Sunday, December 30, 2018

Slow Cooker Cocktail Meatballs

 When you're planning a party, one of the most important things to consider is your time management. With cooking and cleaning, shopping for food and liquor, and setting everything up so that it's just so, it can be a little overwhelming. So when you're choosing your menu, a slow cooker is definitely your best friend! You just turn it on earlier in the day, and by the time your guests arrive, everything is already ready already. This was exactly what I had in mind when I was searching for party food recipes. I wanted something that you could do ahead and save you time, and of course it also needed to be easy to prepare and absolutely delicious!
 This recipe is so easy, any non-cooker can do it. If you are the type of person who never cooks anything because "it never turns out", then THIS is the recipe for you. I found it on a blog called It's fool proof! You literally just dump everything into the slow cooker and turn it on. It's just that simple. You can also mix up the sauce ingredients ahead of time so that it's one less thing you have to worry about. Your guests will surely devour them, so you should probably make a double batch.
Just sayin!

1 cup cranberry sauce, homemade or store-bought
1/2 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons brown sugar, packed
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 (32-ounce) package frozen, fully cooked, meatballs, homemade or store-bought
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

 In a medium bowl, whisk together cranberry sauce, ketchup, brown sugar, Dijon, maple syrup, apple cider vinegar, Worcestershire and cinnamon; season with salt and pepper, to taste. Place meatballs into a 3-qt slow cooker. Stir in cranberry mixture. Cover and cook on low heat for 3-4 hours, or until bubbly and the meatballs are heated through. Serve immediately, garnished with chives, if desired.

Instead of mixing everything in a bowl, I just mixed it right in the slow cooker, then added the meatballs. One less dish to wash!
To be quite honest, I didn't really measure anything. I used the whole can of jellied cranberry sauce instead of just one cup, and I eyeballed the rest of the ingredients. I went a little heavy with the mustard, brown sugar, and maple syrup. Why? Because I like 'em! Oh, and don't forget to add the cinnamon! I think that's one of the key ingredients here. It brings quite a bit to the party!

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Philadelphia Cinnamon Buns

 OK, so here's a pretty amazing story....
 Once upon a time, my sister Reen discovered a recipe for sticky buns in a newspaper. So she decided to clip the article, and give it a try. Long story short, it was a huge hit, and she even won a baking contest with it! (The running joke was that everyone said she had the best buns. But I digress..) Cut to literally 42 years later, my sisters and I were talking on Thanksgiving night, and somehow the topic of the recipe popped up. Even though we had just finished our fabulous family feast, Cathy and I were probably discussing what we would have for Christmas Breakfast, and this recipe became my focus.
 But how on earth would I be able to find it??? It was printed in some newspaper in 1976 and there was no way I was gonna be able to google it or find it anywhere. But wait! Patty said she thinks she has it scribbled down somewhere! Great! But wait, even better, Reen still has the actual newspaper clipping!! WHAT??? Can you stand it??? She had saved it in a binder and kept it all these years. We are ABSOLUTELY having cinnamon buns for Christmas Breakfast!!
 And then I read the recipe. WHOA. OK this is gonna take a minute. Admittedly, I'm not the most experienced when it comes to making breads and doughs and such, and actually, it has always seemed a little daunting to me. But I figured, well, how hard can it be?? I'll just follow the recipe! Also, I had just binged several episodes of The Great British Baking Show, and I was inspired by Paul Hollywood, one of the show's judges, who just happens to be an expert in bread baking.
  My only concern was that this NEEDED to come out perfectly because it had to be special enough for CHRISTMAS. No pressure. No pressure. I'll just to do a test run. Great. I also needed to see how long it would take for all the rising, etc. So I gave it a go, and guess what?!?! It turned out perfectly!! Honestly, I really wasn't sure what I was doing through half of it, but I just followed the recipe, and just look at my buns! Wait, that came out wrong. LOL I was shocked and amazed and delighted because this was authentic good old fashioned BAKING. No can of store bought dough here. This is the real deal! And if I'm being completely honest, I think I conquered a little bit of that fear of baking breads. Suddenly it's not so difficult! It's just a recipe like any other. It just needs a little extra time, that's all. And they are absolutely 100% delicious enough for Christmas Breakfast. Yes there are several steps, yes this takes a lot of time, yes this is a splurge, and yes this is not something you'd make every day, but for a special occasion or holiday, this is definitely worth the time and effort!
Btw, one last note, I don't even know whose recipe this is. I believe the paper was called The Evening Bulletin, and the recipe is called Philadelphia Cinnamon Buns because that's how it was titled in print. That's as much as I know about it. Thanx again to Reen for clipping and saving it all these years!
Clearly this recipe is still a keeper!

1/4 cup warm water
1 packet active dry yeast
1 tbs sugar
1 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups milk
5 cups flour
1/4 cup shortening
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs

brown sugar
Karo or pancake syrup
raisin and/or pecans

  Measure warm water into a cup and stir in yeast and 1 tbs sugar. Set aside until the yeast blooms and it becomes bubbly. Meanwhile, prepare the pans. Use 3 9" round or square pans, or you can also use a sheet pan. Butter them generously and pour in your syrup. Make the syrup about 1/8-1/4 inch deep over the bottom of the pans. Sprinkle in raisins and/or chopped pecans, if desired. Set pans aside.
 Now make the dough. Add salt to milk, and gently warm (either on the stove or in the microwave) just until it feels neither hot nor cold to a testing finger. Stir the yeast mixture, add it to the lukewarm milk, and gradually add 2 cups of the flour. Beat well. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place until it gets bubbly. (The inside of an unheated oven is a good place for this.) Meanwhile, beat shortening, 3/4 cup sugar, and eggs, until very creamy, light, and smooth. When the yeast mixture is bubbly, add the sugar-egg mixture a little at a time, beating well after each addition. When it is thoroughly blended, add the remaining 3 cups of flour. Don't beat hard, just begin adding a little at a time and mix well before adding the next. The dough will be quite sticky. Cover dough and let rise in a cozy place until double in size. Punch it down, and then turn it out onto a floured work surface, knead a time or two with floured hands then roll out to make a rectangle. Spread with softened butter, leaving a 1/2" edge around all sides. Sprinkle with brown sugar, cinnamon, and raisins and/or pecans, then drizzle a track of syrup along the whole thing.
 Beginning with the long side of the rectangle, roll up the dough jelly roll style, and press the outer edge firmly to keep in place. With a very sharp knife, cut off short lengths (1-2 inches) and place in prepared pans, barely touching each other. Cover and let rise until doubled again. Place pans in preheated 350ºF oven and bake 35-40 minutes or until beautifully browned. Turn out of pans immediately.

This dough is VERY sticky. RESIST the urge to keep adding more flour! If you happen to have a bench scraper, use it! It definitely turned out to be the most valued tool here.
If you need to, you can do the first half of this recipe the day before. I went as far as mixing up the dough and letting it double in size. Then I punched it down, placed it in a bowl, covered with plastic wrap, and left it in the fridge until the next morning. Then all I needed to do was to roll them out, let them rise again, and bake them. Every time you punch it down and let it rise again, the rise happens more quickly, so I think the last rise only took about 1/2 hour, as opposed to the first rise, which took about 2 hours.
Definitely do NOT wait to turn the buns out after they bake. The syrup will begin to set up like caramel and you'll never get the buns out of the pan. There's a reason they are also called STICKY buns!
Be VERY careful when turning out the buns after baking. That syrup is LAVA HOT. Be sure to use a plate or platter with extra room around the edges for the extra syrup. Then you can scoop up some of the extra syrup and drizzle it back over the top of the buns.
For more generous sized buns, cut them thicker, at least two inches wide.
I've made this with Karo syrup and pancake syrup. The pancake syrup wins. It just tastes better!

Monday, December 17, 2018

The Best Chewy Sugar Cookies

   Ok, so, my plan was to share this fabulous sugar cookie recipe that I found on a website called Add A Pinch, (which really lives up to its name, btw). But then I realized I already have an Easy Sugar Cookies recipe on my website.... hmmmm... What is a blogger to do? Do I not share this remarkably tasty cookie recipe since both recipes are quite similar? Or do I just share it anyway, because more is more?????
 Um HELLO..... OF COURSE more is more!! So here we are. And I wasn't kidding when I said that these cookies are remarkably tasty! They are EXACTLY everything you want in a sugar cookie. Sweet, buttery, chewy, crispy, and very vanilla forward (that's how the trendy foodies say things these days. heehee). When my sister Jeanie tasted them, she said that they taste just like the sugar cookies my grandfather used to make. They're just simply perfect! Oh, and they're super easy too.
 So if you're looking for the right cookie that is good enough to set by the tree for a certain overnight visitor, this is the one! I'm sure he would also love an ice-cold glass of milk to go with 'em!

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 egg
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup granulated sugar for rolling cookies

 Preheat oven to 350º F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat. Cream together butter and granulated sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add egg and mix until well-combined. Stir in flour, baking powder, salt, and vanilla. Scoop cookie dough by the tablespoon full and roll into a ball. Add granulated sugar to a large bowl for rolling cookie dough in before baking. Place each ball of cookie dough into the bowl of granulated sugar and roll to coat well. Place cookie dough onto baking sheet, spacing about 1½-inches to 2 inches apart. Lightly press each cookie down. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned.

I know everyone always says to use unsalted butter for making, and then you add salt according to the recipe, but I always use salted butter for everything. It just tastes better!
Since vanilla is the main flavor of the cookie, do yourself a favor and NEVER use anything other than pure vanilla extract. Imitation vanilla flavoring is just that. A cheap imitation. Always go for the good stuff! Another option would be to add half vanilla and half almond extract. For a citrus hit, try add a little grated zest of orange or lemon! That would be delish!

Monday, December 10, 2018

Bailey's Irish Cream Cookies

 Here's a cookie recipe idea that was born out of a conversation about cupcakes. I had shared the Mini Egg Nog Cupcakes recipe on FB, and some friends wanted to know if I had a recipe for Bailey's Cupcakes too. Absolutely! So after I shared that recipe as well, I thought "wait, what if I do Bailey's COOKIES instead of cupcakes???" I immediately went on a search, and was VERY surprised at how many recipes I found! Great! The only thing was that many of the recipes had chocolate chips in them. I mean, I guess that's fine, I love chocolate chips and all, but it seemed to me that chocolate chips would overpower the flavor of the Bailey's, no?
  Then I found this recipe on a blog called Kirbie's Cravings, and she kinda said the same thing about not wanting to overpower the Bailey's flavor. Instead of chocolate, she used cappuccino chips, which I wasn't able to find without ordering online. So I decided to go with butterscotch chips, instead. They were DELISH! Not that you really need any chips at all, but why not? She also said she wanted to keep the cookies glaze free, but I decided to include a glaze, just to bump up the flavor even more. The results were amazing! The flavor is absolutely there, and the cookies are chewy and delicious! The recipe is super easy too! They're equally as perfect for St Patrick's Day as for Christmas, or just any day you feel like having some Bailey's! And if you're doing a cookie swap, this will be something new and different to bring to the party! I love that. Enjoy!

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour 
1 teaspoon baking soda 
1/2 teaspoon baking powder 
1 cup unsalted butter softened 
1 1/2 cups white sugar 
1 egg 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
3/4 cups baileys 
1 1/2 cup cappuccino chips (or other chips of your choice)

Preheat oven to 350°F.
Line baking sheets with silpat mats or parchment paper.
In a small bowl, stir together flour, baking soda, and baking powder. Set aside.
 In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in egg, Bailey's, and vanilla. Add in flour mixture at low speed until dough is formed. Add chips and mix on low speed until they are mixed into dough. Roll dough into balls about 1 1/2 inch in diameter and place onto baking sheets about 2 inches apart. Press palm of hand down on each cookie, so that they form round discs. Bake about 11 minutes in the preheated oven, or until light brown around the edges. Cookies will be slightly puffy when taken out from oven and will flatten after they cool.

For the glaze, just add a few tbs of Bailey's to about a cup of powdered sugar, just until it's the perfect drizzling consistency. Only add 1 tbs of Bailey's at a time, because a little bit of liquid goes a long way when it comes to powdered sugar. Once the cookies are completely cooled, leave them on cooling racks, and then thinly drizzle the cookies. Let them sit for a few minutes until the glaze sets.
To make the cookies extra pretty, place 3 chips on top of each ball of cookie dough just before you put the tray in the oven. Then you can really see what you're getting! 
Are you a chocolate fanatic?? Then by all means, use chocolate chips! You can also do white chips, cinnamon chips, or even salted caramel chips. They would all work, but I think I'll still stick with butterscotch!

Monday, December 3, 2018

Joey's Cranberry Pulled Pork Sliders

   Since this is the time of year when many people are attending or hosting holiday parties, I figured it would be a good idea to come up with something fun and yummy that you can serve to your guests, or to bring with you to your next party. Lets make sliders! They're the perfect little picky-uppy holiday party food! (yes, picky-uppy is a technical term.) And since they're just little, you now have the option of sampling many more food items from the table, instead of filling up on a big honkin' sandwich. Know what I mean? More is more!
 We all know how easy it is to make a pulled pork in a crock pot, but the twist here is making it with cranberries instead of just your basic BBQ sauce. Doesn't that sound yummy? Tbh, I had been looking for a cranberry pork recipe for a while and they all seemed to be very BBQ, with just a hint of cranberry. Well, frankly, I wanted it to be the other way around! I wanted sweet and tart cranberries with just a little hint of BBQ, and that's what we have here! The other thing I wanted was to use FRESH cranberries. Every year, when cranberries are available, I stock up my freezer with bags and bags. They freeze REALLY well, and will last me an entire year! It's nothing to take a bag of cranberries out of the freezer and stir up a quick cranberry sauce, and that's exactly what I've done! The good news is you can also just use a can of cranberry sauce, just in case you forgot to stock your freezer with fresh ones! This would also be a really great way to use up leftover cranberry sauce from your big holiday dinner! Are you having turkey for Christmas? Now you can serve leftover cranberry pork sliders for your New Year's Eve Party! Look at me, always thinking ahead! And even if you're not making this for a party, it's an easy weekday meal! Just mix up the sauce the night before, turn your crock pot on before you leave for work in the morning, and then let it cook all day. Dinner is ready when you get home! It really is SO easy! And I'll say this once more.. if you don't have a slow cooker, NOW is the time to get one! I have several, and I use all of them ALL the time. Who knows? Maybe you'll get one for Christmas?? It could happen! But only if you're on the Nice list!

4 or 5 lb pork roast (shoulder or butt)
1 large sweet onion, sliced

1 12oz bag fresh cranberries plus 1 1/2 cups sugar, 1 1/2 cups water, 1 tbs butter
OR 1 can of whole berry cranberry sauce
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup ketchup
1/2 cup honey
2 tbs Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
big pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
1 tbs lemon juice

Place pork and onions in a 5 quart slow cooker.
If using fresh cranberries, place them in a small sauce pot with sugar, water, and butter. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and let it simmer until the berries start to pop, about 10-15 minutes. Mash slightly. Let it cool for a bit, then add to mixing bowl. If using canned cranberries, just add a can of whole berry sauce to the mixing bowl. Add remaining sauce ingredients. Stir until well blended. Pour half of the sauce over the pork and onions. Cook on low for 9 or 10 hours or on high for 5 hours, or until the meat is falling apart. Using a slotted spoon or strainer, remove all the meat and onions from the cooker. Using two forks, shred the meat, discarding any bones and large pieces of fat. Add the other half of the sauce to the shredded meat. Adjust seasoning if needed. Serve on fresh bakery rolls with pickles and cole slaw on the side.

 To serve as sliders:
Using a big serrated knife, slice a package of King's Hawaiian sweet rolls in half horizontally, and remove the top layer in one piece. Spread a layer of the pulled pork over the bottom layer of bread. Next cover the pork with several slices of deli provolone cheese. Place the top layer of rolls on top. Cover loosely with foil. Bake at 350ºF for about 15-20 minutes or until the cheese is melted. Then use a big knife to cut into individual sliders.

When serving as sliders, you have a rectangle of rolls, but the provolone cheese is round, so what do you do to make them fit? Simply cut the slices of cheese in half! Now you have a flat edge on the slices of cheese to place up against the flat sides of your rectangle of rolls. Simple!
 Btw, the liquid that is left in the cooker is REALLY tasty. You could add it to a small pot, stir in a slurry of flour/water, and simmer until thickened  to turn it into some fantabulous gravy, perfect for mashed potatoes or for dipping your sliders!

Monday, November 26, 2018

Mini Eggnog Cupcakes

  Usually around Christmas time, my focus always goes right to finding cookie recipes, but full disclosure, I don't always have the best luck with making cookies. (I guess that's my Achilles heel.) So for this week's recipe, I decided to go with cupcakes instead! I made these little bites of heaven last year for my family's Christmas party, and everyone loved them! Making small bites for a big dessert table is always a good idea because then you can sample several things without having to commit to a giant piece of cake, etc. Know what I mean? This recipe is from a blog called Life Love and Sugar, and it's SUPER easy. Easy to mix, easy to bake, always a big hit. Sounds like the perfect party dessert, dontcha think? Yum.

1 2/3 cups all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup salted butter, room temperature
3 egg whites
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 tsp nutmeg
3/4 cup egg nog
1/4 cup milk 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Whisk together flour, sugar and baking powder in a large mixing bowl. Add butter, egg whites, vanilla, nutmeg, eggnog, and milk and mix on medium speed just until smooth. Do not over mix. Fill cupcake liners a little more than half way. Bake 12-14 minute or until an inserted tooth pick comes out clean. Makes 48 mini cupcakes or 12-14 regular cupcakes. 

To make it easier to fill your cups, use a cookie scoop!
If you're making regular sized cupcakes, use a 2 oz ice cream scoop, and then bake them for 18-22 minutes or until they test done.
For extra egg nog flavor, add a tsp of rum extract!
Use any kind of buttercream or cream cheese icing you want. I made Martha Stewart's Swiss Meringue Buttercream and added eggnog, nutmeg, and rum extract. Also added an extra sprinkle of nutmeg on top!

Friday, November 23, 2018

Round Two Mac and Cheese

 OK, so, I know I'm gonna get a bunch of flack for saying this, but I never considered mac and cheese as being part of Thanksgiving Dinner. I know. I know. For many people, it is just not Thanksgiving without it, but it was never something my family ever included with our holiday meal. Other holiday parties? Yes, absolutely! But definitely NOT Thanksgiving.
 So, if you are also someone who doesn't usually include mac and cheese in your big feast, here's a great way for you to use up some of your leftovers! And yes, I've seen the videos where people are absolutely HORRIFIED watching the video from The Kitchen where they're adding leftovers to a mac and cheese, as if this is some sort of sacrilegious act. And to that I say, no one is trying to CHANGE your beloved favorite mac and cheese! But who says there can't be other kinds too?? I have literally TEN different recipes for mac and cheese on this blog, and frankly I can't wait to find ten more! So how about let's just keep our culinary minds open, and try new things, shall we?
 So, back to this recipe! Everyone always loves to make a turkey sandwich with stuffing and cranberry sauce on the day after Thanksgiving, but there's never anything to do with the leftover vegetables, right? Well, here you go! Add them to mac and cheese! Even if we're not talking about Thanksgiving dinner, it's a great way to use up leftover vegetables. You just add a few fresh ingredients and make an entirely new casserole out of it. Perfect! For my Round Two, I added roasted Brussels sprouts and butternut squash, but you can add any kind of veggies you have leftover. I mean isn't adding cheese sauce usually how parents get their kids to eat vegetables anyway? It's a total win! Oh, and here's a thought.....  if you are someone who MUST have mac and cheese with your holiday meal, this could be a round ONE mac and cheese side dish for your big feast!
Give it a try! I promise you'll love it!

1 lb cut pasta, any shape
4 tbs butter
1 small onion, chopped
1 tbs fresh thyme leaves
1/4 cup flour
4 cups milk
1 tbs mustard
1 lb Velveeta cheese
leftover veggies, such as broccoli, carrots, or root vegetables
1 cup bread crumbs
2 tbs melted butter
5 pieces of bacon, cooked and crumbled

Heat oven to 350ºF.
In a large pot of salted boiling water, boil the pasta until al dente.
While the pasta is boiling, melt the butter in a large sauce pan. Add the onions and saute over medium heat until they begin to soften. Add the fresh thyme and continue to saute. Add flour and stir well for a few minutes until it blends with the butter. Add the milk, mustard, and Velveeta in chunks. Slowly whisk over medium low heat until the cheese melts and the sauce thickens slightly. Be sure to stir all the way to the bottom to insure that the cheese sauce doesn't burn.
When the pasta is al dente, drain it well and add it to a big mixing bowl. Now add your leftover veggies and all of the cheese sauce to the bowl. GENTLY toss everything together. Pour into a large casserole dish. In a small bowl, stir together the melted butter and the bread crumbs, then sprinkle over the top of the casserole. Place in oven and bake for 1/2 hour or bubbly. Remove from oven and sprinkle crumbled bacon over the top. Let it stand for about 10 minutes and then dig in!

Be sure to boil the pasta in SALTY water. It needs more salt than you think it will need. How do you know how salty it is? TASTE IT. Yes, Taste the water before you add pasta to it. Also, make sure the water is boiling before you add the salt, otherwise the crystals will sink to the bottom and and leave marks on your pot.
When you make the cheese sauce, you will think that this is FAR too much sauce for this amount of pasta, but just go with it. When you bake it, the pasta will absorb some of the sauce and it will be the perfect creamy mac and cheese texture when it's done!
If you have a specific go-to mac and cheese recipe, by all means, use it! Just add your leftover vegetables and some fresh herbs like thyme, or sage, etc.
If you want to make it vegetarian, just leave out the bacon!

Friday, November 16, 2018

Joey's Celery, Apple, and Fennel Slaw

 I've often had the debate about which recipes are a MUST at Thanksgiving. For some people, it's just not Thanksgiving without Mac n Cheese. For others, you can't have Thanksgiving without sweet potatoes, cranberries, and stuffing. We all have our family traditions and favorite dishes.
In my family, one of the things that MUST be on the plate, is home made cole slaw. Cole slaw, you say???? Yes! It's something my Mom always made for Thanksgiving, and so it will always be on my Thanksgiving table.
 Just as with cranberries, I have my favorite recipe for cole slaw, but I still like to try other different versions and variations. Especially when you have a big plate of heavy casseroles, you definitely want something bright and acidic to cut through everything and balance it out.
 I've always loved the crisp anise flavor of fennel, so I wanted to try it in a delicious slaw. Funny thing... I searched and searched for what I thought would be the perfect recipe, and then I wound up not following it anyway. LOL I have a habit of doing that! Well, what can I say? I like to taste things and then say "what else does it need? And then I go from there.
 So if you'd like to try a new something to brighten and freshen up your meal, give this slaw a try. It really goes SO well with a big Thanksgiving feast!

1 tbs vegetable oil
3 tbs apple cider vinegar
1 tsp sugar
2 tbs mayonnaise
salt and pepper
 2 granny smith apples
3 ribs of celery
2 bulbs fennel plus 1 tbs chopped fennel fronds 

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the oil, vinegar, sugar, mayo, and S&P. Set aside.
Core apples, (no need to peel). Slice the apples thinly, then cut into thin match sticks. Slice the celery into thin slices on an angle. Slice the the fennel as thinly as possible across the bottom of the bulb.
All of this slicing is even better if you have a mandoline slicer. (just be very careful of that blade!)
Toss everything in the dressing. Adjust seasoning if needed.

Unfortunately, this is not one of those dishes that can be made very far ahead. No one likes a soggy cole slaw. If you absolutely MUST make it ahead, I wouldn't go sooner than the night before.
For an extra hit of fresh anise flavor, you could add a little chopped fresh tarragon. I probably would have added some to the recipe, but I didn't have any on hand!

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Spinach Gratin

 I recently invited a few friends over for a Friendsgiving dinner, and I made a bunch of dishes for everyone to try. I was pretty pleased with all of the recipes, but I think THIS one was the absolute stand-out. As you can see in the picture, it makes a pretty big casserole, and there was not very much left at the end of the night. That's definitely a WIN, in my book.
 This recipe is from Ina Garten, and it's absolutely DELISH. Now, I have to say, my sisters and nieces and I are always joking about how she always says "use fresh, but store bought is fine." But for this recipe, it's an absolutely MUST to use store bought frozen spinach. Because spinach cooks down to practically nothing, you'd need, like, a metric ton of fresh spinach to fill up the pan! So, frozen is the way to go.
 Usually, when I'm looking for recipes for Thanksgiving, I don't always go for the rich heavy casseroles, but this one looked so good, I decided to give it a go. Fun fact, it's not heavy at all! Rich and flavorful, yes. Heavy, nope! As Miss Ina would say "How perfect is that?"
 When I made it, I prepped and assembled it the night before, and then just popped it in the oven on the night of my dinner. Easy! For Thanksgiving, you can put it in the oven when you take the turkey out. The turkey needs time to rest anyway, so that will give you plenty of time to bake the casserole.
 So, thank you, Ina, for yet another fabulous recipe. I'm definitely not gonna wait until next Thanksgiving to make this one again!

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
4 cups chopped yellow onions (2 large)
1/4 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 cup heavy cream
2 cups milk
3 pounds frozen chopped spinach, defrosted (5 (10-ounce) packages)
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup grated Gruyere cheese

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saute pan over medium heat. Add the onions and saute until translucent, about 15 minutes. Add the flour and nutmeg and cook, stirring, for 2 more minutes. Add the cream and milk and cook until thickened. Squeeze as much liquid as possible from the spinach and add the spinach to the sauce. Add 1/2 cup of the Parmesan cheese and mix well. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper. Transfer the spinach to a baking dish and sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan and the Gruyere on top. Bake for 20 minutes until hot and bubbly. Serve hot.


To squeeze the liquid out of the spinach, place a clean tea towel flat on your work surface. Place your defrosted spinach (in small batches) on the towel. Just dump it right out of the box onto your towel. Pick up all four corners of the towel to make a little bundle of spinach. Twist the bundle so that the towel tightens around the spinach, which will squeeze out all the liquid. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Cranberry Grape Compote

 For me, it is just not Thanksgiving unless you have home made cranberry sauce. I mean, yes, I know many of you are a fan of the can, but for a day as special as Thanksgiving, it's time for something fresh and homemade. Many many years ago, I asked my Mom how she made her cranberry sauce, and now I'm happy that I get to make it for my family every year. But I still like finding other versions and variations! (frankly, I've never met a cranberry sauce I didn't like) And that brings us to THIS recipe from Martha Stewart.
 This is what I like to call "stupid easy." Like, I don't even think it could be any easier. You literally just throw everything into a sauce pot and let it simmer. That's it. Done. How awesome is that?? And as with everything Thanksgiving, we all know that doing as much as you can in advance is the best option. You could make this DAYS in advance, so it's really a no brainer.
 So lets talk about the most important thing.. how it TASTES! I would venture to say that if you are not usually a fan of cranberries, then maybe give this one a try. The grapes mellow out the tartness of the cranberries and it's a perfect blend! Kind of like if grape jam and cranberry sauce had a baby.
 If you've ever felt intimidated by the thought of making home made cranberry sauce, this is the recipe for you!! And if you love cranberries as much as I do, then you absolutely MUST give this one a try!

12oz bag of cranberries (fresh or frozen, no need to thaw)
3 cups seedless red grapes
1 cup sugar
1/8 tsp salt

In a large sauce pan, over medium high heat, bring cranberries, grapes, sugar, and 1/2 cup of water to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer until most of the cranberries have popped and the grapes are falling apart, about 10-15 minutes. Remove heat. Add salt and stir to combine. Let cool to room temperature (compote will thicken as it cools.) Serve at room temperature.

Because of the amount of natural pectin in the cranberries, the sauce will gel firm when you refrigerate it. I think it looks prettier as more of a loose sauce, so I gave it a quick stir just before serving.
Serve leftovers as a spread on bagels with cream cheese or heat it up and serve it warm over vanilla ice cream!

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Slow Cooker Mashed Sweet Potatoes

 One of the trickiest things about tackling a Thanksgiving dinner is oven time management. The turkey is taking up ALL of your oven space, and you only have so many burners on your stove. So how do you get everything else done? Well, the easiest thing to do is to remove the oven/stove from the equation altogether! Use your slow cooker!
 Seriously, your slow cooker is your BFF when it comes to preparing your holiday feast. It not only frees up your oven, but it also frees up your time because it's a total do-ahead! You can prep your potatoes a day or two in advance, and then on Thanksgiving morning, just turn 'em on! Just a quick mash before you serve, and then you can keep them warm, right in your slow cooker. Easy!
 This recipe is from The Magical Slow Cooker, and it's absolutely perfect.  If you know me, you know how much I absolutely LOVE using slow cookers, so much so that I literally have a collection of them. Actually, I think I may need an intervention (is seven too many?). But here's the thing... I use ALL of them! They're all different sizes, so I can use different sizes for different things!! For this recipe, I didn't need to use the biggest one, because I only had a handful of guests. But if you're feeding a crowd, go ahead and fill up your biggest crock pot! This recipe is so good, it will all still work! You can also tweak it and add whatever flavors you'd like.
 This one is DEFINITELY a keeper.
And if you don't own a slow cooker, this recipe is the perfect excuse to buy one! or seven!

6 sweet potatoes, peeled and diced (this was about 7 cups, measured)
1/2 cup salted butter (1 stick)
1/4 cup water or apple juice

Add these items at the end:
1/2 cup maple syrup
2 tbs. heavy cream
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. salt

 Add the peeled and diced sweet potatoes to the slow cooker (5-quart or larger). Slice the butter and place on top. Pour over the water. Cover and cook on HIGH for 4 hours without opening the lid during the cooking time. When the cooking time is done, add the maple syrup, heavy cream, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Using an electric mixer, beat until smooth OR use a potato masher and mash by hand. Serve with additional butter if desired.

Yes, that's all the water it needs. Just 1/4 cup. I promise it will work!
I actually went longer than 4 hours, and it was fine!
When you're adding your flavors at the end, you do you! If you like a lot of something, add a lot! Tbh, I didn't even measure anything. I just added a few glugs of pure maple syrup (not pancake syrup), and then tasted it to see if I wanted more.
If you'd like it to be much sweeter, add a couple tablespoons of brown sugar!
I like the flavor of orange with sweet potatoes, so you could add a little grated orange zest, or even just a couple tablespoons of orange marmalade. YUM.
Is it too dry? Add a little extra heavy cream and/or butter. And definitely don't forget to add the salt! Season it the way YOU like it!

Monday, November 12, 2018

Cinnamon Pie

  As I was trying new recipes for Thanksgiving, the question that always came to mind was "is it Thanksgiving worthy?? Allow me to explain.
 In my family, Thanksgiving isn't just a meal, it's an event. It's a HUGE deal, and it's my very favorite holiday of the year. So, a few weeks ago, I tried a couple recipes, and my thought was "Is it GOOD enough for my family's big event on my favorite holiday?" Unfortunately, several of those recipes didn't make the cut.
 And then, ladies and gentlemen, I discovered THIS recipe. First, let me just say that this may possibly be my favorite new recipe this year. I found it on a blog called A Spicy Perspective, and it is HEAVEN in a pie plate. It's absurdly easy to make and it literally proves what I always say...."There's no such thing as too much cinnamon." At first, the recipe kind of reminded me of my family's favorite cherry cheese pie, sans cherries, and of course with the addition of a TON of cinnamon. Of course, I needed an excuse to try it. I had planned on having a few friends over for a sort of meeting/dinner, and this was the perfect chance to test the pie.
 It got RAVE reviews from my friends, and soon they were asking me for the recipe. My friend Chris described it as tasting like the inside of a cinnamon roll. OMG YES THAT'S IT! That's the perfect description! It's rich and creamy, but yes, if a cinnamon roll and a pie had a baby, this would be it!
 So, if cinnamon rolls are your thing (Anthony, I'm looking at YOU), then you clearly need to make this pie! And YES, this is DEFINITELY 100% Thanksgiving worthy!!

8 ounces cream cheese softened 
1 cup brown sugar packed 
2 large eggs + 1 egg yolk 
1 1/4 cups heavy cream 
1/4 cup all purpose flour 
3 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon 
2 teaspoons vanilla extract 
1 teaspoon salt 
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg 
1 pie crust homemade, or store-bought 
Powdered sugar for dusting

 Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Roll and fit a pie crust into a deep dish pyrex pie plate. Crimp the edges and place the pie crust in the refrigerator. Place the cream cheese and brown sugar in the bowl of a mixer. Beat of high until light and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes. Scrape the bowl with a spatula, then beat in the eggs. Scrape the bowl again, then set the mixer on low and mix in cream, flour, cinnamon, vanilla, salt and nutmeg until very smooth. Pour the cinnamon filling into the prepared pie pan. Bake for 35 minutes, until the center seems set when jiggled, but not totally firm. Bake another 5 minutes if needed. Cool completely. Cover and chill. Take out of the refrigerator 1 hour before serving. Dust the top of the pie with powdered sugar. Cut and serve with whipped cream if desired.

Yes, that says 3 1/2 TABLESPOONS of cinnamon. That is NOT a typo. I know, I know, that's quite a lot, right? Well, what do you expect? It's a cinnamon pie!

Monday, November 5, 2018

Slow Cooker Mushroom Stuffing

 OK so here's an easy no brainer of a dish that is PERFECT for your Thanksgiving feast! Why is it perfect? Well, for one, it's a total do-ahead. You can have it all prepped and ready on the night before, so that all you have to do is turn on your slow cooker when you put the turkey in the oven. And that brings me to number two, the oven! Guess what? No oven space needed! It frees up your oven for your turkey and your other side dishes, so not only is it a time saver, but also it's a space saver! And then that leaves me with number three, the most important thing of all.. it's absolutely delicious! I mean, come on, how can you have a turkey dinner without stuffing? Frankly, you can't. And this recipe from Taste of Home is one of the best I've ever tried! Yes, Kelsie Kels, I know you love your Stove Top (not that there's anything wrong with that), but it's Thanksgiving! How about lets splurge a little and make something home made, with fresh herbs and aromatics, want to? It's everything a home made stuffing should be! Love love LOVE it! And I know you will too. :)

1/4 cup butter, cubed
1 pound baby portobello mushrooms, coarsely chopped
4 celery ribs, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
12 cups unseasoned bread cubes
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1-1/2 teaspoons rubbed sage
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
3 cups vegetable broth

 In a 6-qt. stockpot, heat butter over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms, celery, and onion; cook and stir until crisp-tender, 5-7 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl. Add stuffing cubes, herbs, and seasonings; toss. Whisk together eggs and broth. Pour over stuffing mixture; stir to combine. Transfer to a greased 6-qt. slow cooker. Cook, covered, on low until heated through, 3-4 hours.

For a little variety, add several different kinds of mushrooms! More is more!
If you'd like a dryer stuffing, place a clean tea towel over your slow cooker, and then place the lid over it. The towel will prevent any condensation from dripping back into your stuffing!
I find it's best to use stale bread cubes. They absorb so much more flavor!
Btw, I may or may not have added a little more butter and a little more celery. And by a little, I mean A LOT. Why? Because I like it!!  If you like a lot, add a lot!

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Roasted Butternut Squash with Cranberries, Feta, and Honey

 Every year, I try my best to find new and different Thanksgiving side dish recipes. I mean, for the most part, just about everyone has a turkey, or at least some sort of big something as the star of the meal (ham, prime rib), but it's the SIDE DISHES that you can vary from year to year to add some excitement to your menu! For this one, I wanted something fresh, easy, and yes, I wanted it to be a little lighter. Of course I know it's a huge feast and this is not a day for dieting, but it seems to me that having a few lighter dishes would be a very welcome break from all the super heavy casseroles. Am I right? Yes, of course I LOVE a good rich casserole, but this is a marathon, not a sprint, get it?
 So lets talk about this dish. I've seen it on several websites, but I first found it on a website called Out of the Woods Fitness. So, since that's where I saw it first, that's who gets the credit! It's EXACTLY as delicious as it sounds and it hits all the marks. The honey and squash are sweet, the cranberries are tart, the feta is salty, and the parsley adds a burst of green freshness. It's so perfectly balanced! I swear, when I made it, I could not stop eating it. Some websites also add toasted pine nuts over the top, just to add a little crunch, and I'd be all for that too. But you do you!
 So if you're looking for a new way to make butternut squash, or if you're looking for a new and lighter and dare I say it HEALTHIER side dish for your Thanksgiving, this is definitely the one!

1 large butternut squash, (about 3 lbs) peeled + cubed
a hearty drizzle of olive oil
salt, pepper, and garlic powder, to taste
2 cups fresh cranberries
2-3 tbs honey
1/4 cup finely crumbled feta
ground cinnamon, to taste
fresh parsley, to garnish, chopped

Pre-heat oven to 400ºF.
Lightly drizzle or spritz a baking sheet with olive oil.
Add cubed squash to the sheet along with another drizzle of olive oil.
Sprinkle with a light layer of salt, pepper, and garlic powder, to taste.
Roast for 25 minutes on the center rack.
At the 25 minute mark, pull out the oven rack, and add your fresh cranberries to the roasting pan.
Return to the oven for 10-15 minutes or until the cranberries have started to soften and burst a bit.
Remove from oven and add a sprinkle of cinnamon (approx 1/8-1/4 tsp or to taste) along with feta and honey.
Garnish with a sprinkle of fresh chopped parsley.

To make this in advance, follow the recipe as far as roasting the squash and cranberries, then place them in a sealed container in the fridge until your dinner. Then just reheat (in oven or microwave) and then pick up where you left off and finish the recipe as directed. In other words, don't add the feta, honey, and parsley until you're ready to serve!
In the original, it was noted that the honey is drizzled after the roasting (instead of before) in order to retain some of its health benefits. I don't know if there's any truth to it, but it makes sense to me!

Monday, October 29, 2018

Pumpkin and Corn Chowder

  Ok, I know I tell this story all the time, but it's a tradition! So, I'll tell it again!
 When I was growing up, my Mom always made a big pot of soup on Halloween. On one hand, she knew all of my siblings would be coming and going at different times, back from chilly trick or treating, and wanting something hearty to warm us. And on the other hand, she knew she'd be answering the door all day, giving out candy to all of the other ghosts and goblins in the town, so she wouldn't be able to spend any time in the kitchen cooking dinner. A big pot of soup was definitely the answer. As she used to tell me, "You just put everything in the pot and let it cook." And then throughout the day, everyone could just come in and fix a bowl. Seriously, I'm not even kidding when I tell you that there was nothing better in the whole world than coming home from trick or treating and knowing that there was a big bowl of hot soup waiting for us. It was sheer heaven!
 So, to keep the Halloween soup tradition alive, I decided to make a rich corn chowder. Actually, I was originally gonna go with something with a broth base, but then my Sis, Cathy, suggested a chowder, and not only that, specifically one with pumpkin and corn. That sounded FABULOUS to me, so I did a bit of looking. I found several versions, many of which are spicy. That wasn't really the vibe I wanted. Then I found a recipe on a blog called Table for Two. Full disclosure, I didn't really follow that recipe, but rather just used it as inspiration to make THIS one. I changed all of the amounts because basically I wanted to make a BIG pot of soup, instead of just for two. I just kept adding things to the pot and I also add some fresh herbs. So, I guess my version is kind of similar but not exactly the same as theirs, but they definitely get the credit for the original inspiration.
And OMG! Can we talk about how delicious it is?????
 I seriously could not stop eating it. It's SO deep with flavor from the aromatics and from the fresh thyme. But the star of the show is definitely the sweet corn. And the pumpkin adds body and creaminess without making it heavy. Serve it up with some fresh warm crusty bread and it's a meal all on its own. You could also use it as a first course for your Thanksgiving feast! It's just that good! Quite frankly, it has to be pretty amazing in order to get the "Thanksgiving worthy" seal of approval, and this one definitely is! It's perfect for any holiday meal. You should definitely keep this one handy! I know you'll love it!

4-5 cloves garlic
1 lb bag carrots
5 large ribs of celery
1 large onion
1 stick butter
1/4 cup flour
4-5 medium potatoes
24oz bag frozen corn
15oz can pumpkin
a bunch of fresh thyme sprigs
2 cups milk
48oz container chicken broth
Salt and pepper
Chopped chives (optional)

 First, mince the garlic and peel and finely dice all of your veggies. You want everything to be about the same size as kernels of corn.
 In a large heavy pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the diced carrots, celery, and onions along with the minced garlic. Saute, stirring frequently, until everything begins to soften. Add the flour, and stir to coat all of the veggies. Continue to cook for another few minutes, and then add the remaining ingredients. Stir to incorporate everything. Reduce heat to low. Simmer for about 20-30 minutes, stirring every so often to make sure it's not burning on the bottom. The soup will thicken as it cooks. Add more salt and pepper if you need to. Remove thyme sprigs. Serve chowder with chopped chives sprinkled over the top as a garnish, if desired.

To make it easier to remove the thyme, tie the sprigs into a bundle with cotton string. The leaves will fall off during the cooking, and then you can just fish out the bundle of twigs and discard it. Easy!
Anytime I make soup, I'm always amazed at how much salt it takes. Don't add a ton at once, but just be sure to taste as you go, and adjust the seasoning at the end. It will probably need more salt than you think it will, and a good amount of pepper too!
To add a little smokey note, you can saute some bacon lardons in the pot before adding the veggies, then continue with the recipe as directed. Just reduce the amount of butter if the bacon renders a lot of fat.
If you'd like to make it completely vegetarian, just use vegetable broth instead of chicken broth!
For a little extra splurge, top your bowl of soup with a few roasted jumbo shrimp. That would elevate it to special occasion status!

Monday, October 22, 2018

Soft-Baked Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 15, 2018

Slow Cooker Pumpkin Cobbler

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 8, 2018

Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cinnamon Swiss Meringue Buttercream

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

For the cupcakes:

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

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

For the Cinnamon Swiss Meringue Buttercream;

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 1, 2018

Pumpkin Dream Cake

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 24, 2018

Salted Caramel Apple Pie Bars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Make the streusel:
  Whisk the oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, and flour together in a medium bowl. Cut in the chilled butter with a pastry blender or two forks (or even with your hands) until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Set aside.

 Remove the crust from the oven, and turn the oven up to 350°F. Evenly layer the apples on top of the warm crust. It will look like there are too many apple slices, so layer them tightly and press them down to fit. Sprinkle the apple layer with streusel and bake for 30–35 minutes or until the streusel is golden brown.
 Remove from the oven and allow to cool for at least 20 minutes at room temperature, then chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours (or overnight). Lift the foil or parchment out of the pan using the overhang on the sides and cut into bars. I usually cut them into 16 smaller bars, but you can cut them into 12 larger bars. Once cut, drizzle some salted caramel sauce on top of each. These apple pie bars can be enjoyed warm, at room temperature, or even cold.

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

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