Monday, December 28, 2009

Red Velvet Cake

What makes a red velvet cake red?
Well, originally, "red" was not meant to describe the color of the cake, but in fact described the volatile results when baking soda & buttermilk (acid & alkaline) chemically react. But apparently, sometime in the mid 1960s, someone somewhere decided that an old-fashioned red cake was not "red" enough, and added red food coloring to the cake batter. So there. Now you know!
The first time I ever made a red velvet cake was when my friends, Jason and Jimmy, got married. Just like in the movie Steel Magnolias, Jason wanted a red velvet cake in the shape of an armadillo. Luckily I had my brother Denny to help me with it. I think it turned out pretty good! This is also my fabulous friend, JKB's favorite cake and I'm always happy to make it for her.
You should try it!!!

1/2 cup vegetable shortening
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour
2 tablespoons cocoa
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 oz. red food coloring
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon baking soda sprinkled over 1 Tbsp. vinegar

Heat oven to 350°F.
Grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans. Set aside.
Cream shortening and sugar. Add eggs and vanilla; beat well. Sift flour, salt & cocoa together. Add alternately with buttermilk. Beat after each addition. Stir in baking soda and vinegar mixture, then blend in the food coloring. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the cakes bounce back when lightly tapped. When completely cooled, frost with Cream Cheese Frosting.

Yes, this seems like a huge amount of red food coloring to add to a cake, but just go with me on this one. You don't want it to look like just any basic chocolate cake, which is basically what it is.
It's customary to frost this cake with the cream cheese frosting, but any favorite frosting will go just as nicely.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Easy Coconut Custard Pie

Many people think that a coconut custard pie is the same thing as a coconut cream pie, but that's not exactly true. Yes, they both have a custard filling, which is basically a mixture of milk, eggs, sugar, vanilla, and salt, but the difference is in the cooking. The custard pie is an uncooked filling poured into an uncooked crust, and both are cooked together. A cream pie, however, is a cooked and cooled filling poured into a precooked and cooled crust, usually with a layer of whipped cream on top. So, there you have it. Did that make sense?
This is a simple coconut custard pie that uses all the basic custard ingredients and is a snap to throw together. It's perfect for any occasion or holiday dessert. And can I just tell you how heavenly it smells while it's baking? I'm not even kidding!
I hope you'll try it!

one pie crust
2 1/2 cups milk
4 eggs
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp coconut extract
1 cup flaked coconut
whipped cream and bananas (for garnish)

Heat oven to 400F.
Place pie crust in a 9" pie plate. Flute to make a decorative edge. Set aside.
In a small sauce pan, scald milk over medium heat. In the meantime, prepare the other ingredients. In a mixing bowl, beat eggs. Stir in sugar, salt and vanilla and coconut extracts. Gradually add scalded milk while stirring constantly. Stir in coconut and a little sprinkle of cinnamon. Pour into prepared unbaked pie shell. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until lightly golden on top or until an inserted knife comes out clean. Cool completely, then place in the fridge to chill. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream and a few banana slices.

You really don't need to add the cinnamon or the coconut extract, but I always do. I just think they make it taste better!
You can use a store bought ready made pie crust, or just use half the recipe for my Easy Pie Crust.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Mom's Mince Pie

For years and years, Mom didn't make this pie on Thanksgiving or Christmas because many of my siblings don't particularly care for it. Mom and my brother Jimmy were the only ones who really loved it. Finally, one year she said "You know what? I like it, so I'm making it!" And that was that. I have to say, although I didn't like it as child, I do enjoy it now. I guess my taste buds have become a little more sophisticated. Or maybe I've just grown to enjoy those falls spices a little more.
I think some people are afraid to try it because they think there's meat in it. Well, at one time, there really was meat in mincemeat, but that's not the case any more.
Mincemeat is a mixture of chopped dried fruit, spices, and distilled spirits. English recipes from the 15th, 16th, and 17th century describe Mincemeat as a mixture of meat and fruit used as a pie filling. By the mid-20th century the term was used to describe a similar mixture that does not include meat but is basically a mixture of fruits and spices such as cloves, nutmeg, mace and cinnamon, usually with added brandy or wine. So, there you have it.
Whenever Mom made her Mince pie, she always added finely diced apples. She once told me that the spices can sometimes be a little overpowering to the pie, and the apples help to balance everything. I've made it with apples and without, and of course, Mom was absolutely right. The apples really make a difference.
So, since Mom loved this recipe, it deserves a place in my recipe archive. If you're all about apples, raisins, and fall spices, then this is DEFINITELY the pie for you!

1 27 oz jar Mincemeat (with or without rum and brandy)
3 apples, peeled, cored, and finely diced
1 tbs flour
two pie crusts
2 tbs butter
powdered sugar

Heat oven to 425F.
Pour the jar of mincemeat into a large bowl. Add diced apples and flour. Stir until well combined. Set aside. Roll out pie crust and place in a deep dish Pyrex pie plate, making sure to leave an inch hanging over the edge. Pour the mincemeat/apple mixture into pie crust. Cut up butter into small pieces. Place them evenly on top of the pie filling. Roll out second pie crust. Place over pie. Press edges together. Trim excess pie crust. Crimp edges between your fingers to make a decorative edge. Cut slits in the top crust so that steam will vent. Bake for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350F. Bake 20-30 minutes longer or until golden. Once it has cooled completely, dust the top with powdered sugar.

I always use Fuji apples because they're crisp and sweet, which is exactly what you want. I wouldn't use a tart apple in this particular recipe, since the point of adding the apples is to sweeten the pie.
No, I've never made home made mincemeat. Maybe one of these days I'll look into it, but for now, I'll just use the jar like Mom did.

Sunday, December 20, 2009


When you think of a ginger snap, you think of a dry, hard cookie that hurts the roof of your mouth, right? (Unless you're my friend Harry, who said that Ginger Snap sounds like the name of a drag queen....but that's another story...) Anyway, I wanted to find a gingersnap that is chewy, delicious and not dry, without being so heavily spicy. So, once again, I turned to my favorite cookie recipe source, The Mrs. Fields Cookie Book. Her gingersnaps are everything I wanted. The molasses flavor isn't overpowering and they have just enough spice. Oh, and I love the addition of crystallized ginger. It adds another layer of flavor and texture. YUM! Also, I borrowed an idea from Martha for this one...
I was watching one of her Christmas cookie specials, and she made Molasses Crisps that were rolled in sugar just before baking. I decided to do the same thing with the gingersnaps. It adds a lovely sparkle to the finished cookie and gives it a pretty 'crackled' look. Beautimous!
So here they are. Mrs. Fields' gingersnaps, with a Martha touch.

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tbs crystallized ginger - diced
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 1/4 cup dark brown sugar - packed
3/4 cup butter - softened
1 lg egg
1/4 c unsulfured molasses

Preheat oven to 300F.
In a medium bowl combine flour, soda, salt, ginger, crystallized ginger, allspice and pepper. Mix well and set aside. In a large bowl, mix sugar and butter with an electric mixer set at medium speed. Scrape down sides of the bowl. Add egg and molasses, beat at medium speed until light and fluffy. Add the flour mixture and mix at low speed just until combined. Chill the dough in the refrigerator for 1 hour--the dough well be less sticky and easier to handle. Form dough into balls 1 inch in diameter. Place onto ungreased cookie sheets, 1 1/2 inches apart. Bake 24-25 minutes. Use a spatula to immediately transfer cookies to a cool, flat surface.

I like a larger cookie, so I usually use about 2 tablespoons of dough for each one. Yes, that means less cookies per batch, but that's just an excuse to bake another batch!
I like to use the Pampered Chef medium scoop to measure out my cookies. It just makes life SO much easier.
Thanx Red!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Roz's Ricotta Cookies

I was recently at Roz's house for a little visit. As I was explaining the joys of Ebay shopping to Roz, Amy was baking these fabulous cookies for a cookie swap. I asked Roz where she got the recipe:
"Probably about 25 years ago, my Aunt Marie got the recipe from a co-worker and gave it to me. I'm not even sure if she ever made them herself. I started making them for a cookie swap and they kind of became my signature cookie."
Well, Roz, my unofficial 5th sister, since this is your signature cookie, you get the credit for the recipe. Thanx so much for sharing! Now, shall we get back to our Ebay shopping?

1/2 lb. butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 lb. ricotta cheese
2 tsp. vanilla
4 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda

Cream butter and add sugar gradually. Beat until creamy. Add eggs one at a time, add vanilla. Add ricotta cheese and beat for 1 minute. Mix flour, soda and powder in a separate bowl. Add this mixture gradually to wet mixture. Stir well. Drop by teaspoon on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from oven. Ice and decorate the cookies while warm.

1 1/2 cups 10x sugar
1 tbs. milk

Beat until smooth. Dip cookie tops and decorate with sprinkles.
Cookies will be white on top, light brown on bottom. Do not double.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Hot Ham

If you're one of my faithful readers, you know by now that my Mom was truly an amazing woman. As I become older, I realize more and more just how amazing she was. She could make a pot of chicken stew big enough to feed an army by using only one small chicken, she could make gallons of gravy with barely any drippings from a single roast beef, and she could stretch a ham into several meals. She used to tell me that ham is great because you can serve it at any meal. Ham and eggs for breakfast, ham and cheese sandwiches for lunch, and Hot Ham for dinner. Now, I know you may be wondering "What's hot ham?" Right? Well, it's sort of the ham version of a hot roast beef sandwich. (You know, thin slices of roast beef in brown gravy served on fresh round bakery rolls). But with hot ham, it's more of a thin glaze rather than a gravy.
At first, I couldn't remember how Mom used to make it. All I could remember was that the sauce had ginger ale in it. So, I called Cathy and Jeanie, and I even emailed my cousin, Pattie. Everyone remembered the dish but had no idea how Mom used to make it. Luckily, Denny remembered! Then, as I was at the grocery store buying ingredients, I ran into our long time next door neighbors, Frank and Claire. I told Claire what I was planning to make and she told me that she makes it too, pretty much the same way Mom used to make it. Perfect!
So here it is. It's a piece of my childhood, and it's gift from Mom that I'm happy to share with you. It's perfect for a quick mid-week dinner because it's ready in minutes and it's also perfect to serve instead of roast beef or meatballs at your next holiday party.
Try it!

1 (2 liter) bottle of ginger ale (not sugar free)
3 cups pineapple juice
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tbs dry mustard
1 (20 oz) can pineapple slices with the juice
3 or 4 lb boneless ham, sliced by hand

In a large pot, simply mix together the first 4 ingredients over medium heat. As it simmers, add pineapple and ham slices. Let it simmer for about 20 minutes, just long enough to heat the ham, and blend the flavors.
Serve hot on fresh bakery rolls.

-These amounts are just a guideline. I'm guessing Mom never measured anything. She just sort of threw everything into the pot, and everything is to taste. Do you like a lot of mustard? Add a lot of mustard. So forth.
-It might seem like the final dish will be far too sweet, considering the brown sugar and juice and all, but the saltiness from the ham really balances everything.
-Mom always sliced the ham by hand because the thicker slices hold up better as they sit in the sauce. Thinly sliced deli ham always becomes kind of wrinkly and not quite as hearty.
-Another thing Mom always did was to float maraschino cherries in the pot with the ham and pineapples. It gives the sauce a lovely pink hue.
-I like Canada Dry ginger ale the best, but clearly any brand will work perfectly. You can even substitute 7 Up. Whatever you have on hand will work. If I were using 7 Up, I'd probably add a little ground ginger. You can also substitute any kind of mustard if you don't have dry mustard, and you can use chunks instead of slices of pineapple. Mom always cut the slices into chunks anyway! However you make it, it'll always turn out great!
-This makes quite a bit, which would be perfect for a party, but you can easily cut the amounts in half.
-If you're cooking for a party, just throw everything into a crock pot to keep it hot, then place a basket of rolls next to it and have your guests serve themselves.
-If you're planning to roast a holiday ham, you can use this exact recipe to glaze the ham before you put it in the oven and then pour on more glaze as it caramelizes.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Joey's Stewed Tomatoes

The very first time I ever made stewed tomatoes, I used my sister Jeanie's recipe. For years and years, if you had asked me what recipe I use, I'd have said "I always use Jeanie's recipe." It wasn't until recently, when I made them for our weekly Project Runway group, that I thought to myself "This isn't Jeanie's recipe at all!" Without even realizing it, over the years I've sort of tweaked it here and changed it there to suit my own tastes, and now it's very different from the original. For one thing, I like them to be nice and sweet, so my tomatoes are much sweeter. For another thing, I use canned tomatoes instead of fresh. If you want to know all the other differences, you'll just have to ask My Jeanie!
Oh, and one other thing...
For me, this recipe goes hand in hand with Baked Macaroni and Cheese. I literally never make one without the other.
Not kidding!

olive oil
3 tbs butter
1 medium onion, diced
1 small green bell pepper, finely chopped
5 large cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 cup sugar
3 large (28 oz) cans sliced or diced tomatoes
2 heaping tbs tomato paste
dried basil or Italian seasoning to taste
salt and pepper

In a large heavy pot, pour a few generous glugs of olive oil. Add butter and place over medium heat until the butter melts and the oil shimmers. Add the onion and green pepper. Saute until they become soft. Add garlic and sugar. Stir well. Add tomatoes and tomato paste along with the dried herbs and spices. Reduce to a low heat and let it simmer for at least 30 minutes. I usually let it go for much longer, like an hour or more. The longer it simmers, the better it is. Stir it every so often to make sure it doesn't burn on the bottom. I always add an extra drizzle of olive oil just before I serve it, just to make it shiny and glossy and to add a little extra flavor.

Make sure you simmer it over a low heat. It'll help to insure that you won't burn it on the bottom.
When you add the salt and pepper, hold back a little. Add a little less than you think you should add. As it simmers, it reduces and the flavors become more concentrated. You don't want your finished product to be too salty. You can always go back and adjust the seasoning at the end if you need to.
I suppose you could make a smaller batch, but I always figure "If I'm gonna make it, I might as well make it!" and go for the big batch.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Baked Macaroni and Cheese

If you know me, you know that I love delicious home cooked hits-the-spot hearty stick-to-your-ribs comfort food. One dish that definitely fits that description is baked mac 'n' cheese. It's warm and cozy and fills you up. When I made this for my weekly get together, Casey said that this was GLORIOUS! Yes, she really did use that word. I certainly won't argue with that! So, now that you know that it's GLORIOUS, aren't you just dying to give it a try???
I know you'll love it, especially if you try it with my Stewed Tomatoes. I literally NEVER make one without the other.
SO good!

1 lb. any kind of tubular shaped macaroni
4 tbs butter
1/4 cup flour
4 cups milk
salt and pepper
4 oz Swiss cheese
4 oz sharp cheddar cheese
8 oz American cheese
1 cup bread crumbs
2 or 3 tbs extra melted butter
Parmesan cheese

Heat oven to 350F.
In a large pot of salted water, boil the pasta until just al dente. Don't over cook it! Drain it, pour into a large buttered casserole dish, and set aside.
Meanwhile, in a large sauce pan, melt the better. Add the flour and stir until it combines to make a paste. Add milk and whisk until well combined. Add salt, pepper, and cheeses. When all of the cheese has melted, pour over pasta.
Combine extra melted butter and bread crumbs. Sprinkle over pasta. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese over all.
Bake for about 30-40 minutes or until the cheese sauce is bubbly and the bread crumbs are lightly browned.

When you salt the pasta water, be generous. The water should be as salty as a broth. (Some even say that it should be as salty as the ocean). It really makes all the difference in the world.
Using shredded cheese makes for easier melting. Just sayin'.
Substitute any kind of cheese you like, especially cheeses with a sharp flavor such as bleu cheese or Gruyere.
When I made it for the gang, I added cooked bacon. They loved it! Just place a cooling rack on a cookie sheet, then lay the strips of bacon over it. Bake in your oven until the bacon is crisp but not burnt. Then chop it up and stir it into your pasta with the cheese sauce.
You could even add a steamed vegetable to it, such as chopped broccoli or asparagus.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Turkey London Broil

Usually, the term "London Broil" refers to a marinated flank or round steak which is broiled or grilled and is then cut against the grain into thin strips. But who says it has to be a cut of beef? Why not do the same thing with a whole boneless turkey breast?
Suppose you only have a few mouths to feed for Thanksgiving, and every year the leftover turkey goes to waste because there's just too much! Well, this is the perfect Thanksgiving solution when one doesn't want to cook an entire turkey. Serve it with some stuffing, cranberries, and a vegetable or two, and there's your perfect Thanksgiving turkey dinner!

a whole boneless turkey breast (with or without skin)
melted butter
salt and pepper
poultry seasoning

Heat oven to 350F.
Place turkey breast in a shallow casserole dish or small roasting pan. Drizzle generously with melted butter. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and poultry seasoning. Place the pan in the oven and roast it for about 20-25 minutes per pound. When it's no longer pink in the center and slightly firm to the touch, remove it from the oven. Let it rest for about 10-15 minutes before slicing.

Add any spices you like! For a spicier kick, add a little Cajun seasoning.
To keep it moist while it's resting, baste it with some of the melted butter and turkey juices!
Your turkey breast can also be grilled or broiled. Just place the meat about 3 inches away from the heat source, and be sure turn it so it doesn't burn.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Pumpkin Gingerbread Trifle

Here's an easy and delicious alternative to pumpkin pie that would be perfect to serve for your Thanksgiving dessert. It's a Paula Deen recipe, brought to my attention by my friend Mary Lynn. It couldn't be simpler to make and it's a great thing to make while your oven is busy with entrees and side dishes and such.
Give it a try!

2 (14-ounce) packages gingerbread mix
1 (5.1-ounce) box cook-and-serve vanilla pudding mix
1 (30-ounce) can pumpkin pie filling
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 teaspoon ground cardamom or cinnamon
1 (12-ounce) container frozen whipped topping
1/2 cup gingersnaps, optional

Bake the gingerbread according to the package directions; cool completely. Meanwhile, prepare the pudding and set aside to cool. Stir the pumpkin pie filling, sugar, and cardamom into the pudding. Crumble 1 batch of gingerbread into the bottom of a large, pretty bowl. Pour 1/2 of the pudding mixture over the gingerbread, then add a layer of whipped topping. Repeat with the remaining gingerbread, pudding, and whipped topping. Sprinkle of the top with crushed gingersnaps, if desired. Refrigerate overnight. Trifle can be layered in a punch bowl.

Joey's Tips:
The first thing I noticed about this recipe is that it calls for pumpkin pie FILLING as opposed to solid pack pumpkin. No, they're not the same thing. But if you bought the wrong thing, or if you already have solid pack pumpkin, you can still use it. You just have to add sugar and spices to your canned pumpkin. Typically, it's pumpkin pie spice (cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, and sometimes allspice) and sugar that are added to canned pumpkin to make it "filling". So, just add about 1/2 cup sugar and about 1 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice, then proceed with the recipe as directed.
If gingerbread isn't your favorite thing, try using a pound cake instead!
This is the perfect recipe to make the day before Thanksgiving. To save extra time, use instant pudding instead of the cook and serve, and use store bought gingerbread instead of baking it yourself. Yes, yes, I know I usually encourage making everything from scratch, but in this case, your time is a precious commodity and I promise I won't tell your guests if you won't!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Joey's Savory Sweet Onion Pie

Ok, ok, I know there must be one or two of you out there who are krinkling your noses at the thought of an onion pie, and to both of you I say lets talk about this for a minute!
For years I've said that everything I cook starts with cutting an onion. It's true! It's one of the most important ingredients in all of cookdom! Just like garlic or carrots or celery or green bell peppers, it's one of the key aromatics that is used as a foundation on which to build flavors in sauces, soups, stews, and casseroles, etc.
So, I figured, wouldn't it be nice to take this supporting player, this back-up singer, if you will, and bring it out into the limelight? We're talking front and center, with a big fat spot light on it, fit for a headliner! Well, this pie does exactly that!
Now, I know you might be saying "With all of those onions, isn't it too strong?" Nope. Not at all. First of all, we're using sweet onions such as Vidalia Onions. They're not harsh at all. And second of all, they're caramelized first before the pie is baked, which brings out the natural sugars and makes them more mild. Add a few seasonings and a splash of cream and you have yourself a DELICIOUS and unexpected addition to your lunch or brunch menu. Seriously! It's SO good! Have I ever lied to you before? And yes, I baked the one in the picture. Isn't it perty? Sometimes I even impress myself. hehehe
Give it a try!

5 tbs butter
5 large sweet onions such as Vidalia or HoneySweet
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 tsp dried thyme or poultry seasoning
S&P to taste
1 egg
1 tbs flour
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 pie crusts

Heat oven to 400F.
In a large heavy pot with a lid, melt the butter over medium heat. Slice off both ends of each onion, then slice in half, pole to pole. Now place them center cut side down, and thinly slice across the grain, giving you thin half rings. After thinly slicing all of the onions, add them to the pot. Cover. Let it cook for about 5 minutes. Remove cover and give it a good stir. At this point, you'll be saying "How in hell am I ever going to fit all these onions into one pie?" But trust me, they'll cook down quite a bit, and there's no need to swear.
Once the onions have softened, add the garlic, thyme, and salt and pepper. Continue to cook and stir the onions until they become golden in color. As they start to caramelize, be sure to scrape up the fond from the bottom of the pot. This will take a good 20 minutes or even longer. Be patient! When most of the liquid has evaporated, remove from heat.
In a large bowl, beat the egg with the flour and cream until smooth. Add the caramelized onion mixture and stir well.
Place bottom crust in a Pyrex pie plate, making sure to leave some hanging over the edge. Pour in the onion mixture and smooth to an even layer. Place top crust over pie. Trim excess. Crimp the two crusts together, and flute to make a decorative edge. Cut slits in the top of the pie so that steam will be able to escape.
Bake in oven 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 375F and bake 20-30 minutes more, or until golden and set. Let it cool slightly before serving with a simple green salad or slices of fresh tomatoes.

Definitely use a sweet variety of onion for this recipe. I've tried it with red or white onions and it just wasn't the same.
Quick tip- When buying onions, the sweeter varieties are the ones that look like they've been squashed from pole to pole. They look like they started out round, but someone smashed them, giving them a sort of flatter shape, know what I mean?
For a more decorative touch, you can weave a lattice top for your top crust, or just lay half your strips of pastry in one direction, then go back and lay the other half across the first half, as pictured above.
To make a shiny golden crust, simply brush the top crust with an egg wash, which is an egg beaten with a splash of water or milk or cream.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Apple Fritters

Whenever I search for new recipes, the first question I ask is "What season is it?" Any good cook will tell you that fresher is better when it comes to choosing ingredients. So, it's always a good idea to choose ingredients that are in season. In the Spring, I might make something with asparagus or avocados. In the Summer, I might make something with Jersey fresh tomatoes or delicious ripe strawberries. (I do live in the Garden State, after all). And in the Autumn, you just KNOW I'll be making something with apples. They're crisp and juicy, and they're definitely one of my all time favorite foods. Clearly, this recipe needs to be included in the recipe archives. They're quick, simple and comforting. And they're the perfect way to celebrate the season!

1 cup all-purpose flour
3 tbs sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
2 large apples, peeled and cored
1/2 cup cinnamon sugar
oil for deep frying

In a medium bowl, mix together flour, sugar, baking powder, nutmeg and salt. In a separate bowl, beat together egg and milk. Stir milk mixture into flour mixture until smooth.
Heat oil to 375F in a deep fryer or heavy bottomed deep pot or skillet.
Give the apples a rough chop. You want them to be well chopped but still chunky. Add them to the batter and stir well. Using a 1/4 cup measure, scoop some of the apple batter and gently drop into the hot oil, as one would do when cooking dumplings. Be careful not to splash! When they become golden on one side, flip them in the oil to cook the other side. When they're completely golden and puffed, remove them from the oil. Drain on paper towels and dust with cinnamon sugar while still warm.

You can use powdered sugar to dust the cooked fritters instead of the cinnamon sugar, or you can mix a little powdered sugar and a splash of apple cider for an easy glaze.
This recipe makes about a dozen fritters and is easily doubled if you'd like to make more!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!

To celebrate today, I thought I'd repost the video of the Happy Hallowishes Fireworks at Disneyworld. As I said before, no, it has nothing to do with cooking, but everyone knows how much I love Disney, so why not? And No, I didn't record this video, but here's the thing....I was at Disneyworld on the very same night that this was recorded. I found this video on Youtube, and when I saw the date I realized that I was standing just a few feet away from the person who recorded it!. Isn't that a riot?
Happy Hallowishes!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Joey's Potato, Tomato, and Onion Gratin

About a million years ago, I was flipping through cookbooks, looking for something simple and hearty to make. I found a recipe that had layers of potatoes and onions and tomatoes. It sounded good, so I gave it a try. To be honest, I thought it was pretty good, but it seemed to be missing something. It was kind of dry and not very flavorful.
I had forgotten all about that recipe until a few weeks ago when I was watching an episode of Everyday Food. They made a decadent potato gratin, with lots of goat cheese and heavy cream. I thought AHA! Maybe I can put the two recipes together, and come up with a new and fabulous dish! And that's exactly what I did. I reduced the amount of heavy cream, changed a few of the ingredients, and tweaked the cooking method. I'm so pleased with how it turned out! It's rich without being too heavy, and it's so tasty!
It's perfect as a brunch or dinner entree.
I hope you'll try it!

3 tbs olive oil
2-3 ginormous yellow onions
3 lbs red potatoes
S&P to taste
5 or 6 plum tomatoes
1 cup heavy cream
Italian seasoning to taste
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

Heat oven to 350F.
In a large heavy pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Peel and thinly slice onions. Add to the pot. It seems like quite a lot of onions, but don't worry. They really cook down to a much smaller volume. Being careful not to burn, slowly caramelize the onions. Be patient! This will take about 10-15 minutes. Using a wooden spoon, stir the onions quite often, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pot. In the meantime, peel the potatoes and slice them into 1/4 inch slices.
Place the potatoes in a large casserole dish. Position the slices so that you have an even layer. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Spread caramelized onions evenly over the potatoes. Slice the tomatoes into slices and arrange them in an even layer over the onions. Sprinkle with Italian seasoning and a pinch more salt and pepper. Pour the cream over all. Cover with foil and place in oven for about an hour (or until potatoes are tender). Remove from oven. Sprinkle with cheddar cheese. Place back in oven (uncovered,) for 10-15 minutes, just until the cheese is melted and bubbly.

The first time I made this, I added garlic to the dish, but this is one of the few cases where I wouldn't add a lot. Usually, as far as I'm concerned, more is more, but I found that too much garlic is a little overpowering in this particular recipe.
You can add a layer of cooked chicken, if you like, but it really doesn't need it. It stands beautifully on its own, just as it is. Serve it with a lovely green salad and you're good to go!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Butter Pecan Ice Cream

What's your favorite ice cream flavor??
This was the question that I posed to my friends and family as soon as I got my ice cream maker. I figured if I'm going to be making ice cream, I might as well find out what everyone's favorites are, right? Right.
Well, I have to say I was a little surprised at some of the answers. First of all, most people gave me BRANDS of ice cream, rather than FLAVORS of ice cream. They'd say "Breyer's" or "Ben and Jerry's." I had to go back and say, "No, I mean I want to know what FLAVOR of ice cream is your favorite." And even then, they'd say a brand name plus the flavor, like "Häagen-Dazs Dulce de Leche", or "Ben and Jerry's Coffee Coffee Buzz Buzz Buzz". "Ok, lets try this again, just tell me what FLAVOR you like!" Whew! I didn't think I was asking such a complicated question!!!!
It wasn't until I finally just decided to Google it that I found out that Vanilla and Chocolate are first and second (respectively) in the favorite flavor department, and Butter Pecan comes in a very honorable third.
So, clearly, Butter Pecan needed to be included in my birthday week of ice cream making. Well, not only that, but also it was one of my Mom's favorites, and it's also my BFF Paul's favorite too. Even if pecans are not your thing, I think you should try this recipe. Just leave the pecans out! Yes, it's true that they add a yummy toasty flavor to the ice cream, but the browned butter brown sugar ice cream is so yummy, you won't even miss 'em!

6 tbs butter
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups whole milk
6 large egg yolks
2 cups heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup pecans

In a medium thick-bottomed saucepan on medium heat, melt the butter stirring constantly, until it just begins to brown. Add the brown sugar and salt. Stir until the sugar melts. Be careful not to burn!
Slowly add the milk, stirring to incorporate. It will foam up initially, so make sure you are using a pan with high enough sides. Heat until all of the sugar is completely dissolved. Do not let it boil or the mixture may curdle.
Whisk the egg yolks until they lighten in color. Slowly pour half of the milk/sugar mixture into the eggs, whisking constantly to incorporate. Then add the warmed egg mixture back into the saucepan with the remaining milk/sugar mixture.
Stir constantly over medium heat, scraping the bottom as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon, about 5-7 minutes.
Pour the custard through the sieve and stir it into the cream. Add vanilla. Chill mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator.
While the mixture is chilling, place pecans in a dry skillet over medium heat and toast them for a minute or two, just until they become aromatic. Be careful not to burn them! Add a tablespoon of butter and a pinch or two of salt. Give them another toss and then place them on a tray to cool. Once cooled, give them a rough chop.
Once the ice cream mixture is thoroughly chilled, freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.
Fold in the chopped pecans. Scoop the soft ice cream into an airtight container and place in the freezer for at least an hour, preferably several hours. If it has been frozen for more than a day, you may need to let it sit at room temperature for a few minutes to soften it before serving.

To speed up the cooling process, place your cooked custard base in a bowl, then place the bowl in a larger bowl full of water and ice. Be careful not to get any of the water in the custard! The ice water bath will chill the base for you in no time!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Favorite Double Chocolate Ice Cream

I'm sure I must have said it before, but I'll say it again. When it comes to chocolate, it just doesn't get any better than Hershey's. You have your dark chocolate, and your classic milk chocolate. And of course we can't forget about white chocolate. Of course, the other brands are great too, but it seems to me that Hershey's chocolate is the standard against which all others are compared. Don't you agree?
My personal favorite is the Symphony milk chocolate bar. It's so smooth and creamy! Come to think of it, I've never met a bar of Hershey's chocolate that I didn't like, and every one of them is guaranteed to hit the spot when you're in the mood for a bite of chocolate.
This recipe will surely satisfy your chocolate cravings. The next time you're in the mood for a little chocolate indulgence, just whip up a quick batch, and use whatever kind of chocolate is YOUR favorite!

1/2 cup Hershey's unsweetened cocoa powder
3 cups half-and-half
1 cup heavy cream
1 tsp instant coffee granules
8 large egg yolks
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 (4.25 oz) Hershey's Symphony milk chocolate Bar

Place the cocoa powder along with 1 cup of the half-and-half into a medium saucepan over medium heat and whisk to combine. Add the remaining half-and-half, the heavy cream, and the coffee granules. Bring the mixture just to a simmer, stirring occasionally, and remove from the heat.
In a medium mixing bowl whisk the egg yolks until they lighten in color. Gradually add the sugar and whisk to combine. Temper the cream mixture into the eggs and sugar by gradually adding small amounts, until about 1/3 of the cream mixture has been added. Pour in the remainder and return the entire mixture to the saucepan and place over low heat. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture thickens slightly and coats the back of a spoon. Pour the mixture into a container and allow to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. Stir in the vanilla extract. Place the mixture into the refrigerator until completely chilled.
Pour into an ice cream maker and process according to the manufacturer's directions. This should take approximately 25 to 35 minutes. Stir in chopped bar of milk chocolate. Serve as is for soft serve or freeze for another 3 to 4 hours to allow the ice cream to harden.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Coffee Ice Cream

A few years ago, I was in the mood for a sort of Ben and Jerry's flavor of ice cream with lots of things mixed in. So I went to a Cold Stone Creamery and this was my fabulous Cold Stone "custom creation": coffee ice cream with brownies, chocolate chip cookie dough, and a caramel swirl. Doesn't that sound HEAVENLY? I asked a few friends what this flavor should be called, you know, just in case Ben and Jerry call me asking for ice cream ideas. Several ideas were suggested including "Mocha Choca Latte", "Cocoa Jitters", and my favorite one... "Cookie Dough Brownie Buzz".
What do YOU think it should be called?

3 egg yolks
2 whole eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 tbs instant coffee granules dissolved in 1/2 cup hot water
1 tsp PURE vanilla extract

Combine eggs, yolks, and sugar in a bowl and blend thoroughly with a whisk or electric beater for about 5 minutes.
Heat milk and cream in a medium saucepan; do not let boil, just “scorch” it until it is near-boiling hot.
Very slowly pour the hot milk mixture into the egg mixture, beating rapidly with a whisk. Pour the egg/milk mixture back into the saucepan.
Heat mixture over medium low heat, stirring constantly, for a few more minutes or until the consistency is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
Strain mixture into a clean bowl and add coffee and vanilla extract.
Place in fridge until completely cool.
Pour into ice cream maker canister and freeze according to manufacturer's instructions. Place in freezer until firm.

If you'd like to add the mix-ins as described above, stir them into the soft ice cream just before you place in the freezer.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Home Made Caramel Sauce

Often times when one thinks of an ice cream sundae, one thinks of gobs of hot fudge, right? Well, I have to say that's not always the case, at least not with me. Yes, I love a hot fudge sundae as much as the next person. But for me, it's all about the caramel. It's true! Ever since I was a child, every time there was a choice between chocolate and caramel, I pretty much pushed the chocolate aside. To this day, my hands-down favorite dessert of all time is a deep dish hot apple pie with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce. Nothing else compares! So, I hope you'll give this sauce a try. It's really simple to make and it's ready in no time. And seriously, home made caramel? Are you kidding me? It just doesn't get any better!!

1 cup of sugar
1/4 cup water
6 tbs butter
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract

Normally I'd list any tips and hints at the END of the recipe, but this time, you should read them BEFORE you make it. Safety first!!

-First and foremost, be extra careful when you make this!
-The sugar is SCREAMING hot when it melts and you could seriously burn yourself. If you have little toddlers running around, wait until it's time for today's nap, or let them watch something Disneytastic to keep them occupied.
-Be sure to use a high sided saucepan because adding the butter and cream causes the caramel to dramatically bubble up. You definitely don't want it to overflow!
-You may wonder why the recipe calls for 1/4 cup of water since it only evaporates from the pan anyway. Why bother adding it, right? To be honest, you don't need it. You can just add sugar to the pan and let it melt when you put it over heat. I like to add the water because it makes the sugar caramelize a little more evenly and you're less likely to burn it. It takes a few more minutes since you have to wait for the water to evaporate, but I think it's worth having a little extra insurance.
-It's best to have everything ready when you start. As soon as the sugar starts to change color, it goes pretty quickly. You don't want to be routing around in the fridge looking for that last stick of butter while the sugar is burning.
-After the vanilla is mixed in, let it cool for a while before pouring it into a heat resistant container, such as a mason jar. For heaven's sake, don't pour it into a plastic container! It might melt the plastic! And be sure to use oven mits when handling the hot jar. Whew! That was a lot. Ok NOW we're ready to begin!

Place sugar and water in a 2 qt saucepan. Place over medium heat. Don't use any utensils to stir it. This will cause the sugar to crystallize. Just hold the handle and swirl the saucepan in a small circular motion. Cook the syrup until the water has evaporated and the sugar has turned to a lovely amber color. In the meantime, have the butter and cream ready. As soon as you've reached the amber color, carefully add the butter. Whisk until the butter is melted. Remove from heat. Add cream, whisking until well incorporated. Let it cool for just a bit before stirring in the vanilla. It will thicken to the perfect pouring consistency when it cools.

Fresh Strawberry Ice Cream

If I were to choose a favorite berry, I think the strawberry wins. Blueberries are an EXTREMELY close second, but strawberries win. Apparently I'm not the only one who feels this way, since strawberry is the fourth most popular ice cream flavor in the USA. (vanilla, chocolate, and butter pecan are the top three).
When Josh and Tony came over for dinner, I had just gotten my ice cream maker and they were happy to be my taste testers for my very first batch of ice cream which was , you guessed it, fresh strawberry. They loved it and I know you will too!
I hope you'll give it a try!

1 pint fresh strawberries, hulled and chopped
2 tbs fresh lemon juice
1 cup sugar, divided
1 cup milk
2 large eggs
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine strawberries, lemon juice, and 1/4 cup sugar in a mixing bowl, set aside in fridge for 1 hour. In a medium saucepan, stir together milk and 3/4 cup sugar. Heat over low heat until you reach a low simmer, but not boiling. Meanwhile, in large mixing bowl beat eggs until light, about 2 minutes. Slowly pour the milk/sugar mixture into the beaten eggs stirring constantly. Pour everything back into the saucepan and continue to cook and stir over low heat until mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Strain custard into a clean mixing bowl. Add cream. Drain the liquid from the strawberries and add it to the bowl along with the vanilla. Place bowl in fridge until completely chilled. Pour into ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer's instructions. Stir the strawberries into the ice cream. Place in a freezer safe container and freeze until firm.

I found that it's best to chop up the fruit into small pieces because larger pieces are harder to eat when they're frozen solid. Makes sense, right?
Use this recipe for any kind of berries or fruit. Be sure to add the lemon juice because wakes up the flavor of the fruit/berries. Try fresh peaches, blueberries, or raspberries. YUM!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Peanut Butter Cup Ice Cream

When I asked Michael if he likes peanut butter, he said "a little too much."
When I asked Katie to tell me what comes to her mind at the mere thought of peanut butter, she said "It's my thing! I eat it out of the jar with a spoon!"
I won't even tell you what April told me when I asked her how she feels about peanut butter. (so funny!)
Anyway, when I decided to do a bunch of ice cream recipes, I knew I'd have to include something sinfully peanut butter, and this one DEFINITELY fits that description. You MUST try it!
Serious yum.

1 cup whole milk
3 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1 cup peanut butter, creamy not chunky
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups heavy cream
1 tbs PURE vanilla extract
8 regular size peanut butter cups, chopped

Heat a pan and add milk, bringing it to a simmer.
Meanwhile, blend the sugar and eggs together until creamy.
Pour the milk into the bowl with the egg and sugar mixture. Blend together. After mixture is well blended, place mixture back into saucepan on low heat. Continue to stir the mixture with a wire whisk continuously for about 3 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the stove top and add peanut butter and salt, mixing well.
Take the whole mixture and pour contents through a strainer into a clean bowl. Add the cream and vanilla and stir. Pour into ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer's instructions. Transfer to a freezer safe container. Stir in chopped peanut butter cups. Place container in the freezer and freeze until firm.

Don't forget to add the salt! It really makes it taste more like salted peanuts!
Before adding the peanut butter cups, I unwrap them, place them on a plate and then place them in the freezer for about an hour. It makes the chopping much easier and they won't break apart when you stir them into the ice cream.
Feel free to add any other kinds of chopped candy or cookies. I added chopped Oreos to the batch pictured above. SO good!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Vanilla Ice Cream

It's true that I like all kinds of ice cream, but when you get right down to it, vanilla is my favorite. Whenever there's a choice of vanilla or chocolate, I'm going for the vanilla. Even as a child waiting in line to buy a Mister Softee cone, I always picked vanilla. It's the basis for a perfect sundae. It's the go-to ice cream to serve on top of pies and cobblers. Pour a little caramel sauce on top and I'm in heaven!
LOVE it!

1 cup whole milk
pinch of salt
3/4 cups sugar
5 egg yolks
2 cups heavy cream
1 tbs PURE vanilla extract

Heat the milk, salt, and sugar in a saucepan. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and gradually add some of the warmed milk, stirring constantly as you pour. Pour the warmed yolk/milk mixture back into the saucepan.
Cook over low heat, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom with a heat-resistant spatula until the custard thickens enough to coat the spatula. Strain the custard into the heavy cream. Add vanilla extract. Place bowl in the fridge until completely chilled. Freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturers instructions. Transfer to a freezer safe container and freeze until firm.

Variations - Stir in about a cup of any of the following just before you place it in the freezer:

Cookies and Cream: Simply chop some Oreos or other favorite chocolate sandwich cookie.

Heath Bar Crunch: Just as the name says, simply add chopped Heath bars or toffee bits.

Cookie Dough - Mix up a batch of cookie dough (using pasteurized eggs or pasteurized liquid egg products). Roll dough into a log and chill until firm. Slice dough into wheels then cut each wheel into small pieces.

Chocolate Chip: Chop up a bar of your favorite chocolate or simply use mini toll house morsels.

Mint Chocolate Chip: it's the same as regular chocolate chip, but add about 1/2 tsp pure mint extract when you add the vanilla extract. You can also add a few drops of green food coloring when you stir in the chips, if you like.

Fudge or Caramel Swirl: Place "soft serve" ice cream in freezer container. Pour caramel or fudge topping on top. Using a knife or spatula, cut through the topping all the way to the bottom of the container and then swirl back up to the top. Do this only once or twice more. It works much better when your container is more shallow than tall.

When I began testing different ice cream recipes, I discovered that I prefer those recipes which include eggs in the base. (Technically, this makes it a custard, btw). I found that the eggs make the final product richer and creamier.
You can use a vanilla bean instead of the vanilla extract. Using a sharp knife, split the bean lenthwise, and then scrape out the tiny seeds inside. Add them to the other base ingredients before heating. You can add the bean pod to the mixture as well, but just remove it after the mixture thickens.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

I scream, You scream!

Since this week is my birthday, I've decided to do a week of recipes with one of my FAVORITE things in the whole wide world.
I've seriously never met an ice cream I didn't like. Any flavor, any brand, smooth, chunky, low fat, slow churned, you name it, I love it, any time of day or night. Ice cream at Midnight? Love it! Ice cream at 7:00 AM? More please! Everything from fruits to nuts to chocolate to caramel, I love it all!!
Yes, Yes, I know that July is National Ice Cream Month, but my birthday isn't in July, so October wins! And since I have a brand new Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker, and since I did a week of CAKES last year for my birthday, ice cream wins!
I've selected a yummy variety of ice cream recipes to share with you, so I hope you'll give them a try!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Penne alla Vodka

Whenever I watch Lidia's Italian-American Kitchen, more times than not, I want to stop want I"m doing and IMMEDIATELY make what she's making. It's the truth! Every recipe is amazing! Here's one of my favorites. This isn't EXACTLY how her recipe is written, but it's very similar and it's the way I make it. It's quick, easy, fast, and delicious. It's just as perfect for a family week night dinner as it is for weekend entertaining. So, as Lidia always says, "Tutti a Tavola a Mangiare!!!" Everyone to the table to eat!

Salt for the pasta water
1 35 oz can plum tomatoes, with their liquid
1 lb. penne pasta
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
8-10 cloves garlic, peeled
Crushed hot red pepper flakes to taste
S&P to taste
1/2 cup vodka
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter or olive oil
2 to 3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil or flat leaf parsley
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano,

Bring 6 quarts of salted water to a boil in an 8-quart pot over high heat. Stir the penne into the boiling water. Bring the water back to a boil, stirring frequently. Cook the pasta, semi-covered, stirring occasionally, until done, 8 to 10 minutes.

Pour the tomatoes and their liquid into a large bowl. Using your impeccably clean hands, squish the tomatoes until they're much smaller pieces but still chunky.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Finely chop the onions and saute them in the olive oil. Slice the cloves of garlic (or just smash them with the side of your knife) and add them to the olive oil. Saute for a few minutes until the onions and garlic have softened slightly, making sure not to burn.

Holding the bowl of tomatoes close to the pan, gently add the tomatoes to the pan. BE CAREFUL! They will splatter! Season with salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes. Simmer for a few minutes. Pour in the vodka, lower the heat, and simmer until the pasta is ready.

Just before the pasta is done, pour the cream into the tomatoes. Stir in the 2 tablespoons butter or oil. Check the seasoning, adding salt and red pepper if necessary.

Drain pasta and toss with the sauce. Sprinkle the cheese and the chopped basil over the pasta and give it a good toss. Serve immediately.

Choose a premium vodka. It really does make a difference. Since it's one of the main components, and also the title of the recipe, it's best not to settle for anything less.
For an extra layer of flavor, you can add Pancetta or regular bacon. Simply dice it and saute it in the pan before you add anything else. I'd probably drain off the grease if it's excessive, but if not I'd just leave it in the sauce and maybe adjust the amount of olive oil.
The red pepper flakes really add a sort of 'after burn' to the dish. It kind of sneaks up on you! If you prefer a dish that isn't so feisty, simply omit the crushed red pepper flakes, or just add a tiny pinch.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Smashed Potatoes

No, they're not mashed, they're SMASHED! Here's a great potato side dish that's like mashed potatoes, only not. You don't have to peel them or even cut them. Just boil and smash! No mixer, no potato ricer, just a fork or a potato masher. Easy, right? They're quicker and easier to make than mashed potatoes and they're just as yummy.

3 lbs. baby red (or baby Yukon Gold) potatoes
1 stick soft butter
1 cup heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place potatoes in a large pot. Cover with cold water. Add pinch of salt. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 20 to 25 minutes or until tender. Drain potatoes and transfer back to pot. Smash with potato masher. Add butter and cream. Give them a good stir. Season with salt and pepper.

The baby potatoes are the best choice here because their small size makes for quick cooking and their skins are extremely tender and easier to chew.
The thing that sets smashed apart from mashed is the fact that they're chunky. They're not supposed to be smooth like mashed potatoes, so just give 'em a quick smash and you're good to go! Want to add another layer of flavor? Add garlic, Parmesan cheese, or French fried onions.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Mandarin and Pecan Salad

A salad can be a delicious intro to a meal, a light accompaniment to a rich dish, or it can be a meal all on its own. You can throw just about anything into a salad, drizzle with your favorite dressing and you're good to go. This doesn't mean you have to go crazy, though, like you're at a salad bar with a million different salad components. Sometimes the best salads are the simplest!
This specific combination of ingredients is so simple, it's barely a recipe. But you won't believe how tasty they are together. Your guests will be raving about your dinner, even before they get to the main course!

2 hearts Romaine lettuce
1 14oz can Mandarin orange slices, drained
1 cup pecan halves
2-3 tbs butter
1 tbs sugar
pinch salt
poppy seed salad dressing

Remove the core end of the Romaine hearts, then slice the lettuce "cross-ways" into 1 inch strips. Separate the leaves and place them in a large salad bowl. Top with orange slices.
Place pecans, butter, sugar, and salt in a small skillet. Gently heat over medium heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved and the pecans are well coated and slightly toasted. Spread pecans into a single layer on a baking tray or piece of parchment paper. Once cooled, toss the pecans with the lettuce and the orange slices. Serve with your favorite brand of poppy seed dressing.

You don't even have to candy the pecans. They'd be delicious just as they are, but I'd still recommend toasting them for a minute or two in a dry skillet.
For a refreshing variation, try substituting fresh sliced peaches for the Mandarin oranges. The sweet and sour flavor of the dressing is SO good on peaches! I usually don't mention specific brands, but I must say, I'm particularly fond of Brianna's Rich Poppy Seed Dressing.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Vanishing Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

There's nothing better than home made cookies, served warm right out of the oven. I don't know of anyone who doesn't absolutely LOVE them. I always like to time them so that I'm walking out the door minutes after I take them out of the oven, and then I cover them with a clean dish towel to keep them warm. When I arrive at a party with a tray of cookies, everyone always says "OH! they're still warm!!!". How divine is that? Sometimes I'll even whip up a batch and bring them to the Ritz if some of my friends are opening a show. It's just my way of saying "Have a great show! And just maybe it helps to calm some opening night jitters. Isn't it amazing how something as simple as a warm cookie can have such an effect?
Quick true story....a few years ago, when I was selling my condo, I always made sure I had some cookies baking whenever a potential buyer came over for a walk through. As soon as they'd walk in, they'd smell the cookies baking and feel right at home. Clever, huh? And guess what, it worked liked a charm! My condo sold in just over 2 weeks! So keep that in mind the next time you go to sell a house!
This was the recipe I used. It's definitely my go-to recipe for oatmeal cookies. I've tried several other recipes, and this one wins.
You just can't beat 'em!

1/2 cup (1 stick) plus 6 tablespoons butter, softened
3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups Quaker® Oats (quick or old fashioned, uncooked)
1 cup raisins

Heat oven to 350°F.
In large bowl, beat butter and sugars on medium speed of electric mixer until creamy. Add eggs and vanilla; beat well. Add combined flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt; mix well. Add oats and raisins; mix well.
Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets.
Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until light golden brown. Cool 1 minute on cookie sheets; remove to wire rack. Cool completely. Store tightly covered.

Even though the recipe only calls for a cup of raisins and a teaspoon of cinnamon, I always add more. Remember what my Mom always used to say: "Do you like a lot? add a lot!"

Monday, September 21, 2009

Chicken and Dumplings

I was watching Everyday Food and the theme of the episode was one-pot recipes. As soon as I saw their recipe for chicken and dumplings, I knew I wanted to make it. I figured, why not right now? So I dropped what I was doing, went to the grocery to buy the ingredients, and made it for dinner that night. It was SO good! I LOVED it!
A week or two later, I decided I wanted to make it again. The only problem was that I didn't write it down and I couldn't remember exactly what the recipe was. I thought, no problem, I'm sure I can find it on their web site. So, I googled it, and yes, I did find a recipe for Chicken and Dumplings, but it wasn't the same recipe! What's up with that?? Wouldn't you think the website and the TV show would be the same? Apparently, it isn't. Anyway, I decided to make it anyway, figuring I could just guess my way through it. Once again, it turned out great, although I'm positive that I did a few things differently. I probably would've tweaked their recipe anyway to make it the way I like it. So here's the recipe, just as I made it. It's easy and simple and delicious and comforting and the dumplings are light and fluffy. Some people might wait until winter to make this one, but it's just too good to wait that long! It's great any time of the year!

1 stick butter
1 large onion, coarsely chopped.
3 or 4 ribs of celery, coarsely chopped
1 lb bag of baby carrots
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 32 oz container chicken broth
1 1/2 lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs
1 box (10 oz) frozen peas

Melt butter in a large heavy pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onions, celery, carrots, salt, pepper, and thyme. Saute for 5 to 10 minutes, until everything begins to soften. Give it a good stir. Add flour and continue to cook for a few more minutes, stirring often to make sure nothing sticks to the bottom of the pot. Add chicken broth and stir to break up any clumps of flour.
Trim chicken of any excess fat. Cut each thigh into 3 or 4 pieces, depending on how big they are. Nestle each piece of chicken down into the stew until just submerged. Place cover on pot, and let it cook for 15 minutes. Stir in frozen peas. Now it's time to make the dumplings.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 tbs any favorite fresh herbs (thyme, basil, parsley, dill, etc)
1 large egg, beaten
1 cup milk

Combine flour, baking powder, salt and chopped herbs in mixing bowl. Make a well in the center. Combine egg and milk, mixing well. Pour into well in flour mixture and stir with a fork until just blended. Don't over mix! Drop by tablespoonfuls onto the surface of the boiling stew. Cook 10 minutes uncovered. Cover pot and cook another 10 minutes.

You can use dried herbs instead of the fresh ones. Just use half as much.
I like a LOT of vegetables in stews, so I added a a whole bag of carrots and a whole box of frozen peas. Add as much (or as little) as you like!
I love using boneless thighs for this recipe because they stay tender and juicy. You can certainly use boneless breasts, though, if that's what you have on hand.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Banana Bread

When you think of banana bread, you think of old-timey home-baked goodness. It's moist, sweet, and comforting, especially when it's hot out of the oven. This is a great way to use up your extra leftover bananas as they get really speckled and soft. That's when they're perfect for baking! Try this recipe the next time you want to make your whole house smell heavenly.
You'll love it!

1 c. sugar
1/2 c. oil
2 eggs, beaten
3 ripe bananas, mashed
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 tsp. pure rum extract
2 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
3 tbsp. milk
1 c. pecans or walnuts (optional)

Heat oven to 350F.
Cream sugar and oil. Add eggs and mashed bananas. Add extracts. Sift together dry ingredients and add alternately with the milk. Blend well. Stir in nuts or any extras (if using). Pour into greased 9x5x2 loaf pan. Bake about 40 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

The rum extract is a really important ingredient here. Don't forget it! And if you can't find rum extract, brandy extract will work just as nicely.
This recipe doubles easily and the baked loaves freeze really well.
Why not make two and freeze one?
Also, feel free to add any extras you like, such as chocolate chips, chopped nuts, peanut butter chips, or fresh blueberries.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Rigatoni alla Bolognese

Bolognese sauce is a meat-based sauce for pasta originating in Bologna, Italy. It's traditionally served over tagliatelle, but I decided to serve it over rigatoni instead. Since the sauce is so hearty, I decided that it needed a hearty chunky pasta to go with it.
This is my version of a classic Bolognese. I hope you'll give it a try. It's SO worth the time! Just put the pot on and let it simmer all afternoon.
You'll love it!

4 strips thick bacon, diced
1 large onion
3 ribs celery
2 large carrots
3 or 4 large button mushrooms
6 garlic cloves
2 pounds ground beef chuck
Coarse salt and ground pepper
Pinch of ground nutmeg
1 (12 oz) can evaporated milk
1 cup red wine
1 can (14.5 oz) beef broth
2 cans (28 oz ea) crushed tomatoes in puree
Rigatoni, Tagliatelle, or your choice of pasta

In a Dutch oven, cook bacon until it begins to crisp. Leave some of the rendered fat in the pot and drain the rest. Finely mince the onions, celery, carrot, mushrooms, and garlic. Add them to the pot. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes.
Add beef; season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Cook, stirring and breaking up meat with a spoon, until browned, about 15 minutes.
Add milk, wine, and broth. Simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently.
Stir in tomatoes; simmer gently over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for at least 2 hours. Adjust seasoning if needed. Serve over cooked rigatoni.

-Instead of chopping the vegetables by hand, I just threw them all into the food processor and pulsed it until everything was finely minced.
-I used evaporated milk because it's less likely to break in the sauce, but you can use whole milk if you like. I wouldn't use a milk with a lower percentage of fat.
-Let it simmer for a minimum of two hours. The longer it simmers, the better it is. I usually let it go for up to 4 or 5 hours. Just be sure to stir it from the bottom up to be sure it's not burning on the bottom.
If your sauce becomes too thick, just add a ladle of pasta water to loosen it up a bit.
-This recipe makes a huge batch, so serve some for dinner, then put the rest of the sauce into containers and store them in your freezer for up to two months.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Lemon-Zucchini Cornmeal Cookies

I always get a lot of requests for lemon recipes, so whenever I hear of one, I'm always quick to share it. Here's a recipe that was given to me by Kathleen, who got it from Lisa, who found it in an issue of Everyday Food magazine. The Lemon Glaze was added by Kathleen and I think it's the perfect touch! Oh, by the way, the picture is from Kathleen too!
Thanx again Kath!

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temp.
1 cup confectioners sugar
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 tsp. packed finely grated lemon zest
1 tsp. coarse salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup fine cornmeal
1 medium zucchini, grated on small holes of a box grater (about 1 cup)

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. in a large bowl, mix butter, sugar with a wooden spoon until pale and fluffy. Stir in vanilla, lemon zest and salt. Add flour and cornmeal and mix until mixture is crumbly. Add zucchini and stir until a thick dough forms.

2.Drop dough by rounded tablespoons, 2 inches apart, onto two parchment–lined baking sheets. Bake until cookies are light golden brown at edges, 25-30 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through. Let cool completely on wire racks.

Makes 25 cookies.

Lemon Glaze:

1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice

Mix the lemon juice and sugar well, spread a thin coat on each cookie. (This recipe makes JUST ENOUGH for the batch of cookies above.)

Monday, August 24, 2009

Orange Brownies

Well, once again, I'm turning to my favorite celebrity cook for a decadent dessert. This is a Paula Deen recipe, so you know it has to be good, right? Seriously, when I made these, I sent my BFF Paul a text message that I need to make these every day for the rest of my life. They're so delicious!
Now, at first, I thought "Why are these called BROWNIES? They're not brown, they're orange! Shouldn't they be called ORANGIES?" But then I made them and it all made sense at the very first bite. When you think of a brownie, you think of something fudgy and moist and a lot richer than a piece of cake, right? These are the orange version of that. They're moist, and rich and they're the orange version of "fudgy". They're the same exact texture as a brownie. YUM! I think you should make them, like, right now.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
4 eggs
2 teaspoons pure orange extract
1 teaspoon grated orange zest

1 cup confectioners' sugar
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 teaspoon grated orange zest

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Grease a 13 by 9 by 2-inch pan and set aside. In a mixing bowl, stir together flour, sugar, and salt. Add butter, eggs, orange extract, and orange zest and beat with a mixer until well blended. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes, or until light golden brown and set. Remove from oven and pierce top of entire cake with a fork.

Combine all ingredients in a bowl, stirring until smooth. Pour glaze over brownies. Cool and cut into squares.

You can use the glaze as directed above or you can frost the cooled brownies with Orange Cream Cheese Icing. Since I usually use the cream cheese icing for Orange Creamsicle Cake, I opted to use the glaze for the brownies.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Avocado Gazpacho

Have you ever tried Gazpacho? It's a Spanish tomato-based raw vegetable soup that you serve cold, best served during summer months due to its cool refreshing qualities. It's one of those things that I've made in the past, and whenever I have it, I think "Why don't I make this more often?" To be honest, I haven't made it in years, and I don't have any certain go-to recipe for it. Well, that is, until NOW! My friend Kathleen was thoughtful enough to pass this along to me. I hope you'll give it a try! Thanx Kath!!!

OMG!! Joey!!! I had the VERY BEST gazpacho EVER today!! A girlfriend of mine took us and the kids out on her boat today and she shared this with us. It was HEAVENLY on this hot, summer day!!! If you like gazpacho, you have to try it!!!
Here's the recipe (courtesy of my friend, Betsy)

1 quart or 3 cans Clamato or Snap-E Tom tomato juice (I prefer the Snap-E Tom juice)
2 cups mango or pineapple juice
1/4 cup lime juice
1 large mango- diced
1 red onion- diced
1 red pepper- diced
1 green pepper- diced
1 cucumber(optional) diced
2-3 tomatos- diced
2 large or 3 small avocados (on the firmer side)- diced
1/4-1/2 cup chopped cilantro
2 tbs ground cumin
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix all together and chill.
Serve with bagel chips or corn bread croutons.
So good on a hot day- you need nothing else!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Paula's Sweet Potato Biscuits

I was in the mood for a baked something served warm out of the oven. So, I browsed through the pantry to see what ingredients I had on hand. I found a small can of sweet potatoes and immediately remembered seeing an episode of Paula's Home Cooking where she made these fluffy yummy biscuits. Perfect! They're a snap to throw together and they're in and out of the oven in no time. Perfect for a sunday brunch or a simple afternoon tea. This is where I'd normally say "Great then!" but I'm thinking Miss Paula would probably say "Great Y'all!"

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 heaping tablespoons sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup mashed cooked sweet potatoes
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) softened butter
2 to 4 tablespoons milk (depending on the moisture of the potatoes)

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
Sift together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. In a separate, large bowl, mix the sweet potatoes and butter. Add the flour mixture to the potato mixture and mix to make a soft dough. Then add milk a tablespoon at a time to mixture and continue to cut in. Turn the dough out onto a floured board and toss lightly until the outside of the dough looks smooth. Roll the dough out to 1/2-inch thick and cut with a biscuit cutter. Place the biscuits on a greased pan and coat tops with melted butter. Bake for about 15 minutes. Serve the with a little smear of butter and a drizzle of honey or maple syrup.

Quick Tip: Watch your oven: If the biscuits are browning too fast, lower the temperature.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Apple Pan Dowdy

There are a million different versions of this recipe. This is how I make it. It's sort of like an upside down apple pie. The fruit is on the bottom and the crust is on top! You can add maple syrup or molasses to it, but I like to keep it simple. Oh, and if you're wondering about the name... When you serve it, you break up the crust into small pieces and then dunk them into into the filling, which gives it a "dowdy" appearance.
Regardless of how it looks, I happen to LOVE it! And as Dinah Shore used to sing: "I'll never get enough of that wonderful stuff!"

8 lg. Granny Smith apples
1 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. grated nutmeg
2 tbs water
3 tbs. butter
1/2 recipe for Easy Pie Crust or one Pillsbury ready made pie crust.

Preheat oven to 425F.
Peel, core, and slice apples. Place in a large bowl. Sprinkle with sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and water. Gently toss to combine. Place apple mixture in an ovenproof 12" skillet. Dot with butter.

Roll out pie crust on floured board to fit your skillet. Place dough over apples. Sprinkle with additional sugar and cinnamon. Bake at 425 degrees for 30 minutes. Remove from oven. Break crust into 3 inch square pieces. Return to oven and bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes longer or until apples are tender.

If you're using a variety of apples that is less tart, substitute lemon juice for the water.