Chewy Chocolate Ginger Cookies

IMG_2622Double-doses of ginger—fresh and ground—amp up the flavor in these chocolate and spice morsels. These came from Martha Stewart’s website, and I’ve done some updates as dear Martha sometimes takes things a step too far—like  lining every baking sheet with parchment paper and chilling dough not once, but twice, etc. I made them as I’ve recorded below, and they were just fine! And a lot less labor-intensive.Given the amount of spices and overall richness of these cookies, my taste testers thought they would be best served warm with a bowl of vanilla ice cream. But try them yourselves, and you be the judge!Makes 1½ dozen cookies

1 tablespoon cocoa powder

Preheat oven to 325° Fahrenheit. In a small bowl, dissolve baking soda in 1½ tablespoons boiling water; set aside.

Beat butter with brown sugar until combined. Add fresh ginger and mix on high until butter is light in color. Beat in molasses. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, cocoa, ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. Slowly add to butter mixture, with baking soda mixture, stirring until thoroughly combined.

Stir in chocolate morsels by hand. Scoop teaspoons of dough and roll into balls. Roll dough balls in ¼ cup granulated sugar and place 2-inches apart on baking sheets. Transfer to oven and bake until surfaces crack slightly, about 10-12 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes; transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Chocolate Torte

IMG_2594Avoiding wheat? Here’s a sweet fudgy treat just for you. My co-worker Nita went the extra mile for my birthday recently, digging around online to find a gluten-free cake option. She lucked out when she stumbled on this treasure, because it’s the rare flourless baked good that actually tastes GREAT!

So many gluten-free cakes and cookies taste like A) glue or B) sand. I’d given up trying to make gluten-free cakes or cookies. Better to just eat a chunk of chocolate or handful of peanut butter M&M’s to assuage the sweet tooth! In fact, another co-worker once texted me, asking what local bakeries had good gluten-free muffins. I texted back, “There is no such thing as a good gluten-free muffin.” Mary’s response was crying laughing emoji and “Seriously, where can I get good gluten-free muffins?” And I texted again, “Good gluten-free is an oxymoron. I’m serious, there is no such thing as a good gluten-free muffin!” (I’m kinda proud of myself for using “oxymoron” in a text. No need to dumb down our vocab just cause we’re using our thumbs, now is there? crying laughing emoji…)

But Nita found an exception to the rule (on allrecipes.com, flourless chocolate cake II), and I think you’ll love this quick and easy recipe as much as I do. I’ve made it a couple times now—for one of our famous November family birthday parties (4 outta 7 have b-days that month), and again for my book club. Raves all around.

Makes 8 Servings

4 – 1-ounce squares semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
½ cup butter
¾ cup granulated sugar
½ cup cocoa powder
3 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 300° Fahrenheit. Grease an 8-inch round cake pan with butter, and dust with cocoa powder (this keeps it entirely gluten-free).

Put chocolate and butter in a large glass measuring cup and microwave on high for 1 minute. Stir, and repeat for an additional 30-60 seconds as needed to melt chocolate. In large mixing bowl, combine melted butter and chocolate, sugar, cocoa powder, eggs, and vanilla, and stir with wooden spoon until just combined.

Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes. Cool 15 minutes, then serve right away with ice cream, or let cook completely and serve next day.

TIP #1: Cover with dish towel or loose foil if keeping overnight. If covered with plastic wrap or tight tin foil, it will get soggy.

TIP #2: Anyone else have trouble cutting brownie-like treats? They seem to get all crumbly and fall apart as you try to slice them, and even the sharpest knife won’t help. My fellow book clubber, Sherie, said she always cuts brownies and gooey bars with a plastic knife, so I tried it. VOILA! It worked like a charm. #kitchenhack

Chicken Peanut Stew

IMG_2621Leftover holiday turkey—or a rotisserie chicken—is the main ingredient needed to get going on this savory West African-inspired peanut soup. I saw this recipe in the November 2017 Better Homes & Gardens magazine, and thought it looked weird. But weird intrigues me, when it comes to food. And since my husband and I had tag-teamed on the turkeys this year, we had plenty of leftover meat to use. (He did a 24-pound bird on his Big Green Egg, and I did a 14-pound turkey in the oven. The former for delicious smokiness, and the latter to make killer gravy.) 

How was it? It WAS weird, but in a good way! My son Mitchell and I loved the new flavor twist of the peanut butter, tomato and smokey spices, and thought you could even serve it over rice to make it even more hearty. But my husband kept making fun of the soup. Mind you, the man eats peanut butter and fresh tomato sandwiches throughout the month of August…this should be right up his alley, right? Then he got hungry enough to try it, and he liked it! Mikey likes it! 

I’ve made this twice now, and adjusted spices and amounts as you see below. One additional ingredient to the BH&G recipe, is chopped fresh spinach. I like to add more veggies whenever I can, and spinach adds nutrients without altering flavor of the stew.

Serves 8-10

1 tablespoon coconut or canola oil
6-8 green onions, sliced thin
1 medium green pepper, chopped
3 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 teaspoons ground coriander
3 teaspoons ground cumin
½-1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
3 – 14.5-ounce cans chicken broth
6-8 cups peeled and cubed sweet potatoes
1 cup peanut butter (creamy or chunky)
6-ounce can tomato paste
3-4 cups shredded cooked turkey or chicken
15-ounce can crushed or diced tomatoes
4 cups fresh spinach, chopped

Garnishes
Fresh cilantro, chopped
Dry roasted peanuts, chopped

In a large Dutch oven, melt oil over medium heat. Add green onions and green pepper, and cook for 3-5 minutes, or until onions are tender. Add ginger, garlic, coriander, cumin, red pepper, salt, and pepper, and cook and stir until spices are fragrant, about 1 minute. Add chicken broth and sweet potatoes. Bring mixture to a boil, and reduce heat. Simmer for 15 minutes, or until potatoes are tender to the fork.

Ladle about 1 cup of soup broth into a medium bowl, and whisk in peanut butter, stirring until smooth. Whisk in tomato paste as well. Add peanut butter mixture, turkey or chicken, and spinach to Dutch oven. Cook over medium-low heat for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve topped with cilantro and peanuts.

Roasted Root Vegetable and Cauliflower Soup

Root soupI love roasted veggies. I also love home made soup. So why not combine the two and get a heaping helping of vegetables in a thick and creamy soup? Usually a self-imposed kitchen challenge like this takes a while to get right, but this one was a win from the first ladle to the last. Why was it so good? Roasting vegetables brings out the natural sugars, and gives it a level of flavor you don’t get when boiling your veggies in a pot. Toasting the herbs and spices in the butter before making a roux also amps up the flavor. Add in some delicious half and half, and you’ve got yourself a winter soup winner.

Actually, I have to give my daughter-in-law to be, Ashley, credit for the idea. She had texted to ask me if I had a recipe for using up a pile of carrots (I think she’d gone hog wild on a Farmer’s Market run…), and I gave her a recipe I had for straight up carrot soup. But then she asked if she could throw in other veggies and cream, and I thought, hmmmmm, I should try something like that! So here it is, Ashley.

Next time I make it, I think I’ll cut the vegetables into ½-inch pieces before roasting, and then puree half of the mixture until really creamy, and stir that back into the chunkier vegetable mixture. I had only slightly pureed the whole batch, and I didn’t like the texture. The flavor more than made up for it, but as I’m a bit of a perfectionist, I’ve got to make this JUST RIGHT next time I serve it to family and friends. 

Serves 8-10

1 head cauliflower, cut into small florets
2-3 cups cubed red potatoes (skin on)
4-5 carrots, peeled and cubed
3 parsnips, peeled and cubed
1 cup chopped yellow onion
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon dill seed
1 teaspoon dill weed
½ teaspoon caraway seed
¼ teaspoon dried mustard
4 cups water
4 teaspoons chicken soup base (or vegetable soup base, if you’d like to make this strictly vegetarian)*
2 cups half and half

Preheat oven to 375°. Prepare 2 baking sheets by rubbing 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil on each pan. Toss cauliflower, potatoes, carrots, and parsnips onto pans, and roast in oven for 30-35 minutes, or until vegetables are tender, and edges are slightly golden.

While vegetables are roasting, combine onion and butter in Dutch oven (or other large pot), and cook on medium-high until onion is translucent. Sprinkle flour, dill seed, dill weed, caraway seed, and dry mustard over the onion mixture, and stir to combine. Toast flour and herbs for 1-2 minutes, or until fragrant. Gradually stir in water, and stir to combine so no lumps remain in flour mixture. Add soup base, and stir to combine again. Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce to simmer and cook for 5 minutes until broth is slightly thickened.

Add in roasted vegetables and half and half. Return soup just to a boil, then reduce heat immediately to simmer so half and half doesn’t curdle. Simmer for 10 minutes to combine flavors. Turn off heat and let mixture cool slightly. Transfer half of the soup, 2 cups at a time, to blender and puree until smooth. Stir pureed mixture back into the soup. Serve immediately, or store in container in frig.

*NOTE: My favorite soup “hack” is to use chicken soup base instead of bouillon or chicken stock, because it has more flavor and less salt. The brand I like is called “Better Than Bouillon” and they make a chicken, beef, and vegetable base. You can find it in the soup aisle at your grocery store. So just march on past those cans of Campbell’s, and pick up a jar so you TOO can make tasty, nutritious soup for you and the fam.

Chipotle Black Bean Chili

FullSizeRenderThose who like it extra spicy will love this black bean chili recipe I got from Café Latte in St. Paul, Minnesota a few years back. A reader requested the recipe from the restaurant when I wrote a Q & A food column for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, and Café Latte obliged—but in restaurant-sized quantities. So I had to do some fancy division and subtraction to get down to a recipe I could fit in my largest soup pot. This is still a massive amount of soup, but it always gets gobbled up in a hurry. Served over a bowl of brown rice, it’s a filling, satisfying meal. If you can take the heat! (Which I can’t, so I make this as a gift of love to my husband and sons who DO like their food on the spicy side.)

Serves 10-12

4 (14 ounce) cans black beans
1 (14 ounce) can pinto beans
1 (14 ounce) can dark red kidney beans
2 )14 ounce) cans corn
1½ cups yellow onions, diced
2½ cups carrots, peeled and chopped
2½ tablespoons chili powder
1½ tablespoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons chipotle powder
6 cups water
3 tablespoons vegetable soup base or chicken soup base*
Half of 7 ounce can chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, minced
2 (14 ounce) cans diced tomatoes, undrained
1 (14 ounce) can tomato puree or sauce
2 cups canned, roasted red peppers, chopped
2 cups cooked brown rice

Garnishes
Fresh cilantro, chopped
Sour cream

Drain and rinse beans and corn. In large Dutch oven or stock pot, sauté onions until translucent. Add carrots and continue to sauté until carrots are tender to the fork. Add garlic and sauté until garlic is fragrant, about 2 minutes. Sprinkle chili powder, cumin, salt, chipotle powder over onion mixture, and stir to combine. Roast spices and onion mixture for a few minutes. Add water and soup base, and stir to combine. Bring mixture to a boil; then add chipotle peppers, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce or puree, roasted peppers, beans, and corn. Return to a boil, and then reduce to simmer. Let simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Serve over cooked rice, and top with cilantro and sour cream.

*NOTE: Soup base is a less salty and more flavorful way to make soup than using bouillon or vegetable/chicken stock. It’s first ingredient is vegetable or meat, and salt is lower down the list. I prefer to use this in soup whenever I can, and usually buy only the chicken base as I use it in other soup recipes as well. But if you’re trying to go strict vegetarian with this recipe, you’ll want to buy the vegetable soup base.

Turkey Peanut Satay Wraps

FullSizeRenderThai-flavored fare a favorite with you, like it is for me? Then these savory turkey wraps will hit the spot. I got this recipe from a Bethel University student worker (Natalie G, that’s you!), who raved non-stop about it, and she had found it on iowagirleats.com. It went together pretty easy—about 30 minutes—and most of the ingredients were the kind of thing I had on hand. I’m not concerned about using soy sauce in recipes, but those who have zero tolerance for gluten would want to sub in gluten-free tamari sauce.

Now for the adjustments I made to the recipe—let’s start with the meat. It called for ground chicken, and I can’t recall seeing that in the grocery store. (And my husband refused to look for it when I sent him to the grocery store for the butterhead lettuce…so that kinda settled it!) Since I had ground turkey on hand, that’s what I used. Not a fan of gathering loads of specialty sauces in my cupboards and frig, I subbed in fresh minced garlic and dried chili powder for the recommended chili garlic sauce. Another addition was the scallions, as I thought they’d give it a nice bite.

It also seemed that the amount of sauce made in the recipe wouldn’t have covered the meat, so I doubled the peanut butter and coconut milk. I was glad I did, because it was JUST right. And so was the flavor!!! It was a great mix of spices, and the creaminess of the coconut milk and peanut better coated the meat perfectly. Once wraps were assembled, the crunch of the lettuce wrapped around the spiced meat mixture made for a thoroughly satisfying meal. (Could also be a killer appetizer!) If there’d been leftovers, I’d tell you how it tasted second day, but alas, we ate every last morsel. DEE-lish.

Serves 4

2 pounds ground turkey
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 large shallots, chopped, or 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
3-4 scallions (green onions), chopped
2-3 cloves minced garlic
1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger*
salt and pepper
½ cup peanut butter
½ cup coconut milk (I used a can of regular, not light, and mixed to include fat and coconut milk)
¼ cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons soy sauce (or gluten-free tamari sauce
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1½ teaspoons sesame oil
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon curry powder
*(If you don’t have fresh ginger, add 1 teaspoon ground ginger here)
¼ teaspoon red chili pepper flakes
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro for garnish
¼ cup chopped dry roasted peanuts for garnish
2 heads of butterhead lettuce

Coat skillet with oil, and heat to medium-high. Add ground turkey, and cook until almost no pink remains in meat, breaking up meat as it cooks. Add shallots (or onions), scallions, and minced garlic, and cook until meat is no longer pink and garlic is fragrant. Turn down to low.

Combine coconut milk and peanut butter in large microwave-safe measuring cut or bowl and heat for 30 seconds. Stir until smooth. Add chicken broth, soy sauce, lime juice, sugar, sesame oil, chili powder, curry, and red pepper flakes. Stir until combined. Add to meat in skillet, and stir to coat. Turn element off.

Remove core from butterhead lettuce, and rinse. Pat dry. Line 4 plates with several leaves of lettuce, and add large dollop of meat mixture to plate. Put cilantro and chopped peanuts on table. Let each person assemble their own wraps, and top with peanuts and cilantro.

Caprese Zucchini Bites

FullSizeRenderFresh zucchini, basil, and mozzarella are 3 of the 5 ingredients in this super simple appetizer. Looking for another way to use up the mountains of zucchini available at the end of summer, I threw together these ingredients that mimic the ever-popular caprese salad. And they were super tasty! The zucchini added some nice crunch and gave you a “cracker” feel without any gluten involved, and the flavors all blended really well. I used the Trader Joe’s dressing because I didn’t have balsamic vinaigrette on hand, and I think you could use just about ANY vinegar-based dressing on these—Italian, simple sweet and sour, whatever you have on hand. The sun-dried tomatoes pack such punch you don’t need a lot of help from the dressing.

Serves 4-6

1 small zucchini, cut into ¼-inch slices
Half of a jar of julienned sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, drained
4-5 slices fresh mozzarella, cut into ½-inch squares
¼ cup fresh basil, snipped
Trader Joe’s Ginger Soy Dressing or reduced balsamic vinaigrette

Line a plate with a layer of sliced zucchini, then top each slice with a teaspoon of sun-dried tomatoes, and a piece of fresh mozzarella. Sprinkle with fresh basil, and drizzle with spare amount of dressing. Serve immediately, or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until serving. Probably best to serve within 24 hours of assembling.

Zucchini Chips

FullSizeRender-2Veggies = crisp and savory snack. That equation doesn’t always add up with non-vegetable eaters. But try serving up a bowl full of these tasty treats and you’ll win over even the most staunchly adamant vegetable hater.

These were my second new recipe effort with a monster zucchini that had been bestowed upon me. They were best straight out of the oven, and within a few hours of being baked. I brought them to my zucchini gift-giver to try the next day, and they’d absorbed moisture from the air and gone soggy. So if you can bake and eat same day, go for it! (This recipe from allrecipes.com didn’t offer any suggestions for how to make them good Day 2.) I will tell you, you have to bake these to total crispness—any hint of bendability in the chips, and they will start to get soggy as they cool on the racks.

Makes 4 baking sheets of zucchini chips

1 cup low-fat milk
1 cup bread crumbs
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese, or Kraft grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 large zucchini, thinly sliced (1/8″ works best)

Preheat oven to 425° Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Pour milk into a bowl. Combine bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, garlic powder, and black pepper in a food processor and pulse until combined into fine crumbs. Place zucchini slices in the milk and soak for 1 minute. Remove zucchini slices from milk and press each into the bread crumbs mixture until coated on both sides. Arrange coated zucchini slices on the prepared baking sheets.

Bake 2 sheets at a time in the preheated oven until chips are totally crisp, about 30-40 minutes. Cool on wire racks. Repeat with 2 more sheets of zucchini chips. Best eaten first day.

Zucchini Chocolate Chip Cake

IMG_2423What’s the best way to get your daily dose of vegetables? In a cake, I say! OK, you’re not going to win any “Nutrition Expert of the Year” award by throwing zucchini in a dessert, but you will win people over with this moist, delicious creation. I went on a bit of a zucchini bender last weekend, after my co-worker Nita brought me a gourd the size of a baseball bat (well, half the length, but otherwise the comparison is accurate…). Her mother had pawned the monster off on her, and she brought it to me, rationalizing that a foodie would accept the challenge of how to make use of massive amounts of the veggie. And she was right.

So this was the first of three new recipes I tried in order to use up the behemoth. I found several variations of this on allrecipes.com, and added in the cinnamon and cloves per a reviewer’s comment. How was it? DEE-licious. I will definitely make it again! And my taste-testing co-workers concurred. They all thought these bars/cake were great. No one minded the added fiber in the dessert—it only made it all the more moist and memorable.

Serves 12-16

½ cup milk
1½ teaspoons distilled white vinegar
2½ cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon cloves
½ cup butter, softened
1½ cups white sugar
2 eggs
½ cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups grated zucchini
1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat an oven to 325° Fahrenheit. Grease and flour a 9×13-inch pan. Mix the milk and vinegar in a large bowl. Let stand for 5 minutes to sour the milk.

Combine flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, cinnamon, baking powder, and cloves in a bowl. Set aside. Beat the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl on medium to high speed. Add in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vegetable oil and vanilla extract, and beat until combined. Slowly add the flour mixture alternately with the soured milk until all ingredients are combined. Fold in the zucchini. Pour batter into the prepared pan, and sprinkle with chocolate chips.

Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 45-50 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature. Ice cream or whipped cream topping always a welcome addition, but not required. Cover with foil if serving next day.

Fish Tacos

FullSizeRender-1Smoked fish, sweet nectarines, and savory cabbage slaw make an interesting flavor combo in these fish tacos. The first time I saw “fish tacos” on a menu, I thought it sounded disgusting. Fish? In a taco? Was this an SNL fake commercial or something, like Bass-o-matic? But then a soul braver than me ordered them, and offered me a taste. Ever since then, I’ve been trying to re-create great fish tacos at home. And I think I finally nailed it.

Parts of this recipe came from Bobbie Flay, of Food Network fame. But it’s been twisted and tweaked so it no longer resembles the original, and I can safely claim it as my own. You can certainly grill the fish, but we’re Big Green Egg disciples. My husband prefers to use his BGE smoker any time he can, as it does give meat and fish an amazingly complex flavor. But if a Webber (or other gas grill) is what you’ve got, then go for it! No harm done there.

Makes 8-10 tacos

For Cabbage Slaw
1/3 head of green cabbage, sliced thin and then chopped
6 leaves of Napa cabbage, jullienned
2-3 carrots, grated
1 sweet red pepper, diced
½ of a yellow onion, diced
½ cup diced jicama (optional)
½ cup Hellmann’s mayonnaise
2 teaspoons Penzy’s Northwoods seasoning OR 1 teaspoon sweet paprika, plus dash each salt, pepper, thyme, cracked or powdered rosemary, and garlic powder

Combine all ingredients in large bowl and stir until dressing is incorporated. Set aside or cover and chill until serving tacos.

For Nectarine Salsa
2 ripe nectarines (or peaches)
2 tablespoons minced red onion
Handful or fresh mint leaves, rinsed, and diced

Combine all ingredients in bowl and stir. If not using immediately, cover and refrigerate.

For Fish Tacos
8-10 tilapia (or other mild white fish) fillets
Vegetable oil
Lime juice
Seasonings of choice, such as Penzy’s Foxpoint seasoning (dried shallots and salt), Smoked Spanish Paprika—but even just salt and pepper would be fine.

8-10 purchased corn tortillas

Heat grill to high. Combine oil, lime juice, and seasonings in Ziplock bag and let sit for a few minutes. Place fish in an oiled grill basket or brush grill with oil if placing directly on grill. Grill fish until white and no longer translucent. Break into pieces with fork. Add cooked fish to tortillas with cabbage slaw and nectarine salsa.

Salted Nut Bars

IMG_2384Fans of Pearson’s Salted Nut Rolls will love these easy stove-top bars that taste pretty darn close to the candy bar. In fact, people who are kinda “meh” about the candy bars even love these—like my future daughter-in-law, Ashley, who helped me make a decent dent in a pan of these recently.

As my oven is dying a slow death right now (kind of a problem for a food blogger… Go Fund Me, anyone?), I’m looking for stove top and grill options in our meals and desserts. The recipe for these bars was given to me by my husband’s cousin, Trudy, after she brought them to my mother-in-law’s memorial service, and I begged her for it. Before you berate me for asking for a recipe at such a solemn occasion, you need to know this—My mother-in-law was the original foodie, even though that term wasn’t used in her day. Everything Marynona baked and cooked was delicious, and she served up her great food with a heaping helping of warm hospitality. She would have been touched that a couple of her relatives were bonding over food and sharing recipes at a service being held in her honor. Really.

So back to the recipe! This doesn’t fit with my usual desire to cook with fresh, natural ingredients, and avoid extra sugars. In fact, I think that the butter and peanuts are the only real food ingredients in these, unless you count the sugar that the marshmallows are made of! But when you need a hit of salty and sweet, these do the trick in a snap.

Makes 20 bars

4 tablespoons butter
1 (10-ounce) package Reese’s peanut butter chips
1 (10-ounce) bag miniature marshmallows
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 (16-ounce) jar dry roasted peanuts

Butter a 9×13 glass baking dish. Sprinkle half the jar of peanuts in the bottom of the pan. In large pot, melt butter over medium heat. Add peanut butter chips and stir to melt those as well. Add sweetened condensed milk and stir to combine. Add whole bag of marshmallows, and stir until they are coated with peanut butter chip mixture, but do not let marshmallows melt! Gently spoon mixture over peanuts in baking dish, and spread out evenly. Sprinkle the rest of nuts on top and press in with back of large spoon. Refrigerate until firm; cut into squares.

NOTE: Once these are firm from refrigeration, no need to refrigerate again. Trudy had a note on her recipe that says, “these freeze well”, but I’ve never tried that. I’m kind of a “make it and take it” kinda gal—as my family and co-workers will attest. My baked goods don’t usually last long enough to need to be frozen for future consumption.

Green Pepper and Sausage Hash Browns

FullSizeRender-2Sometimes you just gotta keep it simple. Like doctoring up a package of Simply Potatoes plain shredded hash browns with a couple vegetables, and some meat, and calling it a done! My friend Marylee put me onto this brunch or brinner (breakfast for dinner…) side dish, and we love it for a quick after-church-on-Sunday meal with some cheesy scrambled eggs and fruit. You can use half a Kielbasa sausage ring, or a couple links of Andouille—anything will do, as long as it’s meaty and chock full of flavor. Just make sure you grab your biggest skillet or griddle to give the potatoes a chance to brown up nice and crispy. The more surface area, the better!

Serves 4-6

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 (20-ounce) package Simply Potatoes shredded hash browns
½ of a Kielbasa sausage ring, chopped into bite-sized pieces

Heat oil on high in large skillet or griddle. Add onion, and cook until translucent. Add green peppers, and sauté and stir for a minute. Add hash browns, let sit to brown for a bit, then use large spatula to flip sections of browned potatoes over, and stir until most of potatoes are golden. Add in sausage, and continue to cook and stir until potatoes are desired crispiness. Serve.

Pizza Pockets

FullSizeRenderCan’t beat the draw of fresh, savory bread, filled with hot pepperoni and gooey melted cheese. Since we’re not Italian, I feel we can’t call these calzones, so they’ve been dubbed “pizza pockets” in our house. And as the definition of a calzone is “an Italian oven-baked folded pizza,” our name works perfectly well. 

It all started with a magazine recipe clipping for “mini French loaves” that sounded more Italian than French in their ingredient listing, and a house full of teenage boys who were bottomless pits. I’d made this dough into buns for dinner, and the guys said, “Hey, this kind of tastes like pizza!” So I decided to make it more like pizza by stuffing it with pepperoni and a mix of cheeses, and then dipping the pizza pockets into purchased marinara sauce. A star was born. (Then I found out that Calzones were a “thing” and I wasn’t the genius I thought I was…oh well. Not the first time!)

I’d not made these for years, and then my son Justin was reminiscing about this dish to his lovely fiancé Ashley. So of course I had to make them for her… She loved them as much as the guys always have, which means she passed the test—welcome to the fam, Ash! 

Now, I have to mention, I’ve tried filling these with a variety of things over the years: sausage and mushroom, green peppers and Canadian bacon and pineapple, etc. But nothing seems to work out as well as the plain old pepperoni and cheese. When something works, sometimes you just have to leave it alone and enjoy the simplicity of it.

Makes 8 pizza pockets

Dough
1¼ cups warm water
2½ teaspoons active dry yeast
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese (Kraft is fine, doesn’t need to be all fancy!)
3 to 3½ cups all-purpose flour

Filling
Package of pepperoni slices
1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese

For Dipping
Jar of purchased Marinara sauce (My pick is Trader Joe’s as it’s about $1.79 per jar and doesn’t use corn syrupn.)

Dissolve yeast in water in large mixing bowl, letting rise until yeast begins to foam on top. Fit mixer with dough hook. Add sugar, seasonings, 2 cups flour, and Parmesan cheese, and beat until all ingredients are combined. Add flour ½ cup at a time and mix on low setting to form a soft dough. Note that you may not need all of the remaining 1½ cups of flour. Only add flour until dough begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl. Turn dough onto floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic. Grease a clean bowl with shortening, and place dough into bowl, turning once to grease top of dough. Cover with damp kitchen towel and let rise in warm place for about an hour, or until doubled in size.

Grease a baking sheet with olive oil, and sprinkle pan with a light dusting of cornmeal. Punch dough down, and divide into 8 equal-sized pieces. Form each piece into a ball. Roll out into an oval disk using rolling pin. Place about 6 pieces of pepperoni on one half of the disk, in a pyramid of 3 pieces, 2 pieces, and 1 piece. Top with a handful of grated cheeses, then fold empty half of dough over the side filled with pepperoni and cheese. Use the tines of a fork to seal the edges of the dough. Move pizza pocket to greased pan. Repeat with remaining pieces of dough.

Preheat oven to 400° Fahrenheit. Let dough rise in warm place for 30-45 minutes, or until almost doubled in size. (I like to fill my sink with hot water, then top the sink with an oven rack, and place pan on rack. This creates nice humid conditions for rising dough.) Once dough is risen, bake in preheated oven on center rack for 12-15 minutes, or until top of bread is light golden brown. Remove to cooling rack for about 10 minutes before serving. Heat marinara sauce in saucepan for a few minutes. Serve pizza pockets with a small ramekin of Marinara sauce for dipping as you eat.

Fresh Tomato Avocado Salsa

IMG_2835Need a quick topping for grilled fish or chicken? Try chopping up a few fresh veggies like this, drizzling them with balsamic vinaigrette and TA-DAAAH!!! You’ve just taken your dinner up a notch in flavor. I grabbed these ingredients thinking they’d pair well with my husband’s grilled tilapia the other night, and boy, did they ever. We gave it a solid 10 out of 10! So simple, there’s really nothing more to say—let’s just get to the recipe, if you can even call it that…

Makes 4-6 servings

1 cup grape tomatoes, halved and quartered
1 ripe avocado, chopped
2 slices yellow onion, diced
A few sprigs of fresh basil, chiffonade*
A splash of balsamic vinaigrette

Combine all ingredients in a bowl, stir, and ladle on top of cooked fish or chicken.

*NOTE: Chiffonade is the technique of bunching up herb leaves and chopping into fine, thin strips.

Green Tea Pound Cake

IMG_2180This moist cake tastes like pound cake, but there’s not a trace of butter used in the batter. The surprising green hue comes from matcha green tea powder, which has very little flavor component to it—at least the powder I used wasn’t terribly potent. And why was I testing a cake recipe using green tea powder? Here’s the back story. 
Hosting students from other countries has expanded our culinary tastes, encouraging us to try all sorts of unique foods. We’ve grown especially close to one of our students, Kana Miyamoto, from Japan. She loved that she got to stay in the home of a foodie, and we loved that she was game to try everything we offered her! After her last visit, she sent me a box full of food-related items unique to Japan. I’ll need a translator to figure out what some of the packets are… But there was a bag of matcha green tea powder that had some English on it, so I searched online to find something to do with it. A cake similar to this is posted on several sites, so I’m not sure of the recipe’s origin. 
FullSizeRenderAs for “selling” this recipe, don’t know quite what to say. My co-workers said “it tastes like pound cake” as they gobbled it up. I offered it with Reddi-Wip® as a topping, because, well, whipped cream makes everything better. It was good, and I’ll make it again, maybe increasing the amount of matcha. As I said earlier, the green tea powder didn’t have much flavor, and my cake wasn’t as green as others pictured online. Given that it uses olive oil and Greek yogurt, it’s a slightly healthier version of the traditional pound cake.* Slightly. So play the “it’s good for you” card when you serve this to guests. That always works, right?
2 cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup matcha green tea powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoons salt
1 cup Greek yogurt
cups sugar
3 eggs (room temperature)
½ cups olive oil (either regular or extra virgin)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½-1 teaspoon almond extract (depending on how much almond flavor you want!)
Powdered sugar for dusting cake
Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Prepare a 10-cup Bundt pan by spraying it with Pam, or greasing and flouring the pan. In medium bowl, combine the flour, matcha powder, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. In a large mixing bowl, combine yogurt and sugar until blended. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Add the olive oil and vanilla, and combine. Gradually add in the flour mixture until blended. Add the remaining flour and fold just until combined. Don’t overmix.
Pour batter into prepared Bundt pan. Bake for 40-45 minutes until a wooden skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack. Let sit for 15 minutes and then invert onto serving plate and let sit until completely cool. Sift powder sugar on top of the cake and enjoy!
*NOTE: I’ve read that pound cake got it’s name because it originally used a pound each of butter, eggs, flour, and sugar.

Mexicali Pie

IMG_2275This nummy Mexican-inspired casserole is one of my quick dinner go-to recipes for busy weeknights. We love the spice mix, and that it’s meat, a few veggies, and corn bread all in one meal. But we especially love that it’s great left over, and it travels well in a container, even when in a back pack on Mitchell’s back, jostling around as he rides his bike miles and miles to work. Not every dish can pass THAT test.

This recipe was published some time in 2003 in Family Fun, by Ken Haedrich, a contributing editor to that magazine at the time. He gave a list of spices to mix in, but I use Penzey’s chicken taco seasoning mix to make it easy on myself. I’ll give you the author’s spice mix below, in case you don’t do Penzey’s. (Which is easy to order online, so you totally can…) Note that the recipe called for ground beef, but I make it with either ground beef or ground turkey—both taste great.

I used to make a hot cheddar cheese sauce to ladle on top, but lately I’ve liked the fresher taste of an avocado, Greek yogurt, and some cilantro instead. The cheese sauce is great for comfort food in the winter time, but leads to that dreaded need for an afternoon nap. You know, the food coma. Since work-naps are frowned upon at my place of employment, it’s best to keep with the lighter toppings when bringing this for lunch.

Serves 8-10

Casserole
1½ pound ground beef or turkey
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons Penzey’s chicken taco seasoning mix *
2 cups frozen corn, thawed, or 1 (15-ounce) can of corn, drained
2 (14.5 ounce) cans Mexican or chili-style diced tomatoes, or regular diced tomatoes

Corn Bread Topping
1 cup yellow cornmeal
½ cup all-purpose flour
1½ tablespoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 cup milk
¼ cup vegetable oil

Toppings
Diced avocado
Greek yogurt, or sour cream
Cherry tomatoes, halved
Shredded sharp cheddar cheese
Chopped fresh cilantro

Preheat oven to 400° Fahrenheit. Brown ground beef or turkey in a large non-stick skillet, breaking up as it browns. Use a slotted spoon to transfer all the meat to a mixing bowl. Drain all but about 3 tablespoons fat from pan. Put pan on medium-high heat and sauté onions until translucent. Add green pepper and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add the minced garlic and the taco seasoning, and stir and toast spices until fragrant. Stir in corn and tomatoes. Bring mixture to a boil, cover pan, and reduce heat to low. Return meat to the pan and stir to combine.

Ladle meat mixture into a 9″x12″, 3-quart casserole dish, then make cornbread topping. In mixing bowl, combine cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Whisk egg, milk, and oil in separate bowl. Add milk mixture to dry ingredients and mix on low until blended. Pour batter over the meat mixture and even out with the back of a spoon. Bake for 22 minutes or until topping is golden brown, and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Serve with suggested cold toppings.

MAKE AHEAD TIP: You can make the meat mixture, put it in the casserole dish, and cover with foil or plastic wrap and refrigerate. Then pull it out and just mix up the corn bread topping, pour it on, and bake.

*If not using Penzey’s taco seasoning, use:
2 teaspoons chili powder
1½ teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cayenne
1 tablespoon flour