Apple Pie Cocktail

What is a more American way to celebrate the 4th of July than with an Apple Pie cocktail?

I had planned to use apple schnapps but decided to go a different route after talking to the very friendly folks at Martin Wine Cellar about different options (who knew there is apple bourbon?) and exchanging recipes.

Make the apple pie spice sugar by mixing ¼ cup white sugar with 1 tablespoon apple pie spice. If you don’t have apple pie spice, mix 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon, 1 tablespoon ground nutmeg and 1 1/2 teaspoons ground allspice and use 1 tablespoon of the resulting mix.

I made up a pitcher ahead of time and kept it cool in the fridge, so I could enjoy the time with my guests instead of playing bartender.

It is strong, so I wouldn’t recommend more than a couple drinks a person but it sure is tasty with the apples, cinnamon spice and everything nice.

Apple Pie Cocktail

2 parts chilled vodka
1 ½ part apple cider
½ part Fireball cinnamon whiskey
3 drops Old Forester Smoked Cinnamon Bitters

apple pie spiced sugar

Cut an apple into thin wedges. Run a slice around the glass rims and then lightly coat the edges in the apple pie spiced sugar. Drop the apple wedge into the glass.

Stir the vodka, apple cider and Fireball together. Mix in the bitters and pour into the apple pie spiced sugar rimmed glasses.

Sweet Hot Root Beer BBQ Sauce

I’ve got a cookout scheduled for Monday and wanted to get my BBQ sauce game on ahead of time. I made a batch of my Sweet Hot Root Beer BBQ Sauce using Abita Root Beer. I prefer Abita for the flavor but also because they use cane sugar instead of corn syrup. If you don’t have Abita where you live, look for a root beer made from cane sugar.

I also used Penzy’s Black and Red spice. It is a mix of black pepper and cayenne pepper. If you don’t have it, use 1 teaspoon black pepper and up to 1 teaspoon cayenne, depending on how much heat you want. The heat will mellow during the long simmer, so do your taste testing then before deciding on more cayenne.

Like any good Southern gal, I keep my BBQ sauce in a mason jar. It doesn’t stain like plastic can and is easy to pour out what you need. The rich, sweet heat of this sauce goes well on most all kinds of meat. I’ll be serving it with beef brisket but it is terrific on ribs, too.

Sweet Hot Root Beer BBQ Sauce


4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 large onion, chopped fine
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup ketchup
3 tablespoons tomato paste
One 12-ounce bottle Abita Root Beer
½ cup cider vinegar
⅓ cup Worcestershire sauce
½ cup packed dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons Penzys Black and Red Spice
1 teaspoon kosher salt

In a heavy saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Sauté the onion until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add in the garlic and continue to cook for 5 minutes more. Add all the remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer. Simmer over medium low heat for about 15 minutes, until the flavors have blended. Drop heat to low and continue cooking until the sauce thickens, 20 to 30 minutes more. Taste and adjust the seasonings with salt and more pepper if desired.

Let the sauce cool for about 10 minutes or so. Puree in a blender to smooth. Let cool completely before using – I think it tastes better the next day anyway. The sauce will keep, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Easy Stroganoff

This was a cheap and uncomplicated comfort food from when I was a kid and I still have it as one of my go-to’s when I need a fast and easy meal as it only takes 30 minutes to make. Is it particularly authentic? No but if you want one closer to the old country, I blogged about it here – Leftover Brisket Beef Stroganoff.

I usually use ground chuck as I normally have some in my freezer but any ground meat will do. It is a good idea to pull the sour cream out ahead of time to come to room temperature as it could break or curdle if it is added to the hot dish while still cold.

Creamy without cream and super comforting.

Easy Stroganoff

1 lb ground meat
1 clove garlic, minced
½ lb mushrooms, sliced (fresh or canned)
2 tablespoons flour
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 cup sour cream
dash of paprika (optional)

Brown meat. Drain most of the rendered grease, leaving about a tablespoon. Stir in garlic and mushrooms (if canned drain them). Sprinkle over flour and cook, stirring regularly for five minutes. Add seasonings and soup and cook for 10 minutes more. Remove from heat and slowly stir in sour cream. Sprinkle on the paprika and serve over noodles or rice.

Flourless Chocolate Chip Cupcakes

It was Michelle’s birthday on Saturday and she requested a flourless chocolate cake. I decided to try doing cupcakes instead and they came out pretty well. Dense, dark and very, very chocolate!

Most of the baking bars for chocolate come in 4 ounces. After you’ve gotten the 5 ounces needed for melting, break the remaining bar into small chunks to go into the cupcakes at the end of baking.

I usually buy a pint of cream and whip the other cup with a teaspoon of creme de menthe liquor or Grand Marnier (or vanilla, if you’d rather). I put that on half the cupcakes and powdered sugar on the rest.

Served warm, the extra chocolate is like delicious molten lava. As the cupcakes cool, the chocolate chips and chunks are intense chewy nuggets of goodness.

Flourless Chocolate Chip Cupcakes

5 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1 stick unsalted butter
1 cup heavy cream
4 large eggs, room temperature
1 ⅓ cups sugar
½ cup plain Greek yogurt or sour cream (I use Fage)
½ cup cornstarch
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup bittersweet chocolate morsels

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.

Line a cupcake pan with paper liners.

Break 5 ounces of chocolate and put the pieces into a bowl.

Combine the butter and cream in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. When the cream mixture comes to a simmer, pour it over the chocolate and let stand 1 minute. Stir gently to mix the melting chocolate into the cream. Set aside to cool slightly.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, yogurt or sourcream, cornstarch, cinnamon, and salt just until the sugar has dissolved. Stir in chocolate morsels. Pour the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture and fold together until combined. (Mixing too much will prevent the eggs from rising in the oven.)

Place about 1/4 cup of the batter into each mold, it should come about 3/4 of the way up the sides. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Do not over bake. Immediately while hot, add a chunk of the remaining chocolate in the center of each, by gently pushing it through the top of the cupcake in the center. Cool the pan on a rack for 10 minutes and then unmold them. Dust with powdered sugar and serve warm.

Using a Sieve to Perfectly Poach Eggs

I found some English Muffins in the freezer and then decided I wanted to make Eggs Benedict. I’ve posted before my recipe for Easy and Foolproof Hollandaise Sauce but below is my method for poaching eggs without swirling the water to create a vortex or having too much wispy whites floating around and cloudy things up.

The white parts of eggs have two distinct textures inside the shell. The outermost white contains more water than the white that surrounds the yolk. The older an egg is, the more runny the white will be and the more wispy strands there will be. As most of us don’t have farm fresh fresh eggs, straining the eggs gets rid of the runniest part of the white.

Perfect little egg packages

I serve my poached eggs over toasted English muffins with crumbles of bacon and a generous helping of Hollandaise sauce.

The runny, golden yolks and the perfectly cooked whites of these poached eggs are delicious but when you add the hollandaise sauce, you get decadence for breakfast.

Perfectly Poached Eggs

6 cups water
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 to 6 eggs

Bring a large Dutch oven with the water to the boil and then turn the heat down to low. Stir in the vinegar and place a lid on the pot.

Crack the eggs into a fine mesh sieve to allow the loose, watery whites to drain away, leaving the more solid white in place. Place the drained eggs in a measuring cup. Remove the lid from the pot and turn off the heat. Pour the eggs in, one at a time, separated by a few inches. This is why 6 eggs is about the limit for a Dutch oven. Replace the lid and set a timer for 3 minutes.

Remove eggs with a slotted spoon and place on a paper towel to drain. Serve immediately or put in an ice water bath to hold for up to 3 days.

If poaching the eggs in advance, when ready to serve, add boiling water to a bowl, then add the cold poached eggs and submerge for 20-30 seconds or until warmed through. Remove with a slotted spoon, dab dry and serve immediately.

Sourdough Cranberry Coffee Cake

I decided yesterday to make a coffee cake with some of the cranberry relish I found in the pantry. The jar was a little over a cup, so I used the whole thing. You could use cranberry sauce – just make sure it isn’t the canned, pureed stuff because having the cranberries in it is flavorful and adds to the eye appeal.

I went into my files for my version of Hobee’s Blueberry Coffee Cake and and decided to use that as my base (their version vs my version). I did need to extend the cooking time to account for the added liquid.

Light, tart and super tasty. A very good way to start the day and use up leftovers!

Sourdough Cranberry Coffee Cake

1 ½ cups flour, sifted
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
½ cup sourdough starter
2 tablespoons sour cream
½ teaspoon vanilla
1 cup cranberry sauce or relish

Topping

5 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 tablespoons butter, softened
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter an 8×8 baking pan.

In a large mixing bowl, resift flour with baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt

In another mixing bowl, beat sugar and eggs. Stir together sour cream and sourdough starter to loosen it up and then add to the sugar/eggs mixture. Mix to combine. Add in vanilla.

Add in the flour mixture and beat until smooth. Stir in the cranberry sauce just until combined. Pour into prepared pan.

For the topping: In a small bowl, mix sugar with the butter and cinnamon with a sturdy fork, until they are blended and no loose sugar remains. Add in pecans and stir to combine. Sprinkle topping over batter.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, until a clean toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out dry.

Cool slightly; serve warm or at room temperature.

Amaretto Cheesecake

Michelle has once again outdone herself with making a cheesecake for my birthday. I happened upon a package of Amaretto cookies and thought they would make a terrific crust. I brought the idea to her and she did the rest.

So good! Rich and creamy and very flavorful. I couldn’t get my parent’s to stop eating on it, until I shoved it in the freezer!

Amaretto Cheesecake

2 ½ cups ground amaretto cookies (about 1 and half 7.5 ounce packages)
6 tablespoons butter, melted
4 – 8 ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
1 ¼ cup sugar
5 large eggs
1 cup Greek yogurt (we used 2 % Fage plain)
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
½ cup amaretto liqueur (we used di Amore Amaretto)

Preheat oven to 200 degrees F.

In a food processor, mix together butter and ground cookies for the crust. Press into a 10 inch springform pan, coming a little up the sides.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together cream cheese and sugar. Add in the eggs, one at a time. Mix in the Greek yogurt, vanilla extract and liqueur.

Pour into pan and tap against the counter to bring up any bubbles.

Bake for 2 ½ hours. If it still jiggles, cook for 30 minutes more.

Remove from oven and bring oven temperature up to 500 degrees F. Brown top, about 10-15 minutes.

Turn off the oven and leave the cheesecake in the oven with door cracked open for thirty minutes. Remove from oven and run a knife around the edge, about an inch deep to loosen. Leave on the counter to cool for thirty minutes. Cover with aluminum foil and place in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours before slicing.

Easy Artichoke Dip

When you need a quick appetizer, this is my go-to recipe. It makes about 2 cups and comes together with little effort or time, so you can focus on your guests.

I like it with Ritz crackers but the only limit to the dipping is your imagination.

Easy Artichoke Dip

1 14-oz can artichoke hearts, rinsed and drained
¾ cup mayonnaise
¼ cup grated mix of parmesan, asiago, romano cheese
Dash garlic powder.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Chop the artichoke hearts. Place all the ingredients in a medium bowl and mix well. Put the dip in a pie plate or casserole dish. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until dip is hot and bubbling. Serve with crackers or chips.

Quick Marinara Sauce for Meatball Subs (and dipping)

I love the recipe I have for meatballs and marinara sauce. Sometimes, though, I just don’t want to wait to make my own and/or spend time simmering the sauce. Faster doesn’t mean a jarred sauce with lots of added salt and sugar, though.

I have a pretty easy marinara cheat I make with a can of tomato sauce. This sauce is also great for dipping breadsticks, pizza crusts, mozzarella sticks, etc. It comes together in no time at all and freezes beautifully, too.

Keeping extra meatballs around is just good housekeeping, in my opinion. They’re good for appetizers, with pasta and, of course, for making meatball subs. While I usually make double the meatballs to freeze some, you can find frozen Italian style meatballs at most grocery stores.

To make the meatball sub – While I make the sauce (recipe below), I pull out 3 or 4 meatballs from the freezer. I heat them through in the microwave and then slice them in half. I take slices of provolone cheese and place them on both sides of the hoagie roll and place under the broiler. When the cheese is bubbling, I pull the bread out, dunk the meatball slices in the sauce and then place them on the rolls to cover and pour over more of the sauce.

So quick! So easy! So delicious!

Quick Marinara Sauce for dipping and subs

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
¼ teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon dried basil
½ teaspoons dried oregano leaves
½ teaspoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
Pinch each of salt, pepper and sugar

Heat a small saucepan over medium heat. Add olive oil and garlic. Cook for 2 minutes or until oil is shimmering. Add tomato sauce and seasonings. Stir sauce, bring to a bubble and simmer 5 minutes over low heat. Taste for seasoning and add more, if necessary. Serve.

Raisin Bran Muffins

Regular readers of this blog know my girlfriend is much more health conscious in her eating than I am. Case in point is our cereal shelf – I have a box of Frosted Flakes next to her box of Bran Flakes. I was doing my spring clean-out and saw that her box of Bran Flakes was getting a little old – not quite stale but needing to be used.

To make some good girlfriend points, I decided to make her Bran Muffins. I knew, however, I wouldn’t be able to eat them without also adding raisins and cinnamon so I altered the recipe from my mom’s recipe box.

The muffins are pretty darn tasty for something so good for you! Nice and light with a touch of sweet from the raisins. Enjoy!

Raisin Bran Muffins

24 paper baking cups
2 cups bran flakes cereal, I used Post Bran Flakes
1 ½ cups milk
1 cup raisins
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 large egg
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup packed brown sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Heat the oven to 400°F. Place a paper baking cup in each cup of two 12 cup regular-size muffin tins (24 muffins total).

Place cereal in a bowl and use the bottom of glass to crush cereal into fine crumbs. Pour in milk, raisins and vanilla and mix well. Let stand about 5 minutes or until cereal has softened. Beat in the oil and egg with a fork.

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, salt and cinnamon together until well mixed. Fold flour mixture into cereal mixture just until no flour streaks remain. The batter will still be lumpy. Spoon the batter into the cups, dividing batter evenly.

Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Immediately remove from pan to a cooling rack. Serve warm or once cooled.

Muffins can be frozen after they’ve cooled completely.