Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's Day Crock Pot

When I was growing up, on New Year's Day, my family would always bundle up and go to my grandparents' house in South Philly for the Mummers' Parade. My Dad became involved with the Mummers when he was just a boy of 13 and most of my family has been involved with the Mummers at one time or another, so it's kind of a big deal. (Just ask anyone who lives in South Philly!) Anyway, we'd spend the better part of the day outside watching the parade, and then we'd go back to my grandparents' house to have something to eat and to warm up. There was always a great big pot of soup and a huge pot of hot dogs and sauerkraut. It's one of the childhood memories that I'll always hold dear to my heart.
  Now we don't always make it over to the parade, but we still get together to watch it on TV, usually at Michael and Karen's house. And of course, we still have a great big pot of soup and a huge pot of hot dogs and sauerkraut. It just wouldn't be New Year's Day without it. I got the recipe from my sister Reen who had just given it to her son, Jude, at college. She said to him "Just throw everything in the crock pot and it'll smell like New Year's Day". When she sent it to me she said "Just the smell of it makes me think of Mummers." It's funny because it's true! And every person in my family will tell you the same thing! So give it a try! Invite a big gang of people to your house on New Year's Day and watch the Mummers Parade. You're likely to see my brother Denny's choreography or maybe even  hear a musical arrangement by my brother Michael!
Happy New Year!

1 or 2 large onions, sliced
1 bag of sauerkraut, rinsed
1 or 2 cans chicken broth
1 bottle of beer
Hot dogs

I suppose you could just throw everything in the crock pot and let it cook, just as Reen said, but I like to saute the onions and brown the sausages a little in a skillet before adding everything to the pot. Throw everything together in the morning while you're watching the Comics and the Fancies. Turn it to low for a few hours, just until the sausages are cooked through, then turn it to warm. It'll be all ready by mid afternoon when you're watching the String Bands and you can let everyone serve themselves right out of the crock pot. It'll keep everything nice and hot. It's so yummy, I bet there won't be any left by the time you get to the Fancy Brigades! Oh, btw, the amounts are just guidelines. If you have a lot of people to feed, just add more!

Tip from Reen:
I use turkey kielbasa and turkey hot dogs to lighten it up,
but you could use whatever you want.

Tip from Joey:
Whenever I'm having sauerkraut, I always like to add one or two diced apples. I think the sweet helps to balance the sour.
If your nose is not particularly fond of sauerkraut, try adding some chopped celery leaves to the pot. Seriously!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Cocktail Meatballs

 This is an all time favorite recipe that is as simple as it is DELISH! I made it for my family's Quailapalooza holiday gift exchange and there wasn't a meatball left to be had by the end of the night! Will, especially, became an immediate fan. Glad you liked them, Will! Serve these at your next party and I PROMISE your guests will devour them!!

1 pound ground beef
1/2 cup dried bread crumbs
1/3 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup milk
1 egg
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 cup shortening
12 fluid ounces tomato-based chili sauce
1 1/4 cups grape jelly

In a large bowl, combine ground beef, bread crumbs, onion, milk, egg, salt, Worcestershire sauce, and ground black pepper. Mix together, and shape into meatballs.

In a large skillet, heat shortening over medium heat. Add meatballs, and cook until browned, about 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from skillet, and drain on paper towels. Pour off any shortening.

Add chili sauce and jelly to skillet; heat, stirring, until jelly is melted. Return meatballs to skillet, and stir until coated. Reduce heat to low. Simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Keep them warm during your party in a crock pot, if desired.

Instead of frying them, I placed them on a baking sheet and baked them at 350F for about 20 minutes. It's a lot faster than standing at a stove frying meatballs for a million years.
I used a tablespoon to measure each meatball as I rolled them. It helps to insure that all of your meatballs will be the same walnut size.
If you're feeding a crowd, just double or triple the recipe (or as many times as needed). Instead of cooking the sauce with the meatballs in a skillet, I just heated the sauce in a pot until the jelly was melted and the sauce was smooth. Then I placed everything in a crock for a few hours until it was time to go to the party.
The sauce makes quite a bit, so feel free to cut the amounts in half. If you find yourself with a lot of leftover sauce, it would be wonderful to pour over a meatloaf. Or just make more meatballs!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Beef and Brew Stew

Lately I've been in the mood for some old timey soups and stews. You know, the kind you cook in a heavy cast iron Dutch Oven. My Mother used to say "just throw everything into the pot and let it cook." I could be making some "Feel Better All Over" soup for Jaclyn, or Beef Stew or Beef Barley Soup for Paul, and it always brings me home to my Mom cooking a big pot of something all day on a Sunday afternoon.
So, when I saw this recipe, I knew immediately that I had to try it.  It screams comfort food and it'll satisfy your hungriest hungry man. Oh, and it's from the Campbell's Soup kitchens so you know it's gonna be fabulous. Seriously, just wait until you taste it! It's PHENOMINAL. Like, I think this just might be my new favorite "go to" recipe for beef stew. It's that good! It's the perfect thing when you need something to thaw you out. Whether you've been outside for hours shoveling snow, or working out in the cold all day, there's nothing like a delicious comforting stew to help warm you up and bring you home. You simply MUST try this one!

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 boneless beef chuck roast (about 3 pounds), cut into 1-inch pieces
2 large onions, sliced (about 2 cups)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cans (10 3/4 ounces each) Campbell's® Condensed Golden Mushroom Soup
2 cans (10 1/2 ounces each) Campbell's® Condensed French Onion Soup
1 bottle (12 fluid ounces) dark beer or stout
1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves, crushed
1 bay leaf
2 cups fresh or frozen whole baby carrots
Egg noodles, cooked, drained and buttered

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in an oven-safe 6-quart saucepot over medium-high heat.  Add the beef in batches and cook until well browned, stirring often, adding an additional 1 tablespoon oil as needed during cooking.  Remove the beef from the saucepot.  Pour off any fat.
Heat the remaining oil in the saucepot over medium heat.  Add the onions and garlic and cook until the onions are tender, stirring occasionally.
Stir the soups, beer, brown sugar, vinegar, thyme, bay leaf and carrots in the saucepot and heat to a boil. Add the beef back to the pot along with any juices. Give it a good stir. Cover the saucepot.
Bake at 300°F. for 2 hours or until the beef is fork-tender.  Remove and discard the bay leaf.  Serve over the noodles with some warm crusty bread.

I used Beck's Dark beer because the recipe reminds me of a hearty sort of German stew, so I chose an imported German beer, but you can use whichever dark beer or stout you like.
I added two pounds of baby carrots instead of one pound because, frankly, I like carrots. And if you like a lot, you should add a lot!
The recipe suggests that you serve it over buttered egg noodles, but I think it would be just as fabulous over some mashed or smashed potatoes, or you could even just cut some baby red potatoes into halves or quarters and add them right into the stew.
This recipe can also be made in a crock pot. Just brown everything up as directed, then transfer everything to a crock pot and slow cook it for 8 or 9 hours on low.
When I first typed up the recipe, I noticed that someone in the Campbell's Soup kitchen neglected to instruct when to add the beef back to the pot. As I've stated above, I just added it to the pot after I gave everything else a good stir and it turned out perfectly. I'm guessing they meant to do that!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Russian Tea Cakes

 These are the classic little gems that everyone loves, and in my family, my niece, Natalie, is the one who's famous for making them. Besides being delicious, one of the things I love about them is that they add a little variety to a cookie tray. Sometimes when you assemble a mixed tray of cookies as a gift, all the cookies start to look the same, but these tasty morsels stand out and make the tray look festive. And they're easy!! Try 'em!
Thanx Natalie!!!

Hey Uncle Joey, these cookies store pretty well, which makes them perfect for entertaining during the busy holiday season!

3 sticks of butter
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups flour
1/2 finely chopped pecans
12 ounces mini semi-sweet chocolate chips

Heat oven to 375F.
Mix butter, sugar, and vanilla. Add flour, salt, and pecans. Mix until soft dough comes together. Add chocolate chips. Roll into 1 inch balls and place on ungreased cookie sheet. Cook at 375 degrees for 10-12 minutes or until bottoms are a light golden brown. Roll in 10x sugar while warm. Cool the cookies. Roll once again in the 10x sugar and serve.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Chewy Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies

Cookies are such a simple pleasure, don't you think? They're quick and easy, they smell heavenly while they're baking, and they make the whole house feel warm and inviting. Plus, they ALWAYS hit the spot with a nice tall glass of ice cold milk. Christmas would simply NOT be the same without them!
 I found this recipe and it looked simple and quick to throw together, (which is a MUST during the busy holiday season), so I gave it a try. Joshua and Denny were my testers and they both gave it a big "thumbs up"! It's no surprise, though, because seriously, can you ever go wrong with a really good basic chocolate cookie? I think not. This is now my "go to" chocolate cookie recipe. They're rich and fudgy and they taste like brownies in the form of a thin chewy cookie. What's not to love? So, whether you're baking for a holiday cookie swap or an after school snack, these cookies should definitely be in your repertoire!

1 1/4 cups butter (2 1/2 sticks)
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 cups flour
3/4 unsweetened cocoa
1 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips 

Preheat oven to 350F.
In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time, then stir in the vanilla. In a separate bowl, combine flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. Stir into the creamed mixture until just blended. Mix in chocolate chips. Drop by tablespoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets. 
Bake for 8 to 10 minutes. Don't over bake! You want them to be soft and chewy, so under bake them just slightly. Allow to set on cookie sheets before removing to a cool flat surface. 

Whenever I bake cookies, I ALWAYS use parchment paper on an airbake cookie sheet. (you know, the cookie sheets that have the pocket of air inside?)  Seriously, I can't even remember the last time I burned a cookie or had one stick to the pan. As soon as you take the cookies out of the oven, you just slide the whole sheet of parchment right off the pan onto the table. You barely even need a spatula! Then you can slide the next sheet of parchment (full of unbaked cookies) right onto the sheet and into the oven it goes. While it's baking, you can get the next sheet of parchment ready. Easy, right? You can knock out a batch of cookies in no time.
To make perfectly round cookies, let the cookie dough chill in the fridge for a little while, just until it begins to firm up, then roll tablespoonfuls into balls. Bake them up as usual, and you'll wind up with perfectly perfect thin round cookies! Oh! Then you could make ice cream sandwiches with them! Brilliant.
 This recipe lends itself to all kinds of variations. Instead of chocolate chips, use vanilla chips, or white chocolate chips, or milk chocolate chips, or chocolate chunks, or mini chips, or M&Ms candies, or Reese's Pieces, or peanut butter chips, or mint chocolate chips, or caramel chips or butterscotch chips, or crushed Heath bars, or chopped nuts, or mini marshmallows, or crushed candy canes, or Raisinets, or craisins, or dried cherries, or chopped Andes mints.....
I suppose you could bake the cookies without adding anything to them at all, but that just makes no sense to me.....

Monday, December 13, 2010

Fluffernutter Cookies

Ah, Fluffernutters, how I love them....
A longtime staple of playgrounds, lunchboxes, after-school snacks, and college dorms, a Fluffernutter is the wonderful combination of marshmallow creme (aka FLUFF!) and peanut butter in a delightfully tasty sandwich!
 So, how about making Fluffernutters in the form of a cookie? Though probably not the first to come up with this idea, my sister, Cathy, was the one who suggested them to me. She was reading my recipe post for Peanut Butter Cake where I added the tip of sandwiching the Fluff between the layers of cake. She thought, "Why not sandwich the Fluff between two peanut butter cookies instead?" Fabulous. So, then I did a little googling and found that there are several versions of Fluffernutter cookies. Some have the Fluff on top, (like a thumbprint cookie), some have the Fluff baked right into the cookie. One of the most popular recipes only has THREE ingredients, two of which are the peanut butter and Fluff! Crazy, huh?
 Well, after several discussions with Fluffernutter enthusiasts, (Denny, Michael, Katie, Kelsie, Jackie, and Joshua, to name a few), I decided that this was the version for me (based, of course, on Cathy's original suggestion and also on how much you could taste the Fluff). Just bake up some of your favorite peanut butter cookies, and then sandwich the Fluff between them.  Its brilliance is in its simplicity. The addition of a chocolate drizzle just sends it over the top! This recipe is from my favorite Mrs. Fields' Cookie Book, but use whichever recipe you like best!
Better make extra!
Your family will devour them!

2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups packed dark brown sugar
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 cup butter, softened
3 large eggs
1 cup creamy peanut butter
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.
Mix dry ingredients and set aside.
On medium speed, in large bowl, blend sugars; add butter, mix till grainy consistency. Add eggs, peanut butter and vanilla extract; beat until fluffy. On low speed, add flour mixture until barely mixed into butter mixture.
Drop by rounded tablespoonsful, 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet. Use a wet or flour coated fork to gently press a crisscross pattern on top of each cookie, if desired.
Bake until the edges of the cookies are lightly browned, approximately 18 to 20 minutes. Remove to cool on a flat surface.

Chocolate drizzle (optional):
Just melt one or two large Hershey bars with about a tablespoon of plain vegetable shortening in the microwave. Mix until smooth, then drizzle the top or dip one side of the cookies. The chocolate will set up, but it'll still be soft. If you'd like the chocolate to set up to a harder shell, use dipping chocolate, as one would use for making candy.

To save time, you can certainly take a shortcut buy using ready made peanut butter cookie dough, instead of mixing up your own. You really can't go wrong with Pillsbury or Nestle. Just sayin'.
Although the recipe says to drop by rounded tablespoonfuls, I'd suggest making smaller cookies. Instead, use maybe 2 teaspoonfuls for each cookie. Remember, you're using two of them for each serving. Then again, if you'd like gigantic sandwich cookies, go for it!
To make the cookies extra Fluffernutterier, just add peanut butter to the sandwich! Simply place a teaspoon of peanut butter on one cookie and a teaspoon of Fluff on another, then sandwich the two together. More is more!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Kathleen's Candy Cane Ice Cream

Well, once again, my high school classmate, Kathleen, has sent me another fabulous recipe. She used a recipe that came with her ice cream maker, and then she added a few things to make it her own. The result? A fabulously festive treat that your family will love!
I love the fact that this recipe uses egg beaters instead of whole eggs so there's no need to cook the eggs into a custard before freezing. And it's so festive! Just imagine a few scoops of this ice cream floating in a punch bowl full of eggnog. Brilliant!
Thanx again Kath! And thanx for taking the beautiful picture too!!


Hope you get to make some and try it for yourself!  
You can have fun with this because you can change up the color and the candies in it.
Try Andes candies, or mini choc chips, or shaved dark choc, or even M&M's in holiday colors!
We love this in our house and hope you love it, too!!!

4 oz egg beaters
1 cup sugar
1 cup half and half (or milk...NOT skim milk!!!)
2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp peppermint extract
candy canes
a few drops of red food coloring

Combine eggs, sugar, vanilla, peppermint extract, red food coloring (to the shade of pink that you want) in a mixing bowl, blender or food processor. Add cream, half and half (or milk). Mix well and chill thoroughly.

Crush the candy canes to the size chunks you prefer. I use about four candy canes and try not to pulverize the crap out of them. Shards are good. Powder...not so much.

**I use a blender. Works beautifully!**

Follow the instructions for your ice cream maker. Mine is a "Deni" ice cream maker and it takes about 25 minutes in my machine to reach soft-serve stage. The last three minutes I pour the candy cane pieces in the top of the machine as it's running.

Once done, pour immediately into a container and freeze for a few hours or overnight, until it reaches the hardness you want.

ENJOY!!!!! Merry Christmas everyone!!!\

Kathleen's Tips:
Be sure to use only REAL vanilla extract, and do NOT buy the "mint" extract. MUST be "peppermint"!!! Unfortunately I found out the hard way this summer that "mint" tastes like toothpaste!! YUCK!!!!!!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Pork and Apple Saute

Whenever I see my sister, Reen, we inevitably wind up discussing recipes. Most times she tells me of something that she made that was SO good, that everyone LOVED. And most times it was something she just threw together and probably wouldn't be able to recreate if her life depended on it. I keep telling her "Write it down, take a picture of it, and send me the recipe!" Well, finally, she did! And it's fabulous!
Thanx Been!
To be honest, I have no idea of this is Reen's recipe or if it belongs to someone else, but as I always say, she's the one who brought it to me, so she's the one who gets the credit! It's an easy dinner that's ready in no time! Just throw everything together the night before, and let it marinate until you get home from work the next day. It's ready in as little time as it takes to cook the rice. Easy! It's the perfect Fall dinner.
You should try it!

6-8 pork chops
4 garlic cloves
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons sherry
1/2 t. freshly grated ginger (I add about a tablespoon more!)
1/2 cup chopped onion
3 peeled and sliced apples
3 strips bacon, crisped and crumbled (optional)

Cut pork off bone (if there is one). Cut into strips. Mix garlic, soy sauce, sherry, ginger and onion. Add pork. Marinade overnight. Peel and slice apples. Saute pork in vegetable oil. Add apples. Cook until tender. Serve with rice. Top with crumbled bacon, if desired.

Choose an apple that holds up well when it's cooked, such as Granny Smith. As much as I love Macintosh or Golden Delicious apples, they'll just break down and become mushy when you cook them.
Serve with any green vegetable, such as steamed broccoli, Roasted Asparagus, or Caramelized Brussels Sprouts.
When serving rice, instead of using plain white rice, try different kinds! (lately, I've been using Jasmine rice quite a lot. Love it!) Also,cook it in vegetable or chicken stock instead of water. You won't believe how much more flavorful it'll be!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Turkey and Stuffing Casserole

Here's a repost of Jeanie's "day after Thanksgiving" dish.
It's so good that it's worth reposting and it still hits the spot.
Try it!!!!

Well, once again my sister Jeanie has created a fabulous 'feed a crowd' dish. She's good like that, you know? I love that I'll be at work, just going about my day, and I'll receive a random picture message on my phone of whatever new dish she's just created. When she first described it to me, all I could think of was "what's not to love?" It seriously screams "comfort food", and you know how I love that! This is the perfect recipe to use up Thanksgiving leftovers. Thanx My Jeanie!

4 cups cooked turkey, diced
4 cups diced red potatoes
3 stalks celery, diced
1 or 2 onions
2 cups baby carrots
1 bag frozen peas
6 cups chicken (or turkey) broth
1 tsp. poultry seasoning
1 tsp. sage
1 jar turkey gravy
1/2 cup flour
1 cup water
1 bay leaf
fresh rosemary, 1 sprig
fresh thyme
1 recipe stuffing – Stove Top or your own

1. Cook potatoes – I put them in a skillet with a little oil, seared them for about 10 minutes, then added some water to cover, put a lid on and cooked for another 5 or 10 until tender. Drain and place into bottom of a greased 13 x 9. Set aside.
2. In a large skillet, saute celery, onion and carrots in a little butter until tender. Add chicken broth, poultry seasoning, sage, rosemary, bay leaf and thyme. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes.
3. In a small bowl, dissolve 1/2 cup flour in about 1 cup of water, whisk until smooth, and add to skillet mixture. Add jar of turkey gravy. Simmer until thickened.
4. Add diced turkey and frozen peas (no need to thaw them).
5. Pour entire mixture on top of potatoes in 13 x 9.
6. Prepare the Stove Top as directed and sprinkle over top of the casserole.
7. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes or until bubbly.

Clearly, you could use chicken instead of turkey and switch the vegetables to suit your own tastes or to use up whatever you have leftover!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Balsamic Root Vegetables

Usually, when you're cooking a turkey dinner, you have to figure out how to keep everything hot at the same time, right? This can sometimes be tricky, since the turkey is taking up all the room in the oven. Often times, it's easiest to have all of your side dishes ready to go, and then when you take the turkey out, you put the side dishes in. The turkey has to rest anyway, so now you can cook everything else. Great.
 But wait! What if everything doesn't fit in your oven at the same time? Well, here's a solution. Use your counter top instead! I'm talking about your crock pot, of course. You can set this up the night before, turn it on when you put your turkey in the oven, and boom, everybody gets to the finish line at the same time. Problem solved! So now, Brian, you don't have to get nervous when I mention "oven management". This recipe is fabulously delicious, and it's just as easy. Even if you've never cooked a thing in your life (just like Brian), you can absolutely do this one. If you can peel a potato, you're halfway there!
I saw this recipe in a magazine, and I liked the idea of  cooking the vegetables with balsamic vinegar. It reminded me of seeing Jamie Oliver making different kinds of oven roasted vegetables and he used a different kind of vinegar for each one. Fabulous. Every other ingredient in this recipe has a natural sweetness and the vinegar balances everything beautifully. The final dish kind of reminds you of pot roast vegetables, only they have a little extra tang and a little extra sweet. Jason gave them a big 'thumbs up' when I was testing the recipe. I think you'll give them a big 'thumbs up' too!

1 1/2 lbs fresh sweet potatoes
1 lb fresh parsnips
1 lb baby carrots
2 large red onions
3/4 cup dried cranberries
1 tbs brown sugar
2 tbs balsamic vinegar
3 tbs olive oil
salt and pepper
fresh flat leave parsley, if desired

Peel sweet potatoes and parsnips. Cut into 1 inch pieces. Peel and roughly chop onions. In a lightly buttered 6-qt crock pot, stir together the parsnips, carrots, onions and cranberries. Layer the sweet potatoes on top. In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar, vinegar, oil, and salt and pepper. Drizzle over potatoes. Do not stir. Place lid on top. Cook on high heat for 4-5 hours. Toss with chopped parsley, if desired, just before serving.

When you whisk up the vinegar mixture, you'll think that there must be a typo and that this couldn't possibly be enough liquid, but trust me. It'll be the perfect amount. There's plenty of moisture in the rest of the veggies.
I'm sure you could change the amounts of vegetables to suit your likes or dislikes. Maybe you're not feeling the parsnips, but you love carrots. So add more carrots and omit the parsnips. Cook what you like! I thought of adding fresh beets to the mix, but then of course realized that it would turn everything red. Not that it would be a bad thing, but it was just a thought.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Chrissy's Baked Ginger Cranberries

As I was browsing through the produce department at the supermarket, I saw my friend Laura who works there. We see each other all the time and she always asks me what deliciousness I'll be cooking up that day. We got to talking about cranberry sauce, and I told her I always make them the way my Mom always did. Simple basic Cranberry Sauce, with nothing else to complicate it. Call me a purist, what can I say. Anyway, she mentioned this recipe that she got from her cousin, Chrissy. Actually, to be honest, she said Chrissy got it from a friend, but like I always say, since Chrissy is the one who brought it to us, she's the one who gets the credit for it. It sounded so fabulous I absolutely HAD to try it.
 Can I just tell you, this recipe simply couldn't be any easier. You just throw everything in a dish and bake it! Easy, right? You don't even have to be exact with the measurements. Serve with your next holiday meal! Better yet, why wait until then? It's perfect with any mid-week chicken dinner as well.
Thanx Laura! And Thanx to Chrissy too!

1 12oz bag whole fresh cranberries (about 3 cups)
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 tbs crystallized ginger, chopped

Simply place all ingredients in a small casserole dish and bake at 350F for a half hour. Serve warm, cold, or at room temperature.

Be sure to give it a good stir about halfway through baking time, otherwise the sugar might clump on the bottom. Even if that happens, though, it'll still be fine. Just stir it all together while it's still warm. the sugar will melt and become all syrupy and sticky and mmmmmm.
The original recipe called for just 2 cups of cranberries. Laura and I decided to just use the whole bag and adjust the amounts of the other ingredients accordingly. Seems silly not to just throw the whole bag in, right?
Make sure you really super mince the ginger. Personally, I just like the added layer of flavor that the ginger brings to the whole dish and I'd rather not bite into a big honkin' piece of ginger. And btw, if you like a lot of ginger, add more! And if you have a big group to feed, double everything!
I bet this would be fabulous if you add a little Grand Marnier or a little orange zest. Yum!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake

If you're looking for a super decadent chocoholic's dream of a dessert, then you've come to the right place. I happened to notice this recipe on the cover of a Kraft Foods magazine, and I immediately wanted to try it. I made it for my family's "Halloween, Dad's Birthday, Pick Christmas Pollyanna Quailapalooza" a few weeks ago and it was a MAJOR hit. After all, what's not to love? Rich chocolate syrup drizzled over a velvety layer of chocolate mousse on top of a delectable chocolate cake....Scrumptious! It was pretty easy to make too! It does take a little extra time to bake and then extra time for chilling in the fridge, but that just makes it the perfect dessert to make ahead. Oh, and the cool thing about this cake is that the mousse layer and the cake layer trade places in the pan when you bake it. Pretty cool, huh? So, the next time you have a special occasion or a dinner that requires a showstopper of a dessert, give this one a try. The chocoholics in your life will thank you!

1/2 cup chocolate syrup
1 pkg.  (2-layer size) chocolate cake mix
1 cup water
1/3 cup  oil
7 eggs, divided
1/2 cup  sour cream
1 pkg. (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened
1 cup  sugar
1 can (12 oz.) evaporated milk
8 oz semi-sweet chocolate, melted
Whipped cream or nondairy whipped topping, if desired

Heat oven to 375F.
Spray 12-cup fluted tube pan with baking spray. Pour syrup in pan.
Beat cake mix, water, oil, and 3 eggs with mixer for 2 minutes or until well blended. Blend in sour cream. Pour over syrup in pan.
Beat cream cheese and sugar with mixer until blended. Add remaining eggs. Mix well. Blend in milk and chocolate. Gently spoon over cake batter. Loosely cover with foil sprayed with cooking spray, sprayed side down.
Place tube pan in a large pan. Add 2 inches of water to the larger pan to create a water bath. Bake 1 hour and 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.
Cool on wire rack. Refrigerate 2 hours. Invert onto cake plate, remove pan.
Serve with whipped cream or non dairy whipped topping, if desired.

Tips from Kraft Kitchens:
The cream cheese mixture sinks to the bottom of the cake batter in pan as the cake bakes, forming the mousse layer at the top of the unmolded cake. To unmold cooled cake, use long thin spatula to loosen cake from side of pan. Place plate over cake pan; invert cake onto plate. Gently remove pan. Spoon any chocolate syrup remaining in pan over cake.
Important Note
To prevent overflow, check cake pan to confirm it is the required 12-cup size. Just measure 3 qt. (12 cups) water and pour into empty pan to verify the volume before using as directed. If you only have a 10-cup fluted tube pan, reserve 2 cups cake batter before pouring remaining batter into prepared tube pan. Continue as directed. Reserved cake batter will make 9 cupcakes. Bake as directed on cake mix package. 

Tips from Joey:
When I made this, the bottom of the cake wasn't exactly level. Normally, this wouldn't be a problem, but since the mousse layer is so soft, the uneven bottom caused it to crack when I turned it out onto the plate. To make sure this doesn't happen, just slice off an even layer of the cake before you invert it onto your cake plate. Use The side of the tube pan as your guide. This will insure a perfect presentation with no crackage!
Oh, and one other thing, I posted the picture of the one I made, but I also included the Kraft picture so you can see the pretty layers. As you can see, I decided that more is more with the chocolate syrup!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Jeanie's Caramelized Brussels Sprouts with Bacon


 Every year on Thanksgiving, my sister, Jeanie, introduces a new side dish to the holiday feast. It's just for the sake of variety, which is, after all, the spice of life. Sometimes Jeanie's introductory side dishes even become a permanent part of the menu. (Corn Casserole anyone?) 
  This was a recent addition that I absolutely LOVE. Now, I know one or two of you may be crinkling your noses at the thought of having brussel sprouts, but seriously, just go with me on this. Have I ever lied to you before? Perhaps you don't like the brussel sprouts because they weren't prepared properly, no?  Even if you've passed on them in the past, I think it's time to give them another try! And seriously, they're cooked with bacon and you KNOW everything is better with bacon, right?
So PLEASE! Give them a try! You just might be surprised! And who knows, maybe they'll become a permanent part of YOUR holiday meal!
 Thanx My Jeanie!

2 pints fresh brussel sprouts
4 strips bacon
1 small onion
half cup chicken broth
freshly cracked black pepper
kosher salt

Using a sharp knife, cut the bacon into small pieces and add them to a large skillet over medium heat. Slowly let the fat render from the bacon. Dice the onion and add it to the skillet. While they're cooking, prepare the sprouts. Slice each one in half, making sure to slice through the root end. When the onions are soft and the bacon is crisp, remove them from the pan, leaving the bacon fat behind. Add the sprouts to the pan, making sure they're cut side down. I know you'll want to toss them around in the pan, but try to control yourself. Just let them sit until they begin to caramelize on the bottom. Now add the chicken broth, salt and pepper. Place a lid on the skillet and simmer until the sprouts are tender. (Add more broth if you need to). When the sprouts are tender, add the bacon and onions back to the pan and toss all together. Serve immediately.

Be sure to cook the bacon and onions over medium low heat. You want to gradually render the fat. If you have the heat up any higher, you'll quickly brown the bacon into a crisp but you won't get as much fat to render.
It's important to cut the sprouts though the root end because if you cut them in the other direction, they'll fall apart.
As far as I'm concerned there's just no comparison between fresh and frozen brussel sprouts. I'm not sayin', I'm just sayin!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Sue's Cider Carrots


 Many many years ago, I met my fabulous friend, Sue, when a few of my theater friends and I were putting together a cabaret road show. We needed someone to play the piano, and lucky for us, Sue agreed! Seriously, she's possibly the best accompanist with whom I've ever had the pleasure of working. No matter how lost I would get in the middle of a song, Sue would play me back on track. And by the same token, if I ever took a major wrong turn in the middle of a song, she'd jump ahead to be right there with me and the audience would never have any idea. Simply amazing. Anyway, ever since then, Sue has been a trusted friend whose opinion is always requested and respected. So, when I got an email from her saying that this is 'the only way she'll ever cook carrots again", you  KNOW I had to try them.
  She told me she originally made them to go with a cold couscous salad with feta cheese and pecans, and suggested adding a pat of butter for serving them hot. As far as I'm concerned, this is one of those "how can this not be good" recipes and it SCREAMS holiday side dish, don't you think? It's almost absurdly simple to make, and the flavors go together so perfectly that this might possibly be the only way you'll ever cook carrots again!
Thanx Sue!!

1 lb bag baby carrots
1 bottle sparkling apple cider*

Simply boil the carrots in the apple cider with a few pinches of nutmeg until tender. Drain. Dust with a few pinches of cinnamon. Add a little knob of butter, if desired.

*Sue suggested using Martinelli's Sparkling Cider, but I'd just bet that any apple cider would be delish!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Joey's Butternut Apple Gratin

 Lately I've been playing around with different ingredients, coming up with some new recipes, trying different combinations of savory and sweet. I love a fabulous dish that embraces that balance of flavors. As I often do, I browsed around the produce section of the supermarket, just to see what looks good, what's in season, what sparks inspiration. I noticed the butternut squash and wondered "why have I never done anything with that?" So that set the recipe creating wheels in motion. To be honest, I knew right away what I DIDN'T want the recipe to be, more than what I WANTED it to be. Even though I wanted to keep the sweet and savory theme going, I didn't want it to be as sweet as candied yams. I didn't want to add any meat to it, like crumbled bacon, etc, because I thought it would be nice to make it a vegetarian dish. I didn't want it to have cheese or eggs in it, because I thought that would make it too heavy. Great, now that that's settled, lets figure out what I WANT the recipe to be. I already had a bag of apples in my shopping cart because I was planning to bake an apple pie. Ooo good idea. I'll add them to the dish. Hmm...maybe some onion too....and some fresh herbs....  with a buttered crust topping. Perfect! After bouncing a few ideas around with Marie, I tried a couple versions of my new dish, each time changing it just a little. And Eureka! This is the one! It's exactly what I had in mind! It's the perfect side dish for your next holiday meal and it's simple to make too! Try it! Oh, and be sure to let me know how you like it! Thanx!

1 large butternut squash (2-3 lbs)
2 Granny Smith apples
1 small onion
a few big pinches of:
 fresh parsley
 fresh sage
 fresh rosemary
 fresh thyme
 kosher salt
 freshly cracked black pepper
1 tbs honey
4 tbs butter

1 cup coarse bread crumbs
2 tbs butter

Heat oven to 350F.
Peel squash and cut in half. Using a spoon, scrape out the insides, just like you'd do if you were carving a pumpkin. Cut the squash into large chunks. Place in a large bowl.
Peel and core apples. Cut into large chunks. Add to the bowl.
Peel and roughly chop the onion. Add to the bowl.
Chop the parsley, sage, and rosemary. Remove the leaves from the sprigs of thyme. Add all of the herbs to the bowl along with a good dash of salt and black pepper. Toss everything together. Dump everything into a 9x13 casserole dish. Drizzle with honey. Dot with butter. Cover with foil. Bake for about 45 minutes or until almost tender.
Mix bread crumbs with melted butter. Sprinkle buttered bread crumbs over all. Place back in the oven, uncovered, for an additional 15 minutes or until the bread crumbs are golden.

Be sure to use a sharp knife when cutting the squash. I usually cut it across the width first (instead of cutting it lengthwise), just because it's easier to work with. It's also easier to cut each half into chunks if you place it cut side down. It's more stable that way.
Even though the apples and the squash are naturally sweet, I still added the honey. It's only a tablespoon. It's not enough to make it overly sweet, but it's just enough to smooth over the tart edge from the apples.
I like chunks of apple, as opposed to slices. I just think they hold up better when they're cooked. So, I cut each apple in half, then each half into large dice (about 8-10 pieces). I do the same thing with the onions.
For the bread crumbs, place a few slices of stale bread or rolls into a food processor and pulse until they're coarse crumbs. In this particular recipe, the finer store bought crumbs just aren't the same.
Many of the ingredients are just to taste. Do you like a lot of fresh rosemary? Do you like a lot of butter? I used about a tablespoon of each of the chopped fresh herbs. Add as much as you like! By the same token, if there's anything that you particularly DON'T like, then by all means, just leave it out. It'll still be fabulous!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Joey's Salted Caramel Apple Pie


One of the fastest growing flavor trends is the combination of salt and caramel. What originally started as an elite culinary obsession among French and American chefs, has now sprinted its way onto the menus of chain restaurants, gourmet coffee shops, and supermarkets. It's even a favorite at The White House! It makes perfect sense, though, when you think about it.  Everyone knows that salty and sweet compliment each other perfectly! Peanut brittle anyone?  Peanut butter cup? How about some kettle corn?
  I've often said that my favorite dessert in the whole wide world is a hot apple pie with caramel sauce. So, when I saw a salted caramel apple pie being made on a cooking show, I knew I had to try it for myself.
 When I started making it, I didn't really have a recipe. I just started adding things that sounded good to me, and VOILA! It turned out beautifully! As I told Paul, every so often I even impress myself!
   I really hope you'll give it a try!

Ready made pie crust for a 2 crust pie, or my Easy Pie Crust, or your own

1 bag of Kraft caramels (about 50)
1/3 cup evaporated milk
1 tsp sea salt

1 lemon
6 tart apples

1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
2 tbs flour

1 egg

1 tbs sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 big pinch sea salt

Heat oven to 375F.
Roll out one pie crust and gently place it in a Pyrex pie plate, leaving about an inch of crust hanging over the edge. Set aside.
Unwrap the caramels. Place them in a microwave safe bowl. Add the evaporated milk and microwave until melted. Whisk in 1 tsp sea salt until smooth. Set aside.
Slice the lemon in half, squeeze the juice into a big bowl of cold water, and add the lemon halves as well. As you core and peel the apples, drop them into the lemon water to keep them from browning.
In a small bowl, stir together the sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and flour.
Now you're ready to put it all together.
Slice the apples as THINLY as you can. If you happen to have a mandolin slicer, even better! As you slice each apple, lay the slices in the pie crust, making sure to overlap so that there are no spaces. Sprinkle with a tablespoon or two of the sugar mixture, then drizzle with about a quarter cup of the salted caramel sauce. Continue layering apple slices, sugar mixture, and caramel until you use everything up, ending with the remaining caramel sauce.
Cut remaining pie crust into strips. (I like to use a pizza cutter). Arrange the strips of crust over the pie. Tuck the edges under, then crimp to make a decorative edge. Gently brush the crust with beaten egg. Mix together the cinnamon and sugar. Sprinkle over the top. Finally, sprinkle a little more sea salt over the top.
Place the pie on a baking sheet (just in case it spills over) and place it in the oven. Bake for 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 325 and bake for an additional 30 minutes. Remove from oven and let it stand for at least an hour before slicing. Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

If you'd like to get a little fancy, you can use Fleur de Sel, which is a much more gourmet sea salt that is hand harvested in France. If you don't have regular sea salt, you can get away with using kosher salt. I wouldn't use regular iodized table salt because it has a completely different flavor, and it's not as coarse.
Be sure your apple slices are as thin as you can make them, and shingle them in the pie plate so that there are no gaps. This lets the apples cook down on top of each other, resulting in a meatier pie.
It's important to let it sit for a while after you bake it because it needs time to set up. You'll wind up with a much neater slice. Otherwise, it'll fall apart when you cut it.
Oh, and one other thing.... I listed the ingredients in groups just so it's a little easier to follow the recipe. Since the pie has different components, I figured it would be easier to follow if each component's ingredients were grouped together.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cake

The last time I made Gooey Butter Cake, I was torn between different recipes, not being able to decide which was the REAL Gooey Butter Cake recipe. After trying several cakes, I've finally concluded that it doesn't matter which one is the ORIGINAL because I love all of them! And of course, you know I had to try some of the variations too! Kristin suggested trying this pumpkin variation, which is a Paula Deen recipe. Since I love anything pumpkin and I LOVE all of Miss Paula's recipes, I figured this falls into the "how can this not be good?" category.
 And speaking of gooey butter cakes, I was lucky to receive a few emails from Michael, a Gooey Butter Cake enthusiast from St Louis. He offered a recipe which is almost exactly the same as Miss Paula's, and he was happy to give a few tips to make your gooey butter cake even better. Thanx again Michael!
So, I guess the only thing left to be decided is:
Which gooey butter cake variation would YOU like to try??

1 (18 1/4-ounce) package yellow cake mix
1 egg
8 tablespoons butter, melted

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 (15-ounce) canned pumpkin
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
8 tablespoons butter, melted
1 (16-ounce) box powdered sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Combine the cake mix, egg, and butter and mix well with an electric mixer. Pat the mixture into the bottom of a lightly greased 13 by 9-inch baking pan.
To make the filling: In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and pumpkin until smooth. Add the eggs, vanilla, and butter, and beat together. Next, add the powdered sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and mix well. Spread pumpkin mixture over cake batter and bake for 40 to 50 minutes. Make sure not to over bake as the center should be a little gooey.
Serve with fresh whipped cream.

For a Pineapple Gooey Butter Cake: Instead of the pumpkin, add a drained 20-ounce can of crushed pineapple to the cream cheese filling. Proceed as directed above.

For a Banana Gooey Butter Cake: Prepare cream cheese filling as directed, beating in 2 ripe bananas instead of the pumpkin. Proceed as directed above.

For a Peanut Butter Gooey Butter Cake: Use a chocolate cake mix. Add 1 cup creamy peanut butter to the cream cheese filling instead of the pumpkin. Proceed as directed above.

Btw, if you'd like to compare Paula Deen's plain Gooey Butter Cake recipe with the one I received from Michael, just take one of the eggs from the filling and add it to the crust, and change the vanilla from a teaspoon to a tablespoon. The rest of the recipe is exactly the same! 

Here are Michael's Tips / Tricks to "Make it even better":
1.  Use a disposable aluminum cake pan from the store.  I have used glass, metal, and various types of 9X13 pans.  The varying widths and baking durations make a difference (see tip 3) The disposables, seem to do the best for consistency.  Plus you can get one with a lid that makes your transport easier.  Lastly, you can just leave the pan and not worry about getting your pan back at the end of the event.
2.  When you spread the thick batter (bottom layer) on the bottom of the pan, make a mound in the middle and taper the batter out to the edges so it is paper thin at the outermost edge.  Most people make a nice even layer and therefore most Gooey butter cakes have thick outside crusts after it bakes.  By having paper thin edges, there is minimal crust.  You may have too large of a mound in the middle, so don't feel afraid to scrape some of the batter off and not use it.
3.  When I say don't over bake, I mean it.  You may have as little as 1 or 2 minutes between too gooey (under baked) and not gooey enough (over baked).  I usually set my timer for about 25 minutes and then for the last 10 minutes I monitor the cake and rotate it to ensure even baking.  May rotate it 180 degrees or 90 degrees depending on how and where the brown areas are.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Apple Cider Doughnuts

When I couldn't decide what recipe to make, I received a few requests for Apple Cider Doughnuts. Cathy told me that she and Gregg absolutely LOVE them, so I immediately chose to accept the mission.
  I found several recipes, but this one seemed to be the right one for me. It's easy to mix up and they taste AMAZING. I think the key to it is the fact that you reduce the apple cider down to practically a syrup. That's what gives it the deliciously concentrated appleness that I love. Is that a word? Appleness? Well, you know what I mean. It's sweet and appley and warm and comforting. Is that a word? Appley? Oh, and yes, you can dredge them in sugar and cinnamon, but in my opinion, it's all about the cider glaze. One bite and you'll taste just how appletastic they are!!!

1 c Apple cider
1 c Sugar
1/4 c Solid vegetable shortening
2 lg Eggs
1/2 c Buttermilk
3 1/2 c All-purpose flour
2 ts Baking powder
1 t Baking soda
1/2 ts Cinnamon
1/2 ts Salt

vegetable oil or shortening -for frying

 2 c Confectioners' sugar
1/4 c Apple cider 

cinnamon and sugar

1. Boil apple cider in small saucepan until it is reduced to 1/4 cup, 8 to 10 minutes; cool. 

2. Beat sugar with shortening until smooth. Add eggs and mix well, then add buttermilk and reduced cider. Stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg in another bowl. Add to liquid ingredients; mix just enough to combine. 
3. Transfer dough to lightly floured board and pat to 1/2-inch thickness. Cut with 2 1/2- to 3-inch doughnut cutter; reserve doughnut holes and reroll and cut scraps. 
4. Add enough oil or shortening to fill a deep pan 3 inches. Fry several doughnuts at a time, turning once or twice, until browned and cooked through. Remove to paper towels with slotted metal spoon. 
5. Roll in cinnamon and sugar or dip in cider glaze.
  For glaze, mix confectioners' sugar and cider. Dip doughnuts while warm; serve warm.

Although the recipe doesn't require it, I felt that the dough was much easier to handle after I chilled it for an hour or so. You could absolutely mix up the dough on a Saturday afternoon or evening and then let it chill in the fridge until Sunday morning. And who doesn't love warm fresh doughnuts on a Sunday morning? I'm just sayin'!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Hamburger Stew

 I was recently talking to my sister, Reen, and as usual, we got to talking about recipes.  She's an awesome cook, so any time we talk recipes, I usually wind up with lots of yummy ideas to try. She mentioned this dish, with which I wasn't familiar. She was shocked that I had never heard of it, considering that this was one of her family's faves, especially her son, Jude. Of course, I immediately asked her to send me the recipe so I could make it and share it with all of you. And of course, she did!! It's the perfect thing to warm you up on a chilly fall evening.
Thanx Been! And Patty! And Jude!!

Hey Joey,
 As previously discussed, Jude is off at Rutgers and learning how to cook from afar.  He wanted to make his childhood favorite dish, Hamburger Stew, which is a recipe I received from our sister Patty. It is a delicious, stick-to-your-ribs kind of meal. Well, Jude is, at this very moment, making the dish at Rutgers and he promised to forward you a picture when it is finished.  Here is the recipe.

1 lb. ground beef
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2/3 cup barley
6 cups water
beef gravy (a packet or can)
Mashed potatoes (homemade or instant)

Brown meat, onion and garlic. Drain. Add barley, water, gravy. Bring to boil and simmer for 1 hour, until barley is tender. Add corn. Season with salt and pepper. Serve over mashed potatoes.

Be sure to drain the fat very well after you brown the ground beef. You don't want all that extra fat pooling on the top of your stew. However, if you forget to drain it, you can easily just scoop the fat away with a large spoon.
This recipe lends itself to any number of variations. Reen is the queen of recipe variations, and will always adapt a recipe according to what she's has on hand. For instance, if you want to add other veggies to the stew....go for it! The last time I made it, I added baby carrots, frozen peas, and a few sprigs of fresh thyme. SO GOOD!

Oh, and btw, Jude, any time you wanna send me that picture, go right ahead!!!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Gooey Caramel Apple Cake

  I often say that my favorite dessert, hands down, is something hot apple with caramel and ice cream. At a fancy restaurant, there's usually the decadent, impossibly rich chocolate thing, there's the carrot cake thing, there's the cheesecake thing, maybe a key lime thing, and then there's my favorite of all, the hot apple thing with the caramel sauce. It can be anything from a crisp to a cobbler to a deep dish pie, and I'll choose it every time.
 So, of course, when my brother Denny asked me if I wanted a bag of apples, I was all too happy to accept. I knew there would be something deliciously apple in my near future! But what should I make? I've already shared so many wonderful apple recipes, but I wanted to make something new. So I looked up a few things, read several recipes, checked a few cooking web sites, and finally found what I wanted! This recipe is about as easy as it gets, and it uses simple ingredients that you probably already have in your well-stocked pantry. It's the perfect Autumn dessert! Serve it warm right out of the oven.
1 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1/4 cup milk
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 medium tart apples, peeled, cored and coarsely chopped
Caramel Sauce, (recipe follows)

Heat oven to 350F.
Beat together sugar, oil, cinnamon, and vanilla. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix in the milk and sifted dry ingredients, stirring just until blended. Gently stir in apples. Pour apple cake batter into a greased 9-inch square pan. Bake until cake springs back when tapped lightly in the center, about 30 to 40 minutes. With a fork, pierce cake all over. Pour hot caramel sauce over cake. Serve it as is, with a dollop of sweetened whipped cream or whipped topping or better yet, a scoop of vanilla ice cream!

Caramel Sauce

1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick)
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Combine brown sugar, butter, and cream in a heavy saucepan over medium heat; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer; continue cooking and stirring for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Pour hot caramel topping over hot apple cake.

 --The caramel sauce is SO yummy. It would easily double as an ice cream topping. It has a slightly different flavor from the real Home Made Caramel Sauce and it's slightly thinner, but it's still to die for!
 --You can certainly serve this right in the pan as directed, but I think it's a better presentation to serve it on a cake platter or pedestal. Just let it cool for about 10 minutes after taking it out of the oven, then turn it out onto a cake rack, then onto your serving platter. Then go ahead and pierce the cake with a fork and drizzle with caramel sauce. It's a much nice presentation, don't you think?
-- I doubled the amount of caramel sauce, because, well, I like caramel sauce, and more is more.
-- If you're nuts for nuts, then go ahead and sprinkle your drizzled cake with chopped pecans, or walnuts, or peanuts, or whichever nuts drive you nuts.
-- I toyed with the idea of increasing the ingredient amounts by half and baking it in a 9x13 pan, just for the sake of baking a larger cake. I think it would work but you'd probably wind up with a slightly thicker cake. If you decide to try the larger pan, be sure to let me know how it turns out, k?
--Don't try to do this in an 8" square pan. The cake fills a 9" pan all the way up, so an 8" pan would clearly be too small.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Egg Fried Rice

As I often say, I'm always watching cooking shows on TV. I love to watch and learn and try and experiment. I'm most particularly drawn to different types of cuisine with which I have the least amount of experience. Lately I've been watching The Cooking Channel like it's my job. I absolutely LOVE that they have so many new shows devoted to food from so many different countries and cultures. One of my new faves is Chinese Food Made Easy. I seriously want to try every single recipe! Well, even though I don't have a wok, I decided to try this one. It was SO quick and simple to make and it's absolutely delicious! The first time I made it, I brought some to my Dad, who is a huge fan of fried rice. He loved it! Then, with a few suggestions from my Jeanie, I added a few other ingredients to the recipe, and it's now one of my new favorite dishes. It's not exactly as I saw on the show, but it's how I make it, and I love it. If you like Chinese food, then you MUST try it.
I know you'll love it!

vegetable oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 cup uncooked jasmine rice
2 cups chicken broth
1 red bell pepper, roughly chopped
3 large eggs
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp grated fresh ginger root
2 scallions, chopped
1 vine ripened tomato, seeded and diced
a few glugs of soy sauce
a few glugs of toasted sesame oil

In a small pot with a lid, saute chopped onion in a small amount of oil until softened. Add uncooked rice and continue to saute for just a minute or so. Add chicken broth, give it a good stir, place the lid on top, and reduce the heat to low. Let it cook until the rice is tender and all the broth is absorbed, about 15 minutes. In the meantime , prep all of your other ingredients.
In a large nonstick skillet or wok, place the bell peppers and a little oil. Saute quickly over high heat until slightly softened, but still crisp tender. Push the peppers off to one side of the pan.
 Add beaten eggs. Keeping them separate from the peppers, stir to scramble. Once the eggs are done, you're ready to put it all together. Add the cooked rice and continue to stir. Add the garlic and ginger along with the tomato and the scallions. Finish the dish with soy sauce and sesame oil. Stir fry everything well combined. Serve immediately.

Once the rice has finished cooking, it really goes very quickly, so you should definitely have all of your other ingredients prepped before you start to assemble the dish.
The secret ingredient is the toasted sesame oil. Well, the soy sauce too, but more so the sesame oil. If I didn't have it, I'd probably choose to make something else. It's THAT important to dish. It's what gives it the authentic Chinese cuisine flavor.
If you'd like to add a little heat to the dish, add some chopped chilis to the pan as you saute the red bell peppers, or just sprinkle the dish with some crushed red pepper flakes.
This recipe can be easily adapted for vegetarians simply by using vegetable broth instead of chicken. If you're a vegetarian who chooses not to eat eggs, then by all means, omit them. It'll still be a wonderful dish!
You can find jasmine rice in any supermarket right next to any other kinds of rice, but feel free to use any long grain rice if it's what you have on hand.
For an extra added touch, sprinkle the final dish with toasted sesame seeds.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Easy Lemon Tart

As I continued to search for "anything lemon" as is often requested, I decided to do a lemon tart. This would normally consist of making dough for the crust, letting it chill in the fridge for a while, rolling it out, placing it in a tart pan, blind baking it, and then filling it with a delicious home made lemon curd. Not that any of that is particularly difficult, but I kind of wanted something that was a little easier. I wanted a crust that I didn't have to roll out, and didn't have to blind bake. That would certainly make things easier, right? Yes, I knew I would still have to blind bake the crust, because a lemon tart always has a baked crust, but I just didn't feel like dealing with pie weights or beans, etc.  I also wanted a simple lemon curd recipe that doesn't require a double boiler and is easy to make while the crust is baking.
 So I did some searching and decided to combine a few recipes to come up with exactly what I wanted. And here we are! This recipe is everything I just mentioned, and of course it's delicious! The crust is kind of like a shortbread cookie, instead of the usual pie crust pastry, so all you need to do is press it into the pan with your fingers. No rolling! And the lemon curd? Well, it's Miss Ina's recipe, so you know it's delish. Give it a try!

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2/3 cup confectioners sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces

Lemon Curd
4 lemons, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1/8 teaspoon salt

Heat oven to 425F.

For the Crust:
Grease with butter, or spray with a nonstick vegetable cooking spray, an 8 - 9 inch tart pan with a removable bottom. 
In a large bowl, sift together the flour sugar and salt. Using two knives or a pastry cutter, cut in the butter and vanilla until it resembles coarse crumbs. Scoop up a handful and squeeze it to make sure it easily clumps together. If you have a food processor, just throw everything into the bowl and pulse it until it forms a clump. Place the pastry in the prepared tart pan and, using your fingertips, evenly press the pastry onto the bottom and up the sides of the pan. (You can use the back of a spoon or the bottom of a measuring cup to smooth the surface of the pastry.) Pierce the bottom of the crust with the tines of a fork. (This will prevent the pastry crust from puffing up while it bakes.) Cover and place the pastry crust in the freezer for 15 minutes to chill. (This will help prevent the crust from shrinking while it bakes.)
When the pastry is completely chilled, place the tart pan on a larger baking pan and bake until the crust is golden brown, about 13 - 15 minutes. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool while you make the filling.

For The Lemon Curd:
Remove the zest of the lemons with a vegetable peeler or zester, being careful to avoid the white pith. Squeeze the lemons to make 1/2 cup of juice and set the juice aside. Put the zest in a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add the sugar and process for 2 to 3 minutes, until the zest is very finely minced. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter with the sugar and lemon zest. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, and then add the lemon juice and salt. Mix until combined.
Pour the mixture into a 2-quart saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until thickened, about 10 minutes. The lemon curd will thicken at about 175 degrees F, or just below a simmer. Remove from the heat. Fill the tart shell with warm lemon curd and allow to set at room temperature.

I used an 11" tart pan instead of a 9". You can use either one, but you'll have a much thinner crust with the 11".
The curd recipe calls for 4 extra large eggs, but I only had large eggs. So, I just used 5 large eggs instead of 4 extra large. It's not exactly the correct amount, but it worked fine.
After letting it come to room temperature, I placed it in the fridge to chill completely which helped it to set up.
You may have extra lemon curd if you're using a 9" pan because this recipe filled my 11" pan perfectly. If you do find yourself with extra, just keep it in the fridge and use it as a fruit spread on toast, scones, English muffin, etc, just as you'd use jam or jelly.
Although this tart stands beautifully on its own, I topped mine with some fresh berries, as you can see. What's not to love?