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By learning about basic ingredients and how to use them, you can create simple, quick and delicious meals your family will love!!

Monday, February 24, 2014

English Muffin Bread

This is an old recipe that I found in my Grandmother's cookbook and I've wanted to try it for a long time.  And what better time to make some homemade bread than on a dark and rainy weekend.  With such a short list of ingredients this is also a great baking project for kids.  They will love the smell of fresh baked bread!

This bread gives you a nice crunchy exterior, just like an English muffin, with a light, moist interior, which makes it an ideal bread for jam or marmalade.  I tried this with my favorite blackberry jam and it was heavenly.  The only thing it needed was a cup of tea to go with it.

This recipe was really easy to make and the prep time only took about 5 minutes.  After that the bread needs to rest for an hour or so, then 25 minutes in the oven and you have 2 loaves of warm bread ready to serve.  The bread has a solid texture that is also great toasted.

1 cup  1% Milk
1 cup  Half and Half
1/2 cup  Water
5-3/4 cups  Flour, divided
2  .25 oz pkgs  Active Dry Yeast
1 TB  Sugar
1 tsp  Salt
1/4 tsp  Baking Soda

Grease 2 - 9 X 5 inch loaf pans with butter then dust lightly with the cornmeal; set aside.

In a small saucepan, heat the milk, half and half and water over medium heat until very warm but not boiling.

Combine 3 cups of flour, yeast, sugar, salt and baking soda in a large bowl.  (A stand mixer with a dough hook works great.)

Add the warm milk and water to the flour mixture and beat well.  Stir in the remaining flour to make a stiff batter. (If the batter is too sticky, add one or two tablespoons of flour, as needed.)  Spoon the batter into the prepared pans, sprinkle the tops of the batter lightly with cornmeal, cover with plastic wrap, place a light towel over the top and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Bake the bread for 25 minutes, then remove loaves from the pans and cool on a wire rack.  Store in an airtight container.  Bread freezes well for up to 60 days.  Enjoy!!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Chocolate Cookies with Peppermint Chips

I have a bit of an obsession with homemade cookies.  I love finding new ways to make cookies that are a little bit different and not just an ordinary cookie.  Granted, our Jumbo Oatmeal Cookies are pretty outstanding for a basic cookie, but sometimes I like to make WOW cookies. And what could be better than chocolate with peppermint?

Yes, it's easier to just grab a package of store bought cookie and your kids will certainly eat them, but cookies made from scratch are just so much better.  And if you bake from scratch, you know your kids aren't eating a bunch of preservatives.  What kind of weird chemicals do companies put into a cookie so it can sit on the store shelf for 6 months or a year without spoiling? I think I'll pass, thank you.

So for this week's cookie surprise, we made a rich Chocolate Cookie with Peppermint Chips.  I found a package of these tiny peppermint baking chips at Target and they worked so well in this recipe, that I went back to the store to buy a few more.  If you are lucky enough to find a few packages of Andes Peppermint Crunch baking chips at your local market, scoop them up without hesitation!  These little chips have so many uses and I can't wait to experiment with them in a few more recipes.  They have a slight creamy texture with this bright peppermint flavor.  Here is a picture of the package so you can be on the lookout for the chips.  I'm not sure if these are just a seasonal item or not but I'm hoping these will be available year round.

The chocolate cookie recipe I used is the base recipe for our Triple Chocolate Cookies with Peanut Butter Filling.  We added the 5 ounces of peppermint chips to the dough (using half of the bag was plenty so you'll have enough for 2 batches) along with the milk chocolate chips.  The classic chocolate and peppermint flavor was so good and not overly sweet, and goes great with a cup of coffee or cocoa.  This is a great tasting homemade cookie that would be something unique to take to your next potluck or school function, and I hope you get a chance to try them.  Enjoy!!

1 cup  Flour
1/2 cup  Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
1/2 tsp  Baking Soda
1/4 tsp  Salt
4 oz  Unsweetened Chocolate, chopped
1 stick (4 oz)  Unsalted Butter
1-1/2 cups  Sugar
1 tsp  Vanilla Extract
2  Large Eggs, beaten
4 oz  Milk Chocolate Chips
5 oz  Andes Peppermint Crunch Baking Chips

Preheat oven to 325.  Line 3 baking sheets with parchment paper or baking sheet liners and set aside.

In a medium bowl combine the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt; set aside.

In a medium saucepan, melt the unsweetened chocolate and the butter over low heat, stirring frequently.  Scrape the melted chocolate into a bowl to cool.  Stir in the sugar and vanilla and blend.  Stir in the eggs, followed by the flour mixture and blend until you have a smooth dough, then fold in the milk chocolate chips and peppermint chips.

Drop the dough by rounded teaspoons, about 2 inches apart, onto the prepared baking sheets.  Flatten the cookies slightly and bake for 13 - 14 minutes or until the cookies are firm outside and just a bit soft in the center.  Transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Chipotle Gouda Mac and Cheese

Is it ever going to be Spring?  Although it's warmed up a little here in Florida, this has been one chilly Winter, and I'm ready for it to be over.

Since it still feels bit like Winter we wanted a little comfort food for dinner tonight.  We started with a couple of grilled New York Strip steaks, and mac and cheese sounded like just the right thing to compliment the steaks.  But what kind of mac and cheese?  Something with lots of flavor and maybe a little kick of heat to go along with the steaks sounded great.

A while back we made a Penne Pasta with Gouda and Prosciutto that was delicious, but tonight we wanted something a bit different.  So, when I found this Chipotle Gouda Cheese from Boar's Head, I knew this was going to be good.

Gouda is very easy to shred on a grater and it melts almost instantly.  Combining the Gouda with a little montery jack was the perfect amount of spice and flavor I was looking for, and adding the poblano gave the pasta a little extra boost of flavor without a lot of heat.  This was perfect because the Chipotle Gouda has a nice amount of heat on its own and I wanted that chipotle to come across in the sauce.  A sprinkle of panko and Parmesan on top adds just a little crunch to the creamy sauce and a couple of minutes under the broiler will brown the top to perfection.


This recipe is super easy and takes less than 30 minutes to prepare.  If you want to make a really special pasta dish, skip the box of mac and cheese with the packet of orange powder and make this instead.  You will never want the packaged stuff again!  Enjoy!!

1 TB  Salted Butter
1  Poblano Pepper, seeds removed, diced
2 cups  Half and Half
12 oz  Shell Pasta, or other shape
1 tsp  Kosher Salt
1/2 tsp White Pepper
8 oz  Chipotle Gouda Cheese, shredded
4 oz  Monterey Jack Cheese, shredded
3 TB   Grated Parmesan Cheese
3 TB  Panko Bread Crumbs

Place 1 quart of water in a large pot and bring to a low boil.

In a large deep ovenproof skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat.  Add the diced peppers and saute for 4 minutes until tender.

Dip 2-1/2 cups of water from the pot and pour into the skillet, along with the half and half, salt and pepper and bring to a simmer.  Add the pasta and boil for 10 minutes if using the shell pasta (maybe a few minutes less for smaller pasta) or until the pasta is just al dente.

Reduce heat to medium-low and add both shredded cheeses to the skillet and stir to combine.  If the mixture is a little too thick, add about 1/4 cup of hot water to the pasta and stir.

In a small bowl combine the Parmesan cheese and panko crumbs and sprinkle the mixture over the pasta.  Place the skillet under the broiler for 3 to 4 minutes or until the top is golden and serve immediately.   Makes 6 - 8 servings.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Whiskey-Cider Pork Chops

Whiskey.  Hard cider.  Thick juicy pork chops.  Do I have your attention?  lol  Nothing tastes better than a perfectly cooked pork chop but with this recipe, your taste buds are in for a treat.  With a little bourbon and some hard cider left over from the holidays we decided to combine the two and, in the process, discovered they make a pretty great sauce.

These juicy pork chops develop their first layer of flavor while they rest in a marinade of whiskey, hard apple cider, brown sugar, vinegar and mustard.  After a few hours, the chops are ready to be browned until the edges are nicely seared.  Then it's time for the next layer of flavor, the glaze.  By simmering the marinade, the whiskey and cider reduce and combine with the brown sugar to create this beautiful shiny glaze for the chops.

When cooking thick pork chops like these you want to make sure that the chops are cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees.  Cooking to this temperature still allows you to have a slightly pink center in the chops, and it also helps retain all of those delicious pork juices.

This meal was delicious served with simple roasted red potatoes, and a little sauce on the potatoes was quite tasty, too.  Prep time for this recipe is pretty quick.  Once the chops have been in the marinade for a few hours, the actual cooking time is only about 25 minutes.  Enjoy!!

1/2 cup  Jim Beam Bourbon
1/2 cup  Angry Orchard Traditional Hard Cider
2 TB  Brown Sugar, packed
2 tsp  Cider Vinegar
1 TB  Dijon Mustard
1/2 tsp  Vanilla Extract
5 or 6  Center Cut Pork Chops, about 1-inch thick
2 tsp  Olive Oil
Salt and Ground Black Pepper
1 TB  Unsalted Butter

In a small bowl combine the whiskey, cider, sugar, vinegar, mustard and vanilla and stir until blended.  Pour 1/4 cup of the marinade into a large ziplock bag, add the chops, and seal the bag, pressing out any excess air.  Refrigerate for 2 to 3 hours, turning several times.  Reserve remaining marinade.

Remove the chops from the bag and drain on paper towels, then discard the marinade from the bag.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering.  Season the chops with salt and pepper, place in the skillet and cook until seared on both sides but still slightly pink in the center.  Transfer the chops to a plate, cover with foil and set aside.

Add the reserved marinade to the skillet and bring the mixture to a boil.  Cook until reduced and thickened, about 5 minutes, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.  Reduce heat to medium-low and pour any accumulated juices from the plate back into the skillet.  Whisk in the butter and simmer until the butter is melted and the glaze is thick and shiny.

Remove the pan from the heat and return the chops to the skillet.  Cover the pan and let the chops rest for 5 minutes.  Transfer the chops to plates, slice and serve with a spoonful of sauce over the chops.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Lime-Pepper Seared Tuna

This was our second recipe tonight using fresh tuna steaks and I loved the results.  This Lime-Pepper Seared Tuna lets the taste of the tuna shine through while adding a fresh citrus and peppery flavor. I am a huge fan of anything citrus so this recipe was an instant favorite for me.  The other recipe we made, Tuna Steak with Tapenade Coating, was also delicious and you can find it HERE.

If you've never cooked fresh tuna before it's very easy, but the one thing you don't want to do is overcook the steaks, which makes the fish dry and tough.  By cooking to a rare or medium-rare finish, the fish is moist and buttery inside, while the outside coating delivers an extra boost of flavor.  If you are a fan of sushi, you are going to love this tuna.

The simplest way to cook tuna is with a coating of kosher salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper.  Plain and simple, yes, but this allows you to really taste the fish.  With this recipe you get the simplicity of salt, pepper and lime with the added nutty flavor and a bit of crunch from black sesame seeds.  (The sesame seeds can be found in the Asian section at most grocery stores.)

For this recipe we used a single tuna steak that was about 3/4 of a pound, but you can also use use smaller fillets.  By using the one steak it was easy to achieve that nice rare center and we just sliced the steak into portions so everyone could try both recipes.  There will be enough coating in this for 1 pound of tuna.

3/4 to 1 lb  Fresh Tuna Steaks (keep the tuna chilled until ready to cook)
Zest of 1 Lime  (cut the remaining lime into wedges and serve on the side)
1 tsp  Dried Thyme
3/4 tsp  Freshly Ground Black Pepper
1/2 tsp  Kosher Salt
1 TB  Black Sesame Seeds
2 tsp  Olive Oil
Olive oil for Frying

In a small bowl combine the lime zest, thyme, pepper, salt, sesame seeds and 2 teaspoons olive oil and stir to blend.

Rinse the tuna steaks and pat dry with paper towels.  Set aside.

Heat a medium skillet over medium-high heat and add a swirl of olive oil to the pan. Once the oil begins to heat, rub the coating mixture onto both sides and the edges of the tuna steaks, lightly pressing the mixture into the fish.  Place the fillets in the skillet and cook for 1 -1/2 to 2 minutes or until cooked about 1-1/4-inch through.  Turn the fish over and cook for another 1-1/2 to 2 minutes.  (The cook times will depend on the thickness of the fish.  For thicker fillets go with the 2 minutes per side.)

Serve immediately with baked clam shells and lime wedges on the side.  Enjoy!!

Tuna Steaks with Tapenade Coating

One of the benefits of living near the ocean is having access to fresh seafood.  The prices are sometimes a little high, but you're also buying fish and shellfish that was plucked out of the ocean within the last 24 to 48 hours.  That's fresh!  Today we found a great bargain on some beautiful tuna steaks and I couldn't wait to cook with them.

With a family of 5, we all have different tastes and our own favorite seasonings, so for a little variety, we went with two tuna recipes.  Since the tuna only needs to sear for a few minutes, cooking two pans of tuna was easy and everyone tried both versions before choosing their favorite.  Click HERE to see our second recipe, a citrusy Lime-Pepper Seared Tuna.  It is amazing also!

This recipe was my first choice when deciding how to prepare these gorgeous tuna steaks, and it's  from Jacques Pepin's cookbook, Essential Pepin.  Since my family always loves tapenade, I knew this would be a hit.

Classic tapenade is a combination of olives, garlic, anchovies and capers, all chopped and blended together into a chunky or smooth paste.  We did increase the ingredients slightly in order to have a bit of extra tapenade for leftovers.  It makes a great appetizer when served on crackers or sliced baguettes.  The tapenade is super easy to make with just a few ingredients, and would also be tasty with other varieties of fish such as salmon or even cod, which I can't wait to try.

1/3 cup  Kalamata Olives
1/3 cup  Black Olives
3 TB  Capers, drained
3  Anchovy Fillets
2 TB  Minced Garlic
2 TB  Olive Oil

Combine all 6 ingredients in a small food processor and blend until you have a chunky paste.  You can also puree it until smooth, if desired.  Set aside.

Once you have the tapenade prepared you are ready to make your tuna.  To gauge your portions for this recipe, I used one large tuna steak, about 3/4 pound, and prepared this steak with the tapenade mixture.  The second steak was the same size and it was used for the Lime-Pepper Seared Tuna recipe.  The two steaks together, about 1-1/2 pounds, were plenty for 5 servings.  We just sliced each steak and them served family style, which gave everyone a chance to sample both recipes.

3/4 to 1  lb  Yellowfin Tuna Steaks, about 1 inch thick (one steak or smaller portions work fine)
1 TB  Olive Oil
Kosher Salt and Ground Black Pepper

Spoon the tapenade mixture onto the tuna steaks.  Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat until hot.  Place the steaks tapenade side down in the skillet, then sprinkle the top with salt and pepper.  Cover and cook for about 2 to 3 minutes (depending on the thickness of the tuna), or until the tuna has cooked about 1/4-inch.

Carefully turn the tuna over, cover and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes.  (Again, this will depend on the tuna thickness and how you like your tuna cooked.)  At this point you can place the skillet in a warm oven (160 - 200 degrees) for 5 to 10 minutes to finish cooking, but if you like your tuna more on the rare side like we do, I simply covered the skillet, turned off the heat and let the tuna finish cooking for 5 minutes longer.  This produced a beautiful rare to medium-rare tuna.  Serve with baked clam shells, crackers and extra tapenade on the side.  Enjoy!!