Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Slow Cooker Creamed Corn

 Ok, so, once again, I'm turning to my trusty slow cooker for an easy Thanksgiving side dish. I knew I wanted to find a slow cooker creamed corn recipe, but wasn't sure which direction to go. Something cheesy and gooey? maybe. Something Southwest-ish with jalapenos? Hmm.. not sure. I needed to find the RIGHT recipe. So I started googling, and immediately noticed that I kept finding this one over and over... it's on MANY websites and frankly, I don't even know whose it is. (The FIRST found it on a blog called Damn Delicious, so I'll give them the credit.) I thought, well, if so many bloggers love this recipe enough to post it, then it much be good enough to try. And it looked easy enough so I went with it! 
 Well, Holy Thanksgiving, Batman, it's amazing! It's creamy and rich and just sweet enough. It's also stupid easy to make and it frees up your oven and stove top. It's verything you need in a Thanksgiving recipe, right? So basically, if you can open a can of corn, you can make this recipe. This is definitely the RIGHT recipe!!

3  15oz cans whole kernel corn, drained
1 cup milk
1 tbs sugar
1/4 tsp pepper
8 oz cream cheese, cubed
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into slices

 Place corn into a slow cooker. Stir in milk, sugar, and pepper until well combined. Without stirring, top with butter and cream cheese. Cover and cook on high heat for 2-3 hours. Uncover and stir until butter and cream cheese are well combined. Cover and cook on high heat for an additional 15 minutes. Serve immediately or keep warm until you're ready to serve.

You can also use fresh or frozen corn instead of canned, yellow or white, all good.
I added a few chopped scallions on top, just for a little pop of color, but that's completely optional.
I thought about adding a can of cream style corn, because why not? I figured how can that not be good? Maybe next time!

Monday, November 11, 2019

Slow Cooker Ranch Carrots

  One of the biggest questions that everyone asks me around the holidays is "With such a large family, who does all the cooking?" And the short answer is EVERYONE! I mean, yes, I'm lucky to have several siblings with the means to host different holidays.. Thanksgiving at Tommy's, Easter Brunch at Cathy's, New Year's Day at Michael's, Christmas Eve at Jeanie's, Christmas Pollyanna at Patty's... But the whole family always contributes to the menu, and the first thing everyone asks is "what can I bring?"
 Usually, for Thanksgiving, the menu planning committee decides what foods we want to have, and then an email goes out to the entire family, and the cooking tasks get divvied up between everyone. (yes, there really is a menu planning committee. not even kidding). Some of the more experienced cooks in the family will take on some of the bigger jobs such as roasting the turkeys, (yes, plural) and then the family members with a little less experience will take on the easier cooking tasks.
 So this recipe falls squarely into the latter category. It's really one of the easiest recipes you'll ever make so it's a cinch for the culinary novice. Not only that, it's perfect for Thanksgiving because it uses a slow cooker (your best friend in the kitchen) so it doesn't take up any oven or stove top space. You can also prep it in advance and then just turn it on when the time comes. So simple! And most importantly, it's delicious!!! Full disclosure, I'm not even sure where I found the recipe. Somewhere on the interwebs. But I made it for my Friendsgiving Dinner, and everyone loved it. I was an immediate fan, and I'm sure your gang will love it too! You should give it a try!

2 lbs carrots
1 sweet onion
1 stick butter
1 packet Hidden Valley Ranch dressing mix
Salt and pepper to taste

Peel and slice carrots. Chop the onion. Place them in a slow cooker. Top with pats of butter. Sprinkle with half the packet of dressing mix. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook on high for 4 hours. Sprinkle with remaining dressing mix, and toss all to combine. Turn slow cooker to warm until you're ready to serve.

To make things easier, you can just use baby carrots. No peeling or slicing! I must say, I prefer to cut  large carrots into chunky wedges, but any kind of carrots will work!
When I chopped the onions, I left them in large chunks as well, but then decided I would prefer a smaller dice next time.  
And one other thing.. I usually don't mention specific brands, but in this case, for me there's no ranch dressing other than Hidden Valley Ranch. And that's all there is to it.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Joey's Asparagus and Mushroom Casserole

  Ok here goes my flight of ideas..  Are you ready? Here we go:
I was thinking of coming up with a variation on the favorite classic green bean casserole, which my Mom always called Green Bean Bake. I liked the idea of doing a creamy mushroom sauce just like the classic, but instead of doing green beans, I decided to go with asparagus. So far so good. I sauteed mushrooms and onions, added the asparagus, made a basic white sauce and then baked the whole thing. It was pretty good, (in fact, my friend Nate said it was his favorite part of this year's Friendsgiving), but for me, it was kind of missing something. It needed another element. Cheese? Maybe, but what kind? Bacon? YES! How could that be a bad thing? Hmm.. So then I regrouped to see where things landed: Asparagus, mushrooms, onions, bacon... all good. Now what about the sauce....definitely staying with the basic white sauce instead of the classic canned soup ... and now the cheese... but what kind? Well, I don't want it to be like a mac and cheese sauce, so maybe not Cheddar.. I decided to go with mozzarella because it would give me that gooey cheese factor and it would brown nicely on top. Would all of that work?? Absolutely! Am I happy with the result? Definitely! It really hits all the points from the Green Bean Bake, and it's still something new and delicious. Maybe next time, I'll even top it with French fried onion rings, just for a little added texture! Who knows? Maybe THIS one will wind up being a classic too!

1 lb fresh asparagus
10 oz Cremini mushrooms
1/2 lb bacon
1 large sweet onion
1 large clove garlic
1-2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
2 tbs butter, if needed
2 tbs flour
1 cup milk
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

First, do all of your prep:
Trim off the tough woody ends of the asparagus and cut the spears into one inch pieces. Slice mushrooms. Chop onions. Slice bacon into small lardons. Mince garlic. Strip the thyme sprigs of their leaves.
Since different ingredients have different cooking times,  all you do is saute each thing separately, then add it to a big mixing bowl.
Here we go:
In a large pan, over medium heat, saute bacon until crisp, allowing the fat to render. Remove bacon to a big mixing bowl. Remove and reserve all but a couple tbs of fat from the pan. Add the onions. Saute until they begin to soften. Add asparagus. Toss and saute for a few minutes until the asparagus are bright green and crisp tender. Add garlic. Continue to cook for a minute or two. Add to the bowl with the bacon. Add mushrooms to the pan. Resist the urge to add more bacon fat to the pan! I know it seems like the pan is dry, but soon there will be a ton of moisture coming from the mushrooms. Saute until most of the moisture has evaporated and the mushrooms have become brown and slightly sticky. Add fresh thyme leaves to the mushrooms and let it cook for another minute. Add mushrooms to the mixing bowl with the other ingredients. Add about 2-3 tbs of bacon fat (or butter) to the pan. Add the same amount of flour. Use a whisk to combine and let it cook for about a minute, then add milk. Whisk to get out any lumps. Season with salt and pepper. Stir until it begins to thicken. Pour thickened cream sauce into mixing bowl over other ingredients. Add half cup of cheese to the bowl. Stir until well combined and coated with sauce. Adjust seasoning if needed. Pour into 2 qt casserole dish. Top with the rest of the mozzarella cheese. Bake at 350ºF for 20-30 minutes or until the cheese is melted and the sauce is bubbly.

The first time I made this, I added quite a lot of bacon. Sounds good, right? But here's the thing.. the smokiness from the bacon wound up taking over the whole thing, so maybe in just this ONE instance, we can allow ourselves to cut the bacon down to about 1/2 pound.
Speaking of bacon, yes the bacon is salty, but you'll still need to add some salt. Make sure you taste it to season it properly! And don't forget the black pepper!
One of the key ingredients is the fresh thyme. I suppose you can use dried thyme, but for me there's just nothing like fresh. It makes all the difference, so much so that I would make a special trip to the store to get it. Just sayin!

Monday, November 4, 2019

Bacon Apple Sweet Potato Casserole

  If you're looking for a recipe that SCREAMS Thanksgiving, this is it! For a while now, I've been doing a savory take on sweet potatoes, and this recipe ticks all the boxes. Don't get me wrong, I love love LOVE the favorite Candied Sweet Potatoes and the favorite Sweet Potato Casserole with all the brown sugar and such, but lately I've been embracing the sweet potato in a savory light.
 I found this recipe on a blog called Mel's Kitchen Cafe, and although I tweaked the amounts and method here and there, the recipe and inspiration clearly belong to Mel. I'm not sure I would have ever added shredded CHEESE to a sweet potato dish, but it's fabulous! How brilliant is that?? And tbh, I wanted MORE cheese the entire time I was INHALING it. More is more! At the same time, it has all the Thanksgiving flavors that you want in a casserole... rosemary, sage, I bet you could even add some thyme, because why not? They go beautifully with the cheese, and the apples enhance the sweetness of the potatoes. And the bacon, well, we all know it makes everything better.
 So if you're looking for a new take on sweet potatoes, seriously TRUST ME on this one. It's absolutely Thanksgiving worthy, and it tastes like Autumn in a casserole. It's literally one of my favorite new things that I've made in quite a long time. Like, not even kidding. You must try it!

5 lbs sweet potatoes
1 lb thick-cut bacon
2 medium leeks, washed well, trimmed of tough edges and sliced thinly
2 large honey crisp apples, cored, peeled and finely diced
2 tsp brown sugar
1 tbs finely chopped fresh sage
1 tbs finely chopped fresh rosemary
S&P to taste
8 oz shredded sharp cheddar cheese
8 oz shredded Monterey Jack cheese

In a large pot, boil sweet potatoes until fork tender. Remove from pot and let cool until you can handle them. Remove peels, place in a large bowl, and mash them until smooth.
 In a skillet, cook the bacon until crisp. Remove the bacon pieces to a paper-towel lined plate, leaving a tablespoon or so of drippings in the skillet and removing any excess grease. Chop the bacon to small bits. set aside.
Over medium heat, add the leeks, apples, brown sugar, sage, and rosemary to the skillet. Lightly season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, until the leeks and apples have softened and caramelized slightly
Add about 3/4 of both cheeses, bacon, and leek/apple mixture to the sweet potatoes, reserving a bit of everything to sprinkle on top. Stir to combine. Add additional salt and pepper to taste, if needed. Lightly grease a large baking dish and spread the sweet potato mixture evenly in the pan. Sprinkle the rest of the bacon, leek mixture, and cheese over the top. Bake for 30 minutes until hot and bubbly. Serve immediately.

The original recipe baked the potatoes instead of boiling them. Do whichever method you prefer!
I think I'll add fresh thyme next time I make it. Why? Because I LOVE fresh thyme!
I bet you could use another mildly flavored onion instead of the leeks. I'd do a Vidalia, I think.
Definitely go for a SHARP Cheddar. You want that  flavor to come through. The original recipe used Fontina instead of Jack. Again, you do you!

Monday, October 28, 2019

Brown Butter Apple Blondies

  Every so often, I'll receive a text from someone with a link to a recipe. Usually it will contain a message that says something along the lines of "this needs to happen" or "when are we making this?"  That's exactly how this recipe came to me, from my sister, Cathy. She sent me the link with a text that simply said "Yum." Clearly, that says it all! Browned butter, apples, brown sugar, and cinnamon?? What's not to love?  It has "This needs to happen" written all over it. Apple desserts are my absolute favorite, so I knew I needed to try it, especially since the recipe is from Sally's Baking Addition. (Seriously, if you've never checked out her blog, stop what you're doing right now and go check it out!!) This is a great party dessert because it's always good to have a sweet picky uppy something for your guests. Halloween? Thanksgiving? Christmas? They go with any holiday! Of course, they're also perfect for just any day when your kids want a little after school snack. SO good!
Cath, you were absolutely right about this one. YUM!

2 cups peeled chopped apples (about 2 medium apples) 
2 tbs pure maple syrup (or brown sugar) 
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces* 
2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour 
1 1/2 tsp baking powder 
1/2 tsp salt 
1 tsp ground cinnamon 
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg 
1 2/3 cups packed light or dark brown sugar 
2 large eggs, at room temperature 
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Brown Butter Icing:
1/4 cup unsalted butter 
1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar 
2 tbs milk 
1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract

  1. Important before you begin! I recommend browning the butter for the blondies and icing first. You can brown the butter for both the blondies AND the icing together. Once it’s all browned, set 4 Tablespoons (2 liquid ounces) aside for the icing in step 8. The rest (8 liquid ounces) is for the blondie batter, used in step 6.
  2. Brown the butter: Slice the butter into pieces and place in a light-colored skillet. (Light colored helps you determine when the butter begins browning.) Melt the butter over medium heat, stirring constantly. Once melted, the butter will begin to foam. Keep stirring. After 5-8 minutes, the butter will begin browning and you’ll notice lightly browned specks begin to form at the bottom of the pan. You will smell a nutty aroma. See photo and video above for a visual. Once browned, immediately remove from heat, pour into a heat-proof bowl, and set aside until ready to use.
  3. Prepare the apples: Meanwhile, return the pan to the stove. (No need to rinse out!) Add the apples, maple syrup/brown sugar, and cinnamon. Stir and cook over medium heat until apples have slightly softened, about 3-5 minutes. Set apples aside.
  4. Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Line the bottom and sides of a 9×13 inch baking pan with parchment paper, leaving an overhang on the sides to lift the finished blondies out (makes cutting easier!). Set aside.
  5. Make the blondies: Whisk the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg together in a large bowl.
  6. In a medium bowl, whisk 1 cup browned butter, brown sugar, eggs, and vanilla extract together. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until combined. Fold in the apples. Batter will be thick.
  7. Evenly spread batter into prepared pan. Bake for about 35 minutes or until the top is lightly browned and a toothpick comes out *mostly* clean. Remove from the oven and allow the blondies to cool completely in the pan set on a wire rack.
  8. Brown butter icing: Heat the remaining 1/4 cup (4 Tablespoons) of brown butter in the microwave for a few seconds since it has likely solidified by now. Whisk in confectioners’ sugar, milk, and vanilla extract. If needed, add more confectioners’ sugar to thicken or more milk to thin out. Drizzle over cooled blondies, then cut into squares.

Normally, I would tweak a recipe to suit my own taste, but this one is already perfect. In fact, I even left the directions exactly as Sally has written them, because there was no reason to change them!

Monday, October 21, 2019

Cheesy Dapper Apple Squares

  Do you like the combination of salty and sweet? I love love LOVE it, so it's always exciting when I find a new recipe with that particular dynamic. Usually my go-to is anything with salted caramel, but then I found this recipe. It uses a classic paring, apples and cheddar cheese, which is a marriage made in salty sweet culinary heaven! I once read an article that said "apple pie without cheese is like a kiss without a squeeze!" I guess I can't argue with that, huh?
 Now, if you've never heard of serving sharp cheese with apples, think of a fancy schmancy party where they serve different kinds of wine with a plate of different fruits and cheeses. It's the same thing! They just GO together. I've heard of melting slices of cheddar cheese over a warm apple pie, I've also heard of cheese being baked right into the pie crust, but I've never seen it baked into a layered apple square such as this. It's fabulous! I found this exact recipe on several websites and no one seems to vary it very much, so I immediately knew that it would be pretty perfect as is. I think I read somewhere that it's a Pillsbury Bake Off winning recipe, but I have no idea exactly who came up with it in the first place. I saw another comment that said she has been making this recipe for over twenty years, so it just goes to show you that you just can't beat something that stands the test of time.
 Give this recipe a go for your next Fall get together. Halloween Party? Thanksgiving? Or just any random day you're feeling a little salty and sweet. It's definitely a new favorite!!!

1-1/2 cups flour
1-1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) butter, softened
6 oz extra sharp Cheddar cheese, thinly sliced
2-1/2 cups baking apples, cored, peeled, and sliced
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup chopped nuts or slivered almonds

Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
In a large bowl, mix together the flour, graham cracker crumbs, brown sugar, baking soda, and butter. Set aside 1-1/2 cups of the crumb mixture and pat the rest into a 9x13-inch baking dish. Place the cheese slices on top of the crumb mixture.
In a medium-size bowl, combine the apples and granulated sugar. Layer over the cheese. Add the nuts to the reserved crumb mixture and sprinkle over the apples. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool completely, or chill,  then cut into 2-inch squares.

Extra sharp cheese is definitely the way to go here. You really don't want a mild Cheddar because it needs to stand up against the sweet. 
The only variation I saw on all of the sites I read was the addition of a little cinnamon in the crust. I contemplated adding spices, but decided against it because I didn't want it to compete with the sharpness of the cheese. I'm sure it will work whichever way you decide to go.
Instead of doing slices of cheese, I finely shredded mine. It just seemed to me that I could have more even coverage with the shreds. Tbh, I wanted MORE cheese, so I think I'll add a little extra next time.
And since I was using sweet Honeycrisp apples instead of a tart Granny Smith, I added a little spritz of lemon juice when I tossed the apple slices with the sugar, just to brighten the flavor a bit.  I left out the chopped nuts because I didn't hand any on hand, but you do you!
Oh, one other thing.. I've seen this recipe on some sites that say to grease the pan, others say ungreased. Anytime I'm making dessert squares, I always line the pan with parchment paper because it not only makes it easy to lift the whole batch out of the pan in one piece, but it also gives a little extra nonstick insurance, which is always a good thing.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Spiced Apple Chili

  What? Apples in CHILI? I know. I know. It sounds crazy, but just go with me on this one. Have I ever lied to you before? Seriously, it's one of the best chilis I've ever tasted! The apples bring a little hint of sweetness to the party, and the warm spices round everything out. So, with all the apples and cinnamon, you're probably thinking "does it taste like apple pie?" Nope! Not at all! It just tastes like a fabulous bowl of chili with a tiny little tweak, that's all. And the apples bring a heartiness to the dish, kind of in the same way that potatoes do in a beef stew. It's super easy to make too! You brown the beef and then basically just throw everything in the pot and let it simmer. It's ready in about an hour! Easy, right? Oh, I almost forgot to mention that the recipe is from Taste of Home, so you know it's tried and true and test kitchen approved. It's just plain delicious! I like mine with shredded Cheddar cheese and a dollop of sour cream, but you do you!

1 pound ground beef
1 large onion, chopped
1 can (6oz) tomato paste
3 teaspoons chili powder
3 teaspoons smoked paprika
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
3 cups beef broth
2 large Granny Smith apples, peeled and chopped
1 can (15oz) chili beans, undrained
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Optional toppings: shredded white cheddar cheese, diced red onion

 In a Dutch oven, cook and crumble beef with onion over medium-high heat until beef is no longer pink, 5-7 minutes; drain. Add tomato paste, spices, and garlic; cook and stir over medium heat 5 minutes. Stir in vinegar and broth until blended. Add remaining ingredients; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer. Simmer, covered, until apples are tender and flavors are blended, about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve with toppings as desired.

One of the things I love about this recipe is the balance of spices. Each one is definitely in the show, but nobody steals the spotlight. The amounts are exactly spot on. The only thing I might do differently is to add a few pinches of crushed red pepper flakes for a little spicy hit. I don't like to burn my face off with heat, but just a little spicy poke is pretty nice.
Btw, this would be FABULOUS on a hot dog. Is anyone else thinking Halloween dinner? Who's with me?

Monday, October 7, 2019

Invisible Apple Cake

 Have you ever heard of an Invisible Apple Cake?? I must say I had never heard of it until recently when I was browsing apple recipes. Apparently it's a thing! Now, don't quote me on this, but I believe it's a French thing, and it's now very popular in Japanese cuisine. Who knew? 
 Ok, so what exactly is it? Well, it's lots and lots of VERY thinly sliced apples that are coated and baked with the tiniest amount of very thin batter. Sounds good, right? So, wait... does that mean the cake is invisible or the apples? Seems to me that all you see are the apples and they're being held together by an invisible cake. Yup. I'm going with that. Alrighty then! It's fun to find a new something to bake, isn't it?
 I found many versions... some baked in a loaf pan, some with regular granulated sugar, some with sliced almonds on top... but I decided to try this one from a blog called Seasons and Suppers. I'm sure all the other versions are delicious too, but I liked the idea of using brown sugar and baking it in a round pan.
 Make this for a special occasion, or holiday, or just because you love apples. Serve it at room temperature, chilled, or better yet warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Or whipped cream. Or homemade caramel sauce. Or all of the above! I have yet to meet an apple dessert that I don't love, and now I have another one to add to my repertoire! I'm pretty sure the real reason it's called INVISIBLE is that it will disappear in no time! YUM.

6 large Golden Delicious apples peeled 
2 large eggs 
1/4 cup brown sugar 
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 Tbsp butter 
6 1/2 Tbsp milk 
1/2 cup + 1 Tbsp all-purpose flour 
1 tsp baking powder 
Pinch of salt

 Preheat oven to 400 F.
 Line the bottom of an 8-inch spring form pan with parchment paper and spray with cooking spray.
In a large bowl, beat the eggs with the sugar and vanilla until very light and fluffy (about 3 minutes). Melt the butter in saucepan or microwave bowl. Add the milk and stir well to combine. Allow to cool slightly, then add to the egg/sugar mixture. Mix to combine.
Sift together the flour and baking powder, then sprinkle over the egg/sugar mixture. Mix just until combined.Quarter the peeled apples and remove the core. Use a mandoline to slice each quarter into thin slices. (if you don't have a mandoline, just use a very sharp knife to slice them very thinly by hand.) Add the apple slices to the batter. Gently stir the apples in the batter to ensure all apples are coated. Pour into prepared pan, making sure to fill in all gaps between apples. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until set. If desired, you can turn on the broiler for a minute to brown up the top of the cake. Leave in pan to cool, then run knife around edges and remove outer spring form pan ring. Dust with icing sugar, if desired.

Instead of Golden Delicious apples, I used Honeycrisp. Why? Because they're my favorite! This dessert is not overly sweet, so you definitely want to use a sweeter variety of apple instead of, say, a tart Granny Smith. That would be another reason to serve it with caramel sauce or ice cream, otherwise it doesn't really feel like a DESSERT.
This cake has none of the usual spices in it, but if you're all about the cinnamon and nutmeg, GO FOR IT! You can even use an apple pie spice blend, if you'd like. I think a teaspoon would be plenty! Also I may or may not have been a little heavy handed with the vanilla extract. (I make my own vanilla extract with bourbon, and a little extra bourbon in an apple dessert is definitely not a bad thing!)

Monday, September 30, 2019

Perfect Moist and Fluffy Vanilla Cupcakes

  Whenever I see a recipe that claims to be the PERFECT this or the PERFECT that, I'm immediately skeptical. Not that I'm a glass-half-empty kind of a person (well, not all the time anyway), but I'm just a pretty tough critic when it comes to that claim. It has to be pretty amazing to be called PERFECT in my book, know what I mean? So, when I saw this recipe on, I immediately wanted to try it. TBH, I wasn't saying "Ok, Smarty Pants, PROVE it!" (well, maybe a little) but actually I was thinking "if these cupcakes are that good, then I want some!" especially when it comes to anything vanilla, which is my favorite flavor ever in the whole wide world.
 So I whipped up a batch..... WHOA.... Lemme just say this.. stop what you're doing RIGHT NOW and make these cupcakes. They're AMAZING. And yes, I would even go so far as to say they're PERFECT! I'm not even kidding. To me, perfect isn't just good flavor. To me, a recipe is perfect when it also uses easy ingredients, is quick and simple to follow, and gives you the WOW factor at the end. This recipe is ALL of those things! I made them for the cast and crew of my current theatrical project, and they were a big hit! Honestly, they're so moist, I literally had to cut one in half to make sure that it was baked all the way through. SO GOOD. The original recipe also listed a vanilla icing to go with them, but I used a Swiss Meringue Buttercream, which is my fave. Side note, I'm still trying different buttercream recipes to see which ratio of egg whites to sugar to butter makes the best one. I'll get back to you on that at another time! In the meantime, just use your favorite vanilla icing and you'll be good to go.  So, big thanx to Lindsay over at Life Love and Sugar.
This one's a keeper, and it's definitely PERFECT!

1 2/3 cups all purpose flour 
1 cup sugar 
1/4 tsp baking soda 
1 tsp baking powder 
3/4 cup salted butter  
3 large egg whites 
3 tsp vanilla extract 
1/2 cup sour cream 
1/2 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Whisk together flour, sugar, baking soda and baking powder in a large mixing bowl. Add butter, egg whites, vanilla, sour cream and milk and mix on medium speed just until smooth. Do not over mix. Fill cupcake liners a little more than half way. Bake 18-20 minutes. Allow to cool for 1-2 minutes, then remove to cooling rack to finish cooling.

To really pump up the vanilla flavor, I scraped the insides of a vanilla bean and added the "caviar" to the batter. As far as I'm concerned, there is no such thing as too much vanilla flavor! More is more!
Btw, I doubled the recipe and used an ice cream scoop to portion the luscious batter into cupcake tins. I ended up with exactly 3 dozen cupcakes which was exactly what I wanted!

Monday, September 23, 2019

Bacon Cheeseburger Casserole

  Every year, when the weather begins to change from Summer to Fall, my first thought isn't just the change of seasons, but also the change of MENU! Yes of course, I love all the warm spices, (I love pumpkin spice everything!) But more than anything, I start to think of casseroles! Warm, homey, satisfying, stick to your ribs, cheesy, creamy casseroles! Now, usually, this is when I'm already testing casserole ideas for Thanksgiving, but this time I thought "Lets do an easy midweek dinner casserole before we start thinking about holiday family feasts." And that's exactly what we have here.
 This is my tweaked version of a recipe I found on a blog called it was just exactly what I had in mind. Cheesy, ooey gooey, and bacon. What's not to love?
 So if you're a cheeseburger lover, this one's for you. Added bonus, if you happen to be doing Keto or low carb, this one's for you too!

6 pieces of bacon
1 onion, chopped
2 lbs ground beef
Splash of Worcestershire sauce
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 oz cream cheese
Pepper to taste
4 eggs
2 cups cheddar cheese
2 tbs mustard
1 cup milk
Ketchup and dill pickles for serving

Heat oven to 350ºF.
In a large skillet, saute strips of bacon until crisp. Remove from pan and set aside on paper towel to drain.
Add chopped onions to skillet. Saute in bacon fat until they begin to soften. Add ground beef. Cook and stir, breaking up the beef until it's brown. Remove excess fat. Add Worcestershire sauce, garlic, and cream cheese. Cook and stir until cheese melts. Add pepper to taste. Place beef mixture in a 9x13 pan. While the beef is cooking, in a separate bowl, combine eggs, cheese, mustard, and milk.
Spread over beef mixture.
Bake 20 minutes. Top with crumbled bacon. Bake an additional 10-15 minutes. Remove from oven and let stand 10-15 minutes.  Serve with a squeeze of ketchup and a few dill pickles.

The thing that makes this taste like a cheeseburger is the Worcestershire sauce. So be sure to include it! Well, that, and the mustard and ketchup. I actually debated on whether or not to add the ketchup right into the casserole, but opted to serve it alongside the casserole with the dill pickles. This way, you can add as much or as little ketchup as you like. Full disclosure, I like to serve it with an extra little squeeze of mustard as well!
For a little variation, you can swap out half the beef for mild Italian sausage. Just remove it from the casings, or buy bulk sausage that has no casing.You could also swap American cheese for the Cheddar. You do you!
One of the key steps to this recipe is removing the excess fat after browning the meat. The first time I made it, I didn't think there was so much fat from the beef and bacon, so I just left it in. Then I added all the full fat cheeses (and originally heavy cream too, instead of milk, if I'm being completely honest). The final product was... well, let's just say Chef Anne Burrell would have called it The Exxon Valdez. If your final product turns out to be too oily, don't fret! Just place a few layers of paper towel on top of your casserole and they'll absorb the excess oil. No one needs to know!
 BTW, the original recipe even suggests serving it as a breakfast option. OOO I bet it's great topped with a sunny side egg. Mmmmm Who's with me?

Monday, September 16, 2019

Slow Cooker Beef and Noodles

  Well, once again, I'm turning to my trusty slow cooker for a delicious time saving meal. What can I say? I love slow cookers! Actually, I think "obsessed" is probably a better word. How obsessed? Well, frankly, I don't have just one slow cooker or even two. I have a collection of EIGHT slow cookers, all in different sizes, and I use all of them!! I've literally made an entire Turkey Dinner using only slow cookers, including the turkey! How fun is that??? But wait, we're getting off topic.. let's get back to the beef and noodles, shall we?
 This dish is so easy and delicious, it's an absolute must in your cooking repertoire. You just throw everything in the slow cooker and turn it on. It doesn't get much easier than that! And then at the end you just add some boiled noodles and frozen peas. So it's kind of like a beef stew with noodles sort of a vibe. It's definitely a no brainer for a Sunday dinner when you have errands to run all day. And now that we're back to school in full swing and we have a million schedules to manage, coming home from work to a slow cooker dinner is a midweek life saver. And even the cooking novice can handle it, no problem! It's very simple, but sometimes, that's what hits the spot.
 Oh, one other thing. This is another one of those recipe I saw about a million years ago, and then tucked away in my archive, but I have no idea where I found it. Maybe it was one of those food videos you see bouncing around the interwebs. Who knows? Anyway, I hope you try it!

1 1/2 to 2 pounds beef stew cubes, well-trimmed
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
3/4 tsp dried oregano
1/2 cup sliced white onion
1 1/2 cups sliced mushrooms
2 10.75-ounce cans cream of mushroom soup
1 (12oz) package egg noodles (cooked according to package directions on the stovetop)
2 cups frozen peas
Salt to taste

 Add the beef to a 6-quart or larger slow cooker. Sprinkle the pepper, oregano, onions, and mushrooms on top. Spread the cream of mushroom soup over all. Cover and cook on high for 5 hours without opening the lid during the cooking time. Toward the end of the cooking time, cook the noodles according to the package directions. Drain. Add the cooked noodles on top of the meat and sauce in the slow cooker. Add the peas. Stir until everything is combined, and let it continue to cook just a few more minutes until the peas are done. Add salt to taste and serve with warm crusty bread.

So, when I made it, I used fresh oregano instead of dried. I think fresh thyme would be a lovely addition as well. Also I didn't even pay attention to the amounts. I used a little more than 2 lbs of beef, I used 2 big onions, (why? because I like a lot of onions!) I used a 10 oz pkg of cremini mushrooms, and a 10 oz box of frozen peas. Oh, and since I knew I was adding more than the original recipe, I added an extra can of condensed soup. Turns out this was a good idea!

Monday, September 9, 2019

Piña Colada Ice Box Cake

  If you follow my blog at all, it's very easy to see how obsessed with pineapple I am. I'm pretty sure I never met a pineapple I didn't like. It's literally the number one flavor of jam in my canning repertoire, and I've paired it in jam with everything from apples to berries and even fresh basil. I've also pickled it, which is my new favorite thing on the planet. It's just so good with everything! So, of course, anytime I see a recipe for a pineapple dessert, I have to try it.
 I made this "cake" for a family shindig a few weeks ago, and it was a big hit! It's the perfect time saver for any occasion because it's a 'must-do-ahead' sort of a thing, and then it sets up into a rich and creamy dish of fabulous that will always get rave reviews!
 Btw, the reason that I said "cake" is that it's really not a cake at all. The graham crackers soften to a cake like texture as it chills in the fridge, just like they do with the Eclair Cake that I shared a while back. Make sense?
 So there you have it. Sweet. Simple. Perfect. Love it. Definitely give this one a try!

1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1/2 teaspoon rum extract
1 can (13.66 ounces) coconut milk, divided
1 package (3.4 ounces) instant vanilla pudding mix
1 container (8 ounces) frozen whipped topping, thawed
15 whole graham crackers
1 can (20 ounces) crushed pineapple, drained
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut, toasted

 In a large bowl, beat cream cheese, confectioners' sugar and extract until smooth. Gradually beat in 1 cup coconut milk. Add pudding mix; beat on low speed until smooth. Fold in whipped topping. 
 Pour remaining coconut milk into a shallow dish. Quickly dip half of the graham crackers into milk; allow excess to drip off. Arrange in a single layer in the bottom of a 13x9-in. baking dish, breaking to fit as needed. Layer with half each of the cream cheese mixture, pineapple, and coconut. 
Repeat layers. Refrigerate, covered, at least 4 hours before serving.

For golden color and a nutty coconut flavor, toast the 1/2 cup of coconut that goes on the top layer.

To toast coconut, bake in a shallow pan in a 350° oven for 5-10 minutes or cook in a skillet over low heat until golden brown, stirring occasionally.

Instead of using canned, I used fresh pineapple. I just like it better! And most supermarkets sell fresh pineapple already prepped and cut into chunks. That makes it SO much more convenient! I also probably used more than you'd get from a 20 oz can. I probably added more coconut too.
More is more! 

Monday, September 2, 2019

Tomato Cobbler

 I suppose I'm biased since I live in The Garden State, but you just can't tell me that you'll ever have anything better than JERSEY Tomatoes. Nothing else compares!! I mean, you may THINK you've had a tomato before, but you've never had one until you've had a Jersey tomato, that's all I'm sayin'. Quick story... Years ago, I took a road trip down to visit my friends Carol and Tom in Florida, and I brought an entire bushel of Jersey Tomatoes with me. As soon as I got there, Carol immediately grabbed one of the tomatoes and a shaker of salt, sat down at the kitchen counter, and ate it right out of her hand like it was an apple. True story! They're just that good! And at the end of summer, we have tons and tons of them. It's actually not uncommon for my sister Cathy and me to put them up in jars, literally over 100 lbs at a time, just to preserve them for the rest of the year. YUM. So this year, I was thinking of different tomato recipes, and I thought "How about a cobbler?"
  Usually when you think of a cobbler, you think of a dessert made with apples or peaches or any of your favorite fruits, with sweet biscuits on the top, am I right? But have you ever had a SAVORY cobbler? I once made a Savory Corn Cobbler (which was fabulous btw), and so this year, I thought "Why not make a cobbler with tomatoes?" YES. ABSOLUTELY. You basically stew some tomatoes on the stove with some herbs and aromatics, top 'em with some home made drop biscuits, and then bake the whole thing until golden and bubbly. How can this not be good? I took one taste and immediately wondered where this had been my whole life. It's just SO good! This recipe has two kinds of tomatoes in it, so that's doubly delicious in my book.
 So if you have any tomato lovers in your life, or if maybe you have a garden with a surplus tomato crop for the end of summer, THIS is the recipe for you. It's from Food Network Magazine and it's one of my new favorite things. Like, ever. In life. I literally just made it and now I want to make it again. Yes, there are a few steps, but it's all very easy, even for the cooking novice. Maybe serve with a nice salad for dinner or even for brunch?  Yes please!

For the filling:
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 large tomatoes (about 1 3/4 pounds), cut into 1-inch chunks
1 teaspoon packed light brown sugar
Kosher salt
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

For the topping:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, thinly sliced
2/3 cup milk, plus more for brushing
2 teaspoons whole-grain mustard
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. 

Make the filling: 
 Heat 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and lightly golden, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, thyme and cayenne and cook 1 more minute. Add the chopped tomatoes, brown sugar and 1 1/4 teaspoons salt. Bring to a simmer and cook until the tomatoes just begin to soften, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, then gently stir in the cherry tomatoes and flour. Transfer to a 2-quart baking dish and dot with the remaining 1 tablespoon butter. 

Make the topping: 
 Whisk the flour, baking powder, granulated sugar, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and black pepper to taste in a medium bowl. Add the butter and use a pastry cutter or your fingers to rub the butter into the flour until it resembles coarse meal with pea-size pieces of butter. Add the milk, mustard and thyme and gently mix with a fork just until a sticky dough forms, being careful not to overwork the dough. 

 Drop balls of dough over the tomato filling and brush the dough with milk. Place the cobbler on a baking sheet and bake until golden and bubbling, 50 minutes to 1 hour. Let rest 15 minutes before serving. 

One of the keys to this dish's success is the fresh thyme. Yes, you could use dried thyme, but the fresh is just so much better, in my opinion. I literally made a special trip to the store to get it.
Instead of using cayenne pepper, I used crushed red pepper flakes. Why? Because I like them! I also used half and half instead of milk because that's that I had on hand.
When I added the flour to the sauce, I took some of the juice from the tomatoes in the pan, let it cool for a bit in a small bowl, and then whisked in the flour to make a slurry. When it was well mixed, I stirred it back into the pan. This insured that there wouldn't be any big lumps of flour in the sauce. 
 Oh, one other thing.. The recipe doesn't say to peel the tomatoes, but I did anyway. Well, not the cherry tomatoes, but just the large ones. It's just a personal preference!
For a quick tutorial, watch my video How To Peel A Tomato !

Monday, August 26, 2019

Joey's Pickled Peaches

   Have you ever had a pickled peach? Did you even know that you could pickle a peach? Actually, you can pickle just about anything, but even so, who knew that pickled peaches were such a big thing?
 I must confess that they're not the most common thing in my neck of the woods. If fact, as I was searching recipes and asking for feedback, most of my friends and family had never even heard of them let alone tasted them. Quite honestly, the idea of a pickled peach didn't really go over too well with everyone I asked. (Frankly, it sounded pretty good to me!) And then I read one recipe that said "In the South, it just isn't Thanksgiving without a cut glass bowl of pickled peaches on the table." I thought "well, that settles it. Clearly it's a THING, so I need to try it."
  Of course that brought me to my next question: Which recipe??  I found MANY recipes that were very similar. Vinegar, sugar, and warm spices like cinnamon and cloves. Hmm.. I'm not so sure that's the way I want to go. Earlier this summer when I made pickled watermelon rind, I used cinnamon sticks, and the rind came out tasting very little like watermelon, and very much more like apple pie. I mean, I guess it makes sense.... You have a surplus crop of peaches or watermelons, you preserve them with warm Autumn spices, and then you enjoy them for the rest of the year through Fall and Winter. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but that's not what I wanted this time. I wanted something more like a PICKLE than a spiced peach, know what I mean?
  So then I found a recipe that used regular pickling spice, which is a blend of mustard seeds, coriander seeds, bay leaves, and allspice, among other things. Hmm... maybe that could work? I also saw a youtube video where they added shallots and cardamom to the brine. This basically showed me that you can really go any way you want with it and it'll still work. So I thought, ok lets think.. what exactly do I WANT? Well, I want them to have a strong hit of sour to go with the sweet, I don't want them to taste like apple pie, and I do like the idea of adding some kind of spice. And that's how I landed on this recipe. I decided to go with cider vinegar. Why? Because I like it! And I also upped the vinegar to sugar ratio for that stronger hit of sour I was after. I went with the regular pickling spice because that seemed to be a departure from apple pie, but then still added a cinnamon stick, just to get the best of both worlds. It turned out great!!
 So now that you know about pickled peaches, you should give them a try! Go out and buy some deliciously juicy ripe peaches while they're still in season, and then preserve them to enjoy throughout the year. Come to think of it, I think I've just discovered this year's Christmas gift! oooo now there's a great idea!!

5 lbs peaches
2 1/2 cups cider vinegar
3 cups sugar
1 1/2 tsp pickling spice blend
1/2 tsp salt
1 cinnamon stick

First prep your peaches:
If your peaches are ripe, cut a small X on the bottom of each peach, then carefully drop them into rapidly boiling water for a minute or two. Then plunge them into ice water. The peels should easily slip off. If your peaches are not quite so ripe, just use a peeler.  Cut your peaches into halves or quarters, depending on the size.

Make the brine:
Add all remaining ingredients to a large pot. Bring to a rolling boil. Continue to boil for about 10 minutes. Add prepped peaches to the pot. Let them cook for about 5-10 minutes, until they are just barely tender.

Fill and process:
Spoon peaches into hot sterile quart-size jars and ladle enough of the hot brine until you reach about 1/2 inch from the rim. Wipe the rims with a clean damp cloth, and seal with lids and rings. Process in a hot water bath for 20 minutes. Remove from pot to a towel-lined kitchen counter or tray. Allow to cool for 12-24 hours before moving them to insure a proper seal. Properly sealed jars will last for easily a year. If you don't plan to seal your jars in a water bath, they will last up to 3 months in the refrigerator.

 Serve them on sandwiches, with ham, chicken, pork, turkey, anything you want! They're also fabulous poured over vanilla ice cream. Yes, really!

I like to wait at least a week or two after filling the jars before opening them. The longer the peaches are in the brine, the more they'll absorb that delicious sweet and sour flavor.
I didn't want the peaches to be over cooked, so I only poached them in the brine for about 5-10 minutes instead of 20 minutes or even longer, as with some recipes. I figured the jars have to process for 20 minutes in the boiling water anyway, so that would cook them further. I also used peaches that were not over ripe.
I literally quintupled the recipe and pickled 25 lbs of peaches. But I still only threw one cinnamon stick in the pot. Feel free to add more, though, if that suits your fancy.
This recipe is also... dare I say it... LIFE CHANGING when you do it with pineapple. Like, seriously, if you like fresh pineapple as much as I do, you MUST try pickling it. You won't even believe how delicious a pineapple can be.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Joey's Garlic Butter Shrimp Scampi

 This is one of my favorite things, like ever in life, so it kind of amazes me that I somehow never posted a recipe for it. UNTIL NOW!! You can call it garlic butter shrimp, you can call it shrimp scampi, I call it both! It's basically shrimp in a fabulous butter and garlic sauce, usually (but not necessarily) with white wine and it sounds A LOT more swanky and fancy than it actually is. It only takes a few minutes to prepare and it's sure to impress. An added bonus is that it just happens to be like WAY low in carbs, in case you happen to be making low carb choices.
 There are many versions of it out there, and this one is my slightly tweaked version of a recipe I found on a blog called Damn Delicious. As always, I love to take other peoples' recipes and turn them into my own. I encourage you to do the same! Then again, if you happen to love my version just as it is, I won't mind it at all if you make it as written! Hope you like it!

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 pounds large shrimp, peeled, deveined, tails removed
Kosher salt
Crushed red peppers flakes
5 cloves garlic,sliced
1/2 cup shrimp stock*
1/2 cup white wine
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Chopped fresh parsley leaves or green onions

*To make shrimp stock:
Add shrimp shells and tails to a small pot, add water until just covered. Bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat to simmer for about 10-15 minutes. Pour through a sieve to remove shells. That's all there is to it!

Melt a couple tablespoons butter in a large skillet. Add shrimp to pan, all in one layer. (work in batches, if you need to). Season shrimp with a pinch of salt and a few shakes of crushed red pepper. Cook shrimp, stirring occasionally, until they just barely turn pink. Don't overcook! Remove shrimp from pan and set aside. Add garlic to skillet. Saute for just a minute, then add shrimp stock, wine, and lemon juice. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer until the sauce reduces by about half. Add remaining butter a little at a time, stirring until it's melted and the sauce is rich and glossy. Add the shrimp back to the pan. Stir to coat with sauce. Top with chopped parsley or green onion.  Serve with warm crusty bread or pour it over your choice of long pasta.

If you're using salted butter, don't add salt until the very end. Then taste it and adjust the seasoning.
I only did a few shakes of crushed red pepper, but if you like a spicier hit, go right ahead and add as much as you like!
I like big honkin' pieces of garlic, so I like to just slice it instead of mince it. This also makes it easier to push the garlic aside of you just want to flavor the sauce but don't want to bite into it. But really, they turn so mild and sweet, I never push them aside!
For a little extra texture and a slightly thicker sauce, you can dredge the shrimp in a little bit of flour before you saute them in the pan. Just make sure you pat away as much of the flour as you can. You just want a tiny coating of flour. Then saute as directed.
If you don't have wine and you don't feel like making the shrimp stock, just use an equal amount of chicken broth. It will still be fabulous!

Monday, August 12, 2019

Basil, Corn, and Tomato Bake

  OK, first, let me just say that this is a FABULOUS casserole, but here's the thing...I don't like the name. There. I said it. It's a Taste of Home recipe, and this is what they named it, but if this were my recipe, I'd called it a Zucchini, Corn, and Tomato Bake. Doesn't that sound better? I mean, clearly zucchini is one of the stars in this play, so why would you leave his name off the marquis? That just makes no sense to me. Who's with me on this? Anyone? Anyone? OK rant over.
 I made this dish for a family event a few weeks ago, and it was a big hit. If you know me, you know how much I love Jersey corn and tomatoes, so this was the perfect vehicle for them. And with the fresh basil, it tastes like summer in a casserole. So fresh, so flavorful! To be honest, I thought of adding bacon to it, because BACON, but then I kind of liked the idea that this was a vegetarian option at a barbecue with all kinds of big meats happening on the grill. Still, I'm sure bacon would be a good option. Or maybe some other kind of protein. Maybe some shrimp? ooo that sounds good! (You know I can never leave well enough alone, right?).  Anyway, definitely give this one a try. And let me know if you agree with me about the name! hahaha

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 large eggs
1 can (10-3/4 ounces) condensed cream of celery soup, undiluted
4 cups fresh or frozen corn
1 small zucchini, chopped
1 medium tomato, seeded and chopped
3/4 cup soft bread crumbs*
1/3 cup minced fresh basil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
Additional minced fresh basil, optional

Preheat oven to 350°. 
In a small skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion; cook and stir until tender. In a large bowl, whisk eggs and condensed soup until blended. Stir in vegetables, bread crumbs, basil, salt, and onion. Transfer mixture to an 11x7-in. baking dish coated with cooking spray. Bake, uncovered, 40-45 minutes or until bubbly. Sprinkle with cheese. Bake 5-10 minutes longer or until cheese is melted. Let stand 10 minutes before serving. If desired, sprinkle with additional basil.

* To make soft bread crumbs, tear bread into pieces and place in a food processor or blender. Cover and pulse until crumbs form.

Whenever I add zucchini to a casserole, I like to saute it a bit before assembling everything. This helps to evaporate some of the excess water from the zucchini. So I just added it to the pan when I sauteed the onions. Also make sure to seed the tomatoes before you add them. Again, you don't want all that extra liquid going in. No one likes a runny casserole!

Monday, August 5, 2019

Joey's Slow Cooker Ratatouille

  Do you have a vegetable garden? I must say that one of the drawbacks of living in an apt building is that I don't have a back yard in which to grow my own vegetables. I just love the idea of planting tons of zucchini and eggplant and peppers, and of course I would also grow lots of fresh herbs. I remember my brother Denny used to have a garden when I was growing up and I loved all the fresh tomatoes an basil he would grow.
 Anyway, when Denny had his garden, I remember thinking "what are we gonna do with all of this extra eggplant and zucchini?" Well, ladies and gents, here's your answer! You throw them into a slow cooker and you make ratatouille! Now, I know that this is not the same ratatouille as in the Pixar movie (eventually I'll get around to making that one). This one is just a basic vegetable stew, and it's absolutely fantabulous. It's super simple too! Make as much or as little as you like. Then serve it with some crusty bread. YUM. Sounds like the perfect summer dinner to me! And you didn't even need to turn on the oven.  Hmm.. maybe SOME DAY I'll have my own garden!!! Who knows?

1 large eggplant
2 medium zucchini
2 medium yellow summer squash
1 large red bell pepper
1 large green bell pepper
1 large yellow onion
2 large tomatoes
3-4 cloves garlic
1 small can tomato paste
1 bay leaf
6-7 sprigs of fresh thyme
a pinch or two of crush red pepper flakes
kosher salt to taste
1 tbs sugar
fresh basil
grated Parmesan cheese

Cut eggplant into large cubes (no need to peel). Lay the cubes in one even layer on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with a few teaspoons of kosher salt. Set aside for at least 30 minutes. In the meantime, slice all other veggies into large chunks. Chop garlic. Tie a few sprigs of thyme together with cotton twine.
 Rinse eggplant cubes of excess salt and drain well. Pat extra liquid dry with paper towels.
 Add everything to the slow cooker except for the basil and grated cheese. Stir well until the tomato paste is mixed throughout. Cover and cook on low for 5 hours, stirring about halfway through.
To serve, sprinkle with grated cheese and chopped basil. Can be served hot, chilled, or at room temperature.

Fresh herbs are definitely the way to go. Just sayin! I mean, sure you could use dried herbs but it won't be the same. 
Be sure to salt the eggplant for at least a half hour before you cook it. It helps pull out all the bitter liquid inside the eggplant, so I stand by it for all eggplant dishes. This is one rule that I NEVER skip!!

Monday, July 29, 2019

Joey's Pepper Jack Chicken Mac

  When the weather is warm, I usually tend to set the baked casseroles aside, because most times I'd rather not turn on a hot oven. But this one was so good, I think it's worth cranking up the AC!
 I originally got the idea when I was watching a cooking show, and they did a jalapeno mac and cheese. But then I thought, what if I turn that from a side dish into a one dish meal? I could add shredded chicken and a few other things, and it would be perfect! So that's exactly what I did. And it turned out great! The onions and garlic add a deeper savory-ness to the dish, and the different cheeses add to the depth of flavor. Yes, yes, all you cheese purists, I used Velveeta processed cheese. Judge me all you want, but I'm owning it. It makes the dish so much more gooey and creamy, so I stand by it! And as far as the heat goes, I used just a couple jalapeño peppers, but you can add as many as you like! SO good!
 This dish is pretty hearty, so you don't need anything else but maybe a light side salad to go with it, and then maybe cool off with some fresh fruit for dessert. Sounds like a perfect dinner to me! No matter how you serve it, if you're a fan of mac and cheese, then I know you're gonna love it!

1/2 lb large elbow macaroni
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 tbs butter
4 tbs flour
4 cups milk
1 tbs mustard, any kind
1/2 lb pepper jack cheese
1/2 lb Velveeta processed cheese
1/2 lb cheddar cheese
1-2 Jalapeño peppers, sliced, can be fresh or pickled
2 cups cooked chicken, diced or shredded

 In a large pot of salted water, boil the elbows until al dente. Drain and set aside in a large bowl.
In the meantime, melt butter in a large saute pan. Add onions and garlic. Saute until the onions are soft and fragrant. Add flour to pan, stir to combine. Add milk and mustard. Use a wire whisk to break up the lumps of flour. Add cheeses to the sauce, reserving half of the cheddar. Continue to stir until melted and bubbly. Add a couple tbs of chopped jalapeños. Add cheese sauce and chicken to the bowl of drained elbows. Toss all until well combined. Place in a large casserole dish. Top with slices of jalapeño and reserved cheddar. Bake 30 minutes or until bubbly and slightly browned around the edges. Remove from oven and let it stand for a good ten minutes before serving.

For the chicken, I just used a store bought rotisserie, but you can use whatever leftover chicken you have. Or you could roast a couple chicken breasts in the oven. Just bake them on a sheet tray with a little salt and pepper, then cut into chunks, or shred. Easy!
For the pasta, use any favorite large cut pasta. It's all good!
Wanna really bump up the heat? Use Serrano or even hotter Habanero peppers!

Monday, July 22, 2019

Joey's Pineapple Chicken Salad

 I've always been a huge fan of pineapple, but it seems that lately, I just can't seem to get enough! I could say that it's only a summertime thing, but that's simply not the case. It's not uncommon for me to sit down with a big bowl of fresh pineapple chunks and that's dinner. So, of course, I'm always looking for ways to add it to other dishes. I've paired pineapples in jam with everything from basil to jalapenos to strawberries to apples. I've done pineapple baked beans, pineapple relish, and of course you know you can't go wring with pineapples and ham. And yes, for the record, I LOVE pineapple on pizza. But have you ever thought of adding it to chicken salad? It's fabulous! Especially when you add something that has some crunch to it, such as celery or bell peppers or chopped pecans. It's kind of like a riff on Waldorf Salad, which has apples and walnuts in it. My favorite way to serve it is on a croissant, but it's just as fabulous on your choice of any sandwich or hors d'oeuvres vehicle.
It's turns your same old chicken salad into something with a little twist! Yum.

2 cups cooked chicken, diced
1 cup fresh pineapple, diced
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
3 scallions, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
1/2 cup pecans, chopped
1 cup mayo
Salt and pepper

For the sake of making it quick and easy, I just used a store bought rotisserie chicken and then pulled all the meat off the bones, but you can certainly poach or roast a couple chicken breasts, then just dice or shred the meat. You could also just use leftover chicken. Easy!
Then simply mix all ingredients together in a large mixing bowl.
Taste and adjust seasoning. That's all there is to it!

Chop each item to the size you like. I like larger pieces of pineapple, but I like finely chopped celery and scallions. You do you!
All of the ingredient amounts are just guidelines. If you think it needs more or less mayo, adjust it to how you like it. TBH, I didn't even measure the mayo. I just added it until it was the right amount. And the same with the other ingredients. If you like a lot of something, add a lot!

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Lemony Dill Red Potato Salad

  Here's another quick and easy cold salad to bring to your next cookout. It's familiar enough to please the crowd, but just different enough for everyone to sit up and take notice.
 I was kind of in the mood for a really good potato salad, but didn't want to go through the trouble of making an entire 5 lbs of my Mom's recipe (which is the only way I know how to make it... in 5 lb increments.. I'm not even kidding.) So this one seemed to be a good swap (no peeling!) It's inspired by a recipe from a blog called Barefeet in the Kitchen. And yes, I tweaked it a little because you know I can never leave well enough alone.
 So lets break it down, shall we? The fresh dill is SO good in this, it makes me think "why don't I use this herb more often?" And the lemon gives it such a bright tang that it has summer freshness written all over it. I also added some diced celery for a nice little crunch. And well, frankly, for me, potato salad is not potato salad unless it has eggs in it. So there you go!
Give this one a try and let me know how you like it!

3 lbs baby red potatoes
4 hard boiled eggs, chopped
2 ribs of celery, finely diced
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
2 tbs freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tbs chopped fresh dill
1 tsp grated lemon zest
salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot of salted water, boil potatoes until fork tender. Remove potatoes from pot, drain, and set aside to cool completely. In the meantime, in a large bowl, combine remaining ingredients. When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, cut each one in half. Add potato halves to the bowl and toss to coat with the dressing. Chill until ready to serve.

I don't mind if the potatoes are still slightly warm when mixing with the dressing. This lets the potatoes absorb all the yummy flavor.
When chopping the eggs, I just use an egg slicer and slice them in two different directions, you know, like you do for egg salad.
The amounts of lemon and dill are just suggestions. Whenever I'm making something with fresh dill, I find that I always end up adding more than a recipe says. Same with the lemon juice and zest. Add it until it's the right amount for you!
Also, if you garnish the bowl with a sprig of dill (and even a slice of lemon on top), then your guests will know what ingredients are in the dish!

Monday, July 15, 2019

Joey's Macaroni Cole Slaw

 OK here's a really quick no-brainer of a side salad that made me think "why have we never done this before?" It's exactly as it sounds: cole slaw with macaroni in it. In other words, if macaroni salad and cole slaw had a baby, this would be it! It's so summery and fresh, it's the perfect cold side dish for any BBQ or cookout event. But, like, seriously, why have we never combined the two before? Crazy, huh?
This is my riff on a Taste of Home recipe. Feel free to swap out the veggies with anything you like. The ToH recipe had water chestnuts in it, but I didn't have any on hand, so I just went with what I had. I swapped out a few other things too. Make it how you like it! Easy!

1/2 lb large elbows or other cut pasta of choice
1 bag cole slaw mix
1/2 cup diced cucumber
1/2 cup diced celery
1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
1/2 cup chopped scallion
1 cup mayo
2 tbs sugar
1/4 cup cider vinegar
Salt and pepper

In a large pot of salted water, boil the elbows until al dente. Drain and allow to cool completely.
Place in a large bowl with all remaining ingredients. Stir until well combined.  
 If you'd like to toss the ingredients and then mix the dressing separately before adding, that's fine, but I just dumped everything into the bowl and gave it a good stir. And that's it!

I think the cucumber is key. It makes it so fresh! I used a hothouse (aka English) cucumber which is a little sweeter, has tiny seeds, and doesn't even need to be peeled. Use whatever kind you like!
I also went with scallions instead of regular diced onions because I wanted a milder onion flavor.
 To save time, this can be made a day in advance.
And as always, if you like a lot of something, add a lot!

Monday, July 8, 2019

Cinnamon Watermelon Rind Pickles

   OK, I have a question for you. What kind of eater are you? Are you an adventurous eater? In other words, do you purposely order something from a menu specifically because you've previously never tried it? Or are you a "stick to the plan , never stray from the path, stay with the tried and true" kind of eater? If you know me, you already know that I fall squarely into the former category, not that there's anything wrong with the latter. Some people know what they like, and that's fine, but I'm always one for trying new foods, especially when it comes to canning!
 I had heard of pickling watermelon rind, but I had never tasted it, and it has been on my to-do list ever since I learned how to preserve things in jars. And now I've finally gotten around to making it! So here we go.
 Where does one even find a pickled watermelon rind recipe? In my many google searches, I discovered that this is clearly a big Southern thing, and it's also very frugal since you are using up just about the entire melon. I discovered that many famous chefs and cooking personalities have their own versions of it, so it was kind of hard trying to decide which direction to go. I looked at Martha Stewart's recipe, Paula Deen's, Alton Brown's, and several others. I also immediately noticed that many recipes for pickling any kind of fruit often have warm spices in them. I found recipes with cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice, cloves, and so forth. I guess that makes perfect sense that you would preserve your melon rinds and fruits during the summer, and then eat them in the Autumn and Winter months. So I needed to decide how spicy I wanted to go. For my first time pickling fruit, I thought "lets just keep it simple" (that's often the best rule in cooking). I decided to go with this recipe is from Ball Canning, or as I like to call them "the canning people." Side note, I ALWAYS use their line of mason jars and canning materials, and I have more than one of their canning cookbooks. As far as I'm concerned, they are simply the Canning Authorities.
 But anyway, lets talk about the TASTE! I mean, that what everyone is wondering, correct? I absolutely love them and could eat them right out of the jar, especially when they're chilled. In fact I'm already trying to find ways to use them in other recipes. My niece Attie's reaction was "interesting." (Still not exactly sure how she felt about them.) My nephew, Gregger, immediately said that it tastes like apple pie. Well, yes, you do get a hit of cinnamon at the first bite, and the texture is very similar to apples baked in a pie, but the vinegar syrup will quickly tell you that this is definitely not an apple pie. And my sister, Cathy, was too polite to say that they weren't exactly her favorite thing. But hey, I get it! Not every food is for every person! Like my Mom always said "You don't have to like it, you just have to try it." So I'm thrilled that Cathy was good enough to give it a try.
 So that brings me back to my original question: What kind of eater are you? If you're looking for a new something to try, this might be the recipe for you! It was DEFINITELY worth the effort for me, and I will absolutely be making them again. And yes, I bought the watermelon specifically so I could pickle the rind. (You knew I was gonna say that, right??) Let me know if you give them a try. I'm curious to know what you think!

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Slow Cooker Milk and Honey Corn on the Cob

 Every so often, I'll stumble upon a recipe that makes me stand up and say "WHOA, where has this been all my life?" Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it has happened again! It's so good that I can't even wait until next Monday to post it (as is my usual. well, most of the time).
 This is corn on the cob cooked in a slow cooker! Whodathunkit, right? It's BRILLIANT! No steamy hot pots of boiling water on a swelteringly humid summer day! How perfect is that??? And adding coconut milk to corn, for me, is an absolute revelation. I never had it before, but now I want it in every corn dish I've ever made. They go SO well together. No, it doesn't taste like a coconut Easter egg. You use unsweetened coconut milk, which I've always found to be more buttery than coconutty. (Coconutty?) So it makes perfect sense to pair it with corn, right???
 The recipe is from a website called The Magical Slow Cooker, and seriously, this one is just that. MAGICAL! I think this is now my go-to recipe for corn on the cob. It's just absolutely delicious! Make this for your next cookout and I'll betcha there won't be any leftovers!

6-7 ears of corn shucked and broken in half 
13.66 oz. can light coconut milk 
2 Tbsp. honey 
1 stick salted butter

Add the corn to the slow cooker. Pour over the coconut milk. Drizzle over the honey. Cut up the butter into pieces and add to the slow cooker. Cover and cook on HIGH for 3 hours without opening the lid during the cooking time. (4 hours for frozen corn) To serve, roll each corn piece in the buttery coconut milk mixture.

Be sure to use a large slow cooker. 6 Qts or larger.
If you don't want to use coconut milk, you can just you two cups of water or other milk of choice.

Joey's Tips:
Since I have a large slow cooker, I was able to do more than just 6-7 ears of corn. So just fill yours all the way up, fitting the ears in as best you can, and make sure the lid will fit snugly on top so the corn can steam.
 The original recipe says to use light coconut milk, but I used regular. The reason for using light is that is has more of a milk consistency, whereas the regular coconut milk is much thicker. And usually all of the fat solidifies in the can, but I just whisked it together until is was smooth and creamy and pourable.
If you only have unsalted butter, just add a pinch or two of salt over the top!