Monday, September 24, 2012

Steamed Clams in White Wine Sauce

Now that the weather is becoming cooler, you'd think I'd be looking forward to lots of hearty soups and stews, but frankly, I'm just not quite ready to let go of summer just yet. So, I decided to do a pot of steamers. It was JUST the thing for a sunny breezy Sunday afternoon.
 It's ready in a snap, it's super easy, and OMG it's SO delicious! Be sure to serve it with some nice warm crusty bread for sopping up the rich flavorful broth. It's heaven in a bowl! And your friends will think you went to a LOT of trouble when they taste this one. So, give it a try, and have a taste of summer no matter how cold it is outside!

4 tbs butter
4 larges cloves fresh garlic, minced
2 shallots (or one small onion), finely minced
1/2 cup dry white wine or dry Vermouth
2 pounds of clams (Littlenecks or Manilla), rinsed and cleaned
 2-3 tbs fresh parsley, chopped
1 or 2 pinches crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
1 small lemon cut into wedges (optional)

Melt butter in a medium pot over medium-low heat. Add shallots and garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes until shallots are soft and garlic is fragrant but not burned. Add wine and increase heat to medium-high until wine is brought to a simmering boil. Add clams and cook covered for 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until clams have opened. Discard any clams that are still closed. Add parsley and pepper flakes (if using) and give the pot a quick stir. Transfer clams and broth to a large serving bowl, serving with lemon wedges on the side.

-Before you start, make sure you really clean the clams. Since the shells will be cooking right in the broth, you really need to scrub each one on all sides with a scrub brush under cold running water. Yes, I know it's a little tedious, but it's SO worth it! And seriously, it's better than having sand in your bowl. Also, if any of the clams are open, give them a little tap with your finger. If they don't close right up, that means game over and you need to discard them.
-Btw, the ingredient amounts are just guidelines. If you like more butter, go for it. If you like tons of garlic, have at it. If you'd like a little less onion, no worries. It's whatever you like!
-And remember to always use a wine that you would drink, and never ever use anything labeled "cooking wine".  It's basically laden with sodium and food coloring and is not very good, especially in a dish where wine is one of the main components of the recipe.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Sausage, Peppers, and Onions

 For the longest time, whenever I made sausage, peppers, and onions, I kept it simple. So simple, in fact, that I didn't add anything else. Just sauteed onions and peppers over sweet Italian sausage. Maybe some salt and pepper, but nothing else. There was always enough spice in the sausage to flavor the whole dish. Fine.
Then I tried this recipe from Giada De Laurentiis.
Let me just say that I need to buy a vowel because O......MY..... GOD. This is seriously some of the best sausage peppers and onions I have ever tasted. I'm not even kidding. I don't think I'll ever go back to my old method. This one CLEARLY wins. Hands down. It's spicy but not hot, it's rich but not heavy, the sauce is to die for, and it's super easy to make. You ABSOLUTELY need to try this one. I think I need to make another batch....

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound sweet Italian turkey sausage
2 red bell peppers, sliced
2 yellow onions, sliced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
4 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup Marsala wine
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, optional
4 to 6 fresh Italian sandwich rolls, optional

 Heat the oil in a heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add the sausages and cook until brown on both sides, about 7 to 10 minutes. Remove from the pan and drain. Keeping the pan over medium heat, add the peppers, onions, salt, and pepper and cook until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add the oregano, basil, and garlic and cook 2 more minutes.
Add the tomato paste and stir. Add the Marsala wine, tomatoes, and chili flakes, if using. Stir to combine, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to release all the browned bits. Bring to a simmer.
Cut the sausages into 4 to 6 pieces each, about 1-inch cubes. Add the sausage back to the pan and stir to combine. Cook until the sauce has thickened, about 20 minutes.
Serve in bowls. Or, if serving as a sandwich, split the rolls in half lengthwise. Hollow out the bread from the bottom side of each roll, being careful not to puncture the crust. Fill the bottom half of the roll with sausage mixture. Top and serve sandwiches immediately.

Whenever I cook sausages in a pan, I always like to go low and slow. Make sure your heat isn't too high and just let them do their thing in the pan. Then every so often, give them a turn. They'll cook much more evenly. The same is true for the peppers and onions. If the heat is too high, you'll brown everything too quickly instead of really bringing out the sugars and letting them caramelize. I also like to let it simmer over a really low heat for a while longer than the recipe directs. I just think it tastes better!
 I used regular sweet Italian sausage instead of turkey sausage, and I used regular green bell peppers instead of the red. I'm sure that any sausage (hot or sweet) and any color of bell peppers would work perfectly fine.
 If you don't have Marsala wine, you can substitute whatever kind of wine you like. You could even just add chicken broth instead. It won't be exactly the same, but it'll still be delicious!
 Instead of serving this on sandwich rolls, try serving it over any cut pasta, such as rotini. It's heaven on a plate!!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Majestic and Moist Honey Cake

I was recently asked if I had a recipe for honey cake. Whenever I don't have a requested recipe, my answer is always the same: "No, but I'll find one for you!" (What did we ever do before Google??)
As I browsed through recipe after recipe, I looked for common themes and similarities. It seems to me that these are the ones that are closest to "the classic" one that everyone's Grandma used to make. I think this recipe falls neatly into that category. (I found it on another blog called I'm sure they won't mind if I share it with you!) I love that it's pretty simple to just throw together. Oh, and it smells HEAVENLY while it's baking!!
So, whether you're celebrating Rosh Hashanah and hoping for a sweet new year, or just looking for a deliciously moist lightly spiced cake to have with tea, this is the one for you. Yes, Terri, I know it has several ingredients, but they're all readily available at your local market and I'll just bet that you already have many of them in your pantry. So there.
Give it a try!

3 1/2 c. flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
4 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cloves
1/2 tsp. allspice
1 c. vegetable oil
1 c. honey
1 1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. brown sugar
3 large eggs at room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 c. warm coffee or strong tea
1/2 c. fresh orange juice
1/4 c. rye or whiskey
1/2 c. slivered or sliced almonds (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°F.
Generously grease pan(s)* with non-stick cooking spray. For tube, loaf, or angel food pans, line the bottom with lightly greased parchment paper, cut to fit.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves and allspice. Make a well in the center, and add oil, honey, white sugar, brown sugars, eggs, vanilla, coffee or tea, orange juice and whiskey. (If you measure your oil before the honey, it will be easier to get all of the honey out.)
Using a strong wire whisk or in an electric mixer on slow speed, stir together well to make a well-blended batter, making sure that no ingredients are stuck to the bottom.
Pour batter into prepared pan(s). Sprinkle top of cake(s) evenly with almonds, if using. Place cake pan(s) on two baking sheets. Bake until cake tests done, that is, it springs back when you gently touch the cake center. For angel and tube cake pans, this will take 60 to 75 minutes, loaf cakes, about 45 to 55 minutes. For sheet style cakes, baking time is 40 to 45 minutes. Let cake stand fifteen minutes before removing from pan.

*This recipe originally stated that it would be enough for three loaf pans, but I only used two, and it was exactly the perfect amount. I guess I have larger loaf pans?? Anyway, you can also use two 9-inch square or round cake pans, one 9 or 10 inch tube or Bundt cake pan, or one 9 by 13 inch sheet cake. I chose to bake it in loaves because (correct me if I'm wrong) I believe that that's how it's traditionally served.

 -I must confess, I didn't follow the directions exactly. I sifted the dry ingredients in one bowl, whisked the wet ingredients in another bowl, and the poured the wet into the dry as the mixer was mixing. Worked perfectly fine!
 -The easiest way to line the pan with greased parchment paper: Cut a piece to fit the bottom of the pan. First spray the pan, then place the parchment in the bottom, then spray the parchment. It's worth doing this because this is a really sticky cake and you want to make sure it comes out of the pan. If your cake still comes out in pieces, don't fret. It's sticky enough that you can literally just stick it back together.
 -Since I'm not a whiskey drinker, I didn't want to buy a whole bottle just for a 1/4 cup. So, instead, I bought one of those little tiny shooter bottles. Ya know, like they serve on an airplane... Can you guess how much is in one? YUP... 1/4 cup!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Joey's Crock Pot Bacon Cheeseburger Mac

 This recipe was a request from Dave, from Maine. He loved the Crock Pot Pizza Pasta so much that he wondered if I had a crock pot cheeseburger mac recipe too. Well, I didn't have one, but it gave me the perfect excuse to come up with one! Dave especially liked the fact that you don't have to precook the rigatoni for the pizza pasta. You just open up a box and dump it in. So I made sure to use the same technique with the cheeseburger mac. And can I just tell you how delicious it is? It tastes just like a bacon cheeseburger! The secret is the ketchup and mustard. Don't forget to add them!!
 So, here you go, Dave. I hope you like this as much as you like the pizza pasta. And thanx again for writing to me! Btw, if anyone else is looking for a recipe, please send me an email! If I don't have what you're looking for, I'll either find it or create it! Great then.

1/2 lb bacon
1 lb ground beef
1 medium onion
1 lb rigatoni, uncooked
1 lb Velveeta cheese, cubed
5 cups milk
1/4 cup ketchup
1/4 cup yellow or brown mustard
splash of Worcestershire sauce
salt and pepper

 Cut up the bacon into small pieces and add to a large saute pan along with the chopped onion over medium heat. Saute until the onions are soft and the bacon is lightly browned. Add the beef and continue to saute until everything is cooked through. Drain excess fat. Add to a crock pot along with remaining ingredients. Give everything a good stir. Cook for about 5 hours on low or about 2 1/2 hours on high.

 I usually add all the sauce ingredients to the crock pot while the meat is cooking because it's easier to stir. I also give it a good stir about halfway through the cooking, just to mix it up a bit and to make sure it's not sticking to the crock pot.
 I used rigatoni (just like I did with the pizza pasta) because they're hearty enough to stand up to the crock pot cooking. I tried it with regular elbows and they overcooked and became too mushy. So, if you'd like to try another kind of pasta, be sure to choose one that's big and hearty and chunky like rigatoni.
If you'd rather bake it in the oven, just follow the method of regular baked mac n cheese. Saute the bacon, beef and onions as usual and add them to a casserole dish with the boiled rigatoni (or other cut pasta). Melt the cheese into the milk (only use 4 cups instead of 5) and stir in the remaining ingredients. Then pour it over all and bake for an hour at 350F.