Monday, June 29, 2020

Lidia's Berry Tiramisù

  Every year, for July 4th, I like to try to find something that is red, white, and blue. Sometimes it's a trifle, one year it was even a red, white, and blue chicken salad. This year, I was planning to do a different dessert, but then I got a text from my sister Cathy that said "This recipe looks good!" Since I was already planning to spend July 4th with her, I knew this was this year's recipe!
 If you've never had Tiramisù, it's a delicious Italian dessert made with ladyfingers dipped in coffee or liqueur, layered with fluffy mascarpone cheese, and topped with a dusting of chocolate. The name literally means "pick me up" and it's just the thing after a big Italian dinner.
 Well, instead of a coffee dessert, this version is made with BERRIES! And since the recipe is from Lidia Bastianich (one of my all time favorite TV cooking personalities), it's literally guaranteed to be fabulous! Side note, I go to her restaurant in NYC, Becco, whenever I can, and I'm never disappointed!
 So here we are with a fabulously delicious dessert, perfect for the Fourth of July with its red, white, and blue. It's perfect for summer because you don't need to turn the oven on, and perfect to go far enough to feed everyone at the BBQ. There's just no other word for it. It's perfect! So I guess I should close the way Miss Lidia does, with her signature catch phrase: 'Tutti a tavola a mangiare!'

For the Berries:
4 cups blueberries
6 cups thickly sliced strawberries
3/4 cup granulated sugar
Grated zest of 1 orange
2 cups orange juice
1 cup chunky blueberry jam
1/4 cup dark rum
1/4 cup superfine sugar

For Assembly:
2 cups ricotta, at room temperature
2 8-ounce containers mascarpone, at room temperature
1/4 cup superfine sugar
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
42 Savoiardi (Lady Fingers)


For the berry sauce, in a medium saucepan, combine 2 cups blueberries, 2 cups strawberries, the granulated sugar, orange zest and juice, jam, and rum. Bring to a simmer, and cook to make a slightly syrupy sauce, about 10 to 15 minutes. Pour into a shallow pan (where you will be soaking the Savoiardi), and let cool.
Put the remaining 2 cups blueberries, remaining 4 cups strawberries, and the superfine sugar in a medium bowl. Toss to combine, and let sit at room temperature 10 minutes.
In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the ricotta and mascarpone at medium  speed  for a few seconds to combine, then add the superfine sugar and vanilla. Beat at medium-high speed until light and smooth, about 2 minutes.
To assemble, soak half of the Savoiardi in the cooked berry sauce until moistened, rolling them around to coat thoroughly. Tightly fit these Savoiardi in the bottom of a deep 9-by-13-inch glass or ceramic dish. Spoon a few spoonfuls of the remaining cooked berry sauce over the Savoiardi. Spread half of the ricotta mixture in an even layer over the Savoiardi.
Layer a little more than half of the uncooked berries (you just want an even layer) over the mascarpone. Soak the remaining Savoiardi in the cooked berry sauce, and arrange in a tight layer over the fresh berries. Spread the remaining mascarpone over this in a smooth layer. Cover, and chill overnight for best results. Combine the remaining fresh berries and any cooked berry sauce left from soaking the Savoiardi, cover, and chill overnight.
To serve, cut squares of the tiramisù and serve with a little of the leftover berries and sauce.

TBH, there's nothing I can do to improve this recipe. But here are a few thoughts in Lidia's own words:  "This dessert is best made a day ahead, to allow the flavors to combine. Any combination of berries — or even just one kind — will make a marvelous tiramisù."

Oh, one more thing.. Normally, I make my recipes far in advance so I can take a picture and then post it, usually a week ahead of time, but since I'm planning to make this for the actual 4th, I'm just gonna borrow Miss Lidia's photo until I can take one of my own. I'm hoping she won't mind!! I just wanted to share the recipe in advance without having to make TWO!

Monday, June 22, 2020

Easy Lemon Cobbler

Ok, lets talk about cobblers, shall we? Want to?
I think a lot of people use "cobbler" as a catch all word whenever they bake something that has a bubbly filling and a top crust, but that's just not correct. I mean, yes, there are LOTS of desserts that all have those things... but that doesn't necessarily make them cobblers.
 You have your Brown Bettys, and Pan Dowdys, and Buckles, and Crisps, and Crumbles, and Grunts, and Slumps.... and yes, COBBLERS... all bringing something different to the party. So, what is it that distinguishes each one from the rest?
 Well, sometimes, it's what goes on top, sometimes it's how you cook them, and sometimes it's even where you live. A Brown Betty has a bread crumb topping, whereas a Crisp usually has a brown sugar and oat topping. (Incidentally, here in America, we call it a Crisp, but in the UK, the same dessert would be called a Crumble.) A Pan Dowdy has a pie crust on top, and is baked in a skillet. A Slump is also cooked in a skillet, but it's cooked on top of the stove.  See what I mean? Very similar, but not exactly quite the same. So what makes a cobbler...a cobbler??
 Well, I suppose you can have different kinds. Some people just bake a biscuit topping over some cooked fruit and call it a cobbler. But I was always taught that a true cobbler is made when you pour a batter over melted butter, then add fruit or filling over the batter and you don't stir anything together. Then when you bake it, all the batter bakes up over the fruit filling, making a "cobbled" appearance. Now THAT'S my definition of a real cobbler. And that's what we have here today!!
 Usually, when you do a cobbler, you do berries, or apples or peaches... but today we're doing LEMON! I know, it's not the usual thing when you think "cobbler", right? But that's what makes it so fun! I first saw a version of this recipe on website called Call Me PC, but of course, I tweaked it ever so slightly. Also, it's SUPER easy and you don't even need a mixer. Just a spoon and a bowl!
I'm pretty sure this will please all of my friends and family who are always requesting "anything lemon" whenever I ask what recipes they'd like to see. It's just the right amount of sweet and tart, and I think you'll agree that it screams summer dessert. I promise it'll please your biggest lemon fans! Hope you like it!

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 cup flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
1 cup milk (or buttermilk)
1 tsp vanilla extract
zest from one lemon
1 (15oz) can lemon pie filling
1/2 cup lemon curd

Heat oven to 350ºF.
Place butter in a 9x9 (or 1 1/2 qt) casserole dish. Place dish in oven so that the butter melts.
In a mixing bowl, stir together the remaining ingredients except the pie filling and lemon curd. It should be like a thin pancake batter. Remove pan of melted butter from the oven. Pour the batter over the butter. Do not stir. In the same mixing bowl, stir together the pie filling and curd until well combined. Drop small dollops of the lemon filling over the batter. Again, do not stir. Place the dish in the oven and bake for 55-60 minutes or until the top crust is golden brown. (it's ok if the center is still a little jiggly.) Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or sweetened freshly whipped cream. Garnish with a few fresh berries, if desired.

Feel free to use just pie filling or just curd. I had both, so I used both. (I liked that the curd brought an extra burst of tartness to the party!)
If you don't have fresh lemons to zest, you can also use a little lemon extract in your filling.
Whenever I bake a cobbler or something that is potentially bubbly, I find that it's always a good idea to place your baking dish on a tray in the oven. It might save you from a terrible cleanup later on! Don't have a baking tray? Place a few sheets of foil on the rack below your dish.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Coconut Bread

Ok, this is a quick one. Quick story, quick recipe, quick bread!

   Recently, my fabulous sister, Cathy, was about to celebrate a very special birthday. At first, I wasn't sure what her plans were, if any. But then her daughter, Carly, my buddy, texted that they were planning to surprise her with a bunch of friends and that I should stop by if I was able to make it. Well, of course, if you know me, you know I'm not likely to show up to a party without a yummy homemade something. My Dad used to always say that when you go to someone's house, "you should ring the doorbell with your elbow." (in other words, your hands should be carrying a gift for your hosts!) So I did a quick search and found this recipe on a blog called Baking a Moment. It was the perfect thing to bring! Not only did I already have all the ingredients on hand, but I had just enough time to whip it together. The recipe is so easy, you don't even need a mixer. You just stir everything together, bake it in a loaf pan, and boom, there you have it. Also, this recipe has Cathy written all over it. She loves anything coconut, and this is just the thing that I knew she'd love to have with a cup of coffee. The other thing I love about this recipe is that is has coconut 3 ways: coconut milk, coconut extract, and shredded coconut.  There's no question that this is definitely coconut! (now, whether it's a bread or a cake, is still a matter of debate, but that doesn't really matter, does it? lol)
 So there you go, Cath. I'm so glad I got to celebrate your special birthday with you, and I'm thrilled that you liked this little yummy something. We'll make it again soon. This one's definitely a keeper!

2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups sweetened shredded coconut
1 cup sugar
1 tbs baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1/4 cup butter, melted 
1 large egg 
1 tsp coconut extract
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1 tsp coconut extract

Preheat the oven to 375ºF,  and mist a loaf pan with non-stick spray.
Place the flour, coconut, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl and stir to combine. Place the coconut milk, melted butter, egg, and extracts in a large liquid measuring cup, and whisk to combine. Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry, and fold together just until combined. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan, and bake for 55 to 65 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the thickest part of the bread comes out clean or with a few moist crumbs. Cool for 20 minutes in the pan, then invert onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Lightly toast the coconut flakes in a dry pan over medium heat, until just beginning to turn brown. Set aside. Place the powdered sugar in a medium bowl and add the coconut milk and coconut extract. Stir together until smooth, then drizzle over the coconut bread and top with toasted coconut flakes.

I didn't have unsweetened coconut flakes, so I just used more of the sweetened shredded coconut to sprinkle over the top after it was glazed.  I also didn't toast it because I was short on time, but you do you!

Monday, June 8, 2020

Joey's Fusilli Col Buco with Ham and Peas

  I was recently looking for fun and different ways of using up some leftover ham, and I saw a recipe for pasta with ham and peas. This was exactly they type of thing I was looking for, and honestly, my first thought was "oooo I bet that would hit the spot!"
 Of course, I didn't exactly follow the recipe, and I sort of made it my own, adding some onions and white wine, etc. The result was very possibly one of the best pasta dishes I've ever made. Like, EVER. I'm not even kidding! After having a big pasta bowl of it, I immediately texted my brother with a picture, saying "want some?" He texted me back later that night saying that it was SOOOO good!
 I'm not sure if it was the wine, or the cream, or the grated cheese.. but it definitely all came together perfectly. And one of the things that I really love about it is that the flavor of the peas really comes through. It was just the perfect sweetness to go with the saltiness of the ham and the Parmesan cheese. And it was ready in as little time as it took to boil the pasta. Perfect!
I might need to add this to my weeknight dinner repertoire. You should too!

1 lb fusilli
4 tbs butter
1 small onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups diced ham
4 tbs flour
2 cups milk
1 cup cream
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more
Splash or two of white wine
1 1/2 cups frozen peas
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh parsley

  In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook fusilli according to package directions until al dente.
Meanwhile, in a large saute pan, melt butter over medium heat. Add onions. Saute until they soften, but don't let them go so far as to brown. Add diced ham and garlic and continue to saute for a few more minutes. Add flour. Stir for 2-3 minutes until everything is well coated. Add milk, cream, and grated cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Continue to stir and simmer over medium low heat until the sauce thickens. Stir in a splash or two of white wine and then add frozen peas. Taste and adjust seasoning, if needed. Drain cooked pasta and toss with sauce. Top with fresh parsley and more Parmesan cheese.

If the sauce becomes too thick, the wine will thin it out a little. If it's REALLY thick, add a splash of water until it's the right consistency.
Be sure you aggressively salt the pasta water. Like, two big HANDFULS of salt should do it. You want the water to taste salty like the ocean.
Use whatever pasta you have on hand! I just happened to like the long spirals, so that's what I chose!
Don't like ham, use chunk of boneless chicken instead! You could even use shrimp! oh YUM!

Monday, June 1, 2020

Mom's Pickled Beets

   Have you ever had pickled beets? It seems to me that people either love 'em or hate 'em. When I was a little boy, my Mom used to make them all the time and they were always a HUGE family favorite. Very often she would just buy cans of beets and then slice and pickle them. She'd do a big bowl, keep them chilled in the fridge, and then we'd have them as a side dish for whatever we were having for dinner that night. And the fun part was always that the beet juice on my plate would turn my mashed potatoes red. LOL
 Now, I don't use canned beets, only because using fresh beets just takes it a step further and makes them that much better. When I told my sisters that I was making them, everyone gave lots of MMMMM responses. Honestly, I could sit and eat a whole jar in one go! (My brother Denny said the same thing!) I think the one thing that made my Mom's recipe better than the others is that she used to add finely sliced onions. Not a lot, but just enough to add another dimension to the flavor. And they were SHAVED so thinly that they would practically disappear in the brine. I think that's the key, tbh. So here they are... basically my version of my Mom's pickled beets. They're sweet and sour and fabulous. I made jars and jars of them, but you can cut the recipe in half, and just keep them in the fridge, if you like. Honestly, one of my very favorite things in the entire world, and they'll always remind me of Mom. :)

10 lbs fresh beets
3 cups apple cider vinegar
2 cups sugar
2 cups water
1/2 large Vidalia onion, finely shaved into thin slices
Salt and pepper to taste

First, wash the beets under running water to remove any dirt or grit. Place beets in a large pot, then fill with water. Bring the pot to a boil over high heat. Boil the beets until a fork can be easily inserted into each beet. Be patient, this could take quite a while, especially if the beets are quite large. Be sure to test EACH BEET. The smaller ones will be finished first, and the larger ones will take much longer. As you remove the beets from the pot, place them on a sheet tray to cool. Once they are cool enough for you to handle, peel and slice each one. The peels should slip off easily just by rubbing them with your fingers. You may want to wear food grade latex gloves just so your fingers don't turn red. When all the beets are peeled and sliced, add the remaining ingredients to a large pot. You can use just plain water, but I like to use some of the now red water that we just used to boil the beets. Bring the brine up to heat until the sugar is dissolved. Add the beets and bring it up to a simmer. That's all there is to it.
If you plan to seal them in jars: use the water bath method, and process your pint jars for 20 minutes. When you remove them from the bath, let them sit undisturbed for at least 24 hours.

Serve them chilled with your roast beef or chicken dinner, or add them to salads.
Side note, the other thing my Mom used to do, instead of pickling them, was just to boil them like potatoes, and then serve them warm with lots of butter and salt and pepper. She once told me that this was how HER mom used to make them, and she called them Hot Buttered Beets. FABULOUS. 

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 ketchup
2 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!