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Sherrie Norris Lovin’ Spoonful Cooking Column: Cooking According to the Weather Can Be Tricky in these Hills

Most of us old-timers in these hills tend to plan and prepare meals according to the weather. I can definitely say it’s been tricky, as has been the forecast, during the month of January. We have run the gamut  with rainy, icy, snowy, windy and sunny days  — and yes, so has my meal planning. In the last week alone, I have cooked the best chicken ever outside on the grill; I have made salads too beautiful to eat, filled with that leftover chicken and fruit, and we ate it in the glow of the living room fireplace. We have thoroughly enjoyed the proverbial icky-day tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwich day (some of you know that’s my very favorite meal!) and today, with heavy rains, a little ice and winds visible from my window, I have a big pot of chili on the stove. Tomorrow will take care of itself, but likely it will be something with left-over chili. Maybe nachos or loaded baked potatoes or another bowl of chili with cornbread?

In line with the weather, let’s consider a hodge-podge of possibilities for your upcoming meals. The way I see it, anything goes these days, so eat up and savor every single morsel. And about those resolutions? Yeah, I’ve already blown it, but I’m not alone.  I have noticed the parking lots at the local gyms have a few more vacant spots showing up every day. But, I have to say, on those pretty days, several of us were actually out walking on the greenways. That has to count for something, right?

So, for those sunny days when you want to do the right thing and for those cold, dreary days when you want to stay in side and cook and eat, I think you will find something here to satisfy your needs.

Morning Power Smoothie

4 large strawberries

½ cup low-fat plain yogurt

1 cup fresh orange juice

1 medium size banana

½ tsp vanilla

1 Tbs. honey

Remove stems from strawberries and wash. Blend all ingredients in blender until smooth.

Makes two 8-ounce servings

South of the Border Cornbread (Great with that chili!)

1 ½ cups corn meal

½ cup self-rising flour

½ medium onion, chopped

½ green pepper, chopped

2 or 3 seeded hot peppers, chopped

1 egg, beaten

¼ cup oil

¾ cup creamed corn

2/3 cup grated sharp Cheddar cheese

1 cup milk

Mix all ingredients together, bake in well-greased pan at 400 for about 35 minutes.

Low-Fat Brownies

¾ cup sugar or equivalent substitute

½ cup flour

½ tsp. baking soda

2 egg whites, lightly beaten

1 tsp. vanilla

2/3 cup unsweetened applesauce

¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Spray an 8-inch square baking pan with cooking spray. Combine ingredients in large mixing bowl, blend well. Pour batter into pan and bake in preheated oven 20 to 30 minutes until done. To test, insert a toothpick. If it comes out clean, brownies are done.  Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes in pan. Gently remove from pan; place on wire rack to cool.

Slow-Cooker Beef Stew

1½ lb. beef for stew

4 slices bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 jar brown gravy

1 can diced and peeled tomatoes

1 tsp. dried thyme leaves

½ tsp. salt

¼ tsp. pepper

1 lb. baby carrots

8 small potatoes, quartered

2 small onions, cut into eighths

1 (8 oz.) pkg. fresh whole mushrooms

In medium skillet over medium heat, cook beef and bacon until beef is browned; drain.

In crock-pot, combine gravy, tomatoes, thyme, salt and pepper. Add beef, bacon and remaining ingredients, stirring gently to combine. Cover, cook on low setting for 8 to 10 hours, or on high for 4 hours, or until meat and vegetables are tender. Makes about 6 servings.

Chocolate Coconut Caramel Dessert

1 box Girl Scout Caramel deLites

3 Tbs. margarine, melted

1 (8 oz.) pkg. cream cheese, softened

¼ cup sugar

2 Tbs. milk

1½ cups non-dairy whipped topping, thawed

1¼ cups cold milk

1 small pkg. instant coconut cream pudding and pie filling

¼ cup toasted coconut (See directions below)

3 Tbsp. semi-sweet chocolate mini morsels

Non-stick cooking spray

Blend cookies in a food processor until fine crumbs. Prepare bottom of a 9-inch square pan with cooking spray. Combine cookie crumbs and margarine; press evenly into bottom of pan. Mix cream cheese, sugar and 2 Tbsp. milk until smooth. Blend in ¾ cup whipped topping; spread over cookie layer. Pour 1¼ cups milk into a bowl with pudding mix and beat until smooth, about 1 minute. Pour over cream cheese layer. Chill several hours. Spread thin layer of coconut on a baking sheet;  bake in 325 degree oven 6-8 minutes, stirring frequently; cool. Just before serving, spread remaining 3/4 cup whipped topping evenly over top of dessert; sprinkle toasted coconut and mini morsels on top of dessert.