Stuffed Baby Peppers…

I don’t often think about a certain type of food as being cute, but I have to admit the thought crossed my mind when I first laid eyes on baby peppers. The next thought was how can I use these in a recipe and appetizer jumped out at me.

These little darlings make the perfect grab and go appetizer and I’ve found people tend to like the simplicity of that the most. The peppers are also very tender and sweet and a perfect compliment to a wide variety of cheese concoctions.

For this particular recipe I used a combination of a spreadable garlic and herb cheese, Boursin brand, and added some green onion and dill to boost the flavor of the cheese. It couldn’t have been easier. And when I served it at a gathering, the entire plate of peppers disappeared!

So let’s talk stuffed baby peppers…

Lesson Learned 1 – Sometimes the simplest things are the best: I used to think that recipes had to be complicated and flashy to merit writing about. And I’ve been proven wrong over and over again. The best example I can give is my cream cheese, spinach, bacon and scallion pinwheels. After I made them I hesitated to post the recipe because I thought it was so rudimentary and people would laugh at it. Boy was I wrong. To this day that recipe is one of the most popular recipes on my blog – and I would never have dreamed it to be when I wrote it.

This recipe, in my mind, falls in the same genre. It basically takes a pre-made spreadable cheese embellished with a couple of simple ingredients and some baby peppers and voila, a simple but great appetizer! This kind of appetizer is perfect for when you have to throw something together quickly. It’s super tasty, looks divine, and disappears in a snap. What could be better? So, bottom line, don’t shy away from what’s incredibly easy. In the end, it may be one of the most popular things you’ll make.

Lesson Learned 2 – Working with baby peppers: First let me suggest that you get a bag of multi-colored baby peppers. The array of colors on a plate makes for an easy but effective presentation. Second, baby peppers are incredibly easy to work with. They don’t have a lot of seeds or the strips of white pith inside so they are easy to cut and prepare. Just take your knife and cut the pepper in half from top to bottom, remove the few seeds you may find and if you have a little pith just take your knife and scrape it away. In no time flat you have a tasty bite size little boat to hold your cheese concoction.

Probably the biggest challenge with this recipe is stuffing the peppers – but you really don’t have to worry about being overly neat with the cheese stuffing. I used a melon baller, the smaller side, and just scooped some of the cheese into a pepper and spread it over the top. You wind up garnishing the peppers with some paprika and the remaining minced green onions and that gives them a decorative flair.

And that’s it. Now I chose to “beef up” the spreadable cheese I used, but you don’t even need to do that if you don’t have the time or ingredients. If you get a flavorful spreadable cheese, that can be sufficient. Just make sure you use a spreadable cheese, otherwise stuffing the peppers will definitely become a chore. Enjoy these tasty little morsels. You’ll have fun making them and you’ll have fun eating them!

Stuffed Baby Peppers...

  • Servings: 24
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

1 5 oz. package of Boursin garlic and fine herb spreadable cheese

12 multi colored baby peppers, halved

1 Tbs. sour cream

2 green onions, chopped fine and divided

2 tsp. fresh dill, chopped fine

paprika, for garnish, optional

Fresh dill spears for garnish, optional

DIRECTIONS:

Cut the peppers in half from top to bottom. Remove any seeds and white pith.

In a small bowl combine the spreadable cheese, sour cream, about 2/3 of the chopped green onions, and all the chopped dill.

Using a small spoon or the smaller side of a melon baller, scoop some cheese inside a pepper and smooth it out to cover the entire upper surface of the pepper. Repeat until all peppers have been stuffed.

Sprinkle the tops of the peppers lightly with the remaining green onions and paprika. Plate (you can garnish the plate with fresh dill spears, optional) and serve.

 

 

 

Raspberry Riccota Coffee Cake…

Rasberry Cheese Coffee Cake

There’s nothing like the taste of a good coffee cake with your morning cup of Jo, or at least that’s how I feel. And I am particularly fond of baking with raspberries. Not only are they colorful but I also like their tartness which I feel balances the sweetness of a cake batter beautifully.

My husband is a sweets fanatic. He’s one of those that can eat sweets and not put on a pound, although I have to say he’s also very good at moderating what he eats. So I guess I can’t fault him for being good about what he eats and still including sweets in his diet.

Because of his sweet tooth, I like experimenting with things I bake to see what will interest him the most. This recipe got a thumbs up from him (with qualifications regarding the amount of raspberries which I will explain in lessons learned) and will definitely be something that I make again and again.

So let’s talk Raspberry Ricotta Coffee Cake…

Lesson Learned 1 – The batter in this recipe is thick: And I mean VERY THICK. I have to say I was a little surprised at how thick the batter was. I feared the cake would be a dried out mess, but I was wrong. I think the ricotta cheese, the cheese used in this recipe, makes the batter thicker but also makes the cake light and moist. I was pleasantly surprised.

The Thick Batter

Working with batter like this can be a challenge. This is the kind of recipe where you layer part of the batter in the pan, add the raspberries and then cover them with the remaining batter. I recommend you make this division close to half and half and here’s why. I had a hard time smoothing out the batter, especially the top layer. You will need as much batter as possible to get the job done. Dividing the batter in half did the trick.

I recommend taking the batter for the top layer and putting it in clumps all over as seen in the picture below:

That way it will help in the spreading out process. But even with this, spreading was still a little bit of a challenge. The raspberries underneath did not want to stay in place while I was attempting to smooth out the batter. Finally I just decided to wash my hands thoroughly and use my hands to press the batter down and out. That seemed to work a little better. Once the top was sufficiently covered I used my frosting spreader tool and smoothed out the top as seen below:

It really helped to start off with the clumps of batter spread out as much as possible over the top. I highly recommend you do that. Although getting it spread out was a little bit of a challenge it was much easier with the batter in various places versus trying to work from just one place.

Also make sure you use a stand mixer for the recipe. A hand mixer won’t work with the thickness of this batter. And mix the batter on low, otherwise you might face burning out the motor on your mixer. Yes, the batter is that thick, but no problem when you mix it on low.

Lesson Learned 2 – Really cover the center of the cake with raspberries: The recipe I based this on called for a heaping cup of raspberries, using 2/3 for the center and 1/3 for the top. In doing that the center of the cake looked like the picture below:

The Center Of The Cake

This was not nearly enough raspberries. Once the cake was baked it seemed like there were only a few raspberries in the center. Some slices did have a few more, but some seemed to have hardly any. Next time I make this I will add even more raspberries – so at this point I will recommend a heaping cup and quarter of raspberries with the greater majority being placed in the middle layer of the cake. The raspberries are what give the cake a special taste – that great balance of tart and sweet –  and I felt they should be more predominant in the cake. Baking it this way the cake turned out fine – but I will definitely add more raspberries the next time.

Lesson Learned 3 – Try adding a dollop of Cool Whip on the cake: My husband discovered this on his own. He thought the Cool Whip was a great addition to the cake. And yes, of course, you could always make some fresh whipped cream, but if you’re in a hurry a little Cool Whip will do just fine and will send the flavor over the top.

Lesson Learned 4 – The valuable lessons I’ve learned: Since the very beginning of writing this blog I’ve used the tag line “From The Cook Who Never Could…” and that, for a long time time, was so very true of me. I never had success in the kitchen because, first of all, I had no frame of reference. My mother was not a cook. Her idea of a meal was to overcook meat, have some kind of potato with it and open a can of corn or peas. Mind you, I am not knocking my mother here. She was a working mom at a time when most women were still staying at home and she had to figure out how to balance a job on the night shift with a husband and two children at a time when hardly anyone else was doing it. My dad helped a little, but his specialty was making bacon and eggs and oatmeal (he normally was in charge of the breakfast detail). So there was not a lot of opportunities for me to learn about cooking at home.

Once I became interested in cooking I found the hardest thing for me was bouncing back after my failures. I always expected things to turn out perfectly the first time and when they didn’t I blamed it on my lack of skills and became very disheartened. It’s only as I got older and began to really learn about the art and science of cooking and baking that I became much more forgiving of myself when things did not turn out as planned.

There is always something you can learn when you cook or bake something. And I hope you know that even the best of cooks don’t always get it perfect the first time around. That’s a lesson I learned the hard way.  So even with this recipe, when the concentration of raspberries was not what I would have wanted, I realized the cake in itself was still quite good and not a failure. It just needed, in my estimation, a little improvement.

Don’t make my mistake and blame yourself or your skills if something does not turn out the way you planned the first time.  And certainly don’t give up on yourself. Use what you learn and continue to improve your skills. It’s all part of the process.

So I hope you make this one – and I will write the recipe adding more raspberries. It’s a lesson I learned making this cake – one of many lessons I am sure I’ll continue to learn in the future. Enjoy!

Raspberry Ricotta Coffee Cake...

  • Servings: 10-12
  • Difficulty: Medium
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INGREDIENTS:

Coffee Cake:

1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

3/4 cup granulated sugar

2 eggs, room temperature

1 tsp. vanilla

2 cups flour

2 tsp. baking powder (1 tsp for high altitude)

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1 1/4 heaping cups of frozen raspberries

15 oz. whole milk ricotta cheese

Baking spray with flour

Glaze:

1/2 cup powdered sugar

1 tsp. almond extract

1 – 2 Tbs. milk or water

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 325  (350 for high altitude). Line the bottom of an 8 inch springform pan with parchment paper. Set aside.

In a small bowl combine the flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda. Whisk to combine. Set aside.

Using a stand mixer, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy (several minutes). Add the eggs one at a time and beat until well incorporated. Add the vanilla and beat to combine.

Add 1/3 of the flour mixture and beat on low until incorporated. Add 1/2 of the ricotta and blend until smooth. Add another 1/3 of the flour and beat on low until incorporated (due to the thickness of the batter it is important to only beat this on low). Add the remaining ricotta and blend until combined. Beat in the remaining flour on low until incorporated. Make sure the batter is well mixed.

Spray the springform pan with the baking spray. Pour in 1/2 of the batter and smooth out around the pan. Add 1 heaping cup of frozen raspberries and arrange evenly over the top. (If the top doesn’t look sufficiently full of raspberries add a little more from what you have remaining).

Spoon out the remaining batter in clumps over the top of the raspberries. Spread the batter out to cover the top. (NOTE: If using a spreader becomes too difficult, thoroughly wash your hands and use them to press the batter down and out). Smooth out the batter to evenly cover the top of the pan.

Take the remaining frozen raspberries and using your hands press them down across the batter on top.

Bake for 60-75 minutes or until the top is lightly browned and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool at least 20 minutes before removing the cake from the pan.

Once cooled drizzle the glaze over the top. Make the glaze by combining the powdered sugar with the almond extract and milk or water. Use one tablespoon of liquid initially and check the consistency of the glaze. If the glaze it too thick add more liquid.

Cake Right Out Of The Oven

Rasberry Cheese Coffee Cake

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dijon Crusted Halibut…

Although we try to eat a lot of fish, I don’t usually buy halibut because it can be quite pricey. But the other day when I was at the grocery store they had just cut some fresh halibut and it looked so good I had to buy some.

I’m always a little nervous about making halibut because I don’t want to overcook it. It’s somehow easier for me to rationalize making a mistake with salmon (although I have that pretty much down to a science) than with halibut. But I just couldn’t resist how good and fresh the halibut looked and decided to try this recipe for making it.

So let’s talk Dijon crusted halibut…

Lesson Learned 1 – Do you leave the skin on or not: That is the perennial question, isn’t it? I prefer removing the skin but you can certainly leave it on. Some think that by leaving the skin on the fish tends to be more moist. In my experience I don’t know that to be the case. So the decision is up to you. I prefer removing the skin but the choice is up to you. Either way, it doesn’t seem to affect the overall cooking time of the fish.

Lesson Learned 2 – The hardest thing about this recipe is determining when the fish is done: The best way to determine that is to take a fork and try flaking off a small piece on the end of the fish. If it flakes off, it is done. The only advice I can give with cooking fish is it takes time and practice to perfect that skill. Basically you have to get to know the type of of fish you’re using and how your oven functions. I realize that may be little comfort where a more expensive fish like halibut is concerned, but once you’ve got the hang of it, you’ve got it!

The end of the fish is flaky – the fish is done.

Always cook the fish for the least amount of time that a recipe calls for and go from there. You can always put the fish back in the oven but you can’t change things when it’s overcooked. I know in my oven a 4-5 ounce salmon filet is cooked the way we like it at 375 for 20 minutes. (keep in mind I am at high altitude and cooking temperatures on average can be 15-25 degrees higher than on any given recipe designed for sea level).

Also, the cooking process determines the oven temperature and cooking times. This particular recipe is done entirely in the oven. Sometimes I make fish (and you can certainly do this with halibut) where I lightly brown the fish on both sides in a skillet on top of the stove and finish off the cooking process in the oven. Doing that normally changes the oven temperature and cooking time. So the cooking process will determine what temperature and how long you cook the fish.

This particular recipe is done entirely in the oven. When I made the fish I cooked it at 365 for 15 minutes and it turned out great. Again, keep in mind I am at high altitude and most recipes are not written that way so for my sea level friends I recommend baking the fish at 350 for 15-18 minutes. If you are unsure for any reason check the fish at 15 minutes. You should be just fine if you do.

And that’s it. Just a few last thoughts – I’m writing this recipe for 2 people put you can certainly make it for more.  Just increase the crust ingredients proportionately. Also, the combination of mayo, horseradish and lemon creates a wonderfully flavorful crust for the halibut. Once you make this, I’m sure you’ll want to make it again. It’s just that good! And guess what – the crust works equally as well on cod so you have a less expensive choice as well. Enjoy!

Dijon Crusted Halibut...

  • Servings: 2
  • Difficulty: Medium
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INGREDIENTS

1/8 cup mayonnaise

1 tsp. Dijon mustard

1 tsp. prepared horseradish

1 tsp. fresh lemon juice

1/4 cup bread crumbs, separated

2 tsp. grated Parmesan, separated

2 4-5 ounce halibut filets

1 Tbs. butter, melted

Olive oil cooking spray

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (365 for high altitude). Line a baking sheet with foil. Set aside.

In a small bowl mix together the mayo, mustard, and lemon juice. Stir in 1/8 cup (half) of the bread crumbs and 1 tsp. (half) of the Parmesan cheese. Spray the foil lined baking sheet with cooking spray. Arrange the filets on the baking sheet and spread the mayo/crumb mixture on top of them.

In a small bowl mix together the remaining bread crumbs, Parmesan and melted butter until thoroughly combined. Sprinkle this coating on top of the halibut filets.

Bake for 15-18 minutes, checking the filets at 15. The fish is done when it flakes easily off the end of the fish with a fork.

Coat The Fish With The Mayo/Bread Crumb Mixture

Add The Buttered Bread Crumbs On Top And Bake

 

 

 

 

Cauliflower And Carrot Soup…

Take it from me, if you’ve not been in the habit of making homemade soups you’re missing out on something special. I don’t know why it took me so long to get with the program, but now I’m a homemade soup junkie! I guess I never realized how incredibly easy it is to make homemade soup. Plus you can control everything that goes into it and I am a big fan of that.

Let me give you a little backstory regarding how I came about making this particular soup. A little while back, here in Colorado, we were forecast to have a blizzard. We were being told we could get anywhere from 4 inches to a foot of snow with blustery winds. As the day got closer it looked like we might be spared the heavy stuff. So at first I wasn’t overly concerned.  In my mind 4 inches of snow could hardly constitute a blizzard. But I was wrong.

I found out an interesting piece of information regarding blizzards. Blizzards are not forecast due to the amount of snow that falls. They are forecast due to heavy winds that accompany a snowfall. When you think about it, that makes sense. Regardless of the amount of snow if the winds cause white out conditions that is extremely dangerous. And so, a blizzard we did get with wind gusts up to 80 miles an hour but only 4 inches of snow. Some areas got almost two feet!

So, knowing that I would be home bound for at least a day made me go into full test kitchen mode. What a great way to test some recipes and get them in the queue for publishing. And that’s exactly what I did – and cauliflower soup was one of the recipes I played with on that day.

So let’s talk Cauliflower and Carrot Soup:

Lesson Learned 1- The cut size of the vegetables is key: I used a 2 1/2 pound head of cauliflower and two cups of sliced carrots. It is important to cut up the cauliflower into small florets. If you don’t they won’t cook in time. I also took baby carrots and sliced them thinly on the diagonal. I wanted to make sure the carrot pieces were not overly thick so they would also cook in the allotted time. The picture below gives you some idea of the cut sized I used. They cooked perfectly in the time allotted.

Carrots Onions And Roasted Garlic

Lesson Learned 2 – Take the time and roast the garlic: Have you ever roasted a head of garlic before? It’s really quite easy and the result is fabulously sweet, flavorful garlic. The process is extremely simple. Cut off the top of the entire garlic bulb about 1/4 – 1/2 inch down, place the bulb in foil (do not remove the skins), drizzle the top of the bulb with olive oil, cover it with foil (I recommend adding an additional layer of foil to protect against oil leaking out of the wrapper) and roast at 400 degrees for 45 minutes to one hour. When you take the garlic out of the oven you want the individual garlic cloves to be fork tender – that’s how you know it’s done.

I roasted my garlic in the toaster oven and put it on a foil lined sheet as extra protection from leaking oil. Once the garlic cooled I merely turned the cut side down and squeezed. The soft delicious cloves popped right out. I then coarsely chopped them and added them to the cauliflower and carrots. Preparing the garlic this way versus sauteing them raw with the onions gives the soup a much richer flavor. It is worth the extra step. But, if for some reason you don’t have the time, mince two large cloves of garlic and add them to the onions once they’ve caramelized. Continue to saute for about a minute or until the garlic is fragrant. Then add the vegetables and follow the recipe from that point.

Cut The Top Off The Garlic Bulb

Place In Foil And Drizzle With Olive Oil

Roasted Garlic Cloves

Lesson Learned 3 – Take the time to cook the onions to a golden brown: Onions are more flavorful when you take the time to caramelize them. So do yourself a favor and take that time. Just be aware that it can take about 20 minutes to get them to that beautifully warm color. But in the end, it also makes a big difference in the flavor of the soup.

Lightly Caramelized Onions

The rest of the process is pretty basic and within about 40 minutes or so you have this delicious homemade soup. Give it a try and tell me what you think. I’d love to hear how you did with this recipe.

Cauliflower And Carrot Soup...

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

2 1/2 pound head of cauliflower, cut up into small florets

2 cups thinly sliced baby carrots (sliced on the bias)

1 sweet onion, chopped

1 head of roasted garlic cloves, chopped (or two raw cloves, diced)

3 Tbs. flour

4 cups of chicken or vegetable stock

1/4 cup heavy cream

6 oz. of grated white cheddar cheese

Salt and Pepper To Taste

Olive Oil for roasting the garlic and sauteing the onions

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut off the top of a bulb of garlic. Place the bulb in foil and drizzle with olive oil (approximately one tablespoon). Wrap the garlic in foil (I recommend wrapping it twice) and let it cook for 45 minutes to one hour or until the cloves are fork tender. Unwrap the bulb and set it aside to cool. Once cool, turn the cut side down and squeeze the bulb from the sides until the cloves pop out. If a few a the cloves are stubborn, don’t worry. What pops out will be sufficient for the soup. (If you do not have time for this step simply mince two raw cloves of garlic and saute them with the onions after they have caramelized. Once the garlic is fragrant you can add the vegetables and proceed from there.)

Preheat a dutch oven over medium heat and add about 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add the diced onions and saute until they are golden brown, about 15-20 minutes. While the onions are sauteing, prepare the carrots and cauliflower florets. (If you roast the garlic, chop the cloves and mix them with the vegetables.)

When the onions have caramelized, add the vegetables to the onions and saute for a few minutes. (You can add a little more olive oil, if needed). Sprinkle the vegetables with the flour and mix well. Add the chicken stock while stirring the vegetables.

Cover the dutch oven with a lid, leaving a small crack for the steam to escape. Cook for approximately 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Test the vegetables for desired consistency. If need be, let them cook for a little while longer until the desired consistency is achieved.

Stir in the heavy cream and cheese. Stir until thoroughly combined. Take off the heat and serve. (Optional: You can garnish with some croutons and some shredded Romano or Parmesan cheese).

 

 

 

Lemon Crumble Cupcakes…

Recently we experienced quite a blizzard here in Colorado. Knowing that this storm was coming I decided to use the day I would be trapped in my house to get some serious cooking and baking done. I did three recipes in my test kitchen that day, and this was one of them.

I always like to have a few draft recipes in the queue so that I can maintain my goal for posting a new recipe every week – sometimes every other week but no longer than that. So this recipe was one I had in the back of my mind that I was waiting to try. After I made it my only thought was what the heck was I waiting for?

There are two main reasons why I really like this recipe. First and foremost the cupcakes taste divine – and isn’t that always the best reason The sour cream gives these cupcakes a luxurious texture. Second and equally as important to me, this is a smaller portion recipe yielding approximately 8 cupcakes and since there is only my husband and myself, I like recipes that cater to smaller portions – less waste, if any.

So let’s talk lemon crumble cupcakes…

Lesson Learned 1: Making the crumble: I’ve found that many recipes really overdo it when it comes to the amount of flour used in making a crumble. In my opinion, when there is too much flour it overpowers the sugar and butter and you’re left with a flavorless crumble. So when I make a crumble I tend to err on the side of a little less flour. So keep in mind that’s what I am including in this recipe. So if you’re anything like me, my advice is don’t mess with the flour proportion – it has already been adjusted to the lighter side.

Lesson Learned 2 – Don’t expect the crumble to get overly browned: You want a nice beige color to the crumble. If it gets too brown the crumble gets too hard. The picture below shows the way the crumble should look when you take the cupcakes out of the oven.

Lesson learned 3 – Always used fresh squeezed lemon juice when you’re baking: If a recipe calls for lemon juice, please freshly squeeze it. There is a noticeable difference in flavor between the juice of a fresh lemon and lemon juice you get in a bottle. Take a few extra seconds and get your juice from fresh lemons. In a pinch you can always used the bottled stuff, but I believe in using clean ingredients as much as possible when I cook and bake. It pays off in flavor, and in the long run it pays off in your health. And don’t forget to zest the lemon before getting the juice.

Other than these few tips this recipe is pretty standard. But I can assure you, there is nothing standard about the taste of these cupcakes. And if you want more than eight, simply double the recipe. Anyway you make them they will be a hit!

Lemon Crumble Cupcakes...

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

Crumble

1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted

1/2 cup flour

2 Tbs. sugar

2 Tbs. brown sugar

Cupcakes

1/4 cup butter, room temperature

1/2 cup sugar

1 large egg

1/2 tsp. vanilla

1 lemon, zested

1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice

1/4 tsp. salt

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder (1 tsp. high altitude)

1 cup flour

1/2 cup sour cream

Glaze

6 Tbs. powdered sugar

1 – 2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 350 (365 for high altitude). Line a cupcake pan with 8 liners and set aside.

Make the crumble by first melting the butter. Whisk together the dry ingredients and add the melted butter. Use a fork to blend together until small pieces remain. Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. (I recommend using a hand mixture for such a small amount but if you double the recipe you can certainly use a stand mixer). Add the egg and fully combine. Add the vanilla, lemon zest and juice and mix until fully combined.

In another bowl whisk together the flour, salt and baking powder. Add the flour mixture to the butter/sugar mixture and mix until thoroughly combined. By hand, fold in the sour cream until no streaks of sour cream can be seen.

Fill each cupcake liner 3/4 full with the batter. Generously coat the top of each cupcake with the crumble.

Bake for 18-20 minutes. Cupcakes are done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool muffins in the pan for about 10 minutes and transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely. Once the cupcakes are cool, make the glaze by combining the powdered sugar and lemon juice. Start with 1 tablespoon of lemon juice and determine from there if more juice is needed. You want your glaze to be on the thicker side.

Store the cupcakes not immediately eaten in a airtight container.

Fill the cupcake liners 3/4 full

Generously cover each cupcake with crumble

Chicken, Carrot and Fried Onion Casserole

I just love casseroles. During the winter months there’s nothing better than having a casserole baking away in the oven. The smells, the hot and bubbly goodness and the combination of flavors is simply comfort food heaven. And, if you know me, you know I also love chicken. So what can be better than a chicken casserole? Well, there is one thing and that’s a chicken casserole topped with fried onions – yummo!

I really do try to balance what I eat and so I’ll warn you up front this recipe has the potential to be an artery clogger. But I also know that the key to good living is moderation so every once in a while you can walk on the wild side with something like this. Plus this recipe is versatile, especially where adding vegetables is concerned. And making this is a good way to get come of those vegetables into your children – they are beautifully masked in the deliciousness of the casserole and fried onions.

So let’s talk chicken, carrot and fried onion casserole

Sauteed Carrots

Lesson Learned 1: I used carrots but you can be creative where the vegetables in this recipe are concerned: My husband prefers eating carrots, butternut squash, acorn squash and cauliflower – that’s why you’ll see me using a lot of them in my recipes. But you can use a variety of vegetables.

I chose fresh baby carrots and chopped them into 1/4 inch coins. You can add them to this recipe as is, but I chose to saute mine in butter before adding them to the other ingredients as my husband likes his carrots soft. The cooking time for this recipe will not achieve soft carrots (they will be crisp tender) so I had to give the carrots a head start. But if you like your carrots crisp tender just add them to the other ingredients and skip the sauteing part. The key is cutting them small enough so they’re not rock hard when the casserole is done baking.

You can also use frozen vegetables. Using frozen carrots or frozen mixed vegetables would work very well with this recipe in the allotted cook time. So do what your family loves or what you want your family to eat.

Shredded Chicken

Lesson Learned 2: This is a great recipe for using precooked chicken: Whether you’re trying to think about how to use some of your leftover cooked chicken, or buying a rotisserie chicken at the grocery store, using precooked chicken makes this recipe a breeze. My grocery store actually sells portions of precooked white meat chicken and I used that a lot in my recipes. You can either cut up the chicken into bite size pieces or shred it like I did. Either way will work.

For a quick and delicious week night meal you can’t beat this recipe. You can even assemble it the night before or before going to work and pop it in the oven when you get home. If you do that, I would recommend taking the casserole out of the refrigerator asap and letting it sit on the counter for about a half an hour before putting it into the oven. That will remove some of the chill. You’ll have a better chance of cooking the casserole in the allotted time if it’s not ice cold when you put it in the oven.

Ready For The Oven

Enjoy this one. It’s a keeper!

Chicken Carrot And Fried Onion Casserole...

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

4 cups cooked shredded chicken

2 cups sliced carrots (cut into 1/4 inch coins)

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1 cup sour cream

1 cup mayonnaise

1 can cream of chicken soup

1-6oz. can of french fried onions

1 Tbs. butter, melted

Salt and pepper to taste

Cooking spray

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 (365 high altitude)

In a large skillet melt the butter and saute the carrots for about 10 minutes, flipping them at regular intervals. Remove them from heat and set aside.

While the carrots are sauteing, mix together in a large bowl the cheese, sour cream and mayonnaise. Once the carrots are cooked and slightly cooled fold them into the sour cream mixture along with the chicken until combined. Taste and add any salt and pepper as needed.

Spray a 9 inch square pan with cooking spray. Add the mixture to the pan and bake for 35-45 minutes. Once the casserole is hot and bubbly add the fried onions on top and continue to bake for an additional 10 minutes.

Let the casserole stand for 5 minutes and serve.

The Cooked Casserole

Homemade Strawberry Jam…

Being that there are only two of us in my household I often get frustrated when I go grocery shopping and see the portion sizes of certain items. There seems to be so many things I want but I know neither my husband and I will be able finish before it goes bad or my husband doesn’t like what I like and I am faced with trying to finish something unrealistically large for one person.  The result is often throwing food away. And more and more you read about how much food American’s throw away each year when so many people are going hungry.  Does this predicament sound familiar to you?

Case in point – I love strawberries and my husband doesn’t eat them. So when I buy strawberries at the store the smallest size available is in a one pound plastic container (you can get them in smaller portions pre-cut but they are insanely expensive and I am not a big fan of frozen strawberries). In order to finish all of them before they go bad I am either faced with buying strawberries that are barely ripened so they last longer or not buying strawberries at all. Both options are unacceptable to me.

So just last week as I was bemoaning the fact that my strawberries were becoming soft and mushy. I decided to google how to use strawberries that were becoming soft and mushy. A suggestion popped up about making strawberry jam.  Bingo!

I had only eaten about one quarter pound of my strawberries and decided that I would try to make some jam out of what was remaining. It was a stroke of genius. I added two weeks to the lifetime of my strawberries and the homemade strawberry jam was to die for.

So let’s talk homemade strawberry jam…

Lesson Learned 1 – You probably will have to adjust this recipe especially where the sugar is concerned: This recipe is for a full pound of fresh strawberries. I had only approximately 3/4 of a pound (and I was guessing by eyeballing what I had left) and so I wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to make the jam too sweet. A full pound of strawberries calls for 2/3 cup sugar. I only used 1/3 cup sugar and after making the jam felt I could’ve reduced that amount to a light 1/3 cup and still be ok. But I am not one who likes things too sugary sweet. So what I am saying here is play around with the amount of sugar you use keeping in mind that the strawberries have natural sugars as well. Even if you’re using a full pound of strawberries for your jam try a light 2/3 cup to start out. Now I know this must be “frying” the brains of those of you who feel you need exact measurements. My advice is to take a leap of faith and go with a little less on the sugar. After you make this a few times you will get a feel for exactly how much sugar you want in your jam.

The Amount Of Strawberries I Had

Lesson Learned 2 – Use the juice of half of lemon: I lot of recipes I saw called for 1 Tbs. of lemon juice. I used the juice of 1/2 of a large lemon. The lemon helps to balance out the sugar and the combination of flavors is absolutely delicious.

Lesson Learned 3 – Why a granny smith apple: Jams need pectin in order to thicken. And although you can buy pectin at the grocery store it comes naturally in the granny smith apple. So you are using a natural source of pectin to thicken your jam. Also, the tartness of the granny smith helps to balance out the sugar in the jam as well. And even though I did not make this recipe with a full pound of strawberries I still used the entire grated apple.  It made a wonderful addition to the jam.

The Main Ingredients

Lesson Learned 4 – You may need to simmer the jam longer than you think: Many recipes I saw said to simmer the jam ingredients for approximately 10-15 minutes. I had to simmer my jam for 1/2 hour. Now keep in mind I’m at high altitude and I don’t know whether that was a factor or not. Just make sure your jam is not runny and the liquid noticeably thick before you quit simmering it.

Simmer for 15-30 Minutes

It couldn’t be simpler. And you extend the life of your strawberries by at least a couple of weeks. I can tell you first hand that this jam on some crusty bread with a cup of coffee is over the moon delicious. So try it, and tell me what you think.

Homemade Strawberry Jam...

  • Servings: 12-14
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

1 pound fresh strawberries, hulled and quartered

2/3 cup of sugar (err on the side of making it a light 2/3 cup)

1 Granny Smith apple, peeled and grated

1/2 medium to large lemon, juiced

DIRECTIONS:

Combine the strawberries and sugar into a medium size saucepan. Stir in the grated granny smith apple. Cook over medium heat, breaking up the strawberries with a spoon until the sugar dissolves. Once the sugar has dissolved, simmer the mixture until the jam has noticeably thickened (can be anywhere from 15 – 30 minutes).

Take off the heat and stir in the lemon juice. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and let cool. Cover and chill for at least two hours. Jam keeps best in a mason jar type container.

 

 

Smoked Salmon Bites…

Oh man… (yep that’s all I can say) oh man, this is a phenomenal appetizer! I served it at a recent get-together we had in our condo and it was gone in less than 20 minutes. To say it is out of this world is an understatement. I can’t tell you how many of my guests asked for the recipe.

But with all good things there is always a catch and this recipe is no exception. Although it is phenomenal, it is also expensive. You need 16 ounces of the key ingredient, the smoked salmon, and that comes at a cost. I was able to buy a 16 ounce package at my local grocery store and it was on sale at $19.95 from $22.95. That’s a pretty hefty price tag for about 35-40 appetizers. For 40 squares it amounts to approximately sixty cents per square – so definitely much more in the pricey range. But as an infrequent splurge you just can’t beat it. Everyone at my party raved over this. So on that special occasion when you want to make a significant impression, this is the recipe for you!

Smoked Salmon Bites Ingredients

So with that in mind, let’s talk smoked salmon bites…

Lesson Learned 1 – The process for making these bites is important to follow: The process for putting these together in itself is not difficult. It is very similar to making appetizer pinwheels. But there are a few variations that you need to keep in mind. This recipe calls for using 3 large tortillas. Within those tortillas you need to create a square of cream cheese mixture and smoked salmon in order to cut the bites into square pieces. That is not that difficult as you can see by the pictures below (not a perfect square by any means but that is still ok). The key is to make the largest square possible inside the round tortilla leaving only minimal areas at the rounded edges that will eventually be discarded.

Once the three layers have been completed, it is also important to take something like a cutting board and place it on top of the tortillas and press down slightly to ensure that the filling is evenly distributed within the square before your refrigerate it. I also learned a tip from another very similar recipe. If you lightly butter (and I mean very lightly) the second and third tortilla before you place it on top of the smoked salmon it will help keep the tortillas in place when you cut them. The butter clings to the smoked salmon which in turn secures the tortilla.

It is also important that this appetizer be given sufficient time to chill so that it can be cut easily. I recommend at least 4 hours and preferably overnight. That’s another great aspect of this appetizer, it can easily be made the day ahead and cut right before you intend to serve it. So all the heavy lifting is done in advance. As a matter of fact you can even make it two days in advance but don’t go beyond that.

Lesson Learned 2 – Use a serrated knife to cut the bites: If you use a serrated knife to cut the bites and use a back and forth cutting motion less filling, if any,  will come out the sides. The cutting process will be a whole lot faster and easier.

First Layer Of Smoked Salmon Bites

Layer The Salmon On The Spread

Lightly Butter The Underside Of The Second And Third Tortilla

We had about 20 people over at the party when I served this and I was so happy with not only  how well it was received but also how easy it was to cut and serve the day of the party. Any host will appreciate not having to labor over a dish they are serving and rather spend more time with their guests and so the ability to make this ahead of time was very appealing to me. I certainly hope that you try this recipe at some point. I know I will be thoughtful about when to serve this, especially due to the cost, but I will definitely make this again.

Smoked Salmon Bites

  • Servings: 40
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature

1/2 cup sour cream

2-3 scallions, chopped fine

1/2 tsp. garlic powder

1 medium to large lemon, zested

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 cup dill + sprigs for presentation (sprigs optional)

3 large soft tortillas

16 oz. of smoked salmon sliced thin

small amount of softened butter

Lemon slices for garnish (optional)

DIRECTIONS:

Mix cream cheese, sour cream, scallions, garlic powder, lemon zest, salt and dill. Lay out a tortilla and spread half of the cream cheese mixture into a large square inside the tortilla, making as large of a square as possible. Top with half of the smoked salmon.

Take the second tortilla and butter it lightly. Put the buttered side down on top of the smoked salmon. Spread the remaining cream cheese mixture in the shape of a large square on top of the tortilla. Top the cream cheese mixture with the remaining smoked salmon.

Take the third tortilla and butter it lightly. Place the buttered side on top of the smoke salmon and press down lightly. Using a cutting board or a frying pan, press down on the tortillas to ensure the filling is equally distributed. Keep the tortillas flat and wrap them tightly in plastic wrap. Chill for a minimum of 4 hours, overnight is preferable.

Remove the plastic wrap when ready to cut. Cut off all four rounded edges to create a square. Cut the tortillas into 1 inch strips lengthwise and then cut each strip into 1 inch squares. Place a toothpick in the center of each square and transfer to a serving plate. Garnish with dill sprigs and lemon slices if so desired. Serve.

 

 

Slow Cooker Whole Roasted Chicken…

I’m not sure why I’m always surprised when I try something totally new and it works out perfectly the first time. That is what happened with this recipe. I never in a million years thought about making a whole chicken in my slow cooker. I’m not sure why but it just never occurred to me. Until the other day…

I was planning some meals, perusing slow cooker recipes on Pinterest and all of a sudden came across a couple of recipes for making a whole chicken in a slow cooker. I was intrigued. What I found was making a whole chicken in a slow cooker couldn’t be any easier and the result is a really moist chicken with hardly any work. If you’ve never made a whole chicken in your slow cooker you simply have to try it. You won’t believe how good it is.

So let’s talk a slow cooker whole roasted chicken…

Lesson Learned 1 – The chicken needs to be elevated in the slow cooker: This was an interesting fact I learned. I saw some recipes that suggested wadding up pieces of foil into balls, placing them on the bottom of the slow cooker and then placing the chicken on top. I thought that was a little odd and wondered why. I found out that the chicken will give off a lot of juice in the slow cooker and if you don’t elevate it you’ll braise the chicken and it will fall apart when you try to get it out.

When I made it I was surprised by the amount of juice the chicken produced. But I chose not to perch my chicken on a bed of foil balls. Instead I used my vegetables as the base to elevate my chicken. Now this time I only used baby carrots, but I can see making this with potatoes and onions as well. I simply poured a very small amount of chicken broth on the bottom to prevent the carrots from sticking until the chicken produced its juices (the broth hardly even came up the sides of the carrots). But even with just carrots and a little chicken broth as the base, that did the trick and the carrots were even more flavorful having been cooked in broth and chicken juices for such a long period of time. Just remember that you need to season every layer in a slow cooker so make sure you sprinkle whatever you use as a base with salt, pepper, and in this case I used thyme as the herb.

If you choose to just use foil to elevate the chicken you can use the juices in the bottom of the slow cooker to make gravy. You’ll have plenty of liquid to provide a solid base for it.

Lesson Learned 2 – Add some aromatics to the cavity of the chicken: Another way to boost the flavor of the chicken is to add aromatics to its cavity. I put together a combination of garlic, lemon, and a shallot but you can use onions, fresh herbs (like thyme or rosemary), and you can even stuff the neck end of the bird with a sausage and herb mixture. If you do, just make sure you truss the neck skin with a skewer so the sausage cooks inside the bird and doesn’t pop out during the cooking process. And truss the legs together with cooking twine to keep the aromatics inside the cavity of the chicken.

Aromatics For The Chicken Cavity

I also made a rub for the chicken consisting of salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, thyme, minced garlic and a little olive oil. That also lent great flavor to the chicken.

Rub For the Chicken

Lesson Learned 3 – Use your broiler if you want crispy skin: The choice is up to you. Obviously the skin does not come out of the slow cooker crispy but if want it all you need do is put the chicken under the broiler for a couple of minutes once you’ve taken it out of the slow cooker. You’ll have the crispy skin you desire. Since this was just for me and my husband (and we don’t eat the skin anyway) I didn’t put the chicken under the broiler. The chicken was still juicy and delicious! I served my chicken with the carrots, some “Stove Top” stuffing for chicken and a salad. It was a great meal.

The major lesson I learned was making a whole chicken in a slow cooker is so unbelievably easy I wondered why I’d never done it before. But I guarantee you one thing, I will be making it again – and often!

Slow Cooker Whole Roasted Chicken...

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: Super Easy
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INGREDIENTS

1- 4.5 – 5 pound chicken

1 – 1 lb. bag of peeled and scrubbed baby carrots

1/2 cup chicken broth

Olive oil cooking spray

The Aromatics:

4 cloves of garlic, peeled but left whole

1/2 of a lemon

1 medium size shallot, peeled but left whole

The Rub:

2 tsp. of salt + 1/2 tsp. to season the carrots

1/4 tsp. black pepper + 1/4 tsp. to season the carrots

2 tsp. paprika

1 tsp. dried thyme + 1 tsp. to season the carrots

3 Tbs. finely minced garlic

1 Tbs. olive oil

DIRECTIONS:

Remove the chicken from its packaging, rinse it inside and out, removing any parts that may have been left inside. Pat the chicken as dry as you can. Insert the garlic, lemon and shallot into the cavity. Truss the legs together with cooking twine to hold the aromatics in place.

Combine the salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, paprika, garlic and thyme. Add the the olive oil and combine until the ingredients are lightly moistened. Spread the rub generously all over the chicken.

Spray the crock of the slow cooker with olive oil cooking spray. Pour the chicken broth into the crock. Place the baby carrots on top of the broth. Season with salt, pepper and thyme. Place the chicken on top of the carrots.

Cook on high for 1 hour and 7 hours on low. Remove the chicken and place under the broiler for crispy skin if desired. Let the chicken stand covered in foil for 10 minutes before carving.

Prep The Chicken And Truss It

Put The Carrots In First And Season Them

Put The Chicken On Top of The Carrots

Cook For 8 Hours

Double Chocolate Sour Cream Sheet Cake…

What can I say – my husband loves chocolate. Whether it be truffles, cookies, pies, cheese cake or simply semi-sweet morsels right out of the bag, if something contains chocolate chances are he’ll love it. So that means I’m always looking for variations on chocolate sweets, especially cakes and sweet breads.

So here is another chocolate cake recipe. I like this recipe for a variety of reasons. First it’s very simple and quick to make. Second adding the semi sweet morsels sends the cake over the top. Third the frosting is not overly sweet and so it compliments the cake beautifully.

So let’s talk double chocolate sour cream cheese cake…

Lesson Learned 1 – Never stray from the basics on this: By that I mean a couple of things. First, make sure whenever you bake your eggs are at room temperature. The reason is simple. Room temperature eggs blend more completely in the batter which results in a better texture for the cake. Don’t have the time to do this? Oh yes, you do – just follow my simple tips and tricks. Second, coat the semi-sweet morsels with a teaspoon of flour. By that I mean put the morsels in a bowl, pour the flour on top and mix the flour into the morsels until they are all lightly coated. When you add chocolate morsels or fruit like blueberries to cake batter they all sink to the bottom of the cake when it is baking. This little trick will help you get your morsels more evenly distributed throughout the batter.

Lesson Learned 2 – Less is more when making the frosting: Always be aware that if you add too much liquid up front when making frosting it can become too runny. With this recipe I would add 1 Tbs. of milk at a time until you get the desired consistency. Be aware that you will really need to mix this frosting well after you add any liquid. I used a stiff whisk and at first I did not think the frosting would achieve the consistency I wanted. But as I kept whisking I found that it turned out great. I only used 2 Tbs. of milk but with frosting you never know. The main point here is to make sure you mix the frosting ingredients thoroughly before adding any additional milk.

Ready To Go Into The Oven

I wish I could say I had a ton of lessons learned about this recipe but bottom line it’s a very traditional method of making a sheet cake so other than following the basics as I’ve listed above the rest is just a matter for following the directions.

Out Of The Oven

This is a great cake to make when you need something quick. It’s easy but totally decadent. You can serve it with sliced strawberries or if you really want to take it over the top add a little whipped cream or ice cream. This is a great cake to make for a party or just simply for the family. If you’re like me and want a go-to cake recipe, this is the one for you. Try it and tell me what you think…

Double Chocolate Sour Cream Sheet Cake...

  • Servings: 15
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS

CAKE:

3/4 cup unsalted butter

2/3 cup dark cocoa powder

3/4 cup water

1 3/4 cups sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

2 eggs, room temperature

1 3/4 cups flour + 1 tsp.

1 1/4 tsp. baking soda (1 tsp. high altitude)

1/4 tsp. salt

3/4 cup sour cream

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate morsels

FROSTING:

6 Tbs. unsalted butter

1/4 cup dark cocoa powder

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

2 – 3 Tbs. milk

Baking spray

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Put the butter, cocoa and water into a medium size saucepan over medium heat and whisk until the cocoa is dissolved and the butter melted. Pour into a mixing bowl and let it cool slightly.

Once slightly cooled mix in the sugar, the eggs (one at a time) and the vanilla. In a small bowl combine the flour, baking soda and salt. With your mixer (you can use a hand mixer) on low beat in the flour mixture until combined. Do not over mix.

Fold in the sour cream and chocolate morsels by hand.

Spray a 9 x 13 pan with baking spray (the one with flour). Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 35 minutes (check the cake at 30 minutes). The cake is done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Frosting: In a small saucepan melt together the cocoa powder and butter. Pour the mixture into a small bowl and let it cool slightly. Beat in the powdered sugar 1/2 cup at a time, alternating with a tablespoon of milk until the desired consistency is reached. Frost the cooled cake.

 

 

 

 

 

Parmesan And Garlic Herb Baked Cod…

Fish has become a staple in our household. Years ago I hardly ever made fish – I was too afraid of it and frankly not all that enamored with it. But now it has become a mainstay in our diet. Not only is it good for you but there are also a variety of ways to cook fish that make it super delicious. This recipe is one of those.

I’ve mostly cooked cod, red snapper, halibut, tilapia, trout, swordfish, and salmon. The main kind of fish I cook for me and my husband is salmon. I’ve got cooking salmon down to such a science that if I prepare it a certain way it always comes out perfect. This is a recipe for cod and I am still perfecting my cod prowess. But I made this the other night and it turned out wonderful so now I have a baseline to work from.

So let’s talk Parmesan and garlic herb baked cod…

Lesson Learned 1 – Cod is plentiful, easy to find and a great choice for this type of recipe: Whenever I go to the grocery store I can always get salmon, tilapia (although lately I’ve shied away from this because of everything that has been written about it) or cod. Finding other fish can be iffy for me. Trout is somewhat plentiful, halibut and red snapper are iffy (and halibut is very expensive) and swordfish I normally can only find frozen. But I’m in Colorado and not near the ocean so I’m sure in various parts of the country availability of various types of fish is much different.

I’d like to stop for a moment here and talk about frozen fish. Years ago frozen fish was not very good. The freezing process tended to dry out the fish and so you basically started out with dry fish once it was thawed – not good. Today the flash freezing methods they use keep the fish extremely fresh which makes frozen fish rival fresh fish and at a much better price. So don’t be afraid of frozen fish anymore.

The Herb Mixture

I also found that thawing frozen fish matters. I’ve been in a hurry and just put the frozen fish on the counter to thaw. That tends not to be a recommended process but when you’re in a hurry you do what you can do. But I found that if I thaw the fish in the refrigerator overnight the fish tends not to dry out in the baking process. Now I’m not sure if that’s true or if it’s just me, but I recommend thawing your fish overnight in the refrigerator if you can.

I found a package of six flash frozen 4-5 ounce cod pieces at Whole Foods at a great price. But cod is easy to find just about anywhere and often you can find it fresh. And no matter what way you make it, cod is the type of fish that easily takes on any flavor palate you choose. That’s what makes it so versatile.

One last point – don’t be afraid to let the fish sit outside of the refrigerator a bit before you bake it. I normally let my fish sit out for about one half hour. That way some of the chill is taken out of the fish. I find it bakes better that way.

Lesson Learned 2 – The art of cooking fish: As I mentioned earlier, I used to shy away from fish and one of the main reasons why was the fear of over or under cooking it. And when you have two pieces of halibut that cost over $20 you really don’t want to mess up. But even if you pay much less, cooking fish can be tricky and if you have enough failures you may just say enough is enough. But don’t do that. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll make great fish meals more and more.

If you’re really nervous just keep in mind that baked cod should be cooked to an internal temperature of 155 degrees. To test the temperature just use a food thermometer and stick it in the thickest part of the fish keeping the tip near the center of the filet. I’ve cooked fish enough that I’ve learned to eyeball it by either looking at the sides to see how opaque the color of the fish is or by sticking a fork on the edge to see if it’s flaky. But that skill comes with time and I recommend using a food thermometer if you’re new at it.

And while we’re talking food thermometer I would recommend getting a good one. The more inexpensive ones can work but they can register temperatures incorrectly, especially over time. Invest in a good food thermometer and it will become you’re best friend.

Ready To Go Into The Oven

Lesson Learned 3 – Grate your own Parmesan for this recipe: There is a BIG difference between jarred Parmesan cheese and grating your own. First the quality of the cheese can be much better as you choose what kind of Parmesan wedge you’ll use. Second the consistency is different. Homemade grated Parmesan tends to have slightly bigger pieces, tastes more robust and stands up better to the melting process in the oven. Now I know it takes a little extra time to do it but it is so worth it. I just zip out my little mini food processor, cut my Parmesan into small pieces and let the food processor do the rest. It’s so easy really and so worth it. I always make more than I need and use it for other things. Once you grate your own you may find that you’ve become a Parmesan snob and always grate your own versus buying it in the jar. It wouldn’t surprise me.

And that’s basically it. The recipe I am sharing is for two but you can certainly make more – just increase the amounts for the mayonnaise mixture. Also if you use larger sized filets you’ll need to increase the baking time. I served this with my cinnamon roasted butternut squash, a side salad and some garlic knots. It was a fantastic meal. Try it and tell me what you think!

Parmesan And Garlic Herb Baked Cod...

  • Servings: 2
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

2 four to five ounce cod filets

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan

1 scallion chopped, including the green parts (you can substitute 2 Tbs. shallots)

1 garlic clove, grated

1 Tablespoon fresh Italian parsley, chopped

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil and spray the foil with cooking spray. Place the cod filets on the foil and set aside.

In a small bowl mix together the remaining ingredients. Spread the mixture evenly over the top of the fish. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until the fish starts to look opaque and will flake.

If you desire the topping to be more browned, at 8 minutes switch the oven to broiler and brown the tops of the fish until lightly golden (not longer than 2 minutes). Remove from oven and serve.

 

 

 

 

Homemade Chicken Salad…

You may have noticed over the years that I love chicken. I could eat chicken every day of the week and am always looking at either new recipes or how to perfect old ones. This is the latter. I used to make a very basic chicken salad with grapes, green onions, mayo, salt and pepper and although it wasn’t bad it wasn’t the kind that was over the top in flavor. This recipe is, and I am so excited to share it.

It is not unusual for me to have leftover chicken in the house but this time I made it as the main event and not as a way to use leftovers. But either way, these combination of ingredients makes a chicken salad that you’ll make again and again.

So let’s talk homemade chicken salad…

Chicken Salad Ingredients

Lesson Learned 1 – Use this recipe as a base for what the amount of chicken you have: The recipe I am providing produces enough chicken salad to feed 8 people but can be adjusted for use with lesser amounts of leftover chicken. Just reduce the ingredients according to the percentage of chicken you may have on hand. To make the entire recipe I recommend using a 3 – 4 pound rotisserie chicken, cut up. When I made it initially I had about 2 pounds of cooked chicken pieces, so I reduced the ingredients slightly (remember this is not baking and so it’s ok to fiddle with the amounts) and it came out perfectly. You may have to step out of your comfort zone a little if you decide to adjust the ingredients, but frankly I can’t see that you’ll hurt the chicken salad doing whatever you choose as long as you are somewhat mindful of the overall portions in relation to the full recipe.

Lesson Learned 2 – No matter how much you want to eat it immediately, let the chicken salad sit in the refrigerator for at least an hour and, if you can, overnight: Once the chicken salad is made it looks so good you’ll want to eat it on the spot. I remember I tasted it right away and wasn’t all that enamored with it. But I know from experience that recipes like this require the ingredients to get acquainted in order to fully develop their flavors and so I let it sit overnight. The next day I couldn’t believe the difference in the taste. I was mostly struck by the flavor of the dill which I could hardly taste when I first made it but could really taste after the chicken salad rested overnight.

It wasn’t only the dill flavor that was different – the combination of flavors fully developed and complimented one another to the point that I felt I could eat the whole bowl right on the spot. So please, when you make this, give the ingredients a chance to fully develop. You won’t be sorry you did!

Lesson Learned 3 – You can also add slivered almonds to this recipe: Many recipes I researched included thinly sliced almonds as one of the ingredients. You can certainly add them to this recipe. I did not use them because my husband has a hard time with them – but I wanted to let you know that they are certainly an option for you.

Not a lot of lessons learned on this one as you basically combine all the ingredients and let them sit for a period of time. But this is a great recipe and I’m sure if you try it it’ll be your go-to chicken salad recipe…

Homemade Chicken Salad...

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

3 – 4 lb. rotisserie chicken, cut into bite size pieces

3/4 cup seedless red grapes, halved

2 celery ribs, diced

3-4 scallions, chopped (including the green parts)

2 Tbs. fresh dill, chopped

1 Tbs. fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped

1 cup mayonnaise

1 lemon, juiced

1 Tbs. Dijon mustard

Salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

In a large bowl combine the chicken, grapes, celery, scallions, dill and parsley. In another bowl combine the mayonnaise, lemon juice and mustard. Add the mayo mixture to the chicken mixture and carefully stir until mixed. Taste and season with salt and pepper as desired.

Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerator for minimally an hour and preferably over night. Great for sandwiches and salads.

 

 

 

Creamy Chicken And Cauliflower Casserole…

I love casseroles, especially during the winter time. I find them to be the true definition of comfort food. And this particular recipe is definitely a throw back. It features all of the ingredients your grandma used to make a quick but delicious meal. And this meal is versatile – you can serve it with pasta or as the main feature in a loaded baked potato or even with rice.  Anyway you look at it, if you want something fast and delicious this is the recipe for you!

What I particularly like about this recipe is that it’s quick to throw together and it’s a great way to use leftover chicken, and there always seems to be a lot of that in my refrigerator. As a matter of fact, I bet you already have all of the ingredients in this casserole in your pantry.

So let’s talk Creamy Chicken And Cauliflower Casserole…

Lesson Learned 1: The ingredients in this casserole are not written in stone: Not only is this casserole easy to put together but it can be made with a wide variety of ingredients. Think of the recipe I’m providing as a base for your imagination. But you can certainly add other things.  You can add some sliced mushrooms if you like. You can substitute frozen broccoli for cauliflower or include a little of both. Frozen peas and carrots would be a great addition as well. Wherever your imagination and pantry take you – this will always be a scrumptious comfort food casserole.

Lesson Learned 2 – If using frozen cauliflower (or broccoli) make sure it is slightly (or completely) thawed. You only bake this for 35-45 minutes and you want to make sure your vegetables are warmed all the way through. Smaller frozen vegetables such as pearl onions or peas and carrots can be added frozen. They will cook through within the allotted time. And if you used frozen chopped cauliflower or broccoli you can simply add them as well since the pieces will be smaller.

Lesson Learned 3 – Use more chicken than you think: I will suggest a certain amount in the recipe since I found that after I made mine I wound up adding more chicken to the leftovers. I initially used a pound and a half of cooked chicken pieces that I got at my local grocery store. But I felt the recipe needed more. I am going to recommend getting a rotisserie chicken from your grocery store and shredding the whole chicken for this recipe. You want to be able to see and taste chicken as the main ingredient and when you shred chicken it just seems to be a lot less for some reason.  If you don’t use a rotisserie chicken then I recommend using 3 large chicken breasts.

There are not a lot of lessons learned to impart on this one as this recipe is super easy. And the extra added bonus is the leftovers are equally scrumptious. You can’t go wrong with this one. Enjoy this easy to make winter comfort food!

Creamy Chicken And Cauliflower Casserole...

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: Super Easy
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INGREDIENTS

1 store bought rotisserie chicken, cut up and shredded

2 cans cream of chicken and mushroom soup

1 cup mayonnaise

1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded

1 cup colby and monterey jack cheese, shredded

1 1/2 cups frozen cauliflower, thawed

1 cup frozen pearl onions

Salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Mix all the ingredients (chicken, soup, mayo, cheeses, cauliflower and onions) together. Add salt and pepper as needed.

Transfer the ingredients to a lightly greased 2-3 quart casserole dish. Bake for 35-45 minutes or until the casserole is bubbly.  Serve.

Lemon Blueberry Quick Bread…

My husband has an insatiable sweet tooth and lucky for him he can eat sweets and stay thin. So I’m always looking to make something for him, and there are times I just don’t want a lot of fuss getting it done. When that happens, this recipe allows me to make him something fresh without a lot of work on my part. And oh, did I happen to mention – it tastes divine!

I love baking with blueberries. When they get hot enough they burst and release sweet juices into whatever it is you’re making. This particular quick bread is loaded with them and when you add the lemon zest to the batter and frost it with lemon glaze, the combination of flavors are to die for.

So not only is this a great tasting sweet loaf, it’s quick and utterly delicious. So let’s talk lemon blueberry quick bread…

Lesson Learned 1 – Be careful when baking with blueberries: Blueberries can be tricky and believe me I’ve had my failures where blueberries are concerned. You have to coat them with a small amount of flour before you put them in the batter. If you don’t they’ll all sink to the bottom of your bread and you’ll have a blueberry mess on your hands.

It’s very important that you coat with blueberries thoroughly with the amount indicated in the recipe. I’ve also made the mistake of thinking they were fully coated and pouring them into the batter only to find that there was still a bunch of flour on the bottom of the bowl. I recommend that you place your blueberries in a small cereal bowl and stir them from the bottom of the bowl up. That way you’ll know that you’re using all the flour. Check the bottom of the bowl for any residual flour. If there is some, scoop it on top of the blueberries and continue to stir until there’s no flour on the bottom of the bowl when you pour the blueberries into the batter.

This quick bread was so good I made it twice within the span of a week. The second time I tried a few tweaks and I liked the way the bread turned out even better. One of the tweaks I did was change the amount of blueberries. Originally I used 1 cup of blueberries in the recipe and the bread was loaded with blueberries. Don’t get me wrong, that was fine, but I felt the blueberries were a tad overpowering. The second time I only used 3/4 cup of blueberries and I liked that ratio of blueberries to batter much better. So I recommend using only 3/4 cup of blueberries.

Another trick I used to avoid having the blueberries sink to the bottom of the cake – once the batter was in the baking pan I used a small spoon, dipped it into the batter and scooped some of the blueberries up to the top. I went about half way down in the batter and did a few scoops to make sure all the blueberries didn’t settle in one place. Doing a few scoops with the spoon and making sure the blueberries were completely coated in the flour gave a good distribution of blueberries in the batter.

Lesson Learned 2 – High altitude baking: I live in the Denver area which is 5,000 feet above sea level. When you live in high altitude it affects your baking and you need to make adjustments in order to get your desired results. If you don’t make adjustments your cakes and sweet breads will wind up sinking in the middle with the edges being more than done. It’s frustrating. And it takes some time to get used to high altitude baking.

The main difference between high altitude and sea level baking is air pressure. The higher the altitude the lower the air pressure, and lower air pressure plays havoc with baking. The King Arthur Flour’s website has an excellent article explaining why adjustments need to be made with high altitude baking and recommended adjustments for cakes, cookies and the like. If you’re in high altitude I highly recommend you check it out. I will write out the recipe with sea level ingredients and put in parenthesis the high altitude adjustments. Keep in mind my adjustments are for 5,000 feet. If you’re at 3,000 or 7,000 the adjustments change. The article gives specific adjustments for those altitudes as well. And if you’re at sea level (which I was for many years) just follow the recipe as is. You’ve got nothing to worry about. The link to the article is directly below:

https://www.kingarthurflour.com/learn/high-altitude-baking.html

Other than how to work with blueberries and how to adjust for high altitude this quick bread is super simple to make and super delicious. Try it out and tell me what you think…

Lemon Blueberry Quick Bread...

  • Servings: 10-12
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

Quick Bread

1 1/2 cups flour + 1 tsp., divided

2 tsp. baking powder (1 1/2 tsp. for high altitude)

1/4 tsp. salt

1/3 cup sugar

Zest of one medium size lemon, plus the juice for the glaze (see below)

3/4 cup whole milk (+ 1 Tbs. for high altitude)

1 egg, beaten

2 Tbsp. canola oil

3/4 cup fresh blueberries

Baking spray

Glaze

1 cup confectioners sugar

1-2 Tbs. fresh squeezed lemon juice

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 (365 for high altitude).

In a large bowl combine the flour, baking soda and salt. Whisk until thoroughly combined. Stir in the sugar and lemon zest. Set aside.

In a medium size bowl whisk together the egg, milk and canola oil. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until just combined.

Use the remaining teaspoon of flour and coat the blueberries with the flour. Add the blueberries to the batter and gently fold them in.

Coat an 8 x 4 inch loaf pan with baking spray. (I used the one that also includes flour). Pour the batter into the pan. Place a small spoon into the batter (about half way down) and scoop some of the blueberries up to the top. (repeat this two or three times).

Bake for 40-50 minutes (mine was done in 40 minutes). Remove the pan from the oven. Move a rounded edged knife along all sides of the pan. Let the pan cool for 15 minutes, then remove the quick bread from the pan and let it continue to cool.

Once the bread is completely cooled mix together the glaze ingredients. Start with 1 Tbs. lemon juice and add more to achieve your desired thickness (I used 2 Tbs.). Drizzle the glaze over the top of the bread before serving. Store any leftovers in an air tight container.

 

 

 

 

 

Tortellini White Bean And Sausage Soup…

Happy New Year! I hope you had a great holiday season. I had a fabulous one. We went back home to Illinois to spend Christmas with our family. Seven kids, eight dogs and assorted adults all led to a busy and memorable time. It was so much fun until I got home and came down with a cold. I haven’t had one in a very long time and I attribute it to the sniffling, sneezing children that I was around for an entire week. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t have changed it for the world. And I’m glad to be back on my feet and in the world of the living.

Perhaps this little health hiccup inspired my next recipe. I don’t know about you but when I have a cold or am not feeling up to par I immediately think of soup. Mostly I think of chicken soup, but this time I wanted something different hence this particular recipe. There’s something about a warm bowl of soup when you’re not feeling well that’s very comforting, like a soft warm blanket. It somehow just seems to make you feel better.

I never really got into making homemade soups until the last couple of years. I’d just open a can and warm up whatever I bought at the grocery store. What I’ve learned over time is homemade soup is very easy to make, doesn’t take a lot of time plus you control what goes into it, especially the salt, which tends to loom large in canned soups. So I’ve been venturing more into making homemade soups and truly enjoying it. And for the novice cook, this is a way to look very impressive without a lot of hard work. So don’t shy away from making soup.

Let’s talk Tortellini White Bean and Sausage Soup

Lesson Learned 1 – I learned the beauty of chicken sausage: When researching various recipes I came across one that used chicken Italian sausage. I never tried that before, and sometimes I am leery of the flavor of chicken and turkey substitutes for beef or pork but decided to give it a go in this recipe. I was glad I did. It was divine!

The important thing to note is that you must cook the sausage before putting it into the soup. You do this for a couple of reasons. First and foremost the soup does not cook long enough for the sausage to be fully cooked by the time the soup is finished. Second, by cooking it ahead of time you get that nice browning on the casing which you wouldn’t get if you simply boiled the sausage. So remember to cook the sausage first because once you add it to the soup you are basically just heating it through.

Lesson Learned 2 – I added tomato paste to thicken the soup: I noticed when I was making the soup the broth seemed a little lackluster – kind of thin and unexciting (if broth can be unexciting). I decided to add a 6 ounce can of tomato paste and was glad I did. The paste made the broth thicker and more luxurious. You can choose to leave it out if you like but I would recommend adding it to the recipe.

Lesson Learned 3 – Slightly mash the white beans: After you rinse the beans and before you add them to the soup give them a slight mash with a hand masher. You don’t want to do too much, just a little. This along with the tomato paste helps thicken the broth.

Lesson Learned 4 – Kale versus Spinach: A lot of similar recipes I researched recommended adding kale to this type of soup and you can certainly do so. I don’t know about you but I’m not a big fan of kale – it just tastes funky to me no matter how it’s prepared. So I opted for spinach and it was great. The choice is yours – you can certainly use kale if you like but if you’re like me and not a big fan, spinach is a wonderful substitute.

Lesson Learned 5 – Don’t be afraid to improvise: A recipe like this is ripe for improvisation. I used a tri-color three cheese tortellini but you an certainly choose any kind you like. I used chicken Italian sausage but if you’re skeptical a more traditional sweet Italian sausage will work. Or you can make sausage meatballs. If you want to spice it up a bit you can always add a little red pepper flakes or some cayenne pepper. When I warm up my leftovers I’m going to put some parmesan shavings on top. Even if you’re a novice cook, don’t be afraid to add your own touches or adjust the ingredients to your taste. Cooking is not like baking, you don’t need to be exact. Step out of your comfort zone and try a few things. You’ll be happy you did.

Tortellini White Bean and Sausage Soup

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS

4 cups low sodium chicken stock

1 cup water

1 – 14.5 oz. can of Italian style diced tomatoes

1 – 6 oz. can of tomato paste

1 package (13.5) oz. refrigerated tortellini (I used tri-color three cheese)

1 pkg. (4 links) Italian chicken sausage, fully cooked

2 cans 15 oz. cannellini beans, drained, thoroughly rinsed and lightly mashed

4 cups fresh baby spinach

DIRECTIONS:

In a large saucepan combine stock, water and tomatoes. Bring to a boil. Add the tomato paste and stir until completely incorporated. Add the tortellini and cook on a gentle boil for approximately two minutes. Add the sausage and beans. Bring to a low simmer and cook for about 10 minutes. Add the spinach. Cook for approximately two minutes or until the spinach is completely wilted. Serve with a salad and crusty bread. Refrigerate any leftovers.

 

Balsamic Cranberry And Brie Crostinis…

Well, it’s just about 2019 – can you believe it? I can’t believe that I’ve been writing this blog for over 5 years with over 450 posts and am still going strong. It’s been quite a journey for me as I truly was (and to some degree still am) the cook who never could. But over the past five years I’ve learned so much and have become so much more confident in the kitchen – something I never would’ve believed early on.

Don’t get me wrong, I still make mistakes and sometimes my instincts aren’t as good as others. But when I get feedback from readers telling me that what I’m showing in pictures looks hard, I know that there are so many others out there like me who were never mentored in the kitchen and are looking to learn. Because, believe me, most of what I post is very easy.

So I will continue on with this theme, which in my mind is endless – there will always be someone who needs to learn something regarding cooking or baking. And I will continue to learn and share my lessons learned so when you make one of my recipes you can escape some potential pitfalls and be successful right out of the box.

It’s time to post the last recipe of 2018. Some of you may be aware that’s I’ve posted a lot of appetizer recipes this year. That’s because my condo association hosts a happy hour every week during the summer and bi-weekly over the winter and although no one is expected to bring anything, I always feel compelled to do so. And one of our members is a caterer and so my competitive nature kicks into gear to see if I can, at least every once in a while, outshine the professional. And in my mind, this particular recipe does. It looks so festive and is pretty easy to make – the vast majority of the work is the assembly and that certainly isn’t difficult.

So let’s talk Balsamic Cranberry and Brie Crostinis…

Lesson Learned 1 – This appetizer can be served warm or cold: I opted for cold and here’s why – I’ve found that unless you are personally hosting a party hot appetizers can be tricky, especially if they are at their best when they are hot. How to time it to get to another location with the appetizer still warm, the paraphernalia you may need to bring with you to keep it warm, timing how you bake it to ensure the quickest oven to table possible – all of this just seems like too much for me.  Even though you can serve this warm, I decided to make the cranberries ahead of time and baked the baguette closer to the time of the party and the crostinis turned out great.

I also found that when I took the bread out of the oven and placed the cheese on top the cheese slightly adhered to the bread because it was warm. So that worked out well. Nothing wound up falling off the bread because the cheese was secure.

Lesson Learned 2 – Preparing the cranberries: I’ve always cooked cranberries on the stove top but this recipe calls for them to be cooked in the oven. So here’s a couple of tips that will save you a lot of aggravation:

  • Use a lipped baking sheet because the cranberries will let out their juices and you want to keep them in the pan and not all over your oven
  • Line your sheet with parchments paper – the cranberry mixture will be quite sticky and will be a nightmare to clean if you don’t protect the baking sheet
  • Spray the sides of the baking sheet with cooking spray – although you’re using parchment paper juices will run to the sides and stick to the sides and that can be difficult to clean
  • Clean your baking sheet asap – even with using these precautions some of the cranberry mixture will stick and the longer you let it sit the more difficult the clean-up will be

Lesson Learned 3 – Working with brie:  I love brie but it can be a pain in the butt to deal with, especially if you’re not fond of the outer skin and want to remove it. Brie is not easy to slice because it is so soft. Make sure you have a really sharp knife and watch out for your fingers.

You’ll want to cut the brie in small pieces – and for this you’ll have to use your judgment in terms of what that means. I cut the brie in squares and after putting some on the bread I could tell just how much I needed. I wound up making some of my pieces smaller or adding on to some of them. Don’t fret about this. After you top a couple of the pieces of bread you’ll get the feel for it.

I also used my fingers to spread the brie on the bread slices. That way I could push the brie down into the warm slices and spread it out with my fingers. You can also use a knife, but I had a better feel for it with my fingers. If you chose to use the finger method – make sure you have clean hands! I washed them before and once during the process. Your hands can be your best tools in the kitchen but if you use them they must be really clean.

Lesson Learned 4 – The original recipe called for 1 Tablespoon of rosemary: I thought that was way too much (I used dried rosemary since the grocery store did not have any good looking fresh rosemary). I wound up picking bits of rosemary out of the cranberries as I felt it was too overpowering. So I recommend a teaspoon of fresh rosemary chopped very fine, or 1/2 tsp. of dried rosemary, crushed. The rosemary does enhance the flavor of the cranberries – you just don’t want it to overpower the mixture. I would err on the side of caution – you an always add more if you need to but take my word for it, it’s a big pain trying to pick out the pieces of rosemary after the fact.

And the rest is just basic assembly – toast the bread in the oven, put the cheese on the bread, the cranberries on top of the cheese and for some extra flair add a small sprig of fresh thyme on top. This appetizer is delicious. I had people taking it home in doggie bags. So make this for your New Years celebration. You won’t regret it.

Happy New Year and all the best in 2019!

Balsamic Cranberry And Brie Crostinis...

  • Servings: Approx. 30
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

2 Tbs. butter, melted

2 Tbs. garlic infused olive oil

1 french baguette, sliced thin

12 ounces fresh cranberries

2 Tbs. good balsamic vinegar

1/2 cup sugar

1 tsp. fresh rosemary, diced fine (or 1/2 tsp. dried and crushed fine)

6 ounces triple cream brie cheese

Fresh thyme, cut into small sprigs for garnish, optional

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 425. Cover a large lipped baking sheet with parchment paper. Spray the sides with cooking spray. Set aside. Take another baking sheet and line it with parchment paper. Set aside.

In a medium bowl combine cranberries, balsamic vinegar, sugar and rosemary. Spread the mixture onto the prepared baking sheet. Roast for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven. Transfer the cranberries into a bowl. Clean the baking sheet as soon as possible.

In a small pan, heat the butter and olive oil until the butter is melted. Stir to combine. Slice the bread into thin slices, about 1/8 inch thick. Brush the butter/oil on both sides of each slice and place them on the baking sheet. Bake in the oven for 6 minutes. Take the baking sheet out of the oven and turn over all of the slices of bread. Put them back in the oven and bake for an additional 4 minutes.

Transfer the slices of bread to a cooling rack. Take a small amount of brie and press it into each slice of bread, spreading the cheese with your fingers until it just about covers the bread. Take a teaspoon full of the cranberry mixture and place it on top of the cheese.

Decorate the tops of each with a small sprig of fresh thyme. Serve.

 

Some Of My Favorite Holiday Recipes…

Over the next week or so I am going to be taking a hiatus from posts to my blog but I didn’t want to leave my readers high and dry. So I thought I’d look through my posts and put together a one-stop-shop of some of my favorite holiday recipes.

What I like about this blog is it includes a wide range of recipes from cookies, to main dishes, to appetizers, vegetables and sides and all are tested and true. And this compilation is based on what many people tend to serve during this time of year. So look through what I’ve put together and simply click on each picture to be redirected to the original posts and the recipes. Happy Holidays all! I’ll be back right before New Years with a great appetizer recipe!

COOKIES

Lets start with cookies. Cookies are what I am known for over the holidays. I’ve been baking cookies at this time of year ever since I was in high school. I’ve made many different varieties but the link I am providing here is to my all time favorites. You’ve got plenty to choose from. Just click on the picture below and happy baking!

APPETIZERS

Next let’s look at some holiday appetizers. Holiday parties and family get-togethers tend to have a main meal adorned with great appetizers. Click on the picture below to see a compilation of my favorite holiday appetizers with links to each one. And if you don’t see anything you like, check out my recipe index to see a complete list of the appetizers I’ve blogged about.

SOUP

There’s nothing so satisfying as a hot bowl of soup during the holidays. And whether you choose to serve it with your holiday meal or simply as a cozy supper, you can’t ignore soups at the holidays. I chose to feature my butternut squash soup but there are others in my recipe index as well. To me this soup just screams the holidays. And if you don’t serve this with your holiday meal try it with a salad and some crusty bread anytime.

MAIN DISHES

Let’s move on to main dishes. I chose to focus on four of my recipes. The first is roast chicken in a cast iron skillet. If you want something a little different than turkey, this is a great recipe. The chicken cooks evenly in the cast iron and comes out juicy and delicious. Try this one over the holidays or anytime and, if you’re a chicken lover like me, this may be your go to recipe for roasting a whole chicken.

Next is my prime rib recipe. Many times my family would make this for Christmas because we just had turkey a month before. Or sometimes if we were feeding a huge crowd we’d make turkey and prime rib. Or prime rib became the center of attention on New Year’s Eve. Either way, over the holidays it’s always good to have a go-to prime rib recipe. Just click on the picture below.

Next I’m including a turkey recipe but not the type of turkey recipe you might think. Since Thanksgiving this recipe has been getting a ton of hits on my blog which leads me to believe that readers are looking for alternative ways to serve the bird. This is a slow cooker recipe and it is delicious. So if you’re looking for an alternative way to serve turkey, this recipe is for you!

And last but not least, so many people use the occasion of the holidays to dapple in making lobster tails. Because they are so expensive and are not good overcooked many shy away from making them. But you shouldn’t. They are surprisingly easy to make if you follow the lessons learned in my blog. So go ahead, splurge and enjoy some lobster tails over the holidays!

SIDES

What would the holidays be without a stuffing/dressing recipe. So many times I hear from people that their family’s recipe is the best. But sometimes people are looking for a change or just for a good stuffing/dressing recipe. Well here it is! This is not my mother’s stuffing which I did love but never got from her. So in my quest to find a great substitute I landed on this recipe. It is fabulous and tastes even better if made the day before and reheated the next day.

And what are the holidays without sweet potatoes. Personally I’m not a big fan of sweet potato recipes that include a marshmallow topping so you won’t see that here. This particular version has a great combination of flavors, from orange juice, to cinnamon, to maple syrup – you just can’t beat this one. I make this often during the year. Try it, I’m sure you’ll love it!

My last side is an ethnic side. My ancestors came from Lithuania and this recipe was a staple at all of our holiday meals. I remember when I first posted this recipe, I didn’t think it would generate much interest. Surprisingly it continues to be one of the more popular recipes on my blog. Keep in mind that this recipe is not very heart healthy. Years ago people were only concerned about making food that was cheap and filling and this certainly fits the bill. But every once in a while you can let go and enjoy a dish like this. So enjoy my grandmother’s Lithuanian Kugelis recipe (or potato pudding as some people now call it). If there is a food that can conjure up beautiful holiday memories, this is the one for me!

VEGETABLES

This is one of the most popular vegetable recipes on my blog. It uses a variety of veggies and roasts them in the oven with some olive oil. Couldn’t be simpler, it’s delicious and provides an array of festive colors for your holiday table.

I’m a big fan of butternut squash. To me there’s nothing better than roasted butternut squash. And when you pair it with a little cinnamon, it’s to die for. Butternut squash is a great accompaniment to almost anything you could possibly serve for your holiday dinner. This recipe is full proof and will probably become one you use all year long

DESSERTS

It’s hard to believe that after a holiday meal there is still room for dessert, but no holiday meal would be complete without one, or two, or… So I am including a few of my favorite desserts that are not only delicious but look like they belong on a holiday table.

First are my lemon raspberry cheesecake bars. This happens to be one of my husband’s favorites. It is easy to make, delicious and it’s decorative raspberry swirls scream the holidays. Because it is light and airy, this is a great dessert to serve after a robust holiday meal.

My chocolate cherry cream cheese cake is a great addition to any holiday dessert table. Not only does it combine the delectable flavors of rich chocolate, cream cheese and cherries but it boasts of holiday colors and looks unbelievable. It does require a few steps to get that special dotted cherry look, but believe me this cake is worth the effort.

I make cranberry bread every year when fresh cranberries hit the grocery store. And for several years I’ve played around with this recipe until now that I feel I finally perfected it. There’s nothing that says the holidays like cranberries, and this sweet bread is a nice finish to a holiday meal.

Last but certainly not least is my cranberry upside down cake. I made it for the first time this year and fell in love with it. Color me crazy, but the joy of baking this and then turning it over to see the gorgeous display of cranberries on top is a joy second to none. It looks so festive and is easy to make. This was my first try at making it and look how gorgeous it is. If you make any of my suggested desserts, I would recommend this one. It was fun to make and fun to eat!

And that’s it, my 2018 holiday recipe compilation. I hope you find this one-stop-shop of recipe links helpful as you make your final preparations for the holidays.

I will be taking a two week hiatus from posting to enjoy the holidays as well. I wish you a very Merry Christmas and I’ll touch base right before the New Year.  Here’s looking forward to what we can accomplish in the kitchen in 2019!

 

Best Ever Shrimp Dip (No Lie)…

I know, there are so many shrimp dip recipes out there and to me they all seem to taste the same. Well I’ve officially broken that mold. True, in order to achieve star status for this dip you have to do a little more work but it’s not that hard and it’s so worth it!

What’s the key? Well the combination of flavors for sure creates this great shrimp dip. But one of main differences I think is I prepared the shrimp from scratch. It all started with having most of a 16 ounce bag of uncooked jumbo shrimp in the freezer that I wanted to use. So instead of buying cooked shrimp or using mini cocktail shrimp (I found a lot of dip recipes call for them) I prepared the shrimp by hand.

In my mind that was the key. It gave the shrimp so much more flavor and the texture was much more robust. You could tell and taste that there was shrimp in the dip. Don’t get me wrong, the ingredients in total played a significant role in the dip’s flavor, but preparing and cooking the shrimp by hand was, for me, the key.

So let’s talk the best ever shrimp dip…

Lesson Learned 1 – This is MAJOR – prepare the shrimp from scratch: Don’t use precooked shrimp. Now of course if you have precooked shrimp on hand you can use it. But the flavor is so much more intense when you cook the shrimp and rough chop it yourself. I used frozen uncooked jumbo shrimp. The shrimp was already de-veined but there were still a few remnants of shell on the flesh. Once the shrimp was defrosted I removed the shells, cut off the small tails and cooked them before chopping them up. I seasoned the shrimp with Old Bay seasoning and garlic infused olive oil.

Shrimp Dip Ingredients

The result was flavorful, meaty chunks of shrimp in the dip. That combined with the other seasonings set the dip over the top. And once you let the dip sit (I made mine the day before) the flavors become more fully developed and the dip is out of this world. I remember tasting it the next day and then going back for a couple more spoonfuls because it was so delicious.

Lesson Learned 2 – Shrimp cooks really fast: Once I put the shrimp in the pan I cooked them on medium high heat for 2 minutes on one side and about 2 minutes on the second side. Now remember I was using jumbo shrimp. If you use smaller shrimp the cook time may be a little less.

When the shrimp is cooked it will be loosely curled. If the shrimp is tightly curled you’ve overcooked it and it will be tough. Shrimp is like calamari – it gets tough when you overcook it. So don’t let it worry you if you think the cooking time is short. If the shrimp has a nice light coral color and is loosely curled you’ve cooked it perfectly.

Lesson Learned 3 – This recipe tastes the best when it’s made the day before: When I made this dip I tasted it right after I made it and it was good. But when I tasted it the next day I thought the flavor was over the top. I actually saved some of this dip and made a sandwich out of it, it was that good. And it disappeared quickly at the gathering where I served it. So do yourself a favor – let this one sit for a day. You won’t regret it!

Lesson Learned 4 – Another key factor in the flavor is pimento cheese: If you’ve never had pimento cheese you’ll see it has a slight kick to it. That combined with the horseradish gives the dip some zip. The zip is ever so slight so don’t worry about people not being able to eat it because it’s too spicy. You could also use a sharp cheddar, but I don’t think it will provide the depth of flavor that the pimento cheese does. I found it in the specialty cheese section in my local supermarket. If you don’t see it, ask for it. I’ll bet it’s there you just never noticed it.

Preparing, seasoning and cooking the shrimp from scratch makes all the difference in this recipe. I am anxious to hear your thoughts on this one. Make it and let me know what you think. You won’t be disappointed.

The Best Ever Shrimp Dip (No Lie)...

  • Servings: Party Size
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

1 – 16 ounce bag frozen raw peeled and de-veined large/jumbo shrimp, thawed

1 -2 Tbs. garlic infused olive oil

1/4 tsp. Old Bay seasoning

1 – 8 ounce package of cream cheese, softened

1 heaping Tbs. horseradish

1 Tbs. shallots, minced

1 cup pimento cheese

1 Tbs. chopped Italian parsley for garnish, optional

DIRECTIONS:

Thaw the shrimp. Remove any remaining shells on the flesh of the shrimp. Cut the tails off (or you can keep it on, basically it’s your choice). In a medium sized bowl combine the shrimp, olive oil and Old Bay seasoning. Stir to make sure all of the shrimp is coated with the oil and seasoning.

On medium heat cook the shrimp for 2 minutes on one side and 1 1/2 -2 minutes on the other. The shrimp is done when it gets a soft coral color and is loosely curled. Cool the shrimp and cut it into small chunks.

In a separate bowl combine the cream cheese, horse radish, shallots, and pimento cheese. Add the shrimp. Stir until well combined. Refrigerate overnight. (you can serve immediately or chill for a short period of time but overnight is the ideal). Garnish and serve with crackers, chips or veggies.

 

 

 

 

Glazed Almond Cookies…

Every year when I bake cookies for the holidays I try one new recipe. I’ve been making cookies for so many years and have countless choices but I always like to experiment with at least one new recipe while I decide what others in my arsenal to make. A few recipes I make every year because they are just my classics. But there are others I switch out or switch around and I always add one new variety to the bunch. This is my new cookie for 2018.

Most of the cookies I make are pretty traditional with straightforward processes. This one varied a little and tested my ability to problem solve. But once I figured it out I was good to go. So I recommend you read my lessons learned carefully   because if you do you’ll be successful right out of the gate. And just in case you’re wondering these cookies taste divine and are well worth the little extra attention you need to pay to them.

So let’s talk glazed almond cookies…

Lesson Learned 1 – This recipe does not use any eggs: I know, I thought it was strange too but don’t worry the combination of ingredients works. You’ll find the dough looks a little different than most cookie dough – sort of like mashed potatoes (see the picture below). That’s ok – that’s what the dough needs to look like.

Lesson Learned 2 – You MUST use parchment paper on your cookie sheet: I have a professional grade non stick cookie sheet and found I still needed to use parchment paper. The cookies did not stick to the sheet, that’s not why parchment paper was necessary. The challenge arose when I tried to place the sliced almonds on top which I will address in another lesson learned. Just make sure you use parchment paper regardless of whether you’re using a non-stick sheet or not.

Lesson Learned 3 – I discovered the best process for prepping the cookies to go in the oven: With this recipe you roll the dough into small balls and then flatten the balls. I found the easiest way to do this was to roll the cookies all at once and then flatten them with the bottom of a tumbler glass. By doing this I was able to not only have a smooth flowing process but also was able to make the cookies a uniform size by using the bottom of the glass as a guide for pressing out the dough. Keep in mind that you’ll need a little bit of flour on hand to dust the bottom of the glass. I placed about 1/4 cup of flour on a small plate and dusted the bottom of the glass regularly. Sometimes the cookies stuck to the bottom of the glass but I was able to peel them off easily because of the flour. Once I had the cookies all flattened I dusted off any residual flour that was on them with a pastry brush.

Lesson Learned 4 – How to make the almond slices stick to the cookies: This is the rub! It’s not as easy as you might think… I found the best way to make the almonds stay on the cookies is to put them directly on the dough the very second they came out of the oven and before transferring them to a wire cooling rack. If you wait any longer they won’t stick. So as soon as you take these cookies out of the oven have the almonds ready. Place them on top of the cookie and gently press them into the cookie. That way as the cookie cools it bonds around the almond slices.

That is also why you want to have your cookie sheets lined with parchment paper. The first batch I made I took the cookies off the sheet, transferred them to a cooling rack and then tried to put on the almond slices. As I pressed them down into the cookie, the bottom of the cookie went slightly through the gaps in the cooling rack so when I took the cookies off the rack they no longer had flat bottoms and the cookies wobbled. Also by that time the cookies had cooled enough that the almonds did not stick. Ugh… When you press the almonds onto the cookie while they’re still on the baking sheet they are still warm enough, the parchment paper prevents them from sticking to the sheet as you press down and you still maintain a flat bottom.  It took me my first failed batch to figure this out.

Also I found if some of the slices were a little loose or did not want to stick, when I applied the glaze and let the glaze set on the cookie, the glaze acted as a binder and the almonds stayed on the cookie. So you really have two ways to secure the almonds. But first try putting them on while the cookies are still hot. That’s the best way.

Lesson Learned 5 – Glaze the cookies on a wax paper lined cookie sheet: Place your cookies on the lined cookie sheet and then with a teaspoon drizzle the glaze over the top of the almonds. Not only does it create a rustic look but also helps to secure the almonds on top of the cookie. Once the cookies are glazed put the baking sheet in the refrigerator for about 10-15 minutes to let the glaze harden. Then you can serve them or freeze them. The glaze has a wonderful almond flavor that accentuates the almond flavoring in the cookie. In the end you have one delicious and festive looking cookie!

Glazed Almond Cookies...

  • Servings: Approximately 3 Dozen
  • Difficulty: Medium
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

Cookie Dough

1 cup unsalted butter

3/4 cup sugar

1 tsp. almond extract

2 cups flour

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. salt

Glaze

1/2 cup confectioners sugar

1 tsp. almond extract

3 teaspoons water

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Set aside

In a stand mixer, mix together well the butter, sugar and almond extract.

In a separate bowl combine the flour, baking soda and salt. Whisk to combine.

Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture only a couple tablespoons at a time until fully incorporated before adding more.  Otherwise the flour will not incorporate fully into the dough.

Roll the dough into small one inch balls. Dust the bottom of a glass tumbler with flour and flatten each ball. (You will need to dust the bottom of the glass frequently). Bake for 7 minutes only . Although the cookie may not look done, it is. Do not remove the cookies from the baking sheet and immediately take a few sliced almonds and press them into each cookie. Once you’ve finished putting the almonds on top of the cookies transfer them to a wire cooling rack to cool.

After the cookies have cooled mix the glaze ingredients together. With a teaspoon, drizzle the glaze over the cookies. Put the cookies in the refrigerator for about 10-15 minutes to allow the glaze to set. Serve or freeze.

 

 

 

 

Cranberry Upside Down Cake…

There’s nothing that screams the holidays like cranberries. Did you know that 20% of cranberries grown are consumed over the holidays? The fresh ones are only around this time of year and their bright red color makes you want to burst into a Christmas song. And because I love them so much, I’m always looking for new ways to cook or bake with them. This particular recipe hits the jackpot as far as I’m concerned.

I’ve seen various iterations of upside down cakes but this one, in my estimation, surpasses them all. It is so much fun to take this cake out of the oven, let it cool for 10 minutes, and then turn it over and see this gorgeous burst of holiday color decorating the top of the cake. This cake will stand out on any holiday dessert table. And besides looking fabulous, it tastes fabulous! And it isn’t that difficult to make. You just need to follow a few tips and the cake will turn out perfectly. This is the very first time I made this cake and just look at it – holiday perfection! So let’s talk cranberry upside down cake…

Lesson Learned 1 – Grease the bottom and sides of the pan generously: If you don’t do this you’re dead in the water. The cake will never come out clean. Now by generously I don’t mean you need a build up of grease in the pan.  Just make sure your pan (and this recipe calls for one 9 inch round cake pan) is thoroughly greased on the bottom and the sides. And make sure you only use butter to grease the pan, nothing else.

Lesson Learned 2 – Can you make this in an 8 inch round pan: The answer is yes and no. This recipe makes a lot of batter and really calls for a 9 inch pan that is at least two inches high up the sides. Once you put the cranberries in the entire batter will come close to the top if you use it all. I wound up leaving a small amount of batter out as I was afraid the cake would spill over the sides of the pan. I left a little less than 1/2 inch of space along the sides.

I’m glad I did. The picture below shows what the cake looked like right out of the oven. You can see the cake is all the way up to the top of the sides of the pan. Next time I make the cake I may add a few less cranberries (the original recipe called for 12 ounces of cranberries – I did not use that either. I used about 10 ounces of the 12 ounce bag). The key to getting a nice top is making sure the cranberries are evenly spread over the brown sugar and butter base. Piling the cranberries slightly on top of each other also results in a few cranberries rising with the cake and creating some nice color throughout the cake, which I liked.

I think you could use an 8 inch pan but keep in mind you will need less cranberries and you will have more batter left over. Either way, leave yourself a little less than 1/2 inch of space along the sides so your cake does not flow over the sides of the pan.

Lesson Learned 3 – Don’t let the cake cool in the pan longer than 10 minutes: You want the cake to rest for a short time when it comes out of the oven. But you also want to make sure you can get the cake out of the pan. Remember what you have on the bottom is really sticky. Cool the cake for no longer than 10 minutes. Then take a butter knife and run it all along the sides of the pan. If you do this, your cake will come out easily. Mine did and it looked gorgeous. Let the cake cool in it’s “upside down” form.

If you follow these simple lessons you should have no problem making this cake. And as always I will include sea level and high altitude amounts for the baking powder. I know you will love this one!

Cranberry Upside Down Cake...

  • Servings: 10
  • Difficulty: Medium
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

Base:

3/4 cup packed brown sugar

4 Tbs. unsalted butter

10 ounces of fresh cranberries (you will not use an entire 12 ounce bag)

Cake:

1 3/4 cups flour

2 tsp. baking powder (1 tsp. for high altitude)

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. ground ginger

1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon

Very small pinch of ground cloves

1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

1 1/2 cups sugar

3 eggs, room temperature

1 Tbs. orange zest (the zest of a large orange)

1/2 cup sour cream

1/4 cup milk

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously butter the bottom and sides of a 9 inch round cake pan. Set aside.

In a small saucepan, melt together the butter and brown sugar for the base. Make sure they are mixed well. Pour this mixture into the bottom of the cake pan.

Spread the cranberries evenly over the butter/brown sugar mixture. Set aside.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger and cloves.

In another bowl beat the butter for the cake until it is light and fluffy. Add the sugar and mix thoroughly. Add the eggs in one at a time and mix until combined. Stir in the orange zest.

Mix 1/3 of the dry ingredients into the butter/egg mixture. Once combined beat in 1/2 of the sour cream until combined. Beat in the next third of the dry mixture until combined. Add the remaining half of the sour cream and beat until combined. Add the last third of the dry ingredients and beat until combined. Finally add the milk and beat until combined.

Pour the batter over the cranberries making making sure to leave a little less than 1/2 inch of room from the top of the pan.

Place in preheated oven and lower the temperature to 325 degrees. Bake anywhere from 55 minutes to 70 minutes. (mine took 70 minutes – it will depend on your oven and your altitude). Cake is done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Run a butter knife all around the edges of the pan. Place a plate on top of the pan and invert it. Let the inverted cake cool on the plate.

 

 

Easy Homemade Pizza…

If you’re anything like me, pizza is something you either eat at a restaurant or order for delivery. I never really thought about making homemade pizza until recently. I was wandering around Trader Joes, saw some pizza dough in a bag and thought I should give this a try. So I bought some. After leaving it in the refrigerator for a few days I decided to use it before it went bad. And the rest was just pure joy.

Pizza is pretty elementary. It consists of the dough for your crust, your sauce, your toppings and cheese – yep, that’s pretty much it. But not really. How thinly do you roll out the dough? How much sauce and toppings do you put on? At what temperature do you bake it so the bottom crust gets done before the sides get too brown? What I found is there are some basic things to keep in mind when making pizza so your results will be perfect. So let’s talk making homemade pizza…

Lesson Learned 1 – Tips for working with pizza dough: Pizza dough, like most other types of dough, likes to rest before you roll it out. One common mistake with using store bought pizza dough is to take it out of the refrigerator and immediately start working with it. Doing that will result in a tough crust. Let the dough rest on your counter for about 20 minutes before you begin rolling it out. That way the glutens in your dough won’t get overworked and you won’t have a tough crust.

The dough that I bought made a 12 inch round pizza about 1/8 inch thick. That’s probably the thinnest you want to go with the crust. I rolled it out on a silpat non stick silicone mat. My mat gives me circular as well as linear dimensions that helps when I’m working with dough that needs to be rolled out to certain specifications. If I have a cookie recipe that says I need to create a 9 inch roll, I can measure that on this mat. I was also able to roll out my pizza dough to a perfect 12 inch round. And even though the mat is considered non-stick, you still need to use flour when working with bread/pizza dough. Most of the time you don’t need it for cookie dough.

Pizza Crisper

Lesson Learned 2 – If at all possible, use a pizza stone or crisper: Pizza stones are designed to bake pizzas in commercial brick ovens although they also can be used at home. Pizza crispers are designed for “regular” ovens. They are perforated to let air circulate under the crust to cook the bottom of the pizza more evenly. Being that I don’t make homemade pizza on a regular basis I just bought an aluminum pizza crisper at the grocery store. It worked beautifully. Plus I can reuse it a few times before having to get another one. Use either a pizza stone or crisper if you want to ensure that the bottom of your crust is not soggy when the rest of your pizza is fully cooked.

Also when using an aluminum pizza crisper (as shown in the picture) you should lightly oil it  before putting the dough on it. I recommend using canola oil because it has a very high smoke point. I also recommend that after you brush on the oil to take a paper towel and go over the crisper and remove any excess. I am very serious about only lightly oiling the bottom. I’d start with about an 1/8 of a teaspoon and go from there. That amount of oil and a paper towel to spread it and soak up any excess should be more than sufficient. You don’t want the bottom of your pizza to be greasy. You just don’t want the dough to stick to the crisper.

Lesson Learned 3 – Don’t drench the pizza with sauce: I used the smallest jar of marinara I could find, 14 ounces, and I still didn’t use all of it. Now you may ask should I use pizza sauce or pasta sauce. I don’t think it really matters. Some make pizzas with alfredo sauce. I don’t think there is a hard fast rule. It’s really all up to you. What’s more important is to make sure you don’t drown your dough in sauce. Just spread it on to lightly and evenly cover it. You don’t want to create soggy dough.

Lesson Learned 4 – Should toppings be put on cooked or raw: That depends. If you want to have Italian sausage on your pizza definitely cook it beforehand. I cooked mine about 75% done (just a little pink – see below) knowing that the time the pizza cooked in the oven would cover the rest. I did not cook my green peppers ahead of time, but I did cut them into smaller diced pieces. Same thing with my mushrooms. They went on raw but I sliced them thin and they were cooked perfectly in the time allotted. I also put on some pepperoni slices, as is, since they can be eaten right out of the package.

Partially Cooked Italian Sausage

Another mistake common in making homemade pizza putting the toppings on too thick. Now don’t get me wrong, I like lots of toppings on my pizza. Just be careful not to create a huge mound. What happens when putting too much toppings on is the crust will get done before your toppings are cooked or even warmed through. You don’t want that.

Lesson Learned 5 – Cook your pizza at a high heat: I looked over many different pizza recipes and saw a wide variety of recommended cooking temperatures. One recipe even called for the pizza to be cooked at 350 degrees. With the research I did I found the prevailing thought to be that pizza should be baked at higher temperatures. I baked mine at 450 degrees. It was done in 15 minutes and the crust was perfect. Our local take-and-bake pizza store recommends you bake their pizzas at 425 degrees. You could probably do that as well but it will take a little longer for your pizza to cook. If you pile on your toppings it might be better to bake your pizza at 425 to give more time for the toppings to bake. I would guess baking at 425 might add on an additional 5-10 minutes, depending on your oven. The choice is yours, but I would not go under 425 degrees.

It sounds like a lot but it’s actually pretty simple. If you keep these tips in mind you should have a perfect pizza the very first time. This was my first time making it and it turned out perfectly. And how often can you say that about a recipe you’ve tried only once? I really like the fact that I can control what goes on my pizza and so I will definitely make a homemade pizza again. Try this and let me know what you think…

Easy Homemade Pizza...

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

1 bag of pizza dough (I got mine from Trader Joes – Whole Foods also has them)

1 14 ounce jar of pasta or pizza sauce (there will be some leftover)

1/2 pound sweet Italian sausage cooked almost through and crumbled

pepperoni slices, as desired

1/3 cup green pepper, diced small

2-3 medium sized cremini mushrooms, sliced thin

Mozzarella cheese

Parmesan cheese

1/4 tsp. Italian seasoning (you can add more if you like)

1/8 tsp. canola oil

Flour for dough preparation

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 450. Take a large pizza crisper and lightly oil the bottom. Remove any excess with a paper towel.

Flour your surface for working the dough.  Roll the dough to a 12 inch circle. Wrap the dough around your rolling pin and transfer it to the crisper. Cover the surface of the dough with pizza sauce leaving about a half inch around the edges uncovered. Arrange the pepperoni slices on the dough. Arrange the Italian sausage crumbles on the dough.

Sprinkle the meats with mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. Arrange the mushroom slices and green pepper pieces on the dough. Top them with more mozzarella and Parmesan cheese.  Sprinkle the Italian seasoning over the top.

Bake for 15 minutes or until the crust cooked and the cheese is gold brown and bubbly. Slice and serve.

 

Party Appetizers

Thanksgiving and Christmas are right around the corner and that means family gatherings and parties with friends. And if you’re like me whether serving a meal or simply a wine and appetizer affair there’s always a need to have in your arsenal some simple, impressive appetizers. So I’ve created for you a one stop shop blog with seven of my favorite appetizers.  These appetizers will brighten up any of your holiday get-togethers. All you need do is click on the individual picture(s) of the one(s) you like and it will direct you back to the blog I wrote about it that includes a printable recipe. It couldn’t be easier.

I specifically picked these appetizers out of the many in my recipe index for a few reasons. First they are incredibly easy to make. That is key as the holidays are busy enough as it is. Second I picked them for how they look. As I’ve stated over and over in my blogs you eat first with your eyes. I wanted these appetizers to have that holiday wow factor. And last I wanted them to be easy for your guests to put on a plate and eat.

Let me take you through my choices in the picture above by starting with the upper left corner of the collage. First is my tangy bacon cheddar yogurt dip. Next to it are my hard salami roll ups with olive garnish. In the center row left is my salted caramel cheese ball. Next is my Christmas creamy spinach and red pepper dip followed by my no bake pizza bites. Last on the bottom left is my vegetable pizza and finally my basic bruschetta. Make any or all of these and your party will be a hit. So let’s take each one individually…

TANGY BACON CHEDDAR YOGURT DIP:

I like this appetizer for a few reasons. First you have the option of making it as spicy as you like. Hot or mild it is absolutely delicious. Second if you use precooked bacon making this dip is even easier. Third I found that people really go for the veggies straws instead of the traditional crackers. It’s fun, tasty and easy to eat making it a great party appetizer.

HARD SALAMI ROLL UPS WITH OLIVE GARNISH:

I found this appetizer to be very popular not only because it’s tasty but also because of its pop in your mouth and go factor. All you have to do it grab it by its decorative pick and put it in your mouth. You don’t even need a plate for this one. You can just walk by and grab it. For the holidays you can add a little pzazz by using holiday themed picks. Any way you serve it, this appetizer will quickly disappear.

SALTED CARAMEL CHEESE BALL:

This one is a show stopper and a crowd pleaser! This appetizer touts the killer combo of granny smith apples, caramel sauce, cheese, lemon juice and nuts. And if that isn’t enough, drizzling caramel sauce over it takes this cheese ball over the top. Also, this can be made ahead of time so you don’t have to fiddle around with it the day of your party. And last but certainly not least, this can be served as an appetizer or dessert. You can’t go wrong with this one.

CREAMY SPINACH AND RED PEPPER DIP:

I will admit up front I got this recipe from another site. I acknowledge that in my blog and include a link to the recipe. I normally don’t do this but it was such a hit when I served it I just had to share. I also like it because it features the colors of Christmas. So if you’re looking to inject the color of the holidays not only in your decorations but also in your food, this is the recipe for you. Oh, and one last thing, it tastes divine!

NO BAKE PIZZA BITES:

This is one of my personal favorites. You can’t beat a simple to assemble appetizer that tastes like you’re eating a piece of pizza. You can be somewhat flexible in the ingredients you use (I used a basil and pepper feta cheese instead of just adding mozzarella cheese and fresh basil) and the results were fabulous. I’ve found that this particular appetizer is very popular with the younger set. It can be assembled in no time and you’ll be amazed at how flavorful it is!

VEGETABLE PIZZA:

Earlier this year when I first posted this recipe I got a lot of comments. People mostly said that they use to make this appetizer “back in the day” but have not made it in a long time and were not sure why. But how can you resist making something that looks as good as this and tastes even better. I also found this is a great way to use up some of stuff lying around in your refrigerator. This is another appetizer that allows your guests to just pick up a piece and go. But I guarantee you one thing. They will be back for more!

BASIC BRUSCHETTA:

And last but certainly not least my basic bruschetta. We tend to eat a lot over the holidays and that can lead to feeling full and bloated. This appetizer is different. It is refreshing, light and filled with simple clean ingredients your guests will love while not feeling stuffed. This is definitely an appetizer you should consider.

And there you have it – some of my favorite appetizer recipes just in time for your holiday get-togethers. I also have other appetizer recipes that you can find under my recipe index tab on the top of this page. I hope you make one or all of these during the holidays and as always, I would love to know what you think of them.

 

Scrumptious Cranberry Nut Bread…

It’s that time of year again. I know this sounds silly but I get a little wave of excitement every time I see bags of cranberries in the grocery store for the first time. To me it’s heralding the holiday season, my favorite time of year.

Immediately my thoughts go to making a cranberry bread. It’s tradition, sort of like making Christmas cookies every year. And each year I fiddle with the recipe a little but I think I’ve got it down to something I really like.

I love the tartness of cranberries and when you combine them with orange juice, orange zest, nuts and all the other regular cast of characters you have in a sweet bread loaf that’s simply heaven. So let’s talk cranberry nut bread…

Lesson Learned 1 – Process the cranberries in a mini food processor: In my estimation this is the quickest way to get the job done with minimal mess. I pulse the cranberries so that I can get some nice sized chunks. You don’t want to pulverize them, that would defeat the purpose of the bread. The pictures below show how I processed them.

Lesson Learned 2 – Use the zest of 1 medium sized orange: I’ve seen different amounts of zest called for in various recipes and I just made it easy and said use the zest of one medium sized orange. That will render a generous table spoon which noticeably adds flavor to the bread. Quit fooling around with measuring spoons on this one. Just use one orange!

Lesson Learned 3 – I adjusted the leavening in my recipe: Again after looking at several recipes I adjusted the leavening (baking powder and soda) for high altitude. I will give you the amounts I used and also the recommended amounts that I saw on various recipes for sea level. As you can see from the pictures my bread turned out great with no cave-in in the middle (which is a result of too much leavening at high altitude). Those of you at sea level – just use the “normal” amounts I listed.

And that’s it. This is one of my all-time Fall classics. I make it every year when cranberries arrive at the grocery store. I hope you enjoy it and please, let me know what you think…

Scrumptious Cranberry Nut Bread...

  • Servings: 1 Loaf
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups flour

1 cup sugar

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder (1 tsp. high altitude)

1/2 tsp. baking soda (1/4 tsp. high altitude)

1 tsp. salt

3/4 cup orange juice

2 Tbs. vegetable oil

Zest of one medium sized orange

1 egg, room temperature, beaten

1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup chopped pecans

Baking spray

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350. Spray an 8 x 4 inch loaf pan. In a medium bowl combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking powder. Set aside.

In another bowl combine orange juice, oil, zest and egg. Pour into the flour mixture and stir until combined. Fold in the cranberries and nuts until they are all throughout the batter.

Bake for 55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the loaf cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Remove the loaf from the pan and cool completely.

 

 

 

The Best Sausage And Onion Quiche…

I only started making home made quiches recently. Normally I would just pick one up at the grocery store and heat it for either breakfast or dinner. But I found that not only could I control what goes into the quiche, but also the texture and flavor of the quiche is so much better when I make it.  And it really isn’t all that hard if you know a simple few tricks which I will share.

The best thing about quiche is it can be a great dumping ground for leftovers. And there isn’t just one way to make one or only certain ingredients you can use. Making quiche is like painting on a blank canvas – create what you want and it will all be good.

This recipe is about as basic as you can make it. But even with that, my husband said that my homemade quiche is so much better than the fancier ones I’ve been buying at the store. So, I think it’s pretty much home made quiche from now on. But that doesn’t bother me because it really is so simple to make.  So let’s talk easy sausage and onion quiche…

Lesson Learned 1 – Frozen pie crust shells work perfectly for this recipe: Now I’m not saying that you can’t make crust from scratch but why go through all that work when the frozen shells work equally as well. But you definitely have the choice. You can make your crust from scratch, or use the packaged pie crust rounds or get the pie crust shells that are pre-made and frozen. All will work.

Lesson Learned 2 – Cook the breakfast sausage until you see only a little light pink: Remember the quiche is going to bake for an hour so the sausage will continue to cook during that time. I like to cook my sausage first, mix it with the cream cheese and let it sit a little before I put it in the pie crust. I normally use that time to put the egg mixture together.

An 8 oz. tube of breakfast sausage is more than enough. You can go a little lighter on the sausage and only use 4 ounces at a time. We like a lot of sausage in our quiche so I prepare the whole tube and use the leftovers to put in my scrambled eggs for breakfast during the week. But just a warning, if you cook all 8 ounces there will be leftovers.

Also, make sure you drain the sausage on paper towels to get all the grease out before adding it to the quiche. It’s important that the sausage is as dry as possible.

Lesson Learned 3 – Beat the eggs really well: I found if you want the fluffiest quiche you need to beat the egg mixture until it foams. This may take a couple of minutes but it is definitely worth it. When the eggs are that light and airy, so is the quiche.

Lesson Learned 4 – Use a good melting cheese: You can use a wide variety of melting cheeses in a quiche. I like this particular recipe because it pairs a little cream cheese with another melting cheese. I used muenster in this recipe but you can also use cheddar, gruyere, swiss, or mozzarella. That’s the beauty of making a quiche. The choice is yours!

Lesson Learned 5 – I used pearl onions for an extra pop of flavor: You can definitely chop and saute some onions and add it to the quiche. I prefer using frozen pearl onions. You can drop them in frozen and they give a noticeable pop of flavor when you bit into one. Pearl onions are quick and easy.

Lesson Learned 6 – Let the quiche stand for 10 minutes when it comes out of the oven: For ease of cutting you need the quiche to set before you serve. Once you take the quiche out of the oven cover it with foil and let it sit for 10 minutes. The consistency will be perfect and cutting the quiche will be a breeze!

And that’s it. Pretty simple actually – simple but oh so good! Try it and let me know what you think.

The Best Sausage & Onion Quiche

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

1 9 inch frozen pie crust

1 – 8 oz. tube of breakfast sausage (I used Jimmy Dean)

1/2 cup frozen pearl onions

4 oz. of cream cheese, room temperature

1 cup shredded melting cheese (I used muenster), divided

4 eggs

1 cup heavy cream

2 Tbs. sour cream

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 350. In a skillet, cook the sausage until only slightly pink breaking up the sausage as you cook it. Drain the sausage thoroughly. Combine the sausage and cream cheese. Set aside.

In a medium size bowl beat the eggs, sour cream and heavy cream thoroughly (at least a minute).

Place the sausage and pearl onions in the bottom of the pie plate. Cover with 1/2 of the cheese. Pour the egg mixture over the sausage, onions and cheese. Add the remaining cheese on top.

Bake for 1 hour. Check the quiche about half way through to make sure the cheese on top is not getting too brown. If it is, loosely cover the quiche in foil for the remainder of the cooking process.

IMPORTANT: Allow the quiche to rest covered in foil for 10 minutes before serving.

 

 

Garlic and Rosemary Balsamic Roasted Pork Loin and Potatoes…

The one thing I really love about Fall is cranking up the oven again. I do a lot of grilling over the Summer and I love that too. But those smells in the house when something is roasting in the oven just can’t be beat. It makes a house a home.

So I decided to crank up the oven the other day. I haven’t had pork in a while and I thought I’d try that. More often than not when I make a pork roast I use a pork loin. The meat is so tender and I perfected roasting it so that it’s cooked but not dried out. And if you want my secret for roasting a perfect pork loin every time just click on my blog’s tips and tricks post and you’ll never have a dry pork loin roast again.

But although pork loin is moist I find it always needs a little help in the flavor department. And whether you marinate it or use some sort of rub, that’s usually enough to up the flavor factor. And that’s exactly what this recipe does.

I also like this recipe because for all intents and purposes it is a one pot meal. You can also make your potatoes and carrots in the same roasting pan and I’ve always liked that convenience. You just have to follow a couple of tips in order to make sure they cook properly.

So let’s talk garlic and rosemary balsamic roasted pork loin and potatoes…

Lesson Learned 1: Slightly par boil your potatoes before roasting them: I don’t know about you but I’ve found that roasting potatoes can be tricky. I usually wind up with hard or semi hard potatoes that are not cooked through. In this recipe it is important to cut the potatoes as evenly as possible (mine were approximately one inch squares). Once I do that I put them in a pot with water, bring the water to a boil and boil the potatoes for about 5 minutes or just until they start to turn tender around the edges. Then I drain the potatoes and let me cool slightly in the strainer. I’ve found when I do this my potatoes come out perfectly when making this recipe. After I strain off the water I transfer them into a bowl so that I can coat them with the balsamic mixture before putting them in the roasting pan. It’s a little extra work, but definitely worth it.

The same rule applies for when I use sliced potatoes in a casserole. I used my mandolin slicer to get even slices. Then I par boil them just for a couple of minutes before adding them to a casserole dish that is ready to go into the oven. Try this little trick and you’ll have beautifully roasted potatoes all the time.

Lesson Learned 2 – This recipe roasts the carrots to crisp tender: Carrots are also tricky to cook and although I prefer mine to be crisp tender, some people prefer their carrots to be soft. If soft is your preference roasting them this way will not give you that consistency unless you either cut them into thin rounds or use small baby carrots. I cut my carrots into about 2 inch chunks, cut each chunk into half and then half again. This produced a somewhat softened crisp tender carrot, which I love.

You can also do the par boiling trick described above for larger carrots if you want them to be soft. That might be a little too much muss and fuss for one recipe. But it’s totally up to you. Just something to think about…

Lesson Learned 3 – Browning the pork loin is totally your preference: Some recipes call for browning your pork loin before roasting it. It helps to seal in the juices. The reason I say this is totally your preference is that if you cook your pork loin according to my directions you will always get a juicy pork loin without browning it ahead of time. Plus when you add the balsamic mixture you cannot tell if the roast has been browned or not. So why bother. The choice is yours.

Lesson Learned 4 – Make the balsamic mixture in your mini food processor: This is really the easiest way to ensure all the ingredients are well combined. Combine them in the processor until the mixture becomes paste-like as seen below. Then you’re ready to go…

And that’s it. This recipe is a Fall classic. Try it and tell me what you think…

Garlic & Rosemary Balsamic Roasted Pork Loin & Potatoes...

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: Medium
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

1 1/2 pound boneless pork loin

3 large russet potatoes, peeled and diced into 1 inch square pieces (can also use 2 pounds of baby reds)

3-4 large carrots cut into chunks, then halved and halved again (or 1 bag of small baby carrots not cut)

1/4 cup good olive oil, plus 1 Tb. for the carrots

3 Tbs. balsamic vinegar

5 large garlic cloves (or 10 small), smashed

1/2 cup fresh rosemary leaves

Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste

1 tsp. Herbs De Provence

Cooking spray

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 375. Peel, chop and par boil the potatoes for 5 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Combine olive oil, vinegar, garlic, rosemary, salt and pepper in a food processor until it forms a paste.

Coat the pork loin on all sides with the balsamic mixture. (You will have some left over for the potatoes). Lightly grease a large roasting pan with cooking spray. Place the pork loin in the center of the roasting pan. Coat the potatoes with the remaining balsamic mixture. Place them on one side of the pork loin.

Coat the carrots with olive oil and season them with salt and pepper and Herbs De Provence. Place the carrots on the other side of the pork loin.

Roast for 1 hour. Remove from the oven and cover with foil for 5 minutes. Transfer the roast to a cutting board, slice and serve with the potatoes and carrots.

 

 

 

Cheddar Bacon Ranch Cheese Ball…

Want something quick and easy to bring to your next get together? This recipe is the one for you. I like this recipe for a wide variety of reasons. First, it is very easy to assemble. Second, and this is perhaps my favorite reason, it’s small enough to minimize waste but large enough so that everyone can have some of it.

I think that has been my bug-a-boo about most cheese balls. A lot of recipes make a cheese ball that is big enough to feed an army. And what always seems to happen is a lot left overs. So, with good intentions you wrap it up and put it back in the fridge. The problem is I don’t know a lot of people who eat cheese balls outside of a party venue. So the remainder sits in your refrigerator until you wind up throwing it away. But not with this one. It’s just the right size. And if you need a bigger cheese ball, just double the recipe. But my experience has been that when there are lot of appetizers to choose from, making an appetizer that is smaller in size eliminates a great deal of waste.

So let’s talk cheddar bacon ranch cheese ball…

Lesson Learned 1: I found a great shortcut for adding bacon to recipes. The last time I was at the grocery store I noticed a package of Boar’s Head fully cooked bacon. It comes in a box and is not refrigerated. Inside there are two vacuumed sealed packages of cooked bacon with approximately 6 pieces per pack. One pack was perfect for this recipe. I avoided all of the grease and clean up associated with cooking bacon. Since then I’ve used it on salads and in other recipes. I love the taste and convenience of it. You may want to try some. It really makes putting together this cheese ball a snap.

Lesson Learned 2 – Grate your own cheese versus using the packaged kind. Although I just touted the convenience of using precooked bacon, I don’t recommend using the grated cheese you get in a bag in any recipe. It may take a few seconds more to grate your own cheese but for flavor and  health reasons I strongly recommend it.

First, grating your own cheese is less wasteful less expensive and it tastes so much better. But the main reason I grate my own cheese is an additive put in bags of grated cheese know as cellulose. Cellulose is actually derived from wood pulp, yes wood pulp, and is added to packages of grated cheese to prevent the cheese from clumping together. Now I don’t know about you, but I’m not a big fan of adding wood pulp to my diet if I can avoid it. So next time, take the couple of extra seconds and grate your own cheese. Your body will thank you for it.

This recipe couldn’t be any easier, is perfect in size and is tasty as all get out. So try it and let me know what you think…

Cheddar Bacon Ranch Cheese Ball

  • Servings: 25
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

1- 8 ounce package of cream cheese, room temperature

1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

5-6 pieces of cooked bacon, chopped

1/2 package of ranch dressing mix (you can add more to taste if you like)

1/8 cup fresh chives, chopped

1 cup chopped pecans

DIRECTIONS:

In a medium bowl combine all of the ingredients except the chopped pecans. Mix well and form into a ball.

Roll the cheese ball in the chopped pecans until the ball is completely covered. Cover the ball with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving.

Mixed Ingredients

Roll Into A Ball And Place On Top Of Chopped Pecans

Completely Cover With Pecans

 

 

 

Cranberry Orange Cake Topped With Fresh Plums…

Those of you who followed my blog over the years know that early on in my cooking/baking days I was heavily influenced by the Food Network. The early shows they produced were more about learning to cook and less about cooking contests and road shows. I miss those days. Remember Semi-Homemade with Sandra Lee? I really liked that show. I felt Sandra showed people how to take a few simple ingredients, add it to something store bought and make it into something special without all the muss and fuss. In today’s world that is such a gift for the busy cook.

Well, that is what this recipe is all about. I wish I could take credit for this but I can’t. I was at the grocery store looking for something to make, like a quick bread or muffins and I picked up this box of Krusteaz Cranberry Orange Muffin Mix. I looked on the back of the box to see if I could use this to make a quick bread and lo and behold on the bottom right hand corner was the recipe for this cake. All it required was a few extra ingredients, namely almond extract and fresh plums. The picture of the cake looked so good I just had to try it. Needless to say, it was fabulous and very easy to make so I felt I had to share it with all of you. Nobody has to know that this cake is semi-homemade.

So let’s talk Cranberry Orange Cake Topped With Fresh Plums…

Lesson Learned 1 – Pick plums that are not overly ripe: You want plums that are hard. Hard plums are easier to slice and cook beautifully in the oven. It’s very difficult to get good slices with soft plums, even if you have a very sharp knife. The pieces tend to get mushy. So be aware of that.

Also when you cut the plums, cut them like you would an avocado. I found it very hard to get the stones out of the plums. But if you cut the plum all around at the center and twist the two halves in the opposite direction, just like you do with an avocado, the plum halves will separate easily. You may have to dig a little with a sharp knife to get the stone out of the one half (be careful) but the harder the plum the easier that will be.

Lesson Learned 2 – Create the plum arrangement you want on top of the cake on a paper plate first: I found I had to play with the plums a little to create the arrangement I wanted. You don’t want to be doing that on top of the batter. I took a dinner size paper plate and created my plum arrangement on that. When it came time to put the plums on top of the batter I simply moved them from the plate to the cake just like I arranged them. It was a piece of cake, no pun intended!

Lesson Learned 3 – You could also add chopped nuts to this recipe: I did not make it with nuts this time but you could add 1/2 cup chopped nuts to this cake as well. It’s all up to you!

And the rest is easy. Just follow the directions on the box. I’ll write out the recipe here just in case the packaging gets changed. This is a quick, impressive and delicious semi-homemade recipe. I will definitely make this one again. Enjoy!

Cranberry Orange Cake Topped With Fresh Plums...

  • Servings: 12
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

1 box Krusteaz Cranberry Orange Muffin Mix

2 eggs, room temperature

1/2 cup water (plus 2 Tbs for high altitude)

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1/2 tsp. almond extract

1 can cranberries (included in the box), undrained

2 under ripe plums, sliced

baking spray

DIRECTIONS:

Heat oven to 350. Mix well the muffin mix, eggs, water, vegetable oil and almond extract. Fold in the cranberries.

Spray a 9 inch springform pan with baking spray. Spoon the batter into the pan. Arrange the plum slices evenly over the batter.

Bake for 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool in pan for 15 minutes before removing.

 

 

Apple Cake With Praline Glaze…

There are many reasons why Fall is my favorite time of year. First, I love the crisp Fall air with its milder temperatures. Second, I love the spectacular bursts of colors the trees and bushes provide.  And third, I love Fall cooking and baking. The aromas in the kitchen at this time of year are like no other, from the smell of the first pot roast braising in the oven to the sweet smell of baked apples providing that warm feeling of comfort and home. Fall is definitely the best season of the year.

So let’s start out the season by focusing on Fall baking! I chose this particular recipe because it embodies everything I love about Fall – apples, cinnamon, cream cheese, vanilla… need I go any further. The ingredients scream Fall and the smell of this cake when it’s baking in the oven beats any apples and cinnamon air freshener you could ever buy.

So let’s talk apple cake with praline glaze…

Lesson Learned 1 – Be organized when you make this recipe. This recipe has several components and the best way to make it is to be organized. First, that means reading the recipe thoroughly. Second, and I know this may sound silly, is to create a strategy for putting everything together. When I made this I did things in stages to stay on track and to keep the kitchen from being turned upside down.

The first thing I did was shred the carrots. (If you can find carrots already shredded at your local store you can certainly use them). I used my food processor for that. Make sure you used the shredding disc as shown below.

Cut the carrots and put them into the processor’s feeding tube.

With the processor on, push the carrots down the feeding tube using the round plastic tool that comes with the processor. You will wind up with shredded carrots as seen below.

I am going into such detail about this for a couple of reasons. First to show the correct disc to use to get shredded carrots. You don’t want to use the processor’s main blade for this. Second because this step takes up time and space. I found the best way to stay organized when making a recipe is to see if there are any components that require a machine other than a mixer and determine how using that machine may affect your work space.

Once I shredded the carrots I put them in a bowl, washed my food processor and put it away. If you’ve ever worked with a food processor you know it’s comprised of several pieces and all those pieces needed to be washed. Washing them, reassembling the food processor and putting it away freed up a lot of work space for me – space that I could use to comfortably assemble the other components of the cake.

After using the food processor I put together the cream cheese filling and set it aside, assembled the wet and dry ingredients, greased and floured the bundt cake pan, measured out the pecans (I purchased pecan pieces so I didn’t have to worry about chopping them) and lastly I cut up the apples. I saved the apples for last because I wanted as short of a period of time between when they were chopped and when they were incorporated into the batter. Apples, when cut, will oxidize meaning they will start to turn brown the longer they are exposed to the open air. By cutting them last I still had nice light green apple pieces to put into the batter. There are altogether seven major components of this cake and so the more organized you are the smoother the process of making the cake will go.

The Seven Major Components Of The Apple Cake

Lesson Learned 2 – Check each egg before putting it into the batter: There are four eggs in this recipe and each one should be checked separately by cracking it into a small dish before adding it to the batter. You don’t want to add them all at once just to find you have one bad egg and then have to throw out all the batter. It only takes a few seconds to ensure that all the eggs you’re using are good.

Lesson Learned 3 – For high altitude baking decrease the baking powder by 1/4 teaspoon. The baking soda amount can stay the same.

The major point to consider when making this recipe is being organized. Otherwise everything is relatively simple. I can assure you this cake is delicious. I gave some to a neighbor who said it was so delicious that she wanted the recipe. I’m sure you’ll want to print this recipe and keep it as part of your Fall lineup of baking…

Apple Cake With Praline Glaze...

  • Servings: 12
  • Difficulty: Easy To Medium
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

CAKE

1 8 oz. package of cream cheese, room temperature

2 cups sugar, divided

4 eggs, divided

1 cup canola oil

2 cups flour

2 tsp. baking powder

2 generous tsp. ground cinnamon

1 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. baking soda

2 cups green apples, peeled and chopped (2 medium size granny smith apples)

1 cup shredded carrots (2 large carrots)

1/2 cup chopped pecans

PRALINE GLAZE

1/2 cup brown sugar, packed

1/4 cup butter, cubed

2 Tbs. milk

1/2 cup confectioners sugar

1/2 tsp. vanilla

1/4 cup chopped pecans

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 350. Grease and flour a 10 inch fluted bundt pan. Set aside.

In a small bowl beat the cream cheese and 1/4 cup of sugar until smooth. Beat in 1 egg. Set aside.

In a medium bowl combine the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, salt and baking soda. Whisk together until thoroughly combined. Set aside.

In a large bowl beat together the oil with the remaining sugar and eggs until well blended. Gradually beat the flour mixture into the oil mixture until blended. Fold in the apples, carrots, and pecans.

Put half of the better evenly around the bundt pan. Put the cream cheese mixture on top. Add the remaining batter on top of the cream cheese mixture.

Bake 50-60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes in the bundt pan before removing the cake from the pan.

To make the glaze – in a large saucepan bring the brown sugar, butter and milk to a boil. Cook and stir for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and whisk in the confectioners sugar and vanilla until smooth. Drizzle over cooled cake. Sprinkle with pecans.

 

 

Tangy Bacon Cheddar Yogurt Dip…

Fall is just about here. I can already see the difference in the angle of the sun that brings about darkness much earlier. You can feel the change in the air. But there’s still some time to fire up the old grill and have a late Summer party with great appetizers and good ole BBQ.

I’ve had a lot of practice making appetizers this Summer as my condo association hosts a happy hour every Thursday and although you’re not obligated to bring anything I like to use it as my recipe tester event. So last Thursday I made this dip and it was a hit.

Nothing very difficult about this one. It’s super easy, has tons of flavor and goes well with cocktails. So let’s talk tangy bacon cheddar yogurt dip…

Lesson Learned 1: Make this as tangy as you like. In my experience light heat is the most effective when making a recipe for a crowd. You can never judge the heat quotient of your guests so it’s best to give it just a little zip to a recipe so the greater majority of people will eat it. But if you know you’ve got a group that loves spicy, feel free to add as much heat as you like. It’s all up to you.

Lesson Learned 2: Used precooked bacon as a shortcut. I found a package of Boar’s Head precooked bacon and I used it when I made this recipe. It is a great time saver, you eliminate the grease and mess you get cooking bacon and the flavor is just the same. So if you’re really looking to cut your prep time, try that. If not, cooking bacon the old fashioned way is perfectly fine.

Lesson Learned 3: Serve this with veggie straws. I’m not sure how I got the idea to use veggie straws but they were the perfect compliment to the dip. I think people just get tired of the usual potato or nacho chips and this was a welcome change. They also lend themselves well to scooping some dip on the straw which makes this appetizer great finger food.

Lesson Learned 4: As with any dip, make it ahead of time. I know I’ve said this time and time again, but dips, cheese balls and the like always taste better when you give the ingredients time to get acquainted. So make this dip a few hours ahead of time and let it chill in the refrigerator before serving. The dip always tastes better a few hours after its had time to chill.

What I like about this appetizer is it’s quick and easy. You don’t have to spend a lot of time on this one and your guests will love it. Try it at your next get together. Enjoy!

Tangy Bacon Cheddar Yogurt Dip

  • Servings: Party Size
  • Difficulty: Super Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

6 bacon slices, cooked, crumbled and divided

1/2 cup low fat Greek yogurt

1/2 cup sour cream

1 tsp. garlic salt

1-2 tsp. hot sauce

2/3 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

2 Tbs. chives, divided

1 package veggie straws

DIRECTIONS:

In a medium bowl combine yogurt, sour cream and garlic salt. Add hot sauce to taste. Stir in cheese and 1 1/2 Tbs. of chives. Add all but about 1 Tbs. of crumbled bacon. Stir to combine.

Transfer the dip to a serving bowl. Cover and chill for at least 1 hour. To serve garnish with reserved bacon crumbles and chives. Serve with veggie straws.

Beefy Tater Tot Casserole…

Be careful when you send your husband to pick up something at the grocery store. You might be surprised at what he brings home. The other day I asked my husband to pick up a bag of tater tots for dinner. I thought he would go to the local grocery store but his brilliant idea was to go to Sam’s Club. He brought home tater tots all right – an 8 pound bag of them! What the heck was I going to do with all those tater tots? We’ve been systematically using them over time, but we were starting to get tired of them as simply a side. So I thought I’d try making a tater tot casserole.

This particular recipe is very easy and guaranteed to be a family favorite. If you have kids, I’m sure they will enjoy this. I mean ground beef, cheese and tater tots – what’s not to like? So let’s talk beefy tater tot casserole…

Lesson Learned 1 – This recipe serves 4 people: But don’t despair. You can easily change the ingredients for larger crowds – just double or triple the amounts depending upon what you need.

Lesson Learned 2 – Make sure you put the dish under the broiler for the last few minutes to get the tater tots crispy: The taters tots are cooking on top of bubbly beef and melted cheese so they will be slightly soggy at the end. Simply put the broiler on and keep the dish under the broiler for a few minutes and you’ll get your desired crispiness for the tater tots.

Lesson Learned 3 – Feel free to experiment with this recipe: Add ingredients to the ground beef that you and your family like. If you don’t like mushrooms, don’t use them. If you like sweet peppers, dice them up and use them. If you’re not a big fan of spicy don’t use the hot sauce. But if you want some real tang add some crushed red pepper to the beef. If you prefer pearl onions, add them. You can use cheddar cheese instead of muenster cheese (I find cheddar cheese to be somewhat greasy) or any melting cheese you prefer. The beauty is this recipe can be very versatile to include anything you enjoy.

The process for this recipe is pretty straightforward and I know it will be a family favorite. Try it and let me know what you think…

Beefy Tater Tot Casserole...

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

2 Tbs. olive oil, divided

1 1/2 pounds ground beef, 93% lean

1/4 cup brown sugar

2 heaping tsp. tomato paste

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup beef broth

1 medium onion, diced

2 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce

Muenster cheese slices – 4-6 depending on the dish you use

1 small bag of tater tots – you may have some leftover

2 dashes hot sauce

salt and pepper to taste

cooking spray

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 375.

Over medium heat, add one tablespoon of olive oil to a large skillet. Add the onions and cook until translucent. Remove the onions and add the mushrooms. If you need more oil add it. Brown the mushrooms and remove them from the skillet.

Add the ground beef and cook until browned, breaking up the beef into crumbles while cooking it. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, approximately 1 minute.

Add the Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, tomato paste, hot sauce, beef broth and salt and pepper.  Cook until combined. Fold in the onions and mushrooms. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and/or pepper as needed.

Place the meat mixture into a 1 1/2 – 2 quart casserole dish sprayed with cooking spray. Cover the meat with the cheese slices. Take the tater tots out of the freezer and cover the top of the casserole with tater tots.

Bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes. Once nice and bubbly, turn on the broiler and place the dish under the broiler for approximately 3-5 minutes to crisp up the tater tots.

Serve and enjoy!

Frosted Blueberry Muffins…

This time of year brings an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables to your table. Sometimes its hard to pass them up, especially when the prices are low and the quality is high. And because of that, sometimes I find I buy more than I can actually use. Or sometimes I’m positive I don’t have what I want at home only to find after I buy it I have more than enough in the refrigerator already.

Such was the case the other day when I looked in my refrigerator and found and I had pints of blueberries – way too much for me to use by myself before they spoiled. My solution was to make frosted blueberry muffins…

I have to say I really like this recipe. The muffins are just the right texture and the cream cheese frosting is the perfect compliment to the tart blueberries. So let’s not waste any time and start talking about blueberry muffins…

Muffin Ingredients

Lesson Learned 1 – This recipe make A LOT of muffins: If you’re making muffins for a crowd or have large family the proportions in this recipe will be perfect for you. This recipe can make anywhere from 36-40 muffins, which for me with only two people in my household, was way too much. I didn’t realize how much the recipe made until I started filling the muffin cups. OOOPS!

But the good news is you can easily cut the recipe in half and have a more manageable amount of muffins for a smaller family. Either way, they will still come out tasting delicious.

Lesson Learned 2 – This recipe would also be good using fresh cherries: I chose blueberries for this recipe because they are more readily available during the course of a year and I had some I need to use. But you could also use fresh cherries. All you would need to do is make sure the cherries are pitted and chopped. For the full recipe I would add 4 cups of cherries.

Lesson Learned 3 – I recommend frosting these muffins: The frosting is a great compliment to the tartness of the blueberries. And although you can leave them plain the frosting, in my opinion, takes them over the top.

Lesson Learned 4 – You can also make jumbo muffins: If you’re worried about the amount of muffins this recipe makes try making jumbo muffins. You can make approximately 18-24 jumbo muffins from this recipe. The only difference will be in the baking time. Bake the jumbo muffins for approximately 25-30 minutes.

Other than that this recipe is pretty standard in terms of how it is structured. As always you need to use less leavening for high altitude (cut the baking powder by 1/2 Tbs.) but other than that you mix the ingredients, fill the muffin cups three quarters full and bake.

Since I had so many of these I brought some to hour community happy hour that we have each week. People raved about them. One person told me she only took one home with her and in retrospect she wished she had taken many more. I guarantee this will be a hit when you serve it. Or better yet, just keep them to yourself as a guilty pleasure. Enjoy!

Blueberry Muffins...

  • Servings: 36-40 muffins
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

Muffins:

4 1/2 cups flour

2 Tbs. baking powder (1 1/2 Tbs. for high altitude)

1/2 tsp. salt

1 1/4 cups sugar

3/4 cup butter, room temperature

4 eggs

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

1/2 tsp. almond extract

Zest of 1 lemon

2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice

3/4 cups milk

2 cups sour cream

1 cup chopped walnuts

1 pint fresh blueberries, washed and drained

Frosting:

1/2 cup butter, room temperature

1 – 8 oz. package of cream cheese, room temperature

1 tsp. vanilla

2 cups confectioners sugar

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 375. Put paper liners into the muffin tins.

Combine the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Whisk until combined. Set aside.

Put butter, eggs, vanilla and almond extracts, lemon zest, lemon juice, milk and sour cream into a mixing bowl. Beat on medium speed until blended. (You can use a hand mixer for this).

Add the dry ingredients and mix by hand until combined. Fold in the nuts and blueberries. Do not over mix.

Spoon the batter into the muffin cups filling them 3/4 full. Bake for 15 – 18 minutes or until lightly browned on top. Let muffins cool on a rack before frosting.

To make the frosting, combine the butter, cream cheese and vanilla in a mixing bowl. Beat until smooth. Gradually add the sugar beating until smooth.

 

 

 

Luscious Zucchini Bread…

I know, I know, by now everyone has their own zucchini bread recipe. I mean, it’s a must especially if you grow zucchini or have access to a farmers market. It is definitely zucchini time of year, that glorious time when you are so grateful to have your first harvest but by the end of the season are looking for ways either to use them or get rid of them.

Fortunately (or unfortunately) for me, now that I live in a condo I can’t grow zucchini so I can control the amount of zucchini I am willing to use. So last week when I went to the farmers market I got a couple of them and used one as a vegetable side dish and the other to make a couple of loaves of zucchini bread.

So what makes this recipe better than most. A secret ingredient that I use to up the flavor factor. So let’s talk luscious zucchini bread…

Lesson Learned 1 – The secret ingredient is vanilla bean caviar: Most zucchini bread recipes call for vanilla, as does mine. But I decided to try adding the caviar from the inside of a vanilla bean to try to enhance the flavor. And let me tell you, it really ramped up the taste factor. That’s why I call this zucchini bread luscious.

These days you can buy vanilla beans at your local grocery store but not so long ago you had to go to a specialty spice store to get them. The picture below shows you what a vanilla bean looks like.

Step 1: The shaft of the bean is quite small and kind of hard so you’ll need a very sharp knife to extract the caviar from the pod. First you need to straighten out the pod.

Step 2: Using a sharp knife, cut a slit all the way up and down the bean pod

 

 

Step 3: Pry the slit open with your hands and scrape the tip of the knife up and down the open shaft of the pod making sure to get as much of the caviar out of the inside as you can.

A whole vanilla bean will give you the equivalent of approximately one teaspoon of vanilla extract. Adding this to the two teaspoons of vanilla already in the recipe and it gives a wonderful but not over powering vanilla flavor to the zucchini bread. And that’s what makes it so luscious.

Now can you make this without the caviar? Of course… but I compare this to adding some espresso powder to a chocolate recipe. The recipe would be good without it but with it there is a fuller, richer flavor. Now I will warn you, vanilla beans are expensive, but they are worth it.

Lesson Learned 2 – Use a food processor to shred the zucchini: Although you can use a box grater, a food processor is a faster and easier way to shred the zucchini for this recipe. One medium to medium-large size zucchini will give you the two cups needed to make the bread. The food processor shreds the zucchini to just the right size so there are small strands in the bread. You don’t want to the zucchini shreds to be too big. They are designed to add moisture to the cake without providing any noticeable flavor. Also, make sure to pat down the zucchini shreds in your measuring cup. You want them slightly compacted.

Lesson Learned 3 – You can use shredded carrots in this recipe as well: I chose not to use carrots this time but you can add them as well. Just substitute one cup of shredded zucchini for one cup of shredded carrots. You can also add one cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips to this recipe. Try it a variety of ways and see what you think.

Try this version of zucchini bread and compare it to yours. I’d love to know what you think!

Luscious Zucchini Bread...

  • Servings: 8 Slices Per Loaf
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

1/2 cup plus 2 Tbs. orange juice

1/2 cup canola oil

1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce

3 eggs, slightly beaten

1 tsp. vanilla bean caviar (the caviar from one pod)

2 tsp. vanilla

3 cups flour

2 cups sugar

5 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 1/4 tsp. baking powder (1 tsp. for high altitude)

1/2 tsp. baking powder (1/4 high altitude)

1 tsp. salt

2 cups shredded zucchini, lightly packed

1 cup chopped pecans, optional

Cooking spray

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350. In a large bowel combine orange juice, oil, applesauce, eggs, vanilla extract and vanilla caviar. In another bowl combine flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Mix to combine. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Stir to combine. Do not over mix.

Fold in the zucchini and pecans.

Pour the mixture into two 8 x 4 inch loaf pan coating with cooking spray. Check loaves at 45 minutes. Depending on your oven they may need to bake anywhere from 45 – 55 minutes. Loaves are done when a toothpick inserted in the center of a loaf comes out clean.

Let cool  in the loaf pan for 15 minutes. Remove loaves from the pans and let cool on a wire rack.

Zucchini Bread Batter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No Bake Pizza Bites…

It’s been really hot here recently, averaging temperatures in the upper eighties and lower nineties. The one good thing about living in this part of the country is there is relatively little humidity so even though the days are hot the mornings and evenings tend to be gorgeous. But even with that I find that often I look for ways to make things that won’t heat up the kitchen or the house.

As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, we have a group of residents that get together every Thursday for happy hour. We meet in our outdoor pavilion, bring what we want to drink and many people bring appetizers or finger food. We drink, eat, talk and have a grand old time.

I try to bring some kind of new nibble for people to enjoy each week. I have to admit there are times when I just don’t have the energy to make something and so I’ll buy some chips and salsa or something like that. But there are also times I like to try something new and see if it works so that I can blog about it. This particular recipe came into my mind out of the blue and it went over very very well.

With weather this hot you really don’t want to be eating anything too hot, especially when you’re eating outdoors. It just doesn’t seem to work. But even in the hot sticky weather you still get a taste for something like pizza. You just don’t want to heat up your house making it. So how to you get around that?

Most people like cold pizza, right? It’s the combination of flavors and not necessarily the melting cheese that makes a pizza special. So I put together an appetizer that brings together all the flavors of pizza without being hot and all on a bite size cracker. I knew I succeeded when a little girl ate one of them and said, “Wow, pizza!”

And making these couldn’t be any easier. So let’s talk no bake pizza bites…

Lesson Learned 1 – Go ahead and be creative with this recipe: I had some leftover pepperoni in the refrigerator that I wanted to use. The rest I put together as I walked through the specialty cheese section of my grocery store. You can vary the meat (or not use it at all), the cheese, the crackers – whatever you want. You’ll still come up with a great little appetizer.

Lesson Learned 2 – I used pre-made roasted tomatoes: In the specialty cheese section I found some roasted tomatoes marinated in garlic olive oil. Bingo! The package had about 7 ounces of roasted tomatoes that I diced up and put on top of the pepperoni. It was fabulous. If you can’t find them pre-made you can roast tomatoes yourself and then let them marinate in some olive oil. You’ll still get the same result. But this was a whole lot less work and gave the bites a great flavor!

Lesson Learned 3 – I used a specialty feta cheese: You can certainly use plain feta cheese but I found a roasted pepper and basil feta cheese and I decided to use that. What I liked about this choice was that it added the flavor of basil to the appetizer without having to use basil leaves. You could certainly use basil leaves as well. If you do I would put the basil leaf on top of the pepperoni and then put the tomatoes on top of that. That way the leaf is secured. The great thing about this appetizer is that you can be creative and it will still be fabulous!

Lesson Learned 4 – Right before serving drizzle the bites with some garlic infused olive oil: This is the finishing touch that adds so much. You don’t need a lot, just a slight drizzle over them and the olive oil just adds that special touch that rounds out all the flavors. You can also use the oil that the roasted tomatoes were packed in, but that may not be enough for all the rounds. I had to use both the oil from the tomatoes and some garlic olive oil to drizzle over all the rounds.

And that’s it. Layer the ingredients, drizzle them with some olive oil before serving and watch them disappear. Enjoy!

No Bake Pizza Bites...

  • Servings: Approximately 30 Rounds
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS

1 box crackers, preferably round and not overly thin

Pepperoni, pre-packaged or a log you can cut into rounds

1 container of fire roasted tomatoes approx. 7 ounces

Feta cheese (I used a roasted red pepper and basil feta)

Garlic infused olive oil, for drizzling.

DIRECTIONS:

Dice the fire roasted tomatoes into small pieces. Lay out the crackers on a large plate or 9 x 13 baking sheet. Place a slice of pepperoni on each cracker. Top the pepperoni with some of the fire roasted tomatoes. Crumble the feta cheese and sprinkle pieces over each round.

Right before serving drizzle with oil. You could used the oil that was used to pack the tomatoes. If that is not enough, drizzle the remaining with the garlic infused olive oil.

Cover Each Cracker With A Piece Of Pepperoni

Put Some Diced Roasted Tomatoes Over The Pepperoni

Sprinkle Each Round With Feta

No Bake Pizza Bites

 

Homemade Garlic Dill Pickles…

It was so much fun at the Farmers Market this past weekend. It’s that time of year when you start to get a lot of great things there like fresh herbs, green beans, early girl tomatoes and of course cucumbers and zucchini.

I stopped at a stand that offered a deal of $10 per bag, fill it with what you want (and a fairly large bag I might add). Needless to say I loaded up. Since I don’t have the space to grow zucchini anymore I got a couple of them so that I could make my Double Chocolate Zucchini Bread. They had some fabulous fresh green beans and I got some of them as well – great for steaming. They also had some Yukon gold potatoes that I couldn’t resist. And they also had some great looking pickling cucumbers and so I thought I’d try my hand at that.

Pickling is a rather easy process and if you decide not to can for preserving purposes the pickling process is even easier. I really had no idea how many little cucumbers I should get as I wanted to try to fill two pint jars, so I guessed at four and I happened to be right (this time).

So let’s talk making homemade garlic dill pickles…

Lesson Learned 1 – Make the cucumber slices of equal thickness: Best to use a mandolin slicer for this job. I set my slicer to 3/16 of an inch (use whatever setting you have that is close to 1/4 inch) and all the slices came out perfectly proportioned. Of course you can use a knife and if some of the slices are not the same thickness it won’t harm the process but I think this is a perfect thickness for the pickle slices. They’re pretty much the same size as you buy in jars at the store. And as I like to always remind you, be very careful using a mandolin slicer and use the finger protector so you still have them once you’re done slicing!

Lesson Learned 2 – Pack the jars as firmly as you can without crushing the slices: You want all the slices to be able to soak up the pickling brine and once you add the brine they will tend to separate from each other a little. Four cucumber pickles, medium sized, for two pint jars should be sufficient for what you need to have the pickles layered firmly in the jar and still be able to close the lid.

Pack the jars tightly without crushing the slices

Lesson Learned 3 – Once the jars are filled and sealed turn them over a couple of times: I like to see that the pickling spices are sitting throughout the jar and not just stuck on the bottom. I’ve not read anywhere that you have to do that, but I think it creates better all around pickling.

Lesson Learned 4 – Leave the refrigerated jars of pickles alone for at least 48 hours: I know you will be tempted to see what they taste like long before that, but you want to give the pickling spices and brine plenty of time to get acquainted with the cucumber slices. And if you can leave them alone for 72, well that’s even better. Believe me, it’ll be worth the wait.

Other than measuring out the spices and boiling the vinegar water and salt, that’s basically it. It couldn’t be easier and you control the ingredients. So much better than buying jars at the store.

Homemade Garlic Dill Pickles

  • Servings: Many
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

4 medium sized pickling cucumbers

4 large cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed

4 teaspoons dill seed

1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes (optional)

1 cup apple cider vinegar

1 cup water

1 1/2 Tbs. kosher salt

DIRECTIONS:

You will need two wide-mouth mason jars with lids for this recipe. Make sure the jars and lids are clean.

Wash and dry the cucumbers. Make sure any blossoms or remnants of blossoms are removed. Cut the cucumbers into 3/16 inch coins. Divide the garlic, dill seed and red pepper flakes in half. Put equal amounts into the bottom of each jar. Pack the cucumbers into the jars as much as you can without crushing any of them and so the lid of the jar can be closed and sealed.

Bring the pickling brine (apple cider vinegar, water and salt) to a rolling ball, whisking it until the salt is incorporated into the liquid.

Pour the hot liquid into the jars, filling each to about 1/2 inch from the top. (I found I used all the brine but depending how you pack your pickles you may not use all of it). Gently tap the jars on the side to remove any air pockets and add more brine if necessary.

Place the lids on top of the jar and screw on the rings until tight. Let the jars stand until they reach room temperature. Refrigerate the jars for a minimum of 48 hours. Refrigerate the jars after opening.

Slow Cooker Pork Tenderloin With Vegetables And Apple Butter Gravy…

I’ve been offline for a little bit. I was having technology issues and found out that my trusted Mac has now become so old that it cannot support html 5 which is the platform now used by WordPress. Oh well… but I’ve developed some work arounds and should be fine now.

Summer is in full swing, and that includes those warm summer temperatures. During Summer I like to grill but not every day. But what do you do when it is so hot and you don’t want to heat up the house when making dinner? That’s when I rely on my trusty slow cooker. You can have a great meal and never create more heat in the house.

I am a big fan of pork loin. Like beef tenderloin, it is the the most tender, flavorful and versatile cut of pork. Cooking it in the slow cooker is so easy, but you need to pay attention not to overcook it. So let’s talk pork loin with vegetables and apple butter gravy…

Lesson Learned 1 – Brown the pork and potatoes before putting them into the slow cooker: The slow cooker cooks food but doesn’t create crust or color. If that is not a big deal for you than you can skip this step. But I’ve always espoused that you eat with your eyes first and so I like to provide that extra step to make the meal even more pleasurable.

I put a little canola oil in a cast iron skillet and browned the pork loin – about 4-5 minutes on each side. Doing that gives it a nice brown crust as you can see from the picture above. I also brown the potatoes a little. I don’t brown the carrots. I don’t think that’s really necessary. The potatoes also take about 4-5 minutes per side and I usually do two sides just enough to give it great color.

Lesson Learned 2 – Cut your carrots small or use baby carrots: This recipe will only cook for 6 hours on low so you need to consider how tender you want your carrots. If you want them crisp tender you can cut them in larger pieces. If you want them fork tender you will need to cut the pieces small or use baby carrots. I like to use the larger sized carrots and I buy only what I need for the recipe, about 3 carrots. If the carrot has a thick base, I cut it into a log and then I cut the log in half down the middle. That way I minimize the thickness and the carrots come out fork tender. When you come down to it, it all depends on how you like your carrots.

Lesson Learned 3 – Do not cook this for more than 6 hours on low: That is plenty of time to cook the pork loin without drying it out. And the sauce made with apple butter is a great accompaniment to the pork.

This is a great meal that is easy to prepare and will not heat up your kitchen on these warm Summer days. Try this recipe and let me know what you think.

Slow Cooker Pork Loin With Vegetables And Apple Butter Gravy

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

1 1/2- 2 pounds pork loin

4 yukon gold potatoes, peeled and sliced into chunks

3 large carrots, cut into small chunks (you can use baby carrots as well)

I medium size yellow onion, peeled and cut into large chunks

3 large garlic cloves, minced

1 9.5 ounce jar of apple butter

1/3 cup dijon mustard (you can mix dijon with seeded mustard)

1/3 cup low sodium soy sauce

1 cup beef broth

1-2 Tbs. canola oil

Non-stick cooking spray

Salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Heat a large cast iron skillet. Add 1 Tbs canola oil. Salt and pepper the pork loin and put that side down in the hot skillet. Salt and pepper the other side of the pork loin. Let the pork loin sear for 4-5 minutes. Turn it over and sear it on the other side. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Check to see if the skillet needs more oil and add it if it does. Place potatoes in the pan being careful not to crowd them. Let them sear for 5 minutes and flip them to another side. Let them sear for an additional 5 minutes and remove them from the pan.

Spray the crock of the slow cooker with non-stick spray. Add the onions, potatoes and carrots into the crock. Place the pork loin on top of the vegetables.

In a small bowl whisk to together the garlic, apple butter, mustard, soy sauce and beef broth. Pour the mixture over the pork and vegetables.

Cook on low for six hours. Remove the pork and vegetables from the crock. Slice the pork and plate it with the vegetables. Taste the gravy in the crock and add more salt and pepper if needed. Pour the gravy over the pork.

 

Homemade Challah…

I’ve always loved home made bread. Who doesn’t? I was never good at making it. And just when I thought I was getting the hang of it we moved to Colorado and altitude. Yuck. Altitude and bread do not mix. Well actually they do, but altitude can add some additional problems. Just what I wanted.

So I decided to take a braided bread cooking class. Am I glad I did. The class itself was a little slow in the participation area, but I came away with one nugget of information that’s changed the whole ball game. So now I’m working on making bread again.

So let’s talk homemade challah…

Lesson Learned 1 – Learning how to know when the glutens in the dough have been developed properly: This was the biggest take away for me from the cooking class I attended. I learned you can underdeveloped, develop and overdevelop the glutens in your dough. Underdeveloped glutens will give you a heavy dense dough that may fall in on you when you bake your bread. Overdeveloped and your bread will be too dry.

So how do you tell? Simple. Just take a small piece of dough in your hand and begin to pinch it and spread it with your fingers. You should be able to work the dough so that it is smooth and paper tin without the dough tearing or breaking.

That was a big breakthrough learning for me especially since I live in high altitude and its tougher to make bread in my climate.

Lesson Learned 2 – Pay attention to the humidity the day you make bread: The higher the humidity the less moisture you’ll need in your dough. I know it sounds like a lot of work, but if you pay attention to these two factors, gluten development and humidity, soon you will just be able to tell if your dough is of the correct consistency or not.

Lesson Learned 3 – Most people don’t knead their dough enough: Once I mixed all of the ingredients together I used the dough hook on my machine and kneaded the dough for five minutes. That, on average, is a good time to test the dough for gluten development. If the dough falls apart it will need more moisture, if it is too gloppy (technical term) it will need a little more flour. Once you think you have the correct consistency do the gluten test I refer to above. Chances are you’ll be right on the money.

Lesson Learned 4 – If your dough is completely stuck on your dough hook, stop your mixer and scrape the dough off: Some people think that if the dough is on the dough hook it is kneading the dough. That’s not true. The dough hook as to be working it’s way through the dough in order to be kneading it. Be mindful that you’re just not having your dough spin around in a circle without actually being kneaded.

Lesson Learned 5 – You can separate your dough into as many strands as you want for braiding: I did a traditional 3 strand braid. You braid it just like you braid hair. The picture to the right shows my strands. In hindsight I should have made the bottom one thinner and all the strands more even in size. In the end it really didn’t hurt anything as you leave the braided bread to rest on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet for at least an hour and the dough rises and sort of fills itself in.

I will admit that this recipe is a little more challenging than what I normally post, but hopefully as a fledgling cook you are confident enough in yourself to try something a little more difficult. This was the very first time I ever made challah and it turned out magnificently. But if you’re does not, go back and try it again because once you master the art of making home made bread, you’ll never turn back.

Homemade Challah...

  • Servings: 1 loaf
  • Difficulty: Medium
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

1 1/8 cup warm water

3/4 Tbs. instant yeast

6 egg yolks, one for the egg wash

2 1/2 Tbs. vegetable oil

3 -6  Tbs. sugar, depending how sweet you want your bread

1 Tbs. vanilla extract

3 3/4 cup flour

1 1/4 tsp. salt

1 Tbs. water for the egg wash

DIRECTIONS:

Combine the water and yeast in a mixing bowl, whisk and let sit for a couple of minutes. Add the 5 eggs, oil, sugar and vanilla and whisk to break up and incorporate the eggs. Add the flour and salt.  If using a stand mixer use the paddle attachment and mix for about 2 minutes. Let the dough rest in the bowl for 5 minutes.

Switch to a dough hook and mix on low speed for 5 minutes (my mixer particularly specifies that whenever using the dough hook do not go above speed level #2. You may want check the directions that came with your mixture to see what they recommend. The speed should not go above medium low).

Use a bowl scraper and scrape the dough onto a floured surface and continue kneading the dough by hand for about 2 minutes. Form the dough into a ball and place it in a clean, lightly oiled bowl. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let it rise until it doubles in size, approximately 2 hours.

After the dough has risen, transfer it to a lightly floured surface and cut it into the desired number of pieces you will need for your braids – I made 3 braids of 10-14 inches in length. It is important that the braids are all the same length.

Braid the pieces of dough together and transfer the loaf to a parchment lined sheet pan. Make an egg wash by combining the last egg (you can do the whole egg or the yolk) and the water. Brush the entire surface of the loaf, including the sides with the egg wash. Refrigerate the remaining egg wash. Let the loaf stand uncovered for about 1 hour.

About 20 minutes before baking time preheat the over to 350. Brush the bread one more time with the egg wash. Bake the bread for 20 minutes, then rotate the pan and bake for an additional 15-30 minutes (I only needed an additional 15 minutes).

Let cool on a wire rack and enjoy the beauty of homemade bread!

 

Skewered Italian Appetizer Bites…

Sorry I’m a little off my game this week. I was waylaid by a bug bite that gave me an allergic reaction and I’ve been fighting this itching rash. Needless to say I’ve not been a happy camper. The meds I take for itching make me groggy and so it’s been hard to sit down at my computer and crank out my blog. But I’m thinking I’m on the mend, although still not itch free after almost 5 days. But I have noticed improvement and so that’s what I’m focusing on.

This weeks recipe is so darn simple and great for your backyard parties. In the warmer weather, the last thing you want to do is heat up the kitchen. Dishes that are cooler like potato salad and cole slaw seem to be more in demand. Also finger foods are more popular, especially when eating outdoors. You don’t have to mess around with a lot of utensils, just take the food and pop it in your mouth. Which is exactly what this recipe is all about.

So let’s talk skewered Italian bites…

Lesson Learned 1 – This is a great way to use some of the homemade pesto you’ve made from growing basil: pesto is what adds zip to this recipe and homemade pesto is the best. If you don’t have your favorite go-to pesto recipe feel free to use mine. But pesto gives these morsels just the kick they need.

Some things to keep in mind when dredging the mozzarella balls in pesto – my mozzarella balls were in a small plastic container stored in liquid. I bought a small container that had about 20 balls. I put the balls in a strainer and drained the liquid into another dish (just in case I had some balls leftover, I wanted to store them back in the same liquid). I then drained the balls on a paper towel.

This time I did not have fresh pesto on hand so I bought a small 6 oz. jar of traditional pesto. I spooned half to it into a small wide rimmed bowl and dropped some of the balls in the pesto. I rolled them around with a spoon and then skewered them on my decorative pics. Couldn’t be easier.

Lesson Learned 2 – If you want to serve these standing up versus lying down you will need to cut a flat surface on the bottom of each mozzarella ball: I learned this lesson the hard way. I started assembling the skewers and found that they would not stand straight. The round bottom of the ball prevented them from doing so. I tried pushing the bottom flat but that didn’t seem to work so I started cutting the bottoms off the balls and then figured out that I liked the presentation of the skewers better with the skewers lying on their sides. So I opted to serve them lying on one side versus standing up. There is no right way to serve these, but I found that serving them on their side created quite an impressive looking appetizer as you can see from the picture below…

And that’s it really. As I’ve said many times before sometimes the simplest of recipes are the most impressive. This will be a great recipe to use when you harvest your basil and cherry tomatoes. It’s an easy, pop in your mouth bite that will disappear off your party table in no time.

Skewered Italian Appetizer Bites...

  • Servings: Approx. 20
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

1 small container of cherry tomatoes

1 – 6 oz. jar of basil pesto (or make your own)

1 – 4 oz. package of sliced pepperoni (you will have some leftovers)

1 – 12 oz. container of mozzarella balls

Garlic infused olive oil

decorative picks for skewers

DIRECTIONS:

Put the basil pesto in a wide rimmed bowl. If using jarred pesto, start with half the jar and add more as needed to the bowl.

Strain the mozzarella balls making sure to save the liquid in case you need to store any leftover balls.  Place a few mozzarella balls in the pesto and roll them around with a spoon until they are covered with pesto (you will need to repeat this process a few times).

Assemble the skewers in the following manner – first skewer the tomatoes. Then add a pepperoni slice to each skewer. Lastly add the basil covered mozzarella ball and plate the skewers.

Store tightly wrapped in the refrigerator for a couple of hours or serve immediately. Drizzle with garlic infused olive oil right before serving.

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