Thursday, August 16, 2018

Baked Campanelli with Leeks


A lot of people are surprised by this, but Sunday is the only day of the week that I cook. What this means is that everything you are seeing on the blog this week, I made in one day. I know, it appears that I do more, but frankly, these days, I’m far too busy (read: old and tired) to spend my time cooking. I worked with Leeks this week, trying a variety of new recipes, and loving them all. Leeks are an amazingly versatile vegetable. Most people know them from various leek and potato soup recipes. I do love leek and potato soup, but I also love them braised, creamed, in scrambled eggs and quiches, and now, in a sophisticated version of macaroni and cheese.

I decided to change things up a bit, and make macaroni look much more elegant by using campanelli instead of the standard elbow or penne pastas. There is method to my madness. Campanelli is a wonderful curled pasta that holds onto a lot of sauce. What this means is that you’re going to get delicious mouthfuls of cheese and leek sauce in every bite. Feel free to put your own spin on this. I like it super cheesy, so use the sharpest cheddar that I can find, but if you prefer yours milder, use whatever cheese suits you.

To familiarize yourself with the various types of pasta, including campanelli, you might want to check out this post.
Baked Campanelli with Leeks
Slightly adapted from epicurious.com

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
1 bag
Melissa’s Cleaned and Sliced Leeks
  1/4 cup all purpose flour
3 1/2 cups whole milk
1 pound extra-sharp cheddar cheese, coarsely grated
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, more or less to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 large eggs
Few gratings fresh nutmeg
1 pound
campanelli pasta

Preheat oven to 400°F.  Lightly butter 15x10x2-inch baking dish.

Melt 1/4 cup butter in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add leeks; stir to coat. Cover saucepan and cook until leeks are tender, stirring occasionally, about 12 minutes (do not brown). Uncover saucepan; add flour. Stir 2 minutes. Add milk; bring to simmer, stirring often. Add cheese, mustard, and pepper sauce. Stir until cheese melts. Stir in salt and pepper. Remove from heat. Season cheese sauce to taste with salt. Stir in nutmeg.

Whisk eggs in medium bowl. Gradually whisk in 1 cup cheese sauce. Stir egg mixture into cheese sauce in saucepan.

Meanwhile, cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain. Return to pot.

Stir cheese sauce into pasta in pot. Transfer to prepared baking dish.

Bake pasta until cheese sauce is bubbling around edges and some ends of pasta are golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Let stand 15 minutes. Serve hot.

One of my favorite pasta dishes (try it, and it will be yours as well) is Pimiento Cheese Mac and Cheese. So rich and delicious!


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Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Plum Cobbler


I have a seriously short attention span. Sometimes that worries me. Case in point, I was at the market the other day eyeballing the huge stack of local peaches. Peaches are one of my favorite fruits, so I was trying to decide which size bag I wanted to buy. I didn’t want to overdo it as I have done with things in the past (you know how I can be), so I decided to go for a 3-pound bag. I turned my body as I was reaching for the bag and, in the doing, spotted a sale on avocados. Before you could say “guacamole” I was standing by a bin full of avocados that were on special. I haven’t had guacamole in ages, and I love it on top of a turkey sandwich, and, hey, turkey is on sale at the deli! But, I thought to myself, I also need good bread. Hey! Fresh bread is on sale in the bakery. So, I picked out the best avocados from the bunch, bagged them up and put them in my cart, headed straight for the deli counter where I bought not only turkey, but ham that was also on sale, bread, and felt quite chuffed as I made my way to the checkout. It wasn’t until I got home and started unpacking things that I realized the checker had not rung up my peaches. Then I realized it was because they weren’t in my cart. Sigh.
I did have the great fortune to receive a good number of Melissa’s Organic Plum Bites, so I decided, why be locked into peach cobbler? I will make plum! It was exceptionally good, and I think I may make this again before the season is out. Plums are a favorite of mine, but if they’re not a favorite of yours, I really think you could probably use any stone fruit in this cobbler. It’s easy to make, and absolute heaven when topped with a large scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Plum Cobbler

3 lbs. Melissa’s Organic Plum Bites, seeded, cut into thin wedges
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon cornstarch

Topping
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Few gratings fresh nutmeg
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/4 cup boiling water

Sanding sugar for top

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Toss plums with sugar, lemon juice, almond extract, and cornstarch in a 2-qt. nonreactive baking dish and bake in middle of the oven 10 minutes.

While plums are baking. Place all topping ingredients EXCEPT WATER into a food processor, and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. With motor running, stream in water just until combined.

Remove plums from oven and drop spoonfuls of topping over them. (Topping will spread as it bakes.) Sprinkle with sanding sugar, if desired. Bake in middle of oven until topping is golden, about 20-25 minutes.

These Simple Plum Tarts are another super simple, delicious plum dessert.



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Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Happy Trails Peanut Butter Crunch Cookies


As I mentioned in a recent blog post my over zealousness tends to get the best of me. July 16th was Amazon Prime Day, and I got into the spirit of things in fine form. I didn’t buy much, but I ended up being quite surprised by what I did buy when a couple of boxes showed up at my door. I love Amazon’s Happy Belly Tropical Trail Mix. Generally, I am not a trail mix fan, but this has just the right amount of salty, sweet, crunchy, chewy, and a tropical taste that makes this enormously appealing, so I bought a discounted bag of this. Occasionally I will buy their Happy Belly Sweet & Spicy Trail Mix, and always share some with my dad, so I bought a discounted bag of this. But what I didn’t realize was that I’d also bought a bag of their Happy Belly Peanut Butter Plenty Trail Mix.

When I opened up the box and pulled out this big bag of trail mix with peanuts, peanut butter chips, Reese’s pieces, and so forth and so on, I looked at it and said to myself,  “Huh.”  Then I headed to Amazon, just knowing that they had pulled a fast one, looked at my orders, and lo and behold there it was. Wow, I thought to myself, that is a big bag of peanut trail mix. I thought about giving it to my dad, but I didn’t want to over burden him with something he may not particularly like. Don’t get me wrong, he loves peanut butter as much as I do, but I wasn’t sure that he would like this.

So I got to thinking about it, and thought how wonderful all of these ingredients would work in a cookie. I shot off a message to number two son, Andrew, who is my partner in crime in many things, and he thought this idea was brilliant. In fact, he was already to be my taste tester.

After all of this, I had to give it a try, and am I ever glad that I did. These are exceptional! I used a basic chocolate chip cookie dough, substituting 3 cups of Happy Belly Peanut Butter Plenty Trail Mix for the usual 2 cups of chocolate chips and one cup of nuts. Listen to the ingredients in this trail mix: peanuts, peanut butter cups, chocolate and peanut butter candies (a.k.a. Reese’s Pieces), peanut butter chips, and peanut butter coated pretzel balls (Those pretzel balls knocked my socks off! Really, I still can’t find one.) What is not to like here? The cookie is complex, peanutty, sweet, salty, crunchy, absolutely wonderful, with relatively little work, because, essentially, Amazon has done all of the work for you in combining these wonderful ingredients all together in one bag. (Now I’m wishing I would have bought two!) You can find this trail mix here, and the recipe for the cookies below. If you prefer not to buy such a big bag of trail mix, you can easily make your own concoctions using any combination of the list of ingredients above. If your family likes peanut butter, peanuts, or any of the components in this trail mix, they are going to love these cookies!

How did Andrew like them? He LOVED them! I sent him home with a small bag and he didn’t quite make it. He told me that he ate them in the parking lot of Costco. Yep, they’re that good! 
Happy Trails Peanut Butter Crunch Cookies

2 sticks butter, softened
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat oven to 375° F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment or a Silpat; set aside

Beat together butter and both sugars until creamy, 3 to 4 minutes. Beat in eggs, one at a time, and vanilla extract. In a separate bowl whisk together flour, salt, and baking soda. Slowly add dry mixture to wet ingredients. Fold in
Happy Belly Peanut Butter Plenty Trail Mix.

Using a 1-1/2  tablespoon cookie scoop, scoop cookies onto
Silpat-lined cookie sheet. Bake for 14 to 16 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from oven; allow to cool on the cookie sheet 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely. Makes 3 1/2 dozen.

Another delicious and easy cookie recipe that makes use of a variety of flavored chips is these South Pole Cookies.



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Monday, August 13, 2018

Zippy Sweet Corn Pudding


It is corn season here in the heartland and, trust me when I tell you, it is plentiful! Supermarkets are selling it five and six ears for a dollar. A price like that is hard to resist, so I don’t even try. My dad, who is scouting out bargains at all of the local markets in his neighborhood, will often call me to tell me where I can get the most amount of corn for the least amount of money.

As I looked at my vegetable crisper this morning, laden with fresh ears of corn, to such an extent that I thought I heard the scallions gasping, I decided I needed to do something with it. I started rummaging around for recipes and I came up with one for sweet corn pudding. Just the sound of this recipe got me thinking about autumn leaves, crisp, juicy apples, a crackling fire in the fireplace, and cooler weather! 

This recipe looked so easy that I had to make it. While I was eating it, wishing for a larger spoon, I was thinking that even though it is way too early to start planning Thanksgiving dinner, this would be a perfect addition. There is absolutely nothing to it; everything gets thrown into the food processor and poured into a baking dish. It can then be refrigerated until you’re ready to bake. My friend, Linda, and says that my Smothered Green Beans are the best vegetable dish that she has ever tasted. Well, Linda, wait until you taste this! This is going to be a crowd pleaser, I guarantee, so you may want to make a bigger portion. Now, I think I may just need to stock up on some more of that fresh corn.

It’s not pretty, but it sure is good!
Zippy Sweet Corn Pudding
Slightly adapted from epicurious.com

4 cups fresh corn kernels
4 large eggs
1 Melissa’s pickled jalapeƱo, halved and seeded
1 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup whole milk
3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, room temperature
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter an 8x8x2-inch glass baking dish, or similarly sized casserole dish. Place all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until almost smooth. Pour batter into prepared dish. Bake pudding until golden brown and center is just set, about 45 minutes. Cool 10 minutes; serve.

Another crowd-pleasing corn recipe is this Mexican Street Corn off the Cob.

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Friday, August 10, 2018

Marinated Mozzarella Caprese Salad


Every day when I go out onto the deck to harvest the daily offerings from my humble container garden, I vow to use those ingredients in whatever meals I am having that day. Nothing beats fresh-from-the-vine produce, warm from the sun.
Today I brought in beautiful fresh tomatoes, radishes, a cucumber, and lots of basil. The radishes and cucumber are going to go in a dinner salad; for lunch I decided that I was going to have a small Caprese Salad along with a slice of homemade bread, slathered with fresh chive butter. If you are unfamiliar, a Caprese Salad is really nothing more than slices of tomato, fresh basil, and fresh mozzarella. It is simple, satisfying, and delicious. You can put your own personal spin on it in the way in which it is laid out to be served, or kick things up a little bit by marinating the mozzarella, and then drizzling that marinade over the slices of tomato and leaves of basil.

Earlier in the week, anticipating a tomato harvest, I bought a container of mozzarella balls to marinate. This recipe is slightly adapted from The View from Great Island blog. I find that fresh basil, very good olive oil, and a whisper of red peppers do amazing things to fresh mozzarella, and give it a special zing. This is the taste of summer!

Marinated Mozzarella Balls
Adapted from The View from Great Island

1 8-ounce container of fresh mozzarella balls
2 ounces of fresh basil
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
Juice of one
Melissa’s seedless lemon
Whisper of red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste

Drain mozzarella balls and place into a clean jar. Place all
ingredients into a food processor, and pulse until emulsified. Pour over the mozzarella balls, seal jar, and place in the refrigerator for at least four hours, overnight is better. Serve with sliced tomatoes and fresh basil leaves. Drizzle the marinade from the mozzarella balls.



Another recipe that is super simple and makes good use of those summer tomatoes is Trader Vic’s Cosmo Salad.



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Thursday, August 9, 2018

Smoky Steak Sandwiches with Peppers & Onions


Those of you who have lost that special someone know that no matter how much time passes, things are never really quite the same. You learn to live with it and move on, and I have done that in spades, but I still find things on a daily basis that give me a melancholy pause.

This morning I was going through a stack of papers and found a recipe that Mr. O-P and I enjoyed a good bit. It was one he had found in a Williams-Sonoma catalog from April 2011. I know this, because he had typed up and printed out his own version turning their grill recipe into one that can be done on top of the stove, giving credit to that catalog. He had made a variety of notations on the recipe including that we liked it so much that, one week, we had it three times. I had to laugh at this. We did tend to go a little crazy when we found a recipe that we enjoyed. And, of all the recipes that we enjoyed, those that came together in a hurry were some of our favorites.

Do your prep work early in the day, and this comes together in a flash. I sliced the peppers and onions early on (including a green pepper that I grew myself!), as well as the steak that I did so while it was still partially frozen. (So much easier than waiting until it has completely thawed.)

I put this on a bun to show you that it really is a sandwich, but Mr. O-P and I used to make servings in individual
au gratin dishes, and have that as our evening meal. Sinking my teeth into the first flavorful bite, I can see why we enjoyed it. I hadn’t had this in about six years, and it brought back a lot of memories.
Smoky Steak Sandwiches with Peppers & Onions
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma

1 red onion, cut into ¼” strips
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into ¼” strips
1 green bell pepper, seeded and cut into ¼” strips
4 Tbs. olive oil
1 t. Hickory Smoked Sea Salt,* divided
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 ½ lb. New York strip sirloin, thinly sliced
4 French sandwich rolls (or not)
6 oz. provolone cheese, grated

Place a 10-inch skillet over medium high heat on the stove top. While this is heating, in a medium bowl, stir together onion, peppers, and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Season with ½ teaspoon smoked sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste.

Transfer vegetables to heated skillet, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned and softened (about 8 to 10 minutes). When cooked, transfer to a heatproof bowl and keep warm.

Return skillet to medium high heat. While it is warming, in another bowl, stir together steak strips with remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Season with ½ teaspoon smoked sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste. Place beef strips in skillet over medium high heat. Cover and cook beef, tossing occasionally, until browned (45 minutes).

When beef is cooked, return vegetables to skillet. Stir to combine and warm through; meanwhile, set oven to broil. When the vegetable/steak mixture has been combined and warmed, divide equally in four ovenproof serving dishes (We used
these.), or into four sandwich buns placed into foil “boats.” Sprinkle a generous amount of Provolone cheese on top of each. Broil until cheese melts; watch to prevent cheese from burning. Serve immediately

Makes four servings.

*This is NOT an optional ingredient. You can find it at Williams-Sonoma. It isn’t cheap, but it lasts a long time, and is well worth it. Wait for a 20% off sale.

Another one of Jim’s favorite beef dishes is this recipe for what I now call Jim’s Steak Diane, in his honor.


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Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Walnut Cream Cheese Spread


The beauty of having a container garden is that I am never overrun with any particular thing. In fact, I have been known to sit outside in a wicker chair, staring at the tomatoes, daring them to ripen. This past week I brought in a single tomato every day, and was fine with that. I also brought in four hefty cucumbers, two of which I gave to my number two son, who has already turned them into pickles. The other two I decided to use in fresh cucumber sandwiches. I have used cucumbers in veggie sandwiches before, but never made a sandwich where they were featured. I have been told that some of the best cucumber sandwiches contain cucumbers, slices of red onion, and cream cheese. I decided to take that up a notch by making my own bread (there is no better time of the year to proof bread outdoors than in humid, 90° mid summer heat), and make Walnut Cream Cheese.
Thai basil and cucumbers were harvested today.
First of all, let me tell you, this cream cheese is so good that I had to hide it from myself in the back of the fridge. Had I not, there wouldn’t have been enough to make the sandwich. Second, nothing beats homemade bread for a tasty sandwich. Mr. O-P used to favor sandwiches made with dense, chewy bread. I like that as well, but, when it comes to something as delicate as a cucumber, I need bread that’s going to be a bit softer without skimping on taste.

This is a delightful combination! You can remove the crust from the bread, and cut the sandwiches into triangles, rectangles, small squares, or heck, get fancy-schmancy and use a round biscuit cutter and cut out rounds. I wasn’t making this to serve with tea, I was making it to munch on during some tense innings of the ball game, so I left the crusts on. Sometimes, I like to take a walk on the wild side.

Try this sandwich, but even if you don’t, you must (I
absolutely insist!) try this Walnut Cream Dheese. It is superb accompanied by grapes (Shown here with Melissa’s wonderfully sweet and juicy Champagne Grapes -- an excellent pairing.), or slices of apple. Delish!
Walnut Cream Cheese Spread
Adapted from Taste of Home

12 ounces cream cheese, softened
½ cup chopped walnuts, toasted
2 T. minced fresh parsley
1 T. finely minced green pepper
2 T. minced scallions
1 t. fresh lemon juice
¼ t. freshly grated nutmeg
6-8 gratings from
Melissa’s Lemon Pepper Grinder
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Place all ingredients into a medium mixing bowl and beat until creamy. Place in an airtight container (I like
these.) and refrigerate overnight to meld flavors.

Another versatile cream cheese spread that is good either hot or cold is Olive Cheese Spread.



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