Baking Bread

I have often said that I could live on bread, cheese and wine (if need be). I’ve been hesitant about baking bread, in particular because I’ve had little experience with yeast.

During the bitter cold, windy and icy winter days, I spent time on Pinterest and discovered several recipes that looked interesting. Today I gathered all the ingredients and decided to go for it. After all, what’s the worst that could happen? If it’s inedible, I can throw it out…..

Using this recipe, https://bakerbettie.com/easy-no-knead-skillet-bread/ I added garlic powder and poppy seeds to the top just before baking. The rosemary called for in the recipe was easy as I grow and dry it at the end of each summer. While Bettie’s recipe used a round cast iron skillet, mine is square and I went in the direction of a foccacia. The whole house was filled with the aroma of baking bread – reward enough for my effort.

Stuffed Acorn Squash

As mentioned in an earlier post, I deliberately make extra stuffing at Thanksgiving, follow this link for my recipe.

While at the market yesterday I saw this pretty little acorn squash and thought…”hmm, this would be delicious filled with my leftover, unbaked stuffing”. I was right – here’s how I did it:

Stuffed Acorn Squash  serves 2

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Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees. Slice the squash in half and scoop out seeds.

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Brush the edges of the squash with olive oil, salt and pepper, place face down into a baking dish for  30 minutes.

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I used a bowl to tightly pack 1 1/2 cups unbaked stuffing per half squash. Remove the squash from the oven, flip it, scoop  packed stuffing into the cavity  Bake for 30-40 minutes, until squash is softened.

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Add a glass of red wine, enjoy every bite.

 

Pesto Panko Crusted Rack of Lamb

Mom is joining me for today’s Easter dinner and for the last week I was on the fence about what I’d fix. Mom is easy as she loves everything I cook – and tells me I should be on Chopped (home chef edition), with my inevitable win launching my own Food Network show but I digress.

A few days ago I saw rack of lamb and the decision was made.  Mom and I both love lamb chops and I’ve made those many times. I’ve cooked rack of lamb only once and grilled it. It was delicious though my friend Terry had to start my grill as the one time prior that I’d lit it, I blew the lid back and lost all my arm hair. Spence was always my grill master and though Mom would (and could) light my grill I had decided to go a different way.

After scanning cookbooks and Pinterest for ideas I quickly realized that I hadn’t picked up fresh herbs – never a problem from May-October when my herb garden provides more than I need. What’s a girl to do? It was noon, my homemade croutons were done and cooling, our favorite Rhubarb Custard pie is in its final 20 minutes of cook time, sweet potatoes poked and ready for baking, my dijon vinaigrette prepared.  I’m still in my jammies and not enough time to shower and run out for fresh herbs before mom arrives. Though dried herbs might work, I knew I could do better.

Then it hit me – make a crust using pesto with its lovely green color and fresh herb flavors mixed with Panko breadcrumbs, both of which were in my gourmet pantry! Brilliant kitchen hack if I don’t say so.

Pesto Panko Crusted Rack of Lamb – serves 2-4

  • 1 rack of lamb
  • 1 c Panko breadcrumbs
  • 2 T pesto
  • salt & pepper
  • olive oil

Several hours before dinner mix together the breadcrumbs and pesto. Score the fat side of the rack, salt and pepper to taste.  Wrap the bones in foil to prevent burning. Cover all sides of the rack with the breadcrumb mixture using more on the fat side which will be face up when cooking.  Pat it down to make the crust. Refrigerate for several hours.

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Two hours before you’d like to serve dinner, remove the rack from the refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature for 45-60 minutes. Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees.  Line a rimmed baking pan with parchment paper and place the rack into the pan.  Drizzle a little olive oil over the rack.

Cook time will depend on how rare you like your chops – check at 15-18 minutes for rare to medium rare (my preference) by inserting a meat thermometer look for the internal temp of 120 degrees. Remove from oven and tent, the temperature will increase to 125-130 degrees; allow it to rest for 10 minutes.

Remove the foil. To preserve the crust for serving and presentation, I cut them 2 bones per chop. I served these with a nice bottle of red wine, spinach salad with homemade croutons and Dijon vinaigrette, the aforementioned baked sweet potatoes with butter and fresh grated nutmeg – and of course the pie.

 

 

 

Another week of delicious meals from HelloFresh…

When I received my box on Tuesday this week I was disappointed to see that the two entrees I received were not the ones I selected. The good news was two-fold 1) the ones they sent were meals that looked delicious and 2) when I called, they immediately applied a credit to my next order. I offered to send photos and it was not necessary. An email arrived within minutes apologizing and documenting their resolution. I couldn’t ask for more.

Especially now that I’ve had both meals – absolutely loved them.

The first one I fixed the day I got the box. Although I’ve enjoyed some pretty spectacular burgers in my lifetime, it would be easy to say this might have been the best one ever.

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The Melty Monterey Jack Burger with Red Onion Jam and Breaded Zucchini. Seriously. This burger rocked my world.

Tonight I fixed the Sweet as Honey Chicken with Green Beans and Jasmine Rice. And again, I had a meal that was delicious and flavorful but also it was one of two 540 calorie meals that were offered for this week which was a nice benefit (others being higher in calories but still balanced and healthy). If I’d had this in a restaurant I would have sent my regards to the chef. As it was, I patted myself on the back.

So far, I’m a fan of HelloFresh and with each new box, I feel certain that my positive experiences will continue.

This blog represents my opinions and enthusiasm but no compensation from HelloFresh. From inception I didn’t want to have advertisements on my blog, (no judgements) simply my preference.

My Famous Cran-Orange Relish, just in time for Thanksgiving

 Cran-Orange Relish
Cran-Orange Relish

  • 2 12 oz bags of fresh cranberries
  • 2 navel oranges
  • 1 T raspberry or strawberry jam
  • 2-3 T sugar
  • 1 t balsamic vinegar
  • 1-2 T Grand Marnier liqueur

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Assembly Line

I use a dutch oven pan to create more surface area for warming the berries. Place cranberries, sugar, jam and vinegar in the pan on a low to medium setting, stir. Zest one navel orange and then juice that orange, adding both juice and zest to berry mixture. Stir again

Using a veggie peeler or small sharp knife, remove about 1/2 the peel from the second orange, careful not to go beneath the “orange” peel (avoiding the bitter white part). Chop the peel fine (see below) until you have 1 tablespoon. You may use more peel if you end up with more or freeze it for later use.

Add peel to berry mixture. Cut the second orange in half and then section it, adding the sections to the berry mixture. Squeeze any residual juice from the second orange into the pan.

Looks pretty, smells tart and citrusy
Looks pretty, smells tart and citrusy

You will start to hear little pops from the pan, those are the cranberries bursting. Give it a stir, put a lid on the pan, reduce the heat to low. Check back every 15 -20 minutes for another stir, letting it simmer.. After 45 minutes, stir in the Grand Marnier, the berry mixture should be breaking down like a chutney. Continue to cook for 15-20 minutes more. Cool and serve. Makes 2-3 cups of relish. This can be stored in an airtight container in your refrigerator for up to two weeks and freezes beautifully, simply thaw and serve.

This is delicious as to serve not only with your Thanksgiving dinner but with chicken, pork or even seared scallops (trust me). For a festive appetizer, make a charcuterie platter  with cheeses like brie or a spreadable goat cheese or camembert, manchego, sharp white cheddar, cornichons and marcona almonds with sliced baguettes! Get creative…..and always, enjoy!

Looking for other Thanksgiving or Holiday recipes? Here’s links to a few of my best recipes:

Chestnut, Apple and Sausage Stuffing

Roasting Chestnuts – a Labor of Love

As I’m making my 2016 batch today, I decided to re-publish this recipe in hopes that it might be helpful to someone this Thanksgiving!  

Taco Fiesta Casserole

Taco Fiesta Casserole serves 6-8

Ingredients:
1 lb extra lean ground beef
1 package pillsbury grand biscuits (10 count)
Taco seasoning – 2 T Pampered Chef Fiesta Seasoning, 1 T Cumin, 1 T chili powder (you can use packaged taco seasoning)
1 1/2 cup salsa
1 chopped chipoltle in adobo, chopped
1 c black beans (rinsed)
2 cup diced peppers – green, red, yellow & orange
1 cup diced red onion
2 cups Mexican shredded cheese
3 chopped green onions
Sour cream for topping

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Brown ground beef, stirring in taco seasoning mix, salsa and chipotle. Set aside.
Cut the biscuits into quarters, then into eighths. Place half the biscuits in the bottom of a 9 x 13 in pan. Top with 1/2 the meat mixture, then all of the pepper, onion and black bean mixture. Sprinkle 1 cup of cheese over the top. Now add the remaining biscuit pieces, meat mix and 1 cup of cheese followed by the chopped green onion.

Place in oven, tented with foil for 35 minutes. Remove foil and return to oven for 15 minutes more. Remove and let it cool for 5 minutes before serving. Top servings with sour cream if desired.

 

Wedge Salad with Easy Homemade Blue Cheese Dressing

The other night I threw a small dinner party. As I was putting together the menu, I thought – how about Wedge Salads?  I’ve never made them, but love the crunchy, freshness of the lettuce with all the toppings – plus I’m a bit obsessed with blue cheese. If I may say so, this was a huge hit with my guests!  You can certainly use a chunky blue cheese dressing from the store but this simple recipe takes less than 5 minutes to make and it’s worth the effort.  For the Wedge Salad, I’ll tell you how I top it and you can decide how many you’re making at a time.

Easy Homemade Blue Cheese Dressing

  • 1 c sour cream
  • 1/2 c mayonnaise
  • 3/4 c chunky blue cheese
  • 1/2 t red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 t lemon juice
  • sea salt & coarse ground cracked black pepper to taste

Place together in a bowl and stir together until mixed.  It’s ready to serve and will be even better in 24 hours.

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Wedge Salad

  • Iceberg lettuce – cut into wedges (I can get six wedges from a head of iceberg lettuce – remove the core)
  • chopped tomatoes
  • chopped crispy bacon (I sprinkle pepper on my bacon before cooking it)
  • chopped fresh chives
  • blue cheese dressing
  • blue cheese crumbles to top

When I served this the other night, I neglected to take a picture.  I placed six wedges on a vibrant green platter and then topped them. It was gorgeous and a showy way to present a Wedge Salad for a dinner party. Tonight, I made up two for Spence and I.  Here’s what my wedge looks like.

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Chicken Parmesan Casserole (plus bonus recipes)

Chicken Parmesan Casserole      serves 6-8

  • 4 c fully cooked chicken – shredded or cubed
  • 28 oz marinara sauce (see bonus recipe below)
  • 3/4 c shredded parmesan cheese
  • 2 c shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 c seasoned bread crumbs (see bonus recipe below)
  • 1-2 T extra virgin olive oil
  • fresh chopped basil, thymes, chives & parsley

In a large casserole dish, layer the chicken, top with the marinara sauce.  Mix the cheeses together, then layer over the sauce.  In a small bowl, mix the chopped herbs with the bread crumbs and sprinkle them on top. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes. Remove and let it rest for five minutes before serving.  I served this over herbed fusilli pasta, with Caprese Salad (recipe in yesterday’s post) and bread from our favorite Italian bakery. 

Marinara Sauce (Red Sauce) – from the Extra Virgin Cookbook

  • 28 oz can of Marzano tomatoes
  • 2 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 red onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • red pepper flakes – optional
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 2 T fresh basil – torn just before adding to the pot

Pour the tomatoes into a saucepan. Using an immersion blender to smooth the sauce breaking down the tomatoes.  For a more rustic sauce, you can crush them by hand or with a wooden spoon.

In a saute pan, heat the olive oil and add the onion.  Saute for 6-8 minutes, add the garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes more.  If you are adding red pepper flakes, do so now as well as salt and pepper.

Add the onion and garlic mixture to the tomatoes, stir to combine and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in 2 T of fresh torn basil.

Homemade Crouton Bread Crumbs

  • 6-8 c stale bread cubed (any combination of breads)
  • 4 T olive oil
  • 4 T melted butter
  • 2 t garlic seasoning
  • 2 t Italian seasoning
  • 1 t dried rosemary – crumbled

Place the bread in a single layer on a sheet pan.  Combine the olive oil, butter and seasonings together.  Pour over the bread and toss together to coat.  Place in the oven at 275 degrees for 30 minutes.  Remove and stir the bread. Place back in the oven for at least 15 minutes more or until crunchy.  Remove and cool.  You could stop here as these are now delicious croutons but if you want scrumptious bread crumbs, place them in a ziploc bag and pulverize them with a meat tenderizer or rolling pin.

 

 

 

 

Italian Sausage Stuffed Zucchini Boats

I’ve mentioned my maternal grandfather and his talent for cooking in earlier posts, sharing some of his best recipes with my followers.  This is one, once discovered, that he made often for us; I haven’t made it in years. Farmer’s Markets are currently brimming with vibrantly fresh zucchini and I’ve been thinking how hungry I am for this easy and satisfying dish. As always, I’ve tweaked the recipe but just a bit…. and it was great!

Italian Sausage Stuffed Zucchini Boats  serves 4-8

  • 3 – 4 zucchini
  • 1 lb italian sausage
  • 1/3 c chopped shallots
  • 1-2 large cloves minced garlic
  • 1/2 chopped green pepper
  • 1/2 c grated parmesan + more for topping
  • 1 c shredded mozzarella
  • 1/2 c plain bread crumbs
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 1/4 t pepper
  • 1 t fresh thyme (you can use dried)
  • red pepper flakes to taste (optional)

Start by boiling salted water in a large deep pot. Place the zucchini (whole) in the pot for 15 minutes. Remove and set aside to cool.

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In another pan, brown the sausage, onions, garlic and green pepper, drain.

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Slice the zucchini in half, scoop out the middles (I used a melon baller), saving them for the stuffing.  Turn them face down on a paper towels to dry a bit, then place face up in an oven safe dish.

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In a separate bowl, chop the zucchini that was scooped out.  To that, add the egg, parmesan, mozzarella, bread crumbs, salt, pepper, thyme and red pepper flakes. Stir just to combine.  Add the cooled sausage mixture, stir together. Spoon the sausage filling into  the zucchini.

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Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Bake for 25 minutes. Remove and top with a few handfuls of parmesan and bake for another 5-10 minutes, until melted. Let them rest for 5 minutes and serve. Bon appetit!

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I made these the day before which allowed the flavors to blend even more.  I removed them from the refrigerator about an hour before baking and served them with my (famous) bruschetta.  Watch for that recipe in future posts…..

 

 

Easy Slow-Cooker Baby Back Ribs

I have a confession.  I have never successfully prepared ribs….until earlier this week.  My failure many years ago left such an indelible memory that I decided it was easier to order them out.  Then came the challenge from my Mom.

“You’re such a great cook, how come you never make ribs?”  

Well, this week after researching “baby back ribs” and “slow cooker” on Pinterest I decided, “if not now, when?”  Challenge accepted!

Spence is out of town visiting his best friend and I needed a dinner partner to honestly critique my creation, a compilation of several recipes. Mom was happy to oblige. It was a simple, set it and forget it preparation and most importantly they were delicious!

Easy Slow-Cooker Baby Back Ribs   – serves 2-4

  • 3 lbs baby back ribs
  • Dry Rub Spice for Pork  (I used one from Market Street Saloon in Charleston SC)
  • 1/2 vidalia onion – cut into thick slices
  • 1 can A&W Diet Root Beer (you can use Coca Cola)
  • BBQ Sauce (I used Open Pit Original)

First remove the silver skin from the backside of the ribs.  Thanks to Pinterest, I learned that by slipping a butter knife under it, pulling gently backwards it will come off easily – if it’s too slippery pull it with a kitchen towel.  (Omitting this step had lots to do with my epic fail years ago).

Cut the rack of ribs into 3 sections. Generously cover all surfaces of the ribs with the dry rub and massage into the meat.  Wrap the ribs and put them back into the refrigerator for 24 hours if you have the time.

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I used a Reynolds Slow Cooker Bag which incidentally makes clean up super easy.

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Place the sliced onion at the bottom of the slow cooker followed by the can of root beer.

Next place the ribs into the liquid and turn your slow cooker to the low setting. Cover and step away for 3 hours.  After 3 hours, turn the ribs reversing the top side with the bottom and cover again.  Let them slow cook for another 3 hours.

Set oven at 375 degrees. Remove the ribs from the slow cooker and place onto a foil covered pan.  Baste all surfaces of the ribs with BBQ sauce. Place into the oven for 10-15 minutes until the sauce carmelizes.  Serve and enjoy!

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