Monday, October 31, 2011

Wine-Braised Short Ribs

Wine-Braised Short Ribs

Tonight is Halloween!  Nights like this don't we all need to get dinner on the table fast? 

Yesterday I threw tonight's dinner in the crockpot to heat up in a hurry tonight.  Then, tonight all I had to do was butter some noodles to pile the ribs and sauce onto and add a quick green salad.  Easy.  And, we finished dinner, cleaned up and were at the door to see all the kids in costume and pass out the candy with time to spare!
  • 3 lbs. meaty, bone-in short ribs
  • salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • canola oil
  • 1 C. red wine, use whatever you like to drink...besides, you probably already have it in the house!
  • 1 C. brewed coffee
  • 1 1/2 large onions, chopped roughly
  • 6 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 C. chopped carrots
  • 3 sprigs fresh oregano
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1-2 T. tomato paste
  • 1 T. honey
Sprinkle the ribs very liberally with salt and pepper.  Heat the oil in a large skillet until it is very hot, but not smoking.  Add the ribs and get a good crusty sear on them, turning to sear every side.  Remove the ribs from the skillet and move them to a crockpot.

Turn down the heat, add the onion, garlic and carrots to the skillet and stir until slightly softened.  Make a sauce by adding the red wine, coffee, tomato paste and honey to the skillet and scrape up all the good browned bits from the bottom. 

Pour the sauce over the ribs in the crockpot, nestle the oregano and bay leaves down between the ribs, cover the crockpot and cook on high for 4 1/2 hours.  Remove lid and cook an additional hour. 

You can serve this right away over buttered noodles (I use gluten-free, of course), but I like to refrigerate it and serve it the next day...only makes the flavors better!  It also allows you to take the solidified fat off the top to save yourself those extra calories!

Note:  My favorite gluten-free noodle is by Schar.  You cannot tell the difference between the Schar brand and a regular egg noodle!

Halloween Candy Bar Cookies

Halloween is HERE! After tonight, many of you will have a LOT of candy in the house. Once the kids have gobbled up all their favorite bars and you’ve picked over what’s left….what do you do with the dregs? Those poor unwanted Baby Ruths, Mr. Goodbars, Mounds and Twix bars?

Not that anyone is going to need any more sugar, but here is where this recipe comes in pretty handy! I take a basic chocolate chip cookie recipe, but instead of using chocolate chips I use my favorite extra Halloween candy bars. Just chop the bars into bite-size chunks and mix up some interesting varieties. Mounds and Milky Ways will make an interesting version of a Girl Scout Samoa, Butterfingers and peanut M&Ms should do the trick, too. Invent your own favorite concoctions and get creative with the kids, because both kids and adults will love these yummy cookies.

2 ¼ cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks of butter, softened
¾ cup sugar

¾ cups packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
2 cups chopped up chocolate Halloween candy (Snickers, Twix, Reese Peanut Butter Cups, Milkyway, Etc)


Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

In a large bowl beat together butter, white sugar, dark brown sugar and vanilla until creamy. Next beat in eggs one at a time, and set aside.

Mix together flour, baking soda, and salt. Slowly beat the flour mixture into the butter mixture until completely combined. Next add in your chopped Halloween candy.
Drop spoonfuls of cookie dough onto ungreased baking sheets, leaving room for the cookies to spread.

Bake until golden brown, about 9-12 minutes depending on oven.

Cool on wire rack and enjoy!

Friday, October 28, 2011

It's the Weekend! Now....What's for Brunch?!

Whoever sang "Everybody's working for the weekend," knew what he was singing about! (Okay, I Googled it and it's't we all have that one playing in our heads?) 

Weekends bring thoughts, and salivations, of brunch to come in our family.  We love pumpkin or apple or bacon pancakes or maybe pecan or lemon poppyseed waffles. We love our savory dishes, too, like corned beef hash or creamed chipped beef or an endless variety of omelets.  What's your favorite brunch dish?

No matter what the central focus of brunch is, all brunches go better with cocktails...mine just happens to be a Bloody Mary.  Look for a host of variations on the Bloody Mary theme in the weeks to come!  Here's what we're having this week - Huevos Rancheros with Homemade Black Beans and a good, stiff Old Bay Bloody Mary.  Happy weekend, everybody!

Beautiful Black Beans

These are the homemade black beans that put the canned ones to shame.  Serve by themselves as a side dish or in any dish calling for black beans.  Yes, these are the ones I use on the Huevos Rancheros!

1      lb  dried black beans -- picked over and rinsed
2 t.  salt
1      onion -- chopped fine
1      green bell pepper -- chopped
1      red bell pepper -- chopped
4      garlic cloves -- minced
1 T.  cumin
1/3   cup  olive oil
3 T.  tomato paste
2 T.  red wine vinegar

Soak dried beans in cold water to cover by at least 2" for an hour; drain.

In a large heavy pot, simmer beans in water, keeping the water at about 1" above beans.  Add water as necessary to keep them barely covered for 1-2 hours or until tender.  Add the salt and simmer for another 5 minutes.

While beans are cooking, saute the onion and peppers, garlic and cumin in oil over moderate heat, stirring until veggies are softened.  Add the tomato paste and cook for 2 more minutes.

When the beans are tender, stir the veggie mixture into the beans, add vinegar, salt and pepper to taste and simmer until the mixture is thickened how you like them.

Old Bay Bloody Mary

Old Bay Bloody Mary - My Version

Before I even begin to give you the recipe, I have to be honest....besides, anybody who knows me well will call me out on the celery stalk in the glass.  Busted.  That was just for show because I was desperate for a garnish!  I WILL NOT sully my bloody Mary with one of those things.  You could put an eye out!

In a pint Mason jar:
  • About 1 ½” – 2” Absolute Peppar in bottom of jar
  • Juice of ½ a lime
  • 3-4 shakes Worcestershire sauce
  • Mound of horseradish on end of fork
  • 3 - 4 shakes celery bitters (optional, but awesome!)
  • Bunch a hefty shakes of Old Bay
Stir, then add:
  • Spicy V-8 to 2” or so below rim
  • Ice cubes           
Stir again and top with a couple more shakes of celery bitters and a good squeeze of a lime wedge.  Enjoy.  Repeat.
If desired, rim glass with Old Bay or Old Bay mixed with crisp-cooked finely minced bacon!

NOTE: Not only the Huevos get a Baltimore credit today, so does the best bar in Baltimore - okay, the best bar anywhere!  John, owner and mixologist extrordinaire at Bad Decisions in the Fells Point area of Baltimore, taught me the celery bitters trick.  And, naturally, the Old Bay gets Baltimore credit as well!

Huevos Rancheros

Huevos Rancheros

The joint is known for their Cap'n Crunch-encrusted French toast piled high with berries and mounds of whipped cream.  Looked good, but the huevos rancheros knocked my socks off!   

The tortilla gets crispy on the bottom and substantial enough to pick up and eat like a slice of pizza.  Delish for breakfast or brunch!  Oh, hell…dinner, too, who are we kidding? Here is my rendition.

(makes 1)

  • 1 soft corn tortilla
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons queso fresco, crumbled (or feta or cheddar or whatever you like!)
  • 1 tablespoon black beans, drained, rinsed (this is where I use my homemade black beans instead of canned.  Of course, don’t rinse the homemade ones!)
  • 2 tablespoons guacamole, homemade (or bought!)
  • 1 tablespoon chorizo, cooked and crumbled (optional)
  • taco sauce, the thin kind, not salsa
  • sour cream or crema
  • cilantro, choppoed, to taste
  • salt and pepper, to taste
Spray a large skillet liberally with Pam and heat. Place the tortilla in the skillet for a few seconds and then flip it over for a few more seconds until the tortilla is good and hot. Gently break the egg onto the center of the tortilla and hold until the egg adheres to the tortilla – if it slides off, no big deal, just gently put it back with a spatula.

Season the egg with salt and pepper, crumble the cheese on top of the egg, sprinkle with the beans and the chorizo. Turn the heat down to medium and cover with a lid. Cook how you like your fried eggs (I like mine done easy so the yolk oozes) and remove to a plate.

Top the huevos rancheros with guac, taco sauce and cilantro….maybe a little sour cream or crema if you wish. The tortilla is crisp and crunchy, the egg and the toppings stay right in place, and you can pick it up and eat it all right down. YUM!

Maple Bacon Bourbon Cupcakes

One of my favorite things to make are boozy cupcakes on the theory that if cupcakes are good, booze makes them better! I often take baked goods in to work...needless to say my colleagues love when I do this. My latest experiment was Maple Bourbon Bacon Cupcakes (try to say that ten times fast). Since this was my very first experimental batch, my coworkers...and a band called the Devin Townsend Project, ended up being my guinea pigs! Some were a little apprehensive at first, because who would think bacon and cupcakes go together (come on, bacon is good with anything). In the end everyone loved them...including the Devin Townsend Project and their crew!

Maple Bourbon Bacon Cupcakes!

Cupcake Recipe:
2 ½ cups all-purpose floour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoons ground ginger
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 tablespoon bacon drippings
½ cup light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 ¼ cups real maple syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
½ cup buttermilk
½ cup chopped walnuts
½ lbs crumbled cooked bacon (this is for the topping)

Cupcake directions:
Heat Oven to 350 degrees. Beat softened butter, bacon drippings, and brown sugar with mixer until fluffy. Beat in eggs, maple syrup, and vanilla. Set aside.
In another bowl sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and ginger. Stir flour mixture and buttermilk gradually into the butter/sugar mixture. Stir in nuts. Fill lined muffin cups and bake 20-24 minutes, until a tooth pick comes out clean. Cool cupcakes completely before icing.
*note – if you do not want to use bacon drippings in the cupcakes you can sub the 1 tablespoon of bacon drippings for 1 tablespoon of butter.
Maple- Bourbon icing ingredients :
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
3 oz cream cheese, softened
2/3 cups dark-brown sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup real maple syrup
¼ cup bourbon ( I use Jim Beam Black)
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ½ cups powdered sugar

Maple- Bourbon icing directions:
Using an electric mixer, beat together the softened butter, cream cheese, brown sugar, and salt until light and fluffy, this should take 3-5 minutes. Continue beating and add the maple syrup, bourbon, and vanilla. Slowly beat in the powdered sugar until fluffy. Chill icing 1 hour before using. If the mixture is a little runny add more powdered sugar until consistency is right.
Frost the cupcakes when they are fully cooled and top with crumbled bacon.
If you want to make these cupcakes for kids or for your straight-edge friends omit the bourbon and use ¾ cup maple syrup instead of ½ cup

Cooking bacon in the oven:
I cook my bacon in the oven using a cookie sheet covered in foil. Put the bacon strips on the covered cookie sheet and put in the oven. Turn the oven on to 350 (do not preheat to cook the bacon) and cook for 15-20. Make sure to keep an eye on the bacon while cooking so it does not burn. When crisp take out the bacon and put bacon on a plate lined with paper towels, blot excess grease from cooked bacon. Reserve 1 Tablespoon of bacon drippings and set aside, this should be easy to do if you line the cookie sheet with foil. Crumble bacon when cool.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Apple Cider Margarita

Apple Cider Margarita

When I visit my Mom in Pittsburgh, we often stop places for good drinks and good food. One of the places we frequent is Mad Mex, because who can turn down an awesome margarita?! Last fall we tried their special Margarita of the month, the Apple Cider Margarita. OMG, it ended up being one of our favorite fall drinks! On our way home after our Mad Mex trip and a little shopping at the mall, we picked up some ingredients to recreate this awesome fall time it is!


  • 4 1/2 oz tequila
  • 1 1/2 oz triple sec
  • 1/2 c. Apple Butter
  • 1/2 c. Apple Cider
  • 3/4-1 c. ice
  • 1/4 c. Brown sugar and 1/2 t. cinnamon mixed together to rim the margarita glass

Mix apple cider and apple butter together until smooth. Put tequila and triple sec in a cocktail shaker, ice, and apple cider mixture. Either shake for a margarita on the rocks or blend for a frozen margarita. Wet the rim of your margarita glass in cider and rim the glass with the brown sugar and cinnamon mixture. Pour your margarita in the glass and enjoy!

This Is It! Our First Post!

This is kind of intimidating....eek!  Today is the very first post to our very new blog and just in time for Halloween.  From here on we'll be posting regularly with recipes and reviews and occasionally some other random stuff...and occasionally even a few guest postings.  Eh, enough of this introductory crap.  On to the recipes!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Halloween Pumpkin Bark (Barf?)

Pumpkin Bark
Nope, there's no pumpkin in this candy bark, but there's lots of Halloween candy and other goodies...all spilling out of the pumpkin. 

Just carve a craft pumpkin (buy one of these at the craft store) into a barfing pumpkin face and serve.   Happy Halloween!
  • 2 lbs. white chocolate
  • 1 c. or more M&Ms - Halloween ones!
  • 1/2 c. Craisins
  • 2 c. candy corn
  • 1 1/2 c. broken small pretzels - use gluten-free pretzels to make this gf
  • 1/2 c. cashews
  • Plus extra of all of the above to sprinkle on afterward
Spray 2 cookie sheets (with rims!) with Pam and scatter all of the above ingredients (except white chocolate) evenly across each cookie sheet.  Melt white chocolate according to package directions. 

Once the chocolate is melted, pour it evenly over the contents of both cookie sheets.  Using a small plastic bag, insert your hand into it and butter the palm of your hand on the outside of the bag.  Moving quickly, spread the chocolate over the stuff on the pans - using more Pam, if necessary.

Once the mixture is spread out well, sprinkle with additional candy, craisins, pretzels and cashews and press lightly into the still soft chocolate.  Let sit until the candy is completely set and cooled.  Break up into pieces to serve.  Store in sealable plastic bag.

Note:  To make this gluten-free (and I do!) check all your ingredients to be sure all candy, chocolate and pretzels are GF.  And enjoy!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Sweet Red and Green Stuffed Bell Peppers

Sweet Red and Green Stuffed Bell Peppers

Crisp, cool fall days and beautiful, stuffed red and green peppers are a perfect tummy-warming match.  Look for red bell peppers at the farmers’ markets while they’re plentiful and cheap!  This is my favorite recipe.

  • 4           sweet red and/or green bell peppers 
  • 1           pound  ground beef, extra lean
  • 1/2        cup  instant rice -- uncooked
  • 1/2        package  dry ranch-style dressing mix
  • 1           small  onion -- finely minced
  • 1           egg
  • 1           can  tomato soup
  • 1/2 T.    Worcestershire sauce
  •  1 t.       granulated garlic
  •              salt & pepper to taste
  • 1 t.        oregano
  •  1/3 C.  ketchup (Heinz, of course!)

Cut the tops off the peppers and pull out the seeds and insides.  Set aside.

Lightly mix all ingredients (but peppers, of course) together lightly. (Use only 1/2 a can of the soup.) 

Stuff the mixture evenly into peppers and snuggle them into a casserole dish with sides about 4” high to hold them upright.  Mix remaining 1/2 can of soup with a little white wine and ketchup to sauce consistency and pour over top of peppers.  Bake at 375 for an hour.  If you want (and I usually do), mix a little ketchup mixed with a little

NOTE:  I use the British version of Heinz Tomato Soup when I make these because it is gluten-free (but always check the label for yourself - things change!).  Find it in the International Aisle of Giant Eagle…in the British section, naturally! 

Friday, October 7, 2011

Aunt Katie's Halloween Better-Than-Popcorn Balls

Happy Halloween!

I have a question.  What happened to GOOD halloween candy?  What's up with all these teeny, tiny, itty-bitty, shrink-wrapped and sanitized fun-sized candy bars that you need a handful of to satisfy your sweet tooth? Where do they get "fun" in those things? They miniaturized the fun right out of them!

When I was a kid, we stood on the front porch, the door opened to a chorus of "Trick or Treat" and FULL SIZE Milky Ways, Snickers, Baby Ruth and Clark Bars rocketed into the bottom of our pillowcases. Yeah, no fancy schmancy goodie holders for us, we slung those pillowcase sacks over our backs and trudged from house to house in our HOMEMADE costumes, hauling home a bounty of full-sugar, cavity-producing he-man sized treats. Sometimes we had to go home, unload and head right back out again, hit even more streets and bring home yet another pillowcase full. Ah, those were the days.

The candy bars were good, but the homemade goodies were the best! Innocent times, to be sure, when it was safe to eat the homemade popcorn balls, cookies, cupcakes and caramel apples that sweet little old neighbor ladies lovingly handed out to the goblins of the night. I still like to make the homemade stuff for "special" neighborhood kids. Oh sure, they get the FULL SIZE candy bar I tuck into their designer Halloween bags, but the kids I know well, whose moms and/or dads are standing right with them at the door also get a special treat that I've made in the kitchen.

My favorite homemade Halloween treat is akin to a popcorn ball, but is made with puffed rice instead - no unpopped kernels to break a tooth! My Aunt Katie used to make these when I was a kid. Here is her recipe:

Aunt Katie's Halloween Treats

Makes 30  balls
  • 1/2     cup  butter
  • 2        cups  sugar
  • 2        cups  light corn syrup
  • 1/2     cup  water
  • 1/2     teaspoon  salt
  • 2        teaspoons  vanilla extract
  • 2        packages  puffed rice cereal -- In a bag.
Combine all ingredients but cereal and cook to hard ball stage (250 degrees to 266 degrees on a candy thermometer; without a candy thermometer, cook until a little of the syrup dropped into a cup of cold water, forms a hard ball between your fingers). 

Pour over cereal while warm and mix well with wooden spoon (a strong one!).  Butter hands and shape into balls (working quickly before it hardens in the pan).  Wrap individually in squares of wax paper.
(145 Calories each)

NOTES : If you make these with gluten-free puffed rice, they are GF!