Monday, April 16, 2018

Cake Mix Blondies


Many people ask me if I ever use cake mix when I'm baking. Well, the answer is yes and no. Yes, I use cake mixes all the time, but no I never use them to just bake a cake. I always use them like an ingredient in another recipe. If I'm using it as a cake, it'll be with other cake ingredients that don't follow the directions on the box.
 So I happened to have a yellow cake mix and decided to do something with it. I found a recipe for blondies on a blog called Like Mother Like Daughter and decided to try it, since I already had all of the ingredients. I did tweak it slightly and it turned out great! It was quick and easy and it was just exactly what I wanted. Perfect for a birthday party or just because you're feeling something sweet and fun and festive!!



1 box yellow cake mix
1 large egg 
1/4 cup oil
1/3 cup milk
1 tsp pure vanilla extract 
2/3 cup white chocolate chips 
rainbow sprinkles for the top


Preheat your oven to 350ºF.
In a large mixing bowl, combine your cake mix, egg, oil, and milk. Stir in your sprinkles, chocolate chips and white chocolate chips. Spray a 9x13 pan with nonstick spray. Spread your batter into the pan evenly. Bake for 18-22 minutes until bars are a light golden color. Cool completely or chill. Slice and serve.
 
Tips:
The original recipe called for 1/3 cup white chocolate chips and 1/3 cup milk chocolate chips, but I decided to do all white chips. It also called for a 1/3 cup of the sprinjkles mixed into the batter, but I decided to just sprinkles them across the top. 
I think I'm gonna try this recipe with other kinds of cake mix and other mix ins. Next time I think I'll do chocolate cake mix with salted caramel chips or maybe peanut butter chips. Do what you like!



Monday, April 9, 2018

The Very Best Gumbo


If you know me, you know that one of my favorite things to do is to cook dinner for my friends. It's a great way to test any new recipes I want to try, and most times my friends are all too happy to be my taste testers. Most times I'll choose a theme, and very often we'll watch a movie that goes with it. This was basically how it came to be for this dish.
 We decided to watch The Princess and the Frog, so of course I needed to make a big pot of gumbo! Now, as far as I can tell, Gumbo in New Orleans is like Sunday Gravy with Italian Grandmothers. Everyone has a cherished family recipe, and of course each one is labeled The Best. So how does one choose the DEFINITIVE gumbo recipe? Basically, I just did what I always do. I looked at several recipes, decided which one is closest to what I had in my head, and then tweaked it to how I like it.
I knew I wanted to start out with a roux (pronounced as RUE), which is just a mixture of fat and flour. Some will argue that it's not a gumbo if you don't start with a roux, so who am I to question it?
 I also knew that I wanted it to have chicken and sausage in it, and I also wanted it to include okra. This recipe from Valerie Bertinelli seemed to hit all the right notes, so here we go! It was basically as easy as throwing everything into the pot and letting it cook!
 I have to say, I think this is one of my very favorite things that I've ever cooked. Like, in the history of ever. And honestly, that's kind of saying a lot! It's SO flavorful, you can make it as spicy or mild as you like, and it can feed a crowd! It was the perfect thing to serve to my gang as we watched Princess Tiana and Prince Naveen. It should also be noted that Kelsie, in particular, was a HUGE fan, and still asks me all the time to make it again. OK, Kelsie, Kels, I promise I'll make it again soon!!!
 Even if you're not having a New Orleans night, you should still give this one a go. It's just so good!


 

 
 
 
 , chopped (plus more for serving, if desired)
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 




 Warm 1 cup oil over medium heat in a large Dutch oven until hot. Add the flour to the pot all at once, whisking until the consistency is uniform. Cook the roux, whisking occasionally, until it is the color of a tarnished penny, about 20 minutes. Do not let it darken any further. Carefully add the celery, bell peppers, onion, chopped scallions and garlic to the pot, working away from you as the hot roux may spatter. Stir until the onions begin to soften, about 5 minutes.
Add enough stock to just cover the vegetables, about 1 quart, and stir to combine. The roux may separate. Add the tomatoes with their juices, Andouille and smoked sausages, cayenne, bay leaves, 1 1/2 tablespoons salt, 1 tablespoon black pepper and the remaining stock, about 1 more quart. Partially cover and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a medium skillet over high heat. Add the okra and cook, stirring, until the gel dries out slightly, about 3 minutes. Add to the Dutch oven.
Taste the gumbo for seasoning and adjust as desired. Add the chicken, cook until warmed through and serve, or simmer up to 2 hours more to concentrate the flavors, adding the chicken 20 minutes before serving. Sprinkle with more chopped scallions and serve over rice.


Tips:
It's very important to cook the roux before you add anything else. Some recipes just cook it for a little while, other recipes cook it until it's REALLY dark, almost black. I decided that it doesn't need to be completely black to give a deep rich flavor.
Be sure to saute the okra before you add it to the pot because this helps to get rid of that distinctive stickiness. Actually, I also browned the sausage in the pan for a little bit before I added it to the pot, just to add a little deeper flavor, and then I used the same saute pan to cook the okra.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Pickled Eggs and Beets


 Ok this is one of those recipes I've always heard of, but never really considered trying. But lately it seems that I keep hearing about pickled eggs. I saw them on The Kitchen, and even heard someone mention them in a tv show I was watching. When I was growing up, my Mom always made pickled beets (which I've always LOVED), but she never did them with eggs. Then my brother, Chris, mentioned them so I figured Ok, ok, apparently the Universe is telling me I should make them, so let's give 'em a go.
 OMG they're so good!! Yes yes, I know pickled eggs are considered "pub food" because apparently they go really well with beer, but I like them just as is. Also, they turn such a pretty color that they they're the perfect thing as a party appetizer. And they get darker and darker the longer you let them pickle. I'm not gonna lie, I'm kind of a little bit obsessed with them now. Who knew they'd be so tasty???? Making pickled eggs is definitely an old-timey sort of thing to make, but I definitely think it needs to make a comeback. Who's with me??



2 15oz cans whole (can also use sliced) beets, including liquid
12 hard-boiled large eggs, peeled 
1 cup sugar
1 cup cider vinegar


Drain beets, reserving the liquid. Place beets and eggs in a 2-qt. glass jar. In a small saucepan, bring the sugar, vinegar, and reserved beet liquid to a simmer until the sugar is dissolved. Let cool slightly. Pour over beets and eggs; cool completely. Cover tightly and refrigerate for at least 5 or 6 hours before serving. To Hard Boil the eggs:Place eggs in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil. Cover the saucepan and remove from heat. Let the eggs sit in the water for 15 minutes. Remove egg from saucepan and place in a large bowl of ice water.  Or you can just purchase eggs that are already hard boiled!

Tips: 
Some recipes call for the addition of water. I don't like to dilute the vinegar. I'd rather have a stronger pickling solution, but you do you! I like to let them pickle for at least 24 hours, but you can get away with just 5 or 6. They will last at least a week, probably up to 2 weeks in the fridge. (Honestly, they will will probably be gone long before then anyway!)For a little extra flavor, add a little thinly shaved slices of onion to the jar. You could also add a little pinch of cinnamon, ground cloves, or pickling spice.For a festive and pretty appetizer use your pickled eggs to make deviled eggs and top each one with some chopped chives. Yum!

Monday, March 26, 2018

Pineapple Carrot Cake Trifle


 I was recently invited to dinner with a group of friends, and of course, my first question to Marie, (who is quite the hostess) was "what can I bring?" She said she wanted something chocolate. Perfect. So I decided I would make a deliciously decadent chocolate trifle with layers of cake and chocolate whipped cream. The perfect showstopper dessert! But then Marie said "I'd kill for caramel brownies." Ok, I'll make them, but they weren't the showstopper I was looking for. After taking a quick survey of the ingredients I had on hand, I thought OH! A carrot cake trifle!! Great idea! But baking an entire cake would have been more than I needed for the dessert. So then I found this recipe for carrot cake squares on a blog called Eat Cake For Dinner, and decided to layer them with spiced pineapple and cream cheese whipped topping. THIS was the showstopper I had been looking for! HUGE hit!!  Everyone loved it!
 Now, if you don't want to make a trifle, you can easily just make the squares, cover them with cream cheese icing and call it a day. They're fabulous all on their own! But if you're looking for a showstopper, this is it!

For the carrot cake squares:
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour 1 tsp. baking powder 1/4 tsp. baking soda 1 1/4 tsp. cinnamon pinch of nutmeg, opt. 2 eggs, slightly beaten 2 1/2 c. shredded carrots 3/4 c. packed light brown sugar 1/4 c. sugar 1/2 c. canola or vegetable oil 1 tsp. vanilla
Preheat oven to 350ºF.  In a large bowl combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and nutmeg; set aside.  In a medium bowl combine the eggs, shredded carrots, brown sugar, sugar, oil, and vanilla and mix until well blended.  Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir together until just combined.  Do not overmix.  Pour batter into a greased 9x13-inch baking pan and spread out evenly.  Bake for 20 minutes or until top springs back when lightly touched and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely.

For the trifle:
Drain a 20oz can of pineapple chunks, then chop them up a bit smaller. Place them in a small bowl and add 1 tsp of pumpkin pie spice and 1 tbs of sugar. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, combine 1 large container of Cool Whip (or your favorite store brand non-dsiry whipped topping) and an 8oz package of cream cheese.

Now make layers in a trifle bowl or any high-sided glass bowl:
Start with a little bit of the whipped topping mixture on the bottom. 
Then do 3 layers of cake then pineapple then topping. (refer to the picture if you need to!)
Chill until ready to serve!

Tips:
Instead of using the spiced pineapple, you can just use a jar of pineapple preserves. Just add a tbs of water to loosening it up a bit. You can also use crush pineapple, or chopped fresh pineapple, or any combination. It will all work!
When you're making your layers, take extra care to make perfectly clean layers around the outside of the bowl. This will make it a showstopper!
Btw, when I made the carrot cake squares, I used pumpkin pie spice instead of just cinnamon and a pinch of nutmeg. why? because I like it!!!


Monday, March 19, 2018

Monte Cristo Sliders


 Ok here's a recipe that you might read and say "wait, how does this go together?" But TRUST ME, it absolutely does!! It starts out as a basic sandwich slider with some ham, turkey, and Swiss cheese. Then it starts to get interesting when you brush the whole thing (inside and out) with this sort of buttery hollandaise-ish sauce, which melts into the rolls and makes everything crisp on the outside and melty and gooey on the inside. Are you with me so far? OK now things start to go rogue.. to serve it, you dust the whole thing with powdered sugar, and you serve it with raspberry preserves. WHAT??  I know, I know, it's crazy....but seriously, it's absolutely amazing! It's the salt from the ham and the gooey from the cheese and butter, and the tang from the mustard, and the sweet from the preserves... it hits all the right notes! Usually, a regular Monte Cristo is just a ham and cheese sandwich that is dipped in egg, and then fried like French toast, so this is just the slider version that my sister in law, Terri, found on a website called Jennifer Cooks. (Thank you Jennifer!)
 I recently made this for a family brunch event, and everyone loved it! There were a few people who didn't want the powdered sugar on top, but it is HANDS DOWN 100% better with the powdered sugar and preserves. Anyone who tries to tell you differently is just not living her best life. (Yes, Emma, I'm talking to YOU). Serve them for breakfast or brunch or lunch or dinner! They will always hit the spot!


1 pkg (12-count each) Sweet Hawaiian Dinner Rolls
1/2 lb deli sliced smoked or honey ham
1/2 lb deli sliced smoked roasted turkey
1/2 lb Gruyère cheese or other quality Swiss cheese, grated


Sauce:
1 stick butter, melted
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
2 tbs Dijon mustard
2 tbs mayonnaise

Powdered sugar
Raspberry Preserves

 Preheat oven to 325. Line a 9x13 baking dish with foil (enough that it overlaps the sides - to use as handles). Spray foil-lined baking dish with cooking spray. Slice rolls horizontally as a unit – don’t break apart into individual rolls. Put the bottoms into the baking dish. Lay meat on top, then cover with cheese. In a small bowl, whisk together sauce ingredients. Pour 1/2 of the sauce on top of cheese. Place tops of rolls on top, pressing down lightly. Pour remaining mixture over tops of rolls and spread evenly. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Watch closely – if the tops begin to brown too much, place a sheet of foil over the top. Remove from oven and let cool for about 10 minutes. Using the foil "handles" lift the sandwiches out onto a cutting board. With a large butcher knife, cut the sandwiches into their individual slider rolls. Dust lightly with powdered sugar and serve with raspberry preserves on the side.

Tips:
Since I was making this for a party, I used a half sheet pan, and it worked perfectly! It turns out that 5 packages of rolls worked perfectly on two pans! TBH, I probably could have fit another row of rolls on each pan, but I had enough for the crowd I was feeding!
I assembled everything the night before, then brushed them with the sauce and baked them on the morning of the brunch, but Jennifer said that it can be assembled AND brushed a day in advance. Time saver!!

Monday, March 12, 2018

Guinness Stout Brownies with Bailey's Irish Cream Cheese Frosting



 I first got this idea several months ago when I was out with my Thursday Night Quizzo gang. Our fabulous friend (who always takes care of us) Carissa, brought us a little taste and I immediately said "oooo I have to make these!" So I looked at several different recipes, and this is where I landed! The brownie recipe is from a blog called LifeLoveandSugar, and the frosting recipe is from a blog called Family Fresh Meals. (Actually, FFM added 4-6 tbs of Bailey's to her frosting, but I just went with 3, otherwise it might not have set up the way I wanted, but you do you!) 
 When I made them for friends, we quickly realized that you can't eat just one. I'm not even kidding. They're so rich and chocolatey, and the frosting is just SO good, you suddenly find yourself justifying why you absolutely DESERVE another one! I'm not exactly sure what kind of sorcery this is, but I'm certainly not gonna argue. They're just that good! In fact, I would go so far as to say they are some of the best brownies I have ever made. And you KNOW I've made literally hundreds, possibly even thousands of brownies. So that's really saying something! You should probably stop what you're doing and make TWO batches of them, like right now! You'll be glad you did!


Brownies:
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup Guinness Stout beer
2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup salted butter, melted and cooled
2 eggs
1 cup flour
2/3 cup Hershey's unsweetened cocoa 


Heat oven to 350ºF. 
Grease a 9x9 square baking pan and line it with parchment paper. Set aside. Mix together the oil, Guinness, sugar and vanilla extract in a large bowl. Add butter and mix until well combined. Add eggs and mix until well combined. Combine flour and cocoa in another medium sized bowl. Slowly add dry ingredients to the egg mixture until well combined. Pour the batter into the pan and spread evenly. Bake for 35-38 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out with a few crumbs. Allow brownies to cool completely before frosting.


Bailey's Irish Cream Cheese Icing:
1 8oz pkg cream cheese
1/4 lb (1 stick) salted butter
2 cups powdered sugar
3 tbs Bailey's Irish Cream

Whip the butter and cream cheese until creamy and well blended. Turn your mixer to its lowest setting, and slowly add the sugar until it's well incorporated. Add Irish cream. Turn your mixer back up to high and whip everything until light and fluffy. 



Tips:
-Yes, I know I piled the cream cheese frosting HIGH on top of the brownies so that the frosting is nearly as thick as the brownie. I'm not seeing this as a bad thing.
-I've discovered that one bottle of beer is exactly enough for two batches. Just sayin!
-And I know I've given this tip about a million times, but it's worth repeating every time:
When you line the pan with parchment, cut it a little longer than the pan so you have a little extra hanging over the edges. Then after you've cooled, frosted, and chilled your brownies, you can use the parchment as a sling to lift the whole batch out of the pan. Now you're able to make perfectly perfect cuts using a large knife. (Chrissy, bring me the big knife!) Your brownies will be much prettier, and you won't ruin your pan!
-Since you bake the batch in a square pan, I find it easiest to cut it in half in both directions, making 4 quadrants. Then do the same thing to each quadrant. You'll wind up with 16 perfectly square brownies.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Joey's Slow Cooker Ham and Cabbage Stew


 Usually, when you think of ham (or corned beef) and cabbage, you probably think of just throwing everything into a big pot of water along with lots of potatoes and boiling everything to death, am I right?? Well, actually, there's absolutely nothing wrong with that, but recently I was in the mood for ham and cabbage, but I wanted MORE. More vegetables, more flavors, more seasonings, more gravy. Just MORE! So, I decided to continue my ongoing obsession with slow cookers and decided to come up with a stew. Basically, I just bought one of those small "football" hams, and a small head of cabbage, and threw in a bunch of other things I happened to have on hand.
 And OMG it came out so good, I couldn't stop eating it! It was warm, and comforting and hearty and exactly all the MORE I was looking for.
 So, for this St Patrick's day, instead of just filling up a pot and boiling everything to death, give this recipe a try. It might become your new go to when you want something more!!!


1/2 lb bacon
1/2 head of green cabbage, roughly chopped
2-3 lbs boneless ham, cut into large chunks
2-3 lbs baby red potatoes, halved or quartered
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
2 large apples, any firm variety, peeled, cored, and diced
1 lb baby carrots
1 small can chicken broth
1 tsp celery seeds
Salt and pepper to taste

Using a very sharp knife, cut the bacon into large pieces and slowly saute over medium heat. Meanwhile, add all of the remaining ingredients to a large slow cooker. When the bacon is browned to your liking, add it to the slow cooker including the drippings in the pan. Cover. Cook it on low for 8 hours or on high for 4 hours.

 Optional:
After it is finished cooking, remove everything from the slow cooker to a big bowl, leaving just the cooking liquid in the slow cooker. Turn the slow cooker to high. Add about a quarter cup of flour to a mason jar along with about a half cup of COLD water. Tighten the lid, and then shake to create a slurry, then whisk it into your slow cooker until the cooking liquid has thickened into a gravy, then add the meat and vegetables back to the slow cooker.
Serve with warm crusty bread and lots of butter.



Tips:
The amounts are just guidelines. If you like a lot of something, add a lot! Want to add a whole pound of bacon? Go for it. Want to add more carrots? Perfect! Want to leave out the apples? I say you're crazy, but hey, you do you!
You don't really have to do the optional step of thickening the gravy, but I think it makes all the difference, and it's what turns it from a soup into a stew.
You also don't even have to use the slow cooker liner as seen in the picture. I just happened to have some and decided to try it. Easy clean up!
Oh, and yes, I know this picture is the "before" instead of the "after", but the colors looked so appealing, I decided to go with it!




Monday, February 26, 2018

French Silk Pie



  Have you ever heard of a French Silk Pie? It's something I've heard about for ages, but never really looked into until fairly recently. It's basically just a chocolate mousse pie, and it's very rich and creamy, much more so than just chocolate pudding in a pie crust! I recently made one for the first time and thought "why have I waited all this time???" It's really one of the most rich and decadent chocolate somethings I've made in quite a long time. And it's a bit more sophisticated than chocolate pudding. Absolutely delish!
 Now, I have to say, there are a couple things worth noting. From what I've read, a TRUE French Silk Pie has eggs in it, but the pie itself is not cooked. I know, I know, everyone always says you shouldn't eat raw eggs, right? Well, honestly, I kind of don't worry about that. I've seen Anne Burrell taste her raw scrambled eggs to make sure they're seasoned enough, and I've also heard Sara Moulton say that she doesn't really worry about it either. But if that worries you, all you have to do is use pasteurized eggs. Problem solved!
 And the next thing about this pie is the texture. It's SO rich and creamy and sets up into the perfect slice of pie! The tricky thing is all about the sugar. You should use really superfine sugar for this pie, because the sugar needs to dissolve as you whip the filling. Regular granulated sugar may not dissolve completely, and your pie might not be completely silky smooth.
 And finally, I know I always choose recipes that don't take a lot of time, but this one takes a little extra. I mean, it's still super easy to do.. (easy as pie, quite frankly!) but the extra time is completely worth it! Have I ever lied to you before???? And besides, you can use the extra whipping time to multitask! I used it to empty/reload the dishwasher, but you do you!
 Anyway,  if chocolate is your thing, you simply MUST try this recipe. I found it on a blog called Averiecooks.com, and it's definitely a keeper!





Ingredients:

Crust:
20 Oreo cookies, finely crushed (I use chocolate-filled Oreos rather than white-filled, and regular rather than Double-Stuffed)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Filling:
6 ounces dark chocolate, at least 72%, melted (unsweetened baker’s chocolate may be substituted)
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups ultrafine sugar, also called ultrafine or baker’s sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon instant espresso granules
pinch salt
4 large eggs, at room temperature (or pasteurized eggs, if you prefer)

Topping:
8 ounces whipped topping (thawed and stirred well, lite okay) or 2 cups freshly whipped cream
3 to 4 ounces dark chocolate (72% or higher) roughly chopped, for sprinkling





 Method:

 Crust –
Preheat oven to 350F and spray a 9-inch pie dish wish cooking spray; set aside. Add Oreos to the canister of a food processor and process until finely ground, 1 to 2 minutes on high power; set aside. In a small microwave-safe bowl, melt the butter, about 1 minute on high power. Add melted butter to canister of food processor and process until incorporated, about 30 seconds. Turn crumbs out into prepared pie dish and using your fingers, hard-pack the mixture to create a crust, making sure to cover sides of pie dish. Bake for 10 minutes, or until just set. Place on a wire rack to cool.
 Filling –
In a medium microwave-safe bowl, melt the chocolate, about 1 to 2 minutes on high power. Stop after 1 minute to check and stir. Heat in 15 second increments until chocolate can be stirred smooth; set aside to cool.
  To the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add the butter, sugar, and beat on high power until very light and fluffy, about 5 minutes, stopping as necessary to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Mixture should be very pale, almost white; the lighter and fluffier the better to ensure sugar is well on it’s way to being dissolved and incorporated fully. Add the vanilla, espresso granules, salt, cooled chocolate, and beat on high power until incorporated and mixture is fluffy, about 3 to 4 minutes. Stop, scrape down the sides of the bowl, remove paddle attachment, switch to whisk attachment, add 1 egg, and beat for 5 minutes on high power. Stop, scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the second egg, beat for 5 minutes on high power. Repeat process with remaining eggs. Eggs are added 1 at a time, spaced 5 minutes apart, for a total of 20 minutes active whipping time. After 20 minutes, make sure your mixture is smooth, silky, fluffy, with zero traces of graininess. Continue beating until you’re satisfied with the smoothness because this is what your pie will taste like. Turn mixture out into crust, smoothing the top lightly with a spatula. Cover with plastic wrap and place in fridge for at least 4 hours (overnight is better) for pie to set up fully.
 Topping –
Add the whipped topping/cream, smoothing it lightly with a spatula. I left a bare margin of 1-inch for visual appeal so you can see the chocolate; cover surface fully if preferred. Sprinkle evenly with chopped chocolate before slicing and serving. Pie will keep covered in the fridge for up to 5 days.



Tips:
I think the next time I make this (which will be VERY SOON), I'll probably try it with just a regular pie crust. Since we're going to all this trouble to make sure it's smooth and silky, I was kind of thinking that a crumb crust was working against me. Just a thought!
 Also, I know the recipe says to let it chill for at least four hours or overnight, but mine set up beautifully after just three. Just sayin'! Also, I opted for a few sprinkled milk chocolate chips instead of chopped chocolate. It's just easier!



Sunday, February 18, 2018

Chocolate Cake with Whipped Peanut Butter Frosting


  Ok, I know I already have several chocolate cake recipes, but can you really have too many?? I think not! So here we go.
 I recently made this for a dinner at the request of my niece, Terri. Actually, when she first showed me this recipe (that she found on a blog called Ready Set Eat) she said "you can use whatever cake recipe you want. I really just want the whipped peanut butter frosting." Ha! Normally, my go to chocolate cake recipe is Hershey's Black Magic Cake, but I compared the two, and they're very similar, so I figured I'd go with it.
  And guess what?!? It's just as good! It's rich and moist and very deep with chocolate flavor. I think the secret is the cup of coffee. It makes any chocolate cake SO much more rich! (It doesn't actually make the cake taste like coffee, it just makes it taste like a deeper chocolate!) Clever, huh?
 For this cake, I did most of the decorating myself, but then I got an assist from Terri's youngest, Grace. I must say I'm kinda sorta proud of the drip design. It can be a little tricky to get just right! And yes, yes, I know it's piled with A LOT of candy, but when you have a 4 year old helping you, you just keep going. I think it makes it all the more fun and everyone loved it!
 Definitely make this the next time you want a showstopper for a special occasion, or you can just make it because your niece wanted an excuse to have whipped peanut butter frosting.

Cake:
Baking Spray
1 cup hot coffee
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup whole milk
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups unsalted butter, softened, divided
2 cups granulated sugar

 Frosting:
1 cup creamy peanut butter
4 tbs heavy cream
2 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar

 Ganache:
1/4 cup milk chocolate morsels
2 tbs heavy cream

Reese's cups, Hershey's Kisses, and/or Reese's Pieces for decorating, if desired



Preheat oven to 350°F.
  Spray two 9-inch round cake pans with baking spray. Stir together coffee and cocoa powder in medium bowl; set aside to cool. Stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in another medium bowl; set aside. Whisk milk, eggs and vanilla into cooled cocoa mixture until well blended.
   Beat 1/2 cup butter and sugar with an electric mixer on medium high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce mixer speed to low and gradually beat in the egg mixture until well blended, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Gradually beat in flour mixture until just combined. Divide batter evenly between cake pans. Bake 30 to 35 minutes, until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool on wire racks.
   Meanwhile, place remaining 1 cup butter, peanut butter and 4 tablespoons heavy cream in large bowl. Beat with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until light and very fluffy, at least 5 minutes. Reduce mixer speed to medium and beat in powdered sugar 1/2 cup at a time until well blended.
   Invert one cake layer out onto serving plate and press lightly to secure it in place. Spread about 1 cup of frosting evenly on top of first layer. Invert second layer onto frosting, make sure the layers line up evenly and then lightly press down to secure top layer in place. Frost entire cake with a light layer of frosting; refrigerate 15 minutes.
  Meanwhile, microwave 2 tablespoons heavy cream in small microwave safe bowl 30 seconds, until hot. Stir in chocolate chips until melted. Frost cake with a thick layer of frosting. Drizzle with chocolate sauce and decorate with peanut butter cups or other candy.


Tips:
The key to making the perfect drip design is to make sure the cake is very cold. You should also make sure the ganache is not too hot, but still warm enough to pour. Then when you drizzle it around the perimeter of the cake, the cold cake will chill the ganache and stop it in its tracks, and that's what keeps it from dripping all the way down.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Slow Cooker Kimchi Stew with Beef



 If you know me, you know that I'm not a sports fan. Baseball, Soccer, Basketball, Football, I don't discriminate, I don't watch or follow any of it. I recently showed up at my brother's Superbowl party, and I may or may not have been greeted with a "wow, what are you doing here?" kind of a vibe. LOL (tbh, I think that was the first time I watched any football game since I was in high school. Not even kidding) But I figured since everyone was so hyped about the Eagles playing, I might as well join in the excitement.
 There is, however, one exception to my non-interest in sports, and that is The Olympics. The ceremonies, the personal stories, the lifelong dreams, the culture of the host country, I love ALL of it and I'm absolutely glued to the TV for the 2 1/2 weeks that they're on. I even record several channels that air the different events so I won't miss anything. 100% true story!
 So, now, I know I've talked about this before, but one thing my family always does every Olympics, is we have a hang at my sister Jeanie's house, and everyone brings a kind of food from a different country. Polish sausages, Mexican dips, Italian desserts, Asian appetizers, it turns out to be quite a spread! (Special USA shout out to David for bringing wings and to Gregger who brought a tray of McDonalds cheeseburgers! LOL)
 I always make something in honor of the host nation, so I decided to try my hand at Korean food, since this year's Olympics are being held in PyeongChang. And, of course, this means it should probably involve their national dish, Kimchi, which traditionally is a spicy and sour fermented cabbage dish that is served with nearly every meal. From what I've been told, Kimchi is kind of sacred and most Koreans feel like if they haven't eaten Kimchi, then they haven't eaten yet that day. To be quite honest, I had never even tasted Kimchi let alone cooked with it, so I did a lot of googling.
 I happened to find this recipe on a blog called My Korean Kitchen. The blogger mentioned that she had been wanting to try using a slow cooker for some of her Korean recipes, and I figured this one seemed to be perfect for our Olympics night. I made my list of ingredients, and off to the Asian market I went. Perfect!
 The recipe is absurdly easy to make because you literally just throw everything into a slow cooker, turn it to low, and leave it there for about 8 hours. And OMG it is SO flavorful! It has just a little spicy poke, but you can adjust that to your liking. (tbh, I don't like something that will burn my face off, but I do like a little afterburn.) Anyway, overall, I think my first attempt at Korean food was a HUGE success. I'm definitely awarding myself a gold medal for this one! If you want something warm and comforting with a little spicy hit, you should definitely consider trying this one. It's absolutely delicious!


4 cups Kimchi cut into bite sized pieces
2 lbs chuck steak
2 cups water 
1 Tbsp minced garlic  
1/4 tsp ground black pepper 
2 tbs rice wine
2 tbs sesame oil
1 tbs soy sauce
1 tbs gochugaru (Korean chili flakes) - can reduce this to make it less spicy 
1 tbs gochujang (Korean chili paste)

Rinse the steak in cold running water to get rid of the blood. Pat it dry with some kitchen paper. Cut them into small chunk pieces. Add all ingredients in a slow cooker. Set the slow cooker on low heat and cook it for 8 hours. Stir it a bit occasionally. (The food is ready to eat from the 5th hour. However, an additional three-hour simmering makes the Kimchi and the meat even more tender.) Serve the stew with rice once it is cooked.
 Tips:
You can use any kind of meant instead of (or in addition to) the beef, but just be sure to choose something that is not so lean (as suggested on the original recipe). I used beef, but I also added some pork belly. The meat becomes much more tender and the fat melts into the stew and makes it rich and SO flavorful!
I didn't have rice wine, so I used dry sherry. I believe you can also use sake or mirin. And instead of using the gochujang, I used sambal oelek, which is another kind of chili paste. Absolutely delish!

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Nutella Swirled Cheesecake Bars


 If you love Nutella (chocolate hazelnut spread) as much as I do, then you simply MUST try this recipe. It's from Pillsbury, so you already know that it's gonna be amazing, and OMG wait'll you taste it! I was looking for a picky-uppy dessert something, and as soon as I saw it, I couldn't wait to try it. Actually, I'm not even kidding when I say that. I stopped what I was doing, went to the store to buy the ingredients, and made them as soon as I got home. And of course they were as decadent as I thought they'd be!
 I've literally made them twice in as many weeks. The first time I made them was just as a little thank you to my friend Anthony, who said that "they might be his favorite thing ever." Then I made them for a my friend Marie's dinner party where they got RAVE reviews from everyone! I PROMISE you'll get the same reviews when you make them too!
 The only challenge is to not run out of Nutella before you go to make them! Does anyone else find it difficult to not eat it with a spoon right out of the jar? Uh.. I mean... I'm asking for a friend...



1 package (16 oz) Pillsbury™ Ready to Bake!™ refrigerated chocolate chip cookie dough
2 packages (8 oz each) cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
1/3 cup Nutella™ hazelnut spread


 Heat oven to 350°F. 
Place cookies in ungreased 13x9-inch pan. Press dough evenly into pan. Bake 9 to 13 minutes or until light golden brown. Cool 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, in large bowl, beat cream cheese, sugar, vanilla and eggs with electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Spread evenly over baked crust. In small microwavable bowl, microwave hazelnut spread uncovered on High 10 to 20 seconds to soften. Drop teaspoonfuls of spread on cream cheese mixture. With knife, carefully swirl spread into top of cream cheese mixture. Bake 25 to 30 minutes longer or until filling is set. Cool 30 minutes. Refrigerate about 2 hours or until chilled.
 
 
Tips:
My only thought about the recipe is that I wish the bars were THICKER (because, as I always say, more is more!) Both the crust and the filling are very thin, which is perfect when you're just picking them up to eat them. But I wonder what it would be like to increase the recipe by half, or maybe even DOUBLE it to have a more of a swirled cheese CAKE, know what I mean? I will definitely be giving this a try. Of course, I'll let you know how it goes!
 If you'd like to make the crust from scratch, just use your favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe, but it seems to me that this is one instance where store bought is just as good!


Monday, January 29, 2018

Joey's Baked Reuben Dip



 Many people ask me where I get my recipes. Well, sometimes I'll see something on a cooking show that will spark an idea. Sometimes it'll be whatever looks freshest at the supermarket. Sometimes it'll be what I'm craving (which usually means some sort of fresh produce). And sometimes it'll depend on whatever ingredients I happen to have on hand, which was exactly the case with this recipe.
 I wanted to make something that would be great to serve at a party, whether it's a holiday, or a celebration, or for whatever big game you happen to be cheering. (Frankly, I've never been one to scream at the television, but hey, you do you.) Anyway, I quickly surveyed the ingredients that were in the fridge and figured this recipe would be an easy something to throw together before your guests arrive. My brother, Chris, happens to make the BEST homemade sauerkraut, check. All of the condiments and a jar of my homemade pickles, check. Cream cheese and Swiss cheese, check. The only thing I was missing was the corned beef! Awesome. I really wasn't following any recipe, just adding Reuben ingredients and some cream cheese to make it a dip! Simple, right? It only took a few minutes to mix everything together and into the oven it went. SO EASY! And seriously just as delicious! If you like a Reuben sandwich, then OF COURSE you'll love this dip because it's basically the same thing!
 And everyone will be so impressed! But you don't have to tell them how easy it was.
 So make this for your next party or game day. Hope your team wins!
Betcha everyone will cheer for YOU too!



1 lb sauerkraut
1 lb corned beef or pastrami
1 lb Swiss cheese
1/4 cup sweet pickles
8 oz cream cheese
1/2 cup ketchup
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tbs mustard
Salt and pepper to taste


Heat oven to 350ºF.
Drain sauerkraut very well. Chop the corned beef and shred the Swiss cheese. Chop the sweet pickles. Add all to mixing bowl with remaining ingredients. Mix until well combined. Place in a 9x13 casserole dish. Bake for about 30-40 minutes or until melted and bubbly and a little browned on top. Remove from oven and let it sit for a good 10 minutes. Serve with your favorite crackers.



Tips:
Instead of adding the ketchup/pickles/mayonnaise, just add a cup of thousand island dressing. It's the same thing!
If you want to add a little spice, add a little cayenne pepper.
To make it a little extra creamy, add a tbs or two of sour cream.
If you're only feeding a small group, cut the whole recipe in half!
I used Triscuits because I like how sturdy they are with a dip. But you could also try rye crackers to echo having a Reuben sandwich on rye bread. You could also add a tsp of caraway seeds to the dip to echo that again! Come to think of it, you could even serve it with those little party rye breads. Maybe cut them diagonally and toast them first, just for presentation and proportion. Perfect!

Monday, January 22, 2018

Slow Cooker Bolognese Sauce


Whenever the cold weather kicks into high gear, my first thought is to put a big pot of something on the stove and let it cook all day. I’m guessing you’d get the same response from many of my family members as well.  It’s just how we were raised! If my Mom didnt have a pot of beef stew, then she’d have a pot of meatballs or chicken stew. There’s just nothing more warming and comforting if you’ve been out in the cold.
 During our recent cold snap of subzero temperatures, I immediately started my search for whatever I’d decide to cook all day. While I was browsing the interwebs, I happened to be watching The Pioneer Woman. She was making this Bolognese sauce, and I thought “well, THERE’s the recipe I’m looking for!” It was an easy throw together recipe, and I already had most of the ingredients on hand.
Easy! So it cooked and cooked and cooked all day, OMG it’s amazing. And the longer it cooks, the better it is. I had some for dinner, saved some for leftovers, and froze the rest. Perfect, huh?
 So the next time you want a cook-all-day kinda recipe, you should give this one a try. It’s my new fave! And it might become yours too!







2 carrots



One 6-ounce can tomato paste
1 cup dry red wine
4 pounds ground beef
2 cups whole milk
Two 28-ounce cans crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried basil
2 teaspoons dried thyme
2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 Parmesan rind, optional, plus grated Parmesan, for serving
Cooked spaghetti, for serving
Chopped fresh basil, for serving



Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the celery, carrots and onions, season with salt and pepper and cook until softened, about 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the tomato paste and cook for a minute. Pour in the red wine and cook until it is mostly evaporated, about 3 minutes. Pour this mixture into a slow cooker.
Pour the remaining 2 tablespoons oil into the skillet, add the beef and season with salt and pepper. Cook, breaking up any lumps, until it is nicely browned, about 15 minutes. Drain off any excess fat. Stir in the milk and cook until it is mostly absorbed by the meat, about 5 minutes. Add this to the slow cooker along with the tomatoes, oregano, basil, thyme, red pepper flakes, nutmeg and Parmesan rind if using. Add some salt. Give it a good stir, cover and cook on low for 6 hours.
Skim off any fat on top and check the consistency. If it is too thick, add a bit of water. If it is too thin, cook for another 30 minutes with the cover off.
Remove the rind and serve over spaghetti with lots of grated Parmesan and topped with fresh basil and parsley. Extra sauce can be frozen for later use.

Tips:
I added quite a lot more red wine, and I also used fresh herbs instead of dried. I think the fresh thyme was a game changer! Just sayin!

Monday, January 15, 2018

Crock Pot Smothered Pork Chops and Potatoes


  I'm sure I'm not alone when I say this, but whenever it's super cold outside, I immediately want to cook something delicious and warm and comforting. You know, something that will cook all day and make the whole house smell like home. Do you do that too? Especially when we get a lot of snow, you see people posting photos of everything they've cooked while being snowed in. I do it all the time!
 So, since our recent cold snap of subzero temperatures, I've lately been turning to my slow cooker for a few new all day recipes. As soon as I saw this recipe from The Country Cook, I knew I had a winner. There was just a whole lot of "how can this not be good?" about this recipe! Serve it up with some steamed greens and there's dinner! Prep it the night before to save time! So add this one to your repertoire and keep it in mind the next time there's snow in the forecast.
It just may become your new favorite!


2-3 tbsp. olive oil
4 thick cut, bone-in pork chops
salt & pepper, to taste
1 (10.5 oz.) can condensed cream of chicken with herbs soup
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1 cup milk
2 garlic cloves, minced
3-4 large russet potatoes, sliced into ½” thickness
1 onion, diced
2 cups shredded colby & monterey jack cheese, divided use1/2 cup sliced green onion, for topping


  Heat olive oil in a large skillet over high heat. Season pork chops with salt and pepper. Brown both sides of the pork chops (don’t fully cook the pork chops - just a minute on both sides to get them brown.) Set aside pork chops. In a medium bowl, whisk together the cream of chicken soup with the heavy cream, milk, and minced garlic. Set aside. Slice potatoes and chop onions. Spread the sliced potatoes and the onions into the bottom of a 5 quart or larger oval slow cooker. Season with salt & pepper. Spread half the soup mixture on top of the potatoes. Sprinkle one cup of shredded cheddar cheese on top. Place pork chops in a single layer on top of cheese. Spread the rest of the sauce mixture on top of the pork chops. Cover with remaining cheese. Cover slow cooker and cook on low for 4-6 hours. When done, sprinkle the top with sliced green onion.

Tip:
I think the next time I make this, I may add some fresh thyme leaves to the soup mixture. Just a thought!
Not a fan of cheese? Just leave it out! I've never tried it, but it seems to me that the soup/sauce mixture would be just as delicious without it. But maybe add a tsp of mustard to the sauce, just to add a little sharp bite that you would normally get from the cheese!
When I made it, I had enough ingredients to double everything, so I did! I still did the potatoes and onions on the bottom, and the chops on top. I just piled the chops on top of each other and then poured the soup mixture over all. I also let it cook for a good long time so that the meat was falling off the bone by the time I served it up!


Sunday, January 7, 2018

Albin's Apricot Chicken with Wild Rice and Pistachios


 During this time a very short year ago, I was just about to open in a production of La Cage aux Folles. (For those of you who are unfamiliar, this is the show on which the movie The Birdcage is based.) I had the incredible privilege and honor of playing the role of Albin also known as Zaza (which is the Nathan Lane role). Throughout my many years of performing in theater, out of all the roles I've ever played, I think Albin may be my very favorite. It was definitely the most challenging, and it took me MONTHS to learn, but it was definitely the most rewarding!
 Anyway, in my very first scene, this was one of my lines: "I deboned a chicken, stuffed her with wild rice and pistachios, anointed her with apricot glaze, and topped her off in truffles.."
 Well, of course, ever since then, you KNOW I've been wanted to make this dish!
 So here we go.. Since there was no actual recipe, this is basically how it went down:
Instead of de-boning an entire chicken, I just used boneless breasts. For the wild rice and pistachio stuffing, I just looked for different wild rice recipes and then did some tweaking until it was right. (Side note, if I'm being quite honest, wild rice is usually not my go-to. But OMG wait until you try it in this stuffing!) And then I just did an easy apricot glaze. Simple! Oh, and since truffles are insanely expensive, I decided to just do a tiny drizzle of truffle oil over the top (but that's just optional!)
 The result was absolutely delicious! And it was pretty easy too!
 So, thank you, Zaza, for coming into my life. I will cherish you forever. And to my fabulous extended La Cage family, this one's for you. I hope you'll continue to live life "on an angle!"

4 boneless breasts of chicken
salt and pepper
Wild rice and pistachio stuffing
1 cup apricot preserves
2 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp dry mustard
1 tbs honey
truffle oil, (optional)



Heat oven to 350ºF.
With a very sharp knife, place your whole hand on top of a chicken breast, and then slice horizontally, giving you two pieces that are twice as thin. Do this with remaining chicken. Season both sides with salt and pepper. Prepare the wild rice stuffing as directed.
 For each piece of chicken, place a heaping mound of stuffing in the center of each breast. Pull the ends up to meet. Secure with a tooth pick. Place each piece of stuffed chicken in a baking dish.
 IN a small bowl, combine preserves, soy sauce, mustard, and honey. Brush glaze generously over the chicken. Cover with foil. Bake for about 30 minutes or until cooked through. Don't over bake!
 After it is finished baking, remove cover and give it another generous glaze. Drizzle with a tiny bit of truffle oil, if desired.


Tips:
Not a fan of apricots? Just use another kind of preserves! How about peach or pineapple? You just want something sweet and sticky for your glaze.
Not a fan of wild rice? Just use whatever kind you like!

Wild Rice and Pistachio Stuffing with Craisins


 This recipe was originally created to partner with Albin's Apricot Chicken, but it really goes perfectly with anything. Pork chops? Yes please. Roast Beef? Absolutely. Regular baked chicken breast? Definitely! It's has a rich flavor with just a hint of sweetness from the dried cranberries, and the pistachios give it a little crunch to round everything out. Make it over the weekend and then serve it during the week for quick weeknight supper!


4 tbs butter
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
3 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 cup wild rice
1 cup long grain brown rice
1 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1 tbs fresh thyme leaves
3/4 cup shelled pistachios
1/2 cup scallions, chopped
Salt and pepper


Melt the butter in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add onions and garlic. Saute until tender, about 4 minutes. Add chicken broth. Bring to a boil. Add wild rice. Reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Stir in brown rice. Cover and simmer until rice is tender and most liquid is absorbed. Stir in cranberries, parsley, thyme, and green onions. Season to taste with salt and pepper.



Tips:
Not a fan of pistachios? Use any other kind of nut. How about pine nuts?
Not a fan of dried cranberries? Use any other dried fruit you like! Regular or golden raisins or even chopped dried apricots if you're making it with Albin's Chicken. Anything will work!