My favorite mistake

I’m going to say right up front that I forked this one up royally from beginning to end. So, I can’t say that it was a great recipe, but I do think that it’s salvageable, as in, the blame lies with me.

And, to be honest, I still had a lot of fun making it.

It’s been a stressful week, and I came home grumpy. But once I started to make this week’s poppy seed streusel and listening to podcasts about “Doctor Who” (*nerd alert*), I felt immensely better. I didn’t even really care that I was forking up.

Streusel ingredients. Notably not pictured is the milk I should have used.

I have loved my Amy Thielen “The New Midwestern Table” cookbook, so the fact that this recipe didn’t turn out I think is a fluke. I have made a lot of things from it, including hand pies this year.

And, seriously, it has a butt-ton of butter, sugar, and flour, so it should have been perfect.

Also, while her recipe said to bake for a half hour, I knew it looked done about 7 minutes early, and instead of trusting my gut, I let it go for another 5.

So, the fact that it’s hard as a rock, is on me.

Then, the second page of the recipe really spends a lot of time on the importance of grinding the poppy seeds well. This was after I had, uh, not done that. See, I bought a bunch of cream and figured there was not harm in replacing whole milk with cream. Except that, obviously, cream whips quite quickly. So, when I mixed them together in the blender, there was whipped cream well before poppy seed broke and bruised.

I made up for it by adding water instead of more cream later … but the damage (or lack thereof to the poppy seeds) was done.

So, the fact that the poppy seeds are intact and the innards of the streusel didn’t turn out as expected, is also on me.

Again, though, it was an adventure to make, and I’m pretty sure if I follow the recipe, and trust my gut, I’ll nail it next time.

It doesn’t look that bad until you noticed the blackened edges and that that ain’t *lightly* golden.

Here’s what I did. Actually, scratch that, here’s what I should have done:

Ingredients

  • ¾ c. poppy seeds
  • ¾ c. whole milk (DO NOT SUBSTITUTE)
  • 1 c. raisins
  • 3 c. sugar, divided
  • ½ c. heavy cream
  • 2 t. apple cider vinegar
  • 3 c. all-purpose flour
  • ½ t. sea salt
  • 3 sticks butter (the recipe calls for salted; I used un- so hopefully that didn’t mess things up), and more for coating the pan, all at room temperature

Directions

Combine poppy seeds and MILK in a blender and process on high until the poppy seeds have broken down down. Add the raisins, 1 c. sugar, the cream, and the vinegar. Process until smooth.

Pour the mixture into a medium skillet and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Stir often to prevent it from sticking, and continue reducing heat to keep the mixture at a slow bubble. Keep cooking until the mixture thickens to like jam, about 30 minutes. I’d say a little less but that might just be because I overcooked the thing from top to bottom in the oven.

Meanwhile, heat the oven to 375 degrees, and lightly butter a 9-inch by 13-inch sheet pan.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, the remaining 2 c. sugar, salt, and the butter. Use your fingers to work the butter into the flour mixture until well combined, and the mixture holds its shape when squeezed together.

Scoop 5 loose cups of the butter mixture onto the sheet pan, and use your hands to spread evenly, and then gently press down. Bake for about 10 minutes, and then let cool for about 10 minutes.

Then, pour the poppy seed mixture on top, and spread until smooth. Then squeeze the remaining butter mixture on top of the poppy seed mix to make decorative nuggets, leaving some space for the filling to show through.

Bake for about 30 minutes, or until LIGHTLY golden brown, *checking often*, and then cool in the pan before cutting into squares. Enjoy, if you got this far and succeeded!

 

Beautiful briny bread

The checkout girl at Target told me not to tell anyone that the bread I made this week had anchovies on it. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I’d be telling everyone through this blog post. So, let me get it out of the way at the front.

This bread is not for the faint-hearted.

If you can think of everything flavorful and potentially off-putting, this bread has it. Anchovies. Capers. Kalamata olives. Onions (lots of ‘em). Garlic.

Briny bread* ingredients. *Actually called “pissaladiere.”

It’s also got tomatoes, a butt-load of olive oil, and a no-knead yeasty bread.

Basically, me and my sweetie thought it would be perfect. And the recipe didn’t let us down. It’s been amazing.

The recipe comes from the cookbook my brother turned me on to about bread: “Bread, Toast, Crumbs” by Alexandra Stafford. I finally got myself a copy.

Unlike last time, my deviations from the original recipe worked just fine. I mostly stuck to it — including all those delicious toppings — but I have regular yeast, not instant, and I figured there was no harm in swapping. Especially since I spent a year making bread.

To correct, I just upped the amount of yeast and added a little honey to get it kickstarted, but otherwise I stuck close to the original.

My only complaint — and it’s expected — is that it took a long time and dirtied quite a few dishes, including the pain-in-the-ass-to-clean food processor. But I knew all that going in, and a lot of the time is pretty passive and a great time to rewatch this amazing season of “Doctor Who.”

It looks so pretty, and it’s tasty too.

Here’s what I did (with notes to use instant yeast):

Ingredients

For the dough

  • 4 c. all-purpose flour
  • 2 t. salt
  • 2 ½ t. active dry yeast (1 t. If using instant)
  • 2 c. lukewarm water
  • 1 T. honey, optional

For the bread

  • 6 T. olive oil, divided
  • 3 medium onions, halved and thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 4 anchovies
  • 1 T. capers (I didn’t measure, I love capers)
  • ½ c. kalamata olives, halved
  • 1 c. cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered

Directions

Make the dough. If using active dry yeast, mix together the yeast, warm water, and honey, and let sit for about 10 minutes before stirring in the flour and salt. If using instant, the recipe says to mix together the dry ingredients, and then add the water (and honey). Either way, use a rubber spatula to stir until the mixture combined and you have a sticky dough that’s sort of ball-shaped. Cover the mixture with oiled plastic wrap, and let rise for about 1 ½ hours until the dough has doubled in size.

Just before the dough is ready, heat a large pan on high heat. Add 1 T. olive oil, and then add the onions. Cook on medium heat, stirring every few minutes, until the onions are golden, about 15 minutes. Set aside.

In a food processor, mix together the garlic and anchovies with 2 T. olive oil until pureed. Add the capers and pulse till chopped. Set aside.

Heat the oven to 425 degrees, and set the rack in the middle of the oven. Line a large rimmed sheet pan with parchment paper, and pour on the remaining 3 T. olive oil. Use two forks to deflate the dough by releasing it from the sides of the bowl and pulling it toward the center until you get a rough ball. Lift the dough with the forks or pour it onto the oiled sheet pan. Roll the dough ball in oil to coat it all over, and then let it rest for 20 minutes.

With greased hands, push the dough to stretch it to the edges of the sheet pan, and use fingers to dimple it. When the dough resists stretching, let it rest for about 5 minutes and then stretch again until it fits most of the sheet pan.

To assemble, spread the anchovy paste on the dough. Scatter on the olives, and then the carmelized onions. Top with the tomatoes. Use fingers again to dimple the dough and stretch more if necessary.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until the underside of the dough is golden and crisp. Transfer to a cutting board and let cool for at least 10 minutes before cutting into squares, and enjoy!

Giving thanks and baking cookies

As promised, I am posting this week’s recipe pre-Thanksgiving early so people can enjoy their loved ones. Or, at least tune out of the world wide web for a few days.

My recipe this week is my Grandma Crippes’ pumpkin chocolate chip cookies. I’ve made them many, many times before, and I almost get them wrong every time.

Grandma’s pumpkin chocolate chip cookie ingredients.

That’s because the recipe I use is on an index card my grandma gave me years ago when I asked for some of her favorites. It’s carefully hand-written before her arthritis got too bad for her to even cook anymore.

But her wonderful absent-mindedness that I have frustratingly inherited means that the ingredient list doesn’t mention eggs, even though one of the first directions is to cream crisco and sugar, and then add eggs. It doesn’t even say how many.

Since it’s plural, I’ve assumed two eggs for years, and the recipe comes out right so it works either way.

Now that grandma’s gone, those recipes are among my most prized possessions. Especially since these days, most loving notes are typed instead of carefully — or not-so-carefully — handwritten. (And get off my lawn, you kids.)

As I think about this year, and because of my natural pessimism (another Crippes trait), I mostly remember the worst things about it. There’s no doubt it’s been a challenging year, not just for the country but also for my loved ones and for myself.

But this Thanksgiving as we’re literally giving thanks, I am also reminded that it hasn’t been all bad. My sweetie, myself, my Pookie, and a couple of our kitties have had some health scares this year, but everyone’s mostly OK managing chronic conditions. Not everyone is still with us, but so many still are.

Not every goal for the year has been achieved, but there’s still time. So, I’ll stop wasting my readers’ time, and let them get to work giving thanks, visiting loved ones, remembering those who are gone, and — hopefully — baking cookies.

Nom nom noms.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Here’s what I did:

Ingredients

  • ½ c. crisco
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 c. Libby’s pumpkin
  • 2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 4 t. baking powder
  • 1 t. salt
  • 2 ½ t. cinnamon
  • ½ t. nutmeg
  • ¼ t. ground ginger (I used more)
  • 1 ½ c. chocolate chips (I used semisweet)

Directions

Heat oven to 350 degrees, and grease a large sheet pan. (This makes about 3 dozen cookies so you should grease multiple sheet pans or plan to grease/reuse the pan.)

In a medium bowl, mix together the dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, salt, and spices.

Cream the crisco; and add sugar gradually. Cream until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, and pumpkin, and mix well. Add the mixed dry ingredients, and mix until blended.

Add the chocolate chips.

Drop by teaspoonfuls onto the greased sheet pan (leaving a little room between them), and bake for 15 minutes — they don’t change shape much so I usually touch lightly to make sure they’re puffy, and then take out of the oven. Repeat as necessary to use up all the dough, and enjoy!

Meatball mashup

It’s 6 days until Thanksgiving, and so I decided to take it easy this week by going simple and safe. But still delicious.

I’ve already made meatballs this year but they were quite different, and I already made a similar recipe that I turned into individual meatloaves. So, this isn’t a unique recipe to this year; however, it’s a new twist.

Meatball ingredients, minus the garlic I decided to add at the last second. Also, in the background, next week’s recipe and spices!

Mostly, I love this meatball recipe because it’s quick and easy. It takes 5 to 10 minutes of prep, and 15 to 20 in the oven, so it’s quick. And it’s made of things I mostly already have on hand, except the beef, so it’s easy.

But it has the added benefit of being very versatile. It can be made into spaghetti and meatballs, or it can be a meatball hoagie, or just eat them on their own or with a little sauce. My sweetie and I tend to prefer hoagies with cheese and sauce, but I always have spaghetti just in case.

It’s nothing fancy but it’s always a treat.

Many mini meatballs.

Here’s what I did, building off a Betty Crocker recipe:

Ingredients

  • 12 oz. lean ground beef
  • ⅔ c. dry bread crumbs
  • ⅓ c. milk
  • 1 t. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 t. dried basil
  • ½ t. rosemary chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced (I used the jarred stuff)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Oil, for coating

Directions

Heat oven to 400 degrees.

Lightly grease a large rimmed sheet pan.

Mix together all the remaining ingredients in a large bowl, using your hands, until well combined. Shape into about 1-inch balls, and place on the prepared sheet pan. You should get about 24 with this amount.

Bake the meatballs for 15 to 20 minutes until cooked through.

Serve with warmed red sauce of your choice and cooked spaghetti or hoagies with provolone or mozzarella cheese, all to your tastes and liking, and enjoy!

*Programming note: I’ll plan to post early next week for Thanksgiving. If you want to shop in advance so you can have them over the holiday, here’s the ingredients list for pumpkin cookies:

  • ½ c. Crisco
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 c. Libby’s pumpkin
  • 2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 4 t. baking powder
  • 1 t. salt
  • 2 ½ t. cinnamon
  • ½ t. nutmeg
  • ¼ t. ground ginger (I’ll probably use more)
  • 1 ½ c. chocolate chips (I’ll use semisweet)

 

The Handpie’s Tale

Thanks to my better half — who I’ll celebrate 6 years of marriage with tomorrow — for the title of this week’s blog post. It’s true. I’m making hand pies.

Meat hand pie ingredients.

When he said it, though, it was just one of those dumb puns he always — *always* — makes. But when I made hand pies on Election Day to keep sorta sane, his phrase seemed especially apropos.

Like my feelings about the book, I had some mixed thoughts about the election night. But more than that, it was another election where I had to think about women, and women’s role in our political world.

I promise I’ll get to the hand pies, but first:

All of this was unknown to me as I made my hand pies, but the questions of how it would all turn out was bubbling under the surface. I was full of anxiety, and as I once swore while cooking, my sweetie suggested I shouldn’t have taken on such a complicated project when I was already distracted.

And yet, it was the sort of frustration I could control.

As I reminded him, and myself: I had gone through this before; I knew it’d turn out fine; and even if every bit didn’t turn out perfect, it was going to be OK. As the election results have continued to pour in since Tuesday, I’m starting to feel the same about our country.

Hand pies not handmaids!

Here’s what I did, slightly tweaking Amy Thielen’s recipe from The New Midwestern Table:

Ingredients

  • 24 oz. ground beef (or mix of ground meats, but on a cold evening, trust me, the beef is the perfect level of heartiness)
  • 1 ½ c. rutabaga, diced
  • 1 c. onion, diced (about 1 medium onion)
  • 1 c. carrots, diced (about 2 small, or 1 ½ medium)
  • 2 t. fresh rosemary, minced
  • ¼ c. sour cream
  • ¼ c. fresh parsley, minced
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 homemade crust doughs (Amy’s recipe at the bottom, but technically, any pie-like crust would do, though milk is recommended vs water for heartiness)
  • 1 large egg

Directions

Make the crust in advance, and divide into 6 equal disks. Refrigerate at least 1 hour or up to 2 days.

Heat oven to 375 degrees, and line a large sheet pan with parchment paper.

Combine the meat and vegetables in a large bowl. Add salt, pepper, rosemary, parsley, and sour cream. Mix until well combined.

Roll out the chilled dough until you have an 8-inch round. (Save your extras if you cut the edges, as I found I had a little extra meat mixture, so I had 7 hand pies, with one being smaller.)

Place meat mixture on one half of one round, and flip the other half of the dough on top of the meat mixture. Press the edges of the round together to seal in the meat mixture. Repeat with the remaining rounds until the meat and dough is used up.

Place the half-moon, meat-filled crescents on the parchment-paper lined sheet pan. Try to leave room between them, though my sheet pan wasn’t quite big enough, and it turned out OK to leave a very minimal amount of space (this might have been when I swore).

Beat the egg with a bit of water (about 2 T., though I didn’t measure), and brush the tops of the hand pies with the mixture.

Bake for about 45 minutes until golden brown, let cool slightly, and enjoy!

Pie dough crust *for 2 pie doughs * from Amy Thielen:

Use a pastry blender or 2 butter knives or your two fingers to combine 2 ½ c. all-purpose flour with 2 sticks (16 T.) of unsalted butter. Place an egg yolk in a measuring cup, and fill with milk until ⅔ c. full (about ½ c. milk). Mix the eggs and milk, and then pour into the flour mixture. Stir with a fork, and/or your fingers until the dough is combined, adding more milk if necessary. Divide into 6 disks, and refrigerate until ready to use.

Happy birthday hot wings

It’s my birthday and I’ll make hot wings if I want to.

OK, my birthday was on Tuesday, and OK, I made the wings last weekend for a pre-planned get-together. BUT they were my little treat to myself, that something extra I would normally say is too much time and effort, but it’s my birthday, dammit, and I wanted to treat myself.

I made the sauces separately, so no ingredients photo this week.

Most people may not think of wings as their treat to themselves, but I’ve always had different birthday wishes. Growing up I remember two birthday foodie requests; we’d either go out for Chinese food, or I’d want Mom’s porcupine meatballs (they had rice in them, and weren’t actually spiky, but that was the name). So, hot wings suited me just fine.

Also, I had found two different recipes — one spicy, one mild — from Homesick Texan that I wanted to try, and figured this was as good of a time as any to try out her two recipes. Then, I realized that though they both used wingettes and drummettes, the recipes were vastly different.

So, I meshed them together. Look, it may have been my birthday, but I am not messing around with different oven temperatures and different cooking times, and methods.

And, whew, they both turned out perfectly. I was quite partial to the spicier ones that registered at about a 6 on my scale of spicy, but the milder creamy salsa verde ones also tasted just lovely, and worked well as a sauce to complement either variety.

These may be best served for a crowd if you make both, or pick your favorite.

Speaking of picking your favorite — segues are for amateurs, as my lovely father says — you still have time to VOTE. Please do so. Pick your favorite. Pick the one who’s not the one who you hate. Pick the person who will make it easier for you to vote (*nudge*). But mostly, just get out there and make your voice heard.

Finished, plated product. The spicy ones are in the back but this photo had me drooling for the milder ones.

And now, here’s what I did, adapting the cooking method but little else saucewise, from Homesick Texan’s recipe:

Ingredients

For the wings:

  • 2 lbs. wingettes and drummettes mix (AKA wings from here on out)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • One of the two sauce mixes, below, divided

Sauce 1 Spicy ingredients:

  • 10 chiles de arbol, stemmed and seeded (I didn’t seed much)
  • 6 guajillo chiles or other milder chiles (I used dried Hatch peppers we had on hand, but ancho are easy to find), seeded and stemmed (I didn’t seed much)
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 t. ground cumin
  • 1 t. oregano
  • ¼ t. ground allspice
  • ¾ c. water, and more as needed
  • 1 T. vegetable oil
  • ½ c. white vinegar, plus more as needed
  • Salt, to taste

Sauce 2 Milder ingredients:

  • 2 jalapenos, cut in half lengthwise and seeded (I did seed these)
  • 4-5 tomatillos (I used 5 because they were smaller), husked and cut in half
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • ½ to 1 c. cilantro
  • ½ c. sour cream
  • ¼ c. mayonnaise
  • 1 t. ground cumin
  • 1 t. cayenne

Directions

Sauce 1 Spicy:

Place both types of chiles in a large bowl of boiling water, and let sit for 30 minutes. Rinse the peppers well, and place in blender. Add the garlic, spices, and water. Blend for 5 minutes until smooth (it seems like a lot, but you want it to be thin, not chunky). Then, heat the oil in a skillet and add the sauce mixture. Cook for 5 minutes over low heat, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, and add the vinegar. Add more vinegar or water until the sauce reaches desired thickness.

Sauce 2 Milder:

Place the jalapenos, tomatillos, and garlic in a medium saucepan. Cover with water, bring to a boil, and then simmer for 7 to 10 minutes until the tomatillos have darkened and softened. Use a slotted spoon to remove the items from the boiling water, and place them in a blender. Add the cilantro, and blend until smooth, adding water if necessary.

Scrape the mixture into a large bowl, and add the sour cream, mayonnaise, and spices. Stir until combined.

For the wings:

Salt and pepper the chicken wings to taste. Place wings in a gallon-sized plastic bag or other large Tupperware. Add ½ c. of the sauce, mix well, and marinate for 1 to 2 hours.

Heat the oven to 375 degrees, and line a large rimmed sheet pan with parchment paper.

Place the marinated wings on the sheet pan, and bake for 25 minutes. Remove from oven and brush with another ¼ c. of the sauce on both sides of the wings, and return to oven with them turned so that the formerly top side is now on the bottom. Bake for another 20 to 25 minutes until cooked through and the wings seem mostly dried.

Let cool slightly and serve with the remaining sauce on the side, and enjoy!

Sheet pan mac & cheese the gift that keeps giving

I was looking for something different to try this week and that’s when a new message popped up. My brother Nate came through out of the blue with a mac and cheese recipe for me.

Sheet pan mac and cheese ingredients.

It turned out that the gift of a new, fun recipe just when I needed it came about because he had bought his wife Monique a birthday present of the delightful-sounding book “Bread, Toast, Crumbs” by Alexandra Stafford. BTW, Happy Birthday, Monique!

While I just used the image my brother sent me for this post, it definitely sounds like the type of book that belongs in my kitchen, as I love carbs and crumbs. My test with mac and cheese was mostly positive, if not perfect.

Despite my pronounced love for crumbs, I must have accidentally added more than the recipe, or perhaps because there was a note in the text to another page for homemade crumbs, I ended up with an over-abundance. Don’t get me wrong, the crumbs *tasted* great, but they were a bit overwhelming versus the mac and cheese.

But for that error, I only blame myself and my lack of owning the book.

I also failed to purchase more parchment paper after using it up for last week’s ratatouille, which may have contributed to a drier and darker mac and cheese, though the latter didn’t bother me at all and the former also probably an error I made in adding too much of the mac, defying instructions.

If you’re sensing a theme, it’s that in cooking there’s always a balance between trusting your gut and trusting the expert recipe; and, in this case, I erred toward my own opinions and judgment. But I won’t disavow my gut altogether. There’s some logic in what works for my palate and some room for error in how an item cooks in my oven, but this time, not so much.

Even though my attempt didn’t turn out perfectly, I had no problem eating it as leftovers throughout the week, and I’m adding the book to my cart right now.

So many crumbs. Yet, so much deliciousness.

Here’s what I did (or, more accurately, what I should have done):

Ingredients

  • 12 oz. elbow macaroni (I used 16 to use up the whole box, but in hindsight, it would’ve been better with less)
  • 1 stick (8 T.) unsalted butter, divided
  • ¼ c. all-purpose flour
  • 2 c. whole milk
  • 2 c. store-bought bread crumbs (The recipe called for 3, but also apparently how to make them homemade. Since 3 c. was too much, I’d go to 2 c. but I left all else for the crumb mix the same as the recipe called for, because delicious flavor!)
  • ½ c. fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (I used much more because I love garlic, but add to your tastes)
  • 5 oz. grated Parmesan cheese
  • 8 oz. fresh mozzarella, diced
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

Heat oven to 425 degrees, and bring a large pot of water (salted if desired) to a boil. Add the macaroni and cook to al dente for 5 minutes. Drain but don’t rinse, and set aside.

In the same large pot, melt half the butter over medium high heat. Add the flour, a little at a time, whisking constantly, and continue to stir for about a minute. Add the milk, and 2 c. water, continuing to whisk to ensure nothing is stuck to the bottom. Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat to low. Add salt and pepper to taste. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 20 to 30 minutes (mine took longer than the recipe stated, closer to 30 than the 20 in the recipe) until the mixture is thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and add more salt or pepper to taste.

In a medium bowl, melt the remaining butter. Then, add the bread crumbs, parsley, and garlic. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

In the pot with the sauce, add the Parmesan cheese (I left a little for topping but it’s optional), and then add in the macaroni. Stir until cheese is melted and mac is coated.

Line the bottom of a large rimmed sheet pan with parchment paper (optional but recommended), and spread the mac mixture on top. Add the mozzarella cubes evenly throughout, and then top with the bread crumb mixture, and any leftover Parmesan.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until the crumbs are golden and the mac mixture is bubbling. Remove from the oven, let cool for 10 minutes, and enjoy!

Important addendum:

My delightful brother sent the important context for the missing page with the note on bread crumbs. Mystery solved!

Anyone can cook ratatouille

I’ve loved Pixar’s “Ratatouille” since it first came out and I saw it in theaters. But it’s a movie that’s only grown on me since then.

Of course, I’ve come to love cooking even more, so that’s no surprise, but it’s really the movie’s messages that have grown in importance to me.

There is the message (*spoilers ahead*) from the critic at the end of the movie that “Anyone can cook,” which isn’t to say that we can all be great chefs but a great chef can come from even the humblest of beginnings.

But if I’m honest, it’s the message from Remy walking away from his dad to pursue his passion despite his family’s wishes that really gets me.

Screenshot from IMDB.

I won’t get overly sappy here, but I’m coming up on a year since leaving journalism, and that scene has been making me think and challenging me to move forward. That’s no less true of our current political climate as we approach another election. Things can change, as long as we decide to step up.

So, to readers, please vote and convince your friends and family to do the same. And, to myself, who voted last weekend, I am reminded to step up and try to help bring about that change by working for it.

Now, I’ll step off my pedestal and get back to my recipe.

Sheet pan ratatouille ingredients (please note, this is way too much to fit on one sheet pan).

I’m embarrassed to say how many years I’ve wanted to make the eponymous ratatouille from the movie, and I finally did it during my year of casseroles. And while it did not achieve the picturesque quality of the movie, it was a delight.

I thought it could be replicated on a sheet pan, albeit a smaller amount, and I was not wrong. However, I did buy way too much of the required vegetables, and so I had to make it on several sheet pans over multiple days. And yet, I’m not complaining.

I tried a few different methods to see what would work best — sauce on top, sauce on bottom, baked at a slightly lower temperature, and came up with what is my favorite. It’s also pretty easy, to boot, except the slicing, but it’s made easier if you have a mandoline slicer.

It looks classy, but it’s also easy and delicious.

Here’s what I did (using the best version of my tests):

Ingredients

  • About 2 small summer squash, sliced ⅛ to ¼ inch thick
  • About 2 small zucchini, sliced ⅛ to ¼ inch thick
  • About 2 medium Chinese eggplant, sliced ⅛ to ¼ inch thick
  • About 3 medium Roma tomatoes, sliced ⅛ to ¼ inch thick
  • Salt, to taste
  • Olive oil, for coating
  • 1 jar (16 to 20 oz.) arrabbiata sauce
  • Basil, to taste
  • Thyme, to taste
  • Minced garlic (I used dried), to taste

Directions

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Spray or brush olive oil on a large sheet pan (about 15 ½ by 12 inches)

Pour the sauce on top of the oiled pan, enough to coat but not necessarily using it all. Place a layer of vegetables on top of the sauce, slightly overlapping like shingles, and in any pattern you like — I did a row of each except tomatoes and put tomatoes on top but do whatever makes you happy.

Oil the top of the vegetable layer and add some thyme, basil, and minced garlic. Add another layer and repeat with the oil and herbs and garlic. If there’s still room, you can add a third layer (with oil, etc. on top) but my edges are not high so two layers was about all I could handle.

Top with parchment paper.

Bake for 35 to 45 minutes until the vegetables are cooked, with some browning around the edges (trust me, it tastes delightfully smoky). Serve with more sauce, if desired, and enjoy!

Spicy, saucy salmon

If there’s one thing that everyone knows goes with Buffalo sauce, it’s salmon.

OK, wait, that’s not right. And yet, oh my goodness, the combination deserves to be in the same realm as chicken wings. That’s a daring statement, and even I won’t pretend that Buffalo chicken wings can be replaced.

But if you like spicy sauce and something different, this is the recipe for you.

Buffalo salmon ingredients.

If you are skeptical, I understand. I was once among you. My sweetie suggested it several years ago, and I said only I was willing to try it. Salmon was one of the few fish I enjoyed (at the time), and I love Buffalo sauce so much I made it into a deviled egg recipe.

When I took my first bite, though, I was sold. It’s been a staple ever since, and even something I’ve made to impress my foodie family.

Besides tasting great, it’s a simple recipe: few ingredients, hard to mess up, and frankly, the veggies I added could have been anything that you have on hand or suits your tastes. I chose green beans — to ring out the summer season — and a bell pepper that was a leftover garden item from a friend. I didn’t even add anything to them, just the oil the covered the pan.

I served it alongside a pre-made mix of rice and grains to make it a fuller meal, but again, the salmon is the real star so serve it with what seems to fit and whatever makes you happy.

Flaky, spicy, yummy.

Here’s what I did, following a long ago Gourmet recipe:

Ingredients

  • 4 salmon fillets, preferably with skin on
  • 5 T. unsalted butter
  • ¼ c. hot sauce (I prefer Louisiana)
  • ⅓ c. panko crumbs
  • 1 T. vegetable oil, plus more for coating
  • 1 bell pepper, optional for adding vegetables (or pick what you prefer)
  • 12 to 16 oz. green beans, optional for adding vegetables (or pick what you prefer)

Directions

Heat oven to 425 degrees.

Lightly oil a large sheet pan (large if adding vegetables, smaller will work if not). Melt butter in a small bowl (I just nuke it but you can do it in a small saucepan), and add hot sauce. Set aside ¼ c. of the mixture. In a separate small bowl, mix the panko with the 1 T. oil.

Place the salmon skin side down on the sheet pan, and brush on the remaining sauce. Pat on the panko evenly across the salmon fillets.

Add vegetables, if using.

Bake for 16 to 20 minutes until the panko is golden and the fish is cooked through. Serve with the set aside 1/4 c. sauce on the side and a grain mixture, as desired, and enjoy!

Everything’s better with bacon

I have been considering making Chex Mix as a recipe all year, but I really had nothing to add, and I really, really didn’t want to buy three boxes of Chex, only use a bit of it, and besides, it’s easy to find already made.

So, I was super excited to find a unique snack mix that was easier and seemed just as tasty as Chex Mix. Plus, it had bacon.

I found it sifting through a recent Food & Wine, and was inspired to try it from my earlier adventure making bourbon pecans. This, likewise, has a mix of sweet, salty, and a bit of spicy that I would have thought wouldn’t work until I tasted it myself. I was less worried this time since I already knew the flavor combination worked for my palate.

Bacon pineapple snack mix ingredients.

But I admit it was a little different mix of flavors: bacon, pineapple, peanuts, soy sauce, sesame seeds, and a bit of cayenne made up the bulk of the ingredients. I shared the recipe with friends and found it to be a positive response overall, though the bacon appeared to be the favorite.

I had even gotten lax on checking — and blindly followed the recipes timing suggestions — and the mix was burnt in places, particularly the pre-cooked bacon. And still, it was a hit. Turns out burnt bacon is still bacon. (Don’t tell, it was also turkey bacon.)

Otherwise, I was just glad not to have three leftover boxes of Chex. So, this is one I’ll definitely be making again when I’m looking for a fun homemade snack mix.

This mix is so good that even being slightly burnt can’t ruin it.

Here’s what I did, mostly following the recipe:

Ingredients

  • 8 slices of bacon (It called for thick slices but I used Applegate turkey bacon that is thinner, so that would explain the burning, so check often as the mix nears final baking time.)
  • 3 c. lightly salted roasted peanuts
  • 1 bag (6 oz.) dried pineapple wedges
  • 3 T. sesame seeds (I mixed black and regular because I thought it looked nicer but you can use what you have on hand.)
  • 1 T. soy sauce (We had regular on hand but low-sodium is called for.)
  • 1 T. honey
  • ¼ t. cayenne pepper (I never measure)
  • Tiny pinch of salt (I feel like it was unnecessary with all the other salt ingredients but I added a small amount anyway because I was caught up following the recipe and not thinking.)

Directions

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Put the bacon in a single layer on a rack set over a sheet pan. Bake for 30 minutes until the bacon is crisp. Drain on paper towels and let cool slightly and then tear into ½-inch strips.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix together peanuts, pineapple, and sesame seeds. Add the bacon pieces when it’s ready. Then, add the soy sauce, honey, and cayenne. Stir well to combine. Spread on the same sheet pan (I added a little oil, since I used turkey bacon), and bake for about 15 to 20 minutes, stirring once halfway through. Add a titch of salt, let cool, and enjoy by the handful!