Category Archives: Recipes

Savor: New England Shrimp Rolls

It’s been a few weeks since I shared a recipe on the blog, so I thought it was time again. This recipe is one of our summer favorites and when I made a round of these this past weekend, I seized the opportunity to load up the camera with the easy how-to steps to share with you. There are very few measurements in this recipe because the flavors are all based on your personal tastes and, as the cook, you taste and adjust as you go. You can double, triple or even cut this recipe in half and it always works.

Also, with the exception of prepping the shrimp (more on that below), this is a great recipe that kids can help with because so much of it is just organized pouring and stirring. Many scientific studies report that kids involved in home meal prep create children more enthusiastic to taste new things. I have to think parents would love some help in the kitchen sometimes, too. Or, as any serious New England fisherman would tell you, “Any port in a storm.”

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. shrimp,  peeled, de-veined, cooked, tail-off (can be frozen, thawed)
  • Mayonnaise (Miracle Whip doesn’t work in this recipe)
  • Lemon juice
  • Salt
  • Chives (fresh or dried)
  • Boston lettuce (or most other leafy, green lettuces)
  • Hot dog rolls
  • Your favorite plain-but-salty potato chips

Prepping The Shrimp

You can use frozen cooked shrimp for this recipe. I do all the time. In fact, I highly recommend it if you are making a large batch of these rolls for a larger group, because it can help keep your grocery budget in line. Just thaw your shrimp safely, under lots of cold water, when you are ready to make this recipe. These are the shrimp I use, from Trader Joe’s:

The package clearly says, “deveined” but I never trust that printing. Let’s talk about that for a second. If you are an experienced cook, you may already know what I’m about to say, so you can just sit back and nod in agreement as you read along. If cooking with shrimp is new or intimidating for you, I want to give you some real knowledge to make it approachable.

Shrimp must be “deveined” to eat it. Having a fishing factory machine cut the vein out of individual shrimp is next to impossible, because the shrimp are all different sizes, and slide around, etc. This is why you always have to check every shrimp yourself. Here is a “deveined” shrimp, from the bag for my recipe:

Yeah. See that dark line running down the middle of the shrimp? That’s the vein. So, not really “deveined”, as the bag said it was. To get rid of that vein, you need to slice open the shrimp with the tip of a sharp knife, I use a paring knife…

…and then scrape the vein out. That black stuff you see is the vein. This may seem like a lot of work, but I’m going to speak very frankly here, so put down your drink. The “vein” is technically a “vein” in the biological definition of the word. However, it is also the digestive tract of the shrimp…which carries everything along its body the same way ours does. Take a sec to think about what that involves. You with me? Get that vein out of your food!

If you are worried about using a knife to cut into the shrimp, you can use a pair of kitchen scissors (the type you use for food only) to cut open the shrimp and then use the knife to clean the vein out.

The vein runs the whole length of each shrimp, so be sure you get all of it out and then give the individual shrimp a good rinse in cold water. When you have all of the veins out, give the whole bowl of shrimp another good rinse of cold water and then drain the bowl well. Then, using your freshly re-washed kitchen scissors, cur every shrimp in half like this:

This just makes the shrimp easier to manage in the roll. We used to try to make these rolls with whole shrimp, but it gets much messier than it needs to that way. Cutting the shrimp now keeps the same flavor, but helps get more of the final dish into your mouth and less on your shirt. When you are all done, you should have a bowl of shrimp that looks similar to this…

…all ready to do your bidding in the recipe. Plus, you’ll enjoy it more knowing it’s clean shrimp because you prepped it yourself. See, that wasn’t so much to do! Now set that bowl aside and let’s get the recipe going.

Pouring, Mixing and Tasting

We start the recipe mixing by putting a couple of spoons of mayonnaise into a small bowl. I’m using an iced tea spoon to get mine out of the bottom of the jar and into the bowl, because I find it easier to reach the mayo and my hand doesn’t end up wearing mayo like it’s a lotion.

Next, we are going to add in a little bit of lemon juice…

…and whisk it into the mayo. The addition of the acidic juice is going to break down the mayo a bit and make it all lumpy.

Just keep whisking gently until the mayo is smooth again:

This is where we start the tasting. Grab a few extra spoons so you can taste as we go. First, taste the lemon-mayo mix. It should taste thinner in consistency than regular mayo, but also have a little lemon tang in the flavor. (FYI: This is why Miracle Whip does not work for this recipe at all. It already has too much acid in it to adjust to taste.) Go ahead, dip in with your spoon and taste:

If you can’t taste the lemon, add just a few more drops of juice to the mayo mix and whisk it in well. If the lemon flavor is very strong for you, add a tiny dollop of extra mayo to the bowl and whisk it in well. Taste the mixture again (with a clean spoon!). Keep adjusting as you need to, using only very small amounts of mayo or lemon juice as you go. Worst case scenario: you might have a little bit more sauce than you need when we add it to the shrimp. Not a budget breaker.

Now we add a little bit of salt to the sauce to keep that seaside flavor of fresh shrimp within our sauce. You don’t need a lot. Just whisk it in.

Be sure to taste the sauce again to see how you are doing. Hey, look! We are cooking like our great-grandmothers! Measuring by hand, tasting by instinct. This is the way to better cooking and more kitchen confidence. One step and one recipe at a time!

When you have your sauce tasting just right…creamy, with a little hint of lemon in the end of the bite and just a touch of seashore-like salt… we are going to add the sauce to the bowl of shrimp, slowly, not the other way around. We only want enough sauce to bind the shrimp well together. There should be a light sauce on your shrimp, not some shrimp in a bowl of sauce.

The shrimps are the stars of this dish, so pamper them by gently folding the sauce around them, not stirring the bowl up quickly.

See, I didn’t end up using all the sauce I made, just what the shrimp needed. No big deal. Now we add our chives. Measure out a small palmful…

…and fold it gently into the mix. (I think am getting better at taking these spice-bottle-in-one-hand, camera-in-the-other shots.) You can add more chives, as you need to, to get an even distribution in the shrimp.

The sauce will help the chives stick to your shrimp as you fold them in. When the chives are all folded in, it should look something like this:

I generally like to chill this recipe right here for a few hours before serving. I just toss some foil over the bowl and pop it in the fridge for a while. I like the flavors to bond a little together. But if you don’t have the time, you don’t have to. Whatever fits your schedule.

Serving It Up

There are only three ingredients left in our recipe and they all are involved in the serving. The first one we are going to use is the lettuce. This is a New England style seafood roll recipe, so it only makes sense to use:

You can use other leafy green lettuces (no iceberg lettuce is welcome here), but Boston lettuce, I think, works the best. Pictured below is our pretty lettuce after Mr. CARO has run it through his favorite kitchen toy tool, our salad spinner. (You can read more about that right here.)

Now we are ready for our rolls. We have tried all kinds of rolls for this recipe over the years and these are our Goldilocks-like conclusions:

  • Hoagie rolls: too big, filled with too much shrimp, gets messy quickly
  • Hamburger buns: easier to toast, but shrimp slides out of every side
  • Hot dog buns: easy to toast, shrimp stays put, just the right size

Open up your hot dog rolls and give them a light toast laid flat…

..then gently tear the lettuce leaves off the hard white lettuce ribs. Try to keep the green lettuce leaves in big pieces…

…and fit them down into the toasted hot dog buns, lining them completely:

I know, you can barely see the rolls now, but you want this leafy green balance to all the creamy shrimp while still keeping the crunch of the toasted roll. It all comes together in the end, trust me. You can now ladle your shrimp onto the roll and the lettuce holds it in place, without letting the sauce soak into the bread.

And now we need our last ingredient for this dish. It is really the very best thing to serve with these rolls…our potato chips. You really want a nice, simple, crisp-but-salty chip to go with these shrimp rolls. When in Rome New England…

…use the local chips. Time to eat!

Picnic Bonus

We are celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Star Spangled Banner here in Baltimore. Mr. CARO and I packed a picnic dinner of these shrimp rolls and skipped off to one of our favorite picnic spots this weekend to watch the party at our Inner Harbor. I’d like to show you a picture of the delicious shrimp rolls we packed, but we had been looking forward to our picnic all day and they were gone before I remembered to take out the camera. Oops! This was the beautiful view from our picnic spot, so you can see how we were distracted:

I’m telling you all of this to share that these shrimp rolls wrap up beautifully for picnics in foil. Because the lettuce leaves keep the shrimp mix from getting the bread soggy, you can even prep this recipe completely the night before your party/picnic and just keep the rolls wrapped in your fridge until go time. Easy packing, easy clean-up!

And here is my very own PSA: Please try to use recycled foil in your home, and then be sure to recycle it again, so that the planet can stay enjoyable for all of us to share a picnic. Little steps like this in our daily lives can make a big difference!

Does this recipe sound good to you? What makes a great picnic sandwich? Do you make a great seafood salad in your home over the summer? Share your opinions and recipes in a comment!

If you liked this recipe, there are more to come this summer. You can also always explore the recipes I’ve shared in past posts by clicking on the Savoring Home Recipes link on the side bar.

Martha’s Cookies

This recipe comes to us via a military wife. Military wives, throughout history, have had to have recipes that adapt to many different situations. Sometimes they are be in a place where they could get all of their favorite ingredients, sometimes not. Their recipes have had to work with wherever they were when it was time to cook. (A big shout of love to all of you awesome military wives, especially you, Mom!)

This recipe comes to us from a Virginia military wife that knew all about doing the familiar “bag drag” to a new station. (That’s “baggage dragging”, part of military moving slang, for all of you civilians out there.) In fact, this military wife would load up wagons full of produce from her farm and haul it all to her husband’s winter encampment to help feed the troops. That military encampment was Valley Forge and that military wife was named Martha Dandridge Custis Washington.

Image courtesy of The National Portrait Gallery

Now, to be perfectly honest, I can’t say that Martha actually made these cookies herself. As we all know, Martha was a very wealthy woman with many slaves and servants. She may have never set foot in her own Mt. Vernon kitchen for all we know. However, this meringue cookie recipe has been called “Martha Washington Cookies” for generations in Virginia. Given the simplicity of the ingredients list, it would certainly serve a military wife well when she had to entertain on the move.

If you have never made a meringue before, don’t be intimidated. This recipe is an EXCELLENT way to learn the basic technique and how the chemistry works. It is very, very difficult to mess this recipe up. If you can pour, flip a switch and spoon things out of a bowl, then you can do it! Take a look…

Ingredients

  • 2 egg whites
  • 1/4 teaspoon / 1.25 mL salt
  • 2/3 cup / 157 mL brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons / 7.5 mL vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups / 355 mL pecan halves, broken into small pieces

Directions

Pre-heat your oven to 250 degrees F/120 degrees C/ Gas Mark 1/2. We are going to bake these cookies low and slow. Grease 2 cookie sheets (I use butter) and set them aside.

(All of these photos are all from my new camera and I’m still learning/playing with the detailed-yet-fabulous lighting features.)

Next, crack and separate your egg whites. I use this dinky little egg separater whenever I am low on eggs or patience, because I am not so adept at using the shells to get the yolks out.

In a large bowl (I’m using the bowl of my stand mixer), pour in your salt…

…then add your 2 egg whites…

…and now beat the egg white and salt mix on a low setting of your stand mixer (or hand mixer, for those of you who are old school) until this little mix is foamy.

When I first taught Mr. CARO (my husband) how to make this recipe, the word “foamy” caused some worry. “How will I know when it’s ‘foamy’? Is there a time measurement or something?” So, I will tell you what I told him, just in case you are thinking the same thing.

“Mix until foamy.” is all we’ve got, but then again, really old recipes don’t come with detailed instructions. The older the recipes are, the luckier you are if they even come with exact measurements. (If you have a great-grandmother or aunt who cooked by measuring all ingredients in her palm, you know what I mean.) This recipe was made by people (“slaves” in those days) who weren’t even allow to learn to read. Trust the recipe and watch the mix being mixed. Just watch it. You know what “foamy” looks like. A little like soapy water collected at the bottom of your sink. Like this:

Now that we have successfully reached foamy, we are going to add in our sugar. Before I add in the brown sugar, I like to break it up from its measuring shape into something that pours easier. I just use a fork to crumble it well.

Turning your mixer back onto a low setting, slowly add your sugar to the egg mix.

Then add your vanilla extract…

…until everything is well combined. This mixture should now look like a melted caramel color, like this:

This is your basic batter, but now we are going to put chemistry to work for us to triple the quantity of the batter. By folding in air as the batter is rapidly beaten, the egg proteins will stretch. The sugar and salt help the batter hold the air in the mix, making it lighter and fluffier.

To do this, set your mixer speed to medium high… (here’s my speed setting)…

…and beat the mix for about 10 minutes.

Yep. 10 minutes.

I timed it for you with my mixer. (This is the part of the recipe where we thank our lucky stars that we have electric appliances. Imagine what it would be like to beat this mixer by hand. Ugh. ) As the batter is beaten, it will start to change color, becoming lighter and lighter the longer it is beaten. Here it is at around 4 minutes:

It’s already much lighter in color. Just keep it going until you reach 10 minutes.

While we’re waiting, I’d like to take a moment to salute all the hardworking American women who have ever hauled electric American kitchen appliances to foreign locations and voltage requirements. May your adapters run forever smoothly and your warranties be ever sound, ladies!

Here’s my mixture at 10 minutes and a much lighter cream color:

Now I need to check to make sure I have “stiff peaks” in the batter. This is the key to knowing you have whipped enough air into the batter to make it a meringue. Can you see the little peak of batter in the sticking straight out of the mix in the top left section? Here is another look of a good peak in the I batter pulled up on a spatula:

This peak of batter is holding still, with a stiff point, not dripping back into the bowl. This is how you know the meringue will hold up in the oven.

Now gently fold in the pecans. You want to make sure that you fold in the nuts and not stir them into the batter. If you stir the batter, the motion will break up all those nicely stretched egg proteins, essentially undoing all ten minutes of your mixing.

So, sprinkle some of the nuts onto the batter…

…then fold some batter over the top of the nuts.

Repeat this step until you have all the nuts folded into the batter.

As soon as your batter is complete, use a teaspoon to scoop and drop the batter onto your greased cookie sheets. These cookies do not spread or rise when you bake them, so you can dollop them onto the baking sheet rather close to each other.

If I had used an even teaspoon measurement, I would have an even two cookie sheets full of cookies. However, Mr. CARO likes these cookies a little larger, so my cookies are closer to a large Tablespoon size. I wouldn’t go much larger than that, though, or they won’t bake through evenly.

(Can you see how well-loved my cookie sheets are? It may be time for me to upgrade to some restaurant grade baking sheets, but these sheets have produced hundreds of happy cookies so far.)

When your cookie sheets are ready, pop them both in the oven on two separate racks and set your timer for 30 minutes. When your timer goes off, rotate the sheets 180 degrees and swap their placement on the oven racks. Reset your timer for another 30 minutes.

Important Note: You can’t store meringue batter in the fridge or on the counter. The stretched egg proteins will not hold their shape for long before baking, so you should make just what you can use right away. This recipe is difficult to double because it bakes for a full hour and the batter won’t wait. However, if you are lucky enough to have double ovens, meringue away!

Here are my cookies fresh out of the oven:

They are only slightly more golden and glossy then when they went in the oven, but if you look closely, you’ll see slight cracks in the sides of the cookies. They come off of the baking sheet very easily. You can even remove them with you fingers. And don’t they look pretty on a plate?

Mr. CARO generously volunteered to eat half a cookie so you could see what they look like on the inside. (Such sacrifice!)

The light meringue will almost melt in your mouth and just at the center you’ll taste the caramelized pecan flavor that Virginian’s have loved for centuries. These cookies are especially good with coffee at any hour of the day…if they last past the day you bake them. (I speak from experience.)

So what do you think? Do these flavors sound good to you? Does this easy recipe inspire you to try a meringue cookie? What other recipe techniques are you wanting to try? Leave a comment, especially if you try this recipe, and share your thoughts! And most importantly, if you happen to know a military wife, be sure to thank her for HER service to our country!

Creamy Greek chicken

It is just starting to feel like Winter here. Coats are now mandatory when we go outside and we no longer question, “Do we really need the heat on today?”. Cold weather, mostly grey skies and early sunsets make us crave some comfort food at the end of the workday.

This is a great recipe for young children to help out with, because once you get past the ingredient prep, it is mainly variations of pouring. Like many of my recipes, this one has its origins in a magazine clipping from years ago. I’ve fiddled with the ingredients to make it ours and you can, too.

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup / 180 mL water
  • 5 cups / 1175 mL  chicken stock
  • 1 1/2 lbs. / 681 grams chicken breast or tenderloin, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 lb. /454 grams orzo (uncooked)
  • 1-2 palmfuls of dill weed, to taste
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 lb. / 227 grams of crumbled feta cheese
  • 2 cups / 470 mL of Parmesan cheese, grated or shredded
  • Black olives, sliced, to taste (optional topping/garnish)

Preparation

Pre-heat your oven to 400°F /200° C /Gas mark 6.

Combine your chicken stock and water…

…place them into a large pot and bring them to a slow boil. If the pot boils before you need this ingredient, later in the recipe, just lower the temperature and keep the liquid simmering on the heat.

Gather the rest of your ingredients together so we can use then in quick succession to layer our casserole.

Using a large baking dish (I’m using a 13 inch x 9 inch glass baking dish), pour all of the orzo (uncooked) into the dish.

Next layer in dill, sprinkling it somewhat evenly across the dish. It doesn’t need to be perfect, because the stock is going to move everything around when we add it in a few steps.

Side Note: You can use whatever quantity of dill you are comfortable with for this recipe. The original recipe calls for 2 palmfuls, but we found that was too much dill for us. So, I use 1 palmful, then let everyone add more dill as a garnish if they  prefer more. Here’s what 1 palmful looks like for my measurement:

Next, layer in the lemon zest and the lemon juice. Again, spread it around, but don’t worry if it is not completely even.

Then, layer in the crumbled feta cheese…

…and follow it with the layer of raw chicken pieces.

Now comes the stock that has been gently boiling, simmering on the stove. Carefully, slowly pour the entire pot of stock into the baking dish.

When you’re done, the  dish will look like this…

…and it’s ready for the oven. Bake it for 40 minutes, without any foil or cover on the dish.

When it’s done, you need to add one more layer…of cheese! Add the Parmesan cheese (I’m using 1 1/2 cups of shredded cheese and 1/2 cup of grated cheese, because it’s what I had on hand.)

After you layer the cheese, let the dish sit for 5 minutes to allow the cheese to melt into the hot orzo. After 5 minutes, it’s time to garnish and serve:

We love the creaminess of this recipe, the savory of the dill chicken and the unexpected taste of lemon. We serve this with a simple green salad, using what ever we have in the fridge, for a simple but satisfying supper.

Other Tips

One of the great ways to make this dish your own is to play around with the olives and dill. I have made versions of this with more olives baked inside, but we thought the olives stole  away the nice bite of the lemon. Similarly, we have played with the dill quantities over the years, but now leave it the extra dill as an optional garnish/topping for each individual to choose.

This recipe also makes a great batch of freezer feasts (you can read more about those right here). After Mr. CARO and I ate dinner, we had enough food left over to make up 8 Freezer Feast to enjoy for lunch or dinner later. I love a recipe that reheats for yummy leftovers later and this one does not disappoint.

Do you have a favorite casserole that you love to make in the dark days of Winter? Feel free to leave a comment or a link to share your recipe!

5 Great Christmas Cookies

We are in “baking mode” here at our house. We have learned that if we bake all the Christmas goodies too early in December, they are all gone before we get to Christmas Day.

If we try to do them all in one evening, we can get rather cranky with each other, which may have something to do with the sugar crashes we give ourselves while we “quality control” sample the fresh-out-of-the-oven batches. (Admitting you have a problem is the first step toward recovery, right?)

I wish all of our Christmas cookies would look this beautiful. We don't use shading techniques with the icing. Image courtesy of delish.com

So, our new plan is to make one kind of something (pie, cake, cookie, etc.) per evening for the week leading up to Christmas. One batch per night works pretty well so far. It doesn’t seem insurmountable at the end of a busy work day. We can still get other things done each evening, without feeling like we are trapped in frosting sweat shop.

In the spirit of a great cookie exchange, I wanted to share with you my favorite created-by-others cookie recipes that I’ve pulled from other websites. These are our favorites that we mix and match in our house and as gifts each year. They are not all “Christmas cookies” but they all mix well together with a classic iced sugar cookie for good variety on a plate. Santa has never complained yet!

Image courtesy of manolofood.com

I’d love to be able to take the credit for these cookies, but I’m too busy trying to get my batches of them to fit in the little holiday cookie containers to have dreamed them up. I hope you enjoy them as much as we do!

Chocolate-Hazelnut Sandwiches

Image courtesy of Real Simple

Put simply, these cookies are our excuse to eat Nutella without guilt. You can use any store-bought or homemade sugar cookie dough with this recipe. You can also use any shape of cookie cutter. These cookies travel to parties well, too.

Cranberry Gingerbread Cookies

Image courtesy of oceanspray.com

I always have Craisins leftover from Thanksgiving and this is a great was to use them up. Once again, use any gingerbread recipe you prefer or any box mix. (I like the Trader Joe’s gingerbread mix.)

Chippy Dippy Squares

Image courtesy of simpleskillet.com

You may already know these cookies as “7 Layer Cookies”. I am convinced that every family in America makes this recipe. However, you can dress the cookies up nicely for the holidays, into “9 Layer Cookies” by sprinkling the top of the cookies with red and green sugar crystals immediately after taking the baking pan out of the oven

Chocolate Chip Cheesecake Cookies

Image courtesy of tastykitchen.com

Cheesecake flavor in a chocolate chip cookie, need I explain the genius of these cookies further? They are wonderfully chewy! You do need to keep them in the fridge after they are baked, however, or the cream cheese can make the cookies a little sour. Use this recipe all year ’round. I won’t tell!

Chocolate Peppermint Cookies

Image courtesy of marthastewart.com

These cookies are little more work, which is not surprising, considering these come from the ever-perfect kitchen of Martha Stewart. However, they are really worth the effort. Clean peppermint and a rich chocolate flavor are topped of with crunchy candy cane pieces. They really do look fabulous as a gift or on a table at a party!

When do you do the holiday baking at your house? Do you have favorite recipes you make every year or do you mix it up? What is your favorite cookie recipe you’ve found online? Feel free to put a link in a comment!  We can all use a great cookie recipe!

Mmmmmocha

This recipe comes to you courtesy of Mr. CARO. He is a big coffee fan and used to frequent a certain popular coffee chain quite a bit. While we love all the fun flavors that come in with the winter season, lots of coffee mochas can seriously deplete your stocking stuffer budget. Let’s just say that this recipe has helped us save a lot of “Ourbucks”, if you know what I mean.

This single recipe makes two cups  – the measurement meaning of “cup”, not the beverage dish meaning of “cup” –  or one tall travel cup of coffee mocha. However, you can easily double or triple this recipe to serve more or fill larger coffee mugs or thermoses.

(The pictures you’ll see below are from us making the doubled recipe, which is two mugs/4 measurement cups of mocha. The ingredient quantities may look larger if you are making just the single recipe and I don’t want the images to confuse.)

Ingredients

  • 1 Tablespoon of ground coffee beans
  • 2 Tablespoons of cocoa powder (We use the Trader Joe’s brand.)
  • 1 cup of milk (We use 1% milk.)
  • 2 Tablespoons of sugar
  • Splash of cream or half-and-half (optional)
  • Whipped cream (We use Reddi-wip original because I can read all the ingredients and there are no preservatives.)

Preparation

Start by making a pot of your favorite coffee, regular or decaf, using this formula. For every Tablespoon of ground coffee beans you are using, put 1 cup of water in the coffee pot to make the coffee.

1 Tablespoon of ground coffee beans + 1 cup of water = 1 mocha

2  Tablespoons of ground coffee beans + 2 cups of water = 2 mochas

While the coffee is brewing, combine the sugar and cocoa powder in a glass Pyrex pitcher, preferably a wide one.

Pour in just a splash of milk and whisk the dry ingredients into a paste. (If we have it in the house, Mr. CARO will use cream or half-and-half for this splash part of the recipe. However, he warns that using cream for the milk outright makes it way too rich. Just a splash is enough.)

Add more milk, up to just the 1 cup mark on your glass measuring pitcher.

Whisk thoroughly. Then, very slowly, whisk in the hot coffee.

When all the ingredients are blended well, microwave your mix for 1 minute on high. The milk was added cold, so it has brought down the temperature of the hot coffee.

When the microwave dings, you can pour your mochas into their mugs. And what is a mocha without a little bit of real whipped cream?

Now comes the fun part….bottoms up! Watch out for whipped cream on your nose!  Mmmmmmmmmmmmmocha…….

Do like to start your day with a warm cup of joe? Are you as tempted by coffee stores as we are when you are out shopping? What is your favorite flavor to go with your coffee? I’m a sucker for peppermint and Mr. CARO likes caramel. Share your favorite in a comment!

Fighting ghoulish sugar crashes

We all love Halloween, but after your 18th Butterfinger you may want a little break. But what else can you do with all of that candy? What if there was a way to use that candy create other dessert over the next few months? It could cut down on your cooking time but still produce some yummy treats for your home.

Sounds good, right? Lucky for us, Real Simple magazine has had this idea, too, and has come up with some great ideas. Listed (and linked) below are 10 of their great desserts that use popular Halloween candies. You could even look at them as tools to make the most of those post-Halloween candy sales.

Frozen Reese’s Banana Pops

York Miniatures Peppermint Patties Brownies

Candy Corn and Pretzel Bark

Skittle Meringues

SweeTarts milk shake

Dulce De Leche and Snickers Terrine

Twizzlers-Popcorn Snack Mix

Twix Cheesecake Pie

Peanut M&M’s and Jelly Cookies

Kit Kat-Filled Angel Food Cake

All of the very tempting images in today’s post are courtesy of Real Simple magazine. Want more recipes that use Halloween candy? You can find a lot more of them in Real Simple’s recipe archive, which I’ve linked for you right here.

What kind of treats do you like to give out for Halloween? Do you have a favorite Halloween candy? Do you sneak candy from your kids or slyly take a few extra pieces at work? How long does Halloween candy last in your home? Leave a comment!

And, hey! Did you see the latest giveaway? You can still enter to win it until 1o pm tonight, Eastern time. It could make you feel better about scarfing down all that candy! It also makes a great gift. Enter to win right here, right now!

Savoring Home: Bistro fries

Is there anyone who doesn’t like French fries, chips, pomme frites or whatever they call them where you live? We had stopped eating frozen grocery store fries because they tasted too chemical-ly to us and we could not identify all of the ingredients on the labels. We had also stopped ordering them out because they were always so huge and heavy to eat.

But, every now and then, like when we are having a nice steak for dinner, we craved some crispy potatoes. When I saw this recipe on Rachael Ray, I knew we had found the solution. I really love this recipe because it has only four ingredients. Just 4!

Ingredients

  • 6 medium Russet potatoes (you must use very starch potatoes)
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt (we use ground sea salt)
  • Dried Parsley

Preparation

Pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees Farenheit, 200 degrees Celsius or Gas mark 6. Then, arrange cooling/wire racks on two baking sheets, like this:

The air that will circulate around your potatoes is what will make sure your fries are cooked evenly and with crispy edges.

Next, wash your potatoes thoroughly and peel them lengthwise, leaving the tips un-peeled, like this:

Cut the potatoes lengthwise, then slice them into fries on 1/4 inch (or just over 1/2 cm) thickness on each side.

When you are done cutting all of your potatoes, you should have a large bowl of fries like this:

Using the large bowl, toss all of the potatoes in a light layer of olive oil and ground sea salt.

If you are a parent, this recipe has a few steps your kids can help out with, like this tossing-with-oil-and-salt step. Letting your children taste what homemade fries taste like is a natural deterrent from fast food restaurants. This also works for adults, as we can attest.

Arrange the fires in a single layer on the wire racks/baking sheets, and try to avoid crowding.

Bake the fries in the oven for 30 minutes. You can put both baking sheets in the oven at the same time without any worries.

Now here is the secret tip that makes these fries different from all of the rest. After 30 minutes, remove the fries from the oven and raise the oven temperature to 425 degrees Farenheit, 220 degrees Celsius or Gas mark 7.

While you are waiting for the oven to reach its higher temperature, remove the fries from the baking sheet back into the big bowl. I recommend using kitchen tongs for this because the fries are hot.

Then toss the fries with more coarsely ground salt and parsley. You choose the quantity of parsley. Or you can use any other flavor combo you love in this step, like Herbes de Provence, garlic & rosemary, etc. (I forgot to take a picture of this step in progress because I was workin’ the tongs.)

Next, put the fries back on the wire racks/baking sheets and when your oven has reached the higher temperature put them back in the oven. Bake the fries for another 15-20 minutes, until the fries look crispy and brown.

When you are done, you’ll have a lovely bowl of delicious fries. They will be crispy on the outside and nice and fluffy on the inside. Be sure to test these fries before serving them (as if I have to tell you this) to make sure you are happy with the salt quantity.

By using the ground sea salt, as opposed to table salt, you can use less and get the same balanced flavor, without a heavy sodium intake. That’s right, these fries are healthier for you because you control the ingredients!

And here is our delicious dinner of marinated, grilled steak and bistro fries:

We serve this with a cool green salad and it is a fabulous dinner at home. (See my cloth napkin? You can read all about my habit with these in this post.)

Do you have a weakness for french fries? How do you like your steak prepared?Does anyone want the steak marinade recipe we used in the picture above? It is delicious and I could put it in a future post. Leave a comment and let me know!

Savor: Cinnamon Chocolate Chip Cake

This recipe is tried and true in our home. I stumbled upon it a few years ago in a catalog from a spice company I adore, Penzey’s Spices. I’m not lucky enough to live near one of their locations, so when their catalog comes in the mail it is kinda like the Dinner Inspiration Fairy landing in my kitchen. Do any of you live a Penzey’s Spices store location? Those stores must smell heavenly!

There is something about Fall weather that makes me want to bake. (Did I mention how much I love Fall?) Cooler weather outside and savory and sweet smells coming from our kitchen just seems to warm my soul. And nothing smells quite as delicious as the smell of cinnamon being baked into a cake wafting all over the house. Cinnamon is one of the smells realtors often recommend using for enticing buyers during home tours. Homemade desserts = Happy home.

Image courtesy of vegetarian-nutrition.info

So here is a favorite cake recipe of ours from Penzey’s. It has cinnamon AND chocolate baked into it. (You’re welcome!) It makes a great dessert and it can also work as a great coffee cake, in case you really need an excuse to eat cake for breakfast. I won’t argue with you.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) or 120 mL of butter at room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cups  or 295 mL of sugar, divided
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup or 235 mL of sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon or 5 mL of pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups or 470 mL of flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons or 7.5 mL of baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon or 5 mL of baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon or 2.5 mL of cinnamon
  • 1 (12 oz. or 342 grams) bag of chocolate chips

Preparation

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F/ 180 degrees C/ Gas mark 4 in the UK ( I can’t let a little math stand in the way of sharing cake!)

Grease and flour a 13 inch x 9 inch baking pan, then set it aside.

In a stand mixer or using a hand mixer in a bowl, combine butter, 1 cup (235 mL) of sugar and the eggs. Beat until light and fluffy.

Add the sour cream and vanilla, blend throughly on low.

In another bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and baking soda. If you don’t have a sifter, you can fold air into the mixture using a whisk.  Just make sure to “fold”, not “stir”.

Add this dry mix slowly to the beaten mixture.

Pour 1/2 of the batter in to the grease and floured baking pan.

In a separate bowl, combine the remaining sugar and cinnamon.

Pour half of the sugar-cinnamon mix over the batter in the pan.

Top with 1/2 of the chocolate chips.

Pour remaining batter over chocolate chips in pan. Layer the batter with the remaining sugar-cinnamon mix and top it with the remaining chocolate chips.

Bake for 30 minutes. Only 30 minutes!

Let the cake cool in the pan on a cooling rack.

This cake serves great with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream. Whipped cream looks more responsible when you eat this cake for breakfast. Plus, you can also use the cream in your coffee. Just sayin’.

This whole recipe takes only 15 minutes to prep and 30 minutes to bake. Delicious cake in under an hour?! You cannot go wrong with this recipe. It serves 12, unless you make a “terrible cutting mistake” and “accidentally” cut larger pieces. I understand this tragedy happens in many homes…including my own.

Do you have a favorite cinnamon recipe? Does anyone ever sprinkle a little cinnamon their coffee? I’ve heard this is a great tip, but I’ve never tried it. What spices mean “Fall is here!” in your home? All tips and recipes are welcome, please leave a comment!

Savoring Home: Mexican meal prep

I am a sucker for great Mexican food, which can be tricky, because I’m deathly allergic to avocado. Guacamole fans normally gasp in horror when I tell them this, but I never grew up with guacamole and I’ve never found the look of it appealing, so I really don’t feel any loss.

But, this makes ordering in Mexican restaurants tricky because I always have to worry about cross-contamination. And my allergy explanation tends to make hardworking waiters a little jumpy…like I’m a ticking time bomb they may have to try CPR on…

Mmmmmm...yes, please! Image courtesy of lunch.com

So, we make a lot of Mexican fare at home, for peace of mind. However, good Mexican food takes a lots of layering of spices and time to put it all together. I used to (in my new-to-cooking ’20’s) use the pre-mixed seasoning envelopes you can buy at the grocery store. And we all know that these are filled with not-good-for-you chemicals we can’t pronounce.

As I grew older/wiser, I searched everywhere to find a good spice combo that would work well and that I could assemble myself, allowing me to know exactly what was in it (Hint: No MSG!). After much tinkering with measuring spoons, I finally adapted a recipe of my own that really works.

I’d thought I’d share it today because it can make Mexican meals at your house faster and easier, too. We cook batches of meat (ground beef, chicken tenderloins, sliced steak, etc.) with the spices in advance and freeze the meat.

All of the spices we use are standard spices you probably already have in your pantry. Nothing new or exotic to buy. Image courtesy of ifood.tv

When we want Mexican food, we have only half a recipe to prepare. This means if we want tacos, dinner is on the table in as much time as it takes to wash and dice the produce. The same goes for fajitas, quesadillas, nachos and several baked dishes we love. Easy, satisfying and less work after a long weekday.

Sound good? I just made a batch of Mexican beef this weekend, so I can show you exactly what I mean…

Ingredients

  • 1/2 teaspoon of chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon of paprika (regular type, NOT Hungarian/sweet)
  • 1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon of garlic powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
  • 4 Tablespoons of water
  • 1/2-3/4 cup of chopped onions (fresh or frozen, quantity is your choice)
  • 1 pound of ground beef, chicken, steak – any type or cut of meat you want, in a 1 lb. quantity (This recipe can double, triple, etc. easily!)

Preparation

  1. In a small bowl, mix first 6 ingredients well and set aside.
  2. In a skillet over med-high heat, brown the meat.
  3. Add onions and saute with meat until meat is cooked through and onions are golden color.
  4. Add water to beef mixture then pour spices over meat. Mix thoroughly.
  5. Lower heat and allow skillet to simmer uncovered for 7-10 minutes, while water cooks off.
  6. Serve meat immediately or freeze for later use.

We love the spice combination of this recipe, but you can always make it hotter by increasing the cayenne and chili powder or smokier by increasing the cumin a little. It’s very easy to adapt to any taste preferences. I have also used this recipe many times to make pot luck dishes very easy to assemble.

I hope this recipe is helpful for your weeknight dinners like it is in our home. Mexican food with easy prep is always a great dinner here. Do you have any great tips for easy dinner prep? Leave a comment and share your knowledge!

Looking for the giveaway winner post? It’s coming up this afternoon, so keep and eye out for it! Did you know you can follow this blog by “liking” it on Facebook or “following” us on Twitter? just use the oh-so-familiar icons tucked into the header of this website. One simple click and you’ll never miss a post!

Savoring Home: Heirloom tomato bruschetta

Today’s recipe can serve many purposes. It makes a great appetizer, and a healthy snack and can even make a great summer meal. In full disclosure: Mr. CARO and I find this to be our very favorite summer dinner. We’ll just make the whole recipe and divide it between us. I maintain that heirloom tomatoes are Mother Nature’s way of saying, “Let me show you how I make summer look goooooood…”

What did you say?

Here’s something you may not know about me and Mr. CARO: We used to work in opera, which required Italian language usage almost daily. One of our small pet peeves is that America seems to have decided to pronounce this yummy Italian dish incorrectly. It has somehow become all German in its consonants.

I’m gonna fix that for you right here before we get into the recipe. Trust me, this will make you look good as you place this gorgeous platter of food on the table. You can even complain about how no one else pronounces it properly and look like an expert. Here we go:

Bruschetta

Incorrect American pronunciation: broo-SHETTE-uh

Correct Italian pronunciation: broo-SKETTE-tah

See the difference? The “sch”  in the middle of the word should be a hard “k” sound, just like in the word “school”. Also, the double “t” in this word gets an extra tap with your tongue in the last syllable, a “tah” sound. It’s not hard, just practice saying it aloud a few times. Now that we have wrapped our mouths around the name of this recipe, let’s get into the making of it!

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 – 2 pints of small heirloom tomatoes: the more variety, the better
  • coarse ground sea salt
  • dried basil (I never use fresh basil here, it competes with the tomatoes)
  • 1 baguette: a real one, not pre-packaged or whole wheat varieties
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • grated Parmesan cheese

Preparation

First, we are going to wash and admire the tomatoes. Did you know in 1903 there were over 400 varieties of tomato being grown in the US? By 1983, only 80 years later, we were down to only 79. You should read more details about this right here.

It is important that we appreciate the real food gifts we have today, as opposed to all of those McDrive-thrus out there, so let’s take a minute and admire the diversity of this single plant:

Gorgeous colors, flavors, shapes and textures grown for us. Aren’t we lucky? Now let’s make these gifts of nature into a great meal!

Dice all of your tomatoes and place them into a large bowl. Remember to use a serrated knife to slice the tomatoes so you don’t tear them apart.

Your diced pieces should be about the size of a dime, so that they’ll spoon nicely onto the bread later.

As you dice, if you haven’t tasted all the varieties of heirloom tomatoes individually before, take a moment and sample them as you go. You’ll be surprised at the differences in flavors. (You may realize that you have forgotten what a real tomato even tastes like…we had.)

When you are about halfway through dicing your tomatoes, pause and lightly salt the bowl of tomatoes already chopped.

This helps bring out all of the beautiful juices in the fruit and will help with seasoning later.

When all of your tomatoes are diced, lightly salt the top layer of the bowl again and then add the dried basil. I use dried basil equal to the total amount of salt in the tomatoes.

Toss the tomatoes, basil and salt well. The juices will help distribute the basil more evenly. Your finished bowl of tomatoes should look similar to this:

Now you can set this bowl aside and we will prep the bread.

Using a serrated bread knife trim the small ends off of the baguette and place them in a large bowl.

Next, cut the entire baguette into 1 inch thick slices, like this…

…and place them in the bowl. Toss any loose bread crumbs into the bowl with the tomatoes. It thickens the juices for later. We don’t waste anything in this recipe.

When you are done slicing the baguette, your bread bowl should look similar to this:

Now pour a layer of olive oil into a large skillet and swirl it around to coat the bottom of the skillet evenly.

Turn the burner on to “High” and place one layer of bread into the skillet, spread evenly across the bottom.

Get out a pair of kitchen tongs and watch the bread cook. Don’t walk away, answer the phone or settle end-of-the-world disputes between your kids. Watch this bread to make sure it doesn’t burn.

When it is done, the under side of each slice of bread should be golden, with slighted darker, crispier edges, like this:

Using the tongs, remove each slice of bread from the skillet. Place them toasted-side-up on a plate.

Before you add your next layer of bread, lower the burner temperature to “Medium”. You should also see if you need to add a little more oil to the skillet. You want to bread to have some oil to absorb, but it shouldn’t be swimming in it.

Repeat the toasting steps above until you have toasted all of the baguette, including the little end pieces at the bottom of your bowl.

Your toasted baguette slices should fill two large dinner plates, like this:

Now we will use the toasted ends of the baguettes to taste our tomato mixture, which has been quietly marinating on its own. As any chef will tell you, the only way to check your seasonings is to taste the food. Do you need more basil? Do you need more salt? Dip the baguette ends into the juices, taste and then adjust accordingly.

When you are happy with your tomato mixture it is time to serve. Ladle a small amount of tomatoes and juice (don’t use a slotted spoon) onto each medallion of bread. The tomatoes will slide everywhere, but don’t worry about it.

Last comes the cheese. Be careful not to put too much cheese over the top of this dish. (You can use my pictures below as a guide.) You want the cheese to highlight the tomatoes, not dominate them. For this reason, you should also know that you can’t substitute other cheeses for real Parmesan in this recipe. Not even mozzarella. It is just not the same and you will have wasted great tomatoes.

When you are done adding the cheese, you are ready to eat! If you are serving this recipe for a party, be sure to offer lots of cocktail napkins with this dish. The juices can be drippy. If you are serving this as a lazy summer meal, like we do, be sure to include a spoon to get up all the loose tomatoes. Yum!

I’m getting hungry just looking at that picture. Now it’s your turn to share with me: Do you have a favorite summer tomato recipe? Leave your recipe, or a link to it, in the comment section so we can try it this weekend…

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