My Motto

May the muffin rise to greet you, may your friends be always at your door, and until we meet again, warm a single-malt in the palm of your hand and make something homemade for someone you love.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Homemade Nutter Butters

"There's nothing better than good sex.  But bad sex?  A peanut butter and jelly sandwich is better than bad sex."
~ Billy Joel
Sorry, but that quote just made me laugh.  We all love our peanut butter way too much for it to be compared to bad sex though.  That's just not right.  My son Curtis loved peanut butter so much that every day of his first  twelve years of school he had a peanut butter sandwich for lunch.  No jelly,  just peanut butter.  Every. Single. Day.  As for me, I crave a peanut butter and jelly on a toasted bagel about once a week.  And when the craving hits, I'd pretty much turn down lobster thermidor for a good bagel, perfectly toasted with Skippy peanut butter all melted and dripping.  But I digress.  We're talking cookies here.  Homemade Nutter-butters.  I started with a recipe from All Recipes, combined it with my peanut butter cookie recipe,  and tweaked it here and there til I reached peanut butter nirvana.
My daughter got home from school just as I was finishing them up.  She grabbed one.  
I said "let me know how you like them."  
She mumbled "I'll text you" as she trotted upstairs to her room.  
(Yes, she and I text each other while we're in the same house, and sometimes even chat on Facebook.  Don't judge me.  It's better than yelling through the house.)
This was the text I received: "Holy crap way better than real nutter butters." 
Nuff said.  

Homemade Nutter Butters

1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon
1 cup old fashioned rolled oats
1 cup confectioner's sugar
1/2 cup peanut butter
3 tablespoons heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
In a large bowl, cream together 1/2 cup butter, 1 cup peanut butter, white sugar, brown sugar and vanilla.  Add egg and beat well.  In another bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.  Add dry ingredients to the creamed mixture and beat well.  Add oatmeal and stir.

Drop by teaspoons onto cookie sheet, and press each mound down with a fork to form 1/4 inch thick.  Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes or until the cookies are light brown.

To make filling: Cream the confectioner's sugar with 1/2 cup peanut butter and the cream.  Add a little more cream if needed for good spreading consistency.  It should be on the thick side.  Spread filling onto half of the cooled cookies, then top with the half to form sandwiches.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Italian Meatball Soup with Tortellini and Kale

"Good manners: The noise you don't make when you're eating soup." 
~ Bennett Cerf, Humorist (1898-1971)
Here is one of my favorite soups.  I could eat it for days and not tire of it.  The light broth is just a perfect vehicle for heavier elements, like meatballs and tortellini (YUM!).  There are plenty of hearty Italian soup recipes that have tomatoes in them,  but what makes this soup interesting, is that it doesn't.  Once you have the meatballs done it comes together very quickly and doesn't require a long simmer, making it a nice workday choice.  I made it the other night as a light dinner so we could have Banana Cream Pie as a side dish, I mean...erm...dessert.

Do what I do, and next time you find yourself making meatballs for a spaghetti dinner, increase the recipe a bit (make sure you start with fresh, not previously frozen meat) and then roll 3/4 pound worth of smaller meatballs.  Bake them on a cookie sheet for a 20-30 mins (depending on size), cool, place in a Ziploc bag and throw them in the freezer.  Then, when you feel like making this soup, it's cake!  

Italian Meatball Soup with Tortellini and Kale
A recipe by The Irish Mother

1 1/2 ounces Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 slices white bread
1 small onion, peeled
3 tablespoons milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg
12 ounces ground meat, either all beef, or a combination of beef, pork and veal.
garlic powder and onion powder (for dusting meatballs before baking)

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 small onions, peeled and diced
2 small carrots, peeled and sliced
2 stalks celery, preferably with leaves attached
1 clove garlic
6 cups chicken stock
1 cup fresh or frozen cheese tortellini
1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 small zucchini
3 ounces chopped kale

1. For the meatballs: Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Mince the cheese, bread and onion in a food processor.  Add the milk, salt, egg and the meat.  Mix just until combined.  Roll into small meatballs.  Should make about 20.  Place meatballs on a cookie sheet and dust all over with garlic powder and onion powder.  Bake for 20 minutes.

2. For the soup:  Heat the olive oil to med-high in a large heavy stockpot.  Add the onion, celery and carrot and cook for 5 minutes, stirring so they don't burn.  Add garlic and stir for one minute, until fragrant.  Immediately add chicken stock, seasonings, zucchini and kale.  Taste broth and add salt and pepper, if needed.  Simmer 15 minutes.  Add meatballs and tortellini and simmer 15 minutes or until heated through.
This soup can be made up to 3 days in advance and reheated.  Add more chicken stock or water if needed.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Banana Cream Pie with Bourbon Caramel Sauce

"The fine arts are 5 in number, namely: painting, sculpture, poetry, music and architecture, the principle branch of the latter being pastry"
 ~ Antonin Careme (1783-1833)
We used to visit my maternal grandmother once a year in Binghamton.   She never failed to have a homemade banana cream pie in the fridge.  At that time I thought that cold, creamy pie was just about the best thing ever to cross my palate.

During my high school years I used to make one every couple of weeks and would get ticked if I went to buy bananas and none of them were ripe enough.  In that regard, you do need to think ahead to be sure your bananas are ripe and sweet.  You could also make the pasty cream a day or two ahead to spread out the work involved.
The new issue of Bon Appetit, coupled with the bunch of ripe bananas on my counter were the catalyst for launching into this pie project.   The February issue of BA has a recipe for banana cream pie with salty bourbon caramel.  I used elements of the recipe, but did not follow it completely.  Theirs used a peanut shortbread crust, but that didn't appeal to me, my preference being a buttery graham cracker crust.  

My nostalgic attachment to this old fashioned dessert dictates not to stray too much from tradition, but their bourbon caramel sauce did launch it into the stratosphere.  I actually considered having pie for dinner, then decided on the more balanced approach of having a light soup dinner so we wouldn't have to feel too guilty about the indulgence.  It was crazy-good!!!

Banana Cream Pie with Bourbon Caramel Sauce
Pastry cream and sauce recipes from Feb '12 issue of Bon Appetit 

Graham Cracker Crust:
2 cups finely crushed graham cracker crumbs
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup melted butter

Vanilla Pastry Cream:
2 cups whole milk
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 large egg  yolks
1/4 cup butter cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Whipped Cream:
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons confectioner's sugar

Bourbon Caramel Sauce:
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons bourbon, divided
1/2 teaspoon corn syrup
3 tablespoons butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 ripe bananas

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly butter a 9-inch glass or ceramic pie plate.  In a medium bowl, combine graham cracker crumbs with sugar and melted butter.  Reserve 2 tablespoons of crumbs.  Press remaining crumbs into and up sides of the prepared pie plate.  Bake for 10 minutes, then set aside to cool completely.

Vanilla Pastry Cream:  Bring milk and cream to a simmer in a medium saucepan.  Meanwhile,  whisk sugar, cornstarch, flour, and salt in a large mixing bowl.  Add egg yolks; whisk until smooth (mixture will be very thick).  Whisking constantly, gradually add milk mixture  to yolk mixture.  Return to saucepan and cook over medium-low heat, whisking constantly,  until thick, 2-3 minutes.  Transfer to a blender with butter and vanilla, Puree until smooth, 1-2 minutes.  Transfer to a medium bowl; press plastic wrap directly onto surface of pastry cream.  Chill until set, at least 2 hours.  DO AHEAD: Can be made up to 2 days ahead.

Bourbon Caramel Sauce:
Stir sugar, 1 tablespoon bourbon, corn syrup and 1 tablespoon water in a medium deep saucepan over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves.  Increase heat, bring to a boil without stirring, and cook, occasionally swirling pan and brushing down sides with a wet pastry brush, until sugar is deep amber in color, about 6-8 minutes.  Remove from heat, whisk in 1/4 cup cream, butter and salt.  Let cool 5 minutes.  Stir in 1/2 tablespoon bourbon and vanilla.  Keep at room temperature until serving time.  You want to be able to drizzle it from a spoon, so you may need to heat it slightly just before serving if it has thickened too much.
Whipped Cream:  In a deep medium bowl pour 3/4 cup very cold heavy cream, vanilla and 2 tablespoons confectioner's sugar.  Beat with electric beaters set on high until stiff.

Peel and slice bananas.  Spread 1/3 of the cold pastry cream over bottom of crust.  Place half of  the banana slices over pastry cream.  Spread 1/3 of pastry cream over banana layer. Repeat, ending in a layer of pastry cream.  Having the banana slices encased in the cream keeps them from browning.  Spread all of whipped on pie, leaving a little pastry cream showing around the edge.  Sprinkle with some of the reserved graham cracker crumbs.

Drizzle a spoonful of caramel sauce over each slice immediately before serving.  

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Kickin Kale

"Kale is my best friend.  I eat Kale salad.  I put it in my smoothies, kale in my soup.  Kale, kale, kale! I feel like Popeye. I love it!"
~Alanis Morrissette (explaining her kale obsession to Runner's World)
I  know, I know....a big pile of green stuff doesn't photograph as well as say, a cupcake, but HEY!...we got excited about these greens, therefore they qualify for a post.  Besides, they're incredibly good for you and are perfect this time of year when garden fresh veggies are but a faint memory.  We went crazy for them.  After our first experience last week, they were so good we had to have them again, asap.

In our market they sell big bags of pre-washed and chopped kale and collard greens which make it really easy.  I bought the big bag of kale with the thought of making kale chips, but when it was evident that wasn't going to happen, I looked up a recipe to cook them.  Not discovering anything appealing, I decided to cook them like good 'ole southern collard greens.  That means long and slow, and with bacon!  I found the recipe on  The original recipe, although delicious, was WAY too salty, so I've adjusted it.  The huge one pound bag cooks down much more than you would imagine.  I was shocked that the Mister and I polished it all off by ourselves. By the way, just a little tip;  they go great with garlicky mashed potatoes and any hearty meat, and if that meat has gravy, EVEN BETTER!

Kickin Kale
Inspired by a recipe for collard greens found on

1 tablespoon olive
3 slices bacon
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt  (taste towards end of cooking, and add more if needed)
1 teaspoon pepper
3 cups chicken broth
1 pinch red pepper flakes
1 pound fresh kale, washed and chopped into 2-inch pieces

Heat oil in a large pot over med-high heat.  Add bacon and cook until crisp.  Remove bacon, crumble and return to pan.  Add onion and cook until tender, about 5 minutes.  Add garlic and stir around just until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Add kale and cook until it starts to wilt.
Pour in chicken broth, and add salt, pepper and pepper flakes.  Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 45-55 minutes until broth is mostly boiled off and greens are tender.  ENJOY!

Friday, January 6, 2012

White Chicken Tortilla Soup

"Soup is a lot like a family. Each ingredient enhances the others; each batch has its own characteristics; and it needs time to simmer to reach full flavor."

~Marge Kennedy
This is basically a hybrid of white chicken chili and tortilla soup.  The result was delicious and satisfying. Warm and fresh at the same time.  Take the time to make the garnishes.  The fresh bite, color and flavor are a tantalizing foil to the creamy broth, chicken and white beans.  They take the soup from really good, to fantastic!  We all agreed on that.  This soup is easy enough for a weeknight, but good enough to share with friends.  A nice winter meal to warm you up without weighing you down! 

At serving time, place a small pile of 5-6 tortilla chips in the bottom of each bowl, top with shredded sharp white cheddar cheese, ladle the hot soup over all then garnish with fresh avocado, chopped tomato and chopped red onion or scallions and a couple more crushed tortilla chips, if you wish.

White Chicken Tortilla Soup
A recipe from The Irish Mother

3 boneless chicken breast halves (approx 1 pound) or 1 small rotisserie chicken, meat removed and shredded
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 14 ounce cans chicken broth
2 15 ounce cans cannellini or northern white beans, drained
1 cup frozen corn
1 4.5  ounce can chopped green chilies, do NOT drain
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
3/4 teaspoon chili powder
8 ounces cream cheese, softened


1 medium size bag of good tortilla chips
1 1/2 cups shredded sharp white cheddar
1/2 cup finely chopped red onion or sliced scallions
1/2 cup finely diced tomato
1 ripe avocado, diced 
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice (sprinkle on avocado, to prevent browning)

Cut chicken into small, bite-size pieces.  In a large skillet on med-high, saute chicken in one tablespoon olive oil.  towards end of cooking, add onion and celery.  For last minute or two, add garlic.  Remove from heat.

Pour chicken broth into a large stockpot.  Add cooked chicken.  Simmer for 1/2 hour to tenderize the chicken (unless you used rotisserie, then you can skip this step.)   Add remaining ingredients except for cream cheese and garnishes, bring to a boil, then simmer for 1/2 hour.  A few minutes before serving, place cream cheese in a bowl and microwave for 30 seconds to melt it.  Whisk melted cream cheese into soup.  Heat for a few more minutes.

Place a small pile of tortilla chips in the bottom of each bowl.   Top with a small handful of the cheddar cheese.  Prepare garnishes.  Ladle soup into bowls.  If desired, crush a couple more tortilla chips over soup then sprinkle on some tomato, avocado and onion.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Cinnamon Swirl Scones

"Cinnamon bites and kisses simultaneously."
~Vanna Bonta
You know, some days I just wake up jonesing for scones.  Nothing else will do.  Thank goodness they're so quick to make.  Easy to carry, not as messy as a sticky-bun, not greasy like a doughnut, light and flaky (if made right,) and not too sweet.  Equally great for grab-and-go breakfasts on the way to work as for leisurely Sundays while working the NY Times crossword.  During my travels last week, I brought scones in my carry-on and that delicious portable treat just about made me feel like I was in first class...then my knees bumped into the seat in front of me and I woke up, but that's another story.

This is a recipe I came up with after being unable to decide between making biscuit cinnamon rolls and scones dusted with cinnamon sugar.  Rolling the scone dough with a cinnamon sugar filling elevated them from OK, to Oh Yeah!  Feel free to shape these the night before, keep covered in the fridge, and bake in the morning.  They are best super-fresh!  These are not my absolute favorite scones, but they are the easiest and I always have the ingredients on hand.  But come 6 months, when local blueberries ripen, Make-Ahead Blueberry Scones are tops!

Cinnamon Swirl Scones
A recipe from The Irish Mother
makes 6-8 scones

2 cups sifted flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
3 tablespoons white sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup cold butter
1 egg
½ cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons softened butter
¼ cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  In a large bowl, stir together flour, baking  powder, baking soda, sugar and salt.  Cut in cold butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

In a small bowl,  beat egg with buttermilk; add to flour mixture folding just until mixture clings together (the key to a tender scone is to avoid over mixing the dough). 

Turn dough out onto a floured board and with floured hands pat into a 12-inch circle.  Spread with the 2 tablespoons of softened butter.  Mix brown sugar with cinnamon and sprinkle all of this over the butter.  Roll dough from the outer  edge (all the way around) towards the middle (you will end up with a ball of dough).  Turn dough over on the floured board and pat into an approx 8-inch circle that is about an inch thick.  With a large sharp knife, cut into 6 – 8 wedges.

Brush with milk and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.

Bake for 10-12 minutes.  Serve warm.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Crispy Garlic Chickpeas

"Be always at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let each new year find you a better man." 
~Benjamin Franklin
Whoa.....I'm having a hard time getting back in the swing of things.  The holidays were an awesome sprint of family,  friends, food and celebrations, culminating with the beautiful wedding of my son Curtis and his sweet and gorgeous bride, Noelle.  We had an amazing  time in Milwaukee with his new in-laws.  I saw wee hours on the clock I haven't seen since my college days and kept going  on  pure adrenaline for  the last few days of 2011!  

Excuse my absence, but WOOOO! I needed a couple days to recover before jumping back on the blog-horse. Here's a quick recipe that I've wanted to try for months now.  It was perfect to ease back into things.  Yes, I'm late to this party, having spotted these on half  a dozen other blogs, but they were still worth sharing because most of the people I know haven't gotten into them yet.  YET being the operative word.  I wish I hadn't waited so long.  SO EASY - SO GOOD - SO GOOD FOR YOU!  Okay, I'll stop yelling now....but this is a snack to get excited about.  Put down the cookie and pick up the chickpea.  You won't regret it.  

Thanks to Jaden Hair of the blog, Steamy Kitchen for my introduction to them.  My first guinea-pig to try them, Audrey, loved  them and she and I polished off 2/3 of the batch in about 5 mins.  They shrink when you roast them, so one 15-ounce can of beans yielded a bowl-full that would be a good snack for 2 or 3 people.  You could roast 30 ounces of beans on a cookie sheet.  They would make a great snack for the Super-bowl and your guests would appreciate the healthy alternative.

Crispy Garlic Chickpeas

1 15.5-ounce can of chickpeas
1 tablespoon olive oil
Garlic salt
garlic powder
onion powder
black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Pour can of beans into a colander and rinse with cold water.  Pour beans onto a double layer of paper towels.  Use another paper towel to roll over the beans, drying them well.  Pour beans onto a cookie sheet.  Drizzle olive oil over them and roll them all over with your hand.  Sprinkle with garlic powder, onion powder and black pepper, about 1/4 teaspoon each.

Bake for 30-40 minutes until they have shrunken and browned.  Keep an eye on them at the end to make sure they don't burn.  Let cool for 10 minutes, then watch them disappear!