Corn Muffins

For the last month, possibly more, we have been on the go. We have been going at an active, non-stop pace. We had my parents visiting, we celebrated a big anniversary, we took a trip from Amsterdam to Copenhagen, and once we were back in the states it was time for me to change the menu at work. So needless to say things have been just a tad bit busy. I woke up yesterday morning with a desire to do nothing! It was my day off - do you blame me? I was in a mood to do nothing more than watch back to back episodes of anything airing on the Investigate & Discovery Chanel. That is, nothing other than make a quick breakfast to munch on while I binge watch TV. I had a craving for corn muffins, and as I was whisking the ingredients together I realized I never shared a recipe for them on here. So that Is how I ended up here today.

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In my opinion a great corn muffin uses real corn meal. No box mix or corn flour in this recipe; and yes, most corn meals are a bit gritty. That is why it is important for these muffins you use a finely ground corn meal. It imparts a great flavor without feeling mealy or harsh. The third of a cup of sugar in this recipe enhances the corn’s natural sweetness too. Plus, the balance of milk and butter in these muffins keep the texture of these muffins moist and light, without being heavy or dense. A perfect corn muffin.

So, while we lounged watching rerun episodes of Dateline, we enjoyed warm corn muffins. It was so indulgent and enjoyable. I sipped tea while spreading butter and jam across my corn muffin as we tried to guess who was guilty or had motive in each of the episodes, and munch some more. It was glorious! Corn Muffin perfection and real life crime stories. Maybe the TV shows are not for everyone, but I am sure these muffins are.

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Corn Muffins (Makes 12)

1 cup corn meal (finely ground)

1 cup flour

1/4 tsp sea salt

1 tbsp baking powder

1/3 cup sugar

1 cup milk

3 oz butter, melted (plus more for the pan)

1 egg

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

First, preheat your oven to 375 degrees. With a bit of extra butter, brush the inside of your muffing tin. You will need to butter at least a dozen of them.

Next, in a bowl place your flour, corn meal, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Whisk it together and set it aside. In another bowl, whisk together your egg, melted butter, vanilla, and milk until smooth. Add your dry ingredients. Lightly whisk it together until blended well. (You do not want to over mix this batter.)

Then, fill the buttered muffin pan evenly and place in the center of the oven. You are looking to bake your muffins about 20 - 25 minutes. You are looking for the muffins to be slightly golden, and lets a toothpick test cleanly when pierced.

Finally, remove from the oven and allow to cool at least 15 minutes before removing from pan. Serve and enjoy. (These are best when served warm.)

Fifteen years ago

  Fifteen years ago I did something I never expected to do in my life. I married Brian. Some girls dream of their wedding day, but I was not one of those girls. I knew that Brian was the one that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. But the whole pomps and circumstances that surround a wedding was not for me. The dress, the ring, the flowers - I could do without it all.

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But despite all of that; yes. We got engaged, and yes…we somewhat planned a wedding. Truth is our family did the majority of it all as they were terribly afraid that if they didn’t our wedding would never happen. And quite possibly it would not have. About two months before our wedding day (6-2-01) I was sitting in our apartment packing boxes as we were in the mist of moving into a home we just purchased. Brian and I were talking about little wedding details our parents were hounding us on when all of a sudden I felt like a huge hypocrite. I looked at him and said…”What are we doing? Why are we going through all of this? I never wanted any of this. All of this for one day is a bit insane. I cannot stand it.” The look that came over Brian’s face was pure terror. He was baffled and speechless for a moment and finally responded with, “Are you really saying you don’t want to get married now?!?”

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And just like that I knew I had to swallow my pride. I might have never fantasized about this one day, yet there was a part of Brian that did. I knew it right then and there. It was time for me to close my mouth and let the whole wedding ordeal take place. When all was said and done, it really was not that bad of a day. It was actually fun and I understood Brian’s point of view. It was possibly the one time when all of our family and friends were in one place just for us. They witnessed and celebrated us doing the one thing I said I would never do. I married the love of my life, my best friend, and the only one who I tell all my secrets and dreams to. By finally going through the whole wedding day I have one more special day of memories with him to share and that alone was worth it.

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So, for our fifteenth wedding anniversary I will recreate the first meal I ever cooked for Brian. One of the most simple pasta dishes there is. It has olives, capers, and bit of crushed red pepper flakes for some kick - Pasta Puttanesca. Brian loves it and always comments on the fact of when I said I was making dinner that evening for him (many, many years ago) he questioned where the jars of sauce were kept? He was quickly impressed when he learned I was making it from scratch…I hope after all this time I continue to impress him like that. Happy Anniversary Brian, thank you for putting up with me all these years! Thank you for the memories of our special day.

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 Pasta Puttanesca (feeds 2 +)

**NOTES: I personally like the oil cured olives in this dish. (Those are the black wrinkly ones.) if you cannot find them feel free to use something like a Kalamata. Also, If you cannot find strained tomatoes, you can puree some whole ones in a can, at least 1 1/2 cups worth.

1 cup oil cured olives, pitted and roughly chopped

1 tbsp capers, drained

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

pinch of dried oregano

3 tbsp olive oil

1 1/2 cup strained tomatoes

sea salt and fresh black pepper to taste

1/3 pound penne rigate pasta

Parmesan Cheese, for serving

First, place a large pot filled with salted water over high heat. Meanwhile, place a large sauce pan over medium heat. Once heated through add you olive oil and warm it up. To this you will add your crushed red pepper, olives, oregano, and garlic. Stir it all together and watch it carefully as you do not want to burn your garlic.

Next, once your garlic is fragrant (about one minute) add your tomatoes and about 1/2 cup of water. Stir it well and let it come to a simmer. Once simmering you can add your capers to your tomato mixture.Let it simmer gently...you may need to lower your heat a bit.

Then, when your pot of water should come to a boil add in your pasta. Stir it well, and cook it for as long as is indicated on the box, stirring it frequently. Once your pasta is done cooking strain it well.

Finally, add your pasta to your tomato sauce. Toss it well, while still simmering. Season it with sea salt and fresh black pepper and serve it with freshly grated parmesan.

Garbanzo Bean Salad

Hello there. It has been a while, hasn’t it? I’m sorry it has taken a while to get back around to here. There is no excuse really. I have been doing lots of cooking, experimenting, and baking in my kitchen. With all of that I have had no time to sit with my computer and tell you all about it. The other week I was so gung ho to write you about a cake I made….and within minutes I was asleep on the couch with the computer on my lap. I had gone to a Zumba class earlier that evening, I guess you can say it took all my energy. But I will write you about the cake next time. No cake today. Today I want to tell you about a garbanzo bean salad.

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I know you are probably questioning how I went from cake to salad??? Maybe that Zumba class is to blame? Something healthy verses sugar and sweetness!?! Healthy or not this salad is delicious and that is what counts in my book. A garbanzo bean salad is great to whip up on these warm spring days. Tossed together without much fuss, devoured in minutes, and satisfying to your taste buds. The beauty of a salad like this one is that it can be made ahead of time. It develops more flavor as it sits together, and it is one of those things that can be doubled easily and be brought to a BBQ or picnic and holds up to warmer temperatures.

I have been making a salad similar to this since I was in my teens. I use to have a subscription to a teen magazine when I was young. I cannot remember if it was YM or Seventeen; either way, and not surprisingly, my favorite part of the magazine were the recipes they sometimes featured in the back of it. There was a recipe for a garbanzo bean salad that I showed to my mom and we made it. My family loved it and it became a family staple in the warmer months. Over time, like most recipes, I have tweaked it a bit. What can I say? Time, like taste buds, change. Below is the way I enjoy it the best. The different textures, favors, and light dressing will compliment just about any meal. I hope you give it a try. In the meantime I will get back into a grove of writing…I promise, that cake recipe will be up next time.

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Garbanzo Bean Salad (feeds 4-6)

1 (15oz) can of Garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed

1 red bell pepper, chopped small (seeds and core removed)

1/2 cup red onion, chopped small

1 ball fresh mozzarella, cubed small

1 1/2 cup chopped romaine lettuce

1/2 cup olive oil

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

sea salt and fresh black pepper, to taste

First, place your garbanzos, bell pepper, red onion, and mozzarella in your serving dish. Sprinkle your olive oil and red wine vinegar over it all and toss it well. Sprinkle it all with a bit of sea salt and black pepper and toss again. Cover with some plastic wrap and chill at least and hour. You are looking for the flavors to mingle and marinate a bit together.

Next, remove your salad from the refrigerator about 20 minutes before eating. Sprinkle the lettuce over it all. Toss again and set aside until ready to eat.

Finally, before eating, season it again with sea salt and fresh black pepper if needed.

Sweet Potato Pancakes

It is not uncommon for me to keep a few russet or sweet potatoes around for an easy dinner. Toss them in the oven to bake, serve them with a large salad and dinner is done! Not a lot of fuss, besides the fact that we find it really comforting to eat. We truly enjoy it and look forward to it’s simplicity. I personally prefer a sweet potato over that of a russet. I love the taste and texture of one when it has been roasted whole. But did you know that a sweet potato has loads of heath benefits in them? Sweet potatoes are extremely high in vitamins and minerals! They contribute to healthier immune systems and contain high levels of magnesium - this supports anti stress while aiding in relaxation…Yes! I will take that any given day. Who wouldn’t want added vitamins and reduced stress by eating something delicious?

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The other night I baked the sweet potatoes we had for dinner, and as luck should have it we had one left over. I wrapped and placed it in the refrigerator with the thoughts of enjoying the left over for lunch one day that week. But then I remembered a place we use to go to for brunch many years ago. On their menu: Sweet Potato Pancakes! I loved them, and when I really felt like indulging I would order them. They were light and fluffy pancakes, not too sweet; and were ultimately satisfying. I had to make something like them for breakfast. I missed those pancakes and it was the perfect use for my left over sweet potato.

Early on my morning off I headed into my kitchen. I mashed the sweet potato, made a batter that incorporated it, and gently sizzled the batter in a bit of butter and oil. I find that the combo of butter and oil lets the pancakes get a nice sear without the any scorching or burning the pancakes themselves. I also found that these pancakes need a moment or two longer cooking because the batter is so moist. In doing this it lets them firm up more as they simmer allowing the pancake set up...the first two I cooked off had a bit "custard quality" that I don't really look for when desiring something like a pancake. But once they were finally done cooking we piled them on our plates topping them with butter and real maple syrup. I kid you not when I tell you we nibbled away and enjoyed every bit. The Sweet Potato Pancakes were indulgent and lightly sweet. They were light, with a bit of crunch along their edges. They made the perfect breakfast as far as I am concerned. Being that they were so easy to whip up and how healthy a sweet potato is these pancakes might be dangerous, I can all to easily see us indulging in them all too often! Yum!

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Sweet Potato Pancakes (serves 4)

1 1/2 cups mashed skinless sweet potato (previously baked or boiled)

1 oz butter, melted (plus extra for cooking and serving)

3/4 cup greek yogurt

1/4 cup milk

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 egg, beaten

1 cup flour

1 tbsp sugar

1/4 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp sea salt

real maple syrup (for serving)

vegetable oil

First; in a bowl whisk together your milk, yogurt, vanilla extract, egg, and melted butter. In a separate bowl mix together your flour, baking soda, baking powder, sea salt, and sugar.

Next; whisk in your mashed sweet potato into your yogurt mix. Mix until it is smooth and evenly incorporated. Sprinkle the flour mixture over the sweet potato mix and easily mix it together until the mixture is cohesive.

Then; place a large frying pan or non stick pan (your preference) over medium heat. Place a bit of butter and no more than 2 tbsp of oil into the pan and heat through until butter is melted into the oil. Spoon or ladle your sweet potato mixture into the prepared pan. Gently edge the batter to spread evenly into a round shape to form your pancake. You can place a few pancakes at a time into your pan, be carful not to crowd the pan leaving about a 1-2 inch border around them. Once the edges of the pancakes seem firm and the batter seems to bubble around the edges easily flip the pancake with a spatula and let the pancakes sear and simmer on the other side.

Finally; when the pancakes are seared and firm on both sides you can remove them and place them on a plate to rest until serving. Repeat with the remaining batter. Be sure that there is always a bit of butter and oil in the pan while adding your pancake batter. Serve when pancakes are done cooking with plenty of butter and maple syrup.

Shepherd's Pie

Brian has had to do a bit of traveling lately. So there have been lots of simple veggie meals along with lots of peas being consumed (Since Brian despises peas so much I take advantage when he is gone!). Also, now that the days of rain are fewer I have been trying to get back into my urban hikes. I power walk across Belltown, through downtown, and wrap around in Pioneer Square before heading back home. Depending of the day it results in four miles, give or take, with lots of hills and stairs being concurred depending on my mood. All that walking works up an appetite. With my hungry tummy, Brian home for a while, and St. Patty’s Day upon us, I thought an appropriate meal was deserved. I decided the perfect meal for such an occasion was a Shepherd’s Pie. A hearty one; with a layer of lamb, covered by a layer of veggies, and topped with mashed potatoes.

Each layer of the Shepherd's Pie before it went into the oven.

Each layer of the Shepherd's Pie before it went into the oven.

The first time I ever had Shepherd’s Pie, believe it or not, was when I was away at college. It was sometimes offered as entree option for dinner. Growing up in an Italian American home this was something I never heard of or saw before. I gave it a try one night while being bored with my other options, and to my surprise is was quite tasty. I can remember being home at the holidays and at a family gathering and telling my aunts I tried it and thought it was good. My Aunt Mary Beth told me it was one of her favorites! (My Aunt Mary Beth is married to my father’s brother, and comes from a very large and fun loving Irish family.) She said she made it often as it was her father’s favorite dish. We bonded as my aunt told me the different ways to make Shepherd’s Pie.

Fast forward to about a year or so ago. I realized that I never really made a Shepherd’s Pie on my own. So I emailed my Aunt Mary Beth asking if she could tell me how she likes it best, and if she could share any tips. She wrote me back right away explaining how simple it was. She (and her dad she explained) liked it best with lots of Worcestershire Sauce to coat the lamb. She also said you can use any variety of veggies, but her favorite is a layer of corn between the lamb and potatoes. I have played around with a version of this that Brian has become fond of. I too use lots of Worcestershire Sauce, and mix corn in with other veggies. So, for St. Patty’s Day this year we feasted on a homemade Shepherd’s Pie! Of course I made a veggie one for myself that was lovely, but Brian’s lamb version made him giddy like a child. As he ate it he said, “This dish make me feel so special…I need to savor it all!” If you ask me, he made my Aunt Mary Beth proud, and without question it looked far better than that cafeteria version I first tasted!

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Shepherd’s Pie (Feeds 4 - 6)

**Note: this is a dish that can easily be prepped a head of time / a day or two in advance and holds nicely in the refrigerator for two days, and bake when ready to eat. 

1 lb lamb stew meat, cut into 1 inch pieces

1/4 cup butter

1 cup onion, chopped small

1/2 cup Worcestershire Sauce

1 cup corn kernels, canned or frozen

1 cup broccoli florets, fresh or frozen

1 - 1 1/2 lb yukon gold potatoes

1/4 cup of milk

3/4 cup of shredded Irish cheddar cheese

Sea salt and fresh black pepper to taste

First, place a large frying pan, or salute pan over medium heat. Melt your butter, and once melted add you onion. Let it simmer, stirring ti occasionally until it is softened; about 5 minutes. Add your lamb and let it sear on all sides, stirring it every so often.

Meanwhile, place your potatoes in a large pot. Cover the potatoes with salted water by at least 2 inches. Place it over high heat and bring to a boil. Boil the potatoes until easily pierced with a knife. Drain the potatoes and let them cool a bit.

Next, add your Worcestershire Sauce over your lamb and stir well. Season it with a bit of fresh black pepper and let it simmer together, stirring it occasionally. It should simmer about 20 - 30 minutes  before removing it from the heat. Place the lamb with it’s onions and liquid in the bottom of a 9 inch pie plate and set aside.

Then. place the potatoes in a bowl and add the butter and mash to your liking…with a masher, ricer, food mill, or electric mixer. Once potatoes are mashed add in the milk and 1/2 a cup of the cheese. stir it all together and season it to your liking with sea salt and fresh black pepper. Over the lamb scatter the corn and broccoli evenly. Top your veggies with the mashed potatoes. gently spread it over the top to cover the whole pie plate, without pressing the mashed potatoes down into the layers. sprinkle the top of it all with the remainder of your cheese. (**Note: If reserving this for another day wrap the plate tightly with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator before the following step.) 

Finally, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Cover your Pie plate with foil and place on a baking sheet. When oven is heated place the plate int eh oven for about 20 minutes (35 if plate was refrigerated first) and then uncover foil. leave in the oven for another 15 - 20 minutes. You want to see the liquid around the lamb bubbling up and around the dish and the cheese should be melted and starting to brown across the top. Remove from oven and let it sit about 10 minutes before serving.