Leftover Thanksgiving Turkey Sandwiches!

Today is Black Friday, and I don’t care.
That’s not entirely true.
I do care.

I care because the retail stores of today have let the almighty dollar dictate the destruction of the true meaning of Christmas, while their hunger and greed have created such a calamity of what was once a quiet and peaceful Thanksgiving.

I had absolutely no plan, nor desire to go out into that madness, and instead, I spent a quiet and peaceful Black Friday, listening to Christmas music, and put decorations up, while a big pot of turkey stock simmered on my stove.  With my strong convictions about Black Friday, I totally kept my fingers crossed hoping that my Christmas lights all worked, and I didn’t have to go out for replacements.

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Maybe it’s because I’m older, that I don’t have the desire, drive, or yearning that I used to have, to go out and try to grab those promised deals that were almost always sold out by the time I arrived at the store. And that’s because they only would have one or two of the wonderful bargains in stock to begin with!  So yeah, don’t let me lead you on…I was totally caught up in that hype for a lot of years.

But today, I stayed in my warm cozy house and remained stress free while I put my trees up and hung the ornaments…and while Sophie stood guard over the stove to make sure that no one came close to that pot of turkey stock.

Life is good.  Life is cozy good inside my house, while the Black Friday crazy world swirls around me beyond these quiet walls.

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So Katie and Jessica had to work until 1pm today. Mike got home from work at 1am (yes, 1am) last night, and had to go back in at 1pm today. Jessica came home and went straight to bed, not wanting to eat anything because she had to go in at 3am last night, and had been loading up on caffeine and sugary foods to stay awake. Yes, 3am…don’t get me started on the Thanksgiving/Black Friday thing again! You know that really bad hangover feeling that you get from staying awake for 24+ hours?  Jessica was suffering from that, so food wasn’t even on her mind.  But Katie mentioned that she might stop in after work.  I decided that if she does, I thought that I’d make some sandwiches from the leftover turkey for the two of us.

The first sandwich is inspired by Sprague’s Maple Farms in Portville, NY.  It’s about 30 minutes from our cabin, and we go there quite a bit when we’re down there. I kind of do the “craving-visioned” thing when I’m at Spragues, because they make this turkey, stuffing, cranberry/horseradish sandwich in which I can’t seem to see anything other than that sandwich on the menu. I order it every time.  They make it with wheat berry bread; which is so, SO fresh that it sticks to the back of my teeth as soon as I take a bite. It is insanely delicious.

I have wanted to make this sandwich at home, and today was the perfect day to do just that.  I had the ingredients, but changed it up a little, using my mom’s cranberries and leftover stuffing, but added some two-year old Vintage Farmhouse Cheddar, and used fresh Marco Polo bread that I bought from Wegmans.

I wasn’t sure that Katie would be a fan of the horseradish, but I knew that she would enjoy a grilled cheese type of sandwich, so I thought that I’d make her a grilled brie, with cranberries, turkey and clover sprouts, also on the Marco Polo bread.

As it turned out, Katie was willing to try both sandwiches, so I cut each of them in half and we shared them. Katie said that she loved each one separately, and couldn’t say that there was one that she liked better than the other. I have to say that I agree; and guess it depends on what you’re in the mood for. The grilled brie and turkey is definitely more mild, and much lighter, while the grilled cheddar, turkey and stuffing definitely has a sharp bite, and a much heavier texture. I think if both of these sandwiches were on that menu, I’d have a very difficult time choosing.

I’ll make the sandwich for Jessica tomorrow…since she’s still sleeping.. And if you’ve been following my blog, then you know if I offered one of these sandwiches to Michael, he’d look at me as if I had lost my mind. He wouldn’t even consider tasting either sandwich.. Hey, I’m just keeping it real here!

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Grilled Cheddar, Turkey and Cranberry Sandwich
For each sandwich:
2 slices Marco Polo Bread, sliced thick
3 oz turkey breast, or chicken breast, sliced thin
1/3 cup stuffing
¼ cup cooked cranberries
¼ cup mayonnaise
1/4 tsp horseradish
About 1 oz or more sharp white cheddar cheese, such as Vintage Farmhouse Cheddar, sliced thick
2 tbsp butter

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Melt one tablespoon of butter in a small frying pan over medium heat. Mix the cranberries, mayonnaise and horseradish in a small bowl until well blended. On one slice of the bread, layer the cheddar cheese, turkey, stuffing, and cranberry/mayonnaise mixture. Top with remaining slice of bread, and spread the remaining tablespoon of butter on the top slice of bread.

Place the sandwich in frying pan with the melted butter, and fry until the one side is golden brown.  Flip the sandwich, and fry until the opposite side is golden brown.  If the cheese isn’t melted before the sandwich is fried to golden, remove from heat and place a lid on the pan until the heat melts the cheese.  Serve immediately.

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Grilled Brie, Turkey, and Cranberry Sandwich  
For each sandwich:
2 slices Marco Polo Bread, sliced thick
3 oz turkey breast, or chicken breast, sliced thin
¼ cup cooked cranberries
¼ cup mayonnaise
About 1 oz or more mild brie, sliced thick
½ cup clover sprouts
2 tbsp butter

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Melt one tablespoon of butter in a small frying pan over medium heat. Mix the cranberries and mayonnaise in a small bowl until well blended. On one slice of the bread, layer the brie, turkey, cranberry/mayonnaise mixture, and clover sprouts. Top with remaining slice of bread, and spread the remaining tablespoon of butter on the top slice of bread.

Place the sandwich in frying pan with the melted butter, and fry until the one side is golden brown.  Flip the sandwich, and fry until the opposite side is golden brown.  If the cheese isn’t melted before the sandwich is fried to golden, remove from heat and place a lid on the pan until the heat melts the cheese.  Serve immediately.

Enjoy!

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Cranberry Pancakes

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope your day is relaxing and delicious…

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My daughter Katie and her boyfriend Ryan inspired me to make the recipe that I’m about to share with you…. Cranberry pancakes…. And they gave me their blessing to post about them.

Every year my mom will make a double batch of her cranberry relish a couple of days before Thanksgiving. And then the day before Thanksgiving, she and I will start preparing the stuffing, bake the pies, etc… and we will sneak a spoonful of her cranberry relish here and there while we are cooking. On Thanksgiving, she will put it in a pretty dish for dinner, and then afterward, she will split the cranberry relish for the both of us and put my half in a jar to take home. I love to bring that jar home, it’s readily available for me to just take a spoon and eat right out of the jar when the mood strikes me, which is pretty much all day long!

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But last year…Katie and Ryan came along and announced that they love it too. And then… they took it one step further…

It was a few days after Thanksgiving last year when I received a text from Katie. She and Ryan were making pancakes for breakfast one morning, and they decided to add some cranberry relish to the batter.

Cranberry Pancakes?!
Genius.

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I didn’t get to taste them, but Katie talked about them all year long, and just how delicious they were. I could only imagine, because I love cranberry anything.

And then….

A couple of weeks ago, she informed my mom that she would like to take a jar of the cranberry relish home too, so that they could make the pancakes again.

Ok….What??
I mean, seriously?
You’re treading on my territory, Kathryn.
Yes, you’re my daughter, but I’M supposed to get that jar of cranberry relish….

My mom always comes to the rescue…

My parents made a five gallon bucket (I exaggerate, it was more like four batches..) of the relish to meet the needs of her one and only daughter, and her eldest granddaughter. I do have the recipe, which I’m about to share with you… but you know, nothing tastes as good as your mom’s cooking… and this relish is high up there in the food rankings of one Marcia Bucolo.

For the record…I would have given my jar to Katie without a second thought… but I think you already knew that..

I do believe that this is a common recipe, but this is the one that my mom has been making ever since I can remember, pretty much all of my life…

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The Cranberry Relish
1 – 12 oz package cranberries
1 large orange cut in wedges
3/4 to 1 cup sugar
1/2 to 3/4 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Blend cranberries in food processor till chopped. Add the orange wedges and process till finely chopped. Pour into a bowl and add sugar to your taste.
And then Marcia says: Add nuts and enjoy!

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The Pancakes
This recipe will make about 8 to 10 large pancakes.

When I asked Katie how they made them last year, she told me that they made a basic pancake recipe, and then added a spoonful to the top of the pancakes while they were cooking. I made them with my own pancake recipe for the first time this past Monday night. Of course, my laziness compelled me to stir the cranberry relish into the batter, rather than add it to the pancake while it was cooking. Yeah, it didn’t work. The pancakes were really dense rather than the light and fluffy texture that they usually have.

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So tonight, I tried them again. This time I followed Katie’s advice, and added a spoonful to the raw side of the pancake while they were cooking. They turned out so light and fluffy…absolutely perfect!

If you know me, then you’ll know that I started building on this recipe with a ton of last minute thoughts… While I was cooking the pancakes the other night, I started thinking that it would be really delicious to have cranberry syrup to pour over the pancakes. Better yet, wouldn’t it be really delicious to have cooked cranberries to pour over the pancakes? And…wouldn’t it be really lovely to have some orange butter to melt over the top? While we’re at it, let’s just add a little whipped cream to top it off.

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Honestly? The pancakes are perfect for any holiday breakfast!!

3 cups cake flour
2 eggs
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 ½ cups milk
¼ cup vegetable oil

Vegetable oil for greasing pan

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, eggs, sugar, baking powder, salt, milk and vegetable oil just until the ingredients are moistened and blended. If you want really fluffy pancakes, don’t over mix the batter.

Grease the frying pan with a little bit of vegetable oil, and heat over medium-low heat. It’s ready when a drop of water dances when splashed onto the pan. For each pancake, add 1/3 cup pancake batter to the pan. Sprinkle two teaspoons of the cranberry relish on the raw top of each pancake while it is cooking. When the top of the pancake begins to bubble, it’s ready to flip. Cook for about another minute and a half. Remove from the frying pan to a dish. Repeat until the batter is gone.

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The Cooked Cranberries
1 – 12 oz bag fresh cranberries
1 cup water
1 cup sugar

In a medium saucepan, bring the water and sugar to a boil. Add the cranberries, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, and simmer until thickened into a jam type consistency, about 20 minutes or so. Remove from heat, and pour into a bowl to cool. Serve this cranberry sauce cool, or while it’s still warm with the pancakes.

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The Orange Butter
¼ cup butter, room temperature
½ tsp orange zest

In a small bowl, mix the butter and orange zest until well blended. Serve with the pancakes.

The Whipped Cream
1 cup heavy cream
½ tsp sugar
½ tsp vanilla

In a small bowl, whisk or with a hand mixer beat the heavy cream until peaks form. Add the sugar and vanilla, and mix until blended. Serve a dollop with the pancakes!

Enjoy and Stay Safe this Holiday!!

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Pork Chili with Polenta

Here we are, at the end of the weekend…and I didn’t get a chance to do any cooking.  My husband and I spent the weekend at our cabin.  Jon built the cabin about two years ago, but with a temporary kitchen, because with all new cabinets, refrigerator, etc., it was going to be an expensive endeavor.  He rigged up some countertops and shelves…and hung some old cabinets.  It worked just fine for the time being. We just had to recoup financially after the initial building of the cabin.  But after falling into a really great deal on cabinets at the Home Depot, and this crazy (shaking my head, I’m still in shock) deal at Sears for a new fridge and microwave, and a new countertop built by Jon’s friend, we were able to do the kitchen a little bit sooner than we had anticipated, and for way less money than we had thought.

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Anyway…getting back to the not cooking.  For the last three weeks or so, Jon had been installing the cabinets and countertop.  I haven’t been going to the cabin, because it’s hunting season..and that’s really not my favorite time to be down there.  I don’t know…there’s something about having a couple months of weekends to myself… I love it. But this past weekend, it was just going to be Jon going alone, so Sophie and I decided that we’d go along to keep him company. Not to mention, I was anxious to see the new kitchen! He decided to install the ceramic tile backsplash, which meant that the kitchen was going to be out of commission.  He got as far as he could (he forgot to bring the tile cutter thing), but the photo pretty much gives you the grand scheme of things. I’m really happy with the way it turned out, Jon really did a great job..and honestly..I’m so proud of him for building this cabin pretty much by himself..he’s quite a talented carpenter.

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I have this wonderful and really cool pancake recipe inspired by my daughter Katie and her boyfriend Ryan that I was going to do.  I’ll try to get that made tomorrow night.   In the meantime, I have a pork tenderloin chili recipe that I made for dinner last week that I’ll share tonight.  The reason I didn’t post it sooner is because I didn’t want to post about polenta so soon after posting the chicken over polenta recipe.  I was worried that it was going to look like I have tunnel vision (or should I say tunnel cravings) when it comes to some ingredients or food, i.e. cupcakes, polenta, gnocchi… which isn’t really the case, it just happens that these things come up in groups, rather than here and there… if that even makes sense!!

In all honesty…
I do get “tunnel cravings”
Pasta.
I could eat it every night.
And chocolate.
But chocolate is a necessary evil, so that doesn’t count.

So..back to the chili.  The night I made it, I was hungry for chili.  But I wanted meaty chili… not just ground beef chili, but big chunks of meat chili.  I had a pork tenderloin and some ground beef in the freezer. I defrosted them both, and sautéed the pork and beef with some onions, peppers, and garlic.  And then, you know me… I started building the recipe…thinking that I should make this into a Cincinnati chili…you know…over spaghetti (there’s a surprise..) with chopped onions on top..   But then, as I was looking in the cupboard for spaghetti, I came across the package of polenta..and any thoughts of Cincinnati or spaghetti flew out the window… I can happily say that the polenta won!! I decided that I would cook the polenta until it was nice and thick, cut it into mini squares, and then I’d fold it into the chili, just like the very first time I ever tried it.

What I really love about this chili, is that you can get home from work, and have it cooked up in a short amount of time. Just throw everything in the pot, and let it do it’s own thing. I can honestly say that this was such a satisfying meal… a close your eyes and say “Mmmm” with every spoonful, kind of meal.  Life is good. It’s pork tenderloin and polenta in your chili kind of good.

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Pork Chili with Polenta

Just a quick note… this recipe will serve six generous servings. While I used a sweet red pepper, please feel free to use a green pepper. I tend to buy more red peppers than I do green, only because I think that the red tend to be way less bitter when cooked, than the green. Don’t get me wrong, I still love green peppers, I just use more red. I used all tomato sauce because of my finicky eaters at home. If they found any remnants of tomato in a dish, you’d think that the world was about to end…(rolling my eyes here). So if you like tomatoes, use one can of sauce, and one can of crushed tomatoes. It would be delicious! Also, even though the polenta won this time around, I’m still thinking that this would be awesome served as Cincinnati Chili. Do whatever tickles your fancy…

The Chili
2 tbsp olive oil
1 pound pork tenderloin, cut into chunks
1 pound ground beef
1 large onion, chopped
1 sweet red pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 – 15.5 oz cans light red kidney beans, drained
2 – 28 oz cans tomato sauce
1 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp chili powder
1 tbsp Worchestershire sauce
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper (or more if you like the heat)

In a large pot, sauté the onions, pepper, and garlic until tender.  Add the pork and ground beef, and cook until browned. Add the sauce, kidney beans, brown sugar, chili powder, Worchestershire sauce, salt, black pepper, and crushed red pepper on medium heat.  When the mixture comes to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, until the chili thickens, about an hour and a half or so.

While the chili is simmering, go ahead and cook up the polenta.  That will give it plenty of time to thicken and set…

The Polenta:
2 cups water
1/2 cup instant polenta
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp butter
1/2 cup romano cheese

Bring the two cups of water and salt to a boil. Slowly pour the polenta into the boiling water, whisking constantly. Simmer on lowest heat for about 10 minutes. Remove from heat, and stir in butter and romano cheese. Pour into a shallow 9 x 9 baking dish that has been sprayed with vegetable cooking spray. Let it set while the chili is cooking, and then cut into mini squares. Carefully fold the squares into the chili. Serve in bowls… sprinkle with your favorite cheese if desired..

Enjoy!

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Rustic Italian Bread

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I started out in January of this year on a mission to perfect bread baking.  I thought, “How hard can it be?”… until I realized that not everything you read on the internet is true.  I know…surprising, right? Not every recipe is foolproof. Not every recipe tastes good.  I went through quite a few recipes, trials and tribulations, and drove all of my friends on Facebook crazy as I posted picture after picture of my attempts.  Over a few months, and a  lot of practice, I learned the techniques, timing, and ingredients that worked for me, and this bread recipe is the result.  I’m happy with it, and I hope you will be too.

The first thing you need to know is that this bread takes a few hours from start to finish. What you also need to know is that it is worth your time.  Double the recipe and bake another loaf to share… or eat the first loaf before everyone gets home, and use the second loaf for your family! No one will be the wiser!  I certainly won’t tell, otherwise my secret will be out of the bag.. Yeah…a double batch is the way to go..

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I did learn that that before you add the yeast to the water, it really does its best between 95° to 100°… I used to do the “dip my finger in the water” test to see if it felt lukewarm, but what felt like lukewarm to me, was really too cold. It’s best to use a thermometer to check the temperature.  Otherwise, if the water is too cold, it will take a very, very long time to proof, and probably not enough to get the yeast to do it’s thing during the bread making process. If it’s too hot, you’ll just kill off the yeast.  I learned that the hard way!
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Feed your yeast.  Add some sugar, honey, or for this recipe, both, to the water before you add the yeast. It will bubble and foam, first, proving that the yeast is still alive, and most importantly, helping the bread to rise.

Knead the dough for at least 20 minutes.  I say that, but I’m also lazy, and take advantage of the dough hook on my KitchenAid. But, at the same time… beware!  You can under-knead, and you can over-knead.  I’ve done both. The dough of my first loaf of bread was definitely under kneaded.  It came out flat as a pancake, it soaked up every last drop of the olive oil from the bowl it was rising in, so it was greasy, smelled like burned oil; and it was really tough.  And then…I couldn’t ever figure out why my loaves had this really white, dry type of texture in the middle, and I found it was because I over kneaded the dough!

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Letting my dough rise three times produced the highest loaf of bread that I’ve ever made, and it is perfectly chewy in the middle, and wonderfully crusty on the outside.   If you don’t like the crustiness, you can store it in a gallon size zip lock plastic bag.  Otherwise, store it in a paper bag to retain the crusty outside.

Another very important lesson that I learned is that when the dough is kneading in my mixer, the bowl gets very tight and takes a little muscle power to get it undone.  When trying to unscrew the tightened bowl from the mixer, do not leave an open bottle of olive oil behind it. The bowl comes loose in an abrupt manner. Your hand will hit the bottle. The bottle will fall over, spilling more than half of the olive oil. Still shaking my head at the mess, but I’m still enjoying the softness that olive oil gave to my hands while cleaning it up!
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The most important lesson of all I’ve learned in the last month or so…is that if I’m going to take the time to bake this bread, then I’m making fresh butter to go with….I made it for the first time about a month ago.  I couldn’t believe how easy it was to make, and how absolutely delicious it is.  It takes only a few minutes, there is hardly any clean up afterward… it’s a no brainer…Make the butter, you won’t be sorry.
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Ok, and while we’re at it…let’s make a little fresh jam to add to the mix.  Since I had two beautiful red pears and oranges in my fridge, and dried cranberries in my cupboard, then cran-pear marmalade it turned out to be…

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Rustic Italian Bread

The Bread
1-1/4 cup warm water, between 95° and 100°
2 tsp active dry yeast
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp honey
1-1/2 tsp salt
3  cups bread flour
2 tsp olive oil
1 egg white
2 tbsp milk

Grease the inside of a large mixing bowl with vegetable shortening or olive oil. Set aside.
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In a small bowl, add the warm water, sugar, and honey.  Let it sit for about three to five minutes.  The yeast will bubble up and begin to foam in the bowl.  At that point, it’s ready to add to your mixing bowl.   Add one cup of the bread flour and the salt to the yeast, and mix until it’s well blended.  Let it sit for about 2 minutes.   Add the remaining flour to the flour mixture, and mix until it’s completely blended.  It’s not going to look very happy at this point.  It will be sticky, dry, and flaky…  At that point, get your hands in the bowl, and continue to mix it all together, and form the dough into a ball.  Just leave the dough ball right in the bowl, cover it with a towel, and let it rest for about 15 minutes while the ingredients get to know each other.

After the 15 minutes is up, the kneading process needs to begin.  If you are going to knead by hand, you’ll have to knead for about 30 minutes on a very floury workspace.   If you are going to knead in your mixer, use the dough hook, and no extra flour (on “stir” if you’re using a Kitchen Aid). Pour one teaspoon of the olive oil over the dough ball, and begin the kneading process. After 10 (or 15 if kneading by hand) minutes of kneading, pour the second teaspoon of olive oil over the dough, and continue kneading for another 10 (or 15 by hand) minutes.

**One thing I have to watch while using my KitchenAid mixer to knead,  is the lock on the back of the mixer tends to want to slowly move to the unlock position while it’s kneading.  It’s probably because the poor thing is over 15 years old, and has been used constantly throughout those years.  He’s starting to sound tired, and been a wonderful helper, and I’m starting to think that maybe he needs to retire to the cabin, and get some well-deserved rest. He will be happy down there, doing simple tasks such as cake or cookie batter, and whipped cream.**

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Once the dough has been kneaded, start working it with your hands to make it into a tight ball.  Place it in the greased bowl, and cover with a towel.  Let it rise for about 2 hours in a warm place.
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After 2 hours, it should have doubled in size.  Punch it down making sure to get all of the air bubbles out of the dough.  Form it into another ball, re-grease the bowl, place it back into the bowl, cover it with the towel, and put it right back into that warm spot you had it before. Let it rise for another hour.

After an hour, it should have doubled in size again.  This time,  pull it out of the bowl, form it into yet another ball, or long loaf, and place on a greased cookie sheet.  Cover with the towel, and put it back to that warm spot one last time.  Let it rise for one final hour.

After the dough has doubled in size, very carefully with a very sharp knife (I keep an Exacto Knife in my kitchen drawer),  lightly score the dough about an inch or so apart across the top of the dough. Make an egg wash by whisking 1 egg white and 2 tbsp milk.  Brush all over the dough with a pastry brush.

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Preheat your oven to 375°.  I prepare a Bain-marie (a steam bath) for the oven so that the crust comes out thin, golden, and crunchy.  Pour boiling water into a metal cake pan placed on the bottom rack of your oven while your bread is baking will do the trick.   Place the cookie sheet with the loaf of bread dough on the middle rack in your oven.  Close the door and don’t open it again until the bread is finished baking.  Bake for about 30 to 45 minutes; until golden brown, and when you lightly tap on the bottom of the loaf, it should sound hollow.

Enjoy the aroma, it’s a “close your eyes and breathe deep” type of aroma…

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The Butter

It really doesn’t matter how much heavy cream you use, just remember that you’ll end up with half butter than when you started out with heavy cream.   So if you use 2 cups of heavy cream, figure that you’ll get 1 cup of butter.  This really isn’t a money saving event either…Heavy cream is expensive, and it’s much cheaper to just buy a pound of butter.  This is just a fun and delicious way to enjoy that hot bread right out of the oven!

A stand mixer is the best for making butter. You’ll also want to cover your mixer with a towel, because when the butter begins to separate from the buttermilk, it starts to spray out of the bowl!

2 cups heavy cream
¼ tsp sea salt, totally optional

Pour the heavy cream into a large mixing bowl.  Begin mixing on high as if you’re making whipped cream. Keep on mixing even after you hit whipped cream stage.  The first time I made butter, the cream hit this funky looking stage that was at the point of no return for whipped cream, and it was lumpy and curdled looking.  At that point, I almost stopped mixing thinking that I failed…but I didn’t!  Very soon after that, you’ll notice that the butter and buttermilk begin to separate.  It actually accumulates in the whisk attachment of the mixer, which is very easy to remove in one clump.

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Once the butter has separated from the buttermilk, fill a bowl with very cold water, and place the butter into the bowl of water.  Begin to knead the butter to clear any remaining buttermilk left.  The water will be very cloudy, so you’ll want to change it a couple of times during this time. Continue to knead the butter until the water is clear.  Personally, I keep the bowl in the sink, and keep a slow steady stream of cold water running into the bowl while I’m kneading.  It’s just easier to watch the water go clear.

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Squeeze any remaining liquid out of the butter.  Put the butter-ball into a bowl that will be big enough to mix the salt in.  I like to spread the butter thin around the bowl, and then sprinkle the salt over the top, and stir it in with a spatula.  Taste the butter…add more salt to your taste.

That’s it! You’re done!   The butter will last in the refrigerator for a week, and up to two weeks depending on how well you cleared the buttermilk.  The beauty of this butter is that you can go as crazy as you want… add any type of spice that tickles your fancy!

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The Cran-Pear Marmalade

1 large pear
1 naval orange
¼ cup dried cranberries
3 tbsp sugar
½ cup water

Peel, core, and chop the pear, and add to a small pan. Grate about a tablespoon of the orange peel into the pan with the pear.  Squeeze the juice of the orange into the chopped pears. Scrape the pulp of the orange, and add that to the pan.  Add the cranberries, sugar and water to the pan.  Bring to a boil on high heat stirring occasionally.  Cover and reduce heat to low, simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally until thickened.   At this point, the jam is ready…you can eat it chunky, or in this case, I threw it in my blender and pureed it.

Warm bread, fresh butter, and warm jam… it just doesn’t get any better… Enjoy!

Lemony Brussels Sprouts, Potatoes, and Chestnuts over Gnocchi

Don’t you love it when you’re watching a movie…and you think you have it all figured out until some crazy twist at the end, that you did not see coming, just knocks you right out of your seat?  Yeah, me too…

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I’m still trying to play catch up on the sauces that I made for the gnocchi from last weekend, and this one I have to say is a definite “make again”. I think I may have gone a little starch crazy, but honestly? It worked.

My plan was just to make some roasted Brussels sprouts with baby red potatoes, and bacon. I had just roasted some chestnuts, and was snacking on them while I was cooking the Brussels sprouts and potatoes, when I started in on my last minute ideas… it hit me that the chestnuts might taste good with the Brussels sprouts and potatoes…and…what if I added just enough butter and chicken stock to make it a touch saucy? …and…what if I served it over the gnocchi that I had just made?

I did add some butter and chicken stock, and cooked it on low flame until it thickened. I didn’t add the chestnuts until the last minute; I didn’t want them to lose their texture. I wanted to be able to taste them in the sauce. I quickly cooked up some gnocchi, so that I could do a quick taste test.

Of course, I decided it needed cheese, so I sprinkled ricotta salata (a heavy sprinkle, because I love it) over the Brussels sprouts and gnocchi. I took a taste, and I liked it, but I didn’t get that first “mmmm” factor. The creamy, soft nutty flavor of the cheese really worked well with the Brussels sprouts, potatoes, bacon, and chestnuts, but I wasn’t in love. It’s funny, because I thought I was so creative when I added the chestnuts to the mix.  I truly thought that they were going to be the star of the show…but in all honesty…they really weren’t. They were good. They belonged. But they weren’t the star.

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After another bite or two, it hit me…fresh lemon….and I thought, “Why not?”… I’m so glad I’m open to my own ideas, and not one to reject them immediately…and I’m so glad that I always keep a lemon or two in the fridge… because I have to tell you…

A squeeze of fresh lemon over the entire dish made it shine.
Like the heavens opened up with beams of light and a choir of angels singing…
Ok, maybe I exaggerate. A lot.
But the lemon… I totally did not see that coming. It knocked me right out of my seat.

Don’t forget, I love a million levels of flavor going on in my mouth…and this…what seemed to be a boring little dish…suddenly became exciting!

I can’t even begin to tell you what the lemon did for the potatoes.  They were a little lost in the crowd until the lemon showed up…and then wow, did they show up. Those little starchy chunks of goodness just popped!

The Brussels sprouts with the lemon brought an unbelievable fresh, citrusy, excellence to the dish…the chestnuts with the lemon…so…SO crazy good…and of course the gnocchi with the lemon.. I mean, who doesn’t like lemon with their gnocchi? Not this girl.

Just like the movies… a surprise ending.  You gotta love it..

Life is Good.  Life is Lemony Good.

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Lemony Brussels Sprouts, Potatoes, and Chestnuts over Gnocchi
(Serves 4)

The Sauce
20-25 Brussels sprouts, cleaned and quartered
10-15 baby red potatoes, cleaned and quartered
15 to 20 chestnuts (more than you need, but just in case a couple are no good to eat)
½ pound bacon, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups chicken stock
¼ cup butter
salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
1 lemon, cut into sixths

Prepare the chestnuts per the instructions below.  Eat a couple to make sure they’re properly cooked.  Eat one more…yum….Then roughly chop the rest.  Set aside.

In a large frying pan, cook the bacon until it’s crisp over medium heat.  Drain on a paper towel lined plate, and set aside.  Remove all but two tablespoons of the bacon grease from the pan, and add the onions. Sauté them until they’re golden. Add the garlic and sauté for a couple minutes more. Add the potatoes and Brussels sprouts, and cook them until they’re browned and tender, stirring occasionally.

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Add the chicken stock and butter to the Brussels sprouts and potato mixture, simmer on low heat until it has reduced, about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Stir the chestnuts into the Brussels sprouts sauce, and cook until they’re just heated through. Season with salt and fresh ground pepper.

Serve over cooked gnocchi.  Sprinkle with bacon and freshly grated ricotta salata.  Generously squeeze a lemon slice over the whole dish…and Enjoy!

Chestnuts
Preheat oven to 450 degrees

I think the hardest part of roasting a chestnut is slicing into it.  You should really use a sharp knife to slice one side of the chestnut, just deep enough to cut the shell. Make sure you’re cutting it on a board, and not holding the chestnut in your hand!!

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Place the chestnuts on a cookie sheet, and place in the oven.  Bake for about 45 minutes.  Right before you remove them from the oven, dampen a towel under hot water.  Remove the chestnuts from the oven, and immediately wrap in the damp towel for about 15 minutes.  Most of your chestnuts will peel easily.  Don’t get too discouraged if they all don’t peel easily…some of them will take a little bit more work than others, but they’re totally worth it! You will definitely want to eat a few before they go into the sauce…

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Coconut Cream Cupcakes

Well, I’ve gone and done it again.
I made cupcakes.

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I know, I know…I promised that I wouldn’t do it again so soon…But please let me explain.. it was my father’s birthday yesterday… and I really wanted to make him a birthday cake, a double layer coconut cream…but I haven’t had much luck making layer cakes stay together. Please see Exhibit A, which is basically a picture of the flopped cake that I made for Katie’s birthday this year. A pathetic attempt if ever there was… and it was perfect timing too…because as it was falling off the plate, Katie walked into the house just in time to help me try to catch the falling pieces. If anything, it was good for a really good giggle… The cake ended up in pieces on a cookie sheet, but the taste was still there!

If you’ve read my other posts, then you know that I have these grand visions of how perfectly things are going to go when I’m preparing a meal.. The cake stand in the picture was a part of Katie’s birthday gift.  I had this magnificent plan to have an absolutely beautiful cake sitting atop this cake stand, so when she walked in, she would be so surprised and happy…but as you can see… it turned out to be more of a horror story!

It’s not the gift, but the love behind it, right? Seriously though, we still laugh about it today…

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Anyway… back to my father’s birthday….like I said, I really wanted to make him a cake, but…well, let’s just say I really stink at layer cakes.  Plus I was on a time constraint… So, cupcakes it had to be. Pa didn’t mind…as a matter of fact, he ate two of them right after dinner!

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“Delicious..” he said.. which I believe put me right on the “Favorite Daughter” list. (I’m his only child… he has no choice!!).

We had a lovely time at my parent’s house, celebrating Roy’s 76th birthday. What do they say? 76 is the new 56.. or something like that. That statement couldn’t be more true. He doesn’t age, and is as handsome, intelligent, and funny as ever.

Happy Birthday Pa… I love you…

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Coconut Cream Cupcakes
(Makes 16 cupcakes)

My father was my guinea pig last night. Truth be told, I don’t think he minds one bit. You know, when you throw some flour, sour cream, and a few eggs into a mixing bowl, you kind of pray for the best. You know it’s going to be a cake….You just don’t know how mushy; or how rock solid it’s going to be! I think I just might have hit it somewhere in the middle of that spectrum. They turned out to be moist enough, and not overly sweet. Not overly sweet is a good thing, because the cake was able to balance the sweet coconut custard filling, as well as the sweet coconut topped frosting.  I received thumbs up all around the table… and that makes me happy. Coconut happy.

The Coconut Custard
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar
1 tbsp cornstarch
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp butter
1 egg
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup flaked coconut

Heat the heavy cream in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk the egg and yolks in a small bowl, add about a 1/4 cup of the heated heavy cream into the eggs, and whisk quickly…and then pour the egg/heavy cream mixture back into the pan. Add the sugar, cornstarch, butter, and vanilla. Whisk until the mixture comes to a boil, reduce the heat to low and boil until the custard thickens (about 2 minutes) whisking constantly. Remove from heat, pour into a large bowl, cover with a piece of plastic wrap, and cool completely in the refrigerator.  After the custard has cooled, stir in the coconut. Keep in the refrigerator until ready to use.

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The Cupcake
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Line a 12 cupcake tin with cupcake liners.

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
2 egg yolks
1 cup sour cream
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. On low speed, add the sugar, egg and yolks, sour cream and vanilla until blended. Increase speed to medium, and mix for 2 minutes.  Batter will be thick.

Add 2 tbsp of batter to each cupcake liner.  Place in pre-heated oven, and bake for 16 minutes. Remove to a cooling rack, and repeat for the remaining 4 cupcakes. Let the cupcakes cool completely.

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Now for the fun part… When the cupcakes are completely cooled, spoon the coconut custard into a 14″ pastry bag that has been loaded with a large tip.  I used an Ateco 824 for this.  Stick the tip right into the middle of the cupcake, and squeezing the pastry bag carefully, pipe a little bit of custard into each cupcake until a little of it puffs out of the top of the cupcake.

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The Frosting
1 cup salted butter, softened
4 cups powdered sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 cups flaked coconut in a shallow bowl
Silver dragees, optional

In the mixing bowl, and on low speed, combine the butter, vanilla, and salt.  Slowly add the powdered sugar, one cup at a time until it is completely blended. Add the heavy cream a little at a time until the frosting reaches spreadable consistency.  Increase the mixer’s speed to medium and mix for about 2 minutes longer.

Spread each filled cupcake generously with frosting. Dip each cupcake into the coconut until the frosting is completely covered.  Decorate with the silver dragees if you choose.

Enjoy!

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I really want to make layer cakes, so here is a question for you. I’m thinking that maybe I don’t wait long enough for the cakes to cool completely. Can I freeze the layers of cake, and then frost them while they’re frozen? Would they just fall apart after they thaw? The cakes are homemade, so while they’re on the moist side, they’re still pretty dense. I can’t imagine that they’re so overly moist that they can’t hold the frosting. Or maybe it’s the frosting…maybe I make it way too heavy. Any suggestions?

Succo with Meatballs and Hard Boiled Eggs

 

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I don’t think that anything makes me happier than when I have a pot of succo (spaghetti sauce) simmering on the stove.  Why do I call it succo?  Because that’s what my family has always called it, pronounced sugoo….  It’s basically Italian for sauce or gravy, and the “oo” part comes from the Sicilian heritage, in which we tend to put “oo” in place of the long “o” at the end of words.  Honestly? I think a lot of the words that my grandmother used were part Sicilian and part English.. at least most of her sentences were a mixture of the two…and she had the most adorable Italian accent.

I have many happy memories of Grandma, many of them based around food, especially her bread…which none of us have ever been able to re-create. I say that, but I do believe that a couple of my aunts are pretty darn close! I’ll never forget the orange slices (candy) in her cupboard that she would always share with me…and now I have to have them in my own cupboard today! Grandma also made her own ricotta salata…and while I buy it from my beloved Wegmans, theirs doesn’t hold a candle to hers. …And Grandma’s sauce… what a special treat to be at her house when she had a pot simmering on her stove. I can tell you, that’s where I came to love egg..and peas..in my succo…

…And since I’m talking about my grandmother, here is a quick story of how my name came to be…

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Grandma Bucolo came to America from Sicily when she was in her teens. It absolutely amazes me that these young kids came over here to make a life for themselves, when at that age, I couldn’t imagine getting on a ship and traveling to another country by myself, or even letting my own kids go when they were that age.  No way.  This young, beautiful, and courageous girl named Providencia Amato (pictured here) did just that.

Now, I’m not exactly sure of how her name was changed, whether it was at Ellis Island and the clerk working that day couldn’t spell her name, and gave her a new name… or if Grandma voluntarily changed her name. Maybe it was a little of both, but on that day of arrival at Ellis Island, Providencia became Prudence.  She loved her new name, and three of her granddaughters, including myself, were named after her.

Whether this is true or not, there is the story that when people started to call her Prudy, my grandmother thought that they were calling her “Pretty”, and of course, that made her very happy!  I love that…and regardless if that little story is true or not, “Pretty” truly fits.  She was a beautiful lady, and I loved her so, so much. I’m honored to carry her name.

So.. when I have a pot of succo simmering on the stove, you can be sure that I’m thinking of my Grandma Bucolo.
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Succo with Meatballs and Hardboiled Eggs

This very simple sauce recipe is small batch with meatballs, and eggs.  I prepared it the other day to go with the gnocchi that I made, and when you’re eating gnocchi you don’t need a ton of extras.  You really want to savor the star of the show, which is the gnocchi. One of these days I’ll do a full pot of succo and share it with you (pork, sausage, eggs, meatballs..etc.).

1 pound pork, veal, beef mixture (if you prefer, only ground beef is just fine)
1 egg
½ cup Romano cheese
2 slices bread,  wet down with water, squeezed until the liquid is gone, broken into pieces
1 tbsp parsley
½ small onion, minced (around two tablespoons)
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4  tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
2 tbsp olive oil

5 whole hard-boiled eggs, shells removed

2-28 oz cans tomato sauce
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp sugar
salt to taste

Freshly grated Ricotta Salata

In a large bowl, mix the pork mixture, egg, Romano cheese, bread, parsley, onion, garlic, salt, and pepper until just blended. Do not overmix.   Roll into five medium size meatballs.  Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the meatballs to the heated oil, and fry until browned. They don’t have to be fully cooked at this point, they’ll finish cooking in the sauce.  Move the meatballs to a plate, and set aside.
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To the same pan, add the onions, sauté until golden. Add the garlic, and sauté for a few minutes more. Add the sauce to the pan, along with the sugar. Add the meatballs and eggs to the sauce.  Bring the sauce to a boil, and reduce the heat to low.  Stirring the sauce occasionally, simmer for two to three hours, or until it has reduced and thickened to your preference.  Add salt if you think it’s necessary.  If it cooks down too much, you can always add some of the gnocchi or pasta water to the sauce afterward.
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Serve on gnocchi, or your favorite pasta, sprinkle generously with ricotta salata.  I easily served five people very generous portions, one meatball, and one egg each.  You can double this recipe, and freeze the extra… I don’t freeze the eggs, only because I don’t care for their texture after they’ve been frozen.

Enjoy!
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Potato Gnocchi

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I love to cook. It’s therapeutic for me. I can easily lose myself in cutting and chopping, sautéing or roasting…. I don’t know what I think about when I’m in that world, but I know they’re calm and happy thoughts…and that’s because I’m doing what I love to do the most.

So, because I love to cook, it’s no surprise that I love to make comfort food. If you were to ask my kids what their most favorite comfort food I make for them….without hesitation, I know that they would say chicken corn chowder. They love it, and are always requesting it.

They say chicken corn chowder.
But I know better.

It’s been my experience over the years that when I make gnocchi, I can feel a growing excitement in the house. It’s not long after I put the riced potatoes onto the butcher block; that one, two, or all three of them come to hang out with me in the kitchen. It’s my favorite time, when we’re all together… when we talk and laugh, and even argue at times…but most importantly, they’re the memories that they’ll have into their adulthood, and will share someday with their own children. And they’re the memories that I will always cherish.

It used to be that they’d hang out in the kitchen a lot longer, but life called, and now they’re adults…so they only stay for a little while before they have to run and do their own thing. That’s totally ok, and I know that it won’t be long before I’m making a 10+ pound batch for them to come and pick up to bring home for their families…and I’m ok with that. And who knows? There might come a time when the roles are reversed…and I’m ok with that too. It’s called life.  But they were there tonight, waiting patiently for the gnocchi to cook, and enjoyed them in a simple tomato sauce with meatballs and hard-boiled eggs (yes, hard-boiled eggs). Recipe will be posted tomorrow…

But for now, I’m completely content to make them in my kitchen, enjoying the company of my kids, even if it’s only for a few minutes, because that’s what it’s all about… life is good. Life is good with my kids…and gnocci.

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Potato Gnocchi

It took me a few tries (ok, many, many tries….years) to get this recipe right. I think I was in my 20’s the first time I made gnocchi, and I even remember the recipe that I used… from the Frugal Gourmet’s cookbook. It called for two tablespoons of salt in the ingredient list, and if I had read through the directions, I would have seen that those two tablespoons of salt were supposed to go into the water to boil them in, not into the actual dough. Needless to say..they were a little salty. Ok, A LOT salty!! Can someone say “Play-doh”??

Honestly, I used to stress over gnocci…and I’m not sure when the light bulb went on over my head, but I know it was a few years of failures before I finally figured them out. Now, I don’t even need to measure…I know what the dough is supposed to look like, what it’s supposed to feel like…it’s like second nature.

If you’ve been trying to get the right gnocchi recipe, or even a little intimidated to try… this is the perfect recipe for you. It’s so easy.

The beauty of this recipe is that it makes enough gnocchi for a dinner for five people, and if you want to make more to freeze (because they freeze beautifully), you can double the recipe. Normally I’ll buy a 10 pound bag of potatoes and just spend a day making and freezing gnocci.

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If you don’t have a potato ricer, mashed potatoes work just as well. As a matter of fact, use your left over mashed potatoes from Thanksgiving!

If you don’t have a gnocchi board to make the indentations in your gnocchi, you can use a fork instead, or even leave them plain. Sometimes I roll them on the board, and sometimes I leave them plain. Some people say that you need the indentations so that the sauce will stick to the gnocchi. I say boloney. The sauce sticks to the plain gnocchi just as good as it does to the indented.

The gnocchi

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper, and sprinkle with flour so that the gnocchi don’t stick. You will have several layers of gnocchi/parchment, just be sure to flour each layer of parchment.

6 large potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes (you’ll want four cups of riced or mashed potatoes)
3 eggs
1 cup Romano cheese
1 tsp salt
3 cups flour

Boil the potatoes in a large pot of water until they become tender. Drain. At this point, you can either mash them with an electric mixer (don’t add anything to them, i.e. butter, milk..), or you can rice them.

If you mash them, make sure that there are no chunks of potato left. If you do, it’s really no big deal, you’ll just have chunks of potato in your gnocci… Believe me, I mashed them for years, and they turned out fine.

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If you rice them, use a few cubes of potatoes at a time…rice them into a bowl. Set aside until they are cool enough to handle, because you’ll be mixing and kneading with your hands.

Pour the riced potatoes (4 cups) into a mound onto your floured work surface. Make a crater in the middle of the potatoes, and add the eggs, Romano cheese, and salt. Mix thoroughly with your hands. Add the flour, one cup at a time, kneading until incorporated. If the dough seems too sticky to make into a ball, add another ½ cup of flour. You don’t want to knead or handle the dough too much; otherwise you’ll end up with tough gnocchi.

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Using a knife or a dough scraper, cut a slice of dough from the ball, and roll it into about a 1-inch diameter log. Cut the log into 2” pieces. Repeat until all of the dough has been made into gnocchi.

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This next part is completely optional…

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Holding the gnocchi board in one hand, and using your thumb with slight pressure… roll the gnocchi down the board quickly.

Place each gnocchi onto the prepared cookie sheet lined with floured parchment. You’ll probably end up with four layers of gnocchi on the one cookie sheet.

If you plan to cook them right away, bring a large pot of water to boil with generous sprinkling of salt (about a tablespoon). In small batches, boil the gnocchi for about three to five minutes…or until the gnocchi begin to float. Remove from the water with a slotted spoon. Don’t drain, because you’ll have a few more batches to cook.

Serve with your favorite sauce.

If you’re going to freeze them right away, put the whole cookie sheet of gnocchi into the freezer, and let freeze individually so that you can throw them into a baggie, without them sticking together. Don’t try to skip this step. If you try to freeze them without pre-freezing the gnocchi, you’ll end up with a big blob of dough. Been there, done that.

Enjoy!

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Four Cheese Macaroni and Cheese

I realize that this post is going to make it look like all do is prepare and eat pasta dishes.

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While I’ve made it completely clear that I love pasta…
It’s not entirely true that pasta is all I eat….
Honest.
Now let me tell you about this dish of macaroni and cheese I’m eating… (smiling…)

This is a really quick and easy mac and cheese, and that’s why I want to share it with you.  Today was just one of those days…cold, tiring, and I was feeling a tad cranky after I left work.  What better meal to warm someone on a cold day, provide complete comfort; but at the same time take minimal effort, than this macaroni and cheese?

This mac and cheese get’s its cheesiness from Monterey Jack, a slight tang from Romano, it’s bite from Pepper Jack, and a slight stringiness from mozzarella.  Believe me, all of these cheeses blend so well together, and it stays perfectly creamy…there is nothing dry about this dish.
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The trick to a very creamy, cheese sauce is to make sure that when you add it to your béchamel, make sure that the cheese is grated, and not cubed… and that you don’t keep the melting cheese over the heat.  Keep it short and sweet, and both you and the cheese will be happy, and not feeling gritty or cranky at all…trust me.

Change into some comfortable clothes while it’s baking. Spoon it into a small bowl, grab a blanket, sit on the couch and watch TV while you enjoy this hot, cheesy bowl of goodness…it’s the perfect cure for crankiness…
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Four Cheese Macaroni and Cheese

This recipe is perfectly small enough to be a side dish, or a main course for two to three people.  Use your favorite pasta shape; two cups uncooked will make four cups cooked.  For this recipe, I used 1 cup of uncooked pasta nuggets, and 1 cup of uncooked Gemelli.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Butter a 9 x 9 baking dish

The Macaroni
Prepare 2 uncooked cups of your favorite pasta according to the directions on the box.  Cook until al-dente.  Drain, and set aside.

Fry 4 slices bacon until crispy. Place on paper towel lined plate. Crumble, and set aside.

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The Cheese Sauce
4 tbsp butter
3 ½ tbsp flour
2 cups whole milk, warmed
1 cup heavy cream, warmed
½ tsp salt
1 tsp white pepper
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
½ cup Monterey Jack cheese, grated
½ cup Pepper Jack cheese, grated
½ cup Romano cheese, grated
1 cup Mozzarella cheese, grated and divided

In a large frying pan, prepare the roux by melting the butter over medium to low heat. Add the flour and stir until completely blended and smooth.  Add the milk , heavy cream, salt, white pepper, and cayenne, and whisk until well blended and smooth.  Continue to cook for about five minutes, or until it starts to thicken (your béchamel).

Remove from heat, and add the Monterey jack, pepper jack, Romano, and ½ cup of the mozzarella to the béchamel, little bits at a time, stirring until the cheese is well blended, and melted.

Add the four cups of cooked macaroni to the cheese sauce, and mix well.  Pour into prepared baking dish, and top with remaining ½ cup of mozzarella cheese.  Sprinkle with crumbled bacon. Bake for ½ hour until bubbly and golden brown.

Enjoy!

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Oatmeal “Apple-ita’s”

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I’m going to be honest here. I’m not a fan of oatmeal cookies. I know, right? What on earth is wrong with me? Now don’t get me wrong, just because I’m not a fan, doesn’t mean that if you put one or two in front of me that I would ignore them. Quite the contrary….I’d gobble them up, because that’s what I do. I eat. I love to eat. I guess I’m just saying that I prefer another cookie over oatmeal. Yeah, that’s a better statement.

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Not too long ago, my daughter Jessica and her boyfriend Pat went to pick apples. She came home with a huge bag of these humungous apples. That same day, Katie and her boyfriend Ryan went apple picking, and she brought some home…Honestly, we had apples flowing out of the refrigerator… They were perfectly tart, yet sweet, and had that wonderful “snap” when you bit into them. We were eating them like crazy, but still couldn’t put a dent in them, so I made a pie one day…and apple crisp a couple days later….

…And…

One morning, I started peeling some apples to make apple pie bars. You know, like an apple pie, but baked in a cookie sheet. As I was peeling, I had one of my “last minute” ideas…

Oatmeal Apple-itas.

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My family loves this type of bar that I make called Oatmeal Caramelitas. You’re probably aware of these bars, they’re a layer bar with an oatmeal base, caramel, chocolate chips, and walnuts in the middle, with an oatmeal-crumble topping. Again, not my favorite because of the oatmeal…but I’ll eat one if I’m craving a sweet.

So, after all of my talk about disliking oatmeal and all, imagine how I surprised myself when I decided to make these oatmeal based apple bars. I don’t know about you, but I get so excited when an idea like that comes to me….I’m sure oatmeal apple bars have been done over and over again…. But I still had that little twinge of excitement, as if I had just invented spaghetti… Super Genius…!

I think that the biggest “worry”, if you even want to call it a worry… was that the oatmeal takes about a half hour from start to finish to bake, and I knew that the apples wouldn’t soften up in that short amount of time. I decided to sauté them in butter and brown sugar (a beautiful marriage, if ever there was…) until they were softened, and then added them to the oatmeal base. It worked out perfectly.

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I decided to keep the walnuts, but I scrapped the caramel and chocolate chips, because I had a feeling that it would be way too sweet. After eating them, I still think that the caramel would have made them way too sweet. Now if you love that kind of sweetness, then by all means, drizzle some melted caramels, or your favorite caramel sauce recipe over them.

They were a big hit with everyone…even me…you know, the oatmeal hater… They were super easy to throw together, and the oatmeal and apple filling went together so deliciously. They’re delicious cold, and will last for about a week in the refrigerator. They freeze perfectly too, and only take a little while to thaw.

My favorite was to warm them in the microwave, and serve them with a scoop of maple walnut ice cream, a dollop of whipped cream, and sprinkled with cinnamon.

Of course it was your favorite, Prudy…
It’s not good until it’s brimming with calories, right?
Right.

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Oatmeal “Apple-ita’s”

Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Spray an 11×7 baking pan with vegetable spray

The Apples
6 large apples, peeled and sliced thin
½ cup butter
½ cup brown sugar
1 ½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp salt

Peel and thinly slice the apples. Melt the butter in a large frying pan, and add the brown sugar, stirring until they’re saucy. Add the apples, cinnamon and salt. Cook on low heat until the apples are softened, and a lovely golden color.

While the apples are cooking…make the oatmeal crumble…

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The Oatmeal Crumble
1 cup old fashioned oats
1 cup flour
¾ cup brown sugar
¾ cup unsalted butter, melted
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp baking soda
½ cup walnuts, chopped

…And if you so choose…The Caramel Sauce
16 caramel candies
2 1/2 tablespoons evaporated milk

In a large mixing bowl, combine the oats, flour, brown sugar, butter, salt, and baking soda until well blended. Press half of the mixture into the prepared 11×7 pan, and bake for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven.
When the apples are finished cooking, spread them on top of the baked oatmeal crust. Sprinkle with ½ cup walnuts.

If you decide you’d like the caramel sauce: Melt the caramels with the evaporated milk over a double boiler, or in the microwave. Drizzle over the apple/walnut layer.

Break the remaining crumb mixture up with your hands, and sprinkle on top of the apple/walnut layer.

Bake for 20 minutes. Let cool completely before cutting into bars. Serve as is, or with ice cream or whipped cream…or both!

Enjoy!

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