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!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Flavor Explosion

A few weeks ago at our pot luck Halloween lunch at work I sampled kielbasa cooked in yellow mustard and apple jelly. It was served on toothpicks as an appetizer. And wow, was it good. So last week I took this yummy idea a step further and made a soup with kielbasa, cabbage, onions and potatoes. And cooked them in the mustard and apple jelly mixture. Flavor explosion is all I can say. And easy peasy.

Kielbasa and Cabbage Soup
serves 4

1 package kielbasa (I used the light)
1/2 head green cabbage sliced or chopped
1 large onion sliced
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
2 tsp canola oil
water to cover kielbasa
2 cups chicken broth
1 Russet potato diced
9 oz apple jelly
4 oz yellow mustard
salt and pepper

Let's get cooking. Slice your kielbasa so it fits in a medium size sauce pan. Cover with water and cook on medium heat until the sausages begin to plump, about 25 minutes.

Prep your cabbage and onions and set aside. Remove kielbasa from pan and let cool. Reserve 1 cup of the cooking liquid for broth. When kielbasa is cooled a bit slice into 1/2 inch rounds and mix together the mustard and apple jelly.

In large soup pan on medium heat, add canola oil and toast the mustard seeds for almost a minute, until they start to pop. Now add the cabbage and onions and lower heat to medium low. Cook cabbage/onions until slightly wilted.

Now add the apple jelly mixture and reserved cooking water and chicken broth. Add back the kielbasa and the chopped potatoes. Cook another ten minutes and your soup is done. Taste to see if you need to add any salt and pepper. I added a pinch or two of both.

This is one hearty meal, and the combo of the apple jelly and mustard just takes it over the top. It's a little bit sweet and has just the right amount of tang due to the mustard. Yummers, I'm going to try this again and add a little bit of bacon. And next time, you can be sure I'll have a crusty loaf of bread on hand for dipping. Oh yeah, I'm getting ready for winter.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Thai Inspired Red Curry Satay Chicken Soup

I can't get enough of the Thai flavors. The red chilis, lemongrass, peanuts and coconut milk to name a few. You name it- I'm hooked. Last night's dinner was simple to make and fabulous to slurp. And served with Jasmine rice, well it was over the top delish. Want to make this? I can't wait to re-live putting this simple dish together. And don't let the long ingredient list stop you from making this. It's mostly a "can opener" experience and very little prep. Let's get going.

Red Curry Satay Chicken Soup
Serves 4

1-1/2 to 2 pounds bone-in chicken breast or breasts with skin removed
Kosher salt
1 T canola oil
1 small onion diced
2 T Thai red curry paste (I use Thai Kitchen)
2 cloves garlic chopped
1 can (14 oz) lite unsweetened coconut milk
1-1/2 cups water or chicken broth (I used water)
1-1/2 T fish sauce
2 T brown sugar
1/2 cup Thai Kitchen Peanut Satay Sauce (easy to find in international aisle of your market)
1-1/2 T chili garlic sauce
1 red pepper sliced
1/2 cup frozen peas
1/2 cup frozen corn
Juice of one lemon or lime (I used a lemon, no lime in the fridge)
chopped dry roated peanuts for garnish
scallion slices for garnish
Fresno chilis sliced for garnish

Clean and wash your chicken breasts. I had a breast in my package that was soooo big, I ended up just using the one. It was about 1-3/4 pounds. Remove skin, sprinkle with kosher salt and set aside.

In large soup pot on stovetop, add canola oil and heat on medium to low heat. Add onions and sweat for about 3-4 minutes. Now add your chopped garlic and red curry paste.

Let aromatics cook for a few more minutes on low until you can smell the chili and lemongrass in the paste. It's now time to add the coconut milk, water, fish sauce, brown sugar, peanut satay sauce, and chili garlic sauce. Stir together with a spatula to combine and add your chicken breast(s).

Well, I had a nice photo array of the chicken cooking, veggies being added and it seems that my photos are no longer compatible with my blog. So, trooper that I am, I'm finishing the post without anymore new pics. Grrrrrrrrr. That's directed at you Google.

Anyway, cook chicken on low, covered, until done. Don't over cook it. My whopper breast cooked for 36 minutes on low/simmer and rested for about 10-15 minutes until I could handle it and shred it.

While chicken is resting, slice your red pepper in strips, prepare your garnishes and make your Jasmine rice in a separate pan. I'm not a great rice cooker so I use the Success brand Jasmine rice. Ready in 9 minutes.

Add shredded chicken to soup, add sliced red pepper and let them cook together 10-15 minutes. Now add the peas and corn. Cook about another minute and add the juice of one lemon or lime. When plating, I put a dome of rice in the center of each bowl and added the soup around the edges. You see, sometimes I just enjoy a mouthful of rice with very little broth and sometimes I like it nicely mixed. This way you can do both. Garnish with scallions, Serano chilis and crushed roasted peanuts. Cilantro would be a natural, but there was none available in my market. I hope you enjoy this. I had a taste tonight before writing and it's just as good if not better than yesterday. And look at that fabulous color. A very happy meal I must say!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Oven Baked Creamy, Cheesy, Chicken and Brown Rice Casserole

Diane Smith is one of my go-to cooks on the internet. So when she posts a yummy recipe (especially a casserole), you can be sure I'm right there, writing down the ingredients and making plans to put her good cooking and excellent instincts to a test run in my kitchen.  This dish is inspired by Diane and I sure do have to give her the credit for her timing in cooking brown rice in the oven. As many of you know, I am seriously brown rice impaired, and Diane made it simple for me to pull together a perfectly cooked, creamy chicken and rice dish in one pot no less. Her original recipe can be found here, and it's made with poppy seeds. I am not so much a poppy seed fan, but love the combo of creamy, cheesy anything and want to share my little journey putting this beautiful and tasty oven baked dish together. Warning- It's not a 45 minute casserole, but worth every minute in the oven.

Oven Baked Chicken and and Brown Rice with Tarragon, Dijon and White Wine
serves 4

1 c uncooked brown rice
salt and pepper
8 oz cheddar cheese grated
2 large boneless chicken breasts cut into bite size pieces
1 10 oz can non fat/low sodium condensed cream of chicken soup
1/2 c lite sour cream
1-1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 to 1-1/2 tsp dried tarragon
1 cup low sodium chicken broth
1/2 c dry white wine (I used chardonnay)
1/2 sleeve of Ritz crackers crushed
1/4 c unsalted butter melted

Let's cook: Pre heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8x8 inch pan with cooking spray or butter. I was feeling decadent and used the butter, (good choice I decided later). Spread uncooked rice evenly over prepared pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Spread 1/2 the cheese over rice and place chicken on top.

Sprinkle a little more salt and pepper on top of the chicken. Set the chicken aside and mix your condensed soup, sour cream, tarragon and Dijon mustard

Spread mixture on top of seasoned chicken. In a medium size measuring cup, combine chicken broth, and wine and pour over the top of the casserole. This flavorful liquid along with the condensed soup is going to magically cook your chicken and rice to perfection. Looks good already, doesn't it?

 Place casserole uncovered in oven and cook for 1 hour 45 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle remaining cheese on top.

And now my favorite part...the Ritz crackers and butter. Top casserole with the crackers and drizzle butter lovingly on top of the crackers. Place casserole back in oven.

 Bake another 25 minutes and dinner is done. And well worth waiting for. How delish is this?

I'll answer that since you haven't made it yet. It's creamy, cheesy, crunchy, and oh! so flavorful. It tastes like a meal fit for a king or queen. Plus the possibilities for this dish are endless. I might add some veggies next time- like baby peas or asparagus. Or some roasted red peppers. As I said to Diane, "this is not just a recipe- it's another way of cooking chicken and rice to perfection.... which is not easy!" As always, thanks Diane for a wonderful cooking experience! Loved every minute, especially the eating part. LD