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Mexican Wedding Cookies

December 8, 2013
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It’s the start of Christmas baking season and I need to start baking!  One of my all time favorite cookies is Mexican Wedding Cookies.  My key to great cookies is to use powdered sugar and pecans (other recipes will use regular sugar and walnuts).  The key is to roll them in powdered sugar twice once they have baked.  It’s a MUST HAVE.  Roll them once when still warm out of the oven and again once fully cooled.  These are delicious delicious cookies.  Give them a try!

1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/4 cups sifted flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup chopped pecans
powdered sugar (for rolling baked cookies in)
Directions:

Cream together butter and powdered sugar until light and fluffy; stir in vanilla.
Whisk together flour and salt; add gradually to butter mixture; stir in chopped nuts.
Form dough into 1 1/4″ balls and place onto parchment-lined or ungreased baking sheets.
Bake at 400° for 10-12 minutes or just until the cookies start to turn light golden-brown; remove from oven and allow to cool slightly; while cookies are still warm (but NOT hot) remove them from baking sheets and roll, a few at a time, in powdered sugar until evenly coated; cool cookies completely on wire racks.
Once cookies are room temperature roll again in powdered sugar.

Mexican Wedding Cookies

Zucchini Lasagna

July 16, 2012

It’s summer and that means a garden bounty.   That also means that I don’t want to waste any of it.  So, today I spent cooking items with my 7lb zucchini I picked from yesterday morning.  Who would have known that it could make so much food?!?  From one zucchini I made this lasagna, 2 loaves of bread, and 6-7 zucchini fritters.  We’ll start here with the lasagna.

gigantic zucchini

I have to give it up to http://italiandish.squarespace.com/imported-20090913150324/2009/2/11/my-moms-zucchini-lasagna.html for inspiring me to make this dish.  I made it two years ago when I had zucchini and now again this summer.  My mom has also now made it as well as another gardening friend.  All have LOVED it.  So, thank you Italian Dish for introducing us all to how great it is.   I can’t wait to try her Zucchini Soup next weekend.

Ingredients:

3lbs of Zucchini, partially peeled, and cut into long thin strips.

1 quart of your favorite tomato sauce

1 cup of bread crumbs, split.

1-2 lbs of ricotta, depending on your tastes.  I’ve always used 1 and have loved it.

4 eggs, lightly beaten

2 Tablespoons parsley, chopped

1/2 teaspoon each dried oregano, basil

Salt & pepper to taste

1 cup shredded Parmesan

1 pound shredded mozzarella cheese

Directions:

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees

Slice the zucchini into long slices and boil for about 5 minutes in salted water, just until limp.  Dry on paper towels

In a medium sized bowel, combine eggs, parsley, salt, pepper, basil, oregano,  ricotta and 1/2 cup of bread crumbs and 1/2 cup of parmesan.

In a 9×13 pan, spread a layer of sauce and over the sauce spread 1/4 cup of the bread crumbs.

Arrange a layer of zucchini over the sauce and crumbs.

Using half of your ricotta mixture, spread over zucchini.

Sprinkle on half of the mozzarella cheese.

layering the lasagna

layering the lasagna

Continuing to layer…

Place another layer of zucchini on top of the mozzarella

On top of this, put on the rest of the tomato sauce and then sprinkle on top of the the other 1/4 cup of bread crumbs.

Gently spread the rest o the ricotta mixture and then top with remaining mozzarella and Parmesan.

Bake for 1 hour in the oven, and then let sit for 20 minutes before cutting.

completed lasagna

completed lasagna

Slow Cooker BBQ Pork

February 9, 2012
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Is this true for you too?  When I’m working I actually find it hard to make foods in the slow cooker mid-week.   Maybe I’m just gone from the house for too many hours but I find that if I put it on before I go it’s just another almost 12 hours before I get home and then whatever it is it has cooked for too long.

Well, I found something that can sit for that long and just get better.  I made up a great BBQ pork recipe and it turned out fantastic.

Ingredients:

1 3-3.5 lb boneless pork butt

your favorite BBQ rub (I’m addicted to Lindberg-Snider Red Baron BBQ Spice)

1 medium yellow onion

2 tbps good bourbon

2 tbps worchestershire

2 tbsp soy sauce

1 bottle of your favorite BBQ sauce

Directions:

Pre-heat a pan that will fit the pork butt on medium-high heat.  Rub your pork butt all over with your BBQ rub.  Place the pork butt in the HOT pan and allow to sear for around 4-5 minutes.  Carefully turn your pork over and continue to sear each side.  While you are searing slice a medium onion in half, and then continue to slice each half so that you have nice semi-long onion slices.  Place these slices in the bottom of your slow cooker and season with pepper.   Pour 2 tablespoons of bourbon over your onion slices.

Browned Pork Butt

Browned Pork Butt

Once the pork butt has been seared on every side carefully remove it from the pan and place it in the slow cooker on top of the onion slices.  If there are any pan juices pour these on top of the pork butt.  Additionally add 2 tablespoons each of soy sauce and Worcestershire on top of the pork butt.  Pour the bottle of BBQ sauce over the pork butt reserving enough for your sandwiches (I save 1/4 of the bottle).

Onions and sauces

Onions and sauces

Place the slow cooker on low setting and then put the lid on and let cook for 8-12 hours.  The meat will be ready by 8 hours but is even better around 10-12.  If your pork butt came wrapped in a string remove the string before shredding.

Carefully shred the meat in the slow cooker.  I do this by holding the pork butt with a giant fork and then use my other hand to shred the pork with tongs.  Once all pork is shredded mix completely in the sauce and onions in the slow cooker.

Top buns with your pork and onion mixture and as much sauce as you would like.  If you enjoy extra BBQ flavor top each sandwich with your reserved BBQ sauce.

Yummy BBQ Pork

Yummy BBQ Pork

Apple Cake

December 13, 2011

Years ago, in the mid ’90s sometime, I came across this apple cake recipe in my all time favorite magazine Cooking Light. I believe it was a special holiday version focusing on recipes for Hanukkah. For whatever reason this cake called to me and I had to make it. I remembering having to find out where I could buy a spring form pan (I believe it was Michael’s) and then being so excited about making something new for Thanksgiving that we could all try. I still think it’s funny that it was so hard for me to find a spring form pan since now-a-days you can easily get them online or at the grocery store. Back then, it was only specialty shops. The best thing about this cake is how incredibly moist it is. I just love it – let me know if you try it out and if everyone you know loved it too!

Ingredients:

1 3/4 cups sugar, divided

1/2 cup stick butter, softened

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

6 ounces block-style low-free cream cheese, softened (about 3/4 cup)

2 large eggs

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

3 cups chopped peeled Granny Smith apple (about 2 large)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°.

Beat 1 1/2 cups sugar, butter, vanilla, and cream cheese at medium speed of a mixer until well-blended (about 4 minutes). Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Add flour mixture to creamed mixture, beating at low speed until blended.

Combine 1/4 cup sugar and cinnamon. Combine 2 tablespoons cinnamon mixture and apple in a bowl, and stir apple mixture into batter. Pour batter into an 8-inch springform pan coated with cooking spray, and sprinkle with remaining cinnamon mixture.

Bake at 350° for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until the cake pulls away from the sides of the pan. Cool the cake completely on a wire rack, and cut using a serrated knife.

Tips:

You can also make this cake in a 9-inch square cake pan or a 9-inch springform pan; just reduce the cooking time by 5 minutes

If you want full or fat-free cream cheese you can use that too

Don’t worry about the apple type too much.  I’ve used Roma, Gala, and Pink Lady and haven’t noticed any difference in how much I enjoy the cake.

Apple Cake

Apple Cake from the Side

Apple Cake out of the oven

Apple Cake

Bourbon Pecan Pie

December 13, 2011

‘Tis the season for pies and cookies galore.  One of my more famous pies is the Bourbon Pecan Pie that I just started making last year.  We had a pie bake-off at work and I needed something quick and easy. I found this recipe online and won the pie contest. I’ve had many requests for it since.   I can’t even pretend that I made this up – I got it straight from Paula Dean.  I can attest to the fact that I had to make up my own baking time as this one is WAY off. Enjoy!

Ingredients:

1 prepared unbaked pie crust (I like Whole Foods deep dish if not making it myself)

1 cup sugar

3 tablespoons butter, melted

1/2 cup dark corn syrup

3 large eggs, beaten

1 1/2 to 2 cups pecan halves

2 tablespoons good-quality bourbon

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

In a medium bowl, stir together the sugar and melted butter. Add the corn syrup, eggs, pecans, and bourbon, and stir until all ingredients are combined. Pour mixture into an unbaked pie shell, and place on a heavy-duty cookie sheet. Bake for 10 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees F, and continue to bake for an additional 45 minutes, or until pie is set.   To know if your pie is done jiggle it.  It should jiggle just a little in the center.  (you can also sing…jiggle it just a little bit as you do so.) If your pie is not yet ready bake for another 5 mins and check again.  Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack.

 

Unbaked Pecan Pies

Unbaked Pecan Pies

Brined BBQ Turkey

November 29, 2011

Every year we spend Thanksgiving somewhere other than our own home.  And, every year we never have enough left overs to satisfy us with many turkey sandwiches.  I’ve learned to just go ahead and buy an extra Turkey to make at home.  Typically I get something small but I always do a whole turkey.  A few years back I had Thanksgiving at my father’s house where he made two turkeys one on the grill and one fried.  I loved the grilled one so much that I’m happy I had the chance to finally try it on my own.

Making a grilled turkey is very simple.  It’s more of the set it and forget it type of cooking.  I brined my turkey the day before and then made sure I had coals for the grill.  Every year for at least 5 years now I’ve used Alton Brown’s brining recipe.  It’s never failed.  You can view his full recipe here: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/good-eats-roast-turkey-recipe/index.html

Since I live in southern California, and cannot store my turkey in a bucket in my garage letting the cold weather take place of my fridge, I have modified the recipe to allow me to brine in the fridge (oh and I’ve added a bottle of wine).

Brining Ingredients:

1 large brining bag from Williams-Sonoma
1 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 gallon vegetable stock
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 1/2 teaspoons allspice berries
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped candied ginger
1 gallon heavily iced water
1 bottle of Chardonnay

Directions:

Combine the vegetable stock, salt, brown sugar, peppercorns, allspice berries, and candied ginger in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Stir occasionally to dissolve solids and bring to a boil. Then remove the brine from the heat, cool to room temperature, and refrigerate.  If you’re impatient you can add ice cubes to your brine and just use less water later.  Your brine should be cold when you place the turkey into it.

The day or night before you want to cook your turkey:
Using a clean sink – rinse your turkey and remove the giblets and turkey neck from the cavity of the turkey.  On the other side of your clean sink place your brining bag open with the flat bottom on the bottom of the sink.
Pour in your brine, the bottle of wine, and 1 gallon of water and mix completely. Carefully, lower your turkey breast side down into the brining bag. Seal the bag tightly. Because I’m using my fridge – I found that removing everything from one of my bottom drawers where I would normally keep veggies and placing the entire turkey into that area has worked best as the turkey is contained and this allows the entire turkey to be covered in brine. If this is not going to work for you, you can just turn the turkey over in the brine every few hours.

30 mins before you are ready to BBQ your turkey remove the bird from brine and rinse inside and out with cold water. Discard the brine.

Setting up your BBQ for your Turkey

Here are the directions I followed to BBQ my Turkey with a few small changes: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/cooking-live/turkey-on-the-grill-recipe/index.html

BBQ Turkey Ingredients:

1 bag if charcoal briquets.  I like to use the Kingsford Competition Charcoal Briquets.  They aren’t loaded with chemicals and seemed to keep their heat well.  You can use whatever ones you like but I typically don’t use briquets and thus had to go get some specifically for this recipe.
1 oven ready turkey, defrosted (the turkey in your brine silly!)
1 tablespoon olive oil or vegetable oil
Salt and pepper
1 drip pan
Instant read thermometer
Directions:

Get your turkey out of the brine, rinse thoroughly, and set on a large cutting board.

Go outside and set up your briquets in your charcoal chimney – if you don’t use a chimney you will need to place the briquets in a small bunch on each side of your grill and start them as you normally would.  I have a  22 1/2-inch grill and placed 50 briquets into my chimney and started it.

Make sure that your vents on the bottom of the grill are completely open, and the vents on your lid are also completely open.

Walk back inside – while your coals are getting hot rub your turkey with the oil then cover the breast, legs, and thighs in salt and freshly ground pepper.

When the coals are ready you will need to place the drip pan in the bottom middle of your grill and create two small bundles of coals on each side of the pan.  25 each side.  The link above calls for baskets to hold your coals but who has that??  Just place them to each side of the drip pan semi-grouped up.

Place your top grate on the grill positioning each hinged side of the grate over your two coal piles.

Place your turkey, breast side up, directly above the drop pan.  Place the lid on the turkey, set your time for ONE HOUR, and walk away and go do something else.

Every hour that your turkey needs to cook you will need to go outside, place 8 coals on each coal pile, close the lid and walk away again.  If you feel that your coals are burning too fast you may want to place the new coals on every 45 minutes.

Cook 11 to 13 minutes per pound or until an instant read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh not touching bone registers 180 degrees and the juices run clear.

Remove the turkey from the grill and let sit for 15-20 minutes before carving.

Have a gas grill or a bigger or smaller grill than I do?  Please refer to the changes that you will need to make based on this article.  http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/cooking-live/turkey-on-the-grill-recipe/index.html

Potato Cheese Soup

November 10, 2011

Winter has arrived!  Well, in socal terms that means at least one or two days a week it’s 65 or below as a high!  For me, that’s good enough to start making soup.  I live in “the valley” which means it’s generally hotter at my location than most in the LA area.  And, when it’s 85-95 most days that means there is no way I’m slaving over a hot stove for any amount of time.

Last year I found this great recipe http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Cheese-and-Potato-Soup-998  And, if you know me I couldn’t just follow the recipe but it’s a great base for what I’ve been making.  And, I’ve served it to many people who have also fallen in love.

Ingredients:

4-6 slices of thick cut apple wood smoked bacon (preferably nitrate / nitrite free)

1/2 cup chopped carrot

1/2 cup chopped celery

1/2 cup chopped onion

3 sprigs fresh thyme (leaves removed from sprigs) or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

3 tablespoons all purpose flour

2 cups chicken broth

2 cups milk

2 large russet potatoes, peeled, diced

1 cup packed shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Salt and Pepper

Directions:

In your best soup pot (I used an enameled le creuset cast iron pot) add the bacon and cook at medium-high (or medium depending on the pot) until crispy and the fat has rendered out.  If you want, you can dice the bacon before you add to the pan, cut  in half, or cook as a full slice and crumble later.  I leave this particular style up to you.

Remove bacon once it’s cooked to crispy and leave 2 tbsp of bacon fat in the pot for the next step.  If you have too much carefully remove by the spoonful until you have the right amount.  If you have too little add in a bit of olive oil.

Pancetta cooked

Pancetta cooked - subbed for bacon

Combine the thyme, carrots, celery, and onion in the pan and saute for 5 mins, or until softened.  I like to also sprinkle mine with salt and pepper.

Carrots, celery, onion and thyme!

Carrots, celery, onion and thyme!

When the veg is softened add in the three tablespoons of flour and cook – stirring a good 4-6 times during the next 2 mins.

Whisk in the chicken broth – getting all of the bits up off the bottom of the pot from everything you previously cooked.  Then, whisk in the milk.  Add in the potato to your soup and bring back up to a boil.  Once the soup has come to a boil bring the heat down to medium or medium low keeping the soup at a simmer for about 20 mins.  You will need to be careful during the next 20 mins making sure the soup isn’t sticking to the bottom of your pot.  I just whisk the soup every 4 mins or so during the 20 min period.  Before you take off the heat taste a potato carefully to make sure that it’s soft and cooked.  Once it is, turn off the heat.

Add your cheese about 1/2 cup at a time mixing in well and letting each addition melt into the soup.  At this point I also taste for any salt that I need to add and we like our soup a bit spicy so I add a ton of freshly ground black pepper.  Crumble up your bacon and add it back into the soup, serve up and eat! YUM – like most soup this one is even better the next day.

Ready to eat!

Potato Cheese Soup - Ready to eat!

Pro Tips:

If you shop at Trader Joe’s you can buy the following items that make your soup making even more quick.

1. Mirepoix – measure out 1/2 cup of the oinion, celery, and carrot and then give a bit of a finer chop.

2. Instead of bacon buy their little box of pancetta.  This is already diced and still has a great bacon/ham taste.