Pepper Jam Onion and Bacon Dip

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If you love Pepper Jam, this is for you.

Recently, I came up with this very simple recipe.  Although my local jam supplier makes a very unique Red Onion Chipotle jam, you can substitute a suitable purchased or homemade onion jam.  The jam that I use here has some chipotle pepper “kick”, so adding a little pepper seasoning to intensify the heat to your liking would be a reasonable addition if you’re using a plain onion jam.

Recipe:

This is  just a simple combination of softened cream cheese, jam, and bacon.  3 ingredients mixed together in a bowl with some chips on the side.  How can you beat that?

Ingredients:

8 oz. softened cream cheese
4 oz. onion jam (or your favorite flavor)
3-4 strips of cooked and diced bacon

Combine everything in a bowl.  Garnish with sliced green onions or chopped red onion.  Serve with your favorite crackers.  Enjoy!

Posted in Cream Cheese and Bacon, Onion Dip, Onion Jam, Red Onion Chipotle | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Spicy Panko Chicken

A quick to assemble, baked version of spicy chicken.

Whether it’s Game Day or any busy week night, this is a recipe that I do hope you will go to often.  With only four ingredients, this is very easy to make and can be served in a variety of ways, making it very versatile.  Served as the protein accompaniment with vegetables and a starch, sandwiched in a kaiser roll with lettuce and tomato, or as a stand-alone game time snack, this will please almost any crowd.

Boneless chicken thighs are marinated in hot sauce, coated with a mixture of panko bread crumbs and olive oil, then baked until done.  It’s that simple; no laundry list of spices, no dredging, no deep-frying, nor any messy clean-up is required! Marinating the chicken in hot sauce provides the heat and flavor.  You can always add a little extra dry spice if you want to kick it up!

Makes 8 servings

Ingredients:

2 to 2 1/2  pounds boneless chicken thighs
5 oz. hot sauce of your choice
8 oz. (by weight) panko bread crumbs ( ~3 cups by volume)
1/2 cup olive oil

Instructions:

4-5 hours before mealtime, place the chicken in a bowl, add the hot sauce and mix to make sure it’s evenly coated.  If the thighs are large, you can cut into smaller pieces.

Cover with plastic and refrigerate.

Preheat oven to 425F about 45 minutes before mealtime.

In a bowl, combine the breadcrumbs and light olive oil.  Use a fork to work the mixture well to coat all of the panko crumbs.  The oil will help to brown the breadcrumbs.

Dip each piece of marinated chicken into the breadcrumb mixture.  Make sure all sides are coated.  (The hot sauce helps the breadcrumbs adhere well).

Place all pieces onto a sheet pan.

Coated and ready for baking. Space well, using 2 pans if needed.

Cook in 425 oven until brown and chicken is cooked through, approximately 35 minutes.

Enjoy!

Leftovers can be frozen and reheated.

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Chicken and Mango Salsa Taco

I admit that I struggle to keep a healthy diet, more often than I would like to admit.  Although I do a really good job staying away from processed foods (cooking almost everything from scratch), I eat way too many carbohydrates and dairy products-especially my personal kryptonite-cheese.  So, finding healthy alternatives needs to be a higher priority. This taco is one such replacement.

The recipe:
I won’t waste effort to detail out specific quantities, as you should customize this to your liking, but here is how I prepare them:
I make these with mango salsa (recipe here), added to some cooked, pulled chicken meat, diced avocado, additional red onion, and chopped jalapeno, placed in a flour tortilla.  A couple of splashes of fresh lime juice, and I’m happy!  
The results:
The lightness of the fruit flavor combined with the hot pepper and onion satisfies my hunger without needing cheese and/or sour cream that I would normally load up on a regular beef-style taco.  I can enjoy several of these and not feel guilty when I walk away from the table, knowing that I just enjoyed a nice balance of carbs, fruits, and lean protein. 
You can easily substitute fish for the chicken, or use any kind of fruit salsa you prefer.  Pineapple is a great substitute if you can’t find mango.  Like any taco, customize yours to your own liking.  
And, as always, 
Enjoy!
Posted in Fruit taco, health alternative, Mango Salsa | Leave a comment

New England Clam Chowder

Here’s my simple version of Clam Chowder.  Canned clams are available anywhere, so they are the most practical for the average home cook (especially those of us living in the middle part of the country).  Notice that I make use of celery seed, as you will see in more of the recipes I post.  I will use celery stalks for flavor in stocks, but often not for finished soups, I don’t care for the softness of it’s cooked form; it’s kind of bland.  So, I make use of celery seed in many soups, dressed salads, and sauces.  The same goes for onion, as I’ve substituted for green onions.  They hold up in the soup well and give some nice color.  In the summer, fresh chives work great too.

This will make just under 2 quarts, or enough for 4 hearty servings; perfect for winter (but I eat it year-round!)

Ingredients:

3-4 strips diced bacon (about 1 cup by volume)
3 cups peel and cubed potatoes
3 TBSP chopped green onions
2, 10 oz. cans canned clams, drained with juice reserved
Water, as needed to collect 2 cups total of broth and water
½ tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp celery seed
Pinch black pepper (about 1/8 tsp.)
2 TBSP chopped fresh parsley or 1 TBSP dried parsley
8 oz. Heavy Cream
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Recipe: 
1. Prep:
Dice the bacon, peel and cube the potatoes into ½” cubes, and chop green onions and parsley. 
Strain the canned clams into a 2 cup measure, reserving the juice.  Top with enough water to have 2 cups of liquid.
Measure out the salt, pepper, and celery seed.

“Everything in it’s place”-take the stress out of cooking by prepping well before the burner goes on.

2. Cook:
Sauté the bacon in a Dutch oven or heavy pot, until crisp.  Carefully drain any excess bacon grease. 
Add the potatoes and green onions; cook, stirring for a minute or two.
Add the clam/water liquid.   Cook on medium/low heat, covered, until potatoes are tender (about  12-15 minutes).
Cook on medium heat, with lid, until potatoes are fork-tender.

Add the clams, chopped parsley, and heavy cream, stirring well.  Bring heat up for several minutes, but don’t reboil.  I use a thermometer and take off the heat when the temp is around 170F.  
Finished soup
Take a taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary.  Like all cream soups, it will want to thicken as it cools.  Just thin with a little water, as needed.
3. Enjoy! 
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Focaccia Bread

If I could recommend one, single “go-to” bread for any home cook, this would be on my very short list of suggestions. It’s quick and SO easy to make.  No special proofing or kneading tricks are needed and you have an endless way to season it to your liking!  After several years of regularly making and tweaking the recipe, this is our family favorite.
The ingredients are very straightforward: Bread flour, water, active dry yeast, salt, pepper, dried herbs, olive oil, and grated Parmesan cheese.  As always, I like to find the best quality ingredients I can afford.  Cooking scratch food is so FAR cheaper than buying packaged or processed, I think the additional money is well worth if for the gain in quality!

And, I always BUY LOCAL whenever possible, as my first buying option.  For example, I use a basil infused olive oil from The Olive Twist (and yes, they ship if you live outside the NE Indiana area!)  You can substitute plain extra virgin olive oil, make your own infusion, or add a bit of extra herbs and get an equally good result.

Dough preparation is easy.  All ingredients go straight into a stand mixer, then to a 30 minute proof, and finally spread out on a greased sheet pan.  There is no kneading on a floured board.  The dough is tacky, and benefits from coating with oil to keep it from sticking to the proof bowl and the baking sheet.  
Recipe

Ingredients:

For the dough:

2 3/4 cup bread flour

2 T dried rosemary
2 T extra virgin olive oil or your favorite infusion of olive oil
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 cup warm water (~105F)
1 tsp. granulated sugar
1 T active dry yeast
pinch ground black pepper
1 greased sheet pan, ~ 17″ in length
For the topping:
1 T extra virgin olive oil 
1-2 T grated Parmesan cheese
sprinkle of dried thyme or rosemary
Instructions:
Preheat oven to 450F
Measure all dough ingredients and place all in stand mixer.
As they say, “Everyone in the pool!”

Using a dough hook, mix until a dough ball forms and peals from the sides of the bowl.  Start on a low and increase blade speed as the flour is incorporated.  If it appears too sticky, you may need to add a pinch of flour.  Watch how I stop the mixer when the dough ball is completely free of the mixing bowl.  That’s when it’s done and ready for proofing.

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Place the dough in an oiled bowl. 
Cover with a damp towel and proof for 30 minutes.
Grease a baking sheet (17″ in length is perfect) with cooking spray or a light rub of olive oil.
Oil your hands and spread the dough out to about 1/2″ to 3/4″ thickness.  Try to keep the thickness as uniform as possible.
Lightly oil the top of the dough, punch small holes with a fork, sprinkle with herbs and grated Parmesan cheese. 
Approximately 17″ X 5″.  Just use your hands.  The dough is quite forgiving.
Bake in a 450F oven for 15-18 minutes.
Cool on a rack, transfer to a cutting board and cut into squares.
Enjoy!  We like to dip the squares in some extra virgin olive oil.  Perfect to go with Soup or Pasta!
Posted in Buy Local, Focaccia, Quick Bread | Leave a comment

Boston Baked Beans


I am the proud owner of my mother’s cherished bean pot.  For decades, there was not a family celebration that did not include  “Jeanne’s Beans”,   Especially as Christmas approaches, I will make a couple of batches of beans, not just for the food, but also for the opportunity to rekindle the memory of my late mom cooking those savory morsels.  I always remember the day of Christmas Eve and smell of beans in the oven.  Good memories, indeed.

I use all the same ingredients as my mom did, with the exception of occasionally substituting thick cut bacon for salt pork.  Bacon imparts a little smokiness, but also carries lower sodium content (something of which I find important for my health).

Experience has led me to conclude that the most critical element of making a proper batch is the choice of molasses.  I personally prefer Grandma’s Molasses.  For me, no other brand imparts the correct flavor.  That, however, is my personal opinion only.  


In addition, don’t add any salt to the water when parboiling the beans.  This will make them more difficult to get tender.  

The cooking process starts with soaking dried beans the night before, about an hour of hands on time at the stove and then about 6 hours of cook time in the oven.  A proper ceramic bean pot is recommended.  Honestly, I won’t even try to give any advice on how to make this recipe in a crock pot or other cooking vessel.  I would venture a guess, however, that a dutch oven would probably be the closest substitute.  For this, I am a strict traditionalist and will forever faithfully use a New England-made ceramic bean pot.

Hands-on time ~ 60 minutes
Total cook time: 6-7 hours in a 300F oven


Ingredients:

1 lb. dry pea beans

2/3 cup molasses
2 T light brown sugar
2 tsp dry, ground mustard
1/2 tsp salt
pinch black pepper

1/2 medium onion, chopped
4 oz. salt pork or thick bacon, diced

1 cup reserved water from parboil of beans
2 additional cups of water*

Directions:

Soak the beans in a bowl of cold water, wrap bowl in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight, or a minimum of 6 hours.

Rinse the beans, place in a large sauce pot, and add water to cover.  Heat to boiling and cook on low boil until the skins of the beans burst when you blow on them on a spoon.  This will take about 45 minutes.

Note: the beans will naturally foam off as they give off their starch.  I simply skim it off until it stops.  


Beans are ready for bean pot when the skins burst by gently blowing on them.



Skimmed starch from the pot.  


While beans are parboiling, chop/dice your pork and onions, and measure the molasses, brown sugar, mustard, salt, and pepper in a 2 cup measure.




Molasses, brown sugar, mustard, salt, and pepper.




When the beans are ready, reserve one cup of the water and add it to the molasses, spice mixture.  




Drain the beans in a colander.  Now, it’s time to get everything in the pot.

Spoon one half of the beans into the bean pot.  Next, add one half of the onions and the pork over the beans.

Spoon the remaining beans and the the remaining pork and onions over that.  

Lastly, pour the contents of the 2 cup measure over everything. 

Add enough additional tap water to completely cover the contents of the bean pot.  

Everything is in the pot, ready for lid and time in the oven.



(*I have found that using more than 1 cup of water from the par-boil pot causes everything to get too starchy and thick.)  Also, there have been times that I forgot to reserve 1 cup from the pot.  No worries, you can use tap water for that and make great beans too!

Bake in a 300F oven for 6 hours.  Give the pot a check after 2 hours in the oven, add a little more water if the beans are not still covered in liquid.  Test after 6 hours and give additional time, as needed until beans are tender.

Still making beans after 50 years!  Aluminum foil used simply to protect a small crack from wear.



Now, if you want to get the whole French Canadian experience as I often did as a kid growing up, serve with hot dogs or fried bologna, some bread and sliced tomato!  Otherwise, enjoy as you wish!!

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Easy Pasta with Vodka Sauce




This is such an easy meal to make.  I took the idea from the “one pan” pasta recipes that have become so popular (with good reason!) and turned it into a quick vodka sauce recipe for your favorite pasta.  Flavorful, filling, inexpensive and quick to prepare and clean-up, this is a regular item on our home menu.  I hope it becomes one of your favorites too!  

The ingredients are common items stored in a typical pantry (chicken stock, canned crushed tomatoes, pasta, olive oil, bay leaves, garlic, and dried herbs).  A dash of vodka from the liquor cabinet and bit of heavy cream and you’re basically good to go.

Vodka sauce is primarily served with Penne, however, I like to use different pasta shapes.  Truth be told, I used Rigatoni for these picture because it is what I had on hand.  Now, why vodka?  From the research I’ve done, vodka’s role here is to enhance the flavor of the tomatoes that can only be brought out by alcohol.  Vodka works well for this purpose, as it has no distinct flavor of its own, like a wine or brandy. 



Recipe

Ingredients:

2 T olive oil
2 medium bay leaves
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
4 medium cloves garlic, minced 
1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning

32 oz. low or no-sodium chicken stock
1 lb. dry pasta

2-3 T flat leaf parsley, coarsely chopped (or 1T dried)
1/4 cup vodka

1/2 cup heavy cream

Directions:

In a 2 quart pot on medium heat, add the olive oil, bay leaves, salt, pepper flakes, tomatoes, garlic, and Italian seasoning.

Simmer for 5 minutes.

Add the chicken stock and pasta.  Bring to slow boil.  Stir occasionally to avoid the pasta from sticking.

As the pasta cooks, the sauce will reduce and thicken.

When the pasta has a few minutes before being fully cooked, add the parsley and vodka.

When pasta is cooked, turn off the heat.  Stir in the heavy cream and add some ground or cracked pepper.  Check seasoning and adjust salt, if needed.

Plate and garnish with grated Parmesan cheese and chopped parsley.  

Enjoy!


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