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!

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

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

 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

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

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.

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!!!!!

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.

  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!

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.

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!

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.

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
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. 

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.

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.

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.

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 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,, 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. 

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!

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.

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!

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.

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!

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.

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.

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... 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.

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, 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.

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!!

 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 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!

-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. 

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!

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

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.

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???