Pumpkin_Package_Small_1024x1024

I haven’t posted in awhile because I changed my diet and have been trying to figure out how to navigate this new way of cooking.  I had some minor health problems which caused me to go semi-paleo. I say semi-paleo because I still eat butter, yogurt and cheese – just in moderation.  A lot of people will say that’s no paleo but I don’t care. I am eating what makes me feel good and healthy.  I am doing what is right for ME and nobody else knows my body better than I do.

Since it’s the start of fall I have been craving anything and everything pumpkin.  I have looked at some gluten free products but they are mostly made with rice flour (which I do not digest well) and have a ton of sugar in them.  It has been a bit of a disappointment going to the store, seeing all the lovely pumpkin products and not being able to indulge in them.  So, I took matters in my own hands, did a Google search and came up with an online store that sells paleo pumpkin muffins.  I was ecstatic.  Not only were they muffins but they were good-for-you muffins. I hit the jackpot!

Here are the ingredients: Almonds, pumpkin, organic crystallized coconut nectar, arrowroot powder, organic cinnamon, organic nutmeg, organic ginger, organic allspice, organic cloves, organic vanilla beans, baking soda, celtic sea salt.

I got my overly expensive ($7.99 per bag) paleo pumpkin muffins in the mail yesterday.  One bag makes approx 9 muffins but I made 6 big muffins. You just add eggs, water and oil then bake. Super simple.

The muffins bake up quite nicely — moist and springy. They look exactly like the picture.  The taste is a little bland. Lots of pumpkin spice. Good pumpkin taste. But you can tell there isn’t a lot of sweetener in the muffins.

So, it kind of needs something sweet (honey or maple syrup) or savory to spread on it. I put a little bit of (non-paleo to some but paleo to me) butter and pumpkin butter on mine. It was fabulous!! The fiance put butter on his and didn’t even notice that it was a paleo muffin. He had one for breakfast as well without my encouragement.

I would totally buy these again and it is definitely nice to eat a bready product that is good for you. After eating I felt satisfied but not bloated or heavy or overly full. I felt good which is the opposite when I eat “normal” muffins. So, to me, it’s worth the steep price to get to eat muffins and satisfy my case of the pumpkins. Next is the chocolate muffin.

http://www.simplemills.com/products/pumpkin-muffin-mix

IMG_1353

I make meatballs different than everyone else.  This is something I didn’t realize until watching a few cooking shows and reading recipes about how meatballs are made.  Apparently, the traditional way to cook meatballs is in the oven – you bake them.

Bake them? Really? That confused me.  Never in my life have I had a home-made baked meatball. It simply isn’t done in my family.  We ball those little suckers up and throw them in pot of bubbling,from-scratch red sauce.  That way the  the gorgeous juices, spices and extra meaty bits give the sauce an extra layer of flavor.

IMG_1351

On my mother’s side I come from a strong Sicilian background.  My great-grandparents immigrated from Sicily to Brooklyn, New York.  They were very traditional and my great-grandmother  loved to cook.  She passed down a lot of her recipes to my grandmother who passed them to my mother who passed them down to me…well kind of.

More, my mother was a great cook when she had time to fire up the burners in the kitchen.  As my sisters and I got older and had our own kids we started asking about how to make certain family dishes. I have taken many of those recipes and made them my own including these (not baked but boiled in sauce) meatballs.

IMG_1304

This hearty recipe is really very simple and packs a lot of bold taste.  I would recommend making a pot of red sauce from scratch if you have the time.  However, in a pinch you can use a bottle or two of the store-bought stuff.  Keep it simple –no fancy frills.  A vegetable-based spaghetti sauce will do the trick (e.g. basil/tomato, mushroom, tomato/onion, etc.)

This recipes makes a lot of meatballs.  Feel free to freeze half of them and use them at a later date.  They do hold up quite nicely.  Or you can cook them all in a double batch of sauce and make meatball subs with the left overs.  Or sprinkle some cheese on them and eat them by themselves in the sauce. They are that good.

IMG_1340

Sicilian Style Meatballs

I eyeball my ingredients.  So, these are rough estimates.  Use more or use less if you feel it’s right.  Make this recipe yours…and as always, let me know how it goes.

1 lb ground beef

1 lb ground pork

2 eggs

1 cup bread crumbs

1/2 cup ground Parmesan cheese

a handful of freshly chopped Italian parsley

3-4 garlic cloves, finely chopped

a tsp of an Italian herb blend (no salt)

a dash of salt (remember the Parmesan is salty so don’t add too much)

a dash of red pepper

1/2 to 1 cup water or broth

Scratch Red Sauce or 2 bottles of store-bought

IMG_1315

Make sure your red sauce is in a big pot simmering on a low heat.  The pot should only be about halfway filled since the meatballs are going to take up the rest of the room.

Throw all the ingredients in a big bowl. If you aren’t squeamish wash your hands and then squish all the ingredients together. Or if you don’t want to get messy do the best you can with a mixing instrument.  Go ahead and add more cheese, parsley, or spices if you need to.  Just make sure everything is well blended.

Once your meat and ingredients are thoroughly mixed, wash your hands again.  Then take a small amount of the meat mixture and ball it up between your palms.  They should be about the size of a golf ball.  Remember when you cook them they are going to shrink a little bit.

 Place your uncooked meatball on a flat surface like a cookie tray.  Or put down some parchment on your counter top and place them there.  Continue to roll meatballs between your palms until all the meat mixture is gone.  Then gently drop the meatballs in your red sauce, one at a time.  (As you can see from my picture I am messy.  I got sauce all over the back of my stove. lol.)

Make sure that all of your meatballs are covered with sauce.  If your meatballs aren’t fully covered then add some water or broth until they are.  It shouldn’t be more than a 1/2 of liquid as you don’t want thin out your sauce too much.

Cover the sauce and meatballs and let simmer for about an hour.  Watch your meatballs and stir the sauce very gently (you don’t want your meatballs to break up) 2-3 times to make sure that they are cooking evenly. At the half way point you can add a little bit of water or broth to your sauce if it gets too thick.  However, it shouldn’t if it’s on low heat and simmering.

Enjoy!

IMG_1342

IMG_1291

I have never made bread before because it seemed like a daunting task.  It seemed like something that took a lot of time and skill.  I am an intuitive cook.  Everything comes together based on my mood and what I happen to have in the kitchen.  Part of the fun of cooking is finding out what the end result will look like.  Making   bread seemed like the opposite of that. There was planning that needed to happen and a lot of watching and kneading and steps and processes.  This is why, even though they are lovely, I have never tackled baking macarons.  Lovely in theory but beyond my ADD-emotionally-laced skill set.

IMG_1298

Then I found a few recipes like this one and this one that looked doable.  There were pictures and step-by-step instructions.  There were down times where I could walk away and do something else.  And best of all the times weren’t  precise.  If the bread rose for 2.5 hours instead of 2, oh well. It didn’t kill the bread or turn it into something inedible.  I decided to be brave, go buy some yeast, and try my hand at this artisan bread-making-business.

In the baking aisle, Krusteaz has these no-knead artisan breads in a box.  I looked at the directions on the back and they were pretty close to the straight-forward from scratch version.  The other half said it would be a cool idea to make a boxed loaf and then make a scratch version and see what the difference was, if any.  I decided to buy the sourdough version to see how different in taste it would be.

IMG_1240

The first picture above is obviously the sour dough bread from the box. It makes one loaf.  The bread in the plastic orange bowl is the scratch version. The recipe makes three loavess.  Other than that, the directions were the same.

IMG_1269

Mix ingredients together in a bowl until it’s an ugly, wet mess.  Cover and leave in a warm place for at least two hours or until the mixture has tripled its size.  Grease your hands.  Put some flour down on a flat surface.  Form a ball with the dough.  Let it sit for another 40 minutes to let it rise and flatten out a bit.  Grease the pan that you are going to cook the bread in and put the bread in it. Preheat your oven to 450 F.  Cut three 1/4″ slashes across the top of the bread.    Fill a pan full of water and put it on the rack that is below the one you are going to put the bread on.  Place the bread on a rack that is higher than the one holding the water.  Cook for about 35-40 minutes or until the bread has a dark brown hard crust.

Pretty easy, right?  A little bit step-intensive but overall easy to follow and understand.

I followed both bread recipes to the letter.  My bread did rise and baked very nicely.  However, it wasn’t as pretty as the ones I saw on the recipe pages.

Here is the sourdough one. The stuff on top is baked flour.  The recipe called for a sprinkling of flour over the top before you baked it.

IMG_1273

Overall, it was a lovely, tangy bread. It was light and springy.  However, it didn’t have that awesome tough crust that make artisan bread so yummy.  You have the hard crunchy bits and then the soft, fluffy insides. That’s how I like my bread. Yummers.

Even though it didn’t have that hard/soft texture it still was really good bread.  It was gone in a day because everyone kept eating it.

This is the from-scratch version.  It didn’t rise as much but it was hands-down the crowd favorite. Even though I did score both breads with my knife three times like the directions called for they didn’t show up on the final product.

IMG_1286

The scratch bread didn’t have a tang to it. However, there was that crunchy/soft texture that the sourdough bread didn’t have.  Everyone seemed to love that more.  As far as bread goes, though. Both loaves pretty much disappeared the same day I made it.  Actually, I made four loaves and within two days I had no bread.  So, even though the from-scratch won the taste test. It didn’t stop anyone from eating the sourdough version.

IMG_1296

If you are looking at what bread is more financial conscious the scratch bread wins hands down.  The boxed bread was around $3.50.  The scratch bread costs about $3.50 for three loaves which is way cheaper.

A few days later, I went grocery shopping and bought more yeast. I got adventurous and decided to try out my own recipe of artisan bread.  It was the basic no-knead artisan bread recipe except that I added fresh, chopped, rosemary, sage, thyme, some julienne sun-dried tomatoes and some grated Parmesan cheese.

IMG_1312

I found a bread pan and decided to use it so that the bread would come out more like a loaf than a round blob.  This was mostly so that I didn’t have to spend as much time trying to make it look pretty.  Instead, the bread pan would do it for me.  Also, I made two loaves instead of three.  It was the bread pan.  It’s just bigger and I went with it.

IMG_1357

The other thing I changed was by accident. I forgot to put the water in the oven to steam the bread.  The loaf  just got pushed into the oven and cooked until it was a beautiful golden brown with a hard crust.

Overall, I like the look of the bread pan over the round pan.  It’s just an aesthetic thing but I love the rustic look of the loaf when it comes out looking like a real loaf of bread.  The herb artisan bread was wonderful. We ate it with homemade spaghetti sauce and meatballs over fried polenta.

IMG_1372

Even with the extra herbs and making two loaves instead of three, the herb artisan bread was still cheaper than the sourdough bread.  Tallied out, the herb bread was about $2.50 a loaf.  Pretty cheap for wonderful, warm bread straight from the oven and slathered with butter.  A piece of perfection with a crusty outside and a soft, fluffy inside.

Yesterday, I went to the grocery store again to get some more yeast.  This weekend I am going to mess around with some bread recipes.  I am going to use my own method of doing two loaves instead of three and no steaming the bread.  I didn’t taste any difference without the water.

The other half likes the basic bread recipe all by itself.  He says the bread doesn’t need anything but butter.  My nephew who lives with us doesn’t care what kind of bread I make as long as I make some.  So, I think I am going to make one plain and then one with some fun ingredients.  I haven’t decided yet but part of the fun is making a recipe on the spot.

IMG_1369

If you get brave and decide you wanted to make bread try out this no-knead recipe here — It’s really straight-forward and has lots of pictures.  You will be pleased at how easy it is and how much you are going to love it. Once you get the hang of it the sky is really the limit.  Have fun with it! And make sure to pat yourself on the back for being so creative and awesome. 🙂

 

 

IMG_1178

My other half LOVES fried chicken and mashed potatoes.  Those are his two favorite foods and if he had it his way that’s all we would eat.  I was not a big fan of fried chicken when the bf and I first got together because beyond the crunchy goodness of the coated skin, usually, there is no real flavor in the meat.   Besides that, it always seemed so greasy and messy.   I love messy when it comes to ribs or desserts or even pizza but not when it comes to greasy.  Greasy is just yucky.

It gives me great pleasure to cook for my family.  I love the look on their faces when they taste something they believe is exceptional.   So, I made up my mind to find the perfect friend chicken recipe; something that was flavorful with every single bite and was also crunchy and not too greasy.  After researching and experimenting here is my recipe/technique for cooking super flavorful, crunchy and not-too-greasy fried chicken.

The trick is letting the chicken marinate before-hand to get some really good flavor.  The rest is fairly easy and straight-forward.  I do not use the typical egg/milk-double-dip method because this chicken doesn’t need it.   I have tried both ways and found this way tastes better and is a lot less messy.  The marinade wets the chicken enough and gives it a good flavor.  While the  skin is still crispy and crunchy from the shake method I use below.

IMG_1181

Flavorful, Crunchy Fried Chicken

12-15 pieces of chicken (legs, wings, and thighs preferred since they are uniform in size)

1 bottle of Buffalo Wing Sauce or Red Hot Sauce (whichever you prefer)

Cajun seasoning

1-2 cups flour

Put all of your chicken in a big bowl.  Pour the wing sauce/hot sauce over the chicken until it is well-coated. (It depends on how big the bottle is but I usually use about half.  Make sure there is liquid at the bottom of the bowl.)   Then sprinkle the chicken with Cajun seasoning.  Stir until all pieces are evenly coated with sauce and seasoning.  Cover bowl and marinade the chicken in the fridge for at least 24 hour (48 hours is preferred.)

Heat  about 2-3 inches of oil in a frying pan.  Take the chicken out of the fridge.  Stir it one more time making sure that all the chicken pieces are wet with the hot sauce marinade.  If there isn’t enough liquid add some more sauce.

Put the flour in a bowl and add about 1 tsp of Cajun seasoning into the flour.  Stir it to make sure that the seasoning is well distributed.

Take your flour and put it in a plastic bag.  I like to use the ones I get from the grocery store (double bagged) or you can use a large freezer bag.  Put 3-4 pieces of chicken in the bag (depending on how big your pan is. I do 3 at time.) and shake them until they are well coated.

When the oil is hot enough (drop a pinch of flour in the oil. If it sizzles it’s ready.) place the pieces of chicken into the pan.  Cook the chicken until the breading is a dark, golden brown.  Every few minutes turn the chicken so that it doesn’t burn on either side.  The chicken should be done in about 15 minutes of cooking time.  Place finished chicken on a paper bag or a few paper towels to soak up the excess oil. Repeat the process until all the chicken is cooked.

Enjoy!

IMG_0799

It’s been cold outside.  It actually snowed here in the desert.  SNOW!!!   At my house it melted before it actually hit the ground.  However, it was lovely to watch the white flakes drift through the air.

There is nothing like a hearty bowl of ham and bean soup to warm up the insides.  The smell of it wafting through the house was incredible.  I love a  pot of bubbling soup on the stove to make the house feel all warm and cozy.

This is a very simple recipe with lot of flavor.  You can change it up however you want — add a couple of cloves of garlic and some jalapeno to make it spicier or smoke it up with some paprika.  It’s really up to you.  You can use whatever veggies you have in the fridge too.

IMG_0791

Here is what I did — I had some leftover ham, some colorful mini pepper, some carrots and an onion.  Usually, I use celery in my soups  but I figured the sweetness of the carrots and peppers would be a nice compliment to the salty taste of the ham.  So, I omitted it.  Beans are a pantry staple in my house.  I love to make refried beans, or chili or split pea soup or curried lentils…yum.  Pinto beans were chosen because I had a lot of them and I love their smooth texture

The ham, veggies, beans and tomato sauce were thrown into a pot. Then I added enough water to cover the beans –  around 2-3 inches.  The key to make a good pot of soup is layers of flavor.  The way I do it is I season when I first start cooking the soup.  Then at the end, when I turned off the heat, I re-season to taste.  The other trick is to wait…

IMG_0784

Yes wait…Put the soup on low heat and let it simmer.  Let the smell of ham and beans permeate the house.  Give your soup at least two or three hours to turn into a hearty, flavorful meal.  Serve with warm cornbread or sprinkle some cheese on top and dollop with sour cream if you want to be a little bit decadent. Enjoy!

IMG_0797

Hearty Ham and Bean Soup

(This is a base recipe. Feel free to add any vegetables or seasonings you want.)

1 lb of pinto beans, rinsed and drained

5-6 mini peppers, sliced

1 medium onion, chopped

2 carrots, sliced

1 8 oz can of tomato sauce

leftover ham, chopped  (add as much or as little as you like)

2-3 bay leaves

vegetable seasoning (to taste)

garlic powder (to taste)

ground pepper (to taste)

Throw all ingredients into a pot.  Add enough water so that the beans are at least 2-3 inches covered.  Set your stove to low heat  and season the water to your taste.  Put a lid on the  pot and let soup simmer.  Stir the beans every 20-30 minutes.  Add more water if the soup thickens to much.  Repeat this process until the beans are soft and tender.  Turn off the stove.  Season the soup again to your taste.   Enjoy!

IMG_0597

 These were scrumptious creations that came out of my “spring cleaning” and organizing of my pantry.  They are leftovers cupcakes- lol.  I had about 3/4 cups of chocolate chips left in a bag, a box of white cake mix, a box of instant pistachio pudding, and some left over whipped cream frosting from the chocolate rolo cupcakes from my previous post.  I had another box of instant pistachio pudding, a cup of milk and a carton of heavy whipping cream but they were whipped together into the most decadent and delightful dessert a few nights ago.  So, the ingredients for these cupcakes were remnants of other delicious batches of awesomeness. That being said they held their own and didn’t last long in the house. 🙂

IMG_0613

Pistachio Chocolate Chip Cupcakes with Pistachio Whipped Cream Frosting

(yields about 20 cupcakes)

1 box instant pistachio pudding

1 box white cake mix

2 cups of milk (or the amount of milk on the back of the pistachio pudding box)

3/4 cup chocolate chips

1/4 cup oil (or the amount of oil on the back of the cake box)

2 large eggs (or the amount of eggs on the back of the cake box)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line your muffin tin with paper liners.  Put pistachio pudding and milk in a bowl.  Using a mixer or using a hand mixer blend together the ingredients for 1-2 minutes.  Set the pudding aside and let it thicken – the box said to wait at least 5 minutes.

In a separate bowl, add cake mix, oil, eggs, chocolate chips and half of the pudding mixture.  Mix together until the batter is creamy and smooth.   Fill the liners 2/3 full with the batter.  Bake until the middle of the cupcake comes out clean when poked with a toothpick.

For the frosting:

whipped cream frosting (see the recipe at the bottom of the page)

1 tsp corn starch (if needed)

2nd half of the pistachio pudding

Gently, fold in the the second half of the pistachio pudding into the whipped cream frosting.  Do not over stir.  If  the whipped cream thins out, fold in the corn starch and let sit for a few minutes to thicken.  Pick your tip – I used a Wilton 1M.  Put the frosting into a piping bag and pipe onto cooled cupcakes.

IMG_0514

I have a written notebook somewhere with all of my perfected cupcake recipes.  Why don’t I have it on my computer you ask?  Well, because I take notes when I am baking.  Usually, I am inspired by an internet recipe and then I play with it and give it my own little twist until it comes out just right.  Plus, I like the tactical feel of pen and paper.  The other night I couldn’t find my notebook and I wanted to bake cupcakes for the entourage coming to my house for dinner.  I was going to make my chocolate cupcakes with peanut butter frosting  recipe since it always seems to be a crowd pleaser and I always have tons of peanut butter in the house.  To my dismay I misplaced my notebook and didn’t have time to do a thorough search.  So, it was on to plan B – scour the internet for something comparable.

I was going to go with the initial chocolate/peanut butter mix but I came across this recipe and decided to give it go.  Of course, I changed some things because I am an intuitive cook and like my cupcakes to have my own little signature.  Out of the blue, I decided maybe the cupcakes would be yummy with some caramel in the middle.  So, I pulled out some Rolos.

IMG_0525

As you can see from the picture about the Rolo ended up at the bottom of the cupcake.  It was still delicious.  In fact, my guests were pleasantly surprised to bite into the luscious caramel and said it was a good little surprise.  When I bakes the cupcakes I spooned in some batter, placed the Rolo in the middle and then ladled more batter over the caramel.  Next time, I am going to try and spoon all the batter into the cup and the poke the little candy into the middle.  Hopefully, that will put the caramel more in the middle of the cupcake and not so densely at the bottom.  If you make these cupcakes let me know what you did and how it came out.  I am always open to revisions.

While the cupcakes were baking, I asked the bf if he thought peanut butter frosting would go well with chocolate Rolo cupcakes and he said that whipped cream would go better.  Another internet browsing session and I found this sturdy whipped cream frosting recipe and decided to give it a go. In one of the reviews someone wrote that this frosting would not be good for desserts because it had too much of a tang (because of the cream cheese in it.)  I did not find this to be true at all.  The whipped cream frosting tasted divine and it held up quite well to piping.  The taste of the frosting melded well with the moistness of the cupcake.  Mostl likely because I used greek yogurt in the batter instead of sour cream.

IMG_0512

Chocolate Cupcakes with Rolo Filling

(Yields 12 cupcakes)

1/2 cup Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa

1 Tbsp instant coffee

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter or margarine, room temperature

1 cup sugar

3 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 vanilla greek yogurt

12 Rolos

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line your muffin tin with paper liners.   Put butter and sugar in a bowl.  Using a mixer or using a hand mixer blend ingredients together until creamy.  Add eggs, greek yogurt and vanilla extract.  Mix all ingredients until blended.  Next add salt, baking powder, cocoa and instant coffee.  Slowly add flour into the mixture until everything is smoothly blended and looks like yummy batter.

Using a regular spoon, dollop a spoonful of batter into each liner.  Unwrap the Rolos and put one into the middle of each liner.  The batter at the bottom will keep the candy from moving.  Next, fill the liners 2/3 full.  Bake until the middle of the cupcake comes out clean when poked with a toothpick.

Whipped Cream Frosting

6 oz cream cheese

1/2 cup sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 cups whipping cream

Place the cream cheese, sugar and vanilla extract in a bowl.  Either using a whisk attachment on a mixer or using a hand mixer beat the ingredients on a medium setting until nice and smooth.  Add the whipping cream and beat until the mixture holds a stiff peak.  Pick your tip – I used a Wilton 2D.  Put the frosting into a piping bag and make the magic happen. 🙂