Monday, November 30, 2020

Lemon Crinkle Cookies

  This recipe is from a blog called Fresh April Flours. It's simple, straight forward, and it's the perfect new addition to your Christmas Cookie platter. If you're like me, you like to have lots of different colors of cookies on the platter, and this may or may not be what called me to this recipe in the first place. You make them in sort of the same manner as you make Snickerdoodles. Roll the dough into balls, then roll the balls around in sugar (in this case powdered sugar) and then you bake them. But the fun thing about this recipe is that the powdered sugar separates as the cookies spread out, creating a sort of crackled crinkle look. Fun, right? And btw, they taste absolutely AMAZING! All that fresh lemon zest gives you the burst of lemon that you love. So, I'll say this once again, this recipe goes out to all of my readers who always ask for "anything lemon." If you're a fan of lemon, I promise you'll love 'em! Better make a double batch!


1 1/2 cup all purpose flour 
1/4 tsp salt 
1/4 tsp baking powder 
1/8 tsp baking soda 
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter softened to room temperature 
1 cup granulated sugar 
1 tsp vanilla extract 
1 large egg room temperature 
1 1/2 tbs fresh lemon juice 
zest of one lemon 
4 drops yellow food coloring, if desired 
1/2 cup powdered sugar

 In a medium size bowl, toss together the flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Set aside. In a large bowl with a hand mixer or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy (approximately 2-3 minutes). Beat in vanilla, egg, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula as necessary. Reduce mixer speed to low and gradually add flour mixture. Add the food coloring, if using. Mix until just combined. Cover bowl and chill in the refrigerator at least 1 hour and up to 3 days. If chilling longer than 1 hour, allow to sit at room temperature about 15 minutes before rolling into balls. When you are ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350ºF. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Set aside. Pour the powdered sugar onto a large plate. Using a large cookie scoop, scoop the dough out of the bowl and roll into a ball with your hands. Dough ball does not need to be perfect. Roll the ball of dough generously in the powdered sugar. Place no more than 8 balls of dough on a baking sheet at one time (4 rows of 2). Chill dough you are not using. Bake cookies for 13-14 minutes or until cookies look mostly matte (not wet or shiny). Remove from oven and cool on the baking sheet for 3 minutes before transferring to cooling rack to cool completely. Store cookies in an airtight container at room temperature up to 10 days. Baked cookies freeze well, up to 2 months. Rolled cookie dough can be frozen up to 3 months. Roll in powdered sugar before baking and bake frozen. Add another 1-2 minutes to baking time.

 To get the best TRUE lemon flavor, it's always best to use fresh lemon zest, instead of extracts. Use a microplane to grate just the yellow portion of the lemon peel. Stop as soon as you get to the white part because that has a bitter taste. Definitely not what we're going for!

Monday, November 23, 2020

Sister Pie's Salted Maple Pie

Ok, so, full disclosure, I can’t even remember when or where I first saw this recipe. Maybe it was on a TV show? I’m not sure. It might have been on a Food Network show called The Best Thing I Ever Ate, where a bunch of TV cooks and chefs tell you the where and when of some of their favorite foods. In this case, Sister Pie is the name of a bakery in Detroit, and this recipe was one of their stand outs. Honestly, though, I really can’t remember when I first saw it. I just remember thinking “that pie has my name written all over it.”
 It’s syrupy sweet, kind of like a Pecan Pie, but it uses cornmeal to thicken it, similar to a Chess Pie. And it has that salty/sweet thing going on, which I love love LOVE. I just knew I had to try it!
 So I made it for one of my Fall Dinners (where I get to test out a bunch of new recipes with my gang of friends) and everyone loved it! Actually, I loved it so much that I immediately added the Sister Pie Cookbook to my wish list, and it has since become a cherished addition to my cookbook collection. It’s also the perfect addition to your pie repertoire. It’s special enough for Thanksgiving, but easy enough for anytime you just want a nice piece of pie!
Oh, one other thing..
I’ve listed the entire recipe just as it’s printed in the author’s own words. Following the filling recipe is the entire recipe and technique for making their pie crust. Once again, full disclosure, I was short on time and I didn’t make the crust as listed. I just used a ready made pie crust. What can I say? Sometimes I’m in the mood to get my hands in there and be up to my elbows in flour, and sometimes I just don’t have the time. You do you! Use your favorite crust recipe, buy a ready-made, or use this crust recipe that was made specifically for this pie. No matter how you slice it, you’ll still get a fabulous pie!

Salted Maple Pie Filling:
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (1 1⁄4 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 cup Grade B maple syrup*
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup fine yellow cornmeal
1/4 tsp kosher salt
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
3/4 cup heavy cream, at room temperature
1 1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 9-inch crust made with All-Butter Pie Dough, blind baked and cooled (see below)
1 large egg, beaten
1 pinch flaky sea salt, for sprinkling top

All-Butter Pie Dough:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp granulated sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted European-style butter, straight from the fridge
1/2 cup ice-cold water-vinegar mixture (see below), or more if needed

Preheat your oven to 350°F.
Make the filling:
In a medium bowl, combine the melted butter and maple syrup. Whisk in the brown sugar, cornmeal, and kosher salt.
Crack the eggs and yolk into another medium bowl. Add the cream and vanilla and whisk until combined.
Slowly pour the egg mixture into the maple mixture and whisk just until combined.
Place the blind-baked shell on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush the crimped edge with the beaten egg. Pour the maple filling into the pie shell until it reaches the bottom of the crimps.
Transfer the baking sheet with the pie on it to the oven and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the edges are puffed and the center jiggles only slightly when shaken. It will continue to set as it cools.
Remove the baking sheet from the oven and transfer the pie to a wire rack to cool for 4 to 6 hours. Once fully cooled and at room temperature, sprinkle generously with flaky sea salt, slice into 6 to 8 pieces, and serve.
Store leftover pie, well wrapped in plastic wrap or under a pie dome, at room temperature for up to 3 days.

All Butter Pie Dough:
In a large stainless steel bowl, combine the flour, sugar, and salt and stir to mix well. Place the sticks of butter in the bowl and coat on all sides with the flour mixture. Using a bench scraper, cut the butter into 1⁄2-inch cubes. Work quickly to separate the cubes with your hands until they are all lightly coated in flour. Grab that bench scraper once again and cut each cube in half. I always tell my pie dough students that it’s unnecessary to actually cut each cube perfectly in half, but it’s a good idea to break up the butter enough so that you can be super-efficient when it’s pastry blender time.
It’s pastry blender time! Switch to the pastry blender and begin to cut in the butter with one hand while turning the bowl with the other. It’s important not to aim for the same spot at the bottom of the bowl with each stroke of the pastry blender, but to actually slice through butter every time to maximize efficiency. When the pastry blender clogs up, carefully clean it out with your fingers (watch out, it bites!) or a butter knife and use your hands to toss the ingredients a bit. Continue to blend and turn until the largest pieces are the size and shape of peas and the rest of the mixture feels and looks freakishly similar to canned Parmesan cheese.
At this point, add the water-vinegar mixture all at once, and switch back to the bench scraper. Scrape as much of the mixture as you can from one side of the bowl to the other, until you can’t see visible pools of liquid anymore. Now it’s hand time. Scoop up as much of the mixture as you can, and use the tips of your fingers (and a whole lot of pressure) to press it back down onto the rest of the ingredients. Rotate the bowl a quarter-turn and repeat. Scoop, press, and turn. With each fold, your intention is to be quickly forming the mixture into one cohesive mass. Remember to incorporate any dry, floury bits that have congregated at the bottom of the bowl, and once those are completely gone and the dough is formed, it’s time to stop.
Remove the dough from the bowl, place it on a lightly floured counter, and use your bench scraper to divide it into two equal pieces. Gently pat each into a 2-inch-thick disc, working quickly to seal any broken edges before wrapping them tightly in a double layer of plastic wrap. If you’re portioning for a lattice-topped pie, shape one half into a 2-inch-thick disc and the other half into a 6 by 3-inch rectangle. Refrigerate the dough for at least 2 hours or, ideally, overnight. When you go to roll out the crust, you want the discs to feel as hard and cold as the butter did when you removed it from the fridge to make the dough. This will make the roll-out way easier.
You can keep the pie dough in the fridge for a few days or in the freezer for up to 1 year. If frozen, remove the dough and place it in the refrigerator to thaw one full day before you intend to use it. If you’re planning to make only one single-crust pie, wrap the discs separately and place one in the freezer.
NOTE: Icy water, now improved and with tang: While working at Brooklyn’s Four & Twenty Blackbirds for a summer, I learned a number of good tricks that considerably changed my pie dough–making experience. Here’s one of my favorites: Fill a 1-cup liquid measuring cup with about 1 inch of water and freeze until completely frozen. Just after you mix your dry ingredients, grab it from the freezer and fill with water plus 2 tablespoons or so of apple cider vinegar. The ice-cold water-vinegar mixture should look just like apple juice. Let it chill on your counter while you mix the other ingredients for the dough.
NOTE 2: The addition of vinegar to pie dough was originally thought to tenderize the gluten (thus avoiding a tough crust), but there isn’t any good scientific evidence proving that it makes a difference. We keep it in our recipe for its tangy flavor and our respect for tradition.
NOTE 3: Not the pie-baking plan-ahead type? That’s okay! When you’re ready to make the dough, simply fill a 1-cup liquid measuring cup about halfway with ice, then add water and 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar.

*Note from Joey: When looking for different grades of maple syrup, I like to think of it just as I would think of olive oil. The one with the lighter clear color is Grade A, just like extra virgin olive oil. And just like regular olive oil, Grade B maple syrup is a little darker in color, and has a more robust flavor.

You can find Grade B maple syrup at Trader Joe’s or even online, but even if you can’t find it, be sure to use a PURE maple syrup. You don't want the corn syrup based products you’d put on pancakes. I mean, yes, of course you could still use that, but you’ll wind up with a different end result.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Chocolate Chip Pie


Usually, when you think of pie recipes for Thanksgiving, the first thing that comes to mind is a pumpkin pie, correct? And if not pumpkin, then maybe sweet potato, or apple, or some kind of fruit mincemeat with lots of warm Fall spices like cinnamon and ginger and cloves and allspice, am I right? But here's a question for you, what about CHOCOLATE? I know we always think of chocolate for other holidays like Valentine's Day or Halloween, but I think chocolate deserves a place at our holiday dessert table just as much as anything else. There. I said it.
 Actually, it’s become a running joke with my brother in law, Gregg. Every time my sister, Cathy, makes a dessert, Gregg always says “it would be better if it had chocolate chips in it.” Well, Gregg, this one’s for you! It's from Nestle, so if you love the classic Nestle Toll House cookie recipe, you'll love this one too.
 It’s rich and chocolatey through and through, and it’s enough to satisfy the biggest chocolate cravings. It's super easy too! And yes, it’s special enough for your holiday dessert!
 So, as you plan your menus, keep your chocolate lovers happy and add this one to your holiday table. The chocoholics in your life with thank you for it!

1 (9 inch) unbaked
2 large eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup NESTLE® TOLL HOUSE® Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels
1 cup chopped nuts (optional)
Sweetened whipped cream or ice cream

Preheat oven to 325ºF.
Beat eggs in large mixer bowl on high speed until foamy. Beat in flour, granulated sugar, and brown sugar. Beat in butter. Stir in morsels and nuts. Spoon into pie shell. Bake for 55 to 60 minutes or until knife inserted halfway between edge and center comes out clean. Cool on wire rack. Serve warm with whipped cream, if desired.


Before the pie is finished baking, I added a few extra chocolate chips on top, just to make the pie look a bit more like a chocolate chip cookie. Of course, this is completely optional, but doesn’t it look better that way? Who's with me?
Also, I should note that the original recipe specifically said to use a deep dish pie plate. But I didn’t think it looked like enough filling, so I only used a regular 9” pie plate. It filled it perfectly!

Monday, November 9, 2020

Joey's Creamed Spinach and Potato Casserole


 I was recently trying to think of something interesting to do with a basic creamed spinach recipe. Yes, of course, I love it just as it is, with its delicious cream sauce, and the onions and garlic, but I wondered what else might go in with it. In my family, 2 little boxes of frozen chopped spinach wouldn’t go very far, so I was thinking of what else I could add to it, to stretch the dish and make it go a little further.
 Then I thought of my Dad. It was always a running joke that whenever any of us brought friends home for dinner, my Dad would tell my Mom “I guess you’d better throw another potato into the pot!”  I thought “Ah! potatoes! of course!”
So that’s what I did. Just some par-boiled potatoes, added to your basic creamed spinach, baked into a casserole, and now you’re ready to feed an army. It’s quite economical too, because it doesn’t cost all that much and fills a lot of bellies.
 Then I thought, ooo this would make the perfect addition to a Thanksgiving Turkey Dinner, just as an alternative to the usual mash. Why not? It’s always  nice to have a variety!
 Even if it’s not Thanksgiving, keep this recipe in your back pocket and serve it up with some baked chicken or a roast beast. Super delish!

3 lbs red potatoes, peeled and sliced to bite sized pieces
1 medium onion, chopped
4 tbs butter
2 (10oz) boxes frozen chopped spinach, thawed and well drained
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
4 tbs flour
2 cups milk
1 cup cream or half and half
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Pinch of nutmeg
1-2 cups mozzarella cheese

Place potatoes in a large pot with enough cold water to cover. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. You want to simmer them until they’re almost cooked through, but not quite. Drain and set aside.
Meanwhile, in a large sauce pot, sauce the onion with the butter. Add the spinach and garlic and continue to saute. Let any excess moisture evaporate, then sprinkle the flour over all. Give it a good stir until there flour coats everything for a good minute or two.Add the milk, cream, grated cheese, salt and pepper, and nutmeg. Stir all together until it thickens. Add your potatoes to the pot, and stir to combine well.
Pour into a 13x9 casserole dish. Top with shredded mozzarella cheese. Bake in a 350 oven for about 30-40 minutes or until bubbly.

Instead of peeling and slicing the potatoes, you can just use baby potatoes and cut them in half. The skins are tender enough that you don’t need to peel them!
To remove the most moisture from your thawed spinach, place a clean tea towel flat on the counter. Plop your drained spinach onto the towel in one mound in the center. Gather all four corners of the towel together, making a little bundle of spinach. Now twist the bundle until it squeezes out all of the excess water. You’ll be amazed at just how much more water can be extracted!
If your sauce pot is not big enough to accommodate adding the potatoes to it, just toss everything in a large mixing bowl before transferring it to the casserole dish.
When adding the nutmeg, you only want just a tiny pinch. It’s a classic addition to any cream sauce, but you don’t want it to come out tasting like egg nog. Just a tiny pinch is enough!



Monday, November 2, 2020

Onion Roasted Carrots and Potatoes

 Have you ever used onion soup mix to make roasted potatoes? If you haven't, where have you been your whole life?????  It's one of those tried and true recipes that has been on the back of the box of Lipton Onion Soup mix for a million years. For me, it's one of those classic recipes that I'll always love, kind of like the favorite Green Bean Casserole or Libby's Pumpkin Pie.
 But this time, I thought, why not add something else to it? How about carrots? YES! That sounds fabulous. (Wait, why have we never done this before??)
 So I tried it, and just as I figured, it was amazing! It’s literally just the exact same Lipton recipe with added carrots. Normally, I’d think “eh, not exactly ground breaking”, but I’m telling you, it was so good that I needed to share. It’s good enough for a holiday dinner or just a Sunday roast beast.
I think this just might be the new way I make this recipe from now on. LOVE it.

2 lbs potatoes, washed and cut into chunks
1 lb carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
1 envelope Lipton onion soup mix
1/3 cup vegetable oil
Chopped parsley

Preheat oven to 425°F.
Combine all ingredients in 13 x 9-inch baking, roasting pan, or sheet tray.
Bake, stirring occasionally, until everything is tender and golden brown, about 35 minutes. Top with freshly chopped parsley, if desired.

If you want to do a mix of root vegetables, go for it! I would absolutely add diced sweet potatoes, butternut squash,  and/or turnips to this. Make it your own! Are you feeding a crowd? Double everything!

Monday, October 26, 2020

Pumpkin Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies



 My sister Cathy, and her daughters, Casey and Carly and I have an ongoing text thread. Just a simple conversation that has been going on for literally years. Sometimes it's just a funny little meme, sometimes it's just an "I hate Mondays" need for some extra support, but usually it's some version of "Look at this amazing recipe!" or "Doesn't this look good?" or "When are we making this?" along with a link to the website from where it was discovered. That's exactly what happened when Casey texted us with this recipe. She was torn between this recipe and another recipe using pumpkin butter, but we picked this one! So this comes to us from a blog called Half Baked Harvest via Casey Case with the Pretty Face. She baked them up and even took the picture for us! Thanx Case!! Pumpkin pie spice? Cinnamon sugar? Chocolate chips? Yes please! We're definitely adding them to our cookie rotation for the holidays! YUM!

 2 sticks (1 cup) salted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup pumpkin butter, homemade or store bought
1 egg, at room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
4 oz semi sweet or dark chocolate chunks
1/3 cup cinnamon sugar


Add 1 stick butter to a small saucepan set over medium heat, cooking until the butter begins to brown, about 3-4 minutes. Remove from the heat and transfer to a heatproof bowl. Stick in the freezer to chill, 10-15 minutes, but no longer.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
 In a large mixing bowl, beat together the remaining 1 stick butter, the cooled browned butter, brown sugar, and sugar until combined. Beat in the pumpkin butter, egg, and vanilla, beating until creamy. Add the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Fold in chocolate chips and chocolate chunks.
Roll the dough into 1 tablespoon size balls and then generously roll through the cinnamon sugar and place 3 inches apart on the prepared baking sheet.
Transfer to the oven and bake for 8 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and tap the baking sheet on the counter 2 times to flatten them down. Return to the oven and bake another 1-2 minutes or until the cookies are just beginning to set on the edges, but still doughy in the center. Remove from the oven and tap the baking sheet on the counter 1-2 times to flatten them down again. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet. They will continue to cook slightly as they sit on the baking sheet. Eat warm (highly recommended) or let cool and store in an airtight container for up to 4 days.


You can make LOTS of these, and then store them in your freezer! To freeze cookies, place them in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Once frozen, remove them to a ziploc bag, and then just take out as many as you need as you navigate the holidays. They thaw in no time at all!

Monday, October 19, 2020

Apple Dapple Cake

 Have you ever heard of an Apple Dapple Cake? I must confess that until very recently, I had never heard  of it, but apparently it's a thing. Who knew? I searched and searched for the origin of the recipe, but unfortunately didn't find many answers. All I could find is that it's an old-timey recipe that has been around for decades, and everyone's Grandmom had her own version of it. Works for me!

It's basically an apple cake with chopped nuts and a caramel glaze. Sounds amazing, right? I found many versions, and all of them were very similar. There was only a slight variation here and there. Some use walnuts, some use pecans, one even added shredded sweetened coconut (which I wouldn't mind at all). It also seemed that everyone had a different version of the caramel glaze that gets poured over the top. Another variation in all of the recipes was the kind of pan in which it was baked. Some used a tube pan, some used a bundt pan, some used a 9x13 pan. I decided to use the tube pan because it reminded me of the apple cake my Mom always made. And as much as I usually don't like using a 9x13 pan for cakes, I can see how using one for this recipe might be the smartest choice. It would work kind of like a poke cake, where you pour the glaze over a still-warm cake, and then let it sink in. YUM.

 I chose this recipe from a blog called A Family Feast. And it's delicious! The diced apples make it SO moist and the nuts added a little extra crunch. And the caramel turned out really buttery and decadent. AMAZING. Also it's a really easy cake to make! Honestly, I think dicing the apples is the hardest part. You can handle that, right??  I will definitely be making this cake again. I think you should too!

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 whole eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 large Granny Smith apples (about 1 3/4 pound)
1 cup walnuts or pecans, coarsely chopped

3 tbs butter
3 tbs brown sugar
3 tbs granulated sugar
3 tbs heavy cream
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Grease and flour a 9×13-inch baking pan.
Preheat oven to 325ºF. Place rack in upper third of the oven. Sift flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in a medium bowl then sift a second time. In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, mix vegetable oil with both sugars until well mixed. With mixer running, add one egg at a time and once mixed, add vanilla and mix and scrape the bowl. Slowly add the dry ingredients with mixer running on low. Scrape the bowl again and mix. Peel, core and cut the apples into bite sized pieces and fold into the batter. Fold the walnuts into the batter then spread the batter evenly into the prepared pan. Bake in top third of the oven for 45-50 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. As soon as the cake comes out of the oven, put all glaze ingredients into a small sauce pan and bring to a boil. Boil and stir with a wooden spoon continuously for one minute. Remove from heat and pour over the top of the warm cake.


Full disclosure, I didn’t sift the dry ingredients as the recipe directs. I just whisked them all together in a bowl. And, like I said, I didn’t use a 9x13 pan.
I used pecans  and honey crisp apples instead of walnuts and granny smith apples, Why? Because I like them better! You do you!


Monday, October 12, 2020

Peanut Butter Apple Crumble


 So, I was recently cleaning out my pantry, and I discovered a forgotten half jar of peanut butter. Just sitting all the way in the back, thinking no one loved it anymore.  Of course, I instantly thought "what can I make with this?" Yes, I could absolutely do something with chocolate. That's a no brainer, but not exactly ground breaking. Then I thought, how about something apple? A crisp, maybe? Yes, that's exactly the right note I want to hit. But, to me, a crisp has an oat topping, and I was out of oats. I did, however, have a can of slightly salted peanuts. What if I swap out the oats for peanuts and call it a crumble?  THERE's the A HA moment! Then I found a recipe on a blog called Cookie Dough and Oven Mitt. (This is my tweaked version.) A little bit of peeling and coring and mixing, and the next thing I knew I was smelling the heavenly scent of apples baking. YUM. It really is one of life's simple pleasures, you know. So there we have it. Apples and peanut butter, with a peanut crumble topping. Add a little vanilla ice cream on top, and you're having a party! Definitely a keeper. Absolutely delicious!


6 apples
1/2 cup peanut butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tbs flour
pinch salt

1/2 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup chopped peanuts
3/4 cup flour
4 tsp butter
1/2 cup peanut butter
pinch salt

Heat over to 350ºF.

For the filling:
Peel, core, and slice apples set aside.
In a large bowl, combine remaining filling ingredients. Tossing filling with apples. Place in a large baking dish.

For the topping:
In the same bowl as you tossed the apples, (no need to wash), combine all topping ingredients. Pour topping all over apples in an even layer. Place in oven and bake for 40-45 minutes. Remove from oven and let sit for 10-15 minutes. You MUST serve this with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream. I'm pretty sure it's a law.

The usual “baking” apple is the Granny Smith. It’s tart so it stands up to the sweetness of the sugar, and it doesn’t turn to mush while it bakes. But I like Honeycrisp apples better, so that’s what I used. Use what you like!
If you’re using salted peanuts, omit the pinches of salt.
If you want your apples to be a little bit more saucy, sprinkle them with the sugar, and let them sit for a while until the juices form, then toss with the remaining filling ingredients.

Monday, October 5, 2020

Baked Reuben Chicken

  Ever since I learned how to ferment my own homemade sauerkraut, I've been looking for different recipes in which to use it. I mean, yes, you can't go wrong just serving it with some grilled brats, or any kind of favorite sausage, but I wanted to explore using sauerkraut as an ingredient in other dishes too, not just as a stand alone side dish.
  I thought, what if we paired it with chicken instead of pork? A quick google search led me to this recipe that I found on YES! This is exactly what I wanted! A chicken variation of a Reuben sandwich. YUM! I've always been a huge fan of a Reuben, so why not bake it with chicken instead of corned beef or pastrami? Yes please!
 It's just a few ingredients, easy assembly, and into the oven it goes. I should mention, btw, that I tweaked a couple things, but it's still basically the same recipe. The original said to bake it for 90 minutes at 325º, and that just seemed FAR too long for a piece of boneless chicken. So I decided to do less time at a slightly higher temp. MUCH better. I also tweaked some of the ingredient amounts too. Turned out perfectly! Serve it with some noodles, potatoes, or a simple veggie on the side, and there's dinner. LOVE it. This one definitely falls into the category of "why have I never thought of this?" Definitely a keeper!!

4-6 boneless chicken breast halves
S&P to taste
16 oz sauerkraut, drained and pressed
4 slices Swiss cheese, or more to taste
1 cup Thousand Island salad dressing*
1 tbs chopped fresh parsley

Heat oven to 350ºF.
Place chicken in a lightly greased 9x13 inch baking dish. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place sauerkraut over chicken and top with cheese slices. Spread dressing over all, and cover dish with aluminum foil. Bake for 35 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through (fork can be easily inserted and juices run clear). Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve.

When I first made this, I followed the original recipe, and layered the ingredients as directed. In other words, chicken on the bottom, then the sauerkraut, then the cheese, and then the dressing on the top.
 But when I made it again (because it's so freaking delicious you'll want to make it again), I decided that I wanted the cheese to be on top so it would get all melty and gooey. So I layered it, chicken on the bottom, then the sauerkraut, then the dressing, and then cheese on top. This was a MUCH better plan, in my opinion.

*To make your own Thousand Island dressing, simply stir together a half cup each of mayonnaise and ketchup along with 1 or 2 tbs of sweet pickle relish. The tiny pieces of pickles in the relish look like a thousand tiny little islands in a sea of dressing. Get it?

Full disclosure, I didn't even measure anything. As my Mom would say "Just add everything until it's enough." Cover each piece of chicken with just enough sauerkraut, just enough dressing and just enough cheese. Cook it until it's done. If you like a lot, add a lot! If you need more than 4-6 pieces of chicken, make more!! Only cooking for 2? Make less! It's very adaptable, and very simple!
Oh, one other thing.. usually, if I'm making something with cheese, I'll try different kinds of cheeses, just for a variation, or just because I like to use whatever I have on hand. In this case, though, I wouldn't swap out the Swiss cheese. That's kind of one of the best parts of a Reuben , I think. So swapping it for something else doesn't give the same Reuben experience. Just sayin'!

Monday, September 28, 2020

Joey's Easy Balsamic Pork Roast

  Many many years ago, my family (actually, I think it was my sister Cathy), discovered that if you mix up a packet of Good Seasons Italian Dressing mix as directed, but use BALSAMIC vinegar instead of regular distilled white vinegar, the results are SO much better. So that's sort of been a long time favorite. You just measure out the amounts like it says on the packet, or you could even buy the glass carafe that goes with it, with V,  W, and O lines on the glass to show you where to fill up your levels of vinegar, water, and oil. Perfect. Fabulous. Love it. (btw, I usually don't mention specific brands, but this was just what we always used, so that's that. anyway...)
  Recently, I was generously gifted a boneless pork roast (thanx Sherine!) and my first thought was "I wonder how it would go if I marinated it in our favorite balsamic dressing?" So I mixed up a batch, but as I was mixing it, I decided that I didn't need quite so much oil. So I cut it back a little, and did equal parts oil and vinegar. Everything else stayed the same, and I poured it over my now defrosted pork with a little salt and pepper over the top. (side note, I don't even think I marinated it for very long before I popped it into the oven, but you could prep it up to this point in advance and then let it marinate for as long as you like!) The result was the most DELICIOUS pork roast! It came out so tender and the resulting sauce was so perfect, I just couldn't stop eating it.
So there you have it. Easy to prep, easy to cook, even easier to love. Balsamic dressing over pork. Who knew? You should give this one a try.

1 boneless pork loin, about 3-4 lbs
1 packet Good Seasons Italian Dressing mix
1/4 cup good quality balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3 tbs water
salt and pepper

Heat oven to 350ºF.
Place roast in a baking dish or roasting pan.
In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the next 4 ingredients until well blended. You could also add all dressing ingredients to a mason jar with a tight fitting lid and shake to blend well.
Pour over roast and turn to coat all sides. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Cover with foil and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or as long as you like. Place pan in the oven, uncovered, and roast for about an hour, approximately 20-25 minutes per pound. An instant-read thermometer inserted into the center should read 145ºF.  Remove from oven and loosely tent with foil. Allow to rest for a good 15 minutes before carving. Serve with pan juices.

To stretch the pan juices a little bit further as a sauce... after removing the roast from the pan, add a few more glugs of balsamic vinegar. Whisk to loosen any browned bits from the bottom of the pan... then add 1 or 2 small knobs of butter, and whisk until they melt into the sauce. HEAVEN.
In this case, you really want to get a good quality balsamic vinegar. You don't have to go crazy with the super expensive ones like the ones that are as thick as maple syrup, but you definitely want one that's sweet and syrupy. My favorite one, believe it or not, is from BJ's Wholesale Club, which is a local warehouse club chain. You can buy their balsamic vinegar online if you want to try it!
Want to try it with roast beef instead of pork? Go for it!

Monday, September 21, 2020

Lunchroom Lady Peanut Butter Bars

 Very often, when people have some extra time on their hands, they like to watch TV or a movie. I, on the other hand, like to watch videos on Youtube. Actually, I often refer to it as "going down the Youtube rabbit hole" because sometimes I'll get so involved in watching videos that the next thing I know it's 3 hours later. Ah, well. I guess there are worse things I could do.
 One of my favorite Youtube discoveries was a channel called Whippoorwill Holler, hosted by Miss Lori and her husband Mr. Brown. (And yes, that's what she calls him, which I love. ) They share all kinds of simple homemade old fashioned recipes. Lots of canning and preserving, lots of pies and baking. How awesome is that? Clearly, Miss Lori and I are kindred spirits. I've tried several of her recipes and I've loved every single one of them.
 So when I saw that she was making these peanut butter bars, I immediately added peanut butter to my next grocery list. They're easy to make and they turned out perfectly. Very gooey, very peanutty, and just exactly what you want in a peanut butter bar. YUM.
 I immediately called my Kristin, because her motto is "the peanut butterier the better." This one definitely lives up to that!
 So, thanx, Miss Lori, for another great recipe. I'll look forward to your next video!

1 cup (2 sticks) melted butter 
1 1/2 cups peanut butter 
1 1/2 c sugar 
1/2 cup brown sugar 
1 1/2 tsp salt 
1 tbs pure vanilla extract
4 eggs 
2 cups flour 

1/4 c. peanut butter 
2 to 3 tbs. milk 
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup confectioners sugar

For the bars:
Heat oven to 350ºF. Grease a 9x13 pan. Line with parchment, if desired. 
Melt butter and peanut butter together, either on the stove top or in the microwave. Stir together until well combined. Set aside. 
In large mixing bowl, stir together the sugars, salt, and vanilla extract. Stir in eggs one at a time. Add flour and stir until well incorporated. Add melted peanut butter mixture until well combined.  Pour into prepared pan. Bake 30-35 minutes or until set in the center and lightly golden around the edges. 
Meanwhile, make the glaze.

For the glaze:
In a small bowl, microwave the peanut butter and about 2 tbs of the milk, just to soften. Stir until smooth. Add vanilla and confectioners sugar. Whisk until well incorporated and smooth. If it's too thick, add the last tbs of milk. Spread the glaze over the bars while they're still warm in the pan. Cool completely or chill before cutting into squares. 

I like to spray my pan, and then line it with parchment with enough extra to hang over the edges. Then you can use the parchment as a sling to lift the whole batch out of the pan in one go.
I added a little extra confectioners sugar to the glaze, just because I wanted it a little sweeter, and I also added a little pinch of salt. Speaking of salt, that's what will definitely make your bars taste peanutty. Just that little bit of saltiness changes the entire game. Be sure to include it!

Monday, September 14, 2020

Skillet Pineapple BBQ Chicken

 So, summer has come to a close, but you're not quite ready to let go of summer flavors, right? SAME! I still want some sweet saucey smokey BBQ, but I think all the grilling and cookouts are done for the year. So what do we do? Well, we could do oven BBQ chicken or ribs, but it's still kinda hot out for the oven. We could do slow cooker pulled pork, but that'll take all day. The next best thing? The skillet on the stove top!
 The recipe is super easy, really quick, and super delicious when you want a quick chicken dinner and a quick BBQ sauce. When I tell you that this recipe comes together in a snap, I'm not even kidding. Honestly, you can have dinner on the table in less than a half hour. This is my tweaked version of a recipe for strawberry chicken that I found on Taste of Home. I didn't have strawberries, but I had fresh pineapple, so I went with it. I've done pineapple with BBQ before, so I knew it would work. It turned out SO good! TBH, I've never met a pineapple anything that I didn't love, (yes, even pizza. Oh stop.), so I knew I'd love adding pineapple to the BBQ sauce. Oh, one thing... the original recipe turned out to be VERY sweet, which I'm fine with, but still, I decided to cut back a little on the sweet ingredients and add a little lemon juice to brighten up the whole party. Much better, I think! That's the beauty of a recipe! You make it the way YOU like it!
 So, if you're still thinking of BBQ, try this one. SO easy, and SO good. Serve it with some potato salad and baked beans, and summer is still here!

a couple glugs of oil
4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves
2 tbs butter
1/4 cup onion, finely chopped
1 cup BBQ sauce
2 tbs balsamic vinegar
1 tbs EACH of honey, brown sugar, and lemon juice
1 cup fresh pineapple, chopped

 Add oil to a large heavy skillet. Over medium heat, brown chicken pieces on both sides, until chicken almost cooked through, but not all the way. Remove to a plate and set aside. Add chopped onions and butter to pan. Saute a minute or two until the onions soften. Add all remaining ingredients to pan. Stir well to combine. Nestle chicken pieces back into the sauce in skillet. Reduce heat to low. Let simmer for about 5-10 minutes until the chicken is cooked through and the sauce is slightly thickened.

Don't have fresh pineapple? Use canned! I would add some of the juice too, because why not?
Not a fan of pineapple? Try a different kind of fruit! Like I said, the original recipe used fresh strawberries, but I bet you could use black berries, blueberries, diced apples, supremed oranges, any kind of fruit you like! or just leave the fruit out altogether. All good!
This recipe would also be great with pork chops instead of chicken. I mean, I've never tried it, but dontcha think? I'll let you know if, actually WHEN I try it! How can that not be good? In fact, it would probably be good on anything! Shrimp anyone? Don't throw away that extra sauce!
Btw, if your grilling season has NOT ended, go ahead and make this sauce recipe in a small sauce pot, then brush it on anything you're grilling! 

Monday, September 7, 2020

Joey's BBQ Chicken and Baked Bean Casserole

Ok, sooo......just go with me on this one, k?
I had a crazy idea. I know. I know. That's not exactly new. But this was a GOOD one! If you know me, or at least if you follow my recipes, you know I can't just leave a recipe alone. I'm always trying to come up with different things to do with it. In this case, I wanted to try something new with baked beans. I have to say, I'm pretty famous for my Baked Beans, thank you very much. So I kept thinking "what else can I do with them?" I've done casseroles with ham and beans, rice and beans, and chili dogs. I've done maple beans, pineapple beans, and of course, you can't go wrong with Trisha Yearwood's Baked Bean Casserole. But then I thought, instead of always doing pork and beans, what if we do BBQ CHICKEN and beans instead? I thought, ooo I bet that would go great with some mac and cheese. (ok, here comes the crazy part) .... and then I thought.. what if I do a casserole that combines all three??? BBQ Chicken, baked beans, mac and cheese, all in one. That sounds pretty amazing, dontcha think?! I asked my nephew, Gregger, if that sounds like it would be good.... I won't tell you EXACTLY what he said, but suffice to say he was 100% on board, and immediately volunteered to be a taste tester. LOL
So, where to start? Well, I found a recipe for one of those Bubble Up Bakes. Do you know the ones I'm talking about? It's a casserole that uses canned biscuits. You cut them up, toss them with your casserole ingredients, then bake it. The biscuit pieces puff up and there you have it, Bubble Up Bake. Now, I've tried them before, even shared recipes for them. But my issue is that the biscuit pieces in the center never seem to bake all the way through, and you're left with big pockets of raw biscuit dough. (Cue the Price is Right loser music). Not exactly what I want in a casserole. So basically, I just used that recipe as a springboard for this recipe. Swapped the biscuits for pasta, added a few of my own tweaks, and here we are! Chicken, beans, pasta, cheese, all in one big hearty casserole. All you need is a fresh crisp salad and there's dinner! I must say, it's pretty awesome. I knew I definitely wanted it to be a pasta dish, but I didn't want to just toss some baked beans with pasta. So That's where the can of tomatoes comes in. Full disclosure, when I first made the sauce, I thought "wow, that is FAR too much sauce", but then when I mixed everything together, it turned out to be the right amount! The pasta really drinks it in! Btw, this recipe makes a GIANT casserole. What can I say? I can never seem to make a casserole that fits into a 9x13 casserole dish. I always start adding things, and then the next thing I know, I have the casserole that ate New Jersey. Sorry not sorry! Luckily, my sister gave me a GIANT casserole dish that always seems to accommodate my casseroles. Normally, I'd try to scale things back for the sake of posting the recipe, but this time I'm owning it. So, you can either cut the amounts back to fit your 9x13, split it into two casseroles (and freeze one), or use a giant dish that will feed an army. LOL Also, one more thing, there are a couple steps to the recipe, so I'm gonna ask you to multitask, but it's all pretty simple to do. I have complete faith in you. If you give this a go, let me know how you like it! And also, if you have any other ideas for baked beans, send 'em my way! I've love to give them a try!

1 lb cavatappi or other cut pasta
6 slices bacon, cut into small pieces
1 onion, roughly chopped
flour, salt, and pepper for dredging
1 pkg boneless skinless chicken (3 or 4 breast halves)
1 28oz can baked beans
1 28z can tomato sauce
1 cup BBQ sauce
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tbs mustard
1 tbs kosher salt
1 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp liquid smoke (optional)
16 oz cheddar cheese
8 oz mozzarella cheese

Heat oven to 350ºF.
First, boil the pasta: Add a handful of salt to a pot of rapidly boiling water. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions, but drain it a minute before reaching al dente. Drain well.
In the meantime, add the bacon to a cold skillet. Place it over medium heat. Gradually brown the bacon, making sure you render a good amount of fat from it. When the bacon starts to crisp, add the chopped onion. Saute until the onions begin to soften. Meanwhile, prepare the chicken. Yes, I know. Pasta boiling, bacon and onions cooking, yes, I'm asking you to multitask. I told you! What, you thought I was kidding? You can do this! Stay with me...
Place a bit of flour in a shallow bowl, enough to dredge the chicken. Add salt and pepper. Cut up chicken to small bite size pieces. Dredge in seasoned flour until evenly coated. Pat away excess flour (you can also use a ziplog bag to shake them for easier cleanup!).
Remove the bacon and onions from the pan and place in a very large mixing bowl, leaving the bacon fat in the pan. Add the chicken pieces to the pan. Lightly brown the chicken on all sides, adding an extra drizzle of oil when needed, but don't cook all the way though. Do this in batches, so as not to crowd the pan.
 While the chicken is cooking, add the rest of the sauce ingredients to the mixing bowl... the baked beans, BBQ sauce, tomato sauce, brown sugar, mustard, liquid smoke (if using), salt, and pepper. Add the chicken to the bowl as you remove it from the saute pan. Add the drained pasta and half of the cheddar cheese to the bowl. Toss all until well coated. Pour into sprayed casserole dish(es), either one large casserole, or two small ones. (it definitely won't all fit in a 9x13, but like I always say, More is More!) Top with remaining cheddar cheese plus all of the mozzarella. Cover with foil. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until heated through. Remove foil and bake for 15 more minutes. Let sit for 10 minutes before serving.

Yes, Yes, I know there are several things going on at once. Just stay organized and you'll be fine. To save time, you could make each of the components ahead of time, say, the night before. And then when you get home from work, toss them all together, pour into your casserole dish, and bake. Actually, you can even do the whole thing the night before.... assemble it and all, then cover it and pop it in the fridge until you bake it the next day.

Monday, August 31, 2020

Fresh Strawberry Pie

  I was recently at the local produce market picking up some hot peppers, and I noticed that the strawberries looked absolutely delicious! When I walked into the market, I had no intentions of buying strawberries, but I just couldn't help it, they looked so good! Clearly there must be something I can do with them. And then I thought of a fresh sweet delicious old fashioned strawberry pie. PERFECT! And then it dawned on me... do I even have a recipe? Wait, have I ever even MADE a strawberry pie before?????  WHAT?? How can it be that I've gone this long without making a perfectly fabulous fresh strawberry pie? Well, that settles it. One strawberry pie, coming up!
 At first, I couldn't decide if I wanted to do crushed berries, sliced berries, or whole berries, so I figured, why not do all three? I made a filling with the crushed, stirred in the sliced, topped it with whole. Boom. It turned out just as good as I hoped it would be, and now I can add this pie to my ever growing list of favorite pies. Actually, I've literally never met a pie that I didn't like, but still!

1 deep dish pie shell, blind baked and cooled
4 lbs fresh ripe strawberries
1 cup sugar
1 tbs lemon juice
3/4 cup water
3 tbs corn starch

First, choose about 5 or 6 or your most perfect gorgeous strawberries. Set Aside.
Take half of the remaining strawberries and place them in a small sauce pot along with the sugar and lemon juice. Using a potato masher, mash the strawberries into small chunks. Heat over medium high heat until they just begin to boil. Reduce heat and simmer 5-10 minutes.  Meanwhile, in a small bowl, add the cornstarch to the water, and stir well. Add the cornstarch slurry to the strawberries. Let simmer, stirring constantly, until mixture becomes very thick. Let mixture cool slightly.
Slice remaining strawberries, and stir into the cooked strawberry mixture. Pour filling into your pre-baked pie shell. Arrange your selected choice strawberries over the top of the filling, either whole or sliced. Chill for several hours or overnight. Serve with freshly whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

To make your pie really glisten, reserve a little of the thickened strawberry filling, removing any chunks of berry. Use that gel to brush your decorative strawberries on top.
If you're making a regular 9" pie, (instead of a deep dish pie) just cut all the amounts by half.
For a little unexpected summer variation, add a little fresh basil to your pie filling. Seriously!
For an extra special treat, drizzle your whole pie with melted chocolate.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Creamy Grape Salad

  When I first saw this recipe, it reminded me of your good old fashioned Southern type of recipe. Lots of sweet juicy grapes in a sweet creamy dressing.. it sort of has that "down home country" thing goin' on. I'm not even sure whose recipe it is because I've seen this exact recipe on many sites. But here's the thing.. whenever I see the SAME recipe posted over and over on different websites, that usually means it's a great recipe that everyone makes the same way. I mean, I suppose everyone tweaks the amount of sugar, and that's fine, but still, it's the same recipe. That's good enough for me!
  So exactly what is a grape salad? Is it a side dish? Is it a dessert? Well, TBH, it can be anything you want it to be. When I first read it, I pictured it as a sweet cold side dish.. kind of like applesauce with pork chops, or cranberry sauce with turkey. But when I first TASTED it, I immediately got the fruit and yogurt with granola vibe. Perfect for a light summer breakfast or brunch. But then I read a few of the comments and tweaks on different sites... and many people said they like to chop up frozen Snickers or Milky Way bars and sprinkle them over the top. Or do the same with a candy toffee bar. Well, now we've taken it in a whole other direction! That clearly crosses over into dessert territory. So I guess it's up to you how ever you'd like to serve it.
 The point is that it's really tasty and everyone will love it! Personally, I'm not one to add candy bars to my fruit salad, but hey, you do you! For me, the kicker is the addition of the brown sugar and chopped pecans over the top. SO GOOD! The brown sugar makes it just sweet enough, and the pecans add just exactly the right amount of crunchy texture! It's the perfect bright and refreshing thing to bring to a summer family event. It's a great do ahead too, so make it the night before, and then serve it nicely chilled. I promise it'll be a big hit!

8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 cup sour cream
1/3 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 lbs seedless red grapes
2 lbs seedless green grapes
3 tbs brown sugar
3 tbs chopped pecans

In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese, sour cream, sugar, and vanilla until blended. Add grapes and toss to coat. Transfer to a serving bowl. Cover and refrigerate until serving. Sprinkle with brown sugar and pecans just before serving.

ok, so, a few things...
It seems to me that this recipe makes quite a lot. If you don't need FOUR POUNDS of grapes., just cut the whole recipe in half. Then again,  I don't think leftovers would be a terrible thing in this particular case.
Speaking of cutting things in half, I wanted a smaller bite, so I decided to cut all the grapes in half. It's actually a pretty good idea, especially if you have little ones who might try to swallow a whole grape.
If you're not a fan of pecans, try any kind of chopped nuts. You could even do granola instead of nuts, if you're so inclined.
If you'd like to lighten it up a bit, try using plain Greek yogurt instead of sour cream. It works quite well! (especially if you're doing granola!) Another thing that works quite well is adding or substituting a different kind of fruit. How about pitted fresh cherries? (I've tried it.. they're fabulous) Or fresh blueberries and sliced strawberries? I bet it would also be great to add some diced apples to the grapes. Mmmm... Might need to try that next time!

Monday, August 17, 2020

Joey's Summer Squash Pie

  So I was looking for fun recipes to try with zucchini. During this time of year, I always like to find some new zucchini recipes, just because it's so abundant. Sooo.... what'll it be this time.....Do I wanna go sweet like zucchini bread? or savory as with an entree? And then I thought, ooooo how about a pie? YUM. So I googled, and immediately found a recipe from Taste of Home and it looked pretty awesome, so I thought I'd have a go.
 Well, the first thing I noticed is that it was kind of similar to a tomato pie recipe I've been making for years. In that pie recipe, you layer slices of tomatoes with fresh basil and scallions, then you spread a mixture of shredded cheese and mayonnaise over the top, and bake it. So this was basically the zucchini version of that recipe. I immediately thought "why have I never done this before?" I'm forever looking for new ways to reinvent old recipes, and I'm still completely amazed that I never tweaked that tomato pie.
 So, now, I'm reading the squash pie recipe, and I'm already deciding what changes to make. Not to the method, but mainly to the ingredients. Full disclosure, I always find summer squash to be a little bland unless you pump up the flavor a bit, so I added a few aromatics. (Basically I can never leave well enough alone!) Fresh herbs, onions, peppers, garlic.... it just seemed like this pie was calling for them!!
 Oh, and one more thing... with the tomato pie recipe, the one problem I always have is that the fresh tomatoes bring too much liquid to the party, and you end up with a soggy pie. So, recently, I started adding a little flour to the filling, just to help thicken it up a bit. It worked with the tomatoes, so I did that here too. And I must say those extra aromatics really boosted the flavor. It turned out great! At the very first bite, I thought "ooh that's REALLY good." Dontcha just love that feeling of getting something right on the very first try? Seriously delish! So if you happen to have a home garden that is overgrowing with a million zucchini, give this one a try. Serve it with a little side salad and there's your perfect brunch or light dinner. It's really just that good!

1 unbaked pie crust (ready made, or your own)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
olive oil
2 cups roughly diced zucchini
2 cups roughly diced yellow summer squash
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
1 red bell pepper, roughly chopped
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste
a couple sprigs EACH fresh thyme, fresh basil, fresh oregano, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup flour
2 large tomatoes, sliced
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup mayonnaise

Heat oven to 350ºF.
Line deep dish pie plate with pie crust pastry. Crimp to make a decorative edge. Line pie shell with parchment paper. Fill with dry beans or pie weights. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove pie weights and parchment. Brush with beaten egg. Bake for an additional 10 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside. Meanwhile, make the filling.
  To a large skillet or wok, add a few big glugs of olive oil. When the oil is hot enough, add the zucchini, yellow squash, onions, and peppers. Saute over fairly high heat for a good 10 minutes, stirring often, until very tender. Add garlic powder, salt, and pepper. At the last minute, add garlic, fresh herbs, and flour. Stir until well combined and cook for only another minute or two. Spoon into baked pastry shell. Top with tomato slices. Combine the cheese and mayonnaise; spread over the top Bake for 30-40 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and let stand for a good 15 minutes before cutting.

Like I said, I just couldn't leave this one alone. I had to add my own little spin. But just because I like certain things, doesn't mean you have to! Don't like peppers? Leave 'em out! Want to add eggplant? Go for it! Add any combination of veggies you want, or just do all one kind! It'll still be fabulous!
Also be sure to season everything well. It will probably need more salt than you think it will!

Monday, August 10, 2020

Lemon Basil Sugar Cookies

  Many years ago, after all of my siblings and I had grown up and moved out, I used to stop by my parents' house and visit with my Mom. Honestly, if I've said it once, I've said it a hundred times,... someone should have followed my Mom and written down everything she ever said. I can't even begin to express the amount of Life Lessons we all learned from her, and of course, this blog wouldn't exist if it hadn't been for her. She was the best at cooking with what she had on hand, and she could feed an army just as easily as she could feed 2 people. Whenever I visited with her, we talked about loads of topics, but of course the conversation would inevitably work its way back to food or cooking or recipes or "how did you make this?" or "do we have that old recipe written down anywhere?" or some similar variation.
 Once I was fixing her a cup of tea, and I noticed that she had a little plate of sugar cookies in a container off to the side of the kitchen counter. I asked her about them and she said she liked to make them "whenever she wanted a little something sweet." She described them as being "nothing crazy, 'no bells and whistles', just good old fashioned sugar cookies" and they made a small enough batch that it didn't take her all afternoon to make them. "Perfect with a cup of tea."
 For some reason, that conversation always stuck with me. How can you go wrong with a good old fashioned sugar cookie whenever you want "a little something sweet", right?
 Cut to many years later, and I happen upon this recipe on a blog called I IMMEDIATELY think of Mom and those cookies that she had with her cup of tea. A classic sugar cookie, only this time with a little refreshing lemon and basil. I guess we can call that a few small bells and whistles, but still nothing crazy. The recipe description even says that it's perfect with a cup of tea. Sounds pretty awesome to me. And since I happen to have an ever-growing window box of basil, I decided to give it a hair cut and make these cookies. They're just exactly what you want them to be. Sweet, lemony, crispy, chewy, basil-y. Pretty sure Mom would have loved them.
 So the next time you want "a little something sweet" without too many "bells and whistles," fix yourself a cup of tea and try this recipe.
As Mom would say "It's one of Life's simple pleasures."

2 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 cup butter
2 tsp lemon extract
zest of two lemons
4-6 basil leaves (about 2 tbs when finely chopped)

Heat oven to 375ºF.
Soften the butter in the microwave for about 1 1/2 minutes on low. If it melts a bit, that’s ok. Cream the butter and sugar together. Add the egg. Add the lemon extract and lemon zest. Mix in the flour and baking powder. Combine everything. When a dough has formed, mix in the finely chopped basil. Form 1 inch balls of dough in your hands. Roll each ball in sugar. Put twelve on a half sheet pan. Push down in the middle of each ball a little with your thumb. Bake for 9-10 minutes.

If you like the "green freshness" that the basil brings to these cookies, also try it with chopped fresh mint or fresh thyme leaves. They go very well with lemon, and it's amazing how well the fresh herbs go in a sweet recipe!

Monday, August 3, 2020

Summer Panzanella

  Ok this one is as simple as can be and it has summer written all over it. I was looking for something fresh and light, which is always a welcome break from the all-too-convenient heavy deep-fried take out that happens far too often. For me, summer always means tons of fresh tomatoes and basil, and this recipe is the perfect way to use them. The thing that makes it a Panzanella, and not just any old salad is the inclusion of the bread cubes. This was a way of using up stale bread because it soaks up all that delicious dressing as well as the juices from the tomatoes and cucumbers. The result is a fabulously fresh salad that hits all the right notes. And the bread makes it hearty enough to be a meal, all on its own. Full disclosure, this recipe is actually my tweaked version of the original recipe from Delish. What can I say? I wanted to add artichokes, avocado, and fresh mozzarella! Not sorry! Hmmm... I think maybe one of these days I might even add some grilled shrimp to it. Doesn't that sound amazing?
Now THAT says summer to me! LOVE.

1 large baguette or Italian bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
3 tbs red wine vinegar
1 tsp honey
kosher salt
black pepper
Freshly ground black pepper
1 large seedless cucumber, roughly chopped
2 pts cherry tomatoes, halved
1 red onion. chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 avocado, diced
1 jar marinated artichoke hearts
balls of fresh mozzarella
1 bunch basil, torn

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, toss bread with 1/4 cup olive oil. Add bread to skillet and toast until golden and crisp, about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.
In a small bowl, whisk together red wine vinegar, remaining 1/4 cup olive oil and honey. Season with salt and pepper.
To large bowl, add crispy bread, and remaining ingredients. Toss with dressing until evenly coated and season with more salt and pepper. Garnish with basil and serve.

TBH, I didn't even measure anything. For each vegetable, I didn't even look at the amounts... just cut up everything and threw it into the bowl. For the bread, I just cut it up, drizzled with olive oil until it was enough, then crisped it in a pan. I had a lot of bread, so I did it in two batches. And as always, if you like a lot of something, add a lot!
This recipe lends itself to any number of variations, not only with the ingredients but also with the amounts, as well. Feeding a big crowd? Use a lot of each ingredient! Only a few of you? Scale it back a bit. There's really no wrong way to do it. Be creative! Not a fan of red onion? Try chopped scallions instead, for a milder onion flavor. Want to use a different kind of vinegar? Go for it! Want to add a protein? DO IT! Or how about adding other veggies? Red or yellow bell peppers? Zucchini? Perfect!
You do you!

Monday, July 27, 2020

Bucatini All'Amatriciana

  As I was looking for yummy summer pasta recipes, I happened upon this recipe that I had seen on TV about a million years ago. Back in the day, before Chef Anne Burrell had her Worst Cooks in America thing going on, she used to have her own show, and honestly, it was great to just watch her cook. Wait... before I go any further.. am I the only one who misses those old TV cooking shows where we just watch a chef cook? You know, like Jacques Pepin and Sara Moulton and of course Miss Julia... they were always my favorites because I'd look at them and say "I bet I could make that too", ya know? My young self learned quite a bit from them, so I really do miss how informative those old shows used to be. As much as I love a competition cooking show, or whatever baking challenge we're up to, it's kind of not really the same.
ANYWAY.....Anne Burrell used to have a show called Secrets of a Restaurant Chef.. and on one particular episode, she made this pasta recipe. Of course, it looked so simple, I thought "yup.. definitely making that." And then I promptly forgot all about it. Until now. Aaaaaand we're back.
  I was just gonna make the recipe as I had seen it, but then I thought I'd compare several recipes, just for funsies, to see how different chefs have different variations. The first thing I read is that it's not really authentic to use any herbs in this sauce, or even garlic. I mean, I guess that makes sense. What is the point of coming up with a new tomato sauce recipe if you're just going to add all the same ingredients to it, right? So I knew right off the bat that I wasn't going to add any oregano or basil or garlic, as with your usual basic marinara. But still, many chefs do. Bobby Flay adds parsley and oregano and garlic and finishes his sauce with a couple pats of butter.. I read another recipe that adds fresh rosemary. I saw another version that included a big splash of white wine. Clearly this recipe was open to interpretation. So I looked for the things that seemed to be constant in all of them. The pasta was always bucatini, hence the name, and the sauce always had chopped chilis or crushed red pepper flakes for a spicy kick.
 But the most important thing, it seemed, was to include the star of the show... a specific cut of cured pork called guanciale. Annnnd now you might say "what's guanciale???"  Well, it's actually the cheeks or jowls of the pork. It has quite a lot of fat, and has a stronger porky almost gamey kind of flavor. It's treated like bacon, and it's quite luxurious! The problem is that it's not always the easiest thing to find. So, then I discovered that the next best thing is to use pancetta. Aaaaand now you might say "what's pancetta???" Well, it's similar to guanciale, also a cured cut of pork, but it comes from the belly of the animal instead of the jowls. Think of it as bacon that is cured but not smoked. It's a little expensive, but you only need 8 oz and it's SO worth it. If nothing else, you can just use regular bacon! (actually, that's what Bobby Flay uses in his recipe). It'll add a little smokiness, but that's not really a bad thing here. Anyway, after all that, I decided to just go back and use Anne Burrell's recipe. It's simple, it's straight forward. And I love that she gives the recipe like she's talking to you, especially when she talks about the marriage between the pasta and sauce. LOL It's kinda like many people tell me about this blog. They say "I can hear you talking!" which always cracks me up.
 So there we have it. You absolutely MUST add this recipe to your recipe repertoire. It's SO amazingly delicious, only takes a few ingredients, and is simple enough that anyone can make it. I'd say it's even good enough for when you want to impress someone! It took me forever to finally get around to making it, but it was certainly worth the wait!

Extra virgin olive oil
8 ounces guanciale, cut in 1/4-inch strips
2 large onions, cut in 1/2-inch dice
1/2 to 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Kosher salt
2 (28-ounce) cans San Marzano tomatoes, passed through the food mill
1 pound bucatini or perciatelli
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus extra for garnish
1 tablespoon minced chives, for garnish, optional

Coat a large saucepan with olive oil. Add the guanciale and saute over low heat. Cook until it is brown and crispy and has rendered a lot of fat. Remove and reserve 1/3 of the guanciale for garnish. Bring the pan to a medium heat and add the onions and crushed red pepper. Season generously with salt, to taste. Cook the onions until they are translucent, starting to turn golden and are very aromatic. Add the tomatoes and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer the sauce for about 1 hour, tasting periodically. Adjust the salt, as needed.
Bring a large pot of well salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook for 1 minute less than the instructions on the package. Remove 3 or 4 ladlefuls of the sauce from the pot to a bowl, as an insurance policy. You can always add it back in but it's harder to take out once the pasta is in the pan. You're looking for the perfect ratio between pasta and sauce. Drain the pasta from the water and add to the pot of sauce. Stir to coat with the sauce. This is how you always finish pasta; you cook it in the sauce to perform the marriage of the pasta and the sauce. Add more sauce, if necessary. Add in the cheese and drizzle with olive oil to really bring the marriage together. Toss to coat and serve in shallow bowls garnished with cheese and the reserved guanciale. Sprinkle with chives to finish, if using. YUUUMMMEEEEE!

When the recipe says "season generously with salt, to taste", I kind of held back a little because I knew the pancetta would be very salty. Maybe the guanciale isn't as salty as pancetta, but it's something to keep an eye on. Yes, I used pancetta instead of guanciale. Who even knows where to buy guanciale??? Also I used more than 8oz. Why? because pancetta is just so GOOD!
Since I only like a little spice, I only used a half tsp of crushed red pepper flakes, which gives it a nice slow burn. But if you like the heat, go for the full teaspoon. Or more! You could even add a fresh pinch right at serving.
I like it a little chunky, so instead of passing my canned tomatoes through a food mill, I just emptied the cans into a large bowl and then squished them with my impeccably clean hands.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Cherry Pie Bars

  I was recently invited to visit some of my family members who were vacationing at the Jersey Shore. Of course, my first question was "what can I bring?" They said they wanted "a picky uppy dessert", which is a very technical term we like to use and it basically means something such as a brownie, something cut into squares that is easily picked up and eaten out of hand (instead of needing plates, bowls, spoons, etc.)
 Well, I knew right away I didn't want to do anything chocolate since the heat was so relentless. I didn't want to arrive at the shore with a melted mess. So I decided to make these little cherry gems.
 I actually found the same exact recipe on several websites, which usually means that's the go-to recipe, but on every website, the recipe always used a 15x10 sheet pan, and I only have 18x13 sheets. hmm... that won't work. Then I thought, well, usually whenever I make a picky uppy dessert, I use a 9x13 pan... yes, I think sounds like the better option than a sheet pan. So I needed to find a smaller version of the same recipe, or figure out different quantities for all of the ingredients. (Wait, did all of that make sense??) Resizing pans... makes my brain hurt.. anyway... The listed recipe is basically the same as all the rest, and the amounts have been adjusted to work for the smaller 9x13 pan. I think that's usually the pan most people use anyway, so there we go.
 The recipe is SUPER easy to do, and it came together in a snap. Everyone LOVED them, and they were gone in no time at all. Side note, they still wound up becoming a little melty (melty?) because of the 80 mile drive to the shore, but no one seemed to mind the extra gooey-ness!
I know I'll definitely be making them again. You should too!

1 cup butter, softened
1 3/4 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch salt
1 (21oz) can cherry pie filling

Heat oven to 350ºF.
Spray a 9x13 inch baking pan with nonstick spray, line with parchment paper with an inch or two hanging over the edge, and then spray again. Set aside.
In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg and vanilla. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt; stir into the creamed mixture. Reserve 1 1/2 cups of the dough and spread the rest into the bottom of the prepared pan. Cover this layer evenly with cherry pie filling. Drop the rest of the dough by spoonfuls on top of the cherry layer and spread to cover the best you can.
Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until top is slightly golden. Drizzle with a confectioners' glaze when cool for sweeter bars. Let cool completely or chill before cutting into bars.

For the glaze, I just added water to about a cup of powdered sugar, just a few drops at a time, until it was the right drizzling consistency. (Can use milk or even fruit juice instead of water). I also added a 1/4 tsp of almond extract. Be careful when adding water to the sugar, a little goes a long way, so just add a tiny bit at a time and whisk it together. Same goes for the almond extract. A little goes a long way.
Not a fan of cherries? Try any kind of pie filling you like!

Monday, July 13, 2020

Joey's Orange BBQ Chicken

 Many years ago, my family was obsessed with a specific chicken recipe called Honey Chicken. We had it for EVERY big family event, and everyone always loved it. It was also super easy to make... bake it low and slow in the oven for an hour, and then baste it with sauce for another hour..... the chicken always turned out perfectly tender and delicious. Well, ever since then, I always wondered if I could do the same cooking method, but use a different sauce....
  My first thought was to do a BBQ sauce, but that's kinda boring. Anyone can open a bottle of BBQ sauce and pour it over some chicken. Still, it seemed like I was on the right track. Hmmm.. I'll mentally set it on the back burner, and maybe one of these days something will inspire me.
And then one night, I ordered Chinese take out orange chicken. Inspiration strikes! This was my ah ha moment! As I was eating my dinner that night, I thought THIS is how I want my oven BBQ chicken to go! Great! Now it's time to come up with an orange sauce.
  I knew I wanted it to be sweet, sticky, salty, savory, and spicy.  So I stirred together a few Asian-inspired ingredients, and this is where I landed. The orange flavor definitely comes through, and so does the slight heat from the fresh ginger and the crushed red pepper flakes. Perfect! And, once again, the chicken turned out every bit as tender as it was when we made the honey chicken, just as I had hoped it would be.
 If you're looking for a different BBQ experience, you should give this one a try. I'm so pleased with how it turned out. Also, you should keep lots of napkins at the ready! Just sayin'!

4 chicken legs, bone-in and skin on
4 chicken thighs, bone-in and skin on
salt and pepper
1/2 cup orange marmalade
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tbs lemon juice
3 tbs butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbs grated fresh ginger
pinch crushed red pepper flakes

sesame seeds or sliced scallions for garnish (optional)

Heat oven to 300ºF.
Line a baking tray with parchment paper. Place chicken pieces on tray, leaving space between them. Pat chicken pieces dry with paper towels. Season well with salt and pepper. Place tray in oven for 1 hour. Now it's time to make the sauce.
In a small sauce pot, combine remaining ingredients. Bring to a low simmer over low-mediumn heat. Let the sauce reduce until syrupy, stirring often so that it doesn't burn. Remove from heat and set aside until you're ready to use it.
Brush the chicken pieces with the sauce until they're well coated. Place the chicken back in oven for another hour, periodically brushing with more sauce. At this point, you could place them under the broiler for a little char, or finish them off on the grill, but it's really not necessary. Remove chicken from oven and top with sliced scallions or sesame seeds, if desired.

Taste the sauce to make sure it's what you want. Is it sweet enough? Add more honey or even some brown sugar. Salty enough? Add another splash of soy sauce. Is it bright enough? Add more lemon juice or some grated orange zest. Can you taste the ginger and garlic? Feel free to adjust it to how you like it!
If your sauce becomes too thick, you can thin it down with a tablespoon or two of orange juice.
I like to use the bone-in chicken with the skin still on. It gets nice and crispy and it keeps the chicken moist. With this method, you definitely don't want to use boneless chicken breasts. They just don't need that long to cook and will come out dry and overdone. If you'd still like to use boneless chicken, then just grill the chicken and brush with sauce as you normally would, instead of the low and slow method.