Candied Pecans- marvelous gift

This is one of my top three most popular holiday food gifts. People are already asking me when my candied pecans will be ready.  To me, this is the most perfect recipe. It’s not too sweet, the coating isn’t too hard like some recipes. It’s perfect.

You can substitute rum extract for the vanilla, too. It’s amazing. Enjoy!

Candied Pecans

3 cups pecan halves

½ cup sugar plus 1 tablespoon

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 egg white

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Mix together sugar and cinnamon and set aside.

Whisk together egg white and vanilla extract. Place pecans in a large bowl and add the egg white mixture. Toss to thoroughly coat the pecans. Then add the cinnamon sugar and stir until all the nuts are coated.

Spread pecans out on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper (very important). Bake for 15 minutes. Give the pecans a good stir and then bake 15 more minutes.

Be sure to cool the pecans completely before you package them or they will become soft. Store in an airtight container.

Give Me S’more Love

S’mores are gooey goodness.

While many people consider them a summer ritual, for me it’s fall fare. I am far more likely to sit around a campfire when the temperatures cool off than I am on a hot summer night.

There is something so simple and special about a toasted marshmallow sandwiched between two graham crackers with chocolate. I love it. When I was a kid, I made basic S’mores but today I get creative with this treat. There are different flavored marshmallows on the market, a variety of graham crackers to choose from, different chocolates (I’m partial to dark chocolate), and my imagination.

If you’re only familiar with a traditional S’more, try a few of these ideas:

Use a cinnamon graham cracker topped with apple butter or pumpkin butter instead of chocolate and then add the toasted marshmallow.

Use pumpkin flavored marshmallows in the fall and pair it with white chocolate.

Create a S’more ice cream sandwich with a little vanilla ice cream, toasted marshmallow and a big drizzle of fudge sauce and caramel sauce. This is lovely! Eat it like a sandwich or use the graham crackers as a spoon.

Use Ritz crackers instead of graham crackers for a salty kick. A little date jam or spread is great with the salt.

A thin slice of brie at room temperature with the chocolate and toasted marshmallow is excellent.

Use a chocolate graham cracker, dark chocolate and add a slice of strawberry on your S’more sandwich.

After you toast your marshmallow, roll it in shredded coconut and drizzle dark Hershey’s syrup on instead of using a square of chocolate.

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One of my favorite S’mores is Peanut Butter Banana because the peanut butter cuts the sweetness and adds richness, and I love bananas and chocolate.   Add a slice of candied bacon and call it “The Elvis.”

Use a variety of nut spreads on the graham cracker like almond or cashew; or skip the chocolate and use Nutella instead.

As you can see, there are so many combinations.

Aside from good old-fashioned S’mores, I wanted to share a few other S’more themed recipes like my  Easy S’more Bars. The name says it all. I start with a box of cake mix, mix it with eggs and butter and then spread it in a pan. I top that with chocolate and marshmallows and bake it. That’s easy!

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You can serve this dish warm or room temperature, see my notes in the instructions.

And finally, The S’mores Fondue is so decadent, quick, and perfect for a party. If you don’t have a flame to toast your marshmallows but still want the spirit of that dessert, this is the recipe for you. The fondue takes less than 10 minutes to make (it has only two ingredients) and then you dip graham crackers and marshmallows in the melted chocolate and it’s heavenly. If you don’t have a fire pit, live in an apartment or just don’t want to deal with fire, this is a great option.

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I hope this gets you out of your S’mores comfort zone and you enjoy these recipes.

Peanut Butter Banana S’mores

10 graham crackers

5 tablespoons smooth peanut butter

10 thin slices of banana

5 large marshmallows

5 large pieces of dark chocolate (or your favorite chocolate)

Spread the peanut butter on only one side of the graham crackers and then top each with two slices of banana.  Set aside.

Toast your marshmallows to desired doneness and then sandwich one on a graham cracker. Add chocolate and close it to make a sandwich. Eat and enjoy. It’s messy so have a napkin handy.

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Easy S’more Bars

Serves 12-16

1 yellow cake mix

1 stick unsalted butter, melted

2 large eggs, beaten

2 cups chocolate chips

2 1/2 cups mini marshmallows

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Pour the cake mix into a medium bowl.  Melt the butter in the microwave and the pour it into the bowl. Add the beaten eggs and stir until combined. Coat a 13×9 inch pan with cooking spray. Spread the mixture in the pan using your hands to spread it out and press it down. Try to make it as even as possible. Sprinkle the chocolate chips and mini marshmallows over the top and bake it for 30 minutes. Cool completely before slicing.

Note: This dish is incredible warm out of the oven but it doesn’t slice well. If you are serving family and don’t care how it looks, you can serve it warm while the chips are melted, just know it will fall apart. It’s amazing with a scoop of vanilla ice cream when it’s warm though.

For proper bars, you must cool the dessert completely before slicing.

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S’mores Fondue

Serves 10

½ pint of heavy whipping cream

2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

1 bag or large marshmallows

1 box of Graham crackers

Sticks to skewer the marshmallows

This dish comes together quickly so you want everything ready for serving. It takes about 7 minutes total and then it’s ready to serve. I have fondue equipment, but if you don’t you can use forks to skewer the marshmallows or even wooden skewers.

Pour the heavy whipping cream in a medium pot and turn the heat to medium. When the cream just starts to form bubbles around the edges, stir in the chocolate chips.  Stir until the chocolate has melted and it is smooth. It will look and smell incredible. Immediately transfer it to a serving bowl. Surround the dish with marshmallows and graham crackers and serve.

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How to reuse olive brine, oil from sundried tomatoes and more (and transform it into fabulous fare)

The next time you eat the last olive out of the jar and go to wash the brine down the sink, stop! You are about to pour flavor down the drain.

My kitchen motto is “think before I toss.” I can’t stand wasting food so I am constantly looking for ways to reuse ingredients and save items people normally throw away- like brine or the oil in sundried tomatoes. Those ingredients are incredibly flavorful.

Olive brine is great in marinades (just use it instead of vinegar in your recipe); mix a tablespoon into mayonnaise when making potato salad; mix brine, olive oil and Italian seasoning and use it to marinate vegetables; add a dash to a dirty martini or Bloody Mary; or make my Fat Free Olive Brine Smashed Rosemary Potatoes.

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I don’t eat potatoes very often because once you add all the flavorings like butter or cream, they are so fattening. This is a fat free recipe that uses olive brine, rosemary and chives to flavor the potatoes. I came up with it this week and considering it is fat free, I think it’s great.

As for the oil in a jar of sundried tomatoes- that’s my favorite leftover ingredient. You can mix it with balsamic vinegar for an instant salad dressing; use it to dress orzo or other pasta; use it as the oil when you make goat cheese omelets;  use it instead of olive oil when you make croutons or crostini; or make my Warm Bruschetta. This is my favorite recipe and it’s ready in less than 5 minutes. I simply slice grape or cherry tomatoes, warm some of the oil in a pan, toss the tomatoes in with basil and cook for 1 minute. Salt to taste and serve.

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You can also save the oil from artichokes and use that in marinades or salad dressings.

Pickle brine is another item you can reuse. It’s good in marinades, but I often refill the jar with other items like cucumbers or carrots and reuse the brine. I have a recipe below for Spicy Dill Carrots which is simply carrots, onions and jalapenos in dill pickle brine.

Brine from hot peppers is good in marinades, barbecue sauces, or add a touch to deviled eggs (but use sparingly).

Beer is another item I can’t stand to waste. A couple of days ago, I tried a new beer and I hated it. There was no way I could drink it, so I put it in the fridge to use in the future. The next day I made Leftover Beer BBQ Chicken.  You can also make beer bread, beer cheese dip, or use leftover beer to boil brats (add onions to the beer and finish the brats on the grill).

There are so many items we throw away every day that we can reuse. I hope this inspires you to think before you toss. Enjoy.

Fat Free Olive Brine Smashed Rosemary Potatoes

1 pound microwave in a bag red potatoes

¼ cup olive brine

¼ cup chopped chives

2-3 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary

Salt and pepper to taste

Cook potatoes according to package directions. While the potatoes cook, chop the chives and rosemary.

When the potatoes are ready, empty the bag into a serving bowl and smash them down.

Pour the brine over potatoes. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed. Then top with chives and rosemary. Toss and serve.

You can also substitute basil in this recipe if you don’t like rosemary.

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Warm Bruschetta

2 cups grape or cherry tomatoes, assorted colors

1 ½ tablespoons oil left from the sundried tomato jar

10 basil leaves

Salt to taste

Slice cherry or grape tomatoes in half. Set aside.

In a nonstick skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add tomatoes and cook for 1 minute. Sprinkle with basil and salt to taste. Serve immediately.

This dish is delicious over couscous or with French bread, but I also like it alone as a side dish.

 

Leftover Beer BBQ Chicken

6 chicken thighs, legs, or breasts

1 tablespoon barbecue rub

1 ½ teaspoons Cajun seasoning

1 teaspoon jerk seasoning

¼ teaspoon ground cumin

Half an onion

2 cloves of garlic

1 almost full bottle of beer

1 bottle of KC style barbecue sauce

White rice for serving

Lay chicken in a 13 by 11 inch pan. Sprinkle with all the seasoning. Slice the onion and garlic and sprinkle both over the chicken. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 375. Pour beer in the side of the pan being careful not to wash off the seasonings. Pour half the bottle of barbecue sauce over the chicken and then stir about a fourth of the bottle into the beer. You will use about ¾ a bottle.

Bake for 1 hour (check it after 50 minutes because cooking times vary depending on the size of the piece of meat and what you cook. Breasts cook faster than thighs).

Serve over rice and spoon the sauce over rice before serving.

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Spicy Dill Carrots

2 cups leftover juice from dill pickles

1 ¼ cups carrot slices (I buy the precut carrot chips)

2 jalapenos (or to taste), sliced in half

Half a red onion, thinly sliced.

When the jar of dill pickles is gone, simply fill it with carrots, jalapeno and onion. Refrigerate for 2 days before eating. Consume within 10 days.

If you add the jalapeno seeds, it will be significantly spicier.

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Watermelon Caprese Salad

It’s going to be a sweltering week. If slaving over a hot stove doesn’t appeal to you, then whip up  this cool and delicious  Watermelon Caprese Salad.

Caprese salad is a simple Italian salad made of fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and basil, and it represents the colors of the Italian flag. I decided to replace the tomato with watermelon and I actually prefer it over the traditional version.

Caprese is often drizzled in olive oil and balsamic vinegar but I had pesto so I scraped the oil off the top of the pesto and dressed the salad with that and it was spectacular. The salty pesto was a great balance to the sweetness of the fruit.

It’s a gorgeous, delicious, healthy, refreshing salad that takes 5 minutes to assemble.

 

Watermelon Caprese Salad

Serves 1

3 (2 1/2-inch) slices of watermelon

2 (2-inch) slices of fresh mozzarella cheese

3 large basil leaves

1 teaspoon pesto (or to taste)

Slice watermelon and mozzarella. Drizzle half of the pesto on the mozzarella. Place one slice of melon on a plate, top with cheese, a basil leaf and repeat. Drizzle the remaining ½ teaspoon of pesto (using mostly the oil on top) around the plate. Serve.

Optional: you can also drizzle this with good quality balsamic vinegar.

Summer Chicken Club

This Summer Club has a long list of ingredients but I assure you it’s EASY.

First, I used lemon pepper rotisserie chicken and all you have to do is slice it off the breast. I also purchased precooked bacon which worked great in this recipe.

An important ingredient is the tomato so I highly recommend buying local tomatoes because they are more flavorful. Also, you need wonderful bread – a bun, focaccia, even flatbread will work.

The pesto aioli is important as well. To make it, I simply stir together store-bought pesto sauce (or homemade if you have it) with mayonnaise. It’s delicious.  The one caveat is the strength of the basil aioli depends on the pesto you use so taste and adjust as needed. I used Rana, which is found in the refrigerated section of the grocery store. I love the flavor of that brand.

So between some wonderful fresh bread I sandwich lemon pepper rotisserie chicken, fresh basil, thick sliced tomato, bacon, tender Butter lettuce, thinly sliced red onion, Swiss cheese and cucumber slices (which is optional). It’s a light sandwich packed with fresh summer flavor. I think you will enjoy it.

Summer Club

Serves 2

2 rolls (focaccia or other large crusty roll)

4 tablespoons mayonnaise

2 tablespoon prepared pesto sauce

2 deli style slices of Swiss cheese

1 lemon pepper rotisserie chicken breast

4 slices of precooked cooked bacon

2-4 thick slices of fresh tomato, salted lightly

4 fresh basil leaves

2 very thin slices of red onion

4 thin slices of English cucumber (optional)

4 slices of Bibb or Butter lettuce

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

First, stir together mayonnaise and pesto and set aside.

Slice the breast off the chicken and then slice it into several thinner pieces to fit on your bread.

Cut thick slices of tomato and lightly salt it. Thinly slice onion and cucumber if you are using it.

Either cook your bacon or if you bought precooked bacon, heat it according to the package instructions.

Next, cut the bread open and spread the aioli over the bread. Then top it with Swiss cheese. Put the bread in the oven for 2-3 minutes, just to warm it.

When it comes out of the oven, immediately add fresh basil, lettuce, tomato, bacon, red onion, rotisserie chicken and English cucumber. Serve immediately.

Note: If you ever want to try a different variation to this sandwich, it’s good with thinly sliced and well drained artichoke hearts or roasted red bell peppers (omit the cucumber in this case).

Panna Cotta with Blueberry Port Sauce and Strawberries

If you’ve only ordered panna cotta in a restaurant, you need to make this. If you can make Jello, you can do this. It’s closely related in terms of preparation.

Panna cotta is an eggless Italian custard. It’s fairly plain but is often served with a nice fruit sauce that enhances the flavor.

I created this red, white and blue sweet treat for the Fourth of July.

Since I needed something blue for my theme, I decided to make a blueberry port sauce to pour over and it’s wonderful. Strawberries add a touch of red and texture.  It’s very nice.

For the photos, I styled my panna cotta two ways: in a champagne flute, which is beautiful; and then in a star glass dish that I bought from Dollar Tree.

 

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You can also serve them in ramekins which is more traditional.

It’s simple and perfect for a couple or small family because there’s only five servings. Enjoy!

Panna Cotta with Blueberry Port Sauce and Strawberries

Makes 5 servings

1/2 cup whole milk

1 ½ envelopes (.25 ounces each) unflavored gelatin

2 cups of heavy whipping cream (1 pint)

½ cup sugar

1 vanilla bean

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Sauce:

1 pint blueberries

¼ cup water

¼ cup sugar

3 tablespoons port

1 1/2 cups sliced strawberries

For the panna cotta: place whole milk in a bowl and sprinkle gelatin over it. Set aside for 3 minutes.

Slice the vanilla bean in half and scrape the tiny seeds inside into a heavy bottomed pot. The seeds contain the vanilla flavor. Next add the heavy cream and sugar and heat it over medium or medium-low heat. You don’t want to rush it because you don’t want the cream to curdle. Stir until sugar is dissolved.

Then pour the gelatin/milk mixture into the cream. Stir until gelatin is dissolved which takes about 3 minutes.

When it’s done, turn off the heat and add the vanilla extract.

Pour ½ cup of mixture into ramekins or champagne glasses, whatever you plan to use to serve the dish.  Refrigerate for 4 hours.

For the port sauce, heat blueberries, water and sugar in a small pan over medium heat. Cook for 5-7 minutes until sugar is dissolved and mixture thickens. When it’s done, stir in the port.   For a mild port flavor, use 2 tablespoons. If you want more pronounced flavor, add 3 or even 4. I used Taylor Port which is readily available, inexpensive and works wells in this recipe.

Refrigerate the port sauce until it’s time to use. Note, you can also serve the port sauce warm but if you decide to do this make it right before serving.

Before serving, top each panna cotta with blueberry port sauce and fresh strawberries.

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A Fourth of July Cake the Crowd will Remember

Heavenly. That is how I describe this cake. First, I took Vanilla Oreo’s and lined the bottom of a pan. Then I topped those with sweet shredded coconut. I whipped together cream cheese, vanilla and powdered sugar and then blended that with a package of cheesecake flavored pudding and a package of white chocolate pudding and whipped topping.

The result is sweet, creamy, light and refreshing. This is a cake your family will remember this holiday weekend.

There’s a funny little story that goes along with this cake that I shared in my column this week. Here it goes:

One of the joys of being a parent is passing on traditions.

I was so excited to write this patriotic desserts column because I planned to create them with my 3-year-old daughter Bella.

Growing up, every holiday was festive in our home.  The traditional American flag cake was a Fourth of July favorite.  Typically, we’d make a white cake topped with whipped cream and then decorate it with blueberries and strawberries but since I was writing a column, I wanted to create something special.

I came up with a Flag Sheet Dessert which was inspired by coconut cream pudding and dirt cake (a Halloween tradition).

I thought my daughter would be excited to help me but after placing two blueberries, she was done. I finished the cake.

But the kicker was when I proudly displayed the finished product and she looked at my flag and told me I had done it wrong. The background should be blue and the stars white so she told to make it again with cream on top this time. She even picked up a flag napkin I’d been using as a prop to prove she was right. I laughed my head off.

During my photo shoot, she grew jealous of the attention I was paying to the desserts and came over and tried to sit on my lap, then took the red dish cloth I was using and placed it on her head like a hat to make me laugh.

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The day didn’t turn out as I expected, but luckily the desserts did.

 

Flag Sheet Dessert

Serves 12

1 package Vanilla Oreos

1 cup sweet shredded coconut

1 (3.4 ounce) package cheesecake flavored pudding

1 (3.4 ounce) package white chocolate pudding

1 package cream cheese, softened

1 cup powdered sugar

3 cups milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 (8 ounce) carton whipped topping, divided in half.

½ cup fresh blueberries

1 pound strawberries

First, line a 9 x 13 inch pan with vanilla Oreos. Then sprinkle shredded coconut over the cookies.

In a small bowl, beat together the cream cheese, powdered sugar and vanilla.

In another bowl, whisk together both pudding mixes, milk and half of the container of whipped topping.

Then beat together the cream cheese mixture and pudding mixture. Spread it over the bananas. Top it with the last half of the whipped topping. Cover and refrigerate 2 hours or more. This can be made a day in advance but shouldn’t be decorated until the day you are going to serve it because the strawberries may bleed into the topping.