Baked Mac and Cheese with Ham and Peas and some Pepperoni and Cheese Balls

On the weekend, I thawed an 8 oz package of cooked ham, diced it up, and intended to use it in a pot of soup, along with a ham bone. There was a generous amount of meat on the bone, which I removed and added to the soup, so I only used half (4 oz) of the ham I’d diced up. The rest, along with a cup of thawed green peas, went into a baked mac and cheese. I started with Alton Brown’s recipe … but I made a couple of changes as I didn’t have Panko crumbs. And instead of chopping up an onion to add to the bechamel/cheese sauce, I used the last of a container of fried onions purchased from an Asian grocery store.

My usual cheese sauce is quite thick and the baked mac and cheese doesn’t really need to baked … just warmed through. However, this version is much looser, and uses an egg to add creaminess, so the baking is essential. My substitution of regular bread crumbs was a bit disappointing in that it didn’t brown as much as I would have liked so I turned on the broiler. And then got distracted by prepping the romaine for a salad. Disaster almost struck. It didn’t burn but a few spots were quite dark. I tried to spoon them off and then just gave up. :)

Baked Mac and Cheese with Ham and Peas

Baked Macaroni and Cheese – makes 6 to 8 servings

1/2 pound elbow macaroni
3 tbsp butter
3 tbsp flour
1 tbsp powdered mustard
3 cups milk
1/2 cup yellow onion, finely diced (or 1/4 cup fried onions)
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp paprika
1 large egg
12 oz sharp cheddar, shredded (8 oz only used)
1 tsp kosher salt
Fresh black pepper


3 tbsp butter
1 cup panko bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Spray a large (2 qt/2.5 L) casserole dish with cooking spray.

In a large pot of boiling, salted water cook the pasta to al dente.

While the pasta is cooking, in a separate pot, melt the butter. Whisk in the flour and mustard and keep it moving for about five minutes. Make sure it’s free of lumps. Stir in the milk, onion, bay leaf, and paprika. Simmer for ten minutes and remove the bay leaf.

These are the fried onions, I used instead.

Temper in the egg. Stir in 3/4 of the cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Fold the macaroni into the mix and pour into the casserole dish. Top with remaining cheese. (I chose not to do so and only use 8 oz of cheese.)

Melt the butter in a saute pan and toss the bread crumbs to coat. Top the macaroni with the bread crumbs.

Bake for 30 minutes. (You may want to turn on the broiler for a minute or so if your breadcrumbs aren’t as dark as you’d like. Watch carefully though so you don’t burn the bread crumbs. ) Remove from oven and let rest for five minutes before serving.

NOTE: use 1 tbsp melted butter combined with 1/2 cup regular fine bread crumbs. No cheddar on top … just 8 oz in the sauce

Ham and Pea Variation: Stir 4-8 oz diced ham and 1 cup peas (thawed if frozen) into pasta/sauce mixture before pouring into casserole dish.

Sometimes you thaw pizza dough and then decide you really don’t WANT to make a pizza. These Pepperoni and Mozzarella Cheese Balls are a great appetizer idea for company or to treat your family on a week day.

Basic Bread/Pizza Dough – makes one 1 1/2 pound loaf or 2 12-14 inch diameter pizzas

3 – 3 1/4 cups all purpose flour plus more for kneading
1 1/4 cups warm tap water (test on the inside of your wrist)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 packet ( 2 1/4 tsp) granulated yeast
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

In a medium sized bowl, stir 1 tsp sugar into 1 1/4 cups warm water. Sprinkle the yeast on top. Let rise for 10 min until the mixture is frothy.

Put about 2 1/2 cups of the flour and the salt into a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in the activated yeast mixture and the olive oil. Stir with a fork until it holds together into a rough ball. Remove the ball of dough to a floured surface and, using the remaining flour, knead 8-10 min until the dough is smooth and elastic. (Compare the smoothness and texture to your earlobe if you don’t have a baby’s bottom handy. :) )Oil the large mixing bowl lightly and put the ball of kneaded dough in, rolling it around so that the ball is covered lightly with the oil. Cover with a piece of saran wrap and a large towel/cloth and put the bowl in a warm place for an hour or until the dough has doubled in size.

Prepare a baking sheet with sprinkled cornmeal. Shape the dough into 2 baguettes onto the baking sheet, cover again and let rise a second time until the baguettes have doubled in size. That should take 45 min to 1 hr depending on the warmth of the room.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Brush or sprinkle the tops of the baguettes with water and place a pan of boiling hot water on a lower shell in the oven. Place the tray with the breads so they’re in the middle of the oven. Bake at 400 F for 20 min. Remove and test for doneness by rapping the bottom (knocking) with your knuckle. It should sound hollow.

For Pizza: Divide dough into two pieces, roll out to fit pan. Brush edge of dough with olive oil, top and bake in a preheated 475 deg F oven for 20-25 min or until the crust is browned and toppings are cooked.

For Pepperoni and Cheese Balls: Divide your dough (1 1/2 lbs) into 16-18 portions, stretch each portion out into a 2 1/2 inch circle and stuff with a chunk or two of pepperoni and a mozzarella cube, pinch into a ball and place on a prepared baking sheet. Use either a greased baking sheet or line a regular baking sheet with parchment paper. and bake in a preheated oven at 375 deg F for 25-30 minutes.

Dip into your favourite pizza or spaghetti sauce


Split Pea, Ham and Potato Soup with Fresh Peas

In the fall, before work gets busy, I make soup in my free time. I keep making soup until I use up all my storage containers and then, I’ve got several weeks of no fuss meals to look forward to.

I was certain that I had about a cup of lentils in my pantry but it turned out it was yellow split peas so the classic split pea and ham soup seemed a no-brainer. With a few twists. Like a cup of green peas from the freezer, a meaty ham bone and yellow potatoes for additional substance.

Split Pea, Ham and Potato Soup With Fresh Peas – serves 6

1 tbsp vegetable or olive oil
3/4 cup (~4 oz) diced ham
1/2 medium (1/2 cup) onion, finely diced
1-3 tsp dried dill weed
2 stalks (1 cup) celery, finely diced
2 medium (1 cup) carrots, finely diced
1 pound/3-4 medium (2 cups) Yukon gold potatoes, medium dice
salt (start with 1/2 tsp) and freshly ground pepper (1/4 tsp)
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth or, if you have it, ham broth
1 cup dried yellow or green split peas**, picked over and rinsed
1 cup fresh or frozen peas (thawed if frozen)
water as needed (~2 cups)
3-4 tbsp plain yogurt

** Yellow or red lentils may also be used.

Mise en place

Heat the oil in a large saute pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions, celery and carrots and saute for about 5 minutes, or until the onion is golden.

NOTE: If you have a meaty ham bone, add it to the pot, along with the chicken broth and enough water to cover it, after having sauteed the vegetables. Simmer the soup for about half an hour. Remove the bone, cut off as much meat as you can and return the meat to the pot. Discard the bone.

Add the potatoes, split peas, diced ham (broth and water, if you didn’t use the ham bone), salt and pepper. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes and split peas are just soft, 15-20 minutes.

Stir in the peas, yogurt and simmer until the peas are thawed.

Ladle the soup into individual bowls and serve.

Freeze away extras for another day

Quick and Easy Hot Fudge Sauce

The recipe for this quick and easy hot fudge sauce was requested by someone who reads my blog and was paired with a salted caramel sauce that I posted some time ago, drizzled over ice cream and served with warm apple-raisin egg rolls.

Hot fudge and salted caramel sauces

Hot Fudge Sauce – makes ~1 cup

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup white corn syrup
1/4 cup light cream (2 tbsp whipping cream + 2 tbsp homo)
1 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa, sifted

Over medium heat, heat together all the ingredients but the cocoa until the butter and sugar have melted.

Add cocoa, stirring continuously and cooking for 2 minutes until sauce becomes smooth and thickens.

Serve over ice cream or dessert of your choice.

Can be kept in the fridge for 1 week or frozen. (I’ve kept it for more than a month in the fridge without any problems.)

Soup Trio

It’s fall time and the weather is perfect for coming in to the house to a comforting bowl of hot soup.

The first soup, a copycat version of Olive Garden’s Zuppa Toscana based on some net surfing, is a hearty sausage and potato soup with kale … cause greens are colourful and good for you. I reduced the amount of sausage called for in most recipes. You just don’t need that much to get loads of flavour. Instead, I used the extra sausage as a pizza topping. And the ham stock I used as a base came from cooking up a smoked picnic shoulder ham and straining out the pickling spices used to flavour the cooking liquid. I’m frugal that way. :)

Zuppa Toscana or Kale, Potato and Italian Sausage Soup – serves 4-6

2/3 – 1 pound Italian sausage (4-6 sausages, hot or mild)
1 bunch kale, stemmed, rinsed and cut into strips
4 cups ham stock (chicken, vegetable stock or water)
1 onion, diced finely
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely minced
3-4 medium sized potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
pinch of hot pepper flakes, if using mild sausage and wanting a bit of heat
~1 cup water
1 cup whipping cream (or whole/homogenized or 2% milk)
salt and pepper to taste


1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried thyme

I should have used a bigger bowl for that sausage meat. :)

Prepare the kale leaves by ripping them off the stems (freeze stems for future batches of vegetable stock) and cut into 1/2″ strips. Rinse well in 3 changes of fresh water draining after each one. Reserve.

Remove the casing from the sausages, break up the meat and fry in a non-stick saute pan, large enough to make the soup in, until the meat is no longer pink. Break up the larger chunks of sausages as much as possible while frying. You don’t need to add any additional fat as the sausages will render down, releasing all the fat you need for browning. Remove the sausage meat to a medium sized bowl using a slotted spoon. Drain the fat that came out of the sausages and discard. (see picture below … that’s a LOT of extra fat that you don’t need)

Using just the fat remaining in the pan, saute the onions and garlic until the onions are soft and translucent and just beginning to get browned.

Add the stock, cooked sausage meat, diced potatoes and about 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp ground black pepper. (You may add the dried herbs at this point as well, if using.) Cover and bring the soup to a simmer. You can add another cup or so of water to make sure that your potatoes are covered. Cook for about 10-12 minutes until the potatoes are just tender.

Add the kale, cover, and cook for another 2-3 minutes until the kale is wilted.

Stir in the whipping cream and bring to a low simmer.

Taste again for seasoning and add more salt and pepper if desired.

Serve piping hot with toasted garlic bread.

I love clam chowder and cream of mushroom soup. This soup is a combination of the two. I tried to make it a bit healthier than the recipe that inspired it as 4 CUPS of half and half seemed a tad excessive.

And here’s the result … a Clam and Mushroom Chowder.

Clam and Mushroom Chowder – makes 8-9 cups of soup

6 strips of bacon (optional)
2 tsp bacon fat, or 1 tsp each olive oil and butter
1 pound white mushrooms, roughly chopped
2-3 ribs (1 cup) celery, finely diced (reserve celery tops, to garnish soup)
1/2 onion, finely diced
4 cups seafood stock (vegetable or chicken stock enriched with clam juice is also suitable)
1 pound waxy potatoes, peeled and cut into bite sized pieces
salt and pepper to taste (start with 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp ground pepper, white if preferred)
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 cup whipping cream or half and half
1/4 cup flour
4 cups/1 pound shelled frozen clams
water as needed

Garnish with diced bacon or julienned strips of celery leaves

If you wish, cook up 6 strips of bacon until crispy in a large saute pan over medium high heat. Remove the bacon strips to a plate lined with paper towels and allow to cool. Chop up roughly.

Reserve 2 tsp of the bacon fat in the saute pan to fry the vegetables for the soup, or use olive oil and butter.

Add onions to the bacon fat and saute until translucent. Add minced garlic and saute for a minute or two until it starts getting some colour. Add mushrooms and celery. Saute for another 5 minutes or until most of the liquid has evaporated from the mushrooms and they’re starting to get golden brown.

Add diced potatoes, stock, salt, pepper and dried thyme. If needed, add water until the vegetables are covered by about 1/2 an inch. Bring to the boil and then cover and simmer for 15 minutes or until the potatoes are tender when pierced by a fork.

Put the whipping cream and the flour in a jar. Shake to dissolve the flour. Add to the saute pan, stir through and cook until soup mixture has thickened a bit.

Add the frozen clams. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook for 5-10 minutes until clams heat through and the flavors blend.

Taste and add additional salt as needed.

Serve into individual bowls and garnish with chopped bacon or julienned celery leaves.

And, while I’m on a roll, a completely different, RED soup. This Stuffed Pepper Soup has all the ingredients of a stuffed pepper but in soup form.

Stuffed Pepper Soup – makes ~6 servings

1 lb lean ground beef
2 tbsp olive oil, divided
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 small (1 cup) yellow onion finely diced
3/4 cup chopped red bell pepper (a little over 1/2 of a medium)
3/4 cup chopped green bell pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 (14.5 oz) cans petite diced tomatoes
1 (15 oz) can tomato sauce
1 (14.5) can beef broth
2 1/2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley, plus more for garnish (or 1 tbsp dried parsley)
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/4 tsp dried oregano
2/3 – 1 cup uncooked long grain white or brown rice
Cheddar or mozzarella cheese, for serving (optional)

In a large pot heat 1 tbsp of olive oil over medium heat. Once hot add the beef to the pot and season with salt and pepper.

Cook, stirring occasionally while breaking up beef, until browned. Drain beef and pour onto a plate lined with paper towels, set aside.

Heat remaining 1 tbsp olive oil in pot then add onions, red bell pepper, green bell pepper and saute 3 minutes, then add garlic and saute 30 seconds longer. Pour in diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, beef broth and add parsley, basil, oregano and cooked beef, then season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring just to a light boil, then reduce heat to low, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, 30 minutes.

While soup simmers, prepare rice according to directions listed on package, then once soup is done simmering stir in desired amount of cooked rice into soup*.

Serve warm topped with optional cheese and garnish with fresh parsley.

*For a thinner soup don’t add all of the rice and for a thicker heartier soup add it all. Also, if you plan on having it for leftovers the next day then don’t add the rice to the pot of soup, just add it to each individual bowl, then reserve the rice in a separate container in refrigerator to add to the soup the next day.

NOTE: I used red and yellow peppers cause that’s what I had, and a beef bouillon cube instead of the broth. I added 2/3 cups of uncooked rice with the peppers and simmered it all together for 30 minutes.

“Frankenstein” Pizza Dough and Stuffed Crust Pizza

I’ve invested a lot of time in this sourdough starter and my bulldog nature refuses to scrap it even if my starter-only bread attempts have been a failure. So I have incorporated some of the starter into my basic bread/pizza recipe. The result … a great pizza dough with the rise of dry active yeast and the flavour of sourdough starter. I’m calling the resulting recipe, “Frankenstein” Pizza Dough.

I have some whole wheat flour in my fridge and decided to see if I could include SOME of it into this recipe. I started by turning my all purpose flour sourdough starter into a whole wheat one by feeding it with whole wheat. And then I added some more whole wheat flour to the pizza dough. The result is a very tasty and marginally healthier pizza, if pizza can ever be considered healthy with all that cheese.

Speaking of cheese … I made a stuffed crust pizza.

A shot of the stuffed crusts

Frankenstein Pizza Dough – makes 2 1/4-2 1/2 pounds of dough, enough for 3 pizzas

1 1/4 cup warm water
1 1/2 tsp sugar
2 tsp dry active yeast
4 1/4 cups all purpose flour**, divided
1 cup sourdough starter
1 1/2 tsp salt

** For the whole wheat version: Replace 1 cup of all purpose flour with whole wheat flour.

In a medium sized bowl, add the warm water and stir in the sugar. Sprinkle the yeast over the water. You can stir it in at this point, as well, if you like. Let it sit for 5-10 minutes until the mixture becomes foamy.

In a large bowl, add 2 cups of flour (1 cup all purpose and 1 cup whole wheat in the variation) and the salt. Stir to mix in the salt evenly.

Pour the proofed yeast mixture and the sourdough starter into the bowl with the flour and stir well with a large wooden spoon until you have a nice smooth batter. Beat for a few minutes.

Stir in the flour, 1/4 cup at a time, until you can no longer stir the mixture and it has pulled away from the sides of the bowl into a ball. On a clean work surface, large enough for kneading comfortably, spread 1/4 cup of your remaining flour.

Dump the loose batter on top of the flour and gradually knead in the flour on your work surface.

Knead in the remaining flour in your bowl. This will take anywhere from 5-10 minutes and you’ll end up with a soft dough that’s still a bit tacky but won’t stick to your hands when you touch it.

Divide the dough into 3 equal portions. Shape each portion into a ball, rub the surface lightly with vegetable oil and place inside a clean medium freezer bag. Seal the bag and freeze the dough until needed.

When Ready to Make Pizza:

Remove the frozen dough from the freezer the night before you wish to use it (after supper is perfect) and put it in the fridge to thaw. The next day, or even the day after that, remove the dough from the freezer bag and gently stretch into a circle on a lightly floured surface.

Sprinkle your baking sheet with cornmeal and transfer the stretched dough circle to the middle of the pan. Stretch further if needed to fill the pan. Cover and let come to room temperature … about an hour.

Preheat the oven to 425 deg Fahrenheit.

Brush some extra virgin olive oil around the edge of the dough, about an inch in width. Top as desired and bake in the preheated oven for 20-23 minutes.

For the stuffed crust – roll out the dough about 1-2 inches larger in diameter than the pizza pan. Cut cheese into 1/2 inch thick and 1/2 inch wide sticks and arrange around the edge of the pan. Fold over the excess dough and seal well so that the melted cheese won’t leak out. For this pizza, I alternated cheddar and mozzarella cheese.

Sweet and Savoury Egg Rolls

I love egg rolls but haven’t ever made any myself until this past weekend when I brought home a package of wrappers and enough inspiration to try both a sweet and savoury filling.

For the sweet filling, I made up a batch of cinnamon-apple caramel syrup which I’d showed in the July roundup and used to fill wonton cups and as a topping for pancakes. I didn’t post the recipe then so I’m including it below, with the addition of 1/2 cup of raisins for added flavour.

If using this filling in egg rolls, drain off any excess liquid, as you want a dry-ish mixture so your wrappers won’t get soggy.

Cinnamon Apple Caramel Syrup – makes ~4 cups

4 large (6 cups) Granny Smith apples
2 tsp cornstarch
1/4-1/2 cup water
3-4 tbsp butter
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon powder
1 tsp vanilla essence (optional)
1/2 cup raisins (optional)
squeeze of lemon (~1 tsp)

Peel, then quarter the apples. Cut out the core and cut each quarter into 3 or 4 chunks or slices, depending on what you’re going to use it for.

Mix the cornstarch and water together in a small bowl.

Place the remaining ingredients into a saucepan along with the apple slices and cornstarch mixture. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes or until the apple is tender (but not mushy) and the sauce has thickened to a syrup consistency.

Depending on the amount of juice in your apples, you may need to add a splash of water to get the syrup to your desired consistency. When ready, set aside and keep warm.

The savoury egg rolls were pretty amazing too. I used a jarred sweet Thai chili sauce but next time, the dip below is great too.

Turkey/Cabbage Egg Rolls – makes 6 cups of filling, enough for 36 egg rolls

Egg Roll Filling:

1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 pound ground turkey**, chicken, pork or beef
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tbsp fresh ginger, freshly grated or finely diced**
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1/3 cup onion, finely diced
1 14 oz bag coleslaw mix
1/3 cup celery, finely diced
1/3 cup carrot, finely diced
1 tbsp hoisin sauce
1 tbsp soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt

EDITED: Add 1-2 cups of bean sprouts to filling along with the coleslaw mixture.

Egg wash to seal egg rolls – 1 egg beaten with 1 tsp of cold water
36 egg roll wrappers (2 pkgs of 18)
vegetable oil for frying
Dipping sauce recipe follows

Prepare a baking sheet by covering with a couple of thicknesses of paper towel and setting a cooling rack on top.

In a large saute pan, brown the meat in the vegetable oil. Add the 1/4 teaspoon salt.
Remove the meat from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside, leaving as much of the oil behind as possible.

Add the diced onion, ginger and garlic and fry until the onion starts to get lightly browned.

Add the cabbage mix, carrots and celery, mix and cover and cook until the cabbage is wilted and crisp-tender, 2-3 minutes. Add the seasoned cooked meat. Stir in the hoisin sauce, soy sauce, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Taste. If additional salt is needed, add another 1/4 tsp or so.

Cool to room temperature before filling egg rolls. Drain off any excess liquid that may accumulate on the bottom.

NOTE: You may refrigerate this mixture until the next day if you need to put off filling and frying the eggrolls. Otherwise, freeze the mixture and thaw in the refrigerator before using.

Prepare a deep fryer with oil, it should be about 2 inches deep and 350 to 375 degrees F. You can also shallow fry the egg rolls in a cast iron frying pan. I found that 1 inch of oil was plenty in that case. Since I couldn’t measure the temperature with my thermometer, I turned the temperature knob on my stove to medium (5) and preheated for at least 15 minutes so it would get to the correct temperature. I dropped a very small cube of bread into the oil and checked how quickly it began to brown … almost immediately, so I turned the heat down to 4. Make certain your oil is hot enough. Slow cooked egg rolls will be greasy.

Lay a wrapper with the points of the wrapper facing you, like a diamond. With a pastry brush, paint a thin strip of the egg wash around all four edges of the wrapper.

Take a heaping tablespoon or two of the mixture and place it on the wrapper.

Fold over the bottom point of the wrapper, and tuck the mixture in, as tightly as you can manage, and continue to roll until you have a few inches of the wrapper exposed. Fold over the two outside edges, and press down to seal in the filling.

Continue rolling until the top point seals the roll.

Repeat until all of the egg rolls are finished.

Carefully add about four or five of the egg rolls into your heated oil and fry for a couple of minutes, or until golden brown. Turn if frying in the pan to make sure the second side browns as well.

Remove the egg rolls with tongs, draining as much of the oil as possible, and allow to cool on the cooling rack. Repeat with the remaining egg rolls.

Serve with the dipping sauce below or any commercial sauces ie. sweet Thai chili sauce, sweet and sour sauce or plum sauce.

Dipping Sauce:

1/3 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup rice vinegar
1 tbsp honey
1 – 2 tsp toasted sesame oil
Pinch of red pepper flakes

Combine all ingredients in a bowl.

English Muffins and Hamburger/Hot Dog Buns

Yeast, glorious yeast … whether you buy it in a jar or paper packet or catch and raise it yourself.

Both the two recipes below use it to make delicious bases for lots of future meals.

Like Eggs Benedict – The classic breakfast with an accompaniment of fried potatoes, cause there aren’t enough calories from the fried ham and a generous pour of Hollandaise sauce.

Simple English Muffins – makes 8 muffins

1/2 cup warm water
1 tsp active dry yeast
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 cup whole or 2% milk
2 tbsp butter
3 cups flour, divided
1 tsp salt (increase from 3/4 tsp next time)
1/4 cup cornmeal
vegetable oil/non-stick spray

In a small bowl, combine the sugar and 1/2 cup of warm water. Stir to dissolve the sugar and sprinkle the yeast on top. Let sit about 5 minutes or until the yeast is foamy.

While the yeast/sugar mixture is rising, combine 1 1/2 cups of the flour and salt in a large bowl. Stir well to evenly distribute the salt.

In a second small microwave safe bowl or your Pyrex measuring cup, combine the milk and butter. Microwave the milk/butter for 30 seconds, stir and microwave again for 30 seconds. Stir the butter until it melts into the warm milk.

Pour the yeast mixture and the milk mixture into the flour. Stir until it has combined into a smooth batter. Adding 1/4 cup at a time, stir in more flour until the dough forms a soft, slightly sticky ball that pulls away from the bowl. (Try not to add more than the 3 cups total … about 3/4 cups should make a nice soft dough.)

Sprinkle a little bit of flour onto a clean counter top or work surface and coat your hands in flour. Dump the soft ball of dough out of the bowl and knead it for about 5 minutes. Add as little flour as possible to the counter top while kneading. Adding too much flour will yield tough muffins.

Shape the dough into a ball and place it in a bowl that has been coated in vegetable oil or non-stick spray. Lightly coat the top of the ball of dough with oil or spray and cover with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise until double in size (about 45 min – 1 hr).

Punch the dough down, shape it into another ball, cover the bowl/dough and let rise a second time (45 min – 1 hr or until double). ***I OMITTED THIS SECOND RISE

Turn the dough out onto a very lightly floured surface, cut into 8 equal pieces, form into balls, place on a linen sheet sprinkled with cornmeal, pat down lightly to about 3/4 inch thick.

Sprinkle the top with more cornmeal and let rise, covered with a towel or oiled plastic wrap for another 45 min.

Heat a large skillet or cast iron frying pan over medium-low (2-3) heat. Rub lightly with a paper towel dipped in vegetable oil or spray with non-stick spray.

Carefully transfer the fluffy, risen muffins to the hot skillet with a spatula. (I just did it by hand.)

Cook the muffins, in batches, in the skillet until they are golden brown and crispy on each side. Make sure to keep the heat low so that the outside browns slowly, allowing time for the inside to “bake.”

The original recipe cooked the muffins for about 7 minutes on each side but this will vary from stove top to stove top.

ALTERNATIVELY: I cooked them for 2 min on each side in the frying pan, then finished them in a pre-heated 350 deg Fahrenheit oven for 5-7* minutes.

Let the muffins cool on a wire rack before attempting to fork split or slice open with a serrated knife. Toast and serve with butter, jam or fruit preserves.

Fork split and toasted versus sliced and toasted. It’s your choice.

Or a bun for that classic of barbecue season … the hamburger.

Hamburger Math – 1 grilled hamburger bun top and 1 bottom PLUS 2 hamburgers EQUALS Burger Perfection

Or, if you’re in a higher tax bracket, there’s always the steak sandwich.

The original bun recipe included Parmesan cheese and garlic and onion powder but I went for a plain version. Feel free to try the other version and let me know what you think of it. I’ll stick with the plain … for now, at least. Note that this is a quick yeast bread so it uses more yeast than you’ll usually see in proportion to the flour and a lot of sugar to feed it … requiring no kneading and minimal rising/proofing time and giving you a sweeter tasting bun. All of which make it very similar in texture and flavour to commercially purchased burger and hot dog buns. But they taste SO much better. This is NOT a bread roll.

Linda’s Hamburger/Hot Dog Buns – makes 8 large (3.5-4 oz) or 12 medium (2.55 oz) hamburger buns

1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup water + 2 tbsp
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup of vegetable oil or melted unsalted butter**
2 tbsp dry active yeast
1 tsp salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
3-3 1/2 cups of flour, divided

Savoury Variation
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 tbsp garlic powder
1 tbsp onion powder

Brioche Variation
1 egg plus 1 tsp water for egg wash
poppy seeds, sesame seeds, etc for topping

** I didn’t have any whole milk so I used 1 cup plus 2 tbsp of 2 % milk. And I went with the melted butter.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Combine the milk and water in a pyrex measuring cup and warm in the microwave to 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

Stir in the sugar until it has dissolved and then stir in the yeast. (Make sure the yeast is well mixed in or you may find hard lumps of yeast granules in your dough. ) Let sit for 5-10 minutes until the yeast is bubbly.

In a large mixing bowl add 2 cups of flour. Add the salt and mix well. (If making the savoury variation, also add the cheese, garlic and onion powder.)

Add the proofed yeast, oil or melted butter and beaten egg and stir with a large wooden spoon until you’ve got a smooth batter.

Add, the rest of the flour, 1/4 cup at a time, until you can no longer stir the batter and it starts to pull away from the edge, forming a ball. You want a soft but not sticky dough. Depending on the humidity you should have about 1/4 cup of flour left.

Cover the bowl, place in a warm spot, and let rest for about 10 minutes. (I just left the ball of dough on a sprinkling of flour on the kneading surface and covered it with the overturned bowl I’d made the dough in.)

Shape the dough into 8 (or 12 balls), flatten so they’re about 4 inches in diameter and place into a lightly oiled 9 inch x 13 inch baking pan. For 12 buns you’ll need a second baking pan. If you have a half sheet pan, you can spread out 8 buns on it with a parchment paper on the bottom. You won’t need to oil the pan in that case. Cover the pan with a clean towel and let sit for 10-12 minutes.

Sprinkle/mist water over the buns and then sprinkle some sesame or poppy seeds over the buns, if desired, as decoration.

Bake the buns for 12-14 minutes or until the top and bottom are browned and a gentle tap on the bottom sounds dull.

NOTE: For a glossy, brioche style look, instead of misting with water, brush the tops of the buns with the egg wash and sprinkle some sesame or poppy seeds over the buns. The buns in the picture above just had water brushed over them.

Sourdough Pancakes

If you ever get the impulse to create a sourdough starter, you’ll periodically have starter to discard. That’s wasteful … but you can use this excess starter to make a batch of delicious pancakes. So get out your cast iron frying pan and get to it.

Sourdough Pancakes – 20-22 pancakes

2 eggs
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
2 cups sourdough starter
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp water

In a very small bowl, measure out the baking soda and reserve.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs. Add the salt and sugar and beat until the sugar is dissolved.

Add the sourdough starter to the egg mixture.

Add the water to the baking soda, mix well to dissolve and pour into the bowl with the egg and sourdough mixture.

Beat quickly with a whisk until you get a homogeneous mixture. Do not whisk too long.

Preheat a griddle or non stick pan, lightly brushed with a paper towel dipped in vegetable oil, over medium heat.  Spoon the batter onto the griddle in 1/4 cup amounts.

When bubbles appear on the top of pancakes, turn them over.

Cook until golden brown on the second side as well.

Serve with syrup, jam or however you’d like

Sage and Brown Butter Sauce …

Well, I finally bought a bunch of fresh sage and gave the titled sauce a try.

I researched several recipes and came up with a dish that I thought would showcase it, thawed leftover wontons and microwaved the sweet potato for the filling. And then I happened to be in the Italian grocery store to pick up a bag of all purpose flour and was tempted by a package of fresh gnocchi. I ended up with a couple of dishes which I loved. I’d make either one again.

I rewrote the recipe below to reflect the fact that I FORGOT to put the pine nuts in the filling.

Sweet Potato Ravioli with Lemon, Pine Nut, Sage Brown Butter Sauce

Sweet Potato Ravioli with Lemon, Pine Nut, Sage Brown Butter Sauce – makes 18 ravioli, 3 each as an appetizer, 6 as a main

For the Ravioli

1 (1-pound) sweet potato (baked squash or pumpkin may also be used)
2 tbsp grated fresh Parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp salt, divided
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
18 wonton wrappers
1 large egg white, lightly beaten

6 quarts water to cook the ravioli, 1 tbsp salt
Cooking spray

For the Lemon, Pine Nut, Sage Brown Butter Sauce

1/4 cup butter
8-12 leaves fresh sage, depending on size and preference
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp pine nuts

Grated parmesan, about a tablespoon per serving

Optional garnish – large fresh or fried sage leaves

Preparing the filling:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Pierce the potato several times with a fork; place on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake for 40 minutes or until tender.  Cool. Peel potato; mash.

For a faster alternative, put the pierced sweet potato in the microwave. Cook on high for 3 1/2 min. Turn over and repeat. Cut potato in half and scoop out the cooked flesh with a tablespoon. No peeling necessary. Mash with a fork.

Combine cooked sweet potato, cheese, 1/4 teaspoon salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a small bowl.

Making the ravioli:

Working with 1 wonton wrapper at a time (cover remaining wrappers with a damp towel to keep them from drying), spoon 1/2 tablespoon potato mixture into the center of each wrapper.

Brush the edges of the wontons with beaten egg white; bring the 2 opposite corners to the center.

Press edges together to seal, forming a triangle and pressing out as much air as possible as you do. Repeat procedure with the remaining wonton wrappers, potato filling, and egg white.

Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot.  Add about a heaping teaspoon or two to the water. Add 9 ravioli; cook 2 minutes or until done. Remove the ravioli from pot with a slotted spoon.  Lightly coat cooked wontons with cooking spray; keep warm.  Repeat the procedure with remaining ravioli.

Making the sauce:

Melt butter in a large saute pan over medium heat. When the lightest part of the butter seems to be turned a golden brown, add the sage leaves and pine nuts to the pan. Cook for a minute or two, or until butter is lightly browned.

Take off the heat, stir in the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, lemon juice, and pepper.

Drizzle the sauce over the ravioli. You may also add your warmed ravioli to the sauce, stir gently to coat and serve in a more rustic fashion out of the saute pan.

Sprinkle grated parmesan over each plate just before serving.

Garnish with fresh or fried sage leaves, if desired.

Gnocchi with Mushroom, Sage Brown Butter Sauce

Gnocchi in Mushroom Sage Brown Butter Sauce – serves 2 to 4 depending on appetite

1 pound of cooked frozen (use package directions) or fresh gnocchi

1/4 tbsp butter
1 clove garlic, finely minced
8-12 leaves fresh sage, depending on size and preference
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1-2 cups of sliced white mushrooms

Grated parmesan, about a tablespoon per serving

Optional garnish – large fried sage leaves

Melt butter in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the minced garlic and mushrooms and cook until the mushrooms are golden brown and the lightest part of the butter seems to be turned a golden brown.

Add the sage leaves to the pan. Cook for a minute or two. Take off the heat, stir in the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, lemon juice, and pepper.

Add drained cooked gnocchi to the sauce, stir gently to coat and serve.

Sprinkle grated parmesan cheese over each plate just before serving.

Optional crunchy sage leaf garnish:

Wash and pat dry large, fresh, sage leaves. Deep fry in an inch or so of hot vegetable oil or in a small frying pan with a couple of tablespoons of hot melted butter, turning over carefully to fry both sides. Remove to a plate covered with a couple of thicknesses of paper towel and allow to dry and crisp up.

August Round-Up – Part 3 Various

SEPTEMBER TEASER: English muffins and hamburger buns

Some more goodies I made near the end of the month.

I tried a new matar paneer recipe and made 12 oz of fresh paneer to use in it. There was a lot of tomato gravy at the end, much more so than in the previous version I made. I added a bit of whipping cream to the sauce to sweeten it.

Indian Meal – purchased roti, chicken tikka, yogurt, basmati rice and matar paneer. All served with some refreshing lemonade. I made some pretty tasty Indian rice pudding with the leftover basmati rice (the next day, Sept 1, but I’m including it in this post).


Chinese stir fryboneless pork loin, tofu and broccoli in black bean sauce served over angel hair rice noodles

Mussels in Garlic Butter over Fettuccine

Baked salmon with tzatziki over Mexican rice with a side of spinach and feta phyllo squares

Home made falafel and hummus dip

Ham … boiled and prepped for the freezer. I hope to do something creative with the pork skin eventually.

Hearty breakfast with the 66% whole wheat loaf

Close-up of the fried eggs and ham.

Peanut Brittle

Espresso Panna Cotta with Peanut Brittle garnish – not very prettty (the vanilla bean settled to the bottom) but it was easy to make … and tasty

You can always eat it directly out of the ramekin, of course.