Simply The Best – Pecan Pie

Pecan Pie

Pecan pie is best made simple and traditionally, without all that funk and improvisation. You can wow your friends and family with “chocolate,” “maple brandy,” and “so-on” variations, but in the end, the old-fashioned recipe wins favor. So here’s that recipe, time-tested and mother-approved.

Feel free to use a pre-made pie shell from your grocer. You can make your own pie crust if you’re bold enough, but either way works. Be sure to bake your shell beforehand (10 minutes at 400 degrees, a couple holes poked in it with a fork).


2 cups of pecans, toasted, chopped into pieces
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
¾ cup (light) corn syrup
3 eggs
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup packed brown sugar
¾ stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted

Preheat the oven (or reduce heat after baking crust) to 275 degrees.

Time-saver – toast the pecans while you pre-bake the crust. You only need 10-15 minutes to toast them. Once cooled, chop with a knife into small pieces.

Pecan Pie Ingredients

Melt the butter in a bowl, preferably set in a pan or skillet of simmering water. Once melted, remove from the water; add the brown sugar and salt until the butter is blended.

Add the eggs (beaten first), corn syrup, and vanilla.

Put the bowl back in the pan of simmering water, and stir it around until the mixture is hot to the touch.

Remove from the heat and blend with the chopped pecans. Mix well, and then pour it into the pie shell.

Bake on the low or middle rack for between 50-60 minutes (respectively). You’ll know it’s good when you press on it with a spoon, and it’s soft but set.

Remove from the oven and let it cool for at least 4 hours before serving. The heat will redistribute through the pie over that time. Cover it with some tin foil so nothing gets at it.

And that’s it! The result is a soft and smooth texture, sugary, but not overpoweringly sweet. It’s perfect!

Recipes – Spaghetti and Meatballs

Recipes - Spaghetti and MeatballsEveryone has a recipe for making Spaghetti and Meatballs. This is a tribute to all those families who have made this meal for generations. Special thanks to my father, who taught me this variation. The process is very involved, so be sure to have everything mise en place.

Tomato Sauce:
1-2 cans of plum tomatos (pref. San Marzano)
1-2 tablespoons fresh basil leaves, minced
½ cup of dry red wine (pref. Italian Chianti)
¼ cup of sugar
Salt and Pepper (to taste)

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced

2 slices of toasted bread, crumbled
½ cup of buttermilk

1 pound ground beef
½ pound ground pork
¼ cup fresh Parmesan cheese, grated
3 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves, minced
2 egg yolks
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon salt
Ground pepper
1-2 cups of vegetable oil

The tomato sauce should be prepared first, well in advance (some prepare it hours ahead), but at the very least a half hour before adding the meatballs. I prefer “whole peeled” plum tomatoes from San Marzano, but if you don’t have a food processor to cut them up, I suggest the “crushed” style.

Add the tomatoes into a 6-quart saucepot. Bring to a simmer, and wait for it to begin thickening, usually between 10-20 minutes. Add the garlic and basil. Add salt and pepper to taste, stir and simmer for a few minutes. Add the red wine and sugar, and stir occasionally for another 20-30 minutes. If you’re going to stretch out the prep-time, I suggest adding the red wine and sugar after an hour, and let it simmer for well over an hour before adding the meatballs.

Combine the bread and buttermilk in a bowl, stir with a fork, and let it sit aside, roughly 10 minutes.

Combine the meats, then the grated cheese, minced parsley, garlic, egg yolks, and salt in a bowl. Pepper to taste. Add the bread mixture and combine until evenly mixed. Shape mixture into 1- to 2-inch meatballs. Put on a plate, cover, and place in the fridge (if the tomato sauce is not ready yet).

Pour the vegetable oil into a skillet so there’s a modest amount to fry the meatballs in. Turn the heat to medium-high; it will take a few minutes to get ready. It’s great if you have a pair of tongs for this part. Fry the meatballs in batches, turning them several times to brown evenly on all sides. This process usually takes about 10-15 minutes per batch. Keep the oil sizzling, but reduce the heat if it begins to smoke. Transfer the cooked meatballs to a dish covered in paper towels to soak up any excess oil.

Bring a big pot of water to a boil for the spaghetti.

Once all the meatballs are cooked, discard the excess oil, but return the pan to medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and garlic, scrape up all the browned bits of meatball left in the pan (quickly, no more than a minute), and stir it into the simmering pot of tomato sauce.

Once that’s done, add the meatballs to the pot of tomato sauce and cover for anywhere between 10-20 minutes. That’s all the time you need.

Add your pasta of choice, along with a dash of salt. Usually takes around 10 minutes to cook al dente, drain, and place in a big bowl. Add some olive oil to loosen it up, and then serve as you like, topping it off with hefty portions of meatballs and tomato sauce. Add some of that grated Parmesan cheese to it, and you got yourself one of the best dinners around.

Recipes – Spanish Tomato Turkey Chili

Spanish Tomato Turkey Chili

I learned the original recipe from my uncle in El Paso, but it’s open to improvisation based on your own tastes. When slow-cooked to perfection, this dish is absolutely amazing. And healthy; the low-sodium, low-fat ingredients are both light and hearty.

1 Pack of Ground Turkey
1/2 Bottle of Sundried Tomato Salad Dressing

Marinade the turkey for anywhere between 1-6 hours. The longer you marinade, the less clumpy your meat. Pepper to taste as you cook the meat. Brown the meat, and set aside once cooked to perfection.

2 cups carrots, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 cup onion, chopped
1-2 tbsp of tomato paste (alt. 1-2 diced tomatoes)

Blend the carrots, pepper. onion and tomato paste, or chop finely and mix thoroughly if without a food processor.

1-2 cups chicken broth

Once the turkey is cooked, add to a 4-quart saucepot. Add the blended carrots, onion and tomatoes. Add 1 cup of chicken broth to the pan you cooked the turkey in to get a flavorful reduction, mix it around to get a nice reduction, and add to the saucepot. Add (as much as) another cup of chicken broth to the saucepot to almost cover the contents. Return to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer.

1 cup of olives, chopped
1 cup of raisins
1-2 tbsp of chipotle pepper sauce (opt.)

Add the olives, raisins, and chipotle peppers, and simmer for an hour or longer.

1 can beans (black, kidney, or white)

Add the beans and simmer for an hour or longer.

Add dark beer or coffee to add extra flavor. Exchange 1/2 ratio of chicken broth and add to taste.

The key is to let this simmer (covered) for a while after everything is prepared. To thicken, let it simmer uncovered. This simple recipe has me satisfied on cold nights, and flavors up a nacho dish like you wouldn’t believe!

Recipes – Home-Made Jambalaya

Home-Made Jambalaya

2 Chicken Breasts, thin-sliced
1 cup chopped onion
¼ cup soy sauce
¼ cup Worcester sauce
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon fresh-ground pepper
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon ground cayenne pepper
2-3 cups of chicken broth
4 links of chicken sausage, sliced and halved
12-15 Medium Shrimp, boiled, de-shelled and de-tailed
1 chopped green bell pepper
1 cup chopped celery
1 can diced (or crushed) tomatoes

Marinade the sliced chicken breasts (and half the chopped onion) in the soy sauce, Worcester sauce, thyme, cinnamon, chili powder, ground pepper, garlic, paprika, and cayenne pepper for three hours. Blend the chopped sausages, tomatoes, bell pepper, and celery in the crock pot. Pour in 1-2 cups of chicken broth to mix up the ingredients.

Boil the shrimp, drain them, and cool them in a bowl of ice water for a couple minutes. Once cool, de-shell and de-vein them (including the tail), and add to the crock pot.

Cook the chicken in a skillet or large pan until cooked through. Add to the crock pot, then pour the remaining chicken broth in the pan to collect the extra juices. Pour into the crock pot, mix, and let sit on low heat for 4-6 hours.

Recipes – Tomato Basil Chicken

Variety in the kitchen lets you create new favorites and pass them on to others. Everyone has their own way with food. One thing I’ve learned is you’ll never get things done quite right the first time. Aim for “edible” and you can still eat it for dinner. From there, you’ll learn, and find new ways to make your meal special. In the end, you want to learn more about the flavors you enjoy so much.

On a weekend a while back, my family drove in to see me. My brother had two framed pictures from his Urban Narratives collection he wanted to give me, and my mother had some vegetables from the garden she wanted to share – fresh tomatoes and basil from the garden! I had just picked up some balsamic vinegar from the grocery story, along with some chicken and eggs, which would all go great for dinner.

RECIPE for this MEAL

chicken breasts
balsamic vinegar
fresh tomatoes
fresh basil
brown rice

I cut the tomatoes up and blended them with the diced basil in a bit of balsamic vinegar, and put it in a bowl near the blended eggs, a little pepper on both. With the chicken cleaned I dropped them in the bowl of eggs and then the flour, and then in the tomato blend before the glass baking dish already oiled up in virgin olive. I spooned extra bits of tomato and basil on the chicken before baking it in the oven.

The oven was at 400 degrees. I turned it down the 375 and put them inside for nearly twenty minutes. I took them out and flipped them, added more tomato basil, and in for another fifteen or twenty minutes. With some brown rice cooked in chicken broth and some corn on the side, I had made a great dinner. The juices were flowing and the flavors were present, but all in all it was in need of improvement. It’s a step forward in the creative process. Trial and error, you know?