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.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Apple Pie Snickerdoodle Bars

I have no idea where I got this recipe. I think maybe someone posted it on FB. Hmm...seems like more and more of my blog posts start out this way... What can I say? I see something that looks good, set it aside, and by the time I get back to it I can't remember where I got it. Oh well, guess it really doesn't matter. Anyway, where was I... OH! the Apple Pie Snickerdoodle Bars! YES. This dessert falls squarely into the "How can this not be good?" category. (See what I did there? SQUARELY?)
You only need a couple store bought items, you quick throw 'em together, and in no time you have a fabulous dessert. Yes yes, of course you could make you're own apple pie filling and you could make you're own sugar cookie dough from scratch, but in this case, you might as well take the short cut! Sometimes the quick and easy route is just as good! Oh btw, I posted the recipe as I originally found it, but I added a few hints right after the recipe. Be sure to read them before you start! Great then.

One 16.5 oz tube of Pillsbury refrigerated sugar cookie dough
One 20 oz. can of apple pie filling
Cinnamon sugar (1/4 cup of granulated sugar + 4 tsp of ground cinnamon) -Note: some suggest reducing this amount.

Press 2/3 of the cookie dough into the bottom of an 8x8 or 9x9 baking pan. Sprinkle with 2/3 of the cinnamon sugar. Spread the apple pie filling over the cookie base. Take small amounts of the remaining cookie dough, flatten it slightly and place over the pie filling. It will not cover the pie filling completely. Sprinkle with the remaining cinnamon sugar mixture. Bake in a 350º oven until the cookie dough is baked, approx. 35-40 minutes. Allow to cool, then cut into squares.

-I found it easiest to slice the first 2/3 of cookie dough into about 9 or 10 slices. Then you can line them up in the bottom of the pan and then press them together to make one even layer. It's quicker than trying to flatten out a huge tube of dough.
-The chunks of apple, in my opinion, were FAR too big and I wanted every piece to get the same amount of apple. So I just dumped them onto a cutting board, chopped them up a bit and then it was much easier to spread them evenly over the cookie base.
-I didn't bother with trying to flatten out the pieces of cookie dough for the top as the recipe directs. Just crumble the remaining dough into small pieces and they'll flatten out when they bake. 
-Oh, one other thing... when I made this, I kind of thought the cookie crust would be, you know, like a cookie! But actually, it turned out to be more cakey than cookie. I think, perhaps, the next time I make it, I'll bake the crust for a few minutes to get a crisper crust before adding the apple pie filling.
-I think this SCREAMS to be served with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream, because that's just how I roll. Who's with me on this??

Monday, August 12, 2013

Corn Bites

Here's a quick little party bite that is a snap to throw together. My niece, Kelli, made these for a family thing a while back and I'm FINALLY caught up to sharing them with you. Sorry that it took so long, Kel! Anyway, I have no idea where she got the recipe, but like I always say, since she's the one who gave it to me, she's the one who gets the credit. They're just a few simple ingredients that you mix together, pop 'em in the oven and boom, it's a party! Sometimes the simplest things are the best, don't you think? Better make lots of them because they're HIGHLY addictive!
Thanx Kel!

8oz bar of cream cheese, softened
8oz bar pepper jack cheese, shredded
1 egg
1/2 cup frozen corn
1 bag Tostito's Scoops

Mix all filling ingredients together.
Fill Tostito's Scoops with cheese mixture and place on a baking sheet.
Bake at 425ºF for 15 minutes or until bubbly.

 -If you're not a spicy kinda person, you can use regular jack or cheddar cheese instead of the pepper jack. On the flip side, if you LOVE the heat, add some diced chilis or some crushed red pepper!
-Feel free to switch things up a bit! Keep everything the same, but try another ingredient instead of the corn. Yes, yes, I know they're called corn bites, but maybe they can be sausage bites, or pepperoni bites! Or how about asparagus or broccoli or spinach bites or even crab and shrimp bites! Or any combination you like! Just cook your main ingredient(s) and chop it up, then throw it into your filling mixture and bake as usual. Simple!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Ina's German Chocolate Cupcakes

Ok here's a fun fact. Did you know that German Chocolate Cake is not from Germany at all? Nope! It's as American as apple pie! The cake gets its name from an American chocolate maker named Sam German, who formulated a kind of dark baking chocolate which was originally used in the recipe. So, actually, it should be called German's Chocolate Cake. Crazy, huh? Who knew?!
 Here's a cupcake version. They're fabulous and yummy and, let's be serious, can anyone resist that caramel coconut frosting? I think not! SO delicious! This recipe is Ina Garten's and is now my go to recipe. I think I need to make these again!

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk, shaken, at room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream, at room temperature
2 tablespoons freshly brewed coffee
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Coconut Frosting:
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk
1 1/4 cups light brown sugar, lightly packed
4 extra-large egg yolks
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
2 cups sweetened flaked coconut
1 cup blanched sliced almonds, toasted
1 cup chopped pecans
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake pans with paper liners.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, granulated sugar, and brown sugar on medium-high speed for 5 minutes, until light and fluffy. Scrape down the bowl. Lower the speed to medium, add the eggs one at a time, then add the vanilla and mix well. In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, sour cream, and coffee. In a third bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. With the mixer on low, add the buttermilk and flour mixtures alternately in thirds, beginning with the buttermilk and ending with the flour. Don't overmix! Fold the batter a few times with a rubber spatula to be sure it's mixed.

Scoop the batter into the cupcake liners. (I use a 2-inch ice cream scoop.) Bake in the center of the oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes, remove from the pans, and allow to cool completely before frosting.

For the frosting:
 Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the evaporated milk, brown sugar, and egg yolks and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Simmer, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, for about 15 minutes, until slightly thickened. If the mixture looks a bit curdled, beat it vigorously with a whisk. Off the heat, stir in the vanilla extract, almond extract, coconut, almonds, pecans, and salt. Allow to cool for about an hour. Frost the cupcakes with a knife or small metal spatula.

For me, the key to the icing is the almond extract. Be sure to include it! Oh and also the kosher salt! It just makes everything SO much better. 
I didn't have sliced almonds, so I just left them out and they were still delish. Just sayin'.