Buttermilk Ranch

I can’t be the only one who heavily weights a restaurant’s credibility by its ranch dressing.  I mean, right? Bad ranch = bad restaurant.

So for 3 years, I’ve played with a homemade recipe.  I’ve toyed with low fat, fat free, whole milk, sour cream, mayo and even heavy cream.  While I felt very Ree Drummind making it completely from scratch, I was severely over-complicating it.  I think we’ve finally arrived at a consistently good and very easy recipe for a creamy buttermilk ranch that’s slightly less mayo-y and a little bit thicker than package directions.   Yields 5 cups of gloriousness.


  • 3 packets of Hidden Valley Buttermilk Ranch
  • 1 cup Sour Cream
  • 2 cups Buttermilk
  • 2 cups Duke’s Mayonnaise (you can go low fat on sour cream or buttermilk, but don’t skimp here.  Your ranch will come out with an unnatural sheen and fake taste).

1.  Whisk together the buttermilk and the ranch packets.

2.  Whisk in the mayo and the sour cream.

3.  Dip it.  Pour it.  Lick the bowl.  Just make sure to refrigerate it in between 🙂

Ham, Potato & Cheese Soup

In Texas, the beginning of fall is mostly just a date on the calendar.  It’s still hangs around 90 degrees and displays varying shades of brown.  While that never  stopped me from cranking down my a/c and breaking out my  fall wardrobe, I’m pretty excited about living in the land of cooler temperatures and hills covered with oranges and yellows and reds this year.

So excited, in fact, that the absolute second we dropped below 80, I whipped out my fall decorations, bought us some apple cider and made us our favorite big pot of soup.

Fair warning, this is not a wimpy soup you get at a ladies’ tea.  Nope, this is a please-your-bearded-husband type soup….Full of ham, potatoes, cheese, cream and topped with bacon.  In fact, this soup is so good, Jay, aka The Man of The Smokin’ F, aka Papa ‘Merica, didn’t want me to share the recipe.  He’s sure that someday when we have our own booming restaurant or catering business, this soup will be a favorite menu item.  So hey, if you make it and love it, just act surprised one day when you order it off of our menu 🙂

And speaking of those bearded manly men, fall at our house also means deer season; which means dinners are far less formal.  My boys are in the woods right up until almost bedtime, so dinners like these, that can be reheated well when they come in, are always a hit.

So without further ado, from our fall table to yours….Ham, Potato & Cheese Soup.


  • 8 cups diced potatoes (I peel about half of them first.  I like the skins but they can be overpowering and gritty if there are too many or they aren’t cleaned well)
  • 4 cups diced ham (leftover holiday ham or turkey ham works very well!)
  • 1 diced onion
  • 8 cups of water
  • 4 Tbs. chicken broth paste
  • 7 Tbs. butter
  • 7 Tbs. flour
  • 3 cups heavy cream or milk
  • 3 cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • 6 slices bacon
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • *optional: chopped green onions, celery, and/or hot sauce for topping

1.  In a large pot, boil potatoes, ham, onion, water and chicken broth paste until potatoes are tender.

2. Pre-measure your flour and cream before you start to melt your butter.  And don’t get distracted like I’m prone to do….this parts burns quickly and easily!

In a separate pot, melt butter.  Add in flour and whisk constantly until fluffy and thickened (less than a minute).

3.  Continue to whisk while adding your cream.   Whisk often until a thick and creamy.  Add in cheese and continue to stir until melted.

Can I just take a second to brag on this whisk? The shape is genius! It stirs like a spoon and actually scrapes the bottom as you whisk.  And with chunky ingredients like these, nothing gets caged in like a traditional whisk.  It’s so much easier to clean. One of my favorite kitchen tools from the Pioneer Woman!

4.  Pour your potato mixture into your creamy sauce (or vis versa….depending on which pot is biggest).  Mix until combined well and bring to a very gently boil.  Remove from heat.

5.  Cook bacon slices until they’re crispy.  Cool and crumble.

6.  Ladle the soup in individual bowls and top with shredded cheese, crumbled bacon and green onions.  I also like to add a few dashes of  Louisiana One.  Seriously, Heaven in your mouth.  I’m already anticipating leftovers for lunch tomorrow!  Happy fall from all of us here at the Smokin’ F!  🙂

Jalapeno Cranberry Sauce

No introduction necessary. Cranberry sauce is an essential condiment for a holiday feast, so here’s how I do it. The jalapeño adds a subtle but savory flavor. Feel free to leave it out for an excellent and traditional sauce.

  • 1 c water
  • 1 c sugar
  • 12 oz of fresh cranberries
  • 1 orange, peeled and diced
  • 1 jalapeño, de-seeded and diced (for more heat, leave the seeds in)

1.  In a medium saucepan, over medium heat, bring the sugar and water to a boil.

2.  Add cranberries, oranges and jalapeños.  Boil for 10-15 minutes until the sauce is thick and the cranberries have popped.  Stir often to prevent burning on the bottom.

3.  Remove from heat.  I pour mine into a mason jar and let cool to room temperature.  Refrigerate and enjoy!

LaKay’s Chili

We jump at the chance to make a pot of chili every chance we get.  At home, that’s about 3 cold days a year.  Now that I’m living where there’s an actual winter, I’m sure this recipe will be used more often!  In fact I have a big pot on the stove today….my Micha-Tex-Assean has been clearing and burning in the pasture since 6:30 this morning and we have some burley friends of his coming over this afternoon.  What better way to warm up after being outside all winter day?IMG_1930

This was given to me by a good friend, Janice, in Spicewood, Texas.  It’s so simple, but so good.  The ONLY thing I change is the meat.  We sometimes eat it over sweet Jiffy cornbread (Because I’m not into fixing what ain’t broke….just for the sake of saying homemade) or fritos, with chopped lettuce, tomato, cheese and sour cream on top. Or eat it plain.

Either way you want to do it, you’ll want to lick the bowl.  Enjoy 🙂


  1. 2 lbs 85/15 hamburger meat (I use 2 lbs ground venison and 1 lb ground beef -we like it a little more meaty)
  2. 4-6 cloves crushed garlic
  3. 4 tbs flour
  4. 4 tbs chili powder
  5. 1 tsp cumin
  6. 1/2 tsp salt
  7. 1/2 tsp pepper
  8. 15 oz. can tomato sauce
  9. 4 cups chicken broth
  10. 1 can kidney beans


1. Brown your meat in a large skillet.

2. While it cooks, add garlic, flour, chili powder, cumin, salt and pepper.

3. After the meat is browned and all above ingredients are mixed in, add tomato sauce, chicken broth, and kidney beans.

4. Reduce heat and simmer for at least 2 hours.

Creamy Chicken Noodle Soup

Welp, I’d say this picture right here is the only introduction such a rich, warm, snuggly bite of cozy, creamy chicken noodle soup needs.  It’s that good….and no one will blame you if you drown yourself in it like my sweet girl did!


  • 4 Tbs butter
  • 4 Tbs flour
  • 1 c. peeled and chopped carrots
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 Tbs minced garlic
  • 1 rotisserie chicken, chopped
  • 2 c. heavy whipping cream
  • 3 c. milk
  • 4 c. water
  • 1/2 c. white wine
  • 3 Tbs Better Than Bouillon chicken paste
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 heaping tsp. Italian seasoning
  • 8 oz angel hair pasta
  • Salt and pepper to taste

1.  Melt 4 Tbs of butter in a large pot or dutch oven.  Sauté carrots and celery for about 5 minutes.

2.  Add in onions and garlic and continue to sauté until onions are translucent.

3.  Whisk in your flour.

4.  Add cream, milk, water, wine, chicken, chicken paste, and seasonings.

A lot of people asked me last time about the chicken paste.  This stuff is amazing.  It’s like bouillon on steroids.  It just a more authentic; more chickeny (because that’s a word) flavor in my opinion.

And on a sidenote, I go through so many of these that I save the jars and use them for my seasonings.  Not only are they the perfect size, I get a tremendous amount of satisfaction from upcyling anything!

5.  Fold in uncooked pasta.

6.  Slowly bring your soup to a boil, stirring often.  Don’t set your stove to higher than  medium heat, or you may scald your milk.  Low and slow wins the creamy race!!

7.  Once you get to a low boil, reduce the heat to simmer for about 10 minutes, partially covered.  Continue to stir often.

8.  Remove from heat.  Fish out your 3 bay leaves.  Ladle into bowls, sprinkle with fresh Parmesan cheese, and serve with a big hunk of crusty bread.  De-Licious!

Taco Soup

So my kids love Taco Tuesday.  I mean….loooooove, Taco Tuesday.  I, on the other hand try to get out of it every chance I get.  Maybe it’s the mundane of making the same meal on the same day every week.  Maybe it’s because I’m a fajita girl at heart.  Or ….maybe it’s just that I don’t like to be told what to do.  Whatever the cause for my Taco Tursday disdain, I was thrilled this week when opportunity for change presented itself!

In contrast to recent weeks, this Tuesday was rainy and cold…in other words, clearly a soup day.  So in order to appease both my ever-growing taco mongrals and my thrill-seeking-menu-changing self, Taco Soup happened.

I feel like everyone has a version of Taco Soup.   And I’ve never had one I didn’t like.  But here’s the way we make it.  (By we, I mean my Mimi, my Mom and myself.) Serve it with sweet cornbread or tortilla chips and cheese.  Either way it’s shamelessly easy, and ridiculously tasty.


  • 2 lbs ground meat (beef, turkey or 1 of each)
  • 2 cups diced onion
  • 1 can pinto beans
  • 1 can kidney beans
  • 1 can black beans
  • 1 can Mexican style stewed tomatoes
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1 can tomatoes with chilies
  • 1 can diced green chilies
  • 1 pkg taco seasoning mix
  • 1 package ranch seasoning mix
  • 1 can corn (optional)

As with many soups, you have the option of simmering on a skillet or slowly warming it in a crock pot.  Either one works amazingly well with this soup.

1.  Brown your meat.  If you’re planning to cook on the stovetop, just brown it in the pot you plan to make soup in.  If you’re planning to crock pot it, brown it on the stove and then transfer it to your crockpot.

2.  Add all other ingredients to your meat.

3.  Mix and simmer on the stove for 45 minutes to an hour or on low in a crockpot for 6-7 hours.

4.  Top it how you like (cheese, lettuce, tomato, avocado, sour cream, jalapeños). Serve with sweet cornbread or scoop it up with tortilla chips.

So, so easy and so good!  Store in the fridge…reheated leftovers are even better!

French Onion Soup

We don’t often get Texas gully washers this time of year, but this week has been an exception….

Although I much prefer the heat and sunshine, we definitely take advantage of this dreary weather to play in the rain and roll in the mud.

Especially Gus, my *normally white* English Cream Golden Retriever. And by normally, I mean hardly ever.

And of course, we like to make good comfort food.  On the menu tonight is one of our favorites; French Onion Soup.   I’m a firm believer in ‘the perfect bite’ and there’s something about the beef broth, mushy but crispy bread and broiled cheese that creates that ever so perfect bite.

I should add quickly that most French Onion Soup is made with red wine.  The alcohol (while completely cooked out) does give it a certain bite that is simply not replicated with grape juice.  However, I prefer whiskey instead…for 2 reasons…. One: unlike red wine, I always have it on a hand.  (Whiskey girl problems). And two,  it’s a hint less sweet, and I really like that.

So here it is…


  • 3 Red Onions, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup Butter
  • 1 Tbs. Sugar
  • 1 Tbs. Flour
  • 5 cups Water
  • 5 tsp. Beef Paste
  • Dash of Worcetershire
  • 4 Thick Slices of Crusty Bread
  • 4 cups Shredded Monterrey Jack

1.  Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

2.  In a heavy bottomed pot or Dutch oven, melt your butter over medium heat.

3.  Add onions and sugar and cook until they are golden brown and just starting to stick to the bottom of the pan.

4.  Keep scraping up those crispy bits of goodness as you add 1 Tbs. of flour.  It will be thick and pasty.

5.  Add your 5 cups of water, 1/4 cup of whiskey, 5 tsp. of beef paste and dash of Worcestershire sauce.

6.  Heat to boiling, stirring often to prevent sticking.

7.  Reduce heat to low, and simmer uncovered for about 10 minutes.

8.  While your broth simmers, lay your bread on a cookie sheet and pop it in the preheated oven.  Flip each slice over after about 5 minutes.  They shouldn’t brown, just get crispy.  Remove from the oven, and then turn your oven up to Broil.

9.  Ladle your broth and onions evenly into 4 oven safe bowls.  Mine are fiestaware and work beautifully!

Note: I usually only need 2 bowls at a time.  So I ladle 2 bowls full, and refeigerate the rest in a sealed container.  Reheat it in the next day or two and proceed from this step forward.  It’s actually one of those things that ages very well and almost tastes better the 2nd day.

10.  Place all of your full bowls of broth on a sturdy cookie sheet.  This just makes it easier to handle and less likely to slosh and spill in your oven.

11.  Top each bowl with a piece of your crusty bread and then 3/4-1 cup of cheese, until the bread is totally covered.  I mean, totally covered.

12.  Carefully put the whole cookie sheet with all of your bowls in the oven (which is now on broil!) for 2-4 minutes or until the cheese on top is thick and bubbly and starting to brown.

13.  Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Caramel Apple, Stuffing Topped Pork Chops

I am a firm believer in the perfect bite.  My husband is very particular about what foods are allowed to touch on his plate.  Sweet doesn’t touch meat, ice cream doesn’t touch cake, *strange* stuff like that.

I, on the other hand, will spend an inordinate amount of time cutting a small piece of everything on my plate, stacking it perfectly on the fork, dipping it in the sauce and then savoring that goodness.

Maybe that’s why this has always, always been one of my favorite dinners.  The apple, the stuffing, the pork chop….mmmm, the perfect bite.  My Mom and Mimi have made these pork chops for as long as I can remember and it’s been that long that I’ve loved them.  They are deceivingly easy to make; meaning they look like you slaved, but they really take minimal effort!  (Every cooks dream, right?!?)


  • 6 Bone in Pork Chops
  • I Box Stove Top Chicken Stuffing
  • 5 Tbs Butter
  • 1 1/4 cups Water
  • 1 can Apple Pie Filling
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

1.  Make stuffing according to package directions.

2.  While your stuffing is cooking, melt 2 Tbs of your butter in a heavy skillet.  Brown each side of your pork chop in the butter (about 2 minutes per side).

3.  Spray a cookie sheet or baking dish with non stick cooking spray.  Place your browned pork chops on the cookie sheet.  Leave some space between chops so you have space to pile on that glorious goodness.

4.  Pile a large spoonful of stuffing on top of each chop.  Pack it together the best you can so that it doesn’t dry out and crumble during baking.

Y’all. Please don’t judge me by my cookie sheet. It’s been baked, broiled, smoked and otherwise put to good use. I like to think its character just gives everything more flavor 🙂

5.  Place 3-5 slices of apple filling on top of the stuffing.

6.  Bake at 325 for 45 minutes to an hour, until an internal temperature of the pork chop is above 160.  These took 45 minutes and cooked to 189 and they were perfect.  Pork, to me, is not like beef.  We go for well done.

If they start to brown on top before the pork is done, just loosely lay a piece of foil over the top while they continue to cook.

8.  Use a heavy spatula to dish them out onto your plates.  I served ours with a fresh summer salad and blackberry cobbler for dessert 🙂

Bacon Wrapped, Sausage Guacamole Stuffed Chicken Breasts

You’d think after being married to a master griller for 5 years, I’d know to keep burger meat or steaks on standby for those nights he gets a last minute hankering to light the fire….but last night I was not prepared.  It was, after all, Taco Tuesday….and who would want to deviate from Taco Tuesday?

So, when Jay said he wanted to grill, I had to get creative with what we had.  Lots of fresh veggies from the garden, some chicken breasts, some leftover breakfast sausage and bacon.  Because, well, we always have bacon.

So this happened; accidental bliss.  Accidental bacon wrapped bliss happened at the Smokin’ F.

But first, Sausage Guacamole.  Yes, my favorite part of Mexican food (well, besides margaritas) just got better!  Yall, this turned out ridiculously good.  I’ll be dishing this up with tortilla chips just as soon as I get the opportunity.

You’ll need:

  • 2 avocados
  • 1/2 tomato
  • 1/2 small onion
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 1/2 to 1 jalapeño (to your liking)
  • 8 oz. breakfast sausage
  • 1 lemon
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Optional: Zesty Lemon seasoning (I like Webers)

1.  Brown your sausage in a heavy skillet.

2.  Dice your tomato, onion and jalapeño.

3. Mash your avocado. Gently mix in your diced veggies and cooled sausage.

4.  Add the juice of half a lemon and salt and pepper (and if using, zesty lemon seasoning) to taste.

5.  If you’re just making this for dip, grab some chips, some crackers or a spoon and dig in!

If you’ve got your eye on making the chicken, and you can resist the urge to gobble all of the guacamole, read on :).

Now you’ll need:

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 8 slices of bacon
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Zesty lemon seasoning
  • Toothpicks
  • 1 batch of Sausage Guacamole

1.  Slice each of your chicken breasts almost completely in half.

2.  Put a big glob (technical term, I know) of the aforementioned Sausage Guacamole in each breast.  Sprinkle with Zesty Lemon Seasoning and salt and pepper.

3.  Fold back into place the best you can.  Don’t worry if it doesn’t close completely.

4.  Wrap 2 slices of bacon around each breast, seem side down if possible.  Not only does this seal in flavor and moisture, it also will help keep your guacamole from oozing out while it cooks.  Hold in place with 2-3 toothpicks.

5. Sprinkle again with Zesty Lemon seasoning.

At my house, this is where my job ends.  I pass it off to my hunky husband and he takes it to a delicious, safely edible level of gloriousness.

But last night I watched him so I could pass on his secret to success.

6.  Heat your grill or oven to 350-375. Cook for 45 minutes to an hour. The internal temperature of chicken is considered safe above 165, but with the bacon and the stuffing, he cooked these to 200 degrees.

Remove from the grill and enjoy!   We loved ours with fresh summer squash, grilled peaches and porch-made vanilla ice cream!

Ranch Meatloaf

So the first day of school is always a big deal around here.  New clothes and shoes and underwear; back to normal bed times; swimming no longer counts as a bath….stuff like that.  But we’ve also had a tradition since Oliver started Kindergarten that he gets to pick the dinner the night before the first day. We’ve had Angry Bird pizzas and Mummy dogs in years past, but this year he wanted meatloaf and apple squares.  Yep, that’s it…he went and matured himself right out of the fun food phase and into growing boy phase.  Give that kid some beef.

Even though meatloaf usually gets a bad wrap, it’s always a favorite around here.  I’ve made good ones, bad ones, and bland ones, but I think we’ve settled on a really yummy one.  So here is our favorite and fail proof Ranch Meatloaf.

(Oh!  And I’ll be posting my granny’s Apple squares that he requested for dessert later this week)


  • 2 lbs ground beef (because long gone are the days of a measly 1 lb meatloaf around here)
  • 1 cup  Mama Merica Buttermilk Ranch
  • 1 cup Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
  • 1 egg
  • 1 chopped onion
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 2 T mustard
  • 2 T brown sugar

1.  Mix you first 6 ingredients.  Lots of people swear real meatloaf must be mixed by hand, but I bite my nails.  So the thought of raw meat under my fingernails is not one I’d like to bring to fruition.  Soooo, I use my kitchen aid with a paddle attachment and it works beautifully 🙂

2.  Spray a 9×13 pan with nonstick cooking spray.  Empty your mixture into the pan and shape into a loaf.  It doesn’t have to be perfect, but do try to make it the same width and height all the way to the ends to help it cook evenly.

3.  In a separate bowl, mix your remaining ingredients (ketchup, mustard and brown sugar).

4.  Spread over the top of your uncooked meatloaf.

5.  Bake in the oven at 350 for 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes or until no longer pink in the middle.

6.  Let cool slightly before slicing and then enjoy!  We served ours with mashed new potatoes, salad and apple squares for dessert.

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