Monday, July 6, 2020

Peanut Butter Cupcakes

  Recently, my niece Casey Case with the Pretty Face celebrated a milestone birthday, so of course I offered my baking skills for the party effort. I asked what her favorites are, and I was told that she love love LOVES peanut butter. OK, I can work with this! How 'bout if I make Peanut Butter Cupcakes? "Perfect! She'll love 'em!" But wait... then I realized.. I have no peanut butter cupcakes on my website. WHAT?? How is that even possible?? Well, we must find a go-to recipe right away!
 It didn't take me long to find just the perfect recipe on one of my favorite blogs, Sally's Baking Addiction. I don't think there is even ONE recipe I've tried from Sally's blog that wasn't absolutely perfect. And these cupcakes turned out perfectly! So there we have it. I did, however, make one slight change. Not to the cupcake recipe, but for this occasion, I decided to do a Peanut Butter Swiss Meringue Buttercream instead of the peanut butter icing that Sally posted. Honestly, the results were life changing. I don't even know how else to describe them. If you've ever made Swiss Meringue Buttercream, the recipe was the same, only I swapped out some of the butter for peanut butter. Sheer peanut butter heaven! And as My Kristin always says "the peanut butterier, the better."
 At the party, the cupcakes were a huge hit, and Casey loved them! I'd say that's a solid mission accomplished right there. And if you're also a peanut butter fanatic, you'll definitely want to make these. I'm telling you... LIFE CHANGING. Not even kidding.

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1 cup packed light or dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1/3 cup sour cream
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup whole milk
1/3 cup very finely crushed or chopped peanuts

Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Line a 12-cup muffin pan with cupcake liners. Line a second pan with 2-3 liners because this recipe yields 14-15 cupcakes. Set aside.
Whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt together in a medium bowl. Set aside.
Using a handheld mixer, stand mixer fitted with a whisk or paddle attachment, or a whisk, mix the oil, peanut butter, brown sugar, egg, sour cream, and vanilla extract together in a large bowl. Add the dry ingredients, milk, and peanuts and whisk or beat together until completely combined. Avoid overmixing. Batter will be slightly thick. Pour/spoon the batter into the liners, filling only 2/3 full to avoid baking over the sides. Bake for 21-23 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the tops of the cupcakes spring back when gently touched.
For around 35 mini cupcakes, bake for about 11-13 minutes, same oven temperature. Allow the cupcakes to cool completely before frosting.

It should be noted that the original recipe suggested that all ingredients should be at room temperature for better mixing. I didn't have time, so a few of my ingredients were straight from the fridge. Sorry Sally.
I also didn't have any peanuts to finely chop or crush, so I just left them out. I did, however, add an extra pinch of salt, just to drive home that salty peanutty flavor. Turned out great!

Monday, June 29, 2020

Lidia's Berry Tiramisù

  Every year, for July 4th, I like to try to find something that is red, white, and blue. Sometimes it's a trifle, one year it was even a red, white, and blue chicken salad. This year, I was planning to do a different dessert, but then I got a text from my sister Cathy that said "This recipe looks good!" Since I was already planning to spend July 4th with her, I knew this was this year's recipe!
 If you've never had Tiramisù, it's a delicious Italian dessert made with ladyfingers dipped in coffee or liqueur, layered with fluffy mascarpone cheese, and topped with a dusting of chocolate. The name literally means "pick me up" and it's just the thing after a big Italian dinner.
 Well, instead of a coffee dessert, this version is made with BERRIES! And since the recipe is from Lidia Bastianich (one of my all time favorite TV cooking personalities), it's literally guaranteed to be fabulous! Side note, I go to her restaurant in NYC, Becco, whenever I can, and I'm never disappointed!
 So here we are with a fabulously delicious dessert, perfect for the Fourth of July with its red, white, and blue. It's perfect for summer because you don't need to turn the oven on, and perfect to go far enough to feed everyone at the BBQ. There's just no other word for it. It's perfect! So I guess I should close the way Miss Lidia does, with her signature catch phrase: 'Tutti a tavola a mangiare!'

For the Berries:
4 cups blueberries
6 cups thickly sliced strawberries
3/4 cup granulated sugar
Grated zest of 1 orange
2 cups orange juice
1 cup chunky blueberry jam
1/4 cup dark rum
1/4 cup superfine sugar

For Assembly:
2 cups ricotta, at room temperature
2 8-ounce containers mascarpone, at room temperature
1/4 cup superfine sugar
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
42 Savoiardi (Lady Fingers)


For the berry sauce, in a medium saucepan, combine 2 cups blueberries, 2 cups strawberries, the granulated sugar, orange zest and juice, jam, and rum. Bring to a simmer, and cook to make a slightly syrupy sauce, about 10 to 15 minutes. Pour into a shallow pan (where you will be soaking the Savoiardi), and let cool.
Put the remaining 2 cups blueberries, remaining 4 cups strawberries, and the superfine sugar in a medium bowl. Toss to combine, and let sit at room temperature 10 minutes.
In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the ricotta and mascarpone at medium  speed  for a few seconds to combine, then add the superfine sugar and vanilla. Beat at medium-high speed until light and smooth, about 2 minutes.
To assemble, soak half of the Savoiardi in the cooked berry sauce until moistened, rolling them around to coat thoroughly. Tightly fit these Savoiardi in the bottom of a deep 9-by-13-inch glass or ceramic dish. Spoon a few spoonfuls of the remaining cooked berry sauce over the Savoiardi. Spread half of the ricotta mixture in an even layer over the Savoiardi.
Layer a little more than half of the uncooked berries (you just want an even layer) over the mascarpone. Soak the remaining Savoiardi in the cooked berry sauce, and arrange in a tight layer over the fresh berries. Spread the remaining mascarpone over this in a smooth layer. Cover, and chill overnight for best results. Combine the remaining fresh berries and any cooked berry sauce left from soaking the Savoiardi, cover, and chill overnight.
To serve, cut squares of the tiramisù and serve with a little of the leftover berries and sauce.

TBH, there's nothing I can do to improve this recipe. But here are a few thoughts in Lidia's own words:  "This dessert is best made a day ahead, to allow the flavors to combine. Any combination of berries — or even just one kind — will make a marvelous tiramisù."

Monday, June 22, 2020

Easy Lemon Cobbler

Ok, lets talk about cobblers, shall we? Want to?
I think a lot of people use "cobbler" as a catch all word whenever they bake something that has a bubbly filling and a top crust, but that's just not correct. I mean, yes, there are LOTS of desserts that all have those things... but that doesn't necessarily make them cobblers.
 You have your Brown Bettys, and Pan Dowdys, and Buckles, and Crisps, and Crumbles, and Grunts, and Slumps.... and yes, COBBLERS... all bringing something different to the party. So, what is it that distinguishes each one from the rest?
 Well, sometimes, it's what goes on top, sometimes it's how you cook them, and sometimes it's even where you live. A Brown Betty has a bread crumb topping, whereas a Crisp usually has a brown sugar and oat topping. (Incidentally, here in America, we call it a Crisp, but in the UK, the same dessert would be called a Crumble.) A Pan Dowdy has a pie crust on top, and is baked in a skillet. A Slump is also cooked in a skillet, but it's cooked on top of the stove.  See what I mean? Very similar, but not exactly quite the same. So what makes a cobbler...a cobbler??
 Well, I suppose you can have different kinds. Some people just bake a biscuit topping over some cooked fruit and call it a cobbler. But I was always taught that a true cobbler is made when you pour a batter over melted butter, then add fruit or filling over the batter and you don't stir anything together. Then when you bake it, all the batter bakes up over the fruit filling, making a "cobbled" appearance. Now THAT'S my definition of a real cobbler. And that's what we have here today!!
 Usually, when you do a cobbler, you do berries, or apples or peaches... but today we're doing LEMON! I know, it's not the usual thing when you think "cobbler", right? But that's what makes it so fun! I first saw a version of this recipe on website called Call Me PC, but of course, I tweaked it ever so slightly. Also, it's SUPER easy and you don't even need a mixer. Just a spoon and a bowl!
I'm pretty sure this will please all of my friends and family who are always requesting "anything lemon" whenever I ask what recipes they'd like to see. It's just the right amount of sweet and tart, and I think you'll agree that it screams summer dessert. I promise it'll please your biggest lemon fans! Hope you like it!

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 cup flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
1 cup milk (or buttermilk)
1 tsp vanilla extract
zest from one lemon
1 (15oz) can lemon pie filling
1/2 cup lemon curd

Heat oven to 350ºF.
Place butter in a 9x9 (or 1 1/2 qt) casserole dish. Place dish in oven so that the butter melts.
In a mixing bowl, stir together the remaining ingredients except the pie filling and lemon curd. It should be like a thin pancake batter. Remove pan of melted butter from the oven. Pour the batter over the butter. Do not stir. In the same mixing bowl, stir together the pie filling and curd until well combined. Drop small dollops of the lemon filling over the batter. Again, do not stir. Place the dish in the oven and bake for 55-60 minutes or until the top crust is golden brown. (it's ok if the center is still a little jiggly.) Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or sweetened freshly whipped cream. Garnish with a few fresh berries, if desired.

Feel free to use just pie filling or just curd. I had both, so I used both. (I liked that the curd brought an extra burst of tartness to the party!)
If you don't have fresh lemons to zest, you can also use a little lemon extract in your filling.
Whenever I bake a cobbler or something that is potentially bubbly, I find that it's always a good idea to place your baking dish on a tray in the oven. It might save you from a terrible cleanup later on! Don't have a baking tray? Place a few sheets of foil on the rack below your dish.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Coconut Bread

Ok, this is a quick one. Quick story, quick recipe, quick bread!

   Recently, my fabulous sister, Cathy, was about to celebrate a very special birthday. At first, I wasn't sure what her plans were, if any. But then her daughter, Carly, my buddy, texted that they were planning to surprise her with a bunch of friends and that I should stop by if I was able to make it. Well, of course, if you know me, you know I'm not likely to show up to a party without a yummy homemade something. My Dad used to always say that when you go to someone's house, "you should ring the doorbell with your elbow." (in other words, your hands should be carrying a gift for your hosts!) So I did a quick search and found this recipe on a blog called Baking a Moment. It was the perfect thing to bring! Not only did I already have all the ingredients on hand, but I had just enough time to whip it together. The recipe is so easy, you don't even need a mixer. You just stir everything together, bake it in a loaf pan, and boom, there you have it. Also, this recipe has Cathy written all over it. She loves anything coconut, and this is just the thing that I knew she'd love to have with a cup of coffee. The other thing I love about this recipe is that is has coconut 3 ways: coconut milk, coconut extract, and shredded coconut.  There's no question that this is definitely coconut! (now, whether it's a bread or a cake, is still a matter of debate, but that doesn't really matter, does it? lol)
 So there you go, Cath. I'm so glad I got to celebrate your special birthday with you, and I'm thrilled that you liked this little yummy something. We'll make it again soon. This one's definitely a keeper!

2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups sweetened shredded coconut
1 cup sugar
1 tbs baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1/4 cup butter, melted 
1 large egg 
1 tsp coconut extract
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1 tsp coconut extract

Preheat the oven to 375ºF,  and mist a loaf pan with non-stick spray.
Place the flour, coconut, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl and stir to combine. Place the coconut milk, melted butter, egg, and extracts in a large liquid measuring cup, and whisk to combine. Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry, and fold together just until combined. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan, and bake for 55 to 65 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the thickest part of the bread comes out clean or with a few moist crumbs. Cool for 20 minutes in the pan, then invert onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Lightly toast the coconut flakes in a dry pan over medium heat, until just beginning to turn brown. Set aside. Place the powdered sugar in a medium bowl and add the coconut milk and coconut extract. Stir together until smooth, then drizzle over the coconut bread and top with toasted coconut flakes.

I didn't have unsweetened coconut flakes, so I just used more of the sweetened shredded coconut to sprinkle over the top after it was glazed.  I also didn't toast it because I was short on time, but you do you!

Monday, June 8, 2020

Joey's Fusilli Col Buco with Ham and Peas

  I was recently looking for fun and different ways of using up some leftover ham, and I saw a recipe for pasta with ham and peas. This was exactly they type of thing I was looking for, and honestly, my first thought was "oooo I bet that would hit the spot!"
 Of course, I didn't exactly follow the recipe, and I sort of made it my own, adding some onions and white wine, etc. The result was very possibly one of the best pasta dishes I've ever made. Like, EVER. I'm not even kidding! After having a big pasta bowl of it, I immediately texted my brother with a picture, saying "want some?" He texted me back later that night saying that it was SOOOO good!
 I'm not sure if it was the wine, or the cream, or the grated cheese.. but it definitely all came together perfectly. And one of the things that I really love about it is that the flavor of the peas really comes through. It was just the perfect sweetness to go with the saltiness of the ham and the Parmesan cheese. And it was ready in as little time as it took to boil the pasta. Perfect!
I might need to add this to my weeknight dinner repertoire. You should too!

1 lb fusilli
4 tbs butter
1 small onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups diced ham
4 tbs flour
2 cups milk
1 cup cream
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more
Splash or two of white wine
1 1/2 cups frozen peas
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh parsley

  In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook fusilli according to package directions until al dente.
Meanwhile, in a large saute pan, melt butter over medium heat. Add onions. Saute until they soften, but don't let them go so far as to brown. Add diced ham and garlic and continue to saute for a few more minutes. Add flour. Stir for 2-3 minutes until everything is well coated. Add milk, cream, and grated cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Continue to stir and simmer over medium low heat until the sauce thickens. Stir in a splash or two of white wine and then add frozen peas. Taste and adjust seasoning, if needed. Drain cooked pasta and toss with sauce. Top with fresh parsley and more Parmesan cheese.

If the sauce becomes too thick, the wine will thin it out a little. If it's REALLY thick, add a splash of water until it's the right consistency.
Be sure you aggressively salt the pasta water. Like, two big HANDFULS of salt should do it. You want the water to taste salty like the ocean.
Use whatever pasta you have on hand! I just happened to like the long spirals, so that's what I chose!
Don't like ham, use chunk of boneless chicken instead! You could even use shrimp! oh YUM!

Monday, June 1, 2020

Mom's Pickled Beets

   Have you ever had pickled beets? It seems to me that people either love 'em or hate 'em. When I was a little boy, my Mom used to make them all the time and they were always a HUGE family favorite. Very often she would just buy cans of beets and then slice and pickle them. She'd do a big bowl, keep them chilled in the fridge, and then we'd have them as a side dish for whatever we were having for dinner that night. And the fun part was always that the beet juice on my plate would turn my mashed potatoes red. LOL
 Now, I don't use canned beets, only because using fresh beets just takes it a step further and makes them that much better. When I told my sisters that I was making them, everyone gave lots of MMMMM responses. Honestly, I could sit and eat a whole jar in one go! (My brother Denny said the same thing!) I think the one thing that made my Mom's recipe better than the others is that she used to add finely sliced onions. Not a lot, but just enough to add another dimension to the flavor. And they were SHAVED so thinly that they would practically disappear in the brine. I think that's the key, tbh. So here they are... basically my version of my Mom's pickled beets. They're sweet and sour and fabulous. I made jars and jars of them, but you can cut the recipe in half, and just keep them in the fridge, if you like. Honestly, one of my very favorite things in the entire world, and they'll always remind me of Mom. :)

10 lbs fresh beets
3 cups apple cider vinegar
2 cups sugar
2 cups water
1/2 large Vidalia onion, finely shaved into thin slices
Salt and pepper to taste

First, wash the beets under running water to remove any dirt or grit. Place beets in a large pot, then fill with water. Bring the pot to a boil over high heat. Boil the beets until a fork can be easily inserted into each beet. Be patient, this could take quite a while, especially if the beets are quite large. Be sure to test EACH BEET. The smaller ones will be finished first, and the larger ones will take much longer. As you remove the beets from the pot, place them on a sheet tray to cool. Once they are cool enough for you to handle, peel and slice each one. The peels should slip off easily just by rubbing them with your fingers. You may want to wear food grade latex gloves just so your fingers don't turn red. When all the beets are peeled and sliced, add the remaining ingredients to a large pot. You can use just plain water, but I like to use some of the now red water that we just used to boil the beets. Bring the brine up to heat until the sugar is dissolved. Add the beets and bring it up to a simmer. That's all there is to it.
If you plan to seal them in jars: use the water bath method, and process your pint jars for 20 minutes. When you remove them from the bath, let them sit undisturbed for at least 24 hours.

Serve them chilled with your roast beef or chicken dinner, or add them to salads.
Side note, the other thing my Mom used to do, instead of pickling them, was just to boil them like potatoes, and then serve them warm with lots of butter and salt and pepper. She once told me that this was how HER mom used to make them, and she called them Hot Buttered Beets. FABULOUS. 

Monday, May 25, 2020

Joey's Straight Up Ham and Bean Casserole

 Ok, first of all, I need to tell you how much I love baked beans. Any kind, any recipe, home made or canned, I love them all. Sweet, smokey, savory, LOVE LOVE LOVE. In fact, over the years, I've kind of become a little bit famous for My Baked Beans, thank you very much. And ever since I came up with that recipe, I've been wanting to twist it into a fabulous new something to give me a new excuse to make baked beans.
 Years ago, I saw Trisha Yearwood making her Baked Bean Casserole, and I thought, ok, THIS is the kind of thing I want to do. But there are SO many directions to go with it! My brain was all over the place asking friends and family what ingredients I should add and what they thought sounded the best.
 And then one day, I was texting with my BBQ-award-winning nephew, Daniel, and we were discussing the possibilities. When I described it to him, we both immediately decided that there was a lot going on. And then I remembered how fashion icon Coco Channel was famous for saying "before you go out, take off one accessory." Basically, I needed to Coco Chanel my recipe. It was too busy, too many accessories! So I went back to what I had ORIGINALLY pictured in my head. And this is it!
No fancy techniques, no swanky bells or whistles, it's just straight up ham and bean casserole. A few aromatics to build on and a few potatoes to satisfy the hungriest of appetites, and you have a hearty dish that can serve as a meal on its own, or a fabulous side dish at your next BBQ.
Hope you like it!

2 tbs oil
1 small onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups diced fully cooked ham
1 lb baby red or gold potatoes, uncooked, halved or quartered
1 28 oz canned baked beans
1 cup ketchup
2 tbs brown mustard
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce
salt and black pepper to taste
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
chopped scallions for garnish

Heat oven to 350ºF.
Heat oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add onions, peppers, garlic, and diced ham. Saute until the vegetables become soft and the ham gets a little color.
In the meantime, place the remaining ingredients except the cheese and scallions in a large mixing bowl. Add the ham mixture to it. Stir until everything is well combined. Pour into a large casserole or a 9x13 dish. Place in oven and bake for about 40 minutes. Test to make sure the potatoes are done. Carefully remove from oven, top with shredded cheese. Place back into oven for an additional 20 minutes or until the cheese is melted and bubbly. Remove from oven. Top with chopped scallions and serve!

If you'd like to include all the bells and whistles, here are a few possible variations/substitutions:
Bacon or sausage in addition to (or instead of) the ham.
Add a cup of crushed pineapple.
Add a minced jalapeno, or a few pinches of crushed red pepper flakes.
Brown sugar instead of maple syrup. Or both! You could even add molasses or honey.
Dry or yellow mustard instead of brown mustard.
A few drops of liquid smoke flavoring instead of Worcestershire sauce.
Cheddar cheese or another good melty cheese instead of Mozzarella cheese. (melty?)
Rice or noodles instead of potatoes. Or top with mashed potatoes, then do cheddar on top.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Joey's Chicken Parm Tortellini Bake

  This dish was born out of what I happened to have on hand in my pantry. I didn't even know that "Pantry Pasta" was a thing, but that's exactly what this is...  I took a brief inventory of what I had in the freezer and pantry, and all signs pointed to this, so here we are!
 TBH, it's not very groundbreaking, but boy did it hit the spot! So I figured, yup, this definitely needs to be shared! It's all very simple, not very many ingredients, and it's ready in no time. No need to boil the tortellini in advance, it cooks in the sauce! The other thing that makes this recipe very simple is that there's no measuring. A bag of frozen tortellini, a jar of marinara sauce, a block of mozzarella cheese. It all comes together quite nicely!
 Ya know, sometimes we stand there forever with the fridge door open, thinking "there's nothing to eat." Well, sometimes, you just have to look at what you have and then see what you can do with it! Words to live by!

1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 or 3 boneless chicken breasts
1 lb frozen tortellini
1 28oz jar marinara sauce
8 oz mozzarella cheese, shredded
Parmesan cheese, optional

Heat oven to 350ºF.
In a large skillet, saute diced onions in a little oil over medium heat. Add garlic and saute for another minute or two. In the meantime, cut the chicken into small bite sized pieces. Add them to the skillet, season with salt and pepper, then give them a toss with the onions. Brown them slightly, but don't cook them all the way through.
In a large bowl, toss the frozen uncooked tortellini with the jar of sauce. Add the chicken mixture from the pan, along with half of the shredded cheese. Give everything a good toss until well coated. Pour everything into 2 qt casserole dish. Top with remaining shredded cheese. Bake in oven for 20-30 minutes or the cheese is melted and bubbly. Top with grated Parmesan cheese, if desired.

 I actually debated about whether or not to partially cook the chicken before adding it to the casserole. It all turned out perfectly, so I guess this was a good idea. Just be careful not to leave it in the oven for too long because then the chicken will be overcooked.
Want to add some other ingredients to it? Add whatever you like! Spinach? Fresh basil? Go for it!
You could turn it into a pizza tortellini by using pizza sauce, and then adding sauteed pizza ingredients like mushrooms and peppers, then adding slices of pepperoni on top. 
For a completely different twist, use Alfredo sauce instead of marinara sauce. Love it!

Monday, May 11, 2020

Homemade White Bread


OK, so, right off the bat, I should tell you, I'm not the biggest bread baker of the world. I mean, I've dabbled here and there, but full disclosure, I've always felt a little intimidated by it. But just like anything else, the way to diffuse the fear of it is to learn about it. So I began reading different bread recipes, reading about why yeast makes it rise, etc. and then it started to make more sense to me. Now it doesn't seem so daunting! So I decided to try just a basic white bread recipe. I figured if I'm gonna start baking breads, I might as well start with the basics, right? I found this recipe from a blog called the Brown Eyed Baker, and I swear to you it's REALLY easy! I just followed the recipe straight through, and it turned out perfectly on the first go! Yes, the two loaves of bread in the picture are the very first loaves of white bread I've ever baked! Aren't they perfect? And I love that the first thing I ate on a toasted slice of home made bread was some of my home made jam. FABULOUS. I guess I now have to start making home made butter to go with it, right? It's gonna happen!
 So if you've ever thought of baking white bread, this recipe is the one to try. Like I said, it's REALLY easy and user friendly, and the final product was just as yummy as you want it to be. There's just nothing like warm baked bread right out of the oven. You MUST try it!

4 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast two 0.25-ounce packets 
3/4 cup + 2 2/3 cups warm water divided  
1/4 cup granulated sugar 
1 tablespoon salt  
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed, at room temperature 
9 to 10 cups all-purpose flour  
3 tablespoons unsalted butter melted, for brushing

  In the bowl of a mixer, stir to dissolve the yeast in 3/4 cup of the warm water, and let sit for 5 minutes. Add the remaining 2 2/3 cups water, sugar, salt, room temperature butter, and 5 cups of the flour and stir to combine.
Using a dough hook, mix on low speed and gradually add the remaining flour until the dough is soft and tacky, but not sticky (you may not need to use all of the flour). Continue to knead until a soft ball of dough forms and clears the sides of the bowl, about 7 to 10 minutes.
 Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl and turn it over so it is completely coated. Cover with plastic wrap and set in a draft-free place to rise until doubled in size, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.
 Turn the dough out onto a clean, lightly floured surface. Gently press it all over to remove any air pockets. Divide the dough in two and, working with one piece at a time, gently pat it into a 9x12-inch rectangle. Roll up the rectangle, starting on the short end, into a very tight cylinder. Pinch to seal the seams and the ends, tuck the ends of the roll until the bread, and place into greased 9" loaf pans. Cover the loaves loosely and place in a draft-free area until doubled in size, 30 to 45 minutes.
Position an oven rack on the lowest setting and preheat the oven to 400ºF.
 Brush the loaves with some of the melted butter. Bake the loaves for 30 to 35 minutes, rotating halfway through, until golden brown (an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center should read 195ºF).
 Remove from the oven and immediately brush with more of the melted butter. Allow to cool for 10 minutes, then remove from the pans and cool completely before slicing. The bread can be stored in an airtight bread bag or wrapped tightly in plastic wrap at room temperature for up to 4 days. It can also be frozen for up to 1 month.

Recipe Tips:
This recipe can be halved to make only one loaf.
You can substitute active dry yeast for the instant yeast. Ensure that it is indeed activated in step #1 before continuing, and note that the rise times will be slightly longer.

Joey's Tips:
Sometimes we get sidetracked and we forget about the dough as it's rising, which causes it to over proof. This is when it rises up and then sort of collapses on itself. If this should happen, fear not! All hope is not lost! Oddly enough, the solution to over proofing is to proof it again. Just press it back out on the work surface, roll it up like you did before, and put it back in the loaf pan. It will proof again, only this time, maybe set a timer so you won't forget about it again!

Monday, May 4, 2020

Sweet-as-a-Peach Chicken

  Have you made Pantry Pasta lately? Or a Pantry Omelette? Or a Pantry Sandwich? Basically, this means using what you already have on hand, whatever's in your pantry, to cook a meal. I've noticed that it's been a recent trend in cooking, lately. So I decided to look up a few "pantry" recipes to see what I could find. Then I remembered this recipe that I recently got from my dear friends, Bill and Tina, and it seemed like just the thing! It has ingredients that one might find in a well-stocked pantry, and it's an easy throw together dinner. Perfect! So I gave it a try and it's absolutely delish! At first, you might think that this will wind up tasting like a peach pie, but nope! It's just tasty good eatin'!
 BTW, I should say that the recipe is actually from the Land O' Lakes Recipe Collection Cookbook, but I'll still give Tina the credit, because she's the one who brought it to my attention! It was ready in a snap, and it will definitely feed a crowd, especially if you serve it with a nice green veggie on the side. It's the perfect weeknight dinner and it's just as good as a Sunday Supper.  And the easiest thing about it is that you just might already have all the ingredients in your pantry!

Chicken prep:
1/3 cup butter
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
2 lb pkg boneless chicken breasts
2 10 oz cans refrigerated biscuits

Peach topping:
6 tbs butter
2 tbs cornstarch
2 cans sliced peaches (29 oz and 15.4 oz, 1 large and 1 medium), undrained
3 tbs honey
1/2 tsp cinnamon

In an ungreased 9x13 pan, melt 1/3 cup butter in preheated 350ºF oven for 5-7 minutes. Add salt and 1 tsp cinnamon. Stir to blend. Dip chicken pieces into melted butter. Place chicken back in the same baking dish. Bake for 15 minutes,  Place biscuits on top of chicken. Place bake in the oven, and bake for another 15 minutes or until biscuits are lightly browned and chicken is tender.
Meanwhile, in a sauce pan, melt 6 tbs butter. Add cornstarch. Whisk to blend. Add remaining ingredients. Heat over medium heat until it boils. Boil 1 minute. Spoon peach topping over biscuits.

Now, you know I can't just leave a recipe alone, right? As good as it is, I'm still gonna play around with it, just a bit.
To brighten up the flavor of the peach sauce, I added just a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, and it definitely needed salt. I also think it needs a burst of something fresh, like maybe freshly chopped parsley, or maybe some fresh thyme leaves. That was my only thought.. it just needed a little green!
A few other notes...
 I used one can of grand biscuits instead of two of the smaller ones, and I cut each biscuit into quarters. Turned out to be exactly the right amount. Speaking of things and amounts... the peach sauce was WAY too much for the dish, I thought. I only used half of it! Maybe I'll pour the rest of it over ice cream or a nice slice of toasted pound cake!
The original recipe said to pound the chicken thin. I just sliced the large pieces of chicken in half horizontally. So be careful with your thin pieces of chicken.. you don't want them to be overcooked! And finally, when I baked the chicken, it made a lot of juice in the pan, so I drained a bunch of the liquid before pouring the peach topping over it.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Joey's Pickled Red Onions

   Ever since I learned how to preserve things in jars, I've had a sort of bucket list of things I'd like to make. Slowly but surely, I'm working my way through that list, ticking each box, and then moving on to the next one. One of the main criteria for landing on that list is that it needs to be something that you wouldn't normally see at the grocery store. Like, for instance, my pineapple basil jam. Not exactly your standard fare, would you say? Or how about raspberry rhubarb jam? As delicious as it was unexpected! I've even done pickled peaches and pickled water melon rind. Who knew? Not everything has been met with the greatest response, but in all honestly, I've loved every single one of my projects. I think the pickled pineapples were pretty high up on that list! And also the candied jalapenos. Fabulous! But I digress..
 So that brings me to my latest project. Pickled red onions! Have you ever tried them? They're great on sandwiches, burgers, salads, and according to my nephew, Gregger (who requested them), they're especially great on fish tacos! My first thought was that I wanted the sharp onion flavor to mellow out a bit, and I wanted them to be a little bit sweet to go with the sour.
 Once again, true to form, I found many recipes online, but none was exactly what I had pictured in my head. So I started with a pretty basic recipe, and then didn't follow it. LOL I mean, yes, I used the same ingredients, but I changed literally every single amount to suit my own taste. How does one do this, you may ask? Well, you TASTE it! I always like a stronger hit of vinegar when I'm making pickles, and I like a hit of sweetness too. So, right away I changed the vinegar to water ratio. And then I added more sugar, tasting as I went, until I found exactly the right blend of sweet, sour, sharp, and pungent. FABULOUS! Then after I figured out what was going into it, I let the onions hang out for a while in the brine, just to relax in their briny hot tub for a while. The result was literally EXACTLY what I wanted. The jars are beautifully pink, the onions were more mellow and smooth, and the flavor was spot on. Now that I've made them, I think I may have to add them to the yearly rotation along with canning my Jersey Tomatoes, and making bread and butter pickles. They're just absolutely delish! This one's for you, Gregger!

5 cups apple cider vinegar
4 cups water
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup kosher salt
3 tbs mixed peppercorns
8 bay leaves
6 lbs red onions

Place all ingredients except onions in a large pot over high heat. Bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat to low simmer. Meanwhile, peel and THINLY slice all the onions. You can use a sharp knife, but I used a mandoline. You can also use a food processor. You do you! (Side note, I usually don't use a processor when I'm slicing something for canning because I like the control of cutting exactly how I want them.) After all the onions are sliced, add them to the pot, and turn the heat off. Let the onions sit in the hot brine for a good 15 -20 minutes. They will soften and the brine will turn that lovely coveted pink hue.
 If you're not canning, place the onions in jars, let stand until room temperature, then store in the fridge. They'll last pretty much indefinitely, but I promise you they'll be gone before then!
 If you're canning, wash and sterilize 8 pint-size jars. Fill each jar with onions, then add brine to fill, leaving 1/2 inch of head space. Insert a chopstick or plastic utensil down inside of the jar to release any air bubbles, then adjust head space if needed. Wipe rims clean, apply two-piece lids, then process your jars for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath. Remove to a cloth lined tray. Let sit, undisturbed for at least 24 hours.

Definitely taste as you go when you're making the brine. Not sure how sweet you like it? Just add a little sugar at a time. Not sure how sour you want it? Start out with the water, then add the vinegar a little at a time until it's as strong as you want. This is just a basic recipe, but feel free to add anything else you like. Garlic, fresh dill, crushed red pepper flakes, you could even just use store bought pickling spice. It will all work. Customize the flavor profile to fit YOU!

I've discovered that, as they sit in the jars, they can get quite mellow over time, and can become rather sweet. Maybe even just tad too sweet for some. I think I my cut back the sugar and add a little more vinegar next time, just to keep that awesome punch of sour that I love!

Monday, April 20, 2020

Attie's Artisan Rosemary Rolls

  Here's an easy recipe from my niece, Natalie, commonly known in my family as Attie. When I asked her where she got the recipe, she said she found it online, but then remembered she actually used a combination of recipes, so that means it's now hers! (I guess that must be a family thing, because I do the exact same thing all the time!) Anyway, I love that it only takes a few ingredients and you just mix everything together. I think I might need to make these the next time I make a batch of jam. YUM. Thanx Attie! And thanx for the awesome picture too!

3 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp yeast
2 tsp salt
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tbsp chopped rosemary

Mix together all ingredients, then add 1 1/2 cups warm water and 1-2 tbsp olive oil. It will be a shaggy mess. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for 8 hours. It will look flat, sticky, and bubbly on top.
Turn dough out on a floured surface. Cut dough into 12 pieces. Quickly shape into scraggly balls (uneven edges lead to more crispy browned edges!) and put on dry baking sheet or parchment paper. Let sit again for 20 min. Bake at 425ºF for 20 min or until golden brown.

Notes from Natalie:
Honestly, you can't really mess this recipe up. No kneading, you literally mix it and let it sit over night.
Another way to do this is to bake as one loaf in a Dutch oven:
Preheat the dutch oven for 30 min in a hot 450ºF oven. Throw the dough in, bake for 30 min lid on, 10 minutes lid off.To keep it from sticking, you can either put parchment paper in the bottom or do a light sprinkle of flour AFTER the Dutch oven is heated (otherwise, it'll burn!)

Monday, April 13, 2020

Ham and Pineapple Casserole

   My Mom used to say you get a lot of bang for your buck when you  buy a ham because you can serve it at any meal - breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Of course it's great as a fabulous Holiday Ham dinner, but what do you do with al the leftover ham? Well, you have ham sandwiches, you dice it and throw it into an omelette or a quiche, or you add it to a casserole!
 This casserole uses the classic pairing of ham and pineapple, and bakes it together with pasta and a creamy sauce. It's simple to throw together and you go vary it to your heart's content.
 So give this one a try the next time you have a little leftover ham. It's a great "round two" recipe to make sure you get the most bang for your buck!

1 lb ziti, or other cut pasta
1 small onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, any color, chopped
2 cups diced ham
1 8oz block of cream cheese
1 cup milk
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cups diced fresh pineapple
1 sleeve Ritz crackers
2 tbs butter, melted

Heat oven to 350ºF.
In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook pasta according to directions until al dente.
Meanwhile, in a large saute pan, saute the chopped onions and peppers in a little oil. Saute until softened. Add diced ham. Continue to saute for a minute or two. Add cream cheese and milk. Stir until cheese is melted and sauce is smooth. When pasta is cooked, add to saute pan along with pineapple. (or use a big bowl to better facilitate this). Toss everything well to coat with sauce. Place in a large casserole dish.
In a small bowl, melt butter. mix with crushed crackers. Lightly sprinkle your buttered cracker crumbs over casserole. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and let sit for 5-10 minutes.

To make sure your sauce is flavorful, you definitely want to give it a taste before you add the pasta to it. You could even add some sliced scallions to it, just to bump up the fresh flavor a bit.
Instead of using Ritz crackers, use whatever kind of crackers you like! You could also use seasoned bread crumbs or even crushed potato chips.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Matso Ball Soup

   Whenever I have some time to kill, or if I just need some down time, one of my usual escapes is watching videos on youtube. Sometimes I'll refer to it as "going down the youtube rabbit hole" because very often I'll start watching videos, and the next thing I know, it's 3 hours later. Anyway..
 I follow several channels, but I think my most favorite is from the Bon Appetit Test Kitchen. (ok, maaaaayybe I'm obsessed with it. Don't judge me). They have some of the best recipes, and the featured chefs on the channel are all hilarious and informative and they are the perfect cast of characters. Of course I love it when they all come together, like when they made the perfect Thanksgiving Dinner, or the perfect pizza, but then they also each have their own individual shows:
 Carla does a thing where she'll teach a guest how to make a recipe using only verbal instructions. In other words, they'll stand back to back, not being able to see what the other is doing. It's a pretty awesome gimmick, and frankly, I think I'd be up for the challenge, if you're listening, Carla.
Claire's show is about replicating common snack foods. Like, she made her own Oreos, and Girl Scout Cookies, and Doritos. It's amazing how detailed she gets.
Brad... (who cracks me up), does a show called It's Alive, where he uses fermentation.. which I'm just learning. I'm dying to make my own sauerkraut.
 I won't go into EVERY show they do.. but there are so many others that I feel like I've come to know them personally.... Andy is fabulous and gorgeous and I love that he always slices his onions while looking right into the camera.. I love how Chris smells his food for like a LONG time before he takes a bite, and is always listening to some 80s band I've never heard of... and he's always the final judge.. like, if CHRIS says it's good, then you know it's good...... And then we come to one of my very favorites, Molly.
 First of all, she has a dog named Tuna, which cracks me up. I'd love to ask her where that came from. And another thing I love about Molly, in addition to being hilarious and someone I'd love to hang out with, she does this thing where she abbreviates words as she's speaking. Like, black pepper, is black pep. Caesar Salad is Cae Sal. Potatoes are potates. So forth.
 Anyway, I could talk about the BA youtube channel forever, but the point is that I saw Molly making this recipe, and I immediately wanted to make it.
 I had been in the mood to make a "let it simmer all day" kind of recipe for a while, and this one answered the call. No, I'm not Jewish, but who doesn't love a nice big pot of chicken soup? And since it's different from the way I usually make my own chicken soup, I decided to give it a go.
 It turned out really well! It's SO deep and flavorful, you will not believe a broth could be so rich. And overall, there was nothing very difficult about it. It just took a little time and a few steps. FABULOUS.
 Now, I have it listed below as the recipe was originally printed. But then at the end, I listed a few things I would do differently next time. For instance, I love that she roasted the chicken wings before adding them to the stock, but there are a few minor things I would change. Anyway, just read the whole thing. See what works best for you. And at the end of the day, you'll have a fabulous and delicious bowl of soup. And if you find yourself with some time to kill, go look at the BA Test Kitchen Youtube Channel. It's really awesome! Maybe someday I'll get to meet them.
That would be pretty awesome!

6 lb. chicken wings
6 large eggs
1/2 cup melted schmaltz (chicken fat) or vegetable oil
6 tbs chicken broth or water
3 tbs chopped dill, plus more for serving
3 tbs plus 3 tsp. kosher salt, divided
3/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper, plus more
1 1/2 cups matzo meal
2 medium onions, peeled, cut in half
1 head of garlic, halved crosswise
1 medium parsnip, cut into 2" pieces
2 stalks celery, cut into 2" pieces
1 bunch parsley
1 tbs black peppercorns
3 medium carrots, 1 unpeeled, cut into 2" pieces, 2 peeled, thinly sliced crosswise
4 chicken legs (thigh and drumstick)

 Place a rack in top third of oven; preheat to 450°. Spread chicken wings on a large rimmed baking sheet and roast until golden brown, 45–55 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the matzo ball dough. Whisk eggs in a medium bowl until no streaks remain. Add schmaltz, broth, 3 tbs dill, 1 1/2 tsp salt, and 3/4 tsp pepper and whisk vigorously to combine. Whisk in matzo meal until well combined. Chill at least 35 minutes or up to 2 hours (this is essential so that the matzo meal can hydrate).
Transfer wings and any accumulated juices on baking sheet to a large pot. Add onions, garlic, parsnip, celery, parsley, peppercorns, and 1 chopped (not sliced) carrot. Cover with 4 quarts water. Bring to a simmer and cook, adjusting heat as needed to maintain a simmer, until stock is slightly reduced, 45 minutes.
Season chicken legs with 1 1/2 tsp salt and let sit until ready to use. After stock has been simmering for 45 minutes, add chicken legs and simmer until legs are very tender, about 45 minutes longer.
 While chicken legs cook, poach the matzo balls. Bring 3 qt. water to a boil in a medium pot. Season with 3 tbs salt.
Using dampened hands, roll matzo mixture into 16 balls about 1 1/2" in diameter. It’s okay to really work them into a ball; they won’t get dense—trust us, we tried! Transfer to a small rimmed baking sheet or large plate.
Carefully lower matzo balls into boiling water with a slotted spoon, adjusting heat as needed to maintain a low simmer. Cover pot and simmer over low heat, checking occasionally to make sure water isn’t boiling too rapidly, until balls are very puffed and light in color, 30–40 minutes. Don’t remove them sooner than this; they will be dense in the middle if undercooked. Turn off heat and let balls sit in cooking liquid until ready to serve.
Back to the stock. Transfer chicken legs to a plate and let cool. Strain stock into a medium pot; discard wings and solids. Remove meat, discarding skin and bones. Tear chicken into bite-size pieces and return to stock. Add thinly sliced carrots. Return liquid to a simmer and cook until carrots are just tender, 3–4 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning for salt.
 Using a slotted spoon, place 2 matzo balls in each bowl. Ladle soup over. Garnish with chopped dill and pepper. 
Do Ahead: Matzo balls can be made 2 days ahead. Transfer to an airtight container along with 2–3 Tbsp. cooking liquid and chill. Gently lower balls into soup and cook over medium-low heat until heated through, about 15 minutes. Stock (with shredded chicken) can be made 3 days ahead. Let cool to room temperature, cover, and chill. If you want a leaner soup, skim off schmaltz before reheating.

Ok, so, I'm not a trained chef, and they're definitely the experts, but here's what I would do differently. Sorry Molly, don't hate me!
I'm not gonna buy SIX POUNDS of chicken wings, just to discard them. I mean, I get it, I know that the point is to extract flavor out of them, but it just seems like such a waste to me. Same with the aromatics. I don't like the idea of adding carrots, and onions, and celery, and parsnips, only to strain them and throw them away. I do, however, like the idea of adding the onion skins and the whole head of unpeeled garlic, as well as the other skins to make a richer deeper broth. So, my plan for next time is to roast the chicken wings as directed, but maybe only do half as much, and then I'll just pull any meat from them and throw it back into the pot. And the aromatics can just stay in the soup. I'll just tie up the extra skins and such into a small cheesecloth bundle. This way we can boil all the goodness from them, and then easily fish it out of the pot.
Ok, now lets talk about the balls. I made them just as directed, and I found them to be a little dense and bit dilly, even after cooking them for more than the allotted time. Not being the authority on what matso balls should be, I looked at other recipes, just for the sake of comparison. I tried a recipe called Floater Matso Balls from, and I have to say, I think I like them a little better. First of all, they were much BIGGER (as you can see in the picture) and they were lighter and fluffier. According to her article, the fluffiness is attained from adding baking powder to the balls. From what I've read, this is a bone of contention with some people because of the leavening that it brings which some say is not permissible for Passover. But apparently baking powder is mineral based instead of grain based and is therefore Kosher, which means it is acceptable in matso balls. Again, I'm not Jewish, and I really don't know what I'm talking about. Just passing along what I've read. 
Anyway, back to the BA recipe... another thing I'd do differently is I think I'd like to poach the matso balls right in the soup. Why dirty another pot? They hold together rather tightly, (and so did the Floater Balls recipe) so I don't think they would ruin the broth, and they'd only taste better by being cooked in the soup, right? no? The only downside to that is that the balls would soak up some of the broth. So if you're feeding a crowd, you'll get more servings of soup if you poach them separately, but since it's just me, I'll poach them in the broth!

Monday, March 30, 2020

Joey's Cheesy Rice and Beans Casserole

  My inspiration for this dish was just the fact that so many people are choosing to eat less meat, or even none at all. Maybe it's a Meatless Monday, or maybe it's a Friday during Lent, or maybe you're just opting for more of a plant based diet for better health and a better environment.
  While I'm definitely a carnivore, I also love a delicious and hearty meatless dish, so I decided to come up with a casserole using a classic pairing, rice and beans. Nothing too ground-breaking, just some regular white rice cooked with some vegetable broth instead of water, tossed with some aromatics and a can of beans, then baked with some cheese melted on top. I just kind of threw it together and it was immediately a fabulous hit-the-spot meal. I think one of the best parts was that I made it with what I happened to have on hand, and it was ready in less than an hour. Simple! So you should definitely give this one a try. I promise you won't miss the meat!

3 cups vegetable broth
1 1/2 cups dry uncooked white rice
2 tbs oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
3 ribs of celery, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 28oz can vegetarian baked beans
2 tbs ketchup
1 tbs brown mustard
1 tsp chili powder
S&P to taste
2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese

 In a small pot, bring the broth to a boil. Add the rice and give it a stir. Cover the pot, and reduce the heat to low. Let it simmer, covered, until the broth is absorbed, about 15-18 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a large saute pan, heat the oil over medium heat, then add the onions, peppers, and celery. Saute until they soften, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and continue to saute for another minute or two. Add remaining ingredients, except for the cheese. Stir well. Now add the cooked rice, stirring well. Taste and adjust seasoning, if needed. Pour rice and bean mixture into a 2 qt casserole dish. Top with cheese. Bake in a 350F oven for 20-30 minutes or until the cheese is melted and bubbly.

This recipe lends itself to any number of variations. Instead of cooking plain white rice, use whatever leftover rice you have from a previous meal, or from your last take-out. Use yellow saffron rice, use brown rice, anything you like. Switch up your aromatics! Don't like celery? Leave it out. Want some heat? Add some jalapenos or other favorite chilis, or top it with Sriracha or your favorite hot sauce. Want some more veggies? Add a drained can of whole corn or a combination of other peppers. Not a fan of regular baked beans? Add a drained can of any kind of beans you like. Black beans, red beans, cannellini beans, or any combination. It will all work!

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Crock Pot Lasagna

   Ok, so this one is more of a technique than a recipe. I wanted to do a quick and easy something that I could assemble in advance, and then have dinner ready by the time I returned home from work. So I looked in my pantry and fridge to see what ingredients I had on hand, and I just happened to have all the components of a lasagna. Perfect! Now, of course, you can go in any of several directions with a lasagna. Marinara sauce, Alfredo sauce, you could do just cheese, or add veggies, or do a meat sauce, or even seafood, and so on. But at its most basic, in my opinion, you just need 4 components: lasagna noodles, sauce, ricotta cheese, and mozzarella cheese. For me, that's the bare minimum. So that's where I started with this particular lasagna. At first, I was going to just assemble the lasagna in a casserole dish as one would usually do, and then have it ready to pop in the oven the next day. But then I saw a video of someone making it in a slow cooker. THAT seems like the right idea! I just layered the ingredients into my slow cooker and by the time I got home from work, BOOM! A fabulous lasagna dinner was waiting for me! TBH, I was kind of expecting it to be too mushy, or maybe burnt around the edges, but it turned out perfectly! This is definitely something a novice cook can make. Maybe next time I'll add other things to it, meat sauce, etc. For this one, I didn't even really measure out the amounts, but I'll just give you a ballpark of how much of everything I used. I hope you'll try it!

2 lbs ricotta cheese
2 eggs
Parmesan cheese
chopped parsley
salt and pepper
1 lb lasagna noodles
2 jars (maybe about 4 cups?) marinara sauce
2 lbs shredded mozzarella cheese

 In a mixing bowl, stir together ricotta cheese, eggs, a handful or two of Parmesan cheese, a handful of chopped parsley, and a big pinch of salt and pepper. Congratulations, you've just completed the most difficult part of this recipe! Now it's time to layer:
First, you want to spray your 6 qt slow cooker with nonstick cooking spray. Now do a generous layer of sauce on the bottom. Next, do a layer of lasagna noodles, uncooked, dry, right out of the box. Break the noodles to fit. Now do a few dollops of the ricotta mixture, and use a rubber spatula to spread into an even layer. It doesn't have to completely cover. Finally, top with a handful of shredded mozzarella cheese.
Repeat layers until you use up all ingredients. I think I did 4 layers, so use roughly a quarter of each ingredient per layer.
For the last layer, I ended with a layer of sauce and then more mozzarella cheese.
Cover and cook it on low for about 4 to 5 hours. And that's all there is to it!
Serve it with extra sauce, if desired.

First, be sure to be VERY GENEROUS with your sauce for each layer. It's the extra sauce that will cook the noodles, so your lasagna won't be dry at the end. Come to think of it, I probably used more than 4 cups of sauce. I used 2 jars plus a little extra, but then again, I like a saucier lasagna.
After you finish the cooking, turn the crock pot completely off, and let it sit for at least 15-20 minutes. This lets everything relax and your lasagna will set up better. Now you can cut it into segments for serving, and it will stay together.
If your crock pot has a removable insert, you can assemble it the night before you want to serve it, and just keep it in the fridge overnight. Then, the next morning, be sure to take it out of the fridge about a half hour before you turn on your slow cooker.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Spring Pork Stew

  I was looking for some lovely colorful Springtime recipes, and I happened upon this one from Martha Stewart. It's exactly what I wanted! Lots of fresh vegetables in a rainbow of colors, and a light sauce to pull it all together. It's the perfect thing when you're looking for something hearty but not too heavy. Btw, this can also be tweaked to make a meatless meal, if that's what you're going for. In fact, I think this qualifies as completely vegan if you leave out the pork and use vegetable stock instead of chicken. Tbh, you won't even miss the meat. It's just that good! It comes together pretty quickly too! Light, healthy, colorful, fresh, and hearty! That works for me!! Pretty sure it'll work for you too!

1 lb lean pork roast or stew meat, trimmed of fat, cut into 1" pieces
1 cup chicken broth
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, diced
2 ribs celery, diced
2 medium carrots, diced
1 zucchini, sliced into half moons
1 yellow squash, sliced into half moons
1 red bell pepper, roughly chopped
1 yellow bell pepper, roughly chopped
1 (28oz) can plum tomatoes
2 tsp fresh thyme
2 tsp chopped fresh parsley
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
 Rice for serving

 Heat oil in a high-sided skillet on medium-high heat. Add pork; saute stirring occasionally, until brown on all sides, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer pork to a plate; cover.
 Place 1/2 cup stock, garlic, onion, celery, and carrots in pan. Cook, stirring occasionally until they soften, about 3 minutes. Add zucchini, squash, and peppers. Toss well; cook until soft, about 5 minutes.
 Stir in remaining 1/2 cup stock and tomatoes with juice, breaking tomatoes apart with a spoon. Stir in thyme and parsley.
 Return pork to pan, reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until pork and vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper; serve over rice.

-Instead of adding the stock 1/2 cup at a time, I just let all the veggies saute for a bit, and then added the broth at the same time as the tomatoes. It allowed the veggies to form some browned bits on the bottom of the pan, and then I used the liquid to deglaze the pan. Turned out great!
-You definitely want to use FRESH herbs. There's just no comparison, especially when you're making a fairly quick sauce. I usually save the dried herbs for the sauces that simmer low and slow all day.
-Be sure to taste it and adjust your seasoning accordingly. It might need a little more salt than you think it will. You could even add a pinch or two of crushed red pepper flakes for a little spicy kick!
-This recipe can easily be done with boneless chicken instead of pork. I think I would dredge the pieces of boneless chicken in a bit of seasoned flour first, and then saute until they're partially but not completely cooked through. Then let them cook the rest of the way when you add them back into the pan and simmer everything together.
-For the most flavorful rice, use chicken broth instead of water. Just use twice as much broth as rice, bring it to a boil, then cover and reduce it to low for about 15-18 minutes. Sometimes I like to saute finely mined onions in some butter first, then add the rice and broth. Best. Rice. EVER!

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Simple Corned Beef Hash

   So, it's the day after St. Patrick's Day..... maybe you're slightly hungover, maybe you had a little too much corned beef and cabbage, and now you have lots of leftovers. What do you do?
 Well, the obvious answer is that you make corned beef hash! It's so simple, you don't even need a recipe.
 You just cut up your leftover corned beef and boiled potatoes, throw them into a big skillet with a bit of chopped onion and some butter. Fry it up until crispy, then season it with salt and pepper. That's all there is to it! If you want to get fancy, you can add some chopped bell peppers, and maybe top it with some shredded extra sharp Cheddar cheese. And that's it! It's great to serve as a side dish or with breakfast. Fry up a few eggs and some sausages, and you're hangover won't stand a chance. It really is one of Life's simple pleasures. If you've never made it, you simply must!

 Even if you don't have leftovers, this is still worth making. You can even start with deli sliced corned beef and raw potatoes. Because they'll take longer to cook, just let the diced potatoes cook for a while before you add the onions, and then after a few minutes, add your chopped sliced corned beef. Easy!
Not a fan of corned beef? Use ham instead!

Monday, March 16, 2020

Chocolate Stout Cupcakes

 Whenever I try a recipe using Guinness Stout, I always wind up with the same problem: what to do with the rest of the Guinness. Yes, it seems obvious to just drink it, right? But the thing is, I don't drink beer or stout, like, at all. But since I do like to cook and bake with it, I have a habit of buying a 6-pack, using ONE for a recipe, and then I'm stuck with the other five. So, I could certainly tell you that the inspiration for baking these cupcakes comes from a deep love of Guinness, but really I just wanted to use it up! lol
 But even though I don't drink it, I LOVE what it brings to the party when it comes to cooking and baking. These cupcakes are so rich and chocolatey, they're a sure-fire win. In fact, if you have some serious chocoholics in your circle, THIS is what you should make for them. I think they're possibly the richest most chocolatey cupcakes I've ever made. Not. Even. Kidding. And they come together in a snap, so you can whip up a batch in no time!
 The other thing that I like about this recipe is that there's Guinness in the frosting too, not just in the cupcakes. Very often, you'll see a chocolate Guinness cake with maybe a cream cheese or Bailey's frosting, but this one has a decadent chocolate Guinness swirl on top that pushes it over the top. It's from a website called Broma Bakery. I'm not sure if it's their recipe or not, but like I always say, they're the ones who shared it, so they're the ones who get the credit. So, if you want a rich, ever so moist cupcake that will blow your chocolate lovin' mind, this is the one for you!
Btw, does anyone want a bottle of Guinness? I still have 3 left.....

For the cupcakes:

1/2 cup dutch-processed cocoa powder 
1 cup all-purpose flour 
1 1/4 cups sugar 
3/4 teaspoon baking powder 
1 teaspoon salt 
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled 
2 large eggs 
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons dark stout, such as Guinness Extra Stout
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the frosting:

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature 
3/4 cup cocoa powder 
3 cups powdered sugar 
1/4 cup Guinness Extra Stout
2 tablespoons milk 
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
flaked sea salt, for garnishing (optional)

 Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 14 cupcake tins with dark cupcake molds. Set aside.
In a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the cocoa powder, flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt on low speed until combined. In a separate bowl, whisk the butter, eggs, Guinness, and vanilla extract. Add the wet ingredients to the dry in batches, beating on medium speed until the batter is smooth and shiny, about 20 seconds. Pour into cupcake molds, filling about 3/4 of the mold, and bake for 20-25 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely on a wire rack.

While the cupcakes are cooling, make the frosting. Cream the butter and cocoa powder for 2-3 minutes, until the cocoa powder begins to lighten in color. Add in the powdered sugar, milk, Guinness, and vanilla extract and beat until light and fluffy, about 1 minute.

Frost the cupcakes by scooping the frosting into a piping bag with a large star tip. Swirl the frosting around the cupcake, starting from the middle and working your way outwards. Continue to spiral the frosting up like a pyramid until the cupcake is frosted. Sprinkle with flaked sea salt, if using, and serve!

Yes, I know most cupcake tins are only 12 cupcakes and not 14. An odd yield, to be sure. But it's worth the extra time to bake just those last two cupcakes. To make sure they bake evenly, fill up the rest of the cupcake wells with water. This helps to insure even baking when you only have a partially filled cupcake tin.
Oh, and don't forget the sea salt on top! That's the kicker!
Going to a party? Double everything!

Monday, March 9, 2020

Joey's Guinness Beer Brats

 If you know me, you know that I'm not much of a drinker, and I'm definitely not a BEER drinker. But I do like to use Guinness Extra Stout in recipes from time to time. This one is about as simple as it gets, and it's so flavorful, it's definitely a reason for me to stop and get a six pack.
 It's really just sausages and onions, but then when you add Guinness to the party, it's a completely different game. I love how the Guinness reduces down to a thick rich sauce, almost like a gravy, and it goes perfectly with the sausages. It's slightly sweet from the onions, but then it has a hoppy bitter after-bite. SO good! Sometimes the simplest recipes are the best! Love it.

5 bratwurst sausages
2 bottles of Guinness Extra Stout
1 large sweet onion, sliced
2 tbs butter

Place all ingredients in a small sauce pot over medium heat. Bring it to a boil, then reduce it to a low simmer. Let it simmer for about an hour. Remove the brats. Brown the brats on a grill or in a cast iron skillet. Meanwhile, reduce the onion and Guinness mixture until it becomes thick and syrupy. Serve brats and onions over mashed potatoes or as a sandwich on fresh bakery rolls with a nice sharp mustard.

 Use Irish Bangers, if you can. Otherwise, Johnsonville Beer Brats are a good substitute. I wouldn't use regular Italian Sausages because they have a completely different flavor.
Feeding a crowd? Use a wider pot and fill it up! You just need to use enough beer so that the brats are completely immersed. And add as many onions as you like.
Not a fan of Guinness? Use your favorite!

Monday, March 2, 2020


   Here's another Irish dish that I've been wanting to share for years, but just never got around to it. Traditionally it is usually served for St Brigid's Day, but I don't think anyone will mind that I'm posting it for St Patrick's Day!
 Ok, so, what is Boxty, anyway? Well, actually, it can be any of several different things, depending on the way you cook it. It's made of mashed potatoes, grated raw potatoes, plus a few other ingredients, and then it can be made into a dough for Boxty Bread, boiled as for dumplings, or the most popular way of cooking it, frying it in a pan like griddle cakes. It's then served with a little butter and a light sprinkling of sugar to have with tea, or garnished with chopped scallions and served with breakfast, which was how I decided to go. A big Irish Breakfast with sausages, grilled tomato, baked beans, bacon, and eggs (I'll skip the black pudding, if you don't mind, thank you very much). Sounds pretty fabulous, right? That's definitely enough to cure any hangover!
 So I did some googling, and it appears that most boxty recipes are very similar. Some call for buttermilk, some include an egg, some call for whole milk, and everyone seems to add a different amount of flour. As with many "traditional" recipes, there never seems to be one specific definitive recipe. Everyone makes it the way they like it. So I decided to go with this version, from a community recipe blog called Chow Hound.
 And, of course, we can't talk about boxty without mentioning the old Irish rhyme:
"Boxty on the griddle, boxty in the pan, if you can't make boxty, you'll never get a man!" 
Hmm... I'm not sure how true that is, but it can't hurt to try!

2 pounds (3 to 4 large) Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled
3/4 cup whole milk
1 1/4 teaspoons fine salt, plus more for seasoning the potatoes before cooking
1 large egg
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 to 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

 Heat the oven to 200°F.
Chop half of the potatoes into large dice, place in a medium saucepan, salt generously, and cover with cold water by 1 inch. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to low, and simmer the potatoes uncovered until fork tender, about 8 minutes. Meanwhile, grate the remaining potatoes on the large holes of a box grater. Toss with 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and place in a fine mesh strainer set over a medium bowl; set aside. When the boiled potatoes are ready, drain them, return them to the pot, add 1/4 cup of the milk, and mash until the potatoes are smooth. 
 With a plastic spatula, press the grated potatoes against the sides and bottom of the strainer to remove any liquid. Add the grated potatoes to the mashed potatoes.
 Place the egg, remaining 1/2 cup milk, flour, pepper, and remaining 1 teaspoon salt in a large bowl and whisk until smooth, about 10 seconds. Add the potatoes and stir until evenly incorporated. 
 Heat a large nonstick frying pan or griddle over medium heat. Test to see if the pan is hot enough by sprinkling a couple of drops of cold water in it: If the water bounces and sputters, the pan is ready to use; if it evaporates instantly, the pan is too hot. Once the pan is ready, add enough butter to lightly coat the bottom when melted. Drop 3 dollops (about 1/4 cup each) of the batter into the pan and spread each to about 1/4 inch thick. Cook until the pancake bottoms are golden brown, about 4 to 5 minutes. Flip and cook the other side until golden brown, about 4 to 5 minutes more. Place on a baking sheet and set in the oven to keep warm. Repeat with the remaining butter and batter. Serve warm.

The biggest variable in the recipe is how much moisture your potatoes have. Boiling the potatoes to mash them, moisture. Grating raw potatoes, moisture. So you want to drain your boiled potatoes very well, and do the same for the grated raw potatoes. I treated the grated potatoes just as I do thawed frozen spinach: place a clean tea towel on your flat working surface, place the grated potatoes in the center. Now pick up all four corners of the towel, and twist to make a bundle. Squeeze out as much of the liquid as possible.
 Once you have all of your ingredients combined, adjust the flour if needed. If your dough is too loose, just add small bits of flour until you reach the right consistency, almost like cookie dough. You'll wind up with a much fluffier pancake that will brown more evenly!