Monday, December 11, 2017

Christmas Pinwheel Cookies


There are many sugar cookie recipes out there, all of which claim to be the very BEST. Well, I guess one would have to taste ALL of them in order to come to that conclusion, so I'll just say these cookies are pretty darn good! Fair enough?  I was browsing on FB and saw a video of how to make pinwheel cookies. I figured, ok, that looks festive, let's give it a go! The thing is, you can really use any rolled sugar cookie dough, so I set out to find the right one for me. I decided I wanted one with almond extract in it (because that's a classic flavor when it comes to sugar cookies), and I found this one on a blog called The Slow Roasted Italian. They seemed very classic and homey and basic, so I went with it! They tasted exactly the way I hoped they would! Soft and chewy with rich vanilla and almond flavor, and they're pretty enough to jazz up any tray of cookies. They do take a little extra time, but you can do them a step at a time so it's really not that bad. When I made them, I mixed up the dough one day, rolled them into logs the next morning, and then sliced and baked them the following night. See? Easy! You can even roll the entire log of dough in colorful sprinkles or red or green sugar to add an extra little pop of color around the edges of your cookies. Also they don't spread out to much so you can literally bake an entire batch in one go. Definitely place a tray of these little gems in the center of your dessert table, and you'll surely get lots of OOs and AAHHs!


1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
3-4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
red and green food coloring


 In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), cream the butter and sugar, on medium speed until light and fluffy (about 3 minutes).
Add the eggs, vanilla, and almond.  Beat until combined. Add the salt and 3 cups of flour; beat until you have a smooth dough. If the dough is sticky (meaning when you touch it and pull your fingers away the dough sticks to you), add more flour a tablespoon at a time until it comes together.
  Separate prepared dough into 2 halves. Add 1/2 of your cookie dough to a stand mixer and add red or green food coloring until your mixture reaches your desired color. You can also knead food coloring into dough until completely combined if you do not have a stand mixer. Wrap each half in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for about one hour or until firm enough to roll.

   Place red cookie dough on parchment paper. Roll out to about 1/4 inch thick rectangle. Set aside. Place plain cookie dough on a sheet of parchment paper. Roll out to about 1/4 inch thick rectangle. Stack cookie dough sheets on top of each other with the parchment on the outside. Remove the top parchment and roll over the dough gently with a rolling pin (to help the 2 doughs become one). Beginning on one of the long sides, roll the cookie dough into a log (removing the remaining paper as you go). If dough is too soft to work with, refrigerate for 30 minutes and then try again. Once dough is formed into a log, wrap tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate 3 hours to overnight.

Preheat oven to 375ºF.
Slice cookies and place on cookie sheet about 1 inch apart. Bake 9-11 minutes or until the cookies feel set. Allow to cool for 5 minutes on the cookie sheet and then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.


Tips:
It's your choice whether to make white cookies with a colored swirl, or colored cookies with a white swirl. Before you roll up the log, your dominant color should be on the bottom, and your swirl color should be on top. Savvy?
If you're not a fan of almond extract, use any kind of flavoring you like! I've used orange extract and also rum extract, you could use lemon extract, or just use twice as much vanilla. It will all work!
Be sure to give it time to chill in between steps. It makes it MUCH easier to slice when the log is completely chilled and firm. Also be sure to keep the log as round as possible, otherwise your pinwheel design will have flat edges.


Monday, December 4, 2017

Cocomia Cookies



 Many many years ago, I bought a Mrs. Fields cookie cookbook. I'm pretty sure I was at a mall doing some Christmas shopping and I happened to see the book on display at a bookstore. I figured, "well, obviously I deserve to buy MYSELF a present as well!" so I bought it. Now, one thing you may not know about me is that I LOVE to read cookbooks. Like, not just turn to whatever page to look for a specific recipe. I mean just like some people like to curl up on the sofa with a nice juicy novel, I like to curl up and read a whole cook book. What can I say? I like to learn the back story of a recipe, where it was developed, and what the inspiration for it was. I also like to read the recipes from beginning to end and look for interesting combinations of ingredients. It may sound silly, but you'd be amazed at how often I'll be looking for ideas and I'll remember seeing a recipe that paired two seemingly odd ingredients that you'd never think of putting together. (Pineapple Basil Jam, anyone?)
 Aaaaanyway, as I was reading through my brand new Mrs Fields cookie book, I happened upon this recipe for cocomia cookies, which is short for coconut macadamia nut cookies. I thought, "ok, THIS will be the first recipe I try!" and they've been my absolute favorite Mrs. Fields recipe ever since. Actually, if I'm being honest, there wasn't a single recipe in that book that I didn't love, but the cocomias were still my favorite! (Side note, this is also one of those recipes that I've used for years and years, and THOUGHT I had already posted it, but then when I recently went looking for it, I discovered that somehow it slipped by me! Ah well, better late than never!) Oh, and one other thing... Yes, yes, I know it's a bit of an investment to buy the macadamia nuts, but seriously, they're worth every single penny! This is DEFINITELY one to add to your holiday cookie repertoire. Bring a batch or two to your next holiday cookie swap! Come to think of it, you should probably make a couple extra batches because they won't last long! Not even kidding.


2 cups all-purpose flour                      
1/2 tsp baking soda                          
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup brown sugar                          
1/2 cup granulated sugar                
3/4 cup softened butter
2 large eggs                                           
2 tsp pure vanilla extract                  
1 cup shredded coconut
1 cup macadamia nuts                       


Preheat oven to 300º F. 
Cream sugars with butter. Then add eggs and vanilla. Beat at medium speed until light and fluffy.
Mix flour, baking soda, salt together, then slowly add mixture to butter mixture.
Add coconut and macadamia nuts until just combined.
Drop by rounded tablespoons onto ungreased cookie sheets, 2 inches apart.
Bake for 23 minutes at 300º F. Remove to a flat surface to cool.

Tips:
There's really nothing I can add to this recipe because it's perfect just as it is. The one thing I will say, though, is to make sure you include the salt. I can't say enough about how much of a difference it makes to add salt to your baked items, especially ones that contain any kind of nuts. The salt is what makes it!! I use salted butter for everything, and I STILL add the salt listed in the recipe. It makes all the difference in the world!
 If you're just like me and you can't leave a recipe alone no matter how perfect it is, you can add a a few white chocolate chips to the cookie dough. I'm sure Mrs. Fields won't mind!

Monday, November 27, 2017

German Chocolate Pecan Pie Bars


Here's a crowd pleaser of a dessert that is the perfect thing to make for your next party. They're VERY rich with chocolate, crunchy and nutty from the pecans, and sweet and gooey all at the same time!
 I made them for Tory and Ryan's house warming party and they were an instant hit. Ryan was the first to sample them (an immediate thumbs up), Gregg was a HUGE fan, Kelli said they were "Slammin'", and pretty much everyone wanted to know when I would be sharing the recipe! Well, everyone, here you go! The recipe is from a blog called Bake or Break, and it's pretty awesome. Make them for your next party and I promise you'll have everyone asking you for the recipe!!


3 cups pecan halves
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
3/4 cup cold butter, cubed
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
3 large eggs
3/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 cup sweetened flaked coconut


Preheat oven to 350°F.
Arrange pecans in a single layer of a shallow baking pan. Bake 8-10 minutes or until lightly toasted. Stir halfway through baking. Line the bottom and sides of a 9″x 13″x 2″ baking pan with aluminum foil, leaving an overhang on two short sides. Grease foil. Whisk together the flour, confectioners’ sugar, and cocoa. Add the cold butter, and combine with a pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Press the mixture into the bottom and about 3/4-inch up sides of prepared pan. Bake the crust for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and immediately sprinkle chocolate chips evenly over crust. Allow to cool on a wire rack at least 30 minutes.
 Place the eggs in a large mixing bowl, and beat lightly. Add the brown sugar, corn syrup, and melted butter. Whisk together until smooth. Stir in the coconut and pecans. Pour evenly over the partially baked crust. Bake 28-34 minutes, or until the edges are golden and the filling has set. Cool completely on a wire rack. 
Then, refrigerate for an hour. Using foil overhang, lift the bars from the pan and place on a cutting board. Use a sharp knife to cut into bars.

Tips:
 I used a food processor to cut the butter into the flour mixture. It was SO much easier. I also used parchment paper instead of foil to line the pan. Either one will work!
I think the next time I make them, maybe I'll use Hershey's milk chocolate instead of semisweet chips. I found them to be quite rich, almost too chocolatey for me. (I said this to Carly and she said "is there such a thing???"). I also wonder how butterscotch chips would be... hmmm...

Monday, November 20, 2017

Glazed Cranberry Bundt Cake


 If you're looking for an easy dessert that screams HOLIDAYS, this is it! I found this recipe on the back of a bag of fresh cranberries and immediately set it aside. I cut it out, and stuck it to my fridge with a magnet for a year until I was ready to try it. Well, I finally tried it! OMG, it's seriously delicious. The cake is dense but light, and it's so moist, I'd say this is one for the books. Add a few fresh cranberries and an orange glaze and you have the makings of a showstopper!
 TBH, the cake was supposed to bake in a 9x13 pan, and the recipe said nothing of a glaze. But I like how a Bundt looks, and I love a rich and creamy glaze drizzled over the top, so I went with it!
 At first I couldn't decide if this was more of a Thanksgiving thing or a Christmas thing, but basically decided that it's great for both! Yes, it's red and white and looks very Christmasy, but Thanksgiving is the official holiday season kickoff, right? So, it works there too!
 Regardless of when you decide to make it, or in what pan you decide to bake it, one thing is absolutely certain.. Everyone will love it! Definitely add this one to your holiday repertoire!


3 large eggs
2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup butter (1 1/2 sticks)
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1 (12oz) bag fresh cranberries

Heat oven to 350ºF.
Beat the eggs and sugar until slightly thickened and the mixture has almost doubled in size, about 5-7 minutes. Add softened butter and vanilla extract and mix for 2 more minutes. Stir in the flour until just combined. Add the rinsed cranberries and stir until mixed throughout. Spread into greased and floured Bundt pan. Bake 50-60 minutes or until lightly browned and an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Let cool almost completely in the pan before turning out onto a plate.

For the glaze:
1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup heavy cream (plus more, if needed)
1/4 tsp orange extract

Using a wire whisk, combine all glaze ingredients until smooth. Add more heavy cream if needed to make just the right drizzling consistency. I like to use a big spoon to scoop big blobs of the glaze across the top and then just let it ooze down the sides.
Yup. blobs and ooze. definitely culinary terms.



Tips:
 -To keep your cranberries from sinking to the bottom of the cake, take a 1/4 cup of the flour for the recipe, and toss the cranberries with it until they're coated. Then stir them into the batter as directed. The flour coating will help them stay suspended in the cake!
-I think the next time I make this, maybe I'll add a little almond extract. Just sayin!
-If you'd like to bake it in a 9x13 pan, you only need to bake it for 40-50 minutes. And instead of the glaze, you could use any other favorite icing (cream cheese icing maybe?) or just simply dust with powdered sugar.
-Oh, another thing that's worth noting.. Yes, you read the ingredients correctly. This recipe has no leavening agent in it. No baking soda, no baking powder, no vinegar or lemon juice, no ingredient that will make the cake rise (which is why it comes out so dense and fabulous). It's that first step of whipping the eggs and sugar the gives rise to the cake. Make sure you don't skip it!!


Friday, November 17, 2017

Kale with Bacon


 Ok, this one's quick and easy peasy. I know kale is very trendy at the moment, but when you get right down to it, there are many reasons why everyone is going crazy for it. Well, for one thing, it's like super crazy good for you. It has a ton of vitamins C and K and beta-carotene and antioxidants and about a bazillion other nutrients that I can't even pronounce. And on top of all of that, it's delicious!!! It's hearty enough that it still keeps its integrity when you cook it (instead of just turning to mush), and it doesn't disappear in the pan the way fresh spinach does when you cook it.
 This recipe is from Taste of Home, and I knew it was a winner at first glance. Frankly, you can cook anything with bacon, onions, and garlic, and I'm in heaven. When I made it for my Friendsgiving dinner, it was a big hit! But no one needed to know how easy it was. And remember, your Mom always said to eat your greens, right? She was absolutely right!
 I think maybe Popeye would have eaten kale instead of spinach if he had cooked it with bacon and onions and garlic. Just sayin!


2 pounds fresh kale, trimmed and torn 
8 bacon strips, diced 
2 large onions, chopped 
4 garlic cloves, minced 
1 teaspoon salt 
1/2 teaspoon pepper

 In a large saucepan, bring 1 in. of water to a boil. Add kale; cook for 10 minutes or until tender. Meanwhile, in a large nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp. Using a slotted spoon, remove to paper towels; drain, reserving 1 teaspoon drippings. In the drippings, saute onions and garlic until onion is tender. Drain the kale; stir into onion mixture. Add salt, pepper and bacon; heat through. 

Tip:
If you're not a fan or pork, try turkey bacon instead!!
For a little extra added flavor, try cooking it in chicken broth instead of just plain water!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Cider-Glazed Turnips & Apples with Sage & Bacon



 Here's another fabulous side dish that falls right in line with my latest obsession with apples and sage. It's from Finecooking.com, and I absolutely fell in love at first bite. It also fits my criteria for the perfect Thanksgiving dish because it's easy, you can do it ahead of time, and you can adjust the amounts to feed however big of a crowd you're having at your table this year.
 It's a pretty simple dish, but it really hits a lot of different notes that all work perfectly together. You have the sweetness from the apples and cider and the freshness from the sage, both of which mellow that sharp bite that the turnips can sometimes have. And we all know everything is better with bacon, right?  That just goes without saying! It makes everything rich and special enough for your holiday guests.
 The other thing that I love about this recipe is that it is cooked on the stove top, not in the oven. If you've ever cooked Thanksgiving dinner, I'm sure I don't need to tell you that oven space is precious real estate that is not always readily available when you're trying to get everything cooked and hot at the same time. Having the option of cooking something without using the oven is a life saver (not to mention a time saver as well!) You just sit it on the back burner and let it braise until everything is nice and tender, and the cider is sweet and syrupy. YUM! Oh, and if you're not a fan of turnips, I think maybe you just haven't found the right recipe for them. This could be the one to change your mind! And if you've never tried them, well, now is the perfect opportunity! Enjoy!

1-1/2 lb. small purple-top or white turnips (about 9 small)
4 slices bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 Tbs. unsalted butter
1 cup apple cider
2 tsp. granulated sugar
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large firm, sweet apple such as Pink Lady or Braeburn
2 tsp. chopped fresh sage


Peel the turnips and cut them in half lengthwise. Cut each half into wedges 1 inch thick at the widest point. Put the bacon pieces in a large skillet and set over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels. Pour off the bacon fat from the pan and set the pan back on the burner. Add the butter and, when it’s melted, add the turnips, apple cider, sugar, and 1-1/2 tsp. salt. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cover the pan with the lid slightly askew, reduce the heat to medium high, and cook at a steady boil, shaking the pan occasionally, until the turnips are just tender but not soft (a pairing knife should enter a turnip with just a little resistance), 8  to 10 minutes. Meanwhile, peel and core the apple and cut it into 1/2-inch slices. Uncover the pan, add the sliced apples and sage, and continue to boil, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has reduced to a sticky glaze, 2 to 3 minutes. The turnips should be soft and the apples should be crisp-tender. (If not, add a few tablespoons of water and continue to cook for another 1  to 2  minutes.) Toss in the cooked bacon and season to taste with black pepper and more salt if necessary.


Tips:
I know I usually like to switch things around and tweak a recipe here and there, but for this one, I didn't change a thing! It's just absolutely delicious as it is. I used Honeycrisp apples, because they're my favorite. What's yours? I also didn't drain out all of the bacon fat as instructed, because... bacon.


Monday, November 13, 2017

Apple, Sausage, and Parsnip Stuffing with Fresh Sage


 Here's a stuffing recipe that I found on Epicurious.com. As soon as I saw it I thought "well, if THAT doesn't scream THANKSGIVING, I don't know what does!" Sausage stuffing with fresh sage? I mean, COME ON! And the apples and parsnips bring a sweetness to the party that is simply just perfect!! It's definitely something new and different, but it's classic at the same time. Cool, huh?
 Now, if you've read any of my other recipes, you know that I can't leave a recipe alone. In this case, I didn't change the ingredients listed in the original recipe, I changed the AMOUNTS. Apparently, the folks at Epicurious were feeding an army, and their amounts were about twice as much as I needed for my 9x13 casserole dish. Then again, they used part of it to stuff the turkey, and part of it to bake in a dish. Since I prefer to stuff the turkey with aromatics, I just cut the recipe in half (except for the butter and chicken broth) and that's how I have listed the recipe below. It worked perfectly! However, if you have quite a gang to feed, or if you prefer to stuff your turkey with stuffing instead of aromatics, then by all means double everything and go for it!


1 lb loaf sliced sourdough bread with crust, cubed
1 lb sweet Italian sausages, casings removed
1 lb hot Italian sausages, casings removed
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cups celery. chopped
3/4 cup (1  1/2 sticks) butter
3 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, cubed
1 lb parsnips, peeled, cubed
1/4 cup packed fresh sage leaves
1/2 cup low-salt chicken broth


Preheat oven to 325°F.
Bake bread cubes on a large rimmed baking sheet until lightly toasted, about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, sauté sausages in very large skillet over medium-high heat until cooked through, breaking into pieces with spoon, about 15 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer to large bowl; add bread.
Add onions and celery to same skillet and sauté until golden brown, about 10 minutes; transfer to bowl with bread. Melt 1/4 cup butter in same skillet over medium-high heat. Add apples and sauté until tender, about 8 minutes; mix apples into stuffing. Melt 1/4 cup butter in same skillet over medium-high heat. Add parsnips and sauté until golden, about 10 minutes; mix into stuffing. Melt 1/4 cup butter in same skillet. Add sage and sauté until dark green, about 2 minutes. Mix sage and butter into stuffing. Season with salt and pepper.
Place in buttered casserole dish. Drizzle with 1/2 cup chicken broth. Cover with foil.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Bake stuffing covered until heated through, about 1 hour. Uncover and bake until beginning to brown, about 10 minutes.


Tips:
When I brought some to my brother, Chris, he said he wished that it would hold together a little more. Since there are no eggs or any kind of binder to the recipe, the best way to keep everything together is to chop everything a little more finely than I did, and don't skimp on the butter and chicken broth. Again, the amounts are just guidelines. Add them til it's enough!
This can absolutely be prepared a day in advance. Actually, you could even do it TWO days in advance if you cover it tightly with foil and keep it in the fridge until it's time for baking.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Joey's Cauliflower and Carrot Gratin



 If there was ever a dish that screams home cooking, it's a casserole. By definition, a casserole is a dish served in the pan in which it was cooked, and it often has meat and vegetables and a crunchy or cheesy topping. That sounds like home cooking to me! For this casserole, there's no meat, but the veggies are a match made in culinary heaven! Who would have ever guessed that something as simple as cauliflower and carrots would go so well together in a casserole???? Well, Pillsbury, for one, which is where I first discovered the recipe.
 But here's the thing.. when I first made Pillsbury's recipe, I found the cheese sauce to be just SO bland. Like, there wasn't really anything special about it. It just tasted like melted American cheese. Now, I love American cheese as much as anyone, but for a casserole to be good enough for Thanksgiving, it needed to be just a little more fabulous, in my humble opinion. So I gave it a little makeover. OMG it was SO much better!!! Clearly, they should have asked my opinion as they were developing this recipe! LOL I'm not even kidding. Just the addition of a couple extra ingredients pushed everything WAY over the top and suddenly now we've gone from boring to showstopper!
 So if you're looking for a new something to add to your Thanksgiving menu, consider giving this one a try! Even if you're not making it for a big holiday meal, it's still easy enough for a simple Sunday supper. This just might become a new favorite!


1 lb carrots, peeled and sliced into thick coins
1 head cauliflower, cored and cut into florets
6 tbs butter
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 or 2 two big pinches of dried or fresh thyme leaves
3 tbs flour
1 tsp mustard
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
8 slices American Cheese
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup Panko bread crumbs


Heat oven to 350°F. Spray 2 1/2-quart casserole with cooking spray.
In a large pot, bring about 8 cups of water to a boil. Add carrots and cook for about 10 minutes. Add the cauliflower and cook for an additional 4 minutes. Drain and set aside.
Meanwhile, in 4-quart saucepan, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter. Cook onion in butter about 4 minutes, stirring occasionally, until softened. Add garlic and thyme. Saute a minute or two longer. Stir in flour, mustard, salt, and pepper with whisk; cook about 1 minute or until bubbly. Slowly stir in milk. Cook and stir until bubbly and slightly thickened. Remove from heat; stir in cheeses until melted. Stir in carrots and cauliflower. Pour into casserole. In small microwavable bowl, microwave remaining 3 tablespoons butter on high for 1 minute or until melted; stir in bread crumbs. Sprinkle over vegetable mixture. Bake uncovered 25 to 30 minutes or until bubbly around edges. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Tips:
For a little extra something, add a splash of white wine to your cheese sauce. It will elevate it to "special occasion" status!
Use whatever veggies you like! You could absolutely add broccoli or parsnips or even just baby red potatoes. Anything you like!
Not a fan of American cheese? Use any kind you like? Any cheese that melts really well will work!


Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Slow Cooker Mashed Potatoes


 Can one really ever have too many potato recipes???? I think not! So here's an easy one that you can prep the night before your big holiday meal, and then just turn it on in the morning. SO easy!!!
 When you're cooking for a crowd and you have several pots and pans going at the same time on the stove, isn't it nice to know you have another alternative? Of course, I'm talking about your slow cooker!!! To be quite honest, I've been using mine quite a lot lately and it has become one of my most favorite items in the kitchen. It works miracles! Even the novice cook will have great success using a slow cooker, especially with a recipe as easy as this one. I got it from a video on Thekitchn.com and it's pretty amazing. They did mention one thing, though. The longer your potatoes cook, the more they will brown around the edges of the crock pot. They advised scooping away the browned bits if you don't want them mixed into your mash, (I also wonder if giving it a stir every so often will prevent it from becoming brown), but frankly, I didn't see this as a problem. Did you ever watch Chef Anne Burrell? She's always saying "brown food tastes good!" And guess what! She's not wrong! I say let them get brown, mash 'em all together, stir in your butter and cream, and savor ever single bite! Now THAT's what I call Thanksgiving mashed potatoes! Boom.


5 pounds russet potatoes
3 to 4 cloves garlic, optional
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt, plus more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
3 to 3 1/2 cups milk, or a mixture of milk and cream
1/2 cup unsalted butter 

Chopped chives, for garnish, if desired


 Lightly grease the slow cooker insert with butter or cooking spray. Peel the potatoes and chop into 1" small pieces. Transfer the potatoes to the slow cooker. Smash the garlic cloves, if using, and drop on top of the potatoes. Stir in the salt and a generous quantity of black pepper. Pour in 1 1/2 cups milk. Cover the slow cooker and cook 4 to 5 hours on HIGH or until the potatoes are very tender and soft. Turn the heat to WARM.
 When the potatoes are done, melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat. Stir 2 cups milk, or a mixture of milk and cream, into the melted butter and warm gently over low heat. If you used garlic but don't want the potatoes super garlicky, remove the garlic cloves and discard. Use a spoon to scoop out and discard any browned bits on the sides of the pot, if desired. Use a potato masher or ricer to mash the potatoes right in the pot. When the potatoes are as smooth as you like, slowly stir in the warmed dairy and butter. The potatoes will look soupy at first but the potatoes will quickly soak up the liquid. Add an additional 1/2 cup of milk or cream if you want them to be even creamier. Taste and season with additional salt or pepper, if desired. To keep the potatoes warm, leave in the covered slow cooker on the WARM setting for up to 4 hours. 

Tips:
For dairy free potatoes, just use chicken or vegetable broth instead of butter and cream. 
For a little variety, add other root vegetables such as parsnips, turnips, rutabagas, and/or carrots.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Baked Mashed Potatoes


 If you've ever cooked a big holiday dinner, you know that one of the most important things to consider is time management. So how do you get everything done and hot and on the table at the same time??? You do as much as possible in advance! And this is the perfect recipe to do a day or two ahead of the big meal. You can literally make and assemble this entire dish and then bake it in time for dinner, or you can even do everything, baking included, and then just heat it up when the time comes.
 I literally can't even remember where I got this recipe. I think it may have been something that I just threw together one night and then jotted down for a later date, and now here we are! This is absolutely one of my very favorite mashed potato recipes of all time, like in the history of ever, so you should definitely give this one a try!

5lbs Yukon Gold potatoes
8 oz cream cheese
1 1/2 sticks butter
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup (or more) french fried onion rings

Peel and quarter your potatoes. Place potatoes in a giant bowl of cold water. Swish them around to rinse away most of the starch, then drain. Do this two or three times. Boil potatoes until fork tender and then drain very well.
Use a potato ricer or food mill to mash the potatoes into a big bowl. In a small pot, melt together the cream cheese, butter, and cream. Stir into mashed potatoes. Season well with salt and pepper. Place potatoes in a 9x13 casserole pan. Sprinkle with onion rings. Bake at 350ºF for 45 minutes to an hour or until golden on top.

Tips:
-My best tip for making mashed potatoes is to use a ricer. It gets out all of the lumps! (if you're not familiar with a potato ricer, it basically looks like a great big oversized garlic press!) If you just use a regular hand masher, you may not get all of the lumps, which is fine, but I prefer a smoother mash. Definitely do NOT use a big mixer to mash your potatoes. The texture will become like glue!
-Be sure to rinse the peeled potatoes a few times before you boil them. Getting rid of that extra starch will give you a fluffier potato. Otherwise all of that starch will turn your potatoes into spackle.
-When you melt the butter and cream and cream cheese, it may seem like there's far too much liquid for that amount of potatoes, but just go with me on this. It will all stir in, and you'll have beautifully rich and creamy potatoes!
Be sure to season well! The potatoes will take more salt and pepper than you think they will!
For a little extra flavor, add some fresh garlic to the pot when you melt the butter and cream mixture!

Monday, October 30, 2017

Joey's Autumn Harvest Stew



Ok, so let's talk about my FAVORITE new recipe in quite a long time.
Every so often, I'll come up with an idea that I can't seem to get out of my head, and this was absolutely one of those times. I was thinking that I wanted to do a savory something with fresh pumpkin. A one-pot dish sounded like a good idea... maybe a soup? or a stew? Yes, definitely something along those lines. I also thought it might be cool to add a few other autumnal ingredients. Another kind of squash, maybe some corn, and definitely something green for color. I also had the idea to include barley to add a little body to the stew. Again, ideas that just stick in my mind until I go ahead and try them. I did some googling, found a couple recipes to use as inspiration, and this was the result! This stew has the most AMAZING flavor, you won't even believe it. I'm not even kidding when I tell you that I couldn't stop eating it! It's rich but not heavy, hearty but not too filling, fresh but still very deep with flavor. It's also cozy and comforting and it'll definitely hit the spot. It only took about an hour to make, but it has the taste of something that is simmered all afternoon. And it lends itself to any number of variations. I think that's one of my favorite things about this recipe. I'll probably NEVER make it the same way twice! Want to make it completely vegetarian? Use vegetable broth and leave out the meat. Don't like barley? Add rice instead! The possibilities are endless.
 I think the reason I love this one so much is that it feels like something my Mom would make. She used to say to me "Just put it in a pot and let it cook." It sounds simple, but seriously, that's how she always did it. It's definitely the best way to cook and it's how I learned! So you should absolutely give this one a try. It definitely tastes like home, like a big hug in a bowl.
 I hope you like it :)
 


2 tbs butter 
2 tbs olive oil 
1 medium onion, chopped 
2 cloves garlic, chopped
several sprigs of fresh thyme, tied together with cotton twine 
2 tbs fresh sage, chopped
1 or 2 bay leaves
2 tsp kosher salt 
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp paprika 
2 cups fresh pumpkin, peeled, seeded, cubed
1 acorn squash, peeled, seeded, cubed
1 can cream style corn
8 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 cup pearl barley, uncooked 
2 big handfuls of kale, chopped
1/2 rotisserie chicken, pulled from the bone and shredded
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup flour 
crisped and crumbled bacon, optional


In a large pot, melt butter and oil together over medium heat. Add onions and garlic. Saute for just a few minutes until the onions begin to soften and the garlic becomes fragrant. Add the herbs, seasonings, pumpkin, and acorn squash. Toss all until well coated. Add the corn and the chicken broth. Bring it to a bowl then reduce the heat to simmer. Add the barley and give it a good stir. Simmer for about 45 minutes. Add the chopped kale and the shredded chicken. Stir in the cream. Make a slurry with the flour and 1/2 cup cold water. Add to the pot. Stir and simmer until it thickens. Adjust seasoning if needed. Remove thyme bundle and bay leaves from the pot. Serve deep soup bowls. Garnish each bowl with crumbled bacon, if desired.


Tips:
This is one of those recipes where you really don't need a recipe. The amounts are just guidelines. Taste as you go, and add as much or as little as you like. It will all work!
I used pumpkin and sweet dumpling squash, but you can use butternut, acorn, or literally any of the nearly 150 varieties that are out there. Use any kind you like! Use potatoes instead of barley, add carrots, parsnips, turnips, or any other root vegetable. Use the recipe as a springboard to make it your own!


Monday, October 23, 2017

Joey's Pumpkin Salsa


 This one is as surprisingly delicious as it is unexpected. I'm the first in line when it comes to pumpkin spice EVERYTHING, but I'm sure I've never thought of doing a pumpkin SALSA! And guess what!?!? It's absolutely DELISH!!! It has a few of your regular salsa ingredients but then it also has pumpkin and cinnamon too! Who knew?? Whodathunkit? Seriously, it really does work! I had a few friends over for a pumpkin themed dinner and movie, and they immediately LOVED it! They could instantly tell that it was PUMPKIN, but it still tastes like salsa! Crazy, right?? I think that tiny little bit of cinnamon is what makes it. It's really good!!!
 So if you're having a party, or just a simple movie night with a few friends, give the unexpected a try! The pumpkin fans in your life will thank you for it!

olive oil
1 small onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium tomatoes, diced
2 10oz cans diced tomatoes with chilis
1 jalapeno pepper, seeds and membranes removed, minced
1 cup purchased salsa (your choice of hot or mild)
1 15oz can pumpkin puree
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
pinch of crushed red pepper flakes, (or to taste)
Small handful of fresh cilantro, chopped

Add a couple tbs of olive oil to a small sauce pan. Add minced onions and garlic. Gently saute until they begin to soften. Remove from heat. Add to a large mixing bowl, along with all remaining ingredients. Stir until well combined. Chill until ready to serve with your choice of chips.


Tips:
-If you are not a fan of cilantro, just use fresh parsley!!!
-The next time I make this, I'll definitely add a can of whole kernel corn. I would have added it this time, but I didn't happen to have any on hand. You could also add a can of (drained and rinsed) black beans.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Pumpkin Cheesecake


 If you're looking for a CLASSIC pumpkin cheesecake recipe, this is definitely it! As I was searching for recipes and comparing ingredients, I chose this one specifically because it doesn't have too many bells and whistles. Sometimes I find recipes that have so many fillings and toppings and spices that the main ingredient gets completely lost. But with this one, it's just straight up pumpkin and cream cheese, not too many spices, and a little cinnamon and whipped cream on top. In my humble opinion, it's how pumpkin cheesecake is supposed to taste!
 Ok, now, don't be intimidated by the thought of making a cheesecake. It's really easy! The most important thing is to buy a springform pan. After that, it's all downhill! Just follow the directions and there you go! This recipe is from Betty Crocker, but I tweaked it ever so slightly. It's so perfectly delicious. I think this is now my go to pumpkin cheesecake recipe.
 Once you taste it, it'll be yours too!


Crust:
1 3/4 cups graham cracker crumbs (about 24 squares)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 cup butter or margarine, melted

Filling:
1/4 cup flour
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1 tsp rum extract, if desired
1 can (15 oz) pumpkin puree
4 packages (8 oz each) cream cheese, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
2/3 cup granulated sugar
5 eggs
1/2 cup heavy cream
 

 Heat oven to 325°F. Grease 9-inch springform pan with shortening.  In small bowl, mix cracker crumbs, 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, and the melted butter. Press crumb mixture in bottom of pan. Bake crust 8 to 10 minutes or until set. Cool 5 minutes at room temperature. Refrigerate about 5 minutes or until completely cooled. Meanwhile, in another small bowl, whisk flour, pumpkin pie spice, rum extract, and pumpkin together until well blended; set aside. In large bowl, beat cream cheese with electric mixer on medium speed until smooth and creamy. Gradually beat in brown sugar and granulated sugar until smooth. On low speed, beat in 1 egg at a time just until blended. Gradually stir in pumpkin mixture and heavy cream until smooth. Pour filling over crust. Bake 1 hour 15 minutes to 1 hour 25 minutes or until set but center of cheesecake still jiggles slightly when moved. Turn oven off; open oven door about 4 inches. Let cheesecake remain in oven 30 minutes. Run knife around edge of pan to loosen cheesecake. Cool in pan on wire rack 30 minutes. Refrigerate at least 6 hours or overnight before serving. To serve, run knife around edge of pan to loosen cheesecake. Carefully remove side of pan before cutting cheesecake. Top with whipped cream, if desired. Store covered in refrigerator.

Tips:
 The original recipe called for adding 2 tbs brandy. I decided to add 1 tsp rum extract instead. It was a total game changer! In fact, I think it's what makes this pumpkin cheesecake stand out from all the rest! I also added the heavy cream to the batter (which was also not in the original recipe) because I think it makes it more velvety and smooth. Just sayin!
If you're worried about your cheesecake cracking in the center, I've heard that it helps to put a pan of hot water in the oven on the rack below your cheesecake. TBH, I'm not sure if that works or not. As far as I can tell, the main factor in cheesecake crackage is temperature. If you take a hot cheesecake out of the oven and put it in the cold fridge, you're gonna wind up with the San Andreas Fault right down the middle of your cake. Best to leave it in the oven and turn off the heat, then let it SLOWLY cool to room temperature before you put it in the fridge to chill. And if you do wind up with the San Andreas Fault, don't worry! Just cover the top with whipped cream! No one will ever know!

Monday, October 16, 2017

Pumpkin Streusel Bars



I was recently looking for a pumpkin cheese something, and I happened upon these little gems on Sally's Baking Addiction. Honestly, if you've never looked at her website, you really should. I've shared many of her recipes in the past, and they never disappoint! The same is true for this one! They're rich but not heavy, and have just the right amount of sweetness to let the pumpkin and spices shine through. And the gingersnap crust makes it even better!
 OK, ok,  I know it may seem like there are a lot of ingredients and a lot of steps, but it's really not that big of a deal. You just make each component and you layer it on top, that's all. Easy peasy! And one of my favorite things about this recipe is the fact that you do it ahead. Since it needs to refrigerate for several hours, you can easily do this a day or two ahead of time which makes it a time saver! Take it from someone who is ALL about time management when it comes to cooking for a big crowd. If you can do anything ahead of time, do it! So, thank you, Sally, for sharing your awesome recipe.
And if you love pumpkin as much as I do, you need to try this recipe. You'll be glad you did!

Crust:
1 1/4 cups gingersnap cookie crumbs
2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted

 Filling:
 8 oz cream cheese, softened to room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups pumpkin puree 
1/3 cup sour cream
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon EACH ground cloves, ground nutmeg, ground ginger

Topping:
1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
1/3 cup packed light or dark brown sugar
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsalted butter, cold and cubed

Glaze:
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbs milk or cream


 Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line the bottom and sides of an 8-inch or 9-inch baking pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper, leaving enough overhang on all sides. Set aside.
For the crust:
Mix the cookie crumbs, sugar, and butter together in a medium bowl until combined. Press into the bottom of the prepared pan. The crust will be thick. Bake the crust for 10 minutes as you prepare the filling. Turn oven up to 350°F.
For the filling:
Using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese and sugar together in a large bowl on high speed until creamy and smooth, about 1 minute. On low speed, add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. On medium speed, beat the vanilla, pumpkin, sour cream, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and ginger in. Continue beating until everything is combined and creamy. Pour the filling into the warm crust. Set aside.
For the topping:
Whisk the oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, and flour together in a medium bowl. Cut in the chilled butter with a pastry blender or two forks (or even with your hands) until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle evenly over filling. Bake for about 45 minutes, making sure to loosely cover the bars with aluminum foil around the 30 minute mark. The foil prevents the top from getting too brown. The bars are done when the edges are lightly browned and the center is set-- this could be slightly before or after the 40 minute mark. Allow to cool in the pan set on a wire rack at room temperature for 1 hour. Transfer to the refrigerator to chill for 3 additional hours - or overnight. Lift the foil or parchment out of the pan using the overhang on the sides and cut into bars. I usually cut them into 16 smaller bars, but you can cut them into 12 larger bars.
For the glaze:
Just whisk the glaze ingredients together until smooth. Drizzle bars with glaze or top with whipped cream if desired.


Tips:
Instead of sour cream, you can also use Greek yogurt, and instead of the spices, you can use Pumpkin Pie Spice blend (which is basically the same spices anyway. It's just easier!)
Instead of gingersnaps, use any kind of cookie you like! shortbread, vanilla wafers, and of course graham crackers would be great as well!
Wanna make it in a 9x13 pan? double everything!
Sally's make ahead tip is the bars stay fresh in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. You can freeze the bars for up to 3 months. Then, thaw overnight in the refrigerator before serving and glazing.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Caramel Pumpkin Poke Cake


  Whenever I start to blog about a recipe, I always try to find something creative to add to the story. It could be where/how I happened to find the recipe, or maybe it was for a specific event or something seasonally festive. But somehow my blogs all wind up sounding the same "this recipe is so easy!" or "it's the perfect recipe to make ahead of time!" or "it's so delicious!" and of course "You should try this!"
 But here's the thing.. Those are my FAVORITE kinds of recipes! I mean, that's pretty much the best kind of recipe, right? One that is easy, convenient, and delish!! So I'm making no apologies for sometimes sounding like a broken record. There. I said it.
 So this brings me to this week's recipe! It's SUPER easy to make, it's a total do ahead, and you won't even believe how delicious it is!! (you knew I was gonna say that, right?).
 I made this for Anthony, one of my dearest friends in the whole wide world, and he texted me the very next day saying "I NEED to try to make this cake! It's my new favorite thing!" hehehe That works for me! I also shared some with my friend Michelle and she immediately asked me for the recipe. So there you go. This one meets all of the CWJ criteria and I'm owning the fact that I often say the same thing about my recipes because it's all still true!
Oh, and one more thing... You should definitely try this!!!!!


Cake:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice blend
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup whole milk

Caramel Topping:
1/2 cup caramel sauce
1/2 cup heavy cream
pinch of salt


Whipped Cream Frosting
1/2 cup cold heavy cream
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract


Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease an 8x8 square pan.
In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, spice blend, and salt. In another large mixing bowl, beat together on medium speed the oil, sugar, and brown sugar until combined. Beat in the egg until smooth. Beat in the pumpkin and vanilla. Add the flour mixture alternately with the milk, adding the flour in 3 additions and the milk in 2 additions (begin and end with dry ingredients). Spread the batter into the pan and bake 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, combine the caramel sauce with the cream and pinch of salt. While the cake is still warm, poke roughly 16 holes into the cake (4 rows of 4 holes each) with the bottom of a long and round handle of a wooden spoon or similar object.  Pour caramel mixture over the cake, making sure to fill the holes. Let the cake cool completely. Stir the powdered sugar and vanilla into the heavy cream until dissolved, then whip into stiff peaks. Top your chilled cake with whipped cream (be sure to fill up the holes!) and serve.

Tips:
  If you want to use a 9x13 pan, just double everything! Then you'll be able to use up the whole can of pumpkin instead of using just a cup and then having nothing to do with the rest. The can of pumpkin may be just shy of the doubled amount, but I think it'll be close enough that you can get away with it. Don't forget to double the caramel mixture as well!
If you like, you can add a little extra salt to the caramel and cream. Because, well, salted caramel.
  As always, whenever I'm baking something in a pan, I like to line it with parchment paper with a couple inches hanging over the edge. Then I can use the paper as a sling to lift the whole thing out of the pan at once. In this case, I left it in the pan, poured the caramel sauce over everything, then chilled it in the fridge before removing it from the pan.


Monday, October 2, 2017

Cream Cheese-Filled Pumpkin Bread


 For years and years, any time I've ever made pumpkin bread, I've used my Mom's recipe for Pumpkin Loaf. It's simply perfect as it is, doesn't need any bells or whistles (as my Mom would say), doesn't need any icing or even powdered sugar. It's perfect as it is.
 But then I saw this recipe on a blog called Averie Cooks, and I thought "Why not? Lets switch things up this time!" So I did! I figured this one probably falls into the "how can this not be good" category, and I was absolutely right.  It's just as delicious as you'd think a rich layer of cream cheese filling in the middle of your pumpkin bread would be. So that's really all there is to say about it! If you're always looking for your next pumpkin something to try (like I am), then you should try this one! Oh
Oh wait, actually, there is one other thing I should say..
I love all of the tips that are included right in the recipe about testing for doneness. My favorite sentence is "Watch your bread, not the clock." I think that hits a note with me because that's how Mom always cooked. If you asked her how long to cook something, she'd say "Until it's done." Gotta love it! Thanx, Averie!

Bread:
1 large egg
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup liquid-state coconut oil (canola or vegetable may be substituted)
1/4 cup cup sour cream (lite is okay; or Greek yogurt may be substituted)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2  teaspoon baking powder
1/2  teaspoon baking soda
pinch salt, optional and to taste

 Cream Cheese Filling:
1 large egg
4 ounces softened brick-style cream cheese (lite is okay)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

 Preheat oven to 350F. Spray one 9×5-inch loaf pan with floured cooking spray, or grease and flour the pan; set aside. 
Bread – In a large bowl, add the the first ten ingredients, through ground nutmeg, and whisk to combine. Add the flour, baking powder, baking soda, optional salt, and fold with spatula or stir gently with a spoon until just combined; don’t overmix; set aside. Turn about two-thirds of the batter out into the prepared pan, smoothing the top lightly with a spatula and pushing it into corners and sides as necessary; set aside. 
Cream Cheese Filling – In a large bowl, add all ingredients and whisk to combine. Alternatively, mix with a hand mixer. Evenly pour filling mixture over the bread, smoothing the top lightly with a spatula and pushing it into corners and sides as necessary. Top filling with remaining pumpkin batter, smoothing the top very lightly with a spatula as to not disturb cream cheese layer and pushing batter into corners and sides as necessary. Bake for about 48 minutes or until the top is domed, golden, and the center is set, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, or with a few moist crumbs, but no batter. Note this is tricky because the cream cheese never gets totally solid so the toothpick test isn’t the most accurate. Tip – Tent the pan with a sheet of foil draped over it at the 35 minute-mark if you feel the tops and sides will become too browned before center cooks through. Baking times will vary based on moisture content of pumpkin, cream cheese, climate, and oven variances. Bake until done; watch your bread, not the clock. Allow bread to cool in pan for about 15 minutes before turning out on a wire rack to cool completely before slicing and serving.

Tips:
I didn't have coconut oil, so I used regular vegetable oil. Worked perfectly! I added extra spice because I like a spicier pumpkin bread, and in my opinion there's no such thing as too much cinnamon! I also added the optional pinch of salt because it makes everything taste better!!
On Averie's blog, it says "Bread will keep airtight at room temperature for up to 1 week, or in the freezer for up to 6 months." My only thought is that there's no way this will last a week sitting on the counter. Mine was gone after the first day!

Monday, September 25, 2017

Joey's Sauerkraut and Sausage Casserole


 Whenever I'm planning to have friends over for dinner, my first question is "what is your favorite food?" Dinner is almost guaranteed to be a success if you cook someone's favorite, am I right? So when I asked my friend, Anthony, what his favorite dish is, he said that he loves sauerkraut! I immediately thought of my brother, Chris, who makes the BEST homemade sauerkraut EVER! Perfect! But now, I can't just serve a bowl of sauerkraut. I need to make this into more of a dinner. (Although, I'm sure Anthony wouldn't have minded one bit). Then I figured, why not turn it into something even more fabulous! I added some smoked sausage, some aromatics, and a few fresh herbs. Boom! We have a casserole! Basically, I just started throwing a few things into the pan, and it all seemed to work out perfectly! Anthony loved it, and I must say I did too. Oh, and I also got full approval from Chris, who is already working on the next big batch of sauerkraut! (I'm really gonna have to do a how-to video with him one of these days.)
 So if sauerkraut is high on your list of food faves, you should give this a try. It's seriously everything you want a sauerkraut casserole to be!



4 tbs butter
1 lb kielbasa or other smoked sausage
1 large onion, sliced
3 large cloves garlic, minced
1 lb sauerkraut, drained
4 large red potatoes, roughly diced
2 tbs brown sugar
a few sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed from the stem
a few sprigs fresh oregano, leaves removed from the stem
salt and pepper to taste

Heat oven to 350ºF.
In a large skillet, melt the butter. Slice sausage into coins and saute over medium heat until browned. Add onions and garlic. Continue to saute a few minutes longer,, until onions have softened. Meanwhile, add remaining ingredients to a large bowl. Add sausage mixture and toss all ingredients until well combined. Pour all into a casserole dish, and cover with foil. Bake for 45-60 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender.  Can serve with a big dollop of sour cream, if desired.

Note- if you want to save a little time, chop your potatoes into smaller chunks. Larger pieces take longer to cook!

Tips:
As always, whenever I'm making a casserole, the amounts in the recipe are just guidelines. If you like a lot of onions, add a lot of onions! If you worship in the house of garlic, go for it! Make it the way YOU like it!
Not a fan of kielbasa? Add any other kind of sausage you like! Of course it would be great with hot dogs. You could even do it with chunks of boneless pork! Yum.
I always prefer fresh herbs to dried, but if you only have dried herbs, use 'em! I would say probably just about a half tsp of each, but add as much or as little as you like!
Another variation would be to add a diced apple to the onions as you saute. That would be a delicious hit of sweet with the sour! Hmm.. I think I'll do that next time!
Oh, btw, I didn't rinse the sauerkraut. I always feel like that just washes away all that delicious flavor. But if your palate finds sauerkraut to be a bit harsh, then by all means give it a good rinse!

Monday, September 18, 2017

Slow Cooker Peach Cobbler



 At this time of year, I always feel a little bummed out that our summer produce will be gone for a while. Since I live in The Garden State, every summer I'm lucky enough to have access to some of the best produce you'll ever taste! And then come September, I have to say goodbye to them and spend seemingly endless months looking forward to next summer's crop. Honestly, if you've never had Jersey Corn and Jersey Tomatoes, you are not living your best life. And the peaches... OMG THE PEACHES. Frankly, I've never met a peach ANYTHING that I didn't like, and I'm forever looking for new and different things to make with them. So, as this summer comes to a close, I find myself wanting to do one more peach recipe before saying goodbye to them until next summer. But what to do? I've already done cakes, pies, jams, and cobblers, but I wanted to do something NEW! (or at least new to me!). 
 And then I thought of my slow cooker. This was definitely the way to go! Seriously, if you don't have a slow cooker, you NEED to get one! I literally have 4 of them (in different sizes) and I use ALL of them! So it made perfect sense to find a peach recipe that uses one. This is a recipe that I found on a blog called Recipes That Crock, only I tweaked it to use fresh peaches.
 It turned out just as perfectly as I had hoped! SO GOOD! (and it made my whole apt smell HEAVENLY!) When I sent out a text to my gang of friends asking if anyone would like to have some cobbler, my friend Nate's response was "Oh God, YES.". LOL He was an immediate fan! And of course, you MUST serve it with vanilla ice cream. I'm pretty sure that's a law.
 So if you love fresh peaches as much as I do, give this recipe a try. It's really crazy simple to throw together, and I know you'll love it!!


Peaches (maybe 4 or 5?)
a spritz of lemon juice
1-2 tbs sugar

1 stick butter, melted
1 cup milk
1 cup sugar
1 cup flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon

Peel and slice peaches. Place them in a bowl with the lemon juice and 1-2 tbs sugar depending on how sweet your peaches are or how sweet you like your cobbler). Toss to coat peaches, set aside.
 Place melted butter in the bottom of your slow cooker. In a mixing bowl, stir together remaining ingredients. It will the consistency of a thin pancake batter. Pour the batter over the butter. Do not stir.  Spoon the peaches (including any accumulated juices) over the batter. Again, do not stir. Place a paper towel or clean tea towel under the lid to catch any condensation. Cook on high for 2 hours or until cobbler is set. Serve with vanilla ice cream.

Tips:
This recipe can be prepped in advance, and then kept in the fridge until it's time to bake. It's a great way to free up the oven if you have other things to bake!
I purposely didn't specify how many peaches to use. Just add as many as you like on top of the batter. (or as many as will fit, depending on the size of your slow cooker). If you don't have fresh ripe peaches, you can definitely use canned peaches, including the syrup. Just omit the sugar and lemon juice.
Although I haven't tried it yet, I'm sure this recipe will work perfectly with other kinds of fruit. Of course, apples would be my first choice, but I bet you could use any variety of fresh or canned fruits or any combination of fruit.  Be creative!!


Monday, September 11, 2017

Chicken Pesto and Zucchini "Pasta"


  Ok, so, it's the end of summer and you have a ton of zucchini, tomatoes, and basil from your garden and you have no idea what to do with them, am I right? Well, this is absolutely the recipe for you! Actually, even if you don't have a garden or a ton of zucchini and tomatoes, this is still the recipe for you! I saw it in one of those Tasty videos that is bouncing around social media and it looked easy, so I gave it a shot. I must say, it really is, well, quite TASTY! It's also very quick to make, so it's perfect for a midweek meal. And yes, as you can see there's no pasta in the dish. It's just ribbons of zucchini masquerading as pasta, which is great news for anyone who may be choosing cut down on carbs. On the flip side, if you want to add real pasta to it, go right ahead! It'll be awesome!
  So no matter how you decide to make it, I know you'll absolutely love it. It's definitely just the thing when you want one last taste of summer before the cooler weather rolls in!


4 cups basil
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
½ cup pine nuts
2 cloves garlic
½ lemon, juiced
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
½ cup olive oil
 Oil
3 zucchini
1 cup cherry tomatoes
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, chopped



 In a food processor, combine the basil, Parmesan, pine nuts, garlic, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and olive oil. Pulse until smooth texture. Set aside.
 With a vegetable peeler, shave ribbons of the zucchini until you reach the seeds. Set aside.
Slice the cherry tomatoes and set aside.
Heat a skillet over medium high. Add a little oil to the pan, the chicken breasts, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook until the chicken is cooked through and browned on all surfaces.
Turn off the heat and add the cherry tomatoes, pesto, and zucchini ribbons. Toss until well combined and heated through. 

Tips:
Honestly, I wouldn't change a thing. It's so fresh and flacvorful, just make it as is, and you're good to go. If you want to take a little shortcut, you could use jarred pesto sauce, but fresh is always so much better. 
If you want to make it a meatless dish, simply leave out the meat! It'll be delish either way!

Monday, September 4, 2017

Hawaiian Style Sweet and Sour Roasted Veggies



Ok, so here's a deliciously easy recipe that is fresh and light and perfect if you want something that isn't too heavy. It's the perfect mid week dinner because it doesn't take long at all. Just toss everything together on a sheet pan and pop it in the oven. Easy! I recently made it for a group of friends and everyone loved it. The key to the dish, in my humble opinion, is the sesame oil. Total game changer! In fact, I would absolutely choose to make a different dish rather than make this dish without it. It's just that important! Also the brown sugar and lime juice are just the things to balance each other out. It's so flavorful, EVERYONE went back for seconds. No leftovers at all!
Oh, btw, I should point out... when I first discovered this dish, it was called Hawaiian Style Sweet and Sour Roasted Pineapple and Bell Peppers. Frankly, I think that name is TOO LONG, and since I decided to add other veggies, I decided to shorten it ever so slightly. I'm sure the folks over at Vegetarian Times won't mind that I tweaked their recipe just a bit! Enjoy!



3 cups cubed fresh pineapple
1 medium red bell pepper, cubed (1 1/2 cups)
1 medium red onion, cut into thin wedges (1 1/2 cups)
1 1/2 cups sugar snap or snow peas
1 Tbs. toasted sesame oil
1 Tbs. vegetable oil
1 Tbs. dark or light brown sugar
1 Tbs. sweetened coconut flakes, optional
1 Tbs. lime juice



 Preheat oven to 400°F. Arrange pineapple cubes and veggies on ungreased rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with toasted sesame oil and vegetable oil, sprinkle with brown sugar, and season with salt and pepper, if desired. Toss to coat.
2. Roast pineapple mixture on center oven rack 30 minutes, or until lightly browned, turning once. Remove from oven and sprinkle with sweetened coconut flakes, if using, then drizzle with lime juice. Remove to serving bowl and toss well to combine. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Tips:
To make this a main course, I served this over rice with roasted shrimp. It was a huge hit! 
For a little added texture, sprinkle with chopped macadamia nuts, pistachios, or pine nuts.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Black and White Brownies


 Can one ever have too many brownie recipes? I think not! There are SO many twists and variations, it seems that the possibilities are endless. So anytime I happen upon a new brownie something, I'm all in. I mean, with that rich fudgy texture, chocolate or not, I'm absolutely a fan. Basically, whenever I want to whip up a quick homemade something, brownies are my go-to. They're great for a party, sure, but they're also great when you just want to bring a home baked smile to someone.
 When I first began my search for a new brownie, I couldn't decide whether I wanted to make the usual chocolate brownie or a white chocolate blondie version. Then I found this recipe and of course quickly decided that this was the best of both worlds. As always, I can never leave well enough alone, and once again, I tweaked the recipe a little here and there. They turned out rich and chewy and fudgy and OH SO GOOD! If you'd like to bring a smile to someone, I highly recommend trying them! Btw, they also make GREAT gifts for anyone in your family who has just left for college! There's nothing like receiving a little taste of home in the mail, is there? Boom.



3/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup white sugar
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tbs melted butter
1/2 tsp instant coffee granules
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup white chocolate chips
1/4 cup flour



 Heat oven to 350ºF. Lightly grease 9x13-inch baking pan, or line with parchment paper. Set aside. Beat 3/4 cup butter, white sugar, and brown sugar together in a bowl until light and fluffy; beat in eggs and vanilla extract. Sift 2 1/4 cups flour, baking powder, and salt together in a separate bowl; stir flour mixture into creamed butter mixture until batter is smooth. Divide batter into two bowls.
Stir cocoa powder and 1 tablespoon melted butter together in a bowl; stir into one of the bowls of batter. Dissolve coffee granules in 1 tsp hot water. Stir it into chocolate batter along with semisweet chocolate chips. Pour into the prepared baking pan.
Toss white chocolate chips with remaining 1/4 cup of flour, then stir into the remaining bowl of batter. Carefully spread evenly over the chocolate batter. Sprinkle additional white chocolate chips over the top. Bake until edges begin to pull away from the sides of the pan, 20 to 30 minutes. Cool completely before cutting into bars.


Tips:
The batters will be VERY thick and hard to spread. So we have a few options: You could spray your hand and use your fingers to press the sticky dough into the pan. Or you could do the same thing with the back of a spoon. Or you could dollop tablespoonfuls of the blonde batter over the chocolate batter and then use an offset spatula to spread it across the top. Or you could abandon then whole top/bottom idea altogether and just swirl the blonde batter into the chocolate. All of the above will work!
Btw, the instant coffee dissolved in a tiny bit of water is one of my little tweaks. Adding that little bit of coffee always makes chocolate taste more chocolatey!

Monday, August 21, 2017

Joey's Chicken Aurora



  Have you ever heard of Aurora sauce? Basically, it's just a fancy name for a tomato cream sauce. Kind of like if Marinara and Alfredo had a baby, her name would be Aurora. (see what I did there?) You may have also heard of it as a "blush" sauce, but it's pretty much the same thing either way. I made this dish for a casual movie night not too long ago, and I must say it turned out exactly as I hoped it would. This is my go-to type of recipe whenever I'm having a few friends over and it's always a big hit. Bite-sized chicken pieces, dredged in a little flour to give some texture, served over pasta with a rich delicious sauce. Seriously, what's not to love?
 TBH, this recipe did not start as a chicken recipe. I was looking for a way to use some of my fresh herbs. I have window boxes filled with herbs all summer long, and they grow like CRAZY! So this was a good way to use some of them. Adding the chicken was sort of an afterthought!
 Now, I know the sauce is a little bit rich, but trust me, the fresh herbs really cut through it, and the tang from the tomatoes really rounds everything out. I'm not even kidding when I tell you that I couldn't stop eating it! I don't eat pasta very often, but when I do, I like to make it count. And this dish is ABSOLUTELY worth every bite, with its velvety cream sauce, the fresh herbs, the zesty tomatoes, and that tiny little game-changing splash of sherry. Definitely add this to your repertoire of quick meals. It's just as perfect for a quickie no fuss weeknight meal as it is for a movie night or an elegant dinner. You'll definitely get rave reviews! Promise



1 lb any shape cut pasta
3 boneless chicken breasts
seasoned flour for dredging
1 jar sun died tomatoes, in oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup milk
a splash or three of dry sherry
1 tbs fresh basil, chopped
1 tbs fresh oregano, chopped
handful of grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste



 Fill a large pot with water. Add a good handful of salt. Bring to a boil. Add pasta and give it a stir. Boil according to package directions to desired tenderness. Drain well.
Meanwhile, cut the chicken into small pieces. Dredge the chicken pieces in flour until coated. In a large shallow pan, saute the chicken in a little oil or butter, until lightly browned on the outside, and cooked almost but not quite all the way through. Do this in batches, making sure not to crowd the pan. Remove chicken to a separate plate and set aside. While the chicken is cooking, drain the sun dried tomatoes and then julienne them into strips. After removing the last batch of chicken from the pan, add remaining ingredients. Stir well, making sure to scrape up any browned bits from the pan. Now add the chicken back to the pan, and finish cooking in the sauce. Adjust seasoning, if needed. Serve over pasta.


Tips:
You can easily serve this as a meatless dish. It absolutely stands on its own without the chicken.
For the seasoned flour, I like to just add salt, pepper, and garlic powder, but feel free to use anything you like.
When you're cooking the sauce, if it becomes too thick, just add a few more glugs of milk.
If you don't have sherry, you can add a little brandy, or vodka, or a little dry white wine. It's absolutely the key to the whole dish, so be sure to include it!
When you're adding the herbs, cheese, and sherry, add as much as you like!
If you'd like to add a little heat, add a few shakes of crushed red pepper flakes.
Btw, this sauce is FABULOUS over any kind of ravioli. Just sayin!

Monday, August 14, 2017

Plum Coffee Cake


 Usually when I'm in the mood to bake something, I choose what I'm going to bake, based on what ingredients I have on hand. Well, this time, I chose the recipe based on what I DIDN'T have on hand. It rarely happens, but somehow or other, I ran out of butter. WHAT???? I know. I know. It's crazy. Clearly I wasn't paying attention. Oh well. What can you do? So how does one bake without butter? First, one googles recipes that use oil instead. I also wanted to use some gorgeous red plums that were so ripe and sweet and juicy, they were begging to be baked into something fabulous. More googling. Luckily I found this recipe on Joyofbaking.com that just happens to fit all of my baking criteria. (Isn't Google a wonderful thing?) So I whipped it up, popped it in the oven, and in no time at all my apartment was smelling HEAVENLY as I was setting this perfectly gorgeous cake out to cool. It's REALLY easy to make, (you don't even need a mixer) and it's super tasty! Seriously, if you're a baking novice, you can do this one! If you can measure, you can bake it!
   Another great thing about this recipe is that you can use it as a blank slate for any sort of variation you'd like. The recipe states that you can add lemon or orange zest, but how about some almond extract? Or how about switching up the fruit! Use peaches or nectarines or sliced strawberries, even sliced apples or pears! And how about a pinch or two of spice? It SCREAMS for cinnamon and/or nutmeg. Just add some to the dry ingredients and then add a little to the sugar on top. SO many different possibilities. I know I'll be making this again and again, but I'm wondering if I'll ever make it the same way twice!! Maybe next time I'll really pump up the vanilla flavor by adding some fresh vanilla bean to the batter. YUM. And if YOU can think of any variations, be sure to let me know!!
 So, thank you, Joyofbaking.com, for the fabulous recipe. I now have a new favorite go-to recipe, and I didn't even have to go to the store to buy butter!


1 1/4 cups all purpose flour 
1/4 cup ground almonds
2 teaspoons baking powder 
1/4 teaspoon salt 
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup whole milk plain yogurt or flavored yogurt 
Zest of one orange or lemon (optional) 
1 teaspoon  pure vanilla extract
1 cup granulated white sugar 
7 - 8 Italian prune plums, halved and pitted or 4 - 5 red or black plums, halved and pitted (if the plums are large then cut into quarters)
1 - 2 tablespoons coarse brown sugar


 Heat oven ton 375ºF. Butter an 8 inch spring form pan. (Alternatively spray pan with non stick vegetable/flour spray.) Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper. Set Aside.
 In a large bowl, stir or whisk together the flour, ground almonds, baking powder and salt.
In another large bowl, stir or whisk together the eggs, oil, yogurt, orange or lemon zest (if using), and vanilla extract. Stir in the sugar. Add the wet ingredients to the dry flour mixture. Stir until just combined. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and evenly arrange the halved plums on top of the batter, flesh side facing up. Sprinkle with the brown sugar.
Bake in preheated oven for about 45 to 55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool. You can serve this cake with a little honey drizzled over the top or with a dollop of whipped cream, ice cream, or lightly sweetened yogurt. 


Tips:
If you don't have yogurt, you can just use an equal amount of regular sour cream (which is what I used), or an equal amount of buttermilk.
Oh, and one other thing... Whenever I bake ANYTHING, I always taste the batter before I bake it. More times than not, I wind up adding an extra pinch of salt. It REALLY brings out the flavor of whatever you're baking!