Dina’s Zucchini Bread

It occurred to me yesterday that I’ve not made zucchini bread since I got married.

You know – 20.5 years ago.

Let me revise that: I have not made “my” zucchini bread since we got married. I have a vague memory of making a rather passable batch of something resembling zucchini bread at some point in time over the past 20 years.

If we’re going to be honest – I don’t really love zucchini bread.

I mean average zucchini bread.

It’s just kinda – eh – okay.

Not – wowza! Gotta make that again!

The reason I was able to ascertain how long it was that it had been since I made zucchini bread? The formula is still written in professional production quantities. I.e., you know, about 30 pounds worth of batter per batch from back in the day when I needed it written in those kinds of quantities.

So – given the fact that my husband LOVES zucchini bread and we’re in the midst of the zucchini boom that’s going on around here, I decided it was time.

Before we go forward – I feel in the interest of full disclosure that I should admit this: I’m a lazy baker. I like putting together stuff that basically I can throw together with half a thought and half as much effort.

This is not that kind of recipe.

It’s fussy.

I.e., it has a lot of ingredients and it takes a fair bit of prep.

All that said: TOTALLY worth the time and effort.

Here you go…

Dina’s Zucchini Bread –  -click hyperlink to go to PDF of the recipe.

Ingredients
1 cup Sugar
1 cup Brown Sugar (packed)
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon Baking powder
1 teaspoon Baking soda
1 Tablespoon Cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon Nugmeg
2 cups Bread flour
1 cup Cake flour
2 1/4 cups Zucchini, shredded
1 cup Carrot, finely shredded
1 cup Bulgarian buttermilk
3 Large Eggs
3/4 cup Olive oil
1 cup Chopped nuts
1 cup Golden raisins
1 can Crushed pineapple
1 cup Angel flake coconut

Preheat oven to 370° F.

Do you know this little trick? You’ve got some flexible cutting boards around somewhere, right? Well – I measure my dry ingredients onto one of my flexible cutting boards, and then it’s a total cinch to scroll it up and transfer the ingredients into the mixing bowl.

I usually just start by throwing the sugars into the bowl of the mixer. Then I add in the remaining dry ingredients.

Here are the bread flour, cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, kosher salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. If, per chance, you don’t have bread flour and cake flour on hand – switch out the entire flour amount for all-purpose flour. Life will decidedly go on.

Here (in clockwise rotation) are the zucchini, drained pineapple (with the raisins soaking in the juice below), coconut, chopped pecans, buttermilk and eggs, and carrot. Not pictured is the oil.

I think worth mentioning – you just don’t want to develop the gluten too much in this batter. Over mixing will make for a really tough final product. Yuck. One sure way to help prevent over mixing is to make sure your eggs and buttermilk and well blended together. You can tell in the photo above that the eggs are simply resting in the cup. In this picture below, they’ve now been mixed in completely.  (And can I just brag on my baby hens who have just come into lay?  Get a load of that gorgeous yolk coloring in there!)

This is what the batter looks like once the dry ingredients, buttermilk/egg mixture, and oil have been added. You know – before you add in all that other fussy stuff that makes it taste so amazing.

And this is what it looks like after all the fussy stuff has been mixed in and it’s been portioned into muffin tins.

This batter is really kinda on the runny side – its job really is to hold all of the yummy fussy stuff together.

I do, typically, sprinkle the tops of muffins with raw sugar – it gives a lovely little crust on top.

And here’s the finished product, in muffin form:

And loaf form:

And after breaking into one of these…

I can guarantee that it won’t be 20 years before I make them again.

Yum….

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REAL Ranch Dressing

Are you like me? Did you always just assume that it was impossible to make your own – completely from scratch – homemade ranch salad dressing?

I mean, who does that? Right?

You know – with any level of success.

Sure – we all know folks who make “their own Ranch” – but the taste? Um, yeah… Not so yummy.

Are you a Ranch snob like me?

You don’t want it watery or super milky, or overwhelmed by one spice or another? But every recipe you try comes out – well – gross.

For a while I was buying the packet of mix on the shelf – yes, it was expensive, but it beat the barfy stuff on most shelves nowadays that have that overwhelming chemical-y smell and taste. But dang – it nearly killed me to fork out $2 to $3 for that little envelope of spices to mix up the Ranch I wanted.

I mean – cause if we’re gonna be honest here – I’m a cheap-o at heart.

And a bit of a food snob, too.

I can admit it.

I want good food.

Affordably.

So sue me.

And maybe the whole Ranch conundrum wouldn’t have been such a big deal if I didn’t have this rip-roaring addiction to it going on. I was using the packet of dry mix to make salad dressing AND dip – weekly. And that added up to WAY too much pocket change.

So – me being me – I started experimenting.

Does your experimenting start here, too?

Okay – it’s true!

I have a love affair going on with the bulk foods section of a couple of my local grocery stores. What I can’t find at WinCo I can for sure find at New Season’s – gosh, I love that they’re just a stone’s throw from one another!

I can also admit there were some results on the road to yumminess that certainly deserved to be forgotten.

However, what really matters is that we have a winner, ladies and gentlemen – and it’s FABULOUS, and AFFORDABLE, and EASY to do. Well, and good for you, too.

Pepper Ranch Salad Dressing Mix (ßclick on hyperlink to download PDF of recipe)

Ingredients
2 Tablespoons Black Pepper, Finely Ground
2 Tablespoons Black Pepper, Coarsely Ground
1.5 cups Dried Parsley Flakes
1/2 cup Garlic Salt
2 Tablespoons Kosher Salt
1/4 cup Granulated Garlic
3/4 cup Granulated Onion
2 Tablespoons Dill Weed
2 Tablespoons Celery Salt
  1. Add all ingredients to a Quart Sized canning jar. Shake until thoroughly mixed together. Store in airtight container.

Yield: about 4 cups of dry mix.

Ingredients
1 cup Mayonnaise
1 cup Bulgarian buttermilk
1 cup Sour Cream
1 Tablespoon Dry Pepper Ranch Dressing Mix
  1. To make dressing, combine mayonnaise, buttermilk, sour cream and 1 Tablespoon of mix. Whisk together until completely incorporated.
  2. Refrigerate dressing for several hours – until chilled through.

Yield: 3 cups dressing.

Notes:

To alter this to make a dip, simply omit the buttermilk.

Want a spicier dressing? Add some chipotle chili pepper powder, or add a few shakes of Tobasco sauce.

For an amazing dip? Add a cup of diced celery and a cup of diced onion and allow to sit overnight in the fridge before serving.

Here’s the blow-by-blow in photos:

A fairly decent representation of the ingredients and equipment needed.

The coarse and fine ground pepper:

The parsley goes in next:

Now the garlic salt:

Kosher salt:

Granulated garlic:

Granulated onion. Okay – if you’re paying attention to the colors here, you’ll see I actually snuck in the celery salt before the granulated onion.

And lastly – the dill weed:

As you can see – that’s a REALLY full jar. There ain’t no way you’re gonna get that to mix up by shaking this jar, so this is where I take the entire contents and dump it into a larger jar – just for mixing purposes:

Don’t be afraid to spend a little time making sure this gets good and mixed up. Also, if you find that you feel the need to throw in some dehydrated celery flakes (:ahem: – you do find the need to do that sometimes, right? I’m not the only one, right?) now would be the time.

Then, once everything is all mixed up – transfer back into your Quart sized canning jar. Voila! Even if it was overflowing and wouldn’t all fit before you mixed it up – it will once you get it all mixed up and transfer it back. Magic!

Here’s the super amazing part. It only takes 1 Tablespoon of this mix to make 3 cups of Ranch salad dressing. Here’s what you need:

You pretty much can’t convince me that any buttermilk other than the Bulgarian Buttermilk is worth using. It’s cultured, it’s thick, it’s wonderful to work with, it tastes better, and when you use it for cooking and baking – just a better result. LOVE the stuff.

I’m also snobby about the sour cream – there should be one ingredient: sour cream. Got it?

Now – if I had more eggs available right now and more time, it would be homemade mayo – but I don’t, so this is gonna have to do.

Do you have a 4 cup glass measuring cup? I use mine probably every single day. It’s a wonderful thing to have on hand – especially when you’re mixing up salad dressings and dips!

I always start by pouring the buttermilk in the cup first.

Next, add the mayo – by putting the liquid in first, you’ll know when you’ve got the right measurement, when the liquid displacement gets to the next cup measure. Cool, huh?

Then, add the sour cream. 3 cups measure total – 1 each of buttermilk, mayo, and sour cream.

Now add 1 Tablespoon of the Ranch Mix:

I use a wire whisk and start mixing.

It’ll take just a few minutes and then you’ll have a lovely, smooth, thick, wonderful Ranch salad dressing!

Ta da!

This will keep in the refrigerator for a week or two. You know – if it doesn’t get slurped up before then.

To make this into a dip – simply omit the buttermilk.

SO easy.

SO yummy.

SO worth the time.

This Quart sized canning jar worth of mix will keep for months. I make salad dressing and dip weekly – and my last batch lasted just shy of 6 months… (Oh, and I throw a little in my Taco Soup, and Potato Salad, and a few other things!)

So whatcha waiting for? Go make some ranch dressing mix – you won’t regret it!

What the world needs now…

Ever have one of those days when you realize at the end of it that you need to find a tangible way to say “Thanks” to people?

You know – for…

  • Their patience
  • Their kindness
  • Their longsuffering
  • Their willingness to go out of their way for you
  • Their incredible restraint at not laughing you out of the room when you do something incredibly stupid???

Yeah.

I’ve had a few of those days lately. I guess it’s probably stuff that goes with the territory of life in a new job.

My first thought of a way to say thanks was chocolate chip cookies. But that seemed so – well – predictable.

Muffins, on the other hand – chocolate chip muffins – now THOSE are what the world needs now!

My favorite ways to deal with stressful days?

Play with the baby chicks.

And, of course:

Bake.

And so I made some muffins.

Why keep the goodness to myself? Need some therapy? Pull out the muffin tins and chocolate chips. You’re gonna be glad you did.

Chocolate Chip Muffins (çClick hyperlink to open up pdf of the recipe)

Ingredients
1/2 cup Butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup Granulated sugar
3/4 cup Brown sugar
2 large Eggs
1 teaspoon Vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon Almond extract
2/3 cups Bulgarian buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
2 cups All-purpose flour
2 teaspoons Baking powder
1 1/2 cups Milk chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375° F

  1. In bowl of stand mixer, beat butter and sugars together until light and fluffy.
  2. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Add extracts. Beat until light and fluffy.
  3. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Add 1/2 of the flour mixture to the creamed butter mixture. Mix until just incorporated.
  4. Add 1/2 of the Bulgarian buttermilk, mixing until just incorporated. Scrape down the bowl to ensure that even mixing takes place.
  5. Add the remaining 1/2 of the flour mixture, mixing until just incorporated; then add the remaining buttermilk, mixing until thoroughly incorporated. Scrape the bowl and mix briefly.
  6. Add chocolate chips, mixing until thoroughly incorporated.
  7. Fill paper-lined muffin tins until approximately 3/4ths full.
  8. Bake at 375° F for about 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the muffin comes out clean.
  9. Allow muffins to cool for about 15 to 20 minutes in the tins before removing to a rack to cool completely.
  10. Yield: About 14 muffins.

Notes:

Optional: Add ½ cup of chopped walnuts or pecans.

Substitute milk chocolate chips for ½ semi-sweet chips and ½ white chocolate chips.

You may sprinkle the top of the batter with raw sugar before baking to give a crunchy top.

Princess Bars

Every now and then a girl needs permission to embrace the whole princess thing.

It should include a pot of tea… and Princess Bars.

Silly me – I thought everyone knew how to make them.

I guess not, judging from the blank stares that people have given me when I asked what their favorite parts of Princess Bars were.

If I had to say what my favorite part were – the sweet, crumbly, coconutty base and/or topping or the fruit filling – well – it would depend on the moment. They’re just so right, it’s pretty much impossible to choose what’s best!

Things that make these unbeatable?

  1. They’re ridiculously easy to make.
  2. You can make them up, store them in a disposable aluminum pan in the freezer, and then bake them off at a moment’s notice.
  3. They’re a fabulous way to use up the tail end of last year’s jam or jelly!
  4. They have such a lovely, light, flavoring with the combination of extracts that you truly can use ANY fruit filling – anything from pineapple, or tropical blend, to crabapple, to berry of any type, to apple pie – and end up with an absolutely delightful result.

Add to that the fact that you will be loved forevermore whenever you happen to share them – well, a win all the way around, right?!

Princess Bars

Ingredients
3/4 teaspoons Kosher Salt
1 1/4 Cups Sugar, granulated
1/2 Cup plus 2 Tablespoons Butter (at room temperature)
1 Large Egg, beaten
1 Large Egg yolk, beaten
1/2 teaspoon Vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon Maple flavoring
1/4 teaspoon Almond extract
1 Cup All Purpose Flour
1 1/4 Cups Cake Flour
2 Cups Coconut (fine, unsweetened)
2 Cups Fruit Preserves

Preheat oven to 375° F.

  1. In mixing bowl with paddle attachment, cream together the butter, sugar, salt, eggs, and extracts/flavoring.
  2. Mix together flour and coconut just to incorporate. Add to the creamed mixture and mix to streusel consistency. Do not over mix! Scrape the bowl several times, fluffing mixture and breaking up large clumps. Use a very light hand with this mixture!
  3. Place about half of the mixture into the bottom of a clean, unlined quarter sheet pan (13″ x 9″).
  4. Pack down into the bottom of the pan with your hands; you may use a rolling pin to compact. The dough should be solid and completely cover the bottom of the pan.
  5. Top the dough with fruit preserves. It should be fairly thick – at least 1/4 an inch thickness.
  6. With the remaining streusel mixture – make certain that it is completely broken up – no big clumps! Sprinkle on top of the fruit filling, distributing evenly. Press down very lightly.
  7. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes. It will be a lovely golden brown on top. Allow to cool before cutting into squares.

Notes:

These freeze beautifully before baking.

You can conceivably use ANY fruit preserve as the filling.

Sunshiney Awesomeness

Someone asked me about this recipe rececently, so I thought I’d dig it out of the archives.  Enjoy!

About 20 years ago my best friend Carol and I found – and essentially – fell in love with Pizzicato. Back then it was a tiny little pizza place on Sylvan Hill – not too far away for us to sneak out for a to-go pizza boasting mouth-watering toppings like lamb sausage, feta, artichoke hearts, and lots and lots of roasted garlic.

As the years have gone by my love for Pizzicato has continued on unscathed.

My Mom actually got sucked into the Pizzicato obsession some years prior to her death, as well – and she introduced me to something new and fabulous at that time – and – well – my life was changed forever.

She introduced me to the Roast Turkey panini. The description is deceptively mild – it reads:

ROAST TURKEY, provolone, tomatoes & housemade aioli

Seems pretty – well – boring, right?

Au contraire, my love!

That housemade aioli is all sunshiney awesomeness (to borrow a phrase from my son, BiL) and enough to make you weep for joy.

One day – shortly before the Tanasborne branch of Pizzicato closed it’s doors… sniff… I was blessed enough to meet the guy who made the housemade aioli. I was explaining to him how it made my heart sing and taste buds rejoice – so much so that I always asked for extra for my sandwich, and an additional side to dip my kettle chips in. He smiled and laughed and said, “Sounds like a woman who needs to know how to make her own!”

And then the most amazing thing happened.

He walked away.

Mom and I shrugged, sat, and continuing to enjoy our shared Roast Turkey panini when – lo and behold – said young man returned, quietly slipped me a small piece of paper, then held his finger to his lips and said, “Shhhh!”, smiled, and then walked away.

BE STILL MY BEATING HEART!

He gave me the recipe for the housemade aioli!

I was nearly weak at the knees.

And I promptly went home and whipped up a batch.

Now – my friends – I shall share the wealth.

The great news is that you probably have everything you’ll need for a quick little batch of this wonderfulness. (Have I mentioned here ever that BiL adds “ness” to the end of most descriptor words?)

You’ll need a couple of cloves of garlic, some kosher salt, an egg yolk, a little lemon juice, a bit of Dijon mustard, extra virgin olive oil, and vegetable oil.

This goes so fast – you’ll be amazed!

First – peel your garlic cloves. Yeah – I know – the recipe calls for 2 cloves of garlic. I wanted 3 – so I used 3. The world has continued to rotate on its axis. Life will go on. Okay – so I throw the garlic cloves into my cute little OXO chopper, and mince away. Once it’s pretty decently minced, I scrape the garlic into a small bowl, and add the 1/4th teaspoon of kosher salt.

With the back of a spoon I mash the garlic and salt together to make a sort of a paste. Be warned – it smells fabulous and your mouth is most definitely in danger of starting to water here! When the paste comes together into a kinda mushy mass, set it aside.

Now – in a small mixing bowl you place the egg yolk, 2 teaspoons of lemon juice (and yes, fresh would have been better, but I’m fresh out!), 1 Tablespoon of vegetable oil, and 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard.

With a wire whisk blend this together until it’s smooth. See? Nuthin to it!

Now, I combine the remaining oil – i.e., the 1/4th cup of extra virgin olive oil, and the 2 remaining Tablespoons of vegetable oil – in a glass measuring cup. Add those just a few drops at a time to this egg/lemon juice/mustard/oil emulsion. Be sure to mix it thoroughly – you don’t want to see any streaks of oil. It will look sort of like this after the first few additions of several drops of oil:

As you add oil and beat the emulsion, it will lighten in color slightly, and decidedly thicken in consistency. Take an extra minute or so after the final addition of oil and whisk it briskly.

Now… add the garlic/salt paste:

…and go ahead and whisk together for another minute or so.

And…

Voila!

….stuff to make your heart sing!

I transfer it to a small storage container and refrigerate for a good hour before using.

Let me just recommend taking some deli meat and cheese, rolling it up, and dipping into this fabulous stuff at the conclusion of that hour – it will make your world a better place!

Enjoy!

Aioli

Ingredients
2 cloves Garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 large Egg yolk
2 teaspoons Lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 cup Extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons Vegetable oil
  1. Mince and mash garlic to a paste with the kosher salt using a heavy knife or chopper.
  2. Whisk together yolk, lemon juice, 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, and mustard in a bowl.
  3. Combine the remaining oils and add – a few drops at a time – to the yolk mixture, whisking constantly until all of the oil is incorporated and the mixture is emulsified.
  4. Whisk in garlic paste and additional salt (if needed) and fresh ground pepper to taste.
  5. If aioli is too thick, whisk in 1 to 2 drops of water. Chill, covered, until ready to use.

Notes:

If the mixture separates (at step 3), stop adding oil and continue whisking until the mixture comes together, then resume adding oil, just a drop or two at a time.

If you have a mini food processor – it would be a total breeze to use to throw this aioli together in just a few minutes, rather than whisking it in by hand.

DO try this as a spread for a lovely turkey and provolone sandwich.

DO try it as a dip to eat with your Kettle chips, pretzels, or breadsticks.

DON’T keep it for more than three or four days – this isn’t the kind of thing you make bazillions of unless you know it’ll get used. But it’s SO worth making just the perfect quantity of for a specific application. I promise!

Home Made Mayo

It wasn’t that many years ago that I didn’t know you could make your own mayonnaise.

I mean – hello?! – raising her hand to confirm that yes, she indeed, is a product of mass marketing.

Make your own mayonnaise? I thought.

What’s even IN mayonnaise?

And if you read the label of the mayo that most folks keep in their fridge – you know, the mayo that gets stored at room temperature on the shelf until you open it up (ewww) – you’d see:

Which some folks would be just fine with.

I’m not.

I kept wondering why my mouth would be burned and blistered after I’d have mayonnaise, and then I read the label.

DUH.

I’m allergic to soy!

So when I heard someone mention they made their own mayo I was A-M-A-Z-E-D.

Really?

You can do that?

Oh my yes, and not only can you (it’s easy – I promise!) – you should.

Honestly – once you have the home made stuff, you’re just not gonna be happy with the yucky store-bought stuff anymore.

Yeah, it’s that good.

So – without any further ado – let’s make some Home Made Mayo!

First, the ingredients: Egg, oil, Dijon mustard, and lemon juice. (Sorry – the oil didn’t make it into the shot!)

I know! – Right?! – Only FOUR ingredients, okay 6 if you count the salt and pepper.

I should say right here and now – I’m making a double batch here – the basic recipe (here’s the link) is one egg – this post has twice the called-for amount of the ingredients. Just want to make sure we’re on the same page and all.

It’s all about balance, mayo. And getting emulsification going.

I’m all about getting a good result and doing it efficiently. So – I pull out the Cuisinart. I love my Cuisinart. 🙂

So let’s stop a minute and talk ingredients, okay?

Eggs: First – the fresher the eggs the better this mayo is going to come together AND taste. Yes, I know, not everyone has hens in the backyard and can walk out the door, gather the eggs, and then make mayo like I can. If you don’t have your own egg-laying little miracles in the backyard – find someone who does and buy a dozen from them!

Also – you can use whole eggs, or you can use just the yolk. I’ve been known to use one whole egg and one egg yolk in a (double) batch. You can mix it up. If you use the whole egg it’s going to be a smoother, looser consistency when it’s all said and done. If you use just yolks – which is totally a-okay – just be prepared to maybe need to thin the consistency out with a few drops of hot water at the end.

This particular batch I used 2 eggs that the girls laid this morning. Hence, the lovely bright orange yolks.

Oil: I prefer to use Extra Light Virgin Olive Oil. LOVE the stuff. You can use whatever oil that you prefer – the big caveat here being you want the oil to NOT convey a lot of flavor. Something neutral is best.

Acid: This recipe is using lemon juice – and the stuff in the refrigerator to boot! Yes, you could use fresh-squeezed lemon juice – it’s SO good. I just happen to be out of lemons at the moment. You could use white wine vinegar. I’ve used rice wine vinegar, and balsamic vinegar, and lime juice, etc… Yes, each one brings a different flavor profile to the finished result – just keep that in mind.

Mustard: If you’ve known me any length of time you know I’m biased. When I find something that’s good – well, why use something else?! That’s how I feel about Dijon mustard. Yes, I use Grey Poupon. Why mess with perfection? I guess you could try others – I have in the name of saving a few pennies. SO NOT WORTH IT! So now you know my bias about Dijon – just use the good stuff, okay? Okay!

Into the bowl, with the metal blade in place, place the eggs, 2 Tablespoons of lemon juice, 2 Tablespoons of Dijon mustard, and 2 Tablespoons of oil.

Now, put the lid on and turn the thing on.

Process for ONE MINUTE.

Yep – just 1 minute. That’s all you need to get this emulsification thing going.

Here’s what it looks like just as that one minute is almost up:

Now… You know the little tube-y thing that’s in the shute in the lid of your food processor? It’s got a dribble hole in the bottom – brilliant people who designed them. Now – making sure the lid is on and locked – turn the food processor back on, and take 1/4 a cup of the 2 1/2 cups of oil that you need for this recipe and put it in that dribble tube. See?

And this is what it looks like after the first 1/4 cup of oil has been added in and it’s been processed for a couple of minutes…

…kinda bubbly and no big oil slicks on the top, right? Hooray! That means emulsification is doing it’s thing!

So – what do you do if there is an oil slick on the top? Put the lid back on and turn the thing back on for another minute or two. Chances are it’s going to incorporate in that time and everything is going to be okay.

Now – with the food processor running – dribble in the oil, in a very fine stream.

It’s gonna take a little while. See the time stamp on the pictures? The one just above was taken at 2:57. The one below – when all of the oil has been added in and incorporated was taken at 3:12.

And this, my friends is what it looks like when it’s mostly done:

Some people don’t want salt and pepper or any other spice in their mayo. I just like it better with the salt and pepper, so I added in 1 teaspoon of Mediterranean sea salt and about 1/4 a teaspoon coarse ground black pepper.

…and then processed again for maybe another 15 or 20 seconds. Then, Voila!

It’s all done!

I wish you could smell it and touch it. Smells fabulous, and the texture is satiny smooth and wonderful.

This double batch made a bit more than 3 1/2 cups of mayonnaise wonderfulness.

Now – before we get any further, you need to know you can seriously put a twist on this recipe.

Try adding in some freshly minced – or – OH! – roasted – garlic cloves. YUM.

[Memories of sitting on the patio of a little cafe along the promenade in Benidorm, Spain – with the sun shining on the Mediterranean just steps from where we were sitting, dipping those fun little skinny breadsticks in a wonderfully garlicky mayo. :sigh: Must go back to Spain!]

Or maybe a few leaves of just-picked-and-brought-in-from-the-garden basil. :swoon:

Or how about a little green onion and/or chive?

See where I’m going with this? The possibilities are nearly endless!

So – here’s the thing, I do this kind of revolutionary thing after I get the mayo into my storage container…

I put the lid on, set the timer for 4 hours, and then leave it on the countertop in the kitchen.

Yep – you heard me right.

I don’t speed it right to the fridge.

Why?

So those lovely little probiotics can get to work and get established in there, that’s why.

After the 4 hours are up, off to the fridge it goes, and it can stay there for about a week and a half. This is not – after all – your store-bought, preservative-laden, mayo. It will go bad, and why eat bad mayo when it’s so easy to whip up another batch of the good stuff?

Okay – so see? It was SO easy.

Go make some mayo. Really – completely worth the 20 minutes of your life it’ll take up.

Dina’s Tex-Mex Stew

I’ve been very, very busy lately.

Longing for a good home-made soup or stew.

Too many meals that have been a grab of something out of the fridge as I’m racing out the door.

I don’t like that.

What I do like is this: Tex-Mex Stew.

Just what I needed this day – a chance to throw together a pot of yummy stew while I wait for my girl to get home from college tonight!

I probably should have gotten a shot of all of the ingredients corralled up – but I didn’t even think of doing that until now – so – yeah, didn’t happen! 🙂

Let me just start by saying this: use a big stockpot. At least 8 quart. Really. I hate it when I start making soup in a pot that’s too small and then I’ve got to transfer everything into a bigger pot and it’s such a hassle. So – got it? Make sure the pot is big enough. And you should know: this makes enough for dinner for the family with some leftovers to boot. If you don’t want that much: cut the quantities in half!

All that being said – I thinly slice ribbons of sweet onion, and then sauté them in a bit of olive oil in the bottom of a large stockpot over medium-high heat.

Next, add some sliced celery. I like celery – a lot – and believe in using as much of the leaves as possible. If that bugs you, then adjust accordingly.

Now add in the ground beef, making sure to break it up until it’s a pretty fine consistency as it browns.

You might think this is a little bit wacky – but believe me, it’s fabulous. You’ll thank me later for this next step.

Add taco seasoning mix, ranch dressing mix to the meat mixture, stirring until thoroughly combined.

Doesn’t it smell amazing?!

(Normally I wouldn’t be semi-brain dead and gotten the order of adding things in mixed up – not that it’s the end of the world or anything – but if you print out the recipe and then compare my photos – you’ll note a bit of a disparity in the order of stuff. Sorry – I’m tired!)

Now add in the minced garlic, making certain to keep it from scorching.

Next I added the carrots. I want them to get a bit of a brown before going on to the next thing…

As you may recall, we can our own beans here. Love ’em. Will never go back to the store bought variety. SO much better. This would be a great opportunity to use a jar of mixed beans, or use smaller jars of a variety of beans. But – if you’re feeling kinda lazy (like I am today), then just pick a variety you like and throw them in. This time I used red beans.

A little note about one of the ingredients here. I’m allergic to bell peppers. Don’t know why – but they blister the heck out of my mouth. BUT… I can handle fire roasted canned peppers – go figure! And not only can I handle, I kinda love ’em! I particularly love the red and yellow mixed variety. What’s not to love?

Once most of the moisture in the bottom of the pan has been absorbed/cooked off, add diced tomatoes and the rough chopped fire roasted peppers. Use the juice from the tomatoes to deglaze the pan, making sure to loosen up any bits that have adhered to the bottom of the pan.

I use home-canned chicken stock and typically a quart of it is gonna do you. But every now and then I like this a bit thinner and will add a bit more. And – I can’t extol the virtues of tomato juice enough. It’s GREAT for stuff like this, or pasta casseroles, etc. You’ve got some in your pantry, right?

Add chicken stock and about half of the can of tomato juice, stirring to make certain everything is well incorporated and nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pan

Another ingredient I have a little love affair going on with here:

You may not know it – but you need this stuff. Yes, it’s worth the work to find it. Just get it, you’ll thank me later.

Add in chipotle chili powder and chili powder, adding more or less to your preference.

Turn heat to medium-low and add in corn, zucchini, and rice. Make sure to stir the rice in thoroughly. Allow to simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, taking care to scrape the bottom to prevent the rice from sticking and scorching.

Now – all you need to do is eat some of this fabulousness.

YUM!

Hurry up and get home, Jessica! Soup’s on!

Spicy Sausage Lasagna

When I was considerably younger – gosh, like half of my current age. (Gee, that was a while ago!) I worked at Nike International, Ltd. Not too terribly long into my employ there I met the nicest, funniest, most gracious lady by the name of Ardy. She was not only nice, funny, and gracious, but she – oh, so importantly – shared my faith, and an appreciation and love of good food.

Early on into our relationship Ardy learned I knew how to crochet. She proposed a swap… she had a lovely antique dining table that she’d like to have covered with a crocheted table cloth, and I had a Bible that was in tatters… she thought I could perhaps crochet her a table cloth, and that perhaps she could have my very favorite Bible rebound in leather.

I quickly agreed to her proposed course of action and glibly told her it’d take me a few weeks to make her tablecloth.

HA!

Over the course of the :ahem: year-long making of said (even if I do say so myself) lovely tablecloth I would stop by her lovely home to have the table try the tablecloth on for size.

We, of course, would have to make dinner.

Ardy was one of those people who just encouraged my heart by being. She had this amazing fullness of all of the good things that get stuffed into who you are when you’re a child of God and just kinda ooze out of every pore because you’ve started to become more and more like Jesus. Having the very precious honor and privilege to share a meal with she and her husband in their lovely home was nothing less than a balm to my soul.

We talked food a lot, Ardy and I. One day she said, “Oh – I make the world’s best lasagna!” To which I said, “I don’t know how, because I make the world’s best lasagna!” We laughed, and then she proposed that one our next table-fitting, we combine forces to take over the lasagna-making world. I, of course, agreed!

When I learned to make lasagna years and years ago by a mostly only Italian-speaking older lady who did a lot of pointing and gesturing and speaking rapid Italian at me in the hopes that I might somehow learn a thing or two, it was always made with a mixture of lean ground beef and sweet Italian sausage for the meat portion. Honestly – it was fabulous – and you can find the recipe for it here. But Ardy made a lasagna with a sliced spicy Italian sausage – and honestly, that was the really only significant difference, the meat sauce factor – and it was fabulous.

I thought it only fair to share the fabulousness with you.

Here goes…

First, you start with cooking a pound of lasagna noodles:

I use my deepest stock pot – I think it’s a 7 quart size, and put about 3 Tablespoons of sea salt in there, get it going to a boil, and then drop in the noodles one at a time. Once they’re all in, let it cook for 10 minutes.

While the noodles are cooking, slice up the sausage. I found these at Costco – they’re an organic hot link, beef and pork, and honestly, not burn your lips off spicy, but they’ve got a lovely little level of heat in there.

I slice them fairly thinly.

Once they’re all sliced up, transfer them to a large sauce pan, and sauté them. The goal here – in all honesty – is to just brown them up a bit, and sweat off some of the fat.

Once the sausage is warmed through and browned up a bit, drain the fat off and return it to the pan.

Now you’re going to add in 2 29-ounce cans of tomato sauce, and 1 6-ounce can of tomato paste. I also add a couple of Tablespoons of dried parsley, about 1 Tablespoon of garlic powder, 1 teaspoon of coarse ground black pepper, a couple of Tablespoons of dried basil, and about a teaspoon and a half of dried oregano.

Remember that the sausage is pretty flavorful, so you don’t need a ton of doctoring here.

Go ahead and stir it up completely, slap a lid on, and keep it at a simmer while you move on to the other components.

About now the lasagna noodles are cooked. Go ahead and dump out most of the hot water, and then run cold water over the pot of noodles:

Once it’s all cooled, lay the noodles out on a sheet pan or a sheet of aluminum foil so that they’ll dry out a bit. Just set them aside.

Now, time to shred the mozzarella. Yes, you could pull out the food processor and do this in moments. BUT – one, the food processor weighs a ton and is a lot to clean up, and the truth of the matter is that it’s only going to take a few minutes longer to do so with a box grater. This is two pounds of mozzarella.

Now, time to put together the cheese sauce.

This is two pounds of Ricotta cheese, one pound of cottage cheese, six lovely fresh eggs laid just today, about a cup of shredded parmesan cheese, a couple of Tablespoons of Garlic Salt, a couple of Tablespoons of dried parsley, and about one Tablespoon of dried basil. Pull out your hand mixer and mix this baby up until it’s all nicely incorporated. Here’s what it’ll look like:

A quick word about cottage cheese. It seems like it’s a love it or hate it kind of ingredient. If you say – I hate cottage cheese so I’d leave the cottage cheese out – that’s fine – live it up. The truth of the matter is that I absolutely DETEST cottage cheese. A good portion of the fact for that being that I’m allergic to a lot of dairy stuff and cottage cheese is one of those things that once consumed makes me wish someone would shoot me and put me out of my misery. The beauty with this is that once it’s cooked, there’s really no discernable cottage cheese – and somehow the cooking of it kills off the bad enzyme that kills my gut, and makes it a very happy thing to consume! So…. if you’re convinced cottage cheese is evil, you just might find that in this application it’s not quite so bad.

Okay – so time to assemble! Using half of each ingredient, start layering.

First, a layer of noodles. I make sure that they overlap a bit:

Next, cheese sauce:

Now, meat sauce:

And now a layer of mozzarella:

Now repeat:

I should mention that on the second layer of lasagna noodles I change the primary direction of the noodles. First layer they went width-wise. This layer they’re length-wise. I use left over noodles to patchwork any gaps.

Also – I should also mention that this is a saucier lasagna than some others. You just need to know that going in. It’s sloppy and messy – but well, oh so very worth dealing with!

Here’s what it looks like ready to go into the oven:

Probably important to point out that this is a HUGE batch of lasagna. I typically make a big batch like this once every month or so. We’ll eat on it for lunches and snacks over the course of a week – and believe me, there are never any leftovers that don’t get consumed in that period of time.

If I’m feeling extra thrifty, I’ll purchase several disposable aluminum pans and portion this out to make two or three smaller lasagnas – one to eat for now, the balance to put in the freezer for later.

So – it goes in a 375 F oven for about an hour. I want it to temp out between 150 and 160 F.

Once it’s done, remove it from the oven and let it sit.

Like for at least half an hour.

Seriously – it needs the rest – and you’ll be a happier camper for the wait.

And that’s pretty much all it takes. We love this dish – it’s so yummy. And yes, it’s not a 30 minute meal – but it’s worth every minute invested in creating it!

See?

What did I tell you? Messy! BUT – totally yummy!

Ingredient Spotlight: Soy Sauce

Once again, Tiffany over at Eat at Home is featuring the Ingredient Spotlight blog hop. (Okay – I know – I’m a day late. But I was offline for a while, and so I’m playing catch up!)

When she said soy sauce, I thought, “Um… do I have any recipes with soy sauce in them?!”

And then I realized I did. And some that we like a lot!

Asian Pasta and Veggie Salad

Chinese Pepper Steak

Dina’s No Fail Stir Fry

LeeAnn’s Killer Teriyaki Wings

Mom’s Fabulous BBQ Beef

By the way – Cook’s Illustrated did a comparison on soy sauce, and the results were interesting! Enough so that I decided to shop around a bit – and found a new favorite!

Enjoy!

Ingredient Spotlight: Canned Tomatoes

Tiffany, over at Eat at Home, is once again doing her Ingredient Spotlight blog hop. This week? It’s canned tomatoes.

Ideally, I wish every year were like this:

Years when my pantry has row upon row of home canned tomatoes.

Yeah, that was 2008 – decidedly NOT the garden of 2010!

And – because there are years with garden’s like this year’s, store-bought canned tomatoes are a life saver!

As I was going over my posted recipes I realized how few of my recipes that have this wonderful ingredient featured are even posted! (Bad me!) Honestly – I use canned tomatoes a ton! I’m going to have to get my act together and get them typed up and posted!

In lieu of that, here are recipes that use canned tomatoes that I hope you’ll enjoy!

Dina’s World Famous Lasagna
John & Dina’s Chili con Carne
Skillet Lasagna
Dina’s Italian Wedding Soup
Taco Soup – okay, this one doesn’t SAY canned tomatoes, but the truth of the matter is that I always throw them in!

Honestly – if there aren’t at least a dozen cans of diced tomatoes on the shelf in the pantry, I get a little worried! They’re indispensible! They are one of the best ways possible to deglaze a pan, leaving an amazing melding of flavors in their wake!

Enjoy!