Saturday, December 28, 2013

Sausage and Peppers Pasta

My old school Italian husband loves sausage and peppers.  I make it on the grill and he eats it piled high on Italian bread or rolls.  He's been craving it.  But, since my ankle surgery, I can't get outside and up the steps to our deck (where the grill lives).  So, I decided to make a pasta dish that has all the flavors he loves, but I can sit in my wheelchair and cook it on the stove top.  It turned out great and he ate two huge platefuls!


2 links Italian sausage (I used sweet, but you can use mild or hot, whatever you like)
2 TBS oil
1 (12 oz) box Penne pasta (I used the smart pasta with extra fiber)
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 can Italian stewed tomatoes (with basil, oregano and garlic added)
1/2 can water
grated parmesan cheese

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add oil.  Remove sausage from casings (I cut it all the way down and squeeze the sausage out).  Crumble the sausage into the skillet and brown, stirring occasionally.  Add chopped onion, bell pepper and garlic.  Cook until softened.

Zip the stewed tomatoes in the blender to make a sauce (not necessary, but my bunch doesn't like big chunks of tomatoes).  Add the tomatoes to the skillet.  Then fill the tomato can half way with water.  Add to the skillet.  Scrape the bottom of the skillet to get up all the sausage bits that stuck to the bottom (big time flavor!).  Salt and pepper to taste.  Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer.

Let it simmer for about 10-20 minutes.  I cook the pasta while it's simmering.  Don't over cook the pasta, because it will finish cooking once it's mixed with the sauce.

You want the sauce to reduce and thicken up.

Once it has thickened, add the cooked, drained pasta and stir to combine.

Top with grated Parmesan cheese.

So, there you have it.  It's an easy, delicious way to get the flavor of sausage and peppers any time of year and right on your stove top.  Enjoy!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Foolproof Fudge

A candy maker I am not.  Dealing with the whole thermometer thing freaks me out.  Plus, what is "hard ball stage" anyway?  Sounds like it should have something to do with baseball.  No?  OK let's move on.  I found a truly foolproof recipe for fudge many years ago and have been making it every Christmas since.  The best part?  No candy making knowledge needed!  It makes a wonderful gift.  Just bag it up in a pretty cellophane bag with some ribbon and voilĂ !  Everyone loves it!  Plus, it's so versatile.  You can add almost anything to it:  nuts, marshmallows, peanut butter chips, chopped up candy bars, etc.  This year I used Oreos!  Nothing wrong with that!

Here's how I did it:

3 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1 can condensed milk
Dash of salt
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped nuts (or whatever you choose to use- I used chopped Oreos)

Before you start, line a baking dish with foil, leaving enough hanging over the edges to act as handles.  This will help you remove the fudge from the dish later.  If you want thick fudge, use an 8 inch square dish.  If you want it a little thinner, use a rectangular dish.

In a heavy saucepan over low heat, melt chips with condensed milk and salt, stirring frequently.  Once melted and smooth, remove from heat.  It's important to do that before you continue!  Stir in nuts (or Oreos) and vanilla.

Spread evenly into the foil-lined dish.  Chill in the refrigerator for 2 hours or until firm.  Lift the fudge out by the foil handles and turn over onto a cutting board.  Carefully peel the foil off.  Cut into small squares.  This is very rich!  So I find small squares work best.  Store covered in the fridge.

Like I said before, you can use whatever you like in place of the nuts.  I do love it with pecans, but I have used mini marshmallow, peanut butter chips (they kind of melt in and give it a marbled effect), chopped up Heath bars, and now Oreos (which was delicious by the way).  I love versatile recipes that will work for anyone.  So, make some fudge!  Maybe you'll think of something new to add to it.  If so, let me know how it turns out.  Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Pecan Snowball Cookies

Pecans are very southern.  Whether you put them in pies, pralines, or these yummy cookies, pecans make the holidays better.  One of my favorite Christmas memories is sitting at the kitchen table with my daddy while we cracked and shelled pecans.  Later, my mama would use those pecans to bake up something delicious.  It's funny how I remember that clearer than any present I ever got.  I think the older we get, the more we realize what holidays are truly about.

Maybe you can bake up these cookies and some holiday memories, too.


1 stick butter, softened
1/4 cup powdered sugar + more for coating cookies
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
1/2 TBS vanilla extract
1 cup flour

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  In a mixer, cream the butter for a few minutes.  Add 1/4 cup powdered sugar and salt.  Cream until fluffy.  Add pecans and vanilla.  Blend in flour gradually.  Don't over mix.  As soon as the flour is incorporated, shape into small balls (about 1 tablespoonful).  Place on a cold, ungreased cookie sheet.  Bake 15-20 minutes or until very lightly browned.  Do not over bake or they will get dry!  Sprinkle some powdered sugar over the cookies as soon as they come out of the oven.  Then, transfer to a rack and let them cool completely.  Put about 1 cup of powdered sugar in a zip bag.  Place cooled cookies in the bag.  Gently roll the cookies in the powdered sugar.  Store at room temperature or in the fridge.

Here's what they look like:

Little snowballs!  So cute!

And on the inside:

The pecan flavor really shines through.  Plus, the sweetness of the sugar on the outside is perfect.

This yields about 20 or so depending on how big you make them. The recipe is really easy to double if you want to make more.

For a variation you could use almonds instead of pecans with almond extract.  They would taste like little wedding cakes!

So, bake up some memories this Christmas.  They'll be delicious!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars

You got your chocolate in my peanut butter!  You got your peanut butter in my chocolate!  Remember that commercial? Reese's peanut butter cups.  I love those bad boys!  Well here is an easy, no-bake (yeah, I said no-bake) recipe that tastes a lot like the famous candy.  This is the perfect thing to bring to a pot luck or holiday party because who doesn't love the taste of chocolate and peanut butter?!


22 vanilla wafers, ground finely
1 cup creamy peanut butter, divided
1 stick butter, softened
2 cups powdered sugar
1 1/2 cups milk chocolate chips

First off, you need the vanilla wafers ground very finely.  I use a food processor but of you don't have one, put them in a zip bag and beat them with a small pot.  Secondly, let your butter sit out on the counter for about an hour so it can soften up.  Otherwise it will be very difficult to mix into the other ingredients.

In a large bowl, combine ground wafers, 3/4 cup peanut butter, softened butter and powdered sugar.  Use an electric mixer to mix until well blended.  Press onto the bottom of a baking dish until flattened and smooth.  If you want thick bars, use an 8 inch square pan.  If you want thinner bars, use a 9x13 pan.

Melt chocolate chips and 1/4 cup peanut butter in the microwave for 30 seconds.  Stir until smooth.  You may need to microwave another few seconds to get it completely smooth.  Spread over the peanut butter layer.  Refrigerate for 1 hour.  Cut into bars.

These are so good!  But be forewarned, they are addictive!

For a fun variation:  use 1/4 cup Nutella (instead of the extra peanut butter) with the chocolate chips to make the top layer. Hazelnut heaven!

Also, rather than bars you can make cups using pretty mini cupcake liners.  Instead of pressing the dough into a baking dish, roll into little balls and press into lined mini muffin cups, then cover with melted chocolate.  Refrigerate as above.  Cute little nuggets!  Put some in a cellophane bag with a bow and you've got a great gift to give anyone with a sweet tooth!  So, basically anyone.  Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Spinach and Artichoke Dip

I just had ankle surgery.  Again.  So I have to stay off my feet for a while.  Since I can't cook I thought I'd share a recipe my daughter made the other day.  It's a tried and true favorite of mine.  I got the recipe in college from a friend of a friend who worked in a restaurant.  I've tinkered with it over the years and this version is pretty perfect.  With the holidays approaching, you'll want this recipe.  Trust me.  Every time I bring this to a party, there's nothing left.  People devour it!  Here's how it's done:


1 (10 oz) box frozen chopped spinach, thawed
2 small (6 oz) jars marinated artichoke hearts
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup mayo
1 1/2 (8 oz) pkgs cream cheese, softened
2 TBS lemon juice
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 cups shredded Mozzarella cheese

Drain the thawed spinach well.  I put it in a clean dish towel and squeeze it dry.  Drain and chop the artichoke hearts.  Combine the spinach and artichokes with the remaining ingredients.  Spoon into a lightly greased baking dish.  Bake at 375 degrees for 25 minutes.  Serve warm with crackers or tortilla chips.

Easy and so delicious!  A great recipe to have on hand.  Perfect for parties or just snacking in front of the T.V.  And if you're lucky enough to have someone to make it for you like I did, well that's all the better!  Enjoy!