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. 

Joey's Easy Enchilada Sauce



 This sauce only takes a few minutes to throw together and it's absolutely the perfect thing for your next Mexican themed dinner. What kind of enchiladas do you like? Chicken? Beef? It goes with everything! It's my own recipe and I hope you like it! Oh, and if you wanna add some heat, go for it!

3 tbs oil
3 tbs flour
2 tbs chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste
4 cups chicken stock
1 6oz can tomato paste


Add oil and flour to a sauce pan. Over medium heat, whisk together to make a paste. Add the spices and whisk to combine. Add the chicken broth and tomato paste. Whisk again until smooth. Let it simmer for about 15 minutes. It should be a little on the thin side, not quite as thick as ketchup. If it becomes too thick, just add a little more broth. Adjust salt if needed. That's all there is to it!

Tips:
I like to measure all of the spices into a small bowl and then add them all at once. This way you're not burning the first spice by the time you finish measuring and adding the last one.
If you don't have chicken broth, you can use powdered or cubed bouillon. Just omit the added salt. Or you can just use plain water.
If you'd like some heat, add as much crushed red pepper flakes or cayenne pepper as you like!!

No-Bake Avocado and Lime Cheesecake



  Do you love avocados as much as I do? I love love LOVE them. It's absolutely not uncommon for me to just cut up a couple avocados into a bowl, sprinkle with some kosher salt, and there's lunch. But I must admit, as intriguing as it has always been, I've never used avocados in a dessert.
Well, that is until now!
 I recently had a few friends over for a Mexican themed dinner, and I wanted to incorporate avocados somewhere in the menu. The usual thought would have been to make guacamole, but then I thought, hmm.. let's try something different!
 As usual, I did some googling, looking for ideas. I found several recipes for cheesecake and quickly noticed that they all seemed to be no-bake cheesecakes. Maybe the avocados don't do well with the baking? Who knows? But I went with it. It was as easy as throwing everything into a food processor and blitzing it until smooth and creamy! And OMG it's SO delicious! You can really taste the buttery avocado, and the tartness from the lime cuts through everything to make a very LIGHT and refreshing dessert. Who knew????
 So, the next time you're looking for a "slightly outside the box" kind of a dessert, give this one a try. (it's from Kraft!) And it's a total time saver because you do it ahead and let it chill until you're ready. I bet your family and friends are gonna love it!



1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup butter, melted
2 (8oz) pkg cream cheese
2 fully ripe avocados
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp zest and 2 tbs juice from 2 limes
2 cups thawed Cool Whip whipped topping

Combine graham crackers and butter. Press into bottom of a 9" spring form pan.
Process all remaining ingredients except Cool Whip in a food processor until smooth. Spoon into a mixing bowl. Fold in Cool Whip. Pour over crust. Smooth the top. Refrigerate four hours or until firm. Run a knife around the rim of the pan to loosen cheesecake just before serving. Remove rim.



Tips:
OK, I did a few things slightly differently. Instead of using graham crackers, I used vanilla wafers. Why? Because I like 'em! Also, I baked my crust for about 10 minutes at 350º because I wanted it to have more of a toasted flavor, then quickly chilled it in the freezer before filling it with the cheese mixture.
And since I didn't want to ruin the nice smooth side edge of the cheesecake, I decided to spray the inside of the springform pan ring with cooking spray. No need to run the knife around!
To decorate, I just piped some more Cool Whip on top, and then added some more fresh lime zest just before serving. 
Btw, one other thing.. this cheesecake softens to a very soft mousse when it is left out and comes to room temperature. Be sure to keep it chilled at all times!

Monday, April 23, 2018

Asian Chicken and Veggies


  Are you looking for a dish that comes together in just a few minutes?? If so, I think I've found the perfect thing for you! Lately I've been in the mood for take-out Chinese food, but then I thought "Well, I have a wok, I can just make it myself!!" And frankly I could be enjoying a delicious dish LONG before the food would arrive anyway. So here we go!
 I found (and ever so slightly tweaked) a recipe for Sauteed Asian Broccoli, but then I wound up adding chicken and a few other veggies. Actually, I swapped out a couple sauce ingredients and changed a few of the amounts too. Wait, actually, I didn't cook it the same way either. Anyway, this is where I landed! And honestly, it turned out so perfectly, I immediately made another batch, just so I would have leftovers! It's SO tasty!!! And seriously, it cooks so quickly, it's literally ready in less time than it takes to cook the rice. Now that's what I call a perfect week night meal! Even if you don't have a wok, give this recipe a try. Just use a big saute pan! For an even speedier time, you can prep the chicken and veggies the night before!
Hope you like it!


2-3 cups stir fry veggies of your choice (broccoli, peppers, snap peas, carrots, etc)
2 tbs vegetable oil
1/4 cup water, plus a few splashes
2 pc boneless chicken breast, VERY THINLY sliced into small pieces
3 tbs soy sauce
1 tbs cornstarch
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 garlic cloves, finely minced or grated
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
 toasted sesame seeds for garnish


Heat the oil in a large pan or wok over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the veggies and stir to coat in the oil. Add a few splashes of water. Cover and let the veggies steam for about 3 minutes, or unto most of the water has evaporated. Add the chicken and frequently give everything a good stir.
In a small bowl, mix 1/4 cup water, soy sauce, cornstarch, brown sugar, and garlic. Whisk to combine. Immediately add to the wok and stir to coat everything for about two minutes or until sauce thickens. Drizzle with toasted sesame oil. Serve over rice. Top with a sprinkle of sesame seeds and serve.


Tips:
The original recipe called for crushed red pepper flakes. I wasn't feeling the spice, so I omitted it, but if you're all about the heat, go for it!
Be sure to use just a TINY drizzle of toasted sesame oil. It's only meant to be used as a flavor enhancer, and a little goes a very long way!
If you like a lot of sauce, just double all of the sauce ingredients!
For extra delicious rice, saute a small chopped onion in a little bit of oil, then add your rice to the pot. Instead of adding water, add chicken broth. Then cover and finish cooking as directed. You won't believe how delicious white rice can be!


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.