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.