Tag Archives: cooking

Delicious Peanut Butter Brownies

Last Sunday, we had dinner at a friend’s house. As is often the case, I was in charge of bringing the dessert. It was a busy weekend, so when Sunday came around, I knew exactly what I would make. They’re portable. They’re easy. And they’re absolutely delicious…peanut butter brownies.

You may remember, a while back I wrote about candy bar brownies, which are amazing. This is a little twist, taking them even further! For the peanut butter brownies, you need a batch of brownie batter. Feel free to make your own from scratch, or use a store-bought brownie mix. Either way, they’re so doctored up, they’ll be delicious.

To the brownie batter, fold in a 12 oz bag Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup miniatures, chopped. And I know, it may seem like a lot, but trust me, you want the whole bag! Pour the batter into a greased 13×9 inch pan and bake as you normally would. While the brownies are baking, we’re going to take the next step to put these over the top.Reese'schoppedready to foldbatterbakedThree words…peanut – butter – frosting! Yes, it’s amazing, and the perfect addition to these brownies. Beat 1 stick softened butter until creamy and smooth. Add 1 cup creamy peanut butter and thoroughly combine. Add 2 cups powdered sugar and mix until combined. If the frosting is too thick, add 1-2 tablespoons milk until the desired consistency is reached.butterpeanut butterpowdered sugarreadyOnce the brownies are cooked and cooled, cut into squares. Pipe each square with a big dollop of frosting. I just used a plastic bag with the corner cut, but feel free to be fancy.browniescutready for frostingdoneNeedless to say, these brownies are always a huge hit. They are perfect for the peanut butter addict, or, really, whoever had taste buds! 🙂 Enjoy!

Eating Healthy in the New Year…Brussels Sprouts!

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Brussels sproutsIt’s hard to believe that 2014 is about to draw to a close. I feel like the year has just flown by. It was an eventful year for us…new jobs, travel, and excitement. Oh, and I started this blog, which has been a ton of fun. So, now as the year comes to a close, if I believe all of the January issues of magazines, and every commercial since Christmas, we’re supposed to focus on healthy eating and taking care of ourselves. With that in mind, I thought I’d share a this “healthy” recipe. Of course, it combines delicious Brussels sprouts cooked in butter with a creamy rich Parmesan cream sauce and toasted pumpkin seeds. But it’s a vegetable…so it has to be healthy…right??? 😉

blanchedTo ring in the new year, we’re heading to the new home of our friends. There will be about 10 of us, and everyone was assigned something to bring for dinner. Of course, I was a little disappointed that I was assigned a side. After all, how can I let my cooking talents shine with just a side. However, this recipe is a keeper, and it’s incredibly easy. Surprisingly enough, the recipe comes from the November 2013 issue of the Spirit Airlines inflight magazine. Who would have thought a recipe from an airline magazine would be so good, but this one surprised us!

To start, blanch 1 1/2 lbs Brussels sprouts in boiling water for about a minute. They’ll become bright green and soften a little. Drain, and soak in ice water until cool to stop the cooking. Once they’re cool, drain again and cut into quarters.coolingdrainslicedIn the meantime, heat 2 cups heavy cream in a saucepan over medium high heat until simmering. Allow to simmer for about 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the cream reduces by half. Make sure you keep an eye on the cream, as it could boil over. Once the cream has reduced, remove from heat and add 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese. Stir to combine, then set aside.creamboilingcheesesauce readyHeat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread out 2 oz pumpkin seeds on a cookie sheet. Toast the pumpkin seeds in the oven for about 10 minutes until brown. You’ll want to check on them frequently, and shake the pan to stir. Set aside once toasted.beforeafterIn a large saute pan, heat 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat until melted. Add the Brussels sprouts and cook until toasted, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.butteradd sproutsbrowned sproutsTo serve, pour the toasted Brussels sprouts into a serving dish. Top with the Parmesan cream and sprinkle with the pumpkin seeds. The Brussels sprouts are buttery and flavorful, the sauce is creamy and salty from the cheese, and the pumpkin seeds are nutty and crunchy. It’s the perfect mix of flavors and textures, and I’m sure it will wow the crowd tonight.

Whatever you are doing to celebrate the new year, whether it’s a huge night out, quiet celebration at home, or an early evening in bed, have a safe night. And have a very happy, healthy, and prosperous 2015! Happy New Year!

Sausage Stuffing for Thanksgiving!

celery onions pepperIt’s almost here, and I can’t wait.  Thanksgiving!  It’s my absolute favorite holiday.  I know, I know, people love Christmas, or can’t get enough of Halloween, and I like them too.  However, as someone obsessed with food, you shouldn’t be surprised that the food fest is my favorite. And for me, one of the crown jewels of that Thanksgiving table is the stuffing.

Growing up in an Italian-American household, there was only ever one type of stuffing. There was no chestnut or cornbread, no pecan or, heaven forbid, Stove Top. Instead, butterit was always sausage stuffing. Amazing, delicious sausage stuffing. I know for some, that may seem strange, however, if you’ve never had it, give it a try. The sausage adds incredible flavor, and the addition of plenty of onions and some green peppers only enhances it. It has ruined plain stuffing for me.  It seems so, well, plain without the sausage.

To start, melt 1 stick butter in a large saute pan over medium high heat. Add in 2 medium to large red onions, chopped. Saute for about 5 minutes until they start to soften and have some color.oinionsAdd to the saute pan 4 stalks celery, chopped, and 1 large green bell pepper, chopped. Stir to combine, and continue cooking for 5 more minutes, until the vegetables are cooked. Pour everything into a large bowl, and return the pan to the heat.celerypeppercookedCook 1 lb mild Italian sausage. If you can get loose sausage meat, get that. However, I can never find it at Wegmans, so, instead if just cut the casing and add it to the pan loose. Cook for about 5 minutes, breaking up as you go until thoroughly cooked and no longer pink.sausage

breakingI’ll let you in on a little tip here. When I make this stuffing, I can never seem to break the sausage up small enough while cooking it. You really want small pieces that get incorporated into every bite of the stuffing. Once it’s cooked, I add it to a plate to cool, then I just break it up with my hands into the bowl that has the vegetables. It’s so much easier than trying to break it in the pan. So break it up and add the sausage and any fat or juice from the pan to the bowl.

breadNext, you want to add the bread. I use bagged cubes of bread for my stuffing. I find it much easier then cutting, and I get the Martin’s potato bread that stands up well to the moisture. If you prefer, you could cut up white bread, or get a loaf of Italian bread or even ciabatta would be nice. Feel free to experiment. In total, you’ll want about 24 oz cubed bread, which is about 22 cups, or two bags of the pre-cut stuff.

I add the bread in stages. As it absorbs the liquid, it will start to shrink and some will even fall apart, so I find it much easier. Add half the bread, then add about 2 cups chicken stock. If you have it, use homemade. On Thanksgiving, we always have holiday soup…or you may stuffingknow it as Italian Wedding or Escarole…so I always have stock on hand. If you’re buying it, that’s fine, just get a low sodium variety. The Wegmans store brand is great, and it’s lower in sodium than many others. Also add 1 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary, 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.

Stir to combine, then add the remaining bread. You may need a little bit more stock to make sure everything is moist, but you don’t want it too wet. Pour into a greased 13×9 pan, and cram it in to fit. Bake at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes until hot throughout, and ready for the ovenbrown on top.

One note, for Thanksgiving, I usually make the stuffing the night before and just cook it on Thanksgiving. If you’re doing that, take it out of the refrigerator about 30 minutes before you’re putting it in the oven, and it may take up to an hour to cook through. You want it hot all the way through.

Well, there you have it, my tried and true, favorite Thanksgiving stuffing. Oh, and you’ll notice I didn’t stuff the bird. You certainly can with this stuffing, but I love the crunchy top, and you get much more when you cook it in a pan. However, if you’re a stuffer, go for it!

Stuffed Peppers-A Classic!

pepper cupsAs the days keep getting shorter and the temperature keeps dropping, I keep gravitating towards warm, comfort foods for dinner.  One that I’ve been craving for a while is stuffed peppers.  I didn’t really have a recipe for traditional stuffed peppers, with meat and rice, so I went looking.  I have to tell you, there are a ton of stuffed pepper recipes out there, but not a whole lot that are like the classics.  After reading tons of reviews and a bunch of recipes, I came up with this recipe.  It’s the classic combination of rice, ground meat, and tomato sauce stuffed in a pepper, and they are delicious!

chopping topsI was feeding a crowd so I made a double batch of these.  Since you probably don’t need 12 peppers, I’m posting the single version!

Start with your peppers.  Cut off the tops, but just the tops.  I found if you cut just where the sides start to curve, you can then just pop out the stem to discard.  Then you can chop the top pepper pieces to add to the stuffing.  Cut the tops off and clean 6 peppers.  Add them to a pot of boiling salted water, and boil for just 5 minutes, to start the cooking.  Don’t worry, they won’t look very cooked (and they shouldn’t), but this helps them to soften in the oven.  When you take them out of the water, put them in a bowl with cold water and ice to cool.  Set aside.cooked pepperscold peppersFor the stuffing, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large saute pan.  When hot, add the chopped onions and pepperstops of the pepper, and cook for 5 minutes, until they start to soften.  Next, add 1 medium onion, chopped, and 3 cloves garlic, minced (or just use that garlic press).  Cook these for about 10 minutes until the onions start to brown and soften, and they start turning brown.  Pour the vegetables into a bowl, and return the pan to the stove.

Next for the saute pan, add 1 lb ground beef and 1/4 lb sausage meat (without the casing).  Stir to break apart the meat, and cook until the mixture is no longer pink, then add to the vegetables.  Add 1 cup cooked rice to the mixture, and 1 cup marinara sauce, 1/2 beef and sausagetablespoon Worcestershire sauce, 1/2 teaspoon ground peppers, and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt.  Allow the mixture to cool a bit, then add 1/2 cup Parmigiano cheese and 1 egg.  Stir everything to combine.

Another tip here, if you’re tasting for salt and pepper (and you really should), be sure to taste before you add the egg.  Once you feel the seasoning is right, then add the egg. This way you get the seasoning right without having to worry about eating raw eggs.

rice mixtureall combinedstuffingNext, take a 13×9 casserole dish and start stuffing your peppers.  You want to stuff them pretty full, and line them up in the pan.  You should have more stuffing than you need, but just scatter it around the peppers in the pan.  Finally, top the peppers with another 1 cup marinara sauce, cover with foil, and cook at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes until hot throughout.

These really are delicious, and I hope you enjoy them.  I also hope you’re getting some inspiration from the fall.  What are you making these crisp fall nights?ready for the oven

One of My Favorite Fall Comfort Foods-Butternut Squash Lasagna!

peeledMany years ago, back in 2005, Martha Stewart published a recipe for Acorn Squash Lasagna in her Everyday Food magazine.  As soon as I saw the recipe, I knew I had to try it.  I love anything fall, and anything pasta, so it was a must.  And, true to form, it was delicious.  However, in my never-ending quest to perfect recipes, when I’ve made it in recent years, I’ve made some tweaks that I think make it even better.

First and foremost, I swap out acorn squash for butternut squash.  There is just something perfectly fall about butternut squash, and this recipe is perfect with it.  I also use a Dave's Gourmetjarred sauce and mix it with the roasted butternut squash.  I know, I know, jarred!  But, if you’ve ever tried Dave’s Gourmet Butternut Squash Pasta Sauce, you’ll understand.  If you haven’t, you need to drop everything and try it right now.  It is absolutely fantastic.  I get it at my local Wegmans, and I’ve even seen it at Marshalls, but I’m not sure who else carries it.  It has the delicious butternut squash with bell peppers, and it’s creamy and delicious.  It’s perfect for this lasagna!

To start, take 1 small to medium size butternut squash and chop it into about 1 inch cubes.  If you haven’t cooked with butternut squash, it’s very easy.  Just peel it, then cut it in half.  choppedClean out the rounded end of any seeds and soft insides, similar to a pumpkin.  Then, just slice and chop what’s left. Sprinkle the squash with some olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roast on a cookie sheet at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, until soft.  Once soft, mash and combine with Dave’s Gourmet Butternut Squash Pasta Sauce, or any butternut squash sauce you like, to make 8 cups total.  I used 2 jars of the sauce, but it really depends on how much butternut squash you cook.

In another bowl, combine 32 oz ricotta cheese with 1 cup Parmigiano cheese, 1 teaspoons salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.  Stir to combine then set aside.

cheeseTo make the lasagna, I used an 11×15 inch Pyrex pan, but a 13×9 would work too.  You’ll also need a 16 oz pack of no-bake lasagna noodles.  Spray the pan, and put a layer of pasta on the bottom.  It should be 4 across.  Then add half the butternut squash mixture and another layer of noodles.  Next add half of the cheese mixture and another layer of noodles.  Continue with squash, then noodles, and finish with the cheese.  Sprinkle 1 cup Parmigiano cheese over the top.

ready for the ovenCover the lasagna with foil and bake at 400 degrees for 45 minutes.  Remove the foil and bake for another 20 minutes, until it’s nice and golden on top.

If you haven’t had something like it, give this lasagna a try.  It’s delicious.  You can also half the recipe and make it in an 8×8 pan, but why wouldn’t you want leftovers???

Packing My Lunch with Rosemary Chicken Salad

Roast ChickenAlmost 3 months ago to the day, I started a new job.  I absolutely love the new position and the people I work with.  It’s really my dream job, although there is one drawback.  I have had to start packing my lunch.  It’s not that I can’t run out every once in a while, but it just seems to be easier to pack.  So, after about 15 years not really ever packing, I’m back to brown bagging for lunch.  And, one of my favorite things to bring is rosemary chicken salad.

I am a huge fan of chicken salad.  If it’s on the menu, I’ve probably already had it before, or I’m going to order it.  However, probably as a result, I’m pretty picky about it.  I don’t like a Choppedton of mayonnaise, but I like it flavorful and bold, and love chicken salad with fruit or nuts, and this recipe has both.

To start, you have to roast the chicken.  I know some people will disagree and say they boil chicken, or, the trendy way of saying it, poach, but I think it leaves you with a flavorless, rubbery bird.  Instead, I like to roast boneless, skinless chicken, and infuse flavor every step of the way.

I use boneless, skinless breasts for this.  You really could use bone in or skin on, but I find this is easier, as you’re going to take it off.  Keeping the chicken on the bone would impart a Ingredientsbit more flavor, but let’s face it, I don’t have all day.  I rub 5 chicken breasts with olive oil and sprinkle with a little salt, pepper, and chopped fresh rosemary.  I like to roast the breasts in a cookie sheet.  Also, I don’t cut out all the fat when I’m roasting the chicken.  I find it’s easier to pick it off after it’s cooked. Put them in a 425 degree oven for about 20-30 minutes, until cooked through, then let them rest and cool.

Once the chicken is cool, I chop it into cubes and put it in a large bowl.  Next, add 1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts, 1/2 cup dried cranberries or Craisins, and 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary.  Add about 1/2 cup rosemarymayonnaise to chicken mixture there stir to combine.  You may find you need to add a little more mayo if you have big pieces of chicken, or if you like more mayo.  Feel free to adjust.

While I would love a nice, chewy roll to eat with my chicken salad, I go for simple to take to work.  I pack it with some saltine crackers.  It’s easy, and delicious.  Happy lunch packing!

Perfect for Fall…Jewish Apple Cake!

ApplesThis time of year, it seems the overwhelming flavor that is out there is pumpkin. Pumpkin latte, pumpkin doughnuts, pumpkin soda even! Don’t get me wrong, I love the fact that it is pumpkin season, but I quickly lose interest in the flavor. But one flavor that is perfect for fall, and I can’t seem to get enough of, is apple! I love apple crisp, apple pie, and definitely, this Jewish Apple Cake. It’s an easy recipe, just stirring the apples with cinnamon and sugar, mixing the batter in one bowl, and then layering the rich dessert in a tube pan.

Melon BallerI am not really sure where the name comes from, but it’s the name that my grandmother, and everyone else in the family for that matter, has always used to describe this cake. I’ve heard the name could come from the fact that there is no dairy in the cake, so you could eat it at a meal that has meat in it, not conflicting with Jewish law. Sounds like a good answer, but who really knows. I just know it’s delicious!

To start, peel, core, and slide 4 apples. I usually mix the apples for this, using a few sweet like Gala, and a few tart like Granny Smith, but honestly, any apple will do. And, a little tip here, try using a melon baller to scoop out the cores.  It goes really fast, and it save most of the apples.  Cinnamon ApplesPut the slices in a bowl and sprinkle with 2 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon and 5 tablespoons sugar. Stir and let sit while you prepare the batter. As the apples sit, their juices will start to run and you’ll have a lovely, syrupy pile!

In a large bowl, stir together 4 eggs with 2 cups sugar. Add 1 cup vegetable oil, 2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla, and 1/4 cup orange juice. Then add 3 cups flour and 4 teaspoons baking powder. The batter will be thick and sticky, but that’s it, your batter is ready!

LayeringGrease and flour a tube pan, then layer in the batter and apples. Start with a little bit of batter, then add a layer of apples, and continue till you’re at the top. End with the batter. And make sure you get all of the juice from the apples in there. Don’t worry if it looks like there is hardly any batter. It will puff up and surround the apples, and just be perfect!

Bake the cake at 350 degrees for 1 hour 10 minutes-1 hour 20 minutes. You want a toothpick to come out clean. The top will be crisp, and the inside will be dense and rich. Let it cool in the tube pan, then just run a knife around the edges to release.

This really is an easy recipe, and just perfect for these early fall days! I’ve been eating it all week…and it keeps getting better! How does that saying go…an apple a day…?Finished CakeSlices Missing