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!