Monday, December 30, 2013

Cranberry Jalapeno Cheese Spread

 Having a party? Here's the perfect appy for you! It's sort of like the same sweet and spicy vibe as Jezebel, but just slightly different and equally as delicious! It's also one of those new and different fun things that makes people say "really??" when you tell them what's in it. It's a snap to make, and it's a total do-ahead, so you'll have plenty of time for all of your last minute running. Better make a double batch because it'll disappear in no time flat!

1 8oz pkg cream cheese
1 can whole berry cranberry sauce
1/4 cup sugar
1 small jalapeno pepper, seeded, finely chopped
1/4 tsp ground cumin
2 tbs freshly squeezed lime juice
a few shakes crushed red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste

Place the cream cheese in the center of a large serving plate. (you can use a spatula to spread it out a bit, if you like). Generously sprinkle freshly cracked black pepper over the cheese.
In a mixing bowl, stir together all remaining ingredients. Pour cranberry mixture over cream cheese. Serve as a spread with crackers. That's all there is to it! Simple, huh?

It's best to make the cranberry mixture ahead of time so that the flavors can mingle. I like to make it the day before, (if possible) or at least a few hours. Store in the fridge until you're ready to serve.
Adjust the amounts to suit your own tastes! If you like a lot of any one ingredient, go for it! And if you're all about the heat, try adding another kind of hot pepper such as Serrano in addition to the Jalapeno peppers.
I think its best served with a slightly salty cracker, such as original Wheat Thins or Triscuits.
This recipe can easily be doubled if you're feeding a crowd!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Warm and Creamy Bacon Dip

It seems to me that I always get a bigger response from a warm dip than a cold one. It's true! I can serve a cold appy that took several ingredients and lots of time to chill only to get a mediocre response. But if I just stir together a few ingredients and pop it in the oven, suddenly everyone is giving OOOOOs and AAAHHHs.
 This dip clearly falls into the latter category. It's really simple to make. While the bacon is cooking, you just stir everything together! You can even do it in advance and then bake it right before your guests arrive. Easy, right? Serve it in a bread bowl, and use the hollowed out bread cubes as dippers. I guarantee your guests will love it!

8 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 cups sour cream
8 slices bacon(or more)
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup chopped green onion
Preheat the oven to 400ºF. 
In a skillet, brown bacon slices until crispy. Crumble or chop into bits. 
In a bowl, combine all ingredients. Place the mixture in a 1-quart baking dish. Cover. Heat the dip for 25-30 minutes or until hot. Serve with assorted fresh vegetables, crackers and/or chips. Dip may also be placed in hollowed round sourdough loaf, wrapped in foil and heated in 400 degree oven for 30 minutes.

If you like a lot, add a lot! More bacon, more onions, go for it!
Instead of veggies or bread cubes, trying using broken soft pretzels as dippers. HEAVEN!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Hamburger Broccoli Dip

Here's a recipe that falls into the "how can this not be good?" category. Lots of gooey cheesy deliciousness melted with beef and broccoli and served with chips. Sounds good to me! It's an easy do-ahead that you can just pop into the oven right before your guests to arrive. It's perfect for a casual hang with friends, or an elegant soiree as you ring in the new year. Mix up a batch of your signature drink, and boom, there's your party!

3 cups frozen chopped broccoli
1/2 small onion, minced
1/2 pound ground beef
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 pound Velveeta, cubed
1 can (10 ounces) diced tomatoes with mild green chilies
Corn chips

Cook broccoli according to package directions; drain and set aside.
In a small skillet, cook beef, onions, and salt over medium heat until onions are soft and meat is no longer pink; drain. Add cheese; cook and stir until cheese is melted. Add tomatoes and broccoli; mix well. Serve with chips.

I like to serve this with "scoops" chips because then you can really dig in and get all the chunky goodness with each dip.
You can also add just regular diced tomatoes, but also add a few shakes of crushed red pepper flakes, just to give it a little poke.
If you'd like to add MORE heat, go for it! Add a chopped jalapeno or any favorite chopped chilies.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Make Ahead Breakfast Casserole

 With everyone's crazy busy schedules, it's sometimes hard to get everything done. So when it comes to cooking for a holiday breakfast or brunch, it's always a good thing to do as much as you can in advance. And that brings us to today's casserole. This is a hearty one dish meal that is a great do ahead the night before, and then all you need to do is pop it in the oven in the morning. Easy, right? It also feeds a crowd, so it's perfect for the whole family, or you can even bring it to your holiday brunch. This is a tweaked version of a Paula Deen recipe, so I can't take all the credit for it, but I did make a few changes. A little more of this, a little less of that, a few additions, and here we are! Serve it up with something light, like a fresh fruit salad, and you have a perfect holiday breakfast!

3 tablespoons butter (or a few glugs of oil)
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 large bag frozen hash browns
1 pound bulk sausage, mild, hot or sage
1 lb diced ham
2 1/4 cups whole milk
8 large eggs
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons mustard (any kind)
8 slices of bread, cubed
2 cups  shredded Cheddar (or any other good melting cheese)

Spray a deep 13 by 9-inch casserole dish with vegetable oil cooking spray.
Melt the butter in a large frying pan. Add the onion and saute over medium-low heat until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the hash browns and break apart. Saute until golden.
In a second frying pan, saute the sausage, breaking apart large clumps. Add the diced ham. When the sausage is cooked through and the ham is lightly browned, remove from heat and set aside.. 
In a large mixing bowl, combine the milk, eggs, salt, pepper, and mustard.
To assemble, spread the onions and hash browns evenly at the bottom of the greased dish. Place the bread cubes evenly on top of hash browns. With a slotted spoon distribute sausage and ham as the third layer. Pour the milk and egg mixture over these layers. Top with Cheddar cheese. Cover tightly with foil and refrigerate overnight.
The next morning, take the casserole out of the fridge about a half hour before you bake it.
Bake the casserole, in a preheated 350º oven, uncovered, for 45 to 50 minutes, or until the eggs are set and everything is melted and bubbly.

 You don't have to make this the night before. You can assemble it and then let it sit for a little while so the bread soaks up the eggs, then bake as directed.
 I think, perhaps, the next time I make this I'll just fry up some potatoes instead of using the hash browns. I found myself wanting bigger chunks of potato. I bet tater tots would work really well here too.
 Feel free to switch this up as much as you like. Use any combination of meats or veggies you like.  Add bacon, broccoli, spinach, asparagus, red or green bell peppers, mushrooms, or whatever you like! Basically, anything you would throw into an omelet will work here. Come to think of it, adding red bell pepper and a green veggie would make this casserole oh so festive if you're making it for Christmas morning!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Pecan Pie Muffins

Here's a quick throw-together that is as delicious as it is easy. Basically, if a pecan pie and a muffin had a baby, this would be it. It's a little gooey in the middle, but it holds up like a muffin. And it's SO amazingly good! As soon as I saw Trisha Yearwood making them on her show, I wanted to try 'em. If you like pecan pie, you MUST give them a try. You'll LOVE them! They're perfect for a holiday breakfast or brunch, or just because you're feeling a little nutty. See what I did there...

Nonstick cooking spray
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
1 1/3 sticks butter, melted
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place paper liners in 9 muffin cups and spray with nonstick cooking spray.
In a large bowl, combine the pecans, sugar and flour. Make a well in the center of the mixture.
In a separate bowl, beat the eggs until foamy. Add the melted butter and stir to combine. Pour the egg mixture into the well in the dry ingredients, stirring until moistened.
Spoon the batter into the cups, filling each almost full. Bake until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in a muffin, about 20 minutes. 
I added a little vanilla extract and a big pinch of salt. I think that's just what they needed! 
Be sure to spray the muffin liners, otherwise the paper will stick to the muffin when you go to eat it. I used baking spray that has flour in it, and it turned out perfectly.
This recipe also makes great mini-muffins; just shorten the baking time by 5 minutes.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Spiced Pecans

 Once upon a long long time ago, I was helping my friend Eleanor decorate for Christmas. She had this wonderful Santa Claus collection and I was helping her display them. She also had these little gems of pecan deliciousness that were SO hard to resist... I couldn't stop eating them and asked her to quickly jot down the recipe for me.
 Well, cut to about a million years later when Neil, Lea, Katie, and Aniell came over to help me decorate my tree. Neil brought me a little gift bag filled with spiced pecans from his Mom, Mary Beth, (who is a fabulous cook, btw) and I immediately thought of Eleanor and our little Santa decorating night. I quickly looked in my old recipe box, and lo and behold, there was the little scrap of paper that Eleanor gave me that night. How could I have forgotten about this? One taste and you'll be making them every year during your holiday season. They're SO delicious and SO SO easy. You could even make a few batches and fill up little cellophane bags tied with ribbons and give them as gifts, just like Mary Beth does. Thanx to Eleanor for giving me the recipe, and thanx to Mary Beth for the gift! People always love when you give them a home made gift, dontcha think?
They'll love this one too!!

1 lb pecan halves
1 egg white
1 tbs water
1 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon

Beat egg white and water until frothy but not stiff. Set aside.
Mix sugar, salt, and cinnamon.
Pour pecans into egg white. Stir to coat well.
Add sugar mixture and stir carefully until the pecans are covered,
Spread pecans on a cookie sheet.
Bake 40 minutes at 275ºF, stirring every 15 minutes.
Remove from sheet to cool. Store in an airtight container.

As far as I'm concerned, the first rule of cinnamon is that there's no such thing as too much. I was about to add more cinnamon to the sugar mixture but decided to go even further and added a tsp of apple pie spice blend. What's not to love?? Also, don't forget the salt. That makes all the difference!!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Eggnog Spritz Cookies

Here's an old timey spritz cookie recipe that was originally from the 50's, specifically from the makers of the Mirro Cookie Press. If you read my post about Mom's Butter Cookies, you already know that my Mom used to use a really old cookie press to make her cookies. As I stumbled across this recipe, I realized that THIS was the kind of press she used! I guess you can't go wrong with the tried and true, right? If you've never tried spritz (or pressed) cookies, you really must. They're not as difficult as you might think, and they SCREAM Christmas. They're also SO delicious!
 You seriously need to make them!

1 cup butter or margarine
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
2 teaspoons rum flavoring
2 1/4 cups sifted flour
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder

Cream butter and sugar well. Beat in egg and rum flavoring.
Gradually blend in sifted dry ingredients.
Form cookies with a cookie press onto ungreased cookie sheets.*
Bake at 375ºF for 10-12 minutes.

Ok, I know these are eggnog cookies, and there is no eggnog in them. That isn't a typo. But seriously, they ABSOLUTELY taste like eggnog when you add the nutmeg and the rum flavoring. That's the key!! Have I ever lied to you before?? Just trust me on this!! And btw, I always go a little heavy on the rum flavoring. Just sayin'.
The other key to this recipe's success is to make sure you don't over bake them. I know it says 10-12 minutes, but I always do the minimum and take them out right at the 10 minute mark.
Also, they spread out a bit when they bake, so your more intricate press designs don't really go as well.
*If you don't have a cookie press, you can still make them by dropping rounded teaspoonfuls onto an ungreased sheet and baking as directed. They'll still be delish!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Glazed Lemon Cookies

 I know I've said this a million times, but it's true! My BIGGEST recipe request is always for anything lemon. So when I was trying to think of different ideas for cookies, I thought "let's see if I can find a really good lemon cookie." And here it is! No, it's not my own. It's from Everyday Food from a few years ago, but it's FABULOUS. It's the perfect texture. Light and fluffy on the inside, a little crispy around the edge, and just the right chew. It also has a HUGE lemon flavor with just the right amount of vanilla to balance. This recipe only makes about 2 dozen, so you might want to think about making several batches. They go quickly!! Serious yum.

2 cups all-purpose flour, (spooned and leveled) 
1/2 teaspoon baking soda 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest, plus 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice 
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature 
1 cup granulated sugar 
1 large egg 
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

 Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, and lemon zest. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter and granulated sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg, vanilla, and lemon juice and beat until combined. With mixer on low, beat in flour mixture.
 Drop dough by heaping tablespoons, 1 inch apart, onto two baking sheets. Bake until edges are golden, 15 to 20 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through. Let cool 2 minutes on sheets, then transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. Drizzle cookies with Lemon Glaze and let set.

Lemon Glaze

 2 cups confectioners' sugar 
2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest 
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
In a medium bowl, whisk together 2 cups confectioners' sugar, 2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest, and 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice until smooth.

Always zest the lemons (preferably with a Microplane tool) before juicing them. For orange- or lime-flavored cookies, substitute the zest and juice of those fruits.
I used more lemon zest in both the cookies and the glaze, just because I always like a bigger punch of lemon. I also used a little less sugar in the glaze because I wanted to be able to pour it rather than spread it over the cookies. I placed the rack of cookies over a tray, and then let the glaze drip through.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Brownie Batter Cookies

  If you like chocolate, (and I mean SERIOUS CHOCOLATE), then this is the cookie for you! It's DEEPLY rich and and it's the perfect cross between a brownie and a cookie. Like, if a brownie and a cookie had a baby, it would be this cookie. SO chocolatey! It's a simple drop cookie recipe from Trisha Yearwood, and it really couldn't be any easier to make. And did I mention how rich and chocolatey they are???? They SCREAM for a tall ice cold glass of milk. Better make a double batch because they won't last long!

2 sticks butter, softened
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 ounce unsweetened baking chocolate, melted
3 large eggs, at room temperature
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350º F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a stand mixer with the beater blade attachment, beat the butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and chocolate until smooth. Add the eggs and mix until fully combined. Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt in a bowl and add slowly to the batter until mixed. Add the vanilla and fold in the chocolate chips.
Drop by generous spoonfuls onto the prepared baking sheet, about 2 inches apart. Bake for 15 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

I used a silicone baking mat instead of parchment paper. Just sayin'.
For an easy variation, try swapping out a different kind of chips, such as white chocolate, butterscotch, caramel, peanut butter, or even mint chips!
I think they are better after you let them cool for a bit because they become chewier. YUM.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Potato Chip Cookies

 Ladies and Gents, I'd like to introduce you to my new favorite cookie!  Yes, potato chip cookies!!  They're just what they sound like. Cookies that have crushed potato chips in them! How fabulous is that??? They have that sweet and salty thing going on, which I absolutely LOVE, they're buttery and chewy and I bet you can't eat just one! (See what I did there?) And they're easy to make! I also love that they're new and different and they make people say "Huh?" when you tell them what they are. This a Martha Stewart recipe, and I've listed it just as it was published, but I did mine just a little differently, which I'll explain in the tips following the recipe.  Oh btw.. big thanx to Neil and Lea for the baking assist!
I PROMISE that you'll love them if you give them a try!

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup packed light-brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
4 cups coarsely crushed salted potato chips (from a 7-ounce bag), divided
1 cup pecans (3 3/4 ounces), toasted and coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 375ºF.
Beat together butter and sugars with a mixer on high speed until fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes.
Add vanilla and eggs, and beat on medium speed until just combined.
Add flour, baking soda, and salt, and beat on low speed until just combined.
Stir in 2 cups potato chips and the nuts.
Roll dough into balls using 1/4 c dough per ball, and then roll balls in remaining potato chips to coat. Place cookies 2 inches apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
Bake until golden, 18 minutes. Let cool completely on baking sheet.

I made smaller cookies, I didn't add the pecans, and I didn't roll them in the crushed chips. Basically I just added all 4 cups of chips to the batter, dropped rounded tablespoonfuls onto a cookie sheet and baked them for about 12 minutes. I'd much rather have smaller cookies than such a giant size that you'd get if you use 1/4 cup of cookie dough per ball as the recipe directs. If you'd like the giant cookies, and if you love pecans, GO for it!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Savory Corn Cobbler

A corn COBBLER???? I know, I know, crazy, right? But stay with me! I PROMISE you it's delicious!!  Have I ever lied to you before???
 I was browsing different Thanksgiving side dishes, and I was looking for something new and different and interesting and fun to do with corn. Don't get me wrong.. I absolutely love the favorite Corn Casserole and the Fried Confetti Corn, but everyone likes a little variety, right? So I did some searching and it wasn't long before I found this little gem of a corn dish from Real Simple. Right away, I thought "How can this not be good???" And honestly, it was so good, I needed to make it again the next day! Love love LOVE it. It's really great because the biscuit topping kind of has a stuffing vibe goin' on. You could ABSOLUTELY serve this with your turkey dinner and skip the stuffing altogether. Even if you don't make this one for Thanksgiving, you should definitely keep this one in your repertoire. It would be perfect with a grilled or rotisserie chicken, or a roast beast. You simply MUST try it!

1  jalapeno, minced
4  scallions, sliced
4  cups  fresh or frozen corn kernels
1  cup  low-sodium chicken broth
1 1/2  cups  heavy cream
1 1/2  teaspoons  kosher salt
1/4  teaspoon  black pepper
2  cups  flour
1  tablespoon  baking powder
1  tablespoon  fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried
1  cup  whole milk

 Heat oven to 375° F.
In a skillet, over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter. Add the jalapeño and scallions. Cook for 3 minutes. Add the corn and broth. Increase heat to medium-high and cook for 4 minutes. Turn off heat. Stir in the cream, 1 teaspoon of the salt, and the pepper. Pour into a buttered 9-by-13-inch baking dish.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and the remaining salt. Using 2 knives or your fingertips, add the remaining butter, cut into small pieces. Mix until it resembles crumbs. Stir in the thyme and milk. Drop heaping spoonfuls of the batter on top of the corn mixture. Bake for about 50 minutes. Garnish with fresh thyme, if desired.

Be sure to add the minced jalapeno. It really doesn't add very much heat at all, just a nice gentle warmth throughout the whole dish and that's one of the things I loved about it. Not to mention, the little specs of green make for a more appetizing presentation. I didn't add the seeds, but if you like the heat, go for it!
As much as I loved it the first time I made it, I did tweak it a little the second time. (Somehow I just can't seem to leave a recipe alone. Have you noticed that??)
It used more corn, (a 40oz bag, to be specific), just so there was more corn to biscuit topping ratio. I also diced about a 1/2 cup each of celery and onions along with a little dried thyme leaves, and added them to the topping dough, just to drive home that stuffing vibe I was talking about. Absolutely delish!!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Roasted Sweet Potato and Apple Mash

 Here's a fabulous side dish that is as easy as can be to throw together. Frankly, I've never met a sweet potato I didn't like, so I knew I'd love this one as soon as I saw it on Anne Burrell's cooking show. (btw, I kind of tweaked her recipe a little). But I have to say, though, as much as I love Candied Sweet Potatoes and Sweet Potato Casserole, I find that I enjoy sweet potatoes the most when they are cooked in savory recipes, rather than being completely laden with butter and sugar.
 This recipe does just that. It has the apples to play up the sweetness of the potatoes, but then it has the rosemary and onions to balance everything out. It's a REALLY nice blend! It's the perfect simple side dish for any holiday dinner. Actually, come to think of it, it's perfect for ANY dinner, especially pork, since pork and rosemary and apples are all such good friends. I think I might make this the next time I do some chops! Doesn't that sound awesome???

4 lbs sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch dice
a few glugs olive or vegetable oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
4 tbs butter
1 medium onion, finely minced
3 Honeycrisp or Granny Smith apples
splash of orange juice
2 sprigs fresh rosemary, picked and finely chopped
Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
In a large bowl, toss the sweet potatoes generously with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Lay them out on a sheet tray in a single layer, place them in the oven, and roast until they are very soft, 30 to 35 minutes.
 Melt the butter in a large skillet. Add chopped onions. While the onions gently saute over medium heat, peel/core the apples and cut into 1-inch dice. Toss the apples with the splash of orange juice, then add to the onions. Add salt, pepper, and the rosemary. Saute just until the apples are soft and cooked through while still holding their shape.
 Transfer the sweet potatoes to a large bowl and coarsely mash them with a potato masher. Stir in the cooked apples and onions. Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed. Serve immediately or keep in a warm oven and serve hot.

Use any kind of apples or onions you like, or even a variety.
You can roast the apples along with the potatoes. Just toss them with a little oil, and add them to the roasting pan for the last 15 minutes of sweet potato roasting time.
If your oven is busy, you can boil the potatoes whole, then just slip the skins off and mash as directed.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Joey's Easy Pumpkin Tart

 This recipe is a combination of several recipes. As I often do, I took different ideas from a few different recipes, switched things around a little and came up with something new! I must say I'm pretty pleased with the way it turned out! Of course it's very similar to classic pumpkin pie, but it's a little smoother, and the crust adds a nice crunch. It's so delicious and flavorful, you might not go back to your regular pumpkin pie! And it's really simple too! Perfect for any holiday meal.
Try it!

2 cups crushed vanilla wafers
1 cup crushed pecans
1/4 cup brown sugar
5 tbs melted butter

1 15oz can pumpkin puree
1 14oz an sweetened condensed milk
2 large egg yolks
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 cup sugar

 Heat oven to 350ºF.
Combine crust ingredients and press into a 9" tart pan with removable bottom. Use the bottom of a measuring cup or straight sided jar to press crumbs into tart pan. Place pan on a baking tray, and bake crust for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, make the filling.
 Stir together all filling ingredients except the sugar. Pour mixture into baked crust. (no need to cool). Sprinkle top with sugar. Let it sit for a few minutes until the sugar dissolves a bit. Bake in oven for 45 minutes or until set. Cool completely or chill before serving. Top with whipped cream or non-dairy whipped topping.

For the crust, I like to keep the pecans a little more coarse than the cookie crumbs. This gives it a little bit more of a crunchy texture.
For an easy variation, try a different kind of cookie, such as ginger snaps, Lorna Doones, Pecan Sandies, or graham crackers. 
If you're not a pecan fan, use any favorite nuts instead, or simply leave them out!
To make beautifully clean cuts, use a big sharp knife (Chrissy, bring me the big knife!) Then instead of pulling the knife through it, (which could break up the crust), place the point of the knife in the center with entire edge of the knife on the surface of the tart, then use the whole knife to make the cut in a downward chop sort of a motion. You'll get PERFECTLY clean cuts, even on the first piece!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Bacon 'n' Onion Carrots

Ok, seriously...I think this just may be your new favorite way to eat carrots. Frankly, is there ANYTHING on this planet that doesn't taste better when you add onions and bacon? Why have I never thought of this before??? So quick, so easy, and so DELICIOUS. They had me at bacon, but the brown sugar just pushes it over the top. If you know someone who isn't a fan of carrots, tell them to try this recipe. It's from Taste of Home and it's amazing. Sometimes the simplest things are the best!!
Try it!

1 lb baby carrots
4 strips bacon, cut into lardons
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 tbs brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon pepper

Place carrots in a small saucepan; cover with water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 7-9 minutes or until tender. Meanwhile, in a small skillet, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp. Add the onions and saute until bacon is slightly crispy and onions are slightly caramelized. Stir in brown sugar and pepper until brown sugar is melted. Drain carrots; toss with bacon/onion mixture.

If there is quite a bit of bacon fat, just drain some of it before you add the brown sugar.
I used baby carrots just to save time, but if you have regular carrots, just peel and slice them before boiling them.

Mashed Parsnips

Have you ever tasted a parsnip? No? Well, if you haven't, you simply must! It looks like a big white carrot, and has a sweet sort of nutty flavor. You can cook them any way you would cook carrots, such as boiling or roasting and they get nice and fluffy when you run them through a food processor. Serve them by themselves, or even add them to mashed potatoes for a little variation. Easy, right?
Give it a try!

2 pounds parsnips, peeled 
2 tsp kosher salt
3 tablespoons heavy cream 
2 tablespoons unsalted butter  
Pinch ground nutmeg (optional)

 Cut parsnips into 1-inch pieces, place in a large saucepan and cover with cold water. Add half the salt, bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer until very tender, about 12-15 minutes. Drain parsnips well and combine in a food processor with cream, butter, nutmeg and remaining teaspoon salt. Process until smooth.

 This can absolutely be made in advance and then reheated when you're ready to serve.
In addition to (or even instead of) the butter and cream, you can add a little dollop of sour cream to your mash. 
For a little extra something, top with chopped chives or other fresh herbs or crumbled bacon. YUM! 
Instead of mashing them, try That Carrots and Parsnips Thing That Denny Makes For Thanksgiving .

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Best Green Beans Ever

 When I first saw Ree Drummond making this dish on her show, I thought "wait, seriously? the BEST???" Everyone says their recipes are the best this and the best that... but to say something is the best EVER? That seemed like a pretty tall order.
And then I made them.
 You're not gonna believe this, but seriously, they really ARE they best green beans EVER! I literally made them 3 times in one week because I couldn't stop eating them. They're SO delicious! And let me just say, when I'm eating a vegetable I like it to be cooked. Not crunchy, not crisp, but COOKED through, and these beans definitely cook through. They're the perfect side dish for any dinner, whether it's chicken, turkey, roast beef, or pork. If you're tired of just plain steamed grean beans, or if you want something that isn't as heavy as the old stand by green bean casserole, give these a try.
I know you love 'em!

1 pound green beans
2 tablespoons bacon grease (can substitute 2 tablespoons butter)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large onion, chopped
1 cup chicken broth, plus more if needed
1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
1/2 to 1 teaspoon kosher salt (can substitute regular table salt, use 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon)
Ground black pepper

Snap the stem ends of the green beans, or cut them off in a big bunch with a knife if you'd prefer. Melt the bacon grease in a skillet over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and onions and cook for a minute. Then add the green beans and cook until the beans turn bright green, about a minute. Add the chicken broth, chopped red pepper, salt and pepper to taste. Turn the heat to low and cover the skillet with a lid, leaving the lid cracked to allow steam to escape. Cook until the liquid evaporates and the beans are fairly soft, yet still a bit crisp, 20 to 30 minutes. You can add more chicken broth during the cooking process, but don't be afraid to let it all cook away so the onions and peppers can start to caramelize.

Be sure to give them a little stir every so often just to make sure nothing is browning too much as the chicken broth evaporates.
I added a few little shakes of crushed red pepper, just to give 'em a little poke. Love it.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Potato and Fennel Gratin

Here's a neat new twist on an old favorite dish. Yes, of course, you can have your regular potatoes au gratin, and it would be delicious and rich and fabulous. But when you add fennel to the equation, suddenly it becomes new and different and elegant and impressive and perfect for a special occasion. Now, I must admit that I have limited experience when it comes to cooking with fennel, but I do love it, and I knew this would be a win as soon as I saw Ina Garten making it on her show. It's so good that I didn't even feel the need to tweak the recipe! If you know me, you KNOW that that's saying something! It's perfect as is! And it's really easy too! I think you should make it for your next holiday or special occasion dinner. Love it!

2 fennel bulbs
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons good olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 pounds russet potatoes (4 large potatoes)
2 cups half and half
2 1/2 cups shredded Swiss cheese
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 350F.

Butter the inside of a 9x13 baking dish.

Remove the stalks from the fennel and cut the bulbs in half lengthwise. Remove the cores and thinly slice the bulbs crosswise, making approximately 4 cups of sliced fennel. Saute the fennel and onions in the olive oil and butter on medium-low heat for 15 minutes, until tender.

Peel the potatoes, then thinly slice them. Mix the sliced potatoes in a large bowl with the half and half, cheese, salt, and pepper. Add the sauteed fennel and onion and mix well.

Pour the potatoes into the baking dish. Press down to smooth the potatoes. Bake for 1 1/2 hours, uncovered, until the potatoes are very tender and the top is browned and bubbly. Allow to set for 10 minutes and serve.

At first I thought it would be good to slice the potatoes and fennel on a mandolin slicer, just to make really thin slices, but I quickly decided that I wanted the slices to be just a bit thicker. So I bagged the mandolin idea and just used a nice big sharp knife. I think the thicker slices provide better texture throughout the dish! Just sayin.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Brown Sugar Caramel Pound Cake

Here's an easy recipe that I first saw when my friend Roe posted it on Facebook. I have no idea where she got the recipe, but like I always say, since she's the one who brought it to me, she's the one who gets the credit! It's SO simple to make and it's REALLY delicious. I made it for a little family gathering recently, and it was a HUGE hit. Everyone immediately asked if the recipe was on my blog. Well now it is!! It's perfect for any occasion or holiday dinner, and it's really simple to make.
Give it a try! And thanx again, Roe!

1 ½ cups butter softened
2 cups light brown sugar, packed
1 cup granulated sugar
5 large eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup whole milk
1 8oz bag toffee chips
1 cup pecans, chopped

Caramel Glaze:
1 – 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325 spray a 12 cup Bundt pan with cooking spray with flour.

Beat butter until creamy. Add sugars beating until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time. In medium bowl combine flour, baking powder and salt. Add flour mix to batter alternately with milk, beat until just combined. Stir in toffee buts and pecans. Spoon batter into pan and bake 85 minutes or until wooden pick comes out clean. To prevent excess browning, cover cake with foil while baking.

Let cake cool in pan for 10 minutes. Remove from pan, and let cool completely on a wire rack. Spoon Caramel Glaze over cooled cake.

Directions for Caramel Glaze:
In a medium saucepan, combine condensed milk and brown sugar; bring to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking frequently. Reduce heat, and SIMMER for 8 minutes, whisking frequently. Remove from heat; whisk in butter and vanilla. Let cool for 5 minutes before using. NOTE: Make sure you drizzle the caramel while it’s still HOT. When cooled the caramel does somewhat harden.

 Substitute any kind of nuts or if you're not a fan, just omit them completely.
 Be sure to grease the pan extremely well. You can use butter or shortening and then dust it with flour if you don't have any floured baking spray. Just using regular nonstick baking spray probably won't work in this particular recipe because it's a very sticky cake.
 I always think it's a great idea to garnish with what is in the cake, so I decorated the top of the cake with pecans. Besides looking decorative, this lets everyone know that there are nuts in the cake, just in case anyone has an allergy.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Cranberry Jam

Have you ever made home made jam? Many people think it's difficult to do, but it's really simple. Of course, it becomes an all day project if you decide to make a metric ton of it, but to make a little batch of jam, just for your family to enjoy, is really a snap! Some jams are more involved than others, and some fruits might need a little extra pectin, but the bottom line is that you're just stewing some fruit with some sugar and flavorings, and boom, you have jam! Easy, huh?
 I like cranberries because there's so much natural pectin in them, you don't need to add any and it thickens up beautifully! Now, to be clear, this is Cranberry JAM...not the Cranberry Sauce that you have with your turkey or chicken dinner. Not that you couldn't serve one in place of the other, but in my humble opinion, the cranberry sauce should be just cranberries, sugar, and water, where the jam is open to adding other flavors, such as cinnamon, or nutmeg, or orange zest, apples, or other fruit juices.
 I like to serve this on a croissant with a little schmear of cream cheese or butter. It's also fabulous on a toasted slice of pound cake! MMM.. doesn't that sound delish? Try it!

2 (12oz) bags of fresh cranberries, rinsed and picked over
3 cups sugar
2 cups of cranberry juice
1 cup water

Combine all of the ingredients in a large, heavy pot. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.
Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, about 30 minutes (jam will continue to thicken as it cools). Pulse jam in food processor or blender. If you have an immersion blender, even better! Jam should be pureed, but still a a little chunky. Be careful not to over process. Just a couple quick pulses will do it! If you don't have a blender, just mash the berries up as best as you can using a large fork or even a potato masher. Store in the fridge.

Instead of using water, you can use apple juice or orange juice. I had a little bit of apple cider left, so I used it up, and then added water to make a cup. Any combination will work, as long as you have a total of 3 cups of liquid.
 Add other flavorings, if you like, such as orange zest, cinnamon, nutmeg or ginger!
 If you're planning to enjoy the jam right away, there's no need for sterilized jars. You can simply store it in the fridge in a clean airtight container.
 If you're making large batches of jam, you can do the whole canning thing with mason jars. (Directions for canning and processing are included in the box of Ball mason jars.) One of these days, perhaps, I'll do a how-to video on canning and preserving!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Heavenly Pumpkin Squares

 This was actually a failed attempt at making Pumpkin Brownies. Well, not exactly a FAILED attempt. I mean, the recipe turned out perfectly, but they just weren't exactly what I was looking for. The recipe was even called Pumpkin Brownies as it was listed on another blog, but they don't seem very brownie-like to me. They're more like cake squares. But here's the thing... they're SO delicious that I couldn't NOT post the recipe! I shared them with a few friends and EVERYONE loved them. I brought them to work, and shared them with a customer who said they were HEAVENLY. So there you have it. They're not Pumpkin Brownies. They're Heavenly Pumpkin Squares! So deliciously moist, they just melt in your mouth. And they're so simple to throw together, you don't even need a mixer. You basically just stir everything together and bake. Doesn't get much easier than that! So give these a try. And if I ever find the right recipe for Pumpkin Brownies, I'll be sure to let you know!

1 (16 oz.) can pumpkin
1 c. oil
4 eggs
2 c. sugar
2 c. flour
1/2 tsp. cloves
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. baking powder

Heat oven to 350ºF.
Mix together the first 4 ingredients. In a separate bowl, sift together remaining ingredients. Stir the wet into the dry, just until incorporated. Pour into greased 13"x9" pan.
Bake 25 minutes or until an inserted tooth pick comes out clean. Don't over bake!
While it's baking, make the

Brown Sugar Cinnamon Icing:

1 stick butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbs milk
2 tsp cinnamon

Whip all ingredients together. Spread on warm cake. Place in the fridge to chill before cutting into squares.
I like to let the icing whip for several minutes to dissolve as much of the sugar as possible. The longer it whips, the more the sugar will dissolve into the butter.
You can do a cream cheese icing instead of the brown sugar, or just sprinkle them with cinnamon sugar as soon as you take them out of the oven, or even just dust them lightly with powdered sugar.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Pumpkin Ice Cream

 Are you a pumpkin person? Every Autumn, there always seems to be a pumpkin version of EVERYTHING from coffee, to doughnuts, to breads, to pies, to cakes, and on and on. Some people love EVERYTHING pumpkin, and some people definitely do NOT. So again, I'll ask you, are you a pumpkin person??? I am happy to say that I am MOST DEFINITELY a pumpkin person. In fact, I've never met a pumpkin ANYTHING that I didn't like. Which brings me to this recipe...
 Have you ever had pumpkin ice cream?? Basically it tastes like a frozen pumpkin pie. How can you not love that?? And it couldn't be easier. You don't even have to deal with making custards, or tempering eggs, or even cooking anything at all. You just stir everything together, chill it for a bit, and then freeze it in your ice cream maker! And if you STILL don't have an ice cream maker, what are you waiting for??? Go buy one!  And then make this recipe. SO good!

1/2 cup cold whole milk 
1 tbs pure vanilla extract 
1 can (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk 
1 cup pumpkin puree 
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice 
1/2 tsp salt 
1 pint heavy cream

Stir together all ingredients in a medium bowl. Set aside in the fridge until chilled. Pour into canister of your ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer's directions. Transfer to an airtight container and place in freezer until firm.

 I like to soften it in the microwave for about 30 seconds before serving. (Not to the point of being soft serve, but just so that it's the perfect consistency for scooping!)
I'm sure there are many brands of ice cream makers, but I use a Cuisinart, and it's awesome. And it's not very expensive at all! It kills me how people think that 50 bucks is too much to spend on an ice cream maker, but are willing to spend 5.00 or more on a coffee EVERY morning!  Go fig!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Caramel Apple Trifle

 I've often said that my very favorite dessert in the whole wide world is an apple pie with ice cream and caramel on top. Mmmm.... apples and caramel... Seriously, is there anything better? So when I saw a recipe for a caramel apple trifle in Taste of Home magazine, I knew it had my name written all over it. Of course, I tweaked it a little, but I used theirs as my inspiration. I made it when Dan and Emma came for dinner and they absolutely loved it!
It's a great do-ahead dessert, it's easy enough for the novice chef because there's no cooking/baking required, it feeds a crowd, and it's perfect for any fall/holiday party. And it's a showstopper! I guarantee lots of OOOs and AAAAHs when everyone sees it!

1 package (8oz) cream cheese, softened
1 jar (12-1/4oz) caramel ice cream topping
Apple pie spice
1 container (12oz) frozen whipped topping
2 cans apple pie filling
2 loaf pound cakes, (10oz each), cut into 1-inch cubes
 In a large bowl, beat cream cheese until smooth. Beat in 1/2 cup caramel topping and a little sprinkle of apple pie spice, as much as you like. Fold in 2 cups whipped topping.
In a 3-1/2-qt. trifle bowl or glass serving bowl, layer a third of the cake cubes, cream cheese mixture and apple pie filling. Repeat layers twice. Garnish with remaining whipped topping and drizzle with remaining caramel topping. Sprinkle with additional apple pie spice. Chill until ready to serve.

I chopped up the apples a little bit just to make it easier to spread the filling over each layer, and I added a drizzle of caramel over each layer. More is more!! I also didn't do the layers exactly as directed, but it really doesn't matter what order you do. Just be sure to make each layer nice and even around the edges so everyone will see nice clean pretty layers.
Btw, I usually don't mention specific brand names, but my very favorite caramel (other than my own home made) is Mrs. Richardson's Butterscotch Caramel Sauce. It is BY FAR the best. Just sayin!
 Yes, of course, you can do the whole thing from scratch. You can bake a Pound Cake and you can make your own Apple Pie filling and fresh whipped cream and home made caramel, but in this particular instance, I'm fine with going with the time saver method!

Monday, October 14, 2013

2-Ingredient Pumpkin Cake

Ok here's another amazing cake mix recipe. Remember when we made a Soda Cake just by mixing a cake mix together with a can of soda? Well, how about mixing it with a can of pumpkin instead? You'll be amazed at how moist and rich it becomes after it bakes! It seriously doesn't get any easier than this! It's so easy you don't even need a recipe!
 Simply mix together a cake mix and a 15oz can of pumpkin puree. Pour it into a greased baking pan, and bake it at 350ºF until it tests done. That's it! I made it for Sean and Casey and they LOVED it! It doesn't make a large cake, so it's perfect for anytime you're baking for a small group. Keep these ingredients on hand so you'll always have them at the ready!

 The original recipe said to use an 11x7 baking dish, but I used a bundt pan. It also called for an apple cider glaze, which is just powdered sugar, apple cider and a little pumpkin pie spice, but I opted for  Fluffy Cream Cheese Frosting instead. You can't go wrong with either one!
 Use any kind of cake mix you like! I used a spice cake mix, but you can use yellow, vanilla, banana, even chocolate! It will all work!
 Btw, I think this cake is better when it's chilled. Just sayin!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Fluffy Cream Cheese Frosting

This is super easy and perfect for any kind of carrot or spice cake. I made it with a 2-Ingredient Pumpkin Cake and it was a huge hit!

8 oz cream cheese
7 oz jar marshmallow fluff
1 stick of butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla extract

Mix all ingredients together with mixer until whipped and smooth. That's it! See? Told you it was super easy!

If you omit the butter, you can use it as a dip for a fruit tray! How yummy is that?

Monday, October 7, 2013

Green Tomato Pie

 Green tomatoes? In a dessert pie? I know, I know... crazy, right? Who knew? But just go with me on this one! This is a great recipe to use when you have a bunch of end-of-the-season green tomatoes. You normally wouldn't think of a tomato as being a dessert item, but it's awesome when you add the orange and spices and raisins to it. I'm always intrigued when I see a recipe that uses an ingredient in an unusual way. So, clearly, when I saw this one, I knew I had to try it. The recipe is from Paula Deen, and I've made her other Tomato Pie several times (with great success!), so I figured this one must be good too! Actually, I've read that you can use any Apple Pie recipe and just substitute green tomatoes for the apples. I chose this recipe because it seemed a little different with the orange zest and the raisins. And just wait 'til you taste it! It's sweet and spicy and the orange zest really pops with the tartness from the tomatoes. I bet it would be great with a dollop of fresh whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream! It's really fun and different and quite delicious! Try it!

Pie crust for 2 crust pie*
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 tbs tapioca flour or corn starch
1 tsp grated orange zest
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 cup raisins
5 green tomatoes, or enough to fill pie crust, thinly sliced

1 slightly beaten egg white
sugar, for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 425ºF.
Mix sugar, tapioca flour (or corn starch), orange zest, cinnamon, nutmeg, and raisins in a large bowl. Lay tomato slices in pie crust. Sprinkle mixture over tomatoes. (Overlapping will occur but tomatoes will shrink in size when baked.) Gently lay top pie crust over filling, tucking in the extra crust around the edges. Pinch dough with fingers or butter knife to seal edges. Using a knife, make 4 to 6 slits in top of crust to allow steam to escape. Brush top with egg white and sprinkle with a little sugar to give your crust a shine.
Place pie in the preheated oven and bake for 25 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350ºF and continue to bake for 20 more minutes. Cool on wire rack.

*Instead of making the crust from scratch, I used a ready made refrigerated pie crust, just because they're so convenient and quick, but feel free to use my Easy Pie Crust, if you'd like. I decided to weave the pie crust instead of doing the slits in the top crust as directed. If you'd like to learn how to do that, just watch my video How to Make a Lattice Top.

 It's really quite sweet so I think next time I would probably dial back the sugar just a tiny bit. Also, be sure not to add more than a tsp of orange zest. It doesn't seem like it's a lot, but you don't want it to dominate the other flavors.
I layered the tomatoes and sprinkled a little of the sugar mixture over each layer instead of just placing all the tomatoes in the plate and then dumping the sugar on top. I suppose you could also chop the tomatoes instead of slicing them and just mix everything together in a big bowl before pouring the filling into your pie crust.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Easy Italian Chicken with Bertolli Bowties

 I recently received an email from one of my readers, Dave. He wanted me to take a look at a certain crock pot recipe, and he had a few questions about it. As I said to him, I really don't like to cook chicken in a crock pot because it often comes out overdone or rubbery. I just think it's not good to cook chicken for such a long time. So I told him I'd probably nix the crock pot altogether and just make the recipe on the stove top. Of course you know I needed to try it out to see if I was right. A few changes in method, a few extra ingredients, and here we are!
  I have to say, I think it turned out pretty great! It's really simple and flavorful! And it was ready in less than 30 minutes. Perfect! I honestly have no idea where Dave found the original recipe, but like I always say, since he's the one who brought it to me, he's the one who gets the credit! Thanx for the inspiration, Dave! I hope you'll give my new version of this recipe a try!

flour for dusting
salt and pepper
3 or 4 boneless chicken breasts, cut into chunks
a few glugs of olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 14oz cans diced tomatoes
1 envelope Lipton Savory Herb w/ Garlic soup mix
1 heaping tbs tomato paste
a few shakes crushed red pepper flakes
1 lb Bertolli bowtie pasta
Parmesan cheese
chopped fresh basil

 Place flour and salt and pepper in a large bowl. Add chicken pieces, a few at a time. Toss until coated. Shake off excess flour. Add oil to a large skillet over medium heat. Add floured chicken to pan. Saute until browned on all sides, but not cooked all the way through. Do this in batches so you don't crown the pan. As you finish browning each batch, remove the chicken to a plate and set aside. Pour out any oil from the pan and use a paper towel to remove any excess flour that is still in the pan. Add a little fresh oil. Add the chopped onions and saute until they begin to soften a bit. Add the tomatoes, soup mix, pepper flakes, and tomato paste. Give it a good stir until well combined. Add the chicken back to the pan, stirring to coat. Let it simmer for about 15 minutes until the chicken is cooked through. Meanwhile, boil the Bertolli bowtie pasta according to package directions. Serve chicken over pasta with a little sprinkle of Parmesan cheese and some chopped fresh basil.

You can use any kind of tomatoes you want. Crushed, puree, diced, plain, low sodium, with Italian herbs, whatever you like. It will all work.
There's no need to add any seasoning to the sauce because the soup mix takes care of that for you.
If you don't have bowties, try it with any other Bertolli cut pasta, such as ziti, rotelle, or penne. You can certainly try it with another brand of pasta, but I bet it won't taste as good.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Apple Raisin Muffins

Ok, so go with me on this one...
I was originally gonna write about how much I love apples and how great the fall weather is for baking apple desserts, and how this is a tweaked version of a Paula Deen recipe, and blah blah blah, but here's the thing... after the first attempt at making these, I figured I'd write about something MUCH more important than having a great recipe. And that is FOLLOWING a really great recipe. Seriously, what good is having a great recipe if you don't do what it says???  So basically, when it says to add 2 tsps of baking soda, it's really not a great idea to add baking POWDER.
I'm not sayin', I'm just sayin..... btw... these muffins are slammin'....

1 cup water
2 cups sugar
2 cups grated Granny Smith apples
2 cups raisins
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg
1 tbs lemon juice
1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Combine the water, sugar, apples, raisins, butter, cinnamon, nutmeg, lemon juice, and salt in a saucepan; bring to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat and cool completely.
In a large bowl, stir baking soda into the flour. Add the cooled mixture to the bowl, and stir until blended. Fill greased miniature muffin tins with batter to the top. Bake for 20 minutes or until an inserted toothpick come out clean. Makes 5 dozen mini muffins.

If you're not a fan of raisins, try a different kind of dried fruit, such as dried raisins, dried apricots, or dried blueberries.
To grease the muffin pans, I usually just use non stick spray for baking (the one that has flour in it). It's just so much easier!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Mexican Vinaigrette

 I recently made a Chicken Tortilla Lasagna for my friend Michele. Now, if I were serving a regular Italian lasagna, I would also serve a nice crisp tossed salad. So I decided to do a Mexican inspired salad to go with my Mexican inspired lasagna. I basically started out with a regular honey mustard vinaigrette, and then added some Mexican flavors to it. It turned out great! Very quick, very simple, very fresh. It was also very light and it didn't overpower any of the salad veggies. It was so good, we both had a second helping of salad before going for the lasagna! Try it!

2 tbs apple cider vinegar
3 tbs honey
2 tbs fresh lime juice
1 tsp chili powder
1 tbs mustard
salt and pepper to taste
a few shakes crushed red pepper
1 tbs chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 cup vegetable oil

Whisk together all ingredients except the oil until well blended. SLOWLY drizzle the oil into the mixture while whisking constantly. Serve immediately or store in the fridge.

If you're not a fan of cilantro, just use chopped fresh parsley instead.
I chose romaine lettuce and a bunch of fresh veggies, such as sliced red and orange bell peppers, sliced zucchini, vine ripened tomatoes, and sliced scallions. I also topped the salad with some diced avocado and a sprinkle of shredded cheddar cheese. Love!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Joey's Vanilla Bean Brownies

 Let me just start by saying that this is one of the best desserts I've made in quite a long time! It all started when I was in the mood for a fabulous vanilla something. My only requirement was that I wanted it to have a serious PUNCH of vanilla flavor. Well, it has taken a few tries, but I've finally landed on the correct recipe! Here's how it happened..
  I figured I'd look for a really rich vanilla brownie and I happened upon a recipe. So I gave it a try. They were AMAZING, but there were several things I didn't like about them. The biggest problem was the amount of fat. They were absolutely LADEN with butter and heavy cream (which is probably why they tasted so good) but there was so much that they barely held their shape when you cut them into squares. The other thing I didn't like was that they had no vanilla in them! How can you make a vanilla brownie with no vanilla? So I tried adding a couple ingredients, and also changed some of the amounts. After a few tries, I decided that THIS was the right recipe. I made them for Ginna and Charlie's yearly White Elephant party, and everyone loved them! There was barely a crumb left! They're SO delicious and they're quite literally the BEST vanilla something I've ever made. So there ya have it. I KNOW I'll be making these again soon! Who wants some?

2 vanilla beans*
1 stick butter 
3 c powdered sugar
2 tbs half and half (or milk)
1 tbs pure vanilla extract

2 c flour
2 c sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 c half and half
1 stick (1/2 c) butter
1/2 c sour cream
2 large eggs (lightly beaten)
1 tbs pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven 350º F.

Make the frosting first:
Using a sharp knife, split open the vanilla beans longways and use the back of the knife to scrape out the "caviar" from inside. Save the empty vanilla bean pods. Add the "caviar" to the rest of the frosting ingredients and whip until well combined. Set aside.
 In large bowl combine flour, sugar, salt and baking powder; set aside. In a small sauce pan, combine butter and half and half. Add the reserved empty bean pods. Bring it to a gentle simmer.  Let it simmer for about 10 minutes. Stir occasionally, making sure to get any remaining "caviar" out of the beans. Remove from heat. Remove the vanilla bean pods and discard. Add the flour mixture, whisking to combine. Stir in sour cream, egg, and vanilla extract. Pour onto greased and floured half sheet pan, spreading evenly. Bake 20-22 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Don't over bake! Let it cool for about 10 minutes until it's no longer piping hot, but still warm. Spread warm cake with frosting. Let it cool completely or chill before cutting into bars.

 *I used 2 vanilla beans, but you can do it with just one. Actually, I suppose if you don't have a vanilla bean, you could just leave it out and add a little more vanilla extract.
 If you want to cut the fat even further, you can just use milk instead of half and half, but you'll get more of a cake like texture instead of a rich brownie texture.
 As you can see in the photo, I placed a piece of parchment paper between each layer of brownies when I placed them on the plate. Because they have such a fudgy texture, I was worried that they might stick together. As it turns out, this was a really good idea!
 You probably don't really have to grease the baking sheet, but I always grease and flour everything. Why take chances?
 I found that you get prettier cuts when you chill the whole pan after frosting it. Using a big sharp knife also helps you to that end. One should always consider presentation!
 Be sure to use PURE vanilla extract, not imitation vanilla flavoring. There's really no comparison, and since vanilla is the main flavor, you really want it to be pure.
 I tried playing around with the amounts to see if I could bake it in a 9x13 pan, just because the half sheet pan makes quite a bit, but I haven't quite figured it out yet. I decided to just leave the quantities as they were because half the time I wind up making two batches anyway. So instead of 24 small brownies, I made 32 large ones. More is more!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Sausage Tortellini

I recently saw this recipe that a friend posted on Facebook, and it looked fabulous, so I thought I'd give it a try. So here's what I found...
 The ingredients and flavor were wonderful, but I think the cooking method wasn't quite right. The original recipe was for the crock pot, which I LOVE, but not for pasta. It seemed to me (and also many who reviewed the recipe) that the pasta just becomes overcooked and mushy when you cook it for that long. So I looked at the ingredients again, changed the amounts a little, added a few extras, switched up the cooking method, and here it is!
 I think it turned out pretty good! The pasta wasn't overcooked and the sauce was SO flavorful! It was pretty quick too! So, I guess this is one occasion where the crock pot wasn't the way to go. I'll save that for another time! Hope you like it!

Olive oil
1 lb Italian sausage, mild or hot (or some of both)
1 9oz bag of fresh baby spinach
1 28oz can italian style diced tomatoes
1 cup chicken broth
1 8oz pkg cream cheese
1/4 cup heavy cream (or more, if desired)
1-2 tbs fresh basil, chopped
Salt and pepper
1 lb bag of frozen tortellini
Parmesan cheese, (optional)

Add a few glugs of olive oil to a large saute pan. Remove sausage from casing and add it to the pan. Use a large spoon or a potato masher to break it up as it browns. Add spinach to the pan. It seems like far too much but it will cook down quite a bit. After the spinach has cooked down, add diced tomatoes and chicken broth. Cut cream cheese into chunk and add to the sauce. Let it simmer stirring occasionally until the cheese melts and the sauce thickens a little. Stir in the heavy cream and fresh basil to finish the sauce. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper if needed. Boil the tortellini in generously salted water according to package directions. Pour sauce over tortellini. Top with Parmesan cheese if desired.

You really don't need a lot of salt and pepper because the sausage really flavors the sauce. Choose any sausage you like! Hot, mild, whatever you like! The hot is always too hot for me, but I do like a little warm heat, so I like to use mild sausage and just add a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes.
Use any kind of fresh basil you like, or you can just use fresh parsley. The green freshness cuts through the cream and also the spice of the sausage to balance everything.
Be sure to generously salt your pasta water before you boil the tortellini. It makes all the difference!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Scalloped Tomatoes

Ok, so you have a fabulous vegetable garden, and you now have a TON of tomatoes and you don't know what to do with them, right? Or you live in New Jersey, The Garden State, and you have fabulous gorgeous juicy ripe Jersey tomatoes from the farm market, and you're not sure what to make, right? Well THIS is the recipe for you. I saw Ina Garten making it on her show (which I love), and I thought "ok that's gotta be amazing." So I immediately went out, got the ingredients, threw them together, and I was right! Absolutely amazing! Whoda thunk that something so simple and inexpensive as tomatoes and bread could be so hearty and flavorful? It may not seem like much, but MAN is it good!! Between the freshness of the tomatoes and basil and the balance of the sweet sugar and the salty Parmesan cheese, I just loved it from the first bite.
 So use up your end-of-the-season garden tomatoes, or go to your local Jersey farmer's market and get some of our luscious gorgeous ripe Jersey tomatoes. You just HAVE to try this recipe. SO delicious!! Thanx again, Ina!

Good olive oil
2 cups (1/2-inch diced) bread from a French boule, crusts removed
16 plum tomatoes, cut 1/2-inch dice (about 2 1/2 pounds)
1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves)
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup julienned basil leaves, lightly packed
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 350ºF.

Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large (12 inch) saute pan over medium heat. Add the bread cubes and stir to coat with the oil. Cook over medium to medium-high heat for 5 minutes, stirring often, until the cubes are evenly browned.

Meanwhile, combine the tomatoes, garlic, sugar, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. When the bread cubes are done, add the tomato mixture and continue to cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes. Off the heat, stir in the basil.

Pour the tomato mixture into a shallow (6 to 8 cup) baking dish. Sprinkle evenly with the Parmesan cheese and drizzle with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes until the top is browned and the tomatoes are bubbly. Serve hot or warm.

There's really no shortcut when it comes to browning the bread cubes in a pan. I tried spraying them with olive oil spray and baking them on a sheet pan, but they didn't come out the same. The became crunchy, yes, but they didn't brown and they didn't really hold up when it came to baking them with the tomato mixture.
For a little kick, I added a few pinches of crushed red pepper flakes. Not too much, just a little poke to go with the salty cheese and the sweet tomatoes. It really makes for a nice balance.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Joey's Roasted Corn and Avocado Salad

 One of the BEST things about living in The Garden State is the fact that we have wonderfully fresh produce, right here in our own back yards. It's only just a hop, skip, and a jump to the nearest farm market, and the produce is some of the BEST you'll ever taste! But even more than being delicious and convenient, it's really a nice feeling to know you're helping family owned local farmers to make a living. Cool, huh? Everyone wins!
 One of my all time favorite things at the farm market is our wonderfully sweet, fresh from the fields, Jersey corn. Seriously, it's just quite simply the sweetest and most delicious corn you'll ever have. So I decided to really take advantage of it and make a fabulously fresh roasted corn salad. It was SO delicious, I couldn't stop eating it! And the avocados and other veggies make it bright and summery and light and healthy and fresh and flavorful and perfect. I think I need to make another batch.
Time to go back to the farm market!

5 ears corn on the cob, still in husks
2 avocados, diced
2 roasted peppers, diced
1 scallion, minced
2 tbs lemon or lime juice
1 tbs sugar
10 or 12 basil leaves, chopped
drizzle of vegetable oil or a mild olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Heat oven to 350ºF.
First, give your corn a haircut! Just snip the end off to remove the extra silks and remove any loose husks. Leaving the rest of the husks on, submerge the ears in a big bowl of water and then let them drain. Place the ears of corn right on the middle rack of your oven. No pan, no anything. Let them roast for about 30 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool until you can handle them without burning your fingers. Remove the husks. Slice the corn off the cobs. Place corn in a large bowl with all the other ingredients. Give it a good stir. And that's all there is to it! Can be served immediately or cover and keep in the fridge until ready to serve.

If your corn is really sweet, you can omit the sugar. The point is to balance the sweet with the onion and the citrus.
Be sure to add some kind of acid, such as the lemon or lime juice. You can also use a little vinegar (any kind) or even just a splash of orange or grapefruit juice. Besides brightening up the flavor, the acid keeps the avocado from turning brown.
I like to use a very mild flavored oil. Sometimes olive oil can be a little strong or peppery, so in this case I prefer to keep things neutral with just a drizzle of regular vegetable oil.
If you don't have scallions, just add a very little bit of onion. Or maybe just add a little bit of snipped chives. You only want a very mild hint of onion flavor. You don't want it to upstage the sweetness of the corn. Again, the flavors should be balanced.
One of the key ingredients is the fresh basil. This is one recipe where I wouldn't use dried basil. It's really all about the freshness!
You can purchase roasted peppers in a jar, or you can roast your own. If you'd like to learn how to do it yourself, just watch my video How to Roast Peppers.