Sunday, February 9, 2014

Maple Pecan Cobbler

Pecan pie. Most love it, some hate it… I could probably survive on it for weeks. I love it in its naked state; I love it embellished with chocolate and other flavors. Such as… MAPLE. I have already professed my undying love for Crown Royal Maple, and this is just another excuse to sing its praises. I normally like to "embellish" a pecan pie with a good bourbon...but since Crown Royal released its Maple finished version... I have a difficult time reaching for the plain old bourbon again.

This recipe is something I just had to perfect after tasting a sample at the deli in our office building. It’s not actually pie, but cobbler. More forgiving. More pecans. More crust. More… MORE. I was in love from the first bite.

After Googling pecan pie cobbler recipes, I was able to get a good general direction, and took it from there. Of course, the Crown Royal Maple cried out to be a part of the process. Ask and ye shall receive. This dish is truly one of my favorite desserts ever. I added photos from both versions - chocolate and no chocolate. You can definitely tell which is which from the photos, but they are equally drool-worthy.


This recipe makes a small cobbler, but can easily be doubled.

1 recipe for a double pie crust (your preference, or you can use a box of 2 Pillsbury pie crusts)
1 ¼ cup light corn syrup
1 ¼ cup dark brown sugar, packed
¼ cup butter, melted
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 tablespoons Crown Royal Maple Finished (you can substitute maple extract if you like)
3 eggs, slightly beaten
1 ½ cups coarsely chopped pecans, toasted
½ cup chocolate chips - optional
½ cup pecan halves, toasted
1 tablespoons additional butter, melted

Toasting pecans, while optional, is really a great touch. It doesn’t take long, and really brings out their flavor. Simply preheat the oven to 350, and bake the pecans in a single layer on a baking sheet for 5 minutes – about the time it takes for that beautiful aroma to begin to escape.

Heat oven to 425. Grease a casserole dish with butter – any round casserole dish 2, 2.5 or 3 quart size should work fine. Line the dish with one pie crust.

In a medium to large bowl, stir corn syrup, brown sugar, melted butter, Crown Royal Maple, vanilla, and eggs with a wire whisk.  Once combined, stir in the chopped toasted pecans (and optional chocolate chips).

Spoon half of filling into the pastry-lined dish. Place second pie crust in the dish on top of the first layer of pecan mixture. Brush (or spoon) a thin layer of melted butter on the top crust.

Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and reduce temperature to 350.

Spoon the remainder of the pecan filling over the baked pastry. Arrange the pecan halves on top. Bake for 30 minutes, or slightly longer, until set. Keep an eye on the crust to be sure it does not brown too quickly; cover edges with foil if needed. 

Allow to cool at least 20 minutes before serving. This dish is delicious all by itself, or with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. 


Thursday, February 6, 2014

Pan-Seared Brussels Sprouts with Prosciutto, Shallots and Pine Nuts

I know. Brussels sprouts are one of those dreaded vegetables that stir fear and loathing in the hearts of children. Some outgrow this, some do not. For some reason, my family never had Brussels sprouts when I was growing up, so this was a loathing I never developed. When I finally tried them as an adult, I wondered what all the icky fuss was about. They were really not that bad. At that point I was eating them buttered, with salt. Period. But as I became more and more culinarily curious, I experimented. Why boil them? Why indeed.

My most recent divergence from the rut of boring sprouts was absolutely delicious. The pan searing brings out a wonderfully nutty flavor in the sprouts, and leaves a tender but firm texture. Also, the nutrients are better preserved if they are not boiled away in water that will end up going down the drain.

If you hate Brussels sprouts, you are probably not even reading this post. If you love Brussels Sprouts, you have no idea how much more you will love them in this dish. If you are on the fence, let me pull you over to the green side.


2 pounds Brussels sprouts, cleaned with loose leaves trimmed off, cut in half.
3 ounces proscuitto, cut in thin strips
¼ cup thinly sliced shallots
2 tablespoons pine nuts
1 tablespoon salted butter 

Prepare Brussels sprouts by trimming the stem, removing all damaged or loose leaves, and cutting each head in half. Roll prosciutto and slice in thin strips - separate strips.

Slice shallots in thin strips and separate.

In a large non-stick skillet over medium heat, sauté prosciutto, separating the shreds, until it just begins to crisp. Remove from pan and set aside.

Add shallots to the skillet and sauté over medium heat, separating the strips, until they begin to turn translucent and the edges just begin to brown. Remove from pan and sprinkle over the cooked prosciutto; set aside.

Remove skillet from heat. Add butter to still-warm skillet and evenly distribute. Place Brussels sprout halves open side down in the skillet. Crowding them is no problem – the key is to make sure they all have contact with the skillet’s butter surface.

Return skillet to medium heat. After 10 minutes, sprinkle pine nuts into the skillet between the sprouts. This will allow the pine nuts to "toast" in the skillet. Cook another 5 minutes.

Add prosciutto and shallots to the skillet, and gently blend to distribute evenly and heat through.


Cajun Pot Roast

After a particularly frustrating work day and a cooling trend in the weather, I was looking forward to comfort food for dinner. I had a small shoulder roast on hand, and brainstormed over exactly what it would take to make me a happy camper. Since an enormous bank account, world peace and looking like Sandra Bullock were all out of the question, I settled for the prospect of a little homemade joy.  Beef-flavored joy.

When inspiration hit me, I could almost smell the seasoned beef and garlic searing in the pan… I was salivating before I could get the beef out of the refrigerator. Serious garlic, Cajun heat, and the caramelized crust of a pan-seared beginning. Oh yes.


1 3-lb roast
Tony Cachere’s Creole Seasoning (or your favorite Cajun seasoning)
1 tablespoon olive oil
About 20 garlic cloves
1 cup finely diced yellow onions
½ cup finely diced celery
½ cup finely diced bell pepper
½ cup dry red wine
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons Creole Mustard
1 can beef consommé
3 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks

Place the roast on a cutting board. Rub olive oil all over the roast. Using a paring knife, cut deep “x”s about an inch apart all over the meat. In each “x”, insert a garlic clove. Some of the cloves are larger – these can be halved. 

Once the garlic cloves are in place, generously season the meat on both sides with Tony Cachere's.
Chop onions, celery and bell pepper; set aside.

I like to use a small Dutch oven for this dish, such as Le Creuset (enamel-coated cast iron)…something that’s heavy duty and will retain heat. Heat the Dutch oven on the stovetop on medium-high heat. Use a dish that is close in size to the roast itself – you will not want too much extra space.

Sear the roast on one side until medium brown. Stand back for a moment and savor the amazing aroma. You’re welcome. Carefully flip the roast (I like to use tongs) and sear the other side. Remove from pan, set aside on a plate.

Add the diced onion, pepper and celery to the hot pan, and stir with a plastic spatula. Cook for about 3 minutes – veggies should begin to slightly caramelize on the edges. Add a cup of water to deglaze the pan. Add the can of beef consommé, red wine, bay leaves, and Creole Mustard.

Place the roast back in the pan. Add enough water to come about halfway up the roast. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 3 hours.

Add potatoes, and simmer for an additional 30 minutes.

Remove roast and potatoes; let roast rest for 10 minutes before carving. Meanwhile, transform the beef broth into gravy. I find the easiest way to do this is with a whisk and Wondra flour. Heat the liquid to a simmer, and simply shake Wondra directly into the pan and whisk as it thickens. Continue until it reaches the consistency you like.


Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Mediterranean Tacos with Spicy Caprese Salad

Yes, I do like fusion. I love Tex-Mex, and I love Mediterranean, and today I found myself craving both. I would call this dinner Tex-Med, but I believe that term was already coined by a very successful food truck owner in Austin, TX.

I have been trying to eat healthier, and have recently been on a kick where I neeeed olives…black olives, green olives, pepper marinated olives garlic-stuffed olives Kalamata olives… And then there are the sundried tomatoes, artichokes, and all those fun little tidbits you can pick up at the olive bar at your grocery store. Marinated mushrooms…roasted garlic…sautéed peppers… So many things you can do with these lovely little tidbits. Since pasta has been off the menu for a bit, in the name of cutting carbs, I’ve had to get a bit creative. No bread either, or I would seek out the ultimate muffaletta for that delicious explosion of flavors in the olive salad mix. But hey – I’m also in the mood for tacos (I’m generally always in the mood for Tex-Mex, so this is no shocker). And tonight, I just have to have a salad, but not just any salad. Mediterranean-ish… Caprese? Yes! But with a Tex-Mex twist.

Sometimes these flights of fancy work out better than others, and this one was very tasty. It was also low carb, and quick and easy to prepare.


4 cups roasted chicken (I bought a small rotisserie chicken and removed the meat, breaking it into 2-inch chunks)
2 cups miscellaneous “olive bar” goodies, chopped (your preference- any combination of olives, garlic, peppers, etc. will make an excellent blend).
2 teaspoons Greek Seasoning, such as Cavender’s
Flour tortillas
Feta cheese
Tzatziki sauce

Heat a large non-stick skillet on medium. Add chicken, season with Greek seasoning blend, and heat just until chicken begins to sizzle. Add chopped olive/Mediterranean mix. Stir to blend and heat through. Cover skillet and reduce to warm/simmer.

In a small heated non-stick skillet, heat each tortilla on both sides (usually about 15-30 seconds each side). Set aside in a stack. Tortillas are much better when heated by skillet, as microwaving can make them (and other breads) tough.

Stuff warm tortillas with chicken filling, and top with tzatziki sauce and feta cheese.


1 cucumber, sliced
1 avocado, sliced
1 tomato, sliced
1 fresh jalapeno, sliced razor thin
1 cup fresh mozzarella balls
1 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon crushed red pepper

Arrange cucumbers on a plate, and top with a fanned arrangement of avocado slices. Layer with tomato slices, mozzarella balls and fresh jalapeno slices. Sprinkle with chopped fresh cilantro, and then season with kosher salt. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Finish by sprinkling crushed red pepper on top.


Monday, February 3, 2014

Pancetta and Egg Sandwich with Garlic Toast

What a beautiful way to greet the day. I whipped up this little gem on one of my days off. It was one of those awesome days where you stay up too late the night before, knowing you can sleep in the following morning…and that you will have the house to yourself for the day. You know – those rare days when you go where the mood strikes you – be it the mall, a road trip, or simply to the couch. Watch some movies! Clean the house! Dance with the cats!

I got up at my leisure and made some fresh-ground coffee and pondered breakfast. What would satisfy the need for something delicious to start the day, but not so overwhelming as to ruin my plans for a yummy lunch later? Sipping from a giant mug of steaming java, I mulled it over. I prefer savory to sweet, as a rule. I knew I had Pancetta on hand, and a couple of loaves of artisan bread from the bakery. I had always wanted to master the art of egg poaching – no time like the present. And breakfast was born.

Pancetta and Egg Sandwich with Garlic Toast

For each “sandwich":
2 slices of rustic, crusty bread
1 slice of cheese – Provolone, Mozzarella, Monterrey Jack are all good choices
1 poached egg (you can always use fried or scrambled eggs instead – have 2 small skillets ready)
2 slices Pancetta
Garlic butter

Have all of your items on hand – this all goes fairly quickly.
Start heating a small pot of water if you will be poaching.
Butter both sides of your bread with garlic butter, and set aside.
Cook your pancetta slices in a skillet on medium heat, just until they begin to brown. Remove and set aside.
If you will be frying or scrambling eggs, now is the time to fire up the small non-stick skillet with a spoon of butter. Oh yeah…
Place your garlic-buttered bread in the pancetta skillet over medium heat. When it begins to brown on the bottom, flip it over, and place the cheese and then the pancetta on top of one of the slices. Turn the heat down to simmer.

Egg time! If you fry or scramble – carry on. But poaching does take a bit of finesse…
Here are some poaching pointers: 
The water should be gently boiling.
You can add a couple of teaspoons of white vinegar to help hold the white together.
Fresh eggs work better for poaching, while aged eggs are better for boiling.
Carefully crack the egg into a small bowl or custard cup and set aside – never crack the egg directly into the pot.
Using a spoon, swirl the gently boiling water in one direction, creating a whirlpool. Keep it spinning! Carefully release the egg into the center of the vortex – don’t drop it. The combination of the swirling water the vinegar should prevent feathering.
Continue to gently swirl the water by running a spoon along the outer edge of the water.
Cook for 2 minutes for runny eggs, 3 minutes for medium, and 4 minutes for hard.
Gently remove with a slotted spoon, and set on a paper towel to absorb the extra water. You can then just roll the egg off the paper towel to serve.

Whatever egg you choose, it is time to assemble. Place the cheesy pancetta toast on a plate and top with your egg(s). Salt and pepper to taste, and top with the remaining garlic toast slice.


Maple Caramel Monkey Bread

Who says Monkey Bread is just for kids? It can be, but this recipe is mine. All mine! It was adapted from a Pillsbury Monkey Bread recipe, but with a slightly adult twist – Crown Royal Maple.

As I hear, drinking Crown Royal Maple is one of those experiences that you either love or hate. I stand firmly in the former camp. I remember the first bottle I bought. Twisting the cap, breathing in the intoxicating maple aroma… Of course the aroma in and of itself was not intoxicating enough – I quickly splashed some on the rocks to elevate the experience. But honestly, even if you hate it, and it evokes the sensation of swilling pancake syrup, you can make a great use of it in baked goods. I have a growing list of tasty treats that have been elevated to rock star status with the addition of this most awesome ingredient.

If you are not wild about maple, or not wild about booze in your pastry at all, this recipe still works very well without it. You can simply add a touch of extra vanilla and you are good to go. But my, oh my…

Maple Caramel Monkey Bread

The recipe makes a large round, or can be halved and baked in a loaf pan (pictured).

½  cup granulated sugar
1   teaspoon cinnamon
½  teaspoon nutmeg
¼  teaspoon salt (only if butter with no salt is used)
2  cans (large) Pillsbury® Grands!® Homestyle refrigerated buttermilk biscuits
½  cup chopped pecans, optional
1  cup firmly packed brown sugar
¾ cup butter, melted
1  teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons Crown Royal Maple

Preheat oven to 350. Lightly grease a large tube pan.
In a large plastic food storage bag, mix the granulated sugar, cinnamon and salt.
Separate the biscuits, and cut each into quarters. Toss the quarters into the bag, and shake well to coat thoroughly.
Arrange the pieces in the pan, adding chopped pecans among the pieces if desired.
In a bowl, mix the melted butter, vanilla and Crown Royal Maple. Pour evenly over the biscuit pieces.
Bake 28-32 minutes – until golden brown and no longer doughy in the center.
Allow the bread to rest in the pan for 10 minutes. Turn upside down onto a serving plate, and serve warm.

Last but certainly not least – ENJOY! 

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Texas Chili Spaghetti - Five Ways

I love a good fusion dish, and I love a great bowl of chili. Long ago, a friend who had grown up in Cincinnati told me all about Cincinnati Chili. He was not that fond of Texas chili – it was “too thick…too meaty… too spicy…and where’s the spaghetti?”  Huh? I honestly thought he was pulling my leg. But, he went on to explain the difference between our signature dishes. While I grew up on thick, hearty “Texas Red”, jam-packed with a variety of roasted chilies and topped with diced onions and cheese, he explained that the Cincinnati version is very different. Meaty, yes, but the consistency is not as thick in fact almost watery by comparison. The seasonings are different as well, which can include cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, chocolate, allspice, Worcestershire... And, the chili is served ladled over spaghetti. This is called two-way chili. Top with shredded cheddar and it becomes three-way. The addition of onions makes it four-way, and kidney beans makes it five-way. You can also get your five-way “dry” – meaning the juice will be drained from the chili before it tops your spaghetti. Oh! And don’t forget the oyster crackers.

The origin of Cincinnati Chili was traced back to an immigrant from Bulgaria who was born in Macedonia. A bank clerk by day, he worked in his brother’s store by night cooking chili for the customers. In 1922 he opened a restaurant, The Empress, and the original home of Cincinnati Chile was born.

Since I am a huge fan of a good Texas Chili, and I love spaghetti, I figured I could come up with a reasonable fusion. The result: Texas Chili Spaghetti - Five Ways. Spaghetti (or Angel Hair, my preference) noodles are covered with thick meaty Texas Chili (no beans!), topped with shredded cheddar, finely-diced onions, sliced jalapenos, and sour cream. (I don’t know many people who eat sour cream on their chili, but that’s how I roll.) Oh and of course for the Texas version, Fritos would be the stand-in for oyster crackers.

This is a great dish for leftover chili, assuming you made enough chili to have leftovers. (For a great recipe - check out my Texas Twister Chili - 


Nacho, Nacho Man...

It’s Superbowl weekend! I always have mixed emotions about this. It’s the culmination of a year of hard-fought battles on the gridiron. It’s the main event. It’s even the “superbowl of commercials”, which can sometimes be more entertaining than the game itself. At the same time, it means <sniff sniff> the END of football season for six months! For those who eschew NFL football or the sport in general, this is welcome news. For the rest of us, it lies somewhere between “what do I do with all this extra time I have been spending watching games and tweaking my fantasy teams?”, and “OMG hurry up AUGUST!”

Superbowl is also a great excuse for snacking. Or simply dining on snack foods all day long. One of my favorite snack meals: NACHOS. Nachos as so very versatile, if you consider them. And I consider them a lot. I have consumed and or created countless varieties: simple Tex-Mex nachos – chicken or beef or chorizo, Mediterranean nachos, Italian nachos… For today, we will go with two different chicken varieties: Tex-Mex Chicken, and Buffalo Chicken.

Another thing that is awesome about nachos, beyond the explosion of flavors and textures, is that you can so easily tweak them to your own liking. Measurements are mere guidelines. Dig through that refrigerator for leftover meat scraps. Experiment! They can range from over-the-top indulgence to a reasonably healthy treat. It’s all up to you. Many restaurants serve nachos as thicker single chips dressed in deliciousness and then broiled (nom nom), but at home I typically do the “pile it on” method – it’s just easier that way.


1  medium bag tortilla chips (try to find the bag that doesn’t look like it was kicked around – the more intact the chips are, the better)
½ can refried beans
1  8-oz bag of shredded Colby Jack cheese
2  cups shredded cooked chicken
¼  cup sliced or diced pickled jalapenos
2 tbsps finely diced fresh onion
½ tsp cumin
½ tsp granulated onion
½ tsp granulated garlic
¼ tsp Mexican oregano
½ tsp salt
1  tsp lemon pepper
Sour cream 

Preheat oven to 400. Place a baking sheet in the oven to preheat. I like to line the pan with non-stick foil, since we are dealing with ooey gooey melty cheese.
Shred and chop chicken into small chunks no larger than 1 inch. This is a great use for leftover chicken, baked, broiled, sautéed, smoked (oh yes, smoked is the best!).
In a small bowl, mix cumin, onion, garlic, oregano, salt and lemon pepper. When well-blended, mix in with shredded chicken.
Heat the refried beans in a small pan, and mix with a couple of tablespoons of water to thin the consistency to where you can plop the mixture onto the chips without having to spread it (but not so thin that it would be runny and make the chips soggy). For more awesome beans, add bacon grease instead or in addition. Oh yes.
Arrange your ingredients so that you can access them and work quickly.

Once your oven and baking sheet are preheated, place the baking sheet on your stovetop and start the assembly. Pour a nice, thick layer of tortilla chips across the hot pan. Drizzle and plop the refried beans evenly over the bed of chips. Sprinkle on all the cheese. Evenly distribute the seasoned shredded chicken. Sprinkle on the jalapenos, and lastly the finely-diced onion. Return to the oven, and cook for approximately 10 minutes. If you are like me, you will cook them just a bit longer, until the chips start to brown on the edges, the cheese bubbles, and the onions release that slightly caramel fragrance.

Serve with a side of sour cream and/or guacamole.


Combining two great snack tastes – buffalo wings and nachos. This is one to be careful with, as the wing sauce can overpower the dish if you use too much. You will definitely want to sample your shredded chicken as you dress it, to make sure it does not stray beyond the “palatable” zone. The photo above shows an abundance of buffalo sauce, and then more added after assembly. I was a glutton for punishment that day...

1  medium bag tortilla chips (try to find the bag that doesn’t look like it was kicked around – the more intact the chips are, the better)
1  8-oz bag of shredded Monterrey Jack cheese
2  cups shredded cooked chicken
2  tbsps of your favorite WING SAUCE. I use Frank’s buffalo sauce, but the possibilities are endless.
¼ cup fried onions
Ranch Dip or Blue Cheese dip

Preheat oven to 400. Place a baking sheet in the oven to preheat. I like to line the pan with non-stick foil, since we are dealing with ooey gooey melty cheese.
Shred and chop chicken into small chunks no larger than 1 inch.
Toss shredded chicken with wing sauce, and taste. If you need more flavor, go for it.

Once your oven and baking sheet are preheated, place the baking sheet on your stovetop and start the assembly. Pour a nice, thick layer of tortilla chips across the hot pan. Sprinkle on all the cheese. Evenly distribute the sauced, shredded chicken. Sprinkle on the fried onions. Return to the oven, and cook for approximately 10 minutes. Or cook them just a bit longer, until the chips start to brown on the edges and the cheese is bubbly.

Serve with a side of Ranch dip or Blue Cheese dip.