Monday, October 22, 2018

Soft-Baked Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies


 Ok, so, if you've been reading my blog for a while, you know that I try to stay with the seasons. Every month's recipes usually have a theme, or are geared toward a forthcoming holiday. In other words, I probably wouldn't post a recipe for a big pot of hot soup in the blistering heat of summer, and I don't think I would post something with fresh summer berries around Christmas time, so forth.
 For this recipe, though, I couldn't decide in which category it should be! October is when I always post pumpkin recipes, and December is when I always post cookie recipes... What to do?
 So, I figured I'd post it for pumpkin month, and now you have the option of trying them in either season! Or both! Did you ever realize this much thought goes into a simple blog post? Well, now you know. Yes, I may or may not be overthinking these things, but what can I say.. this is how I usually roll.
 So let's talk about this cookie recipe, shall we?
They're REALLY easy to make, and they were just the thing when I had a little bit of free time and felt like baking something warm and homey. Once again, I turned to one of my favorite baking blogs, Sally's Baking Addiction, and once again, I was thrilled with the final product. These cookies are chewy like a soft baked cookie should be, but they're not cakey, like other pumpkin cookies. They're perfect for your Halloween bash, and just as perfect for your Christmas cookie swap! Why not bake a double batch now, and then freeze one for the holidays?? How perfect is that??
Hope you like 'em!



2 cups + 1 tbs all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tbs ground cinnamon
1 heaping tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup dark molasses
3/4 cup packed light or dark brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg yolk
3/4 cup pumpkin puree
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 and 1/2 cups total add-ins (chocolate chips, dried cranberries, pumpkin seeds, pecans, white chocolate, or a combination)


 Preheat oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. Set aside.
In a large bowl, toss the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, and salt together. Fold in the oats. Set aside.
Melt the butter in the microwave in a medium size bowl. Whisk in the molasses, brown sugar, and granulated sugar. Once combined, whisk in the egg. Add the pumpkin and vanilla and whisk until thick and combined completely. Pour into dry ingredients and gently mix. The dough will be very thick, heavy, and sticky. Keep mixing until just combined, no more. Fold in your add-ins.
Scoop cookie dough onto prepared baking sheets. About 2 or 3 Tablespoons of dough per cookie. Slightly flatten to help the cookies spread in the oven. Do not flatten completely. See my photo above for a visual. If desired, press a few of your add-ins onto the top of the cookie dough balls for looks. Bake the cookies for 13-15 minutes until very lightly browned on the edges, and still appearing soft in the centers. Allow the cookies to cool completely on the baking sheets.

SBA Tips:
The cookies' flavor is best on day 2. Cookies remain fresh and soft stored in an airtight container for 10 days. Cookies freeze well up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator.



Joey's Tips:
Be sure to measure everything accurately. The required amount of flour is 2 cups plus 1 tbs, so, clearly that indicates that a lot of testing went into developing this recipe, and that THIS was the exact amount needed. I can appreciate that!
The original recipe says that it makes 15-18 large cookies, but I didn't want my cookies to be so large, so I just used a regular cookie scoop for them. I wound up with about 3-4 dozen regular sized cookies. They still baked for about the same time, about 14 minutes. I also didn't cool them completely on the tray. Just let them cool for a few minutes, and then lifted them from parchment to cooling rack, just as I usually do when baking cookies!
I added craisins to mine, but feel free to add anything you like!
Oh, one other thing... whenever I'm baking cookies, I like to just bake one tray at a time. I know it takes longer, but I just can't be bothered with rotating or switching the trays halfway through the baking. And one tray always seems to bake darker than the other. So unless I'm being a cookie factory at Christmas time, it really doesn't take too long to just do one at a time.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Slow Cooker Pumpkin Cobbler


  In my never ending search for pumpkin recipes, I happened to find this one, which also falls right in line with my love of slow cookers. I was looking for recipes that could be deemed "Thanksgiving worthy", and I found this on a blog called The Gunny Sack. First and foremost, it's absolutely delicious. And as an added bonus, it uses the slow cooker, which frees up your oven for other things. That certainly sounds Thanksgiving worthy to me! And it's also so easy that any cooking novice can make it. The blog described it as "pumpkin pie without the crust", but I think it's so more than that. It's rich and decadent and screams for vanilla ice cream and/or caramel sauce. You should definitely consider this for your next holiday meal!
Ok so lets talk about the recipe for a hot sec.
I've listed the recipe and directions as I found them on the blog. But here's the thing.. Just like with many "Dump Cake" recipes, the dry cake mix is supposed to be just sprinkled over the top, and NOT stirred in. However, it's been my experience that sometimes the butter doesn't reach all of the cake mix and I'm left with powdery pockets of dry cake mix on top. My solution is to mix the cake mix with the melted butter to form a dough, chill it for a quick 10 minutes so it firms up a bit, and then crumble the dough over the top. Problem solved!


3 eggs 
29 oz can of pumpkin puree   
12 oz evaporated milk 
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger 
1/2 tsp salt  
1 tsp pure vanilla
1 box butter pecan cake mix  
1/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup melted butter

Beat the eggs slightly. Add the pumpkin puree, evaporated milk, sugars, cinnamon, ginger, salt and vanilla. Pour the mixture into a greased slow cooker. Top with the powdered cake mix and sprinkle with brown sugar. Drizzle melted butter evenly over the top. Cook on low for 3-4 hours.

Tips:
 When I served this, it was still piping hot, and therefore very soupy (which was not altogether a bad thing). It will set up more as it cools, just like any other custard. I think the sweet spot is where it's not piping hot, but still a bit warm. Then it's set up a little, but still good with ice cream!
I couldn't find butter pecan cake mix, so I just used a regular butter cake mix, and then topped it with a couple handfuls of chopped pecans. Use any kind of cake mix you like! Spice cake, white, yellow, even carrot. Btw, the added texture of the pecans was just the perfect thing! Just sayin'!
Also, I just used 2 tsp of pumpkin pie spice blend instead of the cinnamon and ginger. All good! 
Side note, I think I may cut back on the butter just a bit next time. Maybe cut it to just 1/2 cup.

Here's a tip from 365 Days of Slow Cooking, which was passed on by The Gunny Sack
To keep the top of the cobbler from becoming too soggy, place a tea towel or a couple pieces of paper towel over the slow cooker, and then place the lid on top. This prevents any condensation from dripping back into the cobbler!

Monday, October 8, 2018

Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cinnamon Swiss Meringue Buttercream


 So, I was looking for a recipe for pumpkin cupcakes. Yes, yes, I know I already have a recipe for Pumpkin Cupcakes on my website, but I figured, more is more, right? And like the other recipe, many recipes use cream cheese frosting for their pumpkin cakes, so I was thinking, maybe I'd try doing a cinnamon Swiss Meringue, instead. Mmmm... good idea. This CLEARLY falls squarely into the "how can this not be good?" column.
 I did my usual search, trying to find just the right recipe, and as usual, there were several criteria I needed to meet. Well, for one thing, I wanted 24 cupcakes. I was making it for my fabulous group of theater friends, and 12 was just not gonna cut it.  Also, whenever I bake something pumpkin, I want a recipe that uses the whole can of pumpkin. Don't you hate when a recipe just calls for 1/2 cup? What are you supposed to do with the rest of the can of pumpkin? Yes, I know, put it in the fridge, and save it for something else, right? Only it's usually a science experiment in my fridge by the time I get back to it. For me, it's better to just use the whole can on the first go. Great. Ok, so I happened to see a recipe for cupcakes on a website called Live Well, Bake Often. The recipe only made 12 cupcakes, which made me wonder if doubling the whole recipe was an option. As I scrolled through the comments section at the bottom of the recipe, a baker asked if it could be doubled. Danielle, who is the blogger, responded that making THIS cake recipe would be better for 24 cupcakes, so that's how I happened to find it. (Did all of that make sense?) Anyway, as my Dad would have said "It was like going around my ass to get to my elbow, but I got finally got there."
 Anyway, the recipe is PERFECT. You literally just throw all of the wet ingredients into a bowl, mix them up, and then stir in the sifted dry ingredients. It's just that easy. It also bakes up to become the most perfect cupcakes you've ever seen and I think this is now my go-to recipe!
See? More really IS more! And topping them with the cinnamon Swiss meringue buttercream turns them from great cupcakes into OMG Cupcakes. Like, seriously.
 So, thank you, Danielle over at Live Well, Bake Often, for the fabulous recipe. And thank you to the reader who left the comment. Funny how things work out sometimes, isn't it?



For the cupcakes:

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder 
1 tsp baking soda 
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice blend
1 tsp ground cinnamon 
1 tsp salt 
1 (15oz) can pumpkin puree 
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup brown sugar 
1/2 cup granulated sugar 
4 large eggs 
2 tsp pure vanilla extract


Preheat oven to 350°F.
Place cupcake papers into 2 cupcake pans to make a total of 24 cupcakes. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, pumpkin pie spice, ground cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the pumpkin puree, oil, brown sugar, granulated sugar, eggs, and vanilla until fully combined. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix until just combined.
Using a 2 oz ice cream scoop, fill each of the cupcakes evenly. Place pans in oven. Bake for about 20-22 minutes, switching pans about halfway through (to insure even baking). The cupcakes are done when the tops spring back when lightly tapped, or when an inserted toothpick comes out clean.



For the Cinnamon Swiss Meringue Buttercream;

5 large egg whites
pinch of salt
1 cup plus 2 tbs granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 lb (4 sticks) butter, at room temperature
2 tsp ground cinnamon


Combine egg whites, sugar, and salt in the heatproof bowl of a standing mixer set over a pan of simmering water. Whisk constantly by hand until mixture is warm to the touch and sugar has dissolved (the mixture should feel completely smooth when rubbed between your fingertips).
Attach the bowl to the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Starting on low and gradually increasing to medium-high speed, whisk until stiff (but not dry) peaks form. Continue mixing until the mixture is fluffy and glossy, and completely cool (test by touching the bottom of the bowl), about 10 minutes.With mixer on medium-low speed, add the butter a few tablespoons at a time, mixing well after each addition. Once all butter has been added, whisk in vanilla and cinnamon. Switch to the paddle attachment, and continue beating on low speed until all air bubbles are eliminated, about 2 minutes. Scrape down sides of bowl with a flexible spatula, and continue beating until the frosting is completely smooth. Keep buttercream at room temperature if using the same day. If not, transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate up to 3 days or freeze up to 1 month. Before using, bring to room temperature and beat with paddle attachment on low speed until smooth again, about 5 minutes.
Tips:
The cupcake recipe should make EXACTLY 24 cupcakes. When you're filling up the cupcake pans, if you come up a little short, just take a little from this one and a little from that one until all are filled evenly. They bake up to the perfect dome over the top, and they don't spread out to stick to your pan, which I greatly appreciate. 

The buttercream recipe is Martha Stewart's, and it's my go-to for Swiss Meringue. There are MANY versions of Swiss Meringue, ranging from just 2 or 3 egg whites all the way up to as many as 9 or more. This one is my favorite because it always turns out perfectly, you can tweak it to make it new (adding the cinnamon was my extra little twist!) and most importantly, it has the smoothest creamiest texture, and as much as I hate the expression, it has the perfect mouth feel. Some recipes have what I call a sort of plastic texture, and that's just not my favorite thing at all. This one wins.

Of course, if you don't want to do this buttercream, you can choose any other favorite frosting, or just swirl some regular Cream Cheese Frosting onto your cupcakes. It's just that sometimes I feel like that's what everyone uses on EVERYTHING and I was going for something a little different.
But you do you!


Monday, October 1, 2018

Pumpkin Dream Cake


Ok, so, you may be wondering "what is a Dream Cake?" Honestly, I have no idea, so basically I'm asking the same question. At first, I guessed that it's a cake that uses Dream Whip, which is a brand of whipped topping mix. But then I saw many recipes (like this one from a website called The Novice Chef) that don't include it. So that made me wonder what exactly constitutes a "Dream Cake." Is it the structure? or maybe the amount of layers? Nope. Some dream cakes have two layers, some have three, some have four, or even more. Some are baked in a 9x13 pan, and some are baked in a tube or Bundt pan. Is it the frosting? Nope. The frostings vary too.. some are whipped toppings, some are cream cheese, some are chocolate, and on and on.
Not the structure, not the layers, not the frosting. Hmm..
 So I guess the only thing that makes it a Dream Cake is the fact that you love it so much that it could be described as "dreamy." I know. I know. It's a little bit weak, but actually, do we really care? I mean, all we really care about is how good it is, am I right??? And yes, let me tell you, this cake is good enough to be described as dreamy! I mean, we're not talking Zac Efron Dreamy or anything, but still... this cake is pretty darned dreamy. And it's perfect enough for your next special occasion. Add this one to your holiday repertoire! And in the meantime, if you find out what a Dream Cake is, please let me know, OK? Great then.



Cake:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 (15 oz) can pumpkin
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup milk

Frosting:
12 oz (1 1/2 packages) cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons cinnamon
6 cups powdered sugar



For the cake:
Preheat oven to 300°F.
Grease 3 8-inch round cake pans. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, mix flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
In a large bowl/stand mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then stir in vanilla, pumpkin and vegetable oil. Beat in the flour mixture alternately with the milk. Divide batter evenly into prepared pans. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool completely or chill before frosting.


For the frosting:
In a large bowl, cream butter and cream cheese until smooth. Beat in maple syrup, vanilla, and cinnamon. Add confectioners' sugar and beat on low speed until combined, then on high until frosting is smooth. Assemble the 3 layers with a thick layer of frosting in between each layer. Then apply a thin crumb coat on the top and sides. Pop back in the freezer to harden the crumb coat for about 10 minutes. Apply one final thick and even layer around the outside of the cake. Store in the fridge until ready to serve.



Tips:
 I'm sure you can bake this in 2 9" layer pans instead of 3 8" pans. I would just keep an eye on it while it's baking, just to be sure!

Monday, September 24, 2018

Salted Caramel Apple Pie Bars



  Well, it's officially Fall, and whenever I think of Fall, I think of baking things with apples and pumpkin. Yes, I'm THAT guy who loves everything pumpkin, but as I've often said, if you were to ask me what my favorite dessert is, in the whole wide world, in the history of ever, it would be an apple pie with vanilla ice cream and caramel poured over the top. Hands down. Like, there's not even another dessert that comes close. As much as I love a chocolate this and a chocolate that, I'd rather go for the warm cinnamon and apples that make the whole house smell like home. So when I was looking for an apple pie something to bake, I happened upon this little gem of an idea. Yes, they're apple pie, yes, they're BARS, and yes, they have caramel drizzled over them, and not only that it's SALTED caramel. Um, YES PLEASE.
 OK, so let's look around and see if I can find the right recipe. WHOA. Who knew there would be so many variations???? I found literally no less that 10 different versions on different cooking blogs all over the place. But then, I noticed something.. many of the recipes were adapted from (or inspired by) a particular version on one of my favorite websites, a blog called Sally's Baking Addiction. It seemed to me that this was the standard against which all others were compared. So I figured, well clearly that's the one I need to make!
And as luck would have it, I just happened to have all of the ingredients to make it! Perfect! At first, it seemed like a lot, but upon closer look, there was really nothing difficult about it. The dessert has several layers, so it stands to reason that the recipe would have several steps. All very simple!
And O. M. G. can I just tell you how heavenly they smell while they're baking?  I'm not even kidding. Oh, btw, whenever I share a recipe, I usually give you a few hints and helps, but Sally has already done that for me too. So, thank you, Sally, for yet another wonderful recipe and also for the hints! I remain a huge fan! It's nice to share something from someone who clearly loves baking as much as I do!
And the next time YOU happen to be looking for an apple pie something to bake, give this one a try.
Everyone will be glad you did!


Crust:
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour

Apple filling:
2 large apples, peeled and thinly sliced (1/4 inch thick)
2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

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

Caramel Drizzle:
Here's the link for SBA's Homemade Salted Caramel Sauce 
or you can just do what I did..
I melted a bag of Kraft caramel bits with 1/4 cup of milk, then added a tsp of kosher salt.



 Preheat the oven to 300°F. Line the bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper, leaving enough overhang on all sides. Set aside.

Make the crust:
Stir the melted butter, granulated sugar, vanilla, and salt together in a medium bowl. Add the flour and stir until everything is combined. Press the mixture evenly into the prepared baking pan. Bake for 15 minutes while you prepare the filling and streusel.

Make the apple filling;
 Combine the sliced apples, flour, granulated sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg together in a large bowl until all of the apples are evenly coated. Set aside.

Make the streusel:
  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. Set aside.

 Remove the crust from the oven, and turn the oven up to 350°F. Evenly layer the apples on top of the warm crust. It will look like there are too many apple slices, so layer them tightly and press them down to fit. Sprinkle the apple layer with streusel and bake for 30–35 minutes or until the streusel is golden brown.
 Remove from the oven and allow to cool for at least 20 minutes at room temperature, then chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 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. Once cut, drizzle some salted caramel sauce on top of each. These apple pie bars can be enjoyed warm, at room temperature, or even cold.




Sally's Tips:
The bars will stay fresh in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3 days. You can freeze the bars for up to 3 months. Then, thaw overnight in the refrigerator before serving and drizzling with caramel. I like to use two different kinds of apples for a more complex flavor. I typically use 1 tart apple variety such as Granny Smith, and 1 sweeter apple variety such as Pink Lady. You'll end up with about 3-4 cups. A little more or less is OK, based on your preference of filling. Recipe can easily be doubled and baked in a 9x13 pan. Bake for 45-55 minutes and cool completely as directed in this recipe.

Joey's final thoughts:
Of course I doubled it and baked it in a 9x13 pan. Because MORE IS MORE! I used Honeycrisp apples because they're my absolute favorite. And then I added an extra little sprinkle of salt over the top. You do you!!

Monday, September 17, 2018

Peanut Butter White Chocolate Blondies


  Do you ever get in one of those moods where you just feel like having a specific something??? Like, lately I've been in the mood for something peanut butter. I blame my niece, Kristin, because she's always saying "The peanut butterier the better!" So I did a quick inventory of my pantry to see what might inspire. I found a bag of white chocolate chips and immediately knew that this was the right PB pairing. It reminded me of white chocolate Reese's cups, which I ABSOLUTELY LOVE. So I did a bit of googling and found this recipe on a blog called Bake or Break. That's it!! It's sweet, it's salty, and it's everything you want in a peanut butter dessert. Also it's quick to throw together and it uses regular everyday ingredients that you probably already have in your pantry. Perfect!
So the next time you're feeling like something peanut butter, just whip up a batch!
They'll definitely satisfy your deepest PB cravings!



1  1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon*
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
1 1/2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup white chocolate chips or chunks
Preheat oven to 350°F. 
Grease an 8-inch square baking pan. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside. Using an electric mixer on medium speed or mixing by hand, combine the butter, brown sugar, and peanut butter. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Mix in the vanilla. If using a mixer, reduce the speed to low. Gradually add the flour mixture, mixing just until combined. Stir in the white chocolate chips. Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan. Bake 35 to 40 minutes, or until a pick inserted into the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached. Cool completely in the pan before cutting into bars.


Tips:

*As I've posted above, you'll notice that the original recipe includes cinnamon, but tbh, I think I may omit it next time. Now, you know how much I love cinnamon... my usual rule of cinnamon is "there's no such thing as too much", but in this instance, I think even that tiny little bit conflicts with the peanut butter flavor. I think it gets in the way of the salty sweet thing that I love so much. But they're still delicious either way! You decide!


Baking for a bigger crowd? Just double the entire recipe and bake it in a 9x13 pan. The baking time stays the same. 
Want it to be even peanut butterier? Add some peanut butter chips along with (or instead of) the white chips!
As always, when I bake any kind of brownies or dessert bars, I line the pan with parchment paper with a little extra hanging over the edges. Then after the bars are baked and cooled, I use the parchment as a sling to lift the whole batch out of the pan at once. This saves your pan from being ruined, and it lets you make nice even perfect cuts!
Btw, I added an extra tiny little pinch of salt because I love salty and sweet together. It also really brings out the flavor of the peanut butter! 

Monday, September 3, 2018

Summer Squash Cheesy Bake


 Since it's the end of summer, before I move on to all of my new Fall recipes, I figured I'd do just one more recipe involving summer squash. Many of my friends have home gardens, and by now they have TONS of zucchini, so it's not uncommon for people to ask me if I know of any new squash recipes.
 Quite a long while ago, I signed up for a daily recipe to be sent to my email from Just a Pinch Recipes. I must admit that very often I don't have time to go through every recipe that is sent to me, but every so often, one will make me stop for a minute and give a look. That's what happened here!
 This recipe is easy and simple, quick to throw together, and it's SO flavorful! Clearly this is the zucchini recipe I was looking for! It's also very much lighter than your usual cheesy casserole because it doesn't have any heavy ingredients like cream or mayonnaise.
 Now, of course, you don't have to use a cast iron skillet, as I did. I just figured it would be an easy way to go from stove top to oven without dirtying another dish. Also, as you can see, I didn't really measure the amount of cheese. I just piled it on and then baked it until was all melty and bubbly. (Melty?)
 Btw, I know this is a "summer" recipe, but you can definitely make this recipe any time of year. Since squash is readily available, this just might be a perfect new addition to your Thanksgiving menu. You could even incorporate other kinds of squash into it. Endless squashabilities!
Definitely give this one a try!




1 medium onion, chopped 
4 cloves garlic, minced 
1 large zucchini, thinly sliced 
4 large yellow squash, thinly sliced
1 tbs dried basil 
1/4 c olive oil 
1 c Parmesan cheese, freshly shredded 
1/2 -3/4 c mozzarella cheese, shredded 
salt and pepper, to taste
 
 
 Heat oven to 350ºF.
Spray a baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside. 
Sauté onions and garlic in two or three tablespoons of olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Spread evenly on bottom of casserole dish. Stack zucchini and yellow squash on top of the onions, alternating vegetables. Make rows in the baking dish, standing the vegetables vertically in the pan. Continue until you fill the pan. Sprinkle squash with dried basil, salt, and pepper; then drizzle with olive oil. Cover pan with foil and bake for about 15 minutes. Uncover pan. Cover vegetables with Parmesan cheese. Return to oven for 10 minutes. Cover vegetables with mozzarella cheese and return to oven for about 5 minutes until cheese gets golden brown. 




Tips:
Like I said, I didn't use a baking dish. I just sauteed the onions and garlic in a cast iron skillet, then added my rows of squash right on top, then put the whole thing into the oven. 
 I didn't follow the amounts either. I started with an onion and 4 cloves of garlic as directed, but then I added squash until it was enough to fill the pan, and added cheese as much as I like. 
Since the sliced are stacked on their sides, I chose yellow squash and zucchini that are about the same diameter, but you can always cut them to fit.
 For a little extra topping, I added some bread crumbs to a bit of grated Parmesan cheese, then sprinkled it over the top.
 
 
 

Monday, August 27, 2018

Pineapple Strawberry Skillet Buckle


 Have you ever heard of a buckle? Basically it's a kind of fruit dessert that sort of falls into the same category as many other baked fruit desserts, each of which has its own defining characteristics:
 A crisp or a crumble has fruit on the bottom and a streusel topping and is baked in the oven.
A grunt or a slump is basically the same as a crisp or crumble, but it is cooked on the stove top.
A brown betty is the same but it has a buttered bread crumb topping.
A pan dowdy has fruit on the bottom and pie crust on the top.
Cobblers require a bit more discussion, but most will agree that it's basically fruit on the bottom with a biscuit topping, giving it a cobbled appearance.
 But wait.. I've gotten off track.. I was about to tell you about a buckle, right? Yes, a buckle is similar to all of those other desserts, but it has more of a cake batter. The Boston Examiner defines it as a "single-layer cake with a streusel topping" saying "as the cake bakes, the dense batter sinks to the bottom of the pan, which makes the streusel buckle on top." Others describe a batter that collapses a bit or "buckles" as it cools.
 Basically, it's a fruit coffee cake, and it's absolutely DELISH! It's a cinch to throw together and it screams for a scoop of vanilla ice cream. I found this recipe on a blog called Afropolitan Mom and it was just the perfect thing to make when a gang of friends came over for a little baking fun.
It's not a huge dessert, so it's just the perfect thing for a Sunday afternoon tea or a light lunch with friends. Btw, usually when I try a recipe, I like to tweak it a little here and there. But with this one, it's perfect just as it is! Definitely give it a try!



2 sticks of butter, softened
1 cup of sugar 
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp of baking powder
1/4 tsp of salt
1 tsp of vanilla extract
1/2 cup of buttermilk or milk
1 cup strawberry, diced
1 cup pineapple, diced

Topping:
1/2 cup flour
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
5 tsp of butter, room temperature


Preheat oven to 375°F.
Grease a 10″ cast iron skillet generously. Cream butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in egg. Mix flour, baking soda, salt in a small bowl. Add to the butter mixture; mix well. Fold in the pineapple and strawberry. Pour batter into prepared skillet; set aside. For topping, combine flour, sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a bowl. Cut butter into topping mixture until coarse. Sprinkle topping evenly over batter. Bake for 45-55 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.




Tips:
Instead of buying buttermilk, make your own! Add 1 tbs of lemon juice or vinegar to 1 cup whole milk. Microwave it for about 30 seconds on high. It will make the milk curdle, which is exactly what you want! Don't have a microwave? Just sit your milk mixture on the counter until it comes to room temperature. It will eventually curdle. The microwave just speeds up the process!
 Don't have strawberries or pineapples? Use another kind of fresh fruit! Actually, it's traditional to use blueberries when making a buckle, but as you can see from this recipe, you don't always have to stick with tradition! Try it with diced peaches and raspberries! Yum.


Monday, August 20, 2018

Blueberry Banana Zucchini Bread


  As the end of summer rapidly approaches, many home gardeners are faced with the same question: "what are we gonna do with all of this extra zucchini?" Well, my friends, here's the answer!
 Yes, I know that zucchini bread isn't exactly the most ground breaking idea to ever come into the kitchen, but when you add blueberries and bananas to the party, well now, THAT is something new!
 I found this recipe on one of my favorite blogs, Averie Cooks. It hits all of my recipe criteria (quick to throw together, ingredients that are readily available, easy enough for the baking novice) and it tastes absolutely delicious! It's not overly sweet, but it lets all the flavors shine through. Oh, and can we talk about how moist it is? Usually when you're baking breads, you have just one ingredient headliner that contributes a lot of moisture, such as blueberries, or zucchini, or bananas. Well, in this case, we have ALL THREE! So believe me when I tell you that this might be the most moist bread you've ever baked. I'm not even kidding!
 Ok, so, as I often do, I asked a few of my friends to try it, just to let me know if they think it's good enough to share on my blog. When they tasted this one, they ALL said "yes, absolutely, 100%!" (Actually, I think they were my friend Mack's actual words! lol) In fact, it was almost gone before I even had a chance to take a picture! So here we are. Sharing is caring!
 Oh, and one other thing. When I share recipes, I always post my own little hints or tips at the bottom, just in case there is anything extra that is noteworthy, but Averie has already done that for me too! So, thank you again, Averie, for another great recipe and also for the great tips. I'll definitely be making this one again!




1 large egg
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour + 1/4 cup for tossing with blueberries
1/2  teaspoon baking powder
1/2  teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1 cup mashed ripe bananas (from about 2 medium/large bananas)
1 cup coarsely grated zucchini, laid loosely in cup and not packed (don’t wring out)
1 cup (6 ounces) fresh blueberries



Preheat oven to 350F. Spray one 9×5-inch loaf pan with floured cooking spray, or grease and flour the pan; set aside.
To a large bowl, add the the first six ingredients, through vanilla, and whisk to combine. Add 1 1/4 cups flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and stir until just combined; don’t overmix. Add the bananas, zucchini, and stir to combine; set aside. To a medium bowl, add the blueberries, 1/4 cup flour (helps prevent them from sinking while baking), and toss to coat. Add the blueberries and all flour bits to the large bowl with the batter and stir until just combined; don’t overmix. Turn batter out into the prepared pan, smoothing the top lightly with a spatula.  Place loaf pan on a baking sheet and bake for about 90 minutes (start checking at about 75 minutes), or until the top is golden, the center is set, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, or with a few moist crumbs, but no batter. Allow bread to cool in pan for about 15 minutes before turning out on a wire rack to cool completely before slicing and serving. Bread will keep airtight at room temperature for up to 1 week, or in the freezer for up to 6 months.





Averie's Tips:
 Before baking, evenly sprinkle the surface with 1 to 2 tablespoons blueberries for a visual pop of color.
At the 45 minute mark, tent the pan with a sheet of foil draped loosely over it to prevent the top and sides from browning too quickly while giving the interior a chance to cook through.
I encourage rotating the pan a couple times during baking to ensure even baking because many ovens don’t bake evenly. Baking times will vary based on the moisture content of the bananas, zucchini, blueberries, climate, and oven variances.
Bake until done; watch your bread, not the clock and don’t worry if it takes more or less time to bake than the baking time estimate provided.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Fresh Corn Pie


 In my never ending search for recipes using fresh corn, I discovered this recipe on a website called Just a Pinch. It's just a simple quiche, perfect for a light meal, and it's easy to throw together in no time at all. Full disclosure, this version isn't exactly the same as the original recipe. I tweaked it ever so slightly to fit the ingredients I had on hand, but it's still basically the same thing. If you don't happen to have fresh corn, you can still make it using frozen corn. But, of course, fresh is always better!
 Serve it with a light salad and a glass of sweet tea and you have a perfectly summery delicious brunch. Definitely add this one to your summer repertoire!


1 9" deep dish pie shell with fluted edges
5 large eggs
1 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 large scallion, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups fresh corn kernels
1 cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
1 tbs fresh parsley, chopped
paprika

Heat oven to 425ºF.
Prick crust well on bottom and sides with a fork. Line the crust with parchment paper, fill with pie weights, and par-bake the crust for 5-7 minutes. Remove parchment paper and pie weights.
In a large mixing bowl, stir together remaining ingredients except paprika. Carefully pour into pie shell. Sprinkle paprika over the top. Bake 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350ºF and bake for an additional 30 minutes or until center is almost firm. Cool 10 minutes and serve.



Tips:
Tbh, I debated whether or not the crust needed to be par-baked with weights before adding the filling. It's not my usual method whenever I bake a quiche. But since I happened to have parchment and pie weights, I went with it. Not sure what pie weights are? I just use uncooked navy beans. You crumple up a piece of parchment paper which makes it easier to line the pie crust, then you pour the navy beans on top, filling up the plate. This is so you can bake the crust before adding the filling, which keeps it nice and crisp. (this is called "blind baking", btw). If you were to try this without the beans to weigh the crust down, then the pastry would likely slide down the sides of the pie dish and lose its form. After the crust is baked, then you remove the beans and parchment, let them cool, put them in a container and use them again and again whenever you want to blind bake a crust. I've literally had the same beans for years and years!

Monday, August 13, 2018

The Best Creamed Corn Ever



During the summer months, I am OBSESSED with all the Jersey Fresh produce I can get my hands on. There is just nothing like it. So, basically every Saturday, I take a little drive to my favorite farm stand and I load up with tons of produce, whatever I happen to be in the mood for. Sometimes it'll be summer squash, sometimes it'll be eggplant, often peaches and melons. But EVERY time, no matter what, it will always be about the tomatoes and of course CORN.
 If you've never had fresh Jersey corn, then you are simply not living your best life. So this week, I decided to look into finding the perfect creamed corn recipe. At first, I thought of making a big casserole sort of a dish, maybe with lots of gooey cheese and crumbled bacon. But then I thought, ok, wait, we're getting WAY off track here... The only thing that really matters is the fresh corn.. so lets keep things simple and just make that the star.
 So here we are! This recipe is a slightly tweaked version of The Neely's creamed corn recipe, but it has a slightly different technique and doesn't include any bacon fat.
 If you want a fresh delicious creamed corn recipe, THIS is absolutely the one that you want!!

8 ears fresh corn
4 tbs butter
2 tbs flour
1 tbs sugar
S&P to taste
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup milk

Using a very sharp knife, cut the kernels of corn from the cobs. Once the corn is removed, using the back of the knife, scrape the cobs to get all of the sweet creamy goodness that is still inside. Add all to a large saute pan with the melted butter. Saute for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently, making sure not to brown it too much on the bottom. Sprinkle with flour, sugar, salt, and pepper. Continue to stir and saute. Add heavy cream and milk. Stir again and simmer until the cream thickens, about 10 minutes.

Tips:
If it gets too thick, just ass a little more milk.
If your corn is sweet and fresh, you can omit the sugar altogether.
If corn is not in season, say maybe if you'd like to make this for Thanksgiving, just use a bag of frozen corn! I wouldn't canned corn because it would probably get too mushy.


Monday, July 30, 2018

Joey's Chili Dog Casserole


 I recently cooked dinner for my gang of friends, which I LOVE to do. It gives me a chance to have everyone over to my place for a nice visit, and I get to try out a few new food ideas. Most times, there's a theme, and this time was no different. Our theme was your basic summer type foods, with an emphasis on Jersey Fresh produce (of which I simply cannot possibly get enough). We had the best corn on the cob in the world, we had a lovely salad of roasted summer squash with tomatoes and a basil vinaigrette, and of course I made my Mom's famous potato salad. My main dishes were BBQ pulled chicken sandwiches and this fabulous chili dog casserole. TBH, I can even remember where I got the idea for it. I think I was just trying to think of different cookout foods. For me, that would normally mean hamburgers and hot dogs, but I live on a 3rd floor apt, so there's no way to grill anything. Then I thought, well, what about a casserole???? A quick google search and there it was. Clearly I was not the first person to think of making chili dogs into a casserole! Some recipes used cut up bread in the bottom of the dish with a very thin chili and hot dogs on top. Some used canned chili with hot dogs and biscuits on top. So I gave the latter a try, since I liked the biscuit idea. Omg it was absolutely terrible. I barely added any seasoning to it at all, and it was so salty, I couldn't even eat it! Crazy, right? I literally threw the entire thing away! But I knew that this idea was worth a second go. Of course I yelled at myself for being lazy the first time around. I should've known better than to use canned chili, which was just not gonna cut it in this particular dish.
 So then I started looking up recipes for "hot dog" chili. I saw a few that looked pretty good, but then I thought "Wait, what am I doing? Do I really need a recipe to make chili?" Absolutely not.  I mean, yes, there are a million different ways of making chili, but I knew I would wind up changing the recipe to make it that way I like it anyway, so I might as well, just do it the way I like it in the first place!
 My first thought was "beans or no beans?" And my friend Jerry said it ever so eloquently: "chili has beans. MEAT is the thing that is optional." So I said well ok then!
To quote Stephen Sondheim: "If the end is right, it justifies the beans!"
 Luckily I remembered to write everything down as I was cooking, and this was absolutely the recipe I had been looking for. THIS is the reason why I always make something home made instead of using canned. THIS is the reason why people always say "of course you did" when I say that I made something from scratch. And THIS is the reason why I always say "It's better when YOU make it." There's just no comparison! Not only does it feed a big crowd but it also clicks a lot of other boxes as well. It's easy to make, can be made in advance, and it's just as perfect for your summer barbecue as it is for when you have everyone over to watch your big game.
 So I hope you'll give this one a try. I'm really REALLY pleased with how it turned out. If you like chili dogs, you will definitely love it!




For the chili:
2 lbs lean ground beef
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup ketchup
1 (15oz) can tomato sauce
2 (4.5 oz) cans chopped chilis
1 (15oz) can red beans, rinsed and drained
2 tbs chili powder
1 tbs brown sugar
1 tsp garlic powder
Few dashes Tabasco
Salt and pepper to taste

1 pkg 8 hot dogs
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
1 can Pillsbury Grands biscuits

Heat oven to 350ºF.
In a large deep skillet, brown ground beef. Be sure to break up any large clumps. Add onions. Saute for a few more minutes. Add remaining chili ingredients and give it a good stir. Reduce heat to low and let it simmer for about 15 minutes. Slice hot dogs into bite sized pieces. Add to chili.
 Pour hot dogs and chili into a 9x13 casserole dish. Place in oven, and bake, (uncovered) for about 30 minutes until bubbly. Sprinkle with shredded Cheddar cheese. Open the can of biscuit dough. Cut each biscuit in half, and then cut each half into thirds. Place biscuit pieces all over the top of the casserole. Place the casserole back in the oven and bake unto biscuits are lightly golden and cooked through.




Tips:
The key to this recipe is You do you! Add the Tabasco to your own taste. (How much heat would you like?) If you like more cheese, go for it! Also feel free to add a different kind of beans or omit them if they're not your thing. Don't like hot dogs? Just make it a chili casserole with biscuits on top! That would still be delish!
If you want to stretch this meal even further, go ahead and add a few more hot dogs to the casserole. I used the 8 that were in the package, but you can easily add as many as 12 if you have more mouths to feed.
Btw, the reason I heat the casserole first without cheese or biscuits is just to make sure it's hot and bubbly before the biscuits are put on top. This serves two purposes: it makes sure your biscuits and cheese don't get too brown before the casserole is cooked through, and it also makes sure that the underside of the biscuits will cook properly. No one likes soggy biscuits!

Monday, July 23, 2018

Blueberry Blondies



Ok, ok, before I say a word about this recipe, I should tell you that the original recipe is NOT called Blueberry Blondies. It was given to me by my friend, Gina, who found it on a blog called Averie Cooks, and it's really called Crustless Blueberry Pie. But here's the thing... As delicious as it is, in my humble opinion, it's not a pie! I mean, the only thing that made it a pie was the fact that it was originally baked in a pie dish. But even the blog called it "somewhere between cake and a blondie." And, since I was making it in squares, I decided to just name them blondies and call it a day. Oh, and since one pie plate's worth of batter wouldn't be enough for a 9x13 pan, I simply doubled the recipe and added a little sprinkling of coarse sugar over the top for a little crunch. So there you have it. Full disclosure!
 Actually, at first I wasn't going to share the recipe, considering that I had just repurposed it a little, and I thought maybe Averie would be a little offended. But then I decided to ponder what it would be like if someone had reworked one of MY recipes, and I thought "Well GOOD!" That's what cooking is supposed to be! That's how new recipes are born! You see what someone else has done, you tweak it here and there, you keep what you like, and change what you don't like, and then PRESTO we have something new! Sometimes it turns out to be completely different, and other times it turns out to be a blondie instead of a pie. The important thing is that YOU made it homemade for your family and friends, and everyone loved it. And that's a pretty awesome thing, I must say.
 So, Averie, if you're reading, please feel free to browse any of my recipes and repurpose them as much as you like! I would love to see what changes you make!




2 cups white sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
4 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp almond extract
4 cups plus 1/2 cup fresh blueberries
1/3 cup turbinado sugar (coarse sugar, or sugar in the raw)


Preheat oven to 350F. Spray a 9x13 pan with baking spray or line with parchment paper; set aside. To a large bowl, add white sugar, flour, cinnamon, salt, and whisk to combine; set aside. To a medium bowl, add the slightly cooled melted butter, eggs, extracts, and whisk to combine. Pour the wet mixture over the dry and stir to combine; don’t overmix. Add 4 cups blueberries and gently stir to combine; batter is very thick. Turn mixture out into prepared baking dish, smoothing the top lightly with a spatula. Evenly sprinkle remaining 1/2 cup blueberries over the top. Evenly sprinkle the turbinado sugar over the top. Bake for about 35-40 minutes or until edges are set and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean or with a few moist crumbs but no batter. Cool completely or chill before cutting into squares.



Tips:
The almond extract is quite a strong flavor. It definitely comes through. If you're not a fan, just leave it out!
I listed the recipe with the amounts I used for the 9x13 pan, but if you'd prefer to bake it in a 9" pie dish, just cut everything in half!
For a variation, try any other kinds berries or a combination there of!


Monday, July 16, 2018

Eggplant Burgers


Whenever I get a food idea or see an interesting food something on TV, I immediately make a note of it in my phone. It's just an ongoing list of all different kinds of foods, and usually an extra note saying where I saw it, etc. Well, this is one of the ideas from my list, but when I added it to my notes, I neglected to say where I saw it. It was from quite a while ago, and my note was just a list of ingredients. My guess is that I saw someone making it on tv and then jotted down what they were adding.
Anyway, I've FINALLY gotten around to trying it! OMG they were delicious!! Really easy, and so tasty! So, to the person who gave me this idea, whoever you are, thanx a bunch! This is now one of my new faves!
Now, as you're reading it, keep in mind that a lot of the amounts aren't written in stone. Actually, some of the amounts aren't even written at all. As my Mom used to say, you just have to add it "til it's enough." That's the best kind of cooking, dotcha think?? Enjoy!



1 large eggplant
kosher salt
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
handful of bread crumbs
1 large egg
1 clove garlic, minced
1 scallion, chopped
black pepper
fresh parsley, chopped

Peel and slice eggplant into thick slices. (it doesn't matter if you slice it longways or crossways). Place a wire rack on a baking sheet, then place the eggplant slices on the rack in one layer. Sprinkle a couple big pinches of salt over the eggplant slices. Let them sit for at least a half hour. I usually let them sit for a good hour to an hour and a half. The salt will draw out all of the bitter liquid. Remove the eggplant from the rack and give it a super quick rinse under running water to remove the salt. Immediately pat dry with a paper towel.
Cut the eggplant into large chunks. Toss with oil and salt and pepper. Place in an even layer on a baking sheet. Roast in a 400ºF oven for about 20-25 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool, slightly. Place in a food processor.  Pulse a few times until the eggplant is the consistency of ground meat.
 Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Mix well using your impeccably clean hands. If the mixture is too wet, add a little more bread crumbs. Form into patties. Pan fry the patties in a bit of hot oil, just until browned on both sides. Serve on buns with lettuce and tomato, or your choice of burger toppings.



Tips:
OK, technically, you don't have to do the salting step, but I always do, literally every time I cook eggplant. It makes all the difference! And your eggplant dish won't taste bitter!
Btw, one large eggplant makes two large thick burgers. So keep that in mind when you're deciding how many burgers you want to make.
I like to use a micro plane to mince my cloves of garlic. It makes a fine paste that mixes evenly into whatever you're making and you won't get a big honkin' piece of garlic in your burger!

Monday, July 9, 2018

Moroccan Summer Vegetable Stew


  Whenever my schedule becomes a little bit hectic, I find myself falling into that all too familiar trap of ordering a lot of take out food. Pizza, Chinese food, and of course, Wawa hoagies. Yes, of course, it's very convenient to just stop and pick something up on my way home from whatever show I'm rehearsing, but after a while, I CRAVE something fresh. So, inevitably, I wind up going to the produce market, seeing which veggies look the best, and then making something a little more colorful and a little less fried.
 Since I happen to live in the Garden State, I have access to an entire rainbow of fresh produce, and Summer always brings some of my very favorite veggies. All it took was a quick google search which brought me to the perfect recipe for all of my fabulous faves.
 It's from a blog called Veganosity and it's absolutely delish! One of the things I like about it (just like the website says) is that it just happens to be Vegan. In other words, there aren't a whole lot of Vegan versions of non Vegan ingredients. That always seems to be a better choice, in my book. For instance, if I were choosing a low carb menu, I would prefer to have foods that were naturally low in carbs, instead of, say, a low carb "pasta" or low carb "bread", know what I mean? It just tastes better! So, in this case, you just have vegetables, broth, aromatics, herbs, and spices. I wasn't necessarily looking for something Vegan, but it just so happens that it is! This is DEFINITELY the welcome change I had been craving. It's also really quick to throw together, so you don't have to worry about slaving over a hot stove. Usually, my go to summer veggie recipe is the Avocado Gazpacho recipe that I got from my school pal, Kathleen. I think this recipe needs to be added to the rotation!



1 tbs vegetable oil
1 red onion, diced
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4 inch coins
1 bell pepper, any color, seeded and diced
2 medium zucchini, diced
1 yellow summer squash, diced
1 tbs ginger, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
4 cups vegetable broth
1 can coconut milk
1 tbs (or more to taste) garam masala spice blend
1 tsp coarse salt
2 medium tomatoes, diced

fresh cilantro, chopped, for garnish
couscous or rice for serving



 Heat the oil in a large pan on medium heat. Add the onion, bell pepper, and carrots. Cook until the onion becomes translucent. Add the zucchini and cook until it begins to brown around the edges. Add the yellow squash, ginger, and garlic and cook for two minutes. Add the vegetable broth (if you want a stronger coconut taste, only add three cups of broth instead of four), coconut milk, garam masala, and salt and stir well to combine. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down to simmer for five minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook for another five minutes.
Cook the couscous or rice according to package directions. Fluff with fork. Place on a plate, pour stew over. Top with chopped cilantro.



Tips:
I've often heard that some people find cilantro to have a soapy taste. If you fall into this category, just use fresh parsley!  And btw, instead of sprinkling it just over the top, I added the cilantro right into the stew at the end.
The stew will thicken just slightly as it simmers. If you would like a thicker stew, make a quick slurry of a couple tbs of flour with an equal amount of cold water or broth, then stir it into the stew. Bring it up to a boil until it thickens.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Blueberry BBQ Baked Beans


 Ok, ok, I know you're probably thinking "Wait... baked beans with BLUEBERRIES???"
And the answer is absolutely YES!!! Just hear me out!!
 I've always loved to do something unexpected with your usual classic something, and this time I decided to do a new riff on baked beans. I've already done pineapple baked beans, maple bacon baked beans, and my regular classic baked beans, so why not do something with blueberries?
 At first I just figured I'd start out with your basic cans of pork and beans, and then embellish them with blueberry-ish ingredients, but then I found this recipe from the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council and decided to give it a try. I figure, well, blueberries are their thing, they wouldn't post this recipe if it wasn't good, right? And I was right!!!
 The first thing I noticed is that it's not tomato or ketchup based. And it uses regular white beans instead of cans of pork and beans. Also it uses molasses and balsamic vinegar. Sounds good to me! So I went for it. OMG it's so delicious!!! No, it doesn't taste like pie filling, and yes, it tastes like BBQ, even though there's no BBQ sauce in it!
 So you should DEFINITELY give this one a try. Make it for your family and friends or bring it to a potluck. I guarantee it'll be the talk of the party!



2 teaspoons olive oil
1 small white onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cans (15 ounces each) white beans, such as cannellini or navy, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup unsulfured molasses ­
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1-1/4 teaspoons mustard powder
1 cup blueberries
4 drops liquid smoke
1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1 to 2 teaspoons minced jalapeno
1 tablespoon chopped basil
1 teaspoon lime zest



 Over medium heat, in a medium saucepan, add olive oil and white onion. Cook until onion is translucent; add garlic. Cook until garlic becomes fragrant; add beans, molasses, brown sugar, balsamic vinegar, mustard powder and ginger. Stir and let thicken for 5­-8 minutes. Toss in half of the blueberries and macerate with beans; add liquid smoke. Stir and let cook an additional 5­-8 minutes. Remove from heat and add in the remaining blueberries, jalapeño, lime zest and salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with basil.


Tips:
 I must admit that I didn't do it EXACTLY as written. I didn't have mustard powder, so I just added a heaping tsp of Dijon mustard. The original recipe called for frozen blueberries, but I used fresh, and I used twice as many. And I added chopped cherry peppers instead of a jalapeno.
 For me, the key ingredients are the liquid smoke and the fresh basil. Be sure to include them!!
I think maybe the next time I make it, I'm gonna add bacon, because everything is better with bacon!! I would probably just brown the bacon with the onions and omit the oil. Works for me!



Monday, June 18, 2018

Jam Swirled Cheesecake Squares


  Just as I do every year, I was looking for a red white and blue something to make for July 4th. This year's contribution is an easy and perfect time saver because you can do it way ahead!
 I was trying to think of something that would work with my home made strawberry and blueberry jams, and this is what I found! It's a slightly tweaked version of a Nestle recipe and it's just exactly what I was looking for. Just a quick basic crust, basic cheese filling, and then a swirl of jam! Perfect, right? Seriously, its beauty is in its simplicity. It's the perfect starting point recipe for any cheesecake squares, and then you can vary it up however you like.
 I just happened to have some strawberry pineapple jam, and a brand new batch of fresh blueberry rhubarb jam on hand, so that's what I used, but I will DEFINITELY try other flavors the next time I make this. Ooo maybe fresh blackberry jam next! Or maybe fresh pineapple, one of my all time favorites! I promise, your friends and family will absolutely devour these little gems at your July 4th BBQ long before it's time for fireworks! Have fun, be safe, and enjoy!




First line a 9x13 baking pan with parchment paper with an inch or two of overhang on each side.

For the crust:
one entire box of shortbread cookies or vanilla wafers
2 tbs sugar
4 tbs melted butter

Place all ingredients in a food processor and give it a good blitz until it becomes fine crumbs that are evenly coated with butter. Press evenly into prepared pan. Bake crust for 15 minutes at 325ºF.

Remove from oven. Let it cool. Meanwhile make the filling.

For the filling:

3 (8oz) pkgs cream cheese, softened
4 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
pinch of salt

Use a paper towel to wipe out the food procesor of crumbs. No need to completely wash.
Place all filling ingredients in the now crumb free food processor. Process until completely smooth.
Pour filling over baked crust.

For the topping:
Place teaspoonfuls of your favorite jam all over the top. I would say about 1/4 -1/3 cup of jam, total. Yes, it will probably sink in, but that's ok. Use a tooth pick to swirl, making sure not to disturb the underlying crust.
Bake at 325ºF for 40 minutes or until set. Cool completely then refrigerate for several hours or overnight. Cut into squares and serve!



Tips:
For the crust, I used Lorna Doone cookies. Why? Because I LOVE 'em! But use anything you like. Vanilla wafers or graham crackers would be my second choice. You could even do golden or regular Oreos. No need to add the butter and sugar, just process until crumbs and then proceed as directed!
 Don't have a food processor? just crush the cookies in a ziploc bag. And use an electric mixer to mix up the filling! The only reason I used a food processor for the filling was because I didn't feel like washing another dish! heehee
 I used strawberry pineapple and blueberry rhubarb jam. I wanted the red white and blue, but feel free to add just one. Or as many as you like! Don't have any jam? Use teaspoonfuls of pie filling instead!
Definitely be sure to chill the pan for several hours. It makes cutting into squares so much easier!

Monday, June 4, 2018

Slow Cooker Mongolian Beef



 Several years ago, I went to dinner at P.F. Chang's (which is a Chinese food restaurant chain). OMG it's SO delicious. I had the Mongolian Beef, and it quickly became one of my all time faves. I order it literally every time I go back, which is not often enough, btw. (Anyone wanna go?)
 Ever since then, I've been on the lookout for any recipes or restaurants that could even come close. The tender beef, the sweet/salty sauce, no one else's seemed to compare. Well, until NOW!
OK ok, well maybe it's not EXACTLY as good, but so far this one comes closest to the mark. It's from a blog called The Recipe Critic and I tweaked it ever so slightly. It's super easy too, especially since you make it in the crock pot! So, if you want the BEST Mongolian Beef EVER, then you need to go to P.F. Chang's, but in the meantime this one will definitely satisfy your craving. Now all I need to do is get the recipe for their Orange Peel Chicken...  mmmm.



1 1/2 pounds flank steak
1/4 cups cornstarch
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/2 tsp minced fresh ginger root
3/4 cups soy sauce
3/4 cups water
3/4 cups brown sugar
1 cup grated carrots
sliced green onions, for garnish



 Cut steak into thin strips. In a ziploc bag add steak pieces and cornstarch. Shake to coat.
Add olive oil, minced garlic, soy sauce, water, brown sugar and carrots to slow cooker.
Stir ingredients. Add coated and steak and stir again until coated in the sauce.
Cook for high 2-3 hours or on low 4-5 hours until cooked throughout and tender.
Serve over rice and garnish with green onions.



Tips:
I wasn't able to find flank steak, so I used a Top Round (London Broil) steak.
I was also just shy of 3/4 cup of soy sauce, so I added a little Worcestershire Sauce to make up the difference. Worked perfectly well!

Friday, May 25, 2018

Cheesy Barbecue Casserole




Lately I've been in a sort of casserole-ish mood. I know we usually save casseroles for Fall and colder weather, but I just figured what about a summer casserole? So then I got to thinking about different versions of mac n cheese and I remembered doing a crock pot cheeseburger mac that was absolutely delicious. So I held onto that idea for a bit, did some browsing of the interwebs, and this is what I found! It's from Betty Crocker. Well, the original is from Betty Crocker. This one is my tweaked version. Tbh, I didn't really change anything except for the amounts. The original called for 11oz of pasta. Who cooks just 11 oz? So I did the whole pound. I was also a lot more generous with the cheese and the barbecue sauce, but it's still basically the same recipe.
 Yes, yes, I know one or two of you may be saying "barbecue sauce on pasta?" TRUST ME! It's barbecue cheesy goodness and it's the perfect thing for you summer BBQ, especially if you're feeding a crowd. This is definitely the cheeseburger mac vibe I was looking for. I'm pretty sure you were looking for it too. You just didn't know it yet! You're welcome.



1 lb ziti or other shaped cut pasta
1 lb ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup milk
1 1/2 cups barbecue sauce, plus more
8 oz shredded Mozzarella cheese
8 oz shredded Cheddar cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley


Heat oven to 350°F.
Spray a 9x13 casserole dish with cooking spray. Cook and drain pasta as directed on package. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, cook beef and onion over medium heat 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until beef is brown; drain. In a large mixing bowl, stir together pasta, beef mixture and all remaining ingredients. Spoon mixture into casserole dish. Sprinkle with more Cheddar cheese, if desired. Bake uncovered 30 to 40 minutes or until hot and bubbly. Sprinkle with a little more parsley and drizzle with a little more barbecue sauce.



Tips:
I was very heavy handed with  the barbecue sauce. Like I always say More is more!!! But just taste it and see how much YOU like!
You could go in MANY directions with this. Instead of ground beef, how about shredded chicken? instead of mozzarella and cheddar, add whatwever kind of gooey melty cheese you like!

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Pineapple Raspberry Crumble


 One of my all time favorite desserts is any kind of baked fruit with a crumbly topping, topped with vanilla ice cream. Crisps, brown betties, pan dowdies, slumps, grunts, buckles, I love them all. (yes, they are all names of fruit desserts lol)
But here's the thing... I've always thought of crisps and crumbles to be the same thing, depending on what side of the pond you live. In America we say Apple Crisp, but say, in England, they would call it an Apple Crumble. But then I found this recipe on a blog called Pretty Plain Janes. It's a crumble, but it's not a crisp, so I stand corrected! It appears that all crisps are crumbles, but not all crumbles are crisps! Usually when I make a crisp, I add cinnamon, and oats, and brown sugar, but this crumble topping is just flour, butter, and sugar. And OMG it's freaking AMAZING. Why have I never thought to do this before? Game changer! I've already decided that this will be the topping for every crumb topped fruit pie in my future. FABULOUS.
 Oh, btw, I didn't do it exactly as it was listed in the original. (c'mon, you know me by now, right?) First of all, I used raspberries instead of strawberries. Why? Because I was cooking for my friend AJ who told me that he likes raspberries! It's all about playing to your crowd, people! Also, I didn't make it in an 8x8 pan (as you can see), and I may or may not have had a slightly heavy hand when measuring the crumble ingredients. More is more!
 So, give this one a try and let me know how you like it. It's perfect for your summer cookouts or BBQs. I promise you your friends and family will devour it! Oh! and don't forget the vanilla ice cream! It's a must!



4 cups chopped fresh pineapple
2 cups fresh raspberries
1 cup plus 2 tbs flour
1 cup plus 1 tbs sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 stick unsalted butter


 Preheat oven 375ºF. Grease an 8" square pan. Toss pineapple and berries in a bowl with 2 tbs flour and 1 tbs sugar. Pour into prepared dish.
Combine remaining flour, sugar, and salt in separate bowl. Add butter and combine with hands until a crumbly texture forms. Spread evenly on top of fruit. Place in oven for 25 to 30 minutes or until top is golden and your home smells like tropical cake. Let set 10 minutes before serving.




Tips:
For the crumble topping, the original stressed that you have to use your hands to combine the flour mixture with the butter. in order to get it just right. Being the rebel that I am (lol),  I just threw everything into a food processor and buzzed it until for about 20 seconds until it came together. It came out perfectly!
It seems to me that this would work perfectly with pretty much any fruit or fruit combination. Blueberries, peaches, mangoes, and yes definitely strawberries. Mix and matchn'em up however you like, and as always go for whichever fruit looks the freshest!
If you're feeding a crowd, just double the whole recipe and bake it in a 9x13 pan.


Monday, May 7, 2018

Country Ham and Corn Casserole



    When I first saw this recipe (from Pillsbury, I believe), it reminded me of my favorite corn casserole that is now a staple side dish at Thanksgiving dinner. But then after I gave it a closer look, I thought mmm... maybe this would be a great something to have for lunch or brunch, kind of in the same way you'd have a quiche! And do you know what? I was right! All you need is a simple side salad to go with it along with a nice tall glass of ice cold sweet tea, and you have the perfect little lunch that just hits the spot. And honestly, it couldn't be easier to make. You basically just mix everything together and bake it! Easy, right? Now that's my idea of an easy recipe! Try it!


Ok wait... UPDATE....
 The following recipe is my tweaked version of the original. What can I say? I can never leave well enough alone. After I posted the original, I thought, "wait, this can be better." So I made it again! The first time I made it, the amount of butter was just way too much to the point where it looked like an oil slick while it was baking. So I literally cut the amount of butter by half. Also, instead of adding a can of Mexicorn as the original recipe required, I decided to use a can of whole kernel corn and some chopped roasted roasted red peppers. I finished it off with a little black pepper. I think this is a MUCH better version! Still not too heavy, still very delicious with a simple side salad, still perfect for a brunch. And just fyi, the fresh green onion on top as a garnish really makes it!



2 c. cooked ham, cubed
1/2 c. green onions, chopped (plus more)
1/4 c butter, melted
3 eggs, beaten
1 (15oz) can cream style corn
1 (15oz) can whole kernel corn
1/4 cup chopped roasted red bell peppers
1 pkg corn muffin mix
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 c shredded Cheddar cheese

Heat oven to 350ºF. Grease a 2 qt casserole dish.
In a large bowl, combine all ingredients except the cheese. Pour into casserole dish.
Bake for 45-55 minutes or until golden brown and set. Sprinkle with Cheddar cheese. Bake an additional 5 minutes or until the cheese is melted. Let stand 5 minutes before serving. Garnish with more chopped green onions.


Tip:
So now that I've tweaked it a little, the only thing I would change or vary might be to add a little heat, possibly with some chopped jalapeno peppers. The corn really lends itself to Southwestern flavors, so if that's your thing, go for it!

Monday, April 30, 2018

Joey's Chicken Enchiladas


 About a million years ago, I was having a Mexican themed dinner for my gang of friends. As I always like to do, I made a bunch of different things with the intention of taking photos and sharing the recipes with everyone. I even came up with my own enchilada sauce for the occasion! Well, somehow or other, the dinner happened, but the photos didn't, and ever since then I've been looking for the right time to make these fabulous enchiladas again so I could take a photo and share the recipe with you. 
 Well, that time has FINALLY arrived! Don't they look yummy?
Now, usually, when I come up with a new recipe, it takes me a few tries for it to land exactly where I want it, but with this recipe, I think I landed it on the very first go. They're cheesy and gooey and saucy and savory and as spicy as you want to make them! You can even save time by assembling them ahead of time. I'd say they were definitely worth the wait.
Hope you like 'em!

1 rotisserie chicken
1 onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 tsp ground cumin
salt and pepper to taste
1 can diced tomatoes, (don't drain)
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (or more to taste)
Taco size flour or corn tortillas
sliced scallions
Easy Enchilada Sauce



Pull the chicken off the bones and use a fork to shred. Set aside.
In a sauce pan, saute onions, peppers, until they begin to soften. Add spices and continue to saute for a few more minutes. Add diced tomatoes and shredded chicken. Stir to combine. Remove from heat. Add about half of the shredded cheese. Stir to combine. Set aside.
Coat the bottom of a casserole dish with enchilada sauce.
To assemble enchiladas:
Dip tortillas in enchilada sauce so that it is coated on both sides. Lay it flat on a plate. Fill with a big heap of the chicken filling, then roll into a log. Place each tortilla roll into the baking pan. Top with more enchilada sauce and the rest of the cheese. Bake for 35-40 minutes at 350ºF or until melted and bubbly. Top with sliced scallions. I like to serve it with a bit of sour cream on top and a little fresh salsa!

Tips:
I purposely didn't add any heat because I'd rather leave that up to you. What kind of heat do you like? You can add jalapenos or your favorite chilis to the chicken mixture with the other peppers. You can add crushed red pepper flakes or Tabasco sauce to the sauce. For a little smokey flavor, you can add chipotle peppers in adobo sauce to the filling. You can add Sriracha to everything! Choose your heat, choose the amount, or just leave it out!
If you have burrito size tortillas instead of taco size, just cut them in half and proceed as directed.