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 350ยบ 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???

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!

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

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

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.

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!