The Best Pumpkin Pie

Once I tried this recipe, I quickly ditched the traditional one made with evaporated milk. This one is so much creamier! Plus, since it isn’t as thin, it is easier to get it into the oven without spilling it. (Klutz alert!) Just be careful not to over beat it so you don’t beat too much air into the eggs.

The Best Pumpkin Pie

1 9-inch unbaked pie crust
1 (15 ounce) can solid pumpkin puree
1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk*
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
With a hand mixer on low, beat the pumpkin, sweetened condensed milk, eggs, spices, and salt together.
Pour into prepared pie crust.
Bake 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees F; bake 35 to 40 minutes longer OR until knife inserted 1 inch from crust comes out clean.
Cool. Serve with whipped cream. Refrigerate leftovers.

*NOT evaporated milk!

Creamy Baked Apples

You’ve never had baked apples like this before! This is an old family recipe that is ‘required’ at Thanksgiving but eaten all year round. The original recipe from my husband’s great grandmother called for baking the apples in the oven. I was in a hurry one day and tried the microwave and no one could tell a difference. The smaller the apple slices, the quicker they cook. Be careful not to over cook them though, or they start turning into applesauce. Still tasty, but not as pretty.

It works fine to use light butter and/or reduced fat milk to trim a few calories. The leftovers are delicious cold or reheated.

Creamy Baked Apples

3-4 large granny smith or Winesap apples
butter
cinnamon sugar
1 1⁄2 tablespoons flour
1⁄4 cup sugar
1⁄2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
cinnamon
nutmeg (optional)

Peel, core and slice apples. Place in a baking dish, and dot with butter.
Sprinkle generously with cinnamon-sugar.
Bake in microwave on HIGH for about 10 minutes or until fork inserts easily, stirring at least once.
Remove from microwave and set aside.
In saucepan bring flour, sugar and milk to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. It will be thick.
Remove from heat, add vanilla and stir well.
Pour over apples and sprinkle with cinnamon and nutmeg if you desire.
Serve hot or warm.

 

 

Stuffed Shells

Stuffed Shells is one of my daughter’s favorite meals. It is usually what she requests for her birthday. Which is okay with the rest of the family because we all love it. It’s an excellent choice when you need to serve something to guest, especially if you need a meatless dish. It can be made ahead of time and refrigerated or frozen. (Thaw on the counter before cooking.) I’ve even cooked them in the crock-pot. It works best to double the sauce so they don’t dry out in the crock-pot.

Stuffed Shells

Cheese filling:
2 lbs. ricotta cheese
1/2 lb. shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 eggs
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. parsley flakes
1/8 tsp. pepper

1 (32 oz.) jar marinara sauce
1 large box large shell pasta

Mix all ingredients for cheese filling thoroughly.
Cook manicotti pasta according to package directions. Drain; handling carefully, stuff each shell with 1/3-1/2 c. of cheese filling. (I use a large spoon and eyeball it.)
Cover the bottom of a 3 quart baking dish with a thin layer of spaghetti sauce. Lay shells side by side. Pour remaining sauce over stuffed shells. Sprinkle top with extra Parmesan cheese. Bake ate 350 degrees F for 40 minutes or until hot and bubbly.

Buttermilk Doughnuts

Homemade doughnuts are the ultimate comfort food. Warm, fluffy, sweet, melt-in-your-mouth perfection.  Surprisingly, they are also fairly easy to make. I think the key to success is using in a Fry Daddy. It keeps the oil at the perfect temperature, which prevents the dough from absorbing too much oil. A word to the wise, don’t try substituting ANY of the ingredients called for or you’ll regret it. Don’t ask how I know…

Buttermilk Doughnuts

1 Tbls. dry active yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1/2 cup buttermilk
3 Tbls. shortening, melted
3 Tbls. sugar
2 1/2-3 cup flour
3 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
Vegetable oil for frying
2 1/2 cup sifted powder sugar
1/4 cup milk

Dissolve yeast in warm water in a large bowl; let stand 5 minutes. Add buttermilk, melted shortening and sugar.
In a separate bowl combine 1 1/2 cup flour, baking powder and salt; mix into wet ingredients using a wooden spoon. Add enough remaining flour to make a soft dough.
Turn dough onto a floured surface and knead several times. Roll dough to 1/2 inch thick and cut with a 2 1/2 inch doughnut cutter. Place doughnuts on lightly floured surface, (I use cookie sheets) cover and let rise 45 minutes or until double in bulk. Heat 2-3 inches of oil to 375°F. Drop in 2-3 doughnuts at a time. Cook about 2 minutes or until lightly golden in color, turning once. Drain well on paper towels.
Combine 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar with 1/4 cup milk, stir until smooth. Dip each doughnut in glaze while still warm; allow excess glaze to drip off. Cool on wire rack or serve warm.
Yields 12-14 doughnuts

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

Years ago, I found a recipe for Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins in a Taste of Home magazine. It quickly became one of our favorite quick breads. They are excellent for breakfast, as a snack or even dessert. I’ve tweaked the ingredients and amounts over the years to make them healthier and tastier. Below, is the version we prefer.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

4 eggs
1/2 cup canola oil or light-tasting EVOO
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 (16 ounce) can solid packed pumpkin
1-2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
12 ounces semisweet mini chocolate chips

In a large bowl, mix first 6 ingredients together with a wooden spoon. (You can use any combination of oil and unsweetened applesauce, as long as it totals 1 1/2 cups. I’ve found that you need to use at least 1/4 cup oil, or the muffins end up gummy.)
Separately, mix dry ingredients in another bowl. Blend the dry ingredients into the wet mixture by hand, fold in chocolate chips. (Regular sized chocolate chips work fine too. We just prefer mini.)
Generously fill 24-30 greased muffin cups.
Bake at 400 degrees F for 16-20 minutes.

If you double bag them in Freezer Zip-loc storage bags, they freeze beautifully. Just let them thaw on the counter for a couple hours.

If you’d like to make mini muffins, bake them for about 10 minutes.

Avocado Toast

While thumbing through a magazine in a waiting room, my attention was grabbed by a food presentation I had never seen before. I didn’t know what the dish was, but I knew I wanted it. The caption informed me it was “the latest crazy on Instagram” i.e. Avocado Toast. Apparently, I wasn’t hanging out in the right corners of IG and was being deprived of this amazing discovery.

I slipped the magazine back in the rack when my name was called, forgetting to make a note of what issue it was. The delectable memory was called to mind recently when I spotted some lovely avocados in the grocery store. After returning home, I searched the internet in vain for the image I had seen in the nameless publication. I finally gave up and decided to just try creating my own version. The results were aesthetically pleasing and satisfyingly delicious.

Avocado Toast My Way

  • 1 slice, multi-grain bread
  • 1/2 avocado
  • a handful of cherry tomatoes, sliced lengthwise
  • fresh basil, chopped, to taste
  • fresh garlic chives, chopped, to taste
  • 1 egg
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Lightly spray a small frying pan with EVOO. Heat to medium. Add the prepared tomatoes, chopped herbs and fresh ground pepper to pan. Stir and cook until slightly soft. Meanwhile, toast the bread. Mash half the avocado onto the toast. Spread the cooked tomatoes mixture over the avocado. Return the frying pan to the stove top. Fry the egg to your liking. Transfer to the plate and top with fresh ground pepper, salt and additional herbs if desired.

Blueberry Mojitos

A refreshing poolside drink that helps use up the over abundance of blueberries right now.

Original recipe found on Inspired Taste.

Blueberry Mojitos

  • 8 blueberries, plus more for garnish
  • 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) fresh squeezed lime juice
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 8 fresh mint leaves, plus more for garnish
  • 1/4 cup (2 ounces) white rum
  • Ice
  • 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) cold club soda
  • Lime slices for garnish

Place blueberries, lime juice, sugar and the 8 mint leaves in a cocktail shaker. Use the end of a wooden spoon or cocktail muddler to muddle the mint into the lime juice and sugar, releasing the oils. Add rum, stir well to dissolve the sugar. Pour into a glass filled with ice, leaving about an inch of room then top with club soda. Stir carefully to combine. Garnish with extra blueberries, mint leaves and a lime slice.

These amounts are for 1 drink. To make enough for four people you will need: 1/2 cup blueberries, 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice, 3 tablespoons sugar, 32 fresh mint leaves, 1 cup white rum, 4 cups ice, 1/2 cup club soda, and additional blueberries, mint leaves and limes for garnish.

 

Hot Bacon Dressing

My husband asked me to serve a spinach salad with hot bacon dressing for a dinner party we were giving for friends. I found this one online. It easy to prepare and delicious. I served it over a simple salad of spinach topped with shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese and served it with a Viognier blend wine from Australia. Everything paired beautifully! It also pairs well with a Riesling.

Hot Bacon Dressing

8 slices meaty bacon
1 1/2 cups white sugar
3 teaspoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup white vinegar

 

  1. Fry bacon until very crisp. Drain, crumble and set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix together the sugar, cornstarch and salt, and slowly pour in water and vinegar, whisking constantly.
  3. In a medium pan, add the crumbled bacon and pour the vinegar mixture over it. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens slightly.
  4. Remove from heat and allow to cool for about 15-20 minutes. It will continue to thicken.

Serves approximately 10-12. I cut the recipe in half without any problems.

Cheesy Cauliflower

While we love macaroni and cheese, we do not love the carbs. When I ran across George Stella’s recipe for Cauliflower “Mac” and Cheese Casserole, I knew I had to try it, even though I’m not a huge cauliflower fan. It’s actually even better than it sounds!

As usual, I tweaked it a bit to suit my cooking habits and our tastes. Since I don’t use garlic in any of my Mac & Cheese recipes, I skipped it here too. We both felt the consistency was more comparable to potatoes than pasta. I have a feeling if you used the garlic, the comparison would be even closer to an au gratin potato type dish than macaroni and cheese.

I served it with ham steaks, steamed sugar snap peas and pinot grigio. We are both hooked and I can see a lot of it in our future!

Cheesy Cauliflower

1 large head cauliflower, cut into small florets
1 cup heavy or light cream
2 ounces cream cheese, cut into small pieces
1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
8 oz. shredded 2% extra sharp Cheddar cheese, divided
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 375°F. Spray an 8x8inch baking dish or similar sized casserole dish with vegetable oil spray.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the cauliflower in the boiling water until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Drain well in a colander while preparing the sauce.

Warm the cream in a small saucepan, and stir in the cream cheese and mustard until smooth. Stir in approximately 6 ounces of the shredded cheese, salt and pepper and stir until the cheese melts, about 1 to 2 minutes. Meanwhile, transfer the cauliflower to the baking dish. Remove the sauce from the heat, pour over the cauliflower, and stir to combine. Top with the remaining cheese and bake until browned and bubbly hot, about 20 minutes.

Easy Refrigerator Rolls

Freshly baked bread is my absolute favorite comfort food. A lot of times, homemade baked goods go stale quickly since they lack all the preservatives their cousins, store-bought bread, contain. That’s the beauty of this recipe. You can prepare the dough up to 3 days ahead of time and just store it in the refrigerator until you bake it. Or, you can bake a little bit each day and have 2-3 days of warm, fresh rolls on hand. Win, win, win!

I did just that this week. I prepared the dough on Wednesday and baked 12 of these golden orbs of delight to go with my homemade Vegetable Beef Soup. Then on Thursday, I prepared the rest of them up to take to a friend who had recently lamented not being able to eat her Grandmother’s dinner rolls anymore. She deemed them “perfect!”

Easy Refrigerator Rolls

1 cup warm water
2 Tbls. yeast*
1⁄2 cup real butter, melted
1⁄2 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
4 1⁄4 cups bread flour

Combine water and yeast in a large bowl. Let stand for 5 minutes.
With wooden spoon, stir in the melted butter, sugar, eggs and salt.
Add flour, 1 cup at a time and mix to combine thoroughly. I use the dough hooks on my handheld mixer. Do not overwork.
Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or up to 3 days.
Grease a 13×9 baking pan or two 9-inch cake pans. Divide dough into 24 equal pieces, rolling into smooth round balls.
Place in prepared pan. Cover with a tea towel and let rise for about 1 hour; or until doubled.
Preheat your oven to 375°F. Bake until golden brown, about 18-20 minutes. Best served warm. ♥

*do not use rapid rise yeast

You can easily eat them without anything on them, thanks to all the butter already in them, but I love them with a good, homemade jam.

 

Stove Top Macaroni and Cheese

There’s not much more appealing in the category of comfort food then a plate full of Mac and Cheese. This version is an easy stove-top variety with the added plus of having been tweaked to make it more waist friendly without losing any taste. The secret is the hot sauce and dry mustard.

Dress it up a bit for adults by serving it with a buttery, oaked Chardonnay. It makes an excellent side dish for grilled ham steaks or enjoy it as your main course.

Stove Top Macaroni and Cheese

8 oz. elbow macaroni
3 tablespoons light butter
1 egg
6 ounces milk
1⁄2 teaspoon hot sauce
1 teaspoon kosher salt
fresh black pepper, to taste
3/4 teaspoon dry mustard
8 ounces 2% extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded or cubed

In a large pot of boiling, salted water cook the pasta to desired tenderness and drain.
Melt the butter in the pan on low. Return the pasta to the pot and toss to coat.
Whisk together the eggs, milk, hot sauce, salt, pepper, and dry mustard. Stir into the pasta and add the cheese. Stir over low heat until cheese has melted and creamy.

Tangy Salmon Fillets

Salmon is one of my favorite types of fish. I especially like it marinated and then grilled, broiled or baked so the edges get crispy. This tangy mustard, vinegar, sesame based marinade is a favorite. I usually serve it over a non-seasoned rice medley with roasted asparagus or roasted green beans on the side, if I am baking the salmon anyway.

Tangy Salmon Fillets

1-2 lbs salmon fillets
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon EVOO
1 teaspoon spicy brown mustard
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted
3 green onions or chives, sliced

Combine vinegar, soy sauce, honey, oil, mustard, and ginger in a microwave-safe measuring cup. Warm slightly, 15-20 seconds, to help the honey dissolve and blend with the other ingredients. Stir well.
Place the fillets in a Ziploc bag and pour the marinade over them. Seal and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, turning over at least once.
Drain and discard marinade.
Bake on a foil-lined baking pan at 450°F for 20 minutes or until the fish flakes easily with a fork.
Sprinkle with sesame seeds and onions or chives.

Broil: Place under a preheated broiler for 8-10 minute. Turn over and continue broiling for 5-10 minutes or until it flakes easily with a fork. You will need to keep an eye on it as it may start smoking if too close to the broiler element. If your fillets have skin, broil the skin side first. It will bubble and crisp up with makes separating it from the meat a lot easier.

Grill: Grill covered, over medium high heat for 15 to 20 minutes or until the fish flakes easily with a fork.

If you want to roast asparagus or green beans at the same time, place trimmed and washed ones on another foil-lined pan. Mist with EVOO and stir lightly to coat. Add fresh ground pepper and salt to the green beans or just salt to the asparagus. Bake at 450°F for about 12-15 minutes or until tender.

PLEASE NOTE: I have a convection oven which enables me to bake both pans at the same time with even results. If you don’t, you will probably need to switch and rotate pans halfway through.

Roasted Butternut Squash with Apples and Onions

Butternut squash used to be one of those pieces of produce that I shied away from in the grocery store. I mean, it just isn’t super intuitive as to how cook the darn thing! Then a friend from South Africa served us this amazing combination of roasted butternut squash, apples and onions. I was hooked! Some recipes call for added herbs or spices, like thyme or cinnamon, but we prefer it plain and simple. I recommend trying it this way, and then adding additional flavoring as suit your taste.

Roasted Butternut Squash with Apples and Onions

  • 1 butternut squash, peeled and cubed
  • 2 granny smith apples, peeled. cored and sliced
  • 1 sweet vedalia onion, peeled and sliced

Place all ingredients on a foil-lined baking pan. Spray with extra virgin olive oil, stirring to coat.  Roast at 425°F for about 30-40 minutes, stirring twice, until squash is soft.

It can be served as a meal in and of itself, or as a side dish for baked fish or chicken. I usually just add the fish on another foil-lined pan to the oven approximately 10-12 minutes before the squash is done, depending on thickness. It’s a super easy, healthy meal and cleanup requires just throwing the foil away!

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

As an added bonus, you can make the leftovers into soup. Just place enough chicken broth to cover the ingredients in a pan and heat until warm. Use a submersion blender to puree until almost smooth. If you prefer a creamier soup, add a few tablespoons of milk or cream. Garnish with ground cinnamon, nutmeg or a few springs of herbs.

Bruschetta Chicken

Fresh, flavorful, uncomplicated and healthy.  What’s not to love??

It’s always nice to find a new recipe that is different than anything else I make. To find one that we love which is also so easy to prepare is a huge bonus. The combination of fresh tomatoes, flavorful herbs and tangy balsamic vinegar over juicy chicken topped with a combination of Italian cheese is superb. Pair it with freshly baked ciabatta bread and an oaked Ox-Eye Vineyards Pinot Noir and it defies description.

Bruschetta Chicken

1 lb. thin-cut boneless chicken breasts
1/4 cup EVOO
2 Tbls. balsamic vinegar
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 Tbls. Italian herb seasoning
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. fresh ground pepper
1 pint diced cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup shredded Italian blend cheese
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil

Place chicken breasts in a large resealable plastic freezer bag. Combine the EVOO, balsamic vinegar, garlic, Italian herb seasoning, salt and pepper in a small bowl and whisk until combined. Pour HALF of the marinade over the chicken, reseal bag, and in the refrigerator to marinate for at least 2 hours. (Overnight is fine.)
Preheat your grill to medium high or about 350 degrees F. Combine remaining marinade with diced tomatoes; set aside. Transfer chicken from marinade onto grill surface and discard marinade. Grill chicken for 3-4 minutes per side or until cooked through. (It is also okay to fry them in a pan over medium heat.) Transfer the chicken to a serving plate and sprinkle with shredded cheese. Spoon bruschetta mixture over chicken and top with basil; serve immediately.

The Ciabatta Bread is mixed in a bread machine on the Dough Cycle and then baked in the oven. I honestly could make a meal out of just it dipped in a high quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil seasoned with real grated Parmesan cheese and some fresh ground pepper. The dough is very sticky. Don’t give into the temptation to add more flour. Treat it gingerly to keep from bursting all the lovely air bubbles that form. It makes two loaves. If you don’t need both immediately, double bag one and stick it in the freezer. Thaw it at room temperature for several hours. It was pretty darn close to fresh baked.

 

Fish with Eggplant, Tomatoes & Basil

Found this on Rachael Ray’s website. I made a few tweaks. She called for cod pieces, but I used flounder fillets. I also used African blue basil from my herb garden instead of traditional basil, and I cut back on the olive oil.

Fish with Eggplant, Tomatoes & Basil

Extra Virgin Olive Oil
5 cloves garlic, chopped
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
Salt and pepper
1 eggplant (1 lb.), trimmed and cut into 12 round slices (about 1/2 inch thick)
1 pound flounder fillets
1/3 cup shredded fresh basil

Preheat the broiler. In a skillet, heat 1 tbsp. EVOO over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until golden, about 2 minutes; using a slotted spoon, transfer to a small bowl. Add the halved tomatoes to the pan; season with salt and pepper. Cook, undisturbed, until tender on one side, about 5 minutes. Stir and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes.

Line a baking sheet with foil; place the eggplant slices on the baking sheet in a single layer. Mist the eggplant on both sides with olive oil; season with salt and pepper. Broil, turning once, until tender and browned, about 8 minutes.

Spoon the tomatoes on top of the eggplant and cover with the fish. Broil until the fish is just cooked through, about 5 minutes. Using a wide spatula, transfer to plates. Top with the basil and garlic.