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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!!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Tuscan Peperoncini Chicken with Mushrooms

Peperoncini peppers are a great addition to sandwiches, salads or even pizza, and they are a must for any antipasto platter.  The peppers are not overly hot or spicy, but have a mild flavor and a slight crunch. With those things in mind, I've always wanted to incorporate them into a main entree, and the results were excellent.

We wanted to keep the meal light so we started with boneless and skinless chicken breasts.  By slicing the chicken in half horizontally you get 6 equal portions that will cook quickly, in just a few teaspoons of olive oil.

Next we added lots of veggies.  Onions, green peppers, mushrooms and garlic were cooked until tender, then seasoned with a generous amount of Italian spices, which gives the sauce its rustic flavor.  Next, the peperoncini peppers are added with a little white wine for acidity.   The sauce is completed with a mixture of cornstarch and chicken broth which thickens the sauce just a touch, without making the sauce too thick.  The combination of thyme, oregano and the peppers add a remarkable amount of flavor to this dish while keeping the whole meal light.

We used 8 whole peperoncini peppers for this recipe but add more or less to suit your own taste.  You could also use red or yellow peppers if you have those on hand.  The chicken and veggies were served with a spoonful of sauce over vermicelli noodles, but any type of pasta would work.  Requiring just 30 minutes to prepare, this makes a quick weeknight meal that your family will love.   As a bonus, if you have any leftovers they make a great cold lunch.  Just cut leftover chicken into bite sized pieces, add a serving of pasta and a few spoonfuls of sauce and lunch is ready.   Enjoy!!

3 large  Boneless and Skinless Chicken Breasts (about 1-1/2 lbs)
2 tsp  Olive Oil
1 large  Yellow Onion, sliced
1 large  Green Pepper, sliced
8 oz  Portobello Mushrooms, cleaned and quartered
1 TB  Minced Garlic
8 (or more)  Peperoncini Peppers, coarsely chopped
2 tsp  Dried Oregano, crushed
1 tsp  Dried Thyme, crushed
1 tsp  Salt
1 tsp  Ground Black Pepper
3/4 cup  White Wine
2 TB  Cornstarch
2 cups  Chicken Broth
Cooked Pasta of Your Choice

Lay the chicken on a cutting board and slice each piece horizontally so you have 6 equal portion of chicken.

In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat.  Season the chicken with salt and pepper, add the chicken to the skillet and brown for 3 or 4 minutes on each side until the meat is just cooked through.  Transfer the chicken to a platter and cover with foil to keep warm.

In the same skillet saute the onions, green pepper, mushrooms and garlic until soft, about 5 minutes.  Add the peperoncini peppers, oregano, thyme, salt and pepper to the pan and stir.  Add the white wine to the pan and bring the mixture to a low boil.

In a small bowl combine the cornstarch and chicken broth stirring until smooth.  Add the mixture to the skillet and cook until the sauce thickens slightly and comes to a low boil.  Add the chicken and any accumulated juices back to the skillet and heat 5 minutes or until warm.

Serve over vermicelli or angel hair pasta with a sprinkle of red pepper flakes if you like a bit of extra heat.  Enjoy!!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Fish-Potato Fritters with Garlic Aioli

Whether sweet or savory, I don't think anything could be more of a comfort food than a fritter.  A basic fritter is a small, deep-fried cake made by combining chopped foods, such as corn, crab, or shrimp with a thick batter.  For this recipe we used swai fish fillets as the main ingredient and mashed Yukon Gold potatoes as a base for the batter.  With a little seasoning we had the perfect flavor for our fritters.  You can also experiment with the seasonings in this recipe and add more spice to your liking.  (A dash of cayenne pepper, some chopped jalapeno peppers or a dash of Tabasco will add a nice bit of heat to the batter.)

The fritters are very easy to make.  After poaching the fillets in milk and preparing the mashed potatoes, the two are combined and seasoned, then chilled until you are ready to make the fritters. Then it's just a few minutes to fry them until golden brown.

The fritters would make a nice side dish in place of traditional potatoes but we served them as a main dish with a batch of  7 Day Slaw, a simple tarter sauce and an amazingly wicked Garlic Aioli for dipping.  If you are a garlic lover, the aioli makes these fritters even better.  The  fritters are very kid-friendly, so if you're trying to get your kids to eat more fish, this is a great recipe to try.  Enjoy!!

5 medium  Fish Fillets, (swai, catfish, or any flaky whitefish will work)
1/2 cup  Milk
1/4 tsp  Lemon-Dill Seasoning
5 medium  Yukon Gold Potatoes, peeled and quartered
2  Eggs
1 tsp  Dried Onion
1 tsp  Fresh Minced Chives (optional)
1/2 tsp  Kosher Salt
1/2 tsp  Ground Black Pepper
3 to 4 TB  Flour
Oil for Frying

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

In a medium pot, cover potatoes with water, add 2 teaspoons of salt and boil for 10 - 15 minutes or until tender.  Drain the cooked potatoes, making sure you get all of the water drained off.  Mash the potatoes in the pan and set aside.

Place the fish in a glass baking pan, cover with the milk and sprinkle with the lemon-dill seasoning.  Bake for 15 minutes or until the fish flakes with a fork.

Drain the fillets thoroughly and flake the fish apart with a fork, placing the fish in a medium bowl.  Add the mashed potatoes, eggs, dried onion, chives, salt and pepper to the mixture and stir to combine.  Add 3 tablespoon of flour to the mixture and stir.  The mixture should be a fairly thick consistency, so if you need more flour add the extra tablespoon.

At this point you can either chill the entire bowl of fish-potato mixture for 20 minutes and then make the fritters while you are cooking them, or you can pre-shape the fritters, making heaping tablespoon sized fritters, then placing them on a baking sheet and chilling the whole batch until ready to make the fritters.  (I've tried both ways and they work equally well.)

When you are ready to make the fritters, place a large heavy pot over medium-high heat and pour enough oil into the pot so the oil is about 2-1/2 inches deep.  When the oil is hot, around 360 degrees, fry the fritters a few at a time until golden brown and crispy, about 6 - 7 minutes.  Drain the fritters on paper towels, then serve with tarter sauce and Garlic Aioli.

Garlic Aioli

2 - 3  Garlic Cloves, peeled and chopped
1  Egg
1 TB  Lemon Juice
1 tsp  Fresh Parsley or Chives, chopped (optional)
1/2 tsp  Salt
Pinch of Black Pepper
1/2 cup  Olive Oil

Combine garlic, egg, lemon juice, parsley or chives (if using), salt and pepper in a food processor and puree until smooth.  Continue to puree the mixture and slowly add the olive oil in a steady stream until you have a mayonnaise-thick sauce.  Serve as a dipping sauce with the fritters or makes a great dip for veggies.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Maple-Bourbon Ice Cream with Walnut Brittle

We've had some fun using our electric ice cream maker in the past making Vanilla Ice Cream with Oreos and even Guinness Ice Cream, which were both delicious.  But today we went with a very adult dessert in the form of Maple-Bourbon Ice Cream with a piece of old fashioned Walnut Brittle on top to give the dessert a little crunch.  This creation could be served to your most sophisticated guests but would be also be great served after a more casual grilled steak dinner.

The ice cream itself is rich and creamy and has that distinctive bourbon flavor, but also the rustic taste of maple syrup. Be sure to use pure maple syrup for this recipe and not pancake syrup, which is loaded with flavorings and sugar.  You need that pure maple flavor to really enhance the bourbon.

We wanted something small and crunchy to top off this ice cream but we didn't want to use a cookie, so I went in search of something a bit different.  Then I thought how cool a piece of crunchy peanut brittle would be on top, and maybe instead of peanuts I could use walnuts. Hmm.  Now I was on to something.

Making brittle from scratch was something I'd never tried, mainly because I've always had this slight fear of candy thermometers.  So I decided to give brittle a try and I'm so glad I did.  The brittle came out of the pan as this boiling, gooey, shiny lava, and after a few minutes it turned into crispy and crunchy brittle that looked like it came from a candy store.  So awesome.

The ice cream and brittle can be made a day or two early so this is a great dessert to serve guests since all of the work can be done before your company arrives. Serving small dishes of this ice cream,  each with a wedge of brittle and a few extra crumbles around the edges, this recipe will make about 10 - 12 servings.  Enjoy!!

Maple-Bourbon Ice Cream

1-1/2 cups  Whole Milk
2 cups  Heavy Cream
1/4 cup  Sugar
1/8 tsp  Salt
7  Egg Yolks
1 cup  Pure Maple Syrup
4 TB  Bourbon

In a medium saucepan combine the whole milk, cream, sugar and salt and warm the mixture over medium heat.

In a medium glass bowl, whisk the egg yolks and set aside.

When the milk mixture is hot, but not boiling, slowly pour one cup of the mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly while adding the milk mixture.  (This will temper the yolks and slowly warm the temperature without the yolks ending up as scrambled eggs.)  Pour the egg mixture back into the saucepan with the milk and cook over medium-low heat while stirring constantly.  Do not boil the mixture, but cook until the mixture thickens slightly and coats the back of a spoon.

Remove the saucepan from the heat and allow to cool for 30 - 45 minutes or until no longer hot to the touch.  (You can also pour the mixture into a bowl to allow it to cool faster.)  When the mixture is cool add the maple syrup and bourbon and stir, then allow to cool completely.

Pour the cooled mixture into an ice cream maker and churn according to manufacturers instructions. (This took about 25 minutes for our machine.)  Transfer ice cream to a freezer-safe container and freeze overnight.  Serve with Walnut Brittle crumbles on top.

Walnut Brittle

2 cups  Walnut Halves, broken into big and small pieces
2 cups  Sugar
1/2 cup  Water
1/2 cup  Light Corn Syrup
1/4 cup  Salted Butter, cut into slices
1/4 tsp  Baking Soda
1/2 tsp  Vanilla

Mix sugar, water and corn syrup in a large heavy saucepan.  Attach candy thermometer to side of saucepan and place pan over high heat.  Stir until sugar dissolves, then heat uncovered until the mixture reaches 310 degrees on the thermometer.  (Try not to stir the mixture very often as this will reduce the temperature.  Just stir a few times across the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to keep the mixture from scorching.)

One the mixture reaches 310 degrees, remove the pan from the heat, add butter, walnuts, soda and vanilla, and mix just enough to blend.  Allow the bubbles to subside, then pour the mixture out onto a buttered baking sheet, spreading the mixture into a thin layer using a buttered spatula.  Place the baking sheet in a cool location on a wire rack and allow to cool completely.

Once cool, the brittle will loosen easily from the baking sheet and can be cracked into smaller pieces for serving.

Note:  This same recipe can be used to make Peanut Brittle or Almond Brittle, using 2 cups of blanched peanuts or almonds in place of the walnuts.  Enjoy!!

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!!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Brats with Mustard Potatoes and Candied Red Cabbage

Wow, it's been a busy and cold month to start off this new year.  For those of us living in Florida, with temperatures down into the 20's and 30's, we can't wait for the spring thaw.  I miss grilling, and sitting outside on the patio, and just seeing the sun at this point!  Come on Spring, we're ready any time. :-)

This past weekend we took a quick trip to one of our favorite Florida spots, St Augustine Beach.  It did actually warm up to the middle 60's and we even got a full day of sunshine, so we were very happy with the weather and for the much needed getaway.

On our return trip we stopped at a roadside farmers market and found lots of fresh goodies, including red and green cabbage that had just been harvested from the farm next door.  I never even knew cabbage grew in Florida so I was kind of excited.  Other local crops included grape tomatoes, tiny yellow tomatoes, fresh carrots and kale and even Brussels sprouts still on the stalk, which was really cool.

So we brought home a bushel of farm fresh veggies and it was time to make something yummy.  The red cabbage was the first thing on my mind and I knew what I wanted to make.  A totally German meal of red cabbage, candied with a bit of brown sugar and red wine, gold potatoes with a mustard vinaigrette and some German brats.  This is a great meal to serve family style for guests and I guarantee you won't have many leftovers.  If you do have leftovers, they are even better the next day. This is comfort food at its best.

There are 3 components to this meal, the braised cabbage, the mustard potatoes and the brats, so depending how much space you have on your stove, you can prepare this meal a couple different ways.  I simmered the brats in a few cups of water and then kept them warm until ready to serve, but if you have access to a grill, that would make this dish even easier.

8 - 10 Brats - cooked to your liking and ready to serve

Braised Red Cabbage
4  Strips of Bacon, diced
1 large  Yellow Onion, peeled and sliced
2 lbs  Red Cabbage, cored and sliced
3 TB  Brown Sugar
1/2 cup  Chicken Stock
1/2 cup  Dry Red Wine

Heat a large skillet over medium heat, add the bacon and cook until softened but not crispy.  Add the onion and saute until tender, about 6 minutes.

Add the cabbage, brown sugar, stock and wine and stir.  Cover and cook over medium heat until the cabbage softens, about 5 minutes.  Remove the lid and cook until the liquid reduces slightly, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Try not to overcook the cabbage, it should be just tender when served.

Mustard Potatoes
2 lbs  Yukon Gold Potatoes
1/4 cup  Red Wine Vinegar
1/4 cup  Whole Grain Mustard
1/4 cup  Dijon Mustard
3/4 cup  Olive Oil
1/2 tsp  Kosher Salt
1/4 tsp  Ground Black Pepper
2 TB  Olive Oil
1/2 tsp  Dried Thyme

In a large pot boil the whole potatoes in salted water and cook until tender, about 30 minutes.  Drain the potatoes and cool for 15 minutes or until cool enough to handle.  Peel off the skin and cut the potatoes into 2-inch chunks.  Set aside.

In a small bowl combine the vinegar and both mustards, salt and pepper.  Whisk to combine and set aside.

In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add the potatoes and thyme to the skillet and season lightly with salt and pepper.  Cook for about 8 minutes, turning several times, until the potatoes are golden and crispy on the edges.

When potatoes are golden, remove the pan from the heat and drizzle the potatoes with a 1/2 cup of the vinaigrette and stir gently to coat.  Serve the remaining vinaigrette at the table so each person can add more as desired.

Plating the Meal 

Place the red cabbage onto a platter, line the edges with the mustard potatoes and place the brats down the center with a little extra cabbage over the brats.  Serve immediately with the extra vinaigrette.  Serves about 8 people.  Enjoy!!

It's Almost Spring!!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Filling

My last baking project for the year turned out the be one of the best tasting desserts I've ever made.  I wanted to make something special for New Year's Eve and I have always liked serving cupcakes, so these Reese's PB Cup-inspired cupcakes were perfect.

These little gems do require a bit more time to prepare, but the final result is worth it.  Making the cupcakes can be done a few hours ahead, then the filling and icing can be finished in about an hour.


I have always loved the idea of filled cupcakes.  You can use a simple pastry cream or a fruit-based filling, or something like this peanut butter filling which is a super easy mixture of peanut butter, butter and powdered sugar.  These cupcakes would also be delicious with an Irish cream or coffee-flavored pastry cream.  Oh, the yummy combinations are endless!

The tops of the cupcakes were finished with a rich chocolate ganache icing, which is a combination of semi-sweet chocolate chips and cream.  This was my first experience making this icing and it was a little tricky to work with, but I loved the way the tops were nice and shiny after they hardened.  But this step does require patience!  The trick here was to allow the icing to cool completely before adding the second layer of icing.  To help the hardening process along, I chilled the cupcakes for just a few minutes after the first layer of icing, then again after the second layer, and it worked out great.

You might notice the cupcake in the top picture is not quite as shiny as the others.  Ah, yes, patience!  Just in case you panic, like I did, and you're afraid the icing is not going to harden, adding a little sifted powdered sugar to the icing works well, also.  This will help the icing harden quicker, but the icing is a bit less shiny.  Be patient with the icing and it will work, I promise!  These cupcakes are incredibly good and well worth the extra time involved. Enjoy and Happy New Year!!

3/4 cup + 2 Tb  Cocoa Powder
1/2 cup  Boiling Water
1 cup  Buttermilk
1-3/4 cups  Flour
1-1/4 tsp  Baking Soda
1/4 tsp  Baking Powder
1/4 tsp  Salt
1-1/2 sticks  Unsalted Butter, softened
1-1/2 cups  Granulated Sugar
2  Eggs
1 tsp  Pure Vanilla Extract
1 cup  Creamy Natural Peanut Butter
3 TB  Unsalted Butter
2/3 cup  Confectioners Sugar
1 cup  Heavy Cream
8 oz  Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips

Preheat oven to 350.  Line 24 muffin cups with foil or paper liners.

In a medium heatproof bowl combine the cocoa powder with boiling water and whisk until a smooth paste forms.  Whisk in the buttermilk, stirring until combined.  Set aside.

In a medium bowl, sift the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, use a mixer to combine the the 1-1/2 stick of butter with the granulated sugar, blending until fluffy, about 4 minutes.  Beat in the eggs and vanilla, then beat in the dry ingredients and the cocoa mixture, alternating the flour mixture with the cocoa mixture.

Spoon the batter into the cupcake liners, filling about 2/3 full.  Bake for 22 - 24 minutes or until the cupcakes are springy when touched on top.  Cool the cupcakes in the pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

In a medium bowl, beat the peanut butter with the 3 tablespoons of butter.  Sift the confectioners sugar into the mixture and beat until fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Spoon all but 3 tablespoons of the peanut butter mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a 1/4-inch star tip.  Push the tip of the pastry bag into the top center of a cupcake, and gently squeeze the peanut butter filling into the cupcake.  You will feel the cupcake expand just a bit, as you do this.  Repeat until all of the cupcakes are filled.

In a small saucepan, bring the heavy cream to a simmer, then remove the pan from the heat.  Add the chocolate chips to the cream and let stand for 5 minutes.  Whisk the chocolate into the cream until smooth.  Let the icing stand for 15 minutes so it will cool slightly.

Dip the top of each cupcake into the icing, letting the excess drip back into the pan.  Transfer the cupcakes to a rack and chill for about 10 minutes or until the icing has hardened.  Dip the tops of the cupcakes into the icing a second time, then place the cupcakes on racks and chill until the icing has set.

Spoon the remaining peanut butter filling into the pastry bag and pipe a small rose in the center of each cupcake.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Dark Chocolate Mousse Cake

For Christmas Eve I wanted to come up with something really decadent and, of course, that meant something chocolate!  Plus, I bought some beautiful strawberries this week so I knew I wanted to incorporate those in the dessert, too.  I started off thinking about chocolate mousse, and wondered if I could use some individual Hershey's Bliss Dark Chocolates that I had on hand as the base of the recipe.  Hmmm.  Can you do that?

So that's where this recipe began. I found an old recipe for mousse and adjusted it a bit here and there until I thought it would work (and being Christmas Eve I was really hoping and praying that it would work!).

I really don't do a lot of baking, but when I do, it's got to be chocolate and this recipe turned out amazing. The cake has a smooth and creamy texture that just melts in your mouth and is so delicious, it doesn't even require frosting.  Although this cake is made in an 8-1/2 inch pan, it will easily serve 8 people, and maybe 10 if you want to go with smaller slices.

When making this Dark Chocolate Mousse Cake you'll notice there are not a lot of ingredients.  Just the basics are needed, chocolate, butter, sugar and eggs. How easy is that?  That's my kind of baking.

If possible, try to buy superfine sugar for this recipe, which can be found at most grocery stores.  Since it is more finely granulated, the superfine sugar dissolves almost instantly.  This type of sugar is also great to use when making meringues.

This is a beautiful dessert to serve for any special occasion and it is very easy to prepare.  I hope you get a chance to try our Dark Chocolate Mousse Cake this holiday season.  Enjoy!!

10-1/2 oz  Hershey's Bliss Dark Chocolates (1 bag + 8 additional pieces)
5 oz  Unsalted Butter
4 TB  Superfine Sugar
6  Eggs, separated
Butter, to grease the pan

Confectioners Sugar for Garnish
Strawberries for Garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter the bottom and sides of an 8-1/2-inch spring form pan and set aside.

In a medium saucepan, melt the chocolates and butter over medium-low heat, stirring frequently until melted and smooth.  Remove pan from the heat and allow to cool for 10 minutes.

In a medium bowl whisk the eggs whites until they are stiff peaks; set aside.  In another bowl whisk the egg yolks and sugar until combined and set aside.

Once the chocolate has cooled slightly, slowly stir the egg yolk mixture into the chocolate.  When combined, use a spatula to fold the egg whites into the batter until fully incorporated.

Pour the cake batter into the prepared pan and bake on the center oven rack for about 23 - 25 minutes or until the center is just set.  (If you touch the center of the cake it should bounce back slightly.) The cake will have risen at this point, but will deflate as it cools.  (Don't panic when it begins to deflate, this is what creates the mousse texture.)

Cool the cake completely then dust with confectioners sugar and serve with sliced strawberries.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Chocolate Dipped Strawberries

Trying to decide on a dessert for your guests can be almost as challenging as the main course.  You want to serve something a little sweet, but with everyone snacking on lots of cookies during the season, you might want to serve something that is a little less calorie-dense.  To solve that problem all you need is a little chocolate, and maybe a few pretzel rods and cookies.

Chocolate Dipped Strawberries are an easy dessert to prepare and they add a nice seasonal touch of red and green to your buffet.  To make this dessert easy to serve while your guests mingle, place the strawberries and a few coated pretzels on several small decorated plates and place them throughout your living room and dining room.  Just add a stack of cocktail napkins next to each plate and your guests can serve themselves.

The strawberries only take a few minutes to prepare and, if you need a little extra help, this is a great project for kids.

Baker's German Sweet Chocolate, broken into pieces
Fresh Strawberries, rinsed and patted dry
Pretzel Rods, broken in half or thirds
Shortbread Cookies or similar store-bought cookies

Place several pieces of chocolate in a small glass bowl and melt in the microwave at 30 second intervals, stirring after each 30 seconds, until the chocolate is smooth.  Once the chocolate is melted, allow to cool for just a few minutes, then stir again.

Use a spoon to spread the chocolate onto the strawberries, working in a circular motion.  This same method works for the pretzels, just twist the pretzels to get an even coating of chocolate, making sure not to apply the chocolate too thick.

Place the coated strawberries onto a waxed paper-lined baking sheet and refrigerate for 20 minutes or until set.  The cookies or pretzels will only take about 5 minutes to chill. Enjoy!!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Seafood Salad Appetizers

Today we continue with another selection of appetizers for your upcoming Holiday parties, and something that is always popular, seafood.  I love to offer guests a selection of hot and cold appetizers and this Seafood Salad can actually be served as three cold appetizers from the one salad.

Serving fresh seafood on your Holiday hors d'oeuvre buffet is always a great treat for your guests.  Unfortunately for you, this can be an expensive appetizer to serve and fresh seafood is almost always the first thing your guests will polish off, even before the party gets started.

This selection of appetizers can be prepared using the same Seafood Salad mixture and you have the option of preparing these in advance for your guests, or let them help themselves by serving the salad in a large bowl with the crackers, small sandwich rolls and an assortment of serving dishes for those who would rather skip the carbs.  With a handful of veggies on the side, this makes a very eye-appealing snack for your guests.

By using imitation crab meat, also known as surimi, you can serve seafood on your buffet while also keeping your costs under control.  If you have never used imitation crab before, it is actually the same crab used in most varieties of sushi. Made from Atlantic whitefish, surimi is quite versatile and can be used in many dishes.  At about $3 - $4 per pound, it is also quite affordable.

Along with the crab we included pre-cooked shrimp in this salad, which you can buy fresh or frozen at your local market.  If you look for the shrimp marketed as "salad shrimp" or listed as 100 - 160 count, these are small enough you can leave them whole in the salad.

The Seafood Salad has a creamy lemon and horseradish sauce which accents the crab and shrimp, and the dill and lemon pepper enhance the seafood flavors.  The salad is delicious served on a variety of crackers or as a small sandwich, but is equally good on its own, and is something your guests will greatly enjoy.

2 oz  Cream Cheese, softened
1-1/2 tsp  Horseradish
1/2 tsp  Kosher Salt
1/2 tsp  Lemon Pepper
1/4 tsp  Lemon Dill Seasoning
1/4 tsp  Ground Black Pepper
2 TB  Hellman's Light Mayonnaise
2 TB  Sour Cream
1 tsp  Lemon Juice
1 stalk  Celery, very finely minced
1 lb  Imitation Crab (surimi), flaked into small pieces
6 oz  Small Cooked Shrimp, chopped if needed

Hawaiian Rolls or small slider rolls, sliced
Carrot sticks, celery sticks, cucumber slices and other bite-sized veggies
Assortment of Crackers

In a medium bowl combine the cream cheese, horseradish, salt, lemon pepper, lemon dill seasoning, pepper, mayonnaise, sour cream and lemon juice, stirring with a fork until blended.

Add the celery, crab and shrimp to the mixture and stir gently to combine, coating the seafood evenly with the sauce.  Taste test and add more salt or pepper, if needed.  Chill for 1 hour before serving.  Serves about 20 - 25 as an appetizer, or about 12 - 15 small sandwiches.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Baked Chicken Strips and Sweet Potato Waffles

Have you ever heard of Chicken and Waffles?  Served together, as in on the same plate? No?  Well, I had never heard of such a meal either until moving to the South.  I saw this meal on a handful of menus around town and it was mentioned a few times in conversations, but I never really thought about it.

The most common description for this meal is a piece of fried chicken served on top of a buttermilk waffle, then everything is drizzled with maple syrup.  It sounded a little odd, but intriguing at the same time.  So I had to make this meal just for fun and I thought my kids would get a kick out of the idea of chicken and waffles for dinner.  The funny thing was, we all loved it!

We decided to make our own interpretation of this meal and try to make it a bit healthier.  Instead of using fried chicken, we went with lightly breaded and baked white meat chicken strips.  Not "authentic" according to most sources, but healthier.  The recipe below for chicken strips can be used for lots of other meals, too, and you can even spice them up a bit to suit your own taste.  (See the note below for alternate spices.)

The waffles were another project altogether.  I've read many recipes for pumpkin waffles, which are quite tasty, but since I had some leftover mashed sweet potatoes, and I had always wanted to try a waffle made out of sweet potatoes, the recipe kind of came together on its own. Sweet potatoes + chicken + maple syrup? It was sounding better and better!

This was the first time I've used a waffle iron but I'm already in love with it.  The waffles had a light airy texture inside and the exterior was nice and crispy.  Perfect!  In addition to maple syrup we also tried a drizzle of honey on the waffles and it was also delicious, but we all voted in favor of the maple syrup.

Although this recipe seems a little strange I do hope you get to try it.  The flavors are an amazing combination and the sweet potato waffles are really a unique treat which would even work well for breakfast..lol.  So here is my question for you... Have you ever tried Chicken and Waffles? Is it really a Southern meal? Leave me a note below, I'd love to hear what everyone thinks of this somewhat classic dish.

3 -4  Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts, cut into 3/4-inch strips
2 TB  Canola Oil
1 cup  Bread Crumbs
1/4 cup  Shredded Parmesan Cheese
1/2 tsp  Kosher Salt
1/4 tsp  Ground Black Pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray and set aside.

In a large bowl combine the chicken and canola oil (**see note)  and stir to evenly coat the chicken.

In a second bowl combine the bread crumbs, cheese, salt and pepper.

Dip the chicken strips in the bread crumb mixture and place on the prepared baking sheet.  Bake 10 minutes, turn, and bake 5 - 8 minutes longer or until the chicken is cooked through.

**Note:  If you plan on serving the chicken as part of a different meal than the Chicken and Waffles, and you would like the chicken a bit more spicy, add 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper or 1 teaspoon Frank's Hot Sauce  to the oil and chicken, then proceed with the recipe as above.  This is a fast and easy way to make chicken strips for kids without all the processing you get in the store bought chicken nuggets.

Sweet Potato Waffles

4 TB  Butter, softened
1 TB  Sugar
1  Egg, separated
1 cup  Milk
1/4 tsp  Kosher Salt
1/4 tsp  Nutmeg
3/4 cup  Flour
1 cup  Mashed Sweet Potatoes (leftovers work great)
2 tsp  Baking Powder

Use a hand mixer to cream together the butter and sugar.  Add the egg yolk and blend, then gradually add the milk, slowly incorporating it into the mixture.  Add the salt and nutmeg and blend until smooth.

Beat in the flour, sweet potato and baking powder until smooth.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg white until you have stiff peaks.  Using a spatula, gently fold the egg white into the waffle batter, combining the ingredients without over stirring.

Heat a waffle iron up to temperature according to your user guide.  Add about 1/3 cup of batter for each waffle and cook for 4 -5 minutes or until the waffles are set.  (Check your users guide for the appropriate amount of batter to use and suggested cooking times.)

To serve, place two waffles on a plate, top with one chicken strip and drizzle with maple syrup.  Enjoy!!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Peanut Butter Brownies

We are now deep into Christmas cookie season so this recipe is just in time for your next school function or Christmas party. Every year there seems to be somewhat of an unspoken battle among Moms who bring cookies to school.  You Moms know who you are, too!  You arrive in your child's classroom with dozens of perfectly cut out gingerbread men, and sparkling iced snowflake cookies, and thumbprint cookies with just the right amount of green or red frosting in the center. Ugh! Where do you people find the time?

I admit, I am not much of a sweets baker, but I do manage to make some pretty tasty cookies on occasion like our Triple Chocolate Cookies with Peanut Butter Filling, which are a Christmas favorite.  I love to make Gingerbread Cookies, but they are all round, and if I have the time I will even frost them with some basic Royal Icing.  But, I've never had the patience to make cutout cookies.  The little gingerbread men lose their heads, the snowflakes are not symmetrical but are kind of squatty shaped and I generally end up with all round(ish) cookies that taste great but look...a bit sad.

But I'm OK with that, because I can make brownies!  Anything that I can make in one pan and cut into bars, that's a recipe for me.  Which brings me to today's Peanut Butter Brownies, which are so amazingly good.  This is a very old recipe from one of my grandmother's cookbooks.  Back in the old days they used a minimal amount of ingredients and came up with some great tasting food.

With a light peanut butter flavor and a cake-like texture, these are a nice change from the usual super-sweet chocolate brownies.  For a holiday display table dust the top of the brownies with powdered sugar and they will look nice and festive.  If you take these to a school function, (especially in Florida) tell the kids they are dusted with snowflakes and you will be the favorite Mom of the day! lol  Enjoy!!

1/4 cup  Butter
1/4 cup  Peanut Butter
1 cup  Sugar
2  Eggs, beaten
2 squares  Unsweetened Chocolate, melted
1/2 cup  Flour
1/2 tsp  Baking Powder
1/4 tsp  Salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line a 9 X 9 inch baking pan with parchment paper and lightly grease the paper with butter;  set aside.

Use a mixer to cream the butter, peanut butter and sugar together.

Add the eggs and melted chocolate and blend until combined, then add the flour, baking powder and salt and blend again.

Spread the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 20 - 22 minutes or until the center is set.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Spicy Guacamole

Guacamole is a great item to add to your football party or holiday snack table.  Offer this dip along with a variety of white, yellow and blue tortilla chips and even some fresh cut veggies.  Many people who choose to stay away from tortilla chips will have the option of dipping veggies in the dip, and still get to enjoy this Spicy Guacamole.

When you shop for avocados, look for the ones that are dark skinned and just slightly soft to the touch.  You have to be a little careful when selecting avocados. Most grocers tend to throw new avocados in with the older ones, so you have to make sure you are not buying under ripe or over ripe  produce.  One one hand if you get a very soft avocado the flesh will probably be dark and not look very appetizing.  On the other hand, an avocado that is hard as a rock and a light greenish-yellow color inside will look nice but since it's under ripe, you won't get a creamy guacamole no matter how long you blend it.

Another handy tip when choosing an avocado is to look for the piece of stem on top.  If you can push off the stem, and it looks moist and fresh, you've got a fresh avocado.

When preparing the guacamole be sure to taste for the level of spice.  If it is too spicy for your taste, adding 1-2 teaspoons of sour cream will tone down the heat, but keep the guacamole creamy.  For a complete meal serve this Spicy Guacamole with Baked Chicken Chimichangas.

3 Avocados, halved, seeded and peeled
1 Lime, squeezed and juice reserved
1/2 tsp Kosher Salt
1/2 tsp Ground Cumin
1/2 tsp Ground Cayenne Pepper
1/2 small  Red Onion, diced (optional)
1/2 small  Tomato, seeded and diced (optional)

Scoop the avocado pulp into a food processor and add the lime juice, tossing to coat.  Add the salt, cumin and cayenne to the avocados and blend until smooth, or process just briefly for a more chunky texture.

Add about 1 TB (or more) of lime juice until the guacamole is the desired consistency. Chill or let sit at room temp for 1 hour. Serve with tortilla chips.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Calzone Bites

After several days of sick kids (and parents), I'm finally getting back to adding some new appetizers for the  upcoming holidays.  Today we get into the holiday spirit with a cheesy Italian hors d'oeuvre.  A Calzone is traditionally a stuffed pizza that looks like a turnover, so we created a bite-sized turnover.

These mini Calzone Bites are a great party appetizer to serve when you want to offer something a little more substantial than veggies with dip.  The spinach, sausage and pepperoni filling gets its creaminess from a combination of three cheeses, ricotta, cheddar and mozzarella.  With these little bites, you get all the goodness of a calzone in an appetizer-sized bite.

Although this recipe utilizes a bread machine to make the dough, you could also use store bought pizza dough.  The Publix stores in our area make a tasty pizza dough that would work just fine, just be sure to buy the dough early in the day since it is usually kept frozen until needed.

This recipe makes about 24 Calzone Bites using 2 large muffin tins, and the finished calzones are about 3 inches across.  Just the right "finger-food" size for your guests.  As a dipping sauce you can use your favorite marinara sauce or buy a good quality, already seasoned tomato sauce. The sauce can be heated in a small saucepan just before serving and, instead of pouring the sauce directly on the plate, I loved serving the marinara in these vintage shot glasses that belonged to my grandmother.  I think they were the perfect little vessel for sauce and they were just the right size.  Enjoy!!

Calzone Dough in the Bread Machine
1 cup + 2 1/2 TB  Water
2 1/2 TB  Olive Oil
3 cups  Bread Machine Flour
1 tsp  Salt
1/2 tsp  Sugar
2 tsp  Garlic Powder
1 1/2 tsp  Bread Machine Yeast

Combine all ingredients in the bread machine pan and set the machine to the Dough Setting.  At the end of the first kneading cycle, press the stop/clear button and let the dough rise for 60 to 90 minutes, until almost double in size.

Punch the dough down and remove the dough from the bread machine pan to a lightly floured cutting board.  Let the dough rest for 5 minutes.  While the dough is resting, prepare the filling.

Calzone Filling
15 oz  Part-Skim Ricotta Cheese
1 cup  Grated Cheddar Cheese
1/2 cup  Grated Mozzarella Cheese
2 oz  Diced Pepperoni
10 oz  Frozen Spinach, defrosted, cooled and well drained
1/2 lb  Fresh Sausage, cooked and drained
1 tsp  Dried Oregano
1 tsp  Garlic Powder
1/2 tsp  Kosher Salt
1/4 tsp  Ground Black Pepper

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and set aside.

Seasoned Olive Oil
1/4 cup  Olive Oil
2 tsp  Minced Fresh Garlic
1/2 tsp  Dried Oregano
1/4 tsp  Salt
1/4 tsp  Ground Black Pepper

Mix the olive oil, garlic, oregano, salt and pepper in a small glass bowl and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  Spray 2 large muffin tins with olive oil spray and set aside.

Using a pastry cutter, or a very sharp knife, cut the dough into 24 equal portions.  Working with one piece of dough at a time, roll each piece of dough into a large thin circle, about 5 inches across.  Place a generous tablespoon of filling into the center of each circle, then fold the edges over and pinch the edges so the filling will not leak out.

Place each bundle into the muffin tin with the seam side down and brush the tops of each calzone with seasoned olive oil. Bake for 15 - 20 minutes or until the tops are golden brown.

Serve with a shot glass of your favorite marinara sauce for dipping.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Shrimp Mousse Deviled Eggs

These tasty little eggs are a great addition to your holiday buffet table, especially when served with  Smoked Salmon Deviled Eggs.  With a delicate shrimp flavor and just a touch of cream cheese and sour cream to add creaminess, these eggs add a touch of elegance and a little wow factor to your table.

This recipe makes 12 egg halves and it's very easy to double the recipe.  Once the egg whites are filled,  you might have extra shrimp mousse left over, especially if you double the recipe. Simply place the extra Shrimp Mousse in a glass bowl and serve with assorted crackers.  The cost of the shrimp is pretty minimal.  Using medium shrimp (about 30 - 40 per pound), which run about $7 per pound, you will need 16 pieces of shrimp to make one dozen egg halves.

6  Hard Boiled Eggs, peeled and halved
4 medium  Cooked Shrimp, peeled, deveined and chopped
1 oz  Cream Cheese, softened
2 TB  Hellman's Light Mayonnaise
1 TB  Sour Cream
1/4 tsp  Lemon-Dill Spice
1/4 tsp  Kosher Salt
1/8 tsp  Ground Black Pepper
12 medium  Cooked Whole Shrimp, deveined and shell removed, with tails attached for garnish

Place the egg whites on a platter and set aside.  Place the egg yolks and the remaining ingredients, except the whole shrimp, in a food processor.  Puree until smooth, then spoon the mixture into a pastry bag and pipe the mixture into the egg whites using a large-opening decorator tip.

When all of the egg whites are filled, stand a whole shrimp on top of each egg half and press the shrimp gently down into the mousse so it will stand up.  You can also choose to garnish some of the eggs with fresh chives to add a little color to the arrangement. Keep the eggs chilled until ready to serve.  Makes 12 egg halves.

Smoked Salmon Deviled Eggs

Can you believe it's already December?  The last few months have zipped by so quickly, and now it's time to think about the upcoming holidays.  Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, New Year's Eve and so many other holidays are just around the corner.  It's a chance for people to come together, celebrate, and share some good food, good friends and happy times.

But planning a holiday buffet table for a big party can be a challenge. You want to include lots of tasty bites for your guests, and have everything look special, but how much will all of this cost? And, how much time will it take to put all of these appetizers together?

Well, don't worry, it can be done.  Over the next few weeks, we will be posting lots of hot and cold appetizers, snacks and drink ideas for your upcoming parties.  Several of the recipes can be made a day or two in advance, which will save you a lot of time, they are easy to prepare, and also easy on your budget. So let's get started with something everyone loves, deviled eggs.

Appetizers are a must for upcoming Christmas and Holiday parties, and deviled eggs can be found on almost any buffet, but these little bites are something special.  Adding smoked salmon to the filling, then topping each egg half with a slice of salmon, you get a snack that is both elegant and tasty.  The smoked salmon is pretty inexpensive at about $4 - $5 for a 4-ounce package, which is enough for about two batches of these deviled eggs.

Arrange the Salmon Deviled Eggs with several of the Shrimp Mousse Deviled Eggs and you have a beautiful centerpiece for your party buffet.  The deviled eggs can be made several hours before needed and kept refrigerated.  The smoky flavor of the salmon will be more pronounced if it has a few hours for the flavors to blend.  Enjoy!!

6  Hard-Boiled Eggs, peeled and halved
1/2 cup  Sour Cream
2 oz  Cream Cheese, softened
2 TB  Hellman's Light Mayonnaise
1 TB  Lemon Juice
2 TB  Chives, minced
2 oz  Smoked Salmon
1/2 tsp Kosher Salt
1/4 tsp  Ground Black Pepper

Place the egg whites on a platter and set aside.  Place the egg yolks and the remaining ingredients in a small food processor, and blend until very smooth.

Use a pastry bag with a large-opening decorative tip to pipe the filling into the egg whites.  (You can find disposable pastry bags with the tips at most kitchen stores.  Or you can use a small spoon to fill the egg whites and smooth the tops.)

Use a sharp knife to cut small pieces of the smoked salmon, then add a slice to the top of each of the deviled eggs.  Chill until ready to serve.  Makes 12 egg halves.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Apple and Blueberry Crisp with Hard Cider

For me, the best thing about fall is the huge variety of apples that arrive in grocery stores. Green apples, red apples, pinkish apples.  There are so many different varieties, I can't help thinking about what to bake. The problem is, with so many different types of apples, it can be difficult to know which are best suited for cooking, such as Golden Delicious, McIntosh, Winesap or Granny Smith and which are best for eating as a snack, such as Red Delicious or Honeycrisp.

I picked up a few bags of sweet and juicy Golden Delicious apples and the slightly more tart Granny Smith apples at the store, and that's where my dessert project began.  Combining the two varieties makes a delicious apple pie, but I wanted to turn these into more of a crumble-type dessert.  Something that could be prepared and served in the same pan, but would also be suitable for a casual dinner with guests.  So with the apples in hand, I got to work on this recipe.

I decided to begin with a bottle of Angry Orchard Cinnful Apple Hard Cider.  Why cook with water when you can cook with hard cider, right?  Thanks to the good people at Angry Orchard, we got the chance to experiment with their spicy cinnamon cider and it is amazing.  By itself, the cider offers a tart apple flavor with just the right amount of cinnamon and a not-too-sweet flavor, which would be the perfect base for my crisp.  But I wanted to add a touch more sweetness to the crisp without adding more sugar.  And then I thought ..blueberries!  The berries added just enough sweet flavor and they tasted great combined with the cinnamon.

Although I don't usually cook a lot of dessert-type recipes, this one was an instant family favorite, and something we will make often in the future. It's also a great way to get your kids to eat more fruit.  (Our picky eater asked for seconds!)  This is a really easy dessert to make and can be ready to serve in about an hour.  Be sure to buy some vanilla ice cream to scoop on top.  Enjoy!!

4 TB  Unsalted Butter Butter
4  Large Apples, cored and sliced, we used 2 Granny Smith and 2 Golden Delicious
Lemon Juice
2 cups  Frozen Blueberries
1 cup  Angry Orchard Cinnful Apple Hard Cider (drink the rest of the bottle - yum!)
1/4 cup  Sugar

In a large ovenproof skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat.  Add the sliced apples and sprinkle the apples with a splash of lemon juice so they do not discolor.  Saute for 5 minutes, stirring to coat the apples with butter and lemon juice.  Add the frozen blueberries, stir and saute for 5 minutes.

Add the cider and sugar to the skillet, and stir to combine.  Heat the mixture to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 20 - 25 minutes or until the apples are tender.  While the apples are simmering, prepare the crumb topping.

Crumb Topping
3/4 cup  Flour
1/4 cup  Brown Sugar
1/4 tsp Ground Cinnamon
4 TB  Unsalted Butter, melted
1/4 cup  Old Fashioned Oats

In a small bowl, combine the flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, butter and oats and stir until the mixture is crumbly.  

When the apples are tender, and the sauce has reduced by about half, lightly sprinkle the crumb mixture over the apples and blueberries.  (Since there will still be liquid in the pan, try not to press the mixture into the fruit as this can make the crisp mushy.  The crumbs should rest loosely on top of the fruit.)

Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake at 350 degrees for 20 - 30 minutes or until the topping is golden and the sauce has thickened.  Serve immediately with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or cool to room temperature before serving.  (p.s. If you are lucky enough to have any leftovers, this also makes an incredibly good breakfast the next day.)  Enjoy!!

"Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above in the hope that I would mention it on my blog.  Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe would be good for my readers.  All opinions are mine.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Monday, November 4, 2013

Braised Pork Chops with Apples and Hard Cider

Here we are into November already.  The temperatures are starting to drop and even here in sunny Florida, it's finally beginning to feel like fall.  After a very long, hot summer, I'm ready for some hearty fall recipes.  And what better way to begin than with a German-style favorite.

The good people over at Angry Orchard were kind enough to send us a few of their tasty ciders to sample, and this recipe was a great place to start.  For this classic dish of Braised Pork Chops with Apples and Onions, we decided to add a little twist and include a bottle of Angry Orchard Green Apple Hard Cider.

The cider added the perfect balance of tartness and sweetness to compliment the apples and onions.   The only thing that could make this better would be mashed sweet potatoes, which created a colorful, and nutritious, base for the pork chops.  The potatoes were simple, with just butter and a little salt and pepper for seasoning, but they added just the right amount of richness to the meal.

6  Boneless Pork Chops, cut 1-inch thick, fat trimmed off
Kosher Salt and Ground Black Pepper
1 TB  Olive Oil
4 TB  Salted Butter, divided
1 medium  Yellow Onion, sliced
2 large  Granny Smith Apples, cored and sliced
1 bottle  Angry Orchard Green Apple Hard Cider

Season both sides of the pork chops with a generous coating of salt and pepper.  Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the olive oil.  When the oil shimmers, add the pork chops to the skillet and cook for 6 minutes, turn the chops over and cook 6 minutes longer.  (In order to get a really good sear on the chops, try not to move them during the cooking process.)  Transfer the chops to a plate, cover with foil and keep warm.

Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in the same pan, add the apples and onions and sauté over medium heat until slightly softened, about 6 minutes.  Add the hard cider to the pan, stir the mixture gently and simmer for 5 minutes.

Transfer the pork chops and any accumulated juices back to the skillet, nestling the chops down into the apples and onions.  Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the chops are cooked through.  (We cooked our chops to 145-150 degrees on a meat thermometer, which is medium-rare.  As the pork stands for a few minutes the temperature will increase slightly, but the chops will still be moist and juicy inside.)

Transfer the chops to a serving platter and cover with foil.  To complete the apple/onion sauce, increase the heat to medium-high and add 1 tablespoon butter.  Stir the sauce until the butter is melted and the sauce has reached the desired thickness.  Taste test and add salt and pepper, if desired. 

To serve, place a layer of sweet potatoes on each plate, place a pork chop on top of the potatoes, then add a generous scoop of apples, onions and sauce on top. (Don't forget the sauce!  It's fantastic on the sweet potatoes.)  Enjoy!!

Since my photographer was so anxious to dive into his dinner, we forgot to include the bottle of cider in our picture.  So this is the end result, empty plate and all! lol

"Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above in the hope that I would mention it on my blog.  Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe would be good for my readers.  All opinions are mine.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."