Thursday, September 22, 2011

Tortellini Soup

Here is your new favorite, Go-To weeknight dinner.  It comes together super fast, less then 20 minutes from start to finish!  But thanks to the rich, full flavor of the beef broth it tastes like it has been slow cooking all day long.  It is wonderful for the end of summer, utilizing the last of the sweet corn, zucchini and green beans of the season.  But the nice thing with soup, frozen veggies will work just as well in the winter months.  This soup truly is yummy, yummy, yummy!  

Tortellini Soup
3 cups beef stock (chicken or vegetable may be substituted, but the beef gives a nice rich flavor)
3 cups water
1 ear corn, kernals cut off and "corn milk" scrapped*
1 medium zucchini, chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 medium onion, chopped
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 package (9 ounces) refrigerated cheese tortellini
1 cup green beans, trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces
1 tablespoon fresh basil, minced (or 1 teaspoon dried)
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, minced (or 1 teaspoon dried)
salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste

*Quick tip to Easily cut corn off the cobb- A bundt pan is the best bowl for this job!  It has a handy hole to hold the corn steady and then the bowl for all the kernels to fall into.  Gotta love dual purpose items!  Turn your bundt pan right side up, place the cleaned corn cob upright with the tip of corn resting in the hole of the pan.  Slowly slide the knife down the sides of the corn, cutting off a section at a time.  Once all the corn is removed, turn your knife around so the flat side is facing the cob.  Repeat the process, scraping down on the cob collecting all the sweet corn milk in the bowl.  This is special stuff, you definitely don't want to just throw it away! It is sweet, juicy and will give a great added flavor to the soup.

In a large stock pot over medium heat, add one tablespoon extra virgin olive oil and sauté onion and zucchini until tender and beginning to caramelize.  Add remaining ingredients and simmer until vegetables are tender. Add tortellini's and simmer 7-8 minutes or until they are fully cooked and floating to the top.  Serve with nice crusty butter bread.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Fresh Corn Chowder

Toward the end of summer here in the midwest, the temperatures begin to get cooler and the hope of Autumn fills the air.  You can smell it in the breeze and feel the crispness in the evening.  We are surprised on our night time walks that dusk comes to us much earlier then just a few weeks ago, rushing home in the quickly darkening night.  I am in no hurry for winter, but oh goodness, Autumn could last months and months and months.  It could be year long and I would be one happy girl!  It is my favorite time of the year. I crave the juicy apples, winter squashes (especially pumpkins!) and the turning of the leaves.  There is just something so happy and joyous about fall.  It seems like there is just so much FUN to be had!  With the fall fests, yummy foods packed with cinnamon and sugar, and lot of maple!  Pulling the favorite comfy jeans out of the attic along with those cute boots, playing at the playgrounds for hours instead of squeezing a little time in between the hot sun.  Hayrides, family hikes, and not to mention Halloween and Thanksgiving- two wonderful family holidays.

This soup is the perfect introduction to Autumn.  You get to use the delicious sweet corn your local roadside stand is selling 20 ears for $2. And the thyme is in full abundance in the garden.  But you also get to have a nice pot of creamy, invitingly warm soup that gets you in the mood to snuggle on the couch with an afghan and a good book.  You get the best of both worlds in one delicious bowl.

The recipe calls for a crock pot, but a Dutch oven works nicely and quickly if you want to hurry the process along.  A simple stock pot is also fine, just increase your cooking time to about an hour to an hour and a half, checking the potatoes for tenderness.  They should turn nice and slightly creamy when the soup is done.

Fresh Corn Chowder
recipe adapted from Fix-It and Forget-It Lightly by Phyllis Pellman Good

4 large ears of fresh corn on the cob (1 lb bag of frozen corn can also be used in the cooler months)
1 large onion, chopped
1 celery rib, chopped
1 Tablespoon butter or margarine
1 1/2 cups of potatoes, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
2 cups water, divided
2 teaspoons chicken bouillon granules
1 Tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped (or 1 teaspoon dried)
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
6 Tablespoons flour
3 cups fat-free milk

Combine 1 cup of water with the remaining ingredients except the flour and milk.  Cook in a crock pot on low for 6 hours, or until potatoes are tender.  You can also use a dutch oven or a heavy stock pot, cooking the chowder for about an hour to an hour and a half.

Once the potatoes are nice and tender, mix the flour and milk together and whisk until smooth.  Stir into the chowder very slowly, a little at a time until thickened.  Add in the additional 1 cup of water (or more) to achieve the thickness you prefer your chowder.  (I found one additional cup of water to be perfect). Serve with garlic toast or nice bread and butter.  This is a great "dunking" soup.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Caramelized Onion Egg Scramble

Is there any smell more mouth watering then sauteed onions in butter? .... Mmmmmm.  Now take those little guys a bit farther and caramelize them.   Caramelized onions stirred into cheesy eggs.... ok, now this is crazy good!  If you are an onion lover like me, then you will go crazy for this egg scramble!  The slow cooking of the onions adds such a lovely sweetness to the eggs, making them completely addictive.  This isn't just for breakfast!  I feel like the time and love it takes to caramelize onions, also makes this special enough for a perfect "Breakfast for Dinner". 

Caramelized Onion Egg Scramble
4 eggs
4 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon butter or margarine
1 small onion, diced
1 green onion, sliced
2 slices Sharp American Cheese, torn up
salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
2 parsley sprigs, chopped for garnish

In a medium sized nonstick skillet over medium heat, melt the butter.  Add the diced onions and a pinch of salt.  Sauté until just beginning to turn brown.  Turn down heat to low and allow the onions to continue to caramelize, stirring occasionally.  

Wisk the eggs and milk together for two minutes, until frothy and even colored.  Turn the heat up to medium low, add eggs to skillet. Do not scramble right away. Just as they are beginning to set, using a spatula or a flat wooden spoon, push eggs toward center while tilting skillet to distribute the runny parts. When eggs are almost done, add the green onions and sharp American cheese.  Season with salt and pepper. Cook until the cheese is melted.  Garnish with parsley.  Serve with toast points and if you are like me, a little hot sauce to spice things up!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Chicken and Summer Vegetable Stir-Fry

This recipe comes together so super fast, it makes it the perfect weeknight meal.  But the incredible flavors, easily knock it up to "Better Then Take-Out" quality.  When you are craving food from your favorite Chinese restaurant, make this instead.  It is very inexpensive, using up ingredients that you will already have in your fridge.  I called this a Summer Vegetable stir-fry, but honestly you can use whatever veggies you have on hand.  This is the perfect meal when you really need to clear out the crisper drawer!  A little of this, a handful of that- Be Creative!  

I borrowed the marinade from Aarti Seqeira.  She uses it for her Banh-mi Wraps, but I thought it would work out nice here, and goodness gracious I was right!  Yum!  If you aren't familiar with Chinese Five Spice or Garam Masala, don't be nervous.  You can find them both in either the spice aisle or International Food aisle of your local grocery store.  These are very traditional spices used in Chinese and Indian cuisine, that include cinnamon, fennel, ginger, cloves, star anise, pepper, cumin, coriander and cardamom.  I love how she blends of the two of them together- wow is this a flavorful stir-fry.  But not at all overpowering, I promise.  The sauce thickens up, thanks to the cornstarch, and adds a nice silkiness to the dish making it wonderful over a bed of rice.  

Both of my boys LOVED this and one is 4 years old and the other is 9 months!  Owen, my 9 month old, has been really into table food.  One of his favorites is brown rice.  Since we were having it with our meal, I gave him a little with some of the sauce to see if he would like it.  He not only liked it, he loved it, opening his mouth like a little birdie asking for more.  So more I gave him, but with some of the vegetables this time and he liked that even better then the first spoonful!  He just couldn't stop gobbling it up!  It just goes to show that you really need to not be afraid of giving kids different flavors then they are used to.  More times then not they will really love it.  You can always stir a little bit of apricot preserves to the children's serving if they like things with a little sweetness to them.  It blends nicely.

Chicken and Summer Vegetable Stir-Fry
1 pound chicken, cut into bite-size chunks
1/2 cup broccoli floretts
1 yellow summer squash, cut into 4ths or 6ths depending on size of squash
1 medium sized sweet onion, cut in half and then into wedges
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
1 bell pepper, cut into bite sized chunks
4 scallions cut into 1" pieces
1/2 cup peas (frozen work quite nicely)
*feel free to substitute any of the vegetables with whatever you have on hand. You honestly can't go wrong with a stir-fry!

For the Chicken Marinade: 
1/4 cup soy sauce 
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 teaspoons sugar (splenda works great here)
1 teaspoon five-spice powder
1 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 small shallot, minced (about 3 tablespoons)

For the Sauce: 
1 cup chicken broth
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons cornstarch

Place the cut up chicken into a gallon-sized resealable bag. Add all of the marinade ingredints and seal bag tightly. Throughly massage bag to evenly distribute the marinade all over the chicken. Set aside on the counter top while you are chopping your veggies and making your sauce.

Once veggies are all chopped, using tongs, transfer your chicken to a wok or large skillet. Sautee over medium-high heat for about 4-5 minutes until lightly browned. Add the veggies, except for the peas and scallions, and continue to sautee until they begin to soften, about 4-5 more minutes.

In a small bowl, combine broth, soy sauce and cornstarch. Add to chicken and vegetable mixture and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium/medium-low, add in the peas and scallions and simmer for 4 to 5 minutes, or until sauce thickens.  Serve over rice or hot rice noodles and enjoy!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Fridays, Feasting with Friends- Featuring Jen Gardner

"One of the delights of life is eating with friends, second to that is talking about eating. And, for an unsurpassed double whammy, there is talking about eating while you are eating with friends."~Laurie Colwin 'Home Cooking'

Jen Gardner

For today's Fridays, Feasting with Friends I am thrilled to introduce you to an amazing blogger Jen Gardner.  She is a woman who, if you haven't already put your house up for sale and picked your future home here in the beautiful CLE, will encourage you to do so after spending some time on her blog Why CLE?.  She was born and raised here in Cleveland, Ohio and although she has moved away many times she always comes back.  By choice, not chance..... and has often encountered the same question- "Why Cleveland?".  In Jen's words:
This blog will attempt to answer two questions – “Why Cleveland?” and “WhyCleveland?”  The first question is the good stuff – the amazing, noteworthy people and places that make Cleveland, well, Cleveland.  Not just touristy spots, not just the things all of us could list sitting here, but the real heart and soul of the city – the stuff that makes us want to live here, raise our families here, and defend the city to those who would knock it.
The second question looks at what could be better – the stuff that makes us shake our heads at the fact that our town can sometimes be its own worst enemy.  Because I think we can all admit that Cleveland has its share of that stuff, too.
My hope is that, through this adventure, you’ll find a better answer next time someone asks you, “Why Cleveland?”  Or maybe it’ll stop you from asking the question of someone else…
I have also been born and raised here in Cleveland, and goodness I love this place!  I too moved away for some time and a few short years later, found myself back in my hometown.  And yet I find myself truly inspired while reading her blog.  She makes me proud of my town and proud I made the decision to move back here to raise my family.  I am excited to see so many parts of my CLE that is even new to me- rediscovering your hometown is always a good thing.  Thank you Jen for your honesty and also your passion in our beautiful home.

What is your favorite thing to cook?
Without a doubt, Thanksgiving dinner! I started making my family’s entire Thanksgiving dinner about 5 years ago and I love it. All the dishes are so traditional and when I get the timing coordinated and a great meal on the table, that’s such a fantastic feeling. The year my mom told me my great-grandma’s pumpkin pie tasted just like she always remembered it, I knew I had a good thing going.

How about your least favorite thing to cook?
Pasta. I know…how basic, right?! But I feel like I can never get it to be done exactly how I want it. Although I do make a mean spaghetti sauce, so I flub my way through for the sake of that.

What is your favorite local restaurant and what is one you are dying to try out?
So many favorites: Lolita, Greenhouse Tavern, Grovewood Tavern, and Dante are my main go-to places. I have been dying to try L’Albatros. It’s the only Zack Bruell restaurant I haven’t been to!

Music and food go together so beautifully. You are hosting a dinner party, what would be on your playlist?
Chances are a lot of classics: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin. Hearing that kind of music is one of my favorite things about dining in Little Italy.

What would you choose to be your last meal on earth?
My mom’s roast beef with mushroom gravy, mashed potatoes, and cooked carrots. I know that sounds shockingly simple, but for most of my growing up, that was my pick for birthday or special occasion dinners. It’s the ultimate comfort food for me. For dessert, chocolate molten cake with Jeni’s salted caramel ice cream.

What are you currently reading?
“Tender is the Night” by F. Scott Fitzgerald, which is my book club’s monthly selection. Also finishing up “Bossypants” by Tina Fey, which was last month’s book club selection (I’m a little behind).

What is your favorite Kitchen Gadget?
My slow cooker (is that a gadget?). If you need a smaller gadget, my ice cream scoop that’s shaped like a cow (it’s funny and I love ice cream).

Do you have a signature go-to dish?
Probably lasagna. I don’t know how my grandma, my mom, and I (3 good Polish and Czech girls) managed to come up with a good lasagna recipe, but it works.

What is your favorite thing about the Cleveland area?
So, so many things…the people, the culture, the food scene, the lake, the sports teams, the eternal optimism.

Do you have a favorite meal from your childhood and do you cook it today?
The roast beef answer from above is my favorite childhood meal. I don’t know that I’ve ever made it myself, but I definitely can still get mom to make it.

Top 3 Movies of all time?
The Sound of Music, Pretty Woman, The Princess Bride

What was your happiest moment in life?
To date, when my fiance proposed. I honestly felt (and feel) like the most blessed and lucky person in the world. But, I’m pretty sure there are even more happiest moments to come!

Where do you do your grocery shopping?
Giant Eagle (most convenient), Heinen’s, The West Side Market (not nearly as much as I should)

What is your favorite guilty pleasure when it comes to food?
Ice cream! Really, I’ll take anything sweet, but I will never, ever turn down ice cream and will usually go out of my way to “just happen to pass” an ice cream shop on the way home.

Can you tell me about what you are most proud of?
My relationships with my fiance, family, and friends. When I look at the amazing people in my life, I know that I’ve accomplished something in being able to cultivate and maintain these connections.

Do you have Culinary Resolutions that you would like to accomplish this year?
One major one: cook at home more often. We are so busy and go out to eat so much that I feel like I under-utilize my kitchen. Carving out more nights per week to have dinner in (and inviting people over to share in that) is culinary priority #1 for me.
One word that best describes you is: Happy.

this picture should seriously be the cover of a love story.  Perfect, true love.  

And now can you share a favorite recipe of yours?:

Chicken Pairisian 
(I have no idea where this came from)

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
All-purpose flour
1 cup white wine
½ cup water
1 ½ cups sliced mushrooms

Wash chicken breasts and pat dry.
Place flour and few dashes of paprika into a ziploc bag.
Dredge chicken breasts in flour and paprika mixture.

Place chicken breasts in saute pan.
Brown on each side.
Remove chicken from pan.

Add water, wine, and mushrooms to pan.
Heat until boiling.

Reduce heat.
Return chicken to pan.
Cover and cook for 30 minutes or until chicken is thoroughly cooked.

Serve with spaghetti with olive oil or twice-baked potatoes.


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