Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Slow Cooker Balsamic Spaghetti and Meatballs

I've been making spaghetti sauce all my life. Every conceivable type of ingredients, with meatballs, without meatballs, with olives, without olives, with mushrooms, without mushrooms etc. etc. etc. And don't even get me started on spices which are an inexhaustible number of combinations.

All that being said, this is a "middle of the road" recipe in that it's NOT totally from scratch, thereby making it easier to throw together, yet offset with some quality ingredients and cooking times that make it extraordinarily good tasting. And this is, for what it's worth, the product of many instances of making my own sauce.

By the way, DO pay attention to cooking times. I finally figured out that it IS possible to overcook spaghetti sauce. I spent the longest time thinking the longer you slow-cooked a sauce the better it must be right? And then one time, I was in a hurry, and only cooked a sauce for 4 hours. Oh my gosh, it was good. The sauce was brighter, both in color and taste, had a "tang" to it that was delicious, and overall tasted "fresher" if you know what I mean. I believe cooking too long will begin to break down components of the tomato and render it overcooked and somewhat drab in flavor.

The particular recipe here has a mixture of ingedients that create a unique combination of flavors that are complex, yet robust and tangy and deliciously offset with an italian cheese topping. Do give it a try, and let me know what you think.

Ingredients and Method:

1 large yellow onion, peeled and diced
5 - 6 cloves garlic, peeled and diced
1 shallot, peeled and sliced
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 28 oz can quality diced tomatoes with sauce. (It's ok if it contains spices)
29 oz of quality tomato sauce
1 small can tomato paste
2 tablespoons spaghetti seasonings
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon rosemary
3 bay leaves
4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 package frozen fully cooked Italian meatballs (such as mama lucia)
1 tablespoon salt

In a medium saucepan over medium heat saute onions, shallots and garlic in olive oil until soft and becoming translucent

Meanwhile in slow cooker, add ALL the remaining ingredients EXCEPT salt and balsamic vinegar! (Gotta show off my new toy)

Add the sauteed vegetables on top. Stir thoroughly once. Cover. If your slow cooker vents slightly during cooking, that's great. If it doesn't you may want to prop it open slightly so it will as you want the sauce to thicken slightly. (Besides, don't ya want to smell it as it cooks?) If you can't do that or don't want to, don't worry, just let it cook the last hour uncovered.

Heat on HIGH for 90 minutes. Then heat on low for 4 hours. (I know I said 4 hours total, but you got to get it up to cooking temp first, sheesh, trust me) And if you can avoid it, do NOT uncover while cooking.

With one hour to go, add the salt and the balsamic vinegar, stir, cover, and complete the cooking process. The reason you add the Balsamic last is you want the Red Wine vinegar to permeate the sauce first, and then "freshen" the sauce the last hour with Balsamic.

Meanwhile, prepare your pasta, and get ready to enjoy one great tasting sauce. Top with whatever Italian/combination cheese you like, but I still say, ya can't beat basic, good ole shredded parmesan.

It's THAT easy...... and it is one GREAT sauce....


p.s Makes GREAT Italian Meatball Sandwiches the next day too!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Cranberry Streusel Shortbread Bars

The holidays generally are times when we stick with traditions. Traditional activities, traditional foods, traditional customs, etc.

When it comes to baking though I like to try different things, especially in light of this blog I'm attempting to build.

10 days ago I made a Cranberry Banana bread that I was very pleased with. A different, but delicious blend of flavors. It was well received by all.

I therefore was left with half a bag of fresh cranberries, so I searched for an interesting cookie/bar recipe and I think I came up with one. These are simply very very good. I bet if you try them, they may become part of a new tradition at your house as they did in mine.

Adapted from: Fine Cooking and CookieBakerLynn

Crust and Topping:

1 cup plus 5 tablespoons butter, melted
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoons salt
3 egg yolks
3 cups flour

Cranberry topping:

1/2 bag (6 oz) fresh or frozen cranberries, picked over, rinsed, and drained
about 1-1/4 cups dried cherries
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 cup water

Line a 9x13-inch baking pan with parchment paper, leaving an overhanging edge.

In a medium bowl, stir the butter, 3/4 cup of the sugar, and the salt. Whisk in the egg yolks. Stir in the flour to make a stiff dough. Transfer about 2 cups of the dough to the prepared pan, and press the mixture evenly into the bottom. Prick the dough all over with a fork. Refrigerate the pan for 30 minutes to firm up the dough.

Position a rack in the center of the oven and another near the top. Heat the oven to 325 deg. F.

Bake the dough on the center rack until the crust begins to set and is just beginning to brown around the edges. about 20 minutes.

While the crust bakes prepare the filling and topping. With your fingers, combine the remaining 1/3 cup sugar (I used brown sugar instead) with the reserved dough until crumbly. The mixture should hold together when pressed, but readily break into smaller pieces. I found I needed to add another two tablespoons of flour to get it exactly the right crumbly consistency.

In a medium saucepan, bring the cranberries, sugar, nutmeg and 1/4 cup water to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium high and continue to boil until the liquid is reduced to a thick syrup, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let the mixture cool for 5 to 10 minutes - the syrup will continue to thicken as the mixture cools.

Spread the cranberry mixture evenly over the hot crust. Scatter the streusel over the cranberries. Increase the oven temperature to 350 deg. F and bake the bars near the top of the oven until the streusel is golden and set, about 25-30 minutes. (Baking at the top of the even allows the streusel to brown without getting the bottom crust overdone.)

Set the pan on a cooling rack. Cool at least 1 hour, until the crust is completely firm.

When the bottom of the pan is cool, carefully lift the bars from the pan using the parchment paper and transfer them to a cutting board. Cut into squares.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Banana Cranberry Bread

Here's a seasonal bread I haven't tried before but the combination of bananas and cranberries sounded interesting, so I gave it a shot.

We all enjoyed the results, especially warmed, with some cream cheese.

Ingredients and Method:

1/4 cup softened butter
1 cup of sugar
2 eggs
2 bananas, well ripened
1 cup fresh cranberries, washed and cut in half
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 3/4 cup flour
Mix sugar and butter together in a mixer. Add the eggs and mix well. Add the mashed bananas and cranberries and vanilla.
Sift together the remaining dry ingredients and add to mixer. Mix briefly to just incorporate.
Pour into greased 9 x 5 inch loaf ban.
Bake for 55 minutes until browned and toothpick comes out clean.

Let cool in pan for 15 minutes before removing to finish cooling.

Serve plain, or with butter, or cream cheese.


Original recipe : Wilson's Farm, Lexington, MA. Via Melissa.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Crockpot Yankee Beef Stew

Have you ever had some soup somewhere and it was so good you then tried to duplicate it at home? I've tried this and generally failed. I'd make good soup, but it just wasn't as good as what I was trying to duplicate. (See here)

Last weekend I came across some Yankee Beef Stew soup and it was absolutely delicious. Just like a Yankee Pot Roast dinner with pot roast, carrots, potatoes, etc. but with much more gravy.

So I searched around and tweaked some recipes to come up with my own version and decided once again, to try and duplicate it.

And THIS TIME, dammit, I hit one out of the park!

This soup came out so good, you gotta try it sometime.


1 4 - 6 pound Chuck Roast, bone in or out
1/2 cup flour
1/4 olive oil and 2 tablespoons butter
1 large yellow onion
5 cloves of garlic
1 can diced tomatoes with juice (plain or spiced)
1/3 cup cooking sherry

1/3 cup and 1/3 cup red wine vinegar (1/3 cup at the beginning, and 1/3 cup at the end of cooking to "freshen" the soup)

1 tablespoon dried thyme (Tip: 1 tablespoon might seem like a lot, but thyme floats and when you degrease the soup, a lot of the thyme will be discarded, but the essence remains)

4 bay leaves
3 sliced peeled and diced carrots
3 washed and sliced celery
2 cups small white potatoes, washed and chopped in half
32 ounces quality beef broth (1 quart)
2 beef bouillon cubes
salt and pepper to taste (I add one tablespoon of each at the beginning and it was perfect)

Pour olive oil into pan, add butter and turn to medium. Meanwhile liberally flour the chuck roast
with flour. When pan begins to smoke, immediately add roast and sear on each sides until dark brown. (About 10 minutes per side)

Meanwhile, prepare vegetables. Carrots and celery sliced, onion diced into large chunks, and the garlic can be largely diced also. As stated, potatoes are washed, and just cut in half. (You will not saute potatoes)

When chuck is browned, lay it immediately into the crockpot and place potatoes over it. Add some oil to pan and saute the onions, garlic, celery, and celery for about 15 minutes until onion begins to soften. Make sure you scrape up all bits of browned meat and flour (called fond) in with the vegetables.

Pour vegetables on top of roast and potatoes. Add tomatoes and juice, beef broth, bouillon cubes, thyme, bay leaves, sherry and the wine vinegar. (Reserving the other 1/3 cup for the end of the process) Add salt and pepper.

Cook on high for one to two hours until it boils and then turn down to medium and cook for six to eight hours more.

When one hour is left, the roast should be floating near the top of the pot. I like to remove it at this point, and cut off any visible connective tissue and any fat, and then separate the balance of the roast into nice sized slices/chunks and return to the crockpot. At this point you should degrease the top of the soup. There will only be a few tablespoons but get it out of there.

Let it cook for another hour, and then let it sit for one half hour before serving. Now, here is one BIG secret about this soup, or any crockpot soup for that matter..... It will be good fresh out of the crockpot, but the next day, after cooling and reheating, it will knock your socks off as the flavors mellow and blend. Trust me.

And enjoy.

Oh, by the way, MY bowl of soup is accompanied by my homemade Oatmeal Molasses Bread. It was purty good, I gotta tell ya.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Recipe - Potatoes Grande

The best cheese potato dish I've ever had. We fight over the leftovers the next day.

Now here's the deal. We ALL have cheesy potato recipes that our families love. And we tend to make them staples at our certain meals and never vary. Also called Scalloped Potatoes they generally have milk, and onions, or shallots, and/or garlic, or (ugh) condensed soup, etc. etc. etc.in addition to various types of cheeses.

And I bet what you make is good, and you are to be commended. But would you do me a favor? Please?

Try MY recipe one time. Just try it. And then let me know what you think. And tell me you and whoever didn't fight over the last scrap left in the baking dish.

I know it's rich, I know it's dense, and I know it doesn't necessarily look all that appetizing with all the browning on top. But let me tell you...... just don't make it that often.

I usually only make it once a year at Easter when I'm serving Dakin Farms Maple Glazed Spiral Sliced Ham.

OK, well maybe I make it a couple more times during the year.

OK, to be honest, when I make it, I also make little Grande Potato dishes in Pyrex dishes and freeze them, so when I need a quick "Grande" hit, I can just pop them in the oven.

And as for the unattractive "Brown" or "Burnt" crusting...... My God, THAT'S the best part!

Anyway, my blog is all about, good food, just post the recipe, and try to photograph adequately. I don't spend a lot of time talking about this and that, as some blogs do.

But, this a personal recipe I posted months ago, when I had zero readers, so I'm featuring it again....and all I ask is, try it, and see if it doesn't become a STAPLE in YOUR inventory.

Trust me on this one.

3½ hours | 30 min prep


  • 3 medium russet potatoes
  • salt and pepper
  • 3 cups sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 pint heavy whipping cream
Double all ingredients if you want to make more in a 13 x 9 dish.
  1. Slice unpeeled potatoes thinly, not more than 1/4" thick.
  2. In a casserole dish, (8 x 8)layer potatoes, salt, pepper, and a cup of cheese.
  3. Repeat layers until all potatoes are used.
  4. (Reserve 1/2 cup cheese for last layer) Pour entire contents of heavy cream over casserole.
  5. Bake at 300 degrees for approximately 2 hours. It's a deliberate slow bake to steep all the ingredients. I sometimes let it go another hour as it gets crunchier and crunchier.
  6. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Let it get as dark brown as you like, it only gets better.


Recipe - Ron's Green Bean Casserole

Yes, we all have recipes for Green Bean Casserole, but THIS one is the best...Check it out and see if you don't agree. No milk, no cheese, no onions, no sour cream....just these four ingredients....I've been making this for 30 years and it is a staple. (psst.... the secret ingredient is the soy sauce.... try it before you dis it...)

1¼ hours | 10 min prep


  • 2 (8 ounce) cans green beans, drained
  • 2 (8 ounce) cans cream of mushroom soup
  • 3-5 tablespoons soy sauce (depending on individual taste)
  • 1 (6 ounce) can French-fried onions
  1. In a bowl combine all ingredients, reserving 1/4 cup of the onions.
  2. Mix thoroughly and transfer to 8 x 8 casserole dish.
  3. Sprinkle remaining onions over the top.
  1. Bake at 375 degrees for 45 to 75 minutes or until golden brown. (Don't worry if you bake it longer)

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Cream Cheese Vanilla Pound Cake

A cream cheese pound cake recipe with butter and vanilla. Rich, and dense, and moist and absolutely delicious. Can be served topped by fruit, caramel, dulce de leche, whipped cream or anything else you may think of. The interesting this is, I made this for my kids for years, and they always wanted it plain, it's that good.


  • 1 cup butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 3 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, room temperature
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour, sifted before measuring
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract (Yes, in addition to the vanilla bean)


In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and shortening and split the vanilla bean and scrape seeds into mixture. With mixer on medium speed, gradually beat in the sugar. Beat in cream cheese. Add flour, alternating with the eggs, beginning and ending with flour. Stir in vanilla. Pour batter into a greased and floured 10-inch tube pan or Bundt cake pan.

Bake at 325° for about 1 hour and 15 minutes to 1 hour and 25 minutes, until a wooden pick comes out clean when inserted in the center. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes, then remove to a rack to cool completely.

A note about the cooking time. This is a very thick batter so it will probably take ALL of the baking times listed if not a little bit longer. Do check the cake often with the wooden pick technique as you don't want it not quite baked in the very middle. By the same token, it can start to burn pretty quickly, so watch it carefully towards the end of the cycle.

I made this recipe for this post in a oblong baking dish, but I really would recommend a tube pan or a Bundt cake pan.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Homemade Vanilla Extract

Know how to make Vanilla Extract? I didn't either.

But then I "scored" some vanilla beans at an incredible price and started reading about other uses for them.

Little did I know Vanilla Extract is nothing but rum or vodka steeped in split vanilla beans for about 8 weeks.... and beyond.....

So here we go.....this is day six....

I'm going to bottle it for gifts over the Holidays, with a half vanilla bean inside which keeps it's potency continuing. Although, it takes eight weeks to steep so I'll be late. But hey, story of my life.

I once bought presents for my family in another state in October, wrapped them, boxed them and placed the box on a chair.

And it became part of the decor.

I think it was like February or so when I realized I'd never mailed the box of presents.....LOL

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Crockpot Split Pea Soup

I've noticed I don't see a lot of split pea soup featured on blogsites. It's probably because it's not fancy enough and is considered kind of pedestrian. But have you ever noticed that whenever you go anywhere that serves a variety of soups (like the supermarket) that the pot containing the split pea soup is always EMPTY? Ever noticed that? What does that tell ya?

So this weekend it was gray, rainy, windy and chilly. And all I wanted was some split pea soup and cornbread. So I made some. Here's my take on it:

1 15 oz bag split peas (green or yellow or both) rinsed, soaked overnight, and picked over
4 tablespoons canola oil or olive oil
1 yellow onion diced
4 cloves of garlic diced
2 carrots peeled and sliced thinly
2 leeks washed and sliced thinly, white and light green parts only
2 celery stalks washed and sliced thinly
2 smoked ham hocks
32 oz Chicken broth
4 bay leaves
1 tablespoon thyme
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon ground pepper

Pour rinsed split peas into crockpot.

Saute onion, garlic, leeks, carrots, and celery in oil until the onion begins to soften and turn translucent.

Add two ham hocks to crockpot along with bay leaves, salt and pepper and thyme. Add sauteed vegetables.

Pour chicken broth over the contents of the crockpot.

Cover and cook on high for 4 hours, turn to medium and cook another 8 hours until peas are fully cooked and break down when stirred. I recommend NOT using a submersible blender as you want the carrots and celery and leeks to remain somewhat intact.

Remove ham hocks from the soup and discard. (Some folks recommend cutting meat off the ham hock and adding to the soup, but I rarely find much meat in a ham hock so I just discard. As a variation, I sometimes add sliced kielbasa or cubed ham to the soup during the last hour of cooking.)

Important: Degrease soup by skimming the top layer of oil/grease and discarding.

If soup is too thick when done, or when serving later just add water and mix well.

Serve and garnish with a bit of sour cream and/or croutons and parsley.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Dulce de Leche Pumpkin Pie

Yes, I love pumpkin pie. But I like pumpkin pie that's a little different. I've tried Chocolate Pumpkin Pie, Pecan Pumpkin Pie, Pumpkin Cheesecake Pie, Sour Cream Pumpkin Pie, Pumpkin Cream Cheese Pie, etc. etc.

I came across a recipe for Dulce de Leche Pumpkin and immediately knew I had to try it. Thanks to Recipegirl.com for posting this recipe.

1 deep dish pie crust (I used frozen in this rendition)
3/4 cup Dulce de Leche (I splurged and bought some imported.... see below)
2 eggs
1 15 oz. can Pumpkin puree
1 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1/2 tsp salt
1 12 oz can evaporated milk

Spoon Dulce de Leche into the pie crust and spread evenly all over the bottom.

In a bowl beat eggs well with the brown sugar and add all the remaining ingredients and mix well.

Slowly pour egg mixture into the pie plate. Place pie on a cookie sheet to catch any overflow. (And it will overflow a bit, trust me, don't skip this step)

I found a had about a cup of mixture left over so I poured some Dulce de Leche into two pyrex baking dishes and just poured the pumpkin mixture on top.

Bake at 375 degrees for 55 minutes to an hour. The pie will be a bit jiggly in the very middle but firm from there out. Remove, it will continue to bake a bit as it cools.

See that Dulce de Leche trying to escape? Don't worry, almost ALL of it stayed in the pie.

Serve with Whipping cream and chopped toffee if desired.

Enjoy! This pie is REALLY good!

From Argentina! Muito Bom!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Dulce de Leche Pear Bread Pudding

I'm a big fan of Bread Pudding. I came across this recipe from Culinary Concoctions by Peabody and she was kind enough to let me adapt it for my blog. Naturally once again, her photographs make mine look amateurish, BUT, the recipe tastes just as good despite my optic endeavors.

This bread pudding is deliciously soft and crunchy at the same time and the addition of the pears is a great idea. Combined with Dulce de Leche and it ranks right up there. This batch did NOT last very long.

1 French Baguette
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup evaporated milk
4 egg yolks
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
1 cup peeled fresh sliced pears or canned pear slices.
½ cup golden raisins or currants

Preheat oven to 350F.

Leave the bread out overnight so it turns slightly stale.

In an greased 8-x-8-inch pan, sprinkle as many bread pieces as you can on the bottom. Sprinkle with ½ of the diced pears and ¼ cup raisins.

Mix the egg yolks, sugars, vanilla extract and spices together in a bowl. Then stir in the heavy cream and evaporated milk.

Pour the custard over the bread first layer of bread. Add a layer of pears and 1/4 cup of the raisins.

Add another layer of bread and pears and raisins. Pour balance of egg mixture over pudding.

Press down gently with a spatula so all the bread gets soaked in the egg mixture.

Bake the bread pudding for 45 minutes to an hour until golden on top. Cool 10 minutes and serve warm.

Serve with Dulce de Leche or Caramel sauce. The Dulce de Leche pictured below is the best I've ever tasted. It's imported from Argentina and is thick, deeply colored, and delicious.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Janna's Jam

One of the advantages of having a food blog apparently, is that occasionally you get to try something for free.

And, sometimes it's worth blogging about.

This is definitely one of those times.

I was talking to a co-worker who informed she likes to do canning and offered to let me try her most recent offering. I thought to myself, ok, yeah, I'll try your strawberry jam.

Much to my surprise, it was an onion confit. (I even had to go look it up, a confit is: A condiment made by cooking seasoned fruit or vegetables, usually to a jamlike consistency.)

It is absolutely delicious!

I've tended to use it much like a Chutney with Steak, hamburgers and even ham.

It is pungent, savory, slightly sweet, with a fascinating blend of flavors. I must admit, I even just spread it on some Ritz crackers and ate about eight of them with nothing but the Onion mixture. (And a cold Beck's beer, heaven...lol)

It's a combination of Walla Walla sweet onions, Red Wine, White Wine Vinegar, Sugar,
and some secret spices.

Janna herself recommends you can use it as follows:

Make a pocket in thick cut steaks and stuff in onion confit, then BBQ to medium doneness (serve with sautéed mushrooms and taters)

Add to an Au Jus for French dip sandwiches

Add to any brown gravy

Split a ciabatta roll and put onion confit and slices of goat cheese or cheddar on to make a Panini

Substitute for cranberry sauce on turkey or chicken sandwiches

Eat out of the jar.

If you would like to try some yourself contact Janna at jannawood@hotmail.com

Limited supply at $4.00 per jar.