Thursday, October 31, 2013

Easy Egg Noodles

Fresh pasta. Just those two words will send many of you backpacking your way to the alps from this recipe. You're thinking...I am not getting sucked in...nope, not doin' it. Okay, I get it, but just bare with me here.

Not only the forbidden diet food, I think many of us imagine an Italian grandmother slaving in the kitchen since this morning, on fresh pasta. Who's got that kinda time? Not me, not you; am I right am I right? And you do realize how many lunges it takes to work that pasta off, right? 

Yes. I do. First, I'd like, to refer you to a great little article making the rounds in cyberspace this week titled "A Big Butt Is A Healthy Butt: Women With Big Butts Are Smarter And Healthier." I knew it!!

But wait. Give me a minute, not only can you fit this one reasonably in to your diet, there is an easier way. And it is even fast. This is the Egg Noodle recipe...and it goes along with a Hearty & Light Chicken & Spinach Noodle dish to be posted. 

Hearty and light, you say? Oxymoron, right? Well, it will certainly satisfy that pasta craving on a cold winters night (hearty). And a good sized serving, enough to satisfy that said craving...well, said dish is under WELL under 200 calories for a cup. We are talking about 160 calories for a heaping cup of noodles and chicken in a flavorful broth. That's for a HEAPING cup, so ladies, you can feel good about that, and gentleman, you can have doubles or if you are like my guy, eat the whole pot and have caloric room for breakfast and lunch. 

It's sinful and yet, you don't have to feel bad about it. There really is nothing like fresh pasta, you can always tell when it's fresh pasta. Give it a try!

Ingredients
1 cup flour
2 eggs
Plus some flour for dusting

Utencils
Rolling pin
Knife or pasta cutter
Bowl



In a bowl, measure out your flour and make a little well in the center. Get ready to get your hands dirty. break two eggs in to the center of the well. Get to kneading. Just go for it. Start mixing the flour and eggs together by hand, until it is a knead able consistency and keep kneading.
Knead, knead, knead. That flour does the work but it needs your help...get it? Give some loving and it will give back. I think you get the point right?



Okay, set that aside and prep an area on the counter for rolling. I thoroughly clean an area before beginning the process, so the counter surface is ready to roll right there. I dust liberally with flour, set the dough ball in the center and get to rolling.

Like Dori tells Nemo," just keep rolling, just keep rolling, just keep rolling." Wait, that wasn't Dori...that must of been that one time....nevermind, back to the dough. Roll it out to the thickness of about a little less than a quarter inch or take a look at your house key, the top part that is thickest, that is about right. If it isn't perfect, it's okay. 



Once it is good and flat, use a sharp knife to cut thin strips out of the dough. See the picture below to get an idea of the size. You really can go with a thick or a thin noodle for the dish we are asking, Egg noodles are always yummy on the thicker side!



And that is it, really. You can store them in the fridge, in a container, or throw them right into a soup, pot of well salted water, etc... or use them for that chicken recipe. That recipe will be up tomorrow!








Until next time...Happy Cooking!!

XoXo

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Apple Pie Martini Regular and Light Versions

Just in time for Halloween!! And you can carry it over to Thanksgiving and on in to the winter holidays, bonus and bonus!!! Making your own apple cider is quick AND easy, and it allows you to control the amount of sugar and spices in your cider.


Apple Pie Martini Apple Cider:

1 Cinnamon Stick
1 tsp Allspice
1 tsp Cloves
2 Cups Apple Juice

Put your ingredients in a pot and bring up to simmering. Let steep for about 10 minutes. Then, in a freezer safe container, chill liquid until ready for party. No more than 30 minutes, so not to risk freezing over. If you are making this in advance, just chill in the fridge! (Same preparation for light version)



For the drink:
1oz Butterscotch Schnapps
1 oz Vodka
3 oz Homemade Martini Cider
Splash of Lemon
Splash of Whiskey
Martini Shaker 3/4 full of ice

For the Glass:
Graham Crackers, crumbled
1 Tbsp sugar
Martini Glass
Water

For Garnish:
1 apple
1 Caramel Candy
Small skewer
Melon Baller
Cinnamon Stick

Prepare your martini glass. Crumble a graham cracker on a flat plate and sprinkle a tablespoon of sugar over top. Give it a mix with clean dry hands, and pat flat to ready for your glass. Wet the rim of your glass with a bit of water. Dip the rim in the sugar/cracker mix, wet side down. The ingredients should stick with no problem. If you are having trouble with it sticking, you need more water on the rim.

Peel your apple. Use your melon Baller to ball out small rounds of the apple. Skewer one apple ball, the caramel next, and the last apple ball. Gently set skewer in the glass, trying not to disturb the rim. Add cinnamon stick next to the skewer.

Add ice, Schnapps, Vodka, and cider to the shaker of ice. Cover and give it a shake, shake, shake, swirl. Pour into your prepared glass. Splash with lemon and finish with whiskey. Start with a teaspoon of the whiskey, it adds a depth of flavor but can takeover very fast, so less is MORE!



Light Apple Pie Martini

2 oz cider (30 calories)
1 oz Sugar Free Butterscotch syrup
2 oz Vodka (130 calories)
Splash of lemon
Splash of Whiskey
Martini Shaker 3/4 full of ice

Prepare your cider the same as above.

Prepare your martini glass as above except for these changes: Crumble the graham crackers and omit the extra sugar on the rim. Also, omit the caramel candy and replace it with another apple round instead or stick with two, your preference. The graham cracker adds a very small amount of caloric value to the drink.

Add ice, Schnapps, Vodka, and cider to the shaker of ice. Cover and give it
a shake, shake, shake, swirl. Pour into your prepared glass. Splash with lemon and finish with whiskey. Start with a teaspoon of the whiskey, it adds a depth of flavor but can takeover very fast, so less is MORE!







Until next time...Happy Cooking...and brewing!!!

XoXo




Monday, October 28, 2013

A Salad Dressing to Remember: Balsamic and Oil Try Something New

We live it, we hear about it, we talk about it- the universal struggle to find the time and to make healthy choices. Then there is the struggle to get kids to eat their vegetables. I actually have found a solution that makes life a little easier, at least around here.

This recipe is as easy as shaking up some ingredients, and pouring over a bowl of lettuce. Of course, you can jazz up the salad in lots of ways, but at it's heart, this one is quick and easy.

This dressing recipe developed after I figured out that the only way to get my son to eat vegetables is to serve them next to a little bowl of balsamic, garlic, and oil for "dip." Kids seem to be inherently born with the knowledge that if it is green, it's just no good. Unless it is fluorescent green frosting, something like that receives an edible pass, of course.
Then, some of us carry that sentiment into adulthood.

The Solution: Amped up Balsamic/Oil dressing that can be used for dips, marinades, salads, etc. As it turns out, it is the solution to picky eaters at my house. I hope it can do the same for others!

One problem, I never measure the ingredients, but "a little of this and little of that" does the trick. I have used these ingredients together in a lot of different combos, and it always ends up being good:



-Canola Oil or Good Olive Oil, whichever you have on hand or a blend of the two

-Balsamic Vinegar*

-Red Wine Vinegar- I do a 3:1 ratio of balsamic to red wine vinegar in this one

-garlic powder/granulated garlic or fresh minced garlic. If you go with fresh, give it a fine, fine mince or grated and store in the fridge

-Parmesan, grated

-paprika

-basil, dried

-dill spice

-salt

-pepper

-sugar or I prefer Splenda ore Stevia sweetener- go light on the sweetener




Channeling the 1990's...This is how we do it:

First, I use the ingredients in the order of how I put them, using the most oil and then down to the sweetener, being the least amount. Start with at least half a cup and add your spices/vinegars to that, see where you are at, you can always add more oil later for a larger batch.

Get it all mixed together, and then test a little dab. If it is to light in flavor, up your spices, vinegar, Parmesan and salt. If it is too strong, up the oil. If it is too salty, add a bit of sweetener; too sweet, add a little bit of everything. Mix until you find the right balance for your tastes.

Give it a good shake or whirl in the blender!

And that is it...the basil and dill combo, don't opt out, it is the combo of spices in this that takes it up a notch from being a balsamic/oil dressing to extra special. Use on a salad (below) or as a vegetable dip (one of our favorites), and good as a marinade, as well. One recipe, many uses!

*Kitchen Tip: I've been using a beautiful fig vanilla balsamic from a specialty grocery store, lately. A great way to mix it up, when you get bored of the same recipe, is take a trip to your local Whole Foods, Sur La Table, etc and browse their specialty products. You'll find new and different vinegars, oils, spices, etc to get creative with. Think of it like the adult superstore...for kitchen divas.






Until next time....Happy Cooking!!!

XoXo

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Tis the Season for Green Bean Casserole with a KICK



Tis the season...almost. But, I mean, once Costco has their Christmas stuff in stock... don't we all go by that lovely reminder? We are talking early September here folks. Which begs the question, since when did holiday season begin in September? ::Explicative:: That's some kind of pressure, Costco, don't you understand, the downhill spiral that can lead to? All of the sudden our senses begin to believe that it actually is holiday time...which means the requests start early for the "holiday type" food. Problem is, our actual holiday calorometer is not prepared for the increase. WE ARE NOT READY! So, now, instead of the post Christmas pudge that gets everyone in the gym after New Year's, we are fighting 4 months of fat

It's just wrong. Just about as wrong as listening to Christmas music before Halloween is over...which I never do. Almost never.

But back to the matter at hand, actually, the conspiracy theorists might say the Athletic Clubs are in cahoots with the stores, and they are ALL OUT TO GET US. Lock your doors, batten down the hatches, and HIDE your husbands until after the first of the year!!!


Pictured with Chicken Crusted Meatloaf, I'll be posting that recipe very soon!!

Okay , Okay, dramatic much. All kidding aside, holiday season does bring family and friends together. And entertaining becomes a thing. And when we are entertaining, we need recipes...for food, that you cook. Because your friends will sense if you bought something at Fresh & Easy and put it in the oven. They'll know, and they will judge you. So, just make this awesome casserole as your side dish. Hell, there are vegetables in the side dish, there is flour in the side dish... so that counts for your vegetable and your starch, too, right?

They won't even care...just make a double batch!

Ingredients:
2 Tbsp Olive Oil

3 Tbsp Butter
1/2 tsp nutmeg
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
3/4 tsp red pepper flakes
3 Tbsp Flour
8-9 Mushrooms, chopped
1/4 Yellow Onion, diced
1 Cup Milk
1 Cup Stock
1 Cup Water plus more, as needed
1 Cup Crispy Onions
1 and 1/2 Packages frozen green beans, thawed (or 1.5 lbs presteamed green beans)
2 Cups Mushroom sauce...see recipe below
Utensils
A pot
Nonstick or ceramic baking dish
Whisk is helpful
Mixing spoon or spatula

Getting saucy. Right, so growing up, we always made green bean casserole from the can. I'd venture to guess that most of us knew green bean casserole the same. Which made me wonder, why? I imagined that a simple sauce could easily serve the same purpose, meanwhile giving the chance to add flavor AND, bonus...you can hide nutrients in the form of...wait for it... vegetables (don't tell my boyfriend.) The convenience of canned cream of mushroom is great, but taking the extra step to make your own sauce is also flavor worthy.



So here we go:

In a pot, over medium heat, add your olive oil and butter. As the butter melts, add pepper, red pepper flakes nutmeg, and salt- the pepper and nutmeg will be aromatic.


Drop in your mushrooms and onions, turn the heat down to low (get low, get low, get low, get low and something about 3-6-9 ~ sorry, that lyric might be in your head the rest of the day) enough to sweat down (there's that song, again) the mushrooms and onions ...I'm sensing a theme here. So, at this point, you should be shaking your booty and rapping Lil John lyrics, while covering the mushrooms and onions. Give them about 5 minutes. Plenty of time for you to find the song on YouTube and seal the deal.

Okay, back to the part where we cook. Add flour, and mix into to the mushrooms/onions. It will likely clump, which is fine. Turn the heat up and cook for another minute to allow flour cook.

On high heat, whisk in Stock, give it a minute to thicken, then add water, lastly add milk. Once the sauce is simmering, turn down your heat to medium, cover and let simmer for a few minutes, remove lid. If it seems too thin, let simmer uncovered for a few minutes, and it will thicken up for you. If it is too thick or has reduced too much, use a bit of water to thin it down...add a little at a time.

Into the blender it goes, for a whirl, until relatively smooth. Save 2 cups for this casserole, and freeze the rest for another day.

Put your thawed/rinsed green beans in a nonstick baking dish and sprinkle with half of the crispy onions. Add sauce evenly and stir it all together.

Sprinkle the top with the rest of the onions.

Cover dish with foil and into the oven it goes, on 375 degrees F for 20-25 minutes. Uncover about halfway through or no less than 5 minutes before done.


AAAANNNNDDD....WALA, it is done! I hold back on the salt when preparing this one, because the crispy onions have their own salt content, but depending on what brand used, the salt level may be lower than to taste, so leave a salt shaker out just in case. Below is a sort of step by step visual, too!



Until next time...Happy Cooking...and booty shaking



XoXo



Sauce is done, not blended yet

Beans in the dish

Add half onions before covering in sauce




Sauce gets blended


Add sauce to the dish and give it a MIX

Top it all off with crispy onions and it is ready for the oven








Thursday, October 24, 2013

Frankenstein's Layered Apple Crisp with Caramel Drizzle


Isn't it great when we can kill two birds with one stone? I love this dough recipe because it does just that! I use 2/3 of the dough in my layered apple dessert then refrigerate or freeze the rest for another day, when it becomes homemade cinnamon rolls, or whatever yummy plans YOU may have for it!

Two birds, one stone.

So, the recipe for the dough is derived from a recipe I found online, while looking for homemade cinnamon rolls. I am no baker, so I rely on recipes to get me through dessert, especially doughy ones. One thing I do know about baking, is that unlike cooking, you really shouldn't deviate from the plan. Well, I deviated from the plan, and it worked out for me. So...below is my recipe for Sweet Roll Dough:


*Kitchen Tip:
Make the dough a day or two in advance, so it is ready to go the day you make the dessert. This will reduce your time in the kitchen that day, for everyone who has a busy schedule, it is a great time saver planning ahead that way!
This time the dough comes first!

Sweet Roll Dough

1- 1/4-ounce packet active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup whole milk
1/4 cup sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
1 large egg yolk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Starting your Dough:

Yeast is essential in this dough. To get the yeast activated, you'll need the liquid to be between 100 degrees F to 110 degrees F. A thermometer will help! Don't try to break the yeast temperature rule, it just won't happen for you, if not at the right temperature.

THE Dough:

Warm 1/2 milk in a the microwave for 20-30 seconds, 10 seconds at a time, so as not to overheat. The milk needs to be warm. I dipped my finger in to test after 20 seconds, and it felt just right, but I used a thermometer to double check, it was just about 115 degrees F. I let it sit on the counter while I measured out my other ingredients, maybe 5 minutes or so. Then, mixed the yeast and tsp of the sugar in to get the yeast working. Give it a whirl with a fork or spoon, set aside, undisturbed, until foamy, about 5 minutes. If it isn't foaming, you most likely didn't have the milk bath at a happy temperature for your yeast. Sorry! Go back to the beginning and start again!

Once it's foamy, whisk the melted butter, egg yolk and vanilla into the yeast, set aside. In a large bowl, whisk flour, white sugar, salt and nutmeg. Make a well in the center, add the yeast mixture and stir with a spoon. The dough will start to form but will be dry, so add the 1/2 cup of water now, mix it in, and your dough will be forming. On a floured board, knead until soft and elastic, about 5-8 minutes. Shape into a ball and put in a ceramic bowl, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rise for about an hour.

2/3 of dough to be used for layered dessert
Once that time has passed, knead the dough briefly to release excess air. Re-form into a ball and wrap up in plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight.


Okay, with the dough well on it's way, we can work on the apple dessert...


Layered Apple Strudel Crisp with Caramel Drizzle


We don't do dessert very often in our house, partly for health, and partly because I never took to baking. But, lately I've been successful at some new baked goodies, and I even improvised. My dislike for baking, I think, must be mostly about the necessary evil of actually following a recipe but I've been finding a middle ground lately.

As one of my recent adventures, I created this hot little "tart". Actually, it's not a tart, it is a little bit of everything. A little bit crisp, a little bit tart, a little bit strudel, a little bit streusel, a little bit lasagna...you get the point, right? I'm calling it Frankenstein Pie..it's not really that, either.

What it is, though is a layered dessert that gives you everything you could want in a fall dessert. And it makes more than enough for a group of 6 or more adults or even a potluck, thanksgiving dinner for a large family, etc...of course, if you have a smaller group, send it on home with your guests, they will be delighted!


With the dough prepared, cut the ball in thirds. Wrap up one third and put in fridge or freezer for another day.
To get started, you will need an 8"x11" baking dish, buttered/oiled.



For layers:

2 Dough balls (the two taken from the sweet roll dough above)

1/2 Cup Flour
1/2 Cup Dark Brown Sugar (or light brown sugar if you don't have dark)
1/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
6 tbsp cold butter, plus more for topping
1 & 1/4 Cup Old Fashioned Oats
(quick cook would probably become mush in this recipe)



Mix flour and sugars together. Cut butter in to flour/sugar with a large fork one, tablespoon at a time until the butter is well mixed and looks crumbly. Add oats and use your clean hands to squeeze the butter/flour/sugar with the oats. It should start to clump together as you squeeze, with the butter holding it together, and crumbling as you release. If it isn't sticking together at all, cut in another tbsp of butter and repeat the hand mixing process.




For Filling:

4 large apples, peeled - I used 3 granny apples and one golden crisp variety to mix up sweet and tart)
1/4 cup water flavored with 2 tbsp lemon juice
Ground Cinnamon - I did not measure how much I used so you will be sprinkling this to your tastes
1 Whole Lemon, seeds removed


1. For the filling, slice your apples into thin slices. You'll be using these to layer them like a lasagna, between layers of dough, filling, and streusel, so thin is in.

2. Set the sliced apples aside in a bowl, and sprinkle with cinnamon, the level of cinnamon depends on if you like just a hint of cinnamon or more. Use your best judgement, but less is best to start, you can always add more as you go.

3. Toss the apples with your hands, sprinkle half of the lemon juice over the apples, and again toss with your hands, and sprinkle the last lemon half over apples, toss once more, and set aside.

4. Heat oven to 375 degrees F

5. Over a floured surface, roll the first of the dough balls out to about a quarter inch thickness. This is the bottom layer, so it should be large enough to fill out the bottom of the baking dish.

6. Lay in the dish and sprinkle evenly with 1/3 of the oats/sugar/butter/flour mixture.

7. Layer 1/2 of the apples. Pour half of the water/lemon mixture over top of apples.




Last step of making the layers is topping with the oats/sugar mix, liberally.






8. Roll out your second dough balls, the same as before, to evenly fit the the baking dish. Lay over the apples and sprinkle with another 1/3 of the oats/sugar/butter mixture.

9. Layer the other 1/2 of apples. Pour rest of the water/lemon mix over top.

10. Cover the apples with the last third of oats/sugar/butter/flour mix and add 5 thin slices of butter on top to finish.

11. Cover the dish with foil and bake at 375 degrees F for about 45 minutes, taking foil off in the last 10 minutes. I turned the oven off at 45 minutes, but left the dish in while the oven cooled, so it stayed warm for after dinner dessert, and that worked out great!

12. Serve warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, whipped cream and a caramel drizzle.

Caramel Drizzle:

4-5 tbsp water
4 store bought caramels
3 tbsp dark brown sugar

Put water and caramels in a pan and heat up water to simmering, cover and lower heat a bit. Add brown sugar switch around a few times to get the caramels to melt. Once melted, drizzle over the top of the ice cream and layered dessert!

That is it!! I have NOOO idea if I did this with any kind regard with actual baking. I HOPE I have...I know my result was very very good. I know that you've also spent some time on this one, hopefully poured your love in, and you will really tell by the beautiful presentation...but most importantly, the flavor! It rings of Fall, the light zing of lemon will have your guests trying to pinpoint just, "What is it that makes this so good?" It is beyond your basic, cinnamon, sugar, dough formula. It is complex in it's own way.

And now that you have frozen dough ready for cinnamon rolls, I'll be posting soon instructions on how I make quick and easy cinnamon rolls, all homemade from start to finish, with a lemon icing drizzle. Yeah!!!



*Kitchen Tip:
If you are looking to cut down the prep time, I imagine store bought dough will do, or even pastry dough, fillo dough, etc..though I can't actually vouch for how it will turn out. Maybe even store bought pizza dough can do the trick. If you go with the pizza dough option, up the brown sugar and possible the water/lemon mix. Let me know your results!!!

Until next time....Happy Cooking...and baking!

XoXo





Sunday, October 20, 2013

Kitchen FAIL!

A funny thing happened to me in the kitchen today. Nothing new for me, I tend to glitch at life. Run in to things, drop things, trip on things, trip on nothing...ya know, the usual. That's why I was so excited when I successfully figured out that little flick-of-the-wrist trick I've seen chefs do. It looks so "chef-y"! Hmmm..I could be "chef-y", like a real chef, chef-y...right...so, I decided to give it a try, hit Youtube and watched instructional videos until I felt that I had absorbed the motion. Then, I went for it and you know what?! I flipped that egg, with a flick of the wrist, up and out of the pan it leapt, and landed like a pillow, perfectly raw side down, yolk intact. It was a BAM! moment, let me tell you.

 So, me and my "expert" fancy pants decided I was well...an expert...and ready to go for a TWO EGG FLIP and, whelp, this below is my attempt at the "two egg flip."  Sooooo, you can see how that went for me -


This is where I'm supposed to say something about, if at first you don't succeed, try try a-blah blah blah blah. But, realistically, I think I will stick with the one egg flip, for now, and be joyful in that success.

Until next time...Happy Cooking...and egg flipping!!

XoXo

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Welcome...A Little Late, Better Late Than Never, Right?

Started my food blog 4 years ago, and  this morning I found an old post, actually it was meant to be my very first one, but I didn't actually press "Post" for some reason. I don't remember why I hesitated, but now that I am kicking off the blog again, maybe it is the perfect time to actually post it! Here it goes:


Good Morning all,

So, with our new house has come lots of entertaining. Since meeting my boyfriend in 2004, I have become quite the kitchen diva. I remember celebrating Steve's birthday in February 2005 with his family. This was the first birthday we celebrated in our relationship and I wanted it to be extra special. So, for his birthday I made this bundt cake with thick creamy cream cheese frosting. I had 4 different colors for the frosting: red,blue, green, and yellow.

 I decorated the bundt cake ala "Nothing Bundt Cakes" http://www.nothingbundtcakes.com/. The cake was so funky and fun, very celebratory and I remember how much fun and creativity it took to make it. From that moment on, I was hooked on baking and decorating cakes. I hope I can find a picture of this revalatory cake, but imagine an explosion of primary colored crayola crayons...and to top it all off I found these great squiggly candles in the exact same colors...

It's a great memory, one step in my food journey, but it was a a revelatory step. It was the first time that I had really baked outside of my childhood home, without "adult" supervision. And even though I used a boxed cake, I remember being at the store thinking, what can I do to make it special? I had the instinct to grab pineapple juice, and replace the water in the instructions, with pineapple juice. For the frosting, I thought about what would go with the pineapple. Instinctively, I knew to grab cream cheese. Later I would learn that the acid in the pineapple complements and cuts through the creamy fullness of the cream cheese. But I did not know that then. It was then that I learned that I could bake, and I liked to bake. As much as I liked to paint... As much as I liked listening to a great song .....and dancing around the house .... in my underwear ... Scratch that last part.  You get the picture. And even more than that, I enjoyed making people happy. And that cake made people happy. I was hooked.

Growing up, my mom was a chef in her own right. She always threw great parties, and always served good food. She strived to make the perfect crown roast, crab legs, perfectly grilled salmon. I know guests always looked forward to Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthday parties, etc at our house. It was normal to me, I didn't really know "fast-food". I remember the first time I went to Taco Bell. It was in high school with my childhood best friend, Heather. After school got out, we hit the drive through, she asked me what I wanted to order, and I was like, "I have no idea" - the menu felt a thousand feet tall as I tried to sort through it all. So I just said, "whatever you get." I found out that I had been missing out all those years, damn!

All joking aside, my mom was and still is a great cook, so I think that I wasn't scared of the kitchen, the pots, the pans, the heat. It was approachable, even comfortable. That might explain why I fearlessly jumped right in to that cake and then it was a pomegranate salad, and a gruyere Mac n cheese from scratch, and homemade ravioli...And it just kept rolling. While most of my college friends were perfecting top ramen, Nuclear Kraft Mac n Cheese and ordering the perfect combo of Subway toppings, I was and still am, trying to perfect a delicate broth.

I was always an adventurous eater, also a testament to how I was raised. I was the kid who wanted to try lobster for my tenth birthday. So, my parents took me to The Charthouse, and lobster it was. I saved that lobster shell in the freezer for a long, long time. I remember thinking, "hmmm, I like crab legs more." Yeah, totally normal 10 year old thoughts.  I'm okay with it, I always was a little different, now I am trying to embrace it.

So, looking back, I guess all roads lead somewhere, and that is my food journey in a nutshell.

Until next time...Happy Cooking!!

XoXo

Friday, October 18, 2013

Potato Cheddar Soup with Roasted Butternut Squash

September always brings a sense of excitement. My kitchen is rejuvenated, from the quiet cobwebs of summer, the cooking engine sparks up as the temperature ticks down. Facebook is alight with #PumpkinSpice and all of the sudden my guy's appetite comes out of hiding from the 100 degree++ temperatures here in Vegas.
We always tease that we are a bit like hunter/gatherers in our house, in an opposite kind of way. The heat just doesn't give way to much of a want to eat, nothing ever sounds appealing and heating up the house, which we are so desperately trying to keep under 70 degrees (we like to freeze in the summer) with the stove and oven seems like a crime. So, Fall dances in, the windows fly open at night, and the house is enveloped by a wonderful smell that tells the world that our appetites are out of slumber. The house is filled with delicious smells that waft from my kitchen (unless I burn something) from recipes I've been dreaming up all summer. Some hit, some miss...the following recipe was a HIT!
Potato Cheddar Soup with Roasted Butternut Squash

Sweet roasted squash against the slight hint of salty bacon, all mixed in with hearty potatoes, makes this one recipe that is perfect, as the temperatures just start to drop. The promise of Fall is even more exciting.


This soup is made in separate parts and blended together. Taking the extra steps to strain the soup base creates a silky smooth mouth feel...so they say .... But in all seriousness, adding the cheese as a b├ęchamel base ensures your cheese will blend without clumping at the bottom and burning, or clinging to the vegetables, creating clumps in the soup. Instead, we get a creamy, smooth, delicious soup. I would liken it to a liquid baked potato, but the butternut squash adds a little something extra and also increases the nutritional value, yet your unsuspecting hubby or kids will just think it's just awesome!


Soup Ingredients:

Mirepoix


Soup Base:
4-5 Russet potatoes, rinsed and peeled
1/2 Yellow Onion
1/2 of one Butternut squash, diced and roasted
2 carrots, peeled and loosely chopped
2 celery sticks, loosely chopped
2 cups Chicken Stock (Replace with Vegetable Stock for vegetarian option)
2 cups water
2 tbsp olive oil

Soup Stuff:
7 Red Potatoes, peeled and diced, see #3 for dice instructions
2 sticks of heart of celery - the leafy inner part that is full of flavor
1/2 cup Green Onion, nicely sliced
2-3 cups of water

Soup thickener:
1 tbsp Butter
2 tbsp bacon grease (replace with 2 tbsp butter for vegetarian preparation)
2 1/2 tbsp Flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp pepper
2 cup Milk (This recipe can stand up to skim milk through whole milk, so it's your preference; I used Costco's Organic 2%)
1 cup shredded Cheddar Cheese
1/2 cup White American Cheese

Soup Toppings:
leave on the side for guests to top their own bowl)
Crumbled Bacon
Sliced "greens" from the tops of the green onion
Sour Cream

Handy Cookware:
Stock Pot
Various sizes of pots/pans are helpful
Bowl
Food Mill

SOUP BASE:

Before you start chopping, peeling etc...get the Butternut Squash roasting, see below-

1. Heat your oven to 375 degrees. *Peel the squash and discard the tough outer peelings. Cut in a large dice, doesn't need to be pretty, they end up blended in the soup later. In a shallow baking dish, toss squash with olive oil, salt and pepper. Squash will be ready to add to the soup in 20-25 minutes, so start your dice on remaining ingredients in the meantime.

Steps by Step in Prepping the Butternut Squash
*Kitchen Tip - I use my chef's knife to peel just between the firm peachy-orange flesh and the hard, lighter peach outer peel instead of a traditional vegetable peeler. It is a time saver and the more you do it, the faster you will get! Be mindful of your fingers in the process.

2. Peel and chop the yellow onion, the carrots, and celery. Heat the 2 tbsp olive oil to medium high heat in stock pot and add your veggie ingredients, turn heat down to low heat and allow the veggies to sweat but not caramelize. While the vegetables get to work, clean, peel and large dice the russet potatoes, again a rough chop is fine. Add chopped russet potatoes, 2 cups of stock and 2 cups of water in a stockpot and give your "soup base" ingredients a quick stir. Cover and allow to steam for 20 minutes or until the potatoes have softened.

3. While that simmers, rinse and peel your red potatoes, clean green onions, rinse celery hearts (leafy tops included.) Dice the red potatoes, this time chopping evenly. I usually use between a small and medium dice; try to make them uniform and square as possible, for aesthetics. The red potato has a firmer, less mealy flesh than the red potato, so they give the soup nice heartiness when left whole. Slice green onions, and chop the celery hearts and leaves. Set this aside these ingredients, you will use them quickly.




Food Mill- Before

Food Mill - Discard the solids that are leftover
4. Remember to take the butternut squash out of the oven at their 20-25 minute mark. They need to be roasted and soft enough to put through the food mill, but not over roasted or burnt. If they are done before your soup base, just set aside until ready. Once your soup base has had a good 20 minutes of simmering, throw your roasted squash into the party. Turn off oven and stove heat and let you soup base cool, about 5-10 minutes while you set-up your *food mill. My food mill rests on the top of a soup pot for stability, which works out great for me. Add soup base to the food mill in batches as you strain it through and allow the smooth product to collect in a soup pot. Discard the solids from food mill.


*Kitchen Tip: If you don't have a food mill, you can achieve a similar goal with a blender, a fine mesh strainer and spatula. You will first puree the soup base in blender, then manually push through the strainer into soup pot.

5. I add between 2-3 cups of water to the soup base at this point, depending on the thickness achieved during simmering. Add less water first, so as not to render the base too thin. Add your red potatoes, celery hearts, and green onions now and bring the pot up to a light simmer. Simmer until red potatoes are fork tender.

6. If you don't have *crumbled bacon on hand, throw a pan on low heat and add bacon. Set some paper towels aside for draining the bacon after it is crispy. I usually drain the fat from the pan, so the bacon fries on the dry heat, rather than sitting in its grease. Save 2 tbsp of the grease for soup.

*Kitchen Tip: For crumbled bacon, use scissors to cut the long bacon strips in half to thirds, while raw, to make turning and crumbling easier later.

*SOUP THICKENER aka Bechamel5. In a separate pot, this can be a medium pot, put on medium high heat. Add the 1 tbsp butter and 2 tbsp rendered bacon fat and bring to a simmer without letting the butter go brown. Watch it because the butter goes bad quickly.

7. Add spices of nutmeg, salt and pepper.

8. Add flour to start a roux, whisk into simmer fat, the flour will thin out and ball up. That is okay, turn your heat down and let the flour cook for a few minutes. Whisk every so often. You want to cook the flour taste out without burning.




9. Add milk and bring to a simmer, allow the milk to thicken from the flour, but do not aggressively boil. Once your sauce has thickened a bit, you can whisk in your cheeses. I've found doing it in batches, whisking between adding, renders the smoothest consistency.

*Kitchen Tip - Something else awesome about this soup is you've just basically learned how to make a cheese sauce for homemade Mac N Cheese! Double bonus. Measurements will vary a bit.

10. Once your potatoes are fork tender, pour this bechamel cheese sauce right into the soup, stirring along the way. Keep the heat up on the soup until the cheese sauce melds into the soup.

Allow the soup to cool a bit and it is ready for serving. Set it out with optional toppings of crumbled bacon, green onion, and/or sour cream. Check out the pictures. This recipe makes a large batch, enough for entertaining, freezing for later or sending home with family and friends, they won't complain!

Until next time...Happy Cooking!

XoXo