Monday, September 16, 2019

Slow Cooker Beef and Noodles


  Well, once again, I'm turning to my trusty slow cooker for a delicious time saving meal. What can I say? I love slow cookers! Actually, I think "obsessed" is probably a better word. How obsessed? Well, frankly, I don't have just one slow cooker or even two. I have a collection of EIGHT slow cookers, all in different sizes, and I use all of them!! I've literally made an entire Turkey Dinner using only slow cookers, including the turkey! How fun is that??? But wait, we're getting off topic.. let's get back to the beef and noodles, shall we?
 This dish is so easy and delicious, it's an absolute must in your cooking repertoire. You just throw everything in the slow cooker and turn it on. It doesn't get much easier than that! And then at the end you just add some boiled noodles and frozen peas. So it's kind of like a beef stew with noodles sort of a vibe. It's definitely a no brainer for a Sunday dinner when you have errands to run all day. And now that we're back to school in full swing and we have a million schedules to manage, coming home from work to a slow cooker dinner is a midweek life saver. And even the cooking novice can handle it, no problem! It's very simple, but sometimes, that's what hits the spot.
 Oh, one other thing. This is another one of those recipe I saw about a million years ago, and then tucked away in my archive, but I have no idea where I found it. Maybe it was one of those food videos you see bouncing around the interwebs. Who knows? Anyway, I hope you try it!




1 1/2 to 2 pounds beef stew cubes, well-trimmed
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
3/4 tsp dried oregano
1/2 cup sliced white onion
1 1/2 cups sliced mushrooms
2 10.75-ounce cans cream of mushroom soup
1 (12oz) package egg noodles (cooked according to package directions on the stovetop)
2 cups frozen peas
Salt to taste



 Add the beef to a 6-quart or larger slow cooker. Sprinkle the pepper, oregano, onions, and mushrooms on top. Spread the cream of mushroom soup over all. Cover and cook on high for 5 hours without opening the lid during the cooking time. Toward the end of the cooking time, cook the noodles according to the package directions. Drain. Add the cooked noodles on top of the meat and sauce in the slow cooker. Add the peas. Stir until everything is combined, and let it continue to cook just a few more minutes until the peas are done. Add salt to taste and serve with warm crusty bread.




Tips:
So, when I made it, I used fresh oregano instead of dried. I think fresh thyme would be a lovely addition as well. Also I didn't even pay attention to the amounts. I used a little more than 2 lbs of beef, I used 2 big onions, (why? because I like a lot of onions!) I used a 10 oz pkg of cremini mushrooms, and a 10 oz box of frozen peas. Oh, and since I knew I was adding more than the original recipe, I added an extra can of condensed soup. Turns out this was a good idea!

Monday, September 9, 2019

Piña Colada Ice Box Cake


  If you follow my blog at all, it's very easy to see how obsessed with pineapple I am. I'm pretty sure I never met a pineapple I didn't like. It's literally the number one flavor of jam in my canning repertoire, and I've paired it in jam with everything from apples to berries and even fresh basil. I've also pickled it, which is my new favorite thing on the planet. It's just so good with everything! So, of course, anytime I see a recipe for a pineapple dessert, I have to try it.
 I made this "cake" for a family shindig a few weeks ago, and it was a big hit! It's the perfect time saver for any occasion because it's a 'must-do-ahead' sort of a thing, and then it sets up into a rich and creamy dish of fabulous that will always get rave reviews!
 Btw, the reason that I said "cake" is that it's really not a cake at all. The graham crackers soften to a cake like texture as it chills in the fridge, just like they do with the Eclair Cake that I shared a while back. Make sense?
 So there you have it. Sweet. Simple. Perfect. Love it. Definitely give this one a try!





1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1/2 teaspoon rum extract
1 can (13.66 ounces) coconut milk, divided
1 package (3.4 ounces) instant vanilla pudding mix
1 container (8 ounces) frozen whipped topping, thawed
15 whole graham crackers
1 can (20 ounces) crushed pineapple, drained
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut, toasted



 In a large bowl, beat cream cheese, confectioners' sugar and extract until smooth. Gradually beat in 1 cup coconut milk. Add pudding mix; beat on low speed until smooth. Fold in whipped topping. 
 Pour remaining coconut milk into a shallow dish. Quickly dip half of the graham crackers into milk; allow excess to drip off. Arrange in a single layer in the bottom of a 13x9-in. baking dish, breaking to fit as needed. Layer with half each of the cream cheese mixture, pineapple, and coconut. 
Repeat layers. Refrigerate, covered, at least 4 hours before serving.

For golden color and a nutty coconut flavor, toast the 1/2 cup of coconut that goes on the top layer.

To toast coconut, bake in a shallow pan in a 350° oven for 5-10 minutes or cook in a skillet over low heat until golden brown, stirring occasionally.



Tips:
Instead of using canned, I used fresh pineapple. I just like it better! And most supermarkets sell fresh pineapple already prepped and cut into chunks. That makes it SO much more convenient! I also probably used more than you'd get from a 20 oz can. I probably added more coconut too.
More is more! 
 

Monday, September 2, 2019

Tomato Cobbler


 I suppose I'm biased since I live in The Garden State, but you just can't tell me that you'll ever have anything better than JERSEY Tomatoes. Nothing else compares!! I mean, you may THINK you've had a tomato before, but you've never had one until you've had a Jersey tomato, that's all I'm sayin'. Quick story... Years ago, I took a road trip down to visit my friends Carol and Tom in Florida, and I brought an entire bushel of Jersey Tomatoes with me. As soon as I got there, Carol immediately grabbed one of the tomatoes and a shaker of salt, sat down at the kitchen counter, and ate it right out of her hand like it was an apple. True story! They're just that good! And at the end of summer, we have tons and tons of them. It's actually not uncommon for my sister Cathy and me to put them up in jars, literally over 100 lbs at a time, just to preserve them for the rest of the year. YUM. So this year, I was thinking of different tomato recipes, and I thought "How about a cobbler?"
  Usually when you think of a cobbler, you think of a dessert made with apples or peaches or any of your favorite fruits, with sweet biscuits on the top, am I right? But have you ever had a SAVORY cobbler? I once made a Savory Corn Cobbler (which was fabulous btw), and so this year, I thought "Why not make a cobbler with tomatoes?" YES. ABSOLUTELY. You basically stew some tomatoes on the stove with some herbs and aromatics, top 'em with some home made drop biscuits, and then bake the whole thing until golden and bubbly. How can this not be good? I took one taste and immediately wondered where this had been my whole life. It's just SO good! This recipe has two kinds of tomatoes in it, so that's doubly delicious in my book.
 So if you have any tomato lovers in your life, or if maybe you have a garden with a surplus tomato crop for the end of summer, THIS is the recipe for you. It's from Food Network Magazine and it's one of my new favorite things. Like, ever. In life. I literally just made it and now I want to make it again. Yes, there are a few steps, but it's all very easy, even for the cooking novice. Maybe serve with a nice salad for dinner or even for brunch?  Yes please!



For the filling:
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 large tomatoes (about 1 3/4 pounds), cut into 1-inch chunks
1 teaspoon packed light brown sugar
Kosher salt
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

For the topping:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, thinly sliced
2/3 cup milk, plus more for brushing
2 teaspoons whole-grain mustard
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme



Preheat the oven to 350ºF. 

Make the filling: 
 Heat 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and lightly golden, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, thyme and cayenne and cook 1 more minute. Add the chopped tomatoes, brown sugar and 1 1/4 teaspoons salt. Bring to a simmer and cook until the tomatoes just begin to soften, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, then gently stir in the cherry tomatoes and flour. Transfer to a 2-quart baking dish and dot with the remaining 1 tablespoon butter. 

Make the topping: 
 Whisk the flour, baking powder, granulated sugar, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and black pepper to taste in a medium bowl. Add the butter and use a pastry cutter or your fingers to rub the butter into the flour until it resembles coarse meal with pea-size pieces of butter. Add the milk, mustard and thyme and gently mix with a fork just until a sticky dough forms, being careful not to overwork the dough. 

 Drop balls of dough over the tomato filling and brush the dough with milk. Place the cobbler on a baking sheet and bake until golden and bubbling, 50 minutes to 1 hour. Let rest 15 minutes before serving. 



Tips:
One of the keys to this dish's success is the fresh thyme. Yes, you could use dried thyme, but the fresh is just so much better, in my opinion. I literally made a special trip to the store to get it.
Instead of using cayenne pepper, I used crushed red pepper flakes. Why? Because I like them! I also used half and half instead of milk because that's that I had on hand.
When I added the flour to the sauce, I took some of the juice from the tomatoes in the pan, let it cool for a bit in a small bowl, and then whisked in the flour to make a slurry. When it was well mixed, I stirred it back into the pan. This insured that there wouldn't be any big lumps of flour in the sauce. 
 Oh, one other thing.. The recipe doesn't say to peel the tomatoes, but I did anyway. Well, not the cherry tomatoes, but just the large ones. It's just a personal preference!
For a quick tutorial, watch my video How To Peel A Tomato !


Monday, August 26, 2019

Joey's Pickled Peaches


   Have you ever had a pickled peach? Did you even know that you could pickle a peach? Actually, you can pickle just about anything, but even so, who knew that pickled peaches were such a big thing?
 I must confess that they're not the most common thing in my neck of the woods. If fact, as I was searching recipes and asking for feedback, most of my friends and family had never even heard of them let alone tasted them. Quite honestly, the idea of a pickled peach didn't really go over too well with everyone I asked. (Frankly, it sounded pretty good to me!) And then I read one recipe that said "In the South, it just isn't Thanksgiving without a cut glass bowl of pickled peaches on the table." I thought "well, that settles it. Clearly it's a THING, so I need to try it."
  Of course that brought me to my next question: Which recipe??  I found MANY recipes that were very similar. Vinegar, sugar, and warm spices like cinnamon and cloves. Hmm.. I'm not so sure that's the way I want to go. Earlier this summer when I made pickled watermelon rind, I used cinnamon sticks, and the rind came out tasting very little like watermelon, and very much more like apple pie. I mean, I guess it makes sense.... You have a surplus crop of peaches or watermelons, you preserve them with warm Autumn spices, and then you enjoy them for the rest of the year through Fall and Winter. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but that's not what I wanted this time. I wanted something more like a PICKLE than a spiced peach, know what I mean?
  So then I found a recipe that used regular pickling spice, which is a blend of mustard seeds, coriander seeds, bay leaves, and allspice, among other things. Hmm... maybe that could work? I also saw a youtube video where they added shallots and cardamom to the brine. This basically showed me that you can really go any way you want with it and it'll still work. So I thought, ok lets think.. what exactly do I WANT? Well, I want them to have a strong hit of sour to go with the sweet, I don't want them to taste like apple pie, and I do like the idea of adding some kind of spice. And that's how I landed on this recipe. I decided to go with cider vinegar. Why? Because I like it! And I also upped the vinegar to sugar ratio for that stronger hit of sour I was after. I went with the regular pickling spice because that seemed to be a departure from apple pie, but then still added a cinnamon stick, just to get the best of both worlds. It turned out great!!
 So now that you know about pickled peaches, you should give them a try! Go out and buy some deliciously juicy ripe peaches while they're still in season, and then preserve them to enjoy throughout the year. Come to think of it, I think I've just discovered this year's Christmas gift! oooo now there's a great idea!!



5 lbs peaches
2 1/2 cups cider vinegar
3 cups sugar
1 1/2 tsp pickling spice blend
1/2 tsp salt
1 cinnamon stick



First prep your peaches:
If your peaches are ripe, cut a small X on the bottom of each peach, then carefully drop them into rapidly boiling water for a minute or two. Then plunge them into ice water. The peels should easily slip off. If your peaches are not quite so ripe, just use a peeler.  Cut your peaches into halves or quarters, depending on the size.

Make the brine:
Add all remaining ingredients to a large pot. Bring to a rolling boil. Continue to boil for about 10 minutes. Add prepped peaches to the pot. Let them cook for about 5-10 minutes, until they are just barely tender.

Fill and process:
Spoon peaches into hot sterile quart-size jars and ladle enough of the hot brine until you reach about 1/2 inch from the rim. Wipe the rims with a clean damp cloth, and seal with lids and rings. Process in a hot water bath for 20 minutes. Remove from pot to a towel-lined kitchen counter or tray. Allow to cool for 12-24 hours before moving them to insure a proper seal. Properly sealed jars will last for easily a year. If you don't plan to seal your jars in a water bath, they will last up to 3 months in the refrigerator.

 Serve them on sandwiches, with ham, chicken, pork, turkey, anything you want! They're also fabulous poured over vanilla ice cream. Yes, really!



Tips:
I like to wait at least a week or two after filling the jars before opening them. The longer the peaches are in the brine, the more they'll absorb that delicious sweet and sour flavor.
I didn't want the peaches to be over cooked, so I only poached them in the brine for about 5-10 minutes instead of 20 minutes or even longer, as with some recipes. I figured the jars have to process for 20 minutes in the boiling water anyway, so that would cook them further. I also used peaches that were not over ripe.
I literally quintupled the recipe and pickled 25 lbs of peaches. But I still only threw one cinnamon stick in the pot. Feel free to add more, though, if that suits your fancy.
This recipe is also... dare I say it... LIFE CHANGING when you do it with pineapple. Like, seriously, if you like fresh pineapple as much as I do, you MUST try pickling it. You won't even believe how delicious a pineapple can be.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Joey's Garlic Butter Shrimp Scampi



 This is one of my favorite things, like ever in life, so it kind of amazes me that I somehow never posted a recipe for it. UNTIL NOW!! You can call it garlic butter shrimp, you can call it shrimp scampi, I call it both! It's basically shrimp in a fabulous butter and garlic sauce, usually (but not necessarily) with white wine and it sounds A LOT more swanky and fancy than it actually is. It only takes a few minutes to prepare and it's sure to impress. An added bonus is that it just happens to be like WAY low in carbs, in case you happen to be making low carb choices.
 There are many versions of it out there, and this one is my slightly tweaked version of a recipe I found on a blog called Damn Delicious. As always, I love to take other peoples' recipes and turn them into my own. I encourage you to do the same! Then again, if you happen to love my version just as it is, I won't mind it at all if you make it as written! Hope you like it!




8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 pounds large shrimp, peeled, deveined, tails removed
Kosher salt
Crushed red peppers flakes
5 cloves garlic,sliced
1/2 cup shrimp stock*
1/2 cup white wine
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Chopped fresh parsley leaves or green onions


*To make shrimp stock:
Add shrimp shells and tails to a small pot, add water until just covered. Bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat to simmer for about 10-15 minutes. Pour through a sieve to remove shells. That's all there is to it!


Melt a couple tablespoons butter in a large skillet. Add shrimp to pan, all in one layer. (work in batches, if you need to). Season shrimp with a pinch of salt and a few shakes of crushed red pepper. Cook shrimp, stirring occasionally, until they just barely turn pink. Don't overcook! Remove shrimp from pan and set aside. Add garlic to skillet. Saute for just a minute, then add shrimp stock, wine, and lemon juice. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer until the sauce reduces by about half. Add remaining butter a little at a time, stirring until it's melted and the sauce is rich and glossy. Add the shrimp back to the pan. Stir to coat with sauce. Top with chopped parsley or green onion.  Serve with warm crusty bread or pour it over your choice of long pasta.



Tips:
If you're using salted butter, don't add salt until the very end. Then taste it and adjust the seasoning.
I only did a few shakes of crushed red pepper, but if you like a spicier hit, go right ahead and add as much as you like!
I like big honkin' pieces of garlic, so I like to just slice it instead of mince it. This also makes it easier to push the garlic aside of you just want to flavor the sauce but don't want to bite into it. But really, they turn so mild and sweet, I never push them aside!
For a little extra texture and a slightly thicker sauce, you can dredge the shrimp in a little bit of flour before you saute them in the pan. Just make sure you pat away as much of the flour as you can. You just want a tiny coating of flour. Then saute as directed.
If you don't have wine and you don't feel like making the shrimp stock, just use an equal amount of chicken broth. It will still be fabulous!


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!!