Sunday, February 27, 2011

Chicken & Wild Rice Soup and A Lesson Learned

Soup is one of my favorite meals and this recipe is my kind of soup.  It is chock-full of yummy things I appreciate in a soup- Wild Rice, Rotisserie Chicken, broth and sauteed vegetables. This  recipe is my adaptation of  a Cooking Light recipe from years ago. It is a little labor-intensive but it makes a large pot of soup that is very tasty and hits the spot for days!

December cooking class
In December, a friend and I attended a cooking class at one of our favorite restaurants, Marché.  They offered monthly topical cooking classes and we signed up to take the December cookie-making class.  We had a fabulous time.  To get to be “behind the counter”, watching and experiencing first hand the magic of chef Tom in Marche’s kitchen was surreal.  He was delightful and humble.  We were eagerly taking notes on all of his great tips.

One of my favorite “take aways” from our class was:  Read through the entire recipe before making the dish and mark or re-write the recipe in your own way.  Tom encouraged us to rewrite or restructure recipes to make them more readable to our personal style and to make them simpler to follow.  This can be done by bracketing steps to break it down, or indicating the amount of time each step is estimated to take.  Some people prefer having the ingredients listed on top and instructions below while others write ingredients throughout the instructions.  Whatever is your best way of tracking, is the way you should go.

 marked up recipe in my notebook
I do this to some degree but the value of this tip was learned last week, the hard way, when I was making a multi-step recipe that I hadn’t made in a year. I was making this Chicken & Wild Rice Soup for my friend, Kristen, who had a baby girl.  The dessert was in the oven and I embarked on the soup-making.  I read the first line,  “Prepare rice according to instructions on the package.”  I began to prepare the rice and failed to read further.  I was frustrated, knowing that it would take 30 minutes to cook the rice, so I assumed that I had to wait to proceed with the rest of the recipe.  I did go ahead and prep the veggies but waited to do the next step of the recipe.  In the meantime, I mixed up the salad dressing for the green salad I was making and cleaned a bit. When the rice was done, I looked at the recipe and realized that the next step was to prep and saute the veggies.  Then I noticed that there were about 4 more steps following (or about 30 more minutes worth of work) before the rice was to be added!  Which means, that I could have started the rice and immediately proceeded with the rest of the soup preparation.  So instead of taking an hour and a half to make the soup it could have taken more like 40 minutes.  The soup was completed and was worth the effort but Chef Tom's words rang in my head.  The next day, I proceeded to REWRITE the recipe.   (See newly formatted recipe as follows)

1 (6 ounce) box long-grain and wild rice mix (such as Uncle Ben’s)                           
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 ½ cups chopped red onion
1 sweet potato, peeled and diced
1 cup chopped carrots
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 (8 oz.) package mushrooms, halved                                                                     
¼ tsp dried tarragon
¼ tsp dried thyme
2 cups water
2 Tbsp cooking sherry
2 (15.75 oz) cans of less-sodium chicken broth
1 cup 2% milk                                                                                                        
3 cups shredded rotisserie (or roasted) skinless chicken

      1. Prep vegetables and chicken.
      2. Prepare rice according to package directions.
3. Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat.  Add chopped onion, sweet potatoes, carrots, garlic and mushrooms.  Saute for 6 minutes or until onion is tender.  Add tarragon, thyme, water, sherry, broth and milk into the vegetable mixture.  Bring to boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes or until slightly thick.
4.   Stir in cooked rice and chicken.  Cook for 10 minutes or until thoroughly heated. 

    So, don’t be afraid to mark on your recipes, or re-write (or re-type) them with the format that makes sense to you.  It will help your cooking to flow more smoothly.
    Lesson learned!  Oh, and read through the entire recipe before you begin, so that you know the whole scope of the process from the start.
    And enjoy some savory soup!

    Thursday, February 17, 2011

    Oatmeal: Beyond a Bowl of Mush

    I remember spending the night with a friend, as a teenager, and coming to the breakfast table to find a bowl of wall paper paste…okay it looked, felt and smelled like the paste my mom used to hang wallpaper.  Come to find out, that mush was Cream of Wheat.  I choked down a little of it and stirred it around for the rest of the time.

    Fast-forward about 5 years to college. My roommates were buying boxes of Quaker Oats in the variety pack- you know: Cinnamon Apple, Maple Syrup, and Brown Sugar.  And I tried it.  And I liked it okay.  Not enough to make that the mainstay of my daily breakfast- my favorite meal of the day! But I didn’t gag and the flavor helped to redeem my Cream of Wheat incident.

    Then fast-forward about 10 more years and I’m standing in line at Fido Coffee Shop and I see a big bowl filled with creamy oats and fruit pass by in a server’s hand and I say “Ooh! That looks delicious”.   And I had to taste for myself.  So I ordered myself a bowl and it was indeed delicious!  Creamy oats, topped with a generous sprinkling of dark brown sugar, and a mound of sliced strawberries, bananas and raisins.  Now that’s what I call Oatmeal! I fell in love.  And ever since, I have been making bowls of creamy oats with loads of toppings! 

    The possibilities are limitless. You can top oatmeal with all kinds of fresh and dried fruits and nuts. Go crazy, get creative!

    When I need a hearty beginning to the day, this is my go-to meal.  I have my daughters hooked too. Currently brown sugar is their only essential topping.  I even ate oatmeal for dinner when my dear friend Catherine (Catherine of Salsa fame) came to town recently. We were having a late night meal and decided oatmeal would be nice, and you know, it made for a lovely winter snack-supper.  Or perhaps it was the company that made the meal seem so enjoyable.
    After all, as my refrigerator magnet says,

    (curly girl design)...I'm a big fan of her designs and quotes.

    I have tried many different varieties of oats and cooking methods in order to find my favorite.  I encourage you to do so too.  It seems there is much debate on what makes the best oatmeal.  I have tried Quaker Oats and generic/store-brand, Old Fashioned and Instant; as well as Steel Cut Oats.  I have cooked them on the stove top and in the microwave; with water and with a portion of milk.  There are pros and cons to each.

    I think my favorite is Old Fashioned Oats with a couple of tablespoons of wheat germ added, made on the stove-top with part low-fat milk and part water (which makes them just the right amount of creamy), topped with brown sugar, dried cranberries, walnuts and diced bananas.  I mean, with those toppings, even wallpaper paste might actually taste pretty great!

    What's your favorite way to do Oatmeal?

    Sunday, February 13, 2011

    Valentine Fun

    Maybe it's because my mom always made Valentine's Day fun, or maybe because it is my birthday month, or maybe because it is something pretty and fun in the middle of winter, but I love Valentine's Day.  And it's not because I am a romantic.  Because I'm not.  In fact, the cheesiness of Valentine's grosses me out.  In honor of this, Dave started this fun tradition many years ago.  It all started one Valentine's day when he stopped by Walgreens drug store to pick up some chocolate and a card for me and was taken aback by the aisle full of men desperately searching for the "perfect valentine treat" in the racks.  He said it was intense and comical to step back and watch.  He saw all of these ridiculous things- giant key-shaped chocolate bars (the key to my heart, you know) and snow globe/photo frames with hearts and sparkles that float down over the photo of your true love.  He couldn't resist and set out to find the very cheesiest treats that he could find!

    He came home and presented his spoils.  We were laughing our heads off and he declared this was his new tradition.  I agreed that this was a very fun tradition but asked that he might consider doing his shopping on the day after Valentine's, when this junk is 50% off.  I am too thrifty to stomach him spending full price, when we could spend the same amount on Ghiradelli Carmel Treasures, or a pound of really great coffee. He started taking our son a few years ago, to teach him how to "treat a lady special"...hilarious!

    Another tradition we have is to have a special meal on Valentine's.  For a couple of Valentine’s past, we, as a family, have hosted groups of friends in our home for a Valentine’s Dinner.  We have served this Tomato Penne Pasta Dish, bread with olive oil for dipping and dessert.  This pasta is simple, can feed a crowd and is so tasty.  It is garlicky, so the rule is that EVERYONE has to eat it so that everyone has stinky breath together! I sometimes serve roasted chicken to go with it, if you need the meat to satisfy some of your carnivorous customers, but I like it just the way it is. 

    This recipe is my adaptation of the Everyday Food magazine recipe.  It originally included kalamata olives, which we omit and substitute with artichokes- since my eaters are more artichokey than olivey.  The olive oil and tomatoes ARE the sauce, so you may want to add more stuff to it or lower the ratio of pasta.  Make it your own.  It's just a simple and really tasty go-to pasta that is a crowd pleaser.

    1 lb penne pasta
    1/4 cup olive oil
    2 cloves garlic, minced
    2 cups grape tomatoes
    1 jar/can artichoke hearts
    1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
    kosher salt & black pepper
    1 tsp oregano
    1/4 cup parmesan cheese (plus more for serving)

    In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook penne according to package instructions until al dente, about 13 minutes. Drain.

    Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic, and cook, stirring, until just golden, about 1 minute. Add cherry tomatoes, oregano, crushed red pepper, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Reduce heat to low, and cook, stirring, until tomato juices run, about 3 minutes.  Add artichokes and cook an additional 3 minutes.

    Add penne,  and 1/4 cup Parmesan to the skillet and toss to combine. Serve with more cheese on top.

    mmm, do you smell it?

    We love to do what Carrabba’s Italian Restaurant does with bread and dipping oil.  Just slice up some crusty artisan bread, sprinkle fresh and/or dried herbs (fresh garlic, basil, kosher salt, ground pepper, Italian seasoning, a little parmesan cheese) in little dishes.

    then pour olive oil over it. Swirl with a fork and you are ready for dipping.

    [You might need to invest in some Greased Lightning if you don’t already have this cleaning supply, as you might incur some oil stains on shirts and linens.  And oil stains are some of the most maddening and tricky to remove, being so greasy.  This solvent does the trick.  (Thanks to my mom, the Stain Queen for this great tip). ]

    And for goodness sake, end with Dessert.  Chocolate is my favorite with a garlicky meal like this.  I love chocolate and raspberry together- it is valentiney to me.  

    Everyday Food Magazine did these Heart Shaped Chocolate Brownies years ago that are adorable.  So creative!  You could make some Just Right Brownies and - cut them into the shape of a heart with a cookie cutter, then use the extra pieces from the cut-outs, to roll into balls and coat in sugar, powdered sugar or cocoa to make little brownie truffles.

    Conversation Heart BINGO - Sometimes we play BINGO with conversation hearts as the chips. It's fun, spans all ages and you can eat as you play! I found this clever website where you can download bingo games for free. They have various holidays and themes, and you can even customize them.

    Happy Valentine's Day- Have some fun. Tell someone you love them!

    Thursday, February 10, 2011

    A Delicious Birthday Surprise

    Too bad this isn't a scratch and sniff photo

    My amazing husband surprised me today with a birthday cake that he made! Not only a birthday cake- but a made-from-scratch Sour Cream Pound Cake with Caramel Icing.  He said he went onto Cup-A Cup-A and printed off the recipe and went for it!  Can you believe this guy?  How I wish I could clone him and share him with all of my not-yet-married-friends; or at least help Dave start a training program (boot camp if you will) for men to attend to learn how to be this stellar of a guy.

    On my way home from work, Dave encouraged me to take my time, to run an errand, or get a cup of coffee for some birthday fun. I decided to go to 2 of my favorite stores-Pangea (an eclectic boutique nearby) and Goodwill.  I couldn’t bring myself to purchasing any of the items I admired at Pangea on my birthday.  It just felt weird to buy myself gifts on my day.  So I went to Goodwill. I had no guilt buying other people’s old junk, and as the ad says, “when you shop at Goodwill, you give someone an opportunity”.  And by all means, I want to give people opportunities!

    When I left Goodwill, with a few found treasures in hand, I came out to find snow pouring down!  I carefully drove home.  When I arrived, I stepped inside and, much to my surprise, immediately smelled the glorious aroma of buttery baked goods.  I walked down the hall expecting to see cookies that Dave must have had a craving for.  But instead when I got to the kitchen I saw the beautiful caramel iced pound cake placed on top of our glass cake plate. I was astounded!  Happy Birthday to Me! 

    Dave said, “it just didn’t seem right that you didn’t have a birthday cake on your day”, since I make many many birthday cakes throughout the year for those I love.  In fact, that morning, Lainey (my 6 year old) came downstairs and asked, “Where’s your cake?  It’s your birthday!”  I told her that I am the resident cake baker here and I didn’t make myself a cake.  Dave sure took care of that! 

    I typically am not a fan of surprises.  Some might call this “a control issue”.  I disagree. I just really love the anticipation as well as the event.  I love thinking about, dreaming about and enjoying treats, events and celebrations.  I also am analytical and inquisitive enough that surprises are not that fun for the giver as I try to solve the mystery.  Dave learned this the hard way, when about 10 years ago he and some friends planned a surprise party for me. It wasn’t the best.  However- a very amazing, lovely cake, with complicated frosting that he had never made before- now that's a different story.  This was a surprise I adored!

    it took 8 hands to put all 39 of those candles on my cake
    We were going to go out to eat for a family birthday dinner, but the snow came and the roads were insane.  So, we decided to see what we had in the kitchen and pull together dinner, since the cake was really the Main Dish! 
    our spontaneous dinner cooking

     (If it had just been me, I would have had a sliced crisp apple and a hunk of Cake with a cup of coffee for dinner.)

    [This cake was first posted in August from the Celebration of Daves.  The cake stands alone without icing quite beautifully.  In the summer I serve it with fresh fruit and whipped cream.

    I included the frosting recipe on the original post because it is so yummy with this cake.]

    I am writing a post on Pasta for Valentine's but I just had to let you know about what was on my cake plate today!

    Saturday, February 5, 2011

    Love, Joy and Butter

    Valentine's Day is such a fun time to celebrate love and friendship with yummy, beautiful treats! I know some people resent Valentine's or are turned off by the tacky glitz of it, but I seem to think it is a time to make homemade cards letting people know you love them and to bake fun goodies...just because!  And buy conversation hearts, whether you like to eat them or not. So this Valentine's season have some fun! Whip up something sweet, pretty, and tasty.

    My favorite valentine goodies to bake are Heart Shaped Linzer Cookies and
    Iced Sugar Cookies.  Both lovely and full of butter. Both seem too pretty to eat...until you taste that first bite and then you get over that silly idea.  Today when I was making my linzer cookies I took a bite of one and moaned and hurriedly started the kettle to warm water for a cup of hot tea.  It seemed like the perfect companion to my double decker powdered sugar sprinkled valentine.  Unfortunately by the time the water was hot, my cookie was 1/2 eaten and by the time the tea had steeped I only had one bite left. Next time I will plan accordingly.

    Since I already posted about the Timeless Sugar Cookies in October, I thought I would write about Linzer Cookies.  Mine are the American version.  Linzer tortes originated in Linzer, Austria in the 1600's (or so I hear).  The original black currant spread is replaced with Raspberry jam and I also omitted the ground nuts.  Basically they are shortbread cookies with jam sandwiched beautifully inside.  My mom introduced me to these when I was a teenager- knowing I would love them since I love buttery, sugar cookies and raspberry anything.  Right she was!  But I must warn you- These are not an everyday cookie.  They are a wow cookie, an I-adore-you-so-much-I-am-going-to-give-you-two-cut-out-cookies-with-jam-slathered-in-between kind of cookie.

    I recently realized that the Linzer cookie recipe uses the same dough as the Jam Thumbprint Cookies from The Barefoot Contessa.  I made the Jam Thumbprints during Christmas this year and my son was a little overcome by them.  He doesn't like coconut (allegedly) and yet he couldn't keep his hand out of the cake plate where they sat. They are the same cookie dough but rather than rolled, cut out and filled with jam after baking, they are rolled into 1 ounce balls,  dipped in an egg wash, rolled in coconut, thumb printed, and filled with jam before baking.  They are delightful.  So I have included them here.  Take your pick.  Or make them both. Choose your own adventure! Just have fun and share the buttery love!

    Shortbread Dough
    3 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature (gasp! I know)
    1 cup sugar
    1 tsp vanilla extract
    3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
    1/4 tsp. kosher salt

    Raspberry seedless jam

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Cream together the butter and sugar in mixer until they are just combined and then add vanilla.  Separately, sift together the flour and salt.  Add to butter mixture.  Mix until dough comes together.  Dump on floured board- Roll into flat disc wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes.

    for the Linzer cookies:
    Roll dough onto floured surface until 1/4 inch thick.  Cut dough into shape.  Use smaller cookie cutter to cut out a window in 1/2 of the cookies (so that there are 2 corresponding cookies).  Place on parchment lined cookie sheet.
    Bake at 350 degrees until the cookies begin to turn golden- 10 minutes or so.

    Let cool and spread jam evenly over the solid cookie.

    Place the frame cookie on the solid cookie and sprinkle with powdered sugar.
    (The powdered sugar will melt into the jam so don't be concerned if it gets on the jam).

    for the Jam Thumbprint cookies:
     notice my 1 oz. ball weighed on my fancy new kitchen scale my friend Gretchen gave me
    (for thumbprints you will also need:  7 ounces sweetened flaked coconut and 1 egg beaten mixed with 1 Tbsp. water)
    Roll dough into 1 ounce balls (or walnut sized).

    Dip each into egg wash and roll in coconut.
    Place on parchment lined cookie sheet and press lightly with thumb.
    Drop 1/4 tsp. jam into each indentation.
    Bake 20 minutes or until the coconut is golden brown.