Monday, September 30, 2019

Perfectly Perfect 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 light and fluffy, 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 !