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!

Monday, February 24, 2020

Dublin Coddle

Have you ever heard of a Dublin Coddle?
I must say that I had never heard of it until recently, but of course I knew that I would love it as soon as I read what goes in it. Sausages, potatoes, onions, bacon... clearly this goes in the "how can this not be good?" category, am I right? So then I started reading up on it. From what I've read, it's traditionally made by placing bacon, sausages, potatoes, and onions in a pot, covering everything with water and then boiling the hell out of it. No browning, no anything. Just boil or simmer everything for a long long LONG time and then add parsley at the end. I watched video after video, and read article after article. And everyone was very adamant that you should NOT brown anything. Apparently it's not a true Dublin Coddle if you brown everything first. Hmm.. that makes it look a little bit anemic if you ask me. In one of the videos, the cook said "it won't win any beauty contests, but it tastes delicious."
 Well, I think we can do better than that. So I decided to brown the meat, add some fresh herbs, and cook it with chicken broth instead of water. The result was HEAVENLY. It was so hearty and delicious and comforting that this is now my go-to recipe. (Side note, I did see a few videos where the cook added a few other things, carrots and turnips, etc, but I decided to stay true to the original, even if I was switching up the cooking method).
 So my next question was where does the name come from? My first thought was because it's such a comfort food, and then I read this excerpt from an article:
 "The name of the dish is probably descended from the older word caudle, derived from a French word meaning "to boil gently, parboil, or stew". The more recent version of the verb, "coddle," is still applied to gently cooked eggs; and in the case of Dublin coddle, it's become a noun, applied to a dish that is cooked very slowly at low temperatures.
In Dublin itself, coddle retains its reputation as a dish that can be prepared ahead of time and left in a very slow oven while the people who're going to eat it have to be out of the house for a while -- in particular, at a funeral: when everyone returns for the wake, the dish will be ready, and won't have suffered from being left in the oven a little longer than planned."
 I also read another article that said instead of a funeral, the "being out of the house for a while" refers to being out all night at the pub, and that this was a great meal after one had been out drinking all night. It also said that this was a great way to use up leftovers, so there's no one specific recipe. Everyone makes their own version of it, depending on what foods they had on hand.
 So there we have it. A Dublin Coddle. Who knew? The MOST important thing you should take from this is that it's OMG DELICIOUS. This could be your next St Patrick's Day dinner instead of doing ham or corned beef and cabbage. OOOOH! some boiled or sauteed cabbage would go great with this! I think I need to make this again, just to be sure.
I hope you'll give it a try!

3-4 pounds red potatoes, peeled and sliced
1 pound pork sausages (Irish Bangers, if you can get them)
1/2 pound thick-cut bacon, cut into 1-2 inch pieces
1 large onion, roughly chopped
1 qt chicken broth
Large handful fresh parsley, finely chopped
Several sprigs of fresh thyme, tied together with cotton twine
Black pepper

Preheat the oven to 300ºF.
 In a large wide heavy pot with a tight lid, add the slices of bacon. Cook them over medium heat until the fat is rendered and the bacon is slightly browned. Remove to a plate, set aside. Cook sausages in bacon fat. Try not to disturb them too much so that they get nice and brown. Remove to side plate with bacon. Add onions. Saute until they begin to soften. Add a little of the chicken broth to deglaze the bottom of the pot, scraping up all the brown bits. Add potatoes to the pot. Place sausages and bacon back into the pot, along with the rest of the chicken broth, the thyme bundle, black pepper, and a big handful of parsley. Cover with lid and place in oven for 2-3 hours.
 Before serving, be sure to remove and discard the thyme bundle. Taste and adjust the seasoning with Kosher salt and black pepper, if needed. Garnish with some more fresh parsley over the top.
Btw, Guinness goes extremely well with this dish (adding a little to the pot toward the end of the process wouldn't hurt anything either!) Another good accompaniment is fresh Irish Soda Bread.

If you can't find Irish Bangers, Johnsonville Brats are a good substitute. You could even use breakfast sausages. But definitely not Italian Sausage. I mean, I guess you could, but your final product would have a very different flavor.
I like to use red potatoes for this because they hold together very well. I didn't even peel mine. Why? Because I didn't feel like it. LOL But you do you.
If you want to thicken the broth into a more substantial gravy, just add a slurry of a couple tbs flour in a half cup of cold water. Stir it to the dish, and let it continue to cook until the gravy thickens. Personally, I didn't mind it being more of a broth than a gravy. It was SO flavorful, I just couldn't stop eating it!

Monday, February 10, 2020

Mini Chocolate Cherry Cheesecakes

  Many many years ago, my sisters used to make Cherry Cheese Tarts. They were just simple little cheesecakes that didn't take many ingredients and were a cinch to throw together. It was one of those desserts that showed up at many family events and they were always a bit hit. A vanilla wafer went into the bottom of a cupcake liner, cheesecake batter was poured over the top, and then after they baked and cooled, they were topped with a spoonful of cherry pie filling. Perfect, right? They were SO good! But I thought, well, what if we do a chocolate version? Chocolate and cherry are a match made in heaven! (And frankly, why have I never done this until now?) I'll just do an Oreo cookie crust, a chocolate cheesecake filling, and my same favorite cherry pie filling on top! Awesome.
 I was originally just going to chocolate-ify the recipe that we used to use, but then I thought maybe it would be better to go with a whole new recipe. Since I didn't already have a go-to chocolate cheesecake recipe, I decided to try this recipe from a blog called Baker by Nature. It's a FABULOUS recipe. Not too sweet, VERY rich and chocolatey, and perfect if you want a small but decadent treat. And they look so delicious that you'll get the added bonus of everyone saying "ooooo and aaaaahhhhh" when you bring them to a party. LOL Btw, They're also the perfect thing to make if you want to impress somebody special. I'm not sayin', I'm just sayin'!

For the crust:
36 Oreo cookies, crushed into fine crumbs
4 tbs melted butter

 Preheat oven to 325ºF. Line two 12-mold muffin tins with paper liners. Spray liners lightly with non-stick spray and set aside until needed. Place the cookies in the body of a small food processor and pulse until the cookies are very fine crumbs. Add melted butter and pulse until well combined. Divide the mixture between the cupcake liners and press it firmly into the bottom of each mold. Bake crusts in preheated oven for 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and place the tins on a wire rack to cool while you make the filling. Reduce oven to 300°F.

For the cheesecake:
7 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped
16 ounces full-fat cream cheese
2/3 cup sour cream
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tbs unsweetened cocoa powder
2 large eggs plus 2 egg yolks
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

 Place the chocolate in a heat proof bowl over a small pot of simmering water. Heat until the chocolate is completely melted, stirring occasionally with a rubber spatula. Remove the pot from the heat, leaving the bowl of chocolate over the hot water. Set aside.
 In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the cream cheese and sour cream until completely smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add in the sugar and cocoa powder and beat until smooth. Add in the eggs, egg yolks, and heavy cream and mix until combined,. Fold in the chocolate. Finally add in the vanilla and pulse for another 20 seconds. Divide the filling evenly among the cupcake liners. Bake cheesecakes for 15 minutes, then turn off the oven and leave the door closed for another 5 minutes. Remove the cheesecake pans from the oven and place the pans on a wire rack to cool completely. Once cool to the touch, place the pans in the fridge to chill for at least 2 hours. Once the cheesecakes are completely cool, you can remove them from the pan.
Top with cherry pie filling or your topping of choice.

Whenever making any kind of cheesecake, be sure that all of your ingredients are room temperature. It makes all the difference in the final product!
This recipe originally called for a ganache topping, which is just chocolate melted with heavy cream. I decided to stick with cherry pie filling, since that was the original inspiration. Strawberry pie filling would be great too, or even just a swirl of whipped cream and a fresh raspberry on top. You do you!
If you don't need to make 24, you can either cut the entire recipe in half and just make 12, OR you can still make all 24 and then freeze the rest for another time!

Monday, February 3, 2020

Chocolate Cake with Cream Cheese Filling and Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting

  Since I love to bake for my family and friends, it's not uncommon for me to occasionally receive a text from someone with a dessert idea. It's usually a picture of something FABULOUS along with a text that says some version of "you should make this!" (I know, I know..... what they're really saying is "you should make this FOR ME" LOL) I recently received such a text from my #1 Nephew, Dan, aka Daniel Boone.. His text didn't say "you should make this" but just left a link and a subtle message that his birthday is rapidly approaching hahaha. Daniel Boone, you know I will always make you a cake anytime, even when it isn't your birthday!
 So, I took a look at the recipe. TBH, it was almost exactly the same as Hershey's Black Magic Cake, which is always a favorite, but I wanted to try and share something new! So I figured, well, lets use the same idea of 3 layers of cake with 2 different kinds of cream cheese butter cream, and we'll try a different recipe for the cake itself. I happened to find THIS recipe on a website called Browneyed Baker (which I love), and it's called the Best Chocolate Cake. I have to say, it's right up there with some of the best chocolate cake recipes I've ever made! Usually the Black Magic Cake is my usual standard against which all other chocolate cakes are compared, but seriously, this recipe gives the BMC a run for its money. It uses coffee, which is a classic move to give it a deep rich chocolatey depth of flavor, and it also uses oil, which makes the most rich and moist cake you could ever want. That works for me! I gave the cake a test run for a few of my friends who were all too happy to be my taste testers. Thumbs up all around!
 So if you want to bake something for a birthday, or maybe for your sweetheart, give this one a try. You don't have to do all the fillings and butter creams, but if you do, it's perfectly decadent and over the top for your next special occasion!

For the cake: 
2 1/2 cups + 1 tbs all purpose flour 
3 cups granulated sugar 
1 cup + 1 tbs cocoa powder 
1 tbs baking soda 
1 1/2 tsp baking powder 
1 1/2 tsp salt 
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 1/2 cups strong black coffee
3/4 cup vegetable oil 
4 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

For the Cream Cheese Filling:
8 oz cream cheese
6 tbs softened butter
1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract
2-3 cups powdered sugar

For the Chocolate Cream Cheese Butter Cream:
3/4 cup butter
12 oz cream cheese
1 3/4 cups Hersheys cocoa powder
5 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup + 3 tablespoons whole Milk
2 tsp pure vanilla extract

 Make the Cake:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Generously spray three 8-inch round cake pans with baking spray. (Be sure it's the kind that has added flour). Otherwise just grease and flour your pans. Set aside.
 In the bowl of an electric mixer, sift together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, buttermilk, coffee, oil, and vanilla. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix for 2 minutes on medium speed. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl and mix for an additional 20 seconds (the batter will be very thin). Divide the batter evenly among prepared pans. Bake for 20 minutes and rotate the pans in the oven. Continue to bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of one of the cakes comes out almost clean (with a few moist crumbs), about 12 more minutes. Cool the cakes (in the pans) on wire racks for 20 minutes, then carefully turn them out onto cooling racks to cool completely. While the cake is baking, make the butter creams.

Cream cheese filling:
Whip the cream cheese and the butter with an electric mixer on high speed for about 30 seconds. Once combined begin adding in 1/2 cup of powdered sugar at time, making sure each half cup is fully incorporated before mixing in another 1/2 cup. Add in the vanilla extract & whip one last time for about 30 more seconds on high and beat one minute more until nice & fluffy. Set aside.

Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting:
In another large bowl, beat the butter and cream cheese with an electric mixer and begin adding in the powdered sugar 1/2 cup at a time again. Add in the cocoa and the milk and vanilla. Whip all of the ingredients until they are thoroughly incorporated. Beat at high speed for about one minute or until fluffy.

Now assemble the cake:
Place the bottom layer on a cake plate. Spread 1/2 of the cream cheese buttercream filling over the bottom cake layer. Top with the second cake layer and repeat the process. Lastly, top with the third layer.  Finally, frost the top layer gently with the chocolate cream cheese butter cream & all over the sides of the cake.

Ok, I know it looks like A LOT of steps, but it's really pretty straight forward. Just follow the recipe!
If you'd like MORE of the cream cheese filling (instead of just the two filling layers), double the amounts of the cream cheese filling recipe, and then frost all three layers, making sure to smooth the top layer. Chill it for about an hour, and then cover the whole cake with the chocolate frosting.
To make buttermilk, add a tbs of vinegar or lemon juice to 1 cup of whole milk. Microwave it for 30 seconds. The milk will curdle, which is exactly what you want. Works perfectly!
Btw, the inspiration and the buttercream recipes are from a blog called My Incredible Recipes!

Monday, January 27, 2020

Chocolate Chip Raspberry Bars

  Ok, full disclosure, this dessert was originally gonna be chocolate chip CHERRY squares, not raspberry. But when I got to the store, the cherries didn't look so impressive. The raspberries, however, looked fabulous! So that's what I used. Usually, whenever I share a recipe, I'll say which ways you can tweak it. Well, this time I've already done that!! When I was looking for cherry recipes, I found this one on a blog called Averie Cooks, and it said you can substitute most any kind of fruit. Any kind of berries, peaches, or any combination you like. Immediately I loved that this was a recipe in which you can use FRESH fruit. That's not always the case because of the moisture content. But this one works with any fruit you like! That was the biggest selling point for me. So, yes, I called them chocolate chip raspberry bars, but just know that the original used fresh pitted cherries. Oh, and I doubled everything because I was having a few friends over for dinner, and wanted a bigger batch.
 Anyway, the important thing is they're amazing! Gooey and delicious, just as you'd want a blondie to be. And they're super easy too! I'm lookng forward to trying different fruit combos and other mix ins.
  So, thanx, Averie, for yet another fabulous recipe! I think this recipe is now my go-to base recipe for whatever flavor mood I happen to be in!

1 cup unsalted butter, melted
2 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 large egg
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt, optional
2 cups semi-sweet mini chocolate chips
1-2 cups fresh raspberries

Preheat oven to 350F.
Spray a 9x13 pan with cooking spray, line with parchment leaving some hanging over the edges, then spray again with cooking spray; set aside.
In a medium microwave-safe bowl, melt the butter, about 60 seconds. To the melted butter, add the brown sugar and stir to combine. Add the egg, vanilla, and stir to combine. Add the flour, salt, and stir until just combined, taking care not to over mix or the blondies will be tough. Fold in chocolate chips, fruit (I don’t halve the cherries: I like them chunky and big), and pour batter into prepared pan, smoothing it lightly with a spatula or offset knife if necessary. Bake for 27 to 32 minutes, or until edges begin to slightly pull away from sides of pan and center is set. Allow bars to cool for at least 1 hour before slicing and serving.

After baking and cooling, use the parchment paper as a sling to lift the whole batch out of the pan in one go. Then use a large knife to cut into squares. This will save you pan from being ruined!
I used mini chocolate chips, but use whatever kind you like!

Monday, January 20, 2020

Slow Cooker Sausage and Collard Greens

  I've heard many people saying that they grew up eating collard greens, or that eating collards greens is like taking a page from their childhood. I must say that I didn't discover collard greens until I was an adult, but as soon as I tried them, I was an immediate fan! They're just so delicious and hearty! And I love the fact that they're sturdy enough to stand up to any kind of meat when you serve them. As much as I love other greens, (like say, maybe spinach) they can get soggy and cook down to practically nothing. Collards, on the other hand, don't disappear in the pan, and they pair classically with any kind of pork.
  For this recipe, instead of just doing bacon, (or the traditional ham hocks), I decided to do some Italian sausage, and let them go all afternoon in the slow cooker. They turned out great! And I love that it was a one pot meal, with the meats and greens cooked all together. No need to serve any other side dishes! Well, maybe just some corn bread, and you're good to go! Actually, I've also heard of serving collards greens ON TOP of a piece of corn bread, and then pouring the broth (aka "pot liquor") over the whole thing. Now THERE'S some comfort food for you! Mmm... I think I need to try that next time! Hope you like it!

6 slices thick cut bacon
1-2 lbs Italian sausage, mild or hot, or both
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
2 pounds collard greens
2 cups chicken broth

Cut the bacon into small pieces and add to a cold pan. Slowly bring up to medium heat, and saute the bacon until it is crisp and much of the fat is rendered. Remove the bacon from the pan and add to your slow cooker, but leave the fat in the pan. Add the sausage to the pan. Let it brown on both sides (no need to cook all the way through). Remove the sausage from the pan. Slice the sausage into large chunks and add to the slow cooker.
While the bacon and sausage are cooking, wash and chop your greens and add to your slow cooker.
Add onions and garlic to your saute pan. Saute for just a few minutes until they begin to soften. Add a few splashes of chicken broth to the pan and scrape up any brown bits from the pan. Add everything to the slow cooker along with the rest of the chicken broth. Cover. Cook on low for 5-6 hours. Adjust seasoning, if needed.

When you wash any kind of lettuce or leafy green, fill a large pot or bowl with cold water in the sink. Then add your greens, and swish them around so they are completely washed. Using both hands, lift the greens out of the water snd let them drain or use a salad spinner to dry. The key thing here is that you want to lift them out of the cold water instead of dumping the water and leaves out, say, into a strainer, as you might do with pasta. When you wash the leaves, all the grit and sand will sink to the bottom and you don't want to dump the water and grit right back onto the leaves.
Btw, when I cook collards, I don't throw away the stems. I know many people just eat the leaves, but I always just chop off the ends and use the whole thing. Why waste it??
If you want to add hot sauce or crushed red pepper flakes, go right ahead! It's also a classic move to add a little splash of apple cider vinegar. I say go for it!
If you'll notice, there are no seasonings in the recipe. No salt, no pepper. Nothing. The sausage will flavor the whole pot! But you should still taste it at the end of cooking and adjust the seasoning to make sure it's how you like it!

Monday, January 13, 2020

Chicken Marsala

  Ok, this is one of those recipes that I've wanted to share for literally YEARS, but I've just never gotten around to it. Well, that is until now! It's one of my all time favorite dishes in the whole wide world, and it comes to us from my sister, Jeanie. Aka, My Jeanie. I'm not even sure where she got the recipe, but like I always say, since she's the one who gave it to me, she's the one who gets the credit.
 Years ago, she used to make it all the time, and honestly, every time I helped her make it, I wanted to eat the entire pan of it. It's just SO flavorful! The bacon, the mushrooms, the garlic, the Marsala, what's not to love? The other thing that is worth noting is that I don't remember seeing tomato paste in other recipes, so that's another thing that sets this one apart from the others. It makes it tangy and it thickens the sauce ever so slightly. YUM. It's easy enough for a weeknight dinner, and it's elegant enough for a date night or a special occasion. And anytime you tell people you made Chicken Marsala, everyone says 'ooooooooh!" because it sounds so impressive. But we won't tell them how simple it is to make! That can be our little secret.
 So thanx, My Jeanie, for always inspiring me to be a better cook and for sharing your heart and soul through food. This will always be a favorite!!

1/2 cup all purpose flour
Salt and pepper
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
3 tbs vegetable oil
3 strips of bacon, finely chopped
8 oz cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 tbs tomato paste
1 1/2 cups sweet Marsala wine
1 1/2 tbs lemon juice, freshly squeezed
3 tbs chilled butter
2 tbs fresh parsley, minced

Place flour in a shallow dish. Place chicken pieces between two pieces of plastic wrap, and gently pound to an even thickness. Season with salt and pepper. Dredge in flour to coat on both sides. Pat off the excess flour.
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the chicken and cook until lightly golden on both sides, about 10 minutes. Remove chicken from plate and set aside.
Add a little more oil to the skillet, add the bacon and mushrooms. Cook until the bacon is crisp and the mushrooms are brown, about 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic and tomato paste. Cook until the tomato paste begins to brown, about a minute. Add the Marsala wine, scraping up any browned bits. Simmer until reduced and slightly thickened. Stir in the lemon juice along with any accumulated juice from the chicken. Turn the heat to low, and whisk in the cold butter, one piece at a time. Adjust seasoning, if needed. Remove from heat, top with parsley. Spoon sauce over chicken and serve.

Use any kind of mushrooms you like. I believe the original recipe used white button mushrooms, but I like cremini mushrooms better, so that's how I roll. I think the original used pancetta instead of bacon, but again, use what you like! You do you!
Be sure to use sweet Marsala instead of dry. That's key!

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Old Fashioned Oatmeal Raisin Muffins

  Ok here's a quick and easy one for you. It's so simple, you don't even need a mixer! You just stir it all together and you're ready to go! I made them for my sister, Patty, as she was planning to host a big party. When I asked her if she needed anything, she said "I wouldn't be mad if you threw something together for the kitchen crew, maybe something easy and quick to go with coffee", so this is what I made! It's from, adapted from her mom's recipe, and it's perfect! It's just exactly what you want in an oatmeal raisin muffin. Perfect with a cup of coffee or tea, you could add a little glaze to it if you'd like to sweeten things up a bit. It's also the perfect thing to whip up on a cold day, just to warm up the whole house with the heavenly aroma of cinnamon and nutmeg.
If you like oatmeal raisin cookies, then you'll LOVE these muffins!

1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1 large egg, beaten
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup mild olive oil (not extra virgin)
1 cup juicy raisins or sultanas

 Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line a 12 cup muffin pan with paper baking cups.
In a large bowl, mix together the flour, oats, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. In a medium bowl, mix together the egg, buttermilk, vanilla, and oil. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir just until mixed. Gently stir in the raisins or sultanas. Scoop the batter into muffin cups. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. Cool in the tray for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack.

I doubled the recipe, because more is more!
For extra plump juicy raisins, I soaked mine in apple cider for a few minutes before adding them to the batter. Just place them in a small bowl, pour enough cider to cover, microwave them for a minute or two, then drain them well before adding to the batter. I also gave them a quick toss in a tbs of flour. Perfect plump juicy raisins!!
 Oh, also, I used regular vegetable oil because I didn't have any olive oil on hand, just sayin'!
To make homemade buttermilk, add a tbs of lemon juice or vinegar to a 1-cup measure. Add milk to fill. Microwave it for about a minute. The milk will immediately curdle, which is exactly what you want. Works perfectly in any baking recipe calling for buttermilk!