Monday, May 25, 2020

Joey's Straight Up Ham and Bean Casserole

 Ok, first of all, I need to tell you how much I love baked beans. Any kind, any recipe, home made or canned, I love them all. Sweet, smokey, savory, LOVE LOVE LOVE. In fact, over the years, I've kind of become a little bit famous for My Baked Beans, thank you very much. And ever since I came up with that recipe, I've been wanting to twist it into a fabulous new something to give me a new excuse to make baked beans.
 Years ago, I saw Trisha Yearwood making her Baked Bean Casserole, and I thought, ok, THIS is the kind of thing I want to do. But there are SO many directions to go with it! My brain was all over the place asking friends and family what ingredients I should add and what they thought sounded the best.
 And then one day, I was texting with my BBQ-award-winning nephew, Daniel, and we were discussing the possibilities. When I described it to him,  we both immediately decided that there was a lot going on. And then I remembered how fashion icon Coco Channel was famous for saying "before you go out, take off one accessory." Basically, I needed to Coco Chanel my recipe. It was too busy, too many accessories! So I went back to what I had ORIGINALLY pictured in my head. And this is it!
No fancy techniques, no swanky bells or whistles, it's just straight up ham and bean casserole. A few aromatics to build on and a few potatoes to satisfy the hungriest of appetites, and you have a hearty dish that can serve as a meal on its own, or a fabulous side dish at your next BBQ.
Hope you like it!

2 tbs oil
1 small onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups diced fully cooked ham
1 lb baby red or gold potatoes, uncooked, halved or quartered
1 28 oz canned baked beans
1 cup ketchup2 tbs brown mustard
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce
salt and black pepper to taste
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
chopped scallions for garnish

Heat oven to 350ºF.
Heat oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add onions, peppers, garlic, and diced ham. Saute until the vegetables become soft and the ham gets a little color.
In the meantime, place the remaining ingredients except the cheese and scallions in a large mixing bowl. Add the ham mixture to it. Stir until everything is well combined. Pour into a large casserole or a 9x13 dish. Place in oven and bake for about 40 minutes. Test to make sure the potatoes are done. Carefully remove from oven, top with shredded cheese. Place back into oven for an additional 20 minutes or until the cheese is melted and bubbly. Remove from oven. Top with chopped scallions and serve!

If you'd like to include all the bells and whistles, here are a few possible variations/substitutions:
Bacon or sausage in addition to (or instead of) the ham.
Add a cup of crushed pineapple.
Add a minced jalapeno, or a few pinches of crushed red pepper flakes.
Brown sugar instead of maple syrup. Or both! You could even add molasses or honey.
Dry or yellow mustard instead of brown mustard.
A few drops of liquid smoke flavoring instead of Worcestershire sauce.
Cheddar cheese or another good melty cheese instead of Mozzarella cheese. (melty?)
Rice or noodles instead of potatoes. Or top with mashed potatoes, then do cheddar on top.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Joey's Chicken Parm Tortellini Bake

  This dish was born out of what I happened to have on hand in my pantry. I didn't even know that "Pantry Pasta" was a thing, but that's exactly what this is...  I took a brief inventory of what I had in the freezer and pantry, and all signs pointed to this, so here we are!
 TBH, it's not very groundbreaking, but boy did it hit the spot! So I figured, yup, this definitely needs to be shared! It's all very simple, not very many ingredients, and it's ready in no time. No need to boil the tortellini in advance, it cooks in the sauce! The other thing that makes this recipe very simple is that there's no measuring. A bag of frozen tortellini, a jar of marinara sauce, a block of mozzarella cheese. It all comes together quite nicely!
 Ya know, sometimes we stand there forever with the fridge door open, thinking "there's nothing to eat." Well, sometimes, you just have to look at what you have and then see what you can do with it! Words to live by!

1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 or 3 boneless chicken breasts
1 lb frozen tortellini
1 28oz jar marinara sauce
8 oz mozzarella cheese, shredded
Parmesan cheese, optional

Heat oven to 350ºF.
In a large skillet, saute diced onions in a little oil over medium heat. Add garlic and saute for another minute or two. In the meantime, cut the chicken into small bite sized pieces. Add them to the skillet, season with salt and pepper, then give them a toss with the onions. Brown them slightly, but don't cook them all the way through.
In a large bowl, toss the frozen uncooked tortellini with the jar of sauce. Add the chicken mixture from the pan, along with half of the shredded cheese. Give everything a good toss until well coated. Pour everything into 2 qt casserole dish. Top with remaining shredded cheese. Bake in oven for 20-30 minutes or the cheese is melted and bubbly. Top with grated Parmesan cheese, if desired.

 I actually debated about whether or not to partially cook the chicken before adding it to the casserole. It all turned out perfectly, so I guess this was a good idea. Just be careful not to leave it in the oven for too long because then the chicken will be overcooked.
Want to add some other ingredients to it? Add whatever you like! Spinach? Fresh basil? Go for it!
You could turn it into a pizza tortellini by using pizza sauce, and then adding sauteed pizza ingredients like mushrooms and peppers, then adding slices of pepperoni on top. 
For a completely different twist, use Alfredo sauce instead of marinara sauce. Love it!

Monday, May 11, 2020

Homemade White Bread


OK, so, right off the bat, I should tell you, I'm not the biggest bread baker of the world. I mean, I've dabbled here and there, but full disclosure, I've always felt a little intimidated by it. But just like anything else, the way to diffuse the fear of it is to learn about it. So I began reading different bread recipes, reading about why yeast makes it rise, etc. and then it started to make more sense to me. Now it doesn't seem so daunting! So I decided to try just a basic white bread recipe. I figured if I'm gonna start baking breads, I might as well start with the basics, right? I found this recipe from a blog called the Brown Eyed Baker, and I swear to you it's REALLY easy! I just followed the recipe straight through, and it turned out perfectly on the first go! Yes, the two loaves of bread in the picture are the very first loaves of white bread I've ever baked! Aren't they perfect? And I love that the first thing I ate on a toasted slice of home made bread was some of my home made jam. FABULOUS. I guess I now have to start making home made butter to go with it, right? It's gonna happen!
 So if you've ever thought of baking white bread, this recipe is the one to try. Like I said, it's REALLY easy and user friendly, and the final product was just as yummy as you want it to be. There's just nothing like warm baked bread right out of the oven. You MUST try it!

4 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast two 0.25-ounce packets 
3/4 cup + 2 2/3 cups warm water divided  
1/4 cup granulated sugar 
1 tablespoon salt  
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed, at room temperature 
9 to 10 cups all-purpose flour  
3 tablespoons unsalted butter melted, for brushing

  In the bowl of a mixer, stir to dissolve the yeast in 3/4 cup of the warm water, and let sit for 5 minutes. Add the remaining 2 2/3 cups water, sugar, salt, room temperature butter, and 5 cups of the flour and stir to combine.
Using a dough hook, mix on low speed and gradually add the remaining flour until the dough is soft and tacky, but not sticky (you may not need to use all of the flour). Continue to knead until a soft ball of dough forms and clears the sides of the bowl, about 7 to 10 minutes.
 Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl and turn it over so it is completely coated. Cover with plastic wrap and set in a draft-free place to rise until doubled in size, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.
 Turn the dough out onto a clean, lightly floured surface. Gently press it all over to remove any air pockets. Divide the dough in two and, working with one piece at a time, gently pat it into a 9x12-inch rectangle. Roll up the rectangle, starting on the short end, into a very tight cylinder. Pinch to seal the seams and the ends, tuck the ends of the roll until the bread, and place into greased 9" loaf pans. Cover the loaves loosely and place in a draft-free area until doubled in size, 30 to 45 minutes.
Position an oven rack on the lowest setting and preheat the oven to 400ºF.
 Brush the loaves with some of the melted butter. Bake the loaves for 30 to 35 minutes, rotating halfway through, until golden brown (an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center should read 195ºF).
 Remove from the oven and immediately brush with more of the melted butter. Allow to cool for 10 minutes, then remove from the pans and cool completely before slicing. The bread can be stored in an airtight bread bag or wrapped tightly in plastic wrap at room temperature for up to 4 days. It can also be frozen for up to 1 month.

Recipe Tips:
This recipe can be halved to make only one loaf.
You can substitute active dry yeast for the instant yeast. Ensure that it is indeed activated in step #1 before continuing, and note that the rise times will be slightly longer.

Joey's Tips:
Sometimes we get sidetracked and we forget about the dough as it's rising, which causes it to over proof. This is when it rises up and then sort of collapses on itself. If this should happen, fear not! All hope is not lost! Oddly enough, the solution to over proofing is to proof it again. Just press it back out on the work surface, roll it up like you did before, and put it back in the loaf pan. It will proof again, only this time, maybe set a timer so you won't forget about it again!

Monday, May 4, 2020

Sweet-as-a-Peach Chicken

  Have you made Pantry Pasta lately? Or a Pantry Omelette? Or a Pantry Sandwich? Basically, this means using what you already have on hand, whatever's in your pantry, to cook a meal. I've noticed that it's been a recent trend in cooking, lately. So I decided to look up a few "pantry" recipes to see what I could find. Then I remembered this recipe that I recently got from my dear friends, Bill and Tina, and it seemed like just the thing! It has ingredients that one might find in a well-stocked pantry, and it's an easy throw together dinner. Perfect! So I gave it a try and it's absolutely delish! At first, you might think that this will wind up tasting like a peach pie, but nope! It's just tasty good eatin'!
 BTW, I should say that the recipe is actually from the Land O' Lakes Recipe Collection Cookbook, but I'll still give Tina the credit, because she's the one who brought it to my attention! It was ready in a snap, and it will definitely feed a crowd, especially if you serve it with a nice green veggie on the side. It's the perfect weeknight dinner and it's just as good as a Sunday Supper.  And the easiest thing about it is that you just might already have all the ingredients in your pantry!

Chicken prep:
1/3 cup butter
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
2 lb pkg boneless chicken breasts
2 10 oz cans refrigerated biscuits

Peach topping:
6 tbs butter
2 tbs cornstarch
2 cans sliced peaches (29 oz and 15.4 oz, 1 large and 1 medium), undrained
3 tbs honey
1/2 tsp cinnamon

In an ungreased 9x13 pan, melt 1/3 cup butter in preheated 350ºF oven for 5-7 minutes. Add salt and 1 tsp cinnamon. Stir to blend. Dip chicken pieces into melted butter. Place chicken back in the same baking dish. Bake for 15 minutes,  Place biscuits on top of chicken. Place bake in the oven, and bake for another 15 minutes or until biscuits are lightly browned and chicken is tender.
Meanwhile, in a sauce pan, melt 6 tbs butter. Add cornstarch. Whisk to blend. Add remaining ingredients. Heat over medium heat until it boils. Boil 1 minute. Spoon peach topping over biscuits.

Now, you know I can't just leave a recipe alone, right? As good as it is, I'm still gonna play around with it, just a bit.
To brighten up the flavor of the peach sauce, I added just a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, and it definitely needed salt. I also think it needs a burst of something fresh, like maybe freshly chopped parsley, or maybe some fresh thyme leaves. That was my only thought.. it just needed a little green!
A few other notes...
 I used one can of grand biscuits instead of two of the smaller ones, and I cut each biscuit into quarters. Turned out to be exactly the right amount. Speaking of things and amounts... the peach sauce was WAY too much for the dish, I thought. I only used half of it! Maybe I'll pour the rest of it over ice cream or a nice slice of toasted pound cake!
The original recipe said to pound the chicken thin. I just sliced the large pieces of chicken in half horizontally. So be careful with your thin pieces of chicken.. you don't want them to be overcooked! And finally, when I baked the chicken, it made a lot of juice in the pan, so I drained a bunch of the liquid before pouring the peach topping over it.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Joey's Pickled Red Onions

   Ever since I learned how to preserve things in jars, I've had a sort of bucket list of things I'd like to make. Slowly but surely, I'm working my way through that list, ticking each box, and then moving on to the next one. One of the main criteria for landing on that list is that it needs to be something that you wouldn't normally see at the grocery store. Like, for instance, my pineapple basil jam. Not exactly your standard fare, would you say? Or how about raspberry rhubarb jam? As delicious as it was unexpected! I've even done pickled peaches and pickled water melon rind. Who knew? Not everything has been met with the greatest response, but in all honestly, I've loved every single one of my projects. I think the pickled pineapples were pretty high up on that list! And also the candied jalapenos. Fabulous! But I digress..
 So that brings me to my latest project. Pickled red onions! Have you ever tried them? They're great on sandwiches, burgers, salads, and according to my nephew, Gregger (who requested them), they're especially great on fish tacos! My first thought was that I wanted the sharp onion flavor to mellow out a bit, and I wanted them to be a little bit sweet to go with the sour.
 Once again, true to form, I found many recipes online, but none was exactly what I had pictured in my head. So I started with a pretty basic recipe, and then didn't follow it. LOL I mean, yes, I used the same ingredients, but I changed literally every single amount to suit my own taste. How does one do this, you may ask? Well, you TASTE it! I always like a stronger hit of vinegar when I'm making pickles, and I like a hit of sweetness too. So, right away I changed the vinegar to water ratio. And then I added more sugar, tasting as I went, until I found exactly the right blend of sweet, sour, sharp, and pungent. FABULOUS! Then after I figured out what was going into it, I let the onions hang out for a while in the brine, just to relax in their briny hot tub for a while. The result was literally EXACTLY what I wanted. The jars are beautifully pink, the onions were more mellow and smooth, and the flavor was spot on. Now that I've made them, I think I may have to add them to the yearly rotation along with canning my Jersey Tomatoes, and making bread and butter pickles. They're just absolutely delish! This one's for you, Gregger!

5 cups apple cider vinegar
4 cups water
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup kosher salt
3 tbs mixed peppercorns
8 bay leaves
6 lbs red onions

Place all ingredients except onions in a large pot over high heat. Bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat to low simmer. Meanwhile, peel and THINLY slice all the onions. You can use a sharp knife, but I used a mandoline. You can also use a food processor. You do you! (Side note, I usually don't use a processor when I'm slicing something for canning because I like the control of cutting exactly how I want them.) After all the onions are sliced, add them to the pot, and turn the heat off. Let the onions sit in the hot brine for a good 15 -20 minutes. They will soften and the brine will turn that lovely coveted pink hue.
 If you're not canning, place the onions in jars, let stand until room temperature, then store in the fridge. They'll last pretty much indefinitely, but I promise you they'll be gone before then!
 If you're canning, wash and sterilize 8 pint-size jars. Fill each jar with onions, then add brine to fill, leaving 1/2 inch of head space. Insert a chopstick or plastic utensil down inside of the jar to release any air bubbles, then adjust head space if needed. Wipe rims clean, apply two-piece lids, then process your jars for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath. Remove to a cloth lined tray. Let sit, undisturbed for at least 24 hours.

Definitely taste as you go when you're making the brine. Not sure how sweet you like it? Just add a little sugar at a time. Not sure how sour you want it? Start out with the water, then add the vinegar a little at a time until it's as strong as you want. This is just a basic recipe, but feel free to add anything else you like. Garlic, fresh dill, crushed red pepper flakes, you could even just use store bought pickling spice. It will all work. Customize the flavor profile to fit YOU!

Monday, April 20, 2020

Attie's Artisan Rosemary Rolls

  Here's an easy recipe from my niece, Natalie, commonly known in my family as Attie. When I asked her where she got the recipe, she said she found it online, but then remembered she actually used a combination of recipes, so that means it's now hers! (I guess that must be a family thing, because I do the exact same thing all the time!) Anyway, I love that it only takes a few ingredients and you just mix everything together. I think I might need to make these the next time I make a batch of jam. YUM. Thanx Attie! And thanx for the awesome picture too!

3 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp yeast
2 tsp salt
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tbsp chopped rosemary

Mix together all ingredients, then add 1 1/2 cups warm water and 1-2 tbsp olive oil. It will be a shaggy mess. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for 8 hours. It will look flat, sticky, and bubbly on top.
Turn dough out on a floured surface. Cut dough into 12 pieces. Quickly shape into scraggly balls (uneven edges lead to more crispy browned edges!) and put on dry baking sheet or parchment paper. Let sit again for 20 min. Bake at 425ºF for 20 min or until golden brown.

Notes from Natalie:
Honestly, you can't really mess this recipe up. No kneading, you literally mix it and let it sit over night.
Another way to do this is to bake as one loaf in a Dutch oven:
Preheat the dutch oven for 30 min in a hot 450ºF oven. Throw the dough in, bake for 30 min lid on, 10 minutes lid off.To keep it from sticking, you can either put parchment paper in the bottom or do a light sprinkle of flour AFTER the Dutch oven is heated (otherwise, it'll burn!)

Monday, April 13, 2020

Ham and Pineapple Casserole

   My Mom used to say you get a lot of bang for your buck when you  buy a ham because you can serve it at any meal - breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Of course it's great as a fabulous Holiday Ham dinner, but what do you do with al the leftover ham? Well, you have ham sandwiches, you dice it and throw it into an omelette or a quiche, or you add it to a casserole!
 This casserole uses the classic pairing of ham and pineapple, and bakes it together with pasta and a creamy sauce. It's simple to throw together and you go vary it to your heart's content.
 So give this one a try the next time you have a little leftover ham. It's a great "round two" recipe to make sure you get the most bang for your buck!

1 lb ziti, or other cut pasta
1 small onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, any color, chopped
2 cups diced ham
1 8oz block of cream cheese
1 cup milk
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cups diced fresh pineapple
1 sleeve Ritz crackers
2 tbs butter, melted

Heat oven to 350ºF.
In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook pasta according to directions until al dente.
Meanwhile, in a large saute pan, saute the chopped onions and peppers in a little oil. Saute until softened. Add diced ham. Continue to saute for a minute or two. Add cream cheese and milk. Stir until cheese is melted and sauce is smooth. When pasta is cooked, add to saute pan along with pineapple. (or use a big bowl to better facilitate this). Toss everything well to coat with sauce. Place in a large casserole dish.
In a small bowl, melt butter. mix with crushed crackers. Lightly sprinkle your buttered cracker crumbs over casserole. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and let sit for 5-10 minutes.

To make sure your sauce is flavorful, you definitely want to give it a taste before you add the pasta to it. You could even add some sliced scallions to it, just to bump up the fresh flavor a bit.
Instead of using Ritz crackers, use whatever kind of crackers you like! You could also use seasoned bread crumbs or even crushed potato chips.