Chef Time!

Chef Time!

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Those Wonderful and Delicious Apples

Not only are apples are healthy snacks, but the can be a very delicious snacks as well. My fiance Wanda Rima and I enjoy an occasional apple every now and then. But this weekend, I plan to treat Wanda to a whole new level in eating apples.

I am going to make her the Apple Fritter Cake and if I have some apples leftover, I'll make a loaf of Apple Fritter Bread. If that doesn't say "I love you", then I'm going to be at a loss for words.



Country Apple Fritter Bread

Bread Loaf
1/3 c. light brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
2/3 c. sugar
½ c. butter, softened
2 eggs
1 ½ tsp. vanilla
1 ½ c. flour
1 ¾ tsp. baking powder
½ c. milk
2 apples, peeled and chopped (any kind), mixed with 2 tablespoons sugar and 1 teaspoon cinnamon

Old Fashioned Creme Glaze
½ c. powdered sugar
1-3 tbsp. milk or cream (depending on thickness of glaze wanted)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Use a 9x5 inch loaf pan and spray with non stick spray or line with foil and spray with non stick spray to get out easily for slicing. Mix brown sugar and cinnamon together in a bowl. Set aside. In another medium sized bowl, beat white sugar and butter together using an electric mixer until smooth and creamy. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time, until blended in; add in vanilla. Combine and whisk flour and baking powder together in another bowl and add into creamed butter mixture and stir until blended. Mix milk into batter until smooth.
Pour half the batter into the prepared loaf pan; add half the apples and half the brown sugar/cinnamon mixture. Lightly pat apple mixture into batter. Pour the remaining batter over apple layer and top with remaining apples and brown sugar/cinnamon mixture. Lightly pat apples into batter; swirl brown sugar mixture through apples using knife or spoon.
Bake in the preheated oven until a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean, approximately 50-60 minutes.
To make glaze, mix powdered sugar and milk or cream together until well mixed.
Let cool for about 15 minutes before drizzling with glaze.
Optional
Next time I think I would add in walnuts. You can always use other fruit, or you could add in chocolate chips too! (Of course!)
Substitutions: I've also substituted this with ½ cup Greek Yogurt, 1/3 cup milk and add ¼ teaspoon baking soda instead of ½ cup milk as called out in the bread loaf ingredients.
Baking options: Bake 30-40 min. for 2 loaf recipe, 15-20 minutes for muffins or 50-60 minutes for one full loaf recipe or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Apple Fritter Cake

Filling
2 c. chopped Granny Smith Apples (about 2 medium)
1/3 c. sugar
½ tsp. cinnamon
Pinch of nutmeg
2 tbsp. cornstarch
2 tsp. water
½ c. brown sugar
½ tsp. cinnamon

Cake
1/3 c. butter, room temperature
¾ c. sugar
½ c. applesauce
1 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs
2¼ c. flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 c, Greek yogurt or sour cream

Glaze
2 c. powdered sugar
1/3 c. milk
1 tsp. vanilla

Make Filling
In a medium saucepan combine apples, granulated sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, cornstarch and water. Heat over medium heat for 5-6 minutes until apples soften and a liquid thickens. Set aside to cool.
Mix dark brown sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl and set aside.

Cake
Preheat oven to 350.
Spray a 9x13 inch pan with baking spray.
In your mixing bowl beat butter and sugar, about 3 minutes until fluffy. Add applesauce, vanilla and eggs and mix on medium until combined. In a separate bowl whisk together flour, baking powder, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Add the dry mixture and the Greek yogurt in alternating parts, starting and ending with the dry. Mix until just combined. Spread ½ the cake batter in the bottom of the prepared pan. Top with the apple mixture, spreading carefully to cover the batter. Then top with 2/3 of the brown sugar, sprinkling all over the apple mixture. Cover with the remaining batter and sprinkle the remaining ⅓ of the brown sugar all over the top. Bake 35-40 minutes, or until the center of the cake is set.

Glaze
While the cake is baking prepare the glaze by mixing the powdered sugar, milk and vanilla in a medium bowl.
When cake is done, immediately poke holes in the cake using a butter knife, about 30 pokes. Pour the glaze over the top of the cake spreading to cover it completely.
Let the glaze set up for about 20 minutes before serving.

BACON CHEESEBURGER MEATLOAF

Calling all bacon cheeseburger fans.  This is your meatloaf! Eat it hot or cold on a bun–just like the burger joints.

Last night I made my fiance bacon cheeseburger meatloaf. It was her first of many dishes, that she has tried. I think she may have become addicted to my cooking, for she is really enjoying herself.
We take turns with cooking dinners and she has made dishes that are also many first for me as well.

This is one quick and easy meatloaf.  Mix it, bake it, that’s it.

I have to admit that generic meatloaf is not my favorite thing to eat.  I have discovered another good one quite by accident, and that’s my Maple Meatloaf where what I thought was going to be a disaster became one of the best I ever tasted.

Since I love bacon cheeseburgers, I figured I’d have a go at something that resembled that so I tried this with classic steak/burger seasonings.

I chose to include it in the mix rather than putting it on top of the meatloaf, so that I can have my bacon with every bite. To me, it was more like a real cheeseburger that way. But if you are not so inclined, laying bacon across the top and tucking it under will do just as well.

If you want to bake this in a classic loaf pan, then you have to wrap it with bacon before putting it in the pan.  I rarely use a loaf pan to bake meatloaf due to the fat.  I prefer to shape it into a loaf and bake it on a rack in an oblong pan.  That way, the fat just renders out and the meat isn’t sitting in it, and with this particular meatloaf, there will be fat because of the bacon.

BACON CHEESEBURGER MEATLOAF

2 lbs. very lean ground beef
¾ cup plain bread crumbs
2 eggs
¼ cup chopped onion
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. pepper
1 tbsp. worcestershire sauce -OR- steak sauce
1-2 tbsp. ketchup (use the 1 tbs if using steak sauce)
1-2 tbsp. mustard (I like using the spicy brown mustard)
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
8-10 slices bacon, cut into pieces

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
In a large bowl, mix all ingredients. Form into a loaf shape.
Top with either a fancy bacon lattice, or lay strips across the top. Make sure to tuck the bacon under the bottom of the meatloaf.
Place in an oblong pan (I used 11 x 7-inches) and bake for 50-60 minutes or until internal temperature is 160 degrees.
Serves 6-8

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Ricotta pie (torta di ricotta)

Anybody acquainted with Italian women knows that they often deem their recipe the "right" way to make something. My grandmother, Nan, is no exception.

I recently learned that Nan was about my age (let's say mid 30s) when she set out to distinguish her cooking from that of her older sisters.

"Nan was the first person in the family to use pineapple in her Easter ricotta pie," my mother told me later that year year

According to my mom, Nan grudgingly ate her sisters' ricotta pies every Easter but thought they were "too dark" from "that awful citron" they used instead of fresh citrus zest. (Citron is a thick, lemony peel that is candied and used in baking.)

Determined to make a more cheerful-looking pie, Nan did what no youngest sister in an Italian family of six children should ever do: She showed up at her elder sister's house one Easter Sunday, proudly carrying her own newfangled ricotta pie with pineapple. It was as yellow as an Easter chick.

There were mumblings in Italian and raised eyebrows among the women. When dessert time came, all the men agreed: Nan's pie was the best — beautiful and delicious. Her sisters conceded victory.

Well, that's the way Nan would tell it anyway. That ricotta pie was so good that more than 65 years later, I still make it every Easter.

For Italians, Easter means both religious and culinary celebration. Since it is preceded by Lent, a time for fasting, Easter Sunday is a day to rejoice and to indulge, especially in sweets.

During Easter time, bakeries in both Italy and Italian-American neighborhoods offer a dazzling array of sweet and savory pies. There are regional variations among recipes in both countries, but some of the most popular Easter pies, which my family treasures, include ricotta pie, rice pie and pizza chena.

Ricotta pie (torta di ricotta) is an Italian cheesecake traditionally associated with Easter. Savory versions include meats, cheeses and herbs, while sweet pies are flavored with citron, citrus zest, nuts and/or chocolate.

Ricotta pie is sometimes confused with pastiera Napoletana, a more time-intensive grain and ricotta cheese pie that is made by soaking whole wheat kernels for up to three days. Since these kernels are difficult to find in the U.S., farro or barley is often substituted.

Many years ago my mother made traditional pastiera Napoletana, soaking the grains for 72 hours, only to have everyone complain that it was too mushy and not as good as her "regular" ricotta pie. That was the last time we ever had pastiera Napoletana.

Rice pie (torta di riso) has always been my personal favorite. Most sweet rice pies are made from eggs, rice (usually Arborio), ricotta cheese and citrus (most popularly, lemon).
As it bakes, the starchy rice sinks to the bottom of the pie while a thick layer of velvety, lemon-laced custard forms on top. All of this creamy goodness is encased in a sweet, flaky pie crust.

Though rice pie traditionally graces the dessert table on Easter Sunday, the best time to eat it is Monday morning. After being refrigerated overnight, it is pleasantly chilled and tastes like a cross between rich ricotta pie and silky lemon panna cotta, an Italian cooked cream.

The pie that really stole the show every Easter, though, was my grandmother's savory pizza chena. Pizza chena, a Neapolitan dialect term meaning "full pie," is a massive, two-crusted savory pie filled with Italian meats, cheeses and eggs. Though it can be made with a lattice-top pastry crust, my family prefers a dense, chewy bread dough crust.

Pizza chena, mispronounced by some Italian-Americans as "pizza gaina," seems like an appropriate name to my family since we always joke that when you eat it you "gain-a" lot of weight.

Nan made her pie with salami, hot sausage, mozzarella, fresh basket cheese (a semi-soft cheese used primarily for binding ingredients together) and hard-boiled eggs, preferences passed down to her from her Campanian mother-in-law. Apparently, Nan's mother-in-law (known as "Big Nana," because of her tall stature), admired Nan's spirit and took her under her culinary wing, sharing family recipes with her.

When looking for recipes for pizza chena, you'll find that many use the term interchangeably with pizza rustica, meaning "rustic pie." Both are traditional Easter savory meat and cheese pies that can be made with either a pastry or bread dough crust. Whatever you call it, all I know is that my grandmother's "pizza gaina" was the piece de resistance of every Easter Sunday feast at our house.

I believe, however, that somewhere deep in her soul, she'll know that this Easter many women will read about her cooking and will have her original recipe for ricotta pie with pineapple. Her older sisters could never say that.

Nan's Italian Ricotta Pie with Pineapple
Nan's ricotta and pineapple pie

Creamy, dense, sweet ricotta pie is a hallmark of an Italian Easter Sunday feast. It's delicious at breakfast, lunch or for dessert. This recipe requires beginning at least a few hours in advance.

Makes two, 9-inch pies

For a 9-inch Double Crust:

3 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup sugar

1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder

1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter (chilled)

3 large eggs

3 to 4 tablespoons ice water, or as much as needed

For the Filling:

6 large eggs

2 cups sugar

2 cups heavy cream

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 tablespoons cornstarch

2 pounds ricotta cheese, drained (minimum of 2 hours or preferably overnight) ***

1 (20-ounce) can crushed pineapple, drained (minimum of 2 hours or preferably overnight)

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, for dusting top of pies

For the crust, combine flour, sugar, salt and baking powder in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Pulse several times to combine. Add the butter and pulse about 10 times until the dough becomes pebbly in texture. Add the eggs and pulse repeatedly until the dough begins to stick together. Slowly add the ice water by the tablespoonful, while using a few long pulses. Add more drops of ice water as necessary, until the dough holds together well. Invert the dough onto a floured work surface and divide in half. Form a ball out of each half and flatten into a disc; wrap each disc in plastic wrap and refrigerate while preparing the filling. (Dough can be refrigerated for up to 2 days before continuing.)

If you don't have a processor, combine the dry ingredients in a bowl; add chunks of chilled butter, and using a pastry blender or two forks, chop the butter until it resembles little pebbles. At this point, add the eggs and ice water, and stir with a spoon until the dough begins to form. Using your hands and working the dough as little as possible, transfer it to a lightly floured surface. Knead until the dough holds together. Divide the dough into two equal balls and flatten into discs; wrap each disc in plastic and refrigerate while preparing the filling. (Dough can be refrigerated for up to 2 days before continuing.)

To make the filling, add the eggs and sugar to a large bowl. Using a hand-mixer, beat until well combined. Add the heavy cream, vanilla extract and cornstarch, and beat on low until well combined. Add the drained ricotta, and beat on low for a few seconds until just combined. Then with a rubber spatula, fold in the drained pineapple. Place in the refrigerator until ready to use.
Place a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 425 degrees. Coat two 9-inch pie plates with cooking spray. Turn one dough ball onto a lightly floured surface and roll into a 10-inch circle. Transfer the dough to the prepared pie plates and gently press into the bottom and sides. Flute the edges as desired. At this point, set the crusts in the freezer for about 10 to 15 minutes to get really chilled, which will make for a flakier crust.

Remove the chilled crusts from the freezer and pour the filling to about 1/4 of an inch below the top of the crust, as it will puff up slightly when baking. Dust the pie tops with the ground cinnamon, gently swirling it with the tip of a teaspoon so the spice doesn't clump.

Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes, then lower the temperature to 325 degrees and cook for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the filling puffs up, turns golden and is "set," meaning it should be firm, not jiggly when you gently move the pie plate from side to side. Remove from the oven and let cool on a rack. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

Note: If you have some extra filling left over, you can pour it into a small baking dish or ramekins for a crustless version, and follow the same baking instructions. Leftover ricotta pie can be stored in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days.

*** Ricotta cheese, an Italian cheese used in both savory and sweet recipes, can be found in most supermarkets. However, I recommend purchasing it from an Italian deli or specialty market if possible. It tends to be more flavorful and less watery than supermarket brands. If you do buy it at a supermarket, then select a full-fat rather than low-fat variety. The low-fat versions are too watery and won't form a thick, dense filling.

YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

Get ready to ‘shine on around a campfire with this apple pie moonshine recipe.
Here’s a recipe you are going to want to share with your friends and hope they make some of their own. Maybe then they will stop asking you for a jar every season.

Before we get into this recipe, I feel I need to set the record straight. This is not actual moonshine made famous by the cooks of white lightning, tub thumper, corn squeezin’, or whatever you want to call the real thing.


What it is though, is a high proof mix of autumn time deliciousness. This apple pie moonshine alternative is sure to please anyone of legal age to enjoy a taste. Be careful, though: this recipe makes a very smooth drink that tastes just a like liquid apple pie. You have been warned.

Apple Pie Moonshine

1 750ml bottle of 190 proof Everclear – If you can’t get Everclear in your state, high proof vodka can work also.
About 1 cup of Captain Morgan Spiced Rum – Two cups tastes pretty good also… just saying.
1 Gallon Apple Cider
1 Quart Apple Juice
3 Cups of Brown Sugar
1 Cup of White Sugar
10 Cinnamon Sticks
1 Large Stock Pot
6 Mason Jars (Quart-sized)

This recipe comes together very quickly. Simply combine the cinnamon sticks, apple cider, and apple juice in the large stock pot. Bring it all to a mild simmer and add in the sugars.

Continue to stir slowly for about five to ten minutes until all the sugar is dissolved. At that point, turn the heat off and allow the apple cider mixture to cool down to room temperature.

Allow it several hours to reach a lower temperature. If you add in the alcohol too soon, the higher temperature will evaporate some of the alcohol content.

Once the mixture is at room temperature, stir in the 1/5 of Everclear and one to two cups of rum.

At that point, you are ready to jar the apple pie moonshine in the mason jars. Don’t be afraid to put a cinnamon stick in the jars either.

As the apple pie moonshine ages, the cinnamon and sugar blends out the alcohol taste to an almost undetectable level. Again…YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Battling The Bulge and Losing.

I keep telling myself, not to indulge in eating too much sweets, but gosh darn it! I just can't help myself. For when it comes to making fudge, I'm weak and I'm proud of it. For how can you say no, to such delicious sweet fudge?
Whether its chocolate, peanut butter or any other fudge, it is so very hard to say no. Especially if it's Brown Sugar Fudge.
This is one of my favorites to make during the holidays or just when I have a craving for sweets. Its simple, quick and delicious.



Brown Sugar Fudge

3 c. Brown sugar
2 tbsp.corn syrup
3/4 c. Evaporated milk
2/3 c. Sugar
2 tsp. Vanilla
1 c. Peanuts, crushed (optional)

In a large saucepan, combine all ingredients except peanuts, bring to a boil over medium high heat. Stirring until the sugars dissolved. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring frequently. About 30 minutes.
Transfer to a bowl. Stir in peanuts if so desired and beat until the fudge is thick and smooth, about 2-3 minutes.
Pour into an ungreased square pan. Gently score the top of the fudge to the size you want to cut. Refrigerate uncovered, until firm enough to cut, about 30 minutes. Enjoy!

The Devil's Chocolate Temptation

When I made this cake, the devil must have taken over my body and mind. For this is the most moist and devilishly delicious cake I have ever had. I wished I have made it sooner, where I was more active and able to work it off. Ha Ha.
Just be warned, DO NOT MAKE THIS ALONE AND EAT IT! Call all your friends, your family or those very skinny people that always eat and never gain a pound. But do not let this stay in your house alone with you!!!!!

Deep Dark Chocolate Cake

2 c. sugar
1 3/4 c. flour
3/4 c. Hershey’s Cocoa
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp, baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 eggs
1 c. milk
1/2 c. vegetable oil
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 c. boiling water
One-Bowl butter cream frosting (See below)

Heat oven to 350. Grease and flour two 9-inch round baking pans or 13x9x2 inch baking pan. In large mixer bowl combine sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed 2 minutes. Remove from mixer; stir in boiling water (batter will be thin). Pour into prepared pan(s). Bake 30 to 35 minutes for round pans, 35 to 40 minutes for rectangular pan, or until wooden pick inserted in center.
 
Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

1/3 c. butter or margarine, softened
4 c. powdered sugar, divided
3 to 4 tbsp. milk
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Beat butter with electric mixer on medium speed in large bowl until creamy. With mixer running, gradually add about 2 cups powdered sugar, beating until well blended. Slowly beat in milk and vanilla. Gradually add remaining powdered sugar, beating until smooth. Add additional milk, if necessary, until frosting is desired consistency.
   
Vanilla Butter-Cream Frosting/Filling

In large bowl, with mixer at medium speed, beat 4 cups confectioners’ sugar, 1 cup margarine or butter (2 sticks), softened, and 1 cup shortening until just mixed. Increase speed to high; beat 10 minutes or until light and fluffy, scraping bowl often with rubber spatula. Reduce speed to medium; gradually beaten 1/4 cup heavy or whipping cream and 2 teaspoons vanilla extract until smooth, occasionally scraping bowl. Fill cooled cake with frosting filling.

Ain’t No party Like A Cookie Cake Party!

This classic chocolate chip cookie cake is a total party game changer in sheet pan form!
Raise your hand if you do a little happy dance anytime a cookie cake appears at a shindig.
Just me? Man I love them!
The original cookie cake recipe on this blog is our personal go-to for pretty much every holiday ever but at 9 inches, it’s not quite enough to feed a hungry mob. When a sweet reader asked for tips on making it in sheet pan for a birthday party I jumped at the opportunity to create the most epic sheet pan cookie  cake! 
Holy COW it was glorious!
I tripled the recipe to fit a 11.38 x 16.5 (or 11 x 17 if we’re rounding) rimmed baking sheet (this one’s my favorites) and whipped up the most decadent chocolate peanut butter frosting to ice the cake. Add a little rainbow sprinkle action for good measure and we’re ready to party!
SHEET PAN COOKIE CAKE RECIPE

One baking sheet yields about 4 dozen squares (40-50) and may be sliced smaller or larger to yield more or less serving as desired. Snag a teeny slice to satisfy your sweet tooth, or face plant into a square the size of your face — I won’t tell!
Mainly because you KNOW I’m eating a face-sized serving myself! Shhhh!
Sheet Pan Cookie Cake Recipes Sheet Pan Cookie Cake with Chocolate-Peanut Butter Frosting is your new go-to dessert for parties, potlucks, and everything in between.
4 and 1/2 sticks of unsalted butter, softened (2 + 1/4 cups butter)
2 and 1/4 cups light brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature
6 tsp pure vanilla extract
6 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
6 tsp cornstarch
3 tsp baking soda
1 and 1/2 tsp salt
2 and 1/4 cups dark chocolate chips or bittersweet chocolate chips
CHOCOLATE PEANUT BUTTER FROSTING
8 TBSP (1 stick) butter, softened
2 cups confectioner's sugar (powdered sugar)
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1 and 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 TBSP half and half (milk works too) + extra if needed
1/2-3/4 cup peanut butter, to taste
NOTE: The chocolate PB frosting recipe makes enough for a border around the cookie cake with some left over for writing/decorating on the cake as you please.
Sprinkles optional but encouraged!
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Line your sheet pan with parchment paper and set aside.
  3. In the large bowl of a stand mixer, cream together softened butter and sugar. Start at the lowest speed and increase as needed.
  4. Add in the egg and vanilla and continue to beat with the mixer to incorporate.
  5. In a separate bowl, combine flour, cornstarch, baking soda, and salt. Mix well.
  6. Add flour mixture to the larger bowl slowly while you continue to beat on low.
  7. Once your dough is mixed, fold in chocolate chips.
  8. Press your dough (on the parchment paper lined baking pan) into an even layer and bake on the center rack for 14-16 minutes, rotating the pan 180 degrees at the halfway mark for even browning/cooking.
  9. Once your cookie cake has finished baking, flip your oven to broil on HIGH and watch it like a hawk. After about a minute the top will brown to golden perfection, still leaving that soft slightly cookie dough-esque center intact. For me this takes a minute or so.
  10. Place sheet pan on a wire cooling rack and allow to cool. 
  11. Once your cake has cooled, use a piping bag and decorator nozzle or a trusty Ziploc with the corner cut off to fancify your cake.
  12. To make the frosting: add softened butter to a mixing bowl and whip until creamy. Add powdered sugar and cocoa powder and beat until creamy. Slowly add in half and half  and vanilla while you continue to be a the frosting. Lastly, whip in the peanut butter, to taste. If desired, you may adjust any ingredients to your liking to control the texture/sweetness/etc... This ratio is my favorite!

Notes

No stand mixer? No problem! Feel free to use an electric hand mixer and a very large bowl or put those arm muscles to work and hand mix the dough.
Want to make the dough in advance and bake another day? This recipe is perfect for that! Pop your dough in a covered bowl in the fridge and take out 20-30 minutes before you're ready to bake. Dough can be chilled up to 3 days if needed.
If you get a chance to try this sheet pan cookie cake recipe let me know!