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!

Monday, August 7, 2017

Joey's Hoisin Chicken with Cashews


 This is one of those recipes that I made and then tucked away for sharing at a later date. I honestly have no idea where I got the original recipe, but I probably didn't follow it very closely anyway. So here is MY version! I'm pretty sure this was one of my so-called "throw together" meals because I didn't write down any quantities. I just threw in a handful of this and a splash of that. If you're planning to cook for a crowd, use A LOT of chicken tenders and A LOT of veggies. Just cooking for yourself? Add just enough for a serving or two. That's really the beauty of it. The method doesn't change, just the quantities. If you don't have a wok, just use a wide shallow pan. But I highly recommend getting one. It makes things SO easy when you want to just throw a few things together for a quick stir fry. I recently bought a new one, and this was the first meal I made. It's SO light and fresh, which is usually how I roll during summer months.
 And one more thing... People always ask me how I cook when I'm not following a recipe word for word. TBH, it's not really something I ever set out to learn. I just DID IT. It's how my Mom cooked, it's how I grew up! You just see what's fresh, you add what you like, if you like a lot, add a lot, and you cook it until it's done. This recipe gives you an outline of what I added, but that doesn't mean it has to be what YOU should add. Would you rather have snow peas or string beans instead of sugar snap peas? Go for it! Don't like onions? Leave 'em out! Or maybe use scallions if you want a milder onion flavor. Before you know it, you'll be a pro because you'll be cooking the way YOU like it!
Boom.



chicken tenders
corn starch
1 large red bell pepper, sliced into strips
1 medium onion, sliced
1 or 2 cloves garlic, minced
big handful of fresh sugar snap peas
soy sauce
toasted sesame oil
rice vinegar
a couple tbs Hoisin sauce
Big handful of cashews


Cut the chicken tenders into bite sized pieces. Dredge in a couple tbs of cornstarch until evenly coated. Crank your wok up to high heat, and working in batches, saute the chicken in a few tbs oil. Cook each batch of chicken until just almost cooked through, but not completely. Remove each batch to a separate bowl as you go. After you finish cooking the chicken, add the veggies and garlic. Stir fry over high heat until you reach your desired level of doneness. If you like crisp veggies, just go a few minutes. If you like your veggies to be a little more tender, then go a little longer. Add a few splashes of soy sauce, a good splash of rice vinegar, and a drizzle of sesame oil. Stir for a minute or two, then add the chicken back to the wok along with the Hoisin sauce. Toss everything together, continuing to stir fry until the chicken is cooked through. Add cashews and give a final toss. Serve over rice, if desired.


Tips:
When it comes to stir frying, you want to have all of your veggies prepped before you even start. It goes pretty quickly because you're cooking at a really high heat.
When using toasted sesame oil, think of it more as a condiment than an oil. You want to just drizzle some in toward the end of the cooking.

Monday, July 31, 2017

One Pot Clam Bake



  Here's a dish that I've been wanting to share for quite a long time! I was going to post it last summer (since this is clearly a summer dish), but I had quite a lot going on at that time and before I knew it, the season got away from me. Luckily I was able to get my act together in time to post it this year!
 Ok so lets get  to it! The first time I made this was once upon a long long time ago... like, literally decades ago... and it was SO delicious! But when I went to do it again, I swear I could not remember what recipe I used. All I knew was that it had clams, potatoes, and corn on the cob... and that the sauce had white wine, butter, and garlic.  Sounds good, right? But I had no clue what I did or where I got it. So I did some googling, and finally decided that THIS recipe came closest to what I remembered doing that one time all those years ago. It's from Martha Stewart's Everyday Food, and it's absolutely delish! Not only that, it's really super easy to do. Wait, it's not even super easy... it's STUPID EASY to do. I'm not even kidding. You literally just keep adding things to the pot, and in less than a half hour, boom, dinner's ready! Make it for friends and you'll impress the hell out of everyone. (No one needs to know how easy it was!) Serve it with the rest of the bottle of white wine, (or 2 or 3 bottles LOL) and it's a "summer by the shore" party! Oh, and don't forget the crusty bread for dipping into the sauce. That's key! I'm definitely putting this one on my summer menu and I think you should too! This one's a keeper!




1 1/4 cups dry white wine 
6 cloves garlic, peeled  
2 large shallots, quartered and peeled (root end left intact) 
1 1/2 pounds small red potatoes  
1/2 tsp Red-pepper flakes (optional) 
6 ears corn, shucked and halved  
5 dozen clams, cleaned*
2 lemons, quartered 
1 pound shell-on extra-jumbo shrimp (16 to 20)  
4 tablespoons unsalted butter 
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley  
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano leaves 



  In a 12-quart stockpot, bring wine and 3/4 cup water to a boil. Add garlic, shallots, potatoes, and 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon red-pepper flakes, if using; cover and cook 8 minutes. Add corn, clams, and lemons; cover and cook until clams have opened, 10 to 12 minutes. Add shrimp in a single layer, cover, turn off heat, and let sit until shrimp are opaque throughout, about 3 minutes.
 With tongs or a spider, transfer shellfish and vegetables to a serving platter, setting lemons aside; discard any unopened clams. Pour broth into a bowl and whisk in butter, parsley, and oregano. Scrape flesh from half the lemons into broth, discarding skins. Serve shellfish and vegetables with remaining lemons and broth for dipping.



*Joey's tips for cleaning clams:
First, inspect the clams and remove any that have broken shells. If any are slightly open, give them a little tap. If they don't close immediately, then toss them too. Now place all of the clams in a large bowl of cold water. Let them sit for about a half hour. This will encourage the clams to expel any sand. I've heard that sprinkling a little corn meal into the water will help to facilitate that process. When they're finished soaking, you want to lift them out of the water with your hands or tongs. Don't just dump them out into a strainer because then all of the sand that is at the bottom of the bowl will just pour back on top of the clams again. I usually give them a good scrub with a brush as I'm removing them from the bowl. Rinse the bowl of any sand or grit, and then place the clams back in the bowl for one more final rinse. Now you're ready to proceed with the recipe!



Tips:
I always prefer using fresh herbs over dried, but you can use dried oregano if you don't have fresh. Just use about a teaspoon, since dried is much stronger than fresh. But definitely do NOT use dried parsley. It just doesn't compare to fresh.
I think maybe the next time I make this, I'll pull back a little on the lemon and oregano, and add a little more butter.  Just sayin!
If you like it a little spicy, add more crushed red pepper flakes! You do you!
Also, I used peeled and deveined shrimp, but just left the tails on so you have a little handle to pick them up. I just found it to be easier and more preferable!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Joey's Maple Bacon Baked Beans


 There are certain foods that just scream SUMMER to me. Hamburgers and hot dogs, corn on the cob, ice cold watermelon, iced tea, and of course baked beans!! What would a BBQ be without them???? So, of course, I like to come up with lots of different versions. I have my own go to Favorite Baked Beans, my Pineapple Baked Beans, and Trisha's Baked Bean Casserole, to name a few. But one can never have too many variations, am I right?
 I decided to try a maple variation when Tory and Ryan were coming over for our almost weekly dinner and a movie night. It was a big hit! Just that tiny little hit of maple gives it just enough of a twist to be something new and exciting, but it's still your classic baked beans. It's definitely a keeper and it's perfect for your summer BBQ. MMM, I'm thinking this would be AWESOME with some BBQ ribs. Who's with me???



1/2 lb bacon
1 medium onion
2 cans baked beans
1 tbs brown mustard
2 tbs ketchup
1/4 tsp liquid smoke
1/2 cup maple syrup
Salt and pepper to taste



Heat oven to 350ºF.
Cut bacon into small lardons. Place in a cold skillet. Turn the heat to medium, and let it gradually come up to heat so that the fat begins to render. Slowly cook until slightly crispy. Add chopped onion and continue to saute until the onions have softened.
 While the bacon and onions are cooking, add the remaining ingredients to a large bowl and stir well to combine. Drain any excess bacon fat from the pan and add the bacon and onions to the bowl. Taste it to see if it needs anything, then make adjustments if needed. Pour into a large casserole dish and bake at for 20-30 minutes or until bubbly. Let stand for a good 10 minutes before serving.


Tips:
All of the ingredients are added pretty much to taste. Want a lot of bacon? Go for it. Want a lot of onions? Do it!  Want it to be sweeter? Add more maple syrup! The only ingredient you have to use sparingly is the liquid smoke. It's very important to the dish (one might even call it the secret ingredient!) but it is VERY strong. I'm talking just a few little drops and you're good to go. If you add more than that, you'll wind up with an unpleasant sort of artificial taste. But with everything else, add as much as you want! You do you!
If you don't have liquid smoke, you can just add 2 tbs of your favorite smokey BBQ sauce, and then omit the ketchup.
If you don't have pure maple syrup, go ahead and use your basic maple pancake syrup. It'll still be awesome and no one will be able to tell the difference!
I can't remember what size cans I used. They were the medium ones, not the ginormous ones, and not the tiny little ones. Like probably somewhere in the 24oz range. I'll have to get back to you on that!

Monday, July 24, 2017

Joey's Cheesy Tortellini and Veggie Bake


  One of my favorite things about summer is the huge bounty of fresh vegetables that comes with the season. Since I live in the Garden State, I have access to some of the best fruits and veggies you'll ever taste, so I'm all about adding them to my cooking. Sometimes I'll even just steam a variety of fresh veggies and there's dinner! But then sometimes I chop them up and add them to a delicious casserole like this one!
 I was kind of in a pasta mood, but wanted something a little different. So I decided to toss some tortellini in a creamy cheese sauce, add a few veggies, and here we are! It was SO fresh and delicious I couldn't stop eating it! I'm not even kidding. It's creamy and cheesy, but it's not as heavy as you might think because I used broth instead of cream. And the fresh herbs give it a brightness that works perfectly. And yes, I know there's a lot of chopping involved, but it really doesn't take very long.  And once you get everything chopped, that's half the battle! The final product is definitely worth it!
 So keep this dish in mind the next time you go to your produce stand or farmer's market. Look and see what is the freshest. Choose whatever veggies look the best. Use as many as you like! It will all work and I promise you'll love it!



oil
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
1 medium zucchini, roughly chopped
1 medium yellow squash, roughly chopped
1 red bell pepper, roughly chopped
8 oz mushrooms, sliced
8 oz grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tbs flour
1 1/2 cups vegetable or chicken broth
8 oz cream cheese, cubed
1 lb tortellini
handful of fresh basil and/or parsley, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
Parmesan cheese


Heat oven to 350ºF.
Place a large skillet over medium heat. Add a few glugs of oil, and saute onions, zucchini, squash, and peppers. Season with salt and pepper. You don't need to brown them, you just want to soften them and let some of the moisture evaporate from them. Remove veggies from pan to a large bowl. In the same pan, add a few more glugs of oil. Saute mushrooms, tomatoes, and garlic until they soften up a bit. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with flour, and continue to stir and saute for another minute or two. Add broth and cream cheese. Stir until cream cheese melts and combines smoothly with the broth. Adjust seasoning if needed. Add sauce to veggie bowl along with basil and tortellini. (no need to boil the tortellini, it will cook in the sauce). Toss all to coat with sauce. Pour into a 9x13 casserole dish. Top first with mozzarella and then Parmesan cheese. Bake uncovered for about 30-40 minutes, or until bubbly.


Tips:
Be sure to season everything as you go! Adding a little salt at the end is just not gonna cut it.
Not a fan of summer squash? Use whatever veggies you like! Broccoli, carrots, peas, it will all work!

Monday, July 17, 2017

Lemon and Dill Chicken


 Here's a light summery dish that is the perfect weeknight supper. It's super easy to make and you can have it on the table in under 30 minutes. How does that sound??
 My friend Jason and I were recently planning to get together, and when I gave him a list of the fresh herbs I have growing, he chose dill. After a quick google search, I found this Eating Well recipe and it was exactly what I wanted. The flavors are bright, the dish isn't too heavy, and you do it all in a pan on the stove top, so there's no need to turn on the oven. It's definitely a welcome break from the endless burgers that summer sometimes brings. (No one loves a burger more than I do, but a little variety is always a good thing, dontcha think?) And as soon as I tasted it, I thought, "OMG this needs to be in the regular rotation of go-to meals!" It was a big hit with Jason too. Win/win! Serve it with steamed or roasted green veggies or my Summer Squash Sauté, which is how I served it. You could also serve it with rice, which would be ready in the same amount of time!
 The next time I make it, though, I think maybe I'll try using a different fresh herb, just to see how far a little variation would go. (You know I can never leave a recipe alone!!) Lemon goes so well with so many fresh herbs, I think that might be next on my to do list. Thyme, basil, and oregano are the front runners, I think. I'll be sure to let you know how they turn out! In the meantime, you should definitely give this one a go. It's absolutely one of my new faves and it's definitely a keeper!


4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts,
Salt & freshly ground pepper, to taste 
3 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, or canola oil, divided 
1/4 cup finely chopped onion 
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth 
2 teaspoons flour 
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill, divided 
1 tablespoon lemon juice



  Season chicken breasts on both sides with salt and pepper. Heat 1 1/2 teaspoons oil in a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and sear until well browned on both sides, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer chicken to a plate and tent with foil. 
Reduce heat to medium. Add the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons oil to the pan. Add onion and garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Whisk broth, flour, 1 tablespoon dill and lemon juice in a measuring cup and add to pan. Cook, whisking, until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. 
Return the chicken and any accumulated juices to the pan; reduce heat to low and simmer until the chicken is cooked through, about 4 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a warmed platter. Season sauce with salt and pepper and spoon over the chicken. Garnish with the remaining 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill.

Tips:
Be sure to whisk the flour into the cold chicken broth before you add it to the pan. If you just add the flour to the pan, you'll be more likely to get lumps. Also, if you'd like your pan sauce to be a little thicker (more like a gravy), add a little extra oil and a little extra flour. it doesn't take much, but just that little extra bit will give you the perfect sauce to pour over the chicken.
I didn't have any onions, so I just added some onion  powder. Of course I would have preferred to add the onions, and I probably would have added more than 1/4 cup, but I just went with what I had on hand. 


Monday, July 10, 2017

Joey's Ginger Peachy Pulled Pork


  Do you love peaches as much as I do? Seriously, when peaches are at the peak of their season, I just want peach EVERYTHING. I'm forever making jams, cakes, pies, you name it, I love it all.
 So with that in mind, here was my flight of ideas....
I was recently trying to think of new ideas to cook in a slow cooker (which is often my go-to during summer). And then I thought, ok lets come up with a new version of a classic... hmmm...how about a pulled pork? And since I was already in peach mode, I thought, ooo there we go ...pork with peaches...perfect...  now lets see how we can make it work!
 And this is where I landed! I purposely didn't go crazy with a million ingredients. I basically tried to keep it simple and think of flavors that I know go well together. I had made a ginger ale ham (which worked famously, btw) so I knew that it would work with a slow cooker pork, and of course Peach and Ginger are fabulous dance partners as well, so I thought, why not put them all together! I must say I'm thrilled with the final result. It's a perfect summer dish because the peaches are gorgeous and juicy and ripe, and you don't have to turn on the oven. It's also a time saver because you can prepare it the night before, and then let it cook all day while you're at work. Dinner's ready by the time you get home! Easy! So if you're looking for a new peach something, I think you should definitely give this one a try! It's definitely a new favorite!


1 large onion, peeled and sliced
1 3-4 lb boneless or semi-boneless pork shoulder
3 or 4 fresh ripe peaches, peeled, pitted, sliced
1 cup ginger ale (not diet)
1 cup peach preserves
1 tbs balsamic vinegar (can use other kinds, such as apple cider or red wine)
Salt and Pepper


 Place onion slices in a slow cooker and spread them out to cover the bottom. Trim any excess fat from pork, and place on top of onions. Places sliced peaches on top of pork. In a small bowl, whisk together the ginger ale, preserves, and vinegar. Pour over all. Season generously with salt and pepper. Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours. (can also cook on high for 4-5 hours).
 Carefully remove cooked pork from slow cooker to a large bowl. Using two forks, pull the pork into shreds, discarding any undesirables, such as bones and/or excess fat. Using a slotted spoon, remove the peaches and onions and add to the pork.  If you like a thin gravy, just add some of the liquid from the pot until the pork is as saucey as you like it. If you like a thicker gravy, make a quick slurry of flour and cold water, (a couple tbs of each), then whisk it into the crock pot and turn it onto high. Continue to stir until the gravy thickens. Adjust the seasoning if needed. Serve on fresh bakery rolls.

Tips:
Be sure to add the vinegar. You definitely need a little acid in there to brighten everything up. I used balsamic vinegar, but I think next time I'll use apple cider vinegar. You could even just use lemon juice. Also be sure to season it very well. I added salt and pepper in the beginning, and it still needed more salt at the end.
You can use apricot preserves instead of the peach, or a combination of the two! And another fun AHA moment was when I discovered that Duck Sauce works just as well! (Makes sense, since it's made with peaches and apricots!)
Even though you have the ginger ale and the preserves, this dish is not very sweet at all. The pork juices and the onions temper the sweetness in a big way, and it turns out more on the savory side. If you'd like to pump up the ginger, go ahead and add a little grated fresh ginger root. If you'd like it to be sweeter or peachier, just add more preserves!

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Red White and Blue Velvet Cupcakes


  I'm sure you've probably heard of Red Velvet Cake, but have you ever heard of BLUE velvet? Apparently blue velvet cakes became a thing in the early 80s, inspired by the Royal Heirloom Sapphire Engagement Ring. Who knew? I mean, I guess it makes sense. Why do just a red velvet cake when you can make a velvet cake in any color you want?? (I'm thinking maybe green will be next for St Patrick's Day, no?)
 So when it came time to choose a red white and blue something for the 4th of July, I decided that this would be the one to try. The recipe is from SprinkleBakes.com, and I'm really pleased with how they turned out! I must admit, they looked like Cookie Monster when I was scooping batter into the cupcake tins, but they look so great under a swirl of cream cheese icing and topped with a red raspberry, they look nothing short of patriotic!
 They're moist and dense with just a hint of that signature buttermilk tang, just as you'd expect from any velvet cake. Also the brilliant blue is so unexpected and just enough of a showstopper to make them the talk of your 4th of July celebration.  If you like red velvet cake, then give this one a try.
I PROMISE you'll love it just as much!


2 cups sugar
2 sticks butter, at room temperature
2 eggs
1 tbs cocoa powder
1 tbs Wilton royal blue gel food coloring
1 small dab of Wilton violet gel food coloring
2 1/2 cups cake flour
1 tsp salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tbs vinegar

Cream Cheese Frosting
Fresh raspberries



 Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare cupcake pan(s) with 24 paper liners.
In a mixing bowl, cream the sugar and butter, mix until light and fluffy. Add the eggs 1 at a time and mix well after each addition. In a small bowl, mix cocoa and food colorings together to form a paste, and then add to sugar mixture; mix well. Sift together flour and salt. Add flour mixture to the creamed mixture alternately with buttermilk. Blend in vanilla. In a small bowl, combine baking soda and vinegar and add to mixture. Pour batter into cupcake papers. Bake for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and cool completely before frosting them with cream cheese frosting and then top each one with a fresh raspberry.

Tips:
The original recipe said to bake the cupcakes from 25-30 minutes. I immediately thought "Oh that's WAY too long" and decided to check them at 20 minutes. Turns out this was a good idea!
Not a fan of raspberries? Use strawberries instead!!
And about the food coloring.... the Wilton Food Coloring Gels were easy to find at Michaels craft store. I've read a few articles that said that the addition of the violet food coloring is absolutely crucial to achieving the perfect shade of sapphire blue. Otherwise, they might turn out more of a dark denim blue. Also, if you just add regular blue food coloring instead of the gel, not only will you not get the right color, but your tongue and teeth are more likely to turn blue when you eat them! EEK!


Friday, June 30, 2017

Mom's Grape Juice


  People ask me all the time, "where did you learn how to cook?" or "did you go to a culinary school?" And the answer is always the same: I learned from my Mom. Seriously, the only cooking classes I've ever had were watching my Mom work her magic in the kitchen on a daily basis when I was growing up. Not only did she make everything taste AMAZING, (like, seriously, I'm not even kidding), but also she was absolutely brilliant when it came to stretching a meal. With 11 hungry children to feed, she had to find ways to get as much bang for her buck as possible. So believe me when I tell you it was nothing short of sorcery how she could take one small chicken and turn it into enough stew to feed the entire family. Or she'd take one little packet of dried beef, and suddenly there's breakfast for everyone. Crazy right?
 So imagine it's a hot summer day, and we're all outside playing with the neighborhood kids and riding our bikes, etc. Then we'd come home dying of thirst and wanting something to drink. Most times, Mom would give us a tall glass of her home made iced tea, but other times it was this grape juice. But here's the thing.. instead of constantly buying bottles of fruit juice (which can be expensive when it all adds up) she would use this recipe to turn one pitcher of juice into two. Clever, huh? Its brilliance is in its simplicity. And frankly, I think this tastes better than the original. And suddenly our thirsts were quenched and we were all running back outside for the next neighborhood game of kickball. She always told us she did it this way because the flavor of the bottled juice was too concentrated, but really she was just getting as much out of it as she possibly could. I swear someone should have just followed my Mom around and taken notes.
 So give this a try if you have a gang of kids who are constantly asking for more juice, or if you just like to stretch a buck. Add this to the neverending list of amazing things my Mom did for us!


2 qts Welch's grape juice
2 qts cold water
1 cup sugar
1 orange

Stir together the juice and water. Add sugar, and stir until dissolved. Add the juice of the orange, and then slice the orange and float the slices in the pitcher. Chill or serve over ice. It's best when it's served ice cold on a hot summer day! Oh, and one more thing... the best part is when the juice is gone and you eat the orange slices!  OMG SO good!!


Tips:
 My sister, Cathy, remembered that Mom did this with lemons instead of oranges. My Jeanie remembered that she used peaches. I absolutely specifically remember her using oranges, but I have no doubt that she probably also used lemons and peaches at one time or another. She made use out of what she had available! Words to live by! If you decide to use lemons, just be sure to remove the lemon slices from the pitcher after a few hours because they can make the juice too bitter.
Not a fan of Welch's? Use your favorite brand!

Monday, June 26, 2017

Joey's Mexicorn Dip


 Here's a quick and easy party dip that you can throw together in a snap. I made it for my brother-in-law, Gregg's, retirement party and it was a huge hit! It was a Taco Tuesday theme, so I figured an easy corn dip would fit the bill. Everyone loved it!
 This is actually not my own recipe but rather my tweaked version of a recipe I found on a blog called Onegoodthingbyjillee.com. If you know me, you know I can't leave well enough alone, and I usually wind up switching things up a bit, especially when it comes to dip recipes. Since there's no baking science involved, it's easy to just add or subtract things to your own liking. And this one is so simple, you just dump everything into a big bowl and stir. That's all there is to it! Also it's great to do ahead because it's best when you let it chill in the fridge for a while (or even better overnight) before you serve it.
 So, thank you, Jillee, for inspiring this one good thing! And congratulations, Gregg, on your retirement!


2 cans whole corn, drained
2 cans (4oz) chopped green chiles
1 whole red bell pepper, chopped
5 whole scallions, chopped
2 whole jalapenos, finely chopped 
8 oz shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup sour cream
1 cup mayonnaise
2 tbs cilantro, chopped
salt and pepper to taste


Combine all ingredients. Chill before serving with Fritos!



Tips:
-Be sure to chop the peppers and scallions extremely finely. Everything should be as small or smaller than a single kernel of corn.
-On Jillee's blog, she mentioned that her dipper of choice would be the SCOOPS kind "for maximum dip retrieval" LOL and I absolutely couldn't agree more! But if Fritos are your thing, go for it! Or else do what I did... serve it with both!
-If you'd like to add a little more heat, don't scrape out the insides and seeds of the jalapenos. Leave some or all of it in. That's where the heat is!
-If you're not a fan of cilantro, just use chopped fresh parsley instead!
-Oh, and one other thing....  You don't need to purchase the brand name Mexicorn. You can just buy regular cans of whole corn. I mean, you can if you want, but it's not necessary. Mexicorn is just corn and diced bell peppers, which are already included in the recipe!


Monday, June 19, 2017

Easy Pizza Casserole



 Here's a really simple recipe that's quick to throw together for a weeknight meal. It's perfect for the cooking novice because you really don't even need any experience. You just layer your ingredients, and then bake it! See? Easy!
 TBH, I have no idea where I found this recipe. Hmm... come to think of it, I've said that a lot lately, haven't I? Well, what can I say? I'm always seeing recipes and then setting them aside for another time until I finally get around to trying them. I guess, with this one, I saved the recipe, but forgot to note where I got it. Oh, well, I'm sure whoever came up with it won't mind that I'm sharing it. It's absolutely a "how can this not be good?" recipe. Delicious and hearty and always hits the spot! Serious yum.


1 can biscuit dough, cut into pieces
1 jar (15 ounce) of your favorite pizza sauce
1 medium tomato, thinly sliced
1 package (8 ounces or 226 gr) of sliced pepperoni
2 cups (180 gr) shredded mozzarella cheese
12 large basil leaves, whole or roughly chopped
1/2 cup (45 gr) Parmesan cheese, grated

Preheat your oven to 375 °F. 
Lightly grease a 8" x 8" casserole pan. Add the biscuits dough pieces to the casserole.
Add the tomato sauce, spreading it evenly over the biscuits pieces and saving 1/2 cup for later. Place the tomato slices and 1/2 the pepperoni evenly on top and sprinkle the leftover tomato sauce. Add the basil leaves. Add the mozzarella cheese and top with the Parmesan cheese and remaining pepperoni. Bake your casserole for 20-25 minutes or until the cheese is bubbly and golden brown. 

Tips:
Switch up the ingredients! Sauteed onions, mushrooms, peppers, sausage, even ham and pineapple! Add whatever pizza toppings you like!
Feeding a crowd? Double everything and bake it in a 9x13 pan! 
To turn regular marinara sauce into pizza sauce, just add a few shakes of dried oregano. Boom! Pizza sauce!


Monday, June 12, 2017

The Easiest Pineapple Cake


 OK here's a quick recipe that TOTALLY lives up to its name. You literally just mix everything up and dump it into your baking pan. It SERIOUSLY doesn't get any easier than that, right? I bet you probably have most (if not all) of the ingredients already in your pantry! And it's absolutely delicious!
 Tbh, I have no idea where I got this recipe. I think it was probably in a video that was bouncing around social media. Basically, I saw and saved the recipe somewhere and then baked it for friends, all the while forgetting where I got it in the first place. Ah well. I guess it really doesn't matter. What matters is how it tastes, and I promise you it'll definitely be a hit! The cream cheese frosting just makes it all the better. If you're a fan of pineapple, then you simply MUST try this cake, and that settles that. MMM... come to think of it, I think maybe I should make it again! Enjoy!


Cake:
2 cups all purpose flour 
2 cups sugar 
2 eggs 
1 tsp baking soda 
1 tsp vanilla 
pinch salt 
1 - 20 oz can of crushed pineapple in it's own juice (not syrup), undrained 
1 cup chopped nuts, optional

Frosting
1/2 c butter or 1 stick 
1 8oz cream cheese softened 
1 tsp vanilla 
1 1/2 c confectioners' sugar

For the cake:
Preheat oven to 350º F. 
Mix all of the cake ingredients together in a bowl. 
Pour into a greased 9X13 inch pan. 
Bake 35 - 40 minutes (until top is golden brown).

For the frosting: 
Beat butter, cream cheese and vanilla together until creamy. 
Gradually mix in powdered sugar. 
Frost cake with cream cheese frosting while still warm. 
Sprinkle with chopped nuts if desired.

Tips:
If you'd rather use fresh pineapple, go for it! Just blitz it a few pulses in the food processor before you add it to the other ingredients.
For an extra tropical variation, add a little coconut on top. You could even add a little Malibu Rum to the icing, or a little coconut extract to the cake batter. Because who doesn't love coconut with pineapple???

Monday, June 5, 2017

Cinnamon Roll Cupcakes


  If you've ever done a show with me, you know that I like to bake for the cast. Whether it's for a long rehearsal or for a double performance day, I like to bring some oven lovin', just because those kinds of days can be tedious and exhausting, and a little treat can help everybody get through it. Not only that, it really helps to unite a new cast.
  Since I mainly audition at only a few local theaters, (and have been doing so for many years), it's not uncommon for me to be in a show where I go into it already knowing most, (if not all), of the cast members. A few months ago, though, I found myself in the lovely situation of not knowing many of the people in my new cast at all. How exciting! This was my golden opportunity to not only work with an entirely new group of gifted individuals, but also to laugh and bond and artistically grow as we all worked toward our shared common goal.
 When I asked my friend Anthony what his favorite dessert is, he said that he loves cinnamon rolls. Alrighty then! Lets run with it! And btw, honestly, who doesn't love cinnamon rolls? They're warm and gooey with a fabulous cream cheese glaze pored over the top. So I thought, "ok, what can I make for my fabulous new friends that involves cinnamon rolls?" I wanted a small two-bite picky uppy something that one could just grab while getting ready for a performance or during the show when one has down time between scenes. Then I found this recipe on a blog called Lady Behind the Curtain. How perfect! This was CLEARLY the right recipe. So I made them for the cast and crew, and everyone LOVED them! They were easy to do, plus they were everything I was looking for in a small picky-uppy treat.
 Over the course of the show's run, I baked several times for the cast, and I'm happy to say that the show was a huge success! I think, for me, the bigger success was that my life was made richer just for having worked with this wonderful wacky hilarious group of artists who are now my very close FRIENDS. It's pretty amazing to think that something as simple as a tray of cupcakes can help to turn a newly assembled cast into a family of friends. Pretty cool, huh?
 So whether you're making these cupcakes for a party or a new cast or for friends or family, I'm absolutely certain they'll also be a huge success! Oh, and don't forget to take a bow because you will most definitely deserve a round of applause!




Filling:
3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup pecans, chopped
2 tsp ground cinnamon

Cupcakes:
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2-1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 cup butter, room temperature
1-3/4 cups granulated sugar
2 eggs
1-1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup milk

Frosting:
1 (8 ounce) cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp ground cinnamon
5 cups confectioners' sugar




For the filling:
In a small bowl stir together brown sugar, pecans, and cinnamon. Set aside.

For the cupcakes:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line two muffin tins with cupcake liners. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Alternately add flour mixture and milk to butter mixture, beating on low speed after each addition just until combined. Spoon a heaping 1 tablespoon of batter into each prepared muffin cup. Sprinkle about 1 teaspoon brown sugar mixture over batter in cups. Spoon another heaping tablespoon of batter evenly over brown sugar mixture in cups; add another heaping teaspoon of brown sugar mixture. Sprinkle the remaining brown sugar mixture over batter in cups. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in centers comes out clean. Cool completely in muffin tin then remove to be frosted.

For the frosting:
Mix together butter, cream cheese, cinnamon, and vanilla until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in confectioners' sugar. If the frosting is too thick add milk 1 tablespoon at a time to reach spreading consistency.



Tips:
I made them as mini cupcakes instead of regular cupcakes. If you do this, just be sure to adjust your baking time! Since all ovens are different, I like to test for doneness with an inserted toothpick.
As much as I love pecans, I decided to omit them because I was making them for a new group of friends and I was concerned that someone might have a nut allergy. I try to keep this sort of thing in mind when I'm baking for a crowd. Just sayin!

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Joey's Mashed Potato Salad


  This is a super easy feed-a-crowd dish that is so delicious, I feel like I should be asking.. Why didn't we invent this sooner? Basically, if mashed potatoes and potato salad had a baby, it would be this dish. Cool, huh? It has a lot of the usual potato salad ingredients, only you stir them into mashed potatoes instead of tossing them with diced. You get the fluffiness of the mash with the flavors of the salad. Brilliant! Also, I think it's a little lighter than regular potato salad because you use half sour cream and half mayonnaise, instead of using all mayonnaise. It's absolutely a much better trade, and it makes it nice and creamy too. You could even do Greek yogurt instead of sour cream, if you like.
 As I was searching for the right variation of this recipe, I discovered many that are all pretty similar, much like a regular potato salad recipe. This is my version, but definitely tweak it as much as you like. I promise it'll be a new favorite! Again, I ask you.. why didn't we invent this sooner?!?



5 lbs Yukon Gold potatoes
6 eggs, hard boiled and peeled
1/2 cup celery, finely chopped
1/2 cup scallions, chopped
1/2 cup sweet pickles, (can also use dill), finely chopped
1 1/2 cups mayonnaise
1 1/2 cups sour cream
3 tbs brown mustard
Salt and pepper to taste



 Peel potatoes and cut into large chunks. Rinse well with cold water and drain well. Place in a pot and cover with cold water. Add a handful of salt. Boil them in the salted water until they are fork tender but not mushy. Drain the potatoes and let them cool completely.  Mash or rice the potatoes and place in a large mixing bowl. Add chopped eggs, celery, scallions, and pickles. Add mayonnaise, sour cream, and mustard. Season to taste. Stir to combine. Chill until ready to serve.


Tips:
You can absolutely go in any direction with this. Add diced red and/or green bell pepper. Add crisped and crumbled bacon. You could even add a little splash of vinegar, any kind you like, just to brighten everything up a bit.
The amounts are just guidelines. Add as much or as little of each thing as you like. Add more scallions. Add less celery. To be honest, I was tempted to add more chopped pickles. Maybe I'l do that next time. You do you!
You can use a different kind of potato, but I find that the Yukon Golds are the best ones for mashing!
Oh, and just one other note, I always use a potato ricer instead of using a hand masher to mash them. They tend to be a little fluffier that way, otherwise they may turn out a little like spackle. Rinsing and draining them also helps you to that end because it gets rid of a lot of the extra starch in the potatoes. Just sayin!

Monday, May 22, 2017

Orange Chicken


 Let me just start by saying that I have no idea where I got this recipe. I've seen it on several sites, and I honestly have no idea who should get the credit for it. At first, I saw it labeled as 3-ingredient orange chicken. But the thing is, there are more than three ingredients! So I decided to just call it orange chicken. Fair enough?
 And OMG wait'll you taste it. It's REALLY delicious. You know how take-out sesame chicken has that sort of sweet and sticky thing going on? This has pretty much the same kinda vibe, only it's more tangy, and has that yummy hit of orange. Also the soy sauce and chopped scallions help to balance all of the sweet. The first time I made it, I couldn't stop eating it. And when my friend AJ helped me test it, he had that MMMMM expression on his face from the very first bite. You could even just make the sauce and use it as you would regular BBQ sauce when cooking different kinds of meat on the grill. It's just that good. Definitely give this one a try! So thank you, mystery person, for coming up with it in the first place! It's now one of my new favorites recipes!


1 cup Sweet Baby Ray’s or other favorite BBQ sauce
1 cup sweet orange marmalade
2 tbs soy sauce
3 to 4 chicken breasts
1 cup flour or cornstarch, (can use both or either/or)
2 eggs
Oil for frying
1/4 cup chopped scallions
cooked rice


 In a small bowl, mix the BBQ sauce, marmalade, and soy sauce. Set aside.
Cut up the chicken breasts into cubes and place in a large bowl. Add beaten eggs to coat chicken pieces. Place flour and/or cornstarch in another bowl. Dip pieces of egg-coated chicken in flour/cornstarch, tossing to completely coat.
In a large saute pan, add enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Over medium high heat, cook the chicken in batches, just until slightly browned on the outside, but not all the way cooked through. After you remove your last batch of chicken from the pan, pour the sauce in, being sure to scrape up any browned bits. Add the chicken back to the pan and toss to coat. Reduce heat and then simmer for 5 minutes, just until the chicken is finished cooking through. Top with chopped scallions. Serve over rice.


Tip:
Usually, if I'm using purchased orange marmalade, it comes in a 12oz jar. So I usually just increase the whole sauce recipe by half, which uses the entire jar. (1 1/2 cups BBQ sauce, 1 1/2 cups marmalade, 3 tbs soy sauce).
Be sure to serve with the chopped scallions on top. They're more than just a garnish! That little hit of mild onion flavor is key!
If you'd like to use the sauce on its own, (it's great on pulled pork or grilled chicken!) place the sauce ingredients in a small saucepan and then simmer over low-medium heat for 10-15 minutes, just to blend the flavors and mellow out the sharp bite of the orange peel.
For extra delicious rice, saute a small chopped onion in a little oil, then add dry rice. Toss to coat. Add twice as much chicken broth as rice (instead of plain water). Reduce heat, and cook until broth is absorbed, about 15-20 minutes.
For an extra spicy hit, add a few crushed red pepper flakes to your sauce!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Slow Cooker Chicken and Biscuits


 This is a tweaked version of a recipe I saw in a Tasty Video. I've always felt that recipes are often just guidelines and you should adjust your cooking to suit your own taste. It's basically the same thing I always say about the way my Mom always cooked. If you like a lot of something, add a lot! If you like a lot of carrots, then add a lot of carrots! This rule is especially true when you're cooking soups and stews. It's not like baking, where you have a bit of science involved. So that's what I did with this recipe. Perhaps when YOU make this recipe, you'll swap out different veggies, or use a different kind of cream soup, or you'll leave out the biscuits and serve the whole stew over a big pile of mashed potatoes or even rice. Make how YOU like and you'll come back to the recipe again and again. That's how recipes stand the test of time!! Oh, and don't forget to let me know if you make any changes.
I'd love to hear about it!


4 boneless chicken thighs
Salt and pepper to taste
1 onion, diced
2 cups broccoli florets
2 cups carrots, diced (or a 1lb bag of baby carrots)
2 cans condensed cream of chicken soup
1 tsp poultry seasoning
1 10oz pkg frozen peas
1 can refrigerated biscuits


Cut the chicken into small pieces. Place the chicken in a 7-quart slow cooker. Sprinkle on salt and pepper. Add the veggies, condensed soup, and poultry seasoning, and mix thoroughly. Cook on high for 3 hours. Cut each biscuit into quarters, and drop evenly over chicken. Cook an additional hour.


Tips:
Be sure you use boneless thighs instead of breasts. Tbh, I don't often do slow cooker recipes involving chicken (especially boneless breasts) because they just don't need that much time to cook and they wind up coming out dry and over cooked. Boneless thighs, however, are a much better choice because they stay juicier longer.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Indian Kidney Bean Stew


 A while back, I saw Bal Arneson making this recipe on her show "Spice Goddess", and I thought "ooooo I need to try that." And then I promptly forgot all about it. Cut to several months later, I happened to turn her show on again, and I saw the same episode. I thought "OH! There's that recipe I never tried!" And now that I've built up my collection of Indian spices, I finally have all the ingredients on hand to make it! Perfect!
 It's spicy and warm, it has a couple sweet elements, it's comforting and aromatic and flavorful, and it all blends PERFECTLY! It's really easy too! If you like Indian flavors, you MUST try this. Serve it up in big bowls as is, or serve it over rice as I did. (Yes, yes, I know this stew already has potatoes in it so it should be served in a bowl, but I served it over rice anyway!) Either way, it's absolutely delicious. I'm so glad I finally gave it a try. You should too!


2 tablespoons grapeseed oil (or vegetable oil)
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh ginger
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh garlic
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
1 tablespoon garam masala
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds*
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons tamarind pulp*
1 (14-ounce) can crushed tomatoes (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 cups diced sweet potato
1 cup water
1 (14-ounce) can kidney beans, rinsed and drained (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 small seedless oranges, peeled and cubed

 *Can be found at specialty Asian and Indian markets!

 Place the oil in a Dutch oven or large pot over medium-high heat. Add the ginger and garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Add the bay leaves, cumin seeds, garam masala, fenugreek seeds, oregano, rosemary, and turmeric, and cook, stirring for about 2 minutes. Add the tamarind pulp, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.
Add the kidney beans and oranges and cook for 2 minutes to heat through. Turn the heat off, cover with a lid and let sit for 10 minutes. Remove the bay leaves and serve.

Tips:
Before you start  cooking, make sure you have all of your spices measured into a small bowl and ready to go. You don't want one spice to burn in the pan while you're searching your spice rack for the next one! 
There are A LOT of very strong flavors here. The spices bring quite a lot of flavor to the party. So it's nice to have the sweet potatoes and oranges to help balance everything out. Definitely be sure to include them!
 When I bought the tamarind, it was a solid block. So I soaked it in some warm water for a while, just to soften it, used my fingers to separate it and smash it up a bit, then strained it and pushed the pulp through a sieve. If you can't find tamarind, just use mango or peach puree.
 Instead of cooking the sweet potatoes in the stew, I roasted them on a sheet pan in the oven until they were just about cooked through, and then added them to the stew at the last minute. I think it helps to keep the them from becoming too mushy. Then you can just simmer them in the stew until they're done. Oh, and be sure to be gentle when you stir everything together!
 If you don't like kidney beans, you can substitute chickpeas or any other kind of bean. Just be sure to drain and rinse them, just as with the kidney beans. 

Monday, May 1, 2017

Cream Cheese Brownies


 One of my favorite people on the planet is my friend, Anthony. I'm thoroughly convinced that he is the most positive person in the history of the world. If you ask "How are you?" He'll say "Never had a bad day in my life!" If you ask "Can you do that? He'll say "I can do anything!" I'm not even kidding. He's always challenging himself, and his glass is ALWAYS half full, if you know what I mean. Fun fact, in my phone, I have a note labeled "Anthony Quotes", and if ever I'm feeling a little down, I read them. (hmm... come to think of it, I can't remember if I've ever told him this. Well, I guess he knows now lol) He truly inspires me on a daily basis.
 So, of course, since he does so much for me, I decided to do something for him, for a change. His birthday was approaching, so I asked him what his favorite kind of cake is. He said he's not much of a cake guy. (I seriously don't understand this. But he's Superman, so I guess I'm not surprised that he eats healthy too) So I said "well, EVERYONE needs to have a treat on his birthday, so what is your favorite treat?" He said "How about cream cheese brownies?" Perfect! (especially, since I happened to have all the ingredients on hand.) Side note... he was surprised that I happened to have everything on hand, even the cream cheese. Is that an odd ingredient to just happen to have?? So I whipped up a batch, and they were a big hit! I'm so glad he liked them. They're very rich and chocolatey, and they're the perfect thing for a birthday treat for the world's most positive person.
So, Happy Birthday, Mr Man. Thank you for all that you do, and for always inspiring me. Hope you enjoyed your birthday treat!!


10 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces, plus more for pan
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
4 ounces cream cheese, room-temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 large eggs


 Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brush a 9-inch square baking pan with butter. Line bottom and two sides with a strip of parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on the two sides. Butter paper, and set pan aside.
In a small bowl, whisk 1 cup flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt; set aside.
Place 8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter and chocolate in a large heat-proof bowl set over (not in) a saucepan of gently simmering water. Heat, stirring occasionally, until smooth, 2 to 3 minutes; remove bowl from pan. Add 1 1/4 cups sugar; mix to combine. Add 3 eggs, and mix to combine. Add flour and cocoa mixture; mix just until moistened (do not overmix).
Prepare cream-cheese mixture: Whisk cream cheese with 2 tablespoons room-temperature butter. Whisk in 1/4 cup sugar, 1 egg, and 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour. Alternately spoon chocolate batter and cream-cheese mixture into pan; with the tip of a paring knife, swirl to marble.
Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, 50 to 60 minutes. Cool in pan for 30 minutes. Using paper overhang, lift brownies out of pan; transfer to a rack to cool completely (still on paper). On a cutting board, using a dampened serrated knife, cut into 16 squares.

Notes:
I know the recipe says to bake for 50-60 minutes, but that just seemed too long to me. I decided to check it at 40 minutes, and they were already quite done. This is a Martha Stewart recipe, so you'd think it would be spot on, but that's not how it went for me. Honestly, I don't like the cream cheese part to be so brown, so I think next time I'll check it at 35!

Monday, April 24, 2017

Slow Cooker Thai Coconut Beef


 I was looking for different recipe ideas for my slow cooker. Ever since I got my new Pixar slow cooker, I've been using it ALL the time!!  So it was definitely time for some new slow cooker recipes. I mean, yes, you have your pulled pork, and your chili, but I wanted something new.
 Lately I've been in the mood for more spicy flavors. Not necessarily HOT and spicy, but just flavorful and spicy. So I decided to search for flavors from other cultures, which is RIGHT in my wheelhouse. Side note... Fun fact: Every year, I choose a different international restaurant at which to celebrate my birthday. Indian, Mexican, Chinese, Italian, Japanese. True story! Anyway, when I found this Thai inspired recipe, I figured ok this one covers all bases. It's perfect! Lots of different ingredients, extremely full of flavor, and it's SO easy, you won't even believe it. Also, you don't even have to go to a specialty store to get the ingredients. Everything is readily available at your local supermarket! Now, I know it may seem a little odd to add peanut butter and coconut to a beef recipe, but seriously, it all works REALLY well. Just go with it! You'll be glad you did!


1 boneless beef chuck roast (3 pounds), halved
 1 teaspoon salt 
1 teaspoon pepper 
1 large sweet red pepper, sliced 
1 can (13oz)) coconut milk 
3/4 cup beef stock 
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter 
1/4 cup red curry paste 
2 tablespoons soy sauce 
2 tablespoons honey 
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger root 
1/2 pound fresh sugar snap peas, trimmed 
1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro 
Cooked brown or white rice 
Toppings, if desired:
thinly sliced green onions, chopped peanuts, hot sauce, and/or lime wedges


 Place beef and pepper slices in a 5-qt. slow cooker. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. In a bowl, whisk coconut milk, beef stock, peanut butter, curry paste, soy sauce, honey and ginger; pour over meat. Cook, covered, on low 7-8 hours or until meat is tender. Remove beef; cool slightly. Skim fat from reserved juices. Shred beef with two forks. Return beef to slow cooker; stir in snap peas. Cook, covered, on low 45-60 minutes longer or until peas are crisp-tender. Stir in cilantro. Serve with rice and, if desired, toppings of your choice. 

Tips:
Instead of shredding the beef, I just cut it into cubes before placing it in the slow cooker, just as one would do for a regular beef stew. You could also just buy beef cubes. I very much prefer large chunks of beef rather than shreds, in this particular instance. But you do you!
For extra added flavor, use beef stock to cook your rice instead of water. Makes the best rice ever!
If you are not a fan of cilantro, just use fresh parsley instead!
Wanna add a little heat? Add some chopped chilis or a little crushed red pepper flakes! 
Btw, I really like the sliced green onions on top. They're definitely more than just a garnish. That little hit of onion flavor is amazing!

Monday, April 17, 2017

Chocolate Chip Cookie Cake


 Are you celebrating something today? A birthday? A promotion? Or perhaps you're celebrating the 11th anniversary or your FAVORITE food blog ?!?!?  (hehehe wink wink) Then here is the perfect dessert! It's a big chocolate chip cookie baked as a cake! Fun, huh??  I made it a while back for a friend's birthday. Normally, I would've baked this someone a CAKE for his birthday, but he described himself as "not much of a cake guy" (I know I know, it makes no sense to me either) so I decided that this was a happy compromise! It's a really easy recipe that I found on a blog called Garnish & Glaze, and it's FABULOUS. My decorations were inspired by them too, only I used chocolate ganache instead of chocolate buttercream. You do you! So the next time you're in the mood to celebrate something, keep this one in mind. Delicious rich chocolate chip cookie with swirls of chocolate ganache... What's not to love???? Come to think of it, you could really make this anytime at all. Why wait for a reason to celebrate! You made it through the day so far, right?
That's reason enough for me!

10 tbs butter
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup white sugar
1 egg + 1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 2/3 cup flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1 cup chocolate chips
Chocolate Ganache Frosting


Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 9" cake pan.
Cream the butter and sugars together for 2 minutes and then mix in the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla. Add the dry ingredients and mix until combined. Use a wooden spoon to mix in all but 2 tablespoons of chocolate chips and then press the cookie dough into the cake pan. Sprinkle the remaining 2 tablespoons chocolate chips on top and press them down slightly. Bake for 22-25 minutes. Let the cookie cool completely and then run a sharp knife along the edge to loosen, then turn it out onto a serving plate. Pipe the frosting along the edges and add multicolored sprinkles, if desired.

Tips:
Be sure not to over bake it. You don't want it to be too dry!
Looking for variations? Try adding chopped pecans or walnuts. Try peanut butter chips instead of chocolate chips, or a mixture of the two. Use literally any kind of chips you like! Butterscotch, white chocolate, I've even seen cinnamon or salted caramel chips. You can also do M&Ms for a colorful twist. Basically you can vary this in as many different ways as you can with regular chocolate chip cookies!

Chocolate Ganache


 Have you ever made ganache? It's really just the simplest thing in the world and you can use it so many ways. It's basically just chocolate chips and heavy cream, but it's what you do with them that makes all the difference. Use it as a fabulous perfect glaze. Let it cool completely and it thickens into a rich filling. You can also whip it up into the perfect frosting. I found this recipe on a blog called Add a Pinch, and it's perfect. Whichever way you decide to use it, yours will be perfect too!


Ganache Glaze:
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons butter
1 cups chocolate chips, milk, semi-sweet, or dark2 tablespoons brewed coffee
pinch of salt

Ganache Filling:
 1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons butter
2 cups chocolate chips, milk, semi-sweet, or dark
2 tablespoons brewed coffee
pinch of salt

Ganache Frosting:
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons butter
2 cups chocolate chips, milk, semi-sweet, or dark
2 tablespoons brewed coffee
pinch of salt


 Add heavy cream and butter to a small saucepan and heat on low heat until the butter has melted and the cream is warmed throughout. Add chocolate chips to a large glass or nonreactive bowl. Pour the warmed cream and butter mixture over the chocolate chips. Add in the brewed coffee and a pinch of salt. Allow to stand for about 3-5 minutes to soften the chocolate chips completely. Stir briskly to combine and until smooth.

Ganache Glaze:
Allow to cool slightly. Ganache will easily pour over cake or other item.

Ganache Filling:
 Once cooled, ganache filling can be spread between layers of cakes, piped as filling into pastries, or sandwiched between cookies, etc.

Ganache Frosting:
Once cooled, use an electric mixer or a wire whisk, whip ganache to incorporate air and increase the volume of the ganache. Spread on cakes or other pastries as you would frosting.

Notes from Add A Pinch:
The brewed coffee and pinch of salt are optional. I use the coffee to enhance the flavor of the chocolate, but it is not required. The salt, in my opinion, helps to balance the chocolate as well, but is not required either.

Tips from Joey:
You can make it earlier in the day and then leave it at room temperature until you use it. Otherwise you can store it in the fridge. For a variation, use any other kinds of chips and omit the coffee, but still include the pinch of salt. If you're doing peanut butter chips, add an extra pinch of salt!

Monday, April 10, 2017

Crock Pot Brown Sugar Pineapple Ham


 Ok, so what if you want to prepare a nice holiday dinner for your family, but you have limited cooking experience. What do you do? You make THIS recipe, that's what you do! This is so easy, anyone can do it! You just throw everything into the crock pot and turn it on. If you can open a can of pineapple, you can do this. And your family will be SO impressed by the delicious holiday ham that YOU made for them!
 I saw this in a video from Incredible Recipes that my friend Joshua posted on FB, and immediately decided that this would be the dinner I make for the next group hang at my place. Since this was gonna be a holiday hang anyway, I knew it would be perfect! And the fact that it's in a crock just makes it all the more easy. It frees up your oven for other things!
 So, thank you Incredible Recipes for living up to your name, and thank you Joshua for posting it! I think now this just might be my go-to ham recipe. It's pretty tough to beat!


1 ham, pre-cooked, spiral cut - bone-in or boneless, either will work
3 1/2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup honey
1 20 oz can pineapple tidbits or chunks - do not drain


 In a large crock pot, (over 6-quarts or larger) cover the bottom with 2 cups of the brown sugar. Place ham on top of the brown sugar, open the slices slightly with your hands. Pour the honey evenly over the ham. Add the pineapple around the sides (with the juice) and some on top. Top with the remaining 1 1/2 cups of brown sugar, making sure it is evenly distributed over the entire top of the ham.
Cover and cook on low for 3-4 hours.


Tips:
-The original recipe said to cook it for 4 1/2 -6 hours. I've made this recipe a few times, and I find that I don't like to cook it for that long. The ham is already cooked, so leaving it in the slow cooker for that long really over tenderizes the meat, at least for my liking. The longer you cook it, the more it will fall apart. I like ham to still maintain its integrity (no one likes mushy ham!) so I only cook it for 3 or 4 hours.
-Yes, yes, I know there's a huge amount of sweet ingredients going on here. But the ham is quite salty, so the sweet syrupy sauce goes nicely with it. To further balance all of that sugar, choose side dishes that are not sweet. Like, in this case, I would not serve applesauce, cranberry sauce, or pineapple stuffing as I might usually do with a regular ham. Instead, choose a savory vegetable such as green beans or broccoli and a starch such as mashed potatoes or mac and cheese.
-I used fresh pineapple instead of canned, just because I like it better. I didn't even measure. Just pulsed of bunch of fresh pineapple chunks in the food processor to chop 'em up a bit, then went ahead with the recipe as directed. If you like a lot of pineapple, add a lot!!
-I've never tried it, but I bet you could substitute maple syrup instead of honey, just for a little maple hit. I'm sure that would be heavenly!


Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Banana Oatmeal Muffins


 Lately I've been in the mood for something banana. In cakes, breads, cupcakes, or even ice cream, I've always loved bananas, especially when they get to that perfectly delicious sweet spot where their peels are covered with little brown freckles. Before that, they're not as sweet, and after that, they go south rather quickly.
  I recently had a bunch of bananas that were just on the verge of going south, and I happened to find this recipe on a blog called Wellplated.com.  I figured, "ok, looks pretty simple, lets go for it!" They took no time at all, and boom, here I am with some deliciously moist banana muffins! Perfect! You just blitz everything together in a blender, pour it into your muffin tins, and then pop 'em in the oven. SO EASY! And they're pretty darn healthy too! (If you're one who has gluten restrictions in his diet, then this one is for you!) And the honey adds just the perfect amount of sweetness. I added mini chocolate chips, but add whatever mix-ins you like. Dried fruit, chopped nuts, it will all work!
 Better keep this one handy. I'm sure you'll be coming back to it again and again!


2 cups oats (quick cooking or old fashioned)
2 large very ripe bananas
2 large eggs
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
2 to 3 tbs honey (depending on how sweet you like it)
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/8 tsp kosher salt
Up to 1/2 cup mix-ins: chocolate chips (mini or regular), chopped dark chocolate, nuts, dried cranberries, or blueberries (fresh or frozen and rinsed)


 Preheat the oven to 400º F.
Lightly grease a 12-cup standard muffin tin or line with paper liners. If using liners, lightly grease them as well. Set aside.
 Place the all ingredients but the mix-ins in a blender or the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade: oats, bananas, eggs, Greek yogurt, honey, baking powder, baking soda, vanilla extract, and salt. Blend or process on high, stopping to scrape down and stir the ingredients once or twice as needed, until the batter is smooth and the oats have broken down almost completely, about 3 minutes. By hand, stir in the mix-ins. If the batter is warm from the appliance’s motor, the chocolate chips may melt and swirl as they are stirred. If this bothers you, let the batter cool for 10 minutes before adding them.
 Divide the batter among the prepared muffin cups, filling each no more than three-quarters of the way to the top. Sprinkle with additional chocolate chips or nuts as desired. Bake for 15 minutes, until the tops of the muffins are set and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Place the pan on a wire rack and let the muffins cool in the pan for 10 minutes. They will deflate but still taste delicious. 

Tips:
Next time I make this, instead of throwing everything in at once, I think I'll blend the bananas, eggs, honey, yogurt, and vanilla first,  and then I'll add everything else. It might make the blending process a little easier for the blender!
This recipe says that it makes 12 muffins, but for some reason, my batch made 18, leaving me with 6 empty muffin wells in a second muffin tin. (I suppose I'll fill them a little more next time!) If it should ever happen that you're baking an incomplete muffin tin, always be sure to fill the rest of the muffin wells with water. This keeps the pan at an even heat so that everything bakes evenly, plus it keeps your pan from burning. Clever, huh?
 Wrap any leftovers tightly in plastic and freeze for up to 2 months!

Monday, April 3, 2017

Beth's Hash Brown Potato Casserole



 I decided to do another search for a hash brown potato casserole recipe. Yes, yes, I know I already have my OMG Good Hash Brown Casserole recipe (which really is OMG GOOD), but one can never have too many versions of a recipe, can one?? I think not! So, in this case, I was looking for something closer to the famous Cracker Barrel recipe. I've seen many recipes that claim to be THE Cracker Barrel recipe, but oddly, they're not all the same. Crazy, huh? With this sort of a dish, I think the recipe is more of a guideline. There's definitely some wiggle room here. So I began to do what I always do when looking for a recipe, just like I did with my other hash brown casserole recipe. Basically, I just looked at several different versions of it, and then took what I liked from each one. In many of the versions I've seen, most of the ingredients are the same, but the amounts are slightly different. Some versions add paprika, some add A LOT more butter and/or sour cream. Basically I was looking for the Goldilocks version of the recipe, which is not too much anything. It's JUST RIGHT.
 Then I happened upon Trisha Yearwood's recipe, or rather, I suppose, her sister Beth's. It uses basically the same ingredients that I had seen in other versions, but it also includes butter crackers for the top. I thought, oooo I think this is the one!  Originally, I had figured on using a buttered bread crumb topping, but the cracker topping just sounded so good, I decided that this was the one to try.
 So here it is! It's absolutely as warm and comforting as you think it would be. Potatoes and cheese...two of my favorites things! How can this not be the definition of comfort food? Yes yes, I know she pours a ton of extra butter over the top, but you weren't really planning on eating this every day, were you? It's all about moderation, people! Have a salad tomorrow, and you'll be fine! Serve it as an easy side dish with a roast beast and a green veggie, or assemble it on a Saturday night, then bake it first thing in the morning for Sunday brunch. It would be perfect with some fried eggs and a few strip of bacon. Now THAT's my idea of a fabulous Sunday brunch!



2-3 lbs large red potatoes, peeled


1 10oz can cream of mushroom soup






 Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9- by 13- by 2-inch casserole dish.
Use the large holes on a box grater or the grating blade of a food processor to shred the potatoes into a large bowl. Add the sour cream, Cheddar cheese, soup, onions, salt, and pepper. Turn the mixture into the prepared baking dish and sprinkle with the crushed crackers. Pour the melted butter over the top of the casserole. Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes, then uncover and bake until lightly browned on top, about 20 minutes more.


Tips:
-Definitely bake this for as long as it says. It will take that long for the potatoes to be tender!
-When I made this, some of the onions were not as soft as I would have liked. I think, next time, maybe I'll saute the onions for a bit before I add them to the casserole. That would certainly take care of that! I think I might also choose a cheese that isn't quite as sharp. You definitely get a sharp tang from the sour cream and the mustard. So maybe I'll choose a creamier milder cheese. Any kind will work!
-If you would like it to be less saucey, cut back a little on sour cream. It'll still turn out fine!
-Not a fan of cream of mushroom soup? Use any kind of cream soup you like!
-If you choose to use frozen potatoes instead of fresh, there's no need to defrost them. Just toss 'em in, right from the freezer!
-Wanna make it more of a substantial meal by itself? Add some diced ham and/or crumbled sausage or bacon. Add some blanched asparagus or broccoli. How about some diced or pulled chicken? Add whatever you like!