Saturday, February 10, 2018

St Patrick's Day Colcannon and kale recipe

St Patrick's day is coming up soon, and that's when I like to enjoy an Irish American tradition....corned beef and cabbage. But I get tired of the same old boiled potato side dish and started making colcannon.  Originally I searched for ideas and recipes from the internet, but ended up making some changes to a recipe that looked interesting.  This version has kale and bacon.  If you are not a fan of kale, even my husband likes this one and his idea of kale is that it should line the bottom of the trash can.  You can also use spinach if you must.

Here's one of our new family favorite recipes:
St. Patty’s Day Colcannon
Serves 4-6
1 ½ lb
Russet potatoes
½ tsp
Kosher salt
6 slices
½ medium
Onion or sliced green onions
1 ½ cups
⅓ cup
Milk, or more as needed
¼ cup
Unsalted butter, melted, plus extra for drizzling
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Peel potatoes and cut into 1” dice.  Place potatoes in a saucepan with enough cold water to cover. Bring to a boil.  Add ½ tsp kosher salt.  Cook for 15 to 20 minutes, until tender.  Drain and when the potatoes are cool enough to touch, place through a potato ricer to make them perfectly smooth.  You can also mash the potatoes by hand to get out all the lumps. 

Meanwhile, cut bacon into 1” pieces and place in a large, deep skillet.  Cook over medium high heat until evenly brown.  Remove bacon but leave the drippings in the pan.   

Dice the onion and set aside.   

Remove stems from kale and chop kale into small pieces.  Place both onion and kale into the pan with the drippings.  Sauté until onions and kale begin to brown. 

Add warm milk and melted butter to potatoes.  Add in the crispy bacon and stir to mix well. Stir in kale and onions to potatoes. Add salt and pepper to taste. 

To serve, melt additional butter and drizzle over the top, if desired. 



Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Zuppa Toscana copycat Olive Garden recipe lower fat

Zuppa Toscana copycat soup
 with homemade breadsticks
If you have ever had Olive Garden's soup, salad and breadsticks for lunch, you may have had zuppa toscana soup.  It's a delicious creamy soup with spicy Italian sausage, kale, potatoes and a whole lot of flavor.

So when a friend posted her favorite copycat recipe for it, I was excited to make it.  However, when I looked at the recipe, it was not even remotely healthy, so I made a few changes to the recipe to make it healthier.  I replaced pork Italian sausage with my favorite chicken Italian sausage.  Then I swapped out heavy cream for milk or half and half.  I used the half and half since I had a lot on hand, but milk would work just fine. 

I find that sometimes chicken or turkey Italian sausage do not have as much flavor as pork Italian sausage and decided that it needed a bit more fennel.  Your sausage may be different and you may or may not want to use the fennel.

Be sure when you make this that you do not overcook the potatoes.  Otherwise they will fall apart.  This was so good that I definitely plan on making it again. 

One other thing; my friend made a version of this where she substituted potatoes for cauliflower.  If you are trying to watch your carbs, this may be a good swap out.  For us, though, potatoes were key.

Let me know how you like this and if you make other changes to the recipe.  Here it is:

Zuppa Toscana (Lower fat copycat of Olive Garden's soup)

Serves : 6

·       1 tbsp Oil
·       1 lb. hot/spicy Italian sausage – crumbled (I used Sprouts hot Italian chicken sausage)
·       1 medium onion, diced
·       2 garlic cloves – minced
·       1 qt. water
·       1 qt. ium Chicken broth
·       2 large russet potatoes – slice in half lengthwise and then slice into ¼ inch slices
·       3 cups de-stemmed/chopped kale (cut pieces slightly larger than would fit on a spoon)
·       3 oz Smoked Bacon Bits
·       1 cup heavy whipping cream, half and half or milk (I used half and half)
·       2 tbsp all purpose flour, if using half and half or milk
·       1 tsp ground fennel, optional
·       salt and pepper - to taste (heavier on pepper – it doesn’t need much salt because of the bacon) 

1.     If sausage is in a casing, remove casing to crumble. 

2.     Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Add sausage and brown sausage, breaking into small pieces as you sauté it.  Drain and set aside.  Remove fat from the pan if there is more than a few tablespoons.

3.     Sauté onions in the same pan as the sausage until the onions are translucent.  Add in the garlic and sauté for about 30 seconds.’

4.     Place water, broth, and potatoes in the pot.  Simmer over medium high heat until potatoes are tender (about 10 minutes – don’t overcook because it will be cooking an additional 10 minutes).

5.     Add sausage. kale and bacon to pot; simmer for 10 minutes. (Skim any fat off the top that you can.)

6.     If using half and half or milk, stir a little into the flour and mix well making sure there are no lumps.  Then add cream, half and half or milk, along with flour mixture, if using, to pot.  Season with salt and pepper  Taste and add ground fennel, if desired.  (ground fennel will add more of a sausage flavor that you may want if you use chicken sausage.)  Heat through bringing to almost a boil if using flour in the soup.. 


Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Working with avocados the easy way

I love kitchen gadgets but every time I see the avocado cutter, I just cringe.  Avocados are so easy to handle, I can't conceive of buying a tool to deal with them. 

First, pick a ripe avocado you want to use.  It should be nicely colored like this one

Then slice it in half.  To remove the pit, tap the pit with a sharp knife, then twist the knife and the pit will twist right out.  Be careful.

If you want to remove the fruit from the shell in one piece, just take a soup spoon and run it between the skin and the avocado pulp.  It will come out in one piece.  Most of the time I want to either slice or dice it.  Hold the avocado in your hand and CAREFULLY slice one way, then crossways.  You will get a nice diced look.  You can also do this by placing the avocado on a table or cutting board if you prefer not to cut it while holding it.

Just take a soup spoon and run it between the skin and the avocado pulp.  It will come easily.

Now your avocado is ready to use in your favorite way.

The best peach or nectarine BBQ sauce recipe

I was recently gifted about 50 pounds of nectarines and wanted to come up with several items to make.  One of the items was a nectarine/peach BBQ sauce.  I've made it in the past with peaches, but truth be told, I wasn't crazy about it, so I knew some major changes were needed.

Nectarines and peaches are interchangeable in most recipes.  The main difference is that peaches have skins that are usually peeled and nectarine peels are usually not removed.

I also wanted to be able to can this, but if you do not know how to can, you can keep it in the fridge for a week or so, or even freeze it.  This version is so delicious, and would make a perfect sauce for chicken or pork and I am sure it will not last long in your home. 

The recipe I initially saw that gave me the idea, used canned baby food, but I already had nectarine puree made so I used that instead.  If you do not have nectarine puree, it's easy to make.  Just cook down nectarines in either a crockpot or on the stovetop.  Nectarines do not have to be peeled...peaches do.  You can see exactly how I put mine into a crockpot.  All I had to do was wash them.  I leave the pits in and just strain them out when the fruit is cooked down.  It will not be pretty, but it has many uses.  I personally left my puree a little chunky as you can see.  Then, for recipes where I wanted it smooth, I just blended it until it became smooth.  This works in recipes sort of like using mashed bananas does.  Only it's not as sweet.

Whole nectarines put in a crockpot
Nectarine puree -- still chunky

We already posted a recipe for nectarine cake/bread using this puree, but now on to the BBQ sauce recipe.

Nectarine (or peach) BBQ Sauce
Makes about 4 pints
·       2 tbsp vegetable oil
·       1 large onion, such diced
·       8 large garlic cloves, minced
·       4 cups nectarine or peaches puree
·       ¼ cup + 1 tbsp bottled lemon juice
·       1 ½ cups firmly packed brown sugar
·       ¼ cup dark Karo syrup (optional)
·       1 cup apple cider vinegar
·       ½ cup water
·       1 cup Worcestershire sauce
·       ¼ cup tomato paste
·       2 tbsp peeled and grated fresh ginger
·       3 tbsp chili powder
·       1 tsp smoked paprika
·       2 tsp onion powder
·       1 ½ tsp cayenne pepper (or to taste)
·       Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste  

Prepare 4 one pint canning jars and lids, if canning this recipe. 

Add oil to a large nonreactive Dutch oven and heat over medium heat. When oil shimmers, add the onion and sauté, stirring occasionally, until tender.  This will take about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute.  

Stir in the nectarine or peach puree, lemon juice, brown sugar, Karo syrup, if using, vinegar and water. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to medium and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes.  Note: If your nectarines are not sweet, you can add some additional sugar.  I even added some Stevia in one batch to keep the calories down a little; however, one batch did not need any additional sweetener. 
Finished BBQ sauce
Working in batches, transfer the nectarine/peach mixture to a blender, food processor  or vitamix and puree until smooth. Pour back into the same saucepan.  Add the Worcestershire sauce, tomato paste, ginger, chili powder, smoked paprika, onion powder and cayenne pepper. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, stirring often, until hot, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.  This is what it looks like when its ready.  It's thick and I left an itty bitty amount of chunkiness in mine.  You can make yours completely smooth if you desire.

If canning, fill jars leaving ¼” headspace.  Remove air pockets from the jars, wipe rims, add fresh lids and place rings fingertip tight.  Process in a waterbath canner for 10 minutes at sea level and adjust for altitude.  I have been using a steam canner lately and love it.  They work exactly the same as a waterbath, so if you have a steam canner, feel free to use it. 

If you are not familiar with how to do waterbath canning, please see .  The instructions given here assume you already know how to can.  Not following exact instructions can cause you to become very ill or even kill you.
If you choose not to can this, put it in small containers in either the fridge or freezer to use as desired.
I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as we did. 
Oh, do not throw out the pits once the fruit is removed.  It makes a great peach pit liqueur, peach vinegar or even peach extract.

Today's Kitchen Tip: Picking avocados

I love avocados in many things.  But how do you know which ones are 'ripe for the picking'? 

The store display shows some that are dark, medium and even green in color.  Which is right?

This avocado is ready
to use today.
It depends upon when you are going to use them.  If you are going to use them today, you want one that is nice and dark like the photo.  It should have a little 'give' when you touch it, but not be so soft that it feels mushy.  When you cut it open, it should be perfectly green like the one shown in the photo.

If an avocado is still green, you can keep it at home for several days before you have to use it.  Depending upon how green it is, you may want to store it in a paper bag to help ripen it sooner.  I have had some that took a week to ripen.  Unfortunately, I needed it in 3 days, so the brown paper bag option worked well.

Once your avocado is ripe, use it soon or it will turn black and mushy inside.  You can store it in the refrigerator for a few days if you are not ready for your avocado when it is ready.

Monday, August 7, 2017

The best high altitude peach or nectarine quick bread recipe

Living in Arizona, many people have fruit trees in their yard.  When they ripen, people are always willing to share their bounty with anybody willing to take some.  I am lucky enough to have friends with a nectarine tree so this year they gifted me with about 50 pounds of nectarines.  There aren't a lot of nectarine recipes out there, but luckily, nectarines and peaches are interchangeable in recipes.  Nectarines, luckily, are easier to work with since they do not require peeling.

After making jam, butters, salsa, plain canned fruit, and so much more, I had a lot of pureed nectarine pulp that I wanted to use, so I found a recipe for peach cake, adjusted it for altitude, and used the nectarine puree I already prepared.

Nectarine Pulp -- we left it chunky
If you do not have any nectarine pulp hanging around, it is easy to make.  I just take nectarines, put them in a crockpot and cook them until they just fall apart.  If they were cooked with the pits in them, just strain the pulp through a colander to remove the pits.  This is a set it and forget it type thing.  Leave it in the crockpot to cook down and thicken some, or your pulp will be very juicy.  I leave mine a little chunky, but you can put it in a blender or use an immersion blender to make it smoother if you want. 

If you just have a few nectarines or peaches, you can also do this in the microwave or stovetop.  Either way, the pulp is just cooked down fruit.

So now that you have the pulp, you can make the nectarine or peach quick breads.  These are really easy, and are sort of like banana bread...just using nectarines or peaches instead. 

The changes needed for low altitude are at the end of the recipe.  This was tested at 5700 feet so if your altitude is a lot higher, you might still need to make a few adjustments.

Peach (or Nectarine) Bread Recipe
Makes 2 loaves or 12 mini bundt cakes
Adjusted for 5600 feet altitude 
¾ cup + 2 tbsp granulated sugar
2 eggs
½ cup vegetable oil
2 ¼ cups peach or nectarine puree
2 ¼ cups all purpose flour
1 tsp cinnamon
7/8 tsp baking soda
7/8 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup chopped walnuts, optional
Mix together sugar, eggs, vegetable oil and puree in a large bowl  until well blended.  Add in remaining ingredients and stir until just mixed together. 
Place batter in 2 loaf pans that have been greased and floured.  You can also make these in mini bundt pans, cupcake tins or even mini loaf pans. 
Bake at 375° for about 30 minutes for mini bundt pans or 40 minutes for loaf pans.  They are done when a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean and the tops are slightly browned. 
Let cook for 10 minutes then remove from pan and cool on a cooling rack.    
Note:  If you are baking this at low altitude, use 1 cup of sugar, 2 cups of peach puree, 2 cups of flour, a full teaspoon for both baking powder and baking soda, and bake at 350°.  I don’t have baking times for these, but you can start checking them a few minutes before times shown for high altitude.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Make this easy and delicious Limoncello di crema recipe

The last time I was in Sorrento, Italy, I had the chance to taste this wonderful drink.  Sorrento is known for its lemons and every restaurant serves their own version of this.  There is a 'regular' limoncello and a creamy one.  My favorite was the creamy one.

This recipe will take several months to make but is so worth it.  First you will make the lemon infused Everclear, then you will add the sweet cream component.

Some people make it with vodka, but Everclear will infuse the flavors much better.  While this recipe does not require a lot of hands-on time to make, it does take a few months from start to finish.

Keep in mind, this is only for people of legal drinking age and please, DO NOT DRINK AND DRIVE.

Limoncello di Crema

Makes about three, 750 ml bottles 
  • 14 organic lemons 
  • 750 ml Everclear (151 proof)
  • 3 cups half and half
  • 1 cup milk
  • 4 cups sugar 
  • 1 Vanilla bean  

1.      Wash and dry the lemons. With a thin skin peeler, remove the lemon skin without any white part (gives the infusion a bitter taste). Infuse the lemon rind and alcohol in an airtight glass container, in a dark and cool place for a minimum of one month. (I did mine for 3 months).  I found that a half gallon canning jar works well for this step.  The alcohol will turn yellow.  

Notice the color of the Everclear.  It's nice and yellow.
2.      Once you have infused the Everclear as long as you choose, you will need to remove the lemon rind from the alcohol.  You may want to filter the rind out, but I found that since I had long strips of rind, it did not get pieces into the alcohol.  If you have smaller pieces, just pour the alcohol through a strainer to filterer the lemon alcohol mixture. Set aside. 

3.      Put the half and half, milk, sugar and whole vanilla bean in a pan and bring to a boil. Mix until the milk comes to a boil and the sugar dissolved. Allow to cool for several hours with the vanilla pod inside. 
Finally, limoncello di crema

4.      Remove the vanilla bean and strain, if necessary. Mix the milk mixture with the lemon / alcohol mixture. Fill clean bottles and close.  Store the bottles in the freezer and serve very cold – The high alcohol content will not freeze the drink.

About Me

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I am a former information technology girl who left the business and opened up a cooking school. Cooking and entertaining are my passions and I love to share this passion with others. I am currently on hiatus from teaching classes, but hope to begin offering them soon. In the meantime, enjoy the tips. Students always told me how much they loved the tips and now you can, too. I'll put out a new tip each day.