Friday, December 31, 2010

Fresh Tomato Soup

Lately I've been trying to find a delicious tomato soup recipe. I made one not too long ago and was completely disappointed. I think it tasted pretty good, but I didn't care for the texture. It was very grainy, and in a soup that is not a good thing. I think the reason it was so grainy was because it called for Parmesan cheese. And, when I used my immersion blender it broke it up into grainy pieces. I could be wrong, though. Maybe it was just my cooking technique that messed it up. Who knows. Anyway, I decided to try another tomato soup recipe. The one that I tried last night was from the Better Homes and Garden New Cookbook. By the way, I highly recommend this cookbook if you don't have it in your arsenal. I thought the soup looked grainy once I blended it but the taste was perfect. I think I will still try another recipe maybe one that is called Tomato and Basil Soup. However, I recommend this recipe. I thought it had a wonderful taste and it was very warm. And, last night was definitely a comfort food night! I think it would go wonderfully with a delicious grilled cheese sandwich. Enjoy!

3 medium tomatoes, peeled and quartered
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 c chopped onion
1/2 c chopped celery ( 1 stalk)
1/2 of a 6 oz can of tomato paste (1/3 c)
2 tbsp snipped fresh cilantro or basil
2 tsp instant chicken bouillon granules
1 tsp sugar
Few dashes bottled hot pepper sauce
Snipped cilantro or basil for garnish

I used 6 tomatoes from a vine because they were a tad on the small side. The recipe doesn't call for this, but since it says peeled tomatoes, I took a large pot of water and brought to a boil. I placed the tomatoes one at a time into the boiling water for about 30 seconds. I then transferred the tomato into a bowl of ice water. This helps to make the peeling process that much easier. Once the tomatoes were peeled, I sliced the tomatoes and remove the seeds. You don't have to do this, but I did. Chop up your onion and celery. Take a soup pot and add the onion, celery, tomato, water, tomato paste, the basil ( I used this instead of cilantro), bouillon granules, sugar, and hot pepper sauce. I didn't have hot pepper sauce, but I did have Pickapeppa. So, I used that as my hot pepper sauce. Also, I added a couple dashes of garlic salt. Bring this to a boil. Next, reduce the heat to medium low and simmer with a lid on the pan for about 20 minutes. You want the celery and onion to be tender. Remove from heat and cool for about 10 minutes or so. It says to place half the soup into a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. However, I have an immersion blender, so I used this to blend my soup. Then return to the stove (if you used the blender) and heat the soup. For some reason the recipe doesn't call for salt or pepper. But, I felt it definitely needed salt. So season with salt and/or pepper to your liking. I garnished my bowl with some basil.

(Click here for printable recipe)

Peanut Butter Cup Cookies with Reeses Pieces

For my co-workers this Christmas I decided to make them a batch of cookies. But, not just one batch; three batches! However, I'm going to spare posting all 3 recipes on this blog. Instead I chose to post the most unique out of the 3. The other two I made were your standard chocolate chip (The New Best Recipe) and oatmeal raisin (The New Best Recipe) cookie. If you like peanut butter, reeces peanut butter cups, and reeces pieces then you will loooove this cookie. I certainly did. This recipe doesn't call for the reeces pieces, but I was originally going to make a reeces pieces chocolate cookie. I came across this recipe and thought it sounded yummy. So, I threw in the reeces pieces as an added touch. It was deeelicious! Hope you like!

1 3/4 c all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 c butter, softened
1/2 c white sugar
1/2 c brown sugar
1/2 c peanut butter
1 egg beaten
1 tsp vanilla
2 tbsp milk
30-40 miniature peanut butter cups, unwrapped.

First set your oven to around 350-375 degrees. The recipe calls for 375, but I set mine to 350. Just know your oven and you'll be fine with either temp. The next thing you need to do is take a medium bowl and combine the flour, salt, and baking soda. Whisk together and set aside. Then take the bowl from your mixer and add the butter, sugars, peanut butter and cream until fluffy. Next add your beaten egg, vanilla, and the milk. Mix together well. Then slowly add in your flour mixture. I stirred in my Reeses Pieces next.
The recipe didn't call for this but I put the mixture into my fridge for an hour to chill. I find this helps shaping the dough into balls much easier. Once the dough is chilled remove from fridge and start shaping into little balls. Now, the recipe says to place the cookies onto an ungreased mini muffin pan. I don't have one of these and didn't want to spend the money to buy one. So, I just put some parchment paper on a cookie sheet and placed the cookie balls on the sheet. Bake for about 8 minutes. However, keep an eye on them. If the cookies look like they're browning on the bottom then remove from oven. I burnt the bottom of some of mine. Remove from oven and immediately press the peanut butter cups into each ball. Cool and place cookies on a cooling rack. Enjoy!

(Click here for printable recipe)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Shredded Chicken Enchiladas

I love Mexican food. And yes, Texas, I know that the food you get at the restaurants around here (like Casa Grande or El Toro Loco or Mexico) is not “real” Mexican food. It’s been Americanized, watered down for the masses, and totally compromised. And I love it. In fact, whenever I get “real” Mexican food, I don’t like it as much. I’m sorry, maybe that makes me some sort of chilaquile neophyte, but if that means I can get spicy meat and cheese wrapped in a flour tortilla, then that’s ok by me. These chicken enchiladas would not fly in Mexico City, but in my house… I mean, mi casa, they rock.

2 cloves garlic, minced
2 jars enchilada sauce
Cayenne pepper (optional)
Kosher salt
Ground black pepper
3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
3 pickled jalepenos (from a can), minced
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese, divided
1 cup shredded Monterrey jack cheese, divided
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped, divided
Flour tortillas
Cooking spray

This meal does take a little bit of time to pull together, so make sure you aren’t starving or you’ll give up halfway through and order a pizza. Start by preheating your oven to 425 degrees. Pour your enchilada sauce into a deep skillet. Add the garlic and cayenne pepper (to taste) and heat to a boil. This happened pretty quickly for me, and also became quite messy. Don’t wear white. You’ve been warned.

While the enchilada sauce is heating, sprinkle your chicken breasts with kosher salt and pepper. Then submerge them in the sauce and lower the heat to low. Cover and cook until the chicken is cooked through. The recipe I had (from A Sweet Pea Chef) said this would take about 15-20 minutes, but I guess my breasts were huge (yeah!) because it took about twice as long. I also flipped mine over halfway through because the tops were peeking out of the sauce and not cooking as quickly. Once they are cooked all the way through (check it!) take the chicken out of the sauce and put them both aside to cool.

When the chicken is relatively cool, shred it using the two fork method. Hold one fork in the chicken and scrape the other one away from the fork. It’s time consuming but it’s really the best way. Put the shredded chicken in a large bowl. Add about a quarter of each kind of cheese, the jalapeƱos, and the cilantro. I also added some of the enchilada sauce. The recipe calls for half the sauce to be added, but I only put in enough to hold the mixture together—about ¼ cup.

Spray a large baking dish with cooking spray. Then get out your flour tortillas and spoon some of the chicken mixture in the middle, and roll up your tortilla. Place it in the baking dish with the seam side down. Once you’ve done this with all the tortillas, put them in the oven for about ten minutes just to get them a little golden brown. Take them out and turn the oven down to 400. Pour the sauce over the enchiladas and sprinkle the rest of the cheese over top. Loosely cover with foil and cook for about 20 minutes. Remove the foil (try not to pull off the cheese) and cook for another 5-10 minutes until the cheese starts to look tasty. Serve with sour cream and a Corona. Even if it’s not real, authentic Mexican, it tastes really good.

(Click here for printable recipe)

Friday, December 17, 2010

Sugar Cookies with Lemon Zest

In years past, we used sugar cookie recipes with adorable cookie cutters of stars, candy canes, ornaments, and Christmas trees that always went into the oven delightful and came out these ambiguous blobs with holiday sprinkles. They weren’t pretty, but they were admittedly delicious with a tall glass of milk.

This year, we were determined to get it right. We simplified – partially out of determination, partially because we couldn’t find our cookie cutters. And through that simplification, we discovered a new recipe that is sure to last for years and years to come.

How gorgeous are these cookies?
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cups sugar plus additional sugar for topping
2/3 cups vegetable oil
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. grated lemon zest

Mix flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl.
In a large bowl, whisk eggs until blended. Add sugar, oil, vanilla extract, and lemon zest. Mix thoroughly. Stir in the dry ingredients, and again, mix thoroughly. Chill this mix in the refrigerator, covered, for 30 minutes or more.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Prepare sugar plate for sugar topping.
After 30 minutes, scoop out cookie dough with teaspoons, and form into small balls. Drop balls onto cookie sheet roughly 2 inches apart.
Wet the bottom of a flat-bottomed glass under faucet, and dip glass bottom into sugar plate. Sugar should stick to the glass. Stamp cookie on cookie sheet, pressing down slightly, giving it a sugar topping. Repeat process for all cookies: wetting the glass, placing it in sugar, and stamping dough.
Bake cookies until lightly browned, about 8 minutes.

Just like our Chocolate Crinkle Cookies, the smaller the balls you make, the better these seemed to turn out.

Happy baking!


(Click here for printable recipe)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Lee's Chocolate Crinkle Cookies

My friend Lee and I have a Christmas-time tradition. Last night was our 5th annual Christmas cookie baking day. Now that I type that, I realize we need a better name. Christmas-palooza. Cookie Festivus. Sugar Eve. I guess we’ll keep working on that.

However, naming aside, this is one of my favorite baking days of the year. There are tall glasses of milk involved. Often tall glasses of wine as well. With holiday music caroling in the background, we cover my kitchen in flour like it was some kind of holiday fairy dust, returning the season to childhood origins.

I wanted to post these recipes separately. This first recipe is Lee’s discovery. I have it marked in my cookbook as Lee’s Chocolate Crinkle Cookies. Where the original recipe came from, I have no idea.

These are delicious and beautiful!
Semi-sweet chocolate chips
Vegetable oil
Granulated sugar
2 Eggs
Baking powder
Powdered Sugar

Melt 2 oz. semi-sweet chocolate. Mix chocolate with ¼ cup vegetable oil, 1 cup granulated sugar, and 1 tsp. vanilla. Fold in 2 eggs, one at a time. Mix in 1 cup flour, 1 tsp. baking powder, and ¼ tsp. salt. Once all ingredients are mixed well, refrigerate for 4 hours or more.
After chilling, with a teaspoon, scoop out a small amount of the mixture, and form into a ball with your hands. Roll the ball in powdered sugar until it is fully covered, and then place the ball on the cookie sheet. Separate balls by 1 ½ inches or so.
Bake 10-12 minutes or until your finger leaves no permanent mark when you press on it.

1) The smaller the chocolate chips, the easier it is to melt them. 2) The smaller the balls you create, the better the cookie. It’s taken us years not to end up with gigantic cookies that are moist in the middle but too crisp on the edges. Now, this cookie comes with a mantra: small balls! small balls! 3) The longer you refrigerate the better this seems to work. Plan ahead! 4) If you’re talking a lot when you’re forming the balls and work too slowly, the mix may get warm and stick to your hands. If this happens, either start working faster, or stick the mix back in the fridge for a few minutes.
When these cookies come out of the oven they look like snowflakes. The powdered sugar has broken apart where the cookie has grown just beautifully. These are cookies made for a tall glass of milk.
Happy baking and happy holidays!

(Click here for printable recipe)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Pumpkin Gooey Bars

1 package of yellow cake mix (I use betty crocker)
1 egg
8 - 10 Tbs of butter (the more butter the softer), melted

1 (8-oz) package of cream cheese, softened
1 (15-oz) can of pumpkin
3 eggs
1 tsp of vanilla (a tiny drip more won't hurt)
8 Tbs of butter, melted
1 (16-oz) box powdered sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg

Preheat oven 350 degrees

Combine cake mix, egg & butter. Mix well with electric mixer. Pat mixture into bottom of lightly greased 13 x 9 inch baking pan. For the filling beat cream cheese and pumpkin until smooth in a large bowl. Add eggs, vanilla and butter, then beat together. Next add powdered sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and mix well. Spread pumpkin mixture over cake batter and then bake for 40 to 50 minutes. Be careful to not overbake. The bars will continue to set even out of the oven. The middle of the bars will be slightly jiggly when taken out of the oven.

The bars are great on their own or with whipped cream.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Mushroom Bourguignon

I am a dyed-in-the-wool carnivore. I’m sure my ancestors back in the caveman days were eating pterodactyl and saber-toothed tiger on a daily basis. (Yes, I know that’s historically impossible, but stick with me here.) My husband is cut from the same (loin) cloth. So the thought of making a meal without meat? Not going to fly in my house. That is, until I saw the photo of this gorgeous mushroom bourguignon on Smitten Kitchen. It looked so rich and thick and… well, meaty. We had to try it. And it did not disappoint. Portobello mushrooms are considered the steak of mushrooms and live up to it in this dish. It’s the perfect thing for a cold night (and we’ve been having a lot of those lately.)

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter, softened
2 pounds Portobello mushrooms, in 1/4-inch slices
1/2 carrot, finely diced
1 small yellow onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup full-bodied red wine (we used a Bordeaux)
2 cups beef broth
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (1/2 teaspoon dried)
1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup pearl onions, peeled (thawed if frozen)
Egg noodles

Get out your trusty Dutch oven or whatever you usually make a big ol’ pot of soup in. Add one tablespoon of olive oil and one tablespoon of butter and heat over high heat. Sear the mushrooms, stirring them around. In about 3 to 4 minutes they should begin to darken but not release any juice yet. Remove them and set aside.

Reduce the heat to medium and add the second tablespoon of olive oil. Add the onions, carrot, thyme and a good amount of salt and pepper. Cook it for ten minutes. It should start smelling fantastic. This is about the time that Steve started thinking he might actually enjoy the meal. When the onions are slightly brown, add the garlic and cook for another minute.

Now pour in the wine and deglaze the pan (get all the brown bits from the bottom of the pot). Put the heat back on high to reduce the liquid by half. About now it starts smelling a lot like strong red wine. It’s not great. But don’t be afraid—I didn’t taste the wine outright in the final dish. Once it’s reduced, add the tomato paste and broth, plus the mushrooms and any juices they’ve released. Bring the liquid to a boil and then lower the temp to simmer for 20 minutes. If you are adding pearl onions (we couldn’t find any!) add them after the 20 minutes and simmer for another 5.

Combine the remaining tablespoon of butter with the flour until combined (I zapped it in the microwave for 15 seconds to make it easier). Stir the mixture into the sauce until it’s mixed in and the sauce thickens. Simmer for another ten minutes. If you want an even thicker sauce you can turn up the heat and boil to reduce until it’s where you want it. Taste it and season it, then serve over egg noodles with a healthy spoonful of sour cream!

It’s by no means easy, but it’s also not the most complicated meal I’ve ever made. And it’s worth it. Plus, when someone asks you what you had for dinner last night, you get to say, “Mushroom Bourguignon” and totally put to shame the leftover meatloaf they probably had.

(Click here for printable recipe)

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Cinnamon Swirl Bundt Cake

In my opinion, I think in order to be a good cook or baker you need to be really good at following directions. If you don't then you can pretty much guarantee that the recipe will turn out horribly. In baking it's especially important to follow the recipe. I think it has something to do with dealing with sugars, flour, butter, and measuring exactly. Well, this happens to be one of those occasions where I read the instructions, but I didn't properly follow them. However, my inability to follow instructions turned out perfectly. Okay, I did try to take out the cake too early from the bundt pan thus messing up the cake aesthetically. But, when I took a bite out of that cake it was so moist and the crumbly cinnamon part of the cake (one part I messed up) was wonderfully tasty. I've been wanting to make a cinnamon cake or a cinnamon coffee cake and this recipe definitely hit the spot. It was very moist, filled with plenty of cinnamon, and it was deeeelicious. Thanks to divine-baking for the recipe! Enjoy!

1 cup sour cream
3/4 cup butter
1 1/2 cups white sugar
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 eggs
1 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
¾ cup dark Brown sugar

First thing in the morning, I took out the butter and 3 eggs in order to let it come to room temperature. The recipe didn't call for this, but since Barefoot Contessa always thinks it's a good idea I decided to go for it. When I was ready to start baking I preheated the oven to a 400 degree temperature.
I took the 3/4 cup of brown sugar (I used light brown) and cinnamon and 1/4 cup of white sugar. Mix together and set aside.

Next, I took my mixing bowl and put the 3 eggs along with 1 1/2 cups of sugar and mixed well. Then, I added the sour cream and butter. Mix well. I had placed the flour, baking powder, and baking soda into a small bowl. Now, gradually add the flour mixture into the mixing bowl. Mix well. Add the vanilla and nuts (I omitted the nuts). Stir well. Okay, this is where I messed up. I ended up adding an additional 1/4 cup of sugar into the mixture. Take your lightly oiled bundt pan and pour half the batter into it. Now, this is the second part where I messed up. You are supposed to pour the entire cinnamon mixture onto the batter. And, then pour the remaining batter on top. Well, I poured half the cinnamon mixture onto the batter, poured the remaining batter on top, and then added the remaining cinnamon mixture on top of that. I'm really glad I did that, because it had a nice crunchy topping. Cook the cake for 8 minutes at 400 degrees and then turn the temperature down to 350 degrees and cook an additional 30 minutes. Well, it ended up taking me an additional 50 minutes to cook the cake. Not 30 minutes. I had to stick a toothpick in it to make sure it came out clean before I took it out of the oven.
The third part where I messed up was removing the cake from the bundt pan before it properly cooled. So, make sure that you remove it from the pan after it's cooled completely.

Now, you can make the icing to go on top of the cake if you so desire. To make the icing take 4 cups of powdered sugar and 3-8 tbsp of milk. Gradually add the milk a tablespoon at a time until it reaches the consistency and taste that you like. Pour onto the cake. I ended up using about 3 1/2 cups of sugar and about 5 tbsp of milk.

(Click here for printable recipe)

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Apple Pie

My grandma was known for her pies. She never made cakes that I can remember. She did have some tasty cookie recipes, but if there was one recipe that said “Grandma” it was pie. She made pumpkin pies, custard pies, strawberry rhubarb pies, and of course, apple pies. I remember afternoons spent helping her make crusts, and using the leftover scraps to make our own little desserts (that usually tasted pretty bad). As a child, I had no idea that my Grandma wasn't just having fun. She was doing real work. Hard work! Apple pie is one of those things that seems so simple, and yet it’s so hard to make. And that’s the kind of challenge I can’t pass up.

This recipe is a mish mash of a few different recipes. I took the crust and modified the filling from Smitten Kitchen, and the crumbly top from Very Culinary. It has a lot of steps and is definitely a full day of baking, so I would save this for a weekend or holiday when you have plenty of time.

The Crust
My grandmother always used Crisco (vegetable shortening) in her crusts, and a lot of people swear by it. But I went for an all butter crust. I halved the recipe at Smitten since I was only making a bottom crust. If you are making a top and bottom, double it.
1 ¼  cups flour
½  tablespoon sugar
½  teaspoon salt
1 sticks unsalted butter, very cold
½ cup cold water, with ice cubes

The very cold butter is a must, so don’t take it out of the fridge until you are ready to use it. I actually cut mine into cubes and then put it back in the fridge to let it harden again. Whisk together the dry ingredients and then add in the butter cut into small cubes. This part calls for a pastry blender, which I don’t have, but will be getting after attempting to make this without one. You can just get your hands in there and try to break up the butter and incorporate the flour, but a pastry blender makes it so much easier. And they are cheap—around $5-$15 depending on where you go. When the butter is the size of tiny peas, drip in about a third of the water (no cubes). Use a rubber spatula or your hands to bring the flour and butter together into a dough. You may use more of the water, but add it very slowly (by the tablespoon, preferably) and don’t use too much. Once the dough is… well… doughy, form it into a small ball, wrap it in plastic, and put it in the fridge for two hours.

When you’re done, it’s time to roll out the dough. I’m going to let you read Smitten’s tutorial on it since she explains it so well. Just remember to be patient and go slow.

The Filling
I modified this recipe from Smitten based on the ingredients, her comments, and the fact that I was adding a sugary top, so I didn’t want so much sugar in the filling. I used gala apples, but you can use granny smith or macintosh, or whatever you prefer.
Gala Apples (about 6-8 medium)
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 heaping teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
Peel and cut up the apples, keeping the slices as uniform as possible. Cut the apples into fours, and then each fourth into fours. Use your common sense here as far as the amount of apples goes. If it seems like way too many, it probably is. In a separate bowl, mix the dry ingredients together, then mix them all into the apples, making sure they are all covered. Pour them into the bottom crust.

The Topping
I like a crumble top so much better than a regular dough top. I just think it brings the right sweetness and flavor to the whole thing. I modified this crumble top from a crumble bar recipe, again, halving it because I didn’t need as much. I also opted not to use the egg it called for, and didn’t miss it.
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/8 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1 ½ sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
Mix the dry ingredients together well, then add the butter on top and incorporate it the same way you did with the dough (again, a pastry blender would help here). When the butter pieces are pea sized, you can sprinkle it on top of the apples, making sure the whole thing is evenly covered.

To cook your pie, preheat the oven to 500 degrees, with a lipped baking sheet on the bottom most rack. To be honest, I’m not sure why you do this, but it was in the instructions, so I did it. When you’re ready to put in the pie, turn it down to 425 and bake for about 20-25 minutes. You want the topping to get a little golden brown, but not burn. Then turn the oven down to 375 and cook for 30-35 minutes more.

Overall, this turned out pretty tasty for my first recent try. A couple things I’d do differently… I made the mistake of cooking a little less than the recipe called for and the apples were a touch too crisp for my liking. I also like a juicier filling, so I might add a few tablespoons of milk or butter the next time. Finally, I had to roll the dough out twice because I got the size wrong the first time, which I think made it a little chewier, so if you can get it right the first time, good on you!

Well, there it is. Like I said, it’s not a simple recipe, but it’s pretty impressive and tastes great. And who knows, someday maybe you’ll be the pie lady in your family.

(Click here for printable recipe)