Monday, July 29, 2013

Tomato Jam

 I recently saw this recipe and thought it sounded interesting. I found it on a blog called Just A Taste, which adapted it from a recipe that was in the NY Times. I figured if it's good enough for the NY Times, it's good enough for me. So I gave it a go, and immediately LOVED it. It was absurdly simple to make and I loved all the different notes it hits. On one hand, it's sweet like any other jam. It has a little bite of heat, which is awesome when it's paired with the sweet.  And then it has all the warm spices to smooth everything out, with just a little lime juice to give it a little citrus zing. It's really deep and complex and absolutely delicious. It's also a really great way of using up a whole bunch of extra tomatoes from your garden. Serve it just as you'd serve any other jam. It's great with a little schmear of cream cheese on some hearty toasted bread. It would also be great with a cup of tea and some scones or croissants. Try it and tell me what you think!

1½ pounds ripe tomatoes (on the vine)
1 cup sugar
2 tbs fresh lime juice
1 tbs minced fresh ginger
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp salt
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

Core and coarsely chop the tomatoes.
Combine all of the ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring them to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly.
Reduce the heat to medium-low and bring the mixture to a simmer. Stirring occasionally, allow the mixture to simmer for 1 hour and 15 minutes until it has the consistency of thick jam.
Taste and season the jam with salt or additional dried spices then transfer it to a separate bowl to cool. Refrigerate the jam until ready to use.

I cooked it for a lot longer than the recipe directs. I didn't really time it, but just simmered it until it was the right consistency.
When using cumin and cloves, a little goes a long way, especially with the cloves. Be careful not to use too much! (random thought...I wonder if adding dried basil might be good, since basil and tomatoes love each other so much. Hmm...what do you think? Will that go well with the cumin?)
The NY Times recipe added a diced jalapeno pepper. I decided to leave it out, and also reduced the amount of crushed red pepper, just because I only like a little warm heat, but nothing really HOT. As it turns out, I wound up adding more crushed red because the heat really mellows out after a day or two in the fridge. Maybe next time I'll add the jalapeno too!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Joey's Chunky Herbed Feta Ranch Dressing

Whenever the weather is really hot, I like to do lots of main course salads. Sometimes I'll do a grilled chicken Caesar salad, or maybe a big chef's salad, or maybe just some iceberg wedges and sliced Jersey tomatoes. And whenever I go on a salad kick, I like to try to come up with different kinds of salad dressings. Most times it's some sort of quick vinaigrette, but this time it's a creamy ranch dressing. It's rich and yummy and SO flavorful! I made it for Jerry, who was an immediate fan, and I also won raves when I brought some to Danny and Emma. Just a few fresh ingredients, whisk them together, and boom, you're good to go. I think this is my new go-to ranch dressing! Maybe it'll be yours too. Try it!

1 cup sour cream
1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tbs fresh lemon juice
1 tbs chopped fresh basil
1 tsp chopped fresh herbs (thyme, oregano, and rosemary)
1/4 cup half and half
4 oz crumbled feta cheese

Simply place all ingredients in a mixing bowl and stir well to combine. Easy, right?
This dressing sets up a bit when you chill it in the fridge. If it gets too thick after you chill it, just add a few drops of half and half until you reach the right consistency. Then again you could leave it thick and serve it as a FABULOUS veggie dip. Seriously, it's SO good with carrots and celery sticks. Speaking of celery sticks, you could even crumble bleu cheese into it instead of feta and serve it with buffalo wings. If you're not a fan a feta or bleu cheese, just omit them and enjoy a delicious creamy herbed ranch! Yum.

The key to this recipe is using fresh herbs. I suppose you can use dried herbs, but in this case, it's that green freshness that I was looking for. I like to grow lots of herbs on my window sills and then just snip off a few sprigs for whatever I'm making. Btw, listed above is 1 tsp chopped fresh herbs.. I just took a few leaves of each herb and chopped them up to make a TOTAL of 1 tsp. Hope that was clear enough. If you're not a fan of any of the herbs I used, try a few others! Perhaps a different kind of basil, flat leaf parsley, or maybe some chives. Whatever you like!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Delicious Eggless Zucchini Bread

Whenever I decide to invite the WDHS gang over for dinner, I'm always sure to invite my good friend, Lea. She's always such a lovely guest! First of all, she always brings me a little gift, which is just SO nice and SO appreciated. Not only that, she's one of my biggest fans, always telling me that she "loves everything that I cook", even if it's something she's never tried. What home cook doesn't love to hear that??? I love that she's always telling her friends and family about the latest thing I've cooked for dinner and I'm always happy to send some home with her so that her family can have a taste. She always tells me "We don't deserve you!" whenever I give a little cooking lesson, or show her how I've made something. Isn't that the nicest thing anyone could ever say???
 Anyway, Lea gave me this recipe a while ago. She found it on, and was so excited to tell me about how great it turned out. She even took the lovely picture so I could post it. Thanx!! It's perfect for anyone who can't or is choosing not to have eggs for one reason or another. The yogurt and the vegetable oil keep everything nice and moist and the spices make it super flavorful. Actually, I think Lea told me she pumped up the amount of cinnamon, which is fine by me. As far as I'm concerned there's no such thing as too much!
 So give this one a try. Even if you're not restricting eggs from your diet, you'll never miss them. OH! you could even toast a slice or two and give 'em a schmear of butter or cream cheese! Doesn't that sound heavenly? Thanx again, Lea, for the fabulous recipe and for always being a fabulous friend!

2 cups sugar
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3 cups flour
2 cups zucchini, shredded or finely chopped
2 1/4 teaspoons vanilla
3/4 cup low-fat vanilla yogurt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 teaspoons cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350F and grease ONLY the bottoms of two loaf pans. Measure yogurt into a medium sized mixing bowl. Add sugar and blend until creamy and slightly thick approx 2-3 minutes. Add oil and blend through. Add zucchini and vanilla and stir until mixed through. Sift flour in a medium bowl and add cinnamon, nutmeg, baking powder, baking soda, and salt to it. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients a little at a time. Fold ingredients into each other just until nicely combined. Pour batter into loaf pans, and put into oven. Bake for 1 hour or until it tests done.*

Be sure to grease only the bottom of your loaf pans and not the sides. This will insure that your finished product will have a nice smooth edge around the top. It's all about presentation!
It may take longer than an hour to bake, up to 90 minutes, depending on your oven.

*To test for doneness, insert a toothpick or skewer in the center of the cake. If it comes out clean, it's done!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Cheery Cherry Ice Cream

 Here's an easy frozen something to keep you cool during the summer heat. I saw it on a site called Just a Pinch, and figured it was the perfect thing since it's been so hot out lately. Now, I have to say, I didn't do it exactly as the recipe directed. The original recipe required you to whip the cream and then fold it into the cherry mixture, then freeze it in the freezer. Since I have an ice cream maker, I just stirred everything together in a bowl and then processed it for about 30 minutes. It worked perfectly! If you like maraschino cherries, you're gonna LOVE this!

1 jar(s) (10 ounce) maraschino cherries, undrained and cut into fourths (or smaller, if preferred).
1 can(s) (14 ounce) sweetened condensed milk
3 Tbsp lime juice
1 tsp grated lime zest, optional
1 c heavy whipping cream
  Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Pour into canister of your ice cream maker. Freeze for 20-30 minutes. Transfer to a freezer safe container and place in freezer until firm.


 Combine undrained Maraschino Cherries and juice, sweetened condensed milk, lime juice and lime zest in a large bowl. Whip cream in a medium bowl with electric mixer at medium speed until stiff peaks form. Fold Whipped Cream into Cherry mixture. Pour into a 2 quart freezer-safe container or a 9x5-inch loaf pan to freeze her ice cream. Cover and freeze until firm. Or you can leave in the freezer overnight.

I think the next time I make this, I won't add the lime zest. I think the lime juice added plenty enough lime flavor to the ice cream. Otherwise it becomes VERY tart.
I also might try this with another kind of cherries. Maybe if I can find Bing cherries in a syrup. Yum! That would be awesome.And perhaps I'll add a little vanilla extract, just to give it more of that cherry vanilla flavor that I love.
Btw, as you can see, I added a little chocolate syrup over the top. Just like a chocolate covered cherry cordial!! SO good.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Ricotta Cake

Every year for July 4th, I like to try to come up with something red white and blue. One year I did a raspberry and pretzel dessert with a flag design, another year it was a berry and cheese pie, another year it was a berries and cream tart. I even had a strawberry salsa with sour cream and blue corn chips. And of course, my favorite one of all is the red white and blueberry trifle. (That's always the big showstopper!) Anyway, this year is no exception. I decided to keep it simple and quick by basically doing a doctored up cake mix with fresh berries on top. Easy, right??? Perfect for any cookout! The addition of the ricotta cheese turns it from something blah into something special! Serve it up chilled right out of the fridge. I bet your family and friends will love you for it! Three cheers for the red white and blue!

1 (18.25 ounce) package white cake mix
Oil and eggs (as directed on the package)
2 pounds ricotta cheese
3/4 cup white sugar
4 eggs
1 tsp pure vanilla extract 
Fresh strawberries
Fresh blueberries

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and flour a 9x13 inch pan (or spray with baking know, the kind that has flour in it). Prepare the cake according to the directions on the package. 
In a medium bowl, combine ricotta, sugar, eggs and vanilla. Mix until smooth. Drop by spoonfuls on top of uncooked cake. 
Bake for 1 1/2 hours, or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean. Sprinkle cooled cake with confectioners sugar. Keep refrigerated.

 You can decorate the top of the cake any way you like, or decorate each individual piece, as shown in the picture. No matter how you do it, it'll be fabulous and yummy.
If you like, you can glaze the fruit on top of the cake with some apricot jam. Just thin it down with a few drops of water and then brush it over the fruit so everything glistens.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Perfect Lemonade

I made this for AJ and Kelsie and Matt when they came over not too long ago. I didn't have time to make a pot of Mom's Iced Tea, and I didn't have anything to offer them to drink. So, since I had a bunch of lemons, I figured I'd make some fresh lemonade. It's not my own recipe, but it's definitely a keeper. Actually, come to think f it, I can't even remember where I found this recipe. No idea.. Anyway, It was ready in no time at all, and everyone loved it! AJ and Matt even added a little bit of fresh mint to it. You could even add a few slices of orange to it. YUM.
 So there you have it. Easy. Thirst-quenching. Perfect. Give this one a try the next time you feel like a nice tall ice-cold glass of summer. It's SO refreshing!

1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 6 lemons)
4 cups cold water 

  Make a simple syrup by heating the sugar and 1 cup water in a small saucepan until the sugar is dissolved completely. 
 While the sugar is dissolving, use a juicer or reamer to extract the juice from 4 to 6 lemons, enough for one cup of juice.
 Add the juice and simple syrup to a pitcher. Add 4 cups of cold water. Chill. Serve over ice, with a slice of lemon or sprig of mint.

The thing that makes this lemonade so perfect is the use of the simple syrup. Since the sugar is already dissolved, you won't have any sinking to the bottom. I like to chill the simple syrup before I add the juice and the cold water to it. Just sayin.
If you like your lemonade a little more tart than sweet, just add a little extra lemon juice.
Like I always say, if you're making something that has ONE flavor, make sure you use REAL  ingredients. You don't want to take any shortcuts! If you're making vanilla cookies, you use PURE vanilla. The same thing applies here. If you're making FRESH lemonade, you must use FRESH lemon juice. Otherwise, you might as well just use a powdered drink mix.

Joey's Summer Tomato Salad

 Here's a quick and easy summer salad that goes great with any cookout menu. I came up with it just because I wanted something cool and fresh to go with all the heavier items that sometimes go at a picnic. Sometimes when you have burgers, or hot dogs, or potato salad, or baked want something lighter on the plate to balance everything out. And that's exactly what this salad does. It's light and fresh and the dressing kind of reminds you of the mixture to which you add spinach for spinach dip. Know what I mean? It kind of has that same sort of flavor and it goes GREAT with tomatoes and fresh basil! Yes, of course, you can add cucumbers or peppers or whatever you want, but I liked it just with the tomatoes and fresh basil. Give it a try!

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 tsp garlic powder
salt and pepper

vine ripened tomatoes
fresh basil

Mix together the dressing ingredients. Cut the tomatoes in halves or in quarters. Chop the fresh basil. Give everything a quick toss together. Serve immediately.

I also like to use cherry or grape tomatoes. Even though they're small, I still like to cut them in half. The juice from the tomatoes adds to the dressing. Love it.
Make sure you don't mix it up too far in advance, otherwise the tomatoes might become too soggy. Best to toss it together and then serve it right away. Great then.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Blueberry Chipotle Barbecue Sauce


Ok just go with me on this one!
A while back, I was watching Diners Drive-ins, and Dives, and there was a place that served bison ribs with blueberry barbecue sauce. Even though they didn't give an exact recipe, I knew I wanted to try it. So I wrote down the list of ingredients and just guessed at the amounts. After a couple tries, I added a couple extra ingredients and here we are! I must say I'm THRILLED with how it turned out. It's sweet and tangy, spicy but not too hot. It just has a little bit of heat that hits you in the back of the throat, ya know? I wouldn't even call it a 'kick'. Of course you can make it as spicy as you like it, but this is just fine for me. It's absolutely SLAMMIN' on pork ribs. Chris said he could eat it with a spoon. Emma and Daniel Loved it as well, and my friend Denny loved it with chicken fingers. It's really just a great barbecue sauce! Delicious, slightly different, and definitely unexpected.
 Try it and let me know what you think!!

2 cups water
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup chipotle peppers in adobo sauce 
2 pints fresh blueberries
4 big cloves garlic
1 cup any regular barbecue sauce
1 cup ketchup
1 cup honey
4 tbs butter
kosher salt

Add all ingredients to a heavy pot and simmer on a low heat for about an hour. Puree with a blender or food processor. Serve immediately or store in the fridge.

Like I said, I didn't make it very spicy because I'm not really a spicy food kinda guy. I just used half of a small can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. But if you like the heat, by all means GO for it!
To make the pork ribs, I used the country style ribs...
Place them in a pot of water and boil them for about an hour. Then place them in a casserole dish, smother them with the BBQ sauce, and place the pan in a 350F oven for about 30-40 minutes. They'll be sticky and yummy and the meat will just fall off the bone. Be sure to have lots of napkins at the ready! And before you start complaining that I BOILED the ribs instead of grilling them, just try them and you'll see how amazing they are. Besides, I live in an apt and I don't have a grill. So there. Don't judge me!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Trisha's Baked Bean Casserole

Here's a little twist on your average baked beans recipe. I saw Trisha Yearwood making it on her cooking show, and figured I'd give it a try. It's absolutely screams "summer barbecue" and it's perfect for your next cookout. It's basically a just regular baked beans recipe with the addition of ground beef and bell peppers. How can this not be good? Serve it as a side dish with your pulled pork sandwiches, or your barbecued ribs or chicken, or even serve it as a meal all by itself. It's certainly hearty enough to stand on its own! It's pretty much the perfect thing to serve with a big piece of cornbread while sitting around a campfire roasting sausages on skewers. If you're not a fan of ground beef, then by all means, just make my Favorite Baked Beans, but this one is definitely worth trying! So good!!!!

Cooking spray
1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 bell pepper, cored, seeded, and finely chopped
Two 16-ounce cans pork and beans
1/2 cup barbecue sauce
1/2 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons spicy brown mustard
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
4 tablespoons brown sugar
6 to 8 slices bacon, cut into pieces and cooked

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 9- by 13- by 2-inch casserole dish with cooking spray.

In a large saucepan, brown the ground beef, onions and bell peppers. Add the pork and beans, barbecue sauce, ketchup, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce and brown sugar to the mixture. Simmer for 5 minutes. Transfer the mixture to the prepared casserole dish. Sprinkle the bacon over the top of the casserole. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and continue to bake for an additional 10 minutes. Let the casserole stand for 10 minutes before serving.

I used my cast iron pan to cook everything, and it didn't seem necessary to transfer it to a 9x13 pan, so I just put the cover on it and put the whole pan in the oven. I'm all for less dishes, so this was an aha moment, thank you very much.
I cooked the bacon first, and then used the bacon drippings the cook the onions, peppers, and ground beef. Yes, yes, I know I could reduce the amount of fat by draining off the excess, but I could also just have a salad too. Know what I mean??