Monday, March 16, 2015

Pat's "Irish" Stew

On St. Patrick's Day everyone wants to be Irish. My Dad was named Edward Patrick, and everyone called him "Pat". His father's name was Clarence Edward but everyone called him "Patrick". Both of them had twinkling eyes that were full of fun, and all my growing up years, I figured it was because they were Irish. At weddings and such, my grandpa would go around saying things like, "Oh the luck of the Irish!".  I assumed that his parents had recently arrived to this country. His wife, my grandmother Ivy, really had just "gotten off the boat" not too much before she married Clarence. However, it was England that she hailed from and her family actually immigrated here twice. I guess the first time they were so homesick they went back, but there were no opportunities for them in Britain, so they returned a few years later. Recently, I got on to see where in Ireland my great grandparents were from. After poking around a bit, I realized that my grandpa was not quite as pure Irish as I was led to believe.  I went back six generations, and the direct line all resided in the United States. I did find out that my great great great grandmother Mariah married at 13 and had five kids in nine years of marriage. After my multi-great grandfather died, she then married his brother and had six more children! She lived be 80 years old - what a woman! She probably knew how to make a stew or two as well as feed a lot of hungry mouths. Here is my dad's version of Irish stew. He always loved the good things in life and I think it's funny that instead of ale, his version calls for a wee bit of red wine. He served this with some crusty bread and a nice little green salad.


2 pounds beef stew meat
2 (15 oz.) can tomato sauce
1 (15 oz.) can diced tomatoes
3 carrots, peeled and cut into hunks
1 onion, chopped
1 cup sliced celery
1 clove garlic, diced
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
2 potatoes, enough to make 2 cups peeled and cut up
1 cup frozen peas


Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Put everything except for the potatoes and peas in a dutch oven or oven-safe dish. Cover the pot with foil or an oven safe lid. Bake for 4 hours. Add the potatoes and turn the oven up to 350 degrees. Bake for 45 more minutes and then add the peas. Bake 15 minutes more. Ladle into soup bowls and serve with some good crusty bread.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Roasted Tomato Soup & Grilled Cheese Crouton

There are hints of spring in the air; lots of the snow is melting off and it's getting just a little bit warmer. But it's still pretty cold in the morning and evening and I'm still in the mood for comfort food. I was talking to Caroline on the phone the other day and we were laughing over the fact that I am on a major tomato soup and grilled cheese kick. Lately, whenever I eat out, I order tomato soup. If I'm home, nothing beats having a grilled cheese sandwich with it. The recipe posted here is super easy and great on a weekend day when the tomatoes can be popped in the oven for an hour while other things are going on. 

Ingredients for four cups:

3 or 4 good sized tomatoes
2 shallots
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 fresh cracked pepper
1/4 dried oregano

1 (15oz.) can broth: beef, chicken, or vegetable

8 baguette slices
4 small pieces cheese such as cheddar or colby jack
1 tablespoons butter

Take a bit of the butter and rub it on the bottom and sides of a baking dish. Core and slice the tomatoes and arrange them in the baking dish. Peel and slice the shallots and garlic and tuck them among the tomatoes. Drizzle the olive oil over the top and sprinkle with the salt, pepper and oregano.

Bake at 350 degrees for one hour.

Pour broth into pan and add the baked tomato mixture. 

Puree the mixture with an immersion blender, regular blender, or food processor. Place the pan over medium high heat and warm to preferred serving temperature.  

Spread the remaining butter on one side of each baguette slice. Put a piece of cheese between two pieces with the buttered sides facing out. Gently brown each side of the mini grilled cheeses over medium low heat.

Gently brown each side of the mini grilled cheeses over medium low heat

Ladle the soup into bowls and drop a mini grilled cheese into each serving.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Cooper Cooks Cowboy

A couple of Sundays ago, Roy's second cousin Cooper came over to cook with me. As number five in a household of seven kids, Cooper is no stranger to pitching in and helping out. His dad is a great cook and it turns out that Cooper has an affinity for it as well.  He and I have cooked together before, and we make a pretty good team. Once he saved the day when I had a mess of salmon to cook for a bunch of people, but forgot to buy a spice rub to put on the fish.  He suggested a combination of various ingredients and instinctively knew what would work well together. I was impressed! The jury is still out on what Cooper 'wants to be when he grows up". Sometimes he says he wants to be a plastic surgeon, but I think he'd be a great chef.  Below are the recipes from our cooking session.  Honestly, we used barbecue sauce from a bottle, but I included two different recipes for a homemade option.  I did notice that the store bought sauce had high fructose corn syrup as one of the first ingredients, so homemade would be a healthier way to go.

Cowboy Burgers - makes four burgers

1 pound ground beef
1/4 cup plain breadcrumbs
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup BBQ sauce, bottled or one of recipes below
4 green onions, sliced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
4 slices of American cheese
8 slices of cooked bacon
4 really good buns, such as onion

Gently mix all ingredients except the cheese and the bacon together and form into four patties. Grill over medium low heat or fry on the stove. Try to turn only once, cooking about five minutes per side. Top each burger with a slice of cheese. Place on a bun and put two slices of cooked bacon on each patty. Serve with extra BBQ sauce or ketchup.

The Neely's BBQ Sauce Recipe from The Food Network 

2 cups ketchup
1 cup water
1/2 apple cider vinegar
5 tablespoons brown sugar
5 tablespoons sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons pepper
2 1/2 teaspoons onion powder
2 1/2 teaspoons ground mustard
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

Place all the ingredients in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to low and simmer until slightly reduced, about 15 minutes.

South Beach BBQ Sauce from the South Beach Diet Cookbook

2 cup tomato sauce
4 tablespoons white vinegar
4 teaspoons parsley
2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoon ground mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

Whisk ingredients together 

Cowboy Beans1 (28 oz.) can pork and beans
1 (15 oz.) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 (15 oz.) can white kidney beans, rinsed and drained
Heaping 1/2 cup BBQ sauce

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix all the ingredients together. Place in a baking dish and bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until warm and bubbly. Or, microwave five minutes.


Cowboy "Caviar" Salsa

3 to 4 good sized tomatoes, diced
1 (15 oz.) can of black beans, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup diced celery
1/4 cup diced red bell pepper
1/4 cup diced green bell pepper
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons diced red onion
1 small jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

Place the tomatoes, beans, celery, red pepper, green pepper, cilantro, red onion, and jalapeno in a serving bowl .  Whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, chili powder, cumin, salt, pepper, and garlic powder.  Pour the dressing over the vegetables and gently combine.  Serve with tortilla chips. 

Friday, February 13, 2015

Simple & Rich Valentine's Dessert - Flourless Chocolate Cake

This rich and dense dessert is for the (chocolate) lovers of the world.  It only has four main ingredients - well six if you count the confectioner's sugar and raspberries used for garnishing - and it's the perfect thing to end a special Valentine's Day Dinner.  It's especially great with a cup of coffee. I stumbled on it when I was thumbing through One Big Table , a huge book of American recipes compiled by former New York Times columnist Molly O'Neill. It was located way in the back of the cookbook, and I tweaked it just a bit since I like my chocolate experiences not too teeth hurting sweet. Still, this is extremely decadent so keep the slices small! Happy Valentine's Day! Enjoy!

Ingredients for a Nine Inch Layer or a Dozen Individual Tart Pans

8 large eggs
1 cup butter (2 sticks) plus a bit more to grease the pan
15 oz. bittersweet chocolate chips (or a baking bar chopped up)
1 cup sugar
1 pint raspberries for garnish
1/4 cup confectioner's sugar for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Generously grease the cake pan or individual tart pans (or cupcake pans) with butter.  For a cake pan, I even cut a circle of parchment paper out, lay it in the bottom of the pan, and grease it as well.

With an electric mixer, beat the eggs until they start to thicken and turn lighter in color.  Add the sugar about a third of a cup at a time, beating for about two minutes in between. Beat two more minutes.

Put the butter and chocolate into a microwave safe bowl and microwave it for 1 minute and thirty seconds.  Vigorously stir it until it is smooth.  This takes some effort, but usually the surrounding heat will melt any stubborn pieces of chocolate so it all becomes nice and smooth.  It it is really necessary, it can be microwaved again - but only for 15 seconds at a time. 

Now, pour the egg mixture into the melted chocolate and butter and gently fold to combine. Pour the batter into the greased cake pan or divide it evenly between the tart pans. Place in the oven and bake one hour for the cake pan and 45 minutes for the tarts. A "crust" will form on top, but when touched, the cake or tarts will still feel soft or wiggle in the middle.  After removing from the oven, let sit for 5 minutes. Then run a knife around the inside edges of the pan and gently invert onto wire cooling racks.  Cool to room temperature before serving. Garnish with raspberries and a sprinkle of confectioner's sugar. Cake should be stored in the refrigerator.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Easy Dinners with Foil Packets

It Doesn't Matter Where - The Home Team Still Needs to Be Rooted On!

Notice the Tiny Kitchen on the Right! (Pet Bed on Left!)

Roy has always dreamed of journeying around the country in an RV. I love to travel, but I wasn't sure that either one of us really understood what that life style would be like. So, right after New Year's, we drove to Florida and rented one from a place in Orlando. Then we made our way over the state, going all the way down to the Keys and back. Our trip ended at Disney's Fort Wilderness Campground. We stayed in some lovely sites as well as a couple that were downright scary.  It was a lot of fun and it turned out to be something we would definitely enjoy doing again. One of my main concerns was figuring out how I was going to cook in such a tiny space. When we met up with our friends

 Carla and Jim in the Keys, I got a blast from the past. One night when we were sharing a super, she served us pork chops and thin slices of sweet potatoes that she had cooked on the grill in foil packets. I had forgotten all about cooking this way.  The girls used to love it when I put meat and veggies in foil pouches and cooked them in the oven.  The food basically gets steamed, and it comes out tender and tasty. Later on the trip, we used foil packets to cook chicken, and after we got home, I even did fish in the oven. It's a fun family meal because every one can individualize their own packet with the vegetables and seasonings they choose, and either a grill, campfire, or the oven can be used. By the way, Roy surprised me with his fire building skills and I couldn't resist making a little video to document his talent. Click HERE to view.

Ingredients and Directions for Assembling Foil Packet Dinners:

If you want to include a grain, choose one that cooks quickly. Good options are: brown or white quick cooking rice, tiny red or beluga (black) lentils, or even quinoa.  Put two tablespoons of the grain on top of 12 inch piece of foil. Sprinkle two tablespoons of water or broth over it.

Next, place the meat on top of the grain. Use fish, chicken breasts, or even a pork chop.

Wash and slice vegetables and place on top of the meat. Lemon is nice with fish. Zucchini and summer squash add moisture.

Finally, sprinkle on a teaspoon or two of any seasoning that would complement meat and veggies that are chosen. Lemon pepper, Greek seasoning, and fajita spice mix are always good additions. Drizzle a teaspoon of olive oil over the top and seal.

Bring the top and bottom edges of the foil together, and fold them over to lay flat. Fold each side edge together, to seal the packet.

Grill 10 minutes per side, or bake at 350 degrees for 40 to 50 minutes. Open carefully, the steam will be hot. Transfer to a plate and enjoy.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Tex Mex Chicken & Quick Meal Ideas

Back in the days when I was teaching full time and the girls were all in school, I used to brag that I could make dinner in 15 minutes. And guess what? - Because I had a few tricks up my sleeve, I actually could! One little strategy involved baking or grilling a large batch of Tex Mex Chicken. The night I actually made the chicken, we would either eat it as it was or add salsa and melted cheese on top. Then I would put the left overs in Zip Lock Freezer bags and freeze them. It was so nice to be able grab some already cooked chicken out of the freezer and use it in soups, salads, and many other ways. One thing the girls really enjoyed was a Tex Mex Bowl. I would heat some of the chicken in the microwave and put out bowls of shredded cheese, salsa, beans, etc. Everyone made their own bowl and surprisingly we found spinach leaves were a tasty addition! A yummy variation was to load everything on top of corn tortillas and either bake at 350 for 5 to 10 minutes or microwave them to melt the cheese. However, I found that how I used the chicken was not as important as my main goal, which was making sure we somehow sat down together and ate as a family. In the 2012 book, The Power of Habit, author Charles Duhigg wrote that families who habitually eat supper together raise children with greater emotional control and more confidence. I really felt that having dinner together grounded us and made our family strong. For a link to an article I wrote about how important sharing a meal together is Click Here. And, although it really doesn't matter whats on the menu when the family is communicating, it might as well be something delicious! For even more ideas on using this Tex Mex Chicken, Click Here.

Tex Mex Chicken 

This recipe yields 4 chicken breasts. Double or triple the recipe to make larger batches. 

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Combine the chili powder, cumin, salt, garlic powder, and pepper together. Generously sprinkle the mixture on both sides of the chicken breasts and rub it into the meat.  Bake at 350 for 50 to 60 minutes or grill over medium heat, 10 minutes per side. 

To make the Tex Mex Bowls, slice up the chicken and put out bowls of rice, beans, cheese, salsa, avocado, spinach leaves, etc. - what ever comes to the imagination.  Let everyone pile on their preferences.  The girls really liked to make their own bowls, their own way!

This is a great way to feed a crowd as well - fast, healthy, and delicious.

Switch out the rice with a corn tortilla and heat it up to melt the cheese for another option.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Brazo de Reina - Queen's Arm

Simple yet impressive at the same time, Brazo de Reina (Queen's Arm) is pretty darn delicious. This light and airy sponge cake rolled up with a layer of caramel filling inside is a great finish to any meal. A couple of years ago we had a cookout and Allison's friend from Chili, Grace, brought it for dessert. It was a huge hit since anything where Dolche de Leche is involved is scrumptious. Several months later I went over to visit with Grace's mom, Mariana, and she served me a slice of it with coffee. It was so yummy that I quickly said yes when she offered me of a second piece! She shared the directions for making it and I was surprised to learn that all it consists of is six eggs, six tablespoons of sugar, and six tablespoons of flour. And glorious Dolce de Leche. I use Nestle brand; it is found by the canned condensed milk in the grocery store. The only thing tricky about Brazo de Reina is peeling the parchment paper away from the sponge cake, but I learned that if you grease the paper with a bit of butter, it is easy. Even if the edges get torn a little (which happens to me), they are hidden when the cake is rolled up. After it is baked and assembled, a dusting of confectioner's sugar and a sprinkling of fresh raspberries are all that is needed to finish it off. Everyone will think it's something extraordinary (and it is) just don't tell anyone it wasn't hard to make! For a Cranberry Bliss variation click HERE.


6 eggs
6 tablespoons sugar
6 tablespoons flour
1 (13.4 oz.) can Dulce de Leche

Fresh raspberries and a tablespoon of confectioner's sugar for garnishing

Also needed:
Parchment paper and a smidgen of butter
Clean cloth dish towel and 1/4 cup confectioner's sugar
Small mesh strainer 


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly coat it with the butter. Separate the eggs. Beat the egg whites until very stiff.

 Then, beat in the sugar and the yolks until mixed in.

 Now add the flour and mix it in.

 Pour the batter onto the parchment lined baking sheet and with a rubber spatula, spread the batter out evenly. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes.  When it is done it will be more pale that brown. The key is that when it is touched it bounces bake and makes a distinctive sound.

 Immediately, sprinkle the 1/4 cup confectioner's sugar evenly all over the dish cloth and invert the baking sheet on top of it. Lift the baking sheet up to release the sponge cake. Gently peel the parchment paper away from the sponge cake. 

Starting at one end, roll the sponge cake up - dish cloth and all, Set aside and allow to cool. 

When the sponge cake/dish cloth roll is no longer warm, gently unroll it. Carefully smooth the Dulce de Leche over the top, making sure it goes edge to edge. 

Now reroll the sponge cake up - this time without the dish cloth. 

Place the sponge cake roll on a serving platter. Put the extra tablespoons of confectioner's sugar in the fine mesh strainer and sprinkle it over the top of the roll. Garnish with raspberries.

Variations: Mix the Dulce de Leche with 2 tablespoons of orange juice or chocolate milk. Or fold 1/2 cup whipped cream into the Dulce de Leche.