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Tortellini en Brodo

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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

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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. 



Notes
  • 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.

Notes
  • 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

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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

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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

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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

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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
Water
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.

Alton Brown's Cornbread No Chaser

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Thank goodness I had taken pictures and put them on my hard drive as opposed to just keeping them on my camera's SD card or else I'd have to put this post off yet another day.  I had intended to post this yesterday, but forgot the recipe, and of course it wasn't anywhere online.  This is not at all how I had intended to open up my post, but there's some insight into the scattered mind that is mine. 



So, today is about cornbread.  I made some on Sunday and will probably make more tomorrow, because Sunday's cornbread was a gift for a family and its aroma and appearance just makes me want some.  Like pinto beans and pound cake, every Southern cook needs a good cornbread recipe in his or her repertoire.  I am not ashamed to admit that, until I got Alton Brown's I'm Just Here for More Food, I used Jiffy Corn Muffin mix.  I like Jiffy Corn Muffins.  Drew was never that thrilled with my Jiffy cornbread.  The problem was that I just didn't like a lot of homemade cornbreads.  They were dry or sort of bland.  What's all this fuss?  Alton Brown's cornbread recipe in I'm Just Here for More Food, however, is great.  It's moist enough, corn-y, and slightly sweet, but not at all overly so.  A side note on this cookbook- I LOVE this cookbook.  It's informative and its recipes are set up to give you success.  Buy it today.  Or ask for it for Christmas.

So, why make homemade cornbread when I can buy a mix I like?  Well, for one thing, I actually like the taste of the homemade cornbread better.  The mix, also, has hydrogenated oils, and if you don't care about that it's not a big deal, but hydrogenated oils are trans fats, which means they're not exactly found in nature.  That's no good if you're trying to eat as naturally as possible.



So, here we are.  This cornbread involves maybe one more step than other recipes you'll find because you soak the corn meal in milk before adding it to the rest of the ingredients, but other than the soaking time, it comes together in almost no time flat and bakes fairly quickly, too.  I can't express to you how much I love this recipe, except to tell you that it converted someone from disliking cornbread to loving it. 

You will need a cast iron skillet for the job.  Mine is 10 inches, I think, and works very nicely.  Seriously, I guess you could make it in a baking pan or dish, but invest in the cast iron.  It's one of the best pans you'll own.  It'll become a family heirloom.  Also, I use scales to weigh my ingredients in this recipe rather than measuring cups or spoons, but you feel free to use either method.  I'll post both. 

Cornbread No Chaser
from Alton Brown's I'm Just Here for More Food

1 1/2 cups or 7 1/4 oz. cornmeal, preferably stone ground
1 1/4 cups or 10 oz milk
1 cup or 4 3/4 oz. all purpose flour
1 Tb or 1/4 oz. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. or 1/4 oz. kosher salt (or 1 tsp/ 1/4 oz regular salt)
1/2 c or 3 3/4 oz. vegetable oil
2 large eggs

Place a skillet on an oven rack and preheat to 450 degrees. 

In a large bowl, soak the cornmeal in the milk for 15 minutes.

Mix together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.

After the cornmeal has soaked, add the eggs and vegetable oil to the cornmeal mixture and beat/stir to combine well.

Pour the cornmeal mixture over the flour mixture and stir to incorporate, taking care not to overmix. 

Using an oven mitt, remove the skillet from the hot oven, grease with butter, and pour in the batter.  Bake about 25 minutes or until the cornbread is golden brown. 

Remove the skillet from the oven, invert the cornbread onto a serving plate and then flip again onto a cutting board.  Slice the cake of cornbread into 8 wedges and return it to the plate. 


Notes
  • Maybe I'm weird, but I prefer the cornbread's crust when the skillet hasn't been preheated.  So, I just butter the skillet and pour the batter into a room temp. skillet. 
  • This is so good with beans!  Or soup! 
  • I am assuming this is a regional product, but I use House Autry Stone Ground Yellow Corn Meal.  It's great.