Friday, October 31, 2008

Savory Pumpkin Soup

Every year on Halloween, my Mom always made a big pot of soup. She did this for several reasons. If she wasn't busy helping all of us with our costumes, she was answering the door, greeting trick or treaters from the neighborhood. Not only that, we were all coming and going at different times and of course we needed to warm up after being outside in the chilly weather all day. A pot of soup was definitely the best option for dinner. Today's recipe incorporates Mom's tradition of serving soup on Halloween with this week's pumpkin theme.
There are TONS of versions of pumpkin soup. It lends itself to so many different variations. There's everything from creamy to spicy to smokey to sweet. I've seen recipes that have coconut milk, or curry, or jalapeno peppers, or even cloves and honey. So, after giving it a lot of thought, I decided to go with a simple recipe that's rich and creamy. It's probably too rich to serve to your band of trick or treaters, but it would be a great first course for Thanksgiving or an elegant candle lit dinner.

6 cups chicken broth
1 can (16 oz.) solid-pack pumpkin
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp dried thyme leaves
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream, warmed
fresh chives, chopped

In a large sauce pot, heat chicken broth, pumpkin, onions, garlic, and thyme to boiling. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered 20 minutes. Pour into food processor and puree until smooth. Add salt and pepper. Stir warm cream into soup. Garnish with chopped chives and a dollop of sour cream, if desired.

If you don't have a food processor, you can use a blender, or just omit this step altogether. It would be perfectly fine to serve it without processing it at all. Just be sure to finely chop the onions and garlic.
For an elegant and festive presentation, hollow out small pumpkins (also known as "Jack Be Littles") and use them as your individual serving bowls. Or you could hollow out a large pumpkin and use it as a soup tureen for the entire batch.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Frozen Pumpkin Creams

My sister in law, Marianne, gave me this recipe many years ago, and every time I make them, I think "why don't I make these more often?" They're so delicious! They taste just like frozen pumpkin pie! And they're easy to make too! They'd be a perfect 'make ahead' treat for a Halloween party or you can also make them for your Thanksgiving dessert. Kids love them too! You could even get the little ones involved when you're making them. Who knows? you might even inspire a future chef!

Nabisco Gingersnaps
1 cup pumpkin
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg
pinch salt
2 pints vanilla ice cream, softened
(Ben and Jerry's is my favorite!)

Line muffin tins with foil or paper cups. Place a gingersnap in each cup. Set aside. In a large mixing bowl, combine pumpkin, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and salt. Fold in softened ice cream. Spoon mixture into prepared cups, spreading evenly to edges. Freeze until firm. Remove from freezer 5-10 minutes before serving. Top each cup with whipped cream and a sprinkling of crushed gingersnap crumbs.

I usually don't mention a specific brand unless there's a specific reason. In this case, I use Nabisco Gingersnaps because of their size. They're smaller than the usual Ivin's Spiced Wafers (you know, the ones that come in the orange and black box), which are too big to fit in the bottom of the muffin cups. If you already have the spiced wafers, don't fret. You can still use them. Just break them into pieces and drop a few into the bottom of each cup, then fill as usual.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Pumpkin Roll

Here's a dessert that is always a showstopper. Not only does it look impressive, but the taste is to die for! It's like a jelly roll, only it's filled with a decadent cream cheese filling. How fabulous is that? And it's the PERFECT thing to bring when visiting friends during the holidays. This is the voice of experience talking! Jason's mother, June, loves it whenever I bring one to her on Christmas morning.
You should give it a try!!!

3 eggs
1 c sugar
2/3 c pumpkin
3/4 c flour
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 c chopped nuts (optional)

1 c sugar
8 oz cream cheese
4 tbs butter
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Beat together 3 eggs and 1 cup of sugar until fluffy. Fold in the pumpkin. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, spices, salt, and baking powder. Fold dry ingredients into pumpkin mixture. Pour into a greased and floured jelly roll pan or lipped cookie sheet. Sprinkle with chopped nuts (if using). Bake at 350F for 15 minutes. Generously dust a clean kitchen towel with powdered sugar. Remove pan from oven and immediately invert onto sugared towel. Roll up cake in the towel and let cool. Mix together filling ingredients. Carefully unroll and spread filling on cake. Roll cake and filling into dessert roll. Chill and dust with powdered sugar before cutting into 1/2 inch slices.

The key to this recipe is rolling it up in the towel while it's still warm. If you let it cool while it's still flat, then it'll break when you go to roll it up. It can get a little tricky when you unroll the cooled cake in order to fill it, but just be gentle with it and take your time. Just unroll it enough to fill it with the cream cheese mixture and then roll it back up again. Then slice it up as usual. I like to slice it on an angle because I think it makes a more attractive presentation. This cake freezes well too. After you spread the filling and roll it back up, simply wrap it well and place it in your freezer.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Pumpkin Dip

When I first told Cathy that I was planning to do a week of pumpkin recipes, she mentioned this one. I had never heard of it but thought it sounded delish, and I also loved the fact that it's something fun and different. It screams party food, doesn't it??? Serve it at your Halloween party and your guests will love it!
Thanx Cath!

Joe -
This makes a pretty large batch, but it looks like you can easily half it, if you want. Or you could just eat it by the spoonful and not worry about it.


2 8 oz pkgs. cream cheese
1 sm can pumpkin
4 cups confectioner's sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
(or you could substitute pumpkin pie spice for the cinnamon & ginger)

Mix all ingredients well.
Serve w/ spiced wafers.

For a festive presentation, just hollow out a small pumpkin (also known as a "Jack Be Little"), and use it as your serving bowl.
I recommend cutting your spiced wafers in half, just to make them smaller and more bite sized.
For a little variation, try dipping slices of apple instead of the spiced wafers. Just give them a splash of lemon or orange juice to keep them from turning brown.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Mom's Pumpkin Loaf

This is another Quaile family staple. Out of all of the gifts that I've baked over the years, this one is always the biggest hit. In fact, this recipe is the standard against which all others are compared. It's delicious, it's SUPER moist, it's simple to throw together, it's easily doubled, and it freezes beautifully. So now whenever I'm looking for a new quick bread recipe, it has to hit all of those points. Oh, and can we talk about how amazing the entire house smells while it's baking in the oven? Seriously? Seriously. Out of ANY pumpkin recipe that I've ever tried, I think this one is my most favorite. It's THAT good!
You MUST try it!

2/3 cup shortening
2 2/3 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 16 oz. can pumpkin (2 cups)
2/3 cup water
3 1/3 cups flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. cloves
2/3 cup raisins, optional
2/3 cup chopped nuts, optional

Heat oven to 350F.
Grease and flour the bottom and halfway up the sides of two 9x5 inch loaf pans. Set aside. In a mixing bowl, cream shortening and sugar until fluffy. Stir in egg, pumpkin and water. Sift together flour, soda, salt, baking powder, cinnamon and cloves. Blend into pumpkin mixture. Stir in nuts and/or raisins (if using). Pour into prepared loaf pans. Bake 60 to 70 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean.

As much as I like raisins and nuts, I usually don't add them. Believe it or not, my favorite addition to this bread is diced bananas. Like, not MASHED, but just diced into small chunks, then stirred into the batter and baked as directed. The banana and pumpkin go together REALLY well!
This recipe makes two loaves. If you only need one, you can easily just cut the recipe in half. But, seriously, why would you? Serve one to your guests and then tightly wrap the other one and pop it in the freezer. You'll have the extra one on hand in case unexpected company drops by!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Here are a few pictures from Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party at DisneyWorld, just for the fun of it!

Have a safe and happy Halloween!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Moe's Lemon Cake

A few years ago, I decided to form a little online cooking club with some of my friends and family. Each week we'd trade recipes and stories and it was then that I first heard of this cake. One of my favorite people on the planet is my friend, Maureen Corson, known to all of her closest friends simply as "Moe". She emailed me asking me if I knew where to buy lemon curd for a cake recipe she wanted to try. I asked her to let me know how it turned out. After she made it, she told me that this was now her 'go to' cake for every family occasion.
As I was choosing cake recipes for cake week, it occurred to me that I never tried "that cake that Moe was talking about" (not to mention the fact that I've been getting a million requests for anything LEMON), so I decided to give it a try. Let me just tell will not believe how delicious this cake is! I kept thinking that this was like a dessert from an expensive restaurant. It's THAT good!
Anyway, I have no idea where Moe got this recipe, but since she's the one who brought it to my attention, she's the one who gets all the credit for it. It's not a difficult cake to make, but it does have a few extra steps and some ingredients that you might not have readily at hand. (like, LEMON CURD, right Moe?) So, double check your pantry! Oh, and by the way, you can find lemon curd in the jams and jellies section of your grocery store. Great then!
Thanx Moe!

3 cups unsifted cake flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp each baking soda and ground ginger
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
2 tbs fresh lemon juice
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups buttermilk*
1/4 tsp cream of tartar

1 cup lemon curd

Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease 2 straight-sided 9x2 inch round cake pans; flour, tapping out excess. In large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, ginger, and salt. Sift into another large bowl.

In large bowl, beat butter and sugar at medium speed 2 minutes until fluffy. Beat in egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each. Beat in lemon juice and vanilla. At low speed, beat in flour mixture (in fourths) alternating with buttermilk (in thirds), beginning and ending with flour mixture; beat until just blended.

In small bowl, with clean beaters, beat egg whites with cream of tartar until stiff, not dry, peaks form. With rubber spatula, gently fold egg white mixture, in thirds, into the batter.

Spread batter in prepared pans. Bake 35-40 minutes until cake tester inserted in centers comes out clean. Cool in pans on racks 10 minutes. Invert onto racks. Cool.

Using a serrated knife, level tops of layers, if necessary. Place 1 layer on serving plate; spread with lemon curd. Refrigerate 15 minutes to set curd. Top with remaining layer. Frost cake with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting; Refrigerate. Serve at room temperature. Garnish with fresh lemon slices, raspberries, or blackberries, if desired.

*To make buttermilk, use 1 tablespoon white vinegar or lemon juice plus milk to equal 1 cup. Microwave for 15 seconds. The milk will curdle which is exactly what you want. If you don't have a microwave, you can just let it stand until the milk curdles. You'll get the same result. The microwave just speeds the process.
If you're planning on bringing this cake to another location (party, neighbor's house, friend's house) be sure it's well chilled. The lemon curd becomes quite slippery when it's at room temerature, and you don't want the top layer to slide off. Yeah, that would be bad.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting

Use this frosting for Moe's Lemon Cake or any yellow cake with fresh berries.

1 package (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup lemon curd

In large bowl, with mixer on medium-high speed, beat cream cheese and butter 2 minutes until fluffy. At low speed, beat in confectioners’ sugar, cream and lemon curd until smooth. Cover; chill 20 minutes, until spreadable consistency.

Coffee Mug Chocolate Cake

People often send recipes to me because they want to share an old favorite or because they've just created something new. My sister, Jeanie, received this little gem of a recipe which has recently created quite a stir over the Internet. It's a little miniature chocolate cake that you bake in a coffee mug in the microwave. How brilliant is that???? Now we are all only 5 minutes away from chocolate cake at
any time of the day or night!

1 coffee mug
4 tablespoons flour (that's plain flour, not self-rising)
4 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons baking cocoa
1/8 tsp baking powder
1 egg
3 tablespoons milk
3 tablespoons oil
3 tablespoons chocolate chips (optional)
Small splash of vanilla

Add dry ingredients to mug, and mix well . Add the egg and mix thoroughly. Pour in the milk and oil and mix well. Add the chocolate chips (if using) and vanilla, and mix again. Put your mug in the microwave and cook for 3 minutes at 1000 watts. Allow to cool a little, and tip out onto a plate if desired.
This can serve two, if you'd like to share.

The cake will rise over the top of the mug, but don't be alarmed!
Is anyone else thinking this needs ice cream? Who's with me???

I think it might be easier to mix everything up in a little mixing bowl and then pour it into a coffee mug to bake it, just because I kept spilling it while mixing it in the mug. hehehe

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Gregg's Very Most Favorite Can't Resist Chocolate Chip Sour Cream Cake

My fabulous, gorgeous, talented, youthful, vibrant, funny, caring and all-around wonderful sister, Cathy, gave me this recipe, which she makes for her husband, Gregg, who just happens to be an authority on anything chocolate.
I asked if I could post it because, as Cathy says "It's killer, and you will never smell such a heavenly aroma in your whole life as this cake baking in the oven. Not kidding."

Cake batter:
1 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup butter or margarine, softened
3 eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
3 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups dairy sour cream

1/2 cup brown sugar, mixed thoroughly with 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
mini chocolate chips (1 1/2 to 2 cups, depending on how much chocolate you like)

Heat oven to 350F. Grease & flour tube pan.
Beat sugar, margarine, eggs and vanilla in large mixer bowl on medium speed, scraping bowl occasionally, 2 minutes. Beat in flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt alternately with sour cream on low speed.

Spread 1/3 of batter in pan and sprinkle with 1/3 of cinnamon sugar and 1/3 of chips; do this two more times.
Bake until wood pick inserted in center comes out clean - about 1 hour.
Cool 10 minutes.

This recipe also works very well in a 9x13 pan or two 9x5x3 loaf pans (you would only do the layering procedure twice instead of 3 times).
Oh, and if you like bigger chunks of chocolatey-goodness in your cake, use regular sized chocolate chips instead of mini chips. Your call!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Banana Crunch Cake

Some of the best recipes are the oldies but goodies. This one was the winner of the 1973 Pillsbury Bake Off. It's a classic! If you've never tried it, you clearly must! It's one of Karen's signature cakes and my family loves it.
Your family will love it too!

1/2 cup flour
1 cup coconut
1 cup rolled oats
3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup butter
1 1/2 cup sliced very ripe bananas (about 2 large)
1/2 cup sour cream
4 eggs
1 pkg Pillsbury Plus Yellow Cake mix

Heat oven to 350F.
Grease and flour 10 inch tube pan. Lightly spoon flour into measuring cup; level off. In medium bowl, combine flour, coconut, rolled oats, brown sugar and pecans; mix well. Using fork or pastry blender, cut in butter until mixture is crumbly; set aside. In large bowl, combine bananas, sour cream and eggs; blend until smooth. Add cake mix; beat 2 minutes at high speed. Spread 1/3 of the batter in greased and floured pan; sprinkle with 1/3 of coconut mixture. Repeat layers twice more using remaining batter and coconut mixture, ending with coconut mixture. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until toothpick inserted near center comes out clean. Cool upright in pan 15 minutes; remove from pan. Place on serving plate, coconut side up. Cool completely.

Whenever you bake with bananas, it's best to use the ones that are really ripe. Did I say ripe? I mean REALLY ripe, like the ones with large brown specks all over the peel. If your bananas are still slightly green, you won't get the sweet banana flavor that you're looking for. Instead you'll get sort of a banana peel flavor, which is not very pleasant at all.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Most Cake

Ok, so, before I give you my little blurb about this recipe, I have to tell you a little story about the day I baked this cake.
I had just gotten home from my early morning shift at work. I came home, baked the cake, took it out of the pan onto a wire rack and placed it on the window sill to cool, as I always do. Then I had a little time to lay down before getting ready to do my second shift of work. An hour later, I was awakened by a sort of scuffling sound. I thought maybe someone had stopped by. I yelled "Hello? Is someone here?" No response. So I get out of bed, walk into my dining room and then stopped dead in my tracks. There was a squirrel CHEWING THROUGH MY WINDOW SCREEN trying to get to my cake! I yelled "NO YOU CAN'T HAVE ANY!" (expletive expletive) and shooed him away! Another 2 minutes, and he'd have made it inside! But I got to the cake before he did, so it was saved. The funniest thing was that he was a brazen little thing...he only ran away like 3 feet, and then stopped, and looked right back at me, still hoping to find a way to get the cake, I guess. So, of course, I spoke to him again, as if he could understand me and said "um, hello, I just said you can't have any!" and slammed the window closed. The little @%$&*! I mean, yes, my cakes always smell great and friends always say they can smell what I'm baking from outside my apt, but this was the first time I ever had wildlife attempting to break into my home to steal it from me! Can you stand it? Unbelievable.
aaaaanyway......where was I.........ah yes.......

This cake was originally called 1-2-3-4 Cake, referring to the amounts of the first four ingredients. My Dad always told my Mom "That cake is the most!" and so it became known as "The Most Cake". Whichever name you decide to call it, you'll absolutely love it, because seriously, this cake is just the most!

1 cup shortening
2 cups sugar
3 cups flour
4 eggs
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup milk
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Heat oven to 350F. Grease and flour a tube pan or 2 layer pans.
Cream shortening and sugar until very light. Add eggs, one at a time. Sift together flour baking powder and salt. Add to bowl alternating with milk, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla. Bake for one hour if using a tube pan, or 35 minutes if using layer pans. (or until top springs back when lightly tapped).

My favorite way of preparing this is baked in a tube pan and simply dusted with powdered sugar. Any kind of chocolate glaze or butter cream icing would be fine as well.
And whatever you do, DON'T leave it on your window sill to cool!!!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Glazed Coconut Cake

Anyone can just make a white cake and throw some coconut on top. To me, that's not a coconut cake. If I'm having a coconut cake, then I want the cake part to taste like coconut too! That would be this recipe. I originally made it for Josh's birthday, since coconut is his favorite. CJ also agreed that this was one of the better cakes that I've ever made. It's so good!
As far as I'm concerned, the glaze is the key. Yes, the cake would be fine if you omitted the glaze and just used a butter cream icing, but it wouldn't have that punch of coconut flavor that I love. It makes the outside of the cake so deliciously moist! Think of how everyone loves to eat just the top of a muffin or a cake because "that's the best part." Well, the glaze makes the WHOLE CAKE the best part. And if you want to take it a step even further, after the glaze has cooled and soaked into the cake, you could drizzle it with Hershey's Chocolate Glaze. It'll be like having a Mounds or Almond Joy cake. Yum!

4 eggs
2 c sugar
1 c oil
1 tbs coconut flavoring
1 tsp rum flavoring
3 c flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 c buttermilk*
1 c flaked coconut
1 c chopped nuts (optional)

1 c sugar
1/2 c water
2 tbs butter
1 tsp coconut flavoring

Beat eggs in large bowl. Add and blend in the sugar, salad oil, and coconut flavoring. Add sifted dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk. Add the coconut and the nuts (if using). Pour into a greased and floured Bundt or tube pan. Bake at 350F for 45 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Meanwhile make the glaze. Bring sugar, butter and water to a boil. Boil 1 min. Remove from heat. Stir in coconut flavoring. Pour hot syrup over the top of warm cake and allow to stand for at least an hour or two before removing from pan.

Note- When I made it for the picture, I wanted to put flaked coconut on the outside of the cake, but since the glaze had already soaked in, there was nothing to hold it onto the cake. So, I decided to pour a little extra glaze over the cake, only this time I removed it from the pan while it was still wet. Then I sprinkled flaked coconut over the cake. The wet glaze allowed the coconut to stick to the sides. How's that for problem solving??

*To make buttermilk, use 1 tablespoon white vinegar or lemon juice plus milk to equal 1 cup. Microwave for 15 seconds. The milk will curdle which is exactly what you want. If you don't have a microwave, you can just let it stand until the milk curdles. You'll get the same result. The microwave just speeds the process.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Chocolate Chip Caramel Toffee Bars

Lately I've been revisiting some of the old Pillsbury Bake-Off recipes and this one looked so good I just had to try it. It's another one of those recipes where you look at the ingredients and say "how can this not be good???". So here they are. I KNOW you'll love them as much as I do!

1 box butter cake mix
1/3 cup oil
2 eggs
1 (12 oz) pkg semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup white vanilla chips
3 (1.4 oz) chocolate covered toffee candy bars, chopped
1/2 cup butter
32 caramels, unwrapped
1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated)

Heat oven to 350F.
Grease a 9x13x2 pan. In large bowl, combine cake mix, oil, and eggs. Blend well. Stir in chocolate chips, white chips, and candy bar pieces. (Mixture will be thick). Press half of mixture in bottom of greased pan. Bake for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, in medium saucepan, combine butter, caramels, and sweetened condensed milk. Cook over medium-low heat until caramels are melted and mixture is smooth, stirring occasionally. Slowly pour caramel mixture evenly over partially baked crust. Top with remaining cake mixture.
Return to oven. Bale an additional 25-30 minutes or until top is set and edges are a deep golden brown. Cool 20 minutes. Run knife around edges of pan to loosen bars. Cool 40 minutes. Refrigerate one hour. Cut into bars. Store in refrigerator.

Instead of buying the candy bars and chopping them up, I just bought a bag of the Heath Bar toffee chips. Easy. Oh, and instead of sitting there unwrapping all those caramels, see if you can find the bags of Kraft Caramel Bits. They're like caramel chips and they're specifically made for melting. SO much more convenient!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Sky Blue Bites

I recently received the following email from my fabulous, gorgeous, talented, youthful, vibrant, funny, caring and all-around wonderful sister, Cathy.
Thanx Cath!!!
and Thanx June!!!

Joe - My friend June recently made these for our bowling league (yes, bowling league - stop giggling). They were served as an appetizer (at room temp). They were sooo tasty! I asked her if I could give you the recipe, because it was yummy & different and I thought you'd like it. So, here it is.
Talk to you soon.

24 new red potatoes,(the little baby red ones) halved lengthwise
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups sour cream
1/2 cup cooked and crumbled bacon, plus extra
1/2 cup blue cheese (crumbled)
1/3 cup parsley, chopped
1/4 cup red onion, finely chopped

Toss potatoes in olive oil and place on a cookie sheet cut side down at 400F for 25
minutes. When potatoes are tender, scoop out center of each potato half and smash in a bowl. Add all the other ingredient and scoop back into potato shells. Top it with more bacon.

Since the potato halves are so small, use a melon baller to hollow out the center. It's much easier than using a spoon. Also, be sure that your cheese is room temperature. It'll mix much more easily.
Vary your potato toppings as much as you like! Try substituting other toppings to your sour cream mixture such as different kinds of cheese, garlic, chives, or even chopped steamed broccoli florets.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Sloppy Joes

I don't know of anyone who doesn't like a saucy delicious Sloppy Joe. (well, excluding those who choose not to eat meat, of course). They're hearty and comforting and they're great when you need to feed a crowd. Actually, I have to confess, when I was little, I kind of resented the name. I always thought "why isn't called a Sloppy Chris????" SO not fair. But I digress...
Anyway, serve these on fresh bakery rolls. You're family will love 'em!

1 lb ground beef
2 ribs celery, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
1 (8 ounce) can tomato sauce
1/4 cup ketchup
1/4 cup barbecue sauce
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon dry mustard
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon vinegar

In a large skillet, brown ground beef, celery and onion. Drain fat.
Stir in remaining ingredients. Simmer covered, 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove cover and simmer until it's the consistency you like.

You can use this same recipe for a nice twist on nachos or tacos. Just melt some cheese and add some diced jalapeno peppers, or a few dashes of Tabasco sauce. It's smokey spicy and slightly sweet. Delish!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Candy Apples

When we think of candy apples, we usually think of Halloween or state fairs, but did you ever wonder how or where they originated?

According to the Newark Sunday News....
William W. Kolb invented the red candy apple. Kolb, a veteran Newark candy-maker, produced his first batch of candied apples in 1908. While experimenting in his candy shop with red cinnamon candy for the Christmas trade, he dipped some apples into the mixture and put them in the windows for display. He sold the whole first batch for 5 cents each and later sold thousands yearly. Soon candied apples were being sold along the Jersey Shore, at the circus and in candy shops across the country in 1948.

And there you have it. It's pretty amazing that something as simple as dipping an apple into some candy syrup could become such a classic treat known around the world. I prefer the regular candy version instead of cinnamon or other flavored versions. If you want, you can add some nutmeg, allspice, liqueurs, cinnamon extract or other flavoring to the mixture. This is Martha Stewart's recipe and I know you and you're family will enjoy making it. Have fun!

2 cups sugar
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup corn syrup
1/2 tsp red food coloring (or other color of your choice)
6 apples (more or less, depending on their size)

Combine all ingredients except food coloring and apples. Stir to dissolve sugar. You want the sugar to be dissolved before you boil it so that the sugar doesn't crystallize. Cook the sugar syrup (without stirring) until you reach 290F. (Use a candy thermometer to be sure). Remove from heat. Add food coloring. Put a stick into each apple being sure that it's perfectly vertical. Using the Popsicle stick as a handle, dip apples into the candy syrup using a rotating motion. Be careful not to drip any of the candy coating onto your skin. This is seriously hot stuff!
After dipping, roll them in chopped nuts, if you like.
Place on a parchment lined cookie sheet, and allow to dry. Store in covered container, or wrap with parchment paper or greased wrap.

Using small firm tart apples (such as Granny Smith) works well because the apple tartness balances with the candy sweetness. You can use large apples, but smaller apples are easier to eat, plus you get a better candy to apple ratio.
If you want to make caramel apples, just melt a bag of Kraft caramels over a double boiler or in the microwave. Stir until smooth and then dip your apples into the hot caramel.
This recipe can easily be doubled if you have lots and lots of apples to dip.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Fettuccine Alfredo

Many years ago, I asked my sister-in-law, Janet, how she made her Alfredo sauce. She told me that she likes to add Gruyere Cheese to it because it adds a really nice nutty flavor. So I gave it a try. At first, I made a sauce with lots of heavy cream, (which is how Alfredo Sauce is often made) but then decided that it made the sauce too rich. Then I tried adding Parmesan cheese and Swiss cheese to a simple white sauce. THIS was the sauce I had in mind. It's rich and flavorful without being too heavy. Now, I know there are probably a lot of purists out there who are cringing at the thought of adding a Swiss cheese to an Alfredo sauce, but don't knock it 'til you've tried it! It's REALLY good! Thanx Jan!

1 lb. fettuccine noodles
3 tbs butter
3 tbs flour
3 cups milk
1 cup Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup shredded Swiss cheese
salt and pepper
freshly chopped flat leaf parsley

In a large pot of salted boiling water, boil fettuccine noodles according to package directions. Drain well. Meanwhile, melt butter over medium heat in a large saute pan. Add flour. Whisk together to make a paste. Add remaining ingredients. Continue to whisk until sauce is smooth and thickened. Adjust seasoning if needed. Pour over fettuccine. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve.

I must confess that I don't always use specifically Gruyere cheese, but most times just any shredded Swiss cheese. It adds just the right amount of bite and combines perfectly with the Parmesan. I've seen many recipes that use cream cheese or even cheddar. Use anything you like! It all depends on your own personal taste.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Classic Lasagna

You can do many variations, but you can't beat the classic. It's sort of the standard against which all others are compared. Add meat, or spinach, or sausage, but my favorite is the original. Lots of sauce, lots of cheese, warm and comforting. You may layer your lasagna differently, but this is how I do mine.
I think it's the best!

2 lbs ricotta cheese
2 eggs
a handful of Parmesan cheese
fresh parsley, chopped
salt and pepper
tomato sauce, store bought or your own
1 box of lasagna noodles
shredded mozzarella cheese

Heat oven to 350F.
In a large bowl, mix together ricotta cheese, eggs, Parmesan cheese, parsley, salt and pepper. To assemble lasagna, make a total of 3 layers in this order: Sauce, noodles, sauce, ricotta mixture, sauce, mozzarella cheese. Have I mentioned that I like a lot of sauce? Well, like my Mom always said, if you like a lot, add a lot. After you finish assembling, cover with foil and bake for about 45 minutes to an hour or until bubbly. Let it sit for about 10 minutes before you cut into squares.

You can boil the noodles before assembling your layers, but you really don't have to, as long as you add a sufficient amount of sauce for the noodles to cook. Ok here's a really good tip.....You know how sometimes the top layer slides off when you cut a square of lasagna? Well, the way to prevent that from happening is to change the direction of the noodles when you layer them. So, when you do the first layer, place the noodles in the pan long ways. But when you do the second layer, break the noodles in half and layer them ACROSS the pan, perpendicular to the previous layer. Then do the last layer the same way you did the first layer. The layers are now locked together and your lasagna won't fall apart!
Pretty clever, huh?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Mom's Vegetable Soup

This was a family staple every year on New Year's Day. We'd all bundle up and go to South Philly for the Mummers Parade. Mom would always have tons of food for everyone back at my grandparents' house, which was only a block away from the parade. After standing outside in the cold watching the parade go by, this soup was exactly what we all needed to warm up. It's another one of those delicious old school "all day" recipes, so make this on a Sunday afternoon when you're at home doing laundry or planning for the week ahead.

1 beef shin bone (or shank)
1 ham bone (or ham hocks)
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 large bag frozen mixed vegetables
2 potatoes peeled and diced
3 ribs celery, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
water ("till it's enough" - you can add more if soup gets too thick)
pot herbs
1/2 cup barley

Combine all ingredients except barley and cook at least six hours over low heat. About one hour before it's done, add barley. Serve with fresh rolls and butter.

As I said before, Mom always said that the key to any really good soup is putting some sort of bones in it and letting it cook for a long time. She used to say "Just throw everything in the pot and let it cook." It doesn't get any more basic than that, right?
So anyway, apparently once upon a time, you used to be able to purchase a bundle of mixed herbs simply labeled as "pot herbs". I wasn't able to find that, so I just threw in a bunch of herbs (specifically thyme, parsley, oregano, and bay leaves).
When you add water to the pot, be sure to add enough so that the bones are covered. Just like Mom always said, "til it's enough". I usually just fill up the pot about 2/3 full. This recipe lends itself to adjusting the amount. If you want to make a lot of soup, use a huge pot and a lot of vegetables. Seriously, you should have seen the pot that Mom used to use. Huge! I guess she figured, if you're gonna make soup, then make it worth the time! If you don't need as much, just use a regular stock pot.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Patty's Hearty Beef Barley Soup

I was browsing through my old recipe cards, as I often do, and I found a card with this recipe on it, written in my Mom's handwriting. I'm guessing Patty called my Mom soon after moving to Canada and dictated it to her. How I ever wound up with the card, I'll never know. hehehehe
If this soup was good enough for my Mom, then trust me when I say that you'll LOVE it! It's one of those soups that'll warm you up if you've been out in the cold all day. Pat, you've done it again! Thanx!

2 1/2 lbs. beef short ribs or shin beef
2 tbs oil
7 cups water
1 16oz can tomatoes, cut up
1 large chopped onion
4 cubes beef bouillon
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
2 cups sliced carrots
1 cup diced celery
2/3 cup barley
1/2 chopped green pepper
1/4 cup chopped parsley

In a large pot, brown the short ribs in oil over low heat. Drain. Stir in water, undrained tomatoes, onion, bouillon, basil, salt and pepper, and Worcestershire sauce. Cover. Simmer 1 1/2 hours. Stir in carrots, celery, barley, green pepper, and parsley. Replace cover and simmer another 45 minutes. Remove ribs from the pot. Cut the meat off the bone and add back to the soup. Serve with a huge chunk of warm crusty bread.

When you're buying beef for this soup, make sure you buy something that has a bone in it. Mom always told me that that's the secret to making good soup. Shin bone, shank, short ribs...any of the above will work fine.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Old Fashioned Chicken Noodle Soup

Besides keeping you cozy and warm, it's no secret that soup makes you feel better when you're a little under the weather. And of all the soups in the world, whats the one soup that everyone says you should have? Chicken Soup!
A few years ago, when Paul was home in bed, I told him to have some soup to make him feel better. When he said he didn't have any, I immediately launched into "caregiver mode", went to the store, picked up a few ingredients, and went to his apartment to make him a pot of homemade chicken soup. Of course, it was just the thing to make him feel better. It really works! Make a big pot of it, freeze it in small containers, and you'll be ready the next time you're feeling less than 100%!

1 whole chicken
1 large onion, chopped
3 ribs celery, chopped
4 or 5 carrots, peeled and sliced
fresh or dried thyme leaves
1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
wide egg noodles

Place chicken in a large pot. Add enough water to fill the rest of the pot. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the meat falls off the bone, at least a good 2 hours. During this time, use a big spoon to skim away any yuckiness that rises to the top. After the meat is completely falling apart, carefully remove it from the pot and place it in a large bowl. Set aside. Add onion, celery, carrots, thyme, parsley, salt and pepper. Continue to simmer for about 30 minutes longer. When the chicken is cool enough to handle with your impeccably clean hands, pull the meat off the bones and add to the pot. Add cooked egg noodles. Serve.

OK, I have a lot to talk about so here we go.
-I like to add LOTS of veggies to my chicken soup, usually 1-2 pounds of carrots, almost the whole stalk of celery, and a large onion. Add as much as you like!
-Thyme is key to the recipe. It's what makes chicken soup taste like chicken soup. I usually use several sprigs of fresh thyme leaves bundled together with cotton twine, but you can use a tsp of dried leaves, ground thyme or poultry seasoning.
-The soup requires more salt than you think it will. Adding just a pinch of salt across the top just isn't gonna cut it. You'll probably need more like several tsp of salt, depending on how big your pot is, how big the chicken is, and how much water was needed to fill up the pot. If you don't want to add so much sodium to your diet, use a salt substitute. Just make sure you use enough seasoning, otherwise your soup will be bland. When all is said and done and you're just about to add the noodles and serve, have a quick taste and adjust the seasoning if you need to. OH and don't burn your tongue!
-This is another one of those soups that can't be rushed and requires the whole chicken, bones and all. If you try to make it with boneless chicken, it'll be missing the depth of flavor that you want. That only comes from slowly simmering the meat and bones for hours.
-If a whole chicken is too much meat for you, you can just put some of it back into the soup and use the rest to make Chicken Salad, White Chicken Chili, East Indian Chicken or Chicken Stew.
-Another option would be to use chicken parts, such as legs, thighs, and wings. If you use no other part of the chicken, use the wings. They make the best chicken broth, more so than any other part of the chicken.
-I like to boil the noodles ahead of time, then just add them at the last minute, just before serving. Or you can place a serving of cooked noodles into each bowl, then ladle the soup over the noodles. This serves two purposes. If you just add the uncooked noodles to the pot, they'll absorb a lot of liquid, you'll wind up with much less broth, and your pot of soup won't go as far. Also, the longer the noodles stay in the soup, the mushier they'll become. I prefer to have noodles that are little more firm. So, add the cooked noodles right before you serve them and they'll be perfect. The same is true if you'd like to add rice instead of noodles. Use leftover cooked rice, or cook it first before you add it to the soup.
-And finally, I must point out something that may seem obvious, but I never assume anything. When you buy a whole chicken from the grocery store, make sure that you remove the insides after you remove the plastic packaging from the chicken. And when I say "insides" I mean the little bundle of other chicken parts that has been wrapped separately and placed inside the chicken. I've heard of people using the neck to make stock or cooking chicken livers etc, but I usually just discard the entire bundle. Whew! That was a lot. I think that covers everything. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Crock Pot Ham and Bean Soup

Here's a recipe that was originally going to be posted during the week of crock pot recipes, but I decided it would be perfect for soup week instead. Just cut everything up, throw it into the crock pot, and turn it on in the morning. It seriously doesn't get any easier than this. Thanx again, Pat!

1 piece of smoked ham (about 1 1/2 lb) - a ham steak works well
1 large can or tetra-box of chicken or vegetable broth
10 baby red potatoes
1 onion
3 carrots
1 stalk celery
1 19 oz. can white kidney beans
1 19 oz. can chick peas
1 tsp. Mrs. Dash or Old Bay
salt and pepper to taste
1 or 2 bay leaves

The night before:
Cut ham into bite-size pieces and place in center crock of the crock pot.
Add broth.
Wash and cut potatoes in half and add to pot.
Chop onion, celery and carrots and add to pot.
Partially drain kidney beans and chick peas and add to pot.
Add spices and bay leaf (or two if they're small).
Stir to combine.
Cover and place in fridge overnight.

In the morning:
Place center crock back in slow cooker and set to low.
Soup is ready in 6-8 hours.

Just before serving, you can mash up the soup a bit with a potato masher to get it to the consistency you like. Taste for additional seasonings and serve.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Easy Spinach and Tomato Soup

OK, here's a REALLY quick one for you. It requires absolutely no cooking skills at all whatsoever and it's ready to eat in no time. You don't even have to measure anything! It's really healthy too! It's dairy free, fat free (if you use fat free chicken broth), it's extremely low in carbs, and it's ZERO points! (if you happen to be counting). The best part about this soup is that it's delicious! You can tell everyone that you slaved all day in the kitchen. I promise I won't tell!

1 64oz can chicken broth
1 29oz can crushed tomatoes
1 10oz box frozen chopped spinach, thawed

Simply stir all ingredients together in a pot and simmer over medium heat until you're ready to serve. It doesn't get any easier that that! If you want, you can add a little salt and pepper, but that's all there is to it.

This is the basic recipe, but you can certainly use it as a starting point for any number of variations. Try adding chopped onion, Parmesan cheese, noodles, tortellini, rice, fresh basil, crushed red pepper flakes, or even miniature meatballs. SO good!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Cream of Broccoli Soup

This is one of my favorite soups, like ever in the whole wide world. Actually, it's Patty's Cream of Vegetable Soup. I use it mostly for Cream of Broccoli, though, so that's what's in the picture. The truth is you can use this exact same recipe for any vegetable (or combination of vegetables) and you'll get a completely different result. I was telling Trish about it, and she mentioned having once tasted a really good cream of carrot soup. So, of course, I made her a batch of this soup, only using carrots instead of broccoli. After the carrots and onions finished cooking, I just threw the whole batch into a food processor and pureed it until it was smooth. It turned out REALLY good, and it was completely different from the Cream of Broccoli. I also remember bringing some Cream of Cauliflower to Robert's office (about a million years ago when Brian worked there), and Brian loved it. Seriously, you can go in any direction with it, and it'll be perfect. Potatoes, asparagus, celery, even a bag of frozen mixed vegetables would be amazing. I seem to remember Denny telling me that he also uses this recipe to make corn chowder. YUM! And if you need to feed a crowd, you can easily double everything. Fabulous!!!
Thanx Pat!

3 cups chicken broth
1 onion, diced
2 cups diced broccoli or any kind of vegetable
1 cup diced potato
2 tbs. butter
2 tbs. flour
1 cup milk

Put chicken broth, onion, and vegetables in a large saucepan. Heat until boiling. Reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, melt butter in another pan. Add flour and cook over low heat 2-3 minutes. whisk in milk and heat until thickened. Add to vegetable mixture. Salt and pepper to taste.

This is how Patty lists the recipe, but I must confess, I don't make it exactly as it's written. I always use 4 tbs each of butter and flour, instead of using 2 tbs of each. This makes for a much thicker soup. Also, I don't add potatoes (unless I'm making cream of potato soup!)

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Is it Soup yet??

Well, now that the weather is becoming cooler (at least for those of us in North East USA), I figured everyone might like a week which showcases some of my favorite soup recipes. Of course, whenever I want to make soup, I immediately turn to The Soup Queen of the World, my sister, Patty. She's seen some pretty brutal winters living up in Canada, and her soups always keep her family warm and cozy. So, clearly, she's my "go to" person when it comes to making soup.
As with every themed week, I try to select a nice variety of recipes, and this week is no exception. Some recipes only take a few minutes to throw together while others are slow cooked all day. Some are rich and creamy and others have a delicious and hearty broth. All of them are very easy to make and they'll keep you warm during the coldest weather.
I hope you'll give them a try.
Thanx Pat!

Saturday, October 4, 2008


When I made Karen's Chili, I had quite a lot left over, since it makes quite a big batch. I had originally planned to freeze it in small containers, but then I realized how fabulous it would be if I made nachos with it! Hello instant party! Seriously, if there was ever a party food, this would be it. Just put a big tray of nachos in the center of the table and watch your guests devour them. This is another one of those "just throw it together" dishes and it's always a big hit!

Tostitos round tortilla chips
shredded cheddar cheese

Place chili in microwave or a small sauce pot and heat until bubbly. Heat your oven to 350F. Place chips in a single layer on a large tray or baking dish. Spoon chili over the chips. Sprinkle cheddar cheese over chili. Place in oven for about 10 minutes or until cheese melts. Serve immediately. Simple, right?

This is the base idea, but you can go even further by adding chopped jalapenos or other kinds of cheeses before you bake them. Also, try serving them with sour cream and Jason's Guacamole. If you don't have time to make homemade chili, then use a can of Hormel chili and some refried beans. Clearly the homemade chili is better, but it'll still be awesome and your guests will love it!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Baked Ziti

I often find myself cooking for a big group of people. If it's not my huge wonderful family, then it's my gang of fabulous friends. This recipe is perfect because it feeds a lot of people, it's quick and easy to prepare, it doesn't cost a lot of money, and everyone loves it. It seems that most people love a hearty pasta dish, so this is sort of the 'go to' dish when you're not sure what your guests would like. It's also meatless, so it's perfect if any of your guests are vegetarian. Oh, and did I mention that it's delicious?? Seriously.

1 lb. cut ziti (or other cut pasta)
16 oz container ricotta cheese
1 egg
Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper
Your favorite homemade or jarred tomato sauce
shredded mozzarella cheese

Boil ziti in a large pot of salted water until tender, but still slightly firm. Drain. Set aside. In the meantime, in a large bowl, place ricotta cheese, Parmesan cheese, egg, parsley and salt and pepper. Stir until well combined. Now it's time to assemble. In a large casserole dish, place half the pasta. Spoon some tomato sauce over it, then the ricotta cheese mixture. Next add the rest of the pasta, more tomato sauce , then top with mozzarella cheese. Cover with foil and bake in a 350F oven for 45 minutes or until hot and bubbly. Serve with additional Parmesan cheese.

If you'd like to make it extra gooey, then feel free to add a few handfuls of shredded mozzarella cheese over the ricotta cheese mixture. Then continue as directed with the second layer of pasta, etc. More is more!
I didn't list the amounts of some of the ingredients because I don't measure them. Mom always said to add it "til it's enough". It makes sense, wouldn't you say? You'll be able to tell if it needs more sauce or more cheese. It all depends on how much you like!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Zucchini Stew

Trish told me about this simple dish that her Mom, Louise, always makes. It's really just a few ingredients that you throw into a pot and simmer. How easy is that? You don't even have to measure anything. Oh, and according to Louise, you MUST serve it with a roll and butter. That's just how you do it!

Oil to coat bottom of pan
Add about 5 potatoes, cubed
cook (stirring frequently) until just about translucent
Add zucchini (cubed)
cook another 5 minutes, stirring
Add 2 cups of water and 2 cups marinara sauce
simmer for about an hr. until tender.
you can also add carrots.

You can use your favorite jarred tomato sauce
or my homemade Marinara Sauce. Feel free to add any other vegetables that you like. Maybe some yellow squash, eggplant, or even okra would be delish!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Kielbasa Bites

Here's a quick and easy appetizer that you can throw together in a snap. It may seem like an unlikely combination of ingredients, but just wait until you taste it. It's sweet and salty and tangy, all at the same time. Try it!

2 tbs Dijon mustard
1 small jar apple jelly
1 or 2 pkg Polish kielbasa

Mix together the mustard and jelly. Slice kielbasa into small pieces and place in a small oven safe dish. Pour mustard mixture over kielbasa. Bake in a 350F oven for 15-20 minutes or until bubbly. And that's it! Pretty simple, huh? Skewer them with toothpicks so that your guests can just help themselves.

If your oven is busy, you can easily make this in a saute pan on your stove top. Just throw everything into the pan and let it simmer over medium heat.
I've seen other versions of this recipe that use different kinds of jelly. Try using grape or currant jelly for an easy variation. REALLY!