Friday, November 29, 2013

Sweet and spicy snack mix (aka, snack crack)

One bite of this sweet and spicy snack mix -- made with nuts, pretzels and a spicy maple glaze -- and you'll know why we call it snack crack.

addictively delicious sweet and spicy snack mix

Here's hoping you had a great Thanksgiving and are eating a kick-ass turkey sandwich on Black Friday buns while you're reading this post.

I'm so excited to share this sweet and spicy snack mix with you that I'm practically bouncing up and down in my chair. This stuff is freakin' awesome! So awesome, in fact, that Mr. Ninj told me last week that this snack mix is his “favorite food in the entire world, ever.” Seriously. You will not be able to stop eating it, which is why it has been dubbed "snack crack" at Casa de Ninj.

Today, I'm also sharing the recipe for this ahhhhhhh-mazing snack mix over at A Southern Fairytale, where Rachel is co-hosting the fourth annual Handmade Holidays extravaganza -- 30 full days of baking, crafting and sewing ideas from a fantastic group of bloggers.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Crockpot white bean chili with chicken and corn

Need a quick dinner? Try this easy set-it-and-forget-it slow cooker white bean chili with chicken or turkey and corn.

Crockpot white bean chili with chicken and corn

With less than a week to go until Thanksgiving, my Facebook feed is full of nothing but pictures of Thanksgiving dishes.

If I see one more photo of pumpkin pie, I may spontaneously combust.

So, since we've all got our hands full with planning the big meal or getting prepped for the over-the-river-and-through-the-woods roadtrip, The Ninj decided you need a break from all this holiday fallderall.

Get out yer crockpot and make yer life easy: whip up a big batch of chili so you can get on with everything else on your list.

I wound up creating this chili based on one that I tasted as part of a chili cookoff a few weeks ago at which I, The Ninj, was asked to be the "celebrity judge" (their words, not mine).

OMG, peeps, someone considers me a freakin' celebrity. I am so stoked.

At the cookoff, I tasted twelve different chili recipes in about fifteen minutes. Dudes: that's a lot of chili that, frankly, all started to taste the same after about six samples.

Except one.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Dried plum and apricot hand pies

Individual dried plum (prune) and apricot hand pies make a delicious holiday snack or dessert -- and a great alternative to pie.

dried plum and apricot hand pies

Regular readers know that I am an avid home cook and food writer -- but they may not know that I came to my calling late in life. I spent little time in the kitchen during my childhood and taught myself to cook from cookbooks, and with some tips from my sister, out of sheer necessity in my 20s (basically, I needed to eat). When I read memoirs from other food writers or hear their stories of learning to cook at a young age from a loving, patient grandmother, I can't relate. Although I grew up in a large Italian family that loved to eat, we did so neither reverentially nor adventurously. Family dinners were simply what happened at six o'clock every evening, rather than a celebration of food or culture.

With five children and a full-time job, my mother viewed cooking as a chore, another task that needed doing each busy day. For her, baking a cake meant opening a box of Duncan Hines, and the microwave was her go-to tool in the kitchen. Understandably, special meals were reserved for holidays.

Yet my father adored food.

Again, he did not love food adventurously. A good steak, steamed lobster with lots of butter and anything that sported a heavy cream sauce were among his all-time favorites. But food played a starring role in his life. Whenever he told stories about places or people, they were ultimately about food – the food served at a memorable event, a special dish from a favorite restaurant, his teenaged job termination based on his preference for dipping into the restaurant's ice cream freezer rather than the dishwater.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Sweet and spicy poultry rub

Try this easy recipe for sweet and spicy rub on chicken, turkey, steak, even veggies for tangy BBQ flavor.

sweet and spicy poultry rub

I've never been much on rubs. Whenever I see some kind of rub for a steak described on a restaurant menu, I think, "Meh. So what?"

But, as with so many things I have discovered since I started blogging, I didn't know what I was missing.

Well, maybe not on steak -- I'm still pretty much a purist in that department -- but definitely for poultry.

ZOMG, peeps, this is a seriously good rub. Transformational, even. In that it transforms a simple chicken or turkey into a crispy, sweet-yet-spicy bundle of awesomeness.

I don't know about you but, until I started using this rub on chicken, I never ever ever ate cooked chicken skin. Watching other people do it actually grossed me out. To me, it just was NOT something that you ate. It was merely the packaging on the outside that you removed to get to the real food.

As I said, UNTIL I used this rub.

The first time I baked a chicken with the rub, I took it out of the oven to cool and was intrigued by how aromatic and gorgeous the skin was. So I took a little nibble.


All I can say is that if you like BBQ potato chips, you'll be in heaven.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Smoked sausage pizza with arugula and caramelized onion and goat cheese sauce

This smoked sausage pizza is topped with fresh arugula and a creamy caramelized onion-goat cheese sauce.

smoked sausage pizza with arugula and caramelized onion-goat cheese sauce

I've got good news and bad news. Well, not bad -- more like disappointing. Let's start with that.

I entered this smoked sausage pizza in a contest recently. I didn't win. Now, I believe it was due in part to some seemingly suspicious last-minute rule-changing, but we won't go there. Because ninjas are gracious non-winners.

Now for the good news: Not winning the contest means I'm free to share all the how-to details of this pizza recipe with you!

So I may not have won but you certainly did.

Every Friday night is pizza night at Casa de Ninj. I know this is not very original but I can say that we have observed this tradition every Friday that we have been home for over 12 years.

Part of the fun of pizza night for me is that I don't plan it in advance, as I do with all our other weeknight meals. I simply make up the topping combination each week, based on what I have on hand. It's an end-of-the-week creative challenge I give to myself. One of my favorite tricks is taking some leftovers from the week and turning them into a pizza. Yep, almost anything you ate earlier in the week can be turned into a pizza (including salad!).

If you're skeptical about my leftovers, don't worry -- they aren't included in this smoked sausage pizza with caramelized onion sauce (although there is practically a salad sitting on top, with all the arugula that I add).

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Cidered jerky (beef or venison) -- and tips on buying a dehydrator

Some great tips for buying a dehydrator, in which you can make this tangy cidered beef jerky or venison jerky.

DIY cidered beef jerky or venison jerky

A big hug and WELCOME to all you jerky fans!

Since my first chicken jerky post two years ago, I have been promising to post another jerky recipe. At long last, it's here.

Why so long, you ask? Honestly, it was the photographs. Let's face it: jerky does not photograph well.

I've made this particular cidered jerky recipe a bunch of times and the photo shoots were miserable failures. The did not pass the "would I eat this?" test.

But recently I realized that, as with so many things in life, striving for perfection was preventing me from being happy. Because this jerky is so freakin' good that it makes me really, really happy to both eat it and share the recipe with all of you.

Regular readers who know of my ongoing battle for backyard produce with the deer on our property will appreciate that the batch of cidered jerky featured in these photographs came from a big buck taken on our property last year by the intrepid young man who hunts our land.

In fact, I gave the hunter some of this jerky to try. The next day he texted me to let me know he ate it all in one sitting and proclaimed it "awesome", with FOUR exclamation points. So it's officially hunter-approved.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Pumpkin ginger cupcakes (gluten-free or not) -- and a giveaway

These delicious pumpkin ginger cupcakes with mascarpone frosting can be made gluten-free or not.

gluten free or not pumpkin ginger cupcakes with mascarpone frosting

Yes, I know it's November and therefore the all-pumpkin-all-the-time blogger recipe pumpkinpalooza should now be over, right?


As I have mentioned before, The Ninj respects seasonality. To wit, I held off this year on pumpkin-izing the blog until October, to give props to apples and pears in September.

And guess what? Pumpkins are still in season, even though Halloween is over and it is November! I mean, hello? Ever heard of pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving dessert?

But I'm here to do you one seasonal dessert better, since regular readers know I'm not a fan of pie: pumpkin ginger cupcakes with a creamy mascarpone-cream cheese frosting. Now THIS is a Thanksgiving dessert that I can get behind.

And did I mention these cupcakes are gluten-free? OR NOT!!? And that either way they are moist, not cloyingly sweet and perhaps the most perfect dessert EVAH?

Yeah, I'm pleasing the heck out of everyone with this one, especially for Thanksgiving. Pfffft: Who the hell would eat pie when you can have cupcakes?