The Ultimate Comfort Food – Beginning With Mirepoix

Do you know what I like about mirepoix (pronounced meer pwa)? Besides the fact that it is fun to say, it’s the basic foundation of many soups, stews and sauces. It’s commonly made up of aromatics such as carrots, celery and onions. I’m adding garlic and green bell peppers to the trio because I find it packs a lot more flavor. It’s the beginning of many layers of flavor I’ll be using today in my hearty homemade tomato sauce which then goes on to the star of the show, American Chop Suey.

Sweat or sauté

The idea of mirepoix is to sweat the vegetables over a low heat for about an hour in a small amount of fat. I like to use a little butter and extra virgin olive oil for an additional layer of flavor. You don’t necessarily want to sauté the veggies because that method cooks the product too quickly and you will get a much different flavor result. Sweating is similar to sautéing, however, at a much lower temperature and for a longer period of time. Sweating softens the veggies, releases water from them without browning. This will draw out their natural sweetness and will be helpful later when we add the tomatoes. The reward for your patience in the slow cooking of the veggies is that the sweetness from the mirepoix will neutralize some of the acid from the tomatoes.

There are many different combinations to make a mirepoix. The possibilities are endless. Most often you will see a basic mirepoix is 2 parts onion, 1 part carrot and 1 part celery. That is an excellent starting point. However, you may want to experiment with the ratios to find different flavors that suit your tastes. I find I like more carrots than onions and that is what I use in this recipe.

As I mentioned, mirepoix is found in many foods. I like to make a big batch of it so I can have it on hand for a quick soup or stew. Depending on the dish you’re making, you might even consider adding some bacon to the mixture for additional flavor. Likewise, ginger adds a lot of flavor and goes well if you use a mirepoix when making a stir fry. For other recipes, which I will share another time, I use different combinations.

The. Ultimate. Comfort. Food.

For now though, get ready for American Chop Suey, the ultimate comfort food. I’ve made this dish countless times for lunches or casual get togethers. People always seem surprised that this dish has mozzarella cheese in it. How could it not? I mean, all of the ingredients are just screaming to be covered in cheese. *Disclaimer* I am a cheese fanatic. If I could find a way to add cheese to my breakfast cereal that isn’t gross, I would totally do it. Stay tuned, you never know what challenges await.

American Chop Suey

A hearty pasta dish packed with a hearty tomato sauce, ground beef and mozzarella cheese.

Course Dinner
Keyword Pasta
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Total Time 2 hours
Author Lisa

Ingredients

Mirepoix

  • 2 cups carrots shredded or diced
  • 2 cups red and green bell peppers diced
  • 1 cup onion diced
  • 1 cup celery diced
  • 2-3 cloves garlic minced
  • drizzle olive oil
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • pinch salt

Hearty Tomato Sauce

  • 1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 3 14.5 oz cans diced tomatoes
  • 1 12 oz can tomato paste (optional - as needed)
  • 4 cups beef broth
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 2 lbs lean ground beef

American Chop Suey

  • 1 lb elbow macaroni
  • 3-4 cups mozzarella cheese shredded

Instructions

Mirepoix

  1. In a large skillet over low heat, drizzle olive oil  to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the butter until melted.

    Mirepoix ingredients
  2. Shred the carrots, dice the onions, celery and bell peppers, mince the garlic. Add to the skillet. Toss the ingredients until well coated. Add the pinch of salt. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally for approximately one hour. (Be sure to keep an eye on the vegetables, you shouldn't hear loud sizzling while it's cooking and your ingredients shouldn't turn brown. If this starts happening, reduce heat.) 

    Mirepoix simmering

Hearty tomato sauce

  1. While the vegetables are sweating, in a separate skillet, over medium heat, brown the ground beef. Add half of the broth, and all of the seasonings. Reduce heat and allow to simmer for 10 minutes.

    Ground beef for tomato sauce
  2. After the mirepoix has simmered for the hour, add the remaining broth to the mixture and bring to a low boil. 

    Mirepoix plus broth
  3. Combine the mirepoix mixture and the ground beef mixture. Then add the crushed and diced tomatoes. Continue to simmer up to another hour. The sauce will thicken and get sweeter the longer it cooks. If the sauce is too thin for your liking, you can gradually add some of the tomato paste a little at a time until your sauce reaches your desired consistency.

    hearty tomato sauce
  4. Meanwhile, cook one pound of pasta according to the package directions.

    Elbow macaroni

American Chop Suey

  1. When the pasta is cooked to your desired tenderness, gradually add the sauce and mozzarella cheese to the pasta and mix thoroughly. 

    American chop suey assembly2

Mainely Salsa-tional

Salsa ingredients
Salsa ingredients

Pico de gallo or Salsa?

They are both basically salads, but classified as sauces. Salsa is made with tomatoes, onions, and one or more varieties of peppers. Depending on what recipe you follow, there may also be other ingredients, but they’re chopped and mixed together.

The actual definition of salsa is a spicy tomato sauce. Salsa is sometimes cooked, sometimes not, again it depends on the recipe. It will have more liquid and has a thinner, soupier texture than its counterpart. 

Pico de gallo literally translated from Spanish is Rooster’s Beak. It is also known as salsa fresco. Pico de gallo is not cooked, this seems to be a standard rule. The chopped vegetables are clearly visible in the mixture. It’s chunkier and more rustic. It doesn’t require much seasoning other than salt and cilantro.

With all that said, I call my recipe a “Salsa” even though I use all fresh ingredients, don’t cook it and you can clearly see all the vegetables in it. But, I do add seasonings and other non-traditional ingredients which gives it more liquid than a traditional salsa.

Don’t worry, though, by non-traditional, I don’t mean you’ll find any rooster beaks in this recipe; but what you will find, however, is a lot of flavor. You can control the amount of heat, by selecting milder peppers and reducing the amount of ground cayenne. But, if made as the recipe calls, you’ll find a pleasant refreshing, almost sweet-tasting salsa followed a moment later by a little spicy kick.

 

Too Many Players On The Field

This particular recipe is slightly different than my very first version made many years ago. I once had to make an emergency alteration to stretch the recipe.

Has this ever happen to you? You’re only expecting a few people to show up for a gathering, but next thing you know, you have twice as many people than you’re prepared for. What do you do? I mean besides freak out about whether or not you have enough food for everyone. Well, this happened to me once and necessity became the mother of creativity.

I invited some friends over to watch football. I was only expecting 6 people, so I only made a small batch of salsa. It was kind of an unwritten rule that I would strategically put out bowls of salsa and chips within reach so my guests could nibble throughout the game. Next thing I knew I had twice as many people than I expected. I did not have enough salsa to place around for everyone and I couldn’t place a skimpy bowl of salsa in front of my guests.

I scrambled for ideas, I fumbled at the thought of adding the salsa to a big brick of melted cheese and just making a dip instead. But, I recovered and decided to just add some random vegetables from the crisper drawer. That move ended up winning the game..I mean the approval of my guests. They liked it better than the first draft and I still make it that way to this day.

I debated for a long time about sharing this recipe. This is the recipe that was going to make me rich and famous. I made it for an office party once and a few people offered to pay me to make it for them again. At that time I offered to share the recipe, but for one reason or another they thought it was just easier for them to pay me to make it. So, for a while, word got around and I was making gallons of this salsa every week. I brought it to the office, craft fairs, made gifts for friends and it was requested often for parties or just when we were hanging out for no special occasion. 

So, finally, that brings me to the name. Mainely Salsational. I had some very clever co-workers who would be gracious enough to sample my experiments while I was trying to come up with some new varieties. Some of those experiments were successful and others, eh not so much. These clever co-workers used a play on words making salsational out of the salsa is sensational. And, of course, Mainely because we’re from Maine and no one expects salsa from Maine to be a thing. Today I’m just going to share what is now called my “Original” salsa. I’ll share the other successful recipes another time.

Original Salsa

A fresh salsa with a touch of sweetness and a slight kick

Course Snack
Prep Time 20 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
Author Lisa

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pounds Roma tomatoes seeded and diced
  • 1 cup cucumber seeded and diced
  • 1/2 cup red onion diced
  • 1/2 cup red bell pepper seeded and diced
  • 1-2 jalapeno peppers (medium size) seeded and minced
  • 2-3 medium cloves garlic minced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 lime juiced
  • 2 tsp Balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp ground cayenne pepper
  • sugar as need optional
  • cilantro optional

Instructions

  1. Set a strainer in a small bowl. Cut the stem end off of each tomato and cut in half. Squeeze the tomato over the strainer to catch the seeds. Reserve the juice to the side. If you have the handy chop wizard kitchen gadget, you can use it to dice the remainder of the tomato and other veggies to get a nice, uniform size. Otherwise dice the tomatoes as usual. Add the diced tomatoes to a large bowl that has a lid.

    Chop Wizard
  2. Peel the cucumbers, cut in quarters lengthwise then cut off and discard the sections of seeds. Dice the remainder of the cucumber then add to the tomatoes.

  3. Remove the seeds from the peppers and discard. Dice the remainder of the peppers then add to the tomato mixture. (NOTE: If you want to add a little heat to the salsa, leave some of the jalapeno seeds and membrane. If you want a milder salsa, be sure to remove all the seeds and the membrane.)

  4. Mince the garlic then add to the tomato mixture.

  5. Add the remaining ingredients (except the sugar) to the reserved tomato juice. Stir well until the dried seasonings are well dissolved.

  6. Pour the mixture over the tomato mixture and stir until all the vegetables are well coated. Cover the salsa and refrigerate. (Trust me, you want to cover this dish. Otherwise everything in your fridge will taste like salsa.)

    Salsa
  7. This salsa will taste even better the next day, so if you have time, I would suggest making it the day before you want to serve it. 

  8. Adding sugar to this recipe is sometimes needed depending on your taste. Sometimes, after the vegetables have had time to infuse with the sauce, it will become a little sweeter. I would recommend not adding the sugar until the next day. And if you do need to add the sugar, start with a 1/2 tsp at a time. Stir until the sugar is dissolved and well blended. Repeat if necessary.

  9. I listed cilantro as optional because I am not really a fan of it and I do not miss it in the salsa when I make it, but others feel that it is needed and have enjoyed it when I’ve made it with the cilantro. So, it is up to you. Use as needed.

Do you prefer your salsa cooked or do you like the freshness of uncooked better? Let me know in the comments below and don’t forget to follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest for more recipes.

Chocolate Cupcakes with whipped cream filling

cupcakes2
cupcakes2

I chose to make these chocolate cupcakes today for several reasons. First, these cupcakes are one of my favorites as well as a favorite among my friends and family that have had them. So, I’m counting on them being a hit for some other special people, too. Second, I recently purchased some new Russian piping tips that I have been dying to try, so this is the perfect opportunity to see if they measure up to the hype.

Russian piping tips
Russian piping tips

As some of my readers may have noticed, I’ve been on hiatus for a few months. Well, my mother had been sick, so sharing my recipes had to be put on the back burner temporarily. She is getting better every day, but she had to spend time in a local nursing and rehabilitation facility. She made some friends while there and she took a liking to some of the staff as well. I wanted to show my appreciation with a small token of what I do best. CHOCOLATE CUPCAKES.

cupcakes
cupcakes

I also had a friend’s birthday recently. She doesn’t ask for much, but she has been hankering something chocolatey. So, these chocolate cupcakes should do the trick.

They’ve got lots of butter and eggs, so they’re rich and moist. As an added bonus, I like to add a little fresh, whipped cream, peanut butter or jelly to center of these chocolate cakes, so you get a little surprise in each bite. There’s no limit to the possible types of frosting to finish them off either.

If you need some tips on making the perfect texture of cake, I provide a lot of information in my article Italian Cream Cake and Tips For A Better Batter.

Icing, glaze, ganache, frosting, or fondant?

So, what’s the difference between them all? It depends on who you ask. You’ll probably get a different answer from from different parts of the country and different parts of the world as well. But, I’m going to tell you what I call them so we can be on the same page for the purpose of these recipes.

Generally, though, frosting is thick and fluffy. The mixture is made from a base of dairy products, such as butter and/or cream cheese, and powdered sugar. It’s fluffy enough to stand on its own in various shapes made by piping, yet thick enough to spread with a spatula.

Icing generally has a thinner, glossier texture and is made with a powdered sugar base and water or milk and often times food coloring will be added. This mixture hardens somewhat when it dries, so it is perfect for decorating cookies.

A glaze also has a thinner, glossier texture and is made with a powdered sugar base, but generally uses a fruit juice for added flavor. This mixture can be easily poured over your scones, donuts or other pastries and cakes.

Chocolate ganache is the best of both of the worlds of frosting and icing. It’s thick enough to be a substantial addition to your cake, much like that of frosting. But it’s also thin and glossy, like an icing, that can just be poured over your desserts.

Fondant is a thick paste made of sugar, water and egg whites or meringue powder which, when dried, it can be rolled out into a sheet then laid out and formed around the cake.

Fun fact

Powdered sugar is also known as confectioner’s sugar, icing sugar or 10X sugar. The 10 in 10X represents the number of times the granulated sugar has been processed to make it into the fine powdery substance that easily dissolves. Powdered sugar is also a preferred sugar used by candy makers…or confectioners.

Cream filled Chocolate Cupcakes

A rich, moist, dark chocolate cake with a creamy filling.

Course Dessert
Keyword chocolate
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 15 minutes
Cooling and decorating 4 hours
Total Time 1 hour 15 minutes
Servings 42 cupcakes
Author Lisa

Ingredients

For the cake:

  • 1 cup unsifted unsweetened dark cocoa
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 1 tbsp instant coffee granules + 1/4 cup warm water
  • 2 3/4 cups sifted flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup butter softened
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla

For the filling:

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Instructions

For the cake:

  1. In a medium bowl, combine cocoa with boiling water, mixing together with a wire whisk until smooth. Set aside to cool completely (about 2 hours).

  2. In a small bowl, mix the instant coffee granules with the warm water until thoroughly dissolved. Add to the cooled cocoa mixture.

  3. Sift the flour with the baking powder, salt and baking soda.

  4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake pan with liners. (I would recommend baking no more than 24 cupcakes at a time, otherwise you may need to adjust your baking time and temperature. This recipe would require baking the batter in two batches.)

    You can also make this recipe into a 3-layer cake using three, 9 inch cake pans.

  5. In a large bowl of an electric mixer, at the setting for creaming, cream the butter and the sugar for about 5 minutes until light and fluffy.

    Cake batter adding flour
  6. Add the vanilla then the eggs, one at a time, just until you can no longer see the ingredient you just added. Overmixing will flatten your fluffy butter mixture.

    Gradually adding the cocoa
  7. At low speed, beat in the flour mixture (in fourths), alternately with the cocoa mixture (in thirds) beginning and ending with the flour mixture, just until you can no longer see the ingredient you just added. Overmixing will flatten your fluffy butter mixture and will alter the structure of your cake.

    Mix just until the ingredient is added
  8. Fill cupcake cups approximately 3/4 to the top of the liner and bake for 13-15 minutes. There should be a few moist crumbs on a toothpick when inserted to the middle of the cupcake. The cakes will finish baking while they are cooling down. Allow the cakes to cool for about 1 hour before proceeding to the next step.

    (If you prefer the layer cake, divide the batter evenly between 3 cake pans, bake 25-30 minutes or until a few moist crumbs remain on a toothpick when inserted into the middle of the cake.)

    whipped cream2

For the filling

  1. Whip the heavy cream, vanilla and confectioner’s sugar on high speed of electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Refrigerate until ready to use. 

    Filling tip
  2. Once the cupcakes are cooled, using a decorating bag fitted with a filling tip, fill the bag with the whipped cream. Insert the tip into the cake and gently squeeze until the cupcake is filled with the cream.

    (If making the layered cake, simply spread the whipped cream between layers.

    Glass stand
  3. If you have trouble filling your decorating bag, try wrapping the opening of the bag over the rim of a tall glass. This will keep the bag open while you are scraping your bowl and filling the bag. You can also rest your bag in the glass when not in use to avoid a messy work area.

  4. Decorate with your favorite frosting or check out my favorite recipes below.

    filled cupcakes

No matter how you choose to top these delicious miniature cakes, any one of the following recipes will be sure to please the crowd. I’m partial to either buttercream, ganache or cream cheese frostings for cake and not really a fan of fondants because I prefer a fluffy, whipped texture as opposed to the sheet of sweetness. I’ve only used store bought fondant before, but I have a few recipes I want to try. Who knows? I may change my mind and give fondant another chance. Look for my recipes for icings and glazes in the near future. I think you’ll enjoy the pastries that go along with them too. 

Buttercream Frosting

Course Frosting
Keyword Frosting
Prep Time 10 minutes
Total Time 10 minutes
Author Lisa

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup crisco I use butter flavored crisco
  • 4 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 2 tbsp milk if needed
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Instructions

  1. Beat butter and shortening until light and fluffy. (The butter should be at room temperature. If they are too soft, return to the refrigerator for a few minutes.)

  2. Add the vanilla.

  3. Gradually add the confectioner’s sugar. Continue beating until the frosting is smooth and creamy.

  4. You may not need all the confectioner’s sugar. If your frosting becomes to thick, gradually add a teaspoon of milk at a time until you reach the desired consistency.

    buttercream divided

Cream Cheese Frosting

Course Frosting
Prep Time 10 minutes
Total Time 10 minutes
Author Lisa

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup butter softened
  • 8 oz cream cheese softened
  • 4 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tbsp milk if needed

Instructions

  1. Beat butter and shortening until light and fluffy. (The butter should be at room temperature. If they are too soft, return to the refrigerator for a few minutes.)

  2. Add the vanilla.

  3. Gradually add the confectioner’s sugar. Continue beating until frosting is smooth and creamy.

  4. You may not need all the confectioner’s sugar. If your frosting becomes to thick, gradually add a teaspoon of milk at a time until you reach the desired consistency.

    cream cheese frosting

Peanut Butter Frosting

Course Frosting
Keyword Peanut butter
Prep Time 10 minutes
Total Time 10 minutes
Author Lisa

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup crisco
  • 1/2 cup butter softened
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 4-5 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Instructions

  1. Beat butter and shortening until light and fluffy. (The butter should be at room temperature. If they are too soft, return to the refrigerator for a few minutes.)

  2. Add the peanut butter.

  3. Add the vanilla.

  4. Gradually add the confectioner’s sugar. Continue beating until the frosting is smooth and creamy.

  5. You may not need all the confectioner’s sugar. If your frosting becomes to thick, gradually add a teaspoon of milk at a time until you reach the desired consistency. If the frosting is to thin, gradually add additional confectioner’s sugar.

    cupcakes

Chocolate Ganache

Course Frosting
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
Author Lisa

Ingredients

  • 8 oz semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tsp instant coffee granules

Instructions

  1. In a double boiler over simmering water, melt chocolate.

  2. Add instant coffee granules. Stirring until smooth.

  3. Gradually add the heavy cream and continue stirring until well incorporated and mixture is smooth and creamy.

  4. Decorate by dipping the tops of the cupcakes into the mixture or pouring the mixture over the cakes. The mixture will harden as it sits. 

    cupcakes

Chocolate Frosting


Course Frosting
Keyword chocolate
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Cooling time 1 hour
Total Time 20 minutes
Author Lisa

Ingredients

  • 6 oz semisweet chocolate
  • 1/2 cup light cream
  • 1 cup butter
  • 2 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar

Instructions

  1. In a medium saucepan over medium low heat, combine the chocolate pieces, cream and butter.

  2. Stir until all chocolate pieces have melted and mixture is smooth.

  3. Remove from the heat.

  4. Gradually add confectioner’s sugar whisking until sugar is fully incoorporated and mixture is smooth. It may be necessary to to place the pan in a bowl of ice to help with the cooling down process. 

  5. Decorate as desired. 

    cream filled chocolate cake

Classic Potato Salad – A Summertime Standard

With summertime BBQ season upon us, what is the best side dish to bring to the party? Potato salad, of course. There are so many variations of potato salad out there, but I prefer the classic American, creamy, potato salad. My grandmother made this recipe, then my mother made this recipe, so naturally, I make this recipe, too. I do not have children to take over the recipe, so I hope someone else finds it and makes it a tradition in their family, too.

In my opinion, the star of the show is the dressing. The dressing is where the flavor is packed. Adding different toppings, such as bacon crumbles or hard-boiled eggs are delightful, too. But, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t care about what type of potato to use in your salad. Pick the wrong potato and they could end up getting smooshed during mixing when you add your dressing. Then you’re left with mashed potatoes with mayonnaise.

TUBER OR NOT TUBER?

Yes. A potato is a tuber, specifically a stem tuber. A stem tuber is basically an enlarged structure of the plant where it stores its nutrients it will need for winter and for regrowth. In order to pick out the right kind for your dish, you’ll need to know a few things. Essentially, there are three categories of potatoes based on their texture. Starchy, All-Purpose, and Waxy. Potato salads need potatoes that will hold their shape after cooking. So, understanding what happens during the cooking process will help when making your selection.

Starchy potatoes, such as Russets are good for baking, mashing or French fries. The highly dense starch cells swell and separate from one another when cooked which give these potato items a fluffy texture.

Waxy potatoes, such as Red Bliss, have the least starch, so there is less cell separation and are best for boiling, stews, and salads. There is less breakdown, so these potatoes will hold their shape very well.

All-purpose potatoes, such as Yukon Gold, have a moderate amount of starch and are ideal for au gratins, roasting or steaming. As the name implies, they can also be used for any purpose, but just note that your results may vary slightly.

Potato Salad

The creamy, classic American potato salad. 

Course Side Dish
Cuisine American
Keyword Potato Salad
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Cooling time 30 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Author Lisa

Ingredients

  • 4 pounds Red Bliss potatoes
  • 2 tbsp salt for potato water
  • 1/4 cup vinegar
  • 1/4 cup Splenda or sugar
  • salt and pepper to taste for dressing
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 1/2 cups mayonaisse
  • 1/4 cup diced onion
  • 1/4 cup diced celery

Instructions

  1. Scrub potato skins then cut into bite-size cubes.

    Potato Salad
  2. Place in a large pot, cover with cold water, add 2 tbsp of salt to the water. Cover the pot with a lid. 

  3. Over high heat, bring to a boil. Remove lid, lower temperature to medium/high heat and continue a slow boil for 8-12 minutes or until the potatoes are fork-tender. 

  4. Drain the liquid from the potatoes and allow to cool for at least 30 minutes. (Spreading them out over a cookie sheet will speed up the cooling process.)

  5. In a large bowl, add the vinegar, Splenda, salt, pepper, milk, and sour cream.

  6. Add the mayonaisse, a little at a time until the dressing reaches the desired thickness. 

    Potato Salad Dressing
  7. Add the celery and onions.

  8. Once the potatoes have cooled completely, add them to the dressing and lightly toss the dressing to coat the potatoes. 

    Potato Salad 3

Recipe Notes

I use Splenda instead of sugar because I have diabetics in my family and try not to use sugar where it doesn't make a difference to the outcome of the dish. It also dissolves a lot quicker than sugar. But, sugar absolutely works too.  

What is your favorite summertime side dish? Let me know in the comments below.

 

 

 

 

Denver Omelet Breakfast Ring – Father’s Day Brunch

Omelets are my all-time favorite breakfasts. I have many variations that houseguests frequently request. And, in my house, breakfast for dinner is a common occurrence. Omelets were the first dish I learned to make on my own as a kid. I’ve added many different ingredients for some unusual combinations over the years. My favorite is the Philly Cheesesteak Omelet. A close second favorite is the Italian Hoagie Omelet. Coming in third is the Meatball Parm Omelet. They’re all exactly what they sound like, too. The awesome sandwich fixings stuffed inside an omelet instead of bread. I know, some of that sounds really weird, but trust me, they’re amazing.

When I was younger, I had thoughts of opening a breakfast restaurant. I was going to serve breakfast all day long, especially eggs, more specifically, these unconventional omelets. At the time, I lived on the cape of New Jersey. I was going to call the restaurant “The Great Eggs Cape”. If you say that quick enough, it sounds like The Great Escape. Well, I thought it was a clever idea at the time. That restaurant idea never panned out, but my experiments live on. I live in Maine now, so that name wouldn’t work, but if I ever have the inclination to open a restaurant here, it would be called Comfort Café.

With Father’s Day quickly approaching, I’ve been considering something different for breakfast. I’ve been thinking about a frittata and incorporating the toast into it somehow. But, I recently saw an edition of Taste of Home that had a dish using crescent rolls. I’ve made party food using these crescent rolls and shaped them into a ring before and they were pretty good, so I decided to give breakfast a shot. It’s not exactly what I originally envisioned, but most of my recipes transform from the initial thought anyway.

My dad likes ham and cheese in his omelets, but never complained when I added peppers, onions, tomatoes and garlic. Well, he might tell you I use too much garlic, so I’ll try to behave when adding the garlic this time. Since this dish has the ingredients of a Denver Omelet, I chose to go with that in the name, even though it’s not in the shape of an omelet. I did a test run of this recipe when visiting our family best friends (my Godparents) in Massachusetts this past weekend. It was a hit. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

Denver Omelet Breakfast Ring

This dish has all the ingredients of a Denver omelet, but the eggs are scrambled and shaped into a ring over a base of Crescent rolls. Thick slices of ham layered over the dough hold in the egg filling. 

Course Breakfast
Cuisine American
Keyword Omelet
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 50 minutes
Servings 8
Author Lisa

Ingredients

  • 11 Extra Large Eggs 1 reserved for egg wash
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large green bell pepper diced
  • 1 medium onion diced
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 medium/large tomato diced
  • 1 pkg Crescent Rolls 8 count
  • 8 slices of deli ham
  • 2 cups cheddar cheese shredded
  • 1/2 tsp sesame seeds optional
  • 1/2 tsp dried minced onion optional
  • 1/2 tsp dried minced garlic optional
  • 1/4 tsp poppy seeds optional
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt optional
  • pinch oregano optional

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

    Denver Omelet Breakfast Ring Veggies
  2. Dice pepper and onion. Sauté in a large skillet over medium/high heat until tender. Add the garlic during the last minute of sautéing. Reduce heat to medium/low heat. Add the butter and allow to melt before adding the eggs.

    Denver Omelet Breakfast Ring Veggies cooked
  3. Dice the tomato. (Add a little salt and oregano - optional)

    Denver Omelet Breakfast Ring Tomatoes
  4. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs until fully incorporated. Eggs are fully whisked when no signs of yolk or egg whites can be seen in the mixture. 

    Denver Omelet Breakfast Ring Eggs
  5. Add the whisked eggs into the skillet with the peppers and onions. Gently scramble the eggs mixing them with the peppers and onions. When the scrambled eggs are just about set (they'll still be a little wet, but not runny), add the diced tomatoes, stir until they are mixed in then remove the skillet from the heat.

    Denver Omelet Breakfast Ring Scrambled Eggs
  6. On a large baking sheet or pizza pan, lay out the crescent roll triangles in a circle with the pointy tip of the triangle pointing outwards. Overlap the wider edges and press the dough to seal the pieces together.

    Denver Omelet Breakfast Ring Crescent Rolls
  7. Lay the ham slices lengthwise over each triangle piece of dough. 

    Denver Omelet Breakfast Ring Ham
  8. Sprinkle 1 cup of the shredded cheddar cheese around the center hole.

    Denver Omelet Breakfast Ring Cheese
  9. Spoon the scrambled egg mixture over the shredded cheese. 

    Denver Omelet Breakfast Ring Egg Layer
  10. Sprinkle the remaining cheddar cheese over the scrambled egg mixture.

    Denver Omelet Breakfast Ring Cheese 2
  11. Fold the pointy tips of each crescent roll over the filling and tuck under the ring. The filling may show through some of the openings. 

    Denver Omelet Breakfast Ring fold over
  12. Beat the remaining egg and add a teaspoon of water for the egg wash. Using a pastry brush, brush each crescent roll with the egg wash and sprinkle with the optional salt, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, dried onion and dried garlic. 

    Denver Omelet Breakfast Ring Toppings

What do you make on Father’s Day? Let me know in the comments below and don’t forget to follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.

 

Southwestern Skillet Easy To Make, Easy To Clean Up

As a kid, and even as a young adult, I loved those easy-to-make, one-skillet box mixes. All you had to do was brown the ground beef, dump in some powdered  sauce and the pasta, rice or potatoes along with some water. And boom! Dinner was ready. Well, I’ve been an adult for a long time now, but I still love the idea of throwing together a quick meal with an even quicker clean up. As I grew older and learned how easy those dinners are to make from scratch, I’ve made what seems like, a million variations. This Southwestern Skillet is just as easy as the packaged products, but tastier.

Tonight’s dinner came about by necessity of finding a use for some leftover rice. I searched the freezer and decided that I would use the ground beef. I was beginning to have tacos and Mexican-style rice on my mind, but I didn’t have any taco shells. Then I thought stuffed peppers would be good, but I didn’t have enough peppers. As I was running out of ideas, I looked through the pantry and pulled out a few cans of vegetables and my homemade taco seasoning, checked the fridge for some cheese and this one-skillet creation came to life. This would be better with all fresh vegetables but, in a pinch, canned will do.

Southwestern Skillet

Just as easy as the boxed food products, but tastier.

Course Dinner
Cuisine Southwestern
Keyword one-skillet
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Servings 8
Author Lisa

Ingredients

  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 small onion diced
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 2 packets taco season **Or 4 tbsp of my mix
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1 14.5 oz whole kernel corn
  • 1 16 oz kidney beans
  • 2 cups Mexican blend cheese shredded
  • 4 cups cooked white rice

Instructions

  1. In a large skillet, over medium/high heat, brown ground beef. Drain the fat.

    Southwestern Skillet Ingredients
  2. Reduce heat to medium, add the diced onion and minced garlic, stirring occasionally until the onions are translucent.

    Southwestern Skillet Ground Beef
  3. Add the taco seasoning to the ground beef with 2 cups of water. Stir until the seasoning is dissolved.

    Southwestern Skillet Seasoning
  4. Drain the liquid from the vegetables then add them to the skillet. Discard the liquids. (I save the liquid from the tomatoes in case my sauce gets too thick, I can add the tomato juice which will have more flavor than adding more water.)

    Southwestern Skillet Veggies
  5. Add the rice. 

    Southwestern Skillet Rice
  6. Add about 1/2 of the shredded cheese. Then reduce heat and allow the mixture to simmer for 10 minutes. The sauce will start to thicken.

    Southwestern Skillet Cheese
  7. Sprinkle the remainder of the cheese over the top of the mixture. Cover, remove from heat and allow to sit for 10 minutes. The cheese will continue melting and the sauce will thicken. Serve with tortilla chips and sour cream - optional.

    Southwestern Skillet Cheese 2

Recipe Notes

**Instead of store bought packets of taco mix, why not try my homemade mix. You can find the recipe here.

Did your family rely on the hamburger skillet dinners for something quick? Do you have a favorite? Let me know in the comments below.

 

 

 

 

M&M Cookies A Memorial Day Favorite

If You’ve Had One, You’ve Had Them All?

Homemade cookies are one of my favorite things to make. I know, I say that about everything, but here’s the thing, homemade cookies are not only delicious, they are also easy and quick to make, how can you not love them? Pretty much every drop cookie out there has been derived from the basic Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe. But, does that mean that if you’ve had one, you’ve had them all? No, it doesn’t. There are so many variations available, how do you know which one to pick? I’ll share my M&M Cookies recipe today and then we’ll discuss what makes them soft and chewy, light and cakey or crisp and crunchy. We’ll also look at some mishaps in the kitchen and explain how to prevent cookie disasters.

But First, Some History

In honor of the upcoming Memorial Day, I thought it would be fitting to discuss the role U.S. soldiers played in the popularity of chocolate chip cookies.

The chocolate chip cookie, the official state cookie of Massachusetts, was invented by Ruth Graves Wakefield in 1938. She was the owner and chef at the Toll House Inn in Whitman, Massachusetts.

The original, Toll House Chocolate Crunch Cookie, rose to popularity during WWII. American soldiers stationed overseas would receive care packages, which included these cookies, from family in Massachusetts. The soldiers would share the cookies with soldiers from other parts of the U.S. and soon, those soldiers were writing home asking for them. That led to many letters being sent to the Toll House Inn requesting the recipe causing the cookie craze to take off.

Ruth sold the rights to use the recipe to Andrew Nestle for $1.00 in return for a lifetime supply of  Nestle’s chocolate. I think Ruth got the short end of the stick in that deal. But, that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

M&M Cookies

This recipe is based on the Toll House Cookie Recipe. A couple simple modifications of increasing the amount of brown sugar and swapping out the chocolate chips for M&Ms make these a fun substitution for the original cookie.

Course Dessert, Snack
Cuisine American
Keyword Cookies
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
Servings 48
Author Lisa

Ingredients

  • 2 1/4 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup butter softened
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups light or dark brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups mini baking M&Ms

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees

    M&M Cookies ingredients
  2. Combine flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

  3. In a separate bowl, combine butter, sugars and vanilla. Beat until creamy. 

    M&M Cookies dough
  4. Add eggs, one at a time. Beat until each one is well blended. 

  5. Gradually add the flour, a little at a time. Mix until well blended. 

    M&M Cookies dough 2
  6. Stir in the M&Ms.

    M&M Cookies M&Ms
  7. Drop rounded spoonfuls of dough on a parchment lined cookie sheet. (I just use a teaspoon. For more uniform shapes, you can use a melon baller or small ice cream scoop.)

    M&M Cookies spoonful
  8. Bake 8-10 minutes. (I usually check them at 7 minutes...if they are starting to brown at the edges, I removed them from the oven and allow them to remain on the hot cookie sheet for a few minutes. They'll continue to "bake" while cooling down.) Move to a wire rack or a sheet of parchment paper to continue cooling. 

    M&M Cookies cooling

Soft and Chewy, Light and Cakey or Crisp and Crunchy?

What’s your preference? I prefer soft and chewy with a slight crisp around the edges. That can be a hard combination to master. You can look at a 100 different recipes and they’ll all have different measurements, but finding the one that gives you the texture you want is easier than you think.

In the Toll House Cookies recipe, the main ingredients which dictate what texture your cookies develop into are butter, granulated sugar and brown sugar. A typical cookie dough recipe will have 2 sticks of butter and equal parts of granulated sugar and brown sugar. You can customize your cookies with a few simple alterations.

Here are a few hints:

For instance, if you’re going for crisper cookies, you’ll want a recipe to have more butter and a larger amount of granulated sugar than brown sugar.

If you prefer a light and cakey cookie, your recipe will use less butter and significantly less sugar (but still using more granulated sugar than brown sugar).

For the soft and chewy variety, you’ll just need to adjust the sugars. More brown sugar will yield a softer, chewier cookie.

Cookie Catastrophes

Cookies spread too thin

When you’re making your dough, keep an eye on the texture of your dough. If the butter is too soft, your dough may be too warm and your cookies could spread too thin while baking. When you soften your butter, you should be able to press into the butter with the side of a knife and feel a little resistance. If you press down and your knife plunges to the bottom, the butter is too soft. You can return the butter to the refrigerator for a few minutes. Or, if you’ve already made the dough, place the dough in the refrigerator for 15 minutes before spreading out the dough to bake.

Thin cookies can also be caused by not using enough flour. Try adding a little bit more flour a tablespoon at a time.

Cookies browning but are not overbaked

When you purchase your ingredients to make the cookies, keep in mind that using dark brown sugar instead of light brown sugar can change the color of your cookie, so they may appear to be browning too quickly. If you choose to use corn syrup or molasses as your sweetener, you may notice that the cookies start browning before the cookie is baked through.

Also, it is possible that the oven is just running too hot. Reduce the temperature by 10 degrees. If you don’t notice a significant change, reduce the heat again.

Cookies are too cakey and very pale

The likely culprit of this blunder is too much flour. This can be tricky to fix, but adding a couple more tablespoons of butter just might save the dough.

OH NOOOOs

Have you ever gone shopping for all your ingredients then realize after you have returned home that you forgot something anyway?

Well, I do it all the time, so I have a list of adequate substitutions for just such an occasion. I wouldn’t recommend substituting every ingredient, but in a pinch, one will do. I mean, if you forgot everything, how bad could you want to make them anyway?

BUTTER substitutes cup for cup with margarine or shortening.

TABLE SALT can be replaced with 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt (you may also want to pulse it in the food processor a bit before adding it to your dough).

SUGAR can be swapped out for honey. 1 1/4 cup granulated sugar for 1 cup of honey plus 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda. (Also, reduce your oven temperature by 25 degrees to avoid burning.)

BROWN SUGAR Light or dark can be used in place of the other. If you don’t have either, you can make some by pulsing 1 cup granulated sugar and 4 tablespoons of molasses in a food processor.

EGGS can be replaced by using 2 eggs whites in place of 1 large egg. Or 1/4 cup of egg product per egg.

SEMI-SWEET CHOCOLATE can be substituted with any other type of chocolate, fruit, nuts, or chopped up candy bars of any variety. I’ve even used leftover cake pulsed in the food processor and mixed it with the cookie dough. I call them Cake Crumble Cookies. They are pretty good, too.

What’s your favorite cookie? Do you approve of using candy bar bits instead of chocolate chips? Let me know in the comments below. And don’t forget to like us on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mini Pavlova

This dessert is what I save for the most special occasions. I made these Mini Pavlova for Mother’s Day this year and I have to say, if you want to make an extraordinary dessert, This. Is. It. The delicious meringue literally melts in your mouth. It’s like little clouds of heaven topped with lemon curd, fresh fruit and whipped cream.

The first time I made this, I was very intimidated by the thought of the meringue. But it’s actually fairly easy to make and I’m going to share all the tips so you can look like a pro on your first try, too.

No Need To Share, There’s Enough For Everyone

I don’t recall where I got this recipe, but I remember that recipe serving suggestion was for one large meringue that would be cut into individual servings. I like the idea of the miniature Pavlova that can be customized for each guest’s taste at the dessert table.

Leftovers of a large Pavlova with all the toppings would need to be refrigerated. The cold temperature and the moisture from the lemon curd would affect the texture of the meringue.

Making individual meringues that can be stored in an air-tight container at room temperature preserves the structure of the meringue and can be kept up to a couple of weeks.

Berries, Citrus, Creams and Curds Galore

There are so many combination of fruits that can be used as a topping. I like the idea of setting out a whole buffet style dessert bar. There would be a wide variety of berries and citrus fruit along with stone fruits and tropical selections, too.

You can use the basics for making lemon curd and switch out the zest and juice of lemons with oranges or limes. Providing a variety of curds to mix and match with the various fruits. Not to mention the different variations of whipped cream that can concocted.

What Can’t You Do With Meringue?

A friend and I were recently discussing the endless possibilities of uses for the meringue shells. We came up with many options, but edible bowls for ice cream is something I am going to have to try soon. That would be fun. I once ran out of curd but had one lonely meringue left, so I used chocolate pudding and whipped cream. It was nowhere near as elegant as the Pavlova, but it was actually pretty tasty.

I’m thinking there must be some savory options that haven’t been explored yet as well.  Hmmm? Well, I’m starting to get sidetracked here. Back to the Pavlova.

Making The Meringue

Using room temperature eggs will give your meringue more volume. For the meringue, you will only use the egg whites. So, about 30 to 60 minutes before you are ready to start, separate your eggs. Reserve the yolk for the curd.

Beat the egg whites and add the ingredients as described in the instructions of the recipe. If you’re a multitasker in the kitchen, be sure that you are starting with a clean, dry bowl, beaters or whisk that are free of any fatty residue. Your eggs won’t stiffen if there is any residue remaining on your bowl or utensils.

This process can take about 20 minutes. The egg whites will eventually form stiff peaks. You’re almost done. Just take a pinch of the meringue and rub it between your fingers. It should feel silky and sticky. If it feels gritty from the sugar, beat for another minute or two.

Once the meringue is done, use care not to disturb the meringue too much as you could deflate the air you just beat into it. You should carefully spoon the meringue onto your parchment lined baking sheet and gently spread the mixture to create a bowl-like shell. I like to delicately transfer the meringue into a cake decorating bag and pipe the meringue into neat bowls. Whichever way you decide to get it to the oven, there are some more tips to consider while baking.

Baking Meringue DOs and DON’Ts

You DO want to bake at a low temperature…ideally 250 degrees. You’re basically drying out the stickiness of the meringue. But, meringue is delicate, so it needs to be done slowly. DON’T bake at a higher temperature to try to get it done quicker. It’s going to take as long as it’s going to take.

You DO want to keep the oven door closed while the meringue is baking. Your meringue will crack if there is a change in temperature. DON’T open the door every 5 minutes to check on them. They will need to bake for 60 minutes. If you peak through the window and see that they are starting to get brown, reduce the oven temperature by 15 or 20 degrees.

When they are done baking, DO turn off the oven. DO leave the meringues in the oven for at least an hour so they can continue to dry on the outside. DON’T remove them from the oven sooner, due to the above-mentioned change in temperature.

Pavlova

A delicate meringue dessert that will literally melt in your mouth. This is the best dessert for showcasing fresh fruit, curd and cream.

Course Dessert
Keyword Meringue
Prep Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Inactive time 1 hour 30 minutes
Total Time 3 hours
Servings 12
Author Lisa

Ingredients

For The Meringue

  • 6 extra large eggs (separated) room temperature whites for the meringue (reserve yolks for the curd)
  • 1/8 tsp cream of tartar
  • pinch salt
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 tsp lemon juice (from the curd ingredients)
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp cornstarch
  • various berries or other fruit as desired

For The Curd

  • 6 egg yolk (from the meringue)
  • 2 extra large eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon zest from approx. 5 lemons
  • 1/2 cup fresh freshly squeezed lemon juice from approx. 5 lemons
  • pinch salt
  • 8 tbsp butter diced into small cubes

For The Whipped Cream

  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 2 tbsp confectioner's sugar

Instructions

For The Meringue

  1. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Using a stand mixer, beat the room temperature egg whites, salt and cream of tartar on high speed (check your manufacturer's setting for aerating egg whites) until soft peaks form. The soft peaks can be made by pulling the beater out of the eggs whites.

  3. Continue beating on high speed. Gradually add the sugar 1 tbsp at a time. Stiff peaks will form and when the meringue no longer feels gritty, beat in the lemon juice and the vanilla.
    Pavlova meringue
  4. Gently fold the cornstarch into the meringue. Be careful not to mix the meringue as it could deflate the air that you just beat into it. 

  5. Spoon 6 mounds of meringue onto two large parchment lined baking sheets. Leaving a couple of inches space between each mound. Carefully spread the meringue and shape it into the form of a bowl. (Or gently transfer the meringue to a cake decorating bag and lightly pipe the meringue into a bowl shape.)

    Pavlova meringue shells
  6. Bake for 60 minutes. Turn off the oven and allow to cool down for another hour. Do not open the door during the baking or cooling process. Changes in temperature will crack your meringue. (During the baking and cool down process, proceed to the instructions for making the curd and whipped cream.)

    Pavlova baked shells
  7. Once the meringue has fully cooled, spread a spoonful of curd on top of the meringue.

    Pavlova assembly
  8. Spread fresh whipped cream over the lemon curd.

    Pavlova assembly2
  9. Top with fruit of your choice. I used raspberries, blackberries, mango, strawberries, and kiwi.

    Pavlova2

For The Curd

  1. In the bottom portion of a double boiler over medium heat, bring 1 or 2 inches of water to a low simmer. Reduce heat to medium/low.

    Curd ingredients
  2. In the top portion of the double boiler, add the egg yolks and the whole eggs. Gradually add the sugar a little at a time, whisking constantly to keep the mixture smooth. Add the lemon zest, lemon juice and salt.
  3. Continue whisking over medium/low heat for approximately 8 minutes. If the heat is too high or there is a long lapse in the whisking, you will end up with lemon flavored scrambled eggs. So, keep whisking until the mixture is thoroughly cooked and the sugar is dissolved.

  4. Remove from the heat. Add small amounts of the cubed butter pieces at a time. Continue whisking until the butter melts and is incorporated into the mixture.

  5. Strain the mixture into a medium bowl to remove any remaining solid zest pieces.

For The Whipped Cream

  1. Add the confectioner's sugar to a large bowl of a mixer. Add the heavy whipping cream and whip the cream for about 5 minutes or just until the cream forms stiff peaks.

Recipe Notes

Allow the egg whites to come to room temperature for at least 30 minutes to an hour prior to beating. This will help give the meringue more volume.

So, what do you think? Give it a try and let me know how you did in the comments below. Also, please like us on Facebook and Twitter. I’d love to hear more from you and see what you’re cooking.

 

Coffee Brownie Bites with Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Frosting

I bake a lot. Mostly cakes for friends’ and family birthdays or other special occasions, miscellaneous events and holidays. I’m a sucker for coffee, chocolate chip cookies and brownies. So, when I bake for myself, how am I supposed to decide between the three. Well, I found a way to incorporate all my favorite things with these Coffee Brownie Bites with Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Frosting.

Don’t Fear The Dough Though

No one openly admits to eating cookie dough with raw eggs and there seems to be a debate about raw flour nowadays, too. Although, I have sampled my cookie dough many times prior to baking (I have to make sure it tastes right, right?), I have never once died nor gotten sick from it. But, not to worry, this frosting doesn’t have any eggs or flour in it, so it is totally safe to eat.

Don’t make the same mistake I made once though. I added the chocolate chips to the frosting then decided I wanted to use a cake decorating tool. Those chips don’t fit through the opening of the decorating tips. So, instead, I added spoonfuls of the frosting sandwiched between two brownies, topped with coffee frosting, nuts and a drizzle of chocolate ganache.

brownie cakes with cookie dough frosting
brownie cakes with cookie dough frosting

Brownies – Cakey or Fudgy? What’s Your Pleasure?

As I said before, I love brownies. I’m not a fan of brownies that are too cakey, but I’m also not a fan of brownies that are too fudgy either. If I want something chocolate cakey, I will make a chocolate cake. Likewise, if I want something chocolate fudgy, I will make chocolate fudge. (Yes. Don’t worry. I have great recipes for those, too. I’ll share them another time.) So, how do we compromise on the perfect balance of textures for a brownie? I like them chewy, if you do, too, this is the recipe for you. These are chewy with just the right amount of cakey and fudgy textures.

A Decadent Dessert, A Decade In The Making

I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve made brownies. But, my quest started about 10 years ago. Each time I made them I was told they are perfect and don’t need any changes. I wasn’t convinced though. There was always room for improvement. They were either too cakey or too fudgy.

There are so many factors that can make or break your brownie. For instance, did you know that the order in which you add the ingredients can make a difference in how they turn out? I’ve never strayed from my original ingredients, but I have experimented with the order in which they are added so many times, I think I finally got it just right.

Also, the baking time plays a huge role in the texture. Experiment with what texture you like, but be sure to check the doneness often. You can always bake it for a few more minutes, but you can’t undo it if you bake them too long.

A Few Tips For A Perfect Brownie

Use a double boiler to melt your butter and chocolate. If you don’t have an actual “double boiler”, just use a medium pot with a smaller pot or heat resistant bowl nestled inside the larger bowl. (As you can see in the picture below…the smaller pot has a handle on either side, so it just hangs in the larger pot perfectly.) Be mindful to use just an inch or two of water in the pot and do not allow your inner pot or bowl to touch the water. Even though the name “double boiler” suggests boiling the water, in this case you just want to simmer the water.

Coffee Brownie Cookie Dough melted chocolate
Coffee Brownie Cookie Dough melted chocolate

Be careful not to let the steam escaping from the bottom pot to form any droplets of water that can drip into your chocolate. Even the smallest amount of water added to chocolate can actually seize the chocolate and will turn it into a big lumpy glob. (It is possible to rescue the chocolate by gradually adding warm milk or cream, but it’s best to avoid a potential kitchen fiasco altogether.)

Since we’re using butter in this recipe, I would suggest melting the butter first then adding a little chocolate at time while constantly whisking until the chocolate has melted and is well incorporated. This should help avoid the possibility of seizing. Also, be sure to keep the temperature low. Too high of heat will brown the butter and scorch the chocolate. Neither will taste good in your brownies.

Once you’ve melted the butter and chocolate then added the sugar, it is important to allow the mixture to cool for a few minutes before adding the eggs. You don’t want the eggs to start cooking before you put the batter in the oven. We’re making brownies, not chocolate scrambled eggs after all.

Once your batter is baking, it can be tricky to tell when it is done. Oven temperatures vary, so it’s best to not go strictly by the timing. You’ll need to text the doneness with a toothpick.

Obviously, if you check the batter and it’s still a jiggly in the middle, they’re not done. If it appears set in the middle and when you insert a toothpick it is gooey, they’re still not done. They’re done when you insert a toothpick and there are a few moist crumbs sticking to the toothpick. The brownies will continue baking as it cools, so you don’t need to worry about it being undercooked.

On the other end of the spectrum, if you insert the toothpick and it comes out completely clean, they are overdone. They’ll still be good as long as they’re not burnt, but they’ll just have a different texture.

Coffee Brownie Bites with Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Frosting

A dessert with various flavors. If you're just in the mood for a brownie without the other flavors, you can easily omit the coffee and the frosting and still have an excellent brownie.

Course Dessert
Keyword Brownie
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Total Time 1 hour
Servings 16
Author Lisa

Ingredients

For The Brownies

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 4 oz chocolate chips
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp instant coffee
  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • 2 extra large eggs
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder

For The Frosting

  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 3 cups confectioner's sugar
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • chocolate chips or sprinkles

Instructions

For The Brownies

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare an 8X8 inch baking pan by thoroughly greasing the pan, addling a sheet of parchment paper, then greasing the parchment paper. (This allows for the easy removal of the brownies from the pan.)

  2. Prepare the coffee by adding the instant coffee to a small bowl. Add the warm water and mix until the coffee has dissolved.

  3. In the bottom portion of a double boiler, bring about 1 to 2 inches of water to a low simmer over medium heat. Reduce heat to medium/low. In the top portion of the double boiler, add the butter and allow to melt.

  4. Gradually add the chocolate chips to the melted butter, a little at a time. Whisking constantly until the chocolate has completely melted and is fully incorporated with the butter.

    Coffee Brownie Cookie Dough melted chocolate
  5. Add the vanilla, salt and prepared coffee. Continue whisking until well blended.

  6. Add the sugar, a little at a time, until well blended. Remove from heat and allow to cool for 10 minutes.

  7. Mix the flour and cocoa powder. (The cocoa powder is basically just to retain the rich, chocolate appearance of the batter, otherwise the flour lightens the batter. I prefer a rich, dark, brownies, so I use dark chocolate cocoa powder.)

  8. Gradually add the flour mixture to the batter, a little at a time. Mixing just until the flour is incorporated. The batter should have a thick texture.

  9. Pour the batter into your prepared baking pan and spread evenly.

  10. Bake for 30-40 minutes. Starting at 30 minutes, test the center of the brownies with a toothpick. The toothpick should not be gooey, but if it is, let it bake for a few more minutes. If the toothpick test results in a moist toothpick with a few crumbs, they are ready.

    The brownies will finish baking as they are cooling down. This will yield a chewy brownie. Baking them too long, will result in a cakier brownie that may be a little hard. They'll still taste good, but the texture won't be quite right.

    Allow the brownies to cool completely before removing from the pan.

For The Frosting

  1. Cream together the butter and the brown sugar in large bowl of a mixer.

  2. Blend in the vanilla.

  3. Gradually add the confectioner's sugar, a little at a time.

  4. Occasionally check the texture of the frosting. If the frosting gets a little too thick add a teaspoon or two of milk.

  5. Once the brownies have cooled, cut into squares and add frosting as desired.

    Coffee Brownie Bites with Cookie Dough Frosting
  6. Top with chocolate chips or sprinkles.

 

Speaking of kitchen mishaps, I highly recommend the book “How To Break An Egg“. It’s from the editors, contributors and readers of “Fine Cooking Magazine”. It has 1,453 kitchen tips, food fixes, emergency substitutions and handy techniques. It is full of everything from how to carve a leg of lamb to measurement equivalents to caring for your pots. I use the emergency substitutions section the most, but the whole book is fantastic. It should be noted that I’m NOT being paid for this recommendation. But, I just truly have found this book to be the most used book in my kitchen.

What’s your biggest kitchen mishap? How did you remedy the situation? Tell me about it in the comments below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nacho Casserole – The Best Football Food

There’s nothing like a big plate of nachos while watching your favorite football team. I know! It’s super early to be thinking about football. I mean the draft is just barely over, so there’s still a few months to go until preseason. But, my team was just awful last year. So, I’m so stinking excited about one of my team’s draft picks for this season, I just can’t wait for the season to start.

Speaking of nachos, do you know what I like the most about nachos? You can load on all of your favorite ingredients. Anything goes. Among other things, I usually use my homemade taco seasoning with ground beef for these nachos (you can find that recipe here) but, there are no rules. You can substitute seasoned beef for seasoned chicken or pork or use barbecue sauce instead. I shared one of my favorite sauces here if you want to check it out.

Do you know what I don’t like about nachos, though? Soggy tortilla chips. They’re the worst. I always make a ton of nachos so there are enough leftovers for lunch the next day, but those pesky soggy chips ruin it for me every time.

Another thing that is almost as bad as soggy chips is when you a get a piping hot plate of nachos and you grab a tortilla and all you get is a plain tortilla with nothing on it. Such a bummer. It’s virtually impossible to get all the toppings on every chip. Until now.

I got tired of soggy and bare tortilla chips. I knew there had to be a way around these tribulations. Since I love a good casserole, I thought “why not make a nacho casserole?”. Well, I made it for family, friends and co-workers and everyone loved it. It is now a regular dinner item and it is standard football fare as well.

It’s a dish that can be easily put together. Sometimes I like to use my fresh homemade salsa instead of sautéed or steamed peppers and onions with tomatoes. But, for the purpose of sharing the easiest nachos ever made, I’ll wait to share the salsa recipe another time. (FYI, it’s an easy salsa recipe too, it just makes this dish a little more time consuming.) The point of this recipe being a quick snack or meal when you don’t want to miss a minute of the game.

My favorite tortilla chips are the kind with the scoop in it. They’re served on the side, so you can just take a chip then dig into the casserole without needing a fork. The best part is, that with every bite, you get a little bit of everything on one tortilla chip. You can’t do that very often with regular nachos.

nacho casserole bite
nacho casserole bite

Nacho Casserole

A quick and easy meal or snack with many variation possibilities.

Course Appetizer, Casserole, Dinner, Lunch, Snack
Keyword Nachos
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes
Servings 10
Author Lisa

Ingredients

  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 packet taco seasoning*
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 16 oz cans refried beans
  • 2 cups shredded Mexican blend cheese
  • 1 large green bell pepper diced
  • 1 medium onion diced & divided
  • 2-3 large tomatoes diced
  • 1 bag your favorite tortilla chips

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Dice the green bell pepper, onion and tomatoes. Divide the onion - 1/4 cup to add to the ground beef and the remainder for the topping.

  3. In a large skillet over medium/high heat, brown ground beef and add about 1/4 cup of diced onion (if desired). Drain the fat.

    nacho casserole ingredients2
  4. Reduce the heat to medium/low. Add 1 packet of taco seasoning or 2 tbsp of homemade taco seasoning to the ground beef. Thoroughly mix the taco seasoning until the meat is well coated. Add 1/2 cup of water, mix thoroughly and allow to simmer until the sauce has thickened a bit. You can use more or less water depending on how saucy you like the seasoned beef. 

    nacho casserole ingredients
  5. Place the green bell pepper and onion in a microwave safe bowl. Cover with water and microwave (approximately 3 minutes - depending on your microwave) until the vegetables are tender. This step is optional as you can just add the raw vegetables as the topping, but I prefer them cooked a bit. 

    nacho casserole bean layer
  6. Spread the refried beans in the bottom of a large casserole dish.

    nacho casserole bean layer 2
  7. Sprinkle 1/3 of the cheese over the refried beans.

    nacho casserole 1st cheese layer
  8. Spread the seasoned ground beef mixture over the cheese.

    nacho casserole seasoned beef layer
  9. Sprinkle another 1/3 of the cheese over the seasoned ground beef.

    nacho casserole 2nd cheese layer
  10. Drain the liquid from the peppers and onions then spread over the 2nd layer of cheese along with the tomatoes.

    nacho casserole veggie layer
  11. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the vegetables.

    nacho casserole 3rd cheese layer
  12. Bake, uncovered, for 15-20 minutes or until the cheese is melted and the sauce is bubbly.

    Baked nacho casserole

Recipe Notes

  • If you're feeling adventurous, make some homemade taco seasoning. You can find my recipe here.
nacho casserole serving suggestion 2
nacho casserole serving suggestion

I recently found a pulled pork nacho dish at a little restaurant not too far away from me. I’m looking forward to trying to duplicate that in my restaurant “Challenge“. Don’t forget some other classic toppings of sour cream, salsa, olives, jalapenos and guacamole for added flavor. What are your favorite toppings for nachos? Let me know in the comments below.