“How-To” Cooking – Sweating

Sweating, similar to sautéeing, is a French technique of cooking food (usually vegetables) in a little fat, over low heat, in a covered pan. Sweating causes the food to release its juices and cook without browning which in turn, concentrates the flavor of the food. This technique is often used in recipes where the vegeatables/aromatics are not the main ingredients of the dish but rather the background flavor base.

Halloween Candy Cookie Bars

Halloween Cookie BArs

If your house is anything like mine then I am sure once the kids are done with their trick-or-treating you’re left with about 4 tons of candy in the house. Why not take some of that delicious chocolate and turn it into Halloween Candy Cookie Bars! They are easy to pull together, so delicious and fun to make with the kids since they can choose their favorite add-ins.

I came across this recipe on The Today Show website, you can find the original recipe right here . It did not specify what size pan to bake the cookie bars in so I went with a 9X9 square pan lined with parchment paper. The baking time listed, 45-50 minutes, was about right. Just watch them to make sure they do not over brown and get burnt, test for doneness by inserting a toothpick in the center. It should come out mostly dry with a few moist crumbs adhered to it.

For the add-ins, use whatever chocolate you have on hand and feel free to use a mix as well. In my cookie bars I used toffee bits, M&Ms® and chopped up Milky Way®, Kit Kat®, 3 Musketeers®, and Snickers® bars. I added a few mini chocolate chips on the top too! They were delish!

Ingredients 

  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tbs pure vanilla extract or vanilla paste
  • ½ tsp Kosher salt
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups assorted Halloween chocolate candy, chopped

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Chop the Halloween chocolate candies into bite-size pieces. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine both sugars and the melted butter. Mix until the sugars and butter lighten in color, about 6-8 minutes.

Add in the eggs and vanilla and mix. Then add in the salt and flour and mix until everything is well combined.

Stir in the Halloween candy and then spread the cookie batter into a 9X9 pan that is lined with parchment paper.

Bake for 45-50 minutes.

Allow to cool and then cut into squares.

Italian Meatballs

pasta and meatballs

Being Italian, meatballs were a staple in my home growing up. There was nothing better than sneaking a crispy, hot meatball right out of the fryer. Pure heaven! Nowadays, I tend to bake my meatballs because it’s less mess and they end up in the sauce anyway but when I am feeling it, in the fryer they will go!

I’m always playing around with my meatball recipe but lately my “go to” is an adaptation of the recipe listed in the The Sopranos Family Cookbook . They really are so delicious and remind me a lot of the ones my mom use to make when I was a kid. I love a strong cheese, garlic, and parsley flavor in my meatballs so I tend to throw a little extra in every time I make them. Also, if you don’t have fresh parley on hand just substitute with a small handful of dried parsley instead, they will still be delicious. The original recipe calls for only the use of breadcrumbs however, I had found that when I made them that way the meatballs were just a little too hard for my liking. You really want them to have a nice softness when eating so adding in the moistened white bread gave the meat the extra chew and softness that I was looking for. A drizzle of olive oil into the meat just adds a nice touch of extra flavor.

These meatballs are as delicious with sauce as they are for any cocktail meatball recipe too. I detest store-bought frozen meatballs so I when I need to make a cocktail meatball appetizer I always use this recipe. Just roll them smaller and bake (or fry) for less time. You can find the recipe for my out of this world Whiskey BBQ Cocktail Meatballs right here.

Once the meatballs are done cooking, allow them to simmer for a while in your homemade sauce so that they become even softer and absorb all of the delicious flavor of the tomatoes. Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 1 lb of 80% ground beef or a combination of beef and pork
  • 1/2 cup Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tsp finely minced garlic
  • 1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 2 tbs fresh flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • 3/4 tsp Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • Drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
  • 2-3 slices white bread, crusts removed and moistened with water

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Except for the white bread, combine all of the ingredients together in a large bowl. Mix until just combined, do not over mix or the meatballs will be tough.

Break off small pieces of the moistened bread and add it to the meatball mixture. Mix into the meat and then continue to add more bread until it’s all combined.

Form the meat into balls and place them about 2″ apart on a sheet pan lined with a Silpat® or aluminum foil. Bake for about 30 minutes or until golden brown. Alternatively, the meatballs can also be fried in oil until crispy and golden brown.

If serving pasta, add to the simmering sauce so the meatballs absorb the flavor and become softer.

Halloween Bark

Halloween Bark2

Inevitably Halloween will bring a surplus of candy into your home so why not pick out a few of your favorites and make some Halloween Bark! It’s super easy to do and your kids will have so much creating their own chocolate concoctions. You will find many variations of this recipe online but they are all similar. All you need is a pan, some plain chocolate and assorted Halloween candy which can be anything from gummy worms to broken up bits of candy bar. I also like to add some spooky eye candy to my bark, it gives it a little extra Halloween flare!

For the chocolate, I like a nice bittersweet chocolate as it offsets the sweetness of the other candies that are mixed in but feel free to use whatever you have on hand. You can either melt down plain chocolate candy bars from your kids trick-or-treat bag or use a bag of chocolate chips, both will be perfect in this recipe. Once your chocolate is topped with all of the goodies and has hardened, use a knife to break it up and enjoy! Happy Halloween!!

Ingredients

  • 3 cups of chocolate (dark, milk, bittersweet, etc)
  • 2 – 2.5 cups of assorted Halloween candy

Instructions

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat®.

Over a double boiler, melt down the chocolate until smooth.

Pour the chocolate onto the baking sheet and using a spatula, smooth it into an even layer about 1/4″ thick. Top the chocolate with the assorted Halloween candy.

Place the tray into the refrigerator for about 35-40 minutes or until the chocolate has fully hardened.

Slide the cold chocolate onto a cutting board and using a knife, chop it up into large, irregular pieces and serve. Store the bark in an airtight container in a cool place.

 

 

Giant Crinkled Chocolate Chip Cookies

Giant Crinkle Choc Chip

When I was in junior high school the cafeteria use to serve these delicious, barely baked, warm chocolate chip cookies. They were SO amazing and I’ve spent years trying to find a recipe that replicated that cookie but to no avail. Then I made this recipe! Out of the oven, they reminded me so much of those giant, warm cookies from school. Score!!

This recipe comes from The New York Times , you can find the original recipe right hereTo ensure that these cookies came out EXACTLY like the ones pictured I weighed all of my ingredients instead of just measuring them out. With baking, being as precise as possible is the key to perfect, consistent results. That being said, if you don’t have a scale in your kitchen that is fine, just use measuring cups and spoons. Make sure you follow the directions very carefully, it’s imperative that you freeze your dough for the right amount of time and then watch those babies like a hawk once they are in the oven so that you can bang the pan at just the right time. DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP! Banging the pan not only allows the cookies to bake more evenly but it creates crispy edges, a gooey center, and those cool looking crinkle rings on the surface. Don’t be afraid to give them a good whack, you need the center to fall in on itself.

The recipe calls for 6 oz. of bittersweet chocolate, I decided to use Ghiradelli® brand. I was short 2 oz. though so I make up the difference with a Ghiradelli® Intense Dark Sea Salt Soiree bar. It’s a nice dark chocolate so it worked well as a replacement and it also added a hint of salt to the cookie which I really love. Do NOT use chocolate chips in this recipe, you will NOT get the same result both in appearance and flavor. Buy full bars of chocolate (you can find them in the baking or candy aisle) and roughly chop them with a chefs knife. The variation of chunks, shards, and bits really adds to the cookie. Lastly, in place of the pure vanilla extract I used vanilla paste and I increased the measurement to 2 teaspoons. I just love vanilla so for me, the more the better!

Trust me, these cookies are a keeper! They were out of this world and HUUUUUGE!!! You can definitely make them smaller but be sure to adjust the baking time if you do. Watch them carefully so they do not over bake. Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 2 cups (256 grams) all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • ½ pound (227 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 ½ cups (302 grams) granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup (55 grams) packed light or dark brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 6 ounces (170 grams) bittersweet chocolate (about 60 percent cacao solids), chopped into coarse pieces, bits and shards

Instructions

Adjust an oven rack to the middle position. Heat the oven to 350ºF. Line 3 baking sheets with aluminum foil, parchment paper or nonstick baking mats.In a small bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, beat the butter on medium until creamy. Add the granulated and brown sugars and beat on medium until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the egg, vanilla and 2 tablespoons water, and mix on low to combine. Add the flour mixture, and mix on low until combined. Add the chocolate and mix on low into the batter. (At this point, the dough can be refrigerated for several hours or overnight)

Form the dough into 3 1/2-ounce (100-gram) balls (a heaping 1/3 cup each). Place 4 balls an equal distance apart on a prepared pan, and transfer to the freezer for 15 minutes before baking. After you put the first baking sheet in the oven, put the second one in the freezer.

Place the chilled baking sheet in the oven and bake 10 minutes, until the cookies are puffed slightly in the center. Lift the baking sheet and let it drop down against the oven rack, so the edges of the cookies set and the inside falls back down. Bang it down, if necessary, to make the center fall.

After the cookies puff up again, 2 to 3 minutes later, repeat lifting and dropping the pan. Repeat a few more times, every 3 minutes, to create ridges around the edge of the cookie. Bake 16 to 18 minutes total, until the cookies have spread out, and the edges are golden brown, but the centers are much lighter and not fully cooked.

Transfer the baking sheet to a wire rack and let cool before removing the cookies from the pan.

Repeat with remaining cookies.

 

Bacon and Stout Beef Chili

Bacon Stout Chili

Although the cool, crisp days of fall have yet to arrive in New York (summer just won’t let go!) I was in the mood for a hearty, warm bowl of chili. Instead of a typical chili made with ground meat I decided to try out a cut up chuck roast instead. I was pleasantly surprised at just how tender and delicious this very tough piece of meat turned out. The key is to cook it low and slow, don’t try to rush this dish or you will be left with very chewy, tough, inedible meat. I promise, your patience will be rewarded.

The recipe is from the October 2017 issue of Food Network Magazine . (page 73) The original recipe is for Beef and Bean Chili but they offered a variation that included stout and bacon. Let’s face it, everything is better with bacon so I couldn’t pass that recipe up! I used Guinness Drought Stout but feel free to use your favorite brand stout for this chili.

This chili goes great with sturdy corn tortilla chips, cornbread, or even a nice slab of hot, buttered beer bread. Top with cheese, sour cream, bacon, scallions, or anything else that you like. Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 2 tbs vegetable oil
  • 2 lbs chuck roast, cut into 3/4″ cubes
  • Kosher salt and pepper, to taste
  • 3-4 slices thick cut bacon, chopped
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, finely chopped (remove seeds for less heat)
  • 3 tbs chili powder, plus more to taste
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tbs tomato paste
  • 1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes
  • 3 cups beef stock (I like Kitchen Basics brand)
  • 2 (15 oz) cans small red beans
  • 1 (12 oz) bottle stout beer

Instructions

Cook the bacon in a large pot until slightly crisp. Remove and set aside for topping.

Over medium-high heat, add the beef to the bacon fat and cook until browned, about 2-3 minutes. Do not overcrowd the pan, work in batches. Remove the meat with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Reduce the heat to medium and add the vegetable oil to the pot. Add the onion and cook until softened and browned, about 5 minutes. Stir occasionally as it cooks. Add the garlic and jalapeno and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 2 minutes.

Add the chili powder, cumin, salt, pepper, and tomato paste. While stirring, cook until deep red, about 2 minutes.

Add the beef and all of its juices back into the pot along with the beef stock, tomatoes, and stout beer. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat until the chili is simmering. Cook until the meat is fork tender, about 1.5 hours. Occasionally stir and scrape the bottom of the pot as it cooks.

Add the beans with some of their liquid and continue to simmer until the chili thickens, about 25-30 minutes. Season with additional salt, pepper, and chili as needed. Serve hot topped with grated cheddar cheese and the crisped bacon pieces from earlier.

**Tip** – If the chili isn’t thickening up enough, bring the chili to a boil and then add some masa flour to the pot or a mixture of water and all-purpose flour. Allow the chili to simmer until it thickens up. If the chili is too thick, add a little more stock as needed to thin it out.

 

“How-To” Baking – Fruit Desserts

Crumbles, crisps, and buckles………Oh my!! There are so many different ways to bake fresh fruit into a delectable dessert that it can be confusing and overwhelming. So let’s break it down one dessert at a time!

Crumble – A crumble is a baked dessert consisting of fresh fruit that is topped with an oat based streusel.

Crisp – A crisp is very similar to a crumble except the streusel topping is made from flour, not oats.

Brown Betty – A brown betty is very similar to a crisp. In fact, some recipes call for only fresh fruit with a streusel topping just like in a crisp. However, a layer of streusel can also be layered on the bottom as well. Other recipes call for the fruit to be layered between stale, buttered cubes of bread.

Cobbler – A cobbler is topped with individual dropped biscuits that create the look of a cobblestone street, hence the name “cobbler“.

Buckle – A buckle has a cake like batter underneath the fruit and is topped with crumbs. As it bakes the cake rises up while the fruit and crumbs weigh it down which causes a buckling effect. The most common type of buckle is blueberry but it can be made with other types of fruit.

Grunt/Slump – A grunt or a slump is similar to a cobbler however, instead of being baked in the oven it is cooked in a covered pan on a stovetop or over a campfire. The biscuits are steamed rather than baked like in a cobbler.

The term “grunt” was coined because of the noise that the hot, bubbly fruit makes as it cooks. The term “slump” was coined because when the dessert is placed on a serving dish it doesn’t hold its form and it “slumps” on the dish.

Clafouti – A clafouti is topped with either cake or pudding.

Pandowdy – A pandowdy is a deep dish fruit dessert that is topped with brittle biscuits. As the pandowdy bakes, the biscuit topping is broken up and pounded into the fruit so that the juices from the fruit can rise up to the top.

Crostata/Galette – A crostata or galette is made with a rolled out piece of dough that’s piled with fruit. The edges of the dough are folded in to create a crust and then it gets an egg wash and a dusting of coarse sugar on top. This dessert is freeform in shape and it’s baked on a flat sheet.

These two desserts are identical except in name. A crostata is an Italian term and a galette is French but they can be used interchangeably as they are both referring to the same thing.

 

Apple Brown Betty

apple betty3

Apple pie is the quintessential fall dessert. It evokes memories of jumping in the leaves, cuddling up in a cozy sweater, and stuffing your face at Thanksgiving dinner. Making a delicious homemade apple pie isn’t all that difficult but it can be a little time consuming Instead, when a craving for apple pie hits try making an Apple Brown Betty! It has all of the same delicious flavor as an apple pie minus the hassle.

An Apple Brown Betty is very similar to a crumble or crisp. It’s a traditional American dessert made from apples that are topped with delicious sweetened crumbs. It is unclear of the exact origin of this dessert however, it was first mentioned in a cookbook dating all the way back to 1864! Just like its apple pie counterpart, it pairs really well with a nice, cold scoop of vanilla ice cream or freshly whipped cream.

The recipe that I used came from one of my most favorite cookbooks, The New England Orchard Cookbook: Harvesting Dishes & Desserts from the Region’s Bounty . If you love farm fresh fruit such as apples, berries, and peaches this would be a fabulous addition to your cookbook library. It features information on local farms all around the New England region (CT, MA, RI, VT, and NH) as well as a bounty of wonderful and delicious recipes like Streusel Spiced Cider Muffins, Orchard Cake, Apple Stuffing and more!

For this recipe I made a few, very slight changes. In place of the maple syrup that was called for I used pure apple syrup, I prefer the flavor over maple. The instructions said to use cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg to taste but I instead tossed the apples with a cinnamon sugar blend and apple pie spice which is a mix of all the flavors that are called for. I also substituted Granny Smith apples for McIntosh. In general you can substitute one baking apple for another in most apple recipes. The top apples for baking are: Granny Smith, Jonagold, Braeburn, Cortland, and Honeycrisp.  

Ingredients

  • 8 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut into chunks
  • 1/4 maple syrup
  • Cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg, to taste
  • 1 full sleeve of graham crackers
  • 1 stick (1/4 lb) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • Vanilla ice cream or freshly whipped cream (optional)

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. In a large bowl, combine the apples with the syrup and spices. Toss to coat. Place in a medium casserole dish and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the graham crackers, melted butter, and brown sugar. Using your hands, crumble up the crackers and mix everything together.

Pat the crumb mixture all over the top of the apples. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until the apples up bubbling up through the topping and the crust is golden brown.

Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or freshly whipped cream.

**Tip** – You can also use a food processor to turn the graham crackers into crumbs.

apple betty2

 

Chicken Caprese

Chicken Caprese

One of life’s greatest pleasures is biting into a caprese salad. Sweet, vine ripened tomatoes bursting with flavor are layered with creamy mozzarella, sweet basil and then generously sprinkled with Kosher salt and pepper. The final touch is a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a flavorful balsamic. It’s truly a perfect, yet simple, dish. All of these lovely flavors also pair well with chicken so it was only logical to turn this beloved salad into a heartier dish of Chicken Caprese.

Simplicity is key with this meal. You will want to keep the flavors clean and bright so that the caprese salad shines and isn’t overpowered by a piece of chicken that is too bold and over seasoned. A basic salt and pepper rub with a drizzle of balsamic is all the chicken needs to be perfect. The fresh mozzarella, tomato, and basil will pack the flavor punch once it all comes together. I served this dish alongside Garlic Parmesan Pasta   which was a perfect accompaniment to this meal.

To intensify the flavor in this dish, opt for a balsamic reduction* in place of just straight vinegar. Drizzling vinegar straight from the bottle is more than fine however, reducing it down first will create a richer and more flavorful profile. It will also thicken considerably making it more likely to cling to the chicken. Take care when choosing your vinegar, there are many cheap options out there but for the best flavor, it’s worth investing a few extra dollars for a quality vinegar. I get all of my vinegar (and oil) at The Amazing Olive  in Port Jefferson, NY. They have an exceptional collection of oil and vinegar in so many unique and delicious flavors. If you’re not local, no worries, you can order right online! For this recipe I used their Traditional Balsamic which is excellent.

*To reduce vinegar – On the stovetop bring the vinegar to a simmer over medium-high heat then turn the heat down to low to keep it simmering. It will take about 15 minutes for the vinegar to reduce down, watch it carefully towards the end so it does not burn. You will know the vinegar is ready when it becomes thick and can coat the back of a spoon.

Ingredients

  • 1.5 lbs boneless skinless chicken breast, halved and then halved horizontally 
  • 3-4 tbs extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed for browning
  • Kosher salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 tbs balsamic vinegar, plus more for drizzling
  • 2 large ripe tomatoes, sliced very thin and sprinkled with Kosher salt and pepper
  • 1 lb fresh mozzarella, sliced thin
  • handful of fresh basil, cut into ribbons

Instructions

Preheat oven to 375ºF. Rub the chicken with salt, pepper, and minced garlic until coated. Drizzle the balsamic over the chicken and lightly rub it in.

Place olive oil in a skillet set over medium heat. When the oil is hot and shimmering add the chicken. Cook until lightly browned on each side, about 3-4 minutes per side. Be sure not to overcrowd the pan, work in batches until all of the chicken has been browned. Place the chicken in a 9X13 baking dish coated lightly with cooking spray and drizzle with the remaining pan juices. Drizzle additional balsamic to taste.

Bake for about 25-30 minutes or until the juices run clear and the chicken is cooked through. In the last 5 minutes of cooking, remove the chicken from the oven and place 1-2 slices of tomato on each piece of chicken followed by 1-2 slices of fresh mozzarella. Lightly sprinkle the tops with Kosher salt and pepper. Return the pan to the oven and finish off the chicken. To melt and brown the cheese a little more, place the pan under the broiler for 2-4 minutes, watch closely so that the cheese doesn’t burn.

Remove from the oven. Using a spoon, drizzle each piece of chicken with the pan juices. Garnish with the basil ribbons. Serve hot.

Chicken Caprese2

One Pot Garlic Parmesan Pasta

garlic pasta

This is a fantastic pasta to serve as a side dish or even as a main meal. The nice part is that it’s made in one pot and basically cooks itself. It doesn’t get much easier than that! To serve this as a main meal, simply add in some grilled chicken and steamed broccoli and you have a nice, quick dinner. To save even more time, use a rotisserie chicken instead of grilling your own.

I came across this recipe online at Damn Delicious blog, you can find the original recipe right here . I followed the recipe pretty much “as is” with only a few minor substitutions. Instead of chicken broth I used chicken stock which is more flavorful and rich and I used Pecorino Romano cheese in place of the Parmesan. Since it was the only side dish that I was serving alongside my Chicken Caprese , I doubled the recipe.

This pasta is best when it is served right away so that the sauce is silky and smooth. Once it stands, it tends to clump. If that happens, just return the pasta to the pot over medium low heat and stir in a little extra milk until the sauce loosens back up. Serve hot and enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 1 tbs extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups chicken stock (I like Kitchen Basics brand)
  • 1 cup milk, more as needed
  • 2 tbs unsalted butter
  • 8 oz uncooked fettuccine or thin linguine
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese or Pecorino Romano
  • 2 tbs chopped fresh parsley leaves

Instructions

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 1-2 minutes.

Stir in chicken broth, milk, butter and fettuccine. Season with salt and pepper.

Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until pasta is cooked through, about 18-20 minutes. Stir in Parmesan cheese. If the mixture is too thick, add more milk as needed until desired consistency is reached.

Serve immediately, garnish with fresh parsley.