Pound Cake

Eating Well was not the source for the pound cake recipe, but it’s one of my favorite foodie magazines and it seemed like a perfect placemat for enjoying a piece of cake with ice cream.  I’m sure there are literally hundreds of pound cake recipes on the internet and in cookbooks.  Some call for sour cream, fruit juice and zest, extracts, even a shot or two of rum.  The one I made today is one of the very basic of recipes that consists of a pound of this, a pound of that.  According to the internets, pound cake apparently dates back to the early 18th century and originated in Europe.  A pound cake recipe was published in the first American cookbook, “American Cookery”, published in 1796.  In France the pound cake is called “quatre-quarts” which means four quarters.  In Mexico it’s called “panque’” with the most common variant being the addition of raisins or walnuts.  This recipe makes two loaf pans, two pounds each.  It’s a lot of cake, but it’s the perfect vehicle for berries and whipped cream or a scoop or two of ice cream.  It’s also a very simple cake to make and most of us have all of the ingredients on hand.

Ingredients:

1 pound of sugar (approximately 2 1/4 cups)

1 pound of butter (4 sticks at room temperature)

1 pound of flour (approximately 4 cups)

1 doz eggs

Preheat your oven to 325.  Grease two loaf pans and line with parchment paper.

Cream together the sugar and butter in a large bowl with an electric mixer until they are light and fluffy.  Beat in the eggs, one at a time.  With the mixer running, slowly add the flour and mix just until incorporated.

Divide the batter, as evenly as possible, into the two prepared loaf pans.

Bake until a toothpick or cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 60-70 minutes.  Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes.  Loosen edges, remove cakes from the pans, peel off parchment, and allow to cool completely on wire racks.

Dust the cooled cake with powdered sugar or drizzle with a glaze.  I whisked together 2 cups of powdered sugar and 3-4 T of fresh squeezed lemon juice.  A little sweet, a little tart.

Slice and enjoy.

NOTE:  This cake freezes well.  I froze individual slices in zip lock bags.  While this time I did not add any flavorings, this recipe is excellent with some vanilla paste, or a little rum, or juiced citrus and zest.  Toasted nuts, raisins, dried cherries, or chocolate chips would also make great additions.  It’s pretty much a blank slate.

 

Empanadas

 

It occurred to me, as I was making the empanadas today, the last couple of weeks have been an ethnic diversity palooza in my kitchen.  I made a Moroccan chicken tagine with apricots and olives, Asian inspired sticky ginger sesame chicken meatballs, Mexican tostadas with my friend’s pickled pigs feet sauce, a Vietnamese shrimp spring roll bowl with sweet chili mango sauce, Italian chicken parmesan with linguine and marinara, Polish pierogis with polish sausage and cabbage, and Jewish penicillin, chicken soup with matzo balls.  It’s all been good.  A couple recipes were better than others.  But good just the same.  It makes cooking and mealtime much more interesting when you experiment and try new dishes.  A couple weeks ago I got new kitchen gadgets that made pierogis and empanadas more fun to make…a crimper and a roller that cuts the dough into perfectly sized discs to fit the crimper.  The gadgets are the real reason I was inspired to make the empanadas today.  I have a few packages of pierogis in my freezer.  Now I will have a few bags of empanadas in my freezer.  The recipe for the empanadas comes from America’s Test Kitchen, special collector’s edition, The Best Mexican Recipes.  There are a lot of great recipes in that magazine.

Dough ingredients:

3 3/4 cups AP flour (18 3/4 oz.)

1 T sugar

1 1/2 tsp salt

12 T unsalted, chilled butter cut into 1/2 inch pieces

1 1/4 cups ice water

2 T olive oil

Process the flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor until combined.  Scatter the butter in the processor over the flour mixture and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. Transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl.  Add 1/4 cup of water at a time, stirring after each addition.  You may not need to use all of the water.  Once the dough sticks together, turn out onto a clean, dry work surface and gently press into a cohesive ball.  Divide the dough into two discs, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for one hour.  Let the chilled dough sit out on the counter for a few minutes before rolling.

While the dough is chilling, prepare the filling.  I made a vegetarian filling with corn, peppers, and cheese.

Filling Ingredients:

2 T unsalted butter

1 poblano pepper, stemmed, seeded and chopped fine

3 whole canned mild green chilis chopped fine

3 green onions, whites minced and greens sliced thin

1 small mild orange pepper, stemmed, seeded and chopped fine

2 cloves of garlic minced

1/2 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

salt and pepper

3/4 cup frozen corn thawed

1/2 cup fresh cilantro chopped

6 oz shredded Jack cheese

Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat and cook the peppers and scallion whites until softened and lightly browned.

Stir in the garlic and the spices and cook another 30 seconds until fragrant.

Stir in the corn and remove from the heat.  Put the corn, pepper mixture in a bowl and refrigerate until completely cool.

While that’s chilling, slice the scallion greens, cilantro, and grate the Jack cheese.  Once cool, mix all of the ingredients together and now you’re ready to start rolling your dough.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Roll the dough on a lightly floured surface and cut discs with a biscuit cutter, a glass, or, if you’re fortunate enough to have one of these rollers, roll on.

Fill each circle with 1 T of filling.  Brush the edges of the dough with water to help ensure a good seal.  Fold the dough over and crimp the edges with the tines of a fork.  Or, if you’re fortunate enough to have a crimper, crimp on.

Transfer the empanadas to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Brush each with olive oil.

Bake for 20-30 minutes until golden brown.

Allow to cool and enjoy!

NOTE:  The filling options are endless.  There is a beef and cheese filling in the magazine and many, many more recipes on line.  The empanadas freeze well.  Put them in the freezer on a cookie sheet until frozen and then transfer them to zip lock freezer bags.  Bake them a few extra minutes if they’ve come out of the freezer.  Serve them as is or with salsa or Mexican crema.

Peanut Butter Fudge

One of my most requested recipes around the holidays is for peanut butter fudge.  Years ago I worked with someone who brought in peanut butter fudge that his wife made every Christmas.  It was excellent. But when I asked for the recipe he said it was a family secret and he would not share it.  After that I tried several different recipes for peanut butter fudge and finally stumbled on this one that I’ve been using for the last 20 years or more.  I have no idea where I found it, but it is every bit as good, if not better, than the “family recipe” my coworker refused to share.  The fudge pictured above is my version of Reese which is my daughter’s favorite.  A layer of peanut butter fudge and a layer of chocolate.  Of course I end up with two 9×13 pans of this, but I guess that’s not a bad thing.  And I’m all about sharing recipes!

Ingredients:

4 cups granulated sugar

1/2 cup butter

1 cup evaporated milk

1 T white vinegar

1 T light corn syrup

dash of salt

12 oz creamy peanut butter

13 oz jar marshmallow creme

1 tsp vanilla

Line a 9×13 pan with aluminum foil, allowing a generous overhang on each side, and lightly butter the foil and the pan.  This makes the fudge easy to lift out and cut.

Combine the sugar, butter, milk, vinegar, corn syrup and salt in a deep heavy kettle like a Dutch oven.  Stirring constantly cook over medium high heat until your candy thermometer reads 236 degrees.  Remove from the heat and stir in the peanut butter and marshmallow cream until completely incorporated.  Stir in the vanilla.

Pour into your prepared pan and allow it to cool completely.

This fudge is a perfect addition to our Christmas cookie trays.

NOTE:  I’ve never made this with chunky peanut butter and I’ve never added peanuts, but either of those modifications might be good.  If you want to make our Reese version the chocolate fudge recipe I use is also on my blog.  For some reason I only make this a Christmas but I’m thinking fudge is good any time of year.  My good friend and cookie baking partner gives a whole pan to her sister who cuts it up and freezes it.  When she is craving some peanut butter goodness she takes a piece or two out of the freezer.

Tostadas

My good friend Cathy makes the very best authentic Mexican dishes.  It’s what she has been cooking all of her life.  One of my favorites are her tostadas.  So good!  Of course she makes her own tortillas, which I only attempted once and failed miserably at.  It’s much easier to buy them at the grocery.  I’ve always wanted to try making her tostadas (with store bought tortillas) and finally asked me her to share her recipe with me.  Just like McDonalds has a recipe for special sauce, she does as well.  The secret ingredient in her sauce is pickled pigs feet.  An ingredient not easily found where I live.  Several stores later I hit the jackpot and now I know where to go.

I looked up tostada and it means “toasted” in Spanish.  Tostadas are made with tortillas that have been deep fried or toasted, usually corn tortillas.  They used to be made from tortillas that  were no longer fresh enough to be used for tacos, but took on a new life when they were fried.  Maybe that’s also how corn chips and nachos originated.  Tostadas can be made with any of the toppings you might use for tacos.  One locale in Mexico is famous for pizza sized tostadas called tlayudo which are topped with fried grasshoppers.

Because tostadas are made on fried tortillas they are somewhat fragile so you will want a base that is pasty enough to hold the other toppings in place.

Ingredients:

Tortillas (I used flour because that’s what I had on hand)

Vegetable oil for frying

Chorizo

Pinto beans

Onion

Cheese (I used a sharp cheddar)

Diced tomatoes

Pickled pigs feet

Oregano and garlic powder to taste

Heat your oil in a heavy skillet and deep fry the tortillas.  Drain on paper towel.

Add a little oil to a skillet and cook the chorizo with diced onions until the meat is no longer pink.  The chorizo I get is a little spicy and seasoned well so I did not add any additional spice.  If I were using ground beef or pork I would add cumin, chili powder, and oregano along with salt and pepper to taste.

Drain the beans and add to the onion and meat mixture.  Allow them to cook together and then mash the beans.  If necessary, add a little broth to keep the meat and beans from drying out.

While that’s cooking, dice up the jar of pickled pigs feet taking care to remove any bones.  I dumped the contents of the jar into my mesh strainer allowing the liquid to drain off and worked from there.

Purée the tomatoes in a blender or food processor.  I think I made a mistake here and added the pickled pigs feet to the blender along with the tomatoes.  I should have just blended the tomatoes and stirred in the finely diced pigs feet.  It made the color of the sauce a little off putting.  However I don’t think it changed the flavor profile.  Add oregano and garlic powder to taste.

Shred your cheese.  You can use cheese that you purchase already shredded, but I think when you shred it yourself it melts better and actually has more flavor.

Now you’re ready to assemble your  tostadas.  The first layer is your meat and bean mixture.  Then the sauce.

Choose whatever toppings you want to add and then cheese.

I put the assembled tostada in the microwave for 30 seconds to melt the cheese a little.  I served ours with avocado, lettuce and a little lime.

I don’t know what is proper, using your hands or silverware.  We used silverware.  They were excellent eaten with a knife and fork but might taste better using your hands!  Even the “I won’t eat pickled pigs feet folk” will like them.  It is a special sauce.  The ingredients can be the cook’s secret.  Thank you Cathy for sharing.  Enjoy your tostadas with a cold beer.  Cheers.

NOTE:  Use any toppings you like.  Diced tomatoes, guacamole, sour cream, jalapeños, diced onion.  You’re only limited by your imagination.

Cudighi

Cudighi is an Italian sausage that originated in northern Italy and is seasoned with sweet spices, but is now primarily made and served in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  You’ll see it on the menu of many mom and pop restaurants and bars that serve burgers and sandwiches.  If you’re a “Yooper,” you’re most certainly familiar with cudighi.  You’ve had it in a sandwich with mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce, on pizza, or in other dishes that would traditionally be make with Italian sausage.  An old friend of mine was famous for making cudighi sausage in a tomato gravy served with polenta.  Italian immigrants in northern  Michigan began making “Gudighi” in the 1930s.  It is apparently derived from Cotechino, a northern Italian fresh sausage make from pork, fatback, and pork rind.  Some places add a little heat to their recipe, most likely with red pepper flakes.   Since Cudighi is not available to any of us Michiganders in the Lower Peninsula, my friend Jane and I decided to make our own.  There are a couple recipes on line as well as  commentary by one individual who claims to have the “original” recipe for cudighi, but has been sworn to secrecy and cannot disclose the ingredients.  This was our first attempt.  We did not use casing but you certainly could.  The result was pretty darn good.  We each bought about seven pounds of pork butt and set about to make our cudighi.  You’ll need a good electric meat grinder or a manual grinder and a strong arm.  Meat should be cut into strips and semi-frozen before you put it through the grinder so that it doesn’t gum up.

Ingredients:

Ground pork butt

1/2 cup of dry red wine per 2 pounds of ground pork

Spice blend:

3 T kosher salt

1 T fresh ground black pepper

1 T nutmeg

1/2 tsp ground cloves

1 tsp mace

1/2 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp sweet paprika

1 T garlic powder

1/2 tsp ground allspice

1/2 tsp cinnamon

Whisk spice blend and use 2 T of spices and 1/2 cup of red wine per 2 pounds of ground pork.

Work the spices and wine into the meat with your hands.  Once the spices and wine have been worked into the  meat, cover and refrigerate for two or three days.  We divided the cudighi into one pound packages and sealed them for freezing.

Of course I had to cook some up so we could sample the end result. I made small paddies for sliders and fried them on a cast iron griddle.  This sausage recipe may require a little tweaking but we were pretty pleased with the end result.

Choose your toppings.  I used mozzarella cheese, pizza sauce, tomato and red onion.

The only thing left to do is assemble and enjoy.

Serve with your favorite side.  Chips, potato salad, baked beans.  Mangia!

NOTE:  If you want your cudighi kicked up, add a few pepper flakes.  You may want to increase or decrease the amount of spice blend.  This sausage is different from what most of us think of as traditional Italian sausage because of the ”sweet” spices like cloves and cinnamon and nutmeg.  The cudighi that I get from the Chatham Co-op, in my little UP home town, has more heat.  In the end it’s all a matter of personal taste.

 

 

 

Cheesy Grits and Sausage

The Saturday after Thanksgiving my brother and his wife and family come to celebrate the holiday with us and we have a themed dinner that has nothing to do with the traditional turkey and fixings.  We’ve done Finnish, Polish, Mexican, and Soups and Breads.  This year our theme was Southern fare.  We had barbecued beef brisket, mac and cheese with pimentos, green beans with bacon and onions, coleslaw, bread pudding with bourbon sauce for dessert, and, for breakfast Sunday morning, cheesy grits with sausage.  Sometimes I think the internets know what we are thinking before we know what we are thinking because Allrecipes emailed me this recipe well ahead of our Southern menu being finalized.  When you travel through the south you know that a side of grits comes with breakfast, lunch and dinner so grits fit our theme perfectly.  This casserole is easy to put together, very favorable and very filling.  If you do have any leftovers they reheat well.  Grits originated with Native Americans who would grind corn in a stone mill giving it the “gritty” taste.  It was first served as a porridge.  Grits are rich in iron and B vitamins and add fiber to your diet.

Even if you’re thinking…”ewwwww, grits”…keep an open mind and try this dish. We had good friends visiting this weekend and it was our breakfast this morning.  This recipe fed four people with some leftovers.

Ingredients:

3 cups water

1 cup 5 minute grits

1/4 cup butter

1 1/2 cups sharp cheddar cheese

1 pound of breakfast sausage

6 eggs

1/2 cup of milk

salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 350.  Cook the sausage in a heavy skillet until it is no longer pink  Drain off any grease and set aside.

Shred the cheese.

Whisk together the eggs and milk.  Put a tablespoon of butter in a skillet and scramble the eggs.  Set aside.

Measure out 3 cups of water and bring to a boil.  Slowly whisk in one cup of grits, reduce the heat and cook for five minutes stirring occasionally.

Once your grits have finished cooking, stir in the cheese a handful at a time until it is incorporated.

Now you’re ready to put the casserole together.  In a 3 quart casserole dish combine the sausage, scrambled eggs, and the cheesy grits.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Top with some additional cheese and pats of butter.  Bake for 30 minutes.

Great served with a little salsa.

NOTE:  When I made this for our family at Thanksgiving I doubled the ingredients and baked it in a 9×13 casserole dish.  As with any recipe, feel free to modify based on personal taste.  The grits are just a little bit creamier if you substitute a cup of milk or half n half for one of the cups of water.  I used a sharp cheddar cheese but feel free to use pepper jack or gruyere or another cheese that melts well and is flavorful since grits are fairly bland on their own.  Also the type of sausage will change the taste.  A spicy sausage like andouille or a sweet sausage like maple links will change up the overall flavor.

I hope this becomes a go-to breakfast casserole for you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eggplant Parmesan Bowl

I’ve had fun fixing meals lately that are layered in a bowl.  Probably a bit of a fad thing but I’ve found several combinations that we like.  I usually use a variety of vegetables, a protein, and sometimes a sauce of some kind.  When I’m cooking for just the two of us, I serve our food restaurant style.  Saves on serving dishes and seems easier all around.  With the “bowl meals” sometimes the base is couscous, or quinoa, or rice.  In this recipe the base is polenta.  My friend Jane came across this recipe today and texted it to me.  She thought it was something I would like.   I happened to have all the ingredients.  At our house we love polenta.  We love eggplant.  And we love anything with tomatoes.  I make eggplant Parmesan fairly often and usually serve it with pasta.   This recipe changed things up a little from traditional eggplant Parmesan.  I modified the recipe as I prepared the dish tonight but felt it needed to be changed up just a bit more.  My ingredient list incorporates my changes.  I felt it needed more sauciness and more seasoning in the cheese/breadcrumb mixture.  But we loved it and had second helpings.

The recipe called for canned cherry tomatoes.  I have personally never seen canned cherry tomatoes but they did give a pro tip for substituting fresh cherry tomatoes.  The recipe called for 1 pint of fresh cherry tomatoes, 2 T tomato paste and 2 T of water simmered together until the tomatoes begin to wilt.  I recommend doubling the amount of tomatoes to 2 pints and doubling the water to 1/4 cup.  Two tablespoons of tomato paste is plenty.  I almost always buy small heirloom tomatoes and those worked just fine.

Ingredients:

2 (13.5 oz) cans of cherry tomatoes OR the fresh tomatoe substitute above

2 T fresh basil leaves

1 tsp fresh oregano leaves

1 T each of dried basil and oregano

1 tsp garlic powder

3 T kosher salt, divided

fresh ground pepper

1-2 eggplants cut into 1 inch rounds

4 T olive oil, divided

1 cup panko

1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

1/4 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Unless you find canned cherry tomatoes prepare your fresh tomatoes over medium heat in a heavy skillet.  Simmer until the tomatoes start to wilt or burst.

Once your tomatoes are ready stir in the fresh herbs and the garlic powder and transfer them to a casserole dish.

Cut your eggplant into 1 inch thick rounds and nestle them in among the tomatoes.

Generously brush the eggplant with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Bake for 25-30 minutes until the eggplant rounds are tender.  While the casserole is in the oven toss the panko, cheeses, salt, and dried herbs together with  2 T of olive oil in a medium bowl.

Also, while the eggplant rounds are cooking, prepare your polenta and keep it warm for serving.  Once the eggplant is tender, remove it from the oven and top each round with the cheese breadcrumb mixture.  Return the casserole to the oven and bake until the topping is a golden brown.

“Bowl” up and serve!  A spoonful of polenta, an eggplant round, and a spoonful of sauce.  Serve with fresh grated Parmesan.  If you follow the recipe with my modifications you will have more sauce in your bowl than shown below.

Enjoy this take on eggplant Parmesan.

NOTE:  While tonight is the first time I’ve made this, I think you could cook down whole or diced tomatoes, vs the cherry tomatoes, and get pretty much the same flavor profile.  A little chiffonade of fresh basil would look great on this dish.  I should have thought of that before I took my photos and we devoured our bowls.

Meat Pie

Some time ago, I’m not sure where, I came across a recipe for meat pies and tucked it away along with the hundreds of other recipes I plan on making one day.  Today was the day for meat pies.  The weather is getting colder and comfort foods like this are extra appealing.  The ingredients are very basic and the dish comes together quickly, especially if you use pre-made pie crust.  However, it’s Sunday and I had lots of time, so I used my favorite King Arthur recipe for pie crust which I’ll also share here.  I made two pies and shared one with our neighbors.  She has been down with a cold or flu and no one feels like cooking when they’re sick.  He doesn’t like vegetables so this dish was perfect for sharing.

First the crust.

Ingredients:

2 1/2 cups AP flour (10.5 oz)

1 1/4 tsp salt

1/4 cup vegetable shortening

10 T cold unsalted butter, cubed

6-10 T ice water

The beauty of this recipe is that you make it in your stand mixer. I’ve made crust recipes in my food processor before but this works perfectly every time.  Measure out your flour, salt and shortening and put it into the bowl of your stand mixer.  Use the beater attachment and mix until you have an even crumble.

Add the butter and mix until there is an uneven crumble.  You still want to be able to see little chunks of butter.

Once the butter is mixed in and while the mixer is running slowly add the ice water until the mixture starts forming large clumps.  Stop adding water and stop the mixer.  If the clumps hold together restart the mixer and add just enough additional water to make the crust come together in one ball without any crumbs.  You’re done mixing.  Remove the dough to your work surface and divide it into two discs.  Wrap each disc in wax paper or parchment paper and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

One of the tricks I learned from King Arthur that makes so much sense is to make one larger and one smaller disc.  The larger disc for the bottom crust, the smaller one for the top.

Now that the crust is made and chilling you’re ready to prepare the meat mixture.

Ingredients:

2 pounds lean ground beef

1 pound ground pork

1 large sweet onion diced

2 T butter

4-5 russet potatoes boiled

2 T poultry seasoning

1/2 tsp ground cloves

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.  Peel, cut and rinse potatoes.  Cover with cold salted water, bring to a boil and simmer until potatoes are fork tender.

While the potatoes are cooking rough chop the onions.  Heat butter in a large heavy skillet and cook the onion just until it is translucent..

Add the pork and beef to the skillet with the onion and, over medium heat, cook until the meat is no longer pink.  Drain off excess fat but leave a little for flavor.

Season the meat with the poultry seasoning, cloves, and salt and pepper to taste.

Rice the potatoes (or mash) without any butter or cream.  Stir in just enough of the potato to bind the meat together.

Looks like cheese, but it’s just riced potatoes.  Now it’s time to roll out your pie crust.  The filling recipe makes 2 pies.  Put half of the meat mixture in each pie.

Roll out the top crust and cut vent slits.

Bake for 50-60 minutes, until the crust is golden brown.  Slice and serve.

I served ours with steamed broccoli and a salad.  And catsup of course.

Meat pie is definitely a good comfort food for cold days and I will make it again.  The leftovers should reheat well and it may even taste better the second day than the first.

NOTE:  When I first read the recipe I thought the spice combo of poultry seasoning and ground cloves with a beef and pork dish was odd.  But it actually worked well.  However, you could change that up and use Italian seasoning and serve with a side of marinara or Mexican seasoning with a side of fresh salsa.  Endless possibilities.  I preferred using catsup with this recipe but you could make a gravy or barbecue sauce if that would be more to your liking.

As an aside, for years I always cooked potatoes in a pot with the lid on.  Awhile back someone told me potatoes should be simmered in a kettle with the lid off.  I googled it, because that’s what we all do now, and sure enough, the instructions for boiling potatoes say lid off.  My potatoes have always tasted fine but occasionally, I make an effort to do it the proper way now.

 

 

Chicken Cacciatore

I recently took a long weekend road trip to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula with two girlfriends to see the Fall colors and just enjoy each other’s company.  While we were in Marquette we decided to go to dinner at an Italian restaurant that seems to be very popular.  We got there at 5:00 on a Friday night and got one of the last available tables.  We thought, wow….this is a good sign!  We ordered cocktails while we looked at the menu and those were excellent.  One of us had a frozen strawberry daiquiri and two of us had margaritas on the rocks.  One of us ordered the meat ravioli and two of us ordered the chicken cacciatore.  Two of us would be sorely disappointed!  The cacciatore entree included a salad and garlic bread for about $15.  Pasta was an add-on for a little over $4.  The salads were good.  Cold and crisp iceberg lettuce with a couple olives, pepperoni, and tomato and a nice house vinaigrette.

After the salads it was all downhill.  The chicken cacciatore consisted of two small pieces of breast meat, served in a Corning ware dish, SWIMMING in what tasted like an unseasoned can of Hunts tomato sauce.  My apologies to Hunts.  No flavor whatsoever.  This is how appealing it looked!!

Seriously the worst Italian meal I’ve ever had.  I was glad that I ordered the side of pasta because I only ate one of the small pieces of dry chicken.  No one came around with fresh grated Parmesan cheese or cracked pepper…there was a shaker of the  cheese that comes in the green can and a pepper shaker on the table.  For a place that is considered an upscale Italian restaurant Olive Garden would put them to shame, and I am not an Olive Garden fan.  The good news about this horrible meal is that I was inspired to make chicken cacciatore as soon as I got home.  I’ve always made chicken cacciatore with lots of vegetables and seasoning and chicken on the bone and I’m in good company because so do Lidia and Giada.

Ingredients:

One whole chicken cut up

2 T olive oil

1 large onion rough chopped

2 sweet bell peppers rough chopped

sliced mushrooms

4-5 cloves of garlic chopped

4 slices of thick bacon diced

1/2 cup red wine to deglaze the pan

2 pints of canned diced tomatoes

1 pint of tomato sauce

2 T dried basil

2 T dried oregano

salt and pepper to taste

Pasta of your choosing

Fresh grated Parmesan or Asiago and fresh basil for serving

Preheat the oven to 325.  Cut the chicken into pieces (or just purchase a chicken that’s already been cut up).  Season the chicken with salt and pepper.  Heat olive oil over medium high heat in a dutch oven and brown the chicken pieces on each side.

Set the chicken aside on a platter and add the bacon and vegetables to the pan.

Cook the vegetables until they are tender and most of the fat has been rendered from the bacon.  Deglaze the pan with the red wine, add the dried basil and oregano, and the tomatoes and sauce.

Return the chicken to the Dutch oven,  Cover and bake for approximately 2 hours.

Once you remove the pot from the oven allow it to rest while you prepare your pasta.  My favorites are spaghetti or angel hair but any pasta will do.  Remove the chicken to a platter and add the hot pasta to the sauce.  Serve with fresh grated cheese and thin sliced fresh basil.  The chicken will be fall off the bone tender and the combination of the vegetables and seasoning result in a tasty sauce.

 

As much as I like going out to dinner, sometimes my own cooking just tastes so much better.

NOTE:  Perfect pairings for this dinner are a cold, crisp salad and garlic bread.  The restaurant had that part correct.

Cooking the cacciatore with skin on, bone in chicken makes the dish ever so much tastier.  However, if I were to make it with boneless, skinless chicken I would use dark meat.

This dish would also be wonderful served with polenta.

Pizza Burgers

For sentimental reasons I decided to try this recipe.  A good friend, who sadly is no longer with us, used to make this recipe for pizza burgers and they were a big hit with her family.  Almost every time her grandson came to visit she would make them.  Her boyfriend used to help her.   He’s wanted to replicate her recipe so I made them for him the other night.  If you’re a food snob you might stop reading as soon as you see the ingredients.  For sure my husband is a food snob.  He made up his mind he wouldn’t like them even before he tasted them.  And to tell the truth, I didn’t want to like them either.  But I did.  It is beyond amazing to me that this combination of ingredients tastes JUST LIKE PIZZA.  It reminds me a little of the lady in the grocery line who saw my Christmas baking partner buying the ingredients for our chocolate fudge.   She said her mother made the best fudge (according to her) using Velvetta cheese.  I have no sentimental reason to try that recipe so that will probably never happen!  But it exists out there on the internet if anyone is interested.  Proceed to pizza burgers.  The recipe is not complicated at all and comes together quickly.

Ingredients:

1 pound ground beef

1 can SPAM

1 block longhorn cheese (I used 8 oz of Colby jack)

1 half jar original Ragu spaghetti sauce

onion powder, garlic powder, and oregano to taste

Preheat your oven to 425.

In a heavy skillet over medium high heat brown the ground beef.

While the meat is browning shred the cheese and the SPAM.

Once the meat is browned put the meat in a mesh colander to drain off excess grease. Return the ground beef to the skillet over low heat.  Season to taste with onion powder, garlic powder, and oregano.  Add the SPAM and cheese and stir until everything is incorporated and the cheese is melted.

Stir in about half of the 24 oz jar of Ragu spaghetti sauce just until the meat mixture is moistened.  You don’t want it quite as juicy as a sloppy Joe.  Remove from the heat.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  (I used a pizza pan because these are, after all, pizza burgers)!!  Put hamburger buns on the baking sheet and spoon prepared meat mixture on the buns.  There should be enough for 8-12 sandwiches.

Bake for approximately 10 minutes.  You can serve them open faced or with a topper.  Your call.  Keep an open mind and enjoy!

I only made up 4 sandwiches on slider buns for sampling purposes and gave the rest of the pizza burger filling to our friend.

NOTE:  While not difficult, I think the SPAM would be a little easier to grate if it had been in the freezer for a tad bit before grating.  My friend’s recipe called for a “block” of longhorn cheese.  Not having any idea how much was in a “block” or being able to find cheese labeled “longhorn” I used 8 oz of Colbyjack.  I did not add any salt.  It has been a really really long time since I’ve had SPAM but I was sure that would add enough salt to the recipe.

To kick this up a bit you could add a couple slices of pepperoni or perhaps a little slice of mozzarella cheese to each burger before baking.   But before you modify, please taste!