Monday, May 25, 2020

Joey's Straight Up Ham and Bean Casserole

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 18, 2020

Joey's Chicken Parm Tortellini Bake

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 11, 2020

Homemade White Bread


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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 4, 2020

Sweet-as-a-Peach Chicken

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

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

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

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

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