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!

Monday, July 1, 2019

Hot Milk Cake

  I like to think of myself as being pretty knowledgeable about cakes. I can tell you why a 1-2-3-4 Cake is so named. I know that German Chocolate Cake is not from Germany at all. I can tell you the difference between a Swiss Meringue Buttercream and an Italian Meringue Buttercream. I know that all Jelly Rolls are Roulades, but not all Roulades are Jelly Rolls. I've heard of mayonnaise cake, tomato soup cake, potato cake, even sausage cake. (yes, that's really a thing.) I've baked King Cakes, Cheesecakes, Carrot Cakes, Red Velvet Cakes, Hummingbird Cakes, Tres Leches Cakes, even Wedding Cakes!  So I seriously can't even express how excited I get when I discover a new kind of cake! Well, actually, this is not new at all. New TO ME,  of course, but this cake goes back over 100 years! Nothing like standing the test of time, huh?
 I first read about it in an article about Depression Era foods, which talked about recipes that used simple ingredients that were stretched as far as a dollar could stretch. I love the idea of going back to basics and making foods that our grandparents and great grandparents made. Hmm... maybe I'll have to look into that a bit more and see what other delicious ideas I can discover.... but I digress...
 Lets talk about this cake! The flavor is a light vanilla, not unlike a pound cake, but the texture is much lighter and fluffier, and the crumb is much more delicate. You can enjoy it just as it is, maybe with a little powdered sugar over the top, you can bake it in layers or even in a bundt pan, or you can do a 9x13 pan and top it with berries and whipped cream frosting like I did. It's perfect for any holiday or special occasion because it feeds a crowd, and it's DELICIOUS!!! I think that pretty much covers all bases, right?
 So there you have it. As much as I love coming up with new recipes, I love going back to revisit some of the old and tried and true. Just like the song says, Everything Old Is New Again! You probably already have all the ingredients on hand anyway, so why not give it a try?
 It's definitely a keeper!

4 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups flour
2 1/4 tsp baking powder
1 1/4 cups milk
10 tbs butter

In a large bowl, beat eggs on high speed for 5 minutes or until thick and lemon-colored. Gradually add sugar, beating until mixture is light and fluffy. Beat in vanilla. Combine flour and baking powder; gradually add to batter; beat at low speed until smooth. In a small saucepan, heat milk and butter just until butter is melted. Gradually add to batter; beat just until combined. Pour into a greased 13x9-in. baking pan. Bake at 350° for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.

Originally, I was gonna top the cake with cream cheese frosting, but decided that would be a bit too heavy. So I decided to do a whipped cream cheese frosting instead. Just mix a bar of cream cheese with a cup of sugar VERY well until it's smooth, then fold in whipped heavy cream and a tsp of vanilla extract. Easy!
Oh, one other thing.. I almost forgot to mention that this recipe is from Taste of Home. I found several recipes, and they were all quite similar, but this one seemed to be pretty easy and straight forward, so I went with it!