days before our wedding.  That first night, he and one of his groomsmen, Dale, came to our house, had supper and the three of us went to the ring bearer, Keith’s, softball game.  My poor Mama.  I don’t know how many times we kids pulled a “Can so-and-so come over/stay for dinner/supper?”  This is one of those times and she had just happened to make this Potato Casserole.  If Michael had any second thoughts about getting married, this dish wiped them away.  Ask him to list his top 5 favorite foods and this is one of them.  Very simple but very good.  It’s a keeper!.

Potato Casserole

8 medium potatoes

1/2 cup chopped onion

1 pound American cheese or Velveeta, cubed

1 cup mayonnaise

1/2 pound sliced bacon, cooked and crumbled

3/4 cup sliced black olives (i skip this and it’s just as fine without)

Salt and pepper, to taste

Peel potatoes.  Either dice and boil in water until tender or boil whole and dice after cooking (don’t let them get too soft.)

Mix potatoes with onion, mayo, cheese, and seasonings.  Pour into a greased 9 x 13″ casserole dish.  Sprinkle bacon pieces and olives on top.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until heated through.


Leave a comment »