Easy Peasy Chili…

There are certain meals that just become necessary to make once the weather gets cooler – pot roast, beef stew, roast chicken… And one of my all time favorite cooler weather meals has to be chili. It is so easy to make and I serve it with shredded cheddar cheese and diced sweet onion and boy or boy, does it ever stick to your ribs! Chili is the ultimate in comfort food on a crisp Fall evening.

What I like about chili is it’s so easy to make. There are a couple of hints to making a chili that suits our needs that I will share. But bottom line, the chili pot is your canvas and you can make chili basically any way you want. I will share with you my go-to recipe.

So let’s talk chili…

Chili Ingredients

Lesson Learned 1 – The onions: I use a large sweet onion when I make my chili. I dice the onion and use about three quarters of it in the chili itself. The rest I set aside and use as a raw topping when I serve the chili. I’ve found the best way to use these onions to enhance the flavor of the chili is to caramelize them. That takes a little time. The pictures below show how I dice the onions and the onions when they first become translucent. The photo below them shows when they are caramelized. Technically you can use them either way but I’ve found if you take the extra time and let them caramelize they add more flavor to the chili.

The challenge when you caramelize onions is the extra time. Normally I can get them the way I want them (as pictured below in the bottom photo) in about 15 minutes. If you want to cook your chili faster that may not be an option. But if you can take your time with this first step you will definitely taste the benefits of doing so.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lesson Learned 2 – The importance of seasoning during the initial stages: I find if I season the onions and the meat with salt and pepper each time during the first two steps the flavor of the chili is greatly enhanced. Besides is their anything better than the smell of onions seasoned with salt and pepper cooking on the stove? So after I season the onions and let them caramelize I add the meat and season the meat with salt and pepper as well. It may seem like a lot of seasoning but it actually is not.

After that I don’t add any more salt and pepper until the very end after all the ingredients have been added and combined. At that time I taste the chili to see if it needs anymore salt and pepper. Very seldom do I have to add any at the end. Seasoning the first two layers and then adding the other seasonings makes a big difference in the end result. Don’t forget to do this.

Lesson Learned 3 – When to add the garlic:  I’ve tried adding the garlic a couple of different ways and have landed on a preferred choice when I make chili. You can always add the garlic once you caramelized the onions but I prefer adding them to the ground beef just before I start adding the other ingredients. I allow them to cook in the meat for a minute or so until fragrant and then I continue adding the rest of the ingredients. I find this totally prevents the garlic from burning and better infuses the garlic into the chili.

Lesson Learned 4 – Chopping the green pepper: I guess I don’t actually chop the green pepper – it’s more like dicing. I like the pieces small so that they add flavor to the chili but aren’t necessarily highly visible. The green pepper flavor, in my estimation, balances some of the heat of the chili and adds a nice freshness to it. The pictures below show how I prepare the green pepper:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lesson Learned 5 – Chili seasoning: I’ve experimented with a lot of different ways to season my chili and finally chose my preferred method. I use McCormick Mild Chili Seasoning Mix because we prefer our chili on the mild side but you can make it has hot as you like. McCormick has a few varieties of seasonings and if you can’t find a seasoning mix that gets you the heat you crave you can always add red pepper flakes. This seasoning mix contains a blend of chili pepper, paprika, cumin, onion salt and garlic. I also add about a teaspoon of chili powder and this combination of seasonings gives us the kind of chili we prefer.

Lesson Learned 6 – The mushrooms: I am a big fan of fresh mushrooms especially now when you can buy them in bulk. This time I had a jar of canned mushrooms in the pantry that I wanted to use so I went that route. Either way, add the mushrooms at the very end so that they don’t overcook. Generally I add fresh sliced mushrooms to my chili.

Lesson Learned 7 – A little bit of tomato paste helps thicken the sauce: Here’s a handy dandy little trick. Add about a tablespoon of tomato paste to the ground beef before you add the seasonings. This will help thicken the sauce. Look for tomato paste that’s sold in a tube. That way you’ll have no waste and can use it whenever you need versus wasting a whole small can.

Lesson Learned 8 – Simmering the chili: I’ve found the best way to meld all the flavors in the chili is to let it simmer for about an hour. Put your heat on very low and stir the chili occasionally making sure none burns on the bottom of the pan. Then the chili is ready to serve. And, of course, if you have the luxury, you can always let it sit overnight to let the flavors meld.

So that’s basically it. Once you’ve browned the ground beef and added the seasonings it’s just drop in and stir from there…

Stir in the diced tomatoes

Drop in the beans

Add the mushrooms and green pepper

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Stir and simmer for about an hour and you’re done. I serve this chili over rice, my husband’s preference, or over elbow macaroni, my preference. Or you can serve it plain. I add shredded cheddar and raw diced onion to mine, but you can top it with sour cream, guacamole, diced jalapeños, or whatever you like. I’ve been making this recipe for years and have it down to a science. It is unbelievably easy to make and so good. Try it. I know you’ll love it!

Easy Peasy Chili...

  • Servings: 8-10
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

2 Tbs. butter (or 1 Tbs. butter and 1 Tbs. olive oil)

1 large sweet onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 pounds ground beef, 85% lean

1 Tbs. tomato paste

I pkg. McCormicks mild chili seasoning

1 tsp. chili powder

1 28 oz. can of diced tomatoes

1 20 oz. can of chili beans in chili sauce

1 10 oz. can of sliced mushrooms, drained

1 green pepper, diced

Kosher salt

Freshly cracked black pepper

Serve with rice or elbow macaroni, optional

Toppings can include: Shredded cheese, raw onion, sour cream, guacamole, sliced jalapeño peppers, or whatever your preference

DIRECTIONS:

In a 5.5 quart dutch oven melt the butter. On a medium heat add the onions and cook until caramelized, approximately 15 minutes. Season the onions with salt and pepper while cooking. Push the onions to the side and add the ground beef. Layer the cooked onions on top of the beef. Break up the ground beef with a spoon and cook through, seasoning the ground beef at the beginning with salt and pepper. Once cooked, stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, approximately 1 minute.

Stir in the tomato paste and thoroughly combine. Stir in the chili seasoning and chili powder. Add the diced tomatoes. Stir to combine. Add the chili beans. Stir to combine. Cook for about a minute. Add the mushrooms and the green pepper. Gently stir to combine. Taste to see if any additional salt and pepper is needed.

Cover and simmer for one hour. Serve with desired accompaniments.

 

 

 

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Cheese Ball…

Ok, admit it, when was the last time you actually made a cheese ball? I hadn’t made one for ages but was faced with an upcoming potluck at work with little time to make anything. And after thumbing through a very old cookbook I noticed a recipe for a cheese ball and thought, I should make that. And, as with any recipe, I added my own personal touches.

The ingredients for this recipe are not all that complicated, cream cheese, scallions, cheddar cheese, parmesan cheese, worcestershire sauce, mayo, spices and some almonds. Easy enough.

My major concern was I thought people would think this was too much of an “old school” kind of appetizer and turn up their noses at it. To my surprise, quite the opposite. It wound up being the perfect compliment to the other things people brought to the potluck and it disappeared in record time. Being that this was a potluck at work, people not only enjoyed the taste of the cheeseball but the fact they could go into the break room, put a dollop of the cheeseball on a cracker and be off on their merry way. Once again this shows how one’s perceptions regarding food can be so off the mark. I was so glad everyone enjoyed it and would definitely consider making this again. It was that much of a hit.

So let’s talk cheese ball…

Lesson Learned 1 – Taste the mixture before forming it into a ball and adding the almonds: When I did that I knew the cheese ball needed some salt. So instead of just using garlic powder, I used both garlic powder and some garlic salt. That little addition made a big difference.

Lesson Learned 2 – Use shredded parmesan versus grated parmesan: Shredded parmesan cheese gives a richer much more noticeable flavor to the cheese ball. Grated parmesan seems to get lost in the shuffle.

Lesson Learned 3 – Make the cheese ball the day before your event: When I initially tasted the cheese ball I thought it was ok, but the next day after the ingredients really got acquainted in the refrigerator, the cheese ball tasted fabulous! I was not prepared for the difference in the flavor. Everyone raved at how delicious it was. This is definitely a recipe that tastes markedly different the second day.

Not too many lessons learned on this one. It really is just a recipe where you mix everything together all at once, roll it into a ball, cover it with sliced almonds and refrigerate it overnight. And with the holidays and holiday parties not too far in the distant future, this is a great little recipe to have in your hip pocket.

If you want something that looks impressive and tastes divine, make this one and bring it to your next party. I guarantee you it will be gone before you know it!

Easy Party Cheese Ball...

  • Servings: Many
  • Difficulty: Very Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

2 (8 oz.) packages of cream cheese, room temperature

1/4 cup mayonnaise

1/3 cup shredded parmesan cheese

1/2 cup shredded medium sharp cheddar cheese

1/4 cup green onions, minced

1/2 tsp. worcestershire sauce

1/4 tsp. garlic powder

1/2 tsp. garlic salt

1 cup sliced almonds

crackers and fruit (grapes, sliced apples, etc., optional) for serving

DIRECTIONS:

Combine softened cream cheese and mayo until smooth. Add remaining ingredients except the almonds. Stir until well combined.

Spread almonds out on wax paper. Form the mixture into a ball (it will be soft and sticky) and roll the ball in the almonds until the ball is completely covered with the almonds. Transfer the ball onto some plastic wrap, wrap tightly and refrigerate overnight.

Unwrap and plate the cheese ball. Serve with crackers and fruit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Mustard Herb Salmon With Oven Roasted Butternut Squash…

Although this recipe may sound difficult it is incredibly simple to make. Even non-fish lovers will find this recipe hard to resist. Couple that with delectable butternut squash and being able to cook both at the same time – well the result is you have one heck of any unbelievably easy,  flavorful meal!

My husband and I have been trying to incorporate more fish into our diet and salmon is one of our favorites for a few reasons: 1.) It has a nice, mild, non-fishy flavor, 2.) Salmon is a reasonably priced fish, and 3.) Salmon can be made in a wide variety of ways. And what can I say about butternut squash? When you roast it the sides caramelize and give a nutty/sweet flavor to the squash. You definitely can’t beat that!

So, lets talk mustard herbed salmon with roasted butternut squash…

Lesson Learned 1 – Use a piece of salmon that is at least 1 1/2 to 2 inches thick at its widest part. A thinner piece will not stand up to this roasting time. You want the fish to flake but you don’t want it to dry out. My husband and I tend to opt for approximately 4 ounces each and you can go up to 6 ounces. Just make sure that the filet is not thicker than two inches at the widest part or thinner than 1 1/2 inches. The length of the piece does not matter.

Also keep in mind the cost of your filets will be less if you buy them with the skin on. For this recipe I remove the skin. As long as you have a sharp boning knife that should not be a problem whatsoever.

2. Choose any herb blend you think will work well with salmon: I used a Tuscan Garlic Seasoning Blend. It contains onion, garlic, spicy red pepper and lemon peel. I like it because it gives a gentle spicy kick to the salmon. If you’re not sure what to use read the label on the jar your considering. Quite often it will tell you whether it works best with meat, poultry or fish. Think of the herbs you enjoy and find a blend that resembles that. Or mix up a blend of your own.

When using herbs in any recipe always start from the standpoint that less is more. With the herb blend that I use if you add too much the salmon gets overpowered and the fish is too spicy, at least for us. I’ve found that as you repeatedly make a recipe you get a good feel for the amount of herbs to add. I lightly coat the mustard with the herbs and the combination of both gives a wonderful zing to the fish. So start out with less, you can always add more.

Lesson Learned 3 – Cut the butternut squash into 1 inch square pieces: Now I know that is easier said than done and there will be variances in your pieces but you want to make sure the pieces are large enough so the squash cooks through but does not become mushy. The beauty of this recipe is that you can roast both the fish and squash together, albeit you put the squash in the oven ten minutes prior to the fish. That way they are both ready to come out of the oven at the same time. Here’s at tip – check out any pre-prepared butternut squash you might find in your grocery store. I can get squash that is already peeled and cut into large chunks. I only have to do minimal prep when I buy my squash that way. Believe me, it saves a lot of time and effort.

I normally roast the fish on the middle rack of the oven on a foil lined baking sheet sprayed with cooking spray. I roast the squash on the lower rack, also on a foil lined baking sheet. Because I use olive oil in the prep of the squash there is no need to use cooking spray on that sheet pan.

Lesson Learned 4 – My secret for getting a nice caramelized squash – don’t flip it: So many recipes tell you to flip the squash half way through the roasting process. I found that if you don’t you get one side with a gorgeous caramelization, sort of like creating a crust on each piece. That caramelization provides a sweeter taste that permeates the entire piece. So be brave, don’t flip the squash. I guarantee you’ll love it!

As I mentioned earlier, the beauty of this recipe is that you can prep both the fish and squash and roast them together in the oven at the same temperature. How easy is that. This is one of my go-to week night meals and if you try it, I’m sure it’ll be one of yours as well. Enjoy!

Mustard Herb Salmon With Oven Roasted Butternut Squash

  • Servings: 2
  • Difficulty: Medium
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

Mustard Herb Salmon:

2 four to six ounce salmon filets, skin removed

2 tsp. dijon mustard, I use Grey Poupon

1/2-1 tsp. herb blend, I used tuscan garlic blend

Olive oil cooking spray

Roasted Butternut Squash:

12 oz. butternut squash cut into 1 inch. cubes (I get mine pre -packaged and cut)

1 Tbs. dried thyme (you can use a little more if you need to evenly apply it to the squash)

Garlic infused olive oil

Kosher salt, to taste

Freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Pat salmon dry and place it on a foil lined backing sheet sprayed with cooking spray. Dollop one tsp. of dijon mustard on each piece. Spread the mustard to coat the entire top of the salmon. Sprinkle the herb blend over the mustard. Set aside.

Place squash pieces on a foil lined baking sheet. Drizzle olive oil over the squash. With your hands mix the squash pieces to make sure all are covered with the olive oil. Spread the pieces apart so they do not touch. Sprinkle pieces with salt, pepper and thyme.

Place the squash on the bottom rack and roast for 10 minutes prior to putting the salmon in the oven. After 10 minutes put the salmon on the center rack in the oven and roast both the salmon and squash for and additional 20 minutes. Remove from oven and serve immediately.

 

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Strawberry Lemon Muffins

I know I haven’t published in a while. It just seems when Summer arrives I find so many things to do outside of the kitchen that I become a little lax in my posting goals. But even though I haven’t posted for some time I think this recipe is well worth the wait.

If you’ve never baked with strawberries before, you’re in for quite a treat. Strawberries have a wonderful light tartness to them when they’re baked that beautifully offsets the sugar in a recipe. Combine that with a hint of lemon zest and juice and you have an incredible balance of flavors.

These muffins require very little effort to make and are decadently delicious. You must try them. So let’s talk about strawberry lemon muffins…

Lesson Learned 1 – Don’t cut the strawberries in too large of chunks: Strawberries give off a lot of moisture when they’re baked so you don’t want large chunks of strawberries in your muffins. That will make the muffins soggy. I cut the strawberries in half and then in half again. After that I cut the remaining pieces in thirds. The picture below gives you somewhat of a perspective on size. Just to the right of center and near the bottom is a strawberry cut in half from top to bottom. You can see the other pieces are smaller by comparison. You want to cut the strawberries into these smaller sized pieces.

It is also very important to make sure the strawberries are evenly distributed in the batter at the very end. Otherwise you might have soggy pockets in your muffins. Take the time to fold them into the batter completely before filling your muffin cups.

Lesson Learned 2 – The batter will be thicker than you think: I was surprised at how thick the batter was in this recipe. But the combination of a thick batter and strawberries creates the perfect balance for a moist and flavorful muffin. All the magic happens in the oven, so don’t worry about how thick the batter is.

Lesson Learned 3 – Fill the muffin cups almost to the top: Many times, especially when making cupcakes, recipes will say to fill the cups about 3/4 full. With these muffins fill the cups almost to the top. The muffins will rise in the oven but not dramatically so don’t worry about spillover.

Lesson Learned 4 – Tips for glazing and storing the muffins: Make sure the muffins are completely cooled before glazing them. I used a “home-made” pastry piping bag to glaze my muffins. I simply put the glaze in a sealable sandwich bag, twist the bag to get all the glaze in one corner and snip the corner squeezing the glaze over the muffins. The result is very professional looking and the process could not be any easier. Below are pictures of my “home-made” pastry bag and the muffins after they’ve been glazed.

These muffins can be stored in an air tight container for up to 5 days. They also freeze nicely. Try them and let me know what you think!

Strawberry Lemon Muffins

  • Servings: 12-15 Muffins
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups flour

3/4 cups sugar

2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. salt

1 large egg, room temperature

2 tsp. vanilla

1/3 cup vegetable oil

1 cup plain Greek yogurt

Zest and juice of one lemon

1 1/4 cup fresh strawberries, diced

GLAZE:

1 cup powdered sugar

Zest and juice of 1 medium sized lemon (2-3 Tbs. of juice)

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a muffin pan with muffin cups and set aside.

Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, soda and salt. Set aside.

Whisk together the egg, vanilla, vegetable oil, yogurt, lemon juice and zest. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix until combined. Gently fold in the strawberries.

Fill the muffin cups almost to the top. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan for about 5 minutes then transfer the muffins to a cooling rack. Cool completely.

Mix the glaze ingredients together and drizzle over the cooled muffins. Store muffins in an airtight container or freeze them.

 

Slow Roasted Chicken And Rice…

My last blog was about my favorite carb “taters”. This blog is about my favorite protein, chicken! I kid you not, I could eat chicken every single night of the week. Nothing tops it in my book. So, as with “taters”, I am always on the lookout for new chicken recipes and the easier the better.

Let me tell you, nothing can be easier than this one. It is pretty much a retro classic and so good to make when you have little time to prepare something. The only glitch is it takes 2 1/2 hours to roast in the oven, but it’s one of those recipes where you prep it and forget it.

This recipe relies on canned soup, cream of chicken and cream of celery, and with a little water, rice, poultry seasoning and carrots you have an entire meal in one pan ready to serve all at the same time. Plus it creates a fabulous aroma in your kitchen. You can’t beat that.

So let’s talk slow roasted chicken and rice…

Lesson Learned 1 – Buy chicken breasts with skin and ribs and debone the chicken yourself: You want to do this for a couple of reasons. First it is much less expensive to buy chicken this way. Second by leaving the skin on it keeps the breast nice and moist during the slow roasting process. Invest in a good boning knife and regularly maintain it with a hand sharpening tool like the one pictured to the left. It is surprisingly inexpensive and will keep your knife nice and sharp for a long time and boning the chicken breasts will be a breeze. These days it’s pretty hard to find boneless breasts with the skin still on so this may be the only way to do it.

Lesson Learned 2 – Use a rice mixture for an extra flavor boost: Go ahead, be adventurous and use a rice mixture instead of just plain white rice. You can use wild rice, basmati rice or the mixture that I use which is a combination of white, brown, wild and red rice and pictured to the right. You’ll be amazed at how it punches up the flavor volume and makes the dish even more interesting.

Lesson Learned 3 – If you use thick carrots cut them in half lengthwise: I found the best way to make sure that the carrots are soft roasted is to cut them in half lengthwise if they are an inch or more thick. If they’re thick and you simply cut them in chunks they will not be as tender. If you like a little more body to your carrots you can certainly roast them without cutting them in half. With this recipe I prefer the carrots soft roasted and found the best way to achieve that is cut any that are overly thick. The decision is totally yours.

There are not a lot of lessons learned to share on this one as it is so darn easy to make. I love this recipe because it is a great blend of convenience and good flavor and cooks in one pan. Try this one and I know it will become a staple in your home…

Slow Roasted Chicken And Rice...

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

1 10 ounce can cream of celery soup

1 10 ounce can cream of chicken soup

5 – 10 ounces of water (the more water the creamier the rice)

3/4 cup of rice

1 Tbs. poultry seasoning

4 small or 2 large boneless chicken breasts with skin on

4-6 carrots sliced lengthwise and cut into chunks

1 tsp. McCormick Perfect Pinch Rotisserie Chicken Seasoning

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium sized bowl combine the soups, water, rice and poultry seasoning. Chop carrots into chunks.

Spray a 9  x 13 pan with non-stick cooking spray. Spread the soup mixture across the bottom of the pan. Place chicken breasts on top of soup mixture. Arrange carrots around the chicken breasts. Sprinkle the top of the chicken breasts with the rotisserie chicken seasoning.

Cover with foil and roast in the oven for 2 1/2 hours. Do not remove the foil during the entire roasting process. Remove from the oven and uncover. If using large breasts, cut them in half before serving. Serve immediately.

Soup Mixture Ingredients

Arrange The Ingredients In A Prepared Pan

Cover With Foil And Roast

Serving Suggestion

Taters, Taters, Taters (Let’s Exchange Recipes)…

No matter what you call them, how you prepare them or how you serve them I love taters! Yes I know about carbs and yes there are some great alternatives but nothing in my mind compliments a meal like some delicious taters! Basically they are good for you, it’s all the stuff we put on them that causes the problems. But taters are one of my top guilty pleasures in life and that is not likely to change.

So I thought with this particular blog I’d try something a little different – basically suggest a tater exchange. I will give you a recipe that I’ve recently perfected and just love with the hopes that in the comments of my blog you share your favorite potato recipe. Then this blog can be a clearing house for a variety of great potato recipes – and what is better than that? Plus it will give me some new tater recipes to try.

So my recipe is for Greek Lemon Potatoes. These potatoes slow roast in the oven and the aroma of the garlic, oregano and lemon fill the air with a wonderful homey smell. So let’s talk Greek Lemon Potatoes

Lesson Learned 1 – How you cut the potatoes is important: I use Yukon Gold potatoes for this recipe and I actually peel them although it’s not necessary. Yukon Golds have a very thin skin and you can roast them either way. I try to pick out ones that are about the same size and thickness (not more than about 4 inches thick). I slice the potatoes in half and then I slice them down the middle lengthwise and into about six equal sized pieces widthwise. The picture below shows how I cut them.

Lesson Learned 2 – Be careful how much oil you use: When I originally tried this recipe I used 1/2 cup of olive oil. I found the potatoes came out too greasy. I’ve cut the amount down to a little over 1/4 cup but I found the amount of oil you use depends on the pan you roast the potatoes in. In a smaller high sided pan you will need less oil. In a larger pan where the potatoes are more spread out you’ll need more. Just make sure you’ve got at least 1/8 in of oil on the bottom. You may have to play around with the amount of oil. If you think the potatoes are coming out too greasy, just put them on paper towels for a couple of seconds before you serve them and you should be just fine.

Lesson Learned 3 – Your roasting time may vary depending on your oven: Once again I live in high altitude so the roasting process always takes a little longer. This recipe works well for me at 400 degrees for 1 1/2 hours but you may find your roasting time will be a little shorter. Keep in mind you’re cutting your potatoes into somewhat larger chunks so you will need some time to roast them completely.

Lesson Learned 4 – Salt the warm potatoes before you serve them: I’ve found that sprinkling a little bit of kosher salt on these potatoes right before you serve them gives them a little touch that really boosts the flavor. The warmth of the potatoes seems to incorporate the salt more fully. Try it and see what you think. These are not difficult at all to prepare and require very little monitoring but the end result c’est manifique… (I know that’s French and not Greek). Try these and share your favorite potato recipe with me. I’m always on the look out for a new way to make taters!

Greek Lemon Potatoes

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

2 pounds of Yukon Gold Potatoes sliced in medium sized chunks

2-3 cloves of garlic, minced

4 Tbs. freshly squeezed lemon juice, (about 1 medium sized lemon)

2 Tbs. dijon mustard

1 Tbs. dried oregano

1/4 cup olive oil (may need to adjust according to the size you use)

Kosher salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Slice potatoes into medium sized chunks and place in a bowl. In a separate bowl combine all of the other ingredients and mix thoroughly. Pour this mixture over the potatoes and thoroughly combine.

Spray a medium sized casserole dish (2 quarts or larger) with cooking spray. Put the potato mixture into the prepared pan, using a spatula to get all of the olive oil mixture out of the bowl. Cover with foil and roast for an hour, stirring the potatoes at the half hour mark.

Uncover the potatoes, stir them once again and roast for another half hour. Sprinkle with kosher salt and serve immediately.

I’LL START OFF THE RECIPE EXCHANGE!

And since I am suggesting the tater recipe exchange, I will start the process – here is a great cheesy potato recipe that I know you will just love Cheesy Potato and Green Onion Casserole

Cheesy Potato and Green Onion Casserole

Glazed Blueberry Oatmeal Cookies…

Lately I seem to be on a “sweets” kick with my posted recipes and even though I do have some savory ones in the queue I moved this one to the top simply because it it just too good. Many of you know that I bake a variety of cookies at Christmas time so normally during the year I don’t venture a lot into cookie making. But I had to try this one and it was so good that my husband would not even let me give any away. I had to freeze them so he could eat them all.

When I make cookies over the holidays I have an unwritten rule that I try one new recipe every year and phase out one recipe. That way I always experiment and I keep the cookie making manageable. I am definitely adding this recipe to the 2017 list but will still have to find another recipe to be the “new” one since technically this one is no longer new. But I am really excited about the recipe.

The thing that I love the most about this cookie is how the tartness of the blueberries balances out the sweetness of the cookie. I also like how simple this recipe is to make, you can do it with a hand mixer and a wooden spoon. But there are some specific things you need to be aware of when you make them that will help you be successful so let’s get right into my lessons learned…

Lesson Learned 1 – Be gentle when mixing the blueberries into the dough: You don’t want the blueberries to break. If they do you will wind up with blue cookies. So be careful when folding them into the dough. Do that at the very end. I also suggest adding the blueberries in a couple of batches. The dough is pretty dense and if you pour the blueberries in all at once chances are you won’t get them incorporated into all of the dough and wind up with some cookies without blueberries. Fold them in carefully and in a couple of batches and you should be just fine.

The Cookie Dough

Lesson Learned 2 – These cookies really spread: Don’t roll the dough in too big of a ball as these cookies really spread. And make sure you have enough room between each one so they don’t bake on top of one another. I would roll them into about a 1 inch ball and put two inches between each ball on the baking sheet.

Give the cookies room to spread

Lesson Learned 3 – Remember blueberries stain: Blueberries are wonderful but they will stain and when they do it is virtually impossible to get rid of the stain. So here are a couple of tips to prevent any staining. First line your baking sheet with parchment paper. That helps in two ways. These cookies are very gooey and will stick to your baking sheet. Not a problem with parchment paper. Also when blueberries bake they pop and the parchment paper prevents them from staining your baking sheet.

Also be careful when you are cooling the cookies and the blueberries may still be “leaking”. I cooled mine on a wire rack and then transferred them to a paper plate. That way I didn’t have to worry about staining any dishes as well.

Lesson Learned 4 – These cookies take a long time to bake: On average these cookies take about 14 minutes to bake depending upon how big you make them. In my first batch I rolled the dough into somewhat larger balls and that batch took about 20 minutes to bake (keep in mind I also live in high altitude and everything takes longer to cook here). Once I got the size of the balls down pat it took anywhere from 14-16 minutes, which is a lot for a cookie. You know the cookie is done when you see it begin to lightly brown around the edges. The center of the cookie may still look pale, but that’s ok. Don’t over bake this cookie. If you do you the cookies will be way too crunchy.

Lesson Learned 5 – Let the cookies somewhat cool on the baking sheet: These cookies will be very loose when you take them out of the oven. If you immediately try to put them on a cooling rack the cookies will break apart. Give them about 4-5 minutes to cool on the baking sheet before you put them on the cooling rack. The cookies will need to set a little before you can move them. Don’t worry about doing this. Since your baking sheet will be lined with parchment paper the cookies won’t stick and will transfer easily to the cooling rack once they’ve had a chance to set.

I can’t say enough about how delicious these cookies are. I know if you make them they will become a household staple. You’ve got to try these cookies. And as always, please let me know how they turned out for you. Enjoy!

Glazed Blueberry Oatmeal Cookies...

  • Servings: 2 Dozen
  • Difficulty: Medium
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INGREDIENTS:

1 1/2 cups flour

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

1 cup light brown sugar

1 cup sugar

2 eggs, room temperature

2 tsp. vanilla

3 cups quick cooking oats

1 cup blueberries

GLAZE:

1 cup powdered sugar

juice of one small lemon

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line your baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside. In a large bowl cream together the butter and sugars. Beat thoroughly until very creamy. Beat in eggs one at a time. Beat in the vanilla.

With a wooden spoon add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and stir to combine. Add the oats and stir to combine. Last fold in the blueberries in a couple of batches being careful not to break the blueberries.

Roll the dough into one inch balls and place on the baking sheet, leaving approximately two inches between each ball.

Bake for 14 minutes or until the edges start to turn brown (the center of the cookie may still look light and that is ok). Remove the cookies from the oven and let them set on the baking sheet for 4-5 minutes. Remove the cookies from the baking sheet to a wire rack to finish the cooling process.

Combine the ingredients for the glaze. You may find you need a little more powdered sugar depending on how thick you want the glaze. If the glaze is too thick add a little more lemon juice until you get the desired consistency. Drizzle the glaze over completely cooled cookies and let the glaze harden. Store cookies in an air tight container or freeze them.

Glazed Blueberry Oatmeal Cookies

Cranberry Orange Coffee Cake…

One of the great things I love about the holidays is all the recipes you can make with cranberries. And when you pair them with orange juice, zest or both, well you have what I call a killer combo! But thanks to the frozen food isle, cranberries are not just for Christmas anymore. You can make great cranberry recipes all year long. And this is definitely one of them.

This recipe is a little time consuming as you basically have three separate components to prepare in order to assemble the coffee cake. But believe me, it’s worth it. Normally I give most of my baking to neighbors or co-workers, but this time my husband ate the bulk of it. He absolutely loved it, and so will you.

So let’s talk cranberry orange coffee cake…

Lesson Learned 1 – Prepare all three components first and then assemble the cake: I found this the easiest way to make this coffee cake and once all three components, the cake, the filling and the topping are made, assembling the cake is a breeze. I made the cake part first, then the topping and finished by making the cream cheese filling. I chose that order because both the cake and the topping take a little bit more time to assemble but the cream cheese filling can be made in a snap.

The cake mixture

The topping mixture

The cream cheese filling

Lesson Learned 2 – Cube the butter first and put it back into the refrigerator: The topping needs really cold butter to create the crumble and even if you start out cubing it when it’s cold it will start to warm up. I found that if you cube the butter and then put it back into the refrigerator until you need it you will have nice cold butter when it comes time to make the topping.

Lesson Learned 3 – Be patient when making the topping mixture: This is a traditional crumble topping mixture that requires you to cut cold butter into flour and sugar. I have a pastry cutter and I’m always struggling, at least initially, with the butter sticking to the pastry cutter. I find myself constantly scraping the butter off of the cutter. But don’t worry, as the butter starts to become more incorporated with the flour you will not have to do that anymore. It just takes a little time, so be patient and scrape the butter when necessary.

Lesson Learned 4 – All ovens are not created equal: I’ve said this many times but it bears repeating. For me living in a high altitude environment I find things always take longer to bake. That might not be the case for you. So normally I post sea-level cooking times, but keep in mind that this is just a gauge. Start looking at your cake at 70 – 75 minutes. The important thing is to make sure the cream cheese filling has set. If it is too jiggly the cake is not done. If you touch the center and it feels firm but slightly jiggly, you are good to go. (Do you love how technical this is?!)

Right Out Of The Oven

I think you will find this coffee cake is more than worth the work involved. And don’t let me scare you away from this, the work really isn’t that much or that complicated. Try it and let me know what you think…

Cranberry Orange Coffee Cake...

  • Servings: 10-12
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS

Coffee Cake:

2 cups flour

1 cup sugar

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1 egg, room temperature

1 Tbs. orange zest

3/4 cup fresh squeezed orange juice

1/4 cup melted unsalted butter

1 tsp. vanilla

2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries

Cream Cheese Filling:

1 8 oz. package cream cheese, room temperature

1/3 cup sugar

1 egg, room temperature

1 tsp. vanilla

Topping:

3/4 cup flour

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup cold unsalted butter cubed

DIRECTIONS

Preheat the oven to 350. In a large bowl whisk together the flour sugar baking powder and soda. Set aside. In another bowl whisk together the egg, orange zest, orange juice, melted butter and vanilla until blended. Pour this mixture into the flour mixture and stir until just moistened. Fold in the cranberries and set aside.

For the topping mix the flour and sugar in a small bowl. With a pastry cutter or two knives cut the butter into this mixture until the mixture looks crumbly. Set aside.

For the cream cheese layer, beat the cream cheese and sugar with a hand mixer until smooth. Add the egg and vanilla and beat on a low speed until just blended.

Transfer the coffee cake mixture into a greased or sprayed 9 inch springform pan. Pour the cream cheese mixture over the top and spread it out evenly. Sprinkle the toping mixture all over the top.

Place the pan on a baking sheet lined with foil. Bake for 70-75 minutes (in high altitude it can take up to 15 minutes more) or until the top is golden brown and the cream cheese mixture set.

Cool in the springform pan for 15 minutes before removing the coffee cake. Refrigerate any leftovers.

Sour Cream Apple Bites…

I had a few apples lying around and I wanted to use them. This recipe is a great way to use “older” apples.  The bites come out so moist and tender you’ll be hard pressed to eat just one. You make this recipe in a 9 x 13  pan and that is way too much for me and my husband so I brought them to work the next day. I couldn’t believe how many compliments I got on them although my husband maintains you can put cardboard in a break room where you work and people will devour it. Part of me knows that’s true, but when people go out of their way to say how delicious it was you know you have something special.

Yes, something special, that’s how I would categorize this. And a great way to use apples that are not all that fresh anymore but still very good. So let’s talk sour cream apple bites…

Lesson Learned 1 – This is a pretty straightforward crumble-type recipe: The crust you make for the  base is the same crumble you put on top. This recipe gives you an ample amount for a nice crust and a substantive crumble. Use half of the mixture as the crust and the other half as the topping. Make sure you use all of it, don’t waste a bit.

Lesson Learned 2 – The food processor is your friend on this one: Make sure you use the food processor to shred the apples. If you’ve never used a food processor it’s worth your while to spend a little time familiarizing yourself with one and learning how to use it. It can be a great time saver. There are a plethora of videos on YouTube that can show you all you need to know about a food processor. Here is a handy little video about how to shred food using a food processor:

Remember when you shred the apples for this recipe, all you need do is cut out the core and seeds. You don’t need to peel them. I used gala apples for this recipe and you can see the little red fleck in the  shredded apples in the pictures below. You won’t even notice the peel when eating the bites and the red from the apples gives a nice little pop of color to the sour cream filling.

What I like about this recipe is not only is it insanely delicious but it also is simple to make. I guarantee you that when you make these bites they will disappear quickly. Enjoy this one!

Sour Cream Apple Bites...

  • Servings: Approximately 30 Bites
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

Crust and Topping:

1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

1 cup brown sugar, packed

2 cups quick cooking oats

1 cup flour

1 cup chopped walnuts

1 tsp. baking soda

1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1/4 tsp. allspice

Filling:

1 cup sour cream

3/4 cup sugar

2 Tbs. flour

1 large egg

2 medium apples shredded

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Make the crust/topping first. Mix together butter and sugar until light and creamy. Add all of the remaining ingredients and mix well. Take half of the mixture and press it into the bottom of an ungreased 9 x 13 inch baking pan. Bake for 10 minutes or until the crust is a light golden brown.

While the crust is baking shred the apples in a food processor by removing the core and seeds but leaving on the skin. Combine all of the filling mixture ingredients together except the shredded apples until well blended. Fold in the shredded apples.

Pour the filling mixture over the crust (the crust can be still hot). Crumble the remaining crust/topping mixture over the filling and pat down lightly.

Bake for 40 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the center is set. Cool completely before cutting into bites. Store refrigerated.

Sour Cream and Apple Mixture

Ready To Go Into The Oven

Out Of The Oven

Sour Cream Apple Bites

 

Slow Cooker Honey BBQ Pulled Chicken Sandwiches…

If you are looking for an easy, and I do mean easy, meal to prepare look no further. I served this meal a couple of times now and it always turns out perfectly and it’s always super delicious. I have to admit I was initially skeptical about how this would turn it, but it was absolutely fabulous. When you know you’re going to have a busy day and you still want to have a good meal at dinnertime, this recipe is the answer to that dilemma.

So let’s talk slow cooker honey bbq pulled chicken sandwiches…

Lesson Learned 1 – Try to use chicken breasts with the skin on: I normally buy chicken breasts with the skin on and rib portions attached. First they are cheaper when purchased that way and second it’s easy to remove the rib portion and you’re left with a skin-on breast. Chicken can dry out very easily in a slow cooker and often can get overcooked. With the skin on it gives the breast meat more moisture during the cooking process and that is what you’re looking for. But sometimes you just can’t find them that way and that’s ok as well. Both times I made this recipe I had skinless breasts in the freezer and so I used them. But in my experience with other recipes, skin on breasts are preferred when cooking them in a slow cooker.

It’s also important to season them as well. I seasoned mine with kosher salt, pepper and McCormick’s Perfect Pinch Rotisserie Chicken seasoning blend. I really like this blend as it gives the chicken a great rotisserie chicken flavor. Try it and I’m sure you’ll agree.

Lesson Learned 2 – Use a slow cooker liner for this recipe: The sugar and honey in the bbq sauce can cause a mess that is very hard to clean up if it burns into your ceramic crock. Personally I am not a fan of slow cooker liners but I use them for this recipe. If you use one, clean up is a breeze and you don’t wind up with burnt bbq sauce all over your crock.

Lesson Learned 3 – Don’t overcook the chicken: I know, easier said then done, but most people overcook chicken breasts no matter what cooking method they are using. Chicken breasts can be moist as well as cooked through but there is a fine line between when that occurs and dried out chicken.

My rule of thumb is I never cook half breasts (and the ones I used were quite large) for more than 6 hours on low in my slow cooker. A lot of recipes say to cook chicken between 6-8 hours. In my opinion a two hours difference in cooking times is huge. Whenever I’ve cooked chicken in a slow cooker for 8 hours it always turned out dry. But the other variable is your slow cooker. Not all slow cookers are created equal. Know your slow cooker and if for some reason you can cook chicken for 8 hours and it does not dry out that’s fine. But I bet if you cook it for only 6 hours you’ll get a much better result.

Lesson Learned 4 – You can cook a veggie with the chicken if you want to: The first time I made this recipe I only cooked the chicken in the bbq sauce mixture. The second time I added carrots. When it came time to shred the meat I just pulled out the carrots, put them on a baking sheet lined with foil and sprayed with cooking spray and kept them in a warm oven until dinner was served. Make sure you use cooking spray on the foil as the remnants of the bb sauce on the carrots will stick to the foil and you don’t want the carrots sticking. Also make sure you don’t use overly thick carrots – they won’t cook through in six hours.

Lesson Learned 5 – Serve the chicken on good sandwich rolls: The sandwich rolls are also important. I served my chicken on brioche buns. I found them at Whole Foods and I have to admit they were a little pricey, $4.99 for six rolls, but boy were they worth it. They were just the perfect compliment to the bbq chicken. I’m not saying you need to invest that much in dinner rolls, but make sure they are fresh and soft. It makes a difference. I served the sandwiches with cole slaw and sliced tomatoes and the meal was a hit!

An easier, more delicious recipe you’d be hard pressed to find. Try it and let me know what you think…

Slow Cooker Honey BBQ Pulled Chicken Sandwiches...

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

3 large chicken breasts, skin on preferred

1 18-ounce bottle of bbq sauce (I used Sweet Baby Ray’s)

1/2 cup Italian salad dressing

1/4 cup brown sugar

2 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce

1-2 Tbs. Perfect Pinch Rotisserie Chicken seasoning

2-3 large carrots, peeled and cut into 2 inch logs (optional)

Salt and Pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Line the slow cooker with a slow cooker liner. Place chicken in slow cooker. (Place veggies in with the chicken). Season with salt, pepper and rotisserie chicken seasoning.

In a separate bowl combine bbq sauce, Italian dressing, brown sugar and Worcestershire sauce. Pour over chicken. Place lid back on top of the slow cooker.

Cook on low for 6 hours. If cooking veggies, remove them onto a foil lined baking sheet sprayed with cooking spray. Keep in a warm oven until serving.

Remove chicken, take off any skin and shred the breasts using two forks. Place shredded chicken back in the slow cooker and cook on high for 15 minutes to 1/2 hour. Serve on dinner rolls.

Spinach Artichoke Red Pepper Dip…

Let’s face it. Once the football season is over there is definitely a sports vacuum. Major league baseball is just starting to tune up at spring training, college basketball still has over a month before the NCAA tournament, the next major in tennis is not until May, and everything else just seems to be a bunch of noise. And during this time I think back to some of the major highlights of recent sporting events. In my mind, nothing can surpass what the Chicago Cubs did last year but this past Super Bowl was no slouch of a game either. Then I started thinking about my Super Bowl party this past year and what I served and I thought, wow, I never posted this recipe!

This recipe was so much fun. I wanted what I served to be easy and fun and allow me to spend time with my guests and not in the kitchen. I decided to serve this dip along with a hot crab dip for appetizers. Dinner consisted of slow cooker bbq pulled chicken sandwiches with cole slaw  and sliced tomatoes. The meal was a hit and this appetizer was the star of the show!

So let’s talk spinach artichoke red pepper dip…

Lesson Learned 1 – If you want to impress your guests, make this appetizer: This recipe couldn’t be any easier and boy does it impress. You basically combine the ingredients in stages in the food processor, put it in the carved-out bread bowl, bake it and the oven does all the rest. I was amazed at how great it looks and above and beyond that, it is absolutely delicious. It is a fabulous appetizer to serve at any party!

Lesson Learned 2 – Take your time when carving out the bread bowl: I used an artisan sour dough bread that I bought at the grocery store. You start out by cutting the opening on top of the bread. Make it large enough so you can stuff the bread but not too large that you cut off a lot of the bread. Then take a paring knife and begin cutting out the inside and under the sides. Take your time so that you don’t cut to close to the crust on any side. You want at least about 1 inch of bread at the bottom. You can do a little less than that on the sides. And make sure you save what you cut out. You can cut that into cubes and serve it as one of the sides with the warm dip. Yum!

Carved Out Bread Bowl

Carved Out Bread Bowl

Lesson Learned 3 – Combine your ingredients in stages in the food processor: Your food processor will be your best friend for this recipe. But don’t mix everything all at the same time. Some ingredients you will want mixed until smooth, other ingredients you will want chunky. Follow the process in the recipe and you will get the correct consistency for this dip.

The correct consistency for the dip

The correct consistency for the dip

Lesson Learned 3 – Garnish is your best kept secret: Are you always looking for ways to make your dish look more professional? Well look no further. Let garnish be your best friend. This appetizer baked in a bread bowl is pretty impressive on its own but what set the presentation over the top was cutting up some flat leaf parsley and garnishing the bread bowl and the accompaniments with the parsley once they were on the platter. You could also dice up some jalapeños and sprinkle them on top of the dip. Since I actually included them in the dip I chose not to use them as a garnish this time. But diced jalapeños are also an option. Garnish tends to make the colors in your food pop and in general makes every dish look more professional. So don’t forget the garnish.

Lesson Learned 4 – Did you ever hear of a Daikon? When looking at things I could serve with this dip, one recipe that I saw suggested daikon. I had never heard of daikon before. I googled it and found out that is part of the radish family. I’d never seen it at the store and so I thought if any store would have it, Whole Foods would. Well I was right. Whole Foods had it. Daikon sort of looks somewhat like a white carrot but they are not parsnips. Anyhow, they are a great side for this dip. Just cut them in rounds like you would a radish. And after I found them at Whole Foods I also found them at my local supermarket, so just look for them and try them.

Make this appetizer for your next party. I guarantee you it will be a hit! Enjoy.

Spinach Artichoke Red Pepper Dip...

  • Servings: 20-30
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

Spinach Artichoke Red Pepper Dip1 large round sourdough bread

4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/2 cup sour cream

1 small jalapeño, seeded and chopped

1 clove garlic, chopped

1 10 ounce box of frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry in a towel

1 cup marinated artichokes, rinsed and drained

1/4 cup + 2 Tb. chopped Italian parsley

1/2 cup roasted red pepper, chopped and divided

1 1/2 cups pepper jack cheese, divided

Salt and pepper to taste

Garlic infused olive oil for brushing the bread

Crackers, baby carrots, red radishes, daikon, celery and bread cubes, for serving

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut a thin slice from the top of the bread. With a paring knife cut out the exposed inside to about 1 inch from the bottom and at least 1/2 inch from the sides. Cut the extracted bread into cubes and use for serving later.

Combine the cream cheese, mayo, sour cream, chopped jalapeños and garlic in the food processor and process until smooth. Add the spinach and artichokes and pulse until chunky. Add the parsley, all but 1 Tbs. of the red pepper, 1 1/4 cup cheese and salt and pepper and pulse until just combined.

Spoon the mixture into the bread bowl. Top with the remaining cheese and red pepper. Place the bread on a baking sheet. Brush the bread with olive oil. Bake 25-30 minutes.

Serve with crackers, veggies and crudités. Garnish with chopped flat leaf parsley.

Pulse for a chunky consistency

Pulse for a chunky consistency

Correct consistency of the dip

The correct consistency of the dip

Fill the bread bowl

Spoon into the bread bowl. Brush the bread with olive oil.

Garnish with cheese and red pepper

Add more cheese and roasted red pepper on top

Spinach Artichoke Red Pepper Dip

Serving Suggestion

Lithuanian Kugelis (Potato Pudding)…

Let me say right up front that this recipe is an artery clogger. That is why I make it once or maybe twice a year tops. The recipe has its roots in my family history. I am of both Lithuanian and Polish decent, and this recipe comes directly from my Lithuanian heritage.

My grandmother (my mother’s mother) was a great cook. She was one of those cooks who could never give you a recipe since everything she made was by look and taste. So it was with this kugelis recipe. I’ve played around with it and have gotten it to just about the way my grandmother made it. But lets face it, no one ever made it like Grandma or ever will.

Before I go into my lessons learned I think it only fair to share some memories of my grandmother. She came on a boat from Lithuania when she was only 16. Her passage was paid for by the man she was to marry. It was an arranged marriage. I can’t even begin to imagine how, at that young age, she had to courage to travel by herself to meet a man she had never met and marry him. But she felt it was her way out of abject poverty.

She got to the United States and immediately knew she did not want to marry this man. She was fortunate enough to meet another man she liked and convinced him to “buy-out” her marriage contract. He did and she wound up marrying him. They lived in Chicago which, at the time, had the largest Lithuanian population outside of Lithuania itself.

My Grandmother and Grandfather on their wedding day

My Grandmother and Grandfather on their wedding day

They were not rich by any stretch of the imagination and they had four children to feed. My mother told me there were times when my Grandmother went without food so the kids could eat. But they worked hard, watched their pennies and were finally able to make ends meet. They were the embodiment of the American dream but for a long time it was not easy.

Because they were so poor, my grandmother had to find ways to fill up the bellies of her kids while not spending a lot of money. A recipe like kugelis fit the bill. She could make good use out of a few potatoes, eggs, bacon and butter and turn them into a stick to your ribs kind of dish that would feed the whole family. In the end, she was noted for her kugelis and her home made bread, another inexpensive staple she made often during those times. I have not mastered her homemade bread and making bread from scratch is even trickier at high altitude, but I keep trying and someday I hope to post that recipe as well.

So let’s talk Lithuanian Kugelis…

Lesson Learned 1 – There is no one way to make kugelis: Just about every person of Lithuanian decent I’ve spoken to has their own family recipe for kugelis. And the ingredients can vary. Many recipes include onions (my grandmother did not use them), some recipes use condensed milk, (again, this recipe does not) and some do not use cream of rice or wheat (this recipe does). My point is there is not one full proof way of making kugelis. I am sharing the way my grandmother and mother made it.

Cream of RiceLesson Learned 2 – Use a little cream of rice or wheat: My grandmother used “farina” in her recipe. Farina used to be very popular when I was growing up but not so much now. As a substitute you can use either cream of rice or wheat. They are both a very creamy type of hot cereal and the little bit you use gives extra creaminess to the kugelis.

Lesson Learned 3 – Beat the eggs into submission: This is one of the tricks my mother taught me. You want your kugelis to be light and fluffy so you want a lot of air in your beaten eggs. You need to beat them for about 5-7 minutes with a hand mixer. I advise you not to guess when 5 minutes is up but to actually set a timer. You will not believe how long 5 minutes feels when you are beating those eggs. But you want a very airy consistency to the eggs as seen in the picture below.

Beaten eggs

Lesson Learned 3 – Keep the potatoes soaking in water until you are ready to grate them: You use quite a bit of potatoes in this recipe and it takes time to grate them. potatoes in waterThe last thing you want to have happen is for the potatoes to oxidize and turn brown while waiting to be grated. Once you peel them put them in a bowl of cold water until you are ready to grate them. That way they will not turn brown on you.

Lesson Learned 4 – Grate the potatoes by hand: My mother maintained that the only way to get the potatoes to a perfect consistency for kugelis is to grate them by hand. Let me tell you, that is quite an arduous task. Many people now use food processors to grate their potatoes, but my mother felt a food processor rendered the potatoes too watery. So, I do what my mother and my grandmother before always did and grate the potatoes by hand. You can really build up your upper body strength by grating the potatoes by hand, but the end result is so worth it. The pictures below show the gadget I use to grate the potatoes and the desired consistency of the grated potatoes.

Hand Grater

The desired consistency of the grated potatoes

The desired consistency of the grated potatoes

Lesson Learned 5 – Cut the bacon into lardons and cook until brown but not crisp: You want the bacon to have good color but you don’t want it so crispy that it won’t hold its shape when you mix it with the potatoes. So cut your bacon into lardons, as shown below, and cook them until they have a nice deep rich color.

bacon lardons

The desired color of the bacon

The desired color of the bacon

Lesson Learned 6 – Mix well and taste for enough salt: My mother used to say over and over again that you need to mix these ingredients really well. She usually mixed them for about 3-4 minutes and now so do I. This is not like other recipes that tell you not to over mix as the it will make the end result tough. So take your time and mix the ingredients thoroughly. You won’t be disappointed. My mother was also very specific about tasting the uncooked mixture for enough salt. Now keep in mind there is a lot of salt in the bacon so you don’t want the kugelis too salty. I always take a little taste before putting it in the baking dish just to make sure there is enough salt. I start out with one teaspoon at the beginning and add more after I’ve done my mixing if I think the kugelis needs it.

I guarantee you this recipe is over the top. A great recipe with a treasured heritage – nothing can beat that! Enjoy!

Lithuanian Kugelis...

  • Servings: 16 squares
  • Difficulty: Medium
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INGREDIENTS:

8 Large russet potatoes

1/2 pound of bacon, cut into lardons

1/2 stick of butter

3 Tbs. cream of rice or wheat

1-2 tsp. salt

8 large eggs

Sour cream, for topping

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Sauté the bacon and butter together. Set aside. Peel the potatoes and place into a large bowl of water until ready to use.

Beat the eggs with a hand mixer for 5-7 minutes or until extremely frothy. Set aside. Grate the potatoes. Add the eggs, bacon and melted butter, cream of rice and salt. Mix very well.

Pour the mixture unto a 13 x 9 x2 pan (no need to prepare the pan in any way).

Bake for 90 minutes or until the center is done. Serve warm with a dollop of sour cream.

Ready to go into the oven

Ready to go into the oven

Out of the oven

Out of the oven

Kugelis

Kugelis

Serving suggestion

Serving suggestion

 

Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudge…

I made this fudge over the holidays. Having never made fudge before I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. It was unbelievably easy and so delicious. As a matter of fact it was so good that my husband jokingly gave strict orders as to how much of it I could give away as gifts.

Probably the hardest part of this recipe is mixing together the chocolate and peanut butter mixtures but for something so pleasing to the eye and so yummy this couldn’t be simpler. So let’s talk chocolate peanut butter fudge…

Lesson Learned 1 – Of the two mixtures, the peanut butter one is a little trickier to handle: The peanut butter chip and condensed milk mixture takes a little longer to prepare and it’s much thicker than the chocolate mixture.  As seen in the pictures below, the peanut butter part of the fudge gets quite thick before you even work to combine it with the chocolate. The key to working with the peanut butter mixture is to keep it as warm as possible when you combine it with the chocolate mixture and begin to swirl both together. The warmer that mixture the easier the swirling will be.

thickened peanut butter mixture

ingredients for peanut butter mixture

Lesson Learned 2 – The peanut butter mixture should act as your base: You will need to work with the peanut butter mixture first. Make sure the large dollops of the mixture cover most of the bottom of the pan. The chocolate mixture is not as thick and will not serve as a good base for the fudge. Below is an example of how you should distribute the mixtures in preparation for swirling them.

Peanut butter and chocolate dollops

The next time I make this fudge I will make sure the peanut butter mixture is a more equally distributed. As you can see I had more at the bottom of the pan than the top. I needed to make the spaces in between the peanut butter dollops a little tighter but even so, I am being a perfectionist here. My fudge turned out wonderfully even with the distribution of the mixtures the way it was in this picture.

Lesson Learned 3 – Lining your pan with parchment paper: When you are preparing the fudge the ingredients are messy and sticky. You need to put the ingredients in a pan that is lined with parchment paper both on the bottom and up the sides. That way the fudge won’t stick and can be removed from the pan easily when done. Let me clue you in. Parchment paper has a mind of its own and even though you may tear off enough to line the pan it won’t easily stay in place on its own. It needs a little encouragement. A little trick I learned is to take some cans you have in your pantry, like soup or veggies, and place them on top of the parchment paper while preparing the fudge ingredients (as pictured below)…

cans in the pan

The weight of the cans holds the parchment paper down in the shape you need it to be. By doing this, when it comes time to add the ingredients to the pan just remove the cans and the parchment paper will be hold the shape of the pan and be easy to handle.

Lesson Learned 4 – For the best looking results don’t over combine the two mixtures: This is a very tasty fudge and part of the fun is to make it look inviting as well. By not over combining you let the beauty of both ingredients compliment each other and clearly shine through.

This recipe is so easy and the end result is divine. I hope you enjoy it!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudge

  • Servings: Approximately 25 Pieces
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudge1/2 cup semi sweet chocolate chips

1 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk, divided

1/2 stick of butter cut into Tbs. size cubes

1 10 oz. bag of peanut butter chips

1/8 tsp. salt

DIRECTIONS:

Line an 8 inch square baking pan with parchment paper.

Melt the chocolate chips with 1/4 cup condensed milk and 1 Tbs. of butter over low heat stirring consistently until well combined, approximately 3 minutes. Turn off the heat, cover and keep warm.

In another pan melt the peanut butter chips, remaining condensed milk 3 Tbs. butter and salt. Stir constantly until smooth, approximately 5 minutes.

While still warm dollop large mounds of the peanut butter mixture all throughout the bottom of the prepared pan. Add small dollops of the chocolate mixture in several places on top. Combine both by swirling them together with a knife. Chill the fudge uncovered for at least an hour.

Take the fudge out of the pan by lifting up on the sides of the parchment paper and pulling it up. Peel away the parchment paper and cut the fudge into 1 inch squares.

Before Chilling The Fudge

Before Chilling The Fudge

 Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudge

Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudge

The Moistest Banana Cake You’ll Ever Make …

There’s nothing like a cake that is so moist it melts in your mouth. But baking a cake from scratch and getting it that moist can be a challenge, especially living in high altitude like I do. Well, fear no more. I stumbled upon a baking method that produced one of the moistest cakes I’ve ever made.

Now I have a couple of different recipes for banana bread on this site, but this one hands down is the most moist and flavorful. The difference between this recipe and the others is how you bake the cake. In this recipe you preheat the oven to 350 and once you put the cake in the oven you turn the temperature down to 300 for the remainder of the baking process. I never tried a process like this before and the result was my husband saying this was the moistest cake I ever made.

So let’s talk about the moistest banana cake you’ll ever make…

ripe bananasLesson Learned 1: Make sure your bananas are really ripe: and by really ripe I mean the peels are really dark, dark brown as in the picture to the right. You don’t want a lot of yellow on your banana skins and you definitely don’t want any green. Most of the time the bananas you buy in the store are under ripe, mainly green and yellow. Those bananas have not reached their full peak of flavor. The skins need to look pretty dark. As the banana ripens it releases more sugar and becomes more flavorful. And as they ripen the skins turn darker. If you want the best tasting cake you need to use bananas with dark skins.

Now if you want to make this cake today but only have yellow and green bananas, there’s a way to ripen them on the spot. Just click on this link for my banana bread recipe and you’ll find a neat little trick that gives you ripe bananas anytime you want them.

Lesson Learned 2 – Beat the butter, sugars, eggs and vanilla until velvety: The picture below shows the correct consistency for this standard blend of ingredients for many recipes. The more velvety these ingredients, the better the rest of the ingredients will combine with it. Most people err on doing this process way too fast. I say beat the living daylights out if it. You’ll be pleased with the end result if you do.

Creamed butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla

Lesson Learned 3 – With this recipe baking time will vary: The recipe that I based this on stated that it took 60 minutes for the cake to bake. It took my cake an hour and a half. Now I know a lot of that had to do with me living in high altitude, but this is definitely a cake you will need to keep your eye on. Not only is the atmosphere a factor in the cooking time, but also all ovens vary and your oven may take a shorter amount of time to bake this cake than mine. I started checking mine at 55 minutes and could tell right away it needed a much longer cooking time. In the end, the most sure fire way to determine if it is done is to insert a toothpick into the center of the cake. If it comes out clean, the cake is done. The picture below shows what the cake looks like when it is done.

completely cooked cake

Lesson Learned 4 – This recipe makes more than enough frosting: Next time I make it I’m planning on cutting the frosting amount to 75% of what I will list here. With what I list I was able to put a thick amount of frosting on the cake (as seen below) and I still had some left over. Some people don’t like a lot of frost on their cake, and you certainly don’t want to minimize the flavor of the cake by overpowering it with frosting. You need to make the frosting based on how you like a cake frosted. So use your judgement on this one.

frosted cake

I was really pleased with how this cake turned out. I shared some with my co-workers and also with my neighbors and the consensus was this recipe is a winner. So try it and let me know what you think. You betcha can make this!

The Moistest Banana Cake You'll Ever Make...

  • Servings: 20-24 Squares
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

1 1/2 cups mashed bananas (3-4 bananas)

2 1/2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice, divided

1 1/2 cups whole milk

3 cups flour

1/2 Tbs. baking soda

1/4 tsp. salt

2/3 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

3 large eggs, room temperature

1 tsp. vanilla

FROSTING:

8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature

1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

3 cups powdered sugar

1 tsp. fresh lemon juice

zest from 1 lemon

1 tsp. vanilla

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour or use cooking spray and prepare a 9 x 13 pan.

Take 1 1/2 Tbs. of lemon juice and combine with the milk. Set aside.

Mash the bananas and mix with 1 Tbs. lemon juice. Set aside.

Combine flour, baking soda and salt in a bowl. Whisk for a minute to combine. Set aside.

Beat together the butter and sugars until creamy. Beat in one egg at a time. Beat in the vanilla, until the entire mixture is smooth and velvety. Alternate adding the flour mixture and milk mixture beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Do not over mix but make sure everything is fully incorporated. Gently fold in the bananas. Pour mixture into the prepared 9 x 13 pan.

Put in oven and reduce the temperature to 300. Bake at least 55 minutes. (Do not open the oven for any reason during the first 55 minutes). At that point check the cake for doneness. If a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, it is done. If not, continue baking. The baking process could take as much as 1 1/2 hours.

Remove the cake from the oven and cool completely before frosting. To make the frosting place all of the ingredients in a medium size bowl and beat until creamy.

Banana Cake

Moist Banana Cake

Moist Banana Cake

Creamy Meatball and Tortellini Soup…

Is there anything as comforting as a hot hearty bowl of soup on a cold winter day? Enjoying a piping hot bowl of soup with some crusty bread when the weather outside is cold and snowy – well that to me defines food for the soul.

In the past, the only homemade soup I ever made was my mother’s chicken soup. I never thought about making any others. Then two years ago when I had a tomato crop that was just unheard of and left me tomatoes coming out of my ears, I tried to make homemade tomato soup. And it was fabulous. So I invested in an immersion blender and made homemade broccoli cheddar soup. And the rest is history. I love making homemade soups.

Add the evaporated milk and spinach

Prior to this recipe all my soups were made on the stove top. This time I decided to make soup in the slow cooker. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, I am getting more adventurous with my slow cooker, trying things with it that I’d never done before with it. So why not try to make some soup?The basis for this recipe I saw on Facebook and thought, wow this sounds and looks delicious. So I made it (with a few of my own tweeks). All I can say is this one is divine.

So let’s talk creamy meatball and tortellini soup…

Veggies Cut Into Chunky PiecesLesson Learned 1 – It bears repeating, cut your veggies into chunky pieces: Because you cook for extended periods of time in a slow cooker your veggies can break down if you don’t cut them chunky. You want to see and taste your veggies. So don’t be afraid to cut them into chunky pieces. They will cook I promise you.

Lesson Learned 2 – Use different settings to get different results: Sounds pretty logical doesn’t it. But I used to be a one size fits all girl when it came to slow cooker settings. If I started on low, I stayed on low. And the same for high. But I found you can be more creative with recipes when you vary your settings during the cooking process. For this recipe I cooked the basic parts of it, veggies, meatballs and broth, for 6 hours on low. During the last hour I set it on high. I added the evaporated milk, thickener and tortellini and let that cook for 45 minutes on high. Then I added the spinach and let it cook on high for another 15-20 minutes. Everything cooked perfectly.

Italian Sausage MeatballsLesson Learned 3 – Don’t be afraid to be creative: Originally I was going to add chunks of sausage links to the recipe but my husband has a hard time with the casings. So I removed the casings and formed portions of the meat into meatballs. That worked just fine. I also used sweet Italian sausage in my recipe but you can use hot Italian sausage and give the soup a little more kick if you like. You can also use ground beef, but I think the seasonings in Italian sausage give more zip to the flavor of the soup.

This soup tastes absolutely divine. Your should really try this. I guarantee you will love it! You betcha can make this!

CREAMY MEATBALL AND TORTELLINI SOUP...

  • Servings: 8-10
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

Creamy Meatball And Tortellini Soup1 pound Italian sausage (ground or links cut into chunks)

1 onion, diced

2 thick carrots cut into 1/2 inch circles

2 stalks of celery cut into chunks

3 large garlic cloves, minced

1 Tbs. Italian seasoning

2 tsp. chicken bouillon powder

1/2 tsp. salt

4 cups chicken broth

1/4 cornstarch

1/4 cup water

1 12-ounce package of cheese tortellini

3 12-ounce cans of evaporated milk

4 cups baby spinach with stems removed

DIRECTIONS:

Form the Italian sausage into 1 inch meatballs. Place the onion, carrots, celery, garlic, italian seasoning, bouillon powder, salt and meatballs into a 6 quart slow cooker. Pour in the chicken broth. Cover and cook on low for 6 hours.

Mix together thoroughly the cornstarch and water. Combine cornstarch mixture with the evaporated milk. Add the evaporated milk to the slow cooker, stir to combine and cook on high for 45 minutes. Add the spinach leaves and stir to combine. Cook for an additional 15-20 minutes on high.

Serve immediately with crusty bread.

Veggies and Meatballs in the slow cooker

 Add the chicken broth

Creamy Meatball And Tortellini Soup

Creamy Meatball And Tortellini Soup

Prime Rib Roast…

Happy New Year! I hope your new year is filled with good health and happiness. Mine started off with a bang as I finally ventured into making a prime rib roast. It’s been on my list of “ok, now you have to try this… you betcha can do this” and I decided to jump into the deep end of the pool on the first day of 2017 and tackle this one.

I’ll admit now I was a little nervous. After all prime rib, even when it’s on sale is expensive. And the last thing you want to do is ruin an expensive cut of meat. So you see, even the cooks who have been at it for a while can still get nervous in the kitchen.

And talk about expensive… I decided to check out a prime rib roast at Whole Foods. I only needed a small one, just enough for me and my husband. So, I asked for a two rib roast, between 4-5 pounds. That would give me enough for two people with one dinner of leftovers. The butcher handed me a package for a 4.4 pound roast and the price tag on it was $68.00! I almost choked. As I walked through the store I had many internal conversations with myself trying to see if I could rationalize spending $68 on a cut of meat, albeit prime. When I finally got to the cash register I handed the roast to the checker and said I was sorry but I just couldn’t rationalize spending that much for a roast for two people. She couldn’t have been any sweeter. She said not to worry, it was no big deal and that Whole Foods wants its customers to be comfortable and satisfied with what they purchase. She was great. She took all my guilt away.

Two-Rib Rib RoastI finally worked with a butcher at Safeway who cut me a two rib roast and tied the bones to the bottom as I requested. The roast coast $44 for a 4.3 pound roast. Still expensive, and choice but not prime, but I could rationalize that for a special meal more than $68.00. In the end the roast was fabulous so I was glad I opted for the less expensive cut. My next step was researching various cooking methods and determining what I felt would work for me. So I have some really good lessons learned to share with this blog…

Lesson Learned 1 – Let the roast sit out and get to room temperature: Many people are afraid to do this as they think the meat will spoil. Nothing can be further from the truth. In order to ensure that your roast cooks evenly you have to get it to room temperature. For my 4.3 pound roast I let it sit on the counter for 4 hours. Obviously the larger the roast the longer the time. I spoke with a co-work who made a 9 pound roast over the holidays and she kept hers out for 6 hours. Don’t be afraid to do this. You will be rewarded with an evenly cooked roast and it is perfectly safe.

Lesson Learned 2 – Choose the roasting method that is right for you: When I researched various roasting options, two methods seemed to be most prevalent. Both required cooking the roast at a very high heat for about 20-30 minutes. The difference was the next step. Some recipes suggested turning off the heat in the oven and letting the roast sit in there for several hours, making sure not to open the oven. Others suggested lowering the heat and cooking the roast at a lower heat for a certain amount of minutes per pound. Since everything takes longer to cook in high altitude, I chose the latter. I just didn’t see my roast cooking to medium rare with the oven turned off.

Lesson Learned 3 – Make sure your oven is clean: I cooked my roast at 450 degrees (some recipes call for 500 degrees) for the first 25 minutes. I have a brand new oven and it is really clean. I still set off my smoke alarm. (I forgot to put on the hood fan). My point is, at this high heat the roast will smoke and if you have a dirty oven everything baked on to the walls of your oven will smoke as well, just adding to the problem. So don’t forget to turn on your hood fan and make sure that oven is clean.

Prime Rib With A Garlic, Rosemary & Thyme RubLesson Learned 4 – A rub on the roast makes a difference: I used a rub consisting of olive oil, fresh garlic, fresh rosemary, thyme, and salt and pepper. What I found is the rub creates a delicious crust when cooked at those initial high temperatures. It added a fabulous flavor to the meat. I highly recommend the rub in this recipe. It tasted divine!

Lesson Learned 5 – Use a meat thermometer: The only way to truly know what’s going on with your roast is to use a meat thermometer. I like mine medium rare which means an internal temperature of between 130 – 135 degrees. Keep in mind when you take the roast out of the oven it will continue to cook as it rests, at least another 5 degrees. So if you want medium rare, take the roast out at 130 and you will be fine. This time I chose to make it rare as my husband likes it that way. That is an internal temperature of 120-125. You can easily just put a rare piece in a pan on the stove and heat it gently to bring it up to medium rare. Just keep an eye on it, as it will not take long to get it to medium rare.

Lesson Learned 6 – Let the meat rest: The roast looks so good when it comes out of the oven but you need to give it time to let its juices redistribute before you slice it. Otherwise all the juices will be on your plate and not in the meat. So let the roast sit for 20 minutes. Cover it with foil during that time and after 20 minutes it will be a perfect temperature for serving with the juices redistributed.

Lesson Learned 7 – Make your horseradish cream sauce to taste: Is there any better combination than prime rib and horseradish sauce? If you’ve never tried it you simply must. I will provide some basic guidelines for making this cream sauce but I found when I made mine that I needed to add a lot more horseradish. The jarred horseradish that I had was not overly spicy and so I needed more to get the flavor combination that I liked. But start out with a little horseradish and add from there. Depending upon the type of prepared horseradish you are using, a little may be enough. That was not the case for me.

As you can see there are many things you need to consider in order to make the perfect rib roast. But if you follow these lessons learned you will wind up with a flavorful roast cooked to perfection. Don’t be afraid to do a prime rib roast. You betcha can make this!

PRIME RIB ROAST...

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Medium
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INGREDIENTS:

Prime Rib Roast1 4-5 pound rib roast, bones tied to the bottom

1 cup red wine (I used merlot)

1 cup beef broth

2 Tbs. garlic, minced

2 Tbs. garlic infused olive oil (you can use plain olive oil)

2 Tbs. fresh rosemary, minced

2 Tbs. fresh thyme, minced

1 Tbs. kosher salt

1 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper

Horseradish Sauce:

1/4 cup sour cream

1 -2 Tbs. prepared horseradish

DIRECTIONS:

Remove the roast from the refrigerator and let stand for at least 4 hours. Preheat the oven to 450 and arrange the racks so that the roast will be in the center of the oven. Add the beef broth and wine to the bottom of the roasting pan.

Mix together the olive oil, garlic, rosemary, thyme salt and pepper. Spread the mixture on top of the roast. Place the roast on a rack on top of the beef broth/wine mixture. (At this point if you have an oven safe meat thermometer you will want to put it into the center of the meaty part of the roast making sure to avoid contact with the bones. If you only have an instant meat thermometer you will need to check the roast at various intervals at 1 1/2 hours after lowering the temperature of the oven).

Roast at 450 for 25 minutes. Turn the oven temperature down to 350 and continue to roast for approximately 15 minutes per pound (at high altitude I found I needed 20 minutes per pound). For medium rare remove the roast when the internal temperature is 130 degrees. Let the roast stand covered with foil for at least 20 minutes.

While the roast is resting place the roasting pan on a burner with the rack removed. Heat the beef broth/wine mixture and remove any fat from the drippings. This can be used as au jus for the roast or gravy for mashed potatoes if you are serving them as a side dish.

For the horseradish sauce, mix the ingredients together, tasting the sauce to ensure you have the right amount of horseradish. Add more if necessary. Chill the mixture until it’s time to serve.

rub

rub ingredients

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

beef broth and wine bath

Prime Rib Roast

Prime Rib Roast

prime rib dinner

Lemon Red Snapper With Herb Butter…

A couple of weeks ago a new Whole Foods store opened near my home. I’m not particularly a big fan of Whole Foods as some of their prices, in my opinion, are completely outrageous. But I do like the fact that if I need something, especially something out of the ordinary, I can always find it there. I also like the fresh seafood they carry. They often carry varieties of fish I can’t find in my local grocery stores. And the fishmongers will filet and debone any whole fish for you on the spot.

I went to the store on opening day and it was crazy. The place was packed but there were so many great things to see and sample. At one point they were cooking lobster tails and giving away samples of them. I actually found yellow grapefruit, which is my favorite. Most stores only carry pink grapefruit  and I prefer the tanginess of the yellow.

And when I walked by the seafood department I was so impressed with the variety of fish they had. For months I had been looking for red snapper filets and there they were, beautiful specimens, right in front of my eyes. I was so excited that I was finally going to be able to try out this recipe.

Now if you’ve not made a lot of fish and are unsure of your skill in this area, I would not start by making a recipe like this using red snapper as the fish. Not that this recipe is all that difficult but snapper is expensive (it cost me $20 for two filets). You might want to hone your fish making skills on less expensive types of fish like tilapia or cod before you venture into making red snapper. This recipe would work very well with either of those types of fish.

But lets talk about lemon red snapper with herb butter…

Lesson Learned 1 – Cut the lemon slices at least 1/4 inch thick: I cut my lemon slices about 1/8 inch thick and they cooked down more than I would have liked. They still infused the fish with great flavor, but you also use the lemon as a garnish when you serve the fish. By cutting the lemons 1/4 inch thick they will have more body after the cooking process.

Lemon Red Snapper With Herb Butter

Lesson Learned 2 – Not all filets cook the same: It’s never one size fits all when cooking fish filets. Some may be longer and thinner while others are shorter and thicker. The trick is to try to get filets that are similar in size so that they all cook for the same amount of time. The last thing you want to do is overcook an expensive cut of fish like red snapper.

My filets were longer and thinner but still about 1/4 inch thick at the center. When I researched how to cook the snapper the overall consensus seemed to be at 425 for about 13 minutes. But you can’t always follow that. It is important when making fish to develop an eye for determining when the fish is cooked. I judge my fish by looking at the thickest part. It will start to look opaque at each edge and as the fish cooks the opaqueness fills in. When it is almost completely opaque on the side I know my fish is done. These particular filets only took about 10 minutes. So learn how to develop that eye. The filets you choose may have to cook for 13 minutes. I can only tell you that it will take time as well as trial and error to get good at cooking fish.

Lemon Red Snapper With Herb Butter

Lesson Learned 3 – Don’t be afraid to make fish: I think the key to making fish is to err on the side of underdone. You can always put the fish back in the oven but you can’t do anything with an overdone dried out piece of fish. Be prepared to do that a few times.  It’s no big deal. I guarantee you that after a while you will develop that eye and become a master at cooking fish.

If you are looking to add more fish in your diet, this is a great recipe to start you on your way. Try it and let me know what you think…

LEMON RED SNAPPER WITH HERB BUTTER...

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Medium
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INGREDIENTS:

2 lemons

Lemon Red Snapper With Herb Butter

Lemon Red Snapper With Herb Butter

Non-stick cooking spray

4 (6 ounce) red snapper filets

1/4 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. paprika

1/4 tsp. garlic powder

1/4 tsp. freshly cracked pepper

2 Tbs. butter, softened

2 Tbs. fresh thyme, chopped

1 Tbs. lemon zest (the zest of a medium sized lemon)

DIRECTIONS:

Remove the filets from the refrigerator and let them stand for about 20 minutes. (this will take the chill off of them and make the cooking time more true. It is completely safe).

Zest one lemon and set aside. Cut lemons into 8 quarter inch pieces. Place slices in pairs on a rimmed baking sheet covered in foil and coated with cooking spray.  Place 1 filet on top of each pair of lemons. Combine salt, paprika, garlic powder and pepper and sprinkle over the filets. Bake for 10-13 minutes or until the fish flakes easily when tested with a fork.

While the fish is in the oven, combine the butter, lemon zest and thyme in a small bowl.

When fish is done, plate fish and lemon slices. Top each filet with the herb butter, spreading it to allow it to melt. Serve immediately.

Herb Butter Mixture

Herb Butter Mixture

Herb Butter Mixture

Herb Butter Mixture

Lemon Red Snapper With Herb Butter

Lemon Red Snapper With Herb Butter

Holiday Breakfast Casserole…

I’m so sorry I haven’t posted in a while. The holidays are always hectic and it is tough to sit down at the computer and document the things I’ve been making. The good thing is there will be lots to come after the first of the year! And just in case you didn’t see it on my home page, the picture below is a link to some of my all time favorite holiday recipes (mostly cookies but there are other things as well). Just click on the picture and you’ll have some great recipes to try this holiday season.

17 Favorite Holiday Recipes

17 Favorite Holiday Recipes

The recipe I’m sharing today is one I made the other night for dinner. After I made it I thought, wow – this would make a great Christmas morning breakfast. You can make it the night before, refrigerate it and just pop it in the oven in the morning. It is very flavorful and it couldn’t be easier to make.

So let’s talk lessons learned when making this holiday breakfast casserole…

Cooked breakfast sausageLesson Learned 1 – You probably will not need an entire tube of breakfast sausage: This recipe is made in an 8 x 8 pan and serves four. Double it if you want to make it in a 13 x 9 pan. In the smaller pan you probably will not need the entire tube of sausage. Use as much as you like and if you are a true meat eater use the whole thing. We only needed about three quarters of the tube. We froze the rest to use later.

Lesson Learned 2 – Get the hash browns nice and crispy: The hash browns will soften in this recipe. By getting them crispy you add a nice flavor. If you don’t crisp them up they will get too soggy on the bottom of the casserole.

Crispy Hash Browns

Lesson Learned 3 – Substitute for fresh whenever you can: The recipe I based this on called for both onion and garlic powder. If you are in a rush you can certainly use them, but I used minced fresh garlic and chopped green onions instead. I think it made a world of difference in the flavor of the casserole.

Lesson Learned 4 – Add more cheese if you like: I made this recipe with a cup of shredded Jarlsberg. Next time I will use a cup and a half as I wanted it to be just a little cheesier. A cup works just fine. This is something you can experiment with and see what works best for you. But don’t use any less than one cup.

This casserole couldn’t be any easier, and as I mentioned earlier I actually made this for dinner but I felt with the holidays coming this recipe might be a good trick to have up your sleeve. Happy Holidays!

HOLIDAY BREAKFAST CASSEROLE...

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

1 pound breakfast sausage

1 20 oz. bag of unfrozen hash browns (I used Simply Potatoes)

1 large garlic clove, minced (you can use 1/4 tsp. garlic powder as a substitute)

2-3 green onions, chopped (you can use 1/4 tsp. onion powder as a substitute)

1 cup shredded cheese (use any good melting cheese – I used Jarlsberg)

4 extra large eggs (use 5 if they are small)

1 cup milk

Salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 375. In a large skillet cook the breakfast sausage until it is no longer pink. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant. Set sausage mixture aside.

In the same pan cook the hash browns until slightly crispy. Place them in the bottom of a lightly greased 8 x 8 pan. Top with sausage and cheese.

In a separate bowl combine the eggs, green onions and milk. (If using onion and garlic powder you would add them into this egg mixture). Pour over the hash browns, sausage and cheese. (Cover and refrigerate at this point if you plan on making this the next day.)

Bake for 35- 40 minutes or until the top is set and the edges start to brown. Let the casserole sit for 5 minutes and serve.

The Hash Browns Layer

The Hash Browns Layer

The Meat Layer

The Meat Layer

The Cheese Layer

The Cheese Layer

The Egg Mixture

The Egg Mixture

Ready To Go Into The Oven

Ready To Go Into The Oven

Holiday Breakfast Casserole

Right Out Of The Oven

Holiday Breakfast Casserole

Holiday Breakfast Casserole

Holiday Breakfast Casserole

Holiday Breakfast Casserole

Slow Cooker Turkey and Dumplings…

We are still in the midst of a major kitchen renovation and although I have a brand new stove sometimes it’s just easier to throw things into a slow cooker and let it do all the work. And that’s what I did the other night.

I am particularly proud of this recipe for a variety of reasons but mainly because this was the first time I actually experimented with a process in a slow cooker and it turned out great. In the past I had been the type of slow cooker girl that would never open the slow cooker during the cooking process. But I found that you can and still achieve great results, probably even better results if you are not afraid to walk on the wild side.

By itself, this recipe is pretty traditional using canned soup for the liquid that braises the meat. But by thickening the soup with some flour and water it made the juices turn into a thick creamy gravy. The other trick I used was taking store bought biscuits in a can and using them for the dumplings. I just cut them up and put them in the slow cooker for the last hour. They cooked to a perfect dumpling consistency much to my surprise.

So let’s talk slow cooker turkey with dumplings…

Lesson Learned 1 – Use flour and water to thicken your sauce: At the 4 hour mark I took out the turkey tenderloins to shred them. I noticed that the liquid in the slow cooker was very thin. Right before I added the meat back in I mixed together about 2 tablespoons of flour with about 1/8 cup water and stirred it into the liquid. Then I added back the shredded meat and the biscuits, stirred the mixture, covered the slow cooker and cooked the turkey and dumplings for another hour. The result was fabulous. I guarantee you I would not have gotten such a thick sauce had I not added the flour and water.

Slow Cooker Turkey And Dumplings

One clarifying point – it is extremely important that you mix the flour and water together thoroughly before adding it to the juices. I normally mix flour and water in a glass measuring cup. Once I think I’ve gotten the mixture correct I put my finger in and scrape it along the bottom of the glass. If I can feel any clumps of flour at all I continue mixing until they are all gone. That is very important. You don’t want to wind up with a clump of flour in your gravy.

Lesson Learned 2 – Adding whole garlic cloves to the slow cooker: I discovered that if you add whole garlic cloves at the beginning of the slow cooking process you infuse garlic into your ingredients. And, since slow cooking on average takes 4-6 hours, the garlic literally breaks down into the food so there is no worry of biting into a garlic clove. And if by chance a clove survives, it would be nice and tender, just as if you had roasted it. It’s a great trick to use in a slow cooker.

The VeggiesLesson Learned 3 – Cut large slices of your veggies: Whenever I slow cook I always cut my veggies on the larger side. I find that after cooking for 4-8 hours I’m left with veggies that still have texture and flavor versus veggies that have been completely broken down by the long cooking process.

Lesson Learned 4 – Using refrigerated biscuits for your dumplings: What a great surprise this was. I took butter flavored refrigerator biscuits, flattened them out with the palm of my hand and cut them into slices. I added them during the last hour of cooking and voila, I wound up with dumplings. This is a great trick. Try it!

Refrigerated Biscuits Cut Into Strips

I am really excited about this recipe on a variety of levels. First, it tasted great. Second, it looked great (remember you eat with your eyes first). Third, I experimented with some new techniques and they worked out fabulously. You’ve got to try this one. You will love it!

SLOW COOKER TURKEY AND DUMPLINGS...

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

1 large onion, cut into quarters and separated

4 carrots, cut diagonally in 2 inch slices

2 large garlic cloves, whole

2 large turkey tenderloins

1 can cream of chicken soup

1 can cream of celery soup

1 Tbs. flat leaf parsley, chopped

1 Tbs. poultry seasoning

2 cups chicken stock

1 cup frozen peas

1 can refrigerated biscuits, separated, flattened and cut into slices

2 Tbs. flour

1/8 cup water

Salt and pepper, to taste

Flat leaf parsley for garnish, optional

DIRECTIONS:

Line the bottom of the slow cooker with the onion slices, carrots and garlic. Place the turkey tenderloins on top of the vegetables. Salt and pepper the ingredients.

In a small bowl, combine thoroughly the soups, parsley and poultry season. Spread over the tenderloins. Pour the stock over the top of the tenderloins. Cover and cook on high for 4 hours.

At the 4 hour mark, remove the tenderloins and cover the slow cooker. Shred the tenderloins using two forks. Open the refrigerated biscuits. Flatten each one with the palm of your hand and cut them into slices. (depending on the length of each slice you can also cut the slices once again in half). Mix together thoroughly the flour and water.

Uncover the slow cooker. Pour in the flour/water mixture and stir until combined in the liquid. Add back the shredded turkey and sliced biscuits. Gently stir to break up the biscuits. Cook for another hour on high, adding the frozen peas during the last 15 minutes of the cooking process.

Turkey Tenderloins

Turkey Tenderloins

Gravy Mixture

Gravy Mixture

Cover With Soup Mixture

Cover With Soup Mixture

Slow Cooker Turkey With Dumplings

Slow Cooker Turkey And Dumplings

Serving Suggestion

Serving Suggestion

Crock Pot Turkey And Dumplings

 

Gnocchi Italiano…

I really try to experiment with meals that are quick and preferably only need one pot. This meal fits the bill to a tee. The most difficult part of this meal is the prep, and I’m a prep kinda gal so I enjoy that to the max!

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, we are remodeling our kitchen and this was the first meal I cooked on my brand new stove. I posted a picture of it online and got a ton of oohs and ahhs… one person commented on how beautiful it looked and wondered if that comment was apropos when referring to a stove – well all I can say is of course it is! Here’s my new baby – hello gorgeous!

my new stove

When we moved to a condo, I told my husband I would never move into a place where I could not have a gas stove or cook top. We moved into the model of the development we’re in and of course they had upgraded appliances in the model. The cook top that was is pictured below…

original cooktop

Although the cooktop was sleek looking, I just could not imagine myself cooking on it. Besides not being gas, I couldn’t get over the fact that it looked like I was cooking on Mickey Mouse! We removed it right away. Someone had lived in this condo before. The builder bought it back from the original owners and upgraded it to the model as there were still a few more buildings in the development plan and they needed to be able showcase what one of the units looked like. As part of the sale negotiations we asked the builder to leave the old gas cook top that had been replaced. We used it until we began the process of remodeling and finding our new stove. This is what we used in the interim:

the old cooktop

Our new stove is an LG. What’s interesting about it is the inside is purple.

The inside of the stove

Supposedly this color provides maximum heat transfer as opposed to a dark interior. I’m not sure that is the case, only time will tell. What I am sure of is I cooked two meals on/in it already and it seems to work perfectly. So I am a happy camper!

Now, let’s get back to the recipe. This meal combines ground sweet italian sausage with mini potato gnocchi, fresh mozzarella an your favorite marinara sauce. It couldn’t be simpler but it is oh so good. So let’s talk gnocchi italiano…

sweet italian sausageLesson Learned 1 – I used ground italian sausage but you can also use prosciutto: My husband needs to eat foods that are easy to chew and so I used ground italian sausage. If you choose to use prosciutto, use about 5 thin slices. Add them to the onions once they are translucent and cook them until they are crisp. Then follow the remainder of the recipe as is. I guarantee it will be equally as good.

Lesson Learned 2 – Pay attention to the type of marinara sauce you use: I used a tomato basil sauce. The brand I used was more expensive, but gnocchi and marinara saucewhen I looked at the ingredients they were all natural. There were no names that I couldn’t pronounce. Natural and organic foods are much higher in cost. That is unfortunate as I hate to think about all these chemicals we can put in our bodies every day. But heck, before I was born my mother drank and smoked and I’m still here. I guess the idea is why tempt fate. The better you take care of yourself the better your chances are of living a longer healthier life.

This recipe is pretty straightforward so there’s not many lessons learned to share. Start it off on the stovetop, finish it off in the oven, and enjoy an easy, flavorful meal!

GNOCCHI ITALIANO...

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:
Gnocchi Italiano

Gnocchi Italiano

1 small onion, diced

1 Tbs. basil infused olive oil (can use plain EVOO)

1 pound ground sweet italian sausage

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup tomato basil sauce

1 one pound package potato gnocchi  (I used the mini sized gnocchi)

1 tsp. italian seasoning

1/8 cup grated parmesan

1/4 lb fresh mozzarella, sliced

Sliced green onions for garnish, optional

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 375. In a large oven proof skillet heat the olive oil. Add the onions and cook until translucent. Add the italian sausage and cook through, about 5-7 minutes. Meanwhile, cook gnocchi according to package instructions.

Add the garlic to the cooked italian sausage and let cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Drain the gnocchi and add to the italian sausage mixture. Stir in the tomato basil sauce, italian seasoning and parmesan. Mix well.

Add the mozzarella slices to the top of the mixture. Place the oven proof pan in the oven and cook until the mozzarella has melted and the gnocchi mixture is bubbly, approximately 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and garnish with green onions. Serve immediately.

Add the cooked gnocchi to the sausage mixture

Add cooked gnocchi to the sausage mixture.

Gnocchi, sausage and sauce mixture.

Gnocchi, sausage and sauce mixture.

Add the mozzarella slices.

Add the mozzarella slices.

Ready to serve

Ready to serve

Gnocchi Italiano

Gnocchi Italiano

Grilled Rosemary Garlic Lamb Chops With Roasted Italian Potatoes…

I know I have been remiss in posting recipes. As I’ve stated many times, my goal is one new recipe a week. Well, there is a very good reason that I’ve not been able to keep up. My husband and I downsized and moved from a house to a condo in July. It didn’t take us long to figure out that the look and functionality of the kitchen were not what we wanted. And so it began… shopping for granite, replacing appliances (stove top, microwave, oven and dishwasher – the refrigerator is ok so it may get a reprieve for a while). And now we are in the midst of taking it all apart and putting it back together again. You’ll feel my pain when you look at the picture below.

my torn apart kitchen

The good news is that I’ve lived through these types of remodels before and my husband always does a fabulous job. It was hard for us to move away from the home we lived in for over 15 years but it was a smart move. And once we tried to settle in we knew there were some things  preventing us from feeling like this was home. By making these changes our condo will definitely become our home with the kinds of conveniences and appliances we like.

One last thing about the remodel. The condo had quartz on the island and countertops. Although quartz is nice, we are granite people. We loved the granite that we had in our previous home. It was called Crema Bordeaux. When we went granite shopping we decided to be open to new possibilities. We walked through aisles and aisles of various types of granite. Wouldn’t you know it, we kept coming back to the slab of Crema Bordeaux. We decided not to fight it and went with what we’ve loved for a long time. The slab (which weighs 2 1/2 tons by the way) is pictured below.  The templates for the granite will be drawn at the end of this week with installation to occur right after Thanksgiving. Thank goodness we are going out to dinner on Thanksgiving! We should be up and running for Christmas. After all, there are cookies to be made!

Crema Bordeaux

So, this has been a very long winded way of saying that I’ve had to rely on my grill, built in oven (that will be removed when my gas stove is installed) and microwave to do the heavy lifting for meals.

My preferred way of cooking lamb chops is on the grill so this was a no brainer. With a hot grill you get a great sear and the chops take less time to cook. The potatoes are made in the oven and are so easy to prepare and they taste divine!  So here are a few lessons learned making the lamb chops and potatoes…

Lesson Learned 1 – The longer you can marinate the lamb chops the better. I always use loin chops and I find them meatier and juicier, but you can also use rib chops. I found that I can get between 6 – 8 one inch thick chops at a really great price at either Sam’s Club or Costco.

When buying lamp chops, try to pick ones that have a substantive tenderloin. Obviously, that is the most tender part of the chop. Marinating them overnight is optimum, but you can marinate them for as little as an hour as well.

Marinated Lamb Chops

Lesson Learned 2 – Don’t forget to let the lamb chops rest after you cook them: Lamb like beef needs to rest when your done grilling so that the juices can redistribute. Although they will look divine resist the temptation to cut into them right away. Cover them with foil and let them rest for 5 minutes and you will have tender, juicy chops.

Mint JellyLesson Learned 3 – If you’ve never had it, try some mint jelly with your lamb chops: I was introduced to lamb chops with mint jelly when I was a kid. I was at a friend’s house for dinner and this is what was served. I never had lamb before and didn’t know what to think. At the time I was not all that enamored with the flavor but was afraid to say anything to my friend’s mom so I just said it was fabulous. Because of that, she made lamb with mint jelly every time I came over for dinner. I learned to love it, and now it is one of my all time favorites. Just use a little jelly with a piece of lamb. The flavor combination is to die for!

Lesson Learned 4 – Not all types of potatoes cook at the same rate: I’ve found that if I am roasting yukon gold or red potatoes they take less time to cook than russets. In this recipe I used small yukon gold potatoes and halved them. At 425, these potatoes were fully cooked and beautifully crisped in one hour. They were heavenly.

Roast Italian Potatoes

So, if you want a quick, easy meal without using your stovetop this one’s for you. I roasted some cauliflower florets in the oven with the potatoes (I only roasted them for 1/2 hour) and had a fabulous meal. So try this one and let me know what you think.

Grilled Rosemary Garlic Lamb Chops...

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

8 one inch thick loin lamb chops

4-6 cloves garlic, minced

1 Tbs. fresh rosemary, chopped

Zest of one small lemon

1/4 cup garlic infused olive oil (you can also use plain EVOO)

Salt and Pepper

DIRECTIONS:

Salt and pepper both sides of the chops. In a small bowl, combine garlic, rosemary, lemon zest and olive oil. Put the chops in a bag and pour the marinade over them. Seal the bag and turn it over several times to make sure the chops are coated on both sides. Marinate for at least one hour up to overnight, turning the bag at regular intervals to make sure both sides of the chops are evenly marinated.

Heat your grill to medium high heat (I have a Webber gas grill). Remove the chops from the marinade and sear them for 2 minutes on each side. Lower the temperature of the grill to medium heat and continue to cook for 5 minutes total. This cooking time will give you medium rare chops. Let the chops rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Roasted Italian Potatoes...

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

15 small yukon gold potatoes, halved but not peeled

6 whole cloves of garlic

2 Tbs. dried oregano

1/4 cup basil infused olive oil (you can also use plain EVOO)

Flat leaf parsley for garnish, optional

Salt and pepper

DIRECTIONS:

Cover a large baking sheet with foil and spray the foil with cooking spray. In a large bowl, combine the halved potatoes, whole garlic cloves, oregano and olive oil. Spread the potatoes and garlic cloves on the baking sheet making sure not to crowd the potatoes (they won’t crisp if they’re crowded). Salt and pepper the potatoes.

Roast at 425 for one hour turning the potatoes half way through the roasting time. Serve immediately.

Grilled Rosemary Garlic Lamb Chops

Grilled Rosemary Garlic Lamb Chops With Roasted Italian Potatoes

Skillet Taco Casserole…

I am always amazed at the versatility of a cast iron skillet. I used to think they were just cheap and heavy cookware but now I think they are the best thing out there when it comes to cooking in the kitchen.  And I am always looking for ways to make a one pot meal so when I decide to make one I go first to my trusty cast iron skillet before anything else. There is nothing that compares to using a cast iron skillet when you have a recipe that goes from stovetop to oven. And that is the kind of recipe I am sharing today.

This particular meal is so easy and so tasty you’ll want to keep it in your arsenal of go-to meals. When you don’t have the time or energy to make tacos the traditional way, you can still get that “taco feel” without a lot of major prep. It’s basically everything in one pan. Serve it with a salad and some tortilla chips, or slather it into a soft tortilla shell with some lettuce and jalapeños and it will be a hit!

So let’s talk skillet taco casserole…

Lesson Learned 1 – Get creative with the rice you use: Of course you can always use the old standby white rice. But don’t be afraid to get creative. I used a rice blend of texmati white, brown, wild and red rice for this recipe and found it added great depth of flavor. But you could use basmati rice, paella rice or any short or medium grain rice to this dish. And if all else fails you can even use quick cooking rice. The point is, don’t be afraid to experiment. As long the rice is precooked you’ll be just fine.

Lesson Learned 2 – Don’t forget to add the flour: As I’ve become a little more proficient as a cook I’ve come to learn that flour and corn starch are my best friends. If you want to thicken a sauce or a gravy, you need to use one or the other. And along the way, as I have experimented with both, I’ve wondered what the difference is between the two of them.

Flour Versus Cornstarch – What’s The Difference?

The First Difference – Appearance: Flour makes a gravy opaque and can dull or lighten the   color, while cornstarch (when used properly) yields a clear, shiny sauce.

Sauce Thickened With Flour

Sauce Thickened With Flour

The Second Difference – Flavor: flour needs to be cooked enough to lose its raw flavor; cornstarch doesn’t have much flavor on its own so you don’t need to cook it through. And if you use a cooked flour (such as a long-cooked Cajun-style roux, or roasted flour), you can add a roasty-toasty flavor you can’t get with cornstarch.

The Third Difference – Cooking Time: Flour needs to be cooked to lose its raw flavor and to unleash its thickening powers. Cornstarch needs only a short cooking time to thicken. In fact, if you cook cornstarch too long, it lets go and the sauce thins out again. So if you are anticipating a longer cooking time, stick with flour.

What thickening agent do I prefer? Well the answer it easy –  for me, it’s flour. Although you do need to cook it for about a minute, I find it is easier to work with, doesn’t lose it effectiveness over longer cooking times and it always does a great job of thickening. The only time I prefer cornstarch is when I want clear, shiny sauce.

Ready To Go Into The Oven

Ready To Go Into The Oven

Lesson Learned 3 – Judge how much tomato sauce you need: I bought a small can of tomato sauce and after I poured in some I thought using the whole can might make the dish too runny even with using flour. So I only added about 3/4 of the can. But judge for yourself. If you add the whole can and find it reduces the affect of the flour, just mix a little flour with water (thoroughly) and add it in. The sauce will thicken up again in no time.

And that’s it. The recipe is very easy and you’ll have a great dinner on the table in no time. Enjoy!

SKILLET TACO CASSEROLE...

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

1 Tbs. Garlic Infused Olive Oil (you can substitute EVOO)

1 medium onion, chopped

1 pound 85% lean ground beef

2 Tbs. flour

1 pkg. taco seasoning

1 cup chicken stock

1 small can tomato sauce

3 cups cooked rice

1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded and divided

1 cup Jack cheese, shredded and divided

1/4 cup sour cream

Green onions or flat leaf parsley for garnish (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large cast iron skillet (or any other type of oven proof skillet) on the stove saute the onions, stirring occassionally, until they just begin to caramelize (about 7 minutes). Salt and pepper the onions while sautéing. Move the onions to the side of the pan and add the ground beef, breaking it up with a spoon and spooning the onions on top. Cook until the beef is cooked through. Salt and pepper to taste. Once cooked drain any excess grease out of the pan.

Stir in the taco seasoning and flour and cook for at least 1 minute. Add the chicken stock and tomato sauce. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes.

Stir in the cooked rice, half the cheeses and sour cream. Cooked until combined. Add the remaining cheese to the top of the mixture, put in the oven and bake until cheese is golden brown and bubbly, approximately 15 minutes.

Garnish with sliced green onions or chopped flat leaf parsley and serve.

Skillet Taco Casserole

 Skillet Taco Casserole

Easy Potato Casserole…

Are you a rice or potato person? In my experience you are either one or the other. There is no doubt when it comes to me. I am definitely a potato person. Born and raised on potatoes, I barely had rice until I was an adult. And although I like rice and find it very adaptable in recipes, my starch of choice is and always will be potatoes!

And that it why I am always thinking about new ways of making those spuds. I think this recipe fits the bill of not only being incredibly easy but also incredibly delicious. When I get a, “these potatoes are good” from my husband, I know I’ve hit the jackpot.

Easy Potato CasseroleNow I will admit I made this recipe twice. The first time I tried it I felt the potatoes were not done as well as I would have liked. The first time I used my mandolin slicer and cut the potatoes to 3/16 of an inch. The second time I cut them to 1/8 inch and there was a world of difference in the result.

As I’ve share before, I live in high altitude so recipes often take longer to cook. I cooked this potatoes casserole for 2 hours, 1 hour and 40 minutes covered with foil and the last 20 minutes uncovered. If you’re not at high altitude it will probably only take one and a half hours total.

So let’s talk easy potato casserole…

Lesson Learned 1 – The thickness of the potato slices is very important: As I just mentioned, the potato slices should be even in thickness and not overly thick. I used 1/8 inch slices and the casserole turned out perfectly. The thicker the slice the longer the cooking time. And it’s very important that all slices have a consistent thickness. Otherwise some parts will cook while others won’t. The best way to ensure even slices is to use a mandolin slicer. But be careful when using one. The blades are very sharp and you can easily slice your finger if you are not careful.

Easy Potato CasseroleAlso, remember to slice your potatoes as the very last bit of prep. Potatoes will oxidize (turn brown) when they are left in the open air too long. And in this case you don’t want to soak the potatoes to prevent them from oxidizing. You want the potatoes as dry as they can be. After slicing my potatoes I dried them off with a paper towel to get out as much moisture as I could. You don’t want a soggy potato casserole. So make sure your very last bit of prep is slicing the potatoes. From there you want to begin assembling your casserole layers right away.

Lesson Learned 2 – Use a good smokey thick cut bacon for depth of flavor: If you have a Trader Joe’s near your home, go to meat section and get a package of uncured bacon pieces. These pieces have been a tremendous find for me. Quite often they are from thick cuts and I found their flavor to be much better than the bacon you find in stores in half pound packages. They’re great and convenient when you want to add some bacon pieces to a recipe, much better than the jarred fake kind. If you can’t find them, then I would recommend any thick cut bacon cooked and crumbled into small pieces. The flavor really permeates the potatoes when the bacon is a thicker cut.

This recipe is pretty straightforward so not many lessons learned to share with this one. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of making the potato slices thin. Other than that this recipe is not only delicious, it’s full proof! Enjoy!

EASY POTATO CASSEROLE...

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

2-3 russet potatoes, peeled (if the potatoes are large you will only need 2)

1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded

Easy Potato Casserole1 cup monterey jack or havarti cheese, shredded

4 slices thick cut bacon, cooked and crumbled

1 cup milk

1 large egg, room temperature

2 green onions, diced (include some of the green parts)

Salt and pepper to taste

Fresh flat leaf parsley for garnish

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven 375 degrees. Butter or spray a 9 inch pie pan.

Layer potato slices in the pie pan, slightly overlapping the slices. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle half the cheeses over the potatoes and add half of the crumbled bacon and green onions. Repeat the entire process ending with the top layer being the cheeses.

In a small bowl whisk together the milk and egg. Pour the mixture over the potatoes.

Cover with foil and cook for 1 1/2 – 2 hours. Remove the foil during the last 20 minutes of baking.

Allow the dish to rest for 5 minutes. Serve immediately.

Easy Potato Casserole

 Easy Potato Casserole

Easy Potato Casserole

Easy Potato Casserole

Cinnamon Roll Bread…

I was intrigued by the idea of a cinnamon roll-type bread and who doesn’t love the smell of cinnamon wafting through the house especially on a crisp cool Fall day? I have to admit, though, that I made this recipe twice with two very different ways of adding the cinnamon sugar filling. I definitely discovered my preference which I will share later in the blog.

The first time I did the filling I made it in a more liquid-type consistency combining the cinnamon and sugar mixture with water. The second time I used a stiffer consistency, added brown sugar instead of white sugar and mixed it with room temperature butter and a dash of flour.

Water based cinnamon sugar mixture

Water Based Cinnamon Sugar Mixture

Swirled Mixture

Swirled Mixture

Although both breads turned out perfectly fine, I have to say that I preferred the the butter blend to the water blend and here’s why. I don’t know about you, but every time I use the method of putting some sort of mixture on top of my batter and blending it into the batter with a knife it never gives me the deep kinds of swirls I want. When I used the water-based cinnamon sugar mixture it provided a nice concentration on the top of the bread but in the center it basically just blended with the bread. You could see the cinnamon but not the more distinct type of swirl that I wanted. (the pictures below show the differences between the two – the one on the left is the bread made with the water based cinnamon mixture and the one on the right represents the butter based cinnamon mixture)

Cinnamon Roll BreadCinnamon Roll Bread

The second time I made the bread I used the butter mixture and not only did I swirl it on top but I divided the batter and actually added it to the center as well. The end result was much better and really permeated the batter with the cinnamon sugar swirls as you can see from the picture on the right above. I can’t say that the water based mixture wouldn’t do the same thing as I did not use the divided batter method with it. But I think the consistency of the butter based filling gave more concentrated swirls versus just blending in with the batter. I would recommend the butter mixture but will put both mixtures in the recipe for you to try for yourself.

Butter Based Cinnamon Sugar Mixture

Butter Based Cinnamon Sugar Mixture

Applying The Mixture

Applying The Mixture

Swirled Mixture

Swirled Mixture

So let’s talk cinnamon roll bread…

Lesson Learned 1 – Be careful not to overcook this bread: The batter in this recipe has a very stiff consistency so it is important not to over mix or over bake the bread. If you do you will wind up with a very dry bread. Depending on your oven, I would check this bread about 5 minutes before the minimum baking time just to see how it is doing. It is very easy to over bake this bread.

Lesson Learned 2 – Regardless of what filling type you use, I would divide the batter and put some both in the middle and on the top: Doing it this way you will ensure more dense swirls throughout the bread and not just on top. Keep in mind there is not a lot of sugar in the batter so you want that cinnamon sugar mixture to permeate the bread as much as possible.

Lesson Learned 3 – If using the butter based cinnamon sugar mixture, use most if not all of it: When I first made it I thought, boy, this is a lot of filling. But if you want the richness of a healthy amount of cinnamon throughout the bread use it all, or most of it at least. You will need to eyeball it to determine when you’ve used enough but feel free to err on the side of more versus less. Although it looks like a lot you need a lot to get a generous amount spread throughout the bread.

Lesson Learned 4 – Make the glaze with heavy cream: I don’t know about you but I can taste a significant difference when I make a glaze with heavy cream versus making it with milk. The heavy cream gives the glaze a thicker consistency and mellows out the flavor of the powdered sugar. But if you don’t have heavy cream lying around and only have milk you can certainly use that. I just think it tastes so much better and richer when you use heavy cream.

Lesson Learned 5 – Making glaze is full proof: There is no secret to making glaze. The biggest choice you will make is what consistency you want. Don’t worry if you think your glaze it too thick or too runny. If it is too thick, add a little more cream. If it is too runny, add a little more powdered sugar. It’s just that easy.

What I really like about this recipe is that you don’t need a stand mixture (I used a hand mixer to blend the butter based cinnamon sugar mixture) and in no time flat you have a fabulous sweet bread.

Be sure to let me know your thoughts regarding the cinnamon sugar mixture. Enjoy this great recipe!

CINNAMON ROLL BREAD...

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

Cinnamon Roll BreadBatter:

2 cups flour, sifted

1 Tb. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 cup white sugar

1 large egg, room temperature & lightly beaten

1 cup whole milk

2 tsp. vanilla

1/3 cup sour cream (you can substitute plain greek yogurt)

#1 Swirl Ingredients:

1/3 cup white sugar

2 tsp. cinnamon

2 Tbs. water

OR

#2 Swirl Ingredients:

1/2 cup butter, room temperature

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 Tbs. flour

2 Tbs. cinnamon

Glaze:

1/2 cup powdered sugar

2-3 Tbs. heavy cream (you may need more depending on the consistency desired)

1 tsp. vanilla

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a loaf pan with non-stick cooking spray and set aside.

Prepare the cinnamon sugar mixture (either choice #1 or 2) by combining all of the ingredients. Set aside.

In a large bowl combine the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. In another bowl whisk together the egg, milk, vanilla and sour cream. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir to combine. Be careful not to overmix.

Pour about 1/3 of the batter into the prepared pan. Add half of the cinnamon sugar mixture. With a sharp knife swirl the mixture into the batter. Add the remaining batter and repeat the same process with the cinnamon sugar mixture.

Bake for 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Put the pan on a cooling rack. Take a rounded knife and run it along all of the edges of the pan. Let the bread cool for 15 minutes. Remove the bread from the pan and allow it to cool completely.

Mix together all of the glaze ingredients. Drizzle the glaze over the bread. If you do not serve immediately, cover the bread loosely with foil once the glaze has hardened.

Cinnamon Roll Bread

 

Cinnamon Roll Bread

 Cinnamon Roll Bread

Cinnamon Roll Bread

Cinnamon Roll Bread

Slow Cooker Chicken Stew…

It’s rainy, damp and dreary. The high temperature today will only be in the upper 60’s. Fall is definitely in the air. And when Fall rolls around, my thoughts turn to slow cooker and oven meals. Nothing beats the smell of a great meal permeating the house on a cool, crisp Fall day. So out came the slow cooker and this delicious recipe.

I’m not one for adding canned soup to a slow cooker recipe but I have to admit I was in a hurry so the can of cream of chicken soup was a life saver. There is nothing earth shattering about this recipe. It is basic, simple but very flavorful and it definitely hits the spot on a cool Fall day. And if you’re a novice cook looking to make an impression in the kitchen, this recipe if full proof. The slow cooker does all the work for you. Serve this creamy delight with a side salad and some crusty bread or fresh baked dinner rolls and you’ll have a fabulous meal.

So let’s talk slow cooker chicken stew…

Slow Cooker Chicken StesLesson Learned 1 – Do not overcook this one: So many slow cooker recipes call for 4 hours on high or 6-8 hours on low. And with that rule of thumb, quite often you get bland, overcooked dried out food. Only cook this recipe for a maximum of 6 hours on low. I recommend 5 hours. I cooked mine for 4 1/2 hours on low and the last half hour on high (I will explain why in my next lessons learned).

Get to know your slow cooker and its default temperature settings. Some slow cookers have higher default settings than others. The last thing you want to do is the have this stew boiling for 5 hours. This recipe can be done in as little as 4 hours on low. It depends on how big you cut up your chicken. I cut mine up into 1 1/2 inch cubes and they turned out great in the 5 hour timeframe. If you have smaller pieces, 4 hours will be just fine. Don’t be afraid of that.

Stew SauceLesson Learned 2 – Don’t put all of your vegetables in the slow cooker at the beginning: Get to know your veggies. Some veggies will get annihilated if you put them in at the beginning and cook them for 5 hours. I always put in my carrots (and I cut them chunky) potatoes, onions and celery first. With less hearty vegetables I add them during the last half hour. This time I chose to add green beans, but you can do asparagus or zucchini squash or any vegetable that you want to turn out crisp tender. My green beans turned out a perfect crisp tender which is exactly how I like them. And I only added them during the last half hour of cooking. The key was I turned the slow cooker to high for the last half hour and that did the trick. (NOTE: Put frozen vegetables in during the last half hour as well).img_2623

This recipe admittedly is very basic but can be a show stopper for the novice cook, and after all that is cook I am trying to help. But even if you’re not a novice, this recipe is a great one to have in your back pocket when you need an easy but great tasting meal. Enjoy!

SLOW COOKER CHICKEN STEW...

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: Easy
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Slow Cooker Chicken StewINGREDIENTS:

2-3 boneless skinless chicken breasts cut into large bite sized pieces

1 Tbs. butter, melted

1 large onion cut into large cubes

8-10 small yukon gold potatoes, halved

4 thick carrots peeled and cut into 2 inch logs

1/2 cup diced celery

1 cup fresh string beans, cleaned and trimmed

1 (10 3/4 oz.) can cream of chicken soup

1/2 cup of milk

1/2 cup sour cream

1 packet ranch dressing mix

Salt and pepper to taste

Flat leaf parsley for garnish, optional

DIRECTIONS:

Coat onion, potatoes, celery and carrots with melted butter and place in the bottom of the slow cooker. Add the chicken. Salt and pepper the meat and vegetables.

Mix together the soup, milk, sour cream and ranch dressing mix. Spread evenly on top of the meat and vegetables. Cover the slow cooker and cook on low for 4 1/2 hours. Remove the top of the slow cooker and quickly stir the stew. Add the green beans, cover and cook on high for and additional 1/2 hour.

Serve in a bowl or over fresh baked dinner rolls and with a side salad.

Slow Cooker Chicken Stew

 Slow Cooker Chicken Stew

Homemade Baked Beans…

Labor Day is around the corner. Time for some of those last of the season summer parties. And what’s a summer party without baked beans?

I have to admit, I never made baked beans from scratch before. It was so easy just to open a can and warm it up. But like anything else, when you make something from scratch you control the ingredients, especially the important ones like sugars and salt. Next time you’re in the grocery store pick up a can of baked beans and read the ingredients. You’ll see things like water, sugar, some sort of thickener, salt, acetic acid, citric acid, natural flavors… (what the heck are natural flavors anyway)? And if you look carefully, chances are the salt content is simply off the charts. So anytime you can make something homemade it’s just so much better.

I have to admit I was surprised at how easy these were to make and I controlled what went in them.

Baked Beans

So let’s talk about homemade baked beans…

Lesson Learned 1 – Use thick cut bacon in this recipe: Since the bacon gets cooked a lot in this recipe (once on the stove and then again in the oven) I recommend a thick cut bacon especially if you want it to be clearly visible in the beans. I found a package of bacon pieces at Trader Joes and it was perfect for this recipe. The pieces were all from thick cuts and slabs and there were some pieces that were almost all pork and no fat. I used probably the equivalent of 3-4 slices of bacon in this recipe and it turned out great.

Lesson Learned 2 – Drain and wash one of the cans of beans: Beans in a can are packed in a lot of salt and your baked beans will wind up too salty if you put the liquid in from both cans. It’s best to drain one of the cans of beans and rinse them with water before you add them to everything else.

Lesson Learned 3 – You can choose from a wide variety of beans: I used navy beans in my recipe but you can use Great Northern, cannelloni or white beans as well. Just remember to drain and rinse one can of them.

Lesson Learned 4 – Don’t be afraid to experiment with ingredients: These days when I make something I study several recipes and more often than not concoct a version of my own that I will like. For example, most recipes I found suggested using dark brown sugar, which is really just light brown sugar with added molasses. I didn’t have dark brown sugar but I had light brown sugar and I had molasses. I used that and I think the flavor was richer because of the purity of the ingredients. I also added some liquid smoke to give the beans that bar-b-que smell and flavor. It worked out beautifully.

After I made this recipe I thought I would probably not post it on this site as I wondered who would get excited about something as mundane as baked beans. Well, I posted a picture of them on Facebook and got so much feedback that I felt an obligation to post the recipe. And that’s so me. Sometimes the recipes I think will get the least attention get the most. I hope you enjoy this one!

HOMEMADE BAKED BEANS...

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

Homemade Baked Beans4 slices thick cut bacon in large chunks

1 medium onion, chopped

2 15 ounce cans of navy beans

1/3 cup ketchup

1/3 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed

2 Tbs. dark molasses

1 Tbs. dijon mustard

1 Tbs. apple cider vinegar

2 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce (can add more to taste)

A couple of dashes of liquid smoke (be careful it is potent)

Salt and pepper, to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put the bacon pieces in a large high edged skillet and cook until the bacon is slightly crisped. Add the onions and cooked until slightly caramelized. Add one can of beans with the liquid. Drain and rinse the other can of beans and add to the mixture.

Add the ketchup, brown sugar, molasses, mustard, vinegar, worcesterhsire sauce and liquid smoke. Stir until completely combined and simmer for a couple of minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.

Transfer the mixture to a 1 1/2 quart baking dish. Bake uncovered until thick and bubbly, approximately 50 -60 minutes. Serve warm.

Homemade Baked Beans

Homemade Baked Beans

Whatever You Like Quiche…

Quiche is a great way to clean out your refrigerator. It seems you can add whatever you like to a basic quiche recipe and get a fantastic entree. Whether it be meat, vegetables, herbs or  a combination of any or all of them, you can always come out with a great meal.

I’ve added many things to quiche like broccoli, carrots, peas, spinach, pearl onions, cauliflower, ham, chicken – it just seems the combinations are endless. So last week I looked in my refrigerator and I had some bacon, butternut squash cubes and chives and I thought, ok quiche!

There are a few things you need to think about in order to have a perfect quiche. But it’s not hard and once you figure it out your quiche will turn out perfect every time. I have a full proof recipe for the custard/egg part, it’s the crust and what you add to the filling that you need to think through. So, let’s talk about making quiche…

Beans used for blind baking a pie crustLesson Learned 1 – Whether you use a home made or store bought pie crust you need to blind bake it: Blind baking means you partially bake the pie crust before adding the custard mixture to it. That way the crust does not wind up soggy. The procedure is rather simple. Now I’ve mostly used store bought pie deep dish pie crusts. I take the crust out of the freezer and with a fork make some prick marks all over the bottom and sides of the crust being careful not to stick the fork all the way through the dough. This helps keep the dough from rising too much during the baking process. In order to ensure it stays flat I also cover the crust with parchment paper and weigh down the parchment paper with some uncooked beans I keep in mason jar in the pantry just for this purpose. You can also use pie weights. You can find those in most any store. Whatever you use, make sure the bottom and side are weighted down.

Bake the crust for about 20 minutes and then remove the parchment paper and weights and bake for another 10 – 15 minutes. If you use beans you may see a little moisture on the bottom of the crust after you remove the parchment paper. No worries, the moisture will be gone when you bake the crust for the additional 10-15 minutes. The blind baking process is done when the crust is just starting to turn brown.

If you use a home made crust you should set it up in a pie plate and then put it in the freezer for about 30 minutes before you do the blind baking. You want the dough to be a little stiff when it goes into the oven.

Cooked Butternut SquashLesson Learned 2 – To precook or not precook your ingredients before adding them to the egg/custard mixture: This is where you may have to learn by trial and error. Some ingredients you can just add but others need to either be cooked or partially cooked before you put them in the batter. I mentioned I decided to make a bacon, butternut squash and chive quiche. Bacon needs to be fully cooked, drained and cooled before adding it to the batter. The squash, if cut in small pieces about 1/2 inch square, can be cooked until the edges are just slightly turning soft and then drained and cooled before adding it to the batter. Chives you can just chop and drop in. I cooked the bacon first and then I cooked the squash in the bacon grease until it just started to soften. The result was perfectly cooked squash when the quiche was finished.

Bacon, cooked, drained and cooled

With cauliflower I found that if I cut the florets into bite-sized pieces I can just add them to the batter and I get perfect al dente pieces when the quiche is done. Carrots you will need to cook. I just add frozen pearl onions and they turn our perfectly. If you decide to use diced onion you will need to cook them. Ham is generally precooked so you can just cube it and add it. Spinach should be wilted and drained. Mushrooms should be cooked to release their moisture and drained. So you see, not one size fits all when it comes to adding ingredients to the egg/custard mix. But I know you’ll get the hang of it.  Just remember, you don’t want hot things or a lot of moisture going in to the egg/custard mixture.

Lesson Learned 3 – Let the quiche rest for about five minutes after you take it out of the oven: By doing this you give the custard a change to get a little firmer and the quiche will be easier to cut. Resist the temptation to cut it right away, no matter how great it looks!

Bacon, Butternut Squash and Chive Quiche

BACON, BUTTERNUT SQUASH AND CHIVE QUICHE...

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

1 nine inch frozen deep dish pie crust

2 cups filling ( I used 1 1/2 cups butternut squash, 1/2 cup bacon chopped and  2 Tbs minced chives)

2 cups good melting cheese, grated  (I used jarlsberg)

4 large eggs

1 cup milk

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/2 tsp. salt

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 350. Prick the bottom and sides of the frozen crust with a fork. Cover with parchment paper and weigh down with beans or pie weights. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven, take off the parchment paper and weights and bake the crust for another 10-15 minutes or until it just starts to turn brown. Remove from oven and let cool.

Prepare the filling while blind baking the crust. Cook the bacon until crisp. Drain on paper towels and cut into pieces when cooled. Cut the squash into half inch squares and saute in the bacon grease. Remove the squash when it just starts to soften and drain on paper towels. Mince the chives.

In a large bowl crack 4 eggs and slightly whisk to break the yokes. Add the milk, cream and salt and whisk thoroughly. Add your filling and stir to combine.

Put half the cheese on the bottom of the pie crust. Pour in the filling. Put the other half of the cheese on top of the filling.  Place the dish on a foil lined baking sheet. Bake in the oven at 350 for 40-45 minutes. Let stand for five minutes. Slice and serve.

Bacon, Butternut Squash and Chive Quiche

 Bacon, Butternut Squash and Chive Quiche

Spud Pockets…

A friend of mine, who is a professional chef, once said that when it comes to great recipes the simpler the better. Ain’t that the truth.  Over the course of the past six weeks my husband and I have been in the midst of a sell/buy process, selling our home of 15 years and downsizing to a condo. With downsizing comes a myriad of emotions but in the end it is quite cathartic as well as hugely stressful.

Spud Pocket IngredientsDuring this time I’ve not had the opportunity to uphold my goal of one new recipe a week, but I am back in the swing and will definitely try to post regularly, although I still cannot guarantee once a week. I do promise to get back to my routine, I just can’t determine when as of yet.

So, getting back to simpler is better, as you can imagine during a process like this you resort to very basic and quick meals. Often meals consisted of “eating out” but that gets to be a bit much after a while as well. So my challenge was to try to figure out how to make something fast but not just the same old thing. So I did a little experimentation with this recipe and my husband loved it. So let’s talk spud pockets…

Lesson Learned 1 – Simple is always the best: This recipe couldn’t be any simpler – potatoes, green onion, heavy cream, butter, fresh chopped parsley – that’s it! You could add some smoked paprika for additional color and flavor, but I haven’t unpacked my herbs and spices yet so I had to forgo the paprika. You would not believe how tender and flavorful the potatoes turn out.

spud pocketsLesson Learned 2 – Use whatever kind of potatoes you have on hand: When I went to the grocery store the red potatoes looked fantastic. So instead of using a russet potato I used red potatoes. I liked the fact that the skin added some nice color to the dish as well.

Lesson Learned 3 – Keep the potatoes in the oven longer if you want crispy bottoms: I made these potatoes two days in the row. The first day I kept the potatoes in the oven for 50 minutes, the second day for 65. Keeping them in for 65 minutes gave them a nice crispy bottom. Make sure you spray your foil with cooking spray to help get them out of the foil pocket. Even with the spray you may have to scrape a few out, but that nice crunch on the bottom of the potato is well worth it.

spud pocketsLesson Learned 4 – Use two sheets of foil so the pocket is reinforced: – I took two sheets of foil and placed one sheet on top of the other. Then I put the potato mixture in the center, crimped the two longer ends together and rolled the smaller sides upward. There was no leaking in the oven this way. And the smells that came out of the oven were divine!

Lesson Learned 5 – This is a very economical recipe: One large red potato is more than enough for two people. I happened to have some heavy cream in the refrigerator so I used that. You could use milk or half and half, but the heavy cream really gives more depth of flavor.  One bundle of green onions made four pockets and you only need a small dollop of butter on top of each. I had a small bundle of fresh parsley and I used only about a quarter of it for four servings. A little goes a long way.

I’m telling you this recipe could not be any easier. You just chop the potatoes into half inch cubes, dice the green onions (use the green parts too) and parsley. Combine them all together, put the potatoes on a piece of reinforced foil (I used two sheets of foil), add a dollop of butter, a splash of heavy cream, some salt and pepper and that’s it! If you want a quick recipe that is sure to please, this is the one for you. You can also serve these rustic style right in the foil. Either way this is an easy go-to recipe. Enjoy!

Spud Pockets

SPUD POCKETS...

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

2 large potatoes, cut into 1/2 inch cubes

1 bundle of green onions, chopped

4 Tbs. chopped fresh parsley

8 Tbs. heavy cream, 1-2 per pocket

2 Tbs. butter, 1/2 Tbs. per pocket

Salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

Light sprinkle of smokey paprika per pocket, optional

Olive oil cooking spray

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl combine the cubed potatoes, onions and parsley. Evenly distribute the mixture onto reinforced aluminum foil (two sheets, one on top of the other, per pocket- make sure to spray the foil with cooking spray first). Pull the sides up on the foil. Splash heavy cream over the potatoes. Put a pat of butter over each bundle. Close the foil by taking the large ends together and turning them over on each other to crimp them. Then pull up each smaller side and crimp the foil upward and toward the center of the bundle.

Bake for 45-65 minutes (you will get nice crispy bottoms if you cook them for 65 minutes). Remove the potatoes from the foil packet and serve immediately.

spud pockets

Serving suggestion: Filet of beef with steamed vegetables and spud pockets.

Serving suggestion: Filet of beef with steamed vegetables and spud pockets.

Chicken, Cauliflower and Mushroom Casserole…

Casseroles can be deceptive. On the outside what you see is a one dish meal – couldn’t be easier right? But upon closer inspection you see a wide variety of ingredients that have to be “bake-off” ready in order to assemble the casserole. And if you don’t have those ingredients on hand, there’s a lot of work involved in putting a casserole together.  Just be aware of that, especially if you are prepping ingredients from scratch. Let’s face it, casseroles are basically designed to help you use your leftovers – sort of a “fooled you, you ate this the other night for dinner and here it is again, just dressed up differently!” But whether you are using leftovers or preparing ingredients from scratch there is nothing as comforting as a casserole. And besides, I’d rather be relaxing an hour before the meal than scrambling right up to the last minute before you put the meal on the table. For me, that is the beauty of a casserole.

Casseroles also feed my love of prepping things. So I’ll admit I made this the other day without using any leftovers. This was a from scratch casserole. But if you’re a prep nut like me who gets satisfaction out of chopping, mincing, dicing and slicing than it really is no big deal.

So let’s talk about making a chicken, cauliflower and mushroom casserole…

Casserole IngredientsLesson Learned 1 – Get all the individual ingredients prepped first: This is pretty much a rule of thumb for almost any recipe, but since there are so many different types of ingredients in a casserole I’ve found the best thing to do is to get everything “assembly ready” first. That way you’re much more organized and the casserole assembly process is a breeze. That means have the chicken cut up or shredded, slightly steam the cauliflower, sauté the mushrooms, either use leftover rice or cook your rice, and shred all of your cheeses.

And by the way, it is always better to shred your own cheese. Packaged pre shredded cheese has an “ingredient” in it, cellulose, designed to keep the shreds of cheese from sticking together. And guess what – cellulose is made from wood pulp. So unless you want to have a regular amount of wood pulp in your diet, I’d recommend shredding your cheese by hand. It’s not that hard and obviously healthier for you.

Lesson Learned 2 – A chicken casserole’s best friend – store bought rotisserie chicken: You can always roast the chicken you need ahead of time in your own oven, but it’s so much simpler just to buy store bought rotisserie chicken and use that. I bought a small chicken, removed and discarded the skin and shredded the meat. It saved a lot of time and believe me, no one knew the difference.

Lesson Learned 3 – Use any melting cheese you have on hand: I had gruyere and havarti on hand so I just combined those two for this casserole. To top the casserole I found a specialty cheese called buffalo wing artisan cheddar cheese. That cheese was great because it had a nice kick to it and added a unique flavor to the top of the casserole. Really, you can be inventive with your cheeses. You just want to make sure that whatever cheese(s) you use it is good melting cheese.

Lesson Learned 4 – Just slightly steam the cauliflower: I steamed mine for about 5 minutes. Really all you want is for them to just show the first signs of cooking. Remove them from the heat. No need to shock them. Just don’t feel that you have to steam them for a long time. All you really need to do is give them a little nudge.

Lesson Learned 5 – Once everything thing is prepped, assembly is a snap: Here is what the assembly looks like in pictures.

Line the bottom of a pan treated with non stick cooking spray with rice

Line the bottom of a pan treated with non stick cooking spray with rice

Put the cauliflower florets on top of the rice

Put the cauliflower florets on top of the rice

Spread the chicken mixture on top of the rice and cauliflower

Spread the chicken mixture on top of the rice and cauliflower

Spread chicken mixture over the rice and cauliflower

Top with cheese

Top with cheese and pop into the oven

And there you have it. Forty-five minutes to an hour later you will be in casserole heaven. So try this one, play with the ingredients and as always let me know what you think…

CHICKEN, CAULIFLOWER AND MUSHROOM CASSEROLE

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

1  Four pound rotisserie chicken, skin removed, cubed or shredded

1 small head of cauliflower cut into florets and slightly steamed (4 cups of florets)

8 large cremini mushrooms, sliced and sautéed in 1 Tbs. of  butter

1 1/2 cups cooked rice (cooked in low sodium chicken broth for additional flavor)

1 ten ounce can of condensed cream of mushroom soup

1 cup of sour cream

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice

2 1/2 cups shredded melting cheese (I used a combination of havarti and gruyere)

1 – 1 1/2 cups shredded buffalo wing artisan cheddar cheese (for the top)

Salt and pepper, to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 6 quart casserole dish with butter or spray it with cooking spray. Line the bottom of the dish with the cooked rice. Arrange the cauliflower florets on top of the rice.

In a large bowl combine the chicken, sautéed mushrooms, havarti and gruyere cheeses, sour cream, mayonnaise and lemon juice. Salt and pepper to taste.

Spread the chicken mixture on top of the rice and cauliflower. Cover the casserole with the buffalo wing cheddar cheese.

Bake in the oven for 45 minutes. If need be, cook up to an additional 15 minutes longer. Casserole is done when the cheese on top is melted and the casserole is bubbly. Remove the casserole from the oven and let it stand for 5 minutes before serving.

Chicken, cauliflower mushroom casserole

Chicken, cauliflower and mushroom casserole

Chicken, cauliflower and mushroom casserole

Chicken, Cauliflower and Mushroom Casserole

 

 

Baked Honey Mustard Salmon…

Once again I apologize to my readers and subscribers. I’m in the process of moving and have not been able to devote the time I would like to my goal of one new recipe a week. Hopefully within another month I will be back on track. Until then, I will publish when I can.

Today I want to write about honey mustard salmon. I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ll eat just about anything that’s honey mustard. To me that combination of flavors is second to none. I’ve often made chicken with it. So why not try marinating and baking one of my favorite types of fish, salmon, in a honey mustard sauce.

I like flavorful and simple recipes. I truly believe that the more simple the ingredients the better. This particular recipe fits that mold. One of my most popular posts these days is my recipe for Pan Fried Cod In Lemon Butter Sauce. I bet this one will become a reader favorite as well.

So let’s talk baked honey mustard salmon…

Remove the skin from the salmonLesson Learned 1 – Cut the skin off the back of the salmon: Salmon has a very thick skin that will prevent the marinade from completely permeating the filet. You need to remove it to get the best results. Because the skin is so thick it can be easily removed but you’ll need a very sharp knife to do the job. Don’t try removing the skin with a dull knife. You’ll wind up getting very frustrated and could potentially hurt yourself. Remember most knife accidents occur because of dull knives. Sharp knives are actually much safer to use and cause less kitchen accidents.

Honey Mustard MarinadeLesson Learned 2 – It’s best if you can marinate your fish for at least 3 hours: Although you can marinate this fish for a minimum of 30 minutes, I found that the honey mustard is better absorbed by the salmon the longer you marinate it. So if you can marinate the salmon for 3 hours.

Mix the marinade in a small bowl. Then take a gallon sized plastic bag, place the salmon filets in the bag and pour the marinade over the fish. Seal the bag, place it on a small plate and refrigerate. REMEMBER to turn the bag over several times while it’s in the refrigerator to insure the fish gets uniformly coated on both sides.

Marinate Salmon In A Plastic Bag

Lesson Learned 3 – Prepare your baking dish so that the salmon doesn’t stick to it: Keep in mind that this marinade contains honey and some of it will get dark and thicken during the baking process. If you ever tried to remove baked on honey from a baking dish you know how difficult it can be. That’s why it is so important to pretreat your pan. I usually line the pan with foil and then spray the foil lightly with olive oil cooking spray. That way the fish will lift off the pan without any trouble.

Let the salmon bake in the marinadeLesson Learned 4 – Use the marinade as a baking sauce: Once you put the filets on the baking sheet, cover them with the marinade. That way the marinade becomes a delicious sauce you can spoon over your filets before serving them. DO NOT use the marinade as a sauce directly out of the bag since it has been sitting over raw fish. But if you spoon that marinade over the filets and let it bake in the oven with the salmon, it thickens beautifully and becomes a safe and great sauce.

Don’t be afraid of making fish. The key is not to overcook fish. Follow this recipe cooking time to the letter and I guarantee you will have wonderfully moist and flavorful salmon filets. And as alway, why don’t you try this and tell me what you think…

BAKED HONEY MUSTARD SALMON

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

4 six ounce salmon filetsHoney Mustard Salmon

4 cloves garlic, chopped

6 tsp. dijon mustard

6 Tbs. honey

4 Tbs. dry white wine (I use Chardonnay)

1 small pinch of salt

1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper (you can use a little less if desired)

Chopped chives for garnish, optional

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. If the salmon filets have skin, remove the skin and set aside. Whisk together the garlic, mustard, honey, wine, salt and pepper until smooth. Place the salmon filets in a gallon size plastic bag. Pour the marinade over the filets and seal the bag. Massage the bag with your fingers to make sure all of the filets are covered. Place the bag on a small plate and refrigerate for up to 3 hours (30 minutes minimum), remembering to turn the bag over in the fridge every once in a while during the marinating process.

Prepare a baking pan by lining it with foil and lightly spraying the foil with olive oil cooking spray. Place the filets on the baking sheet and pour the marinade over the filets. Bake for 12 – 15 minutes. Plate the salmon. Pour any of the remaining sauce (baked marinade) over the filets. Garnish with chopped chives and serve.

Baked Honey Mustard Salmon

Serving suggestion: salmon with southwestern rice and oven roasted butternut squash

Serving suggestion: salmon with southwestern rice and oven roasted butternut squash

Honey Mustard Salmon