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Hello!

Today you will have to follow a link to my new blog in order to read this post.  I can’t tell you how excited I am about my new blog.  Just Pinch Me!

My new blog has the same name but is on a different hosting platform.  If you are one of my subscribers and receive the links to this blog via email (or in your RSS feed) you have to resubscribe once you get over to my new blog in order to keep getting notifications.  Do this by clicking the subscription button in the right sidebar on the new blog.  Thanks for your support and I hope you will join me over at my new home!

Click on the link below and I’ll take you on over

New Just Pinch Me Blog!!

While I was growing up, like most of America at the time, my family embraced convenience foods.  I’ve enjoyed watching the escapades of Don Draper on the Mad Men televisions series.  I now understand how Madison Avenue seduced our generation with witty jingles, bright packaging and those evoked feelings of sexy newness every time we grabbed that box or jar off the shelf.

Let’s take a trip down memory lane, throw out some word association phrases and see what images we conjure up:

“Macaroni and Cheese”  

“Spaghetti”

“Chocolate Pudding”

“Cheese”

“Cupcakes”

“And of course… Pancakes”

The chubby dough boys on the pancake box were always around when we turned on the griddle at home.  But guess what?  I never really liked pancakes until I tasted my first batch of pancakes made from scratch instead of out of the box.  Ditto with the other convenience foods.  The box pancakes looked and smelled so good, but always disappointed once I popped a bite in my mouth.  No matter how much butter and syrup I poured on, they still tasted like cardboard.

Pancakes made from scratch are in a league of their own.  They rise until they are light and fluffy on the griddle, but still deliver some substance and depth when you take a bite.  The tangy bite of the buttermilk teases against the sweetness of the maple syrup and creaminess of the butter to create a satisfying wonderfulness in your mouth.  They taste like…..what I always imagined pancakes should taste like.  Once you make pancakes from scratch,  it will be hard to go back to anything else.

I believe I’ve revisited and cooked most of the boxed and jarred foods from my childhood, but this time making them from scratch.  I am never disappointed.  A lot of these experiences I’ve already featured on my blog.  I hope I can inspire you to try the same.

Pancakes from scratch are easy to make and foolproof….almost.  I had a little “made from scratch” pancake debacle in Italy this fall mostly related to “Italian to English” translation issues at the grocery store while buying baking soda.  But I’ll leave that story for another day.

In the meantime, let’s put our thumb on the end of our nose, wiggle our fingers at Don Draper and try these absolutely delicious buttermilk pancakes – made from scratch!

Buttermilk Pancakes Made From Scratch!

Adapted from “How to Cook Everything” by Mark Bittman

Ingredients

Dry Ingredients

2 cups flour

1/2 tsp salt

2 TBSP sugar

1 & 1/2 tsp baking soda

Wet Ingredients

2 cups buttermilk

2 eggs, separated

4 TBSP butter, melted and cooled

1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Method

Sift dry ingredients together and set aside.

Separate the eggs

Whisk the egg whites until stiff

Assemble the wet ingredients

Put the dry ingredients in a big bowl.  Put the wet ingredients including the egg yolks and egg whites in a separate bowl.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon until just combined.  Don’t over-beat.  The batter will be lumpy.  Once the dry ingredients hit the wet ingredients, the baking soda activates and should be used quickly if you want light, fluffy pancakes.

Pour 3/4 to 1 cup of batter on a piping hot griddle for each pancake.

Cook for a couple of minutes until batter starts to bubble and bottom is golden brown.  Flip pancake and finish cooking the other side.

Serve piping hot off the griddle with butter and syrup.  Enjoy!!

The summary of cranberry consumption over the course of my life is as follows:

1%        freshly harvested whole cranberries!

10%     dried cranberries – usually in harvest salads

89%     cosmopolitan martini’s

I must go on record.  I love everything about cranberries – the bright vibrant red color, the intense, acidic pop in your mouth when you eat them and let’s not forget they grow in BOGS!!

You may think my Cosmo consumption percentage is a bit high.  Let me go on record.  Freshly harvested, whole cranberries are always my first choice.  I wish these delightful, refreshing, sour nuggets of deliciousness were available more often.  But alas…..the only time I see fresh, whole cranberries in our produce section is around the Holidays.  The rest of the year I am relegated to Cosmo consumption.

When the fresh whole cranberries arrive each Fall in the produce section, I always make this sour cream streusel coffee cake first.  This light, fluffy sour cream laced coffee cake topped with contrasting bright, acidic, whole fresh cranberries and pecan caramel streusel makes your mouth water.  It’s great as a morning coffee cake, but is so satisfying and rich it makes a great dessert too.

Fresh Cranberry Sour Cream Streusel Coffee Cake

From Nantucket’s Sarah Leah Chase

Ingredients

Coffee Cake

1 stick butter (1/2 cup) @ room temperature

1 cup sugar

2 large eggs @ room temperature

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 TBSP freshly grated orange zest

2 cups flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup sour cream

12 oz whole fresh cranberries

Streusel Ingredients

3/4 cup packed brown sugar

1/4 cup flour

2 tsp ground cinnamon

4 TBSP (1/2 stick) butter

1/2 cup walnuts or pecans, coarsely chopped

Method

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  Butter and lightly flour a 9 by 13 inch baking pan.

To prepare the coffee cake, cream 1 stick of butter in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat until light and fluffy.

Add 1 cup sugar and beat again until light and fluffy.

Beat in the eggs one at a time.  Add the vanilla and freshly grated orange zest.

On the side, sift the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt together.  I like to sift my dry ingredients together onto a sheet of parchment paper.  Then when it is time to add the flour mixture to the batter, I pick up two sides of the parchment paper, position it over the mixer and pour the flour mixture in.  Flour can compact and become dense when it sits in the storage container, that’s why it is important to sift.  Sifting makes it light and fluffy again before using it in the batter.

The flour mixture and sour cream are then added to the batter in alternating stages, mixing after each addition.  This is another essential step to ensure a light and fluffy coffee cake.

The easiest way for me to remember how to add them to the batter is in this sequence:

1/3 of the flour mixture, then 1/2 cup of sour cream, then 1/3 of the flour mixture, then 1/2 cup of sour cream, then 1/3 of the flour mixture.

After each addition mix on medium speed for a few seconds until it is incorporated into the dough.

The batter will now be very thick and creamy.

 Spread the batter evenly into the prepared pan.

Sprinkle the fresh whole cranberries on top of the batter.

In separate bowl, prepare the Streusel Topping next.  Slice 4 TBSP of butter into pats.  Toss the butter, brown sugar, flour, and cinnamon together in a small mixing bowl.

Cut in the butter with two knives or a pastry blender until the mixture is crumbly and the butter pieces are the size of a small pea.

Stir in the chopped walnuts or pecans.

Sprinkle the Streusel Topping over the cranberries on the coffee cake.

Bake the coffee cake for about 45 minutes until a knife inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.  Cut into squares.  Enjoy!

Big Bold Chili

I have four or five different chili recipes I routinely use.  Like the perfect pair of shoes, each recipe has just the right “chili attributes” for different occasions.  A reliable weeknight chili recipe that takes less than thirty minutes to prepare reminds me of my beloved J Crew flip-flops, always conveniently located and ready to slip on.  My cute collegiate loafers remind me of the five-way Cincinnati chili-mac recipe I use for tailgating at football games.  I have a rather sophisticated chili recipe made with braised prime rib and exotic spices which reminds me of my sleek kitten heel pumps.

Today’s chili reminds me of my broken in, all scuffed up, wear all day leather riding boots.  My boots make me feel all snugly and warm and are so comfortable I forget I have them on.  Like being home.  This chili is for crisp, fall harvest Saturdays.  The kind of day where you don’t mind investing a few extra minutes cooking, knowing the reward will be a dish with a nuanced and layered depth of flavor.

Once assembled, put the pot of chili on the back burner and let it gently bubble away while you are out at the kid’s football games, hiking in the woods or grabbing a pumpkin at the farmer’s market.  It will fill the house with the most enticing aromas while you are away.  It makes enough for a big crowd and tastes great served with a dollop of sour cream and crispy tortilla chips.

Big Bold Chili

(serves 8-10 but, may be chilled and reheated)

inspired from Sarah Leah Chase’s Cold Weather Cooking

Ingredients

1 can black beans, rinsed and drained

1 can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained

1 can white navy beans, rinsed and drained

1 can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained

1 pound bacon, diced

3 medium white onions, diced

4-6 cloves fresh garlic, minced

3 jalapeno peppers, seeded and diced

3 TBSP ground cumin

3 TBSP paprika

3 TBSP really good chili powder

1/2 to 1 tsp red cayenne pepper (more cayenne = hotter spicy heat)

1 (or more) tsp dried crushed red pepper flakes (optional to increase the spicy heat factor)

3 TBSP dried oregano

2 28 oz cans tomato purée

2-3 cups beef broth

1 pound ground beef

1 pound hot Italian sausage

1 bottle dark, yeasty beer

salt to taste

Serving condiments such as shredded sharp cheddar cheese, sour cream, diced avocado, diced onion, fresh cilantro and warm tortilla chips.

Method

Drain and rinse the cans of red kidney, black, white navy and garbanzo beans

Fry the diced bacon until crisp in a large dutch oven.  Remove the bacon and drain on paper towels, set aside. (Save the bacon fat)

Add the diced onion, jalapeno and garlic to the bacon fat.  Saute over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the onions are soft and translucent, about ten minutes.  Drain off the remaining bacon fat.

Toasting the dried spices helps unleash their maximum depth of flavor.  Place the cumin, paprika, chili powder and cayenne  in a dry skillet and toast over medium low heat for two minutes.  Be sure to swirl the pan continuously so the spices do not burn.  Add the fragrant toasted spices to the vegetable mixture.  Add the cans tomato purée, oregano and beef broth.  Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile in a separate pan sauté the beef and hot Italian sausage together, breaking it apart with the back of a wooden spoon.  Cook until crumbly and brown.  Drain off excess fat.  Pour the dark beer into the meat to de-glaze.  Add the meat mixture, rinsed beans and cooked bacon to the chili.  Simmer on extremely low heat for an hour or two.  If the mixture gets too thick, thin it by adding extra beer, beef stock or water.  Adjusted any seasoning to taste.  Spoon into crocks and serve piping hot with the condiments.  Enjoy!

I’m sure you’ve played the game before …..if stranded on a desert island where you could only bring three foods with you…what would they be?  Hands down for me it would be a great aged cheddar cheese, warm, crusty french bread, crisp granny smith apples, lots of chocolate and of course a perfectly paired wine.  What?  A couple too many foods you say?  Come on now, you didn’t really expect me to stop at three, did you?

So let’s talk about this decadent macaroni and cheese.  Today’s recipe has three ingredients and this time I really mean just three.  A chuck of great aged cheddar, whipping cream and your pasta of choice.  Reminiscent of the rich mac-n-cheese served as a side dish at high end steak houses, this is the real deal.  I don’t eat carbs often so when I do, it better be worth it.  This is worth it.

The cheese sauce whips up while the pasta cooks and this dish is on the table in 10-15 minutes.  Can’t beat that.

I spent all last week gallivanting around Catalonia and the Costa Brava region in Spain on my bike with a great group of friends.  Do I eat so I can ride or ride so I can eat….that is the question.  Neither is the answer.  I love them both!  I am a bit snowed under though and trying to catch up, so my post today will be as simple as this recipe.  Enjoy!!

Absolutely Decadent Macaroni and Cheese

Ingredients

2 cups whipping cream

7 oz aged sharp cheddar cheese, hand grated

1 pound short pasta (macaroni or fusilli corkscrews work great).  Cook al dente, according to package directions.  Drain the pasta but do not rinse.

Method

While the pasta is cooking pour the whipping cream into a large saute pan and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer for three minutes stirring occasionally , allowing the cream to reduce.

Add the grated cheddar cheese.  Pick a really good chunk of cheddar.  Hand grate the cheese.  Do not choose a package of pre-shredded cheese.  Besides tasting inferior, the pre-shredded cheese contains stabilizers that don’t work well with this technique.

Stir well over medium heat until the cheese melts into the cream and the sauce thickens, about another 1-2 more minutes.  Salt and pepper to taste.

Add the cooked pasta.  I drain but never rinse my pasta after it cooks.  The starch left on the pasta from the cooking water helps thicken the sauce, if you rinse the pasta you lose this.

Stir over medium heat until combined, about another minute.

Serve immediately and Enjoy!

Tuscan Tomato Soup

This classic rustic Tuscan tomato soup is called pappa al pomodoro in Italy.  Bright, acidic tomatoes are combined with onions, garlic and basil, thickened with leftover bread and finished off with freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano.  It smells heavenly and tastes even better.

I’ve made this soup many times before, but just recently stumbled across a wonderful toasted bread and basil topping to sprinkle over the top.  The topping adds another punch to an already great tasting soup.  Thanks to Ina Garten – I am including the topping too.

I’m just back from a glorious week in Tuscany.  The weather was perfect.  The wine sublime.  The food rustic, simple and delicious.  The villa stunning.  All shared with cherished friends.  About as close to perfect you can get this side of heaven.

Oh…in case anyone is worried the tractor barreling down the lane toward us in this picture stopped just in time.  No  one was injured.  Have you ever tried to photo-shop a tractor out?!?  I’ve decided it adds some “interest” to our picture.

I know if given the opportunity to shop in Italy, most of us would swoon over the fine leather handbags and shoes available in Florence.  However, my passions lie elsewhere:

  Two whole liters of cold pressed extra virgin olive oil bought straight from a charming and delightful heritage farmer.  He let us wander through the grounds of his villa and olive grove.  He proudly explained his organic growing methods and also the artisinal extraction approach he uses involving a centuries old stone wheel which produces hands down the best oil I’ve ever tasted.  Liquid gold.  A little tricky to get back to the states, but well worth it.

I used my newly acquired Italian olive oil to make this batch of soup….oh my it was good!  My post today celebrates all I love about Italy.  Simple food prepared using the freshest ingredients and shared with friends and family.  Wines that compliment and match the flavors of the food.  A little candlelight, a little laughter….perfect.

Tuscan Tomato Soup  pappa al pomodoro

this makes 3-4 servings but can easily be doubled

Ingredients

1/4 cup olive oil

1 large yellow onion, chopped (about 1 cup)

1 carrot, peeled and chopped

2-3 cloves fresh garlic, chopped

1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes (try to get an Italian imported tomato like the San Marzano)

2 cups diced rustic Italian bread cubes, about 1 inch each

2 cups chicken stock.

splash of Italian red wine (about 1/4 cup)

freshly grated parmigiano-regianno

For the topping:

another 2 cups of diced rustic Italian bread cubes, about 1 inch each

10-15 fresh basil leaves

sea salt

3-4 TBSP extra virgin olive oil

Method

Toss two cups rustic Italian bread cubes with 10-15 fresh basil leaves and layer on a sheet pan.  Drizzle with 3-4 TBSPS extra virgin olive oil.  Sprinkle with coarse sea salt.  Bake in a preheated 325 degree oven for 20 minutes.

It will look like this when you pull it out.  The basil will get dark but still tastes delicious.  Set aside to sprinkle on the top of the soup right before you serve it.

  Meanwhile heat 1/4 cup of olive oil in a large pan.  Saute the onions, carrots and garlic for about 10 minutes until tender.

Add the 2 cups diced Italian bread and saute for another 5 minutes.

Add the crushed tomatoes, chicken stock and red wine.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook it for 30 minutes.  Stir in freshly grated parmigiano reggiano and sprinkle the toasted bread crumb and basil mixture on top.

    Enjoy!!

hello

Hear that collective sigh of relief whispering through the ranks?  Yes, the kids are back in school.  It’s great to get back into a routine, but the routine brings the weeknight family dinner dilemma.  Are you a little challenged trying to make the family a warm, homemade meal while juggling kid’s schedules, the logistics of which could challenge General MacArthur?  Have you stood in the grocery store clutching a rotisserie chicken to your chest while the countdown to dinner looms but recipe inspiration wains?  If so, this is a great recipe for you.  Quick, easy and absolutely delicious.  Notwithstanding the benefit of that warm, wonderful feeling as you nestle into bed tonight….”The kids got their vegetable servings in today….the kids got their vegetable servings in today.”

Chicken, Mushroom and Spinach Enchiladas

Ingredients

2 Tbsp Olive OIl

1 Tbsp butter

1 8 oz package mushrooms

1 6 oz package pre washed baby spinach

2-3 cups cooked, shredded rotisserie chicken

2-3 TBSP cream cheese

1 clove fresh garlic, minced

1/2 tsp cumin

2-3 cups shredded cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese

4 flour tortillas (8 inch)

1 jar green salsa ( I use Rick Bayless’ Tomatill0)

sour cream to garnish

Method

Pop the stems off the mushrooms and slice the caps. (I discard the stems)

pre washed baby spinach

shredded rotisserie chicken

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the olive oil.  Add the mushrooms and saute until golden.  Salt and pepper to taste.

The mushrooms will look like this when ready.

Add the baby spinach right on top of the mushrooms.

The baby spinach only takes a minute or two to cook down.

Take the cooked mushrooms and spinach off the heat and add garlic, cumin, shredded chicken and cream cheese.

Place 1/4 of chicken mixture in a tortilla.  Sprinkle shredded cheese on top.  (Reserve 1 cup of shredded cheese)

Pour 1/2 jar of green salsa in bottom of 8X8 casserole dish

Roll up the chicken filled tortilla and place seam side down on top of green salsa.  Repeat with remaining 3 tortillas.

Pour the other 1/2 of green salsa on top.  Sprinkle with the reserved cup of cheese.  Cover with foil and bake at 325 degrees for 30 minutes.  Let casserole sit for five minutes before serving.

Ooooh those looks so yummy!

Enjoy with a dollop of sour cream!

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