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Classic Lemon Bars

 

Oh Yum!!  Who can resist the buttery crust, tangy lemon custard filling and the sweet dusting of powdered sugar?  I sure can’t!  This was the very first recipe I ever used when I was in college.  I remember using baking soda instead of powder, figuring they were the same!  Oh I have come a long way baby!  In the photo above I cut the bars into small squares and placed them on a cup-cake liner.  A perfect way to serve them to large crowds.

Make life easier and mix the dough and filling in your food processor!  Perfection every time!

The crust is a beautiful golden brown.  Ready for the lemon topping!

Be sure to dust the top of the bars with powdered sugar right after they come out of the oven.  The sugar kind of “melts” into the topping and stays somewhat secure when you cut into them.


Pure lemon heaven!

Cauliflower Soup

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I loved this silky, creamy and very flavorful soup.  Easy to make for a weeknight meal.  Serve with crusty bread and a green salad and you have one healthy “meatless Monday” meal!!

I added some carrots for color and interest and a little bit of a sweet flavor.  Carrots just happen to be my most favorite vegetable, so whenever I can add carrots I will do it. :)

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So here are the cast of characters.  One does happen to be missing and that is the Yukon Gold Potato that I used.  I also used fat free half and half (just seems weird that they can do this fat free), but we needed to keep this soup healthy and low cal.

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Get out a large stock pot.  Add the butter and melt, once the butter has melted add the chopped leeks.  When using leeks just make sure that you clean them well.  Dirt likes to hide in between the layers of the leeks, and you don’t want a gritty, “dirty” soup LOL.  Saute for about 15 minutes, or until the leeks are a light golden brown.  Season with salt and white pepper.

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Once the leeks are done cooking add the flour, incorporate well with a whisk or a fork.

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Slowly add in the chicken broth, whisking the flour mixture into the broth.

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Cut your cauliflower and potato into bite sized pieces (all about the same size for even cooking).  Place the cauliflower florets and diced potatoes into the soup.  Allow the soup to boil until the cauliflower and potatoes are a little “mushy”.

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While the soup is cooking sauté your carrots with a little bit of butter, salt and white pepper until al dente.

Puree the soup with an immulsion blender or food processor.  The soup should be nice, smooth and creamy.  At the very end add the carrots and half and half.  Ladle into bowls and serve!  So delicious.

Cauliflower and Caramelized Onion Tart

Cauliflower and Caramelized onion tartCauliflower tart ingredients IMG_6547 IMG_6550 IMG_6551 IMG_6553 IMG_6554 IMG_6557 IMG_6558 IMG_6559 IMG_6560Wow!  This delicious little tart is so full of amazing flavors.  Who can resist roasted cauliflower, caramelized onions and Gruyere cheese all topped with freshly grated Parmesan cheese to give it a nice golden brown crust on top?  I sure can’t.  My house smelled so amazing while this was baking.  If you need to put this together at a later time you can certainly roast the cauliflower, caramelize the onions, and grate the cheeses an entire day ahead of time.  Let’s get started.

Make sure that you use Mascarpone cheese.  You could substitute regular cream cheese,  however the Mascarpone is smoother and won’t clump like regular cream cheese.  So do what you can to find it.  It will be worth it in the end.  I promise.

When caramelizing the onions just be sure to go slow.  It takes time to get them to their perfect color.  When you get ready to assemble the tart just brush the bottom and sides with the Dijon mustard, lay the onions on the bottom, top with the bite-sized roasted cauliflower.  Beat your eggs first then add the mascarpone cheese, heavy cream, pepper, nutmeg and Gruyere cheese together in a medium sized bowl.  Pour over onion/cauliflower mixture.  Top with the Parmesan cheese.  I pressed down on the cheese just a bit to make sure it formed a nice crust on top.

Bake for about 40 minutes.  The tart will be nice and golden on top and the center will be set.  Serve this as an appetizer, brunch item or for a meatless dinner served with a bright green salad.  Whenever and however you serve it, it will be guaranteed to be a hit.

 

 

Mushroom Barley Soup

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What a delicious little soup.  We had our first rain yesterday and I just had to make a soup.  I am trying to incorporate more vegetables into my diet these days (who isn’t!) and this is such a tasty way to do it.Mushroom Barley Soup

This soup has minimal ingredients and the deep flavors of the beef broth and chewy texture of the barley makes this soup a home run.  Serve it with a light green salad and some crusty French bread and you have yourself a meatless dinner that will be sure to please even the pickiest of eaters!!  Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beef Wellington Bites

These have to be my most favorite appetizer for the holiday season.  Not only are they beautiful to look at but they are so very decadent and bursting full of flavor and texture.  What’s not to love about puff pastry, prosciutto, mushrooms, blue cheese and tender filet mignon.  I can’t wait until next year.

I got the idea for these beauties from Claire Robinson on the Food Network, but the filling came from my most favorite mushroom saute that I found in Bon Appetit.  They paired together in perfect harmony.  These are very impressive and sure to knock the socks off of your guests.

I didn’t get pictures of all the steps, but I did use Pepperidge Farm puff pastry.  In the picture above I have lightly rolled out the puff pastry on a floured surface.  Cut the puff pastry into squares, place about two teaspoons or so of the mushroom mixture and top with the seared filet mignon.  Bringing the opposite ends up, crimp them together and bring the other two corners together, making sure everything is all wrapped up.  Place the bites on a baking sheet that is lined with parchment paper or greased, brush an egg wash on top of each bite and sprinkle with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.  I hope you enjoy these as much as I do.

Pecan Balls


I’m not sure why I only make these cookies around the holiday season.  They are so scrumptious that I should make them year round.

Maybe it is because they look like little snowballs.

They’re not too sweet, not too big and they go perfect with a cup of tea or coffee.  This recipe also makes a lot, so it is perfect for a family get together or for gift giving.


First you need to beat your butter in a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer on medium high speed for 30 seconds (need to get it a little fluffy).  Add the sugar and salt, mix until it is combined.  Add in the vanilla and flour and pecans.

Yep, that’s it.


Take a tablespoon and measure out the dough, roll into balls and place on cookie sheet.

Bake in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for about 12 minutes, or until bottoms just begin to brown.  Let cool enough so you can touch them.


You’ll want them just a little warm so that the powdered sugar can “melt” onto the cookie.

Give them a good roll in the powdered sugar until all sides are coated.


Is’t he cute!


These are perfect little bites that will delight your palate.  It is like a little pecan shortbread.

Yummy!

Sugar Cookies

***********NEWS ALERT***NEWS ALERT***NEWS ALERT***NEWS ALERT***********

Did the strength of baking powder become stronger in the last 25 years?  I’ve been making these deliciously tender sugar cookies for a good 25 plus years and for the last year my cookies have been coming out kind of funky.

I don’t like funky.  I like perfection (well, when I bake anyway).

So back to the drawing board I went with these cookies.  I made a batch yesterday and kept all the ingredients the same, except I cut down on the baking powder.  I went from 2 1/2 teaspoons to 1 teaspoon and added in 1/4 teaspoon of cream of tarter.

It made for a delicious cookie that didn’t melt all over the cookie tray.

Thank you for understanding.  Now, back into the kitchen for more holiday baking.


These sugar cookies are so moist and tender and the butter cream frosting tops them off perfectly.

Now I’ve been making these cookies since I was in college.  Yep, a very long time.  But they are so good, unlike most sugar cookies out there (just my opinion).  My mom and I have had a cookie “feud” going every since I started making these delectable little bites.  Hers are good, but she makes hers thin and crunchy, where mine are thick, moist and tender.  One thing we can agree on is the butter cream frosting.  Hey Mom, I still love ‘ya.

So many people use the royal icing, and for good reason, it makes for a beautifully decorated cookie.  However (and once again, just my opinion…I sure am opinionated today), it ruins the taste of the cookie.  I would rather have a delicious tasting cookie than something someone will only admire with their eyes.


And sugar cookies are so much fun to make.  You can make any shape and get very creative with decorating them.  The top picture is of a wedding cake.  Perfect for a bridal shower or even a wedding favor.

I used a plain terra cotta pot in the above photo and made sunflowers, then placed each one in a cellophane bag, they were very festive looking.


Here are some cute little ducks.  Fun for a baby shower.  Oh, we could go on and on, but I won’t bore you any longer.  Let’s get started on making these delicious little gems.


Make sure that your butter is at room temperature and you have a good quality vanilla extract, wait, I forgot to put out the vanilla.


I used to just put all the ingredients into one bowl and turn the mixer on and once it formed a ball I was done.  However, lately they have been turning out kind of flat, so here’s what I did a little different, and they turned out perfect.

First cream together your butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.


Now add your eggs and beat for another minute.  Add your vanilla, baking powder, a pinch of salt and slowly add in the flour.


Now add in the milk, one tablespoon at a time.  You don’t want a real wet dough, but you want it moist.  Give it a poke and if it feels too dry then add in one more tablespoon of milk.


Remove the dough from your mixing bowl and cut the dough into two small balls.  Wrap in plastic wrap and let it chill in your refrigerator for at least two hours or overnight.


Once the dough has been chilled roll it out on a lightly floured surface until it is about 1/4″ thick.


Cut into your desired shapes and place on a cookie sheet, leaving about 2 inches between each cookie.  Bake in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for about 7 minutes.

The bigger cookies will take a minute or so longer, but watch them carefully.  An overdone cookie will be dry.


Let the cookies cool.  While they are cooling mix your frosting ingredients together.

You may need to loosen the cookies with a spatula.


and decorate….


until your heart…..


…feels happy….or you get too tired to continue…whichever comes first.

You will bring a lot of smiles with these delicious cookies.

You can make them for any holiday, special event or just because you love your family.  Enjoy.

Toffee Squares


This recipe came from my amazing mother who always made these for the holidays.  Well, they are so scrumptious and incredibly easy that I just had to make them right in the middle of summer.

I make these every Christmas for my gift plates that I give to family and friends.  I have been told that these are always the first to be eaten.  Oh, by the way, my son absolutely adores these, but without the nuts.

When I make these for a party or for my gift plates, I like to cut them into bite sized squares.  Really, we shouldn’t ever have to feel guilty indulging in such an amazing dessert, why it was just a teeny tiny bite. (ten pounds later…..and 20 teeny tiny bites later…oh, you’re right, let’s not go there).


So here’s the list of ingredients, very simple and straight forward.  No, I don’t toast my pecans and YES I ALWAYS use Hersheys.


I first cream together the sugar, butter, egg yolk and vanilla.


Then you add in the flour.  Oh my these are easy!  I didn’t add the salt here because I use salted butter instead.  Hey, that’s just how I roll.


In a 9×13 inch baking sheet or pan evenly press out the dough.  The recipe says 1″ from the sides (so, Mom, I disagree.)  It needs to go all the way to the sides, otherwise it just seems to be too thick.  But hey, that’s just how I roll.

Now place the crust in the pre-heated oven for about 15-20 minutes.  My oven is seriously a beast, and I think it only took about 18 minutes or so.  Just check on it and when it looks nice and golden brown, it’s done.


While the crust is baking, break the chocolate squares into pieces…..no nibbling!


Oh my goodness, this is perfect.  Nice and golden brown, and it’s just begging for that chocolate.


So while the crust is still hot (right out of the oven) place the chocolate squares on top.  Wait a few minutes…..I know it’s hard, but it sure is going to be worth it!


With a big knife start spreading the melted chocolate evenly over the crust.


And now it is ready for the pecan pieces.


And there you have it folks.  One delicious and easy dessert you can share with your friends and family, and don’t forget to make this for your holiday cookie platters.

Skillet Green Beans with Orange Essence and Toasted Maple Pecans


These green beans are my all time, most favorite side dish…ever.  They are perfect for any special occasion, your holiday meals and easy enough for your weeknight dinners, too.  The maple pecans make these beans nothing short of just being crazy good, and they are quite spectacular when you sprinkle them on top of the perfectly cooked beans.  They just have a sparkle all their own….and wait til you taste them, it will be a huge WOW! for your tastebuds.

By the way, if you are struggling with side dishes I really encourage you to check out the cookbook from which this delicious recipe was procured.  I love Cook’s Illustrated magazines and all their cookbooks.


Once you have measured, chopped and squeezed, this recipe comes together quickly.


Let’s get started with the star of the show, the maple pecans.  First, in a 12″ skillet over medium-high heat, toast the pecans just until fragrant, about 3 or 4 minutes.  Remove the pan from the heat and stir in 1 tablespoon of the butter, the maple syrup and 1/8 teaspoon of salt.  It will bubble a lot, don’t be afraid, just stir until the butter has melted and sprinkle with the salt.  Now return the pecans to the heat and cook, stirring constantly, until the nuts are dry and glossy, about 45 seconds; transfer to a plate or parchment or wax paper.


Wipe clean the skillet.  Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter in the skillet over medium heat; when the foaming subsides (well, it never really totally subsides…let’s just way when the butter has melted), add the shallots, orange zest, and cayenne and cook, stirring occasionally, until the shallots have softened, about 2 minutes.


Now stir in the 2 teaspoons of flour and combine until all is incorporated.


Toss in the green beans and then add the chicken broth and orange juice.


Increase the heat to medium-high and cover.  Cook the beans until they are partly tender but still crisp at the center, about 4 minutes.


Now uncover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the beans are tender and the sauce has thickened slightly, about 3 or 4 more minutes.  Remove from heat and adjust the seasonings with the salt and pepper to taste.  Transfer to your serving dish and sprinkle with the pecans.  Make sure you don’t eat them all before they get to the table.

I hope you enjoy these deliciously tasty green beans as much as I do.

How to Roast the Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey with Sausage Stuffing and Gravy

I have a confession, I’ve never cooked a turkey before.  Never.  Nope, not even once.

My husband is the turkey maker in our family.  When we were first married he decided to take on the job, and boy have we learned a lot about roasting a turkey.

It can be a little confusing.  Here are just a few questions one might be faced with; stuff, don’t stuff?   Brine, don’t brine?  Breast side up, breast side down?  Fry, grill or roast?  High heat, low heat?  Inject flavors?…….or just buy a ham!

There really isn’t a wrong way, BUT….we are very simple here at the Cusano house.  We roast at moderate heat, stuff the bird, no injections are needed for this bird.  Now there is one very critical component that will either yield you a juicy delicious bird or a dry one.  Are you ready?  Hold onto your hats because this one is going to blow you away……

DON’T OVER COOK YOUR TURKEY!  I know that sounds easy, but it really is all about timing.  If you go by the little pamphlet that the turkey people give you they will say that for every pound your turkey weighs, bake it for 15 minutes per pound.

Well, as we all know, not all ovens are alike.  Short story long, the most important tool for baking a juicy turkey would be to have a meat thermometer.  This will help you gauge how slowly/quickly your turkey is roasting.

Let’s start with the deliciously simple sausage stuffing.


Today we are stuffing an 18 pound turkey.  First, brown together one pound of Jimmy Dean hot sausage and one pound of Jimmy Dean sage sausage.  The sage sausage is a little difficult to find, get it now before it is sold out!


In about 1/4 cup of butter, saute 2 cups of diced celery and 1 cup chopped onions.  Season with salt and pepper and just a little sprinkling of Lawry salt.  AND since my husband is Italian, he sprinkles just about 1/2 teaspoon of Italian seasoning to the mix.


In a large bowl place about 8 to 10 cups of hard seasoned bread cubes.  Toss in the sauteed onions and celery and the browned sausage (no need to drain the sausage, this flavors the stuffing quite nicely, and helps keep it moist).

Make sure the stuffing has cooled before you stuff it in the bird.


Remove all the insides of the bird, we have no use for them here in our little world.

Don’t over stuff.


Now stuff the neck of the bird.  Once again, don’t over stuff.

My husband has always wanted to be a surgeon, so this is his one chance every year to prove that he made a good decision on not being one.  I think it just makes the bird look like Franken Turkey.  My mom never sewed up her little flaps…..how am I supposed to sneak out a taste of that stuffing while it is cooking.

You will have a little bit of stuffing left over.  This is good.  Place the stuffing in a small pan, covered with foil.  Poke small holes in the foil.  Put in the refrigerator, we’re going to bake it and then mix it into the bird stuffing when the turkey has finished roasting.  This way the stuffing won’t be too soggy when we serve it.


Place the turkey in the roasting pan.   With about 6 tablespoons of butter (make sure it is a little soft), butter the skin of the turkey.

Lightly salt and pepper.

Place in your 325 degree pre-heated oven.

After the turkey has been roasting in the oven for about one hour, pour one can of chicken stock/broth into the bottom of the roasting pan.

Baste about every  half hour.


Oh my goodness, I can’t wait.

Be sure to baste often, we want to keep the meat nice and moist.

If it looks like the bird is browning too much and too fast you can reduce your oven temperature to 300 degrees and tent the bird with foil.


Here is the critical point.  The meat thermometer.   Now if you have an oven-safe meat thermometer, you can leave it in the turkey while it is roasting.  Ours is just an easy-read, so we had to remove it every time we took the turkey’s temperature.

The tip of the meat thermometer should be placed in the thigh muscle just above and beyond the lower part of the thighbone, but NOT touching the bone, pointing towards the body.  When the bird is done, this temperature should read 156-160 degrees.  Your juices should run clear.

One more thing;  be sure that your thermometer is accurate.


Once the turkey is done baking, place on a large serving platter and cover with foil.  Let the turkey rest (for about 20 minutes), it has been working very hard.

At this point the turkey will have a little bit of “carry-over” cooking.  Meaning that since the bird is so hot inside, it keeps cooking until it is cooled.  The final internal temperature will be about 175-180.


Now for the gravy.  Please understand that my husband just kind of cooks will- nilly style.  I’m not sure why he uses a drinking glass to mix his slurry in, but wait til you taste the gravy.  My toes are curling just thinking about it.


Place your roasting pan over medium high heat.  Whisk in your slurry.  Season with salt and pepper if needed.


Shhhhhh, don’t tell anyone, but this really does take the gravy to the next level of deliciousness.  He adds in two jars of turkey gravy.

Shhhhhh.


Once the stuffing from the bird has been mixed with the baked dressing and your gravy is complete, start carving the bird and enjoy one amazing and tasty meal!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!