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Thursday, December 26, 2013

Dark Chocolate Mousse Cake

For Christmas Eve I wanted to come up with something really decadent and, of course, that meant something chocolate!  Plus, I bought some beautiful strawberries this week so I knew I wanted to incorporate those in the dessert, too.  I started off thinking about chocolate mousse, and wondered if I could use some individual Hershey's Bliss Dark Chocolates that I had on hand as the base of the recipe.  Hmmm.  Can you do that?

So that's where this recipe began. I found an old recipe for mousse and adjusted it a bit here and there until I thought it would work (and being Christmas Eve I was really hoping and praying that it would work!).

I really don't do a lot of baking, but when I do, it's got to be chocolate and this recipe turned out amazing. The cake has a smooth and creamy texture that just melts in your mouth and is so delicious, it doesn't even require frosting.  Although this cake is made in an 8-1/2 inch pan, it will easily serve 8 people, and maybe 10 if you want to go with smaller slices.

When making this Dark Chocolate Mousse Cake you'll notice there are not a lot of ingredients.  Just the basics are needed, chocolate, butter, sugar and eggs. How easy is that?  That's my kind of baking.

If possible, try to buy superfine sugar for this recipe, which can be found at most grocery stores.  Since it is more finely granulated, the superfine sugar dissolves almost instantly.  This type of sugar is also great to use when making meringues.

This is a beautiful dessert to serve for any special occasion and it is very easy to prepare.  I hope you get a chance to try our Dark Chocolate Mousse Cake this holiday season.  Enjoy!!

10-1/2 oz  Hershey's Bliss Dark Chocolates (1 bag + 8 additional pieces)
5 oz  Unsalted Butter
4 TB  Superfine Sugar
6  Eggs, separated
Butter, to grease the pan

Confectioners Sugar for Garnish
Strawberries for Garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter the bottom and sides of an 8-1/2-inch spring form pan and set aside.

In a medium saucepan, melt the chocolates and butter over medium-low heat, stirring frequently until melted and smooth.  Remove pan from the heat and allow to cool for 10 minutes.

In a medium bowl whisk the eggs whites until they are stiff peaks; set aside.  In another bowl whisk the egg yolks and sugar until combined and set aside.

Once the chocolate has cooled slightly, slowly stir the egg yolk mixture into the chocolate.  When combined, use a spatula to fold the egg whites into the batter until fully incorporated.

Pour the cake batter into the prepared pan and bake on the center oven rack for about 23 - 25 minutes or until the center is just set.  (If you touch the center of the cake it should bounce back slightly.) The cake will have risen at this point, but will deflate as it cools.  (Don't panic when it begins to deflate, this is what creates the mousse texture.)

Cool the cake completely then dust with confectioners sugar and serve with sliced strawberries.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Chocolate Dipped Strawberries

Trying to decide on a dessert for your guests can be almost as challenging as the main course.  You want to serve something a little sweet, but with everyone snacking on lots of cookies during the season, you might want to serve something that is a little less calorie-dense.  To solve that problem all you need is a little chocolate, and maybe a few pretzel rods and cookies.

Chocolate Dipped Strawberries are an easy dessert to prepare and they add a nice seasonal touch of red and green to your buffet.  To make this dessert easy to serve while your guests mingle, place the strawberries and a few coated pretzels on several small decorated plates and place them throughout your living room and dining room.  Just add a stack of cocktail napkins next to each plate and your guests can serve themselves.

The strawberries only take a few minutes to prepare and, if you need a little extra help, this is a great project for kids.

Baker's German Sweet Chocolate, broken into pieces
Fresh Strawberries, rinsed and patted dry
Pretzel Rods, broken in half or thirds
Shortbread Cookies or similar store-bought cookies

Place several pieces of chocolate in a small glass bowl and melt in the microwave at 30 second intervals, stirring after each 30 seconds, until the chocolate is smooth.  Once the chocolate is melted, allow to cool for just a few minutes, then stir again.

Use a spoon to spread the chocolate onto the strawberries, working in a circular motion.  This same method works for the pretzels, just twist the pretzels to get an even coating of chocolate, making sure not to apply the chocolate too thick.

Place the coated strawberries onto a waxed paper-lined baking sheet and refrigerate for 20 minutes or until set.  The cookies or pretzels will only take about 5 minutes to chill. Enjoy!!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Seafood Salad Appetizers

Today we continue with another selection of appetizers for your upcoming Holiday parties, and something that is always popular, seafood.  I love to offer guests a selection of hot and cold appetizers and this Seafood Salad can actually be served as three cold appetizers from the one salad.

Serving fresh seafood on your Holiday hors d'oeuvre buffet is always a great treat for your guests.  Unfortunately for you, this can be an expensive appetizer to serve and fresh seafood is almost always the first thing your guests will polish off, even before the party gets started.

This selection of appetizers can be prepared using the same Seafood Salad mixture and you have the option of preparing these in advance for your guests, or let them help themselves by serving the salad in a large bowl with the crackers, small sandwich rolls and an assortment of serving dishes for those who would rather skip the carbs.  With a handful of veggies on the side, this makes a very eye-appealing snack for your guests.

By using imitation crab meat, also known as surimi, you can serve seafood on your buffet while also keeping your costs under control.  If you have never used imitation crab before, it is actually the same crab used in most varieties of sushi. Made from Atlantic whitefish, surimi is quite versatile and can be used in many dishes.  At about $3 - $4 per pound, it is also quite affordable.

Along with the crab we included pre-cooked shrimp in this salad, which you can buy fresh or frozen at your local market.  If you look for the shrimp marketed as "salad shrimp" or listed as 100 - 160 count, these are small enough you can leave them whole in the salad.

The Seafood Salad has a creamy lemon and horseradish sauce which accents the crab and shrimp, and the dill and lemon pepper enhance the seafood flavors.  The salad is delicious served on a variety of crackers or as a small sandwich, but is equally good on its own, and is something your guests will greatly enjoy.

2 oz  Cream Cheese, softened
1-1/2 tsp  Horseradish
1/2 tsp  Kosher Salt
1/2 tsp  Lemon Pepper
1/4 tsp  Lemon Dill Seasoning
1/4 tsp  Ground Black Pepper
2 TB  Hellman's Light Mayonnaise
2 TB  Sour Cream
1 tsp  Lemon Juice
1 stalk  Celery, very finely minced
1 lb  Imitation Crab (surimi), flaked into small pieces
6 oz  Small Cooked Shrimp, chopped if needed

Hawaiian Rolls or small slider rolls, sliced
Carrot sticks, celery sticks, cucumber slices and other bite-sized veggies
Assortment of Crackers

In a medium bowl combine the cream cheese, horseradish, salt, lemon pepper, lemon dill seasoning, pepper, mayonnaise, sour cream and lemon juice, stirring with a fork until blended.

Add the celery, crab and shrimp to the mixture and stir gently to combine, coating the seafood evenly with the sauce.  Taste test and add more salt or pepper, if needed.  Chill for 1 hour before serving.  Serves about 20 - 25 as an appetizer, or about 12 - 15 small sandwiches.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Baked Chicken Strips and Sweet Potato Waffles

Have you ever heard of Chicken and Waffles?  Served together, as in on the same plate? No?  Well, I had never heard of such a meal either until moving to the South.  I saw this meal on a handful of menus around town and it was mentioned a few times in conversations, but I never really thought about it.

The most common description for this meal is a piece of fried chicken served on top of a buttermilk waffle, then everything is drizzled with maple syrup.  It sounded a little odd, but intriguing at the same time.  So I had to make this meal just for fun and I thought my kids would get a kick out of the idea of chicken and waffles for dinner.  The funny thing was, we all loved it!

We decided to make our own interpretation of this meal and try to make it a bit healthier.  Instead of using fried chicken, we went with lightly breaded and baked white meat chicken strips.  Not "authentic" according to most sources, but healthier.  The recipe below for chicken strips can be used for lots of other meals, too, and you can even spice them up a bit to suit your own taste.  (See the note below for alternate spices.)

The waffles were another project altogether.  I've read many recipes for pumpkin waffles, which are quite tasty, but since I had some leftover mashed sweet potatoes, and I had always wanted to try a waffle made out of sweet potatoes, the recipe kind of came together on its own. Sweet potatoes + chicken + maple syrup? It was sounding better and better!

This was the first time I've used a waffle iron but I'm already in love with it.  The waffles had a light airy texture inside and the exterior was nice and crispy.  Perfect!  In addition to maple syrup we also tried a drizzle of honey on the waffles and it was also delicious, but we all voted in favor of the maple syrup.

Although this recipe seems a little strange I do hope you get to try it.  The flavors are an amazing combination and the sweet potato waffles are really a unique treat which would even work well for breakfast..lol.  So here is my question for you... Have you ever tried Chicken and Waffles? Is it really a Southern meal? Leave me a note below, I'd love to hear what everyone thinks of this somewhat classic dish.

3 -4  Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts, cut into 3/4-inch strips
2 TB  Canola Oil
1 cup  Bread Crumbs
1/4 cup  Shredded Parmesan Cheese
1/2 tsp  Kosher Salt
1/4 tsp  Ground Black Pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray and set aside.

In a large bowl combine the chicken and canola oil (**see note)  and stir to evenly coat the chicken.

In a second bowl combine the bread crumbs, cheese, salt and pepper.

Dip the chicken strips in the bread crumb mixture and place on the prepared baking sheet.  Bake 10 minutes, turn, and bake 5 - 8 minutes longer or until the chicken is cooked through.

**Note:  If you plan on serving the chicken as part of a different meal than the Chicken and Waffles, and you would like the chicken a bit more spicy, add 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper or 1 teaspoon Frank's Hot Sauce  to the oil and chicken, then proceed with the recipe as above.  This is a fast and easy way to make chicken strips for kids without all the processing you get in the store bought chicken nuggets.

Sweet Potato Waffles

4 TB  Butter, softened
1 TB  Sugar
1  Egg, separated
1 cup  Milk
1/4 tsp  Kosher Salt
1/4 tsp  Nutmeg
3/4 cup  Flour
1 cup  Mashed Sweet Potatoes (leftovers work great)
2 tsp  Baking Powder

Use a hand mixer to cream together the butter and sugar.  Add the egg yolk and blend, then gradually add the milk, slowly incorporating it into the mixture.  Add the salt and nutmeg and blend until smooth.

Beat in the flour, sweet potato and baking powder until smooth.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg white until you have stiff peaks.  Using a spatula, gently fold the egg white into the waffle batter, combining the ingredients without over stirring.

Heat a waffle iron up to temperature according to your user guide.  Add about 1/3 cup of batter for each waffle and cook for 4 -5 minutes or until the waffles are set.  (Check your users guide for the appropriate amount of batter to use and suggested cooking times.)

To serve, place two waffles on a plate, top with one chicken strip and drizzle with maple syrup.  Enjoy!!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Peanut Butter Brownies

We are now deep into Christmas cookie season so this recipe is just in time for your next school function or Christmas party. Every year there seems to be somewhat of an unspoken battle among Moms who bring cookies to school.  You Moms know who you are, too!  You arrive in your child's classroom with dozens of perfectly cut out gingerbread men, and sparkling iced snowflake cookies, and thumbprint cookies with just the right amount of green or red frosting in the center. Ugh! Where do you people find the time?

I admit, I am not much of a sweets baker, but I do manage to make some pretty tasty cookies on occasion like our Triple Chocolate Cookies with Peanut Butter Filling, which are a Christmas favorite.  I love to make Gingerbread Cookies, but they are all round, and if I have the time I will even frost them with some basic Royal Icing.  But, I've never had the patience to make cutout cookies.  The little gingerbread men lose their heads, the snowflakes are not symmetrical but are kind of squatty shaped and I generally end up with all round(ish) cookies that taste great but look...a bit sad.

But I'm OK with that, because I can make brownies!  Anything that I can make in one pan and cut into bars, that's a recipe for me.  Which brings me to today's Peanut Butter Brownies, which are so amazingly good.  This is a very old recipe from one of my grandmother's cookbooks.  Back in the old days they used a minimal amount of ingredients and came up with some great tasting food.

With a light peanut butter flavor and a cake-like texture, these are a nice change from the usual super-sweet chocolate brownies.  For a holiday display table dust the top of the brownies with powdered sugar and they will look nice and festive.  If you take these to a school function, (especially in Florida) tell the kids they are dusted with snowflakes and you will be the favorite Mom of the day! lol  Enjoy!!

1/4 cup  Butter
1/4 cup  Peanut Butter
1 cup  Sugar
2  Eggs, beaten
2 squares  Unsweetened Chocolate, melted
1/2 cup  Flour
1/2 tsp  Baking Powder
1/4 tsp  Salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line a 9 X 9 inch baking pan with parchment paper and lightly grease the paper with butter;  set aside.

Use a mixer to cream the butter, peanut butter and sugar together.

Add the eggs and melted chocolate and blend until combined, then add the flour, baking powder and salt and blend again.

Spread the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 20 - 22 minutes or until the center is set.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Spicy Guacamole

Guacamole is a great item to add to your football party or holiday snack table.  Offer this dip along with a variety of white, yellow and blue tortilla chips and even some fresh cut veggies.  Many people who choose to stay away from tortilla chips will have the option of dipping veggies in the dip, and still get to enjoy this Spicy Guacamole.

When you shop for avocados, look for the ones that are dark skinned and just slightly soft to the touch.  You have to be a little careful when selecting avocados. Most grocers tend to throw new avocados in with the older ones, so you have to make sure you are not buying under ripe or over ripe  produce.  One one hand if you get a very soft avocado the flesh will probably be dark and not look very appetizing.  On the other hand, an avocado that is hard as a rock and a light greenish-yellow color inside will look nice but since it's under ripe, you won't get a creamy guacamole no matter how long you blend it.

Another handy tip when choosing an avocado is to look for the piece of stem on top.  If you can push off the stem, and it looks moist and fresh, you've got a fresh avocado.

When preparing the guacamole be sure to taste for the level of spice.  If it is too spicy for your taste, adding 1-2 teaspoons of sour cream will tone down the heat, but keep the guacamole creamy.  For a complete meal serve this Spicy Guacamole with Baked Chicken Chimichangas.

3 Avocados, halved, seeded and peeled
1 Lime, squeezed and juice reserved
1/2 tsp Kosher Salt
1/2 tsp Ground Cumin
1/2 tsp Ground Cayenne Pepper
1/2 small  Red Onion, diced (optional)
1/2 small  Tomato, seeded and diced (optional)

Scoop the avocado pulp into a food processor and add the lime juice, tossing to coat.  Add the salt, cumin and cayenne to the avocados and blend until smooth, or process just briefly for a more chunky texture.

Add about 1 TB (or more) of lime juice until the guacamole is the desired consistency. Chill or let sit at room temp for 1 hour. Serve with tortilla chips.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Calzone Bites

After several days of sick kids (and parents), I'm finally getting back to adding some new appetizers for the  upcoming holidays.  Today we get into the holiday spirit with a cheesy Italian hors d'oeuvre.  A Calzone is traditionally a stuffed pizza that looks like a turnover, so we created a bite-sized turnover.

These mini Calzone Bites are a great party appetizer to serve when you want to offer something a little more substantial than veggies with dip.  The spinach, sausage and pepperoni filling gets its creaminess from a combination of three cheeses, ricotta, cheddar and mozzarella.  With these little bites, you get all the goodness of a calzone in an appetizer-sized bite.

Although this recipe utilizes a bread machine to make the dough, you could also use store bought pizza dough.  The Publix stores in our area make a tasty pizza dough that would work just fine, just be sure to buy the dough early in the day since it is usually kept frozen until needed.

This recipe makes about 24 Calzone Bites using 2 large muffin tins, and the finished calzones are about 3 inches across.  Just the right "finger-food" size for your guests.  As a dipping sauce you can use your favorite marinara sauce or buy a good quality, already seasoned tomato sauce. The sauce can be heated in a small saucepan just before serving and, instead of pouring the sauce directly on the plate, I loved serving the marinara in these vintage shot glasses that belonged to my grandmother.  I think they were the perfect little vessel for sauce and they were just the right size.  Enjoy!!

Calzone Dough in the Bread Machine
1 cup + 2 1/2 TB  Water
2 1/2 TB  Olive Oil
3 cups  Bread Machine Flour
1 tsp  Salt
1/2 tsp  Sugar
2 tsp  Garlic Powder
1 1/2 tsp  Bread Machine Yeast

Combine all ingredients in the bread machine pan and set the machine to the Dough Setting.  At the end of the first kneading cycle, press the stop/clear button and let the dough rise for 60 to 90 minutes, until almost double in size.

Punch the dough down and remove the dough from the bread machine pan to a lightly floured cutting board.  Let the dough rest for 5 minutes.  While the dough is resting, prepare the filling.

Calzone Filling
15 oz  Part-Skim Ricotta Cheese
1 cup  Grated Cheddar Cheese
1/2 cup  Grated Mozzarella Cheese
2 oz  Diced Pepperoni
10 oz  Frozen Spinach, defrosted, cooled and well drained
1/2 lb  Fresh Sausage, cooked and drained
1 tsp  Dried Oregano
1 tsp  Garlic Powder
1/2 tsp  Kosher Salt
1/4 tsp  Ground Black Pepper

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and set aside.

Seasoned Olive Oil
1/4 cup  Olive Oil
2 tsp  Minced Fresh Garlic
1/2 tsp  Dried Oregano
1/4 tsp  Salt
1/4 tsp  Ground Black Pepper

Mix the olive oil, garlic, oregano, salt and pepper in a small glass bowl and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  Spray 2 large muffin tins with olive oil spray and set aside.

Using a pastry cutter, or a very sharp knife, cut the dough into 24 equal portions.  Working with one piece of dough at a time, roll each piece of dough into a large thin circle, about 5 inches across.  Place a generous tablespoon of filling into the center of each circle, then fold the edges over and pinch the edges so the filling will not leak out.

Place each bundle into the muffin tin with the seam side down and brush the tops of each calzone with seasoned olive oil. Bake for 15 - 20 minutes or until the tops are golden brown.

Serve with a shot glass of your favorite marinara sauce for dipping.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Shrimp Mousse Deviled Eggs

These tasty little eggs are a great addition to your holiday buffet table, especially when served with  Smoked Salmon Deviled Eggs.  With a delicate shrimp flavor and just a touch of cream cheese and sour cream to add creaminess, these eggs add a touch of elegance and a little wow factor to your table.

This recipe makes 12 egg halves and it's very easy to double the recipe.  Once the egg whites are filled,  you might have extra shrimp mousse left over, especially if you double the recipe. Simply place the extra Shrimp Mousse in a glass bowl and serve with assorted crackers.  The cost of the shrimp is pretty minimal.  Using medium shrimp (about 30 - 40 per pound), which run about $7 per pound, you will need 16 pieces of shrimp to make one dozen egg halves.

6  Hard Boiled Eggs, peeled and halved
4 medium  Cooked Shrimp, peeled, deveined and chopped
1 oz  Cream Cheese, softened
2 TB  Hellman's Light Mayonnaise
1 TB  Sour Cream
1/4 tsp  Lemon-Dill Spice
1/4 tsp  Kosher Salt
1/8 tsp  Ground Black Pepper
12 medium  Cooked Whole Shrimp, deveined and shell removed, with tails attached for garnish

Place the egg whites on a platter and set aside.  Place the egg yolks and the remaining ingredients, except the whole shrimp, in a food processor.  Puree until smooth, then spoon the mixture into a pastry bag and pipe the mixture into the egg whites using a large-opening decorator tip.

When all of the egg whites are filled, stand a whole shrimp on top of each egg half and press the shrimp gently down into the mousse so it will stand up.  You can also choose to garnish some of the eggs with fresh chives to add a little color to the arrangement. Keep the eggs chilled until ready to serve.  Makes 12 egg halves.

Smoked Salmon Deviled Eggs

Can you believe it's already December?  The last few months have zipped by so quickly, and now it's time to think about the upcoming holidays.  Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, New Year's Eve and so many other holidays are just around the corner.  It's a chance for people to come together, celebrate, and share some good food, good friends and happy times.

But planning a holiday buffet table for a big party can be a challenge. You want to include lots of tasty bites for your guests, and have everything look special, but how much will all of this cost? And, how much time will it take to put all of these appetizers together?

Well, don't worry, it can be done.  Over the next few weeks, we will be posting lots of hot and cold appetizers, snacks and drink ideas for your upcoming parties.  Several of the recipes can be made a day or two in advance, which will save you a lot of time, they are easy to prepare, and also easy on your budget. So let's get started with something everyone loves, deviled eggs.

Appetizers are a must for upcoming Christmas and Holiday parties, and deviled eggs can be found on almost any buffet, but these little bites are something special.  Adding smoked salmon to the filling, then topping each egg half with a slice of salmon, you get a snack that is both elegant and tasty.  The smoked salmon is pretty inexpensive at about $4 - $5 for a 4-ounce package, which is enough for about two batches of these deviled eggs.

Arrange the Salmon Deviled Eggs with several of the Shrimp Mousse Deviled Eggs and you have a beautiful centerpiece for your party buffet.  The deviled eggs can be made several hours before needed and kept refrigerated.  The smoky flavor of the salmon will be more pronounced if it has a few hours for the flavors to blend.  Enjoy!!

6  Hard-Boiled Eggs, peeled and halved
1/2 cup  Sour Cream
2 oz  Cream Cheese, softened
2 TB  Hellman's Light Mayonnaise
1 TB  Lemon Juice
2 TB  Chives, minced
2 oz  Smoked Salmon
1/2 tsp Kosher Salt
1/4 tsp  Ground Black Pepper

Place the egg whites on a platter and set aside.  Place the egg yolks and the remaining ingredients in a small food processor, and blend until very smooth.

Use a pastry bag with a large-opening decorative tip to pipe the filling into the egg whites.  (You can find disposable pastry bags with the tips at most kitchen stores.  Or you can use a small spoon to fill the egg whites and smooth the tops.)

Use a sharp knife to cut small pieces of the smoked salmon, then add a slice to the top of each of the deviled eggs.  Chill until ready to serve.  Makes 12 egg halves.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Apple and Blueberry Crisp with Hard Cider

For me, the best thing about fall is the huge variety of apples that arrive in grocery stores. Green apples, red apples, pinkish apples.  There are so many different varieties, I can't help thinking about what to bake. The problem is, with so many different types of apples, it can be difficult to know which are best suited for cooking, such as Golden Delicious, McIntosh, Winesap or Granny Smith and which are best for eating as a snack, such as Red Delicious or Honeycrisp.

I picked up a few bags of sweet and juicy Golden Delicious apples and the slightly more tart Granny Smith apples at the store, and that's where my dessert project began.  Combining the two varieties makes a delicious apple pie, but I wanted to turn these into more of a crumble-type dessert.  Something that could be prepared and served in the same pan, but would also be suitable for a casual dinner with guests.  So with the apples in hand, I got to work on this recipe.

I decided to begin with a bottle of Angry Orchard Cinnful Apple Hard Cider.  Why cook with water when you can cook with hard cider, right?  Thanks to the good people at Angry Orchard, we got the chance to experiment with their spicy cinnamon cider and it is amazing.  By itself, the cider offers a tart apple flavor with just the right amount of cinnamon and a not-too-sweet flavor, which would be the perfect base for my crisp.  But I wanted to add a touch more sweetness to the crisp without adding more sugar.  And then I thought ..blueberries!  The berries added just enough sweet flavor and they tasted great combined with the cinnamon.

Although I don't usually cook a lot of dessert-type recipes, this one was an instant family favorite, and something we will make often in the future. It's also a great way to get your kids to eat more fruit.  (Our picky eater asked for seconds!)  This is a really easy dessert to make and can be ready to serve in about an hour.  Be sure to buy some vanilla ice cream to scoop on top.  Enjoy!!

4 TB  Unsalted Butter Butter
4  Large Apples, cored and sliced, we used 2 Granny Smith and 2 Golden Delicious
Lemon Juice
2 cups  Frozen Blueberries
1 cup  Angry Orchard Cinnful Apple Hard Cider (drink the rest of the bottle - yum!)
1/4 cup  Sugar

In a large ovenproof skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat.  Add the sliced apples and sprinkle the apples with a splash of lemon juice so they do not discolor.  Saute for 5 minutes, stirring to coat the apples with butter and lemon juice.  Add the frozen blueberries, stir and saute for 5 minutes.

Add the cider and sugar to the skillet, and stir to combine.  Heat the mixture to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 20 - 25 minutes or until the apples are tender.  While the apples are simmering, prepare the crumb topping.

Crumb Topping
3/4 cup  Flour
1/4 cup  Brown Sugar
1/4 tsp Ground Cinnamon
4 TB  Unsalted Butter, melted
1/4 cup  Old Fashioned Oats

In a small bowl, combine the flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, butter and oats and stir until the mixture is crumbly.  

When the apples are tender, and the sauce has reduced by about half, lightly sprinkle the crumb mixture over the apples and blueberries.  (Since there will still be liquid in the pan, try not to press the mixture into the fruit as this can make the crisp mushy.  The crumbs should rest loosely on top of the fruit.)

Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake at 350 degrees for 20 - 30 minutes or until the topping is golden and the sauce has thickened.  Serve immediately with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or cool to room temperature before serving.  (p.s. If you are lucky enough to have any leftovers, this also makes an incredibly good breakfast the next day.)  Enjoy!!

"Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above in the hope that I would mention it on my blog.  Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe would be good for my readers.  All opinions are mine.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Monday, November 4, 2013

Braised Pork Chops with Apples and Hard Cider

Here we are into November already.  The temperatures are starting to drop and even here in sunny Florida, it's finally beginning to feel like fall.  After a very long, hot summer, I'm ready for some hearty fall recipes.  And what better way to begin than with a German-style favorite.

The good people over at Angry Orchard were kind enough to send us a few of their tasty ciders to sample, and this recipe was a great place to start.  For this classic dish of Braised Pork Chops with Apples and Onions, we decided to add a little twist and include a bottle of Angry Orchard Green Apple Hard Cider.

The cider added the perfect balance of tartness and sweetness to compliment the apples and onions.   The only thing that could make this better would be mashed sweet potatoes, which created a colorful, and nutritious, base for the pork chops.  The potatoes were simple, with just butter and a little salt and pepper for seasoning, but they added just the right amount of richness to the meal.

6  Boneless Pork Chops, cut 1-inch thick, fat trimmed off
Kosher Salt and Ground Black Pepper
1 TB  Olive Oil
4 TB  Salted Butter, divided
1 medium  Yellow Onion, sliced
2 large  Granny Smith Apples, cored and sliced
1 bottle  Angry Orchard Green Apple Hard Cider

Season both sides of the pork chops with a generous coating of salt and pepper.  Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the olive oil.  When the oil shimmers, add the pork chops to the skillet and cook for 6 minutes, turn the chops over and cook 6 minutes longer.  (In order to get a really good sear on the chops, try not to move them during the cooking process.)  Transfer the chops to a plate, cover with foil and keep warm.

Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in the same pan, add the apples and onions and sauté over medium heat until slightly softened, about 6 minutes.  Add the hard cider to the pan, stir the mixture gently and simmer for 5 minutes.

Transfer the pork chops and any accumulated juices back to the skillet, nestling the chops down into the apples and onions.  Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the chops are cooked through.  (We cooked our chops to 145-150 degrees on a meat thermometer, which is medium-rare.  As the pork stands for a few minutes the temperature will increase slightly, but the chops will still be moist and juicy inside.)

Transfer the chops to a serving platter and cover with foil.  To complete the apple/onion sauce, increase the heat to medium-high and add 1 tablespoon butter.  Stir the sauce until the butter is melted and the sauce has reached the desired thickness.  Taste test and add salt and pepper, if desired. 

To serve, place a layer of sweet potatoes on each plate, place a pork chop on top of the potatoes, then add a generous scoop of apples, onions and sauce on top. (Don't forget the sauce!  It's fantastic on the sweet potatoes.)  Enjoy!!

Since my photographer was so anxious to dive into his dinner, we forgot to include the bottle of cider in our picture.  So this is the end result, empty plate and all! lol

"Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above in the hope that I would mention it on my blog.  Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe would be good for my readers.  All opinions are mine.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Salmon and Potato Chowder

It's the last day of Soup Month 2013, and I hope you've enjoyed all of the new soup, chowder and chili recipes.  Since today is the last day of soup month, we decided to wrap up the month with a delicious Salmon and Potato Chowder.  Salmon, in any way, shape, or form, is one of my favorite types of seafood to cook and regardless of the cooking method, salmon always tastes great.

For some reason, many people are intimidated when it comes to cooking salmon.  I'm not sure why, but they usually think this is a difficult fish to cook and that couldn't be further from the truth.  In the past we've made a Basil-Dijon Salmon over Red Lentil Puree,  a Salmon Salad with Mango Salsa, and even a super easy to make Salmon BLT Sandwich, which is wonderful.  And, all of these are easy to prepare.

So, if you've never tried to cook salmon, this is your chance, and what better way to learn to cook salmon than in a nice, warm chowder.  This chowder is real comfort food, with red potatoes, corn and just a touch of white wine to accent the fish.  The chowder takes less than 30 minutes to make and tastes great served with a small salad or a few baked scallop or clam shells. 

Enjoy and thanks for joining us for Soup Month 2013!!

1-1/3 lbs  Salmon, skinned, deboned and cut into 1-inch cubes
2 TB  Butter, divided
2 TB  Olive Oil, divided
1 large  Shallot, minced
1/3 cup  Dry White Wine
3-1/4 cups  Chicken Stock
5 large  Red Potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1-1/2 cups  Frozen Corn Kernels, defrosted
1 cup  Half and Half
1 TB  Lobster Base (optional)
1 tsp Kosher Salt
1/2 tsp  Ground Black Pepper

In a medium soup pot, heat 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add the shallot and sauté until tender, about 3 minutes.  Add the white wine and simmer until reduced by half.  Add the stock and increase the heat to high and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to a simmer and add the potatoes.  Cook until the potatoes are tender about 12 minutes.

While the potatoes are cooking, use a large skillet to heat 1 tablespoon butter with 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat.  Season the salmon pieces with salt and pepper, then add them to the skillet and cook until seared on all sides, but not fully cooked, about 3 minutes total.  Remove skillet from the heat and set aside.

In a blender, combine the corn and half and half and puree until smooth.  Add this mixture and the lobster base to the cooked potatoes, stir, and season with additional salt and pepper, if needed. 

Add the salmon pieces to the chowder, stirring gently, and simmer until the salmon is warm. Ladle the chowder into bowls and serve. (Alternately, you could also place the pieces of salmon in the bowls, then ladle the chowder over the salmon.  Either way works great.)

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Sundried Tomato Chicken Sausage and Pasta Soup

For day 29 of Soup Month 2013, we tried a new Sundried Tomato Chicken Sausage with Basil from Al Fresco, and it was a great addition to this soup.  This sausage is pretty tasty, and has just the right balance of tomato and basil flavor.  When combined with onions, green pepper, tomatoes and some whole wheat pasta, you've got a healthy meal ready to serve in about 30 minutes.  The sausage is also a much healthier choice than standard sausage.  With just 140 calories and 7 grams of fat per link, each link provides 15 grams of protein.

Cooking the pasta in the broth and tomatoes allows all of those flavors to absorb into the pasta, and blends the spices throughout the soup.  This is also a great way to introduce your kids to whole wheat pasta.  With all of those flavors working together, the pasta will taste great! 

The last step of this soup is to blend in the ricotta cheese, which gives the soup a silky, cheesy texture, and thickens the soup at the same time.  I really like the way the ricotta turns this soup into almost a stew-like consistency, but, if you like your soup a bit thinner, you can skip the ricotta or add 1/3 cup more chicken broth.  Even without the ricotta, the soup is excellent.  Enjoy!!

1 small  Onion, chopped
1 small  Green Pepper, diced
2 tsp  Olive Oil
1 TB  Minced Garlic
Basil Cubes  (or 1 TB Fresh Minced Basil)
1 12 oz pkg  Alfresco Chicken Sausage with Sundried Tomatoes and Basil, casing removed and sausage sliced into 1/2-inch pieces
14 oz can  Diced Tomatoes with Italian Seasonings
3 cups  Chicken Broth  or  Italian Flavored Broth
2 tsp  Kosher Salt
1/2 tsp  Ground Black Pepper
8 oz  Dry Pasta (regular or whole wheat, any shape will work)
6 oz  Low-Fat Ricotta Cheese

In a medium soup pot, sauté the onion and green pepper in olive oil until softened, about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and basil cubes (or basil) and cook 3 minutes, stirring frequently, then add the sausage to the pan, stirring so the sausage browns slightly on the edges. 

Next, add the tomatoes, chicken broth, salt and pepper to the pot and heat to boiling.  When the broth boils, add the pasta, return to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 15 minutes or until the pasta is just tender.

When the pasta is cooked, stir the ricotta cheese into the broth, stirring to blend the cheese into the soup.  Ladle the soup into bowls and sprinkle with shredded Parmesan cheese and serve.  Makes about 6 servings.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Portobello and Wild Rice Soup

For day 28 of Soup Month 2013 we made a rustic Portobello and Wild Rice Soup.  This soup is a unique blend of ingredients that come together beautifully.   We started with the wild rice which is from Trader Joe's.  This blend contains brown rice, black barley and tiny daikon radish seeds, all of which taste great with the Portobello mushrooms.  The radish seeds add just a bit of crunch to the soup and work well with the tender mushrooms.

While the rice cooked, we went to work on the soup. First we added a few basics like onions, garlic and rosemary, beef stock and, to give this soup a creamy texture, we included two russet potatoes.  (Without adding too much potato flavor, the potatoes thickened the soup and gave it some extra heartiness.)  The mushrooms are sautéed separately and added to the soup just prior to serving.

Next, we pureed the vegetables and stock, (but not the mushrooms) using an immersion blender (or you could use a regular blender).  Once the soup was smooth, the cream and a touch of dry red wine finished off the broth.  The cooked mushrooms and rice are then added to the soup for a final 5 minutes of cooking.  This soup has a nice thickness to it, but if you prefer a thinner consistency, a little beef stock can be added at this point.  Garnish with a sprinkle of smoked paprika just before serving.

This soup tasted great served with a grilled rib eye steak and a glass of Cabernet, but it would also pair nicely with turkey or roast pork loin.  Although this soup is easy to make, it is definitely elegant enough for a holiday dinner.  Enjoy!!

1-1/4 cups  Water
1/2 cup  Trader Joe's Brown Rice Medley
1 tsp  Butter

3 TB  Butter, divided
12 oz  Portobello Mushrooms, cleaned and chopped
1 small  Onion, chopped
2 tsp  Minced Garlic
2 tsp  Fresh Rosemary, minced (or use 1/2 tsp Dried Rosemary)
2 medium  Russet Potatoes
1-1/2 cups  Beef Broth
1 cup  Heavy Cream  or  Half and Half
2 TB  Dry Red Wine
1-1/2 tsp  Kosher Salt, or more to taste
1 tsp  Ground Black Pepper

In a medium saucepan, bring water to a boil, add the rice and 1 teaspoon of butter and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to a simmer and cook about 35 - 40 minutes or until water is absorbed, then remove pan from heat and rest for 10 minutes.

Heat 2 tablespoons butter in a medium soup pot over medium heat.  Sauté the mushrooms until the are just tender, about 10 minutes, then transfer the mushrooms to a bowl, cover and set aside.

Add remaining 1 tablespoon butter to the same pot, add onion and sauté for 5 minutes until softened.  Add the garlic, rosemary and potatoes to the pot, stir and cook for 5 minutes longer.

Add the beef broth to the pot and simmer for 15 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.  Remove the pot from the heat and puree the soup with an immersion blender.  Add the cream and red wine to the soup and simmer over low heat for 3 minutes, stirring constantly.  Add the mushrooms and cooked rice to the soup, stir and cook over low heat for 5 minutes.  (If you prefer a thinner soup, just add a little extra broth to the soup.)

Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with a sprinkle of smoked paprika.  Enjoy!!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Apple Chicken Sausage and Sweet Potato Soup

I can't believe it's almost the end of October, and the end of Soup Month.  I hope you've all enjoyed the new soups and maybe had a chance to try a few, but we still have a couple more recipes lined up to finish off the month.

For day 27 of Soup Month 2013, we combined lots of fall ingredients into a healthy, but hearty, Apple Chicken Sausage and Sweet Potato Soup.  In the process, we also discovered a few delicious new products that we will definitely be including in future recipes.

The apple chicken sausage, with one package of 4 links, comes in at just 160 calories per link and 7 grams of fat.  Pretty healthy for a "sausage" type product, and it's also gluten free.  It was also quite tasty and I'm already thinking of lots of recipes to cook with this product.

The sausage was combined with a bottle of Angry Orchard Apple Ginger Hard Cider, and this is one unique drink.  The apple ginger hard cider added a nice background flavor to the soup with a slight tartness, and an interesting hint of ginger.  If you go to their web site (here - Angry Orchard) they actually have a recipe for a turkey brine mixture using this cider.  I'm not usually much of a turkey fan, but I've got to try this recipe!

Sweet potatoes, onion and cabbage are added to complete this great fall soup.  The apple flavor is very prominent in this recipe and, since I had never tried this brand of sausage, I was a little worried that the apple would overpower the other ingredients, but I was pleasantly surprised.  Not only did the flavors blend nicely, the apple, cabbage and sweet potatoes gave this soup a bit of a German twist, but in a really healthy way.

Overall, this was a very tasty soup.  I didn't add salt of pepper to my soup, but my husband added pepper to his liking, so adjust that to your own preference.  This soup is also quick to prepare and can be on the table in about 30 minutes.  Serve with crackers or slices of hearty rye bread.  Enjoy!!

2 tsp  Olive Oil
1 small Onion, chopped
1 pkg  Al Fresco Sweet Apple Chicken Sausage, cut into 1/2-inch slices
1 bottle  Angry Orchard Apple Ginger Hard Cider
1/2 large  Cabbage, cut into strips
3 large  Sweet Potatoes, peeled and cubed
6 cups  Chicken or Vegetable Broth
Kosher Salt and Ground Black Pepper, optional, to taste

In a medium soup pot, sauté onion in olive oil until softened.  Add the sausage, stirring frequently so the sausage lightly browns.  Add the cider to the pot, stir and cook for 5 minutes over medium heat.

Add the cabbage, sweet potatoes and broth to the pot, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 15 minutes, or until the sweet potatoes are tender.  Serves 6.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Seafood Soup with Tortellini

For day 26 of Soup Month 2013, we made a delicious weeknight soup.  If you're looking for something quick and easy to make after a long day at work, this soup will be something the whole family will enjoy.

This Seafood Soup combines shrimp, canned clams and surimi with an assortment of vegetables and cheese filled tortellini pasta, so you have an entire meal in one bowl.  Although tonight we used water as a base for this soup, a fresh batch of seafood stock would also taste great.  Stock takes a little time to make since it requires time to simmer, so weekends are a great time to make a big batch of stock and then freeze it in portions for later use.  You can also add the optional lobster base to the water or broth which adds a lot of seafood flavor.

Since the shrimp and pasta cook very quickly in the broth, the cooking time is pretty fast for this meal.  The surimi crab meat and clams are already cooked and ready to go, so they are both great time savers that add lots of flavor to the soup.  Fresh spinach is another quick-cooking item that cooks in just a few minutes, but adds color and nutrition to the soup.  As a bonus, I have one daughter that doesn't care for spinach if it's cooked from frozen, but she loves fresh cooked spinach in soups, and I love that!  Enjoy!!

2 tsp  Olive Oil
1 small  Onion, diced
1 medium  Red Pepper, diced
1 tsp  Kosher Salt
1/2 tsp  White Pepper
1/4 cup  Flour
5 cups  Water or Seafood Stock
2 tsp  Lobster Base (optional)
2 cans  Chopped Clams with Juice
1 TB  Minced Fresh Chives
1 pkg  Rosetto Cheese Tortellini Pasta
1 lb  Raw Shrimp, shelled and deveined
1/2 lb  Sirimi Imitation Crab Meat Sticks, cut into cubes
1 cup  Half and Half  or  Cream
2 cups  Fresh Spinach, washed and stems removed

Heat olive oil in a medium soup pot over medium heat.  Add onion, red pepper, salt and pepper and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes.  Sprinkle flour over the vegetables, stirring to coat, and continue to cook for 3 minutes.

Add the water or broth, and lobster base if using, to the pot and stir.  Add the clams and chives, and increase heat to medium-high.

Add the tortellini to the pot and bring the mixture to a low boil, stirring frequently.  When the tortellini begin to rise to the top of the soup, add the shrimp to the pot, cook for 2 minutes, then add the crab meat to the pot and cook 2 minutes more, stirring gently.

Add the half and half or cream to the pot and bring the soup to a simmer.  Reduce heat to medium-low, add the spinach to the soup and continue to cook for 5 minutes, or until the spinach is wilted.

Ladle soup into bowls and sprinkle with fresh minced chives and grated Parmesan cheese.

Friday, October 25, 2013

White Cheddar Potato Soup with Killian's Ale

For day 25 of Soup Month 2013 we went a little Irish tonight and made this White Cheddar Potato Soup with Killian's Red Ale.  With a cheesy and velvety texture, the Killian's adds a delicious flavor to this soup.  And besides, nothing is more fun than cooking with beer!  Just be sure to save one beer to drink with this soup. Yum!

Potato soup is a rich dish, there's no getting around that, but when the weather turns cold and you're looking for something hearty for dinner, this will be the recipe to make.  We started with a quick sauté of onions, celery and leeks.  If you're not familiar with leeks, they land somewhere between an onion and garlic, but the flavor is subtle and more on the mild side.  (You'll want to cut the leek down the center and wash it under cool water before slicing to remove any sand.)  It's a great flavor, especially with potatoes, so try not to skip the leek.

Yukon Gold potatoes were used in this soup because of their rich, creamy taste and the fact that they don't crumble when cooked.  The potatoes are added to the soup, along with the ale and stock, which allows the potatoes to capture all of those flavors.

The butter and cheese sauce is added to the pan just before serving and a sprinkle of crumbled blue cheese and diced cooked bacon are added to each bowl as a garnish.  This is an excellent soup alone or serve a smaller portion as a side for roast chicken or a grilled Rib Eye steak.  Enjoy!

2 TB  Salted Butter
1 medium  Onion, diced
2 stalks  Celery, chopped
1 large  Leek, white and light green section, washed and thinly sliced
8 medium  Yuken Gold Potatoes, peeled or not, and diced
1 bottle  Killian's Red Ale
4 cups  Chicken Stock
1 tsp  Kosher Salt
1/2 tsp  Ground Black Pepper
3 TB  Salted Butter
4 TB  Flour
3-1/2 cups  Half and Half  or  2% Milk
8 oz  Medium-Sharp Cheddar Cheese, shredded
Crumbled Blue Cheese for Garnish
Cooked and Diced Bacon for Garnish

Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a medium soup pot over medium-high heat.  Add the onion, celery, and leek and sauté until soft about 6 - 8 minutes.

Add the potatoes, ale, stock, salt and pepper to the pot and bring the soup to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and cook until the potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes.

Melt 3 tablespoons butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Slowly add the flour to the pan, stirring to blend until smooth.  Slowly add the milk to the pot, whisking to blend, and cook until hot.  Add the cheese, stirring with a spoon until the cheese is melted and the sauce is slightly thickened.

Pour the cheese sauce into the pot with the potato mixture, stir gently to combine and cook over low heat for 5 - 10 minutes.  Ladle the soup into bowls and add a sprinkle of blue cheese and/or cooked bacon as a garnish.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Creamy Tomato Rice Soup with Pesto

For day 24 of Soup Month 2013 we made a creamy Tomato Rice Soup with a swirl of pesto as a garnish.  This Italian tomato soup tasted great with a simple salad and would also be delicious served with a classic grilled cheese sandwich. 

At the end of a cold winter day, there's nothing better than to have a hot bowl of soup waiting at home for you.  So to make this soup even more enticing, it's made in the crock pot.  The preparation of this soup literally takes only 10 minutes using a food processor, and after that the crock pot does all of the cooking for you. 

During the last hour of cooking, make a quick batch of rice, stir it into the soup and you are ready to add a bit of pesto and dinner is ready.   (If you don't have time to make the rice, this soup is delicious on its own.)  A sprinkle of Parmesan cheese on top is also tasty.   Enjoy!!

1 small  Onion, quartered
2 medium  Carrots, peeled and cut in half
2 stalks  Celery, cut into thirds
14 oz can  Diced Tomatoes
6 oz can  Tomato Paste with Oregano, Garlic and Thyme
1/2 tsp  Oregano
1/2 tsp  Garlic Powder
1/4 tsp  Ground Black Pepper
1-1/2 cups  Water
1-1/2 cups  Chicken Broth  or  Vegetable Broth

3/4 cup  Jasmati Rice (or use your favorite white or brown rice)
1-1/2 cups Water
1 tsp  Kosher Salt

Prepared Pesto for Garnish
Grated Parmesan Cheese for Garnish

In a food processor, shred the onion carrots and celery into coarse pieces, then add them to the crock pot.  Next, add the tomatoes, including the juice from the can, tomato paste, oregano, garlic powder, pepper, water and broth and stir.

Cover and cook on low for 6 to 7 hours.  When you are about ready to serve the soup, and before you add the rice, use an immersion blender to puree the pure to a smooth consistency.  Taste test and add salt or pepper, if needed.  (Since the tomatoes do have some salt, we did not add any additional salt here, so this will depend on your salt preference.)

During the last hour of cooking, prepare the rice.  Place the rice, water and salt in a small pot, cover and reduce heat to low until the water is absorbed.  Stir the cooked rice into the tomato soup and stir, adding a bit more water or broth if you prefer a thinner consistency.

Ladle the soup into bowls and add a spoonful of pesto and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese, if desired. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Creamy Pumpkin and Red Lentil Soup

For day 23 of Soup Month 2013, we made an incredibly seasonal Red Lentil and Pumpkin Soup that would be perfect for an elegant Thanksgiving meal.  With a delicate blend of unique spices, this soup will pair nicely with roast turkey or pork and would also be delicious with a glazed ham.

I love anything pumpkin, and lentils are quickly becoming a new favorite of mine.  But by combining these two foods, you create a totally luxurious soup with somewhat of an exotic flavor.  The cinnamon and pumpkin go together nicely, of course, but then you get just a hint of cumin and red pepper flavor in the background, while the heartiness of the lentils pulls all of those flavors together.

Another great thing about this soup is that by using the red lentils, which cook much faster than the green variety, you can have this soup ready to serve in about 30 minutes.  If you are serving this for a dinner party, the soup can be prepared an hour or so in advance, then kept warm in a crock pot until you are ready to serve.  Garnish with a spoonful of crème fraiche or sour cream and Enjoy!!

2 tsp  Canola Oil
1 small  Onion, chopped
1 tsp  Minced Garlic
4-2/3 cups  Vegetable Broth, divided
1 cup  Dried Red Lentils
1 tsp  Cumin
1/4 tsp  Paprika
1/4 tsp  Kosher Salt
1/4 tsp  Cinnamon
1/8 tsp  Cayenne Pepper
1 cup  Canned Pumpkin
1/2 tsp  Ground Ginger
1 TB  Lemon Juice
Crème Fraiche for Garnish

In a medium soup pot, heat oil over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and garlic and sauté for 4 minutes.  Add 3 cups of the vegetable broth, the lentils, cumin, paprika, salt, cinnamon and cayenne to the pot and bring the mixture to a boil.

Cover and reduce the heat to a simmer for 10 minutes, or until the lentils are tender.  Use an immersion blender to puree the soup until it's very smooth.

Add the remaining 1-2/3 cups of broth to the pot, followed by the pumpkin, and cook for 5 minutes over medium heat.

Add the ginger and lemon juice to the soup and stir.  Ladle the soup into bowls and top with a dollop of crème fraiche and a sprinkle of fresh chopped parsley.  Enjoy!!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Beef Vegetable Soup with Barley

For day 22 of Soup Month 2013, we made one of my favorite soups, a hearty Beef Vegetable Soup with Barley.  Not only is this soup packed with lots of healthy veggies, the barley adds extra nutrients and fiber, too. 

This soup does take a little extra time to cook to create that rich tomato broth, so it's a great soup to make on a chilly Sunday afternoon.  With about 20 minutes of prep time and one hour to simmer, the results will be delicious and so worth the wait.  Just brown the meat, add the veggies and stock along with a few spices and it's time to simmer. 

This soup tastes great served with a few crackers or a loaf of crunchy French bread on the side.  Enjoy!!

1 TB  Canola or Vegetable Oil
2 lbs  Beef Stew Meat
4  Carrots, peeled and chopped
4  Russet Potatoes, peeled and chopped
2 stalks  Celery, chopped
1 large  Onion, chopped
32 oz  Beef Stock
2 tsp  Kosher Salt, or more to taste
1 tsp  Ground Black Pepper, or more to taste
1 14-oz can  Diced Tomatoes
2 tsp  Garlic Powder
2 tsp  Oregano
3  Bay Leaves
1 cup  Quick Cooking Barley

In a large Dutch oven or soup pot, heat oil over medium-high heat.  Add the beef and brown for 5 minutes, then add the carrots, potatoes, celery and onion, stir and cook for 5 minutes longer.

Add all of the remaining ingredients and stir.  Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce heat to a low simmer and cook for one hour, or until the beef is fork tender.  Serves 6 - 8.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Spanish Garlic Soup

For day 21 of Soup Month 2013, we made a rustic Spanish-style Garlic Soup.  This is a nearly clear broth soup that gets a majority of its flavor from smoked paprika, lots of garlic, and a perfectly poached egg on top.  And for such a simple soup, the flavor is extraordinary.

Believe it or not, there is a huge difference between "paprika" and "smoked paprika".  Regular paprika is very mild and is usually a blend of domestic or imported ingredients, and the taste is not really hot or sweet.  This generic paprika is great for garnishing, such as sprinkling over deviled eggs or on top of salads, but it doesn't add a lot of flavor, but mostly color.

Smoked paprika is from Hungary, where they consider paprika a national treasure, and they take this product quite seriously.  There are actually ten different varieties of smoked paprika ranging from delicate and mild, to medium and semi-sweet, to a more pungent flavor with more heat.  The color can also range from brownish to light red to bright red and even orange.  Lots of different choices.

The smoked paprika sold in the U.S., such as the one used in this recipe from Spice Islands, is a blend of chilies that are smoked over wood fires, and is perfect for adding a smoky, earthy flavor to paella, or added to dry rub mixes for beef, chicken or even lamb.  The flavor is so unique, you'll find yourself using it in more and more dishes to add just that little something extra. 

This recipe is super easy to make, uses only a few common ingredients, and it makes a perfect side dish when you don't want anything too heavy with your meal.  It is a little tricky dropping the eggs into the broth, but if you carefully slide the eggs into the soup one at a time, keeping them about an inch apart, it is easy to scoop them up and transfer to the bowls.  Enjoy!!

2 TB  Olive Oil
2 TB  Minced Garlic
2 tsp  Fresh Rosemary, finely minced
5 cups  Progresso Tuscany Broth (or regular chicken broth)
3/4 tsp  Genuine Smoked Paprika (not plain paprika)
3/4 tsp  Dried Oregano
2 tsp  Sea Salt (or more to taste)
5 large  Eggs
Large Croutons or Thick Toasted Bread Squares

In a medium soup pot, heat the oil over medium heat.  Add the garlic, rosemary and 1 teaspoon salt.  Sautee for 2 minutes or until the garlic begins to brown.

Add the stock, paprika, oregano and 1 teaspoon salt.  Bring broth to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 10 minutes.

Increase the heat to medium-high and carefully crack the eggs onto the top of the simmering soup.  Simmer for about 4 minutes for a soft yolk, or add 2 minutes extra if you prefer the yolks to be set.

Place several croutons or toasted bread squares into the bottom of each soup bowl.  Use a slotted spoon to transfer a poached egg to each bowl, then ladle the soup over the eggs.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Seafood Chowder

For day 20 of Soup Month 2013, we made a creamy Seafood Chowder with shrimp and swai fish fillets.  My plan for this chowder was to combine a light, vegetable and herb broth with spicy shrimp placed in the center.  Then I got to thinking how tasty the swai fillets would be with the same Sriracha-based marinade. I decided to add the fish to the mix, and it was a delicious success.

To create the flavorful broth, the onion, celery and carrots are sautéed with a bit of white wine and a tablespoon of lobster base, which adds a deep layer of flavor to the soup.  The soup is then pureed and the cooked seafood is placed in the center of the bowl to provide a burst of spicy flavor to the chowder.

This chowder makes an excellent dinner on its own, but it would also be perfect served in smaller portions as a first course, or even as an appetizer.  Serve with crunchy French bread and a glass of chardonnay.  Enjoy!!

Marinade for Seafood
4  Fish Fillets
3/4 lb  small  Raw Shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 TB Olive Oil, or enough to coat
1 TB  Minced Garlic
2 Basil Cubes or 2 TB Fresh Chopped Basil
Pinch of Cayenne Pepper
1 TB  Balsamic Vinegar
2 tsp  Sriracha Sauce
1 tsp  Paprika
1/2 tsp  Kosher Salt
1/2 tsp  Ground Black Pepper

2 TB  Butter
1 TB  Olive Oil
1 small  Onion, finely chopped
2  Carrots,  finely chopped
2 stalks  Celery, finely chopped
1 TB  Minced Garlic
1 tsp  Dried Thyme
3  Bay Leaves
1 TB  Lobster Base
1/8 tsp  White Pepper
1 tsp  Kosher Salt
1/2 cup  Dry White Wine
5 cups  Chicken Broth
1/2 cup  Heavy Cream

In a medium glass bowl, combine the marinade ingredients with the fish and shrimp, stirring to coat the seafood.  Set aside for 15 - 20 minutes.

In a large soup pot, heat butter and olive oil over medium heat.  Add the onion, carrots, celery and cook for 5 minutes.  Add the garlic, thyme, bay leaves, lobster base, pepper and salt, and cook for 2 minutes.

Increase heat to medium-high, add the wine and cook until reduced by half, about 5 minutes.  Add the broth and bring the mixture to a boil.  Reduce heat to a simmer, add the cream and cook for 15 minutes, until slightly thickened.

Remove the pot from the heat and carefully use an immersion blender to puree the soup until completely smooth.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the fish and shrimp mixture to the skillet, including the marinade, and stir gently, cooking until the seafood is fully cooked, about 7 - 8 minutes.  Remove the skillet from the heat and keep warm, if needed, until ready to prepare the soup bowls.

Ladle the soup into bowls, place several pieces of fish and shrimp into the center of each bowl, top with a sprinkle of fresh chopped parsley and serve.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Quick Chicken Mole Chili

For day 19 of Soup Month 2013 we made a spicy Chicken Mole Chili with bold flavors and a rich, dark sauce.  The term "mole", (pronounced mo-lay) is a popular Mexican sauce that consists of cooked onions, garlic and chilies, various spices, plus a small amount of Mexican chocolate or, in this case, cocoa.  The chocolate might sounds a bit odd, but it actually adds richness to the chili without adding overt sweetness.

This is a pretty spicy bowl of chili, which I love, but adding a little crumbled queso fresco cheese on top was just the right thing to balance out some of the heat.  My daughter, who doesn't like too much spice, added sour cream to her bowl and she loved the chili.

We saved a lot of time preparing this chili by using the canned black beans instead of soaking the dried beans and we used already cooked chicken.  These shortcuts allowed us to keep the cooking time to just over an hour.

This would be a perfect chili to serve for a football party, but it is spicy.  If you have some guests that prefer a more mild chili, just serve both!  Make two batches of chili the day before, then heat each of them in crock pots the day of your party.  Use the same assortment of toppings that would work for both types of chili, such as grated cheese, sour cream, avocado slices and corn chips, and you have something for everyone, and your guests will love you!  Enjoy!!

1 TB  Olive Oil
1 medium  Onion, diced
1 TB  Minced Garlic
4 oz can  Diced Jalapenos (use just 1/2 can for less heat)
1/2 tsp  Cumin
1/2 tsp  Chipotle Powder
1/2 tsp  Dried Thyme
1/2 tsp  Cinnamon
1 tsp  Chili Powder
2 tsp  Kosher Salt
1/2 tsp  Ground Black Pepper
1 TB  Cocoa Powder
1 TB  Sugar
14 oz can  Diced Tomatoes
14 oz can  Black Beans, drained and rinsed
3 cups  Chicken Stock
2 - 3 cups  Cooked Chicken
1 medium  Red Bell Pepper, diced
1 cup  Frozen Corn
1 cup  Chicken Broth
2 TB  Cornmeal

In a medium soup pot, heat olive oil over medium heat, then add the onions, garlic and jalapeno, then cook 5 minutes until tender.

Add the dry spices and the sugar to the pot and stir to blend into the vegetables, cooking for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, black beans and 3 cups chicken stock to the pot and bring the mixture to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 30 minutes.

Add the chicken, red pepper, and corn to the pot and stir to combine and increase heat to a low boil.  In a small bowl combine the 1 cup chicken broth with the cornmeal, stirring to form a paste.  Add the cornmeal paste to the soup and stir until fully dissolved, then cook over medium heat for 20 minutes.  Serve with sour cream, grated cheddar cheese or crumbled queso fresco, avocado slices and tortilla chips on the side. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Salsa Verde Chicken Tortilla Soup

For day 18 of Soup Month 2013 we made a spicy Mexican Salsa Verde Chicken Tortilla Soup that's packed with bold spicy flavors and is actually quite healthy. 

If you've never tried tortilla soup, this is a great recipe to try.  Made with green tomatillos, the salsa verde adds lots of flavor to the broth.  With just the right amount of chilies, onion, garlic, and just a touch of cilantro, the salsa verde makes this soup very easy to make.

By seasoning the meat with a basic taco seasoning mix, then quickly searing the meat, the chicken is nicely flavored and all of the juices stay inside.  Next the vegetables are sautéed and it's time to create the broth. 

I used this technique in a few other recipes recently and I love the results. By pureeing the corn with a cup of the chicken broth, you get these little pieces of corn in the soup, but the sweetness of the corn is infused into the broth.  This gives the broth a sweet taste and, when combined with the spicy chicken, is a perfect balance in this soup.  The addition of cornmeal near the end of the cooking time adds more corn flavor and gives the soup a nice rich texture, without diluting the flavors with flour or cornstarch.

For a garnish we fried up some tortilla strips, which only take a few minutes to make and add a crispy-crunchy texture to the soup.  You can also add avocado slices or crumbled queso fresco cheese on top of the soup. 

This is also a great "party" soup and it stays warm nicely if kept in a crock pot on the low setting.  Provide bowls of assorted toppings and your guests can serve themselves.  Super easy!  Enjoy!!

1-1/2 lbs  Boneless, Skinless Chicken Thighs, trimmed and cut into small pieces
2 tsp  Taco Seasoning Mix
1 TB  Canola Oil
1 small  Onion, finely chopped
1/2  Red Bell Pepper, finely chopped
1  Poblano Pepper, finely chopped
1 TB  Minced Garlic
1 cup  Green Salsa Verde
4 cups  Chicken Broth, divided
1 cup  Frozen Corn, defrosted
3 TB  Cornmeal
2 TB  Water
6  Corn Tortillas, cut into narrow strips
Canola Oil for Frying

Season the chicken pieces with the taco seasoning and set aside.

In a medium soup pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat until shimmering.  Add the chicken to the pot and cook until browned, about 6 minutes, stirring frequently.  Transfer the chicken to a plate and keep warm.

Add the onion, both peppers and garlic to the pot and sauté until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the salsa verde and 3 cups of the chicken broth to the pot, and bring the mixture to low simmer over medium heat.

In a medium bowl, combine the corn and 1 cup of chicken broth and use a stick blender to puree the mixture, then add this mixture to the soup pot.  Increase the heat to medium-high and bring the soup to a boil. 

Combine the cornmeal and water in a small bowl, stirring until the cornmeal is moist.  Add this mixture to the soup, stir to combine, then reduce the heat to medium- low and cook for 15 minutes.

While the soup is cooking, heat 1/4-inch of oil in a large skillet.  Add the tortilla strips to the pan so they are not touching, working in 2 or 3 batches if needed, and fry the strips until golden and crispy.  Transfer the strips to a paper towel lined platter to drain.

Ladle the soup into bowls and serve with an assortment of toppings such as avocado slices, crumbled queso fresco cheese, and tortilla strips.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Creamy Sun-Dried Tomato and Italian Sausage Soup

For day 17 of Soup Month 2013, we made a creamy Sun-Dried Tomato Soup with Italian Sausage.  This soup gets a nice dose of smoky flavor from the sun-dried tomatoes and a bit of smoked paprika, and the tomatoes add an incredible aroma to the soup.  The tomatoes are quite inexpensive and can be found in the produce department, and they are a wonderful addition to lots of recipes.

To make this soup more of a one-pot-meal we added some gnocchi pasta, which are cute little half-shell shaped pasta.  This shape helped the pasta hold onto the sauce really well, but any pasta shape, such as penne or farfalle, would work fine.

To make the sauce we started with a Tuscany-style broth, added seasoned diced tomatoes, and a few spices, then finished the sauce with a little half and half and ricotta cheese.  The ricotta adds a nice texture to the soup and, even though we used the low-fat ricotta, it added a nice richness to the soup and helped thicken the broth.

This soup is pretty quick to prepare.  Since the three components of the soup are cooked separately and then combined, this meal was ready to serve in under 30 minutes.  Serve with a green salad and crunchy garlic bread, an maybe a glass of Rioja wine.  Enjoy!!

1 cup  Smoked Sun-Dried Tomatoes, chopped
3 cups  Progresso Tuscany Broth
6 oz  Dry Pasta, any shape
1 lb  Italian Sausage, casings removed and meat crumbled
1 small  Onion, diced
2 tsp  Minced Garlic
14 oz can  Diced Tomatoes Seasoned with Garlic, Basil and Oregano
1-1/2 tsp  Garlic Powder
1 tsp  Kosher Salt
1/2 tsp  Ground Black Pepper
1/4 tsp  Smoked Paprika
3/4 cup  Half and Half  or  Heavy Cream
3/4 cup  Low-Fat Ricotta Cheese
Grated Parmesan-Romano Cheese for Garnish
Chopped Fresh Parsley for Garnish

In a medium soup pot, over medium heat, add the tomatoes and broth and simmer for 10 minutes to soften the tomatoes.

While the tomatoes and broth simmer you can prepare the pasta and sausage for the soup.

In a medium saucepan, cook the pasta in salted water until just al dente.  Drain and set aside.

In a medium skillet, brown the sausage over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and garlic to the sausage and cook until tender.

When the pasta is cooked add it to the soup pot with the broth, then add the sausage mixture to the pot when it has finished cooking.

Add the canned tomatoes and remaining dry spices to the soup, stir and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes or until the soup simmers.  When the soup comes to a simmer, add the half and half and ricotta to the pot, stirring to blend in the ricotta.  Continue to simmer for 10 minutes or until the soup thickens slightly.

Ladle the soup into bowls and top with a sprinkle of Parmesan-Romano cheese and fresh chopped parsley.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Chicken, Lentil and Barley Soup

Today is day 16 of Soup Month 2013 and we are over half way through this month of soups and stews.  To continue on, we have a hearty bowl of soup that delivers lots of protein and healthy fiber.  I love simple vegetable soup and this Chicken, Lentil and Barley Soup just delicious.  Packed with lots of complex carbs and healthy veggies and it's so easy to make, you can have it on the table, ready to eat in just about an hour.  It also makes great leftovers.

One benefit of cooking with red lentils is the shorter cooking time.  When cooking with green lentils you are looking at about 45 - 60 minutes of cooking time, and the lentils will still have a firm texture, even after this much cooking time. Red lentils, however, will cook down to a mushy-type consistency in about 20 - 30 minutes.  And mushy is a good thing in this case.  If you have kids that are just a little picky (or a lot picky, in some cases), adding a handful of red lentils to a stew or soup will thicken the stock as the lentils dissolve and add lots of protein and fiber, without the kids asking what those "little things" are in their soup. (Yes, my picky eater always asks this question...sigh.  But she did like this soup.) 

If you prefer a vegetarian soup, just substitute vegetable broth for the chicken broth and leave out the chicken.  Enjoy!!

1/2 cup  Red lentils
1 small  Onion, chopped
1/2  Red or Orange Sweet Pepper, chopped
2 tsp  Minced Garlic
2 TB  Butter
5 cups  Chicken Broth  (or vegetable broth)
1/2 tsp  Dried Basil
1/4 tsp  Dried Oregano
1 tsp  Fresh Rosemary
1/2 tsp  Ground Black Pepper
2 tsp  Kosher Salt
2 cups  Chopped Pre-Cooked Chicken or Turkey
2 or 3  Carrots, peeled and sliced
1/2 cup  Quick Cooking Barley, uncooked
14-1/2 oz can  Diced Tomatoes

In a medium soup pot, melt the butter and sauté the onions, peppers, and garlic until just softened.

Add the chicken broth, basil, oregano, rosemary, pepper, and salt to the pot and stir.  Rinse and drain the lentils and add them to the pot and bring the mixture to a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer, covered for 15 minutes.

Add the chicken, carrots and barley to the pot, stir and cover the pot and simmer for 10 minutes, then add the tomatoes and cook for 10 minutes longer or until the carrots are tender.  Makes 6 servings.