Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Quick Asian Soup

The weather outside is frightful and nothing in the Boston area these days is delightful, especially schlepping a grocery cart across an icy parking lot. So I'm low on provisions again and soup seems to be my answer for avoiding the market. Here's a little gem, a variation of an Asian soup my friend Donna posted the other day on facebook. It's six ingredients, and ready in under 15 minutes. And it's delish!

Quick Pot Sticker Soup
Serves 4

4 cups chicken stock
4 scallions sliced 1/4 inch
1 T oyster sauce
2 T light soy sauce
12 frozen pot stickers
1/2 cup frozen corn

Heat chicken stock on stovetop in large pot. Add oyster sauce, soy sauce and scallions and bring to a low boil.

Add frozen pot stickers, cover, lower heat a bit and simmer 5 minutes. Add frozen corn and cook with lid on another 2 minutes. Soup's ready!

Wasn't that quick? I garnished with a teaspoon of Huy Fong's chili garlic sauce which gave it a bit of a bite. I would have added cilantro as well, but as you can imagine, I was without any fresh herbs. With or without cilantro, this is the perfect dish for the imperfect weather we've had in the northeast this winter.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Make Yourself Comfortable

Craving comfort food? I sure am. This little gem managed to get me out of the bad mood I've been in due to the constant snow that has invaded New England for 2-1/2 weeks. Oh yes, 2 or 3 more days of shoveling, salting, are sanding are in the forecast, not to mention an additional 12 to 15 inches of the white stuff. When we have a snowy winter like this one, I always try to keep bread, eggs, cheese, cream and butter in the house.  One of the reasons is so that I have an excuse to comfort myself with this decadent strata. It's great right out of the oven, and almost as good at room temp. Here's the recipe.

Ham and Cheese Strata
Serves 9

Cooking spray
2 T unsalted butter
8 slices hearty white bread cubed 1" pieces
2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
4 oz honey ham sliced 1" pieces
2 scallions chopped
5 large eggs
1-3/4 cups fat free half and half
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp black pepper

Ready to assemble this cheesy, buttery, savory concoction? I sure am.

Spray an 8" x 8" baking dish and set aside. On stovetop on low, melt butter in small saucepan and remove to cool. Place half the bread cubes on top of the sprayed baking dish.

Sprinkle with 1-1/2 cups of cheese. Top with all the ham and chopped scallions. Add the rest of the cubed bread and the remaining cheese.

Set the baking dish aside and make the custard: Whisk together eggs, half and half, melted butter, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper. Pour this liquid gold over your ham, cheese and bread mixture.

Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 2 hours (or longer shouldn't hurt), letting the custard soak into all the elements of the dish. About an hour before you're ready to bake, remove dish from fridge and let come to room temperature.

Pre heat oven to 325 degrees. Bake 50-60 minutes in middle rack on oven. All ovens are different, so start checking for brown-ness at about 40 minutes. Remove from oven, let rest about 10 minutes before serving. I slice into 9 squares. Doesn't that look comforting?

There are so many ways to re-mix this recipe...add some Dijon mustard to the custard. Place a layer of roasted red peppers or softened sun dried tomatoes on the ham and cheese. Of course some chopped, cooked bacon would be heavenly as well. One of my favorites is blue cheese and caramelized onions. You can even make this on a sweet note, with cottage cheese, raisins and cinnamon. There are so many ways to make yourself comfortable, I suggest you give a strata a try!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Cream-Filled Oatmeal Walnut Raisin Cookies with a Twist

The twist. Ahh the twist is the addition of Maple Extract. I don't bake with it often enough, and it's the perfect addition to so many fall and winter dishes (both sweet and savory).

I know some people are not fond of maple anything, and then some go wild over maple everything. Both my parents were fanatics about maple walnut ice cream and maple walnut coffee cake. So that was my inspiration when I decided to put this experiment together last night. There are a few steps to making these little darlings, but the results are so worth it. And as usual, I've tried to cut some calories and sugar. There might be some future tweaking, but for now...this is a yummy cookie your maple lovers will adore.

Cream-Filled Oatmeal Walnut Raisin Cookies
makes approximately 20-22 sandwich cookies

8 oz Neufchatel cheese softened
1/2 cup unsalted butter softened (1 stick)
1/2-3/4 cups confectioners sugar
1 T Splenda Brown Sugar Blend (or 2 T regular brown sugar)
1 tsp natural maple extract
1/3 cup finely chopped or ground walnuts

1 cup unsalted butter softened (2 sticks)
1 cup Splenda No Calorie Sweetener (same amount if you're using granulated sugar)
1/2 cup Splenda Brown Sugar Blend (or 1 cup regular brown sugar)
2 large eggs at room temp
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp natural maple extract
1 tsp salt
1-1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1cup rolled oats
1 cup raisins
1/2 cup finely chopped or ground walnuts

I like to make my filling first. In medium size bowl, combine your butter and Neufchatel. I use a hand mixer. Now add your sugars and maple extract.

And fold in your ground nuts.

Wrap filling in plastic wrap and set aside in your refrigerator to set up and let the flavors meld.

Let's make the cookies. Pre heat your oven to 350 and line baking sheets with parchment. In medium size bowl, combine salt, flour, baking soda, and baking powder. Whisk with a fork or spoon to incorporate. No need for any sifting. Set aside.

On to the batter. Place butter and sugars in a large bowl. With hand mixer combine sugars and butter until smooth. Add eggs and both extracts and incorporate.

Now add the flour mixture in two batches to the wet ingredients and combine. And fold in the oats, raisins and chopped walnuts.

I usually just plop my oatmeal dough by teaspoonfuls onto the parchment paper, but since I was filling these little beauties, I decided to make them into 1 inch to 1-1/2 inch balls, so they would all be pretty uniform in size.

Bake each cookie sheet 9 minutes. Let cool on cooling rack and remove cookies to paper towels to finish setting up. And amazingly enough, the cookies are all pretty much the same size. I lucked out on that one.

While cookies are cooling, remove the filling from the fridge, let it come to almost room temp so filling the cookies will be a snap. Lovingly pile a teaspoon to a tablespoon of the maple infused filling on to the bottom (flat side) of one cookie and top with a second. Keep going, and be sure to sample at least one (or two). They really are yummy.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Creamy, Cheesy Mexican Chicken Vegetable Soup

This is a re-mix of Laura Lopez's award winning soup. If I had all the ingredients on hand, I would have made her soup exactly as I did last time. But cold weather and a bit of the lazy gene made me put my thinking cap on and I used what was available in my pantry and fridge.

Normally I have loads of cheese on hand. But tonight I only had a partially-made cheese ball (without the outer coating of nuts). Well the cheeses that make up this decadent little hors d'orvre are rich, meltable and easy to find in your market. Nuefchatel, Wispride Spreadable Sharp Cheddar and Crumbled Blue, perfect for this soup! Check out the recipe for the combo of cheeses from a very old blog post. Now let's get cooking. It's soup weather and this is a quick fix.

Creamy, Cheesy Mexican Chicken Vegetable Soup
Serves 3 or 4

1 T canola oil
1 large carrot chopped
1 medium celery chopped
1/2 medium onion chopped
2 Fresno chilies chopped or you can leave them whole- I chopped one and kept one intact
4-5 tsp taco seasoning divided (I use the low sodium)
Pinch of kosher salt
1 can (10.5 oz) Cream of Chicken soup- lower sodium/98% fat free
3 canfulls (10.5 oz) Chicken Broth- low sodium/fat free
2 cups (or more) cooked chicken breasts shredded
1 cup frozen corn
1/2 cup of cheese ball mixture (you can add more- it's so delish)
2-3 oz fresh baby spinach chopped

In large soup pot add canola oil and heat on low. Add the carrots, celery, and onions. Sprinkle with 2 tsp taco seasoning and kosher salt. Now add 1 Fresno chili. Cover and sweat on low until veggies are soft.

Add the cream soup and the broth and stir to incorporate. Now add the remainder of the taco seasoning and the additional Fresno chili. Cover and cook on low for about 5-7 minutes. Now add the chicken, cheese and frozen corn. Stir to make sure the cheese melts and after a few minutes you can add the chopped baby spinach. Cook another minute or two and dinner is done. Serve piping hot.

I'd love this soup topped with a slice or two of Texas Toast. Or fried tortillas. And if I had a can of black beans, they would have made an appearance in the broth as well. What a versatile meal and a big thank you again to Laura, TV star and cook extraordinaire. 

Friday, January 2, 2015

Lemon Explosion

I love when a new cookie idea works, and this one a dream. I had a jar of lemon curd in my pantry and wasn't sure if I was going to use it in an experiment that involved French toast, something savory or maybe another version of my famous cream-filled cookies. Well you know me, I dove head first into the cookie project. Let's make some creamy, dreamy, lemony cookies.

Lemon Cream Filled Lemon Cookies
Makes 16 2 inch sandwich cookies
8 oz Neufchatel cheese softened to room temp
1/2 cup unsalted butter softened
1/4 cup confectioner's sugar
1/2 cup prepared lemon curd

3/4 cup unsalted butter softened to room temp
3/4 cup Splenda Brown Sugar Blend
2 large eggs room temp
1/2 tsp pure lemon extract
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
Zest of one lemon
2 cups AP flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

Confectioner's sugar for dusting

To make the filling: In medium size bowl combine all ingredients. I mix the cream cheese and butter first (mix about 2 or 3 minutes to get some air in the mixture). Then add the lemon curd and sugar. I use a hand mixer. Very important step here- wash your hands and dry them well. Now with your impeccably clean pointer finger, scoop as much of this creamy confection onto it and take a taste. Yummy, right?


Cover with plastic wrap and store in the fridge while you wash your hands again and make the cookies. By the way, you could also make the filling a day ahead, which due to time juggling, is what I did.

To make the cookies: Pre heat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside. In medium size bowl combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt (I use a whisk). Set aside.

In large bowl, with hand mixer, combine butter and sugar and mix until smooth and airy (about 2-3 minutes). Add eggs, both extracts and lemon zest. When mixture is smooth, add half the dry ingredients into the wet and mix on low. Add the rest of the dry ingredients until incorporated. This is a sticky dough, so you'll want to cover it or wrap it with plastic wrap and let it sit in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes.

Using a teaspoon or small cookie scoop, form dough into 1-1/2 inch balls and place on baking sheets.

Looks like a matzo ball, right? Leave enough room between cookies, as these babies spread. Bake in your pre-heated oven for 11 to 12 minutes. Remove from oven and cool slightly on cooling  rack, then remove to paper or kitchen towels to cool completely. Don't these look light and tasty?

And ready to be filled? You bet! Remove filling from the fridge. Take a hefty teaspoon of the creamy filling and place it on the underside/flat side of a cookie. Take a second cookie and cover the filling to make a sandwich. Keep going until all cookies have found their match. Don't use all the cream, as you'll want a few tablespoons to garnish the tops of the cookies.

Dust with confectioner's sugar. I like to dust through a sieve to make the sugar even finer.

And for a final presentation, add a dollop of remaining lemon cream to the top, then add a sprinkling of lemon zest to the dollop and serve in cupcake wrappers.
If fresh herbs looked good in my market, a pretty leaf of mint or thyme would have been the perfect garnish- right on top or next to my creamy dollop. With or without the herbs, this cookie is sure to please all the lemon lovers in your life.   

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Christmas Orzo

I made this dish last week to go with a yummy pot roast and it made my meal feel festive. Now I'm not suggesting that you serve this at your Christmas dinner, but the colors just screamed Holiday and Christmas, so I gave it the name Christmas Orzo. And during this hectic time of year, isn't it great to put together a healthy, colorful side dish that's ready in less than half an hour? I certainly think so!

Christmas Orzo
Serves 4

1 cup uncooked orzo
1 T unsalted butter
1 T olive oil
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1-3/4 cups canned chicken stock or broth (low sodium, fat free)
1 T additional olive oil for sautéing vegetables:
1 red pepper chopped
4 oz cremini mushrooms chopped
1 small onion chopped
2 cups baby kale chopped
1/4 - 1/2 tsp Herbes de Provence
1/4 - 1/2 cup shaved Parmesan (optional)

Prep your raw vegetables.

And slice/chop the baby kale, which by the way is an excellent source of vitamins A, K and Folate. You can use more or less of the kale than I've recommended, but if you're not sure about the flavor (which is rather pronounced) go with a lesser amount. Here's the package I bought:

In medium size saucepan on medium low heat melt your butter and oil. Add the orzo and toast on medium heat for about 2-3 minutes until some of the grains become toasty and brown. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Now add the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low (very low) and cook 12-13 minutes.

While orzo is cooking add your olive oil to a large sauté pan and heat on medium to medium low (my stovetop cooks hot). Add your prepped red pepper, mushroom and onion and coat with oil. Add a pinch more of salt and your Herbes de Provence. Stir to combine veggies and seasoning. After the vegetables soften (about 5 minutes) add your chopped kale. Cook another minute or so until the kale wilts.

Mix the warm vegetables into the cooked orzo and add some cheese if desired.

Serve alone or with anything your holiday heart desires. Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Egg Nog and Bananas Foster French Toast

My fabulous cooking friend Kim has been posting "25 Days of Egg Nog Recipes" and she inspired me last night. Oh did she inspire me!!! I fed myself a decadent dinner and packed up the leftovers for friends at work today.  Who doesn't like French toast? And who doesn't want to jazz up this simple dish every once in a while? Well, the bananas in my fruit basket were calling my name and the egg nog was already in my fridge anticipating Kim's suggestions. I'm happy to share this simple, yet decadent recipe. Oh, and it's a one dish meal, how nice is that?
Bananas Foster French Toast
Serves 3
6 slices firm white bread
3 large eggs whisked
1 cup eggnog
1 tsp vanilla extract
Pinch of kosher salt
Banana Syrup/Sauce:
3 bananas sliced 1/4 inch
1/3 cup brown sugar
4 T unsalted butter
3-4 T water
Butter and Canola Oil for sautéing the toast
Ready for some simple instructions and mediocre pictures?
Combine eggs, egg nog, vanilla extract and salt. Whisk together until you have a smooth custard. Soak each piece of bread in the mixture.
I didn't let them get too soggy, and placed each piece of bread on a tray until I was ready to fry them. In large sauté pan, add some butter and canola oil and heat on medium low. I did not measure the amount, but you know me, I was pretty careful not to over do it. Now add your egg-noggy soaked bread and cook a few minutes until slightly brown on each side. I was able to cook 3 at a time.
Remove cooked bread from pan and set aside. Now it's time to cook the bananas. In same pan that you cooked the toast, add the butter and brown sugar and cook until they are combined. Now add the sliced bananas and let them caramelize in the sugary mix. I wanted to stretch the sauce, so I added some water which seemed to work fine for me.
I did a double decker plate for myself. I took one slice of toast and topped it with the bananas.
Then I added another slice of toast and topped it with more bananas. Of course I topped the whole shebang with powdered sugar.
How can you make this even better? Add a few slices of bacon. That would do it for me. Or a shot or two of whiskey or rum to the banana sauce. I love being decadent during the holiday season!