Saturday, August 30, 2008

Mushroom, Onion, & Cheese Pop 'ems

Here's a tiny little appetizer that's HUGE on flavor. I think the basil is the thing that makes it, but you can add any fresh herb that you like. They're quick to assemble and they're in and out of the oven in no time. Bake up a batch for your next party!

1/2 cup minced onion
1 cup finely chopped mushrooms
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tbs. oil
dried basil
non-stick cooking spray
1 can Pillsbury crescent rolls
1/2 cup shredded Swiss cheese

Heat oven to 375F.
Saute mushrooms, onions, and garlic in oil over medium heat until softened. Add basil, salt and pepper. Saute for a minute or two longer. Remove from heat. Spray mini muffin pan with cooking spray. Unroll dough into 4 rectangles. Firmly press perforations to seal. Cut each rectangle in half lengthwise; make 2 crosswise cuts to form 6 squares of dough from each rectangle. Press 1 square of dough into each sprayed muffin cup, letting corners stand above top of cups. Spoon a heaping teaspoon of mushroom mixture into each cup. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Remove from oven. Top each cup with shredded cheese. Place in oven again for 2-3 more minutes or until cheese is melted. Serve warm.

I used Swiss cheese, but clearly, you can use any favorite cheese that melts well. You could add other ingredients too, such as diced cooked chicken or chopped broccoli or spinach. If you don't have mini muffin pans, use regular muffin pans and simply cut your dough into larger squares.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Mushroom Bruschetta

This is the perfect appetizer to serve if you're entertaining friends and enjoying a nice bottle of wine. It's elegant and sophisticated, but simple and quick to assemble.

2 tbs olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbs onion, minced
2 cups mushrooms, chopped
1 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
1 tsp fresh basil, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
balsamic, red wine vinegar, or cider vinegar
1 baguette

In skillet, heat olive oil. Cook garlic and onion until sofetened. Add mushrooms, thyme, basil, salt and pepper. Saute until the mushrooms are lightly browned and the liquid has evaporated. Add a splash of vinegar and give it a good stir. Cut baguette into 1/2" slices and toast. Top baguette with mushrooms and serve.

This recipe is so tasty, you won't even believe it. The key ingredients are the thyme and the vinegar. They both add the perfect something that makes you want to eat more than just a bite. You can lightly toast the baguette if you'd like, but I think it's just as delicious without toasting. I used fresh herbs, but you can easily use dried ones. Just use half as much. Simple!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Jeanie's Cream of Mushroom Soup

You may think you've tasted Cream of Mushroom soup before, but let me be the first to tell you. You haven't. Well, not until you've tasted THIS Cream of Mushroom Soup. This one outshines all the others! My sister, Jeanie, has done it again! This recipe is hers and I'm SO happy to be able to share it with you. You might have to make a double batch because everyone will want some!

1/2 cup butter
1 lb. fresh mushrooms, sliced
3/4 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup flour
2 cups milk
2 cups chicken broth

In a 3-quart saucepan over medium high heat, melt butter. Add mushrooms, onions, and celery. Cook until vegetables are tender and lightly browned. Stir in flour until well blended. Gradually stir in milk, then chicken broth and salt. Reduce heat to medium. Cook 20 minutes or until soup is slightly thickened, stirring occasionally.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Crab Stuffed Mushroom Caps

Usually when one thinks of stuffed mushrooms, one thinks of dining at a sophisticated restaurant. Why wait for a special occasion? Make them at home! They're super simple to make and they're SO delicious! Piled high with crab stuffing, they make every meal into a special occasion!

6 large fresh mushrooms
6 tbs melted butter
1 (7 1/2 oz.) can crab meat
4 tbs. soft bread crumbs
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 tbs. mayonnaise
2 tbs. chopped green onion
salt and pepper to taste
big pinch Old Bay seasoning

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Remove stems from mushrooms. Brush caps with melted butter. Arrange in greased baking dish. Drain and flake crab meat. Combine crab meat, 2 tablespoons crumbs, egg, mayonnaise, green onions, pepper and 2 tablespoons butter in small bowl.
Mound each mushroom cap with some of the crab mixture. Combine 2 tablespoons butter and remaining bread crumbs; sprinkle over crab stuffing. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Serve hot.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Mushroom Lasagna

Nothing says comfort food like a huge pan of lasagna. It screams "home cooked meal", and I don't know of anyone who doesn't like it. Personally, I've never met a lasagna I didn't like. This is a rich white sauce lasagna and it's extremely versatile. You can literally follow this same exact recipe and change it up to your heart's content. Instead of using mushrooms, use chopped spinach, or any variety of vegetables. You could even make a seafood lasagna by adding shrimp, crab, and/or scallops. If I were doing the seafood, I'd add a little Old Bay seasoning to the cream sauce. That's exactly what I did last year when I was in Ptown with Nick and Mitch. It was so good, we even sent some up to the upstairs neighbors. They loved it! I know you will too!

Kosher salt
Good olive oil
3/4 - 1 lb. dry lasagna noodles
4 cups whole milk
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, divided
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 lbs. mushrooms
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil with 1 tablespoon salt and a splash of oil. Add the lasagna noodles and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain and set aside.

For the white sauce, bring the milk to a simmer in a saucepan. Set aside. Melt 8 tablespoons (1 stick) of the butter in a large saucepan. Add the flour and cook for 1 minute over low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Pour the hot milk into the butter-flour mixture all at once. Add 1 tablespoon salt, the pepper, and cook over medium-low heat, stirring first with the wooden spoon and then with a whisk, for 3 to 5 minutes, until thick. Set aside off the heat.
Slice the mushrooms (caps and stems) about 1/4-inch thick. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil and 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large (12-inch) saute pan. When the butter melts, add half the mushrooms and half the garlic, sprinkle with salt, and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until the mushrooms are tender and they release some of their juices. If they become too dry, add a little more oil. Toss occasionally to make sure the mushrooms cook evenly. Repeat with the remaining mushrooms and set all the mushrooms aside.
To assemble the lasagna, spread some of the sauce in the bottom of an 9x13x2 baking dish. Arrange a layer of noodles on top, then more sauce, then 1/3 of the mushrooms, a handful of mozzarella and 1/3 cup grated Parmesan. Repeat 2 more times, layering noodles, sauce, mushrooms, and cheeses.
Bake the lasagna for 45 minutes, or until the top is lightly browned the sauce is bubbly and hot. Allow to sit at room temperature for 15 minutes and serve hot.

For added depth of flavor, use several diferent kinds of mushrooms!
The amounts in the recipe are just guidelines. As I always say, It's the Cass Quaile School of Cooking. "If you like a lot of mushrooms, add a lot of mushrooms." In this case, I used a buttload of mushrooms, just because it's the main flavor of the dish. I don't even know how many pounds of mushrooms I used, I just kept throwing more into the pan until I had enough to cover all three layers. (same goes for the onions and garlic too!) Oh, also, I didn't add any extra salt, since the Parmesan cheese adds a bit of saltiness.
Save time by making it ahead! You don't even have to boil the noodles. Just assemble it as you normally would but use the dry noodles right out of the box. Then keep it in the fridge for a few hours or overnight. The sauce will soften the noodles!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Chicken and Mushroom Risotto

This is a classic rice dish that lends itself to any number of variations. Instead of chicken or mushrooms, add steamed vegetables or seafood. It takes a little time to prepare, but it's not difficult and there's a huge payoff! It's SO worth the time and effort!

6 cups chicken broth, divided
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 cups mushrooms, roughly chopped
2 cups cooked chicken, diced
1 onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 cups Arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine
sea salt to taste
freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 tbs chopped fresh parsley
extra splash white wine

In a sauce pot, warm the broth over low heat.
Warm 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir in the mushrooms, and cook until soft, about 3 minutes. Remove mushrooms and their liquid, and set aside.
Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to skillet, and stir in the onions. Cook 1 minute. Add rice and garlic, stirring to coat with oil, about 2 minutes. When the rice has taken on a pale, golden color, pour in wine, stirring constantly until the wine is fully absorbed. Add 1/2 cup broth to the rice, and stir until the broth is absorbed. Continue adding broth 1/2 cup at a time, stirring continuously, until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is creamy, about 15 to 20 minutes.
Remove from heat, and stir in chicken, mushrooms with their liquid, butter, Parmesan cheese, parsley and an extra splash of white wine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

For added depth of flavor, use several different kinds of mushroom. Also, you can use shallots instead of regular onions, if you'd like. For extra richness, add a splash of heavy cream when you add the butter.
Be sure to use Arborio rice. Using regular rice won't work. It's the extra starch that make the dish rich and creamy.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

How to Peel a Tomato

When I saw Kathy and Brian in the grocery store, as I was buying tomatoes for tomato pies, Kathy asked me how to peel a tomato. So this one's for you, KQ! It's simple and quick and makes all the difference in sauces and stews.
Sometimes when I'm making Marinara Sauce or Fresh and Sun Dried Tomato Sauce, I just leave the skins on (if I'm pressed for time), but I think it's a better sauce without them. Great then!

Big thanx to Trish and to Michael for making this video possible!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Fresh Peachy Pound Cake

Sweet fresh peaches and a touch of almond flavor make this pound cake an instant family favorite. It goes great with a nice cup of coffee or tea. It's wonderful just by itself, but try toasting a slice and serving it with a bit of raspberry jam. DELICIOUS! If you want to push it over the top, serve it warm with a scoop of fresh peach ice cream. LOVE it!

1 c. butter
3 c. sugar
6 eggs, room temperature
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. almond extract
3 c. flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 c. sour cream
2 cups peaches, peeled, chopped
powdered sugar

Heat oven to 350F. Grease and flour a 10" tube pan. In a large bowl, cream sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in vanilla and almond extracts. In a small bowl, sift together dry ingredients. Add to creamed mixture. Fold in sour cream and peaches. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake 75-80 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Cool completely before dusting with powdered sugar.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Chocolate Tiramisu Cake

This is a chocolate variation of the classic dessert, Tiramisu. It was given to me by my niece, Tricia, who got it from her mother, Marianne (who just happens to be a fabulous cook!). How much do I love that my family cooks? Thanx Trish!

Hey Uncle Joey,
Here is the recipe for the Chocolate Tiramisu Cake. I got this recipe from my mom and I made it the first time I ever met Chris' family. I was nervous and wanted to make something that would impress them and I think it worked! This recipe is very simple but tastes sophisticated. To make it look even fancier, as my mom said, just cut into squares then cut the squares diagonally and arrange them nicely on a serving tray. That's what I did! Just to let you know, the icing is really what makes this cake a hit :) When I make this, I use the recipe for Hershey's Black Magic Cake, otherwise a devil's food cake mix is fine! :)
Your Favorite Niece, Tricia ;)

1 box (18.5) devils food cake mix
1/2 cup plus 2 tbs freshly made STRONG black coffee
2 tbs Kahlua (or any coffee liqueur)
2 tubs (8 oz) of mascarpone cheese
1 cup heavy cream (whipping)
1/3 cup sugar
Garnish: unsweetened cocoa

Heat oven to 350.
Line a 13x9" baking pan with foil or parchment paper, letting it extend about 2" above pan at both ends. Coat with non-stick spray. Mix as directed on box (substituting coffee for water). Spread cake batter in prepared pan. Bake as directed. Cool completely in pan on a wire rack. Holding foil or parchment ends, lift cake out of pan. Trim rounded top of cake with a serrated knife so that the cake is flat. Holding ends again, return cake to pan. Mix 1/4 cup strong coffee and Kahlua in a small bowl; brush over the top of the cake. Stir mascarpone and remaining coffee in a large bowl until blended. Beat cream and sugar in a medium bowl on high speed until soft peaks form when beaters are lifted. Fold into cheese mixture until smooth. Spread over cake, adding swirls with the back of the spoon. Lightly dust the cake with cocoa through a strainer. Cut into 1" squares; cut squares diagonally. Can be made a day ahead of time - keep covered in refrigerator.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Hershey's Lickity Split Cocoa Cake

I like this cake because it completely lives up to its name. You can go from "I think I'll bake a cake" to "time to take it out of the oven" in little more than a half hour. You don't even need a mixer. You just stir it up and pour it into a pan. How easy is that? It's great if you need a home made dessert in a hurry. It's just a one layer cake, so it's perfect for a small family or a quiet dinner for a small gathering.

1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Combine flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda and salt in large mixing bowl. Add water, oil, vinegar and vanilla; stir with spoon or wire whisk just until batter is smooth and ingredients are well blended.
Pour into a greased and floured 9-inch layer pan or 8-inch square pan. Bake at 350ยบ for 35 to 40 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean. Cool in pan; frost as desired.

Tip from Joey:
Whenever I make it, I use a 9" layer pan and I usually let it cool for a few minutes in the pan, then turn it out onto a wire rack to let it cool completely. For this cake, I like to use Hershey's Chocolate Glaze, but feel free to ice it however you like.

Hershey's Chocolate Glaze

This is one of my favorite Hershey's recipes. It's absolutely decadent and turns any cake into a show piece. Its great on a Bundt cake because it oozes down the sides in between the ridges of the cake. I also use it on Lickity Split Cocoa Cake. Sinfully delicious!

1/4 cup HERSHEY'S unsweetened cocoa
3 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1 tbs corn syrup
1 1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine cocoa, water, butter or margarine and corn syrup in a small saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly until mixture thickens. Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla. Gradually add powdered sugar. Beat until smooth and thickened.

Tip from Joey:
If you'd like to make your glaze even richer, substitute 3 tbs coffee for the 3 tbs water. Also, I like to use a wire whisk when I mix it up to insure that there are no lumps of powdered sugar.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Monkey Bread

Here you go, Kristin, just as you requested!
Recipes for this bread first appeared in women's magazines and community cookbooks in the 1950s. Since then it has sort of become a classic favorite. It's traditionally served hot so that the baked segments can be easily torn away with your fingers and eaten by hand. I guess, since monkeys eat with their fingers, that this is where the recipe got its name!

4 cans refrigerator biscuits (about 40)
1 1/2 tablespoons cinnamon
1/2 cup butter
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar, packed

Cut each biscuit into 4 pieces. Pour sugar and cinnamon into a plastic bag and mix.
Add biscuit pieces, several at a time; shake to coat well. Place pieces in a buttered tube or Bundt pan until all are used. Bring brown sugar and butter to a boil in saucepan. Cool 10 minutes, then pour over top of biscuits. Bake at 350F for 45 minutes. Allow to cool 15 minutes before removing from pan. Turn upside down to serve.

For a yummy variation, you can add 1/2 cup pecans, raisins and/or coconut before you pour the butter and brown sugar over the biscuits.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Chicken with Apple Stuffing

This chicken dish uses a basic stuffing recipe, with a slight twist. I wanted to do a stuffing that had a slight sweetness, but didn't want to pull too far away from my favorite stuffing recipe, which belongs to my sister-in-law, Marianne. Although some of the amounts are different, the ingredients are pretty much the same, with the added sweet-tartness of the apple. Try it! It's REALLY yummy!

4 boneless chicken breasts
4 tbs butter
2 apples, peeled, cored, and chopped
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped celery
1 tsp dried thyme
salt and pepper to taste
2-3 cups bread cubes
1 cup milk, more or less
1 can cream of chicken soup
1/2 soup can of milk
1/2 tsp dried thyme leaves
splash of white wine

Melt butter in a skillet. Add onions, celery, apples, thyme, salt, and pepper. Saute until softened. Add bread cubes and stir to combine. Remove from heat. Add milk a little at a time until bread is moistened, but not too wet. Let it cool slightly while preparing chicken.
Trim fat, if any, from chicken breasts. Place chicken breasts on your cutting surface. Holding the chicken flat with your entire hand, slice each piece of chicken horizontally so that you'll end up with a total of 8 pieces of chicken that are half as thick.
Place a huge mound of stuffing in the center of each chicken breast. Pull both ends up to meet, encasing the stuffing inside the chicken roll. Secure with a toothpick, if desired. Place in baking pan, seam side down.
Mix together soup, milk, wine, and thyme leaves. Pour sauce over chicken. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until cooked through.

I'd serve this with a steamed or roasted green vegetable and some cranberry sauce. Fabulous!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Nanaimo Bars

In honor of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, I decided to give a shout out to our Northern neighbors. Also, if I don't do a Canadian something, Patty will never let me hear the end of it!
She and her family live in Ottawa. So, she's my 'go to' person concerning all things Canadian. When I was trying to decide what Canadian dish to post, she suggested these wonderfully delicious bars. She said that everyone has his or her own version of it, just as everyone has a different version of homemade brownies. They're very simple and as far as I'm concerned, three layers means triple good!
Thanx Pat!

bottom layer:
1/2 c butter
1 3/4 c graham cracker crumbs
1/4 c sugar
1/2 c nuts, chopped
1/3 c cocoa powder, unsweetened
1 c coconut, shredded
1 egg, beaten

middle layer:
1/2 c butter
2 tbs dry instant pudding*
3 tbs light cream
2 c powdered sugar

top layer:
4 oz semisweet chocolate**
2 tbs butter

Bottom layer:
In double boiler, melt butter, sugar and cocoa. Add egg and cook until thickened. Add crumbs, nuts and coconut. Press into ungreased 9 inch square pan.

Middle layer:
Beat together butter, cream, pudding and sugar. Spread over base. Chill.

Top layer:
Melt chocolate with butter; cool slightly. Pour over second layer. Chill. Cut into bars.

*The instant pudding powder is a substitute for 'custard powder' which is commonly sold in Canadian grocery stores.

** For a little twist, I used two different chocolates, semi sweet and white chocolate chips, and then simply swirl them together over the top of the bars.

Friday, August 15, 2008

France - Creme Brulee

If you've never tasted this, you seriously don't know what you're missing. The name "Creme Brulee" is French for "burnt cream", referring to the layer of hard caramel on top of the sweet custard. For me, it's all about the texture. When you crack into the hard crunchy and dive into the smooth creamy, the combination is absolutely sublime. This would be the perfect finishing touch for a romantic and elegant dinner for two. Enjoy!

6 egg yolks
6 tablespoons white sugar, divided
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons brown sugar

Preheat oven to 350F.
Beat egg yolks, 4 tablespoons sugar and vanilla in a mixing bowl until thick and creamy.
Pour cream into a saucepan and stir over low heat until it almost comes to boil. Remove the cream from heat immediately. Stir cream into the egg yolk mixture; beat until combined.
Pour cream mixture into the top of a double boiler. Stir over simmering water until mixture lightly coats the back of a spoon; approximately 3 minutes. Remove mixture from heat. Place four ramekins in a 9 x 13 pan. Fill each ramekin with custard. Pour hot water into pan and fill halfway up the sides of ramekins, being careful not to let any water get in the custard.
Bake for 45 minutes to an hour or until set. Remove from oven and cool to room temperature. Refrigerate for 1 hour, or overnight.
Preheat oven to broil.
In a small bowl combine remaining 2 tablespoons white sugar and brown sugar. Sift this mixture evenly over custard. Place dish under broiler until sugar melts, about 2 minutes. Watch carefully so as not to burn. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Refrigerate until custard is set again.

Instead of using the broiler to caramelize the sugar, you can also use a hand held kitchen torch. Simply hold the torch over the sugar until it melts, being careful not to burn the sugar.
For an added burst of sweetness, put some fresh berries in the bottom of the ramekins and then pour the custard over the berries. Love it!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Cottage Pie

This is my own version of an English classic. It's one of those hearty "stick to your ribs" meals that always hits the spot. I made it last week for our weekly get together and it was gone in the blink of an eye. Maybe I should make TWO next time! This is a really easy one and it's so hearty! You MUST try it!

3 lbs potatoes
2 lbs ground beef
3 carrots, peeled and diced
1 cup frozen corn
1 cup frozen peas with pearl onions
1 10oz can beef gravy
1 15oz can crush tomatoes
1/2 tsp thyme leaves
salt and pepper to taste
4 tbs butter
1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

Peel and quarter potatoes. Place in large pot of salted water and boil until tender, about 20 minutes. While the potatoes are cooking, brown the ground beef in a large skillet. When the beef is nearly done, add the carrots and continue to saute. When it's completely browned, drain any excess fat. Add peas and onions, corn, beef gravy, crushed tomatoes, thyme, salt and pepper. Give it a good stir and let it simmer over a medium low heat for about 10 minutes. While that simmers, make the mashed potatoes. Drain the potatoes and place in a mixing bowl. Add butter. Mix the potatoes very well, making sure to get out all the lumps. After the lumps are gone, add the milk and salt and pepper to taste. Mix again until smooth.
Pour beef mixture into a 9x13x2 baking pan. Spread mashed potatoes over the beef mixture, making sure to smooth the top. Sprinkle with cheddar cheese. Bake at 350F until melted and bubbly. Let it stand for a few minutes before serving.

The key to smooth mashed potatoes is to get out all the lumps BEFORE you add the milk. If you add the milk before you start mashing, you're likely to have lumps. Use any combination of fresh or frozen vegetables. If you'd like to just use a bag of frozen mixed vegetables, go for it. If you'd like to dice up all the fresh vegetables you just picked from your garden, even better!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

German Potato Salad

When I began my search for a classic German potato salad recipe, I quickly discovered that there are as many different recipes as there are German grandmas. EVERYONE has a different family recipe!!! Some use celery seeds, or celery salt. Some use mayonnaise, some don't. Some have bacon, some don't. Some use dill or other herbs or mustard seeds. The variations are seemingly endless! This recipe seems to be exactly what comes to mind when people think of German potato salad. It has bacon, no mayonnaise, and it's served warm. That works for me! You seriously need to try this recipe. It's SO good!!!!!

3 lbs potatoes
1/2 cup onion, chopped
5 slices bacon, diced
1 tbs flour
1/4 cup white vinegar
3/4 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp salt, or to taste
1/2 tsp pepper

Boil potatoes until they're tender. Cool, peel, and slice about 1/4-inch thick. In large bowl, layer potato slices with diced onion; set aside. Fry bacon until brown; remove and drain on paper towel. Pour off all but 1/4 cup fat. Over medium heat, add flour to bacon drippings, stirring to prevent lumps. Add vinegar, water, sugar, salt and pepper and bring to boil. Remove from heat; stir in bacon. Pour sauce over room temperature potatoes. Toss gently to coat all potatoes. Serve warm.

I used more than one kind of potato (specifically Red Skins and Yukon Gold), just so I could use up what I had on hand. I'd probably just use the red skins next time.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Greece - Spanakopita

This is a traditional Greek dish, consisting of spinach and feta cheese baked between light flaky pastry layers. Some people may be intimidated at the thought of using phyllo pastry dough, but it's really very simple to use. You should seriously give this one a try! it's REALLY tasty!!

1/8 c. olive oil
1/2 c. onion, finely chopped
2 boxes frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
1/2 c. fresh parsley, chopped
1 tsp. pepper
1/2 c. milk
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 lb. feta cheese
20 sheets frozen phyllo dough, thawed completely
1/2 c. butter, melted (plus more if needed)

Heat oil and cook onions until tender and transparent. Add spinach and cook 5 minutes. Add parsley and pepper. Cover and simmer on low heat for 5 minutes or until any liquid has evaporated and spinach lightly sticks on bottom of pan. Add milk and stir. Pour spinach in large bowl and cool. Add feta cheese and eggs, mixing well. Brush pan with melted butter across the bottom and up the sides. Carefully layer 10 sheets of phyllo dough, one at a time, brushing each layer with butter, in 9x13x2 inch pan.
Spread spinach mixture over crust. Smooth the top. Top with remaining 10 layers of phyllo dough, again one at a time, brushing each layer with butter. Bake at 300 degrees for 1 hour or until lightly browned. To serve, cut into squares and then cut each square diagonally into triangles. Can be served warm or at room temperature.

When using phyllo dough, you want to be careful not to let the layers dry out. Lay your dough flat on your work space and cover with a damp towel. Remove one layer of dough at a time and promptly replace the towel while your buttering each layer in the pan. Just be sure to keep your towel covering your remaining layers until they're all used and they won't dry out! Easy, right?

Monday, August 11, 2008

China - Sesame Chicken

This is my very favorite Chinese American food. When I order Chinese take out, nine times out of ten, I'll order this. Well, OK, ten times out of ten! I absolutely love it! Mitch has been asking me for months to make this, so this is for you, Mitch! I hope you like it! I made it for my family when we all got together to watch the Opening Ceremonies and everyone loved it! I think your family will love it too!

4 chicken breasts, cut into cubes
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon sherry wine
pinch of Chinese five spice powder (optional)
2 drops sesame oil
cornstarch, to coat
vegetable oil or peanut oil (for frying)

1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 tbs toasted sesame oil
1 tsp ground ginger
2 ts chopped garlic
2 tbs brown sugar
1 dash red chili pepper flakes
2 tbs cornstarch (or more if you want a thicker sauce)

sesame seeds (to garnish)
sliced green onions (to garnish)

prepared rice
steamed broccoli

Combine chicken ingredients except cornstarch and let marinate for at least 30 minutes in the fridge.
Drain chicken, (discard marinade) and toss pieces of chicken in cornstarch until coated. Deep fry chicken in hot oil until cooked through. Remove from pan and keep warm in oven while making the sauce.
Combine all sauce ingredients EXCEPT cornstarch in a sauce pan and bring to a boil over medium heat.
Mix cornstarch with a little cold water in a cup until dissolved, then slowly add to the sauce mixture on the stove and heat until thickened to your liking. Gently toss chicken and steamed broccoli spears in sauce until everything is coated. Spoon over cooked rice. Garnish with a sprinkling of sesame seeds and chopped green onion.

I like the sauce to be really thick and gooey, so I add extra cornstarch when I'm thickening the sauce.
Use the toasted sesame oil sparingly. A little goes a long way. If you add too much, it'll overpower the rest of the flavors. The same goes for the crushed red pepper flakes. You just want a little shake, even just a pinch.
When I made it, I didn't have any sherry wine, so I just used white wine in the marinade and it was great!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Chicken Parmigiana

This is one of my all-time favorites. It takes a little extra time, but it's not difficult to make and is definitely worth the extra effort. Serve it with a fresh green salad and a nice glass of wine and you have an elegant dinner!

4 boneless chicken breasts
flour for dredging
2 eggs, beaten
panko bread crumbs
olive or vegetable oil
Favorite Marinara Sauce, or any homemade or jarred sauce
mozzarella cheese

Slice each chicken breast horizontally so that you have twice as many pieces that are half as thick. Place flour, eggs, and bread crumbs into separate shallow bowls. Dredge each piece of chicken in flour until coated. Shake off excess. Then dip into egg until coated, then into bread crumbs. In a large skillet, saute breaded chicken, a few pieces at a time, in oil until lightly golden and almost cooked through. Pour some marinara sauce in the bottom of a baking dish (9x13 or larger). Place sauteed chicken in pan. Spoon a few tablespoons of sauce over each piece of chicken and then top with sliced or shredded mozzarella cheese. Bake 20-30 minutes at 350 or until the chicken is done and the cheese is melted and bubbly.

I posted this tip with Mom's Chicken Cutlets, but it also applies here: To keep from breading your fingers, keep one hand wet and one hand dry. In other words, dredge the chicken in flour with your left hand and put it into the egg. Then use your right hand to dip it until it's coated with egg and drop it into the bread crumbs. Then use your left hand again to coat it with bread crumbs. Get it? One hand stays wet, the other stays dry. You won't bread your fingers when you bread the chicken.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Jeanie's Rotini Ratatouille

This was just created by my sister, Jeanie. It's perfect to make now when there's an abundance of fresh vegetables and herbs. Enjoy!

1 medium eggplant, peeled and diced
2 small zucchini, diced
1 cup diced onion
1 green pepper, diced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced
4 or 5 garlic cloves, minced
1 can Italian stewed tomatoes
fresh thyme, oregano, bay leaf, basil
extra virgin olive oil
good red wine
locatelli cheese
(extra onion powder or garlic powder for stronger flavor)
1 lb. rotini pasta (cooked as directed)

Heat olive oil in skillet until simmering. Add all vegetables (eggplant through garlic) and saute until slightly carmelized.
Add about a cup of red wine to deglaze. Stir in tomatoes and bay leaf, and simmer for about ten minutes. Sprinkle over fresh herbs and cook five minutes longer.

Meanwhile drain pasta and add to ratatouille in skillet. Grate about a cup (or more to taste) of locatelli cheese and finish with a sprinkling of olive oil.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

How To Cut An Onion

Many people ask me if I'll teach them how to cook. Well, like I always say, I'm not formally trained, but I can show you a few basic techniques. One of the first things to learn is how to cut an onion. I guess it's something that seasoned cooks might take for granted, but for the novice, it can be a little confusing. What's the difference between chopped, diced, or minced onions? It's all about how large or small you'd like your onions. A 'rough chop' is sort of a coarse cut where the onion is left in rather large pieces. 'Diced' onions are slightly smaller, and 'minced' onions are tiny little pieces. This video shows you how to dice your onions. Thanx to Daniel and Kristin for helping! If you'd like large slices of onion instead of chopped, say if you're making onion rings, you'd start with a very large onion. Peel it and slice off both ends as shown in the video, then continue making cuts in the same direction as when you cut off the ends. (slicing across the lines on the onion). You'll end up with nice large slices which can be separated into rings. To make caramelized onions, do the same exact thing as for onion rings, only start with a smaller onion, and make your cuts closer together, so that you're left with many thin slices, which can be separated into rings and sauteed for a long time over a low heat until the natural sugar caramelizes.

As I mentioned in the first video, my sister, Jeanie, said that putting your face in the freezer helps your eyes to stop burning if the sliced onions are making you cry. This little video is Daniel and Kristin doing just that. SO funny!
Special thanx to Aniell and to my Jeanie for making both videos possible!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Toll House Cheese Squares

This is a really quick dessert and is perfect for any get together. It's super easy because you use store bought cookie dough. I dare you to eat just one! Betcha can't!!!

2 rolls of chocolate chip cookie dough
2 8oz. pkg cream cheese
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 tbs. lemon juice
2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Cut each roll of cookie dough into 18 pieces. Place 18 slices of dough making 3 rows of 6 in the bottom of a 9x13 pan. Mix remaining ingredients together with mixer. Pour batter over cookie dough slices. Top with remaining 18 slices, again making 3 rows of 6. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes. It's best to check on them after 20 minutes. Make sure they're fully cooled before cutting into squares.

I usually like to press the bottom slices of cookie dough together to make one solid layer before pouring the cheese filling over it. I think it makes for a nicer square when you cut them.
You can use any other cookie dough instead of the chocolate chip. Try oatmeal raisin or peanut butter! You can also use your own homemade cookie dough, if you're so inclined. Just make two batches of cookie dough, use waxed paper to roll each batch into a log shape, and refrigerate until firm. Then slice as directed above! Delicious!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Trish's Raviolis with Mushroom Cream Sauce

Many people have asked me for low fat or heart healthy or dairy free recipes. Uh, yeah, how shall I put this......this recipe is NONE of those things. Clearly you wouldn't serve this everyday, but it's insanely delicious and would be perfect if you feel like a little splurge every once in a while. Trish adapted another recipe to create this wonderfully rich dish and I LOVE it! Serve it for a special occasion! Thanx Trish!

olive oil
1-2 cups mushrooms, chopped
1 shallot, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup Parmesan cheese
pinch cinnamon
pinch nutmeg
salt and pepper

Boil raviolis according to package directions. In the meantime, saute mushrooms in olive oil. Add shallots and garlic. Continue to saute until soft. Add cream and bring to a boil. Add cheese and spices. Simmer until sauce thickens slightly. Pour sauce over cooked ravioli. Serve immediately.

Try using a few different kinds of mushrooms. Use as many varieties as you like! It'll only make the sauce more flavorful. Oh, and one other thing...If you're choosing to do the low carb thing, this sauce is fabulous over sauteed chicken. Very low in carbs!

Monday, August 4, 2008

Best Ever Homemade Brownies

My sister, Patty, gave this recipe to my niece, Tricia, who in turn gave it to me. Come to think of it, I've no idea where Patty got it. As you can see, they're thick and moist and rich and chocolaty and decadent and chewy and seriously, what's not to love? They TOTALLY live up to their name. Thanx Pat!

2 cups butter
2 cups white sugar
2 cups Brown Sugar
1 1/3 cup cocoa powder
4 eggs
2 cups all purpose flour
3 tsp. baking powder
3 tsp. vanilla extract

Melt Butter in saucepan. Add sugar to mixing bowl and then pour in butter.
add brown sugar and cocoa powder . Stir together well, making sure to get out all the lumps of cocoa powder. Add eggs and continue to stir . Add flour and baking powder. Fold all of it together. Add vanilla. Grease a 10" baking pan (9x13 will do but brownies will be thicker). Transfer mix into baking pan and spread it out, making sure it reaches the sides and is as even and level as possible. Bake 40-45 minutes at 350. When it is done, it will start to crack, however, the middle should be loose so that your brownies are nice and chewy.

These can also be baked in muffin pans. Just fill them only half way, and bake 25-30 minutes. YUM!

Uncle Joey,
As you saw these were a huge hit at Kristin's housewarming party! I baked mine in a 10" pan but they were still pretty thick (Although I saw no problem with this, some people like them thinner) So I am leaving it up to you to figure out what size pan to use for thinner brownies if you want them. Personally, I thought they were pretty amazing the way they were :)

Your Favorite Niece - Tricia :)

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Shoo Fly Pie

This is a molasses pie considered traditional among the Pennsylvania Dutch and also known in Southern cooking. Brown sugar, molasses, shortening, salt, and spices were all non-perishable ingredients that could survive the long ocean's crossing to America made by German immigrants. The pie's unusual name is said to be due to the fact that pies were traditionally set to cool on windowsills, and due to the sweet ingredients, the cook would constantly have to shoo the flies away. I think this recipe has a few more spices than the one I made for Game Night at Jason and Jimmy's. It has that distinctive ginger snap flavor that I love.
I hope you will too!

one pie crust or half the recipe for Easy Pie Crust
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 c boiling water
1 egg yolk
1/4 c molasses
1/4 dark corn syrup

3/4 cup flour
1/8 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp salt
2 tbs butter or shortening

Line a pie plate with pie crust. Flute the crust to make a decorative edge. Set aside. Dissolve baking soda in boiling water and add to molasses, stirring well. Stir in egg yolk. Set aside. Place dry ingredients and butter in food processor and pulse until mixture looks like coarse crumbs. Pour molasses mixture into pie shell. Sprinkle crumb mixture evenly over top. Do not stir. Bake at 450 degrees for 15 minutes then reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake 20 minutes longer. Cool and serve.

You can omit the corn syrup and just use twice as much molasses, but I find the flavor to be a bit strong, so I like to tone it down a little with the corn syrup. You could also use all corn syrup, but then we wouldn't have a molasses pie, now would we? I'm not sayin', I'm just sayin'.
If you don't have a food processor, just cut the butter into the dry mixture using a pastry cutter or two knives. I like to use the processor just because it's easier and faster.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Berry Berry Peach Pie

In my opinion, you can't go wrong when you're combining flavors in a fruit pie. Clearly, you could do all raspberry or all strawberry or all peach, but isn't it more interesting to have all three? This pie originally started out as a raspberry peach pie, simply because Trish loves Peach Melba. Then I realized I didn't have enough fruit to fill the pie, so I added strawberries to it. The result was delicious! Actually, come to think of it, blueberries would've been a nice addition too. Like I said, you really can't go wrong! What fruit flavors would YOU like to try?

Pastry for 2 crust pie or Easy Pie Crust
1 pint fresh raspberries
1 pint fresh strawberries, hulled
4 peaches, peeled, pitted, and sliced
3/4 cup sugar
3 tbs flour
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp almond extract
1 tbs lemon juice
2 tbs butter

Heat oven to 425 degrees F.
Line a deep dish pie plate with one pie crust, making sure to let it hang over the edges about an inch. Set aside.
Set raspberries aside. In a mixing bowl, place peaches, strawberries, sugar, flour, cinnamon, salt, extract, and lemon juice. Using a rubber spatula, gently toss ingredients together. Pour peach-strawberry mixture into prepared pie plate. Top with raspberries. Cut butter into small pieces and place over top of fruit.
Place second pie crust on top. Fold top crust under lower crust to form a ridge. Flute to make a decorative edge. Cut slits in top to allow steam to escape.
Bake for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees F. Bake 30-35 minutes more or until crust is golden. Cool on rack.

I usually don't stir the raspberries in with the strawberries and peaches because all too often, they wind up getting mangled because they're so fragile. Just add them separately, either first or last or a little at a time as you add the rest of the fruit.
Use as much or as little cinnamon as you like. I usually just get the container of ground cinnamon and do a few shakes across the bowl just before I toss everything together.
If your fruit is extra juicy, your pie might bubble up and over. (As you can see in the picture above). To save yourself from having a burnt mess on the bottom of your oven, simply put a baking tray or a few sheets of aluminium foil on the oven rack just below your pie.
Instead of just cutting slits in your top crust, try weaving the top crust into a lattice as shown in my video How to Make a Lattice Top.
By the way, this is the pie that Paul and I used in the video. I only mention it because I've received several emails from people wondering what kind of pie that was.
Well, now you know!