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.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Peanut Butter Cupcakes

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 29, 2020

Lidia's Berry Tiramisù

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

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

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


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

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

Monday, June 22, 2020

Easy Lemon Cobbler

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 15, 2020

Coconut Bread

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 8, 2020

Joey's Fusilli Col Buco with Ham and Peas

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 1, 2020

Mom's Pickled Beets

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 25, 2020

Joey's Straight Up Ham and Bean Casserole

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 18, 2020

Joey's Chicken Parm Tortellini Bake

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 11, 2020

Homemade White Bread


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

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

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

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

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