Sloppy Joes

I’m going to admit it: I love sloppy joe’s. In all their splendidly messy glory. In all their spicy sassiness. Sloppy joe’s are quite possibly the main reason I am not a vegetarian. I can’t go more than a few weeks without making them for a week night dinner.

A good sloppy joe (and this is just my opinion of course) will be a little bit spicy and a little bit sweet with an itty bitty tang. I used to simply pour a jar of Heinz chili sauce over the cooked meat and call it a day, but soon realized there had to be a more homemade approach. I looked up numerous recipes and experimented until I found my ultimate sloppy joe’s. And by ultimate I mean the best.

Sloppy Joes

Ingredients:

  • olive oil
  • 1 medium sweet onion, diced
  • 1 pound ground beef, chicken or turkey
  • 1 small green or red bell pepper, diced
  • 1/4 teaspoon seasoning salt, such as Lawry’s
  • 2 cups or 1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • pinch dry mustard
  • pinch ground cloves
  • 1/4 tablespoon ground black pepper
  • few dashes ground cayenne pepper (optional)
  • salt to taste

How To:

Heat 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large stock pot or high rimmed pan over medium-high heat. Add onions, ground meat, and red bell pepper; season with seasoning salt. Break up meat and combine with onions and pepper using a wooden spoon until cooked through.

Pour tomatoes, ketchup and rest of ingredients including spices in ground chicken mixture (in same pot/pan!). Stir to thoroughly combine. Bring up to a simmer. Reduce heat, cover and let cook for about 30 minutes. Serve on hamburger buns with pickles.

Advertisements

Gingerbread Cookies

I now know this recipe by heart because I made it multiple times this week and because it has only a handful of ingredients. It makes the best gingerbread cookies – somewhere between a sugar cookie and  traditional gingerbread, which gives them mass appeal, perfect for your holiday gathering.

And who doesn’t like to eat cookies in an array of shapes – little men, snowflakes, ornaments, trains, mittens, etc.?

I’ve overbaked several batches (not burned them), but there hasn’t been an issue…thanks to people who like crunchy cookies.

This gingerbread recipe is perfect for icing, only I prefer mine plain. I’ve also thought about dipping them in chocolate – white, dark or milk. If you dip them, let me know how they turn out!  

Gingerbread Cookies

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup margarine
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 3 teaspoons orange zest
  • 1 teaspoon fresh orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup (or dark, if that is what you have)
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda

How To:

Cream margarine and sugar. Add egg, blending until light and fluffy. Add orange zest, orange juice and corn syrup.

Sift spices and baking soda with flour. Slowly add to margarine-sugar mixture. Refrigerate dough at least 4 hours or overnight.

When ready to bake, pre-heat oven to 375 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper (may also bake unlined). Roll out one quarter of the dough (place rest of dough back in refrigerator until ready for next batch) to about 1/4 inch thickness and cut out with desired cookie cutters.  Place 1 inch apart on baking sheets. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until lightly golden. Cool 2 minutes on baking sheet and remaining time on wire rack. Ice with royal icing or eat as is!

Makes approximately 4 dozen with medium cookie cutters or 6 dozen with small cookie cutters.

Rosemary-Lemon Muffins

I love foods with a secret ingredient – whether I can taste it or not. It’s like a food who-dun-it or a little tasty mystery that leaves you madly reading through the recipe. I’m not a mystery book genre gal, but in terms of food – I do love a good puzzle because most often times the ingredients we don’t first realize make whatever we are eating taste better. You can use the secret ingredient in other recipes that call for similar items. The herb thyme brings out a certain freshness to chicken and turkey and espresso brings out chocolate flavor (thank you Ina Garten). Sometimes it is apple sauce or sour cream in cakes and honey in breads. I can’t say the same is true for processed foods – that they have an awesome hidden ingredient. Usually it’s the opposite. I’m talking only in terms of home cooking.

This brings me to Rosemary-Lemon Muffins. The name seems plain yet intriguing enough to be an absolutely delicious brunch item. But read on in the ingredients list and you will see pumpkin and polenta! I made these thinking I would actually taste pumpkin, but nope. They taste like amazing little corn bread sweet and savory muffins that are looking to entertain. There is so much flavor hidden (or maybe right out there?) you will be asked “what’s in this?” which usually translates to “these are so utterly amazing, what did you put in here?” And there is your little who-dun-it mystery brunch all because of a wonderful little muffin.

p.s. I also love using powdered sugar instead of granulated. Just something fun that doesn’t always come about in muffin recipes.

Rosemary-Lemon Muffins Adapted from California Olive Ranch

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary*
  • 2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/3 cup spelt flour
  • 1/3 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup polenta
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 cup pumpkin purée, canned or homemade
  • 2 tablespoons raw sugar

*Having trouble mincing rosemary? So did I, thus the blender idea below. If you can’t mince it with your knife throw it in the blender for a few whirls, then slowly add the zest and olive oil.

How To:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 2  standard muffin cups with paper liners.

Measure out olive oil. In a blender combine rosemary, zest and about 1/4 cup olive oil. Blend and then slowly add the rest of the olive oil.  In a large bowl, stir together the powdered sugar, flours, polenta, baking powder, cinnamon, allspice, and salt. Create a well and add eggs. Mix until just combined. While hand mixer is on low speed, add rosemary mixture. Mix until combined. Add pumpkin and beat until smooth, about 1 minute longer.

Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin cups. Sprinkle with raw sugar and bake until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 20 minutes.

Transfer to a wire rack and let cool.

Serve warm or at room temperature. You are able to store the muffins in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days. Alternately wrap tightly and freeze for up to 1 month.

Makes 24 muffins.

Sausage Tortellini Soup

Yummy hearty soup – so good on a winter day! Although it’s not technically winter as I write this, it is cold and blustery and the Chicago forecast says it is going to snow, which makes me think of warming, comforting things to make, which leads me to a recipe for sausage tortellini soup.

I need to credit my future mother in law for this one. It was absolutely phenomenal to slurp down after making a 6 hour trek to her house, and I am not trying to earn bonus points here. The soup works on so many levels because it’s both filling (thank you tortellinis) and fresh (thank you zucchini, carrots, tomatoes, and green pepper) and uh, delicious. Really, super delicious to the point I eat too much and feel as though I can’t eat anymore, then while putting the soup into containers feel compelled to pick out vegetables and tortellinis.

I made variations to the original recipe because I tend to cook with chicken and turkey, so if you are wondering how this would taste with pork sausage, by all means go for the real thing.  Just drain some of the fat (per recipe instruction) and omit the olive oil in the recipe below. Also, the original calls for beef stock instead of chicken.

If all the above doesn’t woo you to make this soup yet, make it because it’s fun – throwing all the ingredients into one pot and letting it simmer has some kind of throwing caution to the wind feeling, like you are leaving dinner in the pot’s hands now, which leaves you free to do more important things. Like make garlic bread.

Sausage Tortellini Soup

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound chicken sausage, casings removed, crumbled 
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 4 medium tomatoes, peeled
  • 1 zucchini chopped
  • 3-4 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 green pepper, diced
  • 5 cups chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 1 6-ounce can tomato paste
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 8 t0 10 ounces uncooked tortellini (I buy a frozen brand allowing the soup to be done quicker)
  • shredded parmesan cheese for serving

How To:

Heat olive oil in a large stockpot over medium heat and add onions and sausage. Cook, stirring occasionally. Once onions are soft and mixture is fragrant, add the rest of the ingredients except tortellini. Let simmer for 30 minutes.

Add tortellini and let simmer another 30 minutes.

Ladle into bowls and serve with parmesan cheese. Yes, it’s that easy.

You can make this soup ahead by following recipe through the first simmer. When you are ready to eat, heat soup and add tortellini, simmer for 30 minutes or less if using frozen tortellini.

Pumpkin Potstickers

Your holiday dish didn’t turn out the way you wanted, and you’re left with something that isn’t looking good or right. Welcome to my pumpkin ravioli nightmare.  Pictures can be deceiving.

I set out to make a delightful dinner of pumpkin ravioli using wonton wrappers (you can buy these in almost any grocery). Apparently wonton wrappers do not like to be boiled, contrary to a popular tv star chef’s directions. I was a bit aggravated. When I realized this, looking over a pot of boiling water and pumpkin ravioli mush, I thought “why not try the directions on the wonton packaging- fry them?” So that is what I did with my remaining raviolis and my oh my, they turned out better than what I think the raviolis would have been (perhaps that is because food in fried form is just better). Crunchy but still doughy with a creamy dollop of pumpkin mash in the middle, the pumpkin potstickers paired well with a sour cream sauce.

While these were not supposed to be potstickers,  I learned an important lesson: work with what you have. I’m happy to say I salvaged my poor raviolis, and I believe now that dishes can have a second, if unexpected, incarnation. Don’t just throw in the towel. Work with your food, and hopefully it will work with you.

Pumpkin Potstickers

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups pumpkin puree
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup half and half or heavy cream
  • 1/2 bay leaf (or one small bay leaf)
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh sage, plus sage leaves for garnish
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves or a sprinkle of dried thyme
  • 2 shallots minced
  • 1/2 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • kosher salt
  • white ground pepper
  • 1 package won tons (Nasoya brand works great…if you don’t boil them)
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 1 clove garlic

for the dip

  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon minced chives
  • salt and pepper to taste

How To:

Heat a small fry pan and add 1 tablespoon oil. Add shallots and garlic. Saute until soft and tender, remove from heat and set aside.

Pour pumpkin puree into medium saucepot. Add cream, herbs and shallot-garlic mixture and cook over low heat for approximately 1 hour. Be sure to stir occasionally to prevent scorching. The puree should be thick and the liquid has evaporated. Remove from the heat and mix in the butter. Whisk in the beaten eggs and season with salt and pepper. Set aside to cool for about 10 to 15 minutes.

Open wonton package so wontons are easily accessible. Pour a couple tablespoons of water into a ramekin. Take first wonton, dip finger in water and go along the edges of the wonton. Put a dollop – about 1 1/2 teaspoons of the pumpkin mixture in the center, and cover with another wonton. Press down with fingers to seal. The water acts like a glue. Set aside and complete with remaining pumpkin mixture and wonton wrappers. When setting aside do not let the potstickers touch as they may stick. Note: Use immediately. I put a batch in a ziploc and they got very gooey and hard to handle. You may be able to store in a sealed tupperware in the freezer, taking care potstickers do not touch, but I have not tried it.

Heat a medium or large saute pan with oil to coat the bottom. Add potstickers, being sure they do not touch and let cook about 3-4 minutes or until bottom side is golden brown. Flip and repeat, another 4-5 minutes or until golden brown. Set aside on a paper towel-lined plate. Continue in batches until you’ve used all the potstickers.

Serve warm with sour cream dip and sage leaves to garnish.

Red Velvet Cupcakes

It’s my opinion you don’t need a special event to make a batch of cupcakes. However, having a special occasion makes you feel better about baking and eating, and in times of seasonal depression we need all the help we can get. So if you are going to bake cupcakes, do what I do and make up a celebratory reason- “First Bitterly Cold Day of the Year Day,” “Holiday Card Day,” “Wear Black Pants Day,” “Everyone in the Office Gets a Cupcake Day.” You get the idea.

I decided to make red velvet cupcakes because a) they are red (it’s the holiday season), b) chocolate is always a hit flavor and c) my friend Lindsay absolutely loves them. Oh, and it’s “Lindsay is Going Abroad for Two Weeks Day.” Clearly they were essential for the occasion.

In the event you need a real reason to bake cupcakes or a cake, and that reason is an actual party, red velvet is perfect. Perhaps its just the word velvet in the title, but there is something seductive about red cake- the color is sexy and they are overtly tempting. I’m quite certain no is able to resist them. The fact the flavor is chocolate but the cake is red is alluring in some odd “you shouldn’t be this way but I love you anyhow” way.

I pair red velvet with cream cheese frosting. The buttermilk richness of the cake and the cream cheesy frosting go so well together. It adds another layer of luxury and let’s be honest, when you are eating a cupcake it should be complete decadence. So I say go for it whether you have a party, holiday, or random reason (“Use a New Pen Day”?). I highly urge you to celebrate with a batch of these ravishing scarlets.

Red Velvet Cupcakes

Ingredients:

for the cake

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons red food coloring
  • 3 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
  • 1 cup buttermilk*, room temperature
  • 3 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons white distilled vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda

for the frosting

  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 cups plus more (generally 1 cup) powdered sugar

* Make your own buttermilk: Combine 1 tablespoon vinegar or lemon juice with enough milk to measure 1 cup. Let sit 5 minutes. You have buttermilk!

How To:

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 12-cup muffin pans with paper liners.

In a medium mixing bowl, sift together the flour and salt. In a small separate bowl, combine food coloring and cocoa powder to form a paste.

In a large bowl (or an electric mixer with the paddle attachment) beat together the sugar and oil until well combined. Add eggs and mix. Add the buttermilk, vanilla, and water; mix. Add the cocoa paste and mix. Add the sifted dry ingredients to the wet and combine until smooth, but take care not to over-mix. It will make the batter tough and no one wants a chewy cupcake. In a small bowl (I recommend washing out bowl you mixed the paste in) mix vinegar and baking soda and watch, feeling like a mad scientist, until the fizzing stops. Add vinegar mixture to the cake batter and gently yet thoroughly combine.

Use an ice cream scoop to fill cupcakes tins about 3/4 full. Bake in oven for about 20 to 22 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in middle of cupcake comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely.

For the frosting, mix cream cheese, butter and vanilla until smooth. With mixer on low, add 1 cup of powdered sugar. Slowly add remaining sugar until 1/2 cup at a time until spreading consistency is reached.

Dollop 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons frosting onto a completely cooled cupcake. With a bent icing knife, smooth frosting onto top of cupcake and finish in a swirl motion. Continue frosting the rest of the cupcakes. Enjoy!

Note: For fluffier cupcakes, use about 1/2 to 1 teaspoon baking powder.

Dutch Apple Crisp

Are you in need of a fast and easy yet still deliciously gratifying dessert? One that can be served with ice cream or whipped cream or anything with the word cream involved? Then you have come to the right place.  Dutch Apple Crisp is a chunky apple dessert with all the normal apple pie attributes, but takes far less time and effort to make and can be transformed into a delicate-looking, entertaining-worthy dish (by the magic of a mini trifle bowl).

Although the fall harvest is behind us (evidenced by the snow blowing every which way outside my window) there is still an abundance of apples in the stores. Those apples deserve to be covered in a rich flurry of sugar, cinnamon, raisins, and pecans until they are glistening in the kind of way that makes you dip a tasting spoon out of necessity. 

 

If that alone doesn’t tickle your apple fancy, please note the apples are covered again by an inch of crunchy streusel, to compliment their tenderness. The streusel, with its sugary-buttery nuggets makes you forget all about a pie crust . This is the type of dessert that puts standard apple pies to shame. If you won’t take my word for it, just ask the apples. They’ll tell you.

Dutch Apple Crisp

Ingredients:

Apple Filling

  • About 4 medium Granny Smith apples
  • About 3-4  Fuji, gala, or McIntosh apples
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Pinch kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup raisins (or golden raisins if you want to do a monochromatic scheme)
  • 1/4 cup chopped pecans
  •  1/2 cup cream (may use half and half or heavy cream) 

Streusel Topping

  • 3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter , melted

How To:

Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees.

For the apple filling: Peel, quarter, and core apples; dice apples into approx. 1/2″ cubes. Toss apples, sugar, cinnamon, and salt in large bowl to combine.

Heat butter in large stockpot (or Dutch oven) over high heat until foaming subsides, taking care not to burn. Add apple chunks and toss to coat. Reduce heat to medium and cook, covered, stirring occasionally until apples are softened (about 5 minutes). Stir in raisins and pecans. Let the mixture cook covered once again, stirring occasionally. The Granny Smith chunks will be tender and the other apple chunks will be very softened, beginning to break down. This will take about 5 additional minutes.

Set a large colander over a large bowl so the bowl will catch the apple syrup-y juice. Pour cooked apples to colander; shake and toss apples to drain off juice. Pour juice into a small saucepan and add cream. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally for about 5 minutes until thickened . Transfer apples to an 8-inch square baking dish and pour reduced juice mixture over, spreading evenly.

For the streusel topping: Combine flours and sugars in a medium bowl; drizzle with melted butter and toss with a fork until moistened. Mixture will resemble a streusel- large chunks and itty bitty pea-sized pieces. Line rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and spread streusel in even layer on baking sheet. Bake streusel until golden brown, about 5 minutes; cool baking sheet with streusel on wire rack about 5 minutes. Sprinkle streusel evenly over apples. Set apple dish on baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Streusel will be a deep golden brown. Cool slightly on a wire rack and serve with ice cream or cream of your choice.