Monday, December 31, 2012

Hogmanay Steak Pie

If you're not familiar with Hogmanay, it's a Scottish word for the last day of the year and it's basically the celebration of New Year's Eve. It's usually the beginning of a celebration that can last for days! It is believed the Scots inherited the celebration of Hogmanay from the Vikings and their celebration of the shortest day but many believe that as Christmas was virtually banned and not celebrated in Scotland from the end of the 17th century until the 1950’s, New Years Eve was a good excuse for some revelry and the excuse to drink whisky and eat good food. Hogmanay involves parties and festivals across Scotland with the largest and most famous public party in Edinburgh.
 How's that for a bit of history??? Anyway, being a Scot herself, Claire was the first to bring Hogmanay to my attention and she asked me if I would make her a traditional steak pie to celebrate the beginning of the new year. Sounds good to me!! So, I looked up several recipes, and as is often the case, I decided to take what I like from a few different recipes and make them into one.
 And here we are! This is my version of a traditional Scottish Steak Pie. It's warm and comforting and savory and delicious! Serve it up with some mashed potatoes and turnips (tatties and neeps!) and you're ready to go. Even if it's not the last day of the year, I highly recommend making it! As the Scots would say "Lang may yer lum reek", which means "Long may your chimney smoke!"
Happy Hogmanay!

2 lbs beef cubes
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
4 or 5 ribs of celery, roughly chopped
1 lb button mushrooms, sliced
 Big pinch dried thyme
Big pinch dried rosemary
2 or 3 bay leaves
1/4 cup flour
2 cups beef broth
1 cup red wine
lots and lots of black pepper
Frozen puff pastry
1 egg

Heat oven to 325F.
In a heavy pot or Dutch oven, add a few tbs oil or butter. Pat the beef cubes with paper towels to make sure they're dry, then add them to the pot in one layer. Do this is batches if you need to. Resist the urge to stir them about. Just let them sit and brown. Turn them over and do the same thing on the other side. Remove them from the pot and set aside in a bowl.
 Add the celery and onions to the pot. Let them saute until they begin to soften. Add the mushrooms, thyme, rosemary, and bay leaves, and continue to cook for a few minutes. Add flour. Cook and stir for a few minutes longer. Add broth, wine, salt and pepper. Add the beef back into the pot along with any accumulated juices, and give it another good stir. Cover the pot and place it in the oven for about 2 hours. When the beef falls apart, it's ready. Remove from the oven and let it cool.
 Increase oven heat to 400F.
 Place the cooled stew in a baking dish. Cut strips of the puff pastry and place them around the edges of the dish. (Moisten the underside of the strip to make sure it sticks to the dish) Now cover the entire pie with a sheet of pastry. Press it down on the edges to seal. Trim the excess and crimp to make a decorative edge. Brush the top with a bit of beaten egg mixed with a few drops of water or milk. Make a few slits in the top to allow steam to vent. Place in oven for about 30 minutes or until golden and bubbly. Let it sit for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Instead of beef broth, you can use 2 cups of water and 2 beef bouillon cubes. Just reduce the amount of salt that you add. Actually, you could probably omit it altogether since there is quite a bit of sodium in the bouillon.
You can make the stew in advance then assemble the pie and bake it when you're ready to serve.
Traditional Steak Pie is usually just beef with onions, but I added celery and mushrooms because I like them! Add anything you like! If you're not a fan of turnips, feel free to serve it with just regular mashed potatoes. other thing...
This is NOT my picture. I borrowed it from a blog called Kittens in the Kitchen. I figured maybe they wouldn't mind if I were to borrow their picture just until I can take a few pictures of my own. As soon as my pie is finished, I'll swap out their picture for my own. I just wanted to hurry up and get the recipe posted in case anyone wanted to make it for New Year's Eve!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Hot Corn Dip

So, if you're one of my regular readers, you've probably noticed by now that I've been trying a lot of Trisha Yearwood's recipes lately. I guess I do this a lot, whenever I discover someone new, whether it's someone on TV or maybe in a cookbook that I've read. I just think it's fun to try different styles of cooking, don't you? Of course, I'm always drawn to cooks who make home style comfort food that you imagine someone's Grandmother would make. That's the type of recipe that TY usually does. And she doesn't seem fake while you watch her cook and tell her family's stories. She's probably the same off camera as when she's on. I love that. And her recipes are always really simple.
 This recipe is a perfect example. It's warm and yummy and simple to throw together. Make it for your next party and your guests will love you for it!

Cooking spray or butter, to grease
Two 11-ounce cans Mexican corn, drained
Two 4.5-ounce cans chopped green chiles, drained
2 cups grated Monterey Jack cheese (about 8 ounces)
2/3 cup grated Parmesan
1 cup mayonnaise
Corn chips, for dipping

 Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9- 13- by 2-inch casserole dish.
In a medium bowl, mix the corn, chiles, cheeses and mayonnaise until fully combined. Spread the mixture in the prepared casserole dish and bake, uncovered, until bubbly around the edges, 30 to 40 minutes. Serve the dip warm from the oven with corn chips.

-One of the great things about this recipe is that you can make it ahead of time and then just pop it in the oven just before your guests arrive.
-This dip is not spicy at all, but if you'd like to turn up the heat a bit, add some diced jalapenos or other spicy peppers, or any kind of hot sauce. Add as much as you like!
-Mexicorn is simply canned corn with added diced red and green bell peppers. If you can't find it, just use regular corn and add the peppers, if you like. Or you could just leave the peppers out.
-I like to serve it with the Scoop type of tortilla chips. They just make it easier to dip!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Cannoli Dip

 I first heard of this recipe from my brother, Denny, who got it from Rick's niece, Barbie. I'm not sure where she got the recipe, but like I always say "Since she's the one who brought it to me, she's the one that gets the credit for it!" As Denny says "She's like the Cuneo Family dip queen. She always has really easy and really good stuff." That works for me!!
 I always love a good party food recipe, and when it's as easy as this one, well, what could be better? Seriously, this is crazy stupid easy. Just stir everything together! What could be easier than that? And it's just as delicious! You might wanna make a double batch because your guests will devour it!
Thanx Den! And Thanx Barb!

2 cups ricotta cheese
8 ounces softened cream cheese
1 1/2 cup 10x powdered sugar (do they still call it 10x?)
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup mini chocolate chips

Mix together and chill (both you and the mixture).
Serve with cannoli chips, broken pizzelles, broken waffle cones, or strawberries.

When I first tried it, Aniell and AJ and Kelsie were here for the sampling, and we tried a few different dippers. Our favorite was the cinnamon sugar coated pita chips. The sweet cinnamon made it SO yummy! Oh! And the strawberries were pretty amazing too!

Other dipper options:
Graham crackers broken into sticks.
Fresh pineapple, cut into wedges.
Tortillas, or won ton wrappers, cut into triangles, deep fried and then sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Easy Sugar Cookies

 If you ask me what the quintessential Christmas cookie is, I'd say it's a tie between my Mom's Butter Cookies, and straight up classic sugar cookies. The only problem with sugar cookies is that, often times, you have to wrap up the dough and chill it for an hour or two, then you have to roll it out and cut it into various shapes with cookie cutters, then chill the leftover dough, reroll it, and on and on. Well, frankly, I'm not that patient. I want to be able to throw together a quick batch, pop 'em in the oven, and be done. Well, this recipe lets you do just that!
 It's PERFECT! No chilling, no rolling, no cutting. You just mix it up, drop them onto cookie sheets, sprinkle with sugar and boom, you're set! And they taste EXACTLY like how you'd expect a good sugar cookie to taste. Awesome vanilla flavor and perfectly sweet. You should definitely add this one to your repertoire!

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

 Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). In a small bowl, stir together flour, baking soda, and baking powder. Set aside. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in egg and vanilla. Gradually blend in the dry ingredients. Roll rounded teaspoonfuls of dough into balls, then roll in colored sugar and place onto ungreased cookie sheets. Or you can roll into balls, make a dent on the top of each one, and then sprinkle colored sugar over the top. Bake 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven, or until golden. Let stand on cookie sheet two minutes before removing to cool on wire racks.

Use a small cookie scoop when dropping the dough onto the cookie sheets. (it looks like a miniature ice cream scoop) It makes the job so much easier and it also insures that all of your cookies will be the same size.
Usually, when I bake cookies, I like to under bake them slightly, just to make them a little more chewy. With these cookies, however, I like to bake them for the full 10 minutes. They're still chewy, but they get just a little crispy around the edges. LOVE that.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Peanut Butter Balls

 Ok this is an easy one. You just stir everything together, shape into small balls and then let them set. They're SUPER simple and HIGHLY addictive!!!  I discovered the recipe while watching Trisha Yearwood (who is quickly becoming one of my favorites!). These are a definite MUST for all of the peanut butter lovers in your life. They're also the perfect treat to munch while you're decorating the trees!! Thanx again to Kate, Kate, and Kait!

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup dark corn syrup
1/2 white corn syrup
2 cups crunchy peanut butter
4 cups rice cereal  

In a large saucepan, stir the sugar and the syrups together over medium heat. Remove from the heat and quickly add the peanut butter, continuing to stir until the mixture is fully combined. Add the rice cereal and mix well. Shape the mixture into palm-size balls with your hands. Transfer to waxed paper. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Just as with cookies, I used a cookie scoop to measure them into balls. It insures that they'll all be the same size.
Also, I think it's cute that the directions tell you how to store them in a container for up to two if they'll last that long... hehehe. That's funny.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Peanut Brittle

I recently saw Trisha Yearwood making this and it looked so yummy and caramelly that I thought "Hmm..I'm gonna have to try this.." (caramelly?) Then I saw on FB that my friend Abbe was about to make peanut brittle so I texted her that Trisha Yearwood has a good recipe, and she responded "That's the one I'm making!" Great minds, huh? So of course, I asked her to take a picture of her final product, and here we are!
 Just like I said, it's yummy and caramelly and so festive! But you don't have to wait until the holidays to make it. Make it any time!
Thanx Abbe!

1 tbs vanilla extract
1 tbs baking soda
1 tbs salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter
3 cups sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
3 cups shelled raw peanuts

 Measure the vanilla into a small bowl and set aside. Combine the baking soda and salt in another small bowl and set aside. Butter 2 cookie sheets with sides or jelly roll pan liberally with 1/2 stick of the butter. Set aside.
Combine the sugar, corn syrup and 1/2 cup water in a large saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil, attach a candy thermometer and cook over medium-high heat until the syrup spins a thread when poured from a spoon or reaches 240 degrees F on the thermometer. Stir in the peanuts and continue cooking and stirring until the candy becomes golden brown or reaches 300 degrees F.
Remove from the heat immediately and quickly add the remaining 1 stick butter and the vanilla, baking soda and salt. Stir only until the butter melts, and then quickly pour the brittle onto the cookie sheets, spreading the mixture thinly. When the brittle has completely cooled, break the candy into pieces and store in a tightly covered container.

Instead of buttering the baking sheets, you can also use silicone baking mats. Nothing sticks to 'em!
Be sure to take the time to measure out the ingredients and put them in small bowls before you start, just as the recipe directs. Once you reach 240 degrees, things go very quickly and you don't want to spend the time measuring things.
 And one other thing... I know I don't have to say it, but I'll say it anyway. This gets VERY hot so PLEASE be careful and make sure your little ones aren't around when you make this! There. I feel better now.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Red Velvet Cookies

It seems to me that you can say "red velvet" anything, and people seem to go crazy! Whenever I make Red Velvet Cupcakes they're always GONE in a matter of minutes, and a Red Velvet Cake always bring lots of OOOOs and AAAHs when you bring it to the table. Is it because it's red?? Is it the mounds of cream cheese icing? I'm thinking its probably a little bit of both! So the idea of making a red velvet COOKIE clearly has BRILLIANCE written all over it. (No, this isn't my recipe. It's slightly adapted from a blog called Amy Bites.) At first, I thought these cookies would have cream cheese icing sandwiched between them, but no! These have a swirl of cream cheese running right through them!! Like I said, brilliant! So give these a try. Not only are they delish, but they'll make any tray of holiday cookies look all the more festive! Love.

1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon red food coloring
1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup cocoa powder
4 tablespoons Neufchatel cream cheese, softened
Preheat oven to 375ºF.
Cream butter and sugars together until fluffy and well-combined.
Beat in egg and vanilla, then beat in food coloring.
Add flours, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder and mix until just combined.
Add cream cheese in pieces to dough and mix briefly until just swirled.
Portion out by tablespoonfuls onto cookie sheet and bake 10-12 minutes. Cool on cookie sheets.

These cookies are VERY chocolatey and not as sweet as you might expect. I usually think of a red velvet cake as being just lightly chocolatey (there are usually only a couple tbs of cocoa in the whole cake). So, as much as I love a rich deep chocolatey cookie, I think they're better when you add just half of the cocoa. But if you want the deeper flavor, go for it!
When you add the cream cheese, just cut it up into chunks and gently fold them in by hand, instead of using the mixer. This will give you nice bright swirls of white.
The original recipe called for only a cup of AP flour + 1/2 cup whole wheat flour. I didn't have any whole wheat, so I just used all AP flour.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Orange Creamsicle Cookies

 I've been looking for a really good orange cookie for AGES and now I'm happy to say EUREKA! I've discovered it! I suppose I could have developed my own recipe, but I've found SO many fun and new recipes while searching for this one that it was definitely worth the trip. It's actually just a basic cookie recipe with the addition of fresh orange zest and white chocolate chips. Now why didn't I think of that?? Sometimes the simplest things are the best! I saw this on Pinterest from a blog called The Girl Who Ate Everything, who got it from a blog called Baked Perfection. Sharing is caring!!
 This is the perfect cookie for friends like Jerry and Angel who aren't particularly fond of chocolate. (I know, I know, it makes no sense to me either....)

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons orange zest
2 cups white chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
In a small bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt; set aside.
In a large bowl, cream butter and sugars until light and creamy. Beat in egg and vanilla until smooth. Gradually add flour mixture until combined. Stir in orange zest and white chocolate chips.
Drop rounded teaspoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets. Do not flatten cookies; it will make them dry. Bake 8 – 10 minutes or until golden brown around edges. Do not overcook! Cookies will be plump. Cool for several minutes on cookie sheets before transferring to rack to cool completely. Store in airtight container.

To make them even more orangetastic, add a couple drops of orange extract to the batter. Yum!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Caramel Drizzled Apple Cider Cookies

 As soon as I saw this recipe, I knew I wanted to try it. Right off the bat, they had me at caramel, but more than that, I wanted to try it because I had never heard of it! As much as I love all the favorite classic cookie recipes, I'm always up for trying new ones! So here we go. I found this recipe on a blog called Under the Table and Dreaming, whose author found it on another blog called Scrambled Henfruit, whose author slightly adapted it from a recipe on another blog called The Cooking Photographer. It kinda makes me wonder how many other blogs this recipe will find after this one!!! Don't you just love technology? LOL

  Ok, so, here's the thing...the original recipe was not for cookies drizzled with was for cookies STUFFED with caramel. Yummy, right? Well, here's what I found...
 When you make them, you put a caramel in the center of a ball of cookie dough and bake. Then you remove them from your parchment and turn them upside down to cool, giving the caramel time to set (otherwise the caramel oozes out from the bottom of the cookie). That's fine, but it seemed to me it would be much easier to just bake the cookies without the caramel, let them cool, and then drizzle with melted caramel. It's much easier, must faster, and every bite gets a little bit of the caramel instead of just the center. Plus, you don't have to worry about the upside down cooling, etc. You do have to let them sit until the caramel sets, but I think this is the lesser of two evils. To melt the caramels, just unwrap them, place them in a bowl with a couple tbs of milk or cream, then microwave 30 seconds at a time until they're melted, then whisk it all together.
 I've posted the original directions as I first read them, just in case you'd like to do the stuffed cookies, or you can do them as I've stated above. The only down side to the drizzling is that the caramel stays kinda gooey. So, you'd have to store them in layers with parchment in between, but seriously, I'm thinking gooey caramel isn't the worst thing in the world! 
  Whichever way you make them, they're still amazingly delicious and fun and new and you'll still love them!
 3 cups all purpose flour
 1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup softened butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 box (7.4 oz) Alpine Spiced Apple Cider Instant Original Drink mix -not sugar free- all 10 packets (Find this in your grocery store near the hot chocolate mixes.)
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 bag Kraft Caramels (14 oz)

 Preheat oven to 350° F. Line cookie sheets with parchment. (You really need the parchment!) 
In a small bowl whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder and cinnamon. Set aside. With your mixer (or an energetic spoon) cream together butter, sugar, salt and all 10 packages of apple cider drink mix powder, until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Add vanilla and mix well. Gradually add flour mixture to butter/egg mixture. Mix until just combined. Refrigerate for about an hour. (If you're really impatient you don't have to do this, but it makes it so much easier to work with.) When you are ready to bake, unwrap your caramels. Scoop out cookie dough ball about the size of a walnut. Flatten the ball of dough slightly in the palm of your hand. Press the unwrapped caramel into the center of your dough and seal the dough around it, covering it completely. Place on parchment covered cookie sheets 2 inches apart. Bake 12-14 minutes, or until very lightly browned around the edges. Please don't over-bake! Once the cookies are done, slide the parchment off of the baking sheet right out onto the counter. Allow cookies to partially cool on the parchment. When cookies are cool enough to be firm but still slightly warm, carefully twist off of parchment and allow to finish cooling upside down (either on the parchment or on a rack.) If you forget about them and they cool too much and stick to your parchment, put them into the freezer for a few minutes and they'll pop right off. 

You definitely need to let these sit for a couple minutes before removing them from the pan because the caramel needs time to set. If you're drizzling instead of stuffing, be sure to let them cool completely before drizzling, then let them sit out for a good long while until the caramel sets.
For an extra added little something, add about a teaspoon of kosher salt to your melted caramel.  
You could also leave the caramel out of the picture altogether and sandwich some vanilla ice cream in between the plain apple cider cookies. It tastes like apple pie a la mode in the form of a cookie!!
Instead of using parchment paper, I used a silpat, which is a silicone baking mat the fits right into a half sheet tray. Nothing sticks to it!!

    Monday, December 10, 2012

    Eggnog Fudge

    Here's a fun and festive recipe that screams holiday yumminess. I got the recipe from my friend, Helen, who posted it on Facebook because she had seen it on Pinterest from someone who found it on, who adapted it from So basically I have no clue who came up with the idea in the first place, but I'm certainly glad they did!!
      Frankly, I've never met anything eggnog that I didn't like and this recipe is simple and delicious. It's the perfect thing to make if you want to give a little gift without breaking the bank. And everyone always appreciates a home made gift, right? Just wrap up little squares of fudge in parchment, place them in small boxes tied with ribbon, and everyone will think you're Martha Stewart. Of course, you could always keep the whole batch for yourself..... decisions ....decisions!!!

    2 cups granulated sugar
    1/2 cup butter
    3/4 cup dairy eggnog
    10.5 oz white chocolate bars, chopped into small pieces
    1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg, plus a little more for the top of the fudge
    1 7oz jar marshmallow creme
    1 tsp rum extract

    1. Line an 8 or 9-inch square pan with foil and let it hang over the sides. Butter the foil.
    2. In a heavy, 3-quart saucepan combine sugar, butter and eggnog. Bring to a rolling boil, stirring constantly. Continue boiling 8 to 10 minutes over medium heat or until a candy thermometer reaches 234°F, stirring constantly to prevent scorching. Remove from heat.
    3. Using a wooden spoon, work quickly to stir in chopped white chocolate and nutmeg until chocolate is melted and smooth. Stir in marshmallow creme and rum extract. Beat until well blended and then pour into prepared pan. Sprinkle a little freshly ground nutmeg on top. Let stand at room temperature until cooled. Refrigerate if you’d like to speed up the process.
    4. When completely cool, cut into squares. Store in a covered container. Keeps for several weeks in the freezer.

    You can use brandy extract instead of rum extract. That's what I did (only because that's what I had on hand) and it was delicious!
    I chose to use a 9" square pan because I didn't want the pieces of fudge to be so thick, but use whichever pan works for you.
    If you don't have foil, you can use parchment paper to line the pan.

    Monday, December 3, 2012

    Whole Jar of Peanut Butter Cookies

     I guess I never realized how divided people seem to be about peanut butter. Some people absolutely LOVE it, can't get enough of it, and eat it with a spoon right out of the jar.... and then there are others who simply don't care for it, (which, btw, makes absolutely no sense to me).  Clearly, I'm in the first group!
     So here's another fabulous treat for all of my friends who worship in the house of peanut butter. Actually, I think this is now my "go to" recipe for peanut butter cookies. You know how some peanut butter cookies are kinda dry? Well, these cookies stay moist and chewy, just like cookies were meant to be! I got the recipe from my niece, Kristin, whose motto is "the peanut butterier, the better." I totally concur! And you know how I'm always going on about a recipe which only uses a tiny bit of the key ingredient. More is More!!!! So you can imagine how excited I was to get a recipe that uses a WHOLE jar! You just KNOW they're gonna be awesome!! oh, btw,...... Kristin gave me this recipe a while ago, (actually about a million years ago) but it has taken me forever to get to it because I kept eating the peanut butter, which would leave me with less than a whole jar.....not enough for the recipe....time to go buy some more! ...Better get a gallon of milk while I'm there!
    Thanx Kristin!

    1 cup butter, softened
    1 cup white sugar
    1 cup packed brown sugar
    2 eggs
    1 egg yolk
    2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
    1 (18 ounce) jar peanut butter
    2 cups all-purpose flour
    1 teaspoon baking soda
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1 cup chopped peanuts

     In a large bowl, cream butter, white sugar, and brown sugar until smooth. Add the eggs, yolk, and vanilla; mix until fluffy. Stir in peanut butter. Sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt; stir into the peanut butter mixture. Finally, stir in the peanuts. Refrigerate the dough for at least 2 hours.

    Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease a cookie sheet.

    Roll dough into walnut sized balls. Place on the prepared cookie sheet and flatten in a criss cross pattern with a fork dipped it flour. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes in the preheated oven. Cookies should look dry on top. Allow to cool for a few minutes on the cookie sheet before removing to cool completely on a rack. These cookies taste great when slightly undercooked.

     This makes an extremely soft cookie dough, so you really need to chill it in the fridge for two hours before you bake. Keep that in mind when you're planning your baking. Maybe make the dough ahead of time, and keep the dough covered in the fridge. Then you'll be all set when you're ready to bake.
     Also make sure you let them cool on the tray for a few minutes when you take them out of the oven. They need that extra time to set up. Otherwise, they may break apart when you attempt to transfer them to a cooling rack.
     I didn't add the chopped peanuts because I didn't have any on hand, so, I guess they can be an optional ingredient. Just sayin'.
     Instead of greasing the cookie sheet, try baking your cookies on a sheet of parchment paper. You can use the same sheet of paper for the whole batch of cookies and they make for easy clean up when you're finished! You can also use a silpat, which is a silicone baking mat. It fits right into a half sheet pan, and nothing sticks to it!

    Sunday, November 25, 2012

    Oreo Stuffed Chocolate Chip Cookies

    Here's an AWESOME cookie idea that my niece, Kristin, brought to me. Chocolate chip cookies with Oreos inside!  Seriously??? Are you kidding me? How brilliant is that?? Why has no one ever thought of this??? Is anyone else thinking "perfect for the cookie swap"?
     I was about to come up with some sort of clever little blurb to write, but seriously, I don't think there's anything else to say except thanx Kristin! And thanx for the picture too!!

    2 sticks softened butter
    3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
    1 cup sugar
    2 large eggs
    1 tablespoon vanilla extract
    3 1/2 cups flour
    1 teaspoon salt
    1 teaspoon baking soda
    10 oz bag chocolate chips
    1 package Oreo cookies

     Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
    Cream butter and sugars together with a mixer until well combined. Beat in eggs and vanilla.
    In a separate bowl mix the flour, salt and baking soda. Slowly add to wet ingredients along with chocolate chips until just combined.
    Using a cookie scoop take one scoop of cookie dough and place on top of an Oreo cookie,take another scoop of dough and place on bottom of Oreo cookie. Seal edges together by pressing and cupping in hand until Oreo cookie is enclosed with dough.
    Place onto a parchment or silpat lined baking sheet,I'll admit these cookies will expand pretty big so try not to put them too close together, and bake cookies 9-13 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool for 5 minutes before transferring to cooling rack.

    Even though this recipe isn't exactly the same as the Nestle Toll House recipe, I'm guessing you could probably save time and just use the ready made cookie dough. Come to think of it, I wonder what other kinds of cookie dough would work....hmm....I think I might have to try a few!!!

    Monday, November 19, 2012

    Festive Wine Pairings from the Wine Guy!

     If you're looking for advice about wine pairings, I will be the first to tell you that I am NOT the person for the job. What can I say? I don't drink wine! I LOVE cooking with it, and I love what it does to deepen the flavors of a rich savory recipe, but I'm not the guy who can give you advice on your wine choices.
    My brother Jimmy, however, is EXACTLY the guy you should be asking! Why? Because he's The Wine Guy! He's a self taught wine FANATIC who works for Roger Wilco Wine and Spirits. He'll tell you which wines go with which courses and he'll also tell you the best deals and how to get the most bang for your buck. He really knows what he's doing!
     Here is his latest article about wine pairings for Thanksgiving. If you're a wine enthusiast, I'm sure you'll find it to be quite informative. To sign up for his monthly newsletter, email him at
     Thanx Jim!

     Also sign up for Roger Wilco Wine Guy text alerts. We'll let you know what we are pouring at the store, what's coming up, giveaways and more! Text "wineguy" to 94637 to sign up. The message is free from me but standard text messaging rates will apply from your cellular provider.

     -Jimmy Quaile
    Roger Wilco Wine and Spirits
    1001 Rt 73 South
    Pennsauken, NJ 08110

    Wine Guy fun fact!!
    Sarah Josepha Hale, an American magazine editor, persuaded Abraham Lincoln to declare Thanksgiving a national holiday. She is also the author of the nursery rhyme "Mary Had a Little Lamb".

    A Festive Flight for Thanksgiving

    Is there a wine that can go the distance from start to finish - from appetizers to turkey, stuffing, cranberries, sweet potatoes, through to pie or cheesecake for dessert?  YES.  A sparkling wine.  But I am looking forward to a "flight", pairing a wine with each part of my festive meal. I know you've read a hundred times that you should drink whatever you like, and you CAN (this is America!) but that doesn't mean there aren't good and bad pairings.

    Starters: Chips, Dips & Apps 

    LaMarca Prosecco  $11.09
    With its bright acidity and palate-cleansing bubbles, you've already taken care of two of the primary purposes of wine: to cut through the fat in dips and appetizers and refresh the palate after each bite. A delightful beginning to your meal.

    Main Course: Bring It On   

    Rosenblum Red Zinfandel  $8.98
    On such an American holiday I like to recommend this uniquely American wine: Zinfandel. Rich, robust, very ripe and abundantly fruity, exactly matching Thanksgiving dishes which are also rich, robust, and often leaning toward the sweet side of savory.

     Meiomi Pinot Noir $15.03
    Pinot Noirs are becoming the go-to choice for Thanksgiving. It's entirely understandable given its explosive flavor, soft tannins and food-friendly acidity. Although I normally prefer the elegance of the Burgundian model, bold side dishes in a traditional turkey dinner need the fruitiness of a new world style, and Meiomi is a perennial favorite.    

    Conundrum $19.98
    A blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat Canelli, Viognier and Semillon sourced from California, Conundrum is slightly sweet and effervescent yet surprisingly complex. Aromas of honeysuckle with hints of peach and vanilla mingle with melon, pineapple and pear. 

    Coppola Sofia $12.98
    Maybe an unusual choice, but a Rosé, and I mean a REAL Rosé, combines the lively freshness of white wine and the medium to full body of red wine. Coppola's Sofia Rosé, with its blend of Grenache and Syrah can also pair with ham and vegetarian fare. It also has a beautifully designed package that will add elegance to your table. Serve chilled, but not too cold!   

     Dessert: Maybe Just a Small Piece!    

    Alasia Brachetto $9.09
    If you are unfamiliar, think of it as the red version of the Moscato d'Asti wine. It is sweet and frizzante (mildly sparkling) with a hint of tartness. The red bold fruit explodes with flavor: raspberry, sweet and sour cherries and slight note of strawberry, which is a signature of Brachetto D'Acqui sparkling wines. It is stunning when paired with any dessert... or AS dessert!

    Final Note   

    I always get asked about Beaujolais at this time of year, especially Nouveau and the whole 'drink it before Christmas' thing. Although its popularity seems to be waning of late, a Cru Beaujolais or Beaujolais-Village, with its light and fruity flavor is still one of my guilty pleasures.

    Sunday, November 18, 2012

    Chocolate-Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars

    Here's a Martha Stewart recipe that my sister, Cathy, passed along to me. (Yes, my fabulous, gorgeous, talented, youthful, vibrant, funny, caring and all-around wonderful sister, Cathy.)  Of course I HAD to make them because, seriously, I've never met a cheesecake bar I didn't like.  They're rich and delicious and they're the perfect thing if you're looking for something a little different from your usual pumpkin pie. They're also great because you can make them in advance and either keep them covered and chilled in the fridge, or wrapped and frozen. Better make extra because they'll be gone in no time flat!!
    Thanx, Sister!

    For the crust:
    20 chocolate wafer cookies (half a 9-ounce package)*
    2 tablespoons sugar
    4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

    For the filling:
    2 packages bar cream cheese (8 ounces each)
    1 cup sugar
    1 cup canned solid-pack pumpkin puree
    3 large eggs
    3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
    1 teaspoon pumpkin-pie spice
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    4 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped

     Preheat oven to 350F. Line bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper or aluminum foil, leaving an overhang on all sides. Set aside.
    In a food processor, blend cookies with sugar until finely ground (you should have about 1 cup crumbs); add butter, and pulse until moistened.
    Transfer crumb mixture to prepared pan, and press gently into bottom. Bake until fragrant and slightly firm, 12 to 15 minutes. Set aside to cool.
    Place cream cheese in food processor; blend until smooth. Add sugar, pumpkin puree, eggs, flour, pumpkin-pie spice, and salt; process until combined. Set aside.
    Place chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl; microwave in 30-second increments, stirring between each, until melted. Add 1 cup pumpkin mixture; stir to combine. Set aside.
    Pour remaining pumpkin mixture into prepared pan. Drop dollops of chocolate mixture onto pumpkin mixture; swirl. Bake until cheesecake is set but jiggles slightly when gently shaken, 40 to 50 minutes.
    Cool in pan. Cover; chill until firm, at least 2 hours (and up to 2 days). Using overhang, transfer cake to work surface. With a knife dipped in water, cut into 16 squares. Serve.

    * Instead of buying chocolate wafers and then adding butter and sugar, I found it easiest to just throw about 15-18 regular Oreos into the food processor and process until they're fine crumbs. No need to add melted butter or sugar because the creme filling is already in there!
    When you cut them, be sure to dip your large knife into very hot water, just as the recipe directs. It's a great tip for getting perfectly clean cuts. You could always just clean your knife under very hot running water between each cut.
    For an easy variation, try butterscotch chips or white chocolate instead of the semisweet chocolate.
    To make a double chocolate swirl, add some of your 1 cup pumpkin mixture to some melted white chocolate in addition to the semisweet chocolate. Then alternate your dollops of chocolate over the pumpkin mixture and swirl together.
    If you're not a chocolate person, you could use graham cracker crumbs for the crust, omit the chocolate altogether, and just do plain pumpkin cheesecake squares.

    Friday, November 16, 2012

    Creamy Fried Confetti Corn

    Here's a yummy side dish option for corn. As much as I LOVE a delicious corn casserole, I was looking for other corn ideas, just for a little variety, and then I found this one! It's a Southern Living recipe from years ago, and remains one of their more popular casseroles to this day. It's super easy and quick to make too! And so good! I mean come on.. Any recipe that starts with cooking bacon is ok by me! And it's perfect for your next holiday meal. So if you're tired of just plain old corn, give this one a try. Great then!

    8 bacon slices, chopped
    4 cups fresh, frozen, or canned sweet corn kernels
    1 medium-size white onion, chopped
    1/3 cup chopped red bell pepper
    1/3 cup chopped green bell pepper
    1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, cubed
    1/2 cup half-and-half
    1 teaspoon sugar
    1 teaspoon salt
    1 teaspoon pepper

    Cook chopped bacon in a large skillet until crisp; remove bacon, and drain on paper towels, reserving 2 tablespoons drippings in skillet. Set bacon aside.
    Sauté corn, onion, and bell peppers in hot drippings in skillet over medium-high heat 6 minutes or until tender. Add cream cheese and half-and-half, stirring until cream cheese melts. Stir in sugar, salt, and pepper. Top with bacon.

    I didn't even measure the bell peppers. I just chopped up 2 small peppers and threw 'em in. If I had larger peppers, though, I probably would have just used a half of each color of pepper. You want to make sure the peppers enhance the flavor of the corn, not the other way around.
    This can easily be made a day in advance. Just keep it covered in the fridge and then reheat it in the oven.
    Oh, and don't forget to use different colored bell peppers. You could even add orange ones too. It'll make it look more like confetti! Wait, shouldn't this be called Cornfetti????

    Thursday, November 15, 2012

    Joey's Sausage and Cornbread Stuffing

    As I always say, More is More! So I figured it was time to come up with another new recipe for stuffing to go with your turkey dinner. More options are always a good thing, dontcha think?
     In my family, we always have your basic classic stuffing, but we usually don't have corn bread stuffing with our holiday meal, so I really enjoyed coming up with this recipe. It's always nice to try some thing new! I think it hits all the right notes that say Thanksgiving, and also I added a few little extra touches. I'm SO pleased with it and I hope you'll give it a try!

    1 lb pork sausage, casings removed, crumbled
    4 tbs butter
    1 large onion, finely chopped
    5 ribs celery, finely chopped
     salt and pepper
    2 pounds prepared cornbread, broken up
    dried poultry seasoning to taste
    1 apple, peeled, cored, and diced
    1 cup craisins
    3 large eggs, lightly beaten
    1-2 cups chicken broth

     Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
    In a large skillet, cook sausage over medium-high heat, stirring often, until browned and cooked through. With a slotted spoon, transfer to a very large bowl.
    Add butter to the pan, then add onion and celery. Reduce heat to medium; cook, scraping up browned bits with a wooden spoon, (add a little water if you need to) until vegetables soften, about 10 minutes. Season generously with salt, pepper, and poultry seasoning. Add apples and craisins, and cook just a couple minutes longer. Add to sausage.
    Add cornbread and eggs to sausage and vegetables. Mix all together. Bring broth to a simmer in a small saucepan; pour 1/2 cup over stuffing, and toss gently (cornbread will break down into smaller pieces). If needed, add up to 1/2 cup more broth, until stuffing feels moist, but not wet. Spoon stuffing into a baking pan. When you're ready to bake, pour remaining broth over the entire amount of stuffing, then bake for about 20 minutes.

    I just used purchased corn bread instead of baking my own, but if you have the time, be my guest!
    You can make this a day ahead. Just cover and refrigerate until you're ready to bake.
    If you'd like it to be more sausagey than corn bready, feel free to adjust the amounts to suit your taste.
    The same goes for the amount of poultry seasoning. I like a very spicy stuffing, so I usually add a lot, like, probably a couple tablespoons. There are a lot of sweet ingredients (apples, craisins, and of course, the cornbread itself) so you really need the savory flavors from the dried herbs and the sausage to balance it out. If you'd like to use some or all Italian hot sausage instead of the mild, go for it!

    Wednesday, November 14, 2012

    Lemon Meringue Pie

     Since I get so many requests for "anything lemon", I figured it was about time I found a good recipe for lemon meringue pie. One would think that they're all pretty much the same, right? You have your baked pie shell, your lemon filling and then your fluffy meringue on top, right? Wrong!! Nothing could be further from the truth! I found TONS of variations and all kinds of debates on how the perfect lemon meringue pie is made. Who knew?? So I tried a couple different ones, and I think I've finally found one that fits my idea of what a recipe should be: Easy to follow, simple ingredients, and delicious.
      Now, I know many people find the idea of making a lemon meringue pie to be a little intimidating, but all you have to do is just remember a few key rules about making meringue, and it'll turn out beautifully! I promise!

    1 tbs corn starch
    2 tbs cold water
    1/2 cup boiling water

    4 egg whites
    1/4 tsp cream of tartar
    1/2 cup white sugar
    1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
    tiny pinch of salt

    1 cup white sugar
    2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
    1/4 cup cornstarch
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    1 1/2 cups water
    Zest of 2 lemons (about 2 tbs)
    Juice of 2 lemons (about 1/2 cup)
    2 tablespoons butter
    4 egg yolks, beaten
    1 9" prebaked pie shell

    Before you start, here are just a few things to remember when making a meringue. Now don't panic!! It's just a few rules!! Ok here we go:

    -Always make the meringue first, then the filling.
    -Always use an immaculately clean glass or metal bowl and immaculately clean beaters or whisks. Even the tiniest trace of grease/fat/oil will prevent the whites from whipping properly. So clean them extremely well, and be sure to dry them equally as well with a clean towel.
    -When separating eggs, don't use the method of cracking the egg into your hand and letting the whites slip through your fingers. You don't want to touch the egg whites because even the oil in your skin will affect them. Just use the old "back and forth between halves of the shell" method.
    -Older eggs whip up to a higher volume.
    -It's easier to separate eggs when they're cold, but they whip better when they're at room temperature. So separate them as soon as you take them out of the fridge, then let them sit out for about 30 minutes before whipping them.
    -Once you start making the meringue, don't stop in the middle of it. You need to do it all in one go.
    -Egg whites don't like moisture, so make sure everything is completely dry, and if it's a really humid day or if it's raining outside, consider choosing a different recipe to try.

    Preheat oven to 350F.

    For the meringue:
     In a small sauce pan, mix together 1 tbs corn starch with 2 tbs cold water. Add 1/2 cup boiling water. Cook until thickened and clear. Remove from heat. Set aside in fridge to quickly cool completely.
      In a large CLEAN glass or metal bowl, with CLEAN beaters or wire whisk, whip egg whites and cream of tartar until foamy. Add 1/2 cup sugar gradually, 1 tbs at a time, and continue to whip until stiff peaks form. To make sure the sugar has completely dissolved, feel the meringue between your thumb and index finger. If it still feels grainy, whip it just a bit more. Reduce mixing speed and gently mix in the corn starch paste, the vanilla, and salt. Set meringue aside.

     For the filling:
     In a medium saucepan, whisk together 1 cup sugar, flour, cornstarch, and salt. Stir in water, lemon juice and lemon zest. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until mixture comes to a boil. Stir in butter. Place egg yolks in a small bowl and gradually whisk in 1/2 cup of hot sugar mixture. Whisk egg yolk mixture back into remaining sugar mixture. Bring to a boil and continue to cook while stirring constantly until thick, about a minute. Remove from heat. Pour filling into baked pastry shell.

     Spread some of the meringue over hot pie filling, sealing the edges at the crust. Pile or pipe the rest of the meringue on top, making a pretty design. Bake in preheated oven for 12-15 minutes, or until meringue is golden brown on top. Cool to room temperature, then chill in the fridge before cutting.
    Yes, yes, I know there's a great debate on whether or not you should cool the filling before you cover it with meringue. I don't cool it because I think the heat of the filling cooks the underside of the meringue. If you're worried about liquid forming between the filling and the meringue, try sprinkling a light layer of cake crumbs or soft bread crumbs over the filling before spreading the meringue. The crumbs will absorb any unwanted moisture, and they'll also keep your meringue from sliding off the top of the filling when you slice it.
     To make a really pretty meringue (if you don't have a piping bag), you can simply use a knife or the back of a spoon to make lots of peaks over the surface of the meringue. When the pie bakes, the peaks will brown first, and you'll have a lovely picture perfect pie.

    Friday, November 9, 2012

    Grandma's Secret Apple Brownies

     I'm always browsing web sites that have to do with recipes and cooking. Especially during the chilly Autumn months, I love to search for new recipes that have anything to do with apples and cinnamon. I recently found this little gem of a recipe and it's EXACTLY what I was looking for.
      I found it on a website called It was shared by Jessica Harrington (it's HER Grandma, not mine!) and it looked so delicious and simple that I knew I needed to try it. I'm so glad I did! These little squares of heaven are perfect for a brunch, with a cup of tea, or even for dessert with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. They were a HUGE hit when I made them for my family. And they're so simple to make! And of course there's that "makes the whole house smell warm and cozy while they're baking" factor. Love it!
    Thanx, Jessica, for sharing!

    3 c all purpose flour
    3 c apples
    2 c sugar
    1 tsp cinnamon
    1 tsp baking soda
    1/3 c orange juice
    2 eggs
    1 c vegetable oil
    1 tsp salt

    Preheat oven to 325F.
    Grease and flour 9x13 pan. (or spray with baking spray. You know, the kind that has flour in it!)
    Peel, core, and finely chop about 3 to 4 apples.
    Mix all ingredients well in a large bowl.
    Pour into pan.  Bake at 325 for 45 minutes to 1 hour.
    Cool and cut into squares.

    You can use apple juice instead of orange juice. I figured as much as I was first reading the recipe (because the same is true of my Mom's Apple Cake recipe), and my suspicions were confirmed after reading several comments posted along with the recipe. You can also substitute an equal amount of applesauce for the oil. (Actually, you can do that in most baked items. Did you know that??)
     I also read that they freeze very well, so go ahead and make more extra and freeze them for whenever you'd like a sweet treat!

    Wednesday, November 7, 2012

    Joey's Carrot Soufflé

     I'm always searching for new and delicious recipes for Thanksgiving side dishes, and here's one you should DEFINITELY try. Frankly, I love all things carrot, whether it's steamed, roasted, mashed or even just raw. So I knew I'd love a carrot souffle too!
     The only problem was that I looked at several recipes and they all seem to be absolutely LADEN with butter and sugar. Now, if you know me, you know how much I love Miss Paula. But in this case, all that butter and sugar just seemed excessive to me. Plus, it seems to me that including cinnamon (as many carrot souffle recipes do) would just make the souffle taste like a pumpkin pie. Call me crazy, but if I'm gonna have a carrot souffle, I want it to taste like CARROTS, not a dessert. So this is my version of a recipe I found online. I scaled the butter WAY back (less than half of what the original called for) and omitted the sugar altogether, because the carrots are already sweet!! No need for added sugar! And I used just a tiny pinch of nutmeg instead of cinnamon. It was PLENTY sweet, it didn't need all the extra butter, and the nutmeg added just a hint of spice. Plus, as you can see from the photo, it puffed up beautifully as it baked. Perfect! So if you're looking for a new way to enjoy carrots, try this one!

    2 pounds carrots, peeled, cut into chunks
    1/4 cup butter
    2 eggs, beaten
    1/4 cup flour
    1 teaspoon baking powder
    salt and pepper
    pinch nutmeg (optional)

     Cook carrots in boiling water until tender, about 20 to 25 minutes; drain well. Place all ingredients in a food processor with a metal blade and process until well blended and pureed. Pour into a buttered casserole or soufflé dish. Bake at 400° for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350° and bake for an additional 45 minutes.

    If you REALLY feel the need to add sugar, just add maybe 1 or 2 tablespoons.
    If you don't feel like peeling and cutting up the carrots, just buy baby carrots. No peeling necessary! Just throw them right into boiling water and follow the recipe. Simple!
    This recipe probably makes about 6-8 servings but it can be doubled or tripled as needed to feed your crowd.

    Monday, November 5, 2012

    Sweet Potato Pie

    Instead of doing a pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving this year, how about a sweet potato pie instead? They're both similar in many ways, but the sweet potato pie is a little bit richer and perhaps not as custardy. (Is that a word? Custardy?) When I make it, I don't completely mash the potatoes. I usually leave them a little lumpy so you can really taste the pieces of sweet potato. SO delicious! You can top it with meringue or marshmallows and then brulee the top, but I prefer it as is, with a dollop of fresh whipped cream. It's seriously one of life's simple pleasures!

    1 pie crust, either store bought or Home made
    3 cups cooked and mashed sweet potatoes*
    2 tbs soft butter
    1/2 tsp vanilla
    2/3 c sugar
    1/4 tsp salt
    4 large eggs
    1 tsp cinnamon
    1 tsp nutmeg
    1/2 cup heavy cream
    2 tbs bourbon (optional)
    2 tbs orange marmalade (optional)

    Heat oven to 400F.
    Line a deep pyrex pie plate with the pie crust. Crimp to make a decorative edge. Set aside.
    In a large bowl, stir all ingredients together with a wire whisk. Pour into prepared pie shell. Place pie on a baking tray, and bake for 15 minutes. reduce heat to 350F and bake for another 30-40 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out almost clean. Remove from oven and let it cool to room temperature before chilling. Serve chilled or at room temperature with whipped cream.

    *To cook sweet potatoes:
    Place whole sweet potatoes in a pot of cold water. Bring to a boil. Boil for about 30-40 minutes or until tender. The potatoes are done when a fork can easily be inserted. Remove from pot. Run under cold water to cool. Remove skins with a paring knife, and mash with a potato masher or ricer.

    My favorite thing about this pie is the orange marmalade. I always add some when I'm making candied sweet potatoes, so I figured, why not add it to the pie as well? It's not too orangey, it's just enough to make people say "mmm...what is that...."
    Add as much cinnamon as you like! You know there's no such thing as too much, right???
    Instead of adding bourbon to the pie, you can add it to the whipped cream instead! Just add a few splashes of bourbon to your bowl of chilled heavy cream and then whip it up. Delish!

    Monday, October 29, 2012

    Joey's Chunky Minestrone

      I've told this story before, but I think it's worth retelling.... 
    When I was growing up, my Mom would always make a big pot of soup on Halloween. She had her hands full with getting all of us into costume, and then off we'd go trick-or-treating. (Of course, the door bell was ringing every 10 minutes with other treat seekers.) There was no getting all of us to sit down to dinner at one time, since all of us would be coming and going at different times of the day, depending on how cold it was outside, or if someone was having costumes issues. So, the easiest thing to do was to just put a big pot of soup on the stove, and everyone could grab a bowl at any time. Most times it was her famous vegetable soup, but sometimes it was something equally as hearty, such as beef barley.
     I decided to do a Minestrone for this year's Halloween soup because it hits all the same notes as my Mom's soups. I looked at several recipes but couldn't decide which one to use. So, instead, I decided to do my own. It has a rich broth, it's hearty and healthy, and it warms you up and fills your belly. Of course, you don't have to serve it just on Halloween. It's just the thing for any crispy Autumn night or any time Jack Frost decides to stop by. I hope you like it!

    a couple glugs olive oil
    3 strips bacon, finely chopped
    1 medium onion, diced
    3 cloves garlic, minced
    3 ribs celery, diced
    1 medium zucchini, diced
    1 medium yellow squash, diced
    3 carrots, peeled and diced
    6 cups chicken broth
    2 cups water
    1 15 oz can cannelini beans, rinsed
    1 15 oz can red kidney beans, rinsed
    1 29 oz can whole tomatoes, drained, chopped
    1 fresh rosemary sprig
    2 fresh thyme sprigs
    1 bay leaf
    a big bunch of curly kale, stems removed, chopped
    1/2 cup ditalini pasta
     handful of chopped parsley
    salt and pepper to taste
    Parmesan cheese

    In a large heavy pot, add the olive oil and bacon over medium heat. When the bacon renders some of its fat, add the onions, garlic, and celery. Let it cook for about 5 minutes, then add the zucchini, yellow squash, and carrots. Cook for another 10 minutes. Add the broth, water, beans, tomatoes, rosemary, thyme, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer. Let it continue to cook for another half hour (or as long as it takes to clean up the kitchen), stirring every now and then. Add the kale, pasta, and parsley. Cook for another 10 minutes. If the soup is too thick after the pasta is cooked, add a little more broth or just water. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve each bowl with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese and some warm crusty bread.

    This recipe is WIDE open when it comes to substitutions.
    Add diced potatoes instead of pasta.
    Add spinach or any other leafy greens instead of kale.
    Add diced green beans or any other vegetable instead of zucchini or squash.
    Add any kind of miniature pasta shape you like instead of the ditalini.
    Add vegetable broth instead of chicken broth.
    Add any kind of beans or chick peas instead of the red or white kidney beans.
    Add any kind of fresh herbs. Basil, rosemary, thyme, parsley, sage, fresh or dried, it all works.
    See what I mean? Any or ALL of the above will make a delicious and hearty soup. And if you like a lot of something, add a lot!
    Basically, you just need your aromatics (celery, onions, garlic, carrots), your vegetables, broth, herbs, starch (pasta or potatoes), beans, and greens.
    As my Mom used to say, "Just throw everything in the pot and let it cook."

    Wednesday, October 24, 2012

    Pumpkin Juice

      Looking for something different to serve at your next Halloween party? Take inspiration from Harry Potter's Wizarding World and fill up your punch bowl with some Pumpkin Juice! It's really REALLY delicious! It's SO much better than the usual fruit punch/ginger ale type of punch. Well, not that there's anything wrong with that, but this is more Halloween-esque, wouldn't you say?
     Even if you don't serve it to a party crowd, you should still mix up a batch and enjoy!

    5 cups apple juice
    1 cup pumpkin puree
    1/4 cup sugar
    2 tsp pumpkin pie spice

    Combine all ingredients in a large pitcher and stir well. Let it sit for an hour in the refrigerator. Chill and serve it iced, or heat it up in your cauldron and ladle it into mugs. Garnish each mug with a cinnamon stick.

     -The pumpkin puree makes the juice a little cloudy and a little bit thick. If that doesn't suit you, feel free to go ahead and strain it through a fine sieve. I must say, I prefer it as is, without straining it.
    -You can adjust the amount of sugar or omit it completely, depending on how sweet you like it.
    -Clearly you would multiply the recipe as many times as you need to in order to serve a crowd.
    -This would absolutely be HEAVEN in a mug if you serve it hot on a chilly autumn night while sitting around a bonfire. Wouldn't that be awesome??

    Tuesday, October 23, 2012


      What is Butterbeer? Well, as Harry Potter fans will tell you, it's a popular wizarding beverage that tastes like butterscotch. It is said to be served cold in bottles or hot in "foaming tankards".  There are apparently many recipes for it, but this one seems to be the closest to the magical brew. It's pretty simple to make, even though there are a couple steps to it.
     I suppose you could just go to the Hogshead Tavern in Hogsmead and buy a pint (if you have 2 silver sickles, that is), but their stock is "very dusty" and has probably been there for a while. It's probably a better idea go to the Three Broomsticks Inn. Then again, you can always have some at the Leaky Cauldron, if you happen to be in Diagon Alley.
     But, like I always say, it's better when YOU make it! So save yourself the time and travel and whip up a batch at home. You'll love it! Btw, if you do make it to the Three Broomsticks, tell Madam Rosmerta I said Hi!

    1 cup light or dark brown sugar
    2 tablespoons water
    6 tablespoon butter
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar
    3/4 cup heavy cream, divided
    1/2 teaspoon rum extract
    cream soda

    In a small saucepan over medium, combine the brown sugar and water. Bring to a gentle boil and cook, stirring often, until the mixture reads 240 F on a candy thermometer. (Be careful not to burn it!!)
    Stir in the butter, salt, vinegar and 1/4 cup heavy cream. Set aside to cool to room temperature.
    Once the mixture has cooled, stir in the rum extract.
    In a medium bowl, combine 2 tablespoons of the brown sugar mixture and the remaining 1/2 cup of heavy cream. Use an electric mixer to beat until just thickened, but not completely whipped.
    To serve, add a tablespoon or two of the brown sugar mixture in tall glasses or mugs. Add 1/4 cup of cream soda to each glass, then stir to combine. Fill each glass nearly to the top with additional cream soda, then spoon the whipped topping over each.

    As Winky the house elf can attest, the wizarding version of Butterbeer is described as being "slightly alcoholic". If you would like to add alcohol to yours, simply add some Buttershots butterscotch schnapps, as much as you like!

    This is really more like a dessert than a beverage, as far as I'm concerned.
    I think the next time I make it, I may cut the cream soda with a little seltzer water. It's VERY sweet. I even adjusted the recipe to reduce the amount of the butterscotch in each glass just because I think a 1/4 cup in each glass is just a little bit excessive. (which is what the original recipe called for).
    To serve it cold, make sure the cream soda is well chilled and ice cold. To serve it hot, just heat the cream soda to a low simmer and serve it the same way. Personally, I prefer the cold version because I like the fizz. Of course, if you have your wand handy, you can add some fizz to the hot version as well. Just don't let any Muggles see you doing it!

    Monday, October 22, 2012

    Pumpkin Pasties

     What are Pumpkin Pasties, you say? Well, if you have to ask, then CLEARLY you are one of the 5 or so people on the planet who are not familiar with anything to do with Harry Potter. Pasties are traditional baked meat pies, but these are filled with pumpkin instead of meat and vegetables. Harry Potter tried them for the first time on the Hogwarts Express at the start of his first year when he impressed Ron Weasley by buying everything from the Honeydukes trolley saying "we'll take the lot".
     They're "dead simple" to make, really. You just bake up some pumpkin pie filling without the crust, then spoon it into individual pastries to make little mini pies! Fun, huh? They're perfect for your next Halloween party! So, if you can't make it to Honeydukes Sweet Shop, just make your own!!

    2 eggs, slightly beaten
    3/4 cup sugar
    2 cups cooked fresh pumpkin (or 1 lb. canned)
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    2 tbs. melted butter
    1 tsp. cinnamon
    1/2 tsp. ginger
    1/4 tsp. cloves
    1/2 tsp. cardamom
    1/2 t. allspice
    1 can evaporated milk
    9 oz. pie crust pastry (enough for two single standard pie crusts)

    Add eggs and sugar to a mixing bowl and mix until well blended. Stir in the pumpkin, butter, salt and spices. Add evaporated milk and mix well. Bake the filling in a casserole dish that has been buttered or sprayed with pam. Bake at 350 degrees F for 45-55 minutes or until an inserted knife comes out clean. Let the filling cool completely. Make or purchase pie crust pastry. Roll pastry thin and cut into circles about 3 inches in diameter. Put a tablespoonful of the pumpkin mixture towards one side of the center of the circle. Fold over the crust into a half-circle and firmly crimp the edges closed. Cut with a paring knife three small slits in the top for venting. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees only until crust is a light golden brown, around 10-15 minutes. Dust with cinnamon and sugar. Serve at room temperature.

    A pyrex deep pie plate is the perfect size to bake the filling.
    I used a 3" pierogi maker, which makes things SO easy. Just cut out the dough with the bottom of the pierogi press, then place the circle of dough on top. Place a measured tablespoonful of the filling in the center. Dampen one side of the of the crust, then simply fold it over and press to seal. Easy!