Monday, August 12, 2019

Basil, Corn, and Tomato Bake




  OK, first, let me just say that this is a FABULOUS casserole, but here's the thing...I don't like the name. There. I said it. It's a Taste of Home recipe, and this is what they named it, but if this were my recipe, I'd called it a Zucchini, Corn, and Tomato Bake. Doesn't that sound better? I mean, clearly zucchini is one of the stars in this play, so why would you leave his name off the marquis? That just makes no sense to me. Who's with me on this? Anyone? Anyone? OK rant over.
 I made this dish for a family event a few weeks ago, and it was a big hit. If you know me, you know how much I love Jersey corn and tomatoes, so this was the perfect vehicle for them. And with the fresh basil, it tastes like summer in a casserole. So fresh, so flavorful! To be honest, I thought of adding bacon to it, because BACON, but then I kind of liked the idea that this was a vegetarian option at a barbecue with all kinds of big meats happening on the grill. Still, I'm sure bacon would be a good option. Or maybe some other kind of protein. Maybe some shrimp? ooo that sounds good! (You know I can never leave well enough alone, right?).  Anyway, definitely give this one a try. And let me know if you agree with me about the name! hahaha




2 teaspoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 large eggs
1 can (10-3/4 ounces) condensed cream of celery soup, undiluted
4 cups fresh or frozen corn
1 small zucchini, chopped
1 medium tomato, seeded and chopped
3/4 cup soft bread crumbs*
1/3 cup minced fresh basil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
Additional minced fresh basil, optional



Preheat oven to 350°. 
In a small skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion; cook and stir until tender. In a large bowl, whisk eggs and condensed soup until blended. Stir in vegetables, bread crumbs, basil, salt, and onion. Transfer mixture to an 11x7-in. baking dish coated with cooking spray. Bake, uncovered, 40-45 minutes or until bubbly. Sprinkle with cheese. Bake 5-10 minutes longer or until cheese is melted. Let stand 10 minutes before serving. If desired, sprinkle with additional basil.

* To make soft bread crumbs, tear bread into pieces and place in a food processor or blender. Cover and pulse until crumbs form.

Tips:
Whenever I add zucchini to a casserole, I like to saute it a bit before assembling everything. This helps to evaporate some of the excess water from the zucchini. So I just added it to the pan when I sauteed the onions. Also make sure to seed the tomatoes before you add them. Again, you don't want all that extra liquid going in. No one likes a runny casserole!

Monday, August 5, 2019

Joey's Slow Cooker Ratatouille


  Do you have a vegetable garden? I must say that one of the drawbacks of living in an apt building is that I don't have a back yard in which to grow my own vegetables. I just love the idea of planting tons of zucchini and eggplant and peppers, and of course I would also grow lots of fresh herbs. I remember my brother Denny used to have a garden when I was growing up and I loved all the fresh tomatoes an basil he would grow.
 Anyway, when Denny had his garden, I remember thinking "what are we gonna do with all of this extra eggplant and zucchini?" Well, ladies and gents, here's your answer! You throw them into a slow cooker and you make ratatouille! Now, I know that this is not the same ratatouille as in the Pixar movie (eventually I'll get around to making that one). This one is just a basic vegetable stew, and it's absolutely fantabulous. It's super simple too! Make as much or as little as you like. Then serve it with some crusty bread. YUM. Sounds like the perfect summer dinner to me! And you didn't even need to turn on the oven.  Hmm.. maybe SOME DAY I'll have my own garden!!! Who knows?



1 large eggplant
2 medium zucchini
2 medium yellow summer squash
1 large red bell pepper
1 large green bell pepper
1 large yellow onion
2 large tomatoes
3-4 cloves garlic
1 small can tomato paste
1 bay leaf
6-7 sprigs of fresh thyme
a pinch or two of crush red pepper flakes
kosher salt to taste
1 tbs sugar
fresh basil
grated Parmesan cheese


Cut eggplant into large cubes (no need to peel). Lay the cubes in one even layer on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with a few teaspoons of kosher salt. Set aside for at least 30 minutes. In the meantime, slice all other veggies into large chunks. Chop garlic. Tie a few sprigs of thyme together with cotton twine.
 Rinse eggplant cubes of excess salt and drain well. Pat extra liquid dry with paper towels.
 Add everything to the slow cooker except for the basil and grated cheese. Stir well until the tomato paste is mixed throughout. Cover and cook on low for 5 hours, stirring about halfway through.
To serve, sprinkle with grated cheese and chopped basil. Can be served hot, chilled, or at room temperature.



Tips:
Fresh herbs are definitely the way to go. Just sayin! I mean, sure you could use dried herbs but it won't be the same. 
Be sure to salt the eggplant for at least a half hour before you cook it. It helps pull out all the bitter liquid inside the eggplant, so I stand by it for all eggplant dishes. This is one rule that I NEVER skip!!


Monday, July 29, 2019

Joey's Pepper Jack Chicken Mac


  When the weather is warm, I usually tend to set the baked casseroles aside, because most times I'd rather not turn on a hot oven. But this one was so good, I think it's worth cranking up the AC!
 I originally got the idea when I was watching a cooking show, and they did a jalapeno mac and cheese. But then I thought, what if I turn that from a side dish into a one dish meal? I could add shredded chicken and a few other things, and it would be perfect! So that's exactly what I did. And it turned out great! The onions and garlic add a deeper savory-ness to the dish, and the different cheeses add to the depth of flavor. Yes, yes, all you cheese purists, I used Velveeta processed cheese. Judge me all you want, but I'm owning it. It makes the dish so much more gooey and creamy, so I stand by it! And as far as the heat goes, I used just a couple jalapeño peppers, but you can add as many as you like! SO good!
 This dish is pretty hearty, so you don't need anything else but maybe a light side salad to go with it, and then maybe cool off with some fresh fruit for dessert. Sounds like a perfect dinner to me! No matter how you serve it, if you're a fan of mac and cheese, then I know you're gonna love it!




1/2 lb large elbow macaroni
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 tbs butter
4 tbs flour
4 cups milk
1 tbs mustard, any kind
1/2 lb pepper jack cheese
1/2 lb Velveeta processed cheese
1/2 lb cheddar cheese
1-2 Jalapeño peppers, sliced, can be fresh or pickled
2 cups cooked chicken, diced or shredded


 In a large pot of salted water, boil the elbows until al dente. Drain and set aside in a large bowl.
In the meantime, melt butter in a large saute pan. Add onions and garlic. Saute until the onions are soft and fragrant. Add flour to pan, stir to combine. Add milk and mustard. Use a wire whisk to break up the lumps of flour. Add cheeses to the sauce, reserving half of the cheddar. Continue to stir until melted and bubbly. Add a couple tbs of chopped jalapeños. Add cheese sauce and chicken to the bowl of drained elbows. Toss all until well combined. Place in a large casserole dish. Top with slices of jalapeño and reserved cheddar. Bake 30 minutes or until bubbly and slightly browned around the edges. Remove from oven and let it stand for a good ten minutes before serving.



Tips:
For the chicken, I just used a store bought rotisserie, but you can use whatever leftover chicken you have. Or you could roast a couple chicken breasts in the oven. Just bake them on a sheet tray with a little salt and pepper, then cut into chunks, or shred. Easy!
For the pasta, use any favorite large cut pasta. It's all good!
Wanna really bump up the heat? Use Serrano or even hotter Habanero peppers!

Monday, July 22, 2019

Joey's Pineapple Chicken Salad


 I've always been a huge fan of pineapple, but it seems that lately, I just can't seem to get enough! I could say that it's only a summertime thing, but that's simply not the case. It's not uncommon for me to sit down with a big bowl of fresh pineapple chunks and that's dinner. So, of course, I'm always looking for ways to add it to other dishes. I've paired pineapples in jam with everything from basil to jalapenos to strawberries to apples. I've done pineapple baked beans, pineapple relish, and of course you know you can't go wring with pineapples and ham. And yes, for the record, I LOVE pineapple on pizza. But have you ever thought of adding it to chicken salad? It's fabulous! Especially when you add something that has some crunch to it, such as celery or bell peppers or chopped pecans. It's kind of like a riff on Waldorf Salad, which has apples and walnuts in it. My favorite way to serve it is on a croissant, but it's just as fabulous on your choice of any sandwich or hors d'oeuvres vehicle.
It's turns your same old chicken salad into something with a little twist! Yum.


2 cups cooked chicken, diced
1 cup fresh pineapple, diced
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
3 scallions, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
1/2 cup pecans, chopped
1 cup mayo
Salt and pepper

For the sake of making it quick and easy, I just used a store bought rotisserie chicken and then pulled all the meat off the bones, but you can certainly poach or roast a couple chicken breasts, then just dice or shred the meat. You could also just use leftover chicken. Easy!
Then simply mix all ingredients together in a large mixing bowl.
Taste and adjust seasoning. That's all there is to it!


Tips:
Chop each item to the size you like. I like larger pieces of pineapple, but I like finely chopped celery and scallions. You do you!
All of the ingredient amounts are just guidelines. If you think it needs more or less mayo, adjust it to how you like it. TBH, I didn't even measure the mayo. I just added it until it was the right amount. And the same with the other ingredients. If you like a lot of something, add a lot!

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Lemony Dill Red Potato Salad



  Here's another quick and easy cold salad to bring to your next cookout. It's familiar enough to please the crowd, but just different enough for everyone to sit up and take notice.
 I was kind of in the mood for a really good potato salad, but didn't want to go through the trouble of making an entire 5 lbs of my Mom's recipe (which is the only way I know how to make it... in 5 lb increments.. I'm not even kidding.) So this one seemed to be a good swap (no peeling!) It's inspired by a recipe from a blog called Barefeet in the Kitchen. And yes, I tweaked it a little because you know I can never leave well enough alone.
 So lets break it down, shall we? The fresh dill is SO good in this, it makes me think "why don't I use this herb more often?" And the lemon gives it such a bright tang that it has summer freshness written all over it. I also added some diced celery for a nice little crunch. And well, frankly, for me, potato salad is not potato salad unless it has eggs in it. So there you go!
Give this one a try and let me know how you like it!




3 lbs baby red potatoes
4 hard boiled eggs, chopped
2 ribs of celery, finely diced
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
2 tbs freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tbs chopped fresh dill
1 tsp grated lemon zest
salt and pepper to taste



In a large pot of salted water, boil potatoes until fork tender. Remove potatoes from pot, drain, and set aside to cool completely. In the meantime, in a large bowl, combine remaining ingredients. When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, cut each one in half. Add potato halves to the bowl and toss to coat with the dressing. Chill until ready to serve.



Tip:
I don't mind if the potatoes are still slightly warm when mixing with the dressing. This lets the potatoes absorb all the yummy flavor.
When chopping the eggs, I just use an egg slicer and slice them in two different directions, you know, like you do for egg salad.
The amounts of lemon and dill are just suggestions. Whenever I'm making something with fresh dill, I find that I always end up adding more than a recipe says. Same with the lemon juice and zest. Add it until it's the right amount for you!
Also, if you garnish the bowl with a sprig of dill (and even a slice of lemon on top), then your guests will know what ingredients are in the dish!

Monday, July 15, 2019

Joey's Macaroni Cole Slaw



 OK here's a really quick no-brainer of a side salad that made me think "why have we never done this before?" It's exactly as it sounds: cole slaw with macaroni in it. In other words, if macaroni salad and cole slaw had a baby, this would be it! It's so summery and fresh, it's the perfect cold side dish for any BBQ or cookout event. But, like, seriously, why have we never combined the two before? Crazy, huh?
This is my riff on a Taste of Home recipe. Feel free to swap out the veggies with anything you like. The ToH recipe had water chestnuts in it, but I didn't have any on hand, so I just went with what I had. I swapped out a few other things too. Make it how you like it! Easy!




1/2 lb large elbows or other cut pasta of choice
1 bag cole slaw mix
1/2 cup diced cucumber
1/2 cup diced celery
1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
1/2 cup chopped scallion
1 cup mayo
2 tbs sugar
1/4 cup cider vinegar
Salt and pepper


In a large pot of salted water, boil the elbows until al dente. Drain and allow to cool completely.
Place in a large bowl with all remaining ingredients. Stir until well combined.  
 If you'd like to toss the ingredients and then mix the dressing separately before adding, that's fine, but I just dumped everything into the bowl and gave it a good stir. And that's it!



Tip:
I think the cucumber is key. It makes it so fresh! I used a hothouse (aka English) cucumber which is a little sweeter, has tiny seeds, and doesn't even need to be peeled. Use whatever kind you like!
I also went with scallions instead of regular diced onions because I wanted a milder onion flavor.
 To save time, this can be made a day in advance.
And as always, if you like a lot of something, add a lot!

Monday, July 8, 2019

Cinnamon Watermelon Rind Pickles


   OK, I have a question for you. What kind of eater are you? Are you an adventurous eater? In other words, do you purposely order something from a menu specifically because you've previously never tried it? Or are you a "stick to the plan , never stray from the path, stay with the tried and true" kind of eater? If you know me, you already know that I fall squarely into the former category, not that there's anything wrong with the latter. Some people know what they like, and that's fine, but I'm always one for trying new foods, especially when it comes to canning!
 I had heard of pickling watermelon rind, but I had never tasted it, and it has been on my to-do list ever since I learned how to preserve things in jars. And now I've finally gotten around to making it! So here we go.
 Where does one even find a pickled watermelon rind recipe? In my many google searches, I discovered that this is clearly a big Southern thing, and it's also very frugal since you are using up just about the entire melon. I discovered that many famous chefs and cooking personalities have their own versions of it, so it was kind of hard trying to decide which direction to go. I looked at Martha Stewart's recipe, Paula Deen's, Alton Brown's, and several others. I also immediately noticed that many recipes for pickling any kind of fruit often have warm spices in them. I found recipes with cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice, cloves, and so forth. I guess that makes perfect sense that you would preserve your melon rinds and fruits during the summer, and then eat them in the Autumn and Winter months. So I needed to decide how spicy I wanted to go. For my first time pickling fruit, I thought "lets just keep it simple" (that's often the best rule in cooking). I decided to go with this recipe is from Ball Canning, or as I like to call them "the canning people." Side note, I ALWAYS use their line of mason jars and canning materials, and I have more than one of their canning cookbooks. As far as I'm concerned, they are simply the Canning Authorities.
 But anyway, lets talk about the TASTE! I mean, that what everyone is wondering, correct? I absolutely love them and could eat them right out of the jar, especially when they're chilled. In fact I'm already trying to find ways to use them in other recipes. My niece Attie's reaction was "interesting." (Still not exactly sure how she felt about them.) My nephew, Gregger, immediately said that it tastes like apple pie. Well, yes, you do get a hit of cinnamon at the first bite, and the texture is very similar to apples baked in a pie, but the vinegar syrup will quickly tell you that this is definitely not an apple pie. And my sister, Cathy, was too polite to say that they weren't exactly her favorite thing. But hey, I get it! Not every food is for every person! Like my Mom always said "You don't have to like it, you just have to try it." So I'm thrilled that Cathy was good enough to give it a try.
 So that brings me back to my original question: What kind of eater are you? If you're looking for a new something to try, this might be the recipe for you! It was DEFINITELY worth the effort for me, and I will absolutely be making them again. And yes, I bought the watermelon specifically so I could pickle the rind. (You knew I was gonna say that, right??) Let me know if you give them a try. I'm curious to know what you think!