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Dine In: Pumpkin Beer Bread


Pumpkin Beer BreadMy friend Carlyle posted on Facebook today asking what she could cook with pumpkin beer.
After all, it is the season for all things pumpkin.

I started rattling off responses to her: barbecue, short ribs braised in pumpkin beer, beer bread…
Wait. Pumpkin beer bread?

Why not??

I love a good pumpkin recipe and this is one I have not tried. Until now. I’m going to make pumpkin beer bread for our porch party on Friday night.

Think of how delightful it will taste with a nice grilled steak and salad, sitting outside in the early darkness with the fire crackling nearby. Of course you can drink the remaining pumpkin ale during your meal, too.

Pumpkin Beer Bread

Ingredients:
3 cups self-rising flour
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1 tsp salt
3 Tbs honey
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 (12 oz) bottle pumpkin ale
4 Tbs butter

Directions:
Preheat oven to 375ºF and prepare bread pan by spraying with non-stick cooking spray.
Sift flour, pumpkin pie spice and salt together. Add honey and pumpkin puree. Mix well. Slowly stir in beer until nicely combined and smooth. It will be slightly lumpy.

Cut 2 Tbs of butter into chunks and place in prepared baking pan. Put pan in the oven until butter is melted and bubbly. Spoon bread batter over melted butter. Dot the rest of the butter on top of batter.

Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the bread comes out clean. Let bread rest for at least 5 minutes before slicing.

Nutritional Information: Calories per Serving: 550, Calories from Fat: 38, Fat: 4.2 g, Trans Fat: 0 g (3 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 10 mg, Sodium: 223 mg, Potassium: 81 mg, Carbohydrates: 66 g, Fiber: 2 g, Sugar: 5 g, Protein: 4 g.

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Dine In: Mac and Cheese Bites


Mac and Cheese BitesI’ve burned out on Friday night dinners lately.

For years and years, my boys wanted pizza on Friday nights while we watched a movie, and there was heck to pay if I deviated from the routine.

Now that they’re older, they’re a little more flexible in our Friday night fare. They still love their pizza, but they are more open to other ideas, especially if it’s something involving finger foods.

I think tonight we’ll do “Appetizers for Dinner” night at our house.

I’m going to bake some mild chicken wings, slice celery and carrots to serve with hummus, and make these Mac and Cheese Bites I’ve been dying to try. Is it wrong of me that I’m making these, fully aware that only two of us will likely eat them? I love mac and cheese, and I can’t wait to try this!

Mac and Cheese Bites

Ingredients:
1/2 lb dry elbow macaroni
2 Tbs butter
2 Tbs all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups milk
2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
2 oz cream cheese
1 tsp dry mustard
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 egg, lightly beaten

Directions:
Preheat oven to 400° F.

Spray a mini-muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray or line each cup with a paper liner.

Cook macaroni until al dente and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a heavy saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Whisk in flour, and stir until the mixture is smooth and bubbly. Add the milk gradually while stirring, and bring to a simmer. Add 1 1/2 cups cheese, cream cheese, mustard, cayenne, salt and pepper. Stir until smooth. Remove from the heat; stir into pasta, adding a lightly-beaten egg at the end. Spoon a heaping mound of the macaroni and cheese into the muffin tins, and top each with a pinch of more shredded cheese. Bake for about 15 minutes or until golden-brown on top. Cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 206, Calories from Fat: 101, Fat: 11 g, Trans Fat: 0 g (7 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 46 mg, Sodium: 262 mg, Potassium: 93 mg, Carbohydrates: 17 g, Fiber: 1 g, Sugar: 2 g, Protein: 9 g.

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Dine In: Veal Milanese


Veal Milanese with Lemon Wine Caper SauceOver the weekend, we tried a new-to-me restaurant in our town where my boyfriend, Paul, used to be a regular. I can’t believe I’ve lived in Tyler, Texas, for seven years and had not been to this restaurant yet (especially with my love of eating out), but I hadn’t. When Paul suggested it for a pre-symphony feast, I readily hopped on board.

The Italian restaurant, in an unobtrusive commercial location, strikes the perfect balance between traditional and kitschy, with homage to the red-checked tablecloths that have come to mean Italian dining, juxtaposed with pictures of famous movie stars and singers that lend a slightly pretentious suggestion of connections to a bright, bold and flashy world. The lounge singer who came on while we were there was the perfect touch.

Kitsch aside, the waitstaff and the food were impeccable. The bread, freshly out of the oven, was crisp on the outside, and chewy and hot on the inside. The house Chianti was fragrant and fruity, and the meatballs were just like the ones my mom makes.

I indulged in the Veal Milanese because it’s a dish I would rarely make at home, except for maybe a special Friday night every once in a while. A traditional milanesa is a breaded veal cutlet. This version featured a lemon wine sauce, but what set it apart, other than the fact you could tell it was fresh and homemade, was the capers. The capers were plump and bright, and lent a burst of acidity to the rich dish.

This dish also works if you substitute chicken for veal.

Veal Milanese with Lemon Wine Caper Sauce

Ingredients:
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 cup flour
2 lbs veal, portioned into 4 parts and pounded to about 1/2 inch thick
3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 Tbs butter
3/4 cup dry white wine
3/4 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup capers
1/2 lemon, juiced
chopped parsley leaves, for garnish
1/2 lemon, thinly sliced (for garnish)

Directions:
Mix salt, pepper and flour in a shallow dish.

Pound veal cutlets to thin and even dimensions.

Dredge the veal cutlets in the flour mixture. Shake off excess; set aside.

Melt 2 tablespoons olive oil with the butter in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat.

Add the veal and brown on both sides. When cooked through, remove from pan and tent with foil to keep warm. Deglaze the pan with white wine and swirl, scraping the bits of browned veal up into the sauce. Add the chicken stock; cook until the liquid has thickened. Add 1 tablespoon more olive oil, capers, lemon juice and parsley. Stir over high heat for about 5 minutes. Pour sauce over the veal. Garnish with sliced lemons and serve.

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 687, Calories from Fat: 305, Fat: 34 g (12 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 250 mg, Sodium: 886 mg, Potassium: 853 mg, Carbohydrates: 26 g, Fiber: 1 g, Sugar: 1 g, Protein: 59 g.

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Dine In: Butternut Squash-Stuffed Shells


Butternut Squash-Stuffed ShellsThis has been one of the best weeks in recent history for a variety of reasons, but principal among them was finding out that my parents are coming to visit for Christmas!

Most years, I only see my parents once during summer vacation in Sandbridge, Virginia. On extra-special bonus years, I might get another visit in. This appears to be one of those years.

I’m already planning my menu for the four whole days they’ll be visiting.

I come from an Italian family, and my mom’s stuffed shells are the best ever. Mine are never as good as hers, so I’m not even going to try to duplicate the recipe this time around. Instead, I’m going to honor the dish with a variation on the traditional take on stuffed shells.

This is a recipe full of interesting flavors. The butternut squash is slightly sweet, especially after it has roasted and caramelized. The spinach, with its touch of acidity, offsets the sweetness of the butternut squash while the creaminess of the ricotta is balanced by the texture of the pine nuts. Then, the lemon brings it all together with a lovely brightness.

This is a great dish for a fall Friday night or to put in your holiday repertoire this year.

Butternut Squash-Stuffed Shells
Serves 8

Ingredients:
2 cups roasted butternut squash
olive oil, for tossing
1 box jumbo pasta shells
2 cups part-skim ricotta cheese
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup fresh baby spinach
1 egg
1 tsp lemon zest, grated
4 Tbs butter, melted
1/2 cup butter
10 sage leaves (if you can’t find sage, substitute oregano or basil)
salt and pepper, to taste
fresh lemon juice from 1 lemon

Directions:
Peel and chop the butternut squash, and then toss in olive oil. Roast at 425° F for 15 to 20 minutes or until the squash is tender.

Meanwhile, cook your jumbo pasta shells according to directions.

In a bowl, combine 2 cups ricotta, 1/3 cup parmesan cheese, pine nuts, garlic, spinach, egg, salt and pepper. Combine well. Add the roasted squash and grated lemon zest.

Spoon about 2 heaping tablespoons of the mixture into each shell, and place in a single layer in a 9 x 13 baking dish. Pour 4 tablespoons of melted butter over shells. Bake shells at 400° F for about 20 to 25 minutes.

While the shells are baking, make your sauce.

To make the sage brown butter sauce, melt the 1/2 cup butter in a sauté pan until it’s golden-brown, bubbly and has a nutty fragrance. Add at least 10 sage leaves and sauté until slightly crisp. Remove from heat and add the fresh lemon juice.

Remove shells from oven, pour sauce over shells and sprinkle with additional parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 527, Calories from Fat: 292, Fat: 32 g, Trans Fat: 0 g (17 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 96 mg, Sodium: 344 mg, Potassium: 370 mg, Carbohydrates: 41 g, Fiber: 3 g, Sugar: 3 g, Protein: 20 g.

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Dine In: Mashed Potato Pancakes


Mashed Potato PancakesOn Monday, you’ll read about the Swiss Steak that Paul made for dinner last weekend, so I apologize that these posts are coming in a little out of order. You see, to go with the Swiss Steak, we made mashed potatoes, and because we had leftovers the second day, we made the first day’s mashed potatoes into mashed potato pancakes.

They were delicious, but I think we’ll both readily admit there was a steep learning curve involved. Turns out you can’t just smash the day-old mashed potatoes into patties and drop them in hot oil. I mean, you can and we did, but I think there is a better method out there. In fact, I know there is.

You start with cold, day-old mashed potatoes, but then you need a binding agent, like egg. We used cheese, which is a delicious add-on, but it wasn’t enough to hold the potato pancakes together. We didn’t dredge the potatoes in anything, but it turns out, that would have given them a crispy, golden crust.

Ours were still good, but these are even better! We had them with leftover Swiss Steak, but I even had one again the next morning, topped with Canadian bacon and a fried egg. The golden yolk ran down over that potato pancake, and it was a little bite of heaven.

Mashed Potato Pancakes

Ingredients:
2 cups mashed potatoes, cold
1 large egg, lightly beaten
6 Tbs all purpose flour
2 Tbs onions, minced or grated
2 Tbs green onions
1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
salt and pepper, to taste
vegetable oil, for frying

Directions:
Preheat oven to 250° F. Keep the potato pancakes warm in the oven when you’re done frying them.

In a large bowl, combine the potatoes and the egg. Then, add the onions, chives or green onions and cheddar. Add salt and pepper, to taste. Combine well.

In a large heavy skillet like cast iron, heat 1/8 inch of the oil over moderately high heat until it is shimmering but not smoking. Press a heaping mound of potatoes into a patty and place in the oil. Fry until they are golden-brown, about 1 minute per side. When they are golden, place on a platter lined with paper towels and keep them warm in the preheated oven.

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 146, Calories from Fat: 44, Fat: 5 g (3 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 39 mg, Sodium: 253 mg, Potassium: 275 mg, Carbohydrates: 20 g, Protein: 6 g.

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Dine In: Steak Shish Kebabs


Steak Shish KebabsOne of the things Paul and I love to do together is cook. Specifically, grill. If it’s a Friday or Saturday night, you can pretty much guarantee we’re on the back porch grilling.

We love steak, but that’s just not practical every single time we grill. However, there are great ways to stretch a sirloin into a date-night meal without stretching your budget.
Enter Steak Shish Kebabs.

They cook up quickly, and the juices from the steak flavor the other ingredients on the skewers. They’re a meal right on a stick, so to speak.

Last Friday night, we made some with steak, tomatoes, Noonday onions and Honey Gold potatoes. We sat on the back porch, watched the hummingbirds flock to the newly-filled feeder, and enjoyed some good company, sizzling sounds and succulent smells.
To me, that’s the best kind of date night.

Steak Shish Kebabs
Serves 2

Ingredients:
1 1/2 lb sirloin steak, cut into large pieces
2 Tbs Lawry’s Seasoned Salt
2 tsp black pepper
1 lb Honey Gold potatoes, parboiled and cut into large chunks
1 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
1 pint cherry tomatoes
2 large sweet onions, cut into large chunks
wooden skewers

Directions:
Soak wooden skewers in water for at least 30 minutes, so they don’t burn when placed on the grill.

Season steak with Lawry’s and black pepper. Toss parboiled potatoes with olive oil, salt and pepper.

Thread steak, potatoes, tomatoes and onions onto skewers, alternating items.

Preheat grill to medium-high heat. Place skewers on the grill. Grill for about 3 minutes per side, turning three times.

Carefully remove from grill. Enjoy.

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 309, Calories from Fat: 86, Fat: 10 g, Trans Fat: 0 g (3 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 101 mg, Sodium: 90 mg, Potassium: 681 mg, Carbohydrates: 16 g, Fiber: 4 g, Sugar: 5 g, Protein: 37 g

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Dine In: Crazy Candy Pie


Crazy Candy PieLuke was sitting next to me yesterday morning while I was scrolling through Pinterest on my laptop.

“WE NEED THAT!” he yelled, pointing at the candy confection on the screen.

I followed the link. It was a pie, full of bits of candy bars! Essentially, it’s like a blondie in a pie crust with candy. What more do you need to know?

“We should probably have that tonight, you know, to celebrate school starting on Monday,” he said.

That’s solid reasoning if I ever heard it.

This pie came together quickly and simply. It’s bright and colorful, and it was delicious.

“That sure was a special dessert” was Luke’s final comment on the subject.

I agree, Luke. I agree.

Crazy Candy Pie

Ingredients:
1 frozen pie crust, thawed
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 egg
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup flour
1 cup candy bars (I used M&M’s, mini Twix, mini Rolos and mini Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups)
extra candy for the top of the pie

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350° F. If using a frozen pie crust, make sure crust is defrosted.
Using an electric mixer, cream sugar and butter until fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla; beat until combined. Stir in baking powder, salt and flour. Mix well.

If you’re not using “mini” candies, chop your candy into bite-sized chunks.

Add candy to batter using a slow speed of the mixer or stirring it by hand.

Press batter into pie crust. It will be too thick to pour and somewhat sticky, so you might want to spray your spatula with nonstick cooking spray before you attempt this maneuver. Sprinkle remaining candy on top for decoration.

Bake for about 24 to 30 minutes, or until the crust is browned and the top of the pie is golden. It may still be a little jiggly in the center. Cool completely. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream, if desired.

Nutritional Information (calculated with 1 cup of M&M’s): Calories Per Serving: 409, Calories from Fat: 159, Fat: 18 g, Trans Fat: 0.1 g (8 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 40 mg, Sodium: 248 mg, Potassium: 206 mg, Carbohydrates: 58 g, Fiber: 1 g, Sugar: 36 g, Protein: 4 g.

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Dine In: Steak and Cheese-Stuffed Pretzel Bites


Steak and Cheese-Stuffed Pretzel BitesSchool started this week, and that calls for a celebration, you know, before the weeks wear you out so much that you can only muster delivery pizza on Friday nights.

My boys LOVE this recipe, and I have to admit that I’m a pretty big fan as well. This is a great recipe for kids to help with, as they can roll pretzel balls to their heart’s content. You can swap out the filling ingredients. We’ve tried ham and Swiss with chopped pickles, roast beef with provolone, pepperoni and mozzarella, and scrambled eggs with ham and cheese. Did I mention we like this recipe?

The secret to the pretzel texture of the dough, crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside, is the boil-then-bake approach. Don’t skip this step, although it is a bit more labor-intensive. The result is well worth it.

Serve with a salad, and these back-to-school bites make a great meal.

Steak and Cheese-Stuffed Pretzel Bites

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 Tbs sugar
2 tsp kosher salt
1 pkg active dry yeast
4 1/2 cups all purpose flour
4 Tbs unsalted butter, melted
vegetable oil, for bowl
10 cups water
2/3 cup baking soda
1 1/2 to 2 cups cheddar cheese, shredded
1 1/2 to 2 cups Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
1 1/2 cups rare roast beef, coarsely chopped
1 large egg yolk, beaten with 1 Tbs water

Directions:
In the large bowl of your electric mixer, mix warm water, sugar and salt. Sprinkle the yeast on top of the water, no need to mix. Let sit for about 5 minutes or until the mixture becomes foamy.

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Dine In: Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Fudge


Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough FudgeMy obsession this summer has been Andy’s Frozen Custard, specifically a chocolate chip cookie dough concrete with molten peanut butter poured into the middle. Chocolate chip cookie dough is my love language. I pretty much love anything chocolate chip cookie dough. It’s my favorite flavor of ice cream. It’s my favorite “mix-in” at Marble Slab Creamery. Yes, I even eat it raw by the spoonful every time I make cookies, and I haven’t gotten sick yet.

My sweetie loves fudge, and I love cookie dough. Trying this recipe was a no-brainer, a beautiful marriage of confections. It comes together quickly. The only problem with it is that the recipe says it keeps for a week in the refrigerator. In what alternate universe does chocolate chip cookie dough fudge last a week? Not in my house, for sure.

The directions tell you that 4 cups of powdered sugar make softer fudge, while 5 make a stiffer, sweeter version. I split the difference at 4 1/2 cups, and I thought it was just perfect. It had a great texture without making your cheeks pucker from overwhelming sweetness.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Fudge

Ingredients:
For the cookie dough:
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/8 tsp salt
2 Tbs half-and-half
1/2 cup all purpose flour

For the fudge:
1/3 cup brown sugar, packed
1/3 cup butter
pinch of salt
1/3 cup half-and-half
4 to 5 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

Directions:
Using heavy-duty foil or parchment paper, line an 8 x 8-inch pan, leaving about a 1-inch overhang. Spray liberally with nonstick cooking spray.

Make this fudge in 2 parts. First, you prepare the “cookie dough” portion, then you stir it into the fudge base.

For the cookie dough, combine butter and sugar in a large bowl, and beat together with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the vanilla, salt and half-and-half. Stir in the flour until just incorporated. Don’t overmix. Set aside.

To make the fudge base, combine the brown sugar, butter, salt and half-and-half in a heavy saucepan. Stir over medium-low heat until the butter melts and the brown sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat and slowly stir in the powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time, until the mixture is smooth and well-combined. Add the vanilla.

Add the cookie dough to the fudge base and stir gently to combine. Do not overmix. Gently fold in the chocolate chips. Spread the mixture in the prepared baking dish; chill until set, at least 3 hours.
Keep in refrigerator for up to 1 week.

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Dine In: Dip for Dinner


Mexi-QuesoA few weeks ago, Paul and I ate at a popular Mexican restaurant in downtown Tyler. During the day, this establishment is packed to overflowing with business people, jurors, politicians and anyone who works downtown.

On a Saturday afternoon it was just about deserted, which was fine with me because I could take a little more time to enjoy the ambience and get some recommendations from our waitress on dishes to try. I must confess, as popular as that restaurant is, I’d never strayed beyond a few menu items. I think it’s because there are so many things to try, I get overwhelmed with the decision.

Paul decided we’d order the Choriqueso.

“What’s that?” I wanted to know.

Turns out it’s exactly what it sounds like: chorizo and cheese.

On the menu it says, “Mexi-sausage and mozzarella.” Oh really? Most queso dips I’d tried didn’t have mozzarella in them, especially at a Mexican food restaurant. I wondered what else was in it.

Nothing. Nothing else was in it. The waitress brought us a bowl of browned, spicy Chorizo sausage mixed with melted mozzarella cheese. It was served with chips.

Oh my goodness, it was delicious.

One recent Friday night, we decided to make our version of the dip, which you had to eat really, really, really quickly or the mozzarella cheese got stringy. We married the American version of queso with the restaurant’s concept and ended up with the best of both worlds.

Oh, and we ate it for dinner.

Mexi-Queso

Ingredients:
1 lb chorizo links, removed from the casings
1 16-oz box Velveeta, cubed
1 10-oz can Rotel tomatoes with green chilies

Directions:
Brown sausage in a large skillet. Drain well. Pat with paper towels to remove excess fat.
Place into a slow cooker with cubed cheese and undrained can of tomatoes.

Cook on low until cheese melts. Serve with chips or tortillas.

Nutritional information: Calories: 285, Calories from Fat: 203, Fat: 23 g (10 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 60 mg, Sodium: 1079 mg, Potassium: 192 mg, Carbohydrates: 6 g, Sugar: 3 g, Protein: 16 g.

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