Thursday, December 31, 2009

Chicken Pasta Soup

The last few weeks of '09 have not been very kind to me.  I've had food poisoning, a root canal, and now I've come down with some kind of yucky flu-ish illness.  So, I'm kind of depressed because I haven't really felt like eating like usual.  Nothing really strikes me, but I need energy because these next couple days are the busiest days of the year in the food and bev industry.  Even if I wanted to call in sick, there would be no one to cover the shifts for me!  Plus, I'm broke, and its all about the mon-ay.

So, I buckled down and made some feel-good chicken and pasta soup. This is my Aunt Loralee's recipe, which I fell in love with when I was like 10 years old.  I only tend to make it when I'm feeling really crummy, or have someone sick to care for.  It's super easy, and you can use any old vegetable-bin staples you have laying around.  There's no specific measurements- just a dash of this, pinch of that, little bit of this, handful of that, so you can tailor it to your liking.  Her recipe called for green beans, which I didn't have on hand, so I added a diced potato for some additional starchy energy.

Loralee's Chicken Pasta Soup

Rotisserie Chicken
2 or 3 bay leaves
Garlic/Cumin/Sage/Crushed Red Pepper/Salt & Pepper
Veggie Bouillon (2 or 3 squares, dissolved in soup broth)
Carrots, finely chopped
Celery, finely chopped
Potato, diced
Tomatoes (one can or a couple of fresh, finely chopped)
Dry White Wine
Soy Sauce
Worcestershire Sauce
Orzo, Pepini Noodles, or other pasta of your choice

Boil chicken in large soup pot of water.  (It doesn't have to be a full chicken- you can eat some for lunch and use the rest for the soup).  I let the chicken boil while I diced the rest of the veggies.  Take chicken out and cool in colander, keeping broth in pot.  While chicken is cooling, add remaining ingredients, except for the pasta, to the broth.  Pull chicken off bones and tear or cut into bite size pieces and add back to soup.  Let simmer for 1-4 hours, tasting and adding additional spices as desired.  

Twenty minutes before serving, turn up heat to boiling.  Once boiling, add pasta *I used half a box of orzo.*  Enjoy!

Have a happy new year!  Be careful tonight!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Chocolate Peppermint Covered Pretzels

Happy Christmas!

A short one today, as I must get on the road to get home for Christmas!

I must admit, I did not come up with these myself, although they are VERY easy.  I found them over at Savory Sweet Life.  Although I don't have any cute kids to help me, I still managed to tackle a batch just in time for the Christmas eve shift at work.

All you need is pretzels, white and milk chocolate chips, and peppermints.  Did I say these were easy?

First, crush the peppermints.  Then, melt the chocolate chips. 

Now comes the fun part.

Dip a pretzel in the chocolate.

Now, coat it in the peppermint candies.

Place on a lined cookie sheet.  Repeat. 



Repeat. Over and over again. 

Chill until hardened.

These were addictively refreshing, and still very festive.  Everyone at work seemed to enjoy them. 

Finally, I will leave you with a photo of Bam Bam helping me wrap presents.

crazy little animal
Happy Holidays!!!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Chicken & Broccoli Stir Fry

We drank a crisp Viognier with this.

For some strange reason, I've been craving a good stir fry all week.  I'm not too experienced in the Asian foods department- I've always felt kind of intimidated making even the most simple dishes. So, I've kind of vowed to myself to try harder.  This craving got to the point where I went to the grocery store and picked out some ingredients that I thought would work well: broccoli, mushrooms, bean sprouts, a can of water chestnuts.  I looked at like 20 different stir fry recipes for inspiration, and just kind of threw one together.  Here's what I went with:

Chicken & Broccoli Stir Fry

2 boneless chicken breasts, cubed
chopped broccoli
quartered mushrooms
bean sprouts
1 can diced water chestnuts 
chopped basil
soy sauce
Worcestershire sauce
ground ginger
crushed red pepper
ground chili powder
toasted sesame seeds

white rice
chicken stock
soy sauce

I cooked the rice using 1/3 part chicken stock to 2/3 part water.  Add a splash of soy sauce and some butter.

For the stir fry: Heat about a tablespoon of canola oil in a wok or skillet over fairly high heat.  Add chicken, a pinch of ground ginger, and a splash of soy sauce.


Cook until the meat is no longer pink. Remove from wok.

In the same pan, heat about a tablespoon of canola oil.  Add broccoli and saute until it starts to soften, about 3 to 4 minutes.  Add mushrooms;  season to your liking with soy sauce, Worcestershire, crushed red pepper, ground ginger, and ground chili powder. Cook an additional 2 minutes or so.  


Add sprouts, water chestnuts, and basil.  Add cooked chicken.  Adjust the soy sauce and spices as you feel necessary. 

all the rest

Toss in toasted sesame seeds.  Serve over rice, with Sriracha chili sauce. This was easy, healthy, and delicious!


Monday, December 14, 2009

My First Daring Cooks Challenge: Salmon en Croute

This should have been easier 

I've been really excited about joining the Daring Cooks.  I was happy with this recipe being my first because it is a pretty simple concept.  Honestly, compared to some of the other recent challenges I've seen the Daring Cooks create (pho noodles, sushi, etc.), salmon en croute seemed like a good one to get my feet wet with.  For whatever reason, however, I completely struggled with this recipe.  We'll get to that in a minute.  Here is the recipe, posted by Simone from Junglefrog Cooking (a really gorgeous blog):

Salmon en Croute

5.2 ounces mascarpone cheese
4.2 ounces watercress, arugula, and spinach *I used equal parts of these greens*
17.6 ounces shortcrust pastry 
17.6 ounce skinless salmon filet
1 medium sized egg

For pastry:
3.2 cups all-purpose flour
7 ounces cold butter
pinch of salt

Heat oven to 390 degrees F. Blend the mascarpone cheese with the greens in the food processor until you have a creamy green puree.
A seemingly straightforward step.  This is where I hit my first problem. I don't have a food processor, so I usually try to blend things in my blender.  

This stuff did NOT want to come together.

The mixture was really dry (and rather bland), so I added some good olive oil, lemon juice, a little tarragon vinegar, salt and pepper.  FINALLY, it came together. We're talking like 30 minutes later, minimum.

It was actually really pretty when it finally came together.

For the pastry, sift the flour into a large bowl.  Add the butter and rub with your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. You can do this with food processor. Hmm.  Stir in the salt, then add 2-3 tablespoons cold water and mix a firm dough.  Knead the dough briefly and gently on a floured surface.  Wrap in cling wrap and chill.

Okay, problem number 2.  This dough would NOT come together.  It was extremely crumbly.  I was finally (after a lot of struggle) able to get it into a ball to chill it.

dough ball

Roll the pastry out so you can wrap the salmon in it.   

Once I started trying to roll this out, it completely fell apart. I'm talking like, I'm about to have a meltdown.  I'm grabbing my jacket and my keys to go buy puff pastry, and Brandon intervenes. (He was hungry).

Knight in shining armor. Note the glass of wine.

Brandon, who has never baked a thing in his life, would not let me give up on this crust. So he *laboriously* rolled it out for me, until we finally had something that would work as an *albeit overworked* crust.

Lay the salmon on the pastry.  If it has a thinner tail, tuck it under. Season with salt and pepper.

gorgeous piece of salnon

Spoon half of the watercress mixture on top of the salmon.

pretty colors

Fold the pastry over in neat parcel (the join will be at the top, so trim the edge neatly), making sure you don't have any thick lumps of pastry as these won't cook properly.  Trim off any excess as you need to. Make 3 neat cuts in pastry to allow steam to escape and make some decorations with the off-cuts if you like. Brush with beaten egg. 

Bake on oiled baking sheet for 30 minutes or until pastry is crisp and browned.  To test whether the salmon is cooked, push a sharp knife through one of the cuts into the flesh, wait for 3 seconds, then touch it against the inside of your wrist; if it is hot, the salmon is cooked.  Serve with the rest of the watercress puree as a sauce.

Not as beautiful as I imagined it, but it had a lot of love put into it.

nice cross-section

If I were to do it again, I would have just used my favorite pie crust recipe.  It tasted pretty good, but for all the work, I would just as soon have seared that gorgeous piece of fish and served it with some simple veggies. Who needs all that pastry?

Not trying to sound bitter. In the end, we enjoyed a nice meal with a good bottle of Pinot Noir and laughed about it.  Maybe I'll have better luck on the next challenge! 

Thursday, December 10, 2009

White Chili

Decorating the tree today!

I hate it when people start playing Christmas carols and decorating their house before Thanksgiving has even happened. I like to give Thanksgiving its own due time before moving into the Christmas spirit.  That being said, I probably should have gotten my tree up before now, but, whatever, its up now. 

Let me tell you, Bam Bam was a *huge* helper. 

If he were  human he'd be a gin drinker.

Anyway, I've been waiting for a nice blustery day to make Mom's white chili recipe, but finally gave up because, oh yeah, I live in Charleston. The weather keeps toying around with the idea of getting cold, and then changes its mind and turns warm again. I'm running around in short sleeves in the middle of December, for goodness' sake.

So, I gave up and made the chili.  I love this recipe, and its not as unhealthy as your usual beefy variety.  Here's the recipe:

White Chili

1 pound dried Great Northern beans
2 pounds boneless chicken breasts
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
4 cloves minced garlic
2 fresh jalapenos, chopped *the original called for canned chilies, but I think fresh probably work just as well. I actually felt like I could have added a few more*
2 teaspoons cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons oregano
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
6 cups chicken stock
3 cups (12 oz) grated Monterey Jack cheese
Sour cream, cilantro, corn chips, salsa- whatever  you like to garnish with

Place beans in heavy large pot.  Add enough cold water to cover by at least 3 inches.  Soak overnight.

Place chicken in heavy large saucepan.  Add cold water to cover and bring to a simmer.  Cook until just tender, about 15 minutes.  Drain and cool.  Cut chicken into cubes.

all chopped up and ready to go

Drain beans.  Heat oil in a skillet over medium high heat.  Add onions and saute until translucent, about 10 minutes.

sauteing the onions
Stir in garlic, then chilies, cumin, oregano, cloves, and cayenne and saute 2 minutes.


Place saute mixture along with beans and stock into a large pot (or crock pot- this would be an easy recipe to make while you're at work) and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer until beans are very tender, stirring occasionally, about 2 hours.

Add chicken and 1.5 cups cheese to chili and stir until cheese melts.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  

 My garnishes of choice.  Gotta have some Fritos scoops!

Ladle chili into bowls. Serve with remaining cheese and garnish to your liking.

 Mmm.  Goes well with a cold beer.

Did you think I was gonna leave you hanging without a final tree photo? I think not!
Bottom right hand corner is Tiger, the cat you haven't met yet :)

That pretty much does it!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Bam Bam's New Game

No food photos today. Just an update on my crazy cat's new favorite thing to do:


Yep, those are the pull strings for a ceiling fan. He does this over, and over, and over again.  I took these shots over the course of four different self-propelled launchesAnd as I sit at this computer, I can hear him in the other room, thumping every time he (not so) gracefully lands on the floor.

Hope this is just a phase.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Cranberry Orange Bread

A cross-section

The restaurant apparently ordered wayyy too many bags of cranberries for Thanksgiving, because when I got back from my little vacation, they were practically forcing them on the rest of the staff.  So, I took some home, thinking I would make muffins or something. I got online, hoping to find something with cranberries and orange zest, because I think that combo goes rather nicely together.  I found this recipe for Cranberry Orange Loaf on  I changed it around a bit to satisfy my personal tastes, and added a simple orange glaze based on user suggestions.  I also doubled the recipe below to make two loaves instead of one.  So, here it is:

Cranberry Orange Bread

(the following recipe makes one loaf)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
1/2 cup sliced almonds (the original recipe called for pecans, but I thought the almonds would be a nice substitution) ( I love almonds)
1/4 cup margarine, softened
1 cup white sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon almond extract (I added this too)
3/4 cup orange juice 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter and sugar a 9x5 inch loaf pan.  Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Stir in orange zest, cranberries, and almonds.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream together margarine, sugar, egg, and almond extract until smooth.  Stir in orange juice.  Beat in flour mixture until just moistened.  


Pour into prepared pan(s).  

Going into the oven

Bake for 1 hour in the preheated oven, or until the bread springs back when lightly touched.  Let stand 10 minutes, then turn out onto wire racks to cool.  

Drizzled with orange glaze

This is where I added the orange glaze. I just whisked some powdered sugar, OJ, and vanilla extract together and poured it over the warm bread.

 Went really well with mimosas for breakfast

This recipe was super easy.  The bread turned out nice and moist, and the overall flavor was tasty.  The cranberries were still pretty tart, but I think the light glaze helped balance it out.  Took the extra loaf in to work since they made me take the cranberries in the first place!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

My First Thanksgiving!

The spread

I really, really wanted to cook Thanksgiving dinner this year. I kind of toyed with the idea last Thanksgiving, but I had to work and there just wasn't time. This year I planned ahead and asked off several days, and Mom agreed to let me cook *and plan* everything.  Actually, she was pretty happy about not having to be the Thanksgiving cook for the first time in 20-ish+ years.  Of course, she was happy to help.

I've been looking forward to it for weeks.  I kept the menu simple, because it was just the immediate family, and well, obviously I'd never tackled Thanksgiving dinner before.  Here's the menu I ended up going with:

Rustic Bread Stuffing with Red Mustard Greens, Currants, and Pine Nuts
Glazed Carrots with Molasses and Marjoram
Bacon and Thyme Sauteed Brussels Sprouts- didn't use a recipe here
Dinner Rolls (Um, not homemade- I'm not that ambitious) (this year)


Cranberry-Apple Crumble Pie

I'm not going to post every recipe because I think that would feel monotonous. Instead, I'm going to walk you through my cooking and planning process.

The day before Thanksgiving, I made the pie. 

Fall flavors

I've never really been partial to cranberry sauce, and neither has the rest of my family.  I think my mom has always felt kind of obligated to make it because it's "traditional".  I decided to get rid of it.  This recipe appealed to me because I was still able to work cranberries into the menu.  The tartness of the cranberries worked really well with the softly-sweet Gala apples.

Going into the oven

For some reason, I've messed up a few pie crusts lately, so I was a little nervous about this one.  I used lard for the first time as a substitute for shortening.  I ended up scrapping the first one I made because I thought it came together a little too quickly. The second crust acted much better though, so I went with it.  The crumble topping didn't go on until halfway through the baking process.

Coming out of the oven

The recipe was actually pretty simple, so I kept my fingers crossed that it was a keeper. I'll come back to the pie.   


I also got a little prep work done the day before the big dinner.  I bought the Brussels sprouts on the stalk because they were soo much prettier than the pre-bagged ones.  

Just found out recently that Brussels sprouts were members of the cabbage family.
Don't know why that surprised me.

So, I cut all the Brussels sprouts off the stalk, trimmed them, and blanched them. This way, I figured, all I would have to do for dinner would be to slice them and toss them in a saute pan with some bacon, garlic, and thyme (my favorite way of cooking them).


Thanksgiving day, I woke up excited and ready to cook. I started, of course, by getting the turkey ready to go into the oven.  I love sage, and apple cider makes me think of fall, so this recipe seemed perfect to me.


Mom and I thought it was strange that the recipe didn't call for anything to go into the cavity of the bird.  So, we decided to stuff it with some onion, lemon, and more sage.

My dad made the comment that there is nothing pretty about a raw turkey.

So, in the turkey went.  While it roasted, we prepped the stuffing.  It could be made a couple hours ahead of time, which was great so it could be in the pan and ready to go when the turkey came out.


I was excited about this recipe because I love pine nuts, and I didn't want a meaty stuffing because of the bacon in the Brussels sprouts.  I thought the greens would be a nice touch.  Alas, Mother couldn't find red mustard greens at her little Morganton grocery stores, and I went to three places here in Charleston and couldn't find them either.  What really upset me the most is that I know they had them at the farmer's market, but I couldn't get off work last Saturday morning to get them.  So, we substituted kale for the greens, and it worked out fine.  We also substituted orange zest for lemon zest because I thought it might be a nicer flavor with the currants.  I added some extra chicken stock, because it seemed a little dry and I wanted to make sure it bound together properly. 


Basting the bird

Also, Margaret brought some nice cheese and wine from A Southern Season, where she works in Chapel Hill. God, I love that place.  We enjoyed some bubbles and cheese while we were waiting for dinner. 

 Triple cream, Gruyere, and a local goat cheese from Chapel Hill

Dad and Margaret looking skeptical

Mom and I taking a break

When it came time to take the turkey out of the oven, it got slightly hairy.  The stuffing and rolls went in, and I started sauteing the Brussels sprouts and carrots. After those were just finished, I started the gravy.  No, I don't have any pictures of the carrots.  Not sure why except that I just got a *little* busy.  So, here's a turkey picture:

Gobble gobble


A good one of Dad carving the turkey

Finally, we sat down and enjoyed our meal. Margaret brought several bottles of red, including a Valpollicella Ripassato, a Rioja, and a Tempranillo from Argentina. We drank them in that order, and they were all delicous.

 Oh yeah

The food turned out really well! I loved the flavor of the gravy.  The stuffing was a hit, although we all agreed I could have doubled the kale and added a bit more stock as a binder.  The flavors were right on though, I just love greens and could have had more.  The carrots were a little sweet, even though I cut back on molasses and added apple cider vinegar. I didn't really mind the sweetness, because they were kind of like a substitute for a tradidional sweet potato or yam dish (another Thanksgiving tradition no one in my family is particularly fond of).

Didn't think I would forget, did you?

I absolutely loved the pie.  Considering how easy it was, it really turned out well.  The lard made the crust nice and flaky, and the overall flavor was nicely refreshing, not cloyingly sweet like some holiday desserts. I would totally make this again.


So, I think that pretty much covers it! I really enjoyed myself, and of course, spending time with the family was the best part by far.