Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

FullSizeRenderMaking your own fresh, creamy hummus is a snap, and once you do it you’ll never want store bought again. We’ve been making a basic Spicy Hummus for years now (found a fave on Rachel Ray’s site) and I can’t remember the last time we bothered buying. Tahini paste—a paste made from ground sesame seeds—is the secret ingredient that makes hummus so, well, hummalicious. But I wanted to mix things up a bit, so I added a jar of Trader Joe’s Roasted Red Peppers to our basic Spicy Hummus recipe.

How was it? My handy taste testers Mitchell and Justin (sons) and Emily (boarder) said they loved it! (Too bad it looks so fleshy in the picture here. Rest assured, it tastes better than it looks!) The only thing that might improve it, would be an added teaspoon of my favorite seasoning, smoked Spanish paprika. I think the smokiness with the roasted peppers would take this dip up a notch. But that’s just my humble opinion.

Makes 6-8 servings

1 (14.5-ounce can) garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained (also called chickpeas)
1 jar (8 ounces) roasted red peppers, drained
2 rounded tablespoons tahini paste
¼ cup olive oil
½ of a lemon, juiced
1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon coriander
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Course salt to taste (about ½ teaspoon)

Combine all ingredients in food processor bowl or blender and pulse until mixture is smooth and creamy. Transfer to small bowl and serve with corn tortilla chips or veggies. Or store in airtight container in frig for 2-3 weeks.

NOTE: Be sure to drain and pat the red peppers dry, or they add a lot of extra moisture to the dip.

Sausage Mushroom Egg Bake

unnamedGood egg bake” is often an oxymoron, but this recipe with sausage, mushrooms and roasted red peppers isn’t the usual tasteless mush served at potlucks across the Heartland. I found this recipe called “Patsy’s Egg Casserole” on the Midwest Living website when I was looking for brunch recipes to serve at my son Mitchell’s high school graduation open house a few years ago (a tradition unique to Minnesota, I hear). My mother, sister Susan, and a couple friends all made a pan or two of this and the bacon/asparagus variation, and every single dish was delicious! It’s truly a fool-proof recipethere were no differences in outcome between cooks. You could even say this is Judy easy! (For my sister Judy who doesn’t love cooking like I do…)

My trick to keep it from slipping into soggy, is to use french bread loaves instead of a sliced loaf of white bread. French bread is stiffer, and the fact that it has more crust helps too. The other reason I love this recipe, is that there’s no butter in it. Not that I have anything against butter—it’s often a staple ingredient in my recipes!—but I’ve had so many egg bakes that were positively swimming in melted butter, and that’s just diary overkill. 

Just made this recipe for a birthday brunch for my daughter-in-law Jessica, and we all remembered how much we liked it, so I thought it was about time to post this breakfast, brunch, or brinner winner. My husband loves it so much, that the first words out of his mouth this morning were, “Is there anymore of that egg bake left?” Good morning to you too, sweetheart.

Serves 6-8

1 pound uncooked Italian sausage or ground pork
2 cups (8 ounces) fresh cremini or button mushrooms, rinsed and sliced
1 (8 ounce) jar roasted red peppers, drained and chopped
8 cups cubed French bread
2-3 cups shredded cheddar cheese
8 eggs
3 cups milk
1½ teaspoons dry mustard
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

Lightly coat a 9″x13″ baking dish with cooking spray. Set aside. In a large skillet, cook sausage and mushrooms on high until sausage is no longer pink. Drain off fat and extra moisture. Stir red peppers into mix and set aside. Place half of the bread cubes in prepared baking dish. Top with half of the sausage mixture, and half of the cheese. Repeat with remaining bread, sausage mixture, and cheese.

In a large mixing bowl, beat eggs with whisk attachment. Slowly pour in milk and whisk again. Sprinkle dry mustard, salt, and cayenne over eggs and milk, and beat one last time to combine. Carefully pour egg mixture over the layered bread mixture in dish. Gently press down the bread using the back of a large serving spoon to get it to absorb some of the egg and milk. Cover and chill for at least 2 hours or up to 24. (NOTE: The beauty of this recipe is that you can make it ahead! I love to make this the night before serving. Quick and easy party the next day…)

Preheat oven to 325° Fahrenheit. Bake uncovered for 50-60 minutes, or until skewer inserted in center comes out clean. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.


Prepare as above, except replace sausage with 8 strips of crisp-cooked bacon. Cool bacon, and crumble or chop. Replace mushrooms with one bundle of fresh asparagus. Cut asparagus into bit-sized pieces (snapping off tough ends), and drop into salted boiling water for 1-2 minutes. Drain asparagus, then toss in bowl with bacon and chopped roasted red peppers. Use 2-3 cups shredded Swiss cheese instead of cheddar cheese.

Creamy Potato, Parsnip and Leek Soup

FullSizeRenderBacon, potatoes, and leeks blend together in creamy goodness in this simple soup recipe that goes together in about 30 minutes. Published in a Real Simple article praising potatoes in the November 2016 issue, it grabbed my attention because of the addition of leeks, which have a milder and sweeter flavor than onions, and I love an excuse to use them. Every time I cook with leeks, I remember the verses from the Old Testament where the Israelites complain about missing leeks and garlic as they wandered in the desert (Numbers 11:5). They missed them so much, that they sort of forgot they were enslaved to the Egyptians when they were cooking with those leeks and garlic. That’s the power of good ingredients—they make you forget the misery of every day life, even when that misery includes making bricks for the pyramids without any straw.

So my mind wanders a bit when I cook! What can I say? I’ve made this soup twice already since first trying the recipe, as the first batch was gobbled up in a hurry. I adjusted all the vegetable amounts and added more seasoning to the Real Simple version. And they had garnished their recipe with bacon bits and scallions, and I found the scallions to be overpowering in this mild soup. Chopped chives would be a better garnish. I think even the Israelites would approve of that tweak to this dish.

Makes 8 servings

6-8 slices bacon, cut in half
3 russet potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 pound parsnips (about 5 medium or 3 large)
2 leeks thinly sliced, including some of tender green portions
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon dried dill
4 cups chicken broth (32-ounce box)
1 cup heavy cream or half-and-half
¼ cup chopped chives, optional, for garnish

In large Dutch oven, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp. Remove bacon to plate with paper towels to drain and cool. Add potatoes, parsnips, and leeks to the pot. Cook, stirring now and then, for 10 minutes, or until vegetables are tender. Add garlic and cook a few minutes more. Sprinkle in salt and dill and stir. Add in broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cover and cook for 15 minutes.

Working in batches, process 2 cups of soup at a time until smooth. Return all the blended soup to the pot and stir in cream while element is on low. Top individual bowls with crumbled bacon bits, and chopped chives, if desired.

Gingerbread Caramel Sauce

FullSizeRender-2Move over, sea salted caramel. You’ve had your 15-minutes of fame. Try this decadent gingerbread caramel sauce, a crazy crossbreed of fresh gingerbread cookies and rich caramel. This ice cream/cake sauce was posted on Martha Stewart’s site as an “under 30 minutes” holiday recipe. I latched onto it because it’s a gluten-free option that looked like a good Christmas gift for co-workers and friends. But I couldn’t give it away without knowing if it was actually tasty, so I did a test batch. How was it? Absolutely, positively, DEE-licious. I couldn’t stop licking the stirring spoon! When my friend Suzie texted me that her husband was smearing it on his breakfast toast just to find a base other than ice cream, I had to applaud his ingenuity. You go, Paul. Sauce it up.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a good photo of the sauce in action, as the ice cream melting under the warm sauce made a mushy mess in the bowl. That reminded me of my days working as an art director on Pillsbury cookbooks, and all the tricks we had to pull to get a shot of ice cream under hot studio lights. Here’s rule Number 1 in the food biz—if you’re selling ice cream, you must use your ice cream in the photo. No stand-ins. This required forming dozens of perfect scoops of ice cream, then putting them on dry ice for several hours. Then you had mere moments to pour the sauce and get your photos done. I had to blow through a straw onto the sauce to keep it from frosting over on the hyper-frozen ice cream, while the photographer furiously clicked away. So much work! But what fun to finally get the shot.

Food biz rule Number 2—if you’re selling the sauce but not the ice cream, you can use a salted dough (similar to Play-Doh) that mimics ice cream in appearance. A couple scoops of the salt dough handled the sauces well, and wouldn’t melt under the hot lights. It made for a much easier photo shoot day! Since I didn’t have any stand-in ice cream on hand, my shot above is of my sweet little jars all sealed and labeled for gift-giving.

Makes 6-7 half pints

3/4 cup molasses
3 cups sugar
2 cups heavy cream
1½ sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1-1½ teaspoons salt
1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1½ teaspoons ground ginger

In Dutch oven, combine sugar, molasses, and ½ cup water. Heat over medium-high, gently stirring, until sugar has dissolved. Bring to a boil. Continue to cook and stir constantly for 4 to 5 minutes (about 250 degrees on a thermometer, if using). Remove from heat and carefully whisk in cream, butter, salt, and spices, stirring until butter is melted and combined. Ladle into clean half-pint jars; wipe rims of jars to remove any excess sauce. Put on fresh, clean canning lids, and screw on top. Cool jars in refrigerator. (Jars may seal due to rapid cooling.) Once opened, sauce can be refrigerated for up to 2 weeks; reheat before using.

NOTE: I found it works best to have all your ingredients measured out before you start making the sauce. The butter and the cream will make the sugar mixture splatter when added to the pot, and may cause it to cool too rapidly. I turned the heat back on to low to get the butter to melt at this stage. Also, it’s best to sift in the spices and salt, otherwise the cinnamon and ginger tend to clump because the sugar mixture is so hot. As far as the salt content goes, I think the 1½ teaspoon salt was a little much, and will back it off to 1 teaspoon in future batches.