Thursday, October 31, 2019

Peeling Small Onions

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 I already have my eye on Thanksgiving, and what that means is Creamed Onions. It’s always a favorite dish, so I tend to serve it often on holidays that fall in the autumn and winter months. It can be work if you don’t plan ahead, but I always do by peeling the onions, labeling, bagging, and putting them in the freezer. I love having them on hand for anything I might need.

If you have only tried using pearl onions in recipes that call for them, you are missing a lot of flavor by ignoring
Cipollini and Red Boiler Onions. In the past, I have provided you with a tutorial on how to easily peel pearl onions; you can find that post here. You can treat cipollini onions and red boiler onions in the same manner, just extend the boiling time to 4 minutes and 30 seconds. They come out beautifully, and are going to add more depth to your casserole.

That’s your tip for today.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Black and White and Red-Eye Chili

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When the temperatures dip into the 40s, and I find myself stacking logs in the fireplace, I know that chili season is upon us. Every year, I try to come up with something new, and this year, feeling a bit of whimsy, I came up with a title before I came up with the recipe. Everything, in my opinion, can be improved with the addition of coffee, hence the red-eye reference in the name, and this version of chili uses both black beans and white kidney beans (cannellini). I doubled up on the amount​​ of meat that I generally use, and this was a real winner. I served it with my favorite cornbread, and we all thoroughly enjoyed the meal. 
Black & White & Red-Eye Chili

2 lb. ground chuck
1 3-oz. pkg. Melissa’s shallots, chopped
1 15-oz. can tomato sauce
1 15-oz. can black beans, drained
1 15-oz. can cannellini beans, drained
1½ c. strong, brewed coffee
1 tsp. beef soup base
1 T. chili powder
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. smoked salt
1 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. dried oregano
¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
¼ tsp. adobo

Place the beef in a skillet and cook over medium heat evenly brown. Drain on paper towel-lined plate.
Place the beef in a slow cooker along with the rest of the ingredients. Give it a good stir and cook on low for 7-8 hours, or high 5-6.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Chocolate Toffee Bars

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 Had I not been so keenly interested in covering this cookie with toffee bits, I may have considered some of the darling Halloween sprinkles that are available in the shops today. But, what can I say? I didn't. No matter, the toffee bit topping was a huge hit with the masses that I am trying to feed these days. Consider this bar cookie when a dessert is in order, time is short, and you’re looking for something easy — perhaps portable — that everyone will love.
Chocolate Toffee Bars

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1½ cups flour

Preheat oven to 350° F. Line a 9” x 13” pan with foil, allowing a 2-inch overhang on either end. This facilitates easy removal.

Cream together butter, brown sugar, and flour, until well blended. Press into prepared pan. Bake for 20 to 22 minutes, or until lightly golden. Remove from oven and cool while preparing the topping.

1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
¼ cup butter

In a medium pan over medium heat, heat sweetened condensed milk and butter together, stirring constantly for 8-10 minutes until thickened. Spread over cooled base. Bake 10-12 minutes or until golden. Remove from oven.

1½ cups chocolate chips
¾ cup
Heath toffee bits

Sprinkle chocolate chips evenly over the top. Bake a final two minutes until chocolate is shiny and soft. Remove from oven. Spread chocolate evenly with a small
offset spatula; sprinkle toffee bits generously over the top. Cool and cut into bars.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Cajun Chicken Pasta Florentine

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There’s good news and bad news. The good news is, number two son and his wife put their house up for sale and sold it the first day. The bad news is that the house they’re building won’t be ready until November 19. So… enter good old, mom. You guessed it, my son, daughter-in-law, and their two cats descended upon my home ten days ago, moving into the lower level. Thank goodness they have enough space to spread out, enjoy their alone time as much as I do, and are adventurous eaters. It was a bit of an adjustment for all of us initially, but, once again, I have someone to cook for, so was eager to try a Cajun chicken pasta recipe on them. This goes together fairly easily, and if you start your pasta water when cutting your chicken, this meal can be on the table in 30 minutes time. Thumbs up all around.
Cajun Chicken Pasta Florentine

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts,* cut into thin strips
8 oz. rigatoni (or pasta of choice), cooked al dente,
reserving ½ c. pasta water
1 T. Cajun Seasoning
2 T. butter
2 scallions, sliced
1 c. heavy cream
¼ c. chopped
Melissa’s sun-dried tomatoes
Pinch salt, or to taste
½ t. dried basil
¼ t. garlic powder
¼ t. freshly ground black pepper
1-2 handfuls fresh baby spinach

Place chicken strips and Cajun seasoning into a large bowl; toss to coat.

In a large skillet over medium heat, sauté chicken in butter or until tender, 6-8 minutes. Reduce heat and add scallions, tomatoes, basil, salt, garlic powder, pepper, and heat through. Add spinach and allow to wilt. Stir in heavy cream, bring to a simmer, and continue cooking until mixture thickens slightly. If mixture becomes too thick, thin with reserved pasta water. Toss with hot pasta and serve immediately.

*Can substitute shrimp for chicken

Friday, October 18, 2019

A.M. Delight Muffins

When I was going through my mother’s recipe box a while ago (in search of the elusive chili sauce recipe), I stumbled upon this one, cut from a magazine (from appearances, my guess would be Taste of Home), and stapled together. I don’t recall her ever making these muffins, so, muffin person that I am, thought it my duty to give them a try. I liked them!
I am not a person who enjoys sugary sweetness in the morning. While I do love a good donut — the bigger the better — along with the rest of you, I want mine in the evening, after dinner, with a cup of coffee. In which case, I found these to be the perfect breakfast muffin for me. They have a lot of flavor, thanks to the apples, carrots, coconut, and raisins, a bit of a crunch thanks to the nuts (I swapped walnuts for the called for almonds), and, despite the three-quarter cup of sugar, only have a delicate sweetness, nothing heavy or cloying. A slathering of pumpkin cream cheese on top of a warm muffin was the perfect fall breakfast.
A.M. Delight Muffins

2 cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons
ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon allspice
Pinch of cloves
½ teaspoon kosher salt
3 large eggs
½ cup of vegetable oil
½ cup whole milk
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups chopped, peeled,
Organic Melissa’s Granny Smith Apples
2 cups freshly grated carrots
½ cup sweetened flaked coconut
½ cup golden raisins
½  cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 375° F. Grease or paper-line
muffin cups; set aside.

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking soda, spices, and salt. In another bowl, beat eggs, oil, milk, and vanilla. Mix well; stir in dry ingredients just until moistened. Fold in the remaining ingredients. Fill greased or paper-lined muffin cups 3/4 full. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until muffins test done.

Yield: 1 1/2 dozen.

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Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Aunt Gladys' Chili Sauce

Today, as promised, is the recipe for my great aunt’s chili sauce, that I have since named after her. If you could read the framed and wall-mounted recipe that I posted yesterday, you may have noticed that it yielded quite a large quantity. I cut this recipe in half, made a few tweaks, and couldn’t be happier. One taste, and it took me back to when I was four years old, and first sampled this toothsome condiment in my great aunt Gladys’s kitchen.
Aunt Gladys' Chili Sauce

12 large homegrown tomatoes
1½ 3-oz. pkgs. Melissa’s shallots, finely diced
3 cups granulated sugar
3 cups cider vinegar
½ t. cinnamon
½ t. ground cloves
½ t. ground ginger
½ t. allspice
2 T. kosher salt
2 jalapenos, finely chopped

Place all above ingredients EXCEPT the apples into a large stockpot on the stove. Bring mixture to a boil. Turn heat down to allow to simmer, and cook for 2 hours. Add apples and cook an additional 30-60 minutes until mixture thickens to your liking. Seal while hot.

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Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Aunt Gladys' Disappearing Chili Sauce

This chili sauce has a unique history. It came from my great aunt Gladys on my father's side (where she got it I do not know). Aunt Gladys passed it to my mother after she had tasted it during a visit to their Oklahoma home. I remember I was about four at the time, and was quite taken with their lovely home that included a vast rose garden and walk-in freezer. You might want to read those last couple of words again. My mother was in absolute heaven at the thought of a walk-in freezer. She was an avid maker of pies, and could envision them all stacked up waiting to be baked at some future point.

After we concluded our visit and returned home, my mother made the chili sauce. She loved it, I loved it, everybody loved it. Next year, following a bumper crop of tomatoes, she decided to make it again, but couldn’t find the recipe. That recipe stayed hidden for the next decade or so. Aunt Gladys had passed away at that point, and no one knew what had become of it.

Fast forward five more years when my mother pulled out an old cookbook to use, and found the chili sauce recipe that she'd apparently used as a bookmark. Immediately, she sat down, wrote out a copy, and gave it to me for safekeeping, just in case she lost it again. After my mother passed away, I had such a taste for that chili sauce that I went in search of my copy, but, alas, couldn’t find it. About a year ago, I did. It was during the winter, so I decided I was going to put it somewhere for safekeeping so as not to have it escape me during the summer. You know what I’m going to say here, right? I did lose it. Then I found it, and then I lost it again.

When I finally found it for the last time I decided that I was going to do something so as to prevent this from ever happening again -- I framed it. It is now hanging on the wall in my kitchen where I see it every day, and am thankful for my mother, my aunt, and a family history that caused such a stir. Because it gives me such a warm feeling every time I see it, I encourage you to consider giving one of your old family recipes this same treatment, and if you do, I would like to hear about it.

Come back tomorrow for the chili sauce recipe in readable form with my delicious adjustments.

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Monday, October 14, 2019

Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Mousse

Number one son and his family came for dinner on Friday night, so I had to make a memorable dessert. My grandkids know me as the grandma with lots of toys who makes great desserts, so I have a bit of a reputation to keep. I had spotted this cake on the I Am Baker blog, and thought I would give it a try. I found this very easy to put together, it can be made in stages and stored overnight, if need be, and it was spectacular!
The following night, I served it to number two son and his wife, and they went crazy as well. This is a cake that has made its way into my permanent repertoire, and I don’t say this lightly. It is one that is going to be made again and again, and, thanks to the change up of decorative sprinkles, can be served any time of the year. This must be experienced to be believed. Make it!
Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Mousse
Slightly adapted (and renamed) from I Am Baker


1¾ cups all-purpose flour
2 cups granulated sugar
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk room temperature
½ cup vegetable oil
2 extra-large eggs, room temperature
1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee


½ cup heavy whipping cream
4 oz. cream cheese
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tbsp. whole milk 
2 cups heavy cream, room temperature


Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 8” round cake pans (I use Baker’s Joy.)

Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the work bowl of your stand mixer, and mix until combined.

In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla.

To the bowl of the stand mixer, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry, with the mixer on low speed. With mixer still on low, add the coffee, and stir just to combine, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula.

Pour the batter into prepared pans and bake for 30-40 minutes until a cake tester or toothpick comes out mostly clean (not wet).

Cool in the pans for 30 minutes, then turn them out onto a cooling rack and cool completely.

Pour the cream into a mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer until peaks form, about 2-3 minutes. Scoop the whipped cream into a small bowl and place in refrigerator.

In a separate bowl, combine the cream cheese, peanut butter, and vanilla, and beat until smooth, 1-2 minutes.
Add confectioners sugar and beat again for another minute.
Add the milk and beat until smooth, about 20-30 seconds.
Fold the chilled whipped cream into the peanut butter mixture and stir until combined.


 Heat the heavy cream in a quart-sized, microwavable container and microwave for 3 to 4 minutes on high, or until it just begins to simmer. Be careful not to allow the cream to boil over. Pour the cream over the chocolate chips, and let stand for at least 2 minutes so that it can thicken. (Ganache should be cool when pouring over cake.) When ready to pour over chilled cake, whisk the ganache until smooth and then pour.

 When ready to assemble cake, spread peanut butter filling over one layer of chocolate cake, then set the other layer on top. Chill. Cover with prepared ganache. Chill cake until ready to serve.

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Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Gourd Napkin Rings

Remember those small gourds that I grew here? I was quite annoyed with myself for failing to read the packet causing me to end up with gourds that were only 2 inches long. I wondered what I was going to do with them. As it turned out, I got more use out of them than I ever expected I would. They provided a nice contrast to a bowl of apples that I used in a table setting, and today I decided they would make a nice, homemade napkin ring, tied around some of my fall napkins.
If you can get your hands on any small gourds like this, I would encourage you to do so. They are nice in a centerpiece, attractive in a cup at a table setting, and, as you can see, make nice, reusable, napkin rings when affixed with a bit of coppery brown raffia.

Just a quick tip!

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Monday, October 7, 2019

Gioia's Chicken Salad

In the middle of last summer, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch ran a recipe for an area deli’s chicken salad. I like chicken salad, and I try a lot of recipes, but I didn’t pay too much attention to this one, figuring, fruits and nuts notwithstanding, one is pretty much like the other. After a friend told me that this was her most favorite chicken salad, I had to give it a try.

It’s good, very good. It’s not all that much different from a lot of the recipes that I’ve tried, with the exception of two things: celery seed and lemon pepper seasoning. These two seemingly insignificant additions, made a significant difference in flavor, making this my new favorite as well.  Try this recipe and see for yourself.
Gioia's Chicken Salad
Gioia’s Deli, St. Louis, MO

Yield: 4 to 6 servings
1 ½ pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts
¼ to ½ cup chicken stock or water
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 cup finely diced celery
¾ cup finely diced red onion
2¼ teaspoons celery salt (or more to taste)
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¾ cup mayonnaise (Gioia’s uses Duke’s mayonnaise), more if needed

Notes: Although Gioia’s bakes the chicken breasts for this salad, you can use approximately 4 cups of chopped white meat chicken poached or from a rotisserie chicken.

The unique texture of Gioia’s chicken salad comes from baking the breasts in liquid, adding lemon juice and from hand mixing the pieces together. The methods allow the chicken pieces to soften and the mayonnaise absorbs better over all the pieces.

Although you can use any mayonnaise, Gioia’s uses Dukes, which contains no sugar, has a tangy flavor and a rich consistency. Once a southern cooking staple, it is now widely available in local grocery stores.

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Lightly coat the bottom of a baking dish with nonstick allow the air to circulate.

Pour enough broth or liquid into the pan to cover the bottom of the pan to a depth of ¼-inch. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes until the internal temperature 160ºF. Remove from the oven to a cooling rack and let rest for 10 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 165ºF.

When the meat is cool enough to handle, remove the chicken to a cutting board, discard pan juices, and cut into a ½-inch dice. Place diced chicken in a large mixing bowl. Add the lemon juice. Using gloves, toss the chicken with your hands to incorporate the juices throughout. Add the celery and onion. Whisk celery salt, lemon pepper and fresh ground pepper together and add to the bowl. Toss the salad with your hands to evenly incorporate all. Add the mayonnaise to the chicken mixture, and work it in with your gloved hands. The chicken salad shouldn’t be heavy and should just hold together. If needed, add mayonnaise in small increments to reach desired consistency.

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Sunday, October 6, 2019

From Scratch by Michael Ruhlman, Reviewed

Generally speaking, I look most fondly upon cookbooks that feature a photo for every recipe. From Scratch by Michael Ruhlman, doesn’t have that. But I’m going to let that slide in this case, because his book is such a fabulous resource that no culinary library, serious or otherwise, should be without it. This wonderful tome (it is weighty) teaches you how to cook from the bottom up; Ruhlman shows you everything that you need to know in order to make 10 fabulous meals. Even a seasoned veteran like me had never made mayonnaise, until now. As a consequence, I feel as if I’ve never truly tasted mayonnaise.
Despite being a James Beard award-winning author, Ruhlman is no snob. He is like your helpful grandmother who genuinely wants you to learn. He teaches you in language that even the novice cook can understand, offers up dozens of valuable techniques, and features 175 recipes in this beautiful book. To add to its charm, there are wonderful handwritten and illustrated pages throughout.
The variety of dishes featured range from company-worthy elegance to hearty comfort fare. Essentially, with this one volume, you can learn all the cooking you will ever need. From snacks like cheese-filled potato skins, to sandwiches like a “from scratch” BLT (yes you make your own pork belly/bacon and mayonnaise), to roasting a chicken, baking rolls, and making beautiful, restaurant-quality desserts, nothing is lacking here.

Another thing that I absolutely loved about this book, and have never seen before, is located in the back just before the index. It is a recipe timetable listing names of dishes followed by the page on which the recipe can be found that fall into the categories of “less than 30 minutes,“ “about an hour,“ “1-1/2 to 2-hour range.“ So, if you are short on time, you can immediately turn to this page, and find something delicious from these 42 quick recipes to have on the table in half an hour. If, on the other hand, you prefer to take your time and spend an afternoon in the kitchen, you have 9 recipes from which to choose.
No matter the type of cuisine you enjoy, from French, to all-American, to Indian, to Mexican, a little bit of each is contained within these pages. There are indeed pictures, plenty of them, and the food looks so mouthwatering that you almost feel as though you can grab a fork and dig right in.
Whether you are looking for a gift for newlyweds, your grandmother, treasured friend, or even yourself, this book will be welcomed by everybody. Don’t miss it.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Abrams Publishing Company as part of being a member of #AbramsDinnerParty.

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