Monday, May 30, 2016

Joey's Pineapple Baked Beans

 When I think of pork, there are usually two things that come to mind. If it's a delicious Glazed Baked Ham, I immediately think of pineapple, and if it's Pulled Pork or BBQ Ribs, I'm thinking of my fabulous and famous Baked  Beans. And why not? They're classic flavor combinations!
 Now maybe it's because I just returned from a tropical cruise (which was fabulous, btw), but right now I'm still in the mood for pineapple. So why not put the two together? Pineapple and baked beans??? ABSOLUTELY! Served with a delicious ham or with pulled pork, it all works! This is a slightly tweaked version of a recipe I saw on It's not as sweet as you think it might be, but it's absolutely sweet enough, and the pineapple definitely comes through. DELICIOUS!
Serve it up for your next BBQ. I betcha there won't be any leftovers!

5 strips bacon, cut into lardons
1 small onion, chopped
2 28oz cans baked beans
1 20oz can pineapple chunks
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tbs mustard
2 tbs ketchup
1 tbs Worcestershire sauce
S & P to taste

In a skillet over medium heat, cook the bacon until some of the fat renders. Add the chopped onion and continue to saute until the bacon is a little crisp and the onions are slightly caramelized. In the meantime, drain the pineapples* and chop them up a bit.
 Drain any excess fat from the skillet and add the bacon and onions to a large bowl along with the remaining ingredients. Pour into a casserole dish and bake uncovered for about 40-45 minutes.

*I like to reserve about 1/4 cup of the drained juice and add it along with the other ingredients just for a little extra pineapple flavor, but it's entirely optional!

If you'd prefer to use chopped fresh pineapple, go for it! It'll be roughly about 1 1/2 cups!
You can absolutely use crushed pineapple instead of the chunks, but I like to buy the chunks and then chop them down. You get smaller chunks, but not as small as the crushed.
Once again, the amounts are just guidelines. If you like a lot of something, add a lot! Like a lot of onions and/or bacon? Sure! Want more pineapple? Absolutely! You could even add a bit of chopped jalapeno for a little kick. Make it your own!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Banana Cupcakes

 Not too long ago, I was asked to bake banana cupcakes for a 60th birthday party. TBH, I didn't have a go-to recipe for banana cupcakes, but I figured, "how hard can they be?" So I did a little googling, and quickly happened upon this recipe from Martha Stewart's Everyday Food. They seemed easy and quick and they looked like everything I wanted in a banana cupcake recipe. (To be clear, these are banana cakes, not banana muffins!). My next decision was which icing to use. Martha used a honey cinnamon recipe, but I figured I'd go with a fabulous chocolate swiss meringue icing instead. A few banana chips and some mini chocolate chips for garnish, and they looked amazing!! Dontcha think??
 They were a HUGE hit at the party, so this is clearly the new go-to recipe for banana cupcakes. Perhaps next time I'll try it with the honey cinnamon icing, but for now, I think I'll stick with chocolate. One thing is for sure. I'll definitely be making them again and again.
You should definitely give them a try!

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, (spooned and leveled)
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 cups mashed bananas (about 4 ripe bananas)
2 large eggs
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
Dried banana chips and mini chocolate chips for garnish, (optional)

 Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Line a standard 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Make a well in center of flour mixture. In well, mix together butter, mashed bananas, eggs, and vanilla. Stir to incorporate flour mixture (do not overmix). Dividing evenly, spoon batter into muffin cups. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center of a cupcake comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove cupcakes from pan; cool completely on a wire rack. Spread or pipe each cupcake with your favorite chocolate icing. Sprinkle tops with mini chips, then place one banana chip in the center, if desired.

I doubled the entire recipe because I needed to do a tray of 2 dozen. Not all recipes turn out as well when you double them, but this one was perfect!
Instead of doing chocolate icing, you could also use cream cheese icing or even whipped cream on top. Or how about some shredded coconut? Try whichever combination you like!
If you'd prefer to use fresh banana slices instead of dried ones, peel and slice the bananas then top each cupcake just before serving. If you slice the bananas too far in advance, they'll turn brown.
You really don't even need to garnish with the banana slices, but it shows your guest what kind of cupcakes they are! Clever, huh?

Monday, May 16, 2016

Fennel Upside-Down Cake

 Have you ever cooked with fennel?
 I must admit, I'm just discovering it, lately. I've had it in a few dishes at restaurants from time to time, but have rarely ever used it in any of my home cooking and baking. It's fun to discover a new ingredient, dontcha think? I've had it sliced raw in salads and candied on top of desserts, but this recipe is the first time I've ever seen it in a cake. It's from Giada De Laurentis and it's just fabulous!
 First of all, I love that it's not your everyday average cake. It's a little unexpected and outside the box. Second, it was great to try a new recipe!! New ingredient, new recipe, always fun. And third, I love that it makes just a tiny cute little one layer cake. It's perfect for a small brunch or if you're just having a couple friends over for tea or a dinner/movie hang.
 I served it with raspberry sauce as the recipe suggests, (even though the sauce didn't make it into the photo), but this cake is so delicious, you don't even need the sauce if you're not a fan of raspberries. Actually, I liked the cake so much that I'm already thinking of trying the cake portion of the recipe without the fennel. Maybe I'll try it with another delicious candied something or even just plain. It has a lovely hint of lemon to go along with the hint of anise, and the two are just perfect together. Plus, the cake uses olive oil, (which is also a fun not-the-norm ingredient in a cake) and it makes it amazingly moist and delicious.
 So there you have it. New ingredient, new recipe, something different, all fabulous. DEFINITELY give this one a try the next time you're having a friend or two over for coffee.
I betcha they'll ask you for the recipe!

1/2 cup sugar
2 small or 1 large bulbs fennel, halved and sliced into 1/8-inch half moons
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon fine salt
1/2 cup milk, room temperature
2 eggs, room temperature
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus 1 teaspoon for greasing pan
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon fennel pollen or ground fennel seed

1/3 cup seedless raspberry jam
1 tablespoon lemon juice.
Fennel fronds, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8-inch cake pan with 1 teaspoon olive oil.

For the fennel: In a medium saucepan over medium heat, dissolve the sugar in 3/4 cup water, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. Add the fennel, salt, and lemon juice, and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low and cook until the liquid is reduced by three-quarters, about 15 minutes. Spread the candied fennel evenly over the bottom of the prepared cake pan. Set aside to cool slightly.

For the cake: Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the milk, eggs, olive oil, lemon zest, and fennel pollen. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and whisk until just combined. Pour the batter evenly over the candied fennel. Place in the preheated oven and bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean, 30 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then invert the cake onto a plate to cool completely.

For the sauce: In a small bowl, whisk together the raspberry jam, lemon juice and 2 tablespoons warm water. Sprinkle the cake with a few picked fennel fronds. Slice into wedges and serve with a spoonful of the sauce.

I don't know where Giada does her shopping, but I've never seen fennel pollen anywhere. TBH, I had never even heard of it as an ingredient (but I've read that it's very expensive). So I just used ground fennel seeds. Easy! I just used my mortar and pestle to grind them up, but you could also place the seeds on a cutting board and use the bottom of a heavy pan (like a cast iron skillet) to crush them up a bit.
 The next time I make this, I probably won't use as much fennel as I did. I bought some extra fennel because I wasn't sure how far it would go, but it turns out 2 small bulbs would have been fine. And I think I'll slice it a little smaller next time. It was a bit chewy, and I think the cake would have sliced a bit more easily if it had smaller pieces of fennel on top.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Joey's Pizza Lasagna

 Ever since I started this cooking blog, I've tried to post recipes that I think people would like to cook. It's not enough for someone to look at a recipe and think "That looks delicious"", I want someone to think "I can make that!" So I looked back on the most popular posts over the last 8 years. The most popular recipe to date is Crock Pot Pizza Pasta. So I figured, why not take that same idea and do it as a baked lasagna instead of in the crock pot? I basically did the same process, but with a few minor tweaks and I must say, I'm pretty happy with how it turned out!
 The idea was that each layer of lasagna noodles would basically be its own pizza, with sauce, toppings and cheese. So the first layer was sausage and bacon, the next layer was peppers and onions, the next layer was mushrooms, and the top layer, pepperoni! Then the whole thing is baked until bubbly and fabulous. Pretty cool, huh?  I chose these toppings because they're my favorite, but you can absolutely do whatever pizza toppings you like! Do a meat-lovers' pizza, do a veggie pizza, do just one topping, anything will work!
 Hopefully you'll see this recipe and think "I can make that!!" Because, do you know what??

Joey's Go-To Homemade Pizza Sauce, or jarred, or your own
1 lb lasagna noodles
1 lb Italian sausage, mild or hot
1/2 lb thick cut bacon, chopped
2 bell peppers, any color, coarsely chopped
1 large sweet onion, coarsely chopped
1 lb baby bella mushrooms (or other mushroom of choice)
1 lbs sliced pepperoni
2 lbs shredded mozzarella cheese

 Heat oven to 350ºF.
Fill a wide shallow pan with very hot water. Place the lasagna noodles in the water to soak while you prepare the other ingredients.
Remove the sausage from casings and brown in a skillet. I browned the bacon in the same pan. Drain excess grease.  Set the meat aside. In the same pan, saute the onions and peppers (I used some of the drained bacon fat) until slightly softened and caramelized. Set aside. Do the same with the mushrooms or other toppings of your choice.
 By now your noodles should be pliable but not too mushy.
 In a 9x13 baking dish, place a layer of sauce, then a layer each of noodles, more sauce, toppings and cheese. Layer the toppings in whatever order you'd like. Continue making layers until all of your ingredients are used up. End with a layer or pepperoni on top of the last layer of cheese.
 Cover with foil and bake for about 45 minutes. Remove foil and continue baking for another 15 or until the cheese is lightly golden and the pepperoni is sizzly. (is that a word? I'm going with it.)
 Let it rest for a good 10-15 minutes before slicing.

 One of the best things about making lasagna is that its a total do ahead. It's actually BETTER if you do it the night before, and then just heat it up when you want to serve. If you don't want to heat it twice, you can absolutely assemble it the night before and then bake it just before you want to serve it. I do recommend letting it sit for 10 to 15 minutes after removing it from the oven because then it'll have a chance to set up a bit, which will result in nice perfect squares of lasagna that stay together.
 Another thing that will help your lasagna stay together (instead of the top half of your slice of lasagna sliding off) is to layer your noodles in different directions. So, for instance, if you're doing 4 layers of noodles, layers one and three should go longways in your pan, and layers two and four should go across. Just cut the noodles to fit. Yes, it takes a few extra minutes, but it'll keep your layers locked together.
You can definitely use regular marinara sauce, if that's what you have on hand. Just add a little dried oregano to make it more like pizza sauce!
 Btw, I purposely didn't include ricotta cheese in this lasagna, just because I wanted it to taste more like pizza, but you do you! If you want to add ricotta, go for it!

Joey's Go-To Homemade Pizza Sauce

 I was recently making a Pizza Lasagna, and I realized that I didn't have a go-to pizza sauce recipe. So I figured I'd come up with one! Just as I usually do, I looked up a few different recipes and took what I liked from each one. And here it is! Now I have my go-to recipe and I hope you'll give it a try. Of course you can use it for homemade pizza or Crock Pot Pizza Pasta, but try it as a dipping sauce for Sausage and Pepperoni Pizza Puffs, or your favorite mozzarella sticks. You could also do mini pizzas in the toaster oven on English muffins with a little shredded mozzarella cheese on top. It's also fabulous just as a spicy sauce poured over your favorite pasta. Hopefully this will now be YOUR go-to pizza sauce recipe too! Enjoy!

3 tbs olive oil
3 tbs butter
1 small onion, finely minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
2 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp cracked fennel seeds
2 (28oz) cans Tuttoroso crushed tomatoes
2 large whole sprigs fresh basil
1 tbs sugar
S&P to taste

Add the first 7 ingredients to a heavy saucepot over medium heat. Stir and saute for 2 or 3 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients. Increase the heat to bring it up to a boil, then reduce it to a low simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. That's all there is to it! Can be made in large batches and frozen, if desired.

 For the fennel seeds, I used a mortar and pestle to crack them and crush them a bit. You can also place them in a ziploc bag and use something heavy the bash them up so you won't have big seeds floating around in your sauce.
I leave the sprigs of basil whole so you can easily fish them out after the sauce is finished cooking. If you want, you can chop them up and just leave 'em in the sauce.
 I usually don't mention specific brands, but in this case, I only use Tuttoroso. For one thing, all crushed tomatoes aren't created equally. Sometimes they're very chunky, more like stewed tomatoes, other times they're almost like puree. Tuttoroso crushed tomatoes are the exact texture I like for pizza sauce. And I seem to remember seeing on America's Test Kitchen that they were the best tasting ones too. I could be completely wrong on that, but I'm going with it. If you don't have Tuttoroso crushed tomatoes, then I recommend using any favorite canned whole tomatoes and crushing them to your desired texture.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Coconut Flan

 Here's a perfect dessert for Cinco de Mayo. When I saw Marcela Valladolid making it on her show, Mexican Made Easy, I knew I wanted to try it.  I know, I know. I say that all the time. But it's true! And isn't that the point? You see something delicious on TV (or on a cooking blog!) and you think "I WANT THAT!" Am I right?? And seriously, you really do want this one! It's sweet and creamy and SO easy to make. Make it way in advance so you can give it plenty of time to chill before taking it out of the pan, and then you'll hear all the OOOOs and AAHHs as you serve it to your friends and family. I made it for my family and it was a big hit!
 Tbh, when I decided to make it, I wasn't sure how it would go. As far as custards go, I don't like it when they're too eggy or too jello-y, know what I mean? I want something that is velvety smooth and creamy, and that's exactly what this is. So I was VERY pleased with how this turned out. I think you'll be pleased too! So even if it's not for a holiday, you should definitely give this recipe a try. It's special enough for any holiday and easy enough for a simple Sunday supper.
You're friends and family will thank you!! Promise!!

Vegetable oil cooking spray
1 cup cajeta* or caramel sauce, at room temperature
3 (14-ounce) cans sweetened condensed milk
1 (14-ounce) can unsweetened coconut milk
1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk
6 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup shredded sweetened coconut, toasted
*can be found in Hispanic grocery stores

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. 
Spray a 10-cup Bundt or tube pan with vegetable oil cooking spray. Drizzle the cajeta into the prepared pan, turning to coat the bottom and sides. Set aside. 
Using an electric mixer, beat the milks, eggs, vanilla extract, and salt. Pour the mixture into the pan. Place the pan inside a large roasting pan. Fill the roasting pan with enough water to come halfway up the sides. Cover the Bundt pan with foil. 
Bake until the center jiggles slightly when pan is moved, about 1 hour 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool at room temperature for 30 minutes. Refrigerate, covered, for 3 hours or overnight. 
Turn the flan out onto a platter. Sprinkle with toasted coconut and serve.
To make the toasted coconut, place your shredded coconut in a dry pan over medium heat, stirring it constantly until it just begins to brown. You don't want to walk away from it because it can burn rather quickly! You can also do it in the oven, but I find it to be quicker and easier in a dry pan.
Instead of using the cajeta or store bought caramel sauce, I just made Home Made Caramel Sauce. It's SO much better than purchased caramel sauce, and it was for a special occasion, so I went with it!
If you don't have a roasting pan, just use a large casserole dish such as a 9x13 baking pan. Worked for me!