Jacques Pepin says we shouldn’t always follow a recipe exactly

Jacques Pepin puts into words the way I have been cooking all my life. I sometimes say, “it’s a feel thing.” Good cooks naturally know how to adjust a recipe and also, how to adjust to a recipe. Watch and listen. This is gold.

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Crockpot Tomato Soup

white bowl of red tomato soup
Crockpot Tomato Soup

With two adjustments (using vegetable broth instead of beef and omitting anchovy paste) makes this a satisfying vegetarian soup, so whatever your lifestyle, this hits the mark.

2 tablespoon olive oil (for browning the onions)
½ cup diced yellow onion, browned
1 teaspoon dried onion flakes
½ teaspoon anchovy paste (optional)
Salt
black pepper, to taste
2 garlic cloves, minced (none if making this for kids)
Pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
2 cans (14.5 oz.) diced, stewed tomatoes
2 Tablespoons tomato puree
1 can (14.5 oz.) beef, chicken or vegetable broth
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

First, brown onions in olive oil and then put in crockpot. Add the rest of the ingredients, set crockpot to low and cook (3-4 hours). If you start this in early afternoon, it will be ready for supper. Before serving, blend lightly with a few pulses (don’t do this when soup is hot, it will blow out of the blender, trust me). In our house, we don’t want a fine puree, only medium, but do what your family likes. You can omit this step and simply serve the soup chunky.

Garnish with one or more of these: fresh croutons. Basil leaves, fresh grated Parmesan cheese, drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil.

Meaty, No-Bean Chili

chili in a pottery bowl with tortilla chips on the side
Meaty, No-Bean Chili

My husband doesn’t like beans. No problem with this chili recipe:

1 pound lean, coarse ground beef
2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small rib celery, chopped
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon chili powder (or to taste)
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano or marjoram
1 tsp dried onion flakes
1 14.5 oz. can beef broth
1 14.5 oz. can stewed tomatoes
1 small can (4.5 oz.) green chilis
2 T tomato paste (opt)
salt and pepper to taste
3 Tablespoons chopped, fresh cilantro

1. Cook ground beef loosely in skillet until browned. Pour off excess fat if there is any. While the ground beef is cooking, Heat your chili pot or soup kettle over medium high heat, add olive oil, and saute’ the chopped onion and celery, adding the garlic last.
2. Simmer, then add cumin, paprika, chili powder, onion flakes and dried oregano. Add beef broth, stewed tomatoes and green chilis.
3. Add ground beef and simmer 20 minutes. Simmer another 30-40 minutes.
4. Add the chopped cilantro about 10 minutes before serving to keep the flavor fresh.

Asian-Fusion Stir-Fry Sauce

3 bottles of sauce with finished mix in small bowl, dark brown in color
Asian-fusion stir-fry sauce

Wonderful for fish and seafood, this is good in a stir-fry or basted on grilled shrimp or fish. Use it to make buffalo chicken wings. You can even drizzled it on steamed white rice. There is nothing fancy or complicated here. Anyone can do this and it’s not necessary to stick with these actual brand names, only the general sauce type.

I start by mixing equal amounts (about 2 Tablespoons each) of soy sauce, Korean gochujang sauce and Thai sweet chili sauce. At this point, you should taste and see how you like it. Sometimes I add more sweet chili sauce. That’s it. Easy peasy!

Atlantic Beach Pie: Meringue or Not?

 Bill Smith’s Atlantic Beach PieFor the back story, click here.
This is a newer version of a pie that is commonly served at seafood restaurants on the North Carolina coast. Chef Bill Smith has been serving it at Crook’s Corner and is credited with its revival. He calls it the easiest recipe in the world. I encourage you to go to his website and learn all about it firsthand and follow his recipe. I show the same recipe below, how I made it, along with my comments.

a pie with meringue
Meringue isn’t traditional to Atlantic Beach Pie, but who can argue with this?

For the crust:
1 1/2 sleeves of saltine crackers
1/3 to 1/2 cup softened unsalted butter
3 tablespoons sugar

For the filling:

a pale cream pie, looks like light butterscotch
This is the Atlantic Beach Pie I made from Bill Smith’s recipe.

1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup lemon or lime juice
Fresh whipped cream and sea salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Crush the crackers finely, but not to dust. You can use a food processor or your hands. Add the sugar, then knead in the butter until the crumbs hold together like dough. Press into an 8 or 9-inch pie pan. Chill for 15 minutes, then bake for 18 minutes or until it starts to color. It’s a crumbly crust.

While the crust is cooling (it doesn’t need to be cold), beat the egg yolks into the milk, then beat in the citrus juice. It is important to completely combine these ingredients. Pour into the shell and bake for 16 minutes until the filling has set. The pie needs to be completely cooled to be sliced. If you’re not doing the meringue, serve with fresh whipped cream and a sprinkling of sea salt.

Nadia’s notes: I used a 9-inch pan and that was just right. Crust seems thick, but it works. I baked my pie for 25 minutes and that was just right for my oven. I think it is delicious as it is. My husband likes a tad more lemon flavor, so sometimes I add a half teaspoon of lemon extract. I think this pie tastes just as good, maybe better the second day.

Meringue? Yes. That’s good too. This is a lemon flavored pie, so it lends itself nicely to meringue. This is also a great way to use the leftover egg whites. I do it when I feel like I have the extra time (even though it really doesn’t take long).

This is my meringue recipe:
4 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
a few drops of lemon extract
1/3 cup sugar

Whip the whites and cream of tartar, adding lemon favor and gradually, the sugar until stiff glossy peaks. Do this while the pie is baking. 5 minutes before the pie’s time is up, raise oven temp to 400 degrees.

shows pie with and then without meringue
Atlantic beach pie side-by-. No contest in my book.side

When the pie has baked, remove from oven, spread with meringue, sealing the edges to the crust. I used a butter knife to even out the meringue and make little peaks. Return to the hotter oven and bake another 8-10 minutes or until meringue is browned on top.

For New Year’s Day: Armadillo Turkey

a turkey with pineapple skin covering the breast
The ultimate party presentation: Armadillo Turkey

ARMADILLO TURKEY: Do it for New Year’s Day or Super Bowl Sunday

All you need do, is carefully carve the skin from one fresh pineapple, about 1/2 inch thick. Save the flesh for another purpose. You will have 4-6 pieces (try to keep them as large as you can). Prepare and truss your bird for roasting as you usually would.

Carefully cover the breast area with the pineapple skin pieces, skewering them into place with toothpicks or small metal skewers. You will have cracks between the pieces, that’s okay. The spaces can be filled in later with parsley and kale as you can see in the photo.

Roast the turkey according to the instructions. The pineapple will baste the breast and give it a tropical flavor.

When done, let the turkey rest 30 minutes, then garnish by surrounding the bird in curly kale (or use your imagination). I found parsley was perfect for tucking into the cracks between the pineapple pieces on the breast. Don’t skip the presentation, the look on the faces of your guests will be worth the extra effort.

Raisin Walnut Pie

a dark pie similar in looks to a pecan pie
Nadia’s all-time favorite pie: Raisin Walnut

RAISIN WALNUT PIE
For guilty pleasures, this is my all-time favorite pie. Comfort food and not health food, this recipe has a place at our holiday table. Similar to pecan pie, this is SO good. I saw a version of this recipe in an old cookbook saying it was a Karo Syrup contest winner many years ago. That recipe used margarine instead of butter.

3 eggs, lightly beaten
¾ cup dark corn syrup
½ c. firmly packed light brown sugar
¼ c. butter, melted
1 tsp. vanilla
¼ tsp. salt
1 c. raisins
½ c. chopped walnuts
1 pie shell (9-inch)

Make your own pie crust or use a pre-made shell. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Using a mixer, beat eggs, add corn syrup, brown sugar, melted butter, vanilla and salt. Mix in the raisins and nuts. Set aside and bake shell 5 minutes only, not until completely done. Remove crust from oven and pour filling into shell. Return to oven (with foil around the edges of crust) and bake approximately 50 minutes or until pie is lightly set to the touch. Cool completely. I usually serve with vanilla ice cream, but the original recipe suggested unsweetened, fresh whipped cream (doesn’t THAT sound good?).