Category Archives: Cooking

Balsamic Vinegar

Until a few months ago if you’d asked me if I liked balsamic vinegar I would have answered with a resounding, “yes.” My pantry hasn’t been without a bottle  for years. But I recently learned there’s balsamic vinegar and then there’s balsamic vinegar.

A few months ago a friend commented in an email something to the effect that “it pays to buy good balsamic.” That gave me pause. When I replied that I always bought the cheapest at the grocery (rarely paying more than $5 for a pretty large bottle) she indicated that I didn’t know what real balsamic was. I decided to see if she was correct and headed to the local olive oil and balsamic vinegar store. Continue reading

Winter Warmers: Crock of Savory Vegetable Stew


The AAR staff will be doing another series of recipes for this blog, this time concentrating on dishes that help warm up the cold days of winter. Hopefully these recipes will work for you as well as they have worked for us. For my recipe, I’ve chosen a soup that has been a familiar winter meal for over a decade. I love soups and stews anytime of year but winter is when I really look forward to baking biscuits and putting bowls full of piping hot goodness on the table. This particular stew is one I first ate at a friend’s home in Minnesota. My husband and I so enjoyed the dish I asked for the recipe. She told me it came from a Land of Lakes cookbook titled Treasury of Country Recipes. That was eighteen years ago and I still have the book and still make this soup at least once a year (typically quite a bit more than that.)

Crock of Savory Vegetable Stew

1/4 cup Land O Lakes® Butter
4 medium (2 cups) carrots, sliced
2 ribs (1 cup) celery, sliced
1 large (1 cup) onion, chopped
4 cups shredded coleslaw mix
1 cup apple juice
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 (15-ounce) can condensed tomato sauce
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 (10 3/4-ounce) can tomato soup
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 (16-ounce) package cooked kielbasa, sliced 1/2 inch

Melt butter in 4-quart saucepan until sizzling; add carrots, celery and onions. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, 5-7 minutes or until vegetables are crisply tender.

Add all remaining ingredients except kielbasa. Reduce heat to low. Cover; cook, stirring occasionally, 12-15 minutes or until heated through.

Stir in kielbasa. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, 10-15 minutes or until heated through. Remove bay leaf.

– Maggie AAR

Dinner’s In the Crock: Beer Braised Stew

crock pot

I love my crock pot. There, I’ve said it. It might seem strange but next to the microwave this is my favorite kitchen appliance. It means I can run around all day and still do a decent job of feeding the family. Bellow is one of my favorite recipes from Taste of Home’s Crock Pot recipe section. My tip? Don’t skimp on the bacon. I normally use about 6-8 pieces to pump up the flavor.

Continue reading

Summer Recipes: Melanie’s Hobo Burgers

So, I’m from New Orleans. During the summer, we have these things called hurricanes – you may have heard of them. They can be pretty rough. Last year, an August hurricane knocked out my power for about 8 days – which wouldn’t have been so bad if the highs weren’t in the 90s…. and if I could have left a window or something open. Oh well.

Needless to say, using your oven, or even your stovetop, isn’t a good idea. It just gets way too hot. So, grill it is! This particular recipe can also be done in the oven, or in a camp fire. Basically, any place you can cook something in aluminum foil.

Hobo Burgers

Makes 4-5 servings (depends on how big you like your burgers!)


  • 1.5lb ground beef
  • 4-6 red potatoes (or 2 russet potatoes, or 3-4 golden potatoes) – sliced into thin rounds
  • 1 large onion (my personal preference – vidalia onions) – sliced
  • Tony Chachere’s – only mandatory if you are from New Orleans!

Optional Ingredients:

  • For the burger – breadcrumbs and an egg, seasonings (like onion soup mix, Tony Chachere’s, or whatever you usually put on a burger), cheese (shredded, mixed into the meat), and/or bacon
  • Butter or margarine
  • Whatever veggies you prefer – baby carrots (cut into matchsticks usually works best), bell peppers, corn, broccoli, peas (also works with frozen veggies)
  • Ketchup

Note: If you are making this in the oven, preheat your oven to about 375. If doing it on the grill, make sure to get everything ready to go (I have a charcoal grill, so this takes a little while for me). If you make these in a camp fire, you may want to make a “neck” of some kind, to make it easier to take out the fire.


1.Take your ground beef and form it into hamburger patties. If you want to add breadcrumbs and an egg, or cheese, mix it in before making the patties. For any seasonings, it depends on what you use – you can either mix it in (like with the onion soup mix) or just season the top of the burger.

2.Get 4 pieces of aluminum foil (the same number as the patties you have made) and place a burger in the center of each. Make sure the foil will be large enough to go around the whole burger and the veggies. I usually make mine about 10” square.

3.If your meat is on the lean side, you may want to add a little bit of butter or margarine to the packets, to keep everything moist.

4.Divide the potato slices among the different burger packets. I would recommend red potatoes, as they tend to cook faster. Also, slice them as thin as possible, otherwise you may end up with crunchy potatoes.

5.Divide the onion slices among the different burger packets.

6.Add whatever other veggies you like – carrots work well, as do green bell peppers.

7.If you have any Tony’s, liberally douse the entire packet in Tony’s before closing it up.

8.Close the foil packets completely, and fold over the edges, so none of the juices escape.

9.Put the packets on the grill for about 45 minutes to an hour. You can test them by checking the potatoes to see if they are done. If cooking in the oven, you may want to put them on a baking sheet of some kind – sometimes they can leak a little bit.

Once cooked through, dump the entire packet onto a plate (or just eat out of the foil!), add ketchup and enjoy!

– Melanie AAR

Busiest Man on My TV

gr He has teddy bear-button eyes set in a face that looks like a knuckle, and he’s on my television, literally, half the time its on. And I just adore him. Yep, it’s Gordon Ramsay.

My TV-husband crush began earlier this summer when I was introduced to Kitchen Nightmares, which airs on BBC America. Before that Ramsay was just the mean guy I occasionally saw abusing cooks when commercials for some random show interrupted whatever I was watching. Now I know that “random show” is Hell’s Kitchen, and it is among the many, many Gordon Ramsay programs I watch. And there ARE many, many. There’s the travel one, and the prison one, and several cooking ones including two cooking contests, and two different incarnations of the Kitchen Nightmare show. There may be more of which I’m unaware.

That “mean” guy is actually quite funny, and he has a lot of charm on camera. If you watch him for just a few minutes it becomes apparent why he is such a huge reality TV star.

Do you watch Gordon Ramsay reality TV? Do you find him charming as well?

Wendy Clyde

Summer Recipes: Haley’s Peach Enchiladas

When my mom told me the menu for dinner the other night and included peach enchiladas, I expected some sort of odd tortilla, peach, and salsa combination that did not sound appealing. Boy, was I wrong!

These tasty treats are a bit like an individual sized peach cobbler. They’re delicious on their own or with vanilla ice cream. I suggest eating them as soon as they come out of the oven, or they can get soggy.


  • 2 (8 ounce) crescent rolls (when are these not good?)
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 (11 ounce) canned peaches (or use fresh since they’re in season)
  • 1 (12 ounce) cans Mountain Dew/7Up/Sprite soda (this sounds odd but just trust me)


  • Melt butter and add sugar and cinnamon, mix well.
  • Unroll crescent dough and place 1-2 peach quarters on each crescent.
  • Roll dough around peach, the same way you roll the dough for the crescent shape.
  • Place in 9 x 13 pan.
  • Pour the melted butter mixture over the rolls, and then pour in the soda.
  • Bake at 350 for 45 minutes, uncovered.


– Haley AAR

In or Out?


I cook a lot, especially during the summer. Weekends find me doing breakfast (egg sandwiches, biscuits, gravy, bacon and eggs or some sort of casserole), lunch which can be anything from sandwiches to a full four course meal and dinner, which normally comes from the crock pot. I also customize a lot – adding mac and cheese to the menu to accommodate a fussy eater or cooking a quick pizza for the kids while my husband and I eat Thai food.

All that cooking means when I get the chance to eat out I am delighted. However, in a recent conversation with some new friends my husband talked about how he really didn’t enjoy eating out. He far preferred to eat at home, even when the at home meal was just sandwiches and a side. Part of that might be that he rarely cooks :-) But I do have several friends whose husbands also feel that way. For them the wholesomeness and simplicity of home fare wins out over polishing off their company manners and heading to a restaurant for fancier fare.

Even among my friends that do enjoy eating out there is some debate about what kind of meals should be eaten when away from home. I don’t eat burgers that aren’t homemade and won’t even eat a salad from McDonald’s. Their food just doesn’t agree with my digestive system and I prefer to eat a quick sandwich at the house than eat there. One of my friends recently went to one of the more pricey restaurants in our town and disliked the way everything was a la carte. I hate to experiment with my food and tend to eat only dishes made from familiar ingredients and spices. I like family restaurants such as Olive Garden or Red Lobster. I rarely feel like truly “fine dining”.

So, different strokes for different folks. What about you? Do you prefer to eat in or go out? What restaurants do you like?

– Maggie AAR

Summer Recipe: Pat’s Yellow Potato Salad

Elsie Callahan PhillipsThis has been a mainstay of summer eating since I can remember. I grew up in Nebraska where summer meals were pretty standard: Steak, potato salad, corn on the cob. Usually there was strawberry shortcake, ice cream, or cobbler for dessert, but other than those choices the meals were fairly uniform.

This recipe was passed down to me from my paternal grandmother (seen in the photo), and I in turn passed the potato salad habit onto our daughters, the older of whom has carried it with her wherever she is in the world. She served it for her birthday while she was in the Peace Corps in Nicaragua and now makes it in Rome where she’s living with her husband and twins. (Our younger daughter, despite living in the San Francisco Bay Area, one of the foodie capitals of the world, refuses to cook, so only eats potato salad when I make it.) Continue reading

Summer Recipes: Jenna’s Texas Caviar

Picture credit: Top Shelf

Picture credit: Top Shelf

Weekend parties on the deck in the backyard are one of the best things about summer. Whenever I’m asked to bring a dish to a summer potluck, I’m thrilled for the excuse to whip up a batch of Texas Caviar, both because it’s always a hit and because I love it myself. This recipe makes so much, it’s perfect for a party or any gathering of friends and family.

For those who’ve never heard of Texas Caviar, it contains no actual fish eggs and I honestly have no idea if it originated in Texas or not. A quick internet search will show that there are as many Texas Caviar recipes out there as people who live in Texas. It’s a fantastic addition or alternative to traditional tomato-based salsa or pico de gallo.

The great thing about this recipe is how unbelievably tweakable it is. Add ingredients, leave out ingredients, make it spicy, keep it sweet. It’s all up to your own personal taste. My version leaves out tomatoes and leans to the sweet, but feel free to experiment. One thing for sure, this recipe makes plenty for a party. Splurge and buy the scoop-style tortilla chips for maximum enjoyment.

Before you begin, a couple of tips. While incredibly easy, this recipe takes some time to make simply because of all the vegetable chopping it requires, so it isn’t something you can whip up fifteen minutes before you have to run out the door. Also, to achieve the best flavor, it’s best to let it marinate overnight in the fridge. Continue reading

Summer Recipes: Caz’s Traditional English Trifle

IMAG0018With everybody submitting mouth-watering savoury recipes, I thought I would contribute a traditionally English quick and easy dessert idea.

Trifle is a huge favourite here in the UK, and the first known recipe for it appeared in the 1590s, when it consisted of a thick, flavoured cream.

Nowadays, it’s more usually made up of a layer of sponge cake soaked in sherry or other alcoholic beverage of choice (although it’s fine without, too!), covered in jelly (which I believe is known as “jello” across the pond), custard and topped with whipped cream.

That’s normally the variety I make, but the one I’ve given the recipe for here is slightly different in that it doesn’t include the jelly, which makes it a bit faster to put together. Continue reading