Monday, December 5, 2022

Apple Pie Snickerdoodles

  I recently got together with my nephew, Tommy, for our yearly tradition of putting up his Christmas tree. It's something that we started many years ago when he asked for a little advice with his tree, and I was all to happy to help. This year, we were joined by my niece, Katie, and she brought a tin of FABULOUS Snickerdoodles. YUM! She told me how easy they are to make, and we discussed how much we liked the fact that the recipe uses butter instead of shortening as with other recipes. So she gave me the recipe. Thanx Katie Kate! It's called Grandma Ruth's Easy Snickerdoodle Cookies, and she got the recipe from Allrecipes.com. Frankly, I have no idea who Grandma Ruth is, but she certainly has a fabulous cookie recipe!! And when I was invited to a friend's house for a little Christmas Hang, I immediately thought of these cookies, and figured they would be great for the party. But then I wondered what I could do to make them extra special. I remembered seeing a tiktok video where a guy used purchased sugar cookie dough in muffin tins, then added pie filling to the center and I thought YES, that's the answer! I just happened to have some apple pie filling and it seemed like all the planets aligned perfectly for this dessert to happen. 
 OMG... when I tell you that they are delicious, I mean they are DELICIOUS. The buttery cookie crust, the apples and the cinnamon.. it was like they were meant to be together!! Everyone at the party absolutely loved them, and I'm pretty sure the entire tray was gone by the end of the party. 
 Now, of course, if you want to just make them into regular Snickerdoodles, you certainly can, and I promise they'll make the perfect addition to your Christmas cookie tray. But if you happen to have a can of apple pie filling, I urge you to go the extra mile. You and your guests will be glad that you did! Promise!

 
 
Cookie:
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1 cup softened butter
2 eggs
2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt

Coating:
2 tbs sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
 
Filling:
Purchased or homemade apple pie filling
 
 
 Heat oven to 400ºF.
 Beat 1 1/2 cups white sugar, butter, and eggs together in a bowl using an electric mixer until smooth and creamy. Combine flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt in a separate bowl; stir into creamed butter mixture until dough holds together. 
Form dough into 2-tablespoon-size balls and roll in the cinnamon-sugar mixture. Place dough balls in greased muffin tins. 
Bake for 6 minutes. Remove from oven. Reduce oven temperature to 350ºF. 
Using the bottom of a shot glass (or other similarly sized item), press a well into the center of each cookie. The dough will still be raw in the center, but the well will keep its shape. Fill each well with a tsp of canned apple pie filling. Place the muffin tins back into the oven for another 5 minutes, or until the cookie dough is set. Remove from oven and let them cool completely before removing them from the tins. You can put the tins in the fridge to speed this process. Use a fork or the pointy end of a knife to help you pop them out of the tin. 


To make the regular Snickerdoodles:

After you mix the filling as directed above, line a baking sheet with parchment paper or lightly grease, form dough into 2-teaspoon-size balls, and roll in the cinnamon-sugar mixture. Place dough balls, about 2 inches apart, on the prepared baking sheet.  Bake in the preheated 400º oven on the center rack for 7 minutes. Allow cookies to cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack. 





Tips:
You definitely want to cool them completely or chill them in the fridge because they'll be too soft when you take them out of the oven and you don't want them to break when you take them out of the muffin tins. 
When you open the can of pie filling, if the chunks of apple are quite large, just chop them up a bit so that the apple pieces will fit nicely into each cookie well. 
 I was originally going to drizzle a little glaze over them after cooling, but then decided that they're just perfect without any additional glaze. But if you'd like to guild the lily, just add a few splashes of water or apple juice to some icing sugar until it's the right drizzling consistency, then pour a little over the top of each Snickerdoodle. You could also do a drizzle of caramel sauce, but I think I prefer to let the cinnamon and apples be the stars of the show. 

Original cook's notes:
When removing cookies from the oven, they make look doughy still. By allowing them to continue to cook on the cookie sheet out of the oven prevents hard cookies. For storing cookies, place cooled cookies in a plastic container or plastic bag with a piece or two of bread to keep cookies soft.
 
 
 

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Light and Fluffy Dairy Free Mashed Potatoes

 



Usually, when I'm choosing recipes, my first thought naturally goes toward what I like to eat. But then it occurred to me that very often people have food allergies and can't eat certain things that I take for granted.

 So today I decided to do a delicios recipe for mashed potatoes that doesn't have all the heavy cream that I usually add. But how do you make it rich without all the cream?? The answer is coconut milk! Yes, yes, I know, crazy, right? But seriously, trust me on this. No, it does't make them taste like coconut. It just adds the richness that you want! Add whatever seasonings you like, and there you go. Perfectly fluffy delicious mashed potatoes without any of the problems that might come with dairy. 

Surprising? Yes. Delicious? Absolutely! !



5 lbs Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and quartered

1 1/2 cups chicken broth

1 can coconut milk

4 tbs ghee, melted 

Salt and pepper

Chives



Place potatoes and chicken broth in a slow cooker. Cook on low for 8 hours until fork tender.

Scoop the potatoes out of the slow cooker, and push them through a potato ricer set at its finest setting. 

Shake the can of coconut milk before you open it.  Now stir in the coconut milk a little at a time. 

Do the same with the melted butter and any broth left in the slow cooker. 

Season with plenty of salt and pepper.  Top with chopped chives.


Tips:

Usually, at this point, I'll mention what I believe to be the "key" to the recipe. Well, in this case, there are several:

First, you want to make sure you use the right kind of potato. Yukon Golds give you just the right amount starch without turning into spackle. 

Next is the potato ricer. If you've never used one, it kind of looks like a giant garlic press, and it's the best tool for mashing potatoes. Of course, you can use a hand masher, but I wouldn't use a mixer. Again, spackle.

Have you ever used ghee? It's just clarified butter with all of the milk solids removed. It works much better for people who don't do well with dairy. Of course, regular butter also works.

And finally, it's all about flavor! Use any seasonings you like. Garlic powder, onion powder, seasoned salt, all good! And remember, it will need more salt than you think it will!

Cooking the potatoes in chicken broth adds lots of flavor too, but you can easily keep it Vegan. Just use Vegan butter, and use water or a vegetable broth.





Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Slow Cooker Apricot Glazed Carrots

 


Here's a side dish recipe that is so easy you won't believe it. It takes literally 5 minutes to prep in your slow cooker (as far in advance as you'd like), and then all you have to do is turn it on. It doesn't get easier than that! This qualifies as one of the easiest most delicious Thanksgiving recipes I've ever tried, and believe me when I tell you that's saying something!! Oh, and one other thing, if you think you don't like carrots, give this one a try. It just might change your mind! 


2 lbs baby carrots
1 medium onion, sliced
1/2 cup water
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup apricot preserves
2 tbs chopped fresh parsley



In a 4-5 quart slow cooker, place carrots, onion, and water. Sprinkle with salt. Cover. Cook on low for 8-10 hours or on high for 4-5 hours. Discard any liquid in cooker. Toss carrots with honey and preserves. Turn to high. Cover. Cook for addition 10-15 minutes. Garnish with fresh parsley on top. Serve. 



Tips:
Whenever I buy bags of baby carrots, I find that some are thinner than others. Choose the ones that are thicker. They'll do much better in this recipe. Don't want baby carrots, use regular carrots! Just peel them and cut them into bite sized pieces. 
Not a fan of apricots? Use any favorite fruit jam. I looked for hints from The Betty Crocker Kitchens, since thats where I found this recipe.. they said that "peach, plum, pineapple or another flavor preserves will lend these carrots a subtly different yet equally delicious fruit flavor." I couldn't have said it better!
Oh, btw, the original recipe did not include the half cup of water. I was worried that it would be too dry, so I added the water. Since we drain it anyway, it just made sense to me! 


Monday, October 10, 2022

Joey's Slow Cooker Bean and Beef Stew

 

 
  Whenever we transition from Summer to Autumn, my way of cooking changes too. Suddenly, we go from cookouts and grilling to making large pots of stews and soups. I'm immediately reminded of going back to school and then returning home to the intoxicating aroma of whatever my Mother had cooking on the stove that day. 
  This year, instead of a slow transition from warm Summer days into crisper Autumn nights, it seemed like Summer clocked out on its very last calendar day, and we jumped right into Autumn. I kept thinking "whoa, that was abrupt! Time to make a pot of stew!" And so, after thinking about it for a little while, I decided to find a new beef stew recipe for just a little variety. 
  As I was browsing recipes, I found a slow cooker recipe that had beans, beef, and potatoes. Nothing else, that was it, thrown into a crock pot. My first thought was "hmm....that's probably pretty bland." No seasonings, no aromatics, nothing. Just beans, beef, and potatoes. OK, lets build on this, shall we? I bought a few ingredients, and got down to business. I started throwing things into the slow cooker, and before I knew it, I had basically just made a tweaked version of my beef stew, with the addition of baked beans. OK! Lets run with it and see where it lands!
  HOLY BEEF STEW, Batman! Why have we never added beans to beef stew before?? It's fabulous!! Not only does it add body to the sauce, it adds a fabulous, almost velvety texture to the gravy. I thought, "oh this would be perfect with some freshly baked corn bread!" Yum!
 I threw it together and let it cook overnight, just because I knew I would want it for earlier in the day, and then it occurred to me that this would be the perfect plan for your Trick or Treaters. 
 When I was growing up, my Mother always had a huge pot of something cooking on the stove all day for Halloween. It was great because we had a houseful of kids, all coming and going at different times, and this was the perfect thing whenever we returned home. It was love in a bowl, and it always warmed us right up. Plus, Mom always said it was easier because there was no worry of trying to fix dinner while answering the door all day giving treats to the neighboring ghouls and goblins. 
So, prep this the night before Halloween, let it slow cook all night, and you'll be ready for the next day. Keep this recipe handy for winter too. It'll warm you up on the snowiest of days!!
If you like beef stew and/or baked beans, you must give this a try!!!



2 lbs stewing beef cubes
1-2 lbs baby red potatoes, halved
1-2 lbs baby carrots
1 large onion, roughly chopped
1 28oz can pork and beans
1 10oz jar beef gravy
1 1/2  tsp dried thyme leaves
2 tbs soy sauce
Salt and pepper to taste 
2 heaping tbs corn starch
1/4 cup cold water

If the beef cubes are large, cut them in half. 
Place all ingredients except the cornstarch and water in a large slow cooker. Cover.
Cook on low for 8-10 hours. 
In a small bowl, stir together the corn starch and cold water to make a slurry. 
Add to the stew. Gently stir to combine.
The sauce will gradually thicken. 
Serve with corn bread, or a hearty crusty bread with lots of butter. 




Tips:
-For an extra added campfire vibe, add about a 1/2 cup of your favorite smokey BBQ sauce. If everyone isn't keen on BBQ sauce, just add a little to your bowl when serving!
-I mentioned cutting the beef cubes in half because I believe they should be bite sized. Sometimes, they leave them in such giant chunks, you can barely even fit them in your mouth! They need to be cut down.  
-Using baby potatoes and baby carrots eliminates the need for peeling and cutting. So much easier! I do like to cut the potatoes in half, though, because of that whole bite sized thing again. Plus, I like the way the look when they're cut in half!
-The amounts of beef, carrots, potatoes, and onions are up to you. I like a lot of potatoes and carrots, so I added 2 lbs of each. Plus adding more potatoes and carrots will make the meal go further! You can literally feed your entire family and only use one little pound of beef. The kids will never know!
-When choosing your brand of baked beans, just go for the basics. There are a million kinds from honey to brown sugar to maple and on and on. In this case, you don't want them to be too sweet. Just the plain original baked beans here. 
-Usually I would use fresh thyme, but in the case of something cooking over a long period of time, I think the dried is just fine. 
-Btw, one of the key ingredients is the soy sauce. You don't really taste it, but it gives you that little bit of savory umami flavor that you want in a beef stew. If you don't have soy sauce, a little Worcestershire sauce or a sprinkle of MSG will do the same thing.
-And as always, when a recipe says "add salt and pepper to taste", it really needs more salt than you think it does. A little sprinkle across the top of the pot isn't gonna cut it. I'm not saying to add a HANDFUL of salt, but you should definitely add a good 2-3 teaspoons of salt and a good teaspoon of black pepper for a whole pot of stew. Did you ever wonder why food at a fancy restaurant always tastes so good? It's because they use enough salt!!! True story.


 

Monday, September 12, 2022

Joey's Scalloped Tomato Casserole

 

 
 
 Usually, whenever I decide to "just throw something together", I decide who the star of the dish is going to be, and then I see where the inspiration takes me.
The first spark of inspiration for this one came from one of my favorite Youtubers. Miss Lori over at Whippoorwill Holler was making an old timey tomato casserole with layers of fresh tomato slices and day old bread.  That sounded pretty awesome to me, especially with all of the fabulous Jersey Tomatoes available. Perfect! There's the star of my show! The problem was that I didn't have any bread or rolls or anything to add to the casserole. Hmm... 
 So I decided to do it anyway, but instead of doing layered slices of bread, I thought, "well, how about bread crumbs instead?" I had tons and tons of Panko bread crumbs, and I thought "oh, yes, THAT would work." Great. What else? Well.... you can't go wrong with something onion-y... chives, scallions, onions, onion powder.. definitely! What else? Garlic? Sure! And how about something fresh? Basil? Parsley? of course. Salt and pepper? Absolutely. It was all coming together quite nicely!
 The only question that remained was: cheese or no cheese? Since I happened to have it on hand, I went with it. I melted some cheese over the top, and I used quite a lot, actually. The result was pretty fabulous, I must say! And it turned out to be a great way to use up the few ingredients I had on hand. It would be a great way for you to use up those extra few tomatoes you have ripening on the window sill!
 Oh, and btw, it would have been perfectly fabulous without any cheese melted over the top. And it would work as a fabulous side dish, maybe with a piece of grilled fish and some roasted green vegetables. I do think the cheese turns it into a stand alone entree, though. 
 Either way, if you love tomatoes as much as I do, especially JERSEY tomatoes, you simply MUST give this one a try! Thanx again to Miss Lori for the spark of inspiration!




4 large tomatoes
3 scallions, chopped
1 large clove garlic, minced
2 tbs fresh basil leaves, minced
1 1/2 cups panko bread crumbs
1/4 cup AP flour
Salt and pepper to taste
1-2 cups shredded Mozzarella cheese 

Cut out the core of the tomatoes and cut them into large chunks. Place in a large bowl along with all remaining ingredients except the cheese. Give everything a good toss. Now place in a large caasserole dish. Top with cheese, bake at 350ºF for about 30-45 minutes, or until golden and bubbly on top. Let it sit for a good 10-15 minutes before serving. 




Tips:
You can peel the tomatoes if you want to, but I just left the skins on. To peel them, cut an X in the bottom of each tomato, then plunge into rapidly boiling water for about 30 seconds to a minute. Now remove from boiling water and plunge into ice water.  The peels will slip right off. 
Don't have scallions? or garlic? or basil? Use one of the other things I mentioned. Garlic powder or garlic salt instead of cloves of garlic. Onion powder, chives,  minced onions or shallots instead of scallions. Any fresh herb you like... parsley, basil, oregano, even fresh thyme or rosemary would work. That's the beauty of a casserole. It will all work!
Yes, that's the correct amount of bread crumbs. 1 1/2 cups is a lot, but remember, this isn't just a little sprinkle on top. This is an actual ingredient in the casserole and it adds body in addition to soaking up some of the tomato juices. The flour does the same thing, especially if you add the cheese over the top. The fat from the melted cheese will mix with the flour and that's how the sauce sets up. (Look at me, always thinking!)
And finally, this was meant to be a meatless dosh, but if you that strongly about it... add some sliced sausage coins... or some diced chicken... or some pepperoni for a spicy kick. Now you've turned it into a pizza casserole!


Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Zucchini "Apple" Pie Filling

 
 
    Do you have so much zucchini that you don't know what to do with it? Or maybe you left your zucchini in the garden too long, and now it's overgrown to the size of a small human?? What do you do?
 You make apple pie, of course! Apple pie out of zucchini? ABSOLUTELY!
  Let me explain. I don't have a garden, but I have friends and relatives who do. Very often, they'll send over their surplus crop of zucchini, and I'm always trying to think of new things to do with it. Side note, if I'm being totally honest, very often, the zucchini is MASSIVE, which is much tougher and isn't as desirable as the smaller more tender zucchini, but hey, who am I to look a gift horse in the mouth?
 Anyway, recently, I was given a large zucchini, several yellow squash, some eggplant, and tomatoes. Naturally, I made a big pot of ratatouille (as one does), and then froze it in containers. Great. But then another zucchini came in.... well, I can't make ratatouille every time....ok.... um... lets try a dessert this time! So, I hollowed out the center of the zucchini, sliced it just as I would slice apples, cooked it until tender and then added sugar, spices, lemon juice, and corn starch. Presto! Apple pie filling! You"ll be absolutely amazed at how much it tastes like sliced apples instead of sliced zucchini. The texture, specifically, is exactly that of an apple or pear.
 So now the doors are wide open! Make a pie! Make a crisp! Make a cobbler! Use it any way you'd use a can of apple pie filling. If you bake it with a buttered bread crumb topping, you have a Brown Betty. If you put it in a pan and lay a pie crust on top and then bake it..well, now you have a Pan Dowdy! And of course, pie, crisp, cobbler, or plain...you MUST serve it with a big scoop of ice cream on top. I'm pretty sure that's a law. 
 Since the amounts of all of your ingredients will depend on the your amount of zucchini, you may have to tweak an amount here or there. But don't panic, it will all turn out fine!



1 giant zucchini, or 2-3 regular ones
1/2 cup water
1 cup of brown sugar
1/2 cup lemon juice
2 tbs corn starch
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp apple pie spice blend
pinch salt
 

 Peel zucchini and slice off the ends. Slice it in half lengthwise. Using a metal spoon, hollow out the seeds, just like you would do with a pumpkin. Slice the zucchini into small dice or slices, just as you would do with apples. Place the zucchini slices in a large sauce pan over medium heat. Add water, and cover. Let it steam for a while until it becomes tender. Now add the remaining ingredients. Stir until it thickens. It only takes a minute or two. Now taste it. Is it tart enough? Add more lemon juice. is it sweet enough? Add more sugar. Is it bland? Add another pinch of salt. Want more cinnamon? Go for it. If it still tastes like squash, add more of everything. When it tastes just as you like it, that's all there is to it!



To make the crisp as you see pictured:

1/3 c all-purpose flour
1/3 c granulated sugar
1/3 c rolled oats
4 tbs cold butter (1/2 stick)
 
Use your hands to combine all ingredients until they come together when squeezed in your hand. Sprinkle the crumb topping over the filling in a pan. Bake at 350ºF until bubbly, about 30 minutes. 
 
 
Tips:
The key to success here is the lemon juice. Usually, many people choose Granny Smith apples for baking because they're very tart. So you really need that lemon juice to make up for the zucchini's lack of tartness. 
The other key is the brown sugar. I tried it with regular sugar, and it just wasn't the same.
And be generous with the cinnamon and nutmeg!

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Fresh Strawberry Lemonade


 
  When I recently went to a dear friend's house for a lovely summer hang, I was asked if I would mind bringing a dessert. Um, have you met me?? OF COURSE  I wouldn't mind! Obviously, you know I had already planned to bring something, and I decided to make something summery and strawberry. I made some fabulous strawberry cupcakes with homemade strawberry jam in the center, swirls of strawberry Swiss meringue buttercream, and a fresh whole strawberry on top. They turned out BEAUTIFULLY and everyone loved them. Full disclosure, I was actually extremely proud of them, thank you very much!
 Then I woke up the next morning, thinking... I want more strawberries!! So I went back to my local farmers' market, and bought several more pounds! They were just so gorgeous and inexpensive and sweet and perfect, I just couldn't help myself. 
 But, what shall I make? Well, we're in the middle of a brutally scathing heatwave with heat indexes over 100ºF. I think some refreshing strawberry lemonade would be just the thing!!
  So here we are! A very simple recipe that is a snap to throw together. It's perfectly sweet and tart and thirst-quenching and I don't know of a single person who doesn't absolutely LOVE it. 
Btw, the recipe is so easy, you don't even have to write it down. It's just two cups of each ingredient. As Miss Ina would say, how easy is that???
  So, go out and support your local farmers, buy a ton of strawberries, and make a few batches of lemonade. I KNOW you'll absolutely love it!!! 



2 cups water
2 cups sugar
2 cups fresh strawberries, stemmed and hulled
2 cups fresh lemon juice
2 cups ice water

First, make a simple syrup. 
In a medium sauce pot, stir together sugar and water over medium heat, until the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat and place in the fridge to cool/chill. 
Place strawberries in a food processor or blender. Process until completely pureed. This will take several minutes longer than you think it will. You don't want ANY small bits of strawberry. Add your strawberry puree to your now chilled simple syrup. Stir in lemon juice and ice water. 
 Pour into a pitcher through a fine mesh strainer to catch any seeds or errant bits of strawberry. 
Serve in a tall glass over ice and enjoy!


Tips:
I believe this recipe to be the perfect blend of tart and sweet. However, you can absolutely tweak it to suit your own taste. Tweak the tartness by the amount of lemon juice you add, and tweak the sweetness by the amount of ice water you add. Start out with 1 1/2 cups of each, and then adjust as you go. Add more lemon juice for more tartness. Add more ice water for less sweetness. And if you'd like a stronger hit of strawberry flavor, just add more pureed strawberries!
When I say to puree your strawberries, I mean REALLY let them go for a while in the food processor until they are completely smooth. This will mean more strawberries making it into the lemonade instead of being strained out at the end.