Sunday, October 30

Mediterranean inspired Pork Chops and Polenta

Mediterranean Pork Chops and Polenta

Stewing whole pork chops in fresh herbs and vegetables is a great dish. I love the flavors and textures created by this technique. By combining tomatoes, herbs, and pork chops in one pot you can create a flavor party.

However, as fall turns cooler, the fresh ingredients aren't always as flavorful. So this is when I turn to my pantry and home canned items.

This dish has a similar flavor to a classic puttanesca dish with a little twist.

Serves 4-6
Full time: 1 hour
You will need:

6 boneless pork chops, 1/2" thick
1 medium onion, cut in half and sliced
1 polenta log (usually near deli in store)
8oz can diced tomatoes, drained
1/2 cup white wine, Chardonnay
works the best
1/4 cup kalamata olives, sliced
4 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 tsp basil
1 tsp parsley
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper

Let us begin:

In a large pot combine half of the olive oil, minced garlic, and sliced onions.

Cook over high heat for 5-8 minutes until onions begin to get soft

Push onions to outer edges and place pork chops in pot.

Lower to medium high heat and brown chops for 5 minutes

Flip pork over and brown another 5 minutes

Lower heat to medium, add in herbs/spices and white wine. Cook for 10 minutes

Lower heat to medium/low. Add in kalamatas and diced tomatoes. Cook for 5-8 minutes until tomatoes begin to soften

Cover and simmer for 20 minutes until pork is cooked to a medium/rare

Turn off the heat and keep covered

While this rests. Get remaining olive oil heated in sauté pan over medium/high heat

Slice potent log into 1/4"-1/2" slices, try for 12 slices (not including ends)

Carefully add polenta to sauté pan and cook for 3-5 minutes per side

You want a nice even golden color

Remove from sauté pan and place 2 slices on dish. Carefully top with pork chop and a small ladle of tomatoes

Thursday, October 27

MAKE IT: Festive Halloween Candy Mix

Halloween mix is a combination of three things candy corn, indian corn (candy corn with brown bottoms), and candy pumpkins. My other half loves the stuff and could probably eat an entire bag in under 30 minutes. So this year I decided to make it myself.

Although the finished product isn't as smooth, machine finished, it tastes just as yummy. And I will admit, this made a lot of dough-so be prepared to be shaping for a while. This is definately a labor of love, but very worth it!

This recipe will make roughly an equivalent of a large bag if Halloween mix.
Full time: Dough is ready in 30 minutes, shaping time/coloring time is anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 1/2 hours based on speed and amount of hands
Divide the dough as follows for you family favorites:

-For candy corn or indian corn only:
Divide dough into thirds
Candy: 1 yellow, 1 orange, 1 plain
Indian: 1 brown, 1 orange, 1 plain

-For both candy corn and indian corn:
Divide dough into thirds, then divide one of the thirds in half
1 plain, 1 orange, the two halves 1 brown, 1 yellow

-For candy pumpkins only:
Divide dough into two parts 1 should be 7/8 batch the other should be 1/8 batch
Large is orange, small will be green

-For all of the above:
Divide dough in half. Then divide one if the halves into a batch of candy corn and indian corn. And the other half into a batch of candy pumpkins

You will need:

5 cups confectionary sugar
2 cup granulated sugar
1 1/3 cup light corn syrup
2/3 cup butter salted (or unsalted with 1/2 tsp salt)
2/3 cup dry powdered milk
2 tsp vanilla extract
Candy corn: orange/yellow food coloring
Indian corn: orange/brown food coloring
Pumpkins: orange/green food coloring

Let us begin:

In a mixing bowl, shift confectionary sugar and powdered milk together. Move to the side temporarily.

In a small pot: mix butter, granulated sugar, and corn syrup

Bring to a boil over high heat, stir constantly

Once it boils, lower heat to medium and continue cooking for 5 minutes, stir frequently. It will become bubbly, foamy, and look as if it is full of air

Remove from heat and add in the vanilla extract

Quickly, Mix dry ingredients into the wet mixture saucepan. Stirring well to incorporate the two into a nice smooth texture. It will cool fast so you need to work with a little speed here

Allow to cool for 15 minutes until mixture has firmed up into a dough that is easy to handle.

It will be a little hard when you first remove from pot. Just knead it for a few minutes and it will be perfect!

Divide the dough as listed above.

Add in your coloring. Knead the colored dough to create an even color.

If you come across little clumps/balls that are hard, just pull them out. These are hardened pieces of confectionary sugar that is clumped.

Just remember that the dough will get stiff so you will need to work through all the dough in under 1 1/2 hrs

Spread out sheets of wax/parchment paper across your work surface

For Candy/Indian corn:
Roll each dough into long ropes roughly 1/4" thick. You will want to have more then one of each color. But keep in mind you need the same amount of ropes in each color

Now line up ropes with a plain and a yellow/brown sandwiching the orange. Aline them as close to each other as you can get them without squeezing them

Here is the hardest part of the whole thing: you need to adhere them to each other, but not to surface and not flatten them out too much.

To do so gently roll a rolling pin across the top side and the will squeeze together

Now, you just need to shape them. Using a sharp knife that gas been dipped in cold water (you will need to dip a few times if it gets sticky) cut into triangles*

For pumpkins:
Take your orange dough and roll into balls roughly 1/3" around.

Gently flatten the bottom by pushing onto wax/parchment surface. But try not to let it stick.

Roll green into very thin rope and cut of two pieces roughly 1/8"-1/4" long. Flatten between fingers

Okay here is your difficult part: you need to create the pumpkin shape and attach leaves at the same time.

To do so place leaves at center top of ball then using the back side of a chopstick or small dowel push down on top to create a small divot and adhere leaves into it.

If desired run a knife that has been dipped in cold water around edges to create lines but I do not do this

Allow to set-up for 2 hours before eating or moving into storage container. This will allow the outside edges of each peace to firm up and become un-sticky

Store in airtight container.

*okay side-note, yes half of the corns will now technically have a reverse color scheme with the tip being colored but, it is homemade and entitled to a little artistic change

Norwegian Style Peach Upside-down Cake

Norwegian peach upside down cake, is a great dessert. I also like it in the midmorning for a brunch time dish.

Serves 6-8 slices
Full time: 1 1/2 -2 hours (includes cooling time)
You will need:

15oz can sliced peaches in syrup
2 jumbo eggs, separated yolks/whites
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup flour
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup butter unsalted
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

Let us begin:

Preheat oven 375 degrees

Lovingly grease the bottom and sides of a  8" round cake pan.

In a small saucepan melt butter over low heat.

Once melted turn off heat and add in brown sugar. Allow to sit for 2-3 minutes to firm up a bit

Pour mixture over the bottom of the pan

Drain peaches reserving 5 tbsp of the liquid

Top brown sugar mixture with peaches

Mix yolks, sugar, and peach juice. Mix well.

Blend in the flour, salt, and baking powder to create a still batter/dough

In a separate bowl beat egg whites until they become bubbly and frothy. We are not looking for firmness just a very airy texture

Gently fold whites into batter, this will take a few moments. It will feel like they are only coating the mixture but, just wait and they will fold in.

Pour batter, which has a slight pancake batter feel over peaches

Bake for 30-45 minutes, or until your knife test cones out clean. It is very important to have a solid cooked center

When cooked remove from oven and put a plate over it.

Now take a few deep breaths.

Okay, using oven mitts is important because you now have to flip the entire thing over. Ready...go

Remove cake pan by gently lifting straight up. (To help get a little air in, I like to pop a knife tip between the cake and pan and give a little twist)

Allow to cool for 30-45 minutes prior to serving

Or chill overnight in fridge for a great brunch time treat



For those of you abroad please remember the following: 

In the U.S. my table spoon is: 14.2 ml

In the U.K it is: 17.7 ml

In Canada it is: 15 ml


All-Purpose Flour or Powdered sugar

1/4 cup = 30 gr.
1/3 cup = 40 gr.
1/2 cup = 60 gr.
2/3 cup = 75 gr.
3/4 cup = 85 gr.
1 cup = 110 gr.

Brown Sugar

1/4 cup = 50 gr.
1/3 cup = 65 gr.
1/2 cup = 100 gr. 
2/3 cup = 135 gr.
3/4 cup = 150 gr.
1 cup = 200 gr.


1/4 cup = 55 gr.
1/3 cup = 75 gr.
1/2 cup = 115 gr.
2/3 cup = 150 gr.
3/4 cup = 170 gr.
1 cup = 225 gr.

Granulated Sugar

1/4 cup = 55 gr.
1/3 cup = 75 gr.
1/2 cup = 115 gr.
2/3 cup = 150 gr.
3/4 cup = 170 gr.
1 cup = 225 gr.

Tuesday, October 25

Pumpkin Stew

A few years ago I learned a really interesting fact: Originally pumpkin pie didn't actually refer to the type of but, the it refered to baking a pie in the pumpkin.

Oddly, I have always enjoyed baking and cooking inside pumpkins. Their ability to hold liquids even while cooking makes them ideal for stews and scooping out the meat as you eat gives a little extra heartiness to the dish.

Here is one of my favorite dishes, a Mexican Spiced Stew. Use any stew meat you want lamb, pork, beef, I have used them all.

Serves 4-6
Full time 2 1/2 hours (based on pumpkin size)
You will need:

4 lb. pie pumpkin
1 lb. stew meat chunks (photos of beef)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 small orange pepper, chopped
1 small red pepper, chopped
1 small can chopped green chilies
15 oz can creamed corn
15 oz can whole kernel corn
4 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp minced garlic
2 tsp chili powder
2 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper

Let us begin:

In a large sauté pan brown meat with half the spices and half olive oil

While this browns: preheat oven to 350, move rack to a medium low position. You need enough room to bake pumpkin with lid on

Begin to prepare pumpkin. Wash outside on warm water with small amount soap, then rewash in hotter water no soap.

Begin to cut open pumpkin around top, roughly 2"-3" from stem.

Hollow out pumpkin by removing seeds, scrapping sides a little to ensure no goo.

Pour in remaining olive oil and rotate pumpkin to coat all inside edges

Now mix all remaining ingredients (not meat) in a large bowl and stir to full blend

Once meat is browned, drain excess liquid and stir into vegetable bowl

Move pumpkin to a edged baking tray and stuff with mixture.

If you have excess, place in small dish along side pumpkin

Top pumpkin with lid, excess with foil

Bake for 2 hrs. Check pumpkin, carefully remove lid, steam will come out, stick a fork into the inside of pumpkin meat if it goes in easily your all set.

Remove pumpkin and serve. To eat just scoop out insides and carefully scoop out pumpkin meat as you go.

Monday, October 24

Talking about substitution of ingredients

Substitutions are a huge question in my world. Can I use milk instead of butter milk? Can I use eggs instead of egg substitute? How will it effect the dish? Will it change flavor, cooking time, texture, or all of it?

It has taken several missteps, asking people, cook books, web sites, and countless post-it notes but, I finally have my basic substitution list down. 
Knowing what can be used in place of different ingredients is always a good thing. 

Maybe someone your cooking for doesn't particularly like an ingredient called for in a recipe, maybe you only need a little and don't want to buy a full container, maybe you left off something when shopping. 

In my case it has always been I decided that I wanted to make something and was missing a key ingredient. I started putting post-it's on my recipe cards to say what did or didn't work. That got a little out of control, the notebook came next. Now the notebook worked for a while but finding my substitutions just drove me nuts. So I created a recipe box full of index cards with basic substituting, this works the best. I jus note on the card what my substation is and what effect it had.

For example: when a recipe calls for Yogurt you can use sour cream or cottage cheese that you blend down. However, sour cream will tartan the taste and cottage cheese will moisten the mix. So be prepared to edit the other ingredients. 

I really like having the ability to make almost anything even if missing an important ingredient. Now hopefully you have either tried a recipe or two of mine. If your new to the blog welcome! Either way here comes some great substitutions for you to use everyday.


Some great substitutions are:

Adobo seasoning 1 tbsp
-use instead 1/4 tbsp salt 1/4 tbsp garlic powder 1/8 tbsp ground black pepper 1/8 tbsp onion powder

Allspice 1 tsp
-use instead 1/2 tsp cinnamon 1/2 tsp ground cloves

Apple or Pumpkin Pie spice 1tbsp
-use instead 1/2 tbsp cinnamon 1/4 tbsp ground ginger 1/8 tbsp allspice 1/8 tbsp ground nutmeg

Arrowroot 1 tbsp
-use instead 1 tbsp cornstarch
-use instead 2 tbsp all purpose flour

Baking powder 1 tsp
-use instead 1/4 tsp baking soda 1/2 tsp cream of tartar
-use 1/2 tsp cream of tartar 1/2 tsp ORGANIC cornstarch

Bisquick 1 cup
-use instead 1 cup flour 1 1/2 tsp baking powder 1/2 tsp salt 1 tbsp vegetable shortening

Bread crumbs 1 cup
-use instead 1 cup ground crackers

Brown sugar (light) 1 cup
-use instead 1 cup sugar 2 tbsp molasses

Buttermilk 1 cup
 -use instead 1 cup plain yogurt
-use instead 1 cup minus 1 tsp milk, stir in 1 tsp white vinegar let stand five minutes before use

Chicken stock 1 cup
-use instead 1 tsp bouillon 1 cup water

Condensed milk 1 cup (sweetened)
-use instead 1 cup evaporated milk 1 1/4 cup sugar dissolved

Corn starch 1 tbsp
-use instead 2 tbsp all purpose flour
-use instead 1 tbsp arrowroot

Corn syrup 1 cup
-use instead 1 cup honey
-use instead 1 cup sugar dissolved 1/3 cup water

Couscous 1 cup
-use instead 1 cup pastina

Cream 1 cup (light)
-use instead 7/8 cup milk 3 tbsp butter

Cream 1 cup (heavy will not whip)
-use instead 3/4 cup milk 1/3 cup butter

Egg 1
-use instead 2 whites per egg same size
-use instead 2 yolks per egg same size 1 tbsp water
-use instead 1 tsp bake powder 1/4 cup milk

Evaporated milk 1 cup
-use instead 1 2/3 cup milk, simmer and reduce to 1 cup

Flour all-purpose 1 cup
-use instead 1 cup rolled oats
-use instead 1 1/2 cup fine unseasoned bread crumbs
-use instead 1/2 cup whole wheat flour 1/2 cup soy flour

Five spice 1 tbsp
-use instead 1 tsp each star anise, cinnamon, ground cloves, fennel seed, ground Szechuan peppercorns

Granulated sugar 1 cup
-use instead 1 cup brown sugar
-use instead 1 3/4 packed powdered sugar
-use instead 1 cup corn syrup (subtract 1/4 cup liquid from recipe)
-use instead 1 cup honey (subtract 1/4 cup liquid from recipe)
-use instead 1 cup molasses (subtract 1/3 cup liquid from recipe)

Honey 1 cup
-use instead 1 cup molasses
-use instead 1 cup corn syrup
-use instead 1 1/4 cup granulated sugar dissolved 1/4 cup apple juice

Italian seasoning 1 tbsp
-use instead 1 tsp each oregano, basil, parsley, salt, ground black pepper, garlic powder

Lemon juice 1 tbsp
-use instead 1 tbsp white vinegar

Lemon extract 1 tsp
-use instead 2 tsp lemon zest grated

Maple sugar 1/4 cup
-use instead 1/2 cup maple syrup 1/2 cup brown sugar dissolved

Maple syrup 1 cup
-use instead 1 cup brown sugar dissolved 1 cup water 1 tsp vanilla

Milk 1 cup
-use instead 1/2 cup evaporated milk 1/2 cup water
-use instead 1 cup buttermilk 1/2 tsp baking soda
-use instead 1 cup dry milk (follow rehydrated instructions) 2 tsp melted cooled butter

Molasses 1 cup
-use instead 1 cup honey

Shortnening 1 tbsp
-use instead 1 1/3 tbsp butter creamed

Sour cream 1 cup
-use instead 1 cup plain yogurt

Sour milk 1 cup
-use instead 1 cup plain yogurt
-use instead 1 cup buttermilk

Tomatoes canned 1 cup
 -use instead 1 1/2 cup fresh tomatoes simmer for 15 minutes

Tomato juice 1 cup
-use instead 1 cup plain tomato sauce 1/2 cup water

Tomato paste 1 cup
-use instead 2 cup plain tomato sauce simmer and reduce to 1 cup

Worcestershire Sauce 1 tsp
-use instead 1/4 tsp sugar dissolved 1/8 tsp hot sauce

Vegetable shortening 1 cup (melted)
-use instead 1 cup cooking oil

Vanilla bean 1
-use instead 1/4 tsp vanilla extract

Vegetable shortening 1 cup
-use instead 1 cup butter

Yogurt 1 cup
-use instead 1 cup buttermilk
-use instead 1 cup sour cream
-use instead 1 cup cottage cheese purred

Pantry raid? Actually reverse that...let's fill it

Pantries are the stuff of legends. There was a time that households had rooms devoted to dry food storage. These days between cost of living, schedules, storage space, and cooking times-pantries are a slowly dying area.

But why not have both? Why not have a pantry that is filled with ingredients ones that are time saving,  regularly used, and storage friendly?

I have a few shelves in my house dedicated to this. It makes nightly dinners easier, grocery trips less frequent, and when the time allows for it, special dishes which can take more time.

Actually in all honesty I have two pantries. Not two locations but two sets of items I try to have at all times. There is my "Essential perfect baking" ingredients and my "Dinner/Dinning" ingredients. But let's focus on dinning not baking for a moment.

Having these ingredients on hand has saved dinner from several days of getting out of work late, school functions, low finances, weather, and illness. Planning ahead based on what my household eats on a regular basis has helped me create a pantry that doesn't go to waste.

If your interested in starting your own pantry begin by looking at what you buy often. Is it something that stores well? Can you by one/two extra the next time you go shopping? How often do you go shopping and would you like to cut down on trips?

Then start building your pantry. It is actually just that easy. If you need a jumping off place start with the basics and go from there. 

Basics in my household include dry chicken stock, cranberry sauce, Fluff, pancake mix, stuffing, salsa, pasta, canned diced tomatoes, black olives, and cornbread mix. As you can see none of it is fancy or expensive. And all of it gets used on a weekly or biweekly basis.

Now let's talk baking for a moment. I love to bake and I do it at least once a week. Bagels, bread, cookies, anything you can think of. 

My monthly baking schedule looks a little like this: I try to make a double batch of bagels to individually wrap/freeze/toast for mornings before school at least once a month. I usually try to have sandwich bread done every other week 2 loaves at a time. Cookies get made on a whim, along with cupcakes, brownies, or dessert type items.

Of course, I am fortunate to have a job that allows for a full day of baking during the week. However, let's be honest 95% of us don't have that luxury. In the past, I had to get my baking done in small increments around work schedules, making dinners, grocery shopping, special school functions, ect. It really made me have to plan carefully for time management and proper ingredients in the pantry. I developed what I called my essential perfect baking pantry. 

This essential perfect baking pantry is a list of items I try to have on hand at all times. This way if time presented itself I could just grab and go. It has been modified from time to time and is still a work in progress. Trying to create your own perfect pantry is a great way to move towards a more homemade lifestyle. 

Follow a few simple rules to create a perfect pantry tailor made to your needs:
- how often will time present itself and when it does can you bake multiple items or batches at a time?
- how much will you consume, store, give away?
- what are your tastes and the tastes of those you will be baking for?
- how often do you shop?
- how often can you rotate for fresh ingredients?

Once you have these few questions answered begin to create your pantry of the basics and expand out based on your specific baking likes/dislikes. Want to start your pantry? Try using a few basics to get the jump on things:

Whole wheat flour
Granulated sugar
Powdered sugar
Light brown sugar
*Active dry yeast
Baking powder
Baking soda
Corn starch
Vegetable shortening
Kosher salt
Vanilla extract
Almond extract
Unflavored Gelatin

Then add to your like I have. Watch what you use more often, stock up when it is on sale, and you'll never need to go shopping just to bake!

My additions:

Rye flour
Soy flour
Corn meal
Light corn syrup
Dry milk
Dry buttermilk
Tapioca starch
Coconut shreds
Chocolate chips
Coco baking powder
Instant pudding (chocolate, vanilla)
Cake mix (chocolate, vanilla, white, devils food)
Raspberry extract
Orange extract
Lemon extract
Anise extract
Peppermint extract
Rolled oats (not instant)
Peanut butter
Raspberry jam
Apple filling
Pumpkin (canned not pie)
*Heavy cream or whipping cream
*Cream cheese
*Sour cream

*in refrigerator 

Having a pantry filled with dinner and baking ingredients helps ensure meals, special desserts, and baked goods can always be made.

It took me a few months, a little grocery management, and a little shelf navigation to build but it was well worth it!

Now if only I could get my spice rack as organized...

Thursday, October 20

BAKE IT: Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread

A staple item in my kitchen is sandwich bread. Between lunch boxes, work lunches, and the occasional afternoon snack: sandwiches are a hit!

I decided to figure out how to make a nice fluffy soft bread that could be used for sandwiches. This recipe will create the perfect homemade honey wheat sliced bread.

Easily make 2 loaves at a time, 1 to eat right away 1 to freeze for next week!

Make 2 loaves or 24 slices
Full time: 4 - 5 hours ( includes multiple rise times)
You will need:

1 2/3 cup water (110 degrees)
2 3/4 cup all purpose flour
2 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
6 tbsp honey
3 tbsp butter
2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast ( 1 .25 oz packet)
1 3/4 tsp salt

Let us begin:

In a large non-metal bowl mix water, yeast, and half of the honey. Allow to sit 5-10 minutes. You will see the yeast begin to foam/puff up

Add in the all purpose flour, storing to create a very thick stick batter

Let stand 45-60 minutes, it will become big, bubbly, full of air. This creates a bread base

Melt half the butter, stir in remaining honey and salt. Pour over your bread base, allow it to sink in to the base

Gently mix base to create a slimy batter which sticks into itself, but not the bowl

Mix in all but 1 cup of whole wheat flour. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead until a firm but slightly sticky dough forms. It should not stick to surface.

If it is too sticky and attaches to surface add small amounts of reserved cup flout until not longer sticking to surface.

Oil a non-metal bowl and place dough inside turning carefully to coat. Cover with towel and place in a warm spot to rise

Let rise 1-2 hrs until doubled in size

Turn out onto floured surface and punch down

Divided dough into 2. Place in greased 9" loaf pans.

Cover and let rise again until dough is slightly over top of pan by a minimum of 1 inch

Preheat oven to 350

Bake bread 25 minutes and check for done-ness. If baked thru remove, if not bake additional 5 minutes and recheck. Do not over bake

Melt remaining butter, brush over hot bread to keep crust soft.

Cool for 1 hour on rack before storing. Store in airtight zip-bag for up to a week. Store in freezer for up to a month!