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Corned Beef and Cabbage

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You might think it’s kind of funny that a blog called ‘The Portuguese American Mom’ has a recipe for the very Irish Corned Beef & Cabbage.  But, it’s something I have always cooked and it’s something we grew up eating each year in my Portuguese household.  I suspect, that has something to do with the similarity between the Irish dish and a traditional Portuguese Cozido.  Either way, at this stage in my life, my husband is part Irish and therefore my children are as well, so I think it’s nice to keep the tradition going.  Besides, we always add in a nice link of chouriço for that Portuguese flare!

When I was 17 we went to St. Michael, Azores as a family and on the “To Buy” list my mother had, was an old-fashioned stove top pressure cooker.  A pressure cooker is meant to drastically cut down the cooking time of just about anything using the power of trapped steam.  The craftsmen in Portugal made them in such a way that was impossible to find in this country with some sort of fortified heavy-duty steal.  And so when she came back she used it for EVERYTHING.  However, those stove top pressure cookers can tend to be quite dangerous and anyway, over the years it got lost in the shuffle.  So, I was super excited to get this ultra safe electric model for Christmas from my mom. This machine takes meals that otherwise take 3-4 even 5 hours and has them ready to serve in 30 minutes or less!  No way you say?  How is that possible you ask?  Well… let me tell you, this is my first attempt and it surely did work!

If you don’t have a pressure cooker you can surely make this on your stove top or even leave it in your slow cooker on your way to work in the morning.  The ingredients are basically the same, but for stove top, you need to triple the liquid (for the slow cooker, the liquid measurements stay the same).

This is an 8 qt. electric pressure cooker. If you don’t have a pressure cooker, this can absolutely be done the old-fashioned way in a big stock pot. It just takes about 3-4 hours of cooking time and about triple the liquid.

Add one can of lite beer. I know you may be tempted to use an Irish beer here, but if it’s a dark ale, please don’t. All the flavors will get very concentrated and that is not the way to go here. So, if you have a lite one, that’s fine, but please no dark.

This is what most people buy when buying a corned beef. You can either by the point end or a flat piece, it’s all personal preference and will likely cost you the same.

See that fat slab? Place that face down.

Now the fleshy side is face up and waiting for all the ingredients you will pile up on top.

Start by cutting a fresh piece of cabbage. I use about 1/2 a head. If you prefer more, then use more.

I am using Yukon Gold potatoes. I actually put double what I think we will eat with the meal because I like to have left over for hash the next morning.

Peel a couple of medium onions. Makes no difference what kind of onion you use really although a red onion might look a little funny.

Wash and cut up a couple of carrots. I leave the skin in tact here as there are lots of great nutrients in there. Plus the skin helps it stay in tact a little better so you don’t end up with carrot mush.

All of these get strew atop the beef.

I also put a good size sweet potato in there just because it’s yummy.

Careful not to throw out this little bundle of flavor that will likely be tucked into the packaging of your meat.

This is a mixture of whole pickling spices such as allspice, coriander, mustard seed, pepper, fennel seed, cinnamon, cloves, ginger and dill seed.

Fill that empty beer can you just used with water and add it in.

Top with a link of hot chouriço that has slits cut along the bendy side.

This is everything. Set the pressure cooker for 30 minutes.

Be sure to depressurize your machine fully before attempting to open.

My machine will now keep this warm until dinner.

Remove all contents to a nice size platter and serve!

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Corned Beef & Cabbage

Serves 4-6[/yield

Ingredients:

2-4 lb. Corned Beef, rinsed

6-8 potatoes, with slit cut in

4 carrots, cut into 3″ links

2 onions, peeled

1/2 head cabbage

1 large sweet potato

1/2 lb. hot chouriço link, with 4-5 slits cut into skin

spice packet

1 lite beer

12 oz. water

Pressure cooker directions:

Add everything into pressure cooker, set for 30 minutes, press start.  When done, release the pressure using the pressure release valve, open and serve hot.

Stove top directions:

Add everything into pot plus 36 oz more water.  Boil for 4 hours until meat is fully cooked and tender. Serve hot.

Slow cooker directions:

Add everything to pot and set to cook for 8 hours. Serve hot. 

*** Gluten-free if using a gluten-free beer or omiting the beer altogether.

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Witches Fingers Almond Cookies

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Halloween is nearly here! But, the week and weekend before are always filled with lots of spooky events! How fun would it be to show up at your next Halloween party with a tray of Witches Fingers?  And these almond treats are yummy too!

To start off, you’ll need to measure out some shortening… I put these pics in a little gallery for you because I am using the Pampered Chef Measure All cup, which in my opinion is the only way to measure anything creamy. Take a look.

Measure out your sugar… I am using a regular Pampered Chef Measuring cup here.

Beat the shortening and the sugar together in the mixer with the paddle attachment.

Add in egg and extract to the shortening and sugar mixture.

Mix until egg is fully incorporated.

Now for the dry ingredients:

In a separate bowl, add in flour.

Baking powder.

Salt.

And wisk together… This is the Pampered Chef Stainless Steal Whisk

Now add the flour mixture into the mixer:

You should have a clay like texture.

Now for the almonds.  I don’t have ground almonds so I used one of my new favorite products, the Pampered Chef Manual Food Processor to achieve what I need… take a look:

Add your ground almonds into your mixture… you will need to do this with clean hands.

Once it is all incorporated dump it out onto a clean work surface… I am using my Pampered Chef Pastry Mat.

Divide in half. Set half aside for coloring and work with the non-colored dough first.

Now you should have 24 small pieces of dough (and the other half of your dough which will make another 24 pieces is still set aside)

Shape each piece of dough into a nobby finger… I put a little bump right in the middle so it looks like a knuckle.

Place on your parchment lined baking sheet. And set aside while you prepare your almonds.

You will need blanched almonds to make your “finger nails”.  You can buy blanched almonds, but I didn’t I just took a few minutes to blanch my own.

Press one almond to the end of each of the “fingers” you have on the cookie sheet.

Place these in an oven that has been pre-heated to 350°F.

Now with your remaining dough, you will want to color them green!

Add in your best food coloring… I like a gel for this.

Be sure to add it in gradually so you don’t over do it.

You’ll want to achieve about this color.

You will also need to color your remaining almonds… I used a hot pink color.

Mix in and set aside so they have a few minutes to dry.

Now go through the same exact process with the green dough.

When they come out of the oven, be sure to let sit on the cookie sheet for a couple of minutes before removing. Then place all the “fingers” gently on a drying rack… This is the Pampered Chef Cookie Cooling Rack… I like it because of the small openings rather than others I have that are not in a cross hatch.

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Witches Fingers Almond Cookies

Makes 48 cookies

Ingredients:

1 cup Vegetable Shortening

1 cup sugar

1 large egg

1 tsp. almond extract

2 1/2 cups flour

1 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

3/4 cup ground almonds

48-50 blanched almonds (see tutorial above)

1/4 tsp. green food coloring

4-5 drops red food coloring (or hot pink)

Directions:

Pre-heat oven to 350°F.

Cream shortening and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.  Add egg and extract.  Beat until incorporated.

In a separate bowl combine flour, baking powder and salt.  Add to shortening mixture in 2 additions.  Mix well after each addition until smooth and clay like.

Add ground almonds.  Knead until incorporated.  Divide dough in 2 and set half aside.  Divide the remaining dough into 4 parts, then take each of those 4 parts and divide into 6 parts.  Shape into roughly a 3″ “finger”.  Press a blanched almond into one end of each “finger”.

To the remaining dough, add in green coloring and knead until incorporated.  Also, add in red or hot pink coloring to the remaining almonds.  Divide dough in 2 and set half aside.  Divide the remaining dough into 4 parts, then take each of those 4 parts and divide into 6 parts.  Shape into roughly a 3″ “finger”.  Press a blanched almond into one end of each “finger”.

Bak on a parchment lined baking sheet for 10-13 minutes.  Remove from oven and let cookies sit for a few minutes before placing on a cookie drying rack.

Enjoy!

This is the bag Nate brought in with him to do all the various tests.

Saving Money with a Home Energy Assessment

If you are a fan of my blog, you already know what a big fan I am on Farmer’s Markets.  Well I was walking along at my local Farmer’s Market a few weeks back and stopped at a booth that looked like it had nothing to do with produce, instead there were a bunch of light bulbs all around.  So, I stopped and asked the gentleman what his booth was all about.  He told me he was working for the city on a project to help save home owners money and help the environment at the same time.  This sparked my interest so I asked some questions.

He explained the Mass Save program to me.  Mass Save is an initiative funded by the utility companies geared at making the average home more energy-efficient.  Why would utility companies be working to save us energy you might ask?  Well, I did ask… Let’s use the electric company for example.  If the electric company succeeds in making your home more energy-efficient, it reduces the overall strain on the electric grid.  This helps them by leading to less building of electic stations and less building of electric stations leads to less maintenance of said electric stations which leads to less repair and eventual replacement of those electric stations.  In every single point of that last sentence, the electric company saves money.  But, in order to save them money, they need to make your home and thousands of other homes more efficient by helping you to utilize the power that comes into your home in a more efficient manner.  This then leads to the consumer saving money.

Some of the things they will help you with to reduce your electric intake is checking on your appliances and providing information on available rebates if you need to replace them with energy star label appliances.  They replace existing light bulbs with energy-efficient bulbs and they may even leave you with a power strip that will reduce the amount of plug-in non-use energy that you are paying for just for having things plugged in even if they aren’t currently in use! But, it’s not just the electricity that they help you out with.  An energy assessment on your home also looks at your heating costs and the efficiency of the heat that you are bringing into your home.  They do this mainly by looking at the outside insulation of your home and the efficiency of your furnace, they will also supply you with a no cost programmable thermostat. One of the biggest things they provide you with is a 75% instant rebate (that is a rebate you don’t need to pay and then get reimbursed for, this rebate is more like a coupon to use at time of purchase) on the installation of insulation on the outer perimeter of your home. They look at your water intake and can replace shower heads and add-on faucet spouts to reduce the water you use.

So, I all this made me curious… I decided to book an assessment and try it out on a rental unit we own.  And they were very accommodating… It took a couple of weeks to find a date and time that worked with everyone’s schedule, but we set it and they called with a reminder the day before.

On the day of the assessment a nice and very knowledgeable young man named Nate showed up ready to work.  I’ll take you through what he did…

Nate goes into the closet where the cable company has run wires to check to see if there is insulation in the outer walls of the home.

Here he he unscrewing the outlet plate to try and get a peek in the wall.

Since the wall is covered with a decorative paneling, he is checking to see if there is a layer of plaster beneath it. If there is, then insulation can be blown in. If not, then the paneling would not support the inulation and the walls could buckle... in this case, it's all set.

Since the wall is covered with a decorative paneling, he is checking to see if there is a layer of plaster beneath it. If there is, then insulation can be blown in. If not, then the paneling would not support the insulation and the walls could buckle… in this case, it’s all set.

Nate checks under the siding of the house to see if there is an outside layer of insulation under the siding.

He also looks at your thermostat. If it’s not programmable, he leaves a programmable one behind for ya.

He looks at all the light fixtures in the home in search of non-energy efficient bulbs so that he might swap them out for more energy efficient ones.

Even the plug in lamps get a new upgrade.

Nate brought along a whole box of replacement bulbs.

This is one style of energy efficient bulb.

This is a more modern style of energy-efficient bulb.

Nate does the swapping out for the resident.

But, he also leaves behind all the old bulbs.

Nate checks the refrigerator to see if it is one of the more energy-efficient models. If is was an older model that did not have an Energy Star status, there are rebates available.

This is the bag Nate brought in with him to do all the various tests.

Here Nate is checking for the Carbon Monoxide levels in the furnace.

Here Nate is checking for the air flow and efficiency of the furnace.

These are the two measurement units that test the quality of the air inside the furnace and the air flow.

Nate had to drill a small hole in the vent shaft, which is o.k. but he also used metal tape to cover the hole.

So, that’s everything… The whole visit took about 45 minutes or so.  He explained that he would be checking over all his numbers and making recommendations and sending me out all of that along with a cost analysis of how much everything would be should we choose to follow any of the recommendations along with information on any rebates available to us to defray the cost.  Even if we decide not to go with any of the upgrades right now, we still have all the light bulbs (that can be pretty pricey), the new programmable thermostat, a new top of the line energy-saving power strip and a new faucet nozzle to install.  Overall, I would say it was well worth my 45 minutes!

I think I’ll have an assessment of my own home done next!

If you or someone you know is looking to have an energy assessment done for your home or business and you live in Massachusetts, just contact Mass Save at the highlighted link.  If you live outside of Massachusetts, contact your local utility company and ask if they have a similar program available, most states do!

I would like to thank Lori Medeiros, Senior Loan Officer for RMS for sponsoring today’s post!

 

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Stacy’s Meat Lasagna

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One of the first truly big meals I learned to make as a kid was lasagna.  My dad just loved the stuff… so he asked me to make it once a week… kind of a funny request for a Portuguese man… but I have always loved making my Daddy happy so weekly lasagna it was!  Over time, I started learing to tweak things here and there. I developed my own methods and preferences.  It was really one of those repetitive recipes that unknowingly taught me how to cook… After all, I wasn’t following a recipe, I would do it week after week and almost each week something would change, some times I kept the change and sometimes not so much.  What better cooking lesson could there be?

Through all this trial and error I learned that meat lasagna is the way to go. Although this recipe has taken me just about 25 years to perfect, it is pretty basic and pretty classic, but has an unbelievable flavor that is both simple and complex at the same time. Homemade meat sauce, hand mixed cheese and mozzarella along with thin flat pasta noodles are what makes up this delicious dinner.

This recipe is a rather large recipe, but you have options.  If you have a big family, you can get 12-16 generous portions here, so great… If you would like to use it for a party, even better!  But, if you just don’t need a huge lasagna, it’s still worth making and splitting half into a pan for the freezer!  You are doing the same work, might as well get two or even three meals out of it!

Here’s how I do it…  There will be 4 layers in all.

Let’s start with the sauce…

I start by mincing an onion.

Place onions in a pan with some heated olive oil over medium heat.

Here are the flavors that you will need to layout head of time… this method will make for a less stressful cooking experience.

Once the onions are starting to caramelize, add in the dry spices… crushed red pepper flakes and italian seasoning. This will allow their flavor to really bloom. Also, add in your minced garlic at this point so it doesn’t really get a chance to burn. Sautée for a minute or two with the onions.

Add in browned ground beef. I happened to have some that I browned up earlier in the week. If you don’t then be sure to brown and drain separately from the onions as draining the fat will take a lot of the flavor of the onions and spices away with it and won’t allow you to get the desired effect with the caramelization.

Add in a few swigs of Worcestershire sauce. This gives you an amazing background flavor you can’t get from much else.

Add in two extra large cans of tomato puree.

This ingredient is indispensable. Add in one full can of tomato paste.

This is what your can looks like when you are through adding in the puree, that won’t do.

Add some white wine into each and swish it around so you can get the remainder of that puree! I hate wasting. You could use red wine here, but I find it to be a bit too strong for a lasagna, so I use white.

Now this is a little more acceptable.

Mix it all together over med/low heat. Be careful! It starts to sputter at this point!

Strip the thyme leaves off the stiffer little branches.

Chop or rip up your basil.

Chop or rip up your basil.

Add in your fresh herbs now.

Cover up your skillet… as you can see, before I even got to my camera, the sputtering has continued.

Now let’s start on the cheese mixture.

You are putting so much work into this recipe… please use a real block of parmesan cheese (the best you can afford) and shred the cheese yourself, it makes a huge difference here.

This is the left over parmesan rind from the block of parmesan I used for the cheese, don’t throw that out! As a matter of fact, if you ever end up with a rind for another recipe and feel the urge to throw it out, avoid that urge and just freeze it for times when you are making sauce!

Toss that in the sauce.

Shred up your cheese and divide a handful of it out to reserve for later.

For this large lasagna, you are going to need a large container of whole milk ricotta cheese.

For this large lasagna, you are going to need a large container of whole milk ricotta cheese.

Dump that into your mixing bowl. You’ll want a medium to large mixing bowl.

Add in your parmesan along with about 3/4 cup of shredded mozzarella cheese. (You can cheat with the mozzarella if you choose to get the pre-shredded stuff or you can shred your own.

To the cheese add in a bunch of fresh cracked black pepper.

Then add in a good pinch of italian seasoning mix.

Add in two eggs.

Add a good pinch of salt.

MIx together.

This is what you should have when all mixed.

Now we just need to gather two more ingredients and we are ready to build our masterpiece!

The first is the pasta… I use this oven-ready pasta for three reasons 1. the big step of pre-cooking pasta before hand gets eliminated 2. the noodles are flat with no ripples and 3. they are thin… all things that make for a great lasagna!

And the next is the mozzarella … This is the cheese that I discovered as a kid and it really makes a big difference in the body of the lasagna.

Now we build!

This is an extra-large lasagna pan… this recipe won’t go all the way up the sides of this really big pan, but if you use a 9″x13″ pan, it certainly will.

Start off by ladling some sauce into the bottom of the pan… this serves a couple of purposes… 1st I always like to sauce the bottom and 2nd the pasta won’t stick to the bottom.

Place the pasta on top of the sauce.

Because we are using oven ready pasta, I like to put a sort of skim coat of sauce on top of the noodles.

Add on the cheese mixture.

Spread the cheese mixture as evenly as you can.

Add the mozzarella slices on top of the cheese mixture.

Now start on the next layer by ladling on more sauce.

when you start a new pasta layer on top of another layer of sauce, you always want to make sure you are laying them out in a different pattern so that when you cut into it, it’s got pasta running from the top of the slice to the bottom.

Finish off the top with a good coating of sauce.

Add some shredded mozzarella to the top.

Grab the little pile of parmesan we set aside earlier and sprinkle right on top.

At this point, bake for 45 mins to 1 hr until the cheese on top is thoroughly melty, but not burned.

When it comes out of the oven, let it set for a good 10-15 minutes before cutting.

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Stacy’s Meat Lasagna

Serves 12-16

For the sauce:

2 28oz. cans of tomato puree

1 6-8oz.can tomato paste

1 1/2 lbs. ground beef, browned and drained

1 cup dry white wine

1 cup hot water

1 med. onion, minced

3 cloves garlic, minced

3 Tbs. olive oil

1 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce

1 Tbs. fresh basil

1/2 tsp. fresh thyme

1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes

1 tsp. dry Italian seasoning

1 tsp. kosher salt

Parmesan rind

Directions:

In a large skillet or shallow pot, sautée onion in olive oil over medium heat.  When caramelized, add in red pepper flakes, Italian seasoning and garlic, sautée for a couple minutes.  Add in ground beef, continue to sautée. Add Worcestershire sauce, continue to sautée.

Next, add in tomato sauce and paste.  Rinse tomato cans with white wine and add in to sauce.  Add in parmesan rind and cook over low heat for 30 mins.  When done add in 1 cup of hot water to loosen if needed.

Check for salt at this point.

For the Cheese Mixture:

1 large container of Whole Milk Ricotta Cheese

1/2 cup parmesan cheese, shredded

1/2 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded

2 eggs

1/4 tsp. Italian seasoning

1 tsp. kosher salt

1/2 tsp. fresh cracked black pepper

Directions:

Mix all ingredients together.

Build your lasagna:

Ingredients:

1 box oven-ready lasagna noodles

2 packages sliced mozzarella cheese

meat sauce, prepared

cheese mixture, prepared

1/2 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded

1/4 cup parmesan cheese, shredded

Directions:

Pre-heat oven to 350°F.  In a large lasagna pan, start by adding sauce to the bottom of the pan.  Next, layer on the noodles.  Skim coat the noodles with a bit more sauce.  Next, add on a layer of the cheese mixture.  Next, add on the mozzarella slices.  Repeat until you reach the end of your ingredients. Be sure to think about how large your pan is and how to divvy up the layers.  End by covering in sauce and adding on the shredded mozzarella and shredded parmesan.

Bake for 45 minutes or until all the cheese on top has melted and started browning nicely.  Enjoy!

Transfer to a wired rack for cooling completely.

Classic Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

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My son started pre-school last week. I can hardly believe that children are starting school as little as 3 years old! So we picked out his cool Superman back pack with matching Superman lunch box with a cute little cape.  But, I couldn’t let my little super man go in to school without something extra special from Mommy.  So, inside that little lunch box was a little pack of homemade Classic Oatmeal Raisin Cookies.

There are lots of varieties of oatmeal cookies.  Some people add chocolate chips, some nuts, some nothing extra at all… but there can only really be one Classic Oatmeal Raisin Cookie.  A hearty mixture of rolled oats and sweet raisins, this cookie is filling and delicious all at the same time. The Classic Oatmeal Raisin Cookie is time-tested and adored by generation after generation.  My children are part of that next generation that have fallen in love with this wholesome treat.

Let me show you how I made these…

You'll need two sticks of softened butter. (If you have cold butter right out of the fridge with no time to let it come to room temperature, you can do one of two things 1. dice the butter and wait about 20 minutes or my preferred method 2. pop both sticks in the microwave for 30 seconds, stopping to flip every 6-7 seconds until all 4 sides have been exposed to the microwaves face up)

You’ll need two sticks of softened butter. (If you have cold butter right out of the fridge with no time to let it come to room temperature, you can do one of two things 1. dice the butter and wait about 20 minutes or my preferred method 2. pop both sticks in the microwave for 30 seconds, stopping to flip every 6-7 seconds until all 4 sides have been exposed to the microwaves face up)

Add your butter into the bowl of an electric mixer… Notice how nice and soft it is.

Add light brown sugar to the butter.

Beat on medium/high for a minute or two until it’s looking a bit fluffy.

Always crack egg into a small bowl before adding in to a batter.

Add in egg. Beat thoroughly.

One more thing before mixing in your dry ingredients, add in your vanilla. Beat for 10 seconds.

Now start on combining your dry ingredients.

In a medium bowl, add flour.

Add in a shallow teaspoon of baking soda.

Add in your salt… Traditionally people like using table salt or a fine salt in cookies, but in these, I prefer a slightly more coarse kosher salt. I like the little bite of salt here and there. So, I will leave that up to you.

Wisk your dry ingredients together.

Into the bowl you used to measure out your dry ingredients, add your oatmeal… A lot of people like to use quick oats in their cookies, I however, am partial to old-fashioned rolled oats. I like how they don’t break down as much and hold their shape and bite a bit better. If you prefer a softer more smooth cookie, then use the quick oats.

Add in your raisins to the oats. Then add this to your dough and beat for 5-7 seconds until combined. Don’t go crazy here, you could even fold them in by hand.

Here is what your result should look like.

 

Using a 1 teaspoon cookie scoop, scoop out your dough. But, first be sure to have scraped down the sides of your bowl and incorporate fully.

Plop each scoop out onto a parchment lined cookie sheet.

be sure to leave about an inch and a half between balls of dough.

Bake at 340°F for 10 minutes until you see the edges start to turn golden.

Allow the cookies to start cooling on the cookie sheet for about 2-3 minutes.

Transfer to a wired rack for cooling completely.

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Recipe for Classic Oatmeal Raisin Cookies:

(yields 4 dozen)

2 sticks butter, softened

1 cup light brown sugar, packed

1 egg, cracked into a small bowl

1 tsp. vanilla

1 1/2 cups flour

1 1/2 cups rolled oats

1 cup raisins

1 tsp baking soda, shallow

1/4 tsp kosher salt

Directions:

Pre-heat oven to 340°F.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together butter, sugar and egg. Once done, add in vanilla.

In a medium bowl, combine dry ingredients and wisk together.  Add into the creamed butter mixture.  Beat until combined.  Do not over beat at this stage as you will make the cookie tough.

In the same medium bowl measure out your oats and raisins.  Add in to the mixture. Beat for 5-7 seconds.

Using a 1 tsp. cookie scoop, measure out each cookie dough ball and keep them 1 1/2 inches apart on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Bake for 10 minutes.

Allow to cool on cookie sheet for a few minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to completely cool.

Enjoy!

 

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Caprese Salad

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I didn’t know about Caprese Salad until I was an adult. Not something very common in the Portuguese household I grew up in.  We had tomatoes, sure, but basil, nah… parsley, yes, couves (kale) yes, but no basil.  And sure we had cheese, but not motzerella cheese, heck my parents even made their own white cheese in a little ring (which is totally delicious and totally off topic).  But, I digress, the point it, this is not something I was ever exposed to… however, later on… sometime in my mid-20’s I think, I experienced this salad… Yes, I said experienced, because in my opinion, it is surely not like any other salad I had ever had… And I have been making this late summer salad ever since!

It’s a simple salad, just three main ingredients.  The key to this salad is balance. The medley of flavors is something that can not be created with anything else in the world.  Freshly grown tomatoes straight from the garden, hand picked basil leaves and good quality motzerella cheese topped with a simple drizzle of olive oil, aged balsamic vinegar and a dash of salt and pepper… could there possibly be anything better?

I have these lovely sweet cherry tomatoes. In season and perfect for any salad, but when tomatoes are the star ingredient, they are especially yummy.

I have these lovely sweet cherry tomatoes. In season and perfect for any salad, but when tomatoes are the star ingredient, they are especially yummy.

Slice them up and place them right in your serving bowl.

Slice them up and place them right in your serving bowl.

Have you seen these cute little snack packs. Each pack contains three mini cheese balls.

Have you seen these cute little snack packs. Each pack contains three mini cheese balls.

This size ball matches up perfectly to the size of the tomato.

Slice each ball in half and add to the tomatoes.

Grab some fresh basil. You want to pinch it off right where you see the next leaves sprouting. That will ensure new growth.

I like to match up the number of tomatoes to cheese and leaves… but, just a torn leaf.

Tare each leaf to equal the number of tomatoes. This will ensure each bite has all three ingredients.

Tare each leaf to equal the number of tomatoes. This will ensure each bite has all three ingredients.

Mix together in preparation for dressing.

Start the dressing by sprinkling kosher salt.

Crack some fresh cracked black pepper.

Now drizzle with extra version olive oil.

A nice aged imported balsamic vinegar is key here, so you want to buy the nicest one you can afford… You should be able to get a decent one for under $20 and it will last a while…

Drizzle the balsamic.

Toss and serve.

Toss and serve.

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I’m not sure if you noticed, but please take note, I made sure that each ingredient was exactly equal.  That is to say there are an equal number of tomato pieces to cheese pieces to basil pieces ensuring that each and every bite will incorporate all three ingredients at the same time allowing them to join together in a wonderful burst of flavor in your mouth!

Recipe for Caprese Salad:

(serves 1-4)

12 cherry tomatoes, halved

12 mini motzerella cheese balls, halved

4 fresh basil leaves, torn into thirds

1 pinch kosher salt

4 cracks black pepper

2 Tbs. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

2 Tbs. balsamic vinegar

Directions:

Toss tomatoes, cheese and basil together in a bowl.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Drizzle with olive oil and vinegar.  Serve.

Enjoy!

*Note: this is a gluten-free recipe.

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Stuffed Quahogs

AA

My godson, Preston, is a great kid! We were spending a little family day by the water earlier this week when the tide rolled out and I spotted what looked like a little collection of quahogs popping up from the muck. All I could envision was some beautifully stuffed quohogs with butter dripping down and a squeeze of lemon on top… I should explain we were at a sort of river mouth that spills out into the ocean, so although there is a sandy beach, it quickly gets quite mucky, for lack of a better word.  Anyway, I asked Preston to check out the situation and report back on whether what I was seeing were actually viable quohogs. The kid didn’t hesitate.  He put on some water shoes and marched on out there up to his knees in black muck.

Well, he discovered they were indeed quahogs, yay… But… he forgot a bucket and now he was stuck in the muck.  So, he tried to turn around and get out and he lost his shoes somewhere in the far reaches of the blackness. Needless to say that lead to me getting all mucky myself!  He was able to pull out 4 giant quahog clams and we placed them in the bucket I brought out… I did look for more, but it was honestly pretty difficult to navigate through it all, so we retrieved the shoes and after a little more looking we ended up with the original 4… However, I have to say, we had a good time doing it and lots of laughs! And anyway I got what I wanted, the base to a great local treat!

Quintessentially New England, the Stuffed Quahog is something everyone should experience at least once in their lives. Now if you have never heard the word quahog save for your experience watching Family Guy (based in the fictional “Quahog, RI”) let me explain a little about it.  There are two basic types of clams, the steamer, which you will find in most New England clam boils and clam bakes and you get them any time you order a fried clam plate.  And then there is the little neck clam.  Quahog (pronounced koh- hog, and sometimes spelled quohog) is the giant version of the latter.  You can see an example of a basic little neck in my post, Little Necks in Garlic Wine Sauce.  There are any number of different types of clams between the two, but Quahogs, or Sea Clams as some refer to them, are always the largest of the breed and they never have a neck that comes out too far (hence the term little neck).

These 4 Quahogs that we collected, believe it or not, will be enough to stuff and feed 8 people!  A traditional New England Stuffed Quahog has so much more than just the Quahog in it though, it is chock full of chouriço meat, onions, pepper, garlic and of course Portuguese Pop-secos (bread rolls).  Let me show you how I make mine!

Here are 4 very large quohogs, these are 4"+ in width... If your quohogs are smaller, you'll want to use a couple more... All in all you will want to end up with about 1/2 cup of meat.

Here are 4 very large Quahogs, these are 4″+ in width… If your Quahogs are smaller, you’ll want to use a couple more… All in all you will want to end up with about 1/2 cup of meat. (To achieve this level of clean, you will want to soak in cold water and kosher salt for a good 10-20 minutes, after you’ve scrubbed them clean with something good and rough)

Add water into a pot just large enough to accommodate your quohogs.

Once your water is boiling, add in your quohogs.

Bring back up to a boil.

Cover your pot.

You will want to boil until they open.

If any of your quohogs do not open, you will want to toss them because they are not good. You need to reserve the liquid in the pot as you will need it.

Here is a cooked quahog.

You will need to separate the two halves of the quahog.

Remove the meat from the shell.

Don’t worry about that little connective tissue.

After they are cooked wash each one and be sure all the sand has come out.

After they are cooked wash each one and be sure all the sand has come out. (Look how big that is!)

All washed up.

Chop up the meat… you should end up with a little more than a half cup.

Once you have your quahog prepared, you can start mixing up the stuffing mix…

If I had a large onion handy, I would have used it… but I didn’t so two medium onions it is.

Dice.

You will need half a stick of butter.

In a 10″ non-stick skillet add in 2 Tbs. olive oil and half a stick of butter over medium heat.

Add the onions to your pan and saute.

You’ll want to saute until translucent.

Find the nicest bell pepper you can… I like red, but any color you like will do, or whatever is on sale.

Dice.

Add you peppers to the onions and saute until lightly browned.

Add in a couple of cloves of garlic, minced.

Add in a couple of cloves of garlic, minced.

Add garlic to pan and continue to saute.

Chop up a couple Tbs. of flat Italian parsley.

Chop up a couple Tbs. of flat Italian parsley.

Slice and dice 1/4 lb. of chouriço.

You should end up with about 3/4 cup of chourico.

You should end up with about 3/4 cup of chouriço.

Add in chouriço and parsley to the pan and continue to saute.

Add pepper to the mixture.

Place a large bowl in your sink for easy use.

Add bread into the bowl. Tare it up into small pieces. (Day old bread)

Pour the reserved cooking water into the bowl.

Pour the reserved cooking water into the bowl.

Be sure not to include any of the remaining sand at the bottom of the pot.

Press the bread into the liquid.

Press the bread into the liquid.

Once the bread has sat in the liquid for a bit, drain.

Squeeze out most of the liquid and add back into the bowl.

Your bread should now be damp, but not soggy.

Your bread should now be damp, but not soggy.

To the bread, add in your chopped quahog meat.

Now add in your sautéed mixture. Mix.

Add in about 1/4 tsp. Portuguese Allspice.

Beat one egg.

Add in and mix.

Add in and mix.

And here is the finished stuffing mixture.

Use the largest scoop you have to dish stuffing mixture into the prepared shells.

Use the largest scoop you have to dish stuffing mixture into the prepared shells.

Add the mixture to each shell in a sort of mound.

Add the mixture to each shell in a sort of mound.

Some people like to put another shell on top, I happen to like how crispy it will get to all the exposed stuffing.

Sprinkle with a bit of paprika. Place in a pre-heated 375°F oven for 45 minutes for large quohogs such as these.

You will know they are ready when they have firmed up a bit but are not hardened.

You will know they are ready when they have firmed up a bit but are not hardened.

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Recipe for Stuffed Quahogs:

(serves 8)

4 large quahogs

4 cups water

1 large onion, diced

1 bell pepper, diced

3 cloves of garlic, minced

1/4 cup chouriço, diced

2 Tbs. Italian flat leaf parsley, chopped

1/4 tsp. Portuguese Allspice

1 egg, beaten

1 Heaping Tbs. ground red pepper

5 Portuguese Pop-seco bread rolls (day old)

2 Tbs. olive oil

1/2 stick butter

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Scrub quohogs and then soak in salted water for about 10-20 minutes.

Fill a medium pot with water, bring to a boil.  Add in quahogs. Add in a pinch of salt.    Bring back up to a boil and cover.  Cook until all have opened.  If you find that one will not open, toss it as it was not a healthy clam. Reserve liquid.

In a 10″ skillet over medium heat add in oil and butter.  To that add in onion and saute until translucent.  Add in bell pepper, saute a few more minutes.  Add in garlic, saute.  Next, add in chouriço and parsley, saute.  Allow to cool as you prepare the bread mixture.

In a large bowl tare bread into small pieces.  Cover the bread with the cooking water used for the quohogs.  Push bread down into the liquid completely submerging it.  Allow to sit for a few minutes and then switch the soaked bread to a colandar.  Drain out liquid.  Then take handfuls of bread and squeeze out liquid and add back into the bowl.

To the bowl with the bread, add in the quahog meat.  Then add in the sautéed mixture to the bowl.  Finally add in the Portuguese Allspice and mix.  At this point, taste for salt.  Once the seasoning is just right, add in the egg.  Mix until completely combined.

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And here is the beautiful birthday girl!

“Frozen” Birthday Party

candles

My God daughter turned 6 this summer and my girlfriend, Jennifer (who happens to be the single working mom of my two beautiful God children), put together a really great party for her.  Kinga, my God daughter, like most little girls these days, loves the Disney movie Frozen.  So everything you will see here is centered around the characters and story line of the movie.  I thought she did such a great job that I decided to share it with you all!

Elsa stood by for whom ever wanted to take a picture with the popular princess.

Elsa stood by for whom ever wanted to take a picture with the popular princess.

In the dining room…

A simple white fur Christmas Tree skirt was a perfect table covering with a footed silver bowl used as a chalice.

The bowl filled with fun “Frozen” themed chocolates.

Here is the cake that I made for the birthday girl... It's a chocolate cake with chocolate fudge buttercream filling... then a butter cream exterior that has been air brushed a blue ombre.  And on top, I made "ice" candy and dusted it with powdered sugar for the frosty look.

Here is the cake that I made for the birthday girl… It’s a chocolate cake with chocolate fudge butter cream filling… then a butter cream exterior that has been air brushed a blue ombre. And on top, I made “ice” candy and dusted it with powdered sugar for the frosty look. I then adorned the cake with all the Frozen characters.

In the kitchen, up on the kitchen island was an elaborate snack table!  Take a look…

Blue jello was

Blue jello was “Kristoff’s Ice”.

Rock Candy Pops were used as

Rock Candy Pops were used as “Elsa’s Ice Crystals”

Some pre-packaged powdered donuts were “Olaf’s Snowballs”

Some

Some chocolate covered peanuts were “Frost Bites”

Super cute string cheese was turned into little “Olaf’s” by just using a Sharpie permanent marker to draw him on the white canvas!

Ring pops made for the perfect

Ring pops made for the perfect “Coronation Rings”

There were "Snow Caps"

There were “Arendelle’s Snow Capped Mountains”

"A kiss to melt a frozen heart"

“A kiss to melt a frozen heart”

This was by far my favorite part of the snack table... A build your own snow man treat tray!  Kids (ahem, and adults) got to use the pretzel sticks as the snow man anchor to hold the marshmallows and then the raisins and cheese snacks got to adorn the little snow men!  Too cute!

This was by far my favorite part of the snack table… A build your own snow man treat tray! Kids (ahem, and adults) got to use the pretzel sticks as the snow man anchor to hold the marshmallows and then the raisins and cheese snacks got to adorn the little snow men! Labeled, “Do you want to build a snowman?” …Too cute!

Here is my little Olaf!

Here is my little Olaf!

Outside, the drink station was super cute too…

Outside there were two choices for drinks...

Outside there were two choices for drinks… The first was “Elsa’s Punch”

Then there was a "melted snowman"  which consisted of water, with a carrot ("nose") and two blue berries ("eyes")

Then there was a “melted snowman” which consisted of water, with a carrot (“nose”) and two blue berries (“eyes”) and the sign reads “Some people are worth melting for”

Sandwiches...

Sandwiches… “We finish each other’s sandwiches”

“Coronation Salad”

Hawaiian meatballs… “Troll’s Rocks”

The food table on top of a Frozen table cloth... Waiting for the pizza...

The food table on top of a Frozen table cloth… Waiting for the pizza…

On the kitchen table…

Fun centerpieces were on the main table in the kitchen.

Fun centerpieces were on the main table and scattered Frozen confetti.

The favors were super cute and clever too! A Frozen cup was stuffed with a non-frozen popsicle… Guests could also take along a Frozen Necklace and a Frozen Tiara

“Thank you snow much for coming”

My daughter loved her tiara and necklace!

In the back yard…

Under a back yard deck was "Oken's Trading Post".  The beams look like a real trading post in the woods and the little Christmas Trees, snow men and ice skates  are a cute touch.

Under a back yard deck was “Oken’s Trading Post”. The beams look like a real trading post in the woods and the little Christmas Trees, snow men and ice skates are a cute touch.

Snow in summer… A kiddie pool filled with a kneaded mixture of baking soda and shaving cream!

The kids had a blast playing in the snow in summer!

The kids had a blast playing in the snow in summer!

And here is the beautiful birthday girl!

And here is the beautiful birthday girl!

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Lobster Risotto

done2This summer we had the pleasure of attending my sister’s wedding in Negril, Jamaica!  During our time there lobster was not in season and banned from being caught.  So, when we went to a specialty restaurant at the resort we stayed at, I ordered the shrimp risotto.  And I have to say it was absolutely delicious!  Even though I was the one to order this wonderful dish, my husband fell in love with it! So, when we returned, I had the inclination to make my own risotto using our very own Northeast caught cold water lobster.

A disclaimer before I start is that risotto is a simple dish, but it is food of love as it takes a good amount of time and it can not be rushed.

First thing to do is prepare some stock. I had some frozen homemade chicken stock, so I used that (about 6 cups). If you have seafood stock, great, use that... But, I do love the flavor a homemade chicken stock brings to this dish.

First thing to do is prepare some stock. I had some frozen homemade chicken stock, so I used that (about 6 cups). If you have seafood stock, great, use that… But, I do love the flavor a homemade chicken stock brings to this dish. You want to keep this stock warm without boiling as boiling will evaporate the stock before you can use it.

Use one large shallot or two smaller ones... If you don't have shallots available you can use one medium onion. Shallots are just a bit milder in flavor.

Use one large shallot or two smaller ones… If you don’t have shallots available you can use one medium onion. Shallots are just a bit milder in flavor.

Cut the shallot in half to stabilize your cutting surface.

You'll want a small to medium dice.

You’ll want a small to medium dice.

Warm a non-stick (if you have one) pot over medium heat. Add in a few tablespoons of olive oil.

Next add in a couple tablespoons of butter to the olive oil for flavor.

Add your diced shallots to the fat in the pot.

Saute over medium heat until golden brown.

Chop up a couple cloves of garlic and add in to your already golden shallots.

Chop up a couple cloves of garlic and add in to your already golden shallots.

This is aborio rice... It is widely known as one of the best rices to use for making a good risotto. This particular one is just my store brand, but it is a long grain Italian rice imported from Italy.

This is aborio rice… It is widely known as one of the best rices to use for making a good risotto. This particular one is just my store brand, but it is a long grain Italian rice imported from Italy.

Each grain is fatter than your run of the mill rice.

Add your raw unwashed rice to your pot with your shallots and onions. You want to toast your rice grains before you start adding in liquid.

The trick to a good risotto is to add in your liquid slowly.

The trick to a good risotto is to add in your liquid slowly.

Add your warmed stock to your pot one ladle full at a time.

You want to make sure each ladle gets completely soaked in before you add the next ladle. Stir continuously.

I have a left over lobster from this past weekend. So this baby is getting cut up and put in my pot.

I have a left over lobster from this past weekend. So this baby is getting cut up and put in my pot.

I start off by removing the legs and popping them in my pot. This helps me achieve two things. Since I am using chicken stock, the legs help to introduce a seafood stock flavor… They are also pretty yummy to add to each individual dish.

Remove the meat.

Remove the meat.

Chop it up into medium sized chuncks.

Chop it up into medium sized chunks.

Add your meat into your pot when you only have a couple ladles of stock left to go. As the lobster is already cooked, your goal here is just to heat the meat through, not to over cook your meat. This is a good time to add in 1/2 cup of dry white wine as well.

At this point I like to finish with a few more tablespoons of butter and top with some reserved lobster meat. Then I top with some chopped up scallions or parsley. You also want to taste for salt and pepper now as well.

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Lobster Risotto

Serves 4

Ingredients:

6 cups chicken or seafood stock

2 cups aborio rice

1 large shallot, diced medium

3 Tbs. olive oil

6 Tbs. butter, divided

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1 scallion, chopped

1 lobster, shelled and chopped

1/2 cup dry white wine

salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Warm 6 cups stock in a medium sauce pan. In a large non-stick pot saute shallot over medium heat in olive oil and 3 Tbs. butter until golden brown. Add garlic and saute for a minute.  Add in raw rice and toast for a few minutes, stirring constantly.  One ladle at a time add in stock, making sure  each ladle has been absorbed before adding in the next. Add in lobster legs.  When there are only a couple of ladles of stock to go, add in white wine and lobster meat. Finish ladling in stock.  Check for salt and pepper and add if needed.  Also check for rice tenderness.  (If more liquid is needed either add more warmed stock or warmed water.  Add in a remaining butter.

Top with reserved lobster if desired and scallions or parsley.  Serve immediately.  Enjoy!

*note – This is a gluten-free recipe.

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A Taste of St. Michael Sparkling Sangria

done3The beauty of St. Michael, Azores is made up of its lush and vibrant vegetation.  Not only are the rolling hills filled with hydrangea and honey suckle, but the St. Michael fruit is like

no where I have been in the world.  Passion fruit, pineapple, figs and exotic fruits not even found in the U.S. are found there in great abundance.  Many enjoy these deliciously sweet treasures plain and right off the trees, many make wonderful desserts like passion fruit pudding (one of my favorites), but today I have decided to apply it to a refreshing cocktail.

This week I am featuring left overs, so this is meant to use up some extra wine you have from the dinner or a party.  Add in a bit of juice, sparkling water and some fruit and you may start opening that bottle of wine just to make this light and airy drink.  It’s a simple drink you’ll come back to again and again.

Start by preparing your fruit... First up is the pineapple.  I'll take you through how to easily slice up a pineapple, but if you don't have one available, you could used canned or frozen pineapple chunks.

Start by preparing your fruit… First up is the pineapple. I’ll take you through how to easily slice up a pineapple, but if you don’t have one available, you could used canned or frozen pineapple chunks.  I start by slicing off the bottom.

pine2

Then I cut off the top.

Now it is stable.  So, I now start trimming off the sides.

Now it is stable. So, I now start trimming off the sides.

Once I go all the way around the fruit, I cut down the middle.

Once I go all the way around the fruit, I cut down the middle.

Then I quarter and cut out the inner core on a diagonal.

Then I quarter and cut out the inner core on a diagonal.

Next, I slice it up into chunks.

Now slice up an orange.  I like to leave the skin in tact.

Now slice up an orange. I like to leave the skin in tact.

Now start measuring out your ingredients.  Two cups of sweet wine.  This is actually a sweet Sangria wine, but a white zin or a blush or just a plain sweet red wine would be nice here.

Now start measuring out your ingredients. Two cups of sweet wine. This is actually a sweet Sangria wine, but a white zin or a blush or just a plain sweet red wine would be nice here.

This drink that is a cross between a sparkling juice and a soda is a favorite amongst many Portuguese people and indeed can be found throughout the Azores and anywhere Portuguese people have migrated to.  If you don't have passion fruit drink available, look for a passion fruit juice.

This drink that is a cross between a sparkling juice and a soda is a favorite amongst many Portuguese people and indeed can be found throughout the Azores and anywhere Portuguese people have migrated to. If you don’t have passion fruit drink available, look for a passion fruit juice.

Add in pineapple.

Add in oranges.

For best results, you will want to soak the fruit in the wine for 2-3 hours or up to over night.

For best results, you will want to soak the fruit in the wine for 2-3 hours or up to over night.

Once the fruit has been propperly steeped in the wine mixture, take a few pieces and place in individual glasses.  (then I use fresh fruit to garnish the rims of the glasses as shown here)

Once the fruit has been properly steeped in the wine mixture, take a few pieces and place in individual glasses. (then I use fresh fruit to garnish the rims of the glasses as shown here)

Now fill about half way with wine mixture. You need to allow room for ice and sparkling water.

Add in ice.

Here is where you can really customize the drink on the spot. I like my drinks a little less sweet, so I allow more room for sparkling water (on the left). My husband enjoys his with a bit more sweetness, so his (on the right) is filled a bit more to allow for less sparkling water.

Now top with some sparkling water. Again, this is personal preference, but I use unflavored, unsweetened sparkling water. If you like a bit more sweet and still like all the fizz, you can grab a sparkling water with panache! A coconut or pineapple sparkling seltzer would be nice here as well, even a grape.

Now swizzle together. I am using a butter knife. if you have an official drink stirrer, use that of course :)

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Enjoy!

Recipe for A Taste of St. Michael sparkling Sangria:

(serves 4)

2 cups sweet red wine (or any type of sweet wine you have left over)

3 cups Sumol Passion Fruit drink or passion fruit juice

1/2 pineapple, chunks

1 orange, sliced

1 cup sparkling water

8-12 ice cubes

Directions:

Prepare fruit.  Add wine to a pitcher or 10 qt. bowl.  Add in passion fruit drink or juice.  Add fruit to the liquid.  Soak fruit in the liquid for 2-3 hours before serving if possible and up to 1 day before serving.

Pour into glass over ice.  Top with sparkling water to match level of sweetness desired (the more water, the less sweet the drink) Mix with stirrer.  Serve with fruit rimming the glass.