Sunday, September 27, 2020

Ina Garten's Old-Fashioned Apple Crisp {Hooray for Apple Season}!


You know the classic back-to-school decorations with apples on them? The old-fashioned teacher's desk with the perfect red apple sitting next to it? You might be thinking all of that is outdated and perhaps a 'thing of the past.' I'm here to tell you that it is not. I have an apple sitting on my desk at work right now.

Teachers love apples. The reason is simply practical. Teachers get about a 20 minutes lunch and an apple is something they can grab and eat real quick with one hand while they're busying doing something else with the other. Teachers are experts at multitasking.

I usually take an apple to work everyday. I suppose this explains why I have 17 apples on my kitchen counter at the moment. I don't do subtle. 

I have been working from home and I found I've been eating a little differently, not as healthy. Nowhere near as many apples. So, what's a girl to do with all her apples?

Ina Garten's Old-Fashioned Apple Crisp, because if there's one thing Ina knows it's roast chicken and desserts that go with it, namely apple and plum desserts. I've got your number, Ina.

I've made plenty of apple desserts with varying success, so I researched the ratings on Ina's crisp and while it had 5 stars, I could see some potential issues. Some people said this was too worries for me because I love sweet. Other people said they didn't like the lemon/orange zest and juice. I needn't worry about that because I love citrus. A few said it wasn't good at all. So, after analyzing the recipe, I came to the conclusion that I knew what the issue was.

Ina calls for 5 pounds of apples. Most people have no idea what 5 pounds of apples looks like and that is definitely going to cause issues. Five pounds of apples is soooooo many apples. For example, I had 18 apples of varying sizes and it really only equated to about 3 pounds of apples, so you have to adjust your sugar and zest and juices to match. My advice: try to weigh your apples, or do some research about five pounds of apples and try to get real close. If all else fails, add the sugar, zest, and juices incrementally, tasting as you go. If you like what you taste then odds are you'll like the final product.

Additionally, I'm not one for huge chunks or wedges of apple in my desserts. I don't want an unmanageable wedge of apple making me look like a neanderthal when I eat. I want a cube of apple that I can eat like a lady. I also want my apples to be completely soft, not hard, not semi-hard. Hard and semi-hard apples in desserts are just not my thing.

Things needed for a successful apple crisp:

1) Measure your apples and get as close to 5 pounds as possible.

2) Cut your apples in a size that works for you. You want them soft? Cut them into small chunks.

3) Don't just add spices, zest, and juices all willy nilly. Add them a little at a time, tasting as you go.

4) Taste your apple mixture. If you can't quit eating the apples, then you're probably good to go!

Now let's talk about the topping: MOST people love a 2:1 ratio, more topping to apples. Even if you DO NOT have five pounds of apples, why not go ahead and make the full batch of topping? 

Ok, so apple desserts 101 is now behind us, and this is where I'm going to tell you that I KNEW THIS APPLE CRISP WAS GOING TO BE THE BOMB BEFORE I PUT IT IN THE OVEN! I mean you know how you can just tell?

First of all, I could not quit eating the cubed apples tossed in the sugar and lemon/orange juice/zest mixture.Then the apple mixture perfectly fit the pan and the crumble topping came together beautifully and perfectly covered the crisp. The whole thing was screaming apple goodness. Vanilla ice cream, who?

This is THE PERFECT Old-Fashioned Apple Crisp and I am going to be eating it for dessert and as I've mentioned before, I will even justify eating it for breakfast because it is in a way, apples with baked oatmeal, right?

What are you waiting for? Ina's Old-Fashioned Apple Crisp is calling your name!

 Old-Fashioned Apple Crisp

Recipe found on Food Network

by Ina Garten

Serves 10-12


5 pounds apples*

grated zest of 1 orange

grated zest of 1 lemon

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice*

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice*

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon*

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg* 

For the Topping

1-1/2 cups flour

3/4 cup granulated sugar

3/4 cup light brown sugar,packed

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup oatmeal

1/2 pound cold butter, diced 

Notes: Apple desserts are also best with a mix of various apples. For this dessert I used Golden Delicious, Honeycrispy, Rose, and Queen apples. I used about 1-1/2 teaspoons cinnamon because I don't like the spices to be too strong. I also omitted the nutmeg entirely for the same reason. Ina calls for only 2 tablespoons of lemon and orange juice and I accidentally added all the juice of both, and they were very juicy fruits. At first I was worried, but it turned out perfectly as I loved the flavor.

For the apples: Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter a 9x 14 by2"oval baking dish. Peel, core, and cut the apples into large wedges. Combine the apples with the zests, juices (*I used the juice of the entire lemon and orange), sugar, and spices (I only used about 1-1/2 teaspoons cinnamon and chose to leave out the nutmeg because it's too strong for me). Pour the apples into the dish.

To make the topping: Combine the flour, sugars, salt, oatmeal, and cold butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or use your hands. Mix on low speed until the mixture is crumbly and the butter is the sizeof peas. Scatter evenly over the apples.

To bake: Place the crisp on a sheet pan and bake for 1 hour until the top is brown and the apples are bubbly. Serve warm, on it's own or with vanilla ice cream. 

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Ina Garten's Cheesy Potato and Corn Chowder {Ready For Fall!}

Summer left us all at once. One day it was 90 degrees and the next day there was a chill in the air. Fall has definitely arrived! One of my first thoughts went to soup, potato soup.

I came across Ina Garten's Cheesy Corn Chowder, which is full of potatoes, fresh corn cut from the cob, onion, bacon, and half and half. All things I had on hand that needed using up. Don't you love it when a plan comes together like that? 

Now, by no means is this a healthy soup. Ina has you using bacon fat, oil, and butter. I went ahead and nixed the oil and butter because honestly the bacon fat was all I needed. Some people might think bacon fat is unhealthy. I tend to disagree. It's not something you want to eat every day, but it is natural and in moderation I believe it is perfectly fine. So bacon fat is the only fat I used here.

This soup is everything I wanted it to be. It was good on day one and absolutely delicious on day two. Overnight the potatoes thickened the chowder and everything became more flavorful. I love the comforting nature of potato soup and the corn adds a touch of freshness. The bacon...who can argue with the crunchy saltiness of bacon on top? This is a hug in a bowl and exactly what I needed.


Cheesy Potato and Corn Chowder

Adapted from Food Network

by Ina Garten

Serves 10-12

8 ounces bacon, chopped

1/4 cup good olive oil

6 cups chopped yellow onions (around 4 onions)

4 tablespoons butter*

1/2 cup flour

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

12 cups chicken stock

6 cups medium-diced potatoes, peeled

10 cups corn kernels, fresh (about 10 ears) or frozen 3 pounds

2 cups half and half

1/2 pound sharp white cheddar cheese, grated

In a large stockpot over medium-high heat, cook the bacon and olive oil until the bacon is crisp, about 5 minutes. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and reserve. Reduce the heat to medium, add the onions and butter to the fat (you may not need all this butter and fat), and cook for 10 minutes, until the onions are translucent.

Stir in the flour, salt, pepper, and turmeric and cook for 3 minutes. Add the chicken stock and potatoes, bring to a boil, and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes, until the potatoes are tender. If using fresh corn, cut the kernels off the cob and blanch them for 3 minutes in boiling salted water and drain (I skipped this step and just added the corn to the soup for 3 minutes). Add the half and half and cheddar. Cook for 5 more minutes, until the cheese is melted. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper. Serve hot with a garnish of bacon and sliced green onions, if desired.


Sunday, September 13, 2020

My All-Time Favorite Sandwiches!

Last week was our first almost-full week back to school and lemme tell was a butt kicker. The change over from teaching reading to math is overwhelming and then adding the virtual component just takes it over the edge. A little visit with my co-workers would help to take the edge off, but we're really not allowed so there's really no solace in that.

It doesn't help that this Tuesday my Mom will have been gone for 3 years now. Why do certain dates just loom over us? Every year when the anniversary of her death creeps up I feel an overwhelming sense of dread. I find myself reliving those awful last days, the last phone call she made, the coma, the waiting.

I know she wouldn't want me to relive those last days.So, in an effort to remember the good I am putting together this post. My mom LOVED a good sandwich! I can't tell you how many times I would find her standing by the toaster in the kitchen, toasting up some bread for a sandwich. Most of the time it was turkey or ham, but in the summer she ate nothing but tomato sandwiches.

Mom also loved making breakfast sandwiches on the weekends and then wrapping some up for the work week. She made those sandwiches so much, that my old friends from the neighborhood remember those sandwiches and every once in awhile I'll get a text from them with a picture of their breakfast sandwiches, which they now make for their family, the "Anita Special."

As I was thinking of which sandwich to make this week I just kept thinking of Mom and remembering a sandwich that I made for her back in July 2012, which she declared "one of her favorite things to eat ever." She loved it so much she asked me to make it for her birthday, which was hilarious because her birthday wasn't for another 10 months! But,of course, 10 months later I made it for her birthday and she loved it just as much.

I wish I could make that sandwich for her now, but instead here is a roundup of our all-time favorite sandwiches! As always, if you click on the recipe title, it will take you to the original post with the recipe.

One of Mom's favorite things to eat ever! This sandwich is hands down our all-time favorite sandwich on the blog. Toasted bolillo rolls smeared with garlicky black beans, topped with a panko fried chicken breast, shredded Monterey Jack cheese, sliced jalapeno, a dash of hot sauce and slices of creamy avocado. The flavors and textures will have you in sandwich heaven. This sandwich is a lot of work and dirty dishes, but it is so worth it!

This Crusty Black Bean-Chorizo Sub is my personal favorite because it's much easier than the sandwich above AND I love beans, chorizo, and feta cheese! I look for any excuse to eat feta cheese.
So imagine creamy black beans mixed with flavorful chorizo, topped with a slab of tangy and salty feta cheese, a few slices of avocado and some hot sauce on a toasty roll. IT IS SO GOOD! You could spice up the black bean mixture and leave out the chorizo, making this vegetarian.

If you're hungry for a chicken sandwich, this will surely satisfy! Perfectly golden strips of fried chicken nestled in a hot crispy baguette with lots of shredded lettuce and mayo. Every bite of this sandwich is heavenly, decadent, and comforting. This one is a crowd-pleaser!

Sometimes I have days where I just want to eat a handful of bacon and Jamie's bacon sarnie is the perfect fix. Jamie advises a few different ways to make the bacon sarnie, but basically cook a few pieces of bacon however you like, then dip one slice of the bread in a bit of the bacon fat and close it up to form a sandwich. Simple, satisfying and delicious. You can't go wrong!

You can't have a sandwich roundup without a dessert sandwich and Nigel's Oat Cookie Sandwiches with Lemon Mascarpone Filling are unique and delicious. Lacy oatmeal cookies with a unique filing made of lemon curd and mascarpone cheese. A lot of sandwich cookies are somewhat fussy, but this is an easy recipe and lemon lovers need to give these a try. They are so light, so lemony, and so creamy and satisfying. 

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Curtis Stone's Bite-Sized Corn, Bacon, Jalapeno, and Herb Muffins

Last week all staff went back to school. It was great to walk the halls again and see my co-workers. Even though their smiles are hidden behind the masks I can still see their eyes light up and imagine their smiles.

Can I take this moment to tell you how much I'm going to miss eating lunch with my co-workers in the teacher's lounge? We have built strong bonds over the years and are a very close and passionate group of people. We had the best time at lunch, our laughter exploding out of the door, and into the hallways. That time was like magic. It would cure whatever ailed you. It would put your broken pieces back together. We could all use a dose of that right now.  

Due to the virus, we cannot eat together or do any congregating. Eating lunch alone at my desk makes me sad, so I need to pack things I look forward to. I have been craving salad something fierce, so this week I'm taking salad with mixed greens, hard-boiled egg, chopped bacon, cheese, tomato, and cucumber. I need a little tasty morsel to go along with it and I've been craving some kind of savory corn muffin.

Curtis Stone's Corn and Bacon Muffins that I made a while back are one of my all-time favorites, but I can't eat a full-sized muffin with my salad so I opted to make a bite-sized version. No guilt here, they are simply my croutons, right?

I had to change up the recipe a bit because I didn't have enough chives or green onion, so I opted to use a variety of green things: a few chives, a handful of basil (I love basil with corn), and a few of my jalapenos that are growing like crazy in my bourbon barrel.

It's worth noting that these are not corn muffins. There is no cornflour. They are simply muffins with corn in them, as well as a bunch of other tasty things, like bacon, bacon fat, cheese, and herbs. You simply cannot go wrong here. They are so delicious!

If you're in the mood for something bready, this recipe is a total gem! It's the second time I've shared it on my blog (hey, I'm allowed to share twice if I make it in different sizes).

Do yourself a favor and give these a try! Be good to yourselves.

Lozza's Corn and Bacon Muffins
Adapted from Relaxed Cooking with Curtis Stone
by Curtis Stone
Makes 12 full-sized or 24 mini muffins

12 ounces bacon, coarsely chopped
1 ear yellow corn, or 1 cup frozen corn, thawed
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1-1/4 cups whole milk
3 large eggs
2 cups grated cheddar cheese
1/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh chives (or other green herbs or veggies)*
salted butter, for serving

Note: I didn't have enough chives so I used a combination of chives, basil, and chopped jalapenos. These really are best with chives or chopped green onion, but you can really use any combination here.

Preheat the oven to 400F. Cook the bacon in a large heavy saute pan over medium heat for about 8 minutes, or until it is browned and crisp. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to paper towels. Brush 12 standard size or bite-size mini muffin pans generously with some of the bacon drippings from the pan and set aside 1/2 cup of the remaining bacon drippings to cool slightly. Curtis says to discard any remaining bacon fat. I say that's ludicrous. Save that bacon fat and use it to fry up some breakfast potatoes!

Use a sharp knife to slice the corn kernels off the cob or use thawed frozen corn. You need about 1 cup.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, salt, and cayenne pepper in a large bowl to blend. Whisk the milk, eggs, and reserved bacon drippings in another large bowl to blend; then stir in the bacon, 1-1/2 cups of the cheese, the corn kernels, and the chives (or other green things). Stir the milk mixture into the flour mixture just until blended. Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin pans, dividing it equally and mounding it generously. Sprinkle the tops of the muffins with the remaining 1/2 cup cheese. Bake for about 18 minutes if full-sized or about 10 minutes if bite-sized. The muffins should be golden and a tester inserted into the center should come out clean. Let the muffins cool slightly in the cups. Then run a small sharp knife around the muffins to loosen them from the cups, remove them, and serve them warm with salted butter.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Giada's Positano Pizzas {Dreaming of the Amalfi Coast}

In my dreams, I'm walking under a canopy of lemon trees overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea on the Amalfi Coast. Breathtaking terrain, dramatic coastline, terraced vineyards, orchards, and enchanting views of vibrant water, all things I long to see one day.

In another dream, Italian music plays in the background as I sit on a terrace surrounded by flowers, limoncello in one hand and pizza in the other, looking out at the sea as the ships come and go. Paradise.

Good things come to those who wait, so in the meantime, I will enjoy Giada's cute little Positano Pizzas at home in Georgetown, KY (a very far cry from Positano).

Pizza dough cut into hearts and briefly baked before being sliced in half horizontally, stuffed with roasted tomatoes tossed with pesto, and smothered between fresh mozzarella and Parmigiano-Reggiano. These pizzas are delightfully cute, very light, and quite delicious.

The heart shape wins me over, but I have to say I'm quite fond of cutting the pizza dough into various shapes and think this would be a great activity to do with kids while we're all being safe at home. Choose any shape, any cookie cutter, bake up the shapes briefly, slice in half horizontally, then fill with your favorite pizza toppings, brush the tops with oil and herbs and bake up for a few, then enjoy! A little happiness for everyone!

Positano Pizzas
Adapted from Giada In Italy
by Giada De Laurentiis
Serves 6

1 (16-ounce) ball of store-bought pizza dough
 pint cherry tomatoes
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
2 fresh basil sprigs
all-purpose flour, for dusting
1/2 cup freshly grated mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup fresh grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

Place the pizza dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a towel, and allow it to rest in a warm place for at least 1 hour. Preheat oven to 375F. (I placed the dough in a covered bowl on top of the oven).

Pierce each tomato with the tip of a paring knife. On a small rimmed baking sheet, combine the tomatoes, olive oil, salt, garlic, and basil. Toss to coat and roast for 30 minutes, or until the tomatoes are beginning to blister. Set aside to cool. (I had leftover basil pesto so instead of tossing my tomatoes in the mixture here I used a couple tablespoons of pesto). 

Raise the oven temperature to 425F.

On a lightly floured board, use a rolling pin to roll out the pizza dough to a 1/4" thickness. Using a cookie cutter or the tip of a sharp knife, cut out six 5-inch hearts and place them on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake the hearts for about 12 minutes, or until lightly puffed and beginning to brown. Remove from the oven and cool slightly. Split the hearts in half horizontally, as if you were making a sandwich. Divide the mozzarella and tomatoes over the bottom halves and sprinkle evenly with the Parmigiano-Reggiano. Replace the tops and brush with extra-virgin olive oil. Sprinkle each heart with oregano. 

Bake for 5 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the tops are golden. Serve warm, drizzled with more extra-virgin olive oil, if desired.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Curtis Stone's Pesto

I grew up in the 80's and early 90's in small blue-collar town called Elyria, Ohio (just about 20 or so miles south of Cleveland). It sounds cliche, but life was simpler then. It really truly was.

When you got to be a junior or senior in high school, and it was time for Homecoming or Prom, you went to the Spitzer Plaza Hotel for dinner beforehand. Back then the Spitzer was about the ONLY fine dining establishment around, and you had to drive out to the lake which was about a half hour to get there. Now this is a BIG DEAL because as I mentioned, life was simpler and NO ONE drove half an hour to eat anywhere in those days.

My friends and I would get real dressed up for our big date. Again, times were simpler. We didn't get our nails done. We didn't get our hair done. We didn't get our makeup done. But, we did do it ourselves and we were happy with that. We didn't know any different. We'd wear our fancy gowns, we always had fancy gloves up to our elbows, gaudy rhinestone jewelry, shoes dyed some neon color to match our dresses, and we were SET. Let me tell ya...we thought we were something else. We were like movie stars going to eat at a fancy restaurant.

I can still remember the first time I walked into the restaurant. I'll never forget all the blue velvet and  also never forget that this was the first time I ever heard of pesto. None of us knew what the Pasta Pesto was, but we figured pasta was the safest bet so we ALL ordered it!

When the pasta came out and it was green we were surprised and interested. What was this dish sitting before us so different than anything else we'd had before? It felt so exclusive and fancy with the freshly grated Parmesan on top. Funny enough, I don't remember if any of us really liked it, but I DO remember that we all had a blast living it up drinking our Shirley Temples and eating our Pasta Pesto. Those were the days. No worries. No responsibilities.

Fast forward about 30 years and I'm making pesto in my own kitchen with ingredients that I always have on hand and basil that I grew in my bourbon barrel out back.

Pesto is no longer a specialty ingredient and times, well....they are certainly no longer simple. 

I have tried lots of different pesto recipes over the years and this one is my all-time favorite. The pesto turned out perfectly balanced. THIS IS THE PESTO RECIPE!

Adapted from Parade Magazine
by Curtis Stone
Makes about 1 cup

2 garlic cloves
salt, to taste
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 cups fresh basil leaves, lightly packed
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 to 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more to cover the pesto

Note: I had SO MUCH fresh basil so I used 2 cups basil in place of 1-1/2 cups like the recipe was written. Because I used more basil I also used more oil, 1/2 cups per batch. Traditional basil pesto is made in a mortar and pestle and that is how Curtis makes his. Directions for both the mortar and pestle and food processor are below.

To make the pesto in a mortar and pestle: Mash the garlic, salt and red pepper flakes into a coarse paste. Ad 1 cup of the basil and pound until it is coarsely ground. Add the remaining 1/2 cup basil and pound until a coarse puree forms. Add the pine nuts and pound just to break them up. Add the Parmesan cheese and olive oil and mash until the nuts are coarsely ground and the mixture is well blended.

To make the pesto in a food processor: Pulse the pine nuts, garlic, sald and red pepper flakes together until the nuts and garlic are finely chopped. Add the basil and Parmesan cheese and pulse about 10 times to chop the basil. With the machine running, gradually pour in the olive oil.

Transfer the pesto to a container and float a thin layer of olive oil on top. Cover and keep refrigerated, but bring to room temperature before using.

Pickled @ IHCC

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Rick Bayless' "Emergency" Black Bean Tacos {Perfect for Busy Weeknights}

I have been feeling very overwhelmed lately thinking about the upcoming school year and the fact that we are having "in-person" classes. I am so worried about my co-workers and the kids and I'm trying my best to be optimistic, but I know the odds are that someone will end up with the virus. Don't get me wrong, I want to go back to school. I want to see the kids. I want to have class, but it keeps me up at night. I am really hoping that someone calls it soon and we end up doing 100% virtual. With cases spiking it is really the safest option.

In addition to worrying about going back "in-person" we lost a few people to budget cuts which means a new position for me. I will no longer be teaching reading intervention, which is my passion. Instead, I will now be teach math intervention, which is going to be a challenge for me as math is not my favorite. I know it will all work out okay, but everything is going to be so new and different.

I'm not embarrassed to say that I'm struggling. In fact, I think we should admit these things more often. Everyone struggles and no one should feel alone in their struggle. I allowed myself to take a break last week, but I forced myself to get it together this week for a post. I bought myself some cute little taco stands (the link is here and there are wonderful, two-sided with options to hold either two or three tacos, depending on the side you chose- not afilliated) and searched high and low for the simplest of taco recipes. Let me tell you, I found the very simplest of taco recipes and you should give it a try.

 Rick Bayless' "Emergency" Black Bean Tacos are perfect for a weeknight when you are feeling tired and overwhelmed with everything. Simply saute some black beans in bacon grease, or oil, with a little garlic, warm up some corn tortillas, and whip up a super Avocado-Tomatillo Salsa in the blender. You've got a really quick and delicious dinner that would pair very well with a frosty margarita.

This is another economical meat-free option for your pandemic pantry. Food prices continue to be astronomical where I am, with meat prices absolutely sky-rocketing. While I have been cooking a number of things, I don't feel right sharing the bacon-wrapped pork loin I made a couple nights ago, so I'm trying to share things that anyone and everyone could make right now. These tacos are a perfect example of that.

Emergency Black Bean Tacos

Adapted from Rick Bayless Website

by Rick Bayless

Serves 4


2 tablespoons bacon grease

2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

1 can black beans

2 tablespoons crumbled feta or Mexican cheese

1 cup Avocado-Tomatillo Salsa (see below)

cilantro, for garnish

corn tortillas, in a warmer


For the Tacos: Place the bacon grease in the bottom of a large sauce pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds, then add in the black beans. Using a potato masher, mash the beans into a coarse texture and cook for 5-7 minutes. 

 Meanwhile make the avocado-tomatillo salsa. Scoop the beans into a warm corn tortilla and garnish with cheese, salsa, and cilantro.

To make the salsa: Blend 3 chopped tomatillos, 1 chopped jalapeno, 2 cloves garlic, 1 handful cilantro, and one half of an avocado until smooth.