Kill Two Soups With One Bird

Aaahhh…Autumn is finally here. I love when the cooler weather arrives. I could eat soup every night. Creamy soups are among my favorite. Soups are easy enough to make to serve a cup as a course before dinner or hearty enough to serve a bowl as the main dish. Add some crusty bread or your favorite crackers with cheese and you’ve got comfort food for the cold days that will be arriving soon.

I’m very frugal and don’t like to waste food when I don’t have to. One of my favorite cheats, when I don’t feel like cooking, is to buy a rotisserie chicken from the supermarket. We’ll have it for dinner with potato or macaroni salad and some sliced tomatoes or cucumbers; then I can usually carve off enough chicken to make chicken salad for lunch, too. That’s two super easy meals for busy days.

Next, not wanting to waste perfectly good bones, I’ll make a pot of chicken stock. There will be enough stock for a large batch of one kind of soup or two smaller batches. I prefer to make two kinds to have a variety throughout the week.

Mirepoix

A base for a good soup starts with mirepoix (pronounced meer-pwa). Mirepoix is basically a combination of aromatics, such as onions, celery, and carrots. It can be made by sautéing the vegetables in butter or olive oil or can be added raw to the other ingredients for your stock.

Frugal tip: Instead of composting or throwing away the ends of celery, onions, leeks, carrots, peppers or virtually any of your vegetables, try storing them in a bag in the freezer. Then you can just add them to your other ingredients when making stock.

Today I’m making two soups from one bird. First will be a basic chicken noodle soup. This soup turns out differently each time I make it due to the various vegetables and seasonings used in the stock. This recipe is just here as a guide. You can add whatever kind of vegetables you have and use your favorite seasonings or pasta shapes.

Flavor tip: Even after simmering your stock for hours, sometimes it may not be as flavorful as you would like. If your stock doesn’t seem to have much flavor, add a teaspoon of chicken bouillon. Add a little at a time until you get the flavor you want.

The second soup is a Sausage and Potato Soup. I originally wanted to make a creamy potato and leek soup. Traditionally, that type of soup is usually pureed. But, I was in the mood for a heartier soup with lots of chunks. Of course, I didn’t have to puree the soup, there are no rules that say it has to be pureed. After making the potato and leek soup, I thought it looked and tasted a little boring, so I decided to add some sausage, chicken and kale. Now we’re talking. This soup has all the chunks and pizzazz I was looking for.

Chicken Noodle Soup

A basic starter recipe for beginners. This easy soup recipe can be modified to make a variety of other soups.

Course Lunch, Main Course, Soup
Cuisine American
Keyword chicken, mirepoix, soup
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 3 hours
Total Time 3 hours 5 minutes
Servings 6 bowls
Author Lisa York

Ingredients

  • 1 chicken carcass
  • 1 cups onion diced
  • 1/2 cup celery diced
  • 1/2 cup carrots diced
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp poultry seasoning
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 cup Stelline pasta or other small shaped pasta
  • 2 cups frozen mixed vegetables
  • water to cover all ingredients in pot

Instructions

  1. In a 5 quart pot, place the chicken carcass, onion, celery, carrots, and seasonings (see recipe note #1). Fill the pot about 2 inches from the top with water.

  2. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 3 hours. Periodically, check to make sure your liquid isn't boiling away.

  3. Strain the stock and set aside the chicken carcass to cool. (See Note # 2)

  4. Reserve 6 cups of stock for the Creamy Potato and Sausage Soup.

  5. Clean the chicken from the bones, chop to bite-sized pieces (reserve 1 cup for the Creamy Potato and Sausage Soup) and set aside. Discard the bones.

  6. Bring the remaining stock to a boil, add the pasta and frozen vegetables. Return to a boil, reduce heat and allow to simmer until pasta and vegetables are tender. Add the chicken.

Recipe Notes

Note #1 – Frugal tip: Instead of composting or throwing away the ends of celery, onions, leeks, carrots, peppers or virtually any of your vegetables, try storing them in a bag in the freezer. Then you can just add them to your other ingredients when making stock and save your fresh ingredients to add to the soup. 

Note #2 – Flavor tip: Even after simmering your stock for hours, sometimes it may not be as flavorful as you would like. If your stock doesn’t seem to have much flavor, add a teaspoon of chicken bouillon. Add a little at a time until you get the flavor you want.

 

Creamy Potato and Sausage Soup

This hearty soup is full of potatoes, leek, sausage, chicken and kale.

Course Appetizer, Dinner, Lunch
Cuisine American
Keyword chicken, kale, leek, potatoes, sausage, soup
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Total Time 1 hour
Servings 8 bowls
Author Lisa York

Ingredients

  • 6 cups stock reserved from Chicken Noodle Recipe
  • 3 cups milk
  • 5 medium potatoes peeled and diced
  • 2 cups leek cleaned and sliced
  • 1/2 cup onion diced
  • 5 sausage links (I used mild, but any variety will work)
  • 12 tbsp butter divided
  • 3 – 4 tbsp olive oil divided
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 2 cups kale (optional) remove stems from leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 cup chicken reserved from Chicken Noodle Recipe

Instructions

  1. Peel and dice the potatoes into bite-sized pieces.

  2. Set potatoes aside.

  3. Dice the onion and set aside with the potatoes.

  4. Prepare the sausage for removal of the casings by slicing each link lengthwise.

  5. Pull the casing off of the sausage. Set the sausage aside.

  6. If using kale, remove the tough stems and just use the leaves then chop into smaller pieces. (You can use the stems, but they would need to cook much longer to be edible.)

  7. Clean the leek. Remove and discard the long leaves and root (or freeze for future stock). Slice the remaining leek into long, thin strips or rings. Rinse thoroughly to remove any residual dirt. Dry on a clean towel or paper towels and pat dry. Set aside.

  8. Prepare a skillet over medium high heat to melt 4 tbsp butter with 2 tbsp olive oil.

  9. Add the potatoes to the skillet then stir until thoroughly coated.

  10. Add the onions, salt and pepper to the potatoes Stir and reduce heat to medium low.

  11. Stir the potatoes occasionally until they are browned and tender.

  12. In another skillet, over medium heat, add 2 tbsp of butter and a drizzle of olive oil. Add the leek and garlic then saute until the leek is tender. (5-10 minutes) Then set aside.

  13. Over medium high heat, crumble the sausage into bite-sized pieces.

  14. Stirring frequently, cook the sausage until thoroughly cooked through then drain and set aside.

  15. If using kale, reserve a couple teaspoons of the sausage fat and olive oil to saute the kale. This adds a little extra flavor to the kale. Saute kale until tender.

  16. In a 5 quart pot, make a roux by melting 4 tbsp butter and constantly whisking in a little flour at a time until you've added all of the 1/2 cup. Roux will be very thick.

  17. Gradually add the milk, whisking constantly. Gradually add the stock. Continue to whisk constantly.

  18. Finally, add the cooked potatoes, sausage, leek, kale, and chicken. Simmer until all ingredients are warm and broth has thickened.

Broth vs. Stock

Broth and stock can be used in place of each other in most recipes. Broth doesn’t need to cook as long as stock. Broth is a liquid made from meat and/or vegetables simmered for a short period of time.

Stock, however, is made using bones. In order to extract the gelatin from the bones, it will need to simmer for a longer period of time. You should simmer for at least three hours, but the longer the better.

As mentioned above, mirepoix will give your stock or broth a boost of flavor. But, adding seasonings will help as well. Try experimenting with fennel, garlic, and parsley, too.

What is your favorite soup? Tell me in the comments below.

Super Bowl Ring

It’s finally Super Bowl time! I grew up in New Jersey and have always been a die hard Giants fan. I still am. But now that I live in Maine, I cheer for the Patriots when the Giants aren’t in it. I wasn’t very popular at a few Super Bowl parties being in New England territory now. But, I always redeemed myself by bringing food.

My team didn’t make it this year though. Actually, they didn’t even make the playoffs. But, I’m still looking forward to celebrating the big game. This year I’m making this cheesesteak sandwich Super Bowl Ring along with some of my other favorite football fare.

I’m not gonna cry my eyes out over it!

One of the things I like most about this sandwich is the caramelized onions. I don’t care much for raw onions on a sandwich, so I don’t mind the time it takes for these onions to cook. It takes about 30 minutes for them to develop a rich, sweet flavor that works well with the meat, cheese, garlic and other veggies.

Also, you can never go wrong with two cheeses. I used American and provolone. Three cheeses might be better yet and I contemplated using mozzarella, too. But, I wanted to be able to hold this sandwich without too much cheese oozing out of it. Ordinarily oozing cheese would be a plus, but in this case I used a little self-restraint.

My rules for football food are really very simple. It has to be comfort food and relatively easy to make. You also have to be able to dip it, scoop it, or hold it with one hand. You need to have a free hand for your beer or other beverage, right?

Super Bowl Ring cheesesteak section
Super Bowl Ring cheesesteak section

This cheesesteak sandwich ring is very easy to make. I’ve included step- by-step instructions with pictures, too.

Super Bowl Ring Cheesesteak Sandwich

This easy cheesesteak sandwich is made with premade crescent roll dough, store bought steak sandwich slices, caramelized onions, tomatoes and two cheeses. Provide pickles, peppers, lettuce or other toppings as a garnish along with ketchup or other preferred condiment for a variation of the traditional cheesesteak hoagie.

Course Sandwich
Cuisine American
Keyword cheesesteak
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Total Time 1 hour 20 minutes
Servings 8
Author Lisa York

Ingredients

  • 16 frozen steak sandwich slices
  • 1 8 oz package prepared crescent rolls
  • 1 large tomato diced
  • 1 large onion sliced
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • pinch oregano optional
  • lettuce garnish
  • pickles garnish
  • ketchup optional
  • 1 egg beaten
  • 1 tsp water
  • pinch sea salt for sprinkling on top

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F

    Prepare the seasoning mixture by combining the salt, pepper, and garlic powder in a small bowl. 

    Dice a large tomato then sprinkle a pinch of the seasoning mixture and a pinch of oregano, if desired.

  2. In a medium frying pan over medium heat, melt butter and add extra virgin olive oil.

    Super Bowl Ring oil and butter for carmelized onions
  3. Slice the onions then add to the butter and oil then stir until they are well coated. Cook the onions, stirring occasionally so they start to brown all over for approximately 30 minutes. Add a pinch of the seasoning mixture, if desired.

    Super Bowl Ring onions
  4. Cook the sandwich steaks according to package instructions. Sprinkle a pinch of the seasoning mixture if desired. When the steak slices are fully cooked, move them to a paper towel to absorb the grease.  Allow to cool before assembling the sandwich. (If you place the hot slices on the cold dough, the dough will get gooey and won’t cook correctly.)

    Super Bowl Ring fry the steaks
  5. Line a round baking pan or pizza pan with parchment.

    Super Bowl Ring line pan with parchment
  6. Determine the size of the hole in the center by placing the bowl or small plate you will use to serve additional toppings or sauces.

    Super Bowl Ring sizing of the ring
  7. Lay out the crescent roll triangles in a circle around the plate with the pointy tip of the triangle point outwards. Slightly overlap the wider edges of the dough and press the dough to seal the pieces together.

    Super Bowl Ring place dough in a circle
  8. Lay a cooled, cooked slice of sandwich steak lengthwise over each triangle shaped piece of dough.  

    Super Bowl Ring 1st layer of sandwich steak
  9. Add a slice of provolone to each section.

    Super Bowl Ring provolone layer
  10. Add approximate 1 tbsp of diced tomato to each section.

    Super Bowl Ring diced tomato layer
  11. Add caramelized onions to each section.

    Super Bowl Ring caramelized onion layer
  12. Add another sandwich steak slice.

    Super Bowl Ring 2nd layer of sandwich steak
  13. Top each section with a slice of American cheese.

    Super Bowl Ring American cheese layer
  14. Fold the pointy end of the dough over each section and tuck the tip under the wider end of the dough. 

    Super Bowl Ring wrap the dough
  15. Add 1 tsp of water to an egg and beat until well blended. Using a pastry brush, coat the dough on the top and sides of the ring sandwich. Sprinkle with a pinch of sea salt. 

    Super Bowl Ring brush dough with egg wash
  16. Bake for approximately 15 minutes or until the dough is golden brown and the cheese is melty. 

  17. While the sandwich is baking, line a serving tray with parchment paper. Lay lettuce leaves around the outer edge of the tray. 

    Super Bowl Ring line lettuce leaves around edge of tray
  18. When the sandwich is done baking, allow to cool for a few minutes then carefully transfer the sandwich to the serving tray. (If you can’t pick up the whole sandwich intact, transfer individual sections and arrange them in a circle on the tray.) Add  bowl of pickles and ketchup in the center hole and garnish the lettuce with the remaining tomatoes, if any. 

    Super Bowl Ring transfer ring to tray

This is sure to be the first thing people go for on the buffet table. Depending on how hungry your crowd is, you may want to make two. What are your favorite football foods? Let me know in the comments below and enjoy the game. I hope your team wins!

Cardamom Buns

I grew up in a household with a Swedish mother and Swedish grandmother. These Cardamom Buns were a treat they frequently served with coffee or tea. They’re not the gooey type of buns with frosting found in those franchises at the mall. Although, there is a time and place for those as well, today we’re making Cardamom Buns or what my family always called “Mormor’s Buns”.

Cardamom Buns and saffron bread
Cardamom Buns amd saffron bread 2

Keeping It In The Family

Mormor is Swedish for my mother’s mother. I like the Swedish names for grandparents.. There are different names for each of the grandparents. In the US your mother’s mother and your father’s mother are both called grandmother which doesn’t distinguish whether it’s maternal or paternal. So, you have to clarify when needed. My mother’s father in Swedish is Morfar. If my father was Swedish, his parents would be Farmor (grandmother) and Farfar (grandfather)

I have a few regrets since the passing of my mormor many years ago and the recent passing of my mother. I wish I learned more of their native language and I wish I made sure I had all of our favorite recipes preserved. After my mormor’s passing, my mother and I spent a couple years trying to figure out her recipes. Some of the recipes were just a matter of converting metric to US measurements. Some, however, were a bit more complicated.

These Aren’t Your Grandmother’s Synonym Buns…or rolls or pastry or danish.

My mormor had a favorite handmade teacup that she used for measuring. She also sipped her tea or other beverages out of it when she wasn’t baking. It held just the right amount of flour or sugar or whatever other ingredient she needed. But, it did not measure out equal to a standard US measuring cup. And, as far as we know, it wasn’t a standard metric measurement either. So, when her recipe called for a cup of flour or whatnot, it was a guessing game as to whether it was her tea”cup” or a standard cup.

We finally figured out most of the recipes. A few still need some tweaking. And some my mom knew how to make, but didn’t have a written recipe. I didn’t learn from my mistake after mormor’s passing and just assumed that my mother had the remaining recipes in her recipe book. I quickly realized that many of the things my mom made were from memory and didn’t rely on a recipe. Even though I watched my mom and my mormor make these buns often enough, I didn’t have it memorized. After several attempts, I think I finally got them right though. I hope you enjoy them.

Just A Small Piece of Advice In The New Year

Food plays a big role in many families and their traditions. So, while you try out this recipe, spend time with your family, make sure you have your treasured recipes clearly written down so that you can help keep your traditions alive. You’ll get to spend some fun quality time with those you love now while making sure you’ll be able to share memories with other loved ones later.

Cardamom Buns

A delicious cardomom and cinnamon pastry topped with pearl sugar and chopped almonds. Serves perfectly with coffee or tea. For breakfast or just a treat.

Course Pastry
Cuisine Swedish
Keyword cardamom
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 8 minutes
Inactive time 1 hour
Total Time 38 minutes
Servings 32
Author Lisa York

Ingredients

For The Dough

  • 6 cups flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 1/2 cups butter melted
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp cardamom
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 1/4 oz packets of yeast

For The Filling

  • 1/2 cup butter room temperature
  • 4 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon
  • 3 tsp cardamom
  • 3 medium apples peeled, cored and diced
  • 1/2 cup raisins

For The Topping

  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup pearl sugar
  • 1/4 cup chopped almonds optional

Instructions

For The Dough

  1. In a small pan over medium heat, melt the 3 sticks of butter.

    Cardamom Buns melted butter
  2. When the butter is completely melted, add the milk then remove from the heat. Use care to not allow the temperature of the liquid to get too hot. 

    Cardamom Buns melted butter with milk
  3. Add the sugar and cardamom to the butter and milk mixture. Stir until well-blended.

    Cardamom Buns butter and milk well blended
  4. Add the packets of yeast to a large mixing bowl. Test the temperature of the milk and butter mixture to ensure the temperature is not over 130F. Liquid that is too hot can kill the yeast. Ideal temperature of the liquid should be between 120-130F. (If the temperature is too warm, allow it to cool a bit prior to adding it to the yeast.)  Pour the warm liquid over the yeast.

    Cardamom Buns add butter and milk to yeast
  5. Add the salt, then gradually add the flour, about 1/2 cup at a time until you’ve added about 4 1/2 – 5 cups. The dough will still be considerably sticky, but should have some elasticity. That is okay. We’ll incorporate the rest of the flour when we’re kneading it later. 

  6. Leave the dough in the bowl and set in a warm location to rise for approximately 30 minutes or until is has almost doubled in size.

  7. Adding a towel to cover the bowl will help prevent the dough from drying out. 

  8. While waiting for the dough to rise, prepare the filling and topping as described in the directions at the end of the recipe..

  9. Once the dough has risen, generously flour your work surface.

  10. Turn your dough out of the bowl onto your floured work surface. Kneading the dough, incorporate the remaining flour. (Note: you may not need all of the remaining flour. Just add enough flour until it is no longer sticky.) Divide the dough into two equal sections.

  11. Roll out one section of dough into a rectangle leaving the dough approximately 1/3″ thick. (Roughly a rectangle approximately 13 inches by 20 inches.)

  12. Spread a few tablespoons of the room temperature butter over the surface of the dough then sprinkle half of the cardamom mixture over the butter.

  13. Next, sprinkle half of the raisins.

  14. Then, half of the apples (after draining off the liquid).

  15. Roll the sheet of dough into a log shape. Cut the log into 16 equal sections. Place each piece on a greased baking pan or pan line with parchment paper. I like to use paper or foil baking cups. 

  16. Set aside and cover in a warm location to rise again for approximately 15-20 minutes. Repeat the process with the other section of dough.

  17. Preheat oven to 425 F.

  18. Once the buns have risen again, brush the tops of each bun with the egg then sprinkle the pearl sugar and almond mixture. 

  19. Bake at 425 F for 8-10 minutes or until brown.

For The Filling

  1. Peel, core then dice the apples.

  2. Set the apples aside in a bowl. Cover the apples with water and a splash of lemon juice to keep them from turning brown. 

  3. Mix together the sugar, cinnamon and cardamom.

For The Topping

  1. Beat one egg.

  2. Chop the almonds, if desired.

  3. Mix the almonds with the pearl sugar.

Do you have any recipes that were lost with a loved one? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below. Also, please follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram so you don’t miss other great recipes.

Beef Stew Comfort Food For A Gloomy Day

Happy New Year. Welcome to 2019. The first day of a new year. A time for a fresh start. Beef Stew is on the menu today. Some of my readers have noticed that I haven’t been posting much lately. As you may recall, my mother was quite ill over the summer. I’m sad to report that she passed away just before Christmas. So, I thought I’d like to honor her memory and share some of my favorite dishes that she made. I awoke to snow, rain and wind this morning. It’s an overall gloomy, humdrum of a day, so it’s a perfect day for one of my favorite comfort foods.

Mother like Daughter…not exactly

My mother made the most excellent beef stew and her gravy was always perfect. It was never lumpy and always had the ideal consistency. I’ve never quite mastered gravy. It’s usually too thick or more likely, too thin because I’m afraid of the gravy becoming too thick, so I undercompensate with the flour or corn starch.

One thing I never quite understood was why she cooked all the components of the stew separately and then mixed them together. It always seemed like a lot of extra work and a lot more pots and pans to wash. Since I’ve been attempting to duplicate her stew, I’ve tried various methods. I’m not a fan of cooking in the crock pot, but in the case of stew, it does seem rather obvious that would be the easiest process.

Trials and errors…many errors

I’ve attempted to just throw all the ingredients in the crock pot, but after 8 hours the potatoes and carrots weren’t fully cooked. Plus, I didn’t like the texture of the beef…it was still quite tough. And the gravy was way too thin.

On the second attempt, I seared the beef before adding the meat to the crock pot and upped the slow cooking time to 12 hours. To my dismay, the carrots and potatoes still were undercooked. However, the meat was much more tender and we’re on our way to a win on the gravy.

Well, I was determined, and on my third try, I started it the night before and let the crock pot go for 16 hours. Finally, it turned out pretty good, but I came to realization that it is really quite ridiculous to cook anything for 16 hours. 16 hours…No wonder my mom didn’t like using the crock pot. I eventually chalked it up to the crock pot not working at its peak performance and thought I would buy a new one before I experimented again.

Some Christmas Wishes Do Come True

I have a very generous friend who always gives the best gifts. She is thoughtful and apparently remembers everything you tell her. One day I mentioned in passing about my 16 hour beef stew and we had a little laugh over it. Well, wouldn’t you know, she got me a crock pot for Christmas. It really made my day and my next experiment of beef stew only took 5 hours in the crock pot.

I may be starting to warm up to the idea of experimenting with other recipes in the crock pot. Stay tuned.

Beef Stew

This comfort food has onions, celery, carrots, potatoes, stew beef and gravy. Chop the vegetables to your desired size. The smaller the chop of celery and onions, the more likely they’ll cook away. If you like a heartier stew, leave the pieces large. Either way, they’ll add a wonderful flavor to your stew.

Course Dinner
Keyword Stew
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 5 hours
Cooling time 1 hour
Total Time 5 hours 20 minutes
Servings 8
Author Lisa York

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds stew beef
  • 1 tbsp kosher salt
  • 2 tsp black pepper
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 medium onion chopped to desired size
  • 1 cup celery chopped to desired size
  • 1 pound baby carrots
  • 5 large potatoes chopped to bite size pieces
  • 8 cups beef broth
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce

Instructions

  1. Season the stew beef with salt, pepper and garlic powder.

    Beef Stew seasoned beef
  2. Chop the onion to desired size and layer on the bottom of the crock pot. (The order of the vegetables doesn’t really matter, but the vegetables should be at the bottom and the meat should be on top.) 

    Beef Stew onions
  3. Chop the celery to desired size and layer over the onions.

    Beef Stew celery
  4. Add the baby carrots.

    Beef Stew carrots
  5. Chop the potatoes to bite size pieces and add a layer to cover the carrots. You may need more than 5 potatoes depending on size.

    Beef Stew potatoes
  6. In a skillet, over high heat, melt the better and add the olive oil.

    Beef Stew prepared pan with oil and butter
  7. Add small amounts of the stew beef to the hot skillet, turn the pieces to sear each side. Be careful not to overcrowd the pan with the beef otherwise you’ll steam the beef instead of sear it. Searing the beef will lock in the juices and help the meat become tender during the slow cooking process.

    Beef Stew searing beef
  8. Remove the seared beef from the pan and set aside.

    Beef Stew seared beef
  9. Add a cup of the beef broth to the skillet to deglaze the juices and random pieces of beef from the pan. Pour the juices and broth over the vegetables in the crock pot.

    Beef Stew deglaze pan and add to crock pot
  10. Add one cup of flour to the seared stew beef.

    Beef Stew added flour to beef
  11. Stir the beef until each piece is well-coated with flour. The flour will thicken the broth while it cooks. 

    Beef Stew beef coated with flour
  12. Add the flour-coated beef to the crock pot. 

    Beef Stew beef coated with flour added to crock pot
  13. Add the remaining beef broth to the crock pot.

    Beef Stew added beef broth
  14. Be sure to cover all the ingredients in the crock pot. Add the Worcestershire sauce and bay leaves. Resist the urge to stir the pot. It’s best to keep the vegetables at the bottom of the crock pot where it will be the hottest.

    Beef Stew added beef broth to cover all ingredients
  15. Cook on high for 5 hours or low for 8 hours . Turn off approximately 1 hour prior to serving. The stew will remain hot, but the gravy will continue to thicken. Stir prior to serving. (Cooking times may vary depending on manufacturer make and model.) 

    Beef Stew cook on high

What’s your favorite kitchen gadget or appliance that you got for Christmas? Tell me in the comments below and don’t forget to follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest by clicking on the links provided.

Double-Sided Caucus Sugar Cookies

Halloween fun time is over for another year. Thanksgiving is still a few weeks away, so in meantime we can celebrate Election Day. As we do our civic duty to shape the country, the state or local government, I’ll show you how to make these fun-shaped Caucus Sugar Cookies for your election night results viewing parties. Does everyone do that with their friends? Or is it just me?

These fun-shaped sugar cookies are double the fun, because they are double sided. One side has your favorite political party. The other side has your state or the United States. Fun, right? Is it still just me? Well, these cookies get my vote, I hope they’ll get your vote, too. 

They’re made by layering pieces of dough. The bottom layer will be of plain dough, with a shape cut out. Then you insert the same shape that has been cut out from another piece of dough of the desired color. Then repeat with the top layer. Then lightly press around the surface of the cookie to make sure the pieces stick together. Be careful not to press too hard, so you don’t alter the shapes.

TIPS FOR A MORE PERFECT UNION

These cookies take patience and involves quite a bit of inactive time. This particular sugar cookie dough rolls out easier at room temperature, but it is best to work cutting out the shapes and layering the dough while it is very cold. Likewise, baking the cookies while very cold gives the cookies a perfect flaky, yet chewy texture with slightly crisp edges. So, once you’ve assembled the cookies, they’ll need to go back into the fridge. 30 minutes to one hour between steps should do the trick.

It’s more efficient to roll out the dough into a square to optimize the amount of shapes you can cut out of each piece of dough. I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time making the dough into a square. So, a little trick I use is to make a lightly indented cross in the dough with the rolling pin. Then starting diagonally, from the center, roll out towards the corner. Then repeat for all four corners. Apply light pressure, spread the dough further with each roll of the pin. 

mark the dough with a cross
mark the dough with a cross

I like to roll out the dough between two sheets of wax paper. This trick keeps the dough and food coloring from sticking to your work surface and rolling pin. It’s also easier to stack and store your various dough colors until you’re ready for them. Especially if you’re limited on work and storage space, as I am.

Once you’ve cut out the shapes, you’ll have quite a bit of scraps. Just gather up the scraps of like colors, knead the dough, roll it back out, cut more shapes then make more cookies. Just make sure you flip the cookie cutter or dough so the shapes are facing the right way on each side of the cookie. Then, when you’re down to the last of your dough, just cut out the shapes and bake them 

This process works well for any shaped cookies you want to do. Just be sure to measure out your pieces of dough big enough to fit your largest cookie cutter. Since you’ll be layering the pieces, you’ll want all the pieces the same size. Otherwise you get an imperfect pattern on your cookie.

When layering the pieces of dough, be sure to match up the shape rather than the full pieces of dough. You’ll trim the excess dough and neaten up the edges once they’re lined up, so you need not worry about the pieces being even. Be careful when trimming the edges paying close attention to the bottom shape. If the state is on the bottom, you don’t want to inadvertently secede part of the state to the scrap pile. 

sugar cookie assembly line up the shapes
sugar cookie assembly line up the shapes
sugar cookie assembly flip side of cookie
sugar cookie assembly flip side of cookie

As you can see, the donkey cookie cutter is about twice the size of the others, so there will be some very large cookies in the batch. Maybe the lucky individual who gets this big cookie can share half of the cookie with someone who doesn’t have a cookie.

 

Sample of double sided sugar cookies

Double Sided Caucus Sugar Cookies

These cookies are easy to make, can be made ahead of time and frozen or baked fresh the same day. The layering of the dough gives you a cookie with a shape on each side. 

Course Dessert
Keyword Cookies
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 10 minutes
Inactive time 1 hour
Total Time 1 hour 10 minutes
Author Lisa York

Ingredients

  • 5 cups flour divided
  • 3 3/4 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups butter softened to room temp
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp almond extract or other desired flavor
  • food coloring desired colors
  • sprinkles for decorating if desired

Instructions

  1. In a large bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter, add the extracts, then add the eggs on at a time.

  2. On low speed, gradually add the confectioner’s sugar. Keep on low speed until all the sugar is added so you don’t get a cloud of sugary powder all over your kitchen. Then increase the speed until the sugar is fully incorporated.

    sugar cookie dough
  3. Reduce to low speed and add the salt then gradually add the flour (for the same reason noted above) until the dough starts to form. You may not need all 5 cups of the flour. The dough should be firm enough to form into a ball without crumbling, yet shouldn’t be so sticky that it sticks to your hand. I prefer to hand mix the flour after adding about 3 cups of the flour so I can get a feel for the texture of the dough. Empty the bowl of dough onto a clean, dry, lightly floured work space. Gradually add more flour by kneading the dough, until the dough is a texture that can be formed (like Play Doh). Reserve remaining flour to sprinkle onto the dough as needed while rolling and assembling the cookies. (I usually have a little flour left over when done.)

    sugar cookie dough texture
  4. Form the dough into a ball. Divide the dough into portions as determined by how many colors you’ll be using. For this project, you’ll need more plain dough than the colored dough.

    sugar cookie dough divided
  5. Form one section of dough into a ball and poke an indentation into the dough. Then add the food coloring. (I prefer the gel food coloring.) Adding just a little goes a long way. Be careful not to add too much. You can always add a little more if it’s not enough, but can’t remove it if it’s too much. 

    sugar cookie dough adding food coloring
  6. Knead the dough until the food coloring is well incorporated. Then place between two sheets of wax paper. Roll out into a thin layer (approximately 1/8 of an inch). The layer should be thinner than a usual cut out cookie dough since we’ll be layering the dough. Refrigerate the dough until needed. Since the dough is so thin, it is much easier to handle if it is very cold.

    green sugar cookie dough
  7. Repeat this process with each color of dough and the plain dough. Remember to refrigerate each section of dough for at least 30 minutes once it is rolled out.

    sugar cookie dough rolled thin
  8. IF YOU’RE MAKING A LOT OF THE SAME SHAPE COOKIE: When the dough is cold enough to handle without it being limp, remove the top layer of wax paper. Cut out your first desired shape. Leaving at least one inch between your shapes so you’ll have enough dough to cut out the square pieces later. Add the cut out shape to a “scrap” pile to roll out later. 

    sugar cookie dough with shapes cut out
  9. IF YOU’RE MAKING A VARIETY OF SHAPES: Cut your refrigerated dough into square or rectangle pieces large enough to fit your largest cookie cutter. Then cut the desired shape out of each piece. 

    sugar cookie dough squares 2
  10. Cut the same shape of the desired colored dough then insert the shape into the whole cut out of the plain dough. If the dough doesn’t fit exactly, you can easily press the dough into the shape or stretch it to fit. Hint: If you are making a lot of a particular cookie, you can layer the sheet of the plain dough (with the shapes already cut out) over a layer of the desired colored dough. 

  11. Repeat this process with your desired flip side of the cookie shapes. Cut your dough into squares around your filled in shapes. Remember to flip the dough so your shape is facing the right way after assembling the cookie.  (Note: In this picture, the top side of the cookie is the elephant and the bottom of the cookie is the State of Maine. So in order for the State of Maine to be facing the correct way after assembly, it needs to be facing backwards in this step.)

    sugar cookie assembly
  12. Line up the shape in piece of dough that will be the top of the cookie over the shape of the bottom piece of dough. Some of the plain dough may be hanging over, but that will get trimmed in the next step. It’s important that the shapes be lined up so that portions of the shapes don’t get trimmed off.

    sugar cookie assembly line up the shapes
  13. Trim the uneven edges of the cookie paying close attention to the bottom cookie so that you don’t accidently cut off part of the state. Lightly press the two pieces together so they stick together without applying too much pressure to change the shapes.

    sugar cookie trim the edges 2
  14. Trim the corners of the cookie if you want a more round-ish cookie. Or you can leave them square if you prefer. Don’t worry if the shape has a flaw in the dough, it will bake out. But if you find you have a hole in the shape, you can lightly pack a small piece of the same color dough to fix it. 

    sugar cookie assembly rounded edges 2
  15. If they are assembled and trimmed correctly, you’ll have a double-sided cookie with a different shape visible on each side. Gather up any scraps of the same color, roll it out then make more cookies. Repeat until you’ve used up all the dough. If you don’t have enough dough remaining to do the double sided cookies, just make single shape cut outs until you use up all the dough.

    sugar cookie assembly flip side of cookie
  16. Refrigerate the assembled cookies for at least 30 minutes. 

  17. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line your cookie sheets with parchment paper. 

  18. When laying out the assembled cookies in preparation for baking, decide ahead of time which cookie you want to look prettier. The bottom side will have baked markings, but your shape will hold during the process.

  19. Leave the assembled cookies in the fridge until they are ready to go in the oven.
  20. Bake 5-12 minutes. 5 minutes for a single cut out cookie. 5-10 for medium sized (3 or 4 inch) double sided cookies. 10-12 minutes for the large double sided cookies (5 inches or larger). It’s best to keep an eye on them starting at 5 minutes. When the edges are slightly golden brown but the center still looks a little soft, they are done. 

    baked sugar cookies 2

How do you spend Election Day? Do you think you’ll try these for cookies for Election Day or another occasion? Let me know in the comments below. For more fun recipes, don’t forget to follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

Caramel Apple Brownie Crisps

How do you like them apples?

Everywhere I look this time of year is pumpkin-spice-this and pumpkin-spice-that. Although I am a sucker for the delicious seasonal trend, I must admit that I am a bigger fan of everything apple. Apple pie, baked apples, apple crisp, caramel apples, apple stuffing and pork chops. These Caramel Apple Brownie Crisps, however, are a perfect pairing of chocolate, caramel and apples and will surely be a hit at any Autumnal event. 

I may have mentioned a time or two before that I love brownies and cookies. This recipe is like a combination cookie and brownie. It’s the best of both of the baked confections worlds. It’s crispy, yet soft and chewy, and depending on whether or not you like toppings, there are many possibilities. You can eat them without a topping, but with so many options, why would you? The crisps go great with a ganache, peanut butter frosting, icing, or glazes. 

This Treat Does the Trick Everytime

This caramel apple sauce topping, by the way, is excellent on cheesecake or vanilla ice cream, too. I love this caramel apple sauce so much, I could eat it by the spoonful. I won’t do that though. Because I’m a grown up and need to exercise a little self control. Besides, today, it’s going on the brownie crisps that I cut into fun Halloween shapes. ‘Tis the season and all, so what’s better for a Halloween gathering than Caramel Apple…Brownie Crisps?

Caramel Apple Brownie Crisps

Caramel apple is a perfect flavor for the season. These brownie-like cookie crisps are excellent with the caramel apple sauce or can be enjoyed without the topping.

Course Dessert
Keyword Brownies
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 5 minutes
Author Lisa York

Ingredients

For the Brownie Crisps

  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 2 extra large eggs
  • 2 extra large egg whites
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup dark chocolate cocoa powder
  • 2 cups chocolate chips

For the Caramel Apple Sauce and Topping

  • 3 tart apples, peeled, cored and sliced I use Ida Red
  • 2 cups apple cider
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup vanilla Crown Royal optional
  • 3 tbsp butter divided
  • 1/4 cup vanilla greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • Seasonal sprinkles or candy toppings

Instructions

For the Brownie Crisps

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees then line two 11 1/2 X 15 1/2  X 1 with parchment paper.

    Brownie crisp ingredients2
  2. In a small saucepan, melt the butter then gradually add the chocolate chips. Stir with a whisk until smooth. Add the vanilla and allow to cool while you prepare the next steps.

    Melted chocolate
  3. In a small bowl, combine the flour, cocoa powder, salt and baking soda.

    Flour and cocoa
  4. In a large bowl, separate the egg whites from two of the eggs and add two whole eggs. Beat until the egg yolks and whites are well incorporated then slowly add the sugar and beat until frothy. 

    Separated eggs
  5. Add the chocolate and vanilla mixture to the egg mixture. Then gradually add the flour mixture. Be careful not to overmix. Just stir until the flour is incorporated. 

    Eggs and sugar
  6. Divide the batter between two parchment-lined baking sheets then spread the batter out to the edges. 

    Brownie batter spread out
  7. Bake for approximately 15-20 minutes. The batter will be almost set, but still very soft. Cut the brownie into squares of desired size or use cookie cutters for fun shapes. Don’t separate the shapes. Cutting the shapes before the brownie is done baking will give each piece a crispy edge. Return to the oven to bake for an additional 5-10 minutes watching closely so not to burn them.

    Partially baked dough with shapes
  8. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before separating the pieces. (If you’re using a cookie cutter, you will have miscellaneous pieces of various sizes and shapes…use them as a topping, save them for nibbling or pulse them into crumbs in a food processor and save for use in a pie crust another time.)

For the Caramel Apple Sauce Topping

  1. In a medium saucepan bring apple cider, brown sugar, cinnamon and vanilla to a boil. 

  2. Add 1 tbsp. of the butter to the boiling mixture. Once the butter has melted, reduce heat, add the apples and Vanilla Crown Royal, if desired, then simmer until the apples are tender. (Approx. 10 minutes.)

    Apple caramel sauce
  3. Remove the apples from the liquid and reserve for another use.

  4. Return the liquid to a boil then add the remaining 2 tbsps. of butter and Vanilla Greek yogurt. Stir until well incorporated.

  5. In a small bowl, add the cornstarch and about a 1/2 cup of the boiling cider liquid. Whisk until smooth then gradually add the mixture to the cider and whisking constantly so not to burn the sauce. Whisk until thick and smooth. Set aside to allow to cool before topping the brownie crisps.

  6. Spread a small amount of the sauce onto the smooth side (bottom) of the crisps. Top with sprinkles, crisp crumbs or candies of your choice.

    Apple Caramel Brownie Crisps

Let me know what you think in the comments below and be sure to not miss a single recipe by following us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

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.