Monday, December 30, 2019

Bacon Wrapped Dates



  OK, Friends, here it is. Here's the easy simple delicious party appetizer you've been looking for. It's so simple, you don't even need a recipe, and it's so delicious, your guests will devour them in no time. I recently read a blog that said "they won't win any beauty contests, but they'll disappear from your buffet" and it's SO true. They're not the most colorful of foods, but they're packed with fabulous flavor! It's that addictive combination of salty and sweet that I just can't resist, and let's be honest, everything tastes better with bacon, right? So here we are.
 My niece, Natalie, made these little gems for my family Christmas party and they were a big hit! And seriously, when I tell you you don't need a recipe, you really don't need a recipe! It's just bacon and dates! But if you like, I'll still write it as if there were more to it than that. Make them for your next big party, and I promise you'll be a hit too! Thanx Natalie!




Sliced bacon, any thickness
Pitted dates


Heat oven to 400ºF.
Place a sheet of parchment or foil on a baking sheet.
Cut each slice of bacon in half. Wrap each half-slice around the whole date. Place seam side down on your baking sheet. Continue until all of your dates are wrapped. Bake until bacon is crispy, 25-30 minutes. Remove to a plate, and serve.

OR

If you don't want to bake them, you can saute them in pan over medium low heat, turning them so that they cook through, about 20 minutes total.




Tips:
If you'd like to get a little fancier, stuff the pitted dates with any kind of cheese before wrapping them. Cream cheese, goat cheese, or even any kind of smoked cheese would be fabulous. I've also seen people just placing a whole almond inside each date. You could even do both! Stuff it with cheese, place an almond inside, wrap the whole thing in bacon and then bake. Be as creative as you like!
Oh, and if you want to secure them with a toothpick before baking, it's probably a good idea to soak your wooden toothpicks in some water before putting them in the oven. Just sayin!


Monday, December 23, 2019

Ginger Spice Cookies


  This recipe comes to me from my school chum and longtime kindred spirit, Kathleen. We live far away from each other, but I still follow everything she does on social media. If she's not cooking, canning, or baking, then she's knitting up a storm. (maybe SOME day I'll learn how to knit!).
 Anyway, her hubby made these cookies for her, just as a reminder of the spiced wafers she had growing up. (what a guy, right?) And as soon as I saw them, I asked her if I could share the recipe. TBH, I'm not even sure where she got the recipe, but like I always say, since she's the one who gave it to me, she's the one who gets the credit!
 They SCREAM "holiday" and they're the perfect thing to add to your cookie tray. I have to say, I love how they have a crackled appearance, and the coarse sugar makes them sparkle. How festive is that? Perfect with a cup of tea, or an ice cold glass of milk. You might even leave a couple out for a certain night time visitor from the North Pole! Thanx again, Kath, for another great recipe, and thanx to hubby David for making them! Enjoy!



2 1/4 cups flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground allspice
3/4 cup  (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 large egg
1/2 cup crystallized ginger
1/4 cup molasses 
sparkling white sugar for coating

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, and spices. Set aside.
In a separate large bowl, beat together the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg, crystallized ginger, and molasses. Add the dry ingredients, beating gently until evenly blended. Cover the bowl and chill the dough for a minimum of 10 to 15 minutes; overnight refrigeration is preferable, if you have the time. 
Preheat the oven to 400°F. 
Lightly grease two baking sheets, or line with parchment paper. Shape the dough into 1" balls, and roll each ball in sparkling sugar. Place the balls of dough 2" to 3" apart on the prepared pans. Bake the cookies in the center of the oven for 10 to 15 minutes, until they're golden and set. Remove the cookies from the oven, and cool them right on the pans.



Tips:
Whatever you do, don't skip the crystallized ginger. It gives the BEST punch of ginger flavor!
Whenever I bake cookies, I ALWAYS use parchment (instead of greasing the cookie sheet). It's just easier! And btw, you can use the same sheet of parchment over and over, if you're making several batches. No need to use a new piece every time!


Monday, December 16, 2019

Cranberry Glazed Ham



   My Mom used to always say that it's good to make a ham because you can have it for any meal. A glazed ham at dinner, ham sandwiches for lunch, or ham and eggs for breakfast. My FAVORITE way to have him is glazed with something sweet and syrupy, so of course I've always loved trying different types of glazes, from orange marmalade, to ginger ale, to the favorite brown sugar. And I've been trying to find the right cranberry glaze recipe, simply because I just love 'em with everything. (I'm the guy who stocks up the freezer with MANY bags of fresh cranberries while they're still available in season, just so I can have them throughout the year). So I was thrilled when I saw this recipe on a blog called The Food Charlatan (who got it from Food Network Magazine).
 Not only is this recipe delicious and simple, but it's also special enough and worthy of being your next holiday meal. Yes of course everybody knows a turkey and some mistletoe help to make the season bright, but sometimes you might like to have a gorgeous Christmas Ham instead, and this one is just as festive as you want it to be! It's sweet and tangy and there's just the tiniest bit of spice. It's perfect for Christmas Dinner, or brunch, or your all-afternoon open-house party. Or just make it anytime you're in the mood for a fabulous ham dinner. Your family will love you for it!




2 cups fresh cranberries 
1/4 cup water 
1/4 cup honey 
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard 
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar 
1/2 cup brown sugar 
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper 
5-6 pound cooked ham,  (such as a spiral sliced ham) 


 Combine cranberries, water, and honey in a medium saucepan. Set over medium heat. Stir occasionally for about 4-5 minutes, until most of the cranberries have popped. Add Dijon mustard, vinegar, brown sugar, and cayenne pepper. Continue to cook for another 3-5 minutes until the sauce has thickened some and is syrupy. Remove from heat. If you have an immersion blender, use it to puree the sauce. (If you don't, transfer the mixture to a regular blender. Leave the top of the blender vented (to allow steam to escape) and cover with a towel. Blend it up until smooth.)
Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F.
Place the ham in a roasting pan with rack and use a sharp serrated knife to score the ham diagonally.
Use a brush to coat the ham all over with the cranberry sauce.
Place the pan in the oven and roast for about 20-25 minutes per pound. (You don't need to worry about the internal temperature too much since the ham is already cooked. You just want to make sure it's hot all the way through.) 20 minutes before you think it will be done, brush with sauce one more time. Serve the ham with the remaining glaze (Warm it up in the microwave or on the stove since it will be cool by now.)




Tips:
If you'd like to make this when fresh cranberries are not in season, just use a couple cans of cranberry sauce. It won't matter if you use whole berry or jellied cranberry sauce because you're going to puree it anyway!

Monday, December 2, 2019

Bourbon Sugar Pie




 OK, so, at the risk of sounding pretty obvious, I'm just gonna say this: Whenever I make a recipe with a specific star ingredient, I want to be able to taste that ingredient! Crazy, I know, but just go with me on this. If it's a Vanilla Brownie, I want it to have a STRONG hit of vanilla. If it's a Bailey's Irish Cream Cupcake, then I want to be able to taste the Bailey's Irish Cream! Know what I mean? It seems obvious to say this, but you'd be amazed at how many recipes I try that have a specific ingredient in the title, but there's no flavor of that ingredient to be found. Or maybe it's only just a little hint of that flavor.
 Enter, THIS recipe. When I tell you that it's a bourbon pie, I mean it's a BOURBON pie. One bite, and you definitely get the flavor. It's strong, yes, but in a really good way. My friend Jason said "WOW, bourbon." And it's so smooth that my friend Judy said "oooooooh that's really good" in a "boy that's smooth going down" kind of a way. hahaha
 I guess the best way to describe the texture is that it's similar to a Chess Pie or a Pecan Pie without the pecans. Sweet and syrupy and gooey and delicious. And it's perfect with a swirl of freshly whipped cream on top.
 I was originally gonna post this Betty Crocker recipe for Thanksgiving, (because who doesn't love pie at Thanksgiving?), but it was a busy week and I never got around to it. But then I figured "why not post it anyway? Pie is just as good for Chritmas as it is for Thanksgiving!" So here we are.
 It's REALLY easy to make, and I've literally already made it four times this month. It's just that good! And, side note, when you tell people it's a bourbon pie, everyone's reaction is always the same: "oooooooohhhhhh." Not even kidding. haha.
Give it as a holiday gift. Make it for your family.  Or friends. Or even just for yourself. It's definitely this year's favorite new dessert discovery!




1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
1 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup dark corn syrup
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup bourbon
3 eggs, slightly beaten 
1 tsp salt
1 unbaked 9" pie shell, either homemade or store bought
Sweetened freshly whipped cream


Heat oven to 350ºF.
In a medium bowl, mix all filling ingredients until well blended. Set aside.
I used a Pillsbury ready-made pie crust, (which is my go-to brand). Just roll it flat, place it into your regular (not deep dish) pie plate, fold the edges under and flute to make a decorative edge. Pour the filling into pie shell. Bake 60-70 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and the center is set. Cool completely on cooling rack, about 2 hours. Garnish with whipped cream. 



Tips:
Ok, here's the thing.. the original recipe directs you to blind bake the crust. In other words, partially bake the crust before you pour the filling into it, and then bake it with the filling for another 70 minutes. I did exactly that, just as instructed, only my crust turned out to be FAR too done. So then I made it again, and I figured it has to bake for over an hour. The crust will be cooked enough! So I just poured the filling right into an unbaked crust, baked it for 70 minutes, and it turned out perfectly. The bottom wasn't soggy, the outer edge was perfect. So that's how I'll be doing it anytime I make from now on. Also, the original recipe from Betty Crocker didn't have any salt in it. But it is INFINITELY better with the added tsp of salt. Be sure to include it! Btw, this recipe fits a regular pie plate, not the pyrex deep dish. I thought about increasing the amounts so that it would fill up a deep dish pie, but the pie is very sweet and very rich. I think it's fine just as it is!

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Cheesy Corn Casserole



  This is a recipe that I made quite a long time ago, and I've been waiting for just the right moment to post it. And guess what, the time has come! Yes, yes, I know I have several corn side dish recipes, but really, can one have too many? I think not! More is more!
 My usual go-to corn casserole is more of a corn pudding. It's much sweeter, with corn bread mix and creamed corn. This recipe goes in a more Southwest direction, with lots of Cheddar cheese, tomatoes, and peppers. And the jalapenos give it a nice little kick. YUM! It's from Cooktop Cove and it was an instant hit when I made it for my friends. It's perfect for the cooking novice who would like to contribute to the holiday meal or potluck because it's SUPER easy! You just stir all the ingredients together, and bake! It doesn't get much easier than that, right? I seriously need to make this again. You should too! Hope you like it!




3 cups frozen corn
1 medium tomato, chopped
1 medium green bell pepper, chopped
2 jalapeno peppers, seeds removed and finely diced
1 1/2 cups milk
5 tablespoons butter, melted
5 eggs, whisked
6 tablespoons flour
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350ºF.
In an 8-by-12 casserole baking dish, add all the ingredients. Stir with a spoon to mix everything up. Bake for 50 minutes. Let sit on counter for 5 minutes to set.




Tips:
I know the recipe says to add all the ingredients to the baking dish and then stir, but I prefer to use a large mixing bowl to stir everything, and then pour it into the baking dish. I'd much rather have more room to stir than worry about washing another dish, know what I mean?
Also, I used a 9x13 baking dish instead of an 8x12 dish. Use what you have!

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Sausage and Potato Stuffing


 Back in the day, there used to be a TV commercial that begged the question: Do you want stuffing or potatoes? And to that I say "why do we have to choose one or the other? why can't we have both?! And that brings me to this stuffing recipe. It's your classic stuffing with sausage and sage, but it has potatoes too! It's the best of both worlds, all in one dish. I found it on Allrecipes.com, which is one of my go-to websites for recipes. One of the things I love about that website is that it shows you lots of comments by regular home cooks who have made it, and very often what minor tweaks they did to make it their own. Many said that "this is now their new holiday stuffing." I guess you can't get much better than that! So give this one a try. Maybe it'll be YOUR new go-to holiday stuffing!



1 pound lean pork sausage
2 potatoes, peeled and diced
1 1/2 cups chopped celery
3/4 cup diced sweet onion
3/4 cup butter
 9 cups soft bread cubes
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon ground sage
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350ºF.
Place sausage, potatoes, celery, onion and butter in a large, deep skillet. Saute over medium high heat until sausage is crumbled and evenly cooked. Combine the bread cubes, thyme, sage, salt and pepper. Toss together with the sausage and potato mixture. Add chicken or vegetable broth if needed. Bake stuffing in a covered casserole dish for 40 to 50 minutes.



Tips:
Instead of peeling and dicing potatoes, I just used halved baby red potatoes. No need to peel!
Many of the reviews on this recipe said that it can easily be cooked in a slow cooker. 3-4 hours on low should do the trick! Also the slow cooker will retain moisture (plus it creates steam), so just keep an eye on that. If your stuffing looks too wet, just remove the lid and let some of the moisture evaporate. If it becomes VERY wet, put it in a pan, uncovered, and pop it into the oven. That should dry it out a bit. On the flip side, if it looks too dry, just add a little chicken broth. Easy!

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.



Tips:
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.


Tips:
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.


Tips:
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.


Tips:
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!




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

Blondies:
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.

Tips:
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.




Tips:
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.



Tips:
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.


Tips:
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 LifeLoveandSugar.com, 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.


Tips:
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 Staysnatched.com.and 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.



Tips:
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.




Tips:
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.



Tips:
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. 



Tips:
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!



Tips:
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.



Tips:
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.

Tips:
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.



Tips:
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!!