Roasted Vegetable Minestrone


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First off, I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas!  It was the first white Christmas in this area in a while, and we were so excited for all the snow!  Second, this will probably be my last post of the year, so happy new year!

Of course, I have a great soup recipe to share with you.  I think I've averaged about 1 soupy recipe per week since the beginning of the cold weather.  What can I say?  I love soup. 

This one comes from The Pioneer Woman, whom I've referenced before.  She's a favorite.  I had wanted to find a good minestrone and pasta e fagioli recipe for a while and PW's roasted vegetable minestrone stuck out to me for the fact that she roasts some of the vegetables before throwing them in the soup pot.  Roasting will carmelize sugars and create new depths of flavor that stewing cannot, so I was pretty excited. 

I actually made this a few weeks ago, and it made somewhere around 6 quarts after I added some of this and that, so it feeds an army.  We both enjoyed this soup and ate on its leftovers for days.  It's great if you add some grated parmesan cheese and a drizzle of olive oil before serving. 
If you want to go vegan, sub the chicken broth for vegetable and leave the cheese out.  If you want a heartier soup, add chicken, ground beef, or even italian sausage.  I'm posting the recipe as I made it.  To see the original, click the link below. 

Roasted Vegetable Minestrone
from The Pioneer Woman, aka Ree Drummond

2 zucchini, diced
2 summer squash, diced
8 oz mushrooms, stems removed and quartered or diced
1/4 c olive oil
Kosher salt, to taste (at least 1 tsp)
2 carrots, sliced
1 onion, diced
3 stalks celery, sliced
10 cups chicken broth
3 cans cannellini, kidney, or great northern beans
1 cup green beans, fresh or frozen, cut into 1 inch lengths
1 1/2 cups uncooked smaller pasta, such as ditalini, shells, etc.
1- 14 oz can diced tomatoes with juice
2 Tb. tomato paste
Salt and Pepper To Taste

Preheat oven to 500 degrees.

Toss cubed zucchini, squash, and mushrooms in a bowl with olive oil and a sprinkling of kosher salt. Arrange onto two sheet pans (to avoid crowding) and roast in the hot oven for 5 to 10 minutes, or until brown and black parts begin to show. Remove from oven and set aside.

In a heavy pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add carrots, onions, and celery and stir to cook for 3 minutes. Add in tomato paste and cook 1 minute more.  Pour in broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for ten minutes.

Add cannelini beans and green beans. Cook on low for five minutes. Add pasta and cook for an additional five minutes. Add canned tomatoes, stir, and cook for an additional five minutes on low heat. Check for seasonings, adding salt, pepper, and turmeric.

Add roasted vegetables at the very end. Stir and allow to simmer and heat for a few minutes before serving. Be sure to check seasoning! Add more broth if necessary to increase liquid amount.

Serve with Parmesan shavings and crusty Italian bread

Buttermilk Fudge


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I wanted to get in one last post of homemade Christmas treats before the big day, but like an idiot, forgot to take a picture of the finished result.  Instead of making you wait a while year for this, I will post now. 

The fudge is delicious, and don't be afraid of buttermilk.  You won't even know it's in there.  This recipe is a real, old fashioned fudge that is cooked on your stove top and one for which you need a candy thermometer.  Those are found anywhere, including Wal-Mart and only cost about $3. 

When you start out, everything looks like this:

When you're near the end, the sugars have carmelized and look like this:

Isn't it beautiful?!  Then you pour it into a buttered loaf pan and let it cool.  The taste is creamy, intense, and sort of caramely.  It was probably one of the biggest hits of my homemade items last year. 

A few tips if you make this fudge: 

1.  Follow the instructions completely.  That may seem dumb to state, but candy making is like baking.  It's more an exact science.

2.  Don't try this on a day with precipitation or an overly humid day.  Candy doesn't like a lot of atmospheric moisture. 

Buttermilk Fudge
from Southern Living

2 cups sugar
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
2 Tb. corn syrup
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Butter the sides of a heavy saucepan or dutch oven (4-5 qt).  Add the sugar, buttermilk, butter, corn syrup, and baking soda and heat over medium heat about 20 minutes or until the candy thermometer reads 235 degrees F.  Stir constantly during this phase.  Remove from the heat and let rest, undisturbed, until the temperature has dropped to 180 degrees.  Add in the vanilla.  Beat with a wooden spoon until the mixture thickens and loses its gloss.  Add nuts if using.  Pour quickly into a buttered loaf pan.  Cool thoroughly on a wire rack and cut into 1 inch pieces.  Yield 1.25 lb. 

So, now you have four things I think would be great for Christmas presents:
1.  buttermilk fudge
2.  dark chocolate orange truffles
3.  cake balls
4.  granola

Food Christmas Gift Idea- Chocolate Orange Truffles


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Finally, a Christmas gift idea, sliding in four days before Christmas!  I will hopefully have another one or two recipes and ideas to share with you before Christmas, but here's the first:  Dark Chocolate Orange Truffles.  If you've ever eaten one of those chocolate oranges, the flavor is similar, and the orange flavor is a nice surprise in your mouth. 

These are pretty easy to make, but extremely messy, so wear gloves or be prepared to have your hands coated in chocolate, facing the dilemma of whether to lick or wash off the chocolate on your hands. 

The one or two things I may change about this recipe is to use semisweet rather than bittersweet chocolate and to increase the amount of orange extract.  I love dark chocolate, and often for me it's the darker the better, but either the strength of the chocolate overpowers the orange flavor, or there's just not enough to begin with. 

I'm posting the recipe, but will link to the webpage that contains it as well.  I got this out of a Taste of Home special cookbook.  Thanks, Goodwill donor. 

Dark Chocolate Orange Truffles
from Taste of Home

1-12 oz package dark chocolate chips
3/4 c. heavy cream
1 tsp orange extract
1/3 c. sugar

In a microwave (or over a double boiler), melt chocolate; stir until smooth. Gradually stir in cream until blended. Stir in extract. Cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally. Refrigerate until firm. Shape into 3/4-in. balls. Roll in sugar.

Taco Soup


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I had hoped to have a slew of Christmas recipes for you to enjoy but when did they make Christmas so early this year?  Kidding, but boy it did sneak up on me.  So, I will hopefully have something later on this week for you to make for Christmas.  In the meantime, enjoy this taco soup.

I made this last week for a party and, with the addition of some extra ingredients, we ate on it a few other times, too.  It's delicious!  It's also very easy and versatile, as you can make it on the stovetop or in a crock pot. 

Taco Soup
source unknown (I got it from a former coworker)

1 lb ground beef, browned and drained of any fat
2 cans chili beans
1 can Ro-Tel or diced tomatoes with green chilis
1 can regular diced tomatoes
1 can tomato sauce
1 can mexicorn
1 package taco seasoning
1 package ranch dressing mix

Combine all ingredients and heat through.  Serve with grated cheese, sour cream, tortilla chips, etc.

  • Didn't I tell you this was easy! 
  • If you aren't such a red meat fan, try ground turkey or chicken.  If you're vegetarian, omit the meat altogether.  Add extra beans if you want.
  • I like to use mild Ro-Tel because I feel it's well spiced when mild.  Go for regular or hot if you're a heat freak.
  • I use the 8 oz can tomato sauce, but I am sure you could use larger. 

Baked Jalapeño Poppers


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I have lots of recipes to post for you in the coming days, some of which are very good for Christmas gifts or parties.  Today's post is good for any time of the year, but I just made them yesterday for Drew's birthday party.  Were you part of the popper craze of the mid '90's?  I remember when they came out, and how they were on every casual dining restaurant's menu.  My aunt would buy the frozen ones in the store and serve them at every family get together.  Fun times.  Now, of course, the poppers aren't king of casual appetizers, but they're still pretty popular, and pretty good. 

I first started searching for popper recipes earlier this year, and my main criteria was that the popper be baked.  For one thing, it's healthier, and for another thing, I don't have a fryer and have no desire to purchase that much oil.  After searching all my favorite sites for recipes, I settled on Emeril Lagasse's Baked Jalapeño Popper recipe, and he did not disappoint.

The panko bread crumbs make the popper crunchy, as though it were fried, but I still get the health benefits of the baking.  The cream cheese combined with monterrey jack and spices gives it a good, cheesy interior that isn't too greasy and won't ooze out of the pepper and onto your baking sheet.  The essence, which I did use from having some in my pantry from way a long time ago, adds color and flavor throughout the popper. 

Make these for your next get together.  They're relatively easy, and so good. 

Baked Jalapeño Poppers
from Emeril Lagasse

12 fresh jalapeno peppers, halved lengthwise, stems, seeds and membranes removed

6 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 cups grated Monterey Jack or mozzarella cheese
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne, or less, to taste
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons milk
8 teaspoons Essence, recipe follows
1 cup panko crumbs, or fine dry breadcrumbs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a baking sheet and set aside.

In a bowl, cream together the cream cheese, Monterey Jack cheese, cumin, and cayenne.

In a small bowl, beat together the eggs, milk, and 2 teaspoons of the Essence. In a shallow dish, combine the panko crumbs and remaining 4 teaspoons of Essence. In a third dish, combine the flour and remaining 2 teaspoons of Essence. Spread 1 tablespoon of the cheese mixture into the middle of each jalapeno half. One at a time, dredge in the flour, dip into the egg mixture, then dredge in the panko crumbs, pressing to coat. If necessary, repeat the process. Place the coated peppers, cut side up, on the prepared baking sheet and bake until the filling is runny and the crust is golden, about 30 minutes.

Remove from the oven and serve immediately.

  • I had 10 big, huge jalapeños that I used, and had just a bit of leftover filling and no extra egg to dip in.  If you make more or if you have big jalapeños like I did, you may want some extra egg on hand
  • I used about twice the amount of breadcrumbs needed, so make sure you have more than 1 cup.
  • I found the coating stuck best when I did the flour and egg wash twice before moving to the crumb coating.
  • Important!  Wear gloves when handling jalapeños or other hot peppers with your hands- they will burn you for hours afterward if you don't!

Pioneer Woman's Roasted Red Pepper Pasta Sauce



If you haven't been to Pioneer Woman's website, I'd encourage you to go there.  She's got a site bursting with all sorts of things, from recipes to photography and gift tips.  It's simply http://thepioneerwoman.com/

While I tend not to look at her individual step pictures when reading a recipe blog post, I do enjoy the recipes themselves and the detail with which she documents them.  A while back she did a sort of review post, where she combined and linked to several former posts on creamy pasta sauces.  My interest was grabbed by the roasted red pepper sauce because I love, LOVE red bell peppers.  I then ran across a very similar recipe by Rachael Ray, and decided to give this sauce a try.

It was great!  When I make it again, I'll likely either add some sauteed chicken to the sauce to bring it to main course level or I'll serve it as a sort of side dish.  It's a taste that is creamy but just so unexpected.  I am accustomed to pasta sauces based on tomatoes, of which this sauce has none.  For that reason it may not have widespread appeal, but I still enjoyed it and will likely make it again.  As a side note, this sauce is best served with short pasta that hangs onto sauce well.  I used campanelle; PW used orecchiette.  Look these two up and you'll get the idea.

I'm posting the original recipe with my own photos and then suggestions below in the notes section.  For very detailed photos and instructions, visit this post on PW's website

Roasted Red Pepper Pasta Sauce
by Ree Drummond, aka Pioneer Woman

3 Red Bell Peppers
2 Tb. Pine nuts
½ onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
½ c. half and half
½ lb small pasta
Parmesan Cheese, shaved

Roast the bell peppers under a broiler or over a flame until the skins are charred. Place them into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and cool until you can easily handle the peppers. Peel off the skins, open the peppers, and remove the seeds and white parts. Rough chop the peppers and place them into a blender.

While the peppers are cooling, toast the pine nuts in a skillet over med-low heat or under a broiler, taking care that they only turn golden and don’t brown too much. Place them into the blender with the peppers.

Also while the peppers are cooling, sauté the onion and garlic in a saucepan with olive oil until soft and translucent. I recommend starting the onions first and throwing in the garlic near the end. Place those in the blender as well.

Start a pot of pasta water and begin to boil the pasta.

Blend the peppers, onion and garlic, and the pine nuts in a blender until smooth. Return to the saucepan and heat over medium. Add the half and half and stir until well blended and warmed through. Add salt and pepper to taste.

  • If you don't want to take the time or the expense of roasting three fresh red peppers, you can buy jarred roasted red peppers and get a similar taste from draining and using them. 
  • Watch the pine nuts!  I nearly burned mine and that doesn't make for good eats. 
  • I will probably not put parsley on mine again.  I don't know if it was the soil in which my parsley was grown or what, but not awesome. 

Chicken Stock


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Chicken stock can be purchased at any grocery store in various forms.  None of them compare with freshly made stock.  Fresh stock has a richness and depth of flavor that those boxed, canned, and dried store bought stocks can only dream of.  If you're under the weather, stock truly, scientifically has restorative qualities.  If you desire higher quality and better taste, homemade stock is, once again, the way to go.

Since chicken stock is a base ingredient for so many of the soups I like to make, I didn't want to post any more soup recipes without first posting about chicken stock.

While time consuming, it just about couldn't be easier to make.  The one upside to the length of time that it takes is that most of the time is passive, leaving you with the ability to do other things while you make stock.

Start with chicken; I usually use a whole chicken, but you can use leftover bones and spare parts if you want.  The main thing is that you do include a lot of bones.  You can put in meat, but the bones are where the gelatin and marrow reside.  Place the chicken in a large pot- at least 7 quarts.  It's best if the pot is higher than it is wide.  This is a stock pot. 

Throw vegetables into this same pot.  Recipes vary, but almost all contain carrots, celery, and onion.  You can also use mushrooms or leftover stems and a whole slew of other veggies.  Cover all of this with water, bring to a boil, and then back the heat off to a slow simmer.  Skim the foam off the top of the stock and then simmer anywhere from 2-3 hours to an entire 24 hours.  You can also throw in herbs, such as rosemary, thyme, etc.  I like to throw these in at the end of the cooking process.  The recipe at the back of Jordan Rubin's book, The Maker's Diet suggests that parsley attributes health benefits if thrown in the last five minutes of cooking.  For best results in terms of the chicken meat, take the chicken out after about an hour.  Remove the meat from the bones and dump the bones back in.  This cooks the meat for you to use in soup, chicken salad, quesadillas, whatever, but doesn't overcook it.  Once we left the meat in 12 hours, and it wasn't useable.  It was dry and looked completely overused. 

The start of the stock's cooking

Once your stock has cooked, cool it slightly and strain it through a cheesecloth lined sieve.  This keeps out particulates that don't make for pretty and delicious stock.  Once that's done, you can put it into containers to be refrigerated or frozen, you can preserve it through canning, or you can use it immediately to make a soup. 
Seriously, while it takes some effort, make this stock.  It's wonderful.  I usually freeze it in 1 cup to 1 quart containers and take it out as needed. 

Completed- after about 12 hours

Basic Chicken Stock
3-4 lb chicken or chicken parts (includes back and neck)
2 onions, peeled and quartered
4 carrots, sliced
4 ribs celery, sliced
1-2 bay leaves
Cold Water
2 Tb. chopped fresh parsley

Place all the ingredients except water into a large stockpot.  Cover by at least 1-2 inches with water. 

Heat the pot on the stove on high heat until it starts to boil.  You are looking for the start of boiling; not a rapid, hearty boil.  Once the boil starts, turn the heat down to medium low or wherever on your stove the stock maintains a very gentle simmer.  Skim the foam or scum off the top with a fine mesh strainer or slotted spoon. 

After a total cook time of about an hour, remove the chicken meat and return the bones back to the pot.  Simmer anywhere from 2-24 hours, adding water as needed to keep everything submerged.  Add parsley the last 5 minutes of cook time.  Strain the stock through a cheesecloth lined sieve into a large pot and store in fridge, separate stock into containers for freezing, can, or use immediately. 

Alton Brown's Chocolate Chip Cookie #10


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I regret to tell you that this is the only picture I thought to take of these cookies, and I must apologize that it's not even a very good picture at that.  Since these cookies come together rather uniquely (more like a muffin than a cookie), it would have been a good idea to photograph that.  Sorry.  What I can tell you is that these cookies have a good flavor at the end, and a nice balance of crispiness and chewiness.  They taste quintessentially chocolate chippy, and are conveniently made, since no mixer is required.  I also like the way they taste if you bake them straight from the freezer rather than unfrozen dough. 

A great tip for cookie making, if you haven't already learned this one, is to portion your dough out onto a cookie sheet as though you're going to bake cookies and then stick the whole thing in the freezer until the dough is frozen.  From that point, remove the dough balls from the baking sheet and place them into a resealable bag or freezer container.  You can then bake as many or as few cookies as you like at one time, or snack on the dough straight from the freezer.  Not that I'd ever suggest that anyone do that...

This particular recipe comes from Alton Brown's I'm Just Here for More Food , which is his baking book.   You probably can tell by now that I am a big fan of his, and this cookie recipe perpetuates my admiration.  So, without further delay, here's the recipe:

Alton Brown's Chocolate Chip Cookie #10
2 1/4 cups flour

1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt 3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 egg yolks, slightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup un salted butter, melted and slightly cooled
2 cups chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
In a large mixing bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In a medium mixing bowl whisk together the melted and cooled butter, sugars, egg yolks and vanilla until combined.

Make a well in the center of the flour mixture, pour in the butter mixture and fold the ingredients together just until combined. Add the chocolate chips and fold to combine. Do not overmix.


Tortellini en Brodo



Let me start out by apologizing that there is nothing related to foods associated with Thanksgiving, be they traditional or modern on this blog.  The thing is, it kind of snuck up on me this year.  Like Christmas, I blinked and it's here.  For Thanksgiving day, I do plan to make about three or four recipes, but likely won't post them until next year, because who wants to know about Thanksgiving foods after the fact?  So for today, I'll tell you that I plan to make homemade yeast rolls and biscuits, pumpkin butter, and a pumpkin cheesecake with a gingersnap crust. 

For today, I hope you soon try out and enjoy this tortellini en brodo.  It's a traditional Italian dish, and there are recipes with variations that add other ingredients or specify the tortellini, but at the core, this is chicken broth or stock, tortellini, and spinach.  This recipe is so simple it's almost shameful to post, but it's so good that it's worth it.

Because of its simplicity, you want to make sure you're using good quality chicken broth or stock and tortellini.  This is where the singular ingredients have a chance to shine, and where sub par ingredients will decrease your enjoyment. 

So, first you start out by boiling tortellini in chicken broth.  I followed Rachael Ray's recipe (say that three times fast) as a guide, but found that I needed a lot more broth than she called for. 

Once the tortellini is cooked, you add in the spinach and allow it to wilt.  Once it's wilted you add a dash of nutmeg and some ground black pepper and that's it. 

Spinach before

Spinach after

The soup is fairly hearty with just the spinach, tortellini, and broth, but if you want to increase its heartiness, then add some cooked and crumbled ground meat (recommended beef or italian sausage) or cooked, sliced chicken or steak.  Try beans.  I didn't, but you can.  The taste is so comforting, and I imagine it's fairly healthy, depending on the tortellini's fat and calorie content.  Oh, and did I mention it has parmesan cheese?

Tortellini en Brodo
2 quarts chicken broth or stock, preferably homemade
1- 9 oz. package fresh tortellini
8 oz. fresh spinach, stems removed and roughly chopped
Dash Nutmeg (freshly grated recommended)
A few grinds fresh black pepper
1/4 c. hard Italian cheese of your choice, grated (parmesan, asiago, romano, parmigiano reggiano, Grana)

In a medium to large pot, heat the broth to boiling over medium high heat.  Meanwhile, make sure your spinach is chopped.  Add the tortellini and let the broth return to a boil.  Reduce the heat and let simmer for 10 minutes.  Add in the spinach and stir until wilted.  Add the spices. 

Serve with grated cheese.  Also good with crusty bread. 

Cook's Notes
  • Chopping the spinach is really important, lest you end up with clumps of inseparable spinach.  I learned that the hard way
  • The tortellini absorb quite a bit of stock/broth, so you may want extra on hand in case you like your soup more liquidy.  If you like it thicker, than it might be perfect for you. 

Apple Nut Breakfast Cake



One of my favorite cookbooks is Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours.  I really lucked up and found it in a Ross for $10.  Can you believe that?!  It was only after I purchased it that I realized the cult following Dorie and this book have with the Tuesdays With Dorie blogging group.  Besides having wonderful recipes, her books make you feel like you are sitting across the kitchen table listening to an extremely likeable person.  Her writing itself just makes you want to be her friend. 

I have now made this particular recipe twice, and loved it each time.  It's good any time of the year but when the NC mountain apples are freshly picked off the trees, it's an especially appropriate treat.  The combination of the apples and walnuts, along with the use of vanilla and almond extract make this cake really enjoyable, and it stays moist for a few days.  If it lasts that long. 

I have no complaints with this cake.  It comes together easily, it's delicious, and it keeps well.  I could maybe make this every week.  I don't, but there will be many repeats in the Givens household.

Apple Nut Muffin Cake
from Baking: From My Home to Yours

1/2 c. whole milk
1/2 c. apple cider or apple juice, or another half cup of milk
1 lg egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1 stick (8 tb, 4 oz, 1/2 c) butter, melted and cooled
1 3/4 c. flour
1/2 c. sugar
1 Tb baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
1.4 c. packed light brown sugar
3/4 c. old fashioned oats
1 med. appled, cored, peeled, and cut into fine dice
1/2 c. chopped walnuts or pecans
1/3 c. plump, moist raisins

Preheat oven to 400.  Butter and flour an 8 inch square baking pan.  Put the pan on a baking sheet.

Whisk together the liquids.

In a large bowl, combine the flour through the salt and whisk to incorporate well.  Add the brown sugar, taking care there are no lumps.  Mix in the oats.

Switch to a large rubber spatula and pour the liquids into the dry ingredients and stir until just moistened- with muffins and this cake, less mixing is better.Gently stir in the apple, nuts, and raisins.  Pour batter into prepared pan.

Bake 30-35 minutes or until the cake is golden brown and a tester comes out clean.  Cool on a rack in pan for a few minutes.  After this point you can run a knife around the edges and unmold.  Allow to cool completely before cutting. 

  • The second time I made this, I didn't use the raisins and it still turned out great
  • I have used both pecans and walnuts.  Both work great here
  • I use a glass dish for this recipe because mine comes with a lid.  If you do that, you may want to reduce the temperature of the oven 25 degrees or check your cake at about 20-25 mintues.

Restaurant Style Salsa


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Did you know that salsa is the #1 condiment in America?  How crazy is that?  I'm pretty sure that salsa didn't really make it big until the last couple of decades, and now, it's passed up ketchup in the condiment popularity contest.  I love salsa, but I'm kind of funny about it.  While I'll eat them, I don't really like jarred salsas.  They taste too...I don't know...cooked.  I also don't like to make salsa from store bought tomatoes because store bought tomatoes are poor excuses for tomatoes and make for lousy salsa in my opinion.  I do like freshly made, pico de gallo style salsas in summer from homegrown or farmer's market tomatoes.  Delicious!  I also love Mexican restaurant salsas.  While thin and runny, I can't tell you why, but it works- maybe a little too well after thinking about how many baskets of chips just my husband and I can go through.

Today's recipe is just that- a salsa that can be as thin and runny or as somewhat chunky as you want it.  It's made from, surprisingly, canned tomatoes and other ingredients and then processed in a blender or food processor.  It's great.  Ree Drummond, better known as Pioneer Woman, developed this recipe, and I loved it when I tried it.

It tastes fresher (great command of English, here) than jarred salsas and is a great recipe for those of us who like to play around.  I've found it very adaptable to suit my whims and tastes.  I hope you'll find the same thing.

This recipe makes a large quantity of salsa- we're talking probably 1 1/2 quarts, so it's good for a party or if you have a hungry family who likes to snack.  It keeps well for several days in the fridge and is great with chips and even your breakfast eggs.  I'm including a link to PW's post on her salsa.  If you like very detailed, step-by step instructions with photos, she's an incredible resource (especially when I forget to take pictures and only have one).  I will post her salsa recipe as written and then give you my changes in the notes section.  As they say in Mexico, provecho!

Restaurant Style Salsa
from The Pioneer Woman

1 can (28 Ounce) Whole Tomatoes With Juice

2 cans (10 Ounce) Rotel (diced Tomatoes And Green Chilies)
¼ cup Chopped Onion
1 clove Garlic, Minced
1 Jalapeno, Quartered And Sliced Thin
¼ teaspoon Sugar
¼ teaspoon Salt
¼ teaspoon Ground Cumin
½ cup Cilantro (more To Taste!)
Juice of 1/2 lime

Combine whole tomatoes, Rotel, onion, jalapeno, garlic, sugar, salt, cumin, lime juice, and cilantro in a blender or food processor. Pulse until you get the salsa to the consistency you’d like—I do about 10 to 15 pulses. Test seasonings with a tortilla chip and adjust as needed.

Refrigerate salsa for at least an hour. Serve with tortilla chips or cheese nachos.

  • I am not sure if I've told you before, but I don't like cilantro.  It all stemmed from an overdose in 10th grade when I tried to make homemade salsa the first time.  I didn't include any in this recipe.
  • While I like a little heat, I'm not able to handle it like a champ, so I use one mild can of Ro-Tel and one regular can.  I also make sure I remove the white part and all seeds from the jalapeño.  That usually works for me.
  • I love lime, so I have put more than half the juice.  It really depends on how pungent the lime juice is.

Candied Acorn Squash



I had intended to post this recipe last week, immediately following the chicken dish because we ate them together.  My schedule had other plans, I suppose.  Without further delay, I present to you candied acorn squash.

This was the first time to my knowledge that I have tried acorn squash.  I bought one at a produce stand near my house a few weeks ago and had no real idea of what to do with it.  After scouring the internet and my cookbooks/magazines for recipes, I found that the most popular thing to do with the squash was to split it half, scoop out the goop, and roast it with butter and maple syrup and a dash of cinnamon.  I went with the recipe in my Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook.  I can't remember why I chose it over all others.

I feel that the BH&G recipe was likely a good representation of this particular dish, but wonder if it's really the best way to prepare acorn squash. 

Roasting the squash with butter and maple syrup leaves it soft, and the syrup/butter mixture pools up in the pit of the squash where the goop once was, leaving you with the option of mashing the sweet liquid into the squash flesh or just allowing the pool to grow wider as you scoop out flesh and dip it into the liquid. 

Either way, it's an enjoyable side dish and a good introduction to acorn squash.  Did I mention it's very easy?  So, while I plan to try other preparations of acorn squash before coming back to this recipe, it's a good starter. 

Candied Acorn Squash
from Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook
feeds 2

1 acorn squash, halved lengthwise and the seed goop scooped out
1/4 c. maple syrup or 3 Tb. brown sugar
2 Tb butter, melted
1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon or nutmeg

Arrange the squash halves, cut side down, in a 2 qt baking dish.  Bake at 350 for 45 minutes.  Remove squash and turn cut side up.

In a small bowl, stir together the syrup or sugar, butter, and cinnamon.  Spoon into the centers of the squash halves and bake for another 20-25 minutes or until squash is tender. 

Feta, Spinach, and Pine Nut Stuffed Chicken



I try to stretch myself as a cook, and one way to do that is to try new recipes.  I like to try at least one new recipe each week.  This expands your ingredient and technique horizons and wards off boredom with cooking.  Here's an example of a new recipe.  Unfortunately, you don't always end up with firework endings.  The chicken was just OK to me so I probably won't be making it again, but you might love it, so I'm sharing it with you.

It's a fairly healthy and quick recipe I got out of the September 2010 issue of Cooking Light.  I was attracted by the stuffing, and that didn't disappoint.  What I was mainly disappointed with was the chicken breast itself.  We usually buy thighs for their extra flavor and moisture retention qualities, and cooking with chicken breast made me remember why.  If you love chicken breasts, you may equally love this dish.  If I ever make this again, I'll use thighs.  Also, you cook the chicken in a sort of braising liquid made of chicken broth, which serves as a great sort of sauce for the chicken.  Very flavorful.

This dish comes together fairly easily.  You start by sauteing spinach in a pan until it's all wilty and dark green.  Clean your pan and drain the spinach.  Then, cut slits in the chicken and stuff it with filling made with the spinach, feta, pine nuts, and garlic.  Mmm mmm.  Then, sear the chicken on both sides, add the broth, and finish in the oven. 

We served this with acorn squash, which I'll share with you in the next post.  It was our favorite part of the meal!  So, if you try this let me know what you think.  You can post a comment by clicking on the black speech bubble at the top of the post.  Happy cooking! 

Below is the recipe with a link to the original webpage.  From there, you can watch a video on how to make this dish.

Chicken Stuffed with Feta, Spinach, and Pine Nuts
from September 2010 Cooking Light

5 ounces fresh spinach, chopped

1/2 cup (2 ounces) crumbled feta cheese
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, minced
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 (6-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup fat-free, lower-sodium chicken broth

Preheat oven to 350°.

Heat a large nonstick ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add spinach to pan; cook 1 minute or until spinach wilts, tossing constantly. Place spinach in a colander; press until barely moist. Wipe pan clean.

Combine spinach, cheese, nuts, thyme, juice, and garlic. Cut a horizontal slit through the thickest portion of each chicken breast half to form a pocket. Stuff 3 tablespoons filling into each pocket. Seal with wooden picks. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper.

Heat oil in pan over medium-high heat. Add chicken; cook 3 minutes on each side or until brown. Add broth, and cover pan. Place pan in oven. Bake at 350° for 15 minutes or until done.

A Taste of Fall: Layered Pumpkin Loaf



I love foods with pumpkin in fall!  For lack of a better way of saying it, it's fitting.  I have seasonal food biases.  In summer, when it's nearing 100 degrees, I don't feel like soup.  I usually want salad or something grilled.  In winter, I am less likely to eat colder foods, but could eat soup every day.  In fall, I want fall vegetables, and pumpkin in all its incarnations is delightful.  I first made this particular pumpkin loaf recipe about 3-4 years ago, and I remember liking it but not loving it.  I made it again last week and tweaked it a bit.  This time was the same- it's pretty good, but not a recipe I'll be making over and over again, but I would make it again.

This particular recipe caught my attention because it reminded me of the pumpkin and cream cheese muffins from Starbucks.  You essentially make a pumpkin bread batter and place a cream cheese mixture in the middle of the loaf.  If you like cream cheese, try this one. 

I'll be posting the recipe as I made it.  You can find the original here on Kraft Foods' website.

Layered Pumpkin Loaf
adapted from Kraft Foods

1 cup canned pumpkin pie mix
2/3 cup plus 2 Tbsp. granulated sugar, divided
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
4   egg whites, divided
1/2 cup fat-free milk
1/4 cup canola oil
2 cups flour
2-1/2 tsp. Baking Powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 pkg. (8 oz.) Cream Cheese, softened
HEAT oven to 350ºF.

MIX pumpkin, 2/3 cup granulated sugar, brown sugar, 3 egg whites, milk and oil in large bowl. Add flour, baking powder, and salt; stir just until moistened. Beat Neufchatel cheese, remaining granulated sugar and remaining egg white with whisk until well blended.

SPOON half of pumpkin batter into greased 9x5-inch nonstick loaf pan; cover with layers of Neufchatel mixture and remaining pumpkin batter.

BAKE 1 hour to 1 hour 5 min. or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Loosen bread from sides of pan; cool in pan 10 min. Remove bread from pan to wire rack; cool completely.

Braised Short Ribs with Swiss Chard and Polenta



Isn't it funny how you can pass something up, not paying it any attention, dozens of times, and suddenly, this something catches your eye and you want it?  I'm not talking about the She's All That phenomenon because this is a food blog, and I've never seen that happen in real life, anyway.  What I am talking about is the dinner I made last week, braised short ribs.  They were featured on Pioneer Woman's site not too long ago, and I have seen them a few other places.  For some reason for the last few weeks they were the only dinner I wanted to make, and yet I had a few recipe variations that I had read and never marked to make.  They epitomize cooler weathe cooking in my mind- warm food that is slowly cooked and served over a soft starch (in my case, polenta). 

If you've never had short ribs, you are in for a treat!  They're small but so full of meaty flavor, and when they are slow cooked it falls right off the bone.  You may just say they'll change your life for the better.  They're also the food gout is made of, so don't eat them too often.  When they're served over polenta, well, it's delicious, and looks like you just dined at a nice restaurant.

Most braised short rib recipes call for red wine to be added as the chief braising liquid.  I confess I'm still scared to cook with wine.  I worry that the taste will make me want to gag when all is said and done.  That comes from an experiement in my earlier days.  Knowing that you should never cook with what is labeled as "cooking wine," I wanted to find a recipe that utilized something other than wine.  I turned to a recipe that was in the March 2010 issue of Cooking Light, which was the first issue I had ever received.  Their version looked pretty good, and no red wine! 

The changes I made to this particular recipe were to substitute the egg noodles for creamy polenta and to add swiss chard to increase the healthiness and to substitute beef broth for the water as the cooking liquid. 

The verdict: yes, I'd make this dish again, but I realize I have some room to improve.  The braising liquid and the taste of the overall dish was great, but the ribs were not fall off the bone tender.  I can only speculate that this could be because the ribs were braised on top of the stove pot or because I didn't use a dutch oven (I don't have one).  Also, I ended up making the polenta way too early, which made it a little too starchy/gummy at serving time. 

The recipe posted below is as I made it.  To see the original recipe, click on the link at the recipe. The way I prepared it will serve 3 hungry adults or 4 lighter eaters.  As always, if you make this dish or have any suggestions or questions, post in the comments section (do this by clicking on the speech bubble with a number inside at the top of the post). 

Braised Short Ribs
adapted from Cooking Light

2 lb. beef short ribs, trimmed
Kosher salt (approx. 1 Tb)
Ground pepper (freshly ground, approx 1/4 tsp)
1/2 cup all purpose flour
2-3 Tb. olive oil
1-2 large carrots, chopped
1/2 c. chopped onion (approx. 1/2 onion)
3 garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press
1 Tb. tomato paste
2 1/2- 3 cups beef broth

Sprinkle the short ribs with salt and pepper and dredge in the flour.  Heat a large skillet over medium high heat and add 1 tablespoon of the oil.  Add ribs to pan and cook four minutes, turning occasionally.  You may have to do this in batches depending on the size of your pan.  If so, add oil each with each new batch but do not clean the pan.  Once all ribs are browned and back into the pan, add the beef broth and scrape to loosen any brown bits from the bottom of the pan.  Bring to a boil and then cover and reduce the heat.  Simmer for 1 hour and 45 mintues or until the ribs are fork tender.  Remove the beef from the pan and cover to keep warm.  Pour the liquid from the pan into a bowl. 

Return the skillet to medium heat and add another Tb of oil.  Add the onion and carrot and cook four minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add garlic and cook 30 minutes, stirring constantly.  Add tomato paste and stir frequently for 30 more seconds.  Stir in reserved cooking liquid and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for about 6 minutes or until thickened.  Season with salt and pepper to taste. 

Swiss Chard
1 bunch swiss chard, rinsed, trimmed off its stalk and rough chopped
1 clove garlic, sliced
1-2 Tb. olive oil
Salt, to taste

Bring a pot of water to a boil.  Add chard and cook for 2-3 minutes, until tender.  Drain chard; squeeze out excess water.  Heat the same pot or a pan over medium heat, adding the oil and the garlic.  Take care the garlic doesn't burn!  Add the chard and saute 3-4 minutes longer, until wilted.  Salt to taste.

Creamy Polenta
adapted from Rachael Ray

1 cup polenta (yellow grits)
2 cups milk
2 cups water
2 Tb fresh sage, chopped (optional)
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg (optional)
1/2 c. grated parmesan cheese
Olive oil or butter

Using about 1-2 Tb olive oil or butter, heat a medium pot over medium-high heat and saute the sage in the butter until it is aromatic, about 2-3 minutes.  Add the liquids and bring to a boil.  Whisk in polenta and stir until thickened, about 5 mintues.  Add the nutmeg and cheese.  Salt and pepper to taste. 

*Note- I used about 1-2 oz of grated smoked gouda cheese in my polenta as well.  If you like things extra cheesy, you could add in almost any flavor of melting cheese you like.