Friday, December 22, 2017

Peppermint Pretzel Bark

My pantry is overflowing with half-full bags of pretzels and lots of chocolate chips. Some festive bark is just the way to use them up.

After reading a bunch of online recipes, I decided that making bark was the next best thing to slaving away over Christmas cookies.

Making this holiday dessert couldn't be easier. (Although my husband will tell you that the crunching sound that comes from breaking up pretzels is disturbing if you're trying to watch TV. LOL)

The bark is also nice to give as gifts when you wrap it up in a cute little box or bag and a bow.

What treats are you making this year?

Mangia! Mangia!

Peppermint Pretzel Bark

1 16 ounce package of chocolate or vanilla candy coating
2 12 ounce bags of chocolate or vanilla chocolate chips
1 to 2 cups broken pretzels (any shape) crushed into small pieces
About 12 candy canes, crushed (or buy 2 of the 2 ounce bags of crushed peppermint)

Note: To crush pretzels, place in a gallon size ziplock bag. Smash with the bottom of a metal measuring cup to break into pieces.

Line a large baking sheet or 2 smaller ones with parchment paper.

Place candy coating in a large bowl and microwave for 1 minute. Add chips and microwave another 1 minute. Stir well. Microwave in 30 second intervals, stirring after each one until chocolate is smooth.

Add pretzels and mix well, until all pretzel pieces are coated. Mix in about half of the crushed peppermint.

Pour mixture onto prepared baking sheet and spread out into a layer that is about 1/4 inch thick.

Sprinkle with remaining crushed candy canes and gently press them down with the back of a spatula.

Place baking sheet in refrigerator for about 30 minutes.

Remove tray and break up bark by hand, or use a sharp knife to cut into pieces. Store in airtight containers. 

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Grandma's Corn Flake Cookies

These cookies are not gorgeous but oh, are they sinful.

And so full of memories for me. My Grandma used to make corn flake cookies. They never lasted long. After Grandma was gone, we'd often make them at Christmas, but no one in the family ever seemed to know the exact measurements or have notes on the best liner for the baking sheets (parchment!). Figuring it out was always part of the fun.

Talking with my siblings and cousins about the right way to make these cookies always reminds me of our childhood, when our biggest worry was what was for dinner.

A recent visit from my brother made me think about cornflake cookies and I wanted to make them for my boys. We ran out of time to whip up a batch while their uncle was here, but since we had bought all the supplies, I made some this week.

With just 3 ingredients, these treats are super simple to make.  The result? A delicious cookie that is hard to resist.

Mangia! Mangia!

Grandma's Corn Flake Cookies 
Inspired by Andrea's Grandma Lucy Tortora

1 18 ounce box of corn flakes cereal
2 1/2 cans condensed milk
2 12 ounce bags chocolate chips (we used a holiday variety with red and green chips)
Note: Use your favorite chip. Butterscotch, mint, etc.

Line 2 or 3 cookie sheets with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Pour half the box of cereal into a large bowl. Add 1 can of condensed milk. Pour in the rest of the cereal and the second can of milk. Stir to combine, mixing until all of the cereal is coated in milk.

Let rest for 5 minutes. This helps make the mixture sticky enough so that the chocolate chips don't fall to the bottom of the bowl.

Add chocolate chips and 1/2 can of condensed milk. Stir to combine.

Using two spoons, scoop up some cookie mixture and gently press together. Drop onto cookie sheet and press together again with spoons if needed.

Bake for 8 minutes or until cookies start to brown along the edges. Remove from oven and let cool completely.

Use a spatula to lift cookies from pans. Store in airtight containers.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Slow Cooker Chicken Chili Soup

I am loving my slow cooker these days because life is busy and much to my boys' chagrin, I don't want to eat take-out for every meal.

We eat a lot of chili at our house, and this chicken version is a nice change of pace.

Hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

Mangia! Mangia!

Slow Cooker Chicken Chili Soup
Inspired by the Kitchn

1 large yellow onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
2 4-ounce cans diced green chili peppers
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
2 bay leaves
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
4 cups low-sodium chicken stock
2 cans pinto beans, drained and rinsed

For serving: Chopped cilantro and green onions, lime wedges, shredded cheese or sour cream

Combine the onions, celery, green chili peppers, garlic, cumin, salt, coriander, oregano and bay leaves in a 6-quart (or larger) slow cooker. Stir to combine. Nestle the chicken into the vegetables. Pour the chicken stock on top.

Place the lid on the slow cooker. Cook for 6 hours on low. 

About 1 hour before the end of cooking, remove the lid of the slow cooker and add the beans. Taste and add more salt or other seasonings as desired. 

Replace the lid and continue cooking.

Remove chicken to a plate and use 2 forks to shred into bite-sized pieces. Remove bay leaves. Stir the chicken back into the soup.

Serve with shredded cheese, wedges of lime, chopped cilantro, and sour cream. Refrigerate any leftovers.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Winter Chutney

I always think of Indian food when I think of chutney, especially mango chutney on salmon. When we took the kids to Disney's Animal Kingdom two years ago, my chutney world exploded.

We ate a meal at the Tusker House and my favorite items were all chutneys – so many different combinations of fruits and spices! I had forgotten about a note I wrote to myself so I could try recreating a mixed fruit compote at home until last week, when I switched purses.

I made a batch last night and it was so good! The husband had seconds and my oldest boy downed a healthy serving.

I served this with pork chops. It would go well with many holidays meals — ham, turkey, chicken, even sweet potatoes.

This recipe makes a lot, so you can serve it at large festive gatherings, use it with those turkey leftovers in the freezer or package in pretty canning jars and give as homemade gifts.

Mangia! Mangia!

Winter Chutney
Inspired by recipes from Disney and Spice Islands

1 bag fresh cranberries
3 medium apples, peeled, cord and diced
2/3 cup onion, finely chopped
2/3 cup golden raisins
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, minced
1 heaping teaspoon fresh garlic, minced
1/3 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
2/3 cup pecans, chopped
2/3 cup dark corn syrup
1/3 cup cider vinegar

Combine all ingredients up to and including nutmeg in a large saucepan.

Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Once boiling, cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook for 15 minutes, stirring often.

Remove cover and add pecans, corn syrup and vinegar. Continue to cook for another 15 minutes, stirring every few minutes.

Remove from heat and let rest for 10 minutes or so. The chutney will thicken as it cools. Enjoy!

Monday, December 4, 2017

Slow Cooker Beef & Barley Stew

Life's been super busy folks, as I'm sure you can relate.

Luckily, the Thanksgiving break freed up some time in the kitchen. This easy beef stew recipe comes from a meal prep class I took at a local grocery store. All of my boys loved it, so I made it again this week (with a few little tweaks) while we still had relatives in town.

A double batch will fit in a 6 quart slow cooker, so that you can feed a crowd or stock your freezer.

And like many stews, this one tastes even better the second day.

Mangia! Mangia!

Slow Cooker Beef & Barley Stew
Inspired by a recipe from Hyvee

1 pound beef stew met, cut into bite-size chunks
1 1/4 cups carrots, diced
1 1/4 cup onion, chopped
3/4 cup celery, diced
1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley leaves, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons beef bouillon paste
1/2 cup pearl barley
1 15 ounce can tomato sauce
5 cups water

Combine all ingredients in the bowl of your slow cooker. Cook for 8 to 10 hours on low. Serve with dinner rolls or crusty bread. Refrigerate or freeze any leftovers.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Slow Cooker Chicken and Rice with Spinach and Feta

This is comfort food for me. I've made this recipe many, many times. It's a great dinner for dreary days because it warms you up while delivering bright flavors of lemon and briny feta.

Leftovers make for an easy lunch.

The recipe is from America's Test Kitchen's Slow Cooker Revolution Vol. 2: The Easy-Prep Edition. If you don't have that cookbook and you love your slow cooker, check it out.

Mangia! Mangia!

Slow Cooker Chicken and Rice with Spinach and Feta

1 cup chopped onion
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
4 cups Minute Ready to Serve White Rice
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, fat trimmed
Salt and pepper
1 5 ounce container baby spinach (about 4 cups)
1 1/2 cups feta cheese crumbles
1/2 cup half-and-half
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup pine nuts, optional

Put onion, oil, garlic and oregano in a small bowl and microwave about 5 minutes, stirring halfway through. Transfer to bowl of slow cooker. Stir in rice. Season chicken with salt and pepper and nestle into rice mixture.

Cover and cook 3 to 4 hours on low or until chicken is tender.

Transfer chicken to cutting board and shred into bite-sized pieces. Stir chicken, spinach and half-and-half into rice mixture remaining in slow cooker. Add feta and combine. Let sit until spinach is wilted.

Add lemon zest and lemon juice, salt and pepper and stir.

Serve topped with additional feta and a sprinkle of pine nuts.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Halloween Puppy Chow

OK, so I kind of get a kick out of making Halloween treats. Here's another one. I only discovered puppy chow snack mixes in adulthood and wow, are they yummy.

This recipe uses Nutella, but you can easily swap it out for chocolate to avoid nuts. Make adjustments for the mix-ins as needed based on your family's preferences. The original recipe called for a lot of peanut butter candies, but my kids don't like those, so I went with M&Ms.

Mangia! Mangia!

Halloween Puppy Chow
Inspired by this recipe from the Kitchn.

5 cups corn Chex cereal
3/4 cup Nutella
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups salted popcorn
2 1/2 cups mini pretzels
1 cup M&Ms

Set aside a large baking sheet. Place Chex cereal in a large bowl. Set aside.

In a large ziplock bag, apace powdered sugar, cocoa powder and salt. Set aside.

Put Nutella in a small microwave safe bowl and heat about 30 seconds, until melty. Drizzle over cereal on bowl. Gently stir of coat cereal in Nutella.

Place cereal in ziplock bag and shake until evenly coated. Spread coated cereal on cookie sheet to cool.

Meanwhile, place popcorn, pretzels, M&Ms and any other add-ins into late bowl. Add cereal once cool and mix to combine.

Eat immediately or store in air tight container.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Halloween Snacks

My youngest, Sam, loves to be in the kitchen, so we recently took a snack prep class at a local grocery store. (Thanks, Hyvee and dietitian Katrina!) It was great to spend some time together and he enjoyed being crafty with food.

He's become more of a picky eater. I was hoping if he made some new treats on his own, and they looked silly or goofy, he would actually eat them. Sam only devoured one snack.

Can you guess which one?

Mangia! Mangia!

Owl Snack

  • Large or medium round crackers (like Ritz)
  • Small round crackers 
  • Plain cream cheese
  • Sliced almonds
  • Whole almonds
  • Raisins or dried cranberries

Spread cream cheese on a large round cracker. Add two small round crackers at top for eyes. Use a dab of cream cheese on each to attach the raisins for pupils.

Press on an almond beak and almond-slice feathers.

Tombstone Pudding Cups

  • Cool whip
  • Chocolate yogurt
  • Crushed chocolate sandwich cookies
  • Milano cookies
  • Candy corn pumpkins and candy corn
  • Chocolate icing

In a clear plastic cup, gently mix cool whip and yogurt. Top with crushed chocolate cookies. Stand a Milano cookie up along edge to be a tombstone. Use a toothpick dipped into icing to write R.I.P. or another saying on the gravestone.

Place candy corn pumpkins and other candies to decorate.

Celery Mummies

  • Veggie cream cheese
  • Celery sticks
  • Ham slices, cut into thin strips
  • Dried cranberries, cut into pieces

Spread or pipe cream cheese into celery piece. Place or wrap ham pieces in a criss-cross pattern over celery, so that it looks like bandages. Add two dried cranberry eyes between bandages.

Apple Bites

  • Large apple slice or two smaller apple slices
  • Your favorite jam, nut butter or sunflower butter 
  • Slivered almonds or pumpkin seeds

Slice large apple slice down middle, while keeping intact. Or, place two apple slices together to resemble a mouth. Spread on jam or nut butter for the tongue. Add slivered almonds for teeth.

P.S. The pudding cup was Sam's favorite.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Slow Cooker Chicken Enchilada Stew

Fall is slowly arriving and school and other activities are kicking into high gear. Enter the slow cooker. I love the ease of prepping a meal in the morning — or even the night before — pushing a button and having a meal ready by dinner time.

We love chili and Mexican food at our house, so this recipe for Chicken Enchilada Stew seemed like a good fit.

I made a double batch to stock my freezer and we had plenty of leftovers for a second meal, too.

Mangia! Mangia!

Slow Cooker Chicken Enchilada Stew
Inspired by this recipe from The Kitchn

For the stew base:
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tablespoon (or more to taste) of canned, chopped jalapeño peppers
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 heaping tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon sugar
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
1 15 ounce can tomato sauce
2 cups chicken stock
Salt and pepper to taste

Additional ingredients:
1 15 ounce can of corn, drained
1 15 ounce of black beans, drained
3 pounds boneless chicken thighs and/or breasts
Splash heavy cream, to taste (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste

You'll need a 6 quart slow cooker for this recipe.

Heat oil over medium heat in a Dutch oven or deep skillet. Add onion and jalapeño and cook until softened, about 6 minutes.

Add garlic, chili powder, cumin and sugar. Stir until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the chopped tomatoes, tomato sauce and chicken stock. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then transfer to the bowl of your slow cooker.

Add the corn and beans to the slow cooker and stir to combine. Nestle chicken into the stew. Cook on low for 6 to 7 hours, or high for 4 hours.

Remove the chicken and shred with two forks. Return chicken to the crock pot and stir to combine. Mix in a splash of heavy cream.

Serve with shredded cheese, sliced green onions and tortilla chips. Refrigerate leftovers.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Fresh Apple Pie

I grew up close to an orchard and apple pie is one of the first things I learned how to bake. For years I would make the crust from scratch, using a big bowl and two knives to incorporate the butter into flour.

Discovering the pastry cutter in my early 20s was a major breakthrough. After I got married, a friend told me about using a food processor to slice the apples. Game changer! I once packed that kitchen gadget and drove it from Cincinnati to my parents house in New York just to make Thanksgiving pie baking easier.

This year I've been experimenting with prepping dough in the food processor, too. I recommend it for saving time and less mess. I also discovered (thanks to Ina Garten) that adding shortening to the dough recipe makes the dough  easier to work with.

After a recent visit to our local apple orchard here in Illinois, my boys were craving apple pie and my husband needed a treat for an office party. So I put the food processor to work. I had two pies in the oven in a little more than an hour.

Another secret to perfect pie: use a variety of apples. You need at least 2-3 Granny Smith, then use your favorites. Fuji, Honeycrisp, Macintosh and Jonagold hold up well, as does Sweet Tango, which I just discovered.

If you're a novice, don't be afraid of making pie. It's a great way to get the whole family in the kitchen.

If you end up with extra apple filling and enough dough scraps, let your kids make small hand pies or cook the apples in a saucepan for some apple sauce.

Mangia! Mangia!

Fresh Apple Pie

For the crust:
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, chilled and cut into cubes
3 cups all purpose flour, plus more for rolling out the dough
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup chilled vegetable shortening
1/2 cup ice water
Egg wash (1 egg whisked together with 1 tablespoon water)
1-2 teaspoons coarse sugar

For the filling:
4-5 pounds of mixed apples, peeled, cored, quartered and thinly sliced by hand or with food processor
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons butter, cut into chunks

*One note: I tend to just eyeball the apples and spices, tasting as I go. I also pile the apples high in the pie plate. So feel free to make your own adjustments.

To make the crust, set up your food processor with the steel blade. Add flour, salt and sugar to the processor bowl and pulse to combine. Add butter and shortening and pulse until the butter is the size of small pebbles, about 12 times.

With the food processor running, pour in the cold water until the dough comes together. Turn out onto a floured counter and roll into a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate while you make the filling.

To make the filling, thinly slice apples by hand or set up your food processor with the larger slicing disk. Place each apple quarter into feeder shoot and let the food processor do the work. Place apples into a large bowl.

Add sugar, flour, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Mix to combine so that all the apples are coated in the spices. Add more spices if you think it needs it, or if you used more apples. Set aside.

Grab dough from fridge. Lightly flour (1-2 tablespoons) a counter. Cut dough ball in half. Gently roll out one half of dough into a roughly 10-inch circle. Carefully fold in half and place into pie plate. Unfold and press dough into pie plate. Let extra dough hang over the edge, then trim it so that 1/2 inch or less hangs over.

Brush the edge of the bottom crust with egg wash. This will help the top crust stick to it.

Fill pie crust with apple filling. Arrange apples in a mound slightly higher in the center. Dot with butter chunks.

Roll out the rest of the dough to make the top crust. Place dough on top of filling. Trim off excess dough. Press together edges of dough. Crimp with fingers or a fork.

Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar. Cut a few 1-inch slits in top crust to allow steam to escape during baking.

Place a sheet pan lined with parchment on a lower rack in the oven, to catch any drippings from the pie.

Place pie on a middle or upper middle rack in the oven. Bake for about an hour, until the crust is brown and the juices of the pie are bubbling. If crust is browning too fast, cover loosely with foil.

When done, remove and let cool before serving. Serve warm with ice cream or whipped cream. Refrigerate leftovers.

My kids devoured half the pie before I could take a pretty photo!

Monday, October 2, 2017

Singapore Noodles

Singapore noodles is like the original Asian fusion dish. First of all, they originated in Hong Kong, not Singapore. Plus, there's a little bit of China (soy sauce), a little bit of Thai (rice noodles) and a little bit of India (curry).

I've been meaning to try this recipe from Cook's Illustrated for years and finally got around to doing it one weekend night recently. It's involved with a lot of steps, making it not suitable for a weeknight week, in my opinion. While this dish was perfectly good the night I made it, it tasted even better as leftovers.


Singapore Noodles
Based largely upon Cook's Illustrated
4 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon vegetable oil or olive oil
2 tablespoons curry powder
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
6-8 ounces rice vermicelli
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
12 ounces large shrimp (ideally 26 to 30 per pound), peeled and deveined, cut into 1/2 inch pieces, OR smaller shrimp (36 to 40 per pound, peeled and deveined and left whole
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 teaspoon salt, and extra for serving, as needed
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and cut into 2-inch-long matchsticks
2 large shallots, sliced thin
2/3 cup chicken broth
4 ounces (2 cups) bean sprouts (optional) (I hate bean sprouts, so no way)
4 scallons, finely cut
2 tablespoons lime juice, plus lime wedges for serving

Heat 3 tablespoons oil, curry powder and cayenne, if using, in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally until fragrant, about 3-4 minutes.

Bring 1 1/2 quarts of water to boil. Place noodles in large bowl. Pour boiling water over noodles and soak noodles until flexible, but not soft, about 3 minutes. Drain noodles and transfer to cutting board. Using a chef's knife cut pile of noodles roughly into thirds. Return noodles to bowl, add curry mixture, soy sauce and sugar; use tongs to toss until well combined. Set aside.

Wipe out skillet with paper towels. Heat 2 teaspoons oil into skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. add shrimp in even layer and cook without moving them until bottoms are browned, about 90 seconds. Push shrimp to one side of skillet. Add 1 teaspoon oil to empty side of skillet. Add eggs and sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt. Using rubber spatula, stir eggs gently until set but still wet, about 1 minute. Stir eggs into shrimp and continue to cook, breaking up big pieces of egg, until eggs fully cooked — about 30 seconds longer. Transfer shrimp-egg mixture to second large bowl.

Reduce heat to medium. Heat remaining 1 teaspoon oil in empty skillet until shimmering. Add garlic and gingers and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 15 seconds. Add bell pepper and shallots. Cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables are a little tender but also still crisp, about 2 minutes. Transfer to bowl with shrimp-egg mixture.

Return skillet to medium-high heat, add broth to skillet  and bring to simmer. Add noodles and cook, stirring frequently, until liquid is absorbed, about 2 minutes. Add noodles to bowl with shrimp-egg and vegetable mixture and toss to combine. Add bean sprouts, scallions and lime juice and toss to combine. Plate noodles and serve with lime wedges.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Banana Muffins with Nutella Swirl

My son Sam truly loves to be in the kitchen — almost as much as he loves Nutella. I need more ways to get him to eat more bananas.

Say hello to banana muffins with Nutella. You can use your favorite banana bread or banana muffin recipe here. The chocolate-hazelnut topping makes these treats special for breakfast or a snack.

Kids can help by swirling the Nutella into the muffin batter.

Mangia! Mangia!

Banana Muffins with Nutella Swirl
Inspired by this recipe from MyRecipes.

1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
3 ripe bananas, mashed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup Nutella

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 12-muffin tin with cooking spray.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder and salt. In a second bowl, beat butter and sugar until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs, banana and vanilla and beat until smooth.

Add flour mixture in batches, beating to incorporate after each addition. Use a spatula to scrape down the side of the bowl.

Divide batter among the muffin tins. Top each muffin with a heaping teaspoon of Nutella. Using a toothpick, swirl Nutella into muffin batter.

Bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Quick Cucumber Salad

Once again we have a bumper crop of cucumbers. They seem to be the only thing we can grow in our tower garden. Time to make cucumber salad, a nice, light side dish to a dinner in which the husband grilled burgers, sausages and chicken (for the week, not just one dinner!)

Even the kids LOVE this cucumber salad. I prefer it to the creamy Hungarian version, but that's good too. Put this on your culinary radar for when you have an abundance of cucumbers.


Quick Cucumber Salad
2 medium cucumbers, thinly sliced (I used the 1/16" setting on my mandoline.)
1/3 cup vinegar — apple cider or white
1/3 cup water
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon fresh or jarred dill weed or parsley, if desired (I much prefer dill.)

Place sliced cucumbers in small glass or plastic bowl, preferably one that has a lid that fits.

Combine remaining ingredients and pour over the cukes. Cover and refrigerate at least three hours to blend the flavors. Drain cucumbers. Sprinkle with dill weed (or parsley). Serve.

Confession: I have made this when I've only had time to let the cukes site and marinate for one hour, and nobody could tell as they were too busy stuffing their faces.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Zucchini Bites

It's that time of year when fresh zucchini is still plentiful. When my farmer's market had one of these giant vegetables for just $1, I could not pass it up.

My boys may disagree, but I think zucchini is one of the hardest-working veggies out there. You can use it in so many different recipes, like side dishes such as a simple saute or Zucchini Rice. And you can bake with it for super moist Zucchini Chocolate Cake or Zucchini-Blueberry Bread.

One thing I'd never done with zucchini is wring it out in a towel to squeeze out the moisture before using it in a recipe. Wowza. The process adds just a few extra minutes and it's a great way to get your kids involved in helping out.

Removing the zucchini's extra water led to these amazingly light and fluffy veggie bites. In fact, these will likely replace my go-to Zucchini Pancakes.

I'll be making this recipe again because it is so versatile. You can easily change up the herbs and cheese for variety.

Mangia! Mangia!

Zucchini Bites
Inspired by this recipe from Mel's Kitchen Cafe

1 1/2 cups packed, shredded zucchini
1 large egg
3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup finely chopped white or yellow onion
1 bunch green onions, diced
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper lightly coated with cooking spray.

Place the shredded zucchini in a clean dish towel and fold up the edges of the towel. Holding the towel pouch over the sink, twist and squeeze the zucchini and towel to wring out as much excess water as possible. You want the zucchini to be almost dry.

Place zucchini in medium bowl and add remaining ingredients. Mix until combined. If mixture is too wet, add a tablespoon to two of bread crumbs or flour.

Scoop up rounded tablespoons and drop onto prepared baking sheet. Gently flatten mounds with the back of a spoon.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the edges are golden brown and the tops are browned in spots.

Remove from oven and let cool for a few minutes before serving. Goes well with plain Greek yogurt or ranch dressing.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Tahini Shortbread Cookies

A recipe for Tahini Cookies in this month's issue of Bon Appetit caught my eye.

"These are your grown-up peanut butter cookies. The tahini lends a creamy, earthly flavor." 

Sold. Plus, I had a can of tahini in the pantry. Boom.

And, I actually had a reason to bake, as if a reason is necessary. Icing on the cake. Oops, wrong dessert. Anyhow, my friend Megan invited my family over for dinner to celebrate her husband Steve's birthday.

Bon Appetit reported these cookies were inspired by the Tahini Shortbread Cookies at a Cambridge, Mass. restaurant called Mamaleh's.

Indeed, these are cookies for adults. Not too sweet. Not even so pretty. Rich and melt in your mouth. Exactly like shortbread. "They're ugly, but so good," I announced upon arriving at the dinner party. And because I'm a fab friend and lacking in self control, I left all of the uneaten cookies with Megan and Steve. That was on Saturday. Here is the text exchange with Megan the following Tuesday:

Megan: "Even though I just had oral surgery 2 hours ago, I am still eating those cookies you made. They are too (freaking) good to let pain stand in the way."

Me: *Laughing/crying emoji* "Glad they held up and are being devoured."

Megan: "They still taste just as good as day 1....for future reference. Make-ahead potential is very high."

Me: "That's gtk for when I blog them."

There you go, dear readers. My pal Megan and I doing the hard research and reporting for you.


Tahini Shortbread Cookies
From Bon Appetit

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons honey
3/4 cup tahini
1/8 to 1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk together the flour, baking power and salt in a medium-sized bowl. Using an electric mixer on medium speed, mix together the butter, sugar and honey in a large bowl until light and fluffy, about three minutes. Mix in tahini, then add dry ingredients in two or three batches. Beat until thoroughly combined. Batter will be slightly sticky.

Place 1/8 cup of toasted sesames in a small bowl or on a small plate. You can always add more if you run out. (I didn't need the 1/4 cup that Bon Appetit called for.) Scoop out heaping tablespoons of dough (about one ounce) and roll into balls. Dip tops of balls in sesame seeds and place on very lightly sprayed cookie sheet, spacing cookie balls about two inches apart. Take a spatula and gently press the balls to very slightly flatten. (I learned to do this after the first batch of cookies came out of the oven pretty much still looking like dough balls.)

Bake cookies until golden brown, about 13 to 15 minutes. Transfer cookies to wire cooling racks. Cookies will firm up as they cool.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Cherry Berry Bars

If you ever find yourself with a mess of berries and cherries that need be consumed quickly, this recipe is your new best friend.

After buying more berries than my family could eat, I decided to cook them in a saucepan to make a compote to serve with yogurt or ice cream. When my oldest son started asking for a cherry pie, I improvised.

These dessert bars were delicious, with a dough that reminds me of shortbread. My kids put them in their school lunches and ate them for after school snacks. They disappeared from my kitchen in just a few days.

Mangia! Mangia!

Cherry Berry Bars
Inspired by this recipe from the Kitchn

7 to 8 cups of berries (blackberries, strawberries, raspberries) and cherries, hulled or pitted, and halved
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon corn starch
1 tablespoon water
3 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large egg yolks
2 teaspoons almond extract
2 sticks cold, unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1 tablespoon melted butter
1 tablespoon course sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 9 x 13 inch baking pan with cooking spray.

Place berries, cherries and 1/2 cup sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Cook until berries break down and release their juices, stirring frequently to avoid burning and lowering the flame if needed.

In a small bowl, mix corn starch with water until dissolved. Stir into berries. Continue to cook until berries thicken. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice. Set aside to cool.

Insert the blade attachment on your food processor. Add flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt and pulse to combine. Add egg yolks, almond extract and butter. Pulse in short intervals until dough comes together (about 1 minute). The dough will be crumbly and soft.

Transfer about 2/3 of the dough to the baking pan. Use your fingers to press the dough into the bottom of the pan. Spread the cherry mixture evenly over the dough.

Scoop tablespoons of the remaining dough into your hand and flatten them into an oval shape, then place on top of berry mixture. Repeat until you use all of the dough, evenly spacing the dough ovals on top of the fruit. The berries will not be completely covered.

Brush the dough pieces with the melted butter, then sprinkle with the coarse sugar.

Bake until the dough is light brown and the fruit is bubbling, about 40 minutes. Cool completely in the pan before cutting into bars.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Oven-Grilled Tuna Steaks

This summer I did something I don't usually do, because of an utter lack of self control. I indulged in beer. Omigoodness I love beer. And not crap light beer but really good craft beer. By the beginning of August, I was ready to be done and start living cleaner. So the husband, who also loves the craft beers, and I have been eating healthier.

It's boring in a way — OK, in a lot of ways. But we have learned to appreciate some simple dishes that we never made at home. Like oven-grilled tuna steaks. Even our kids love these (who knew?), so this dinner has become a new go-to Chez George.


Oven-Grilled Tuna Steaks
3-4 half-pound tuna steaks
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper
Fresh herbs of your choosing

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Spray baking sheet or inside of grill pan with non-stick spray.

Mix together lemon juice and olive oil with a fork. Brush the lemon juice and olive oil mixture over each side of each tuna steak. Salt and pepper each side. Sprinkle herbs (I used rosemary) to each side. Bake for four to six minutes per half inch of thickness, or until fish begins to flake when test with a fork but is still pink in the center. I have found sticking closer to the four-minute mark is best.

Serve with a steamed vegetable or salad for a really healthy dinner.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Creamy Shrimp Salad

When I served this salad, my husband was surprised to see large whole shrimp — which is why I decided to try this recipe.

I usually associate shrimp salad with those tiny "salad shrimp." An email from the Food Network highlighting this dish caught my eye.

This is perfect for a warm day or when you need a meal that you can prep ahead of time. (The dressing tastes even better if it has time to sit in the fridge for a bit.) Creamy shrimp salad is good on buns for lunch or on top of greens for a light dinner. Leftovers stand up well in the fridge, too.

Mangia! Mangia!

Creamy Shrimp Salad
Inspired by this recipe from Ina Garten

2.5 to 3 pounds of large shrimp, peeled and deveined, tail off
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
1 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon orange zest (about the amount you can get from 2 oranges)
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1/4 cup minced dill
2 tablespoons drained capers
2 tablespoons red onion, diced small

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. You will need one or two large baking sheets so that the shrimp can be arranged in a single layer.

Place shrimp, oil, salt and pepper on a large baking sheet and toss together. Roast for 6 to 8 minutes or until is pink and cooked through. Remove from oven and let cool.

In a medium bowl combine remaining ingredients to make the dressing, beginning with the mayonnaise. Stir well. Add shrimp to a large bowl and pour about 1/2 the dressing on top. Gently stir to evenly coat.

Add more dressing to taste or until all shrimp are coated. Save any extra dressing in the fridge to add to leftover salad or to spread on buns or bread if you make shrimp salad sandwiches. A garnish of orange slices would be nice, too.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Ramen & Bok Choy Salad

This recipe is a bit of a classic. I've been making it for 14 years — ever since a good friend whipped some up during my bachelorette weekend in Myrtle Beach.

This summer's trip with my husband's family reminded me of this salad as my sister-in-law and I reminisced about that long-ago girls weekend.

When we got home from vacation, I wanted to see if my kids would like this dish, especially since Sam still loves ramen noodles.

The verdict? I still find this salad addicting and my husband still enjoys it. Not so much for my boys. But hey, more for me!

This recipe makes enough for a crowd. Leftovers still taste good on Day 2, but the ingredients will be a little less crunchy. If you want to make less, cut the recipe in half by using a small head of bok choy or 4-5 baby bok choy.

Do you make a version of this salad? Let us know how you do it at your house!

Mangia! Mangia!

Ramen & Bok Choy Salad
Inspired by my friend Claire

4 tablespoons olive oil
2 packages ramen noodles, broken into small pieces (Set aside seasoning packet for another use.)
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1/2 cup sesame seeds
2 tablespoons white sugar
1 large head of bok choy
1 bunch green onions, sliced (5 or 6 stalks)
1/2 cup olive or vegetable oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup white sugar

Note: You can prep this salad in advance, but don't add the dressing until you are ready to serve it.

Heat oil over medium heat in large sauce pan. Add ramen noodles, almonds, sesame seeds and sugar. Still until lightly browned. Set aside to cool.

Chop the bok choy leaves and the white stalks into small pieces and place in large bowl. Add green onions. Stir to combine. Set aside.

To make the dressing, combine oil, vinegar, soy sauce and sugar in a container with a tight lid. Shake to mix. Set aside.

When ready to serve, combine ramen noodle mix with bok choy mix. Add half the dressing and stir to evenly coat. Add more dressing as needed. (You may not need all of it.)

Monday, August 21, 2017

Poppyseed Egg Salad

A few weeks ago, with my nieces in town to hang out with my girls for what is known as Cousin Camp, we had a tea party with some other friends. I made PB&J and cream cheese and jam sandwiches in the shapes of hearts and flowers. But what about for the adults? I hadn't thought that far ahead. Fortunately, egg salad popped to mind, because all of the ingredients — including poppyseeds, which give this version a subtle nutty flavor and crunch — are always on hand.

My friend Ashley, who brought her girls to the tea party, and I were like "Omigosh, egg salad is sooooo good." There wasn't a whole lot of talking during the eating, actually.

Why don't I make egg salad more often? Well, the hubby is watching his cholesterol, and the kids won't eat it. But I'm here to tell you, my friends, that it's good to make dishes for just yourself (and a like-minded friend) sometimes. Besides, taste buds change, too. I now have one kid, Lucy, who absolutely loves this egg salad. I found out about Lucy's new love of egg salad when the leftovers that had my name (figuratively) all over them for a late post-cycle class lunch were half eaten when I got to them.

I hope you enjoy this simple, classic dish with a twist. I hope that sometimes you make something that only you like ... for now.


Poppyseed Egg Salad
12 hardboiled eggs
2 tablespoons yellow mustard
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon poppyseeds
Salt and pepper, to taste

Peel and cut up eggs; transfer to bowl. Add rest of ingredients and stir gently (so as not to make the eggs a mushy mess) until combined.

Question: Do you know how to boil eggs? That is, do you know how to boil eggs so that the yolks are perfectly cooked without any greenish hint of being overdone? And do you know how to boil eggs so that the shells come off easily, without taking out hunks of egg white?

No? Well, here is what to do. Place eggs in a pot and add water so that it there's at least an inch of water over the tops of the eggs. Add some salt to the water and set pot over high heat. Once the water comes to a rapid boil, allow water to continue its full-paced boil and the eggs to cook for another two minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove eggs and transfer to a bowl of ice cubes and cold water. Peel eggs immediately after they are cooled, within about 10-15 minutes.

Oh, and here's Lucy enjoying an open-faced egg salad sandwich.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Grilled Eggplant Caprese

Oh, sweet eggplant. Paired with tomatoes, basil, oil and balsamic, this purple beauty really shines.

If you are enjoying an abundance of tomatoes from your garden or farmer's market, this dish is a great way to put that fresh summer taste to work. The eggplant caprese makes a great side salad, appetizer or vegetarian main dish.

Never grilled eggplant before? It's a quick way to get a mellow, smoky flavor, and the eggplant will hold up well the next day, too. If you like, you can grill the eggplant ahead of time.

If you are like me and just can't get enough of grilled eggplant, try these dishes, too — Grilled Eggplant with Chimichurri Sauce or Grilled Eggplant Salad

Mangia! Mangia!

Grilled Eggplant Caprese

1 medium eggplant, sliced into 1/4 slices
Olive oil (about 1/2 cup, plus more for drizzling)
Balsamic vinegar (about 1/2 cup, plus more for drizzling)
4 to 5 medium tomatoes, sliced
15 basil leaves, divided
1 pound fresh mozzarella, sliced
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh salad greens, optional

Heat your grill to medium. Brush both sides of eggplant slices with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Place eggplant slices on grill and cook until lightly browned, about 3 to 4 minutes. Turn over and grill another 3 minutes or so, until eggplant is softened and nice grill marks appear. Remove from grill and set aside.

Layer salad greens on a serving platter. Arrange eggplant slices on greens. Top each piece of eggplant with a slice of mozzarella cheese, 1 basil leaf and a slice of tomato. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Slice any remaining basil leaves into thin strips and sprinkle on top of eggplant stacks. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Jack Fruit Three Ways

My youngest son Sam is on a mission to try a new fruit whenever possible.

This means picking something exotic from the produce section at our local grocery store and trying it out. Sam's quest is known by our regular cashier and the produce manager. They often give us tips and previews on what we'll find inside a small spiky orb or a giant bumpy-skinned melon.

Some of the delicacies we've tried this summer are:

Passion fruit.
Dragon fruit.
Prickly pear.
And then there is the Jack Fruit. At just $2, this baby supplied us with enough fruit for more than a week. It took some work, but it was totally worth it.

If you're a vegetarian, you might eat jack fruit all the time, as the yellow bulbs inside this behemoth can be used as a meat substitute in tacos and many slow cooker dishes. The seeds are edible, too, if you cook them.

The fruit is somewhat firm and tastes like a cross between a mango and a peach.

We went online to learn how to open this baby and harvest the edible parts. This video from was pretty helpful. A note if you watch the video: Do not be deterred! Our jack fruit was not as sticky as predicted and we were able to pry it open with just a knife.

It took me, Sam and my husband about an hour to remove all the fruity pods and seeds from the tough shell. We tackled the job on our patio to make clean-up easier.

Cut the jack fruit in half, and then into quarters.
Once your jack fruit is in quarters, you can start peeling away the stringy white pulp to reveal the yellow pods.
The jack fruit.
Jack fruit seeds can be seasoned and cooked.
The aftermath of our work.
Jack Fruit Salad

Once your jack fruit is ready to use, you can dice it into a fruit salad with strawberries and some mint.

Jack Fruit Salsa

Jack fruit holds up really well in a salsa, adding a sweet note.

2 cups jack fruit, diced
1 pint cherry tomatoes, diced
1 bunch green onions, sliced
Juice of 1 lime
2-3 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl. Stir to combine. Chill or serve right away with tortilla chips.

Jack Fruit Fries

If you like sweet potato fries, you'll love this side.

2 cups jack fruit, sliced into 1/4 inch strips
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

In a medium bowl, toss sliced jack fruit with the oil until the fruit is well coated. Spread jack fruit on a large cookie sheet, leaving space between each piece of fruit. You may need two cookie sheets depending on the size of your pans.

Roast for 10 minutes, then flip fruit pieces over with a spatula and bake for another 10 minutes or until fruit is crispy and browned.

Remove from oven and let cool. Add more salt if needed. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Tequila by the Slice

A fellow baseball mom shared a recipe for this handheld cocktail in the middle of our summer season. So, so glad she did!

These adult "drinks" are light and refreshing on a hot day. Since I'm on vacation this week, they are top of mind (again!)

One tip: If you bring these to a gathering or party where children will be present, be sure to have some slices for the kids, too. This way you can avoid a little one taking a bite of "grown-up watermelon."

Another option: A friend added a drizzle of basil simple syrup when she recently served these. Also very yummy.

If you don't use a whole watermelon when you make this, you can use the rest for some delicious Watermelon Raspberry Rum Punch.

Mangia! Mangia!

Tequila by the Slice
Inspired by

1 seedless watermelon, quartered
Silver tequila
2-3 fresh limes, sliced
Coarse salt for topping

*Note: It is best to add the lime juice and salt right before you eat the watermelon slices. Doing so in advance makes the watermelon too salty.

Slice each watermelon quarter into 1-inch triangles. If you like, cut each piece in half to get smaller triangles.

Place watermelon slices on a large cookie sheet.

(Please pardon the drywall. Kitchen still a work in progress!)
Splash each slice with some tequila. Eyeball it. I used about 1/3 a bottle of tequila for a medium sized watermelon. Let sit 15 minutes. Turn over each slice and soak for another 15 minutes.

Serve each piece with a lime slice and some coarse salt.

To enjoy, drizzle with lime juice, sprinkle with salt and repeat!