Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Spectacular Sweet Potatoes

Oh my goodness is all that I can say for these spectacular sweet potatoes.  Honestly they put every other sweet potato, prepared every single way, to shame.  They are immensely sweet, somehow though, without being too much.  And they are soft and tender without falling apart (thanks to keeping the pieces large).  With a side dish like this, who cares what else is on the plate!

3 large sweet potatoes (peeled, sliced in 1/2 and thickly chopped)
1/4 cup of pure Irish butter (melted)
4 T. of maple syrup
10-12 regular sized marshmallows

-Preheat your oven to 375*.  Bring a large stockpot to a rapid boil;  toss in your sweet potatoes and boil, covered, for about 10 minutes.  Strain them and place them into a 2 qt. baking dish.  Drizzle them with the melted butter and the syrup; carefully stir to coat.  Bake them uncovered at 375* for 30 minutes (carefully stirring once or twice), then reduce the oven temperature down to 325*, cover them with a lid and bake for another 10-15 minutes.  About a minute or two before they are done add on the marshmallows and recover.  Once the marshmallows have melted they are done.  Remove it from the oven and allow to stand about 5-10 minutes before serving.  Serves 4.  Enjoy!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Slow-Cooker BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich

Over the years I have made pulled pork, let's say, more than a hundred times.  And I have varied from recipes, to winging it by scratch, even just buying the pre-made seasoning packets (as I do use in this recipe) and they have all been good.  And if I had to pick the way that tasted the best, I would honestly have to pick the pre-made seasoning packet by McCormick.  And I am just not too happy to actually admit to it.  So, this time, I thought I would butter it up a bit to make it mine, and boy did I ever do that.  It takes a collasol mistake, as I made this time, for it to go above and beyond good.  All the way to fantastic.  In a rush, as I often am to get it started just about as early as I can, I added in the wrong ingredient.  Once I got the sauce together, it wasn't until I finger tested it, which mind you I never do- that is what I have my husband and kids for ;)  But, thank goodness I did because I would not have figured out what I did to make it so amazing.  So, I finger tested it and was shocked-  it was immensley flavorful- the kind that you know will get even better after going low and slow all day.  I stood there kind of dumb founded, not being able to place the flavor.  I thought that I had added in an extra teaspoon of paprika.  But as I picked up my spices to jig saw puzzle them back into my ridiculously small kitchen cabinet, I just so happened to turn around the one that I added- not seeing the actual label before.  And I let out a little "oh shit".  I had added a heaping teaspoon of chili powder.  I was a little freaked out, because I have seen it being made and read a zillion recipes for it and never have I seen anyone add in chili powder.  I was so scared that I was going to be taking it away from the traditional version that I was trying to create.  So, being me and second guessing myself again, I stuck my finger back into the sauce and re-tasted it.  I said to myself, apparently out loud since I caught my husbands attention, that this just may work.  Rich then noticed me muttering to myself and the worried look on my face and asked me what was wrong.  I smiled up at him from across the room and merely said, "Well, this may just be the mistake that I needed to finally make."  And I am sure that once you try this here recipe out, you will agree that it was a much needed mistake.

1- 4lb. pork butt roast
2 tsp. of smoked sea salt
fresh cracked pepper
3/4 cup of ketchup
3/4 cup of light brown sugar (packed)
1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. of honey
1 packet of McCormick's Slow Cookers BBQ Pulled Pork Seasoning
1 rounded tsp. of chili powder
egg hamburger buns (I find these in the bakery at my local market)

-Cover all sides of the roast with the smoked sea salt and a decent amount of fresh cracked pepper; place in the center of your slow-cooker.  In a small mixing bowl, stir together the remaining ingredients and pour the mixture over the top of your salt and peppered roast.  Cover with the lid and set to go Lo and slow for 8-10 hours (again as always, the lower and longer- the better with roasts).  Before serving, using two large forks, shred the roast and discard the bone.  Serve on a nice soft roll with a heaping spoonful of my cole slaw right on top of the pork.  Serves 6-8.  Enjoy!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Cherry Streusel Pie

Pie makes me happy.  And, cherry pie makes me very happy.

1 pie shell from my Tonya's Special Pie Crust recipe:
1 egg white
2- 21oz. cans of cherry pie filling (I used Comstock Original Country Cherry Pie Filling)
1/3 cup of all-purpose flour
1/3 cup of light brown sugar (packed)
1/8 tsp. of ground cinnamon
2 T. of real un-salted butter (softened)

-Preheat your oven 375*.   Place your rolled out unbaked pie crust into a 9" pie pan (I use a Pyrex pie dish) and fold back the over hanging dough to create a fat rolled edge.  Then using you thumb and your index finger at an angle, pinch the edges to create a decorative crust.  Using a kitchen basting brush, brush the crust with the egg white.  Pour in the 2 cans of pie filling.  For the streusel topping, using a fork, combine the flour, brown sugar and the cinnamon in a small bowl .  Cut in the butter until it becomes a fine crumble; set aside.  Cover a large baking sheet with aluminum foil and place your cherry filled pie on top (just in case it bubbles up and over, you will catch it from pouring onto the bottom of your oven, which will start to burn, causing your pie to taste burnt and set off your smoke alarms- this I know all to much about).  Then take a big square of aluminum foil, fold it in 1/2, cut out a 1/2 circle on the folded edge, unfold it so it is a big square with a big circle cut out of the center, place over pie and kind of finger-cinch it into place so that it covers the crust but leaves the center open to cook (this keeps you from burning your edges before the pie is done).  Bake at 375* for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 325* and bake for another 15 minutes.  Then remove the foil crust shield and sprinkle the streusel topping over the cherry filling.  Place the foil crust shield back on and go back in the oven for another 40 minutes, removing the foil crust shield for good once there is just 20 minutes left to bake.  Allow to cool on a wire rack, then cover with saran wrap and refrigerate before slicing.  Store in the refrigerator.  Serve warmed or cold with vanilla bean ice cream.  Serves 8.

Sausage and Sweet Peppers Fettuccine

Here we go with some real cooking.  You know what I mean, straight up kitchen improvisation that starts like this:  Ok, I have 3 Italian sausages leftover from earlier this week- they gotta get used up by tonight.  Ok, alright, so we are starting with that.  Ummmm...  Yes, same thing with those two peppers in the crisper, but I don't want there to be too many peppers in it, so I will only use half of each since I want the red and the green.  And, yeah, I'll just slice them all up finely and  freeze the other two halves for fajitas next week.  (Mental note here to buy skirt steak-check).  Ok.  Oh, good good, I have an opened container of chicken stock and a Pinot Grigio that is opened.  So we are gonna go without a red sauce then.  Nice.  Good.  Feels fresher to me that way.  Alright, alright, alright.  Fresh garlic, check.  Please do we have the right pasta in the pantry......yep sure do.  Fettuccine it is then.  Oh, sweet, I still have a couple nice sized bricks of cheese that I can grate up for it......and so it is then.  Pasta with sausage and peppers. Ooh bonus, I have french bread to bake as well.  And there it is, dinner from scraps.

2 T. of extra virgin olive oil
1/2 of a large red sweet pepper (thinly sliced)
1/2 of a large green sweet pepper (thinly sliced)
sea salt and freshly cracked pepper
2 garlic cloves (minced)
3 Italian sausages (boiled for 15 minutes, cooled, thinly sliced on an angle)
1/4 cup of white wine (cook with what you would drink, I used a slightly sweet Pinot Grigio)
1/2 cup of chicken stock
1/4 cup of freshly grated Romano cheese
1/4 cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 lb. of uncooked fettuccine pasta

-Start a large stockpot of water for a boil.  Heat up the e.v.o. in a large deep saucepan over medium heat; add in the sweet peppers and a light amount of salt and pepper.  Saute peppers for about 3-4 minutes, then add in the garlic and saute about 30 more seconds.  Go ahead and toss in your pre-boiled and sliced Italian sausage and saute a few more minutes until everyone in the pan looks good and done.  Pour in the wine and using a wooden spoon, scrape up all the good stuff from the bottom of the pan (this is called de-glazing); pour in the chicken stock and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and simmer for about 5 minutes.  Meanwhile, for the pasta, once your large stockpot reaches a rapid boil, stir in a bit of sea salt and 1 T. of e.v.o. (this helps to flavor the pasta and keep it from clumping together).  Then add in the pasta, boil for 12 minutes for au dente.  Strain pasta and fold it directly into your sauce pan along with the cheese's.  Serves 4-6.  Enjoy!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Slow-Cooker Vegetarian Lasagna for One

Now any one person can make lasagna for dinner and not just someone that needs to feed an army.  I stumbled onto the need for this here single serving lasagna recipe today.  I ended up calling Kiley to come on by to visit with her little sister and brother, after already starting my Slow-Cooker Italian Sausage Lasagna.  And I felt wicked guilty.  Just last week Rich told me, the morning of- cause he is quick like that, that she had wanted a lasagna for her birthday dinner, but I had already been to the market and had started something else for her.  And here I was asking her to come on over and I was making lasagna with meat in it.  So, since I still had a few hours before she was to come, I figured that I still had time to whip a little one out just for her.  Since she had been wanting a cheese lasagna (she is a hard-core vegetarian) for some time now, I could not leave her out.  So I got out my mini dipper slow-cooker and layered it up.  And her comment after her first bite was, "This is fantastic."  And that made my day.

3 uncooked lasagna noodles (divided)
1- 8oz. can of tomato sauce (divided)
Italian seasoning
3 T. of water (divided)
3 thick slices of fresh mozzarella (divided)
freshly grated Romano cheese
fresh chopped parsley for garnish

-Grease the inside well of your mini dipper slow-cooker.  Crack 1 lasagna noodle into 4-5 pieces and layer them across the bottom.  Follow with 1/3 of the tomato sauce, a light sprinkling of the Italian seasoning, 1 T. of the water, 1 slice of mozzarella and a nice heavy sprinkling of the Romano cheese.  Repeat all layers 2 more times.  Plug in (the little dipper pots have only an on setting, which is like low) the slow-cooker, cover and let it go for about 3 hours.  Remove with a large serving spoon and garnish with some more freshly grated Romano cheese and parsley.  Serves 1.  Enjoy!

Slow-Cooker Italian Sausage Lasanga

Well, I have to say that this dish is everything that it is hyped up to be.  This is probably, hands down, the most perfectly cooked lasagna that I have ever made.  And just to think that it was done in my slow-cooker and not in my oven.  There were no hard noodle edges, there was no dryness and there was basically no work to do it.  Just assemble and let go low and slow throughout the day.  It can't get much more easier than that.

8 uncooked lasagna noodles (divided)
3 Italian sausage's
1-28oz. jar spaghetti sauce(divided, I used Prego's Tomato, Basil, Garlic)
Italian Seasoning
1/3 cup of water (divided)
1- 15oz. tub of low-fat ricotta cheese (divided)
4 cups of shredded mozzarella cheese (divided)
freshly shredded Romano cheese for garnish

-Boil your Italian sausges in enough water to cover for about 15 minutes, plate them and allow to cool before slicing thinly on an angle (or else all the juices will run out of them if cut too soon).  Grease the bottom and the sides on the inside of your slow-cooker.  Take 4 of the uncooked lasagna noodles, break each of them into 3 pieces and layer them out across the bottom of your greased slow-cooker.  Then take your sliced Italian sausage and layer it out over the lasagna noodles followed by layers of 1/2 of the jar of spaghetti sauce, 1/2 of the amount of water, a nice sprinkling of the Italian seasoning, 1/2 of the ricotta cheese (spread as best you can) and 2 cups of the shredded mozzarella cheese.  Then repeat the all of the layers again.  Set to go LOW and slow for about 4 hours, waiting basically for the top layer of cheese to be melted and just beginning to brown around the edges.  Serve with a nice sprinkle of some freshly grated Romano cheese right on top.  Serves 4-6.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Hawaiian Burgers

My husband, Rich's, most favorite fruit is pineapple.  And he is absolutely in love with it when I grill it up outside with some honey.  So, that is where I got the inspiration for this awesome concoction of flavors and toppings for this here burger, from his love of pineapples.  He was watching t.v. one night while I was washing up the kitchen after dinner, when he saw a commercial or something about a Hawaiian style sandwich.  He was like, "Man that sounds good."  And me, being me, was not paying attention to the television or to him really, but looked up when he said that.  All that I caught was that it was a sandwich with some pineapple on it.  Immediately I looked over at him and was like, "Hey what do you think about a Hawaiian style burger with some of my honey grilled pineapples on top?"  He broke out in a huge grin and produced a very determined nod in my direction.  All he could get out was, "Yeeeesssss."  And I had to laugh to myself at how true it is when "They" say that a way to a mans heart is through his stomach.

1 1/2 lbs. of 80/20 ground beef
7-8 T. of Caribbean Jerk Marinade (divided)
3 T. of mayonnaise
2 tsp. of pineapple juice (just use it from the can of pineapples)
1/2 of a fresh jalapeno (seeded and minced)
1 can of sliced pineapple rings in their juice (it's up to you how many you want to use)
sliced baby Swiss cheese
large kaiser roll buns (sliced open)
1 large red ripe tomato (sliced)
torn lettuce

-Place you ground beef in a small bowl and thoroughly knead 4 T. of the marinade into it, cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, but not longer than 24 hours (I did mine up in the morning to chill until dinner time, maybe 6-7 hours or so).  Also, go ahead and whip up the flavored mayonnaise at this time too by stirring together the mayo, pineapple juice and the jalapenos.  Place it into a small covered container and refrigerate until ready to use (the longer the better for the flavors to meld).  When you are ready to start dinner, preheat your grill to a medium-high heat.  Make 4 large patties out of your marinated ground beef and toss them onto the bottom rack of your grill.  Then brush both sides of your pineapple rings with a bit of honey (intensifies their sweetness and keeps them from sticking to the grill) and toss them on right next to the burgers (keeping a close eye on them as to not burn them and flip them often).  Grill your burgers for about 5 minutes on the first side, flip them, brush on some of the remaining marinade and grill for another 3-5 minutes more depending on how well done you like your burger (I did them MW this time because I was cooking for a crowd).   Right before you are ready to take them off the grill, toss on the baby Swiss cheese and grill for about 30 seconds or so more.  Meanwhile, for the buns, I tossed them open side down onto the top rack about 2 minutes before my burgers were done grilling- mainly just to warm and soften them up, putting on just a slight exterior crust.  Toss the burgers onto the toasted kaiser rolls and top with a grilled pineapple slice or two, a thick slice of tomato, a few rips of lettuce and a thick slather of your pre-made jalapeno-pineapple mayo.  Serves 4.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Shrimp Cocktail Appetizer

This here appetizer graced many of our family party spreads when I was a very little girl.  If I can remember correctly, I think that it was my Aunt Linda that usually whipped this one up.  And of course knowing me and my relentless infatuation with cream cheese, which mind you is nothing new, there was never a question of where is Tonya?  You could bet your life that I was hoovering somewhere in the close proximity to this little dandy of an appetizer.  Just waiting for a fresh group of munchers to go in on it with me (that way I thought no one would notice that I have been eating it non-stop).   Now back then, thank goodness, because believe it or not your little kitchen fairy herself was an extremely picky eater, it basically was made with just the cream cheese and the cocktail sauce.  I have added the popcorn shrimp myself as I began making it for my own little parties as an adult.  And I can pretty much guarantee you, that if there were shrimp with it back then, you would not be seeing this recipe today.  Because my stubborn butt would never had tried it and would never then be able to share it with you now.

1- 8oz. brick of cream cheese
1 small jar of shrimp cocktail sauce
1 can of mini shelled and de-veined popcorn shrimp (drained)
basil leaves for garnish (because that's what I had to work with)

-Place your brick of cream cheese in the center of a large platter and pour the cocktail sauce over the top of it (in no special way).  Then just create a nice pile of the shrimp on each side of it (that way if people don't want the shrimp, they don't have to) and surround the whole thing with crackers.  Garnish it with a sprig of fresh basil and there you go.  Serves many.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Raspberry Preserves Bars

I sure do love these delicious raspberry bars.  I have been making them since just short of forever.  And I have found that by making them randomly throughout the years, that they are nearly perfect for any occasion.  They are perfect in the summer reminding you of raspberries picked at their peak to create the sweetest preserves.  They are perfect in the winter for their deep red coloring to correlate with the holiday festivities and decor.  And they are perfect for right now, the stark dead and damp beginning of spring.  Because they are a burst of fresh flavor to brighten up even the dreariest of days.

2 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
1/2 cup of sugar
1/2 cup of light brown sugar (packed)
dash of salt
1 egg (that has stood at room temperature for about 20 minutes, beaten)
1 cup of real un-salted butter (softened)
1- 12oz. jar of red raspberry preserves
1 1/2 cups of white chocolate chips
1/2 cup of pecans (chopped)
1/4 cup of old fashioned oats

-Preheat your oven to 350*.  Grease a 9x13" baking dish and set aside.  In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugars and salt.  Using a large fork, cut in the egg and the butter (you want it to get all throughout and make it kind of crumbly).  Take about 3/4's of this cookie mixture and spread it out evenly across the bottom of your greased baking dish (you are wanting a nice cookie crust layer for the bottom of the bars).  Spread out the red raspberry preserves over this bottom layer making sure to get it out all the way to the edges; sprinkle on the white chocolate chips.  Add the pecans and the oats to the remaining 1/4 of the crumbly cookie dough left in your large mixing bowl; sprinkle this evenly across the top.  Bake at 350* for 40-45 minutes.  Let stand and cool completely before cutting.  Makes 36 bars.  Enjoy!