Monday, August 14, 2017

Plum Coffee Cake

 Usually when I'm in the mood to bake something, I choose what I'm going to bake, based on what ingredients I have on hand. Well, this time, I chose the recipe based on what I DIDN'T have on hand. It rarely happens, but somehow or other, I ran out of butter. WHAT???? I know. I know. It's crazy. Clearly I wasn't paying attention. Oh well. What can you do? So how does one bake without butter? First, one googles recipes that use oil instead. I also wanted to use some gorgeous red plums that were so ripe and sweet and juicy, they were begging to be baked into something fabulous. More googling. Luckily I found this recipe on that just happens to fit all of my baking criteria. (Isn't Google a wonderful thing?) So I whipped it up, popped it in the oven, and in no time at all my apartment was smelling HEAVENLY as I was setting this perfectly gorgeous cake out to cool. It's REALLY easy to make, (you don't even need a mixer) and it's super tasty! Seriously, if you're a baking novice, you can do this one! If you can measure, you can bake it!
   Another great thing about this recipe is that you can use it as a blank slate for any sort of variation you'd like. The recipe states that you can add lemon or orange zest, but how about some almond extract? Or how about switching up the fruit! Use peaches or nectarines or sliced strawberries, even sliced apples or pears! And how about a pinch or two of spice? It SCREAMS for cinnamon and/or nutmeg. Just add some to the dry ingredients and then add a little to the sugar on top. SO many different possibilities. I know I'll be making this again and again, but I'm wondering if I'll ever make it the same way twice!! Maybe next time I'll really pump up the vanilla flavor by adding some fresh vanilla bean to the batter. YUM. And if YOU can think of any variations, be sure to let me know!!
 So, thank you,, for the fabulous recipe. I now have a new favorite go-to recipe, and I didn't even have to go to the store to buy butter!

1 1/4 cups all purpose flour 
1/4 cup ground almonds
2 teaspoons baking powder 
1/4 teaspoon salt 
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup whole milk plain yogurt or flavored yogurt 
Zest of one orange or lemon (optional) 
1 teaspoon  pure vanilla extract
1 cup granulated white sugar 
7 - 8 Italian prune plums, halved and pitted or 4 - 5 red or black plums, halved and pitted (if the plums are large then cut into quarters)
1 - 2 tablespoons coarse brown sugar

 Heat oven ton 375ºF. Butter an 8 inch spring form pan. (Alternatively spray pan with non stick vegetable/flour spray.) Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper. Set Aside.
 In a large bowl, stir or whisk together the flour, ground almonds, baking powder and salt.
In another large bowl, stir or whisk together the eggs, oil, yogurt, orange or lemon zest (if using), and vanilla extract. Stir in the sugar. Add the wet ingredients to the dry flour mixture. Stir until just combined. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and evenly arrange the halved plums on top of the batter, flesh side facing up. Sprinkle with the brown sugar.
Bake in preheated oven for about 45 to 55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool. You can serve this cake with a little honey drizzled over the top or with a dollop of whipped cream, ice cream, or lightly sweetened yogurt. 

If you don't have yogurt, you can just use an equal amount of regular sour cream (which is what I used), or an equal amount of buttermilk.
Oh, and one other thing... Whenever I bake ANYTHING, I always taste the batter before I bake it. More times than not, I wind up adding an extra pinch of salt. It REALLY brings out the flavor of whatever you're baking!

Monday, August 7, 2017

Joey's Hoisin Chicken with Cashews

 This is one of those recipes that I made and then tucked away for sharing at a later date. I honestly have no idea where I got the original recipe, but I probably didn't follow it very closely anyway. So here is MY version! I'm pretty sure this was one of my so-called "throw together" meals because I didn't write down any quantities. I just threw in a handful of this and a splash of that. If you're planning to cook for a crowd, use A LOT of chicken tenders and A LOT of veggies. Just cooking for yourself? Add just enough for a serving or two. That's really the beauty of it. The method doesn't change, just the quantities. If you don't have a wok, just use a wide shallow pan. But I highly recommend getting one. It makes things SO easy when you want to just throw a few things together for a quick stir fry. I recently bought a new one, and this was the first meal I made. It's SO light and fresh, which is usually how I roll during summer months.
 And one more thing... People always ask me how I cook when I'm not following a recipe word for word. TBH, it's not really something I ever set out to learn. I just DID IT. It's how my Mom cooked, it's how I grew up! You just see what's fresh, you add what you like, if you like a lot, add a lot, and you cook it until it's done. This recipe gives you an outline of what I added, but that doesn't mean it has to be what YOU should add. Would you rather have snow peas or string beans instead of sugar snap peas? Go for it! Don't like onions? Leave 'em out! Or maybe use scallions if you want a milder onion flavor. Before you know it, you'll be a pro because you'll be cooking the way YOU like it!

chicken tenders
corn starch
1 large red bell pepper, sliced into strips
1 medium onion, sliced
1 or 2 cloves garlic, minced
big handful of fresh sugar snap peas
soy sauce
toasted sesame oil
rice vinegar
a couple tbs Hoisin sauce
Big handful of cashews

Cut the chicken tenders into bite sized pieces. Dredge in a couple tbs of cornstarch until evenly coated. Crank your wok up to high heat, and working in batches, saute the chicken in a few tbs oil. Cook each batch of chicken until just almost cooked through, but not completely. Remove each batch to a separate bowl as you go. After you finish cooking the chicken, add the veggies and garlic. Stir fry over high heat until you reach your desired level of doneness. If you like crisp veggies, just go a few minutes. If you like your veggies to be a little more tender, then go a little longer. Add a few splashes of soy sauce, a good splash of rice vinegar, and a drizzle of sesame oil. Stir for a minute or two, then add the chicken back to the wok along with the Hoisin sauce. Toss everything together, continuing to stir fry until the chicken is cooked through. Add cashews and give a final toss. Serve over rice, if desired.

When it comes to stir frying, you want to have all of your veggies prepped before you even start. It goes pretty quickly because you're cooking at a really high heat.
When using toasted sesame oil, think of it more as a condiment than an oil. You want to just drizzle some in toward the end of the cooking.

Monday, July 31, 2017

One Pot Clam Bake

  Here's a dish that I've been wanting to share for quite a long time! I was going to post it last summer (since this is clearly a summer dish), but I had quite a lot going on at that time and before I knew it, the season got away from me. Luckily I was able to get my act together in time to post it this year!
 Ok so lets get  to it! The first time I made this was once upon a long long time ago... like, literally decades ago... and it was SO delicious! But when I went to do it again, I swear I could not remember what recipe I used. All I knew was that it had clams, potatoes, and corn on the cob... and that the sauce had white wine, butter, and garlic.  Sounds good, right? But I had no clue what I did or where I got it. So I did some googling, and finally decided that THIS recipe came closest to what I remembered doing that one time all those years ago. It's from Martha Stewart's Everyday Food, and it's absolutely delish! Not only that, it's really super easy to do. Wait, it's not even super easy... it's STUPID EASY to do. I'm not even kidding. You literally just keep adding things to the pot, and in less than a half hour, boom, dinner's ready! Make it for friends and you'll impress the hell out of everyone. (No one needs to know how easy it was!) Serve it with the rest of the bottle of white wine, (or 2 or 3 bottles LOL) and it's a "summer by the shore" party! Oh, and don't forget the crusty bread for dipping into the sauce. That's key! I'm definitely putting this one on my summer menu and I think you should too! This one's a keeper!

1 1/4 cups dry white wine 
6 cloves garlic, peeled  
2 large shallots, quartered and peeled (root end left intact) 
1 1/2 pounds small red potatoes  
1/2 tsp Red-pepper flakes (optional) 
6 ears corn, shucked and halved  
5 dozen clams, cleaned*
2 lemons, quartered 
1 pound shell-on extra-jumbo shrimp (16 to 20)  
4 tablespoons unsalted butter 
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley  
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano leaves 

  In a 12-quart stockpot, bring wine and 3/4 cup water to a boil. Add garlic, shallots, potatoes, and 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon red-pepper flakes, if using; cover and cook 8 minutes. Add corn, clams, and lemons; cover and cook until clams have opened, 10 to 12 minutes. Add shrimp in a single layer, cover, turn off heat, and let sit until shrimp are opaque throughout, about 3 minutes.
 With tongs or a spider, transfer shellfish and vegetables to a serving platter, setting lemons aside; discard any unopened clams. Pour broth into a bowl and whisk in butter, parsley, and oregano. Scrape flesh from half the lemons into broth, discarding skins. Serve shellfish and vegetables with remaining lemons and broth for dipping.

*Joey's tips for cleaning clams:
First, inspect the clams and remove any that have broken shells. If any are slightly open, give them a little tap. If they don't close immediately, then toss them too. Now place all of the clams in a large bowl of cold water. Let them sit for about a half hour. This will encourage the clams to expel any sand. I've heard that sprinkling a little corn meal into the water will help to facilitate that process. When they're finished soaking, you want to lift them out of the water with your hands or tongs. Don't just dump them out into a strainer because then all of the sand that is at the bottom of the bowl will just pour back on top of the clams again. I usually give them a good scrub with a brush as I'm removing them from the bowl. Rinse the bowl of any sand or grit, and then place the clams back in the bowl for one more final rinse. Now you're ready to proceed with the recipe!

I always prefer using fresh herbs over dried, but you can use dried oregano if you don't have fresh. Just use about a teaspoon, since dried is much stronger than fresh. But definitely do NOT use dried parsley. It just doesn't compare to fresh.
I think maybe the next time I make this, I'll pull back a little on the lemon and oregano, and add a little more butter.  Just sayin!
If you like it a little spicy, add more crushed red pepper flakes! You do you!
Also, I used peeled and deveined shrimp, but just left the tails on so you have a little handle to pick them up. I just found it to be easier and more preferable!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Joey's Maple Bacon Baked Beans

 There are certain foods that just scream SUMMER to me. Hamburgers and hot dogs, corn on the cob, ice cold watermelon, iced tea, and of course baked beans!! What would a BBQ be without them???? So, of course, I like to come up with lots of different versions. I have my own go to Favorite Baked Beans, my Pineapple Baked Beans, and Trisha's Baked Bean Casserole, to name a few. But one can never have too many variations, am I right?
 I decided to try a maple variation when Tory and Ryan were coming over for our almost weekly dinner and a movie night. It was a big hit! Just that tiny little hit of maple gives it just enough of a twist to be something new and exciting, but it's still your classic baked beans. It's definitely a keeper and it's perfect for your summer BBQ. MMM, I'm thinking this would be AWESOME with some BBQ ribs. Who's with me???

1/2 lb bacon
1 medium onion
2 cans baked beans
1 tbs brown mustard
2 tbs ketchup
1/4 tsp liquid smoke
1/2 cup maple syrup
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat oven to 350ºF.
Cut bacon into small lardons. Place in a cold skillet. Turn the heat to medium, and let it gradually come up to heat so that the fat begins to render. Slowly cook until slightly crispy. Add chopped onion and continue to saute until the onions have softened.
 While the bacon and onions are cooking, add the remaining ingredients to a large bowl and stir well to combine. Drain any excess bacon fat from the pan and add the bacon and onions to the bowl. Taste it to see if it needs anything, then make adjustments if needed. Pour into a large casserole dish and bake at for 20-30 minutes or until bubbly. Let stand for a good 10 minutes before serving.

All of the ingredients are added pretty much to taste. Want a lot of bacon? Go for it. Want a lot of onions? Do it!  Want it to be sweeter? Add more maple syrup! The only ingredient you have to use sparingly is the liquid smoke. It's very important to the dish (one might even call it the secret ingredient!) but it is VERY strong. I'm talking just a few little drops and you're good to go. If you add more than that, you'll wind up with an unpleasant sort of artificial taste. But with everything else, add as much as you want! You do you!
If you don't have liquid smoke, you can just add 2 tbs of your favorite smokey BBQ sauce, and then omit the ketchup.
If you don't have pure maple syrup, go ahead and use your basic maple pancake syrup. It'll still be awesome and no one will be able to tell the difference!
I can't remember what size cans I used. They were the medium ones, not the ginormous ones, and not the tiny little ones. Like probably somewhere in the 24oz range. I'll have to get back to you on that!

Monday, July 24, 2017

Joey's Cheesy Tortellini and Veggie Bake

  One of my favorite things about summer is the huge bounty of fresh vegetables that comes with the season. Since I live in the Garden State, I have access to some of the best fruits and veggies you'll ever taste, so I'm all about adding them to my cooking. Sometimes I'll even just steam a variety of fresh veggies and there's dinner! But then sometimes I chop them up and add them to a delicious casserole like this one!
 I was kind of in a pasta mood, but wanted something a little different. So I decided to toss some tortellini in a creamy cheese sauce, add a few veggies, and here we are! It was SO fresh and delicious I couldn't stop eating it! I'm not even kidding. It's creamy and cheesy, but it's not as heavy as you might think because I used broth instead of cream. And the fresh herbs give it a brightness that works perfectly. And yes, I know there's a lot of chopping involved, but it really doesn't take very long.  And once you get everything chopped, that's half the battle! The final product is definitely worth it!
 So keep this dish in mind the next time you go to your produce stand or farmer's market. Look and see what is the freshest. Choose whatever veggies look the best. Use as many as you like! It will all work and I promise you'll love it!

1 medium onion, roughly chopped
1 medium zucchini, roughly chopped
1 medium yellow squash, roughly chopped
1 red bell pepper, roughly chopped
8 oz mushrooms, sliced
8 oz grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tbs flour
1 1/2 cups vegetable or chicken broth
8 oz cream cheese, cubed
1 lb tortellini
handful of fresh basil and/or parsley, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
Parmesan cheese

Heat oven to 350ºF.
Place a large skillet over medium heat. Add a few glugs of oil, and saute onions, zucchini, squash, and peppers. Season with salt and pepper. You don't need to brown them, you just want to soften them and let some of the moisture evaporate from them. Remove veggies from pan to a large bowl. In the same pan, add a few more glugs of oil. Saute mushrooms, tomatoes, and garlic until they soften up a bit. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with flour, and continue to stir and saute for another minute or two. Add broth and cream cheese. Stir until cream cheese melts and combines smoothly with the broth. Adjust seasoning if needed. Add sauce to veggie bowl along with basil and tortellini. (no need to boil the tortellini, it will cook in the sauce). Toss all to coat with sauce. Pour into a 9x13 casserole dish. Top first with mozzarella and then Parmesan cheese. Bake uncovered for about 30-40 minutes, or until bubbly.

Be sure to season everything as you go! Adding a little salt at the end is just not gonna cut it.
Not a fan of summer squash? Use whatever veggies you like! Broccoli, carrots, peas, it will all work!