Sunday, January 29, 2017

Creamy Italian Tomato Soup

When I'm working on a project, I often like the comfort of television playing in the background. In cases such as this, I tend to turn on programs that I've already seen before, so I don't have to concentrate on what's happening, I can just enjoy it peripherally.

The other night I was watching The Big Bang Theory, an episode called, The Intimacy Acceleration (Season 8, Episode 16). In this episode, among other sub plots, Sheldon and Penny spend the evening performing an experiment to see whether people can fall in love in a few hours. Part of their conversation went like this.

Penny: Do you want to stop? I know you have trouble with eye contact.
Sheldon: Well, you have a brown fleck in your right iris that looks like a Formula 1 racecar, so I'm just concentrating on that. Plus it's easier around people I'm comfortable with.
Penny: Oh, sweetie, I'm comfortable around you, too.
Sheldon: Of course you are. I'm warm and soothing. I'm like a human bowl of tomato soup.

Huh, I thought. Tomato Soup really is warm and soothing. In this case, what would be more soothing for a meal on “Soup Some Soup Sunday” than a heartier, most satisfying version, and that led me to this recipe online. Talk about hearty comfort in a bowl! This is certainly it.
Creamy Italian Tomato Soup
Adapted from

1 pound ground Italian Sausage
1 cup diced yellow onion
1/2 cup diced green pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
4 cups chicken broth (or homemade stock)
2 cups water
8 ounces uncooked rotini pasta
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon dry basil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup shredded Italian cheese mix
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Place the ground sausage into a medium stock pot and cook until done. Drain any excess grease that remains in the bottom of the pan.

Stir the onion, peppers, and garlic into the sausage and cook for 3-4 minutes or until vegetables begin to soften.

Pour in the tomatoes, broth, and water; bring to a boil.

Add the pasta and bring the mixture back to a boil. Keep the soup at a low boil for the amount of time indicated on the pasta box (in my case 11 minutes). Add the heavy cream, basil, and cheeses, and stir until all is melted and incorporated. Season the mixture to taste with salt and pepper. Simmer on low until ready to eat. 

Top as desired. Serves 6.

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Thursday, January 26, 2017

Cuban Pork

I think we all tell ourselves with the coming of the New Year that we are finally going to get organized. We have good intentions, and that organization generally lasts little more than a couple of weeks. During my process of organization, I told myself that, at long last, I was going to clean out the big freezer. I really do need to use up a lot of things that I bought last year, so one morning as I was rummaging through I found a pork tenderloin. 

I was tired of doing the same old same old, recipe wise, with pork tenderloin, so started rummaging around on the Internet and found this recipe for Cuban Pork. It called for a 3-pound pork shoulder that I didn't have, but I did have a 1-pound tenderloin, so adapted the recipe to fit. The house smelled fantastic the whole time it was cooking, so much so that I could hardly wait to dig in. But, patience is a virtue when using the Crockpot, because the longer you wait, the more tender this delicious meat will become. 

This meat was so tender and so flavorful that I had a hard time stopping myself from eating it all. It would be excellent on a sandwich, but I chose to serve it as a main dish alongside a portion of cilantro rice (you can find the recipe here), and side of blanched broccoli. It was a fabulous, satisfying meal, and so ridiculously easy.
Cuban Pork
Adapted from

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup orange juice
¼ cup lime juice
¾  teaspoon salt
½  teaspoon cumin
½  teaspoon dried oregano
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
Freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1 small sweet onion, sliced thin
1 bay leaf
1 1-pound pork tenderloin

In a medium bowl, whisk together the oil, orange juice, lime juice, salt, cumin, oregano, red pepper flakes, pepper, and garlic.

Make slits in the pork with a pairing knife and liberally coat pork with the oil mixture.

Place meat in the slow cooker; top with the onion and bay leaf. Pour the remaining juices from the bowl over the pork.

Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours.

Transfer pork to a cutting board and let cool slightly. Using two forks, shred into thick chunks. Return to juices in Crockpot to warm through. Serve with Cilantro Rice and spoon sauce over the top.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Cilantro Rice

I have an ancient (and by ancient I mean from the 70s) 1-quart Revereware saucepan that I refer to as my "special rice-cooking pan." The reason being is that this pan yields perfectly cooked rice every single time. Because I spray the inside of the pan lightly with Pam, rice never sticks. It fluffs beautifully with a fork, and every last grain comes out of the pan like a dream. It only yields two servings, in a pinch, perhaps three, which is pretty much all that my husband and I, and now I, ever needed.

Rice is so easy to make (and easy to customize to whatever main dish that you happen to be serving through the addition of herbs, seasonings, or diced vegetables) that I find myself making it all of the time. The other day when I was trying a new recipe for Cuban Pork (You are going to love this one, be sure to come back tomorrow!) I decided cilantro rice would be the perfect accompaniment. I did a little bit of experimenting, and came up with this recipe. It's pretty much the standard for making cilantro rice, but feel free to have a heavy hand with the cilantro if you love it as much as I do. As long as your liquid-to-rice ratio stays the same, you can pretty much toss in anything additional that pleases you.

Cilantro Rice

1/2 cup basmati rice, rinsed and drained
1 cup chicken stock
1 Tablespoon butter
Pinch of salt
1-1/2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
1/4 -1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Place rice, stock, butter, and salt into small saucepan. (I spray mine with Pam to prevent sticking.) Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer until the rice is tender, about 17 minutes. Stir the lime juice and cilantro into the cooked rice just before serving. If you love cilantro like I do, feel free to add even more!

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Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Carnitas Tacos

As you all know, I have a love affair with my Crockpot. I also have a love affair with a guy named Chuck. Chuck roast. Now that is one tasty piece of meat. (I should probably stop the descriptive words right here before things get a little too racy.) When you combine the two, you're always going to end up with a delicious meal. It's Taco Tuesday, and what would be better than to make the easiest tacos in the world? This very simple recipe requires only three ingredients: one can of diced tomatoes with chilies (or a can of diced tomatoes and a can of green chilies), a package of taco seasoning (or you can make your own), and a 1 to 1 1/2 pound chuck roast. If your chuck roast is larger, increase the other ingredients according to its size. I tend to stick with my 4-quart crockpot. It makes 2 to 4 servings, depending upon what I'm making, and it suits me quite well. I can have the same meal two nights in a row, freeze one, and take another to my dad.

This is easy and delicious, will give your home a wonderfully spicy aroma, and you will be salivating waiting to sink your teeth into the evening's delicious taco meal. I prefer soft tacos, because the hard shell tacos, in my case, tend to be a crunchy mess. Once you spoon the meat into your taco shell (whatever you happen to be using), top it as you see fit. I love avocado and cilantro, and a bit of grated cheese on mine; you might want to add tomatoes, shredded lettuce, diced scallions, chopped olives, or whatever you or your family enjoys. Nothing could be easier, nothing could be more delicious.
Carnitas Tacos
Adapted from Taste of Home

1 medium chuck roast, 1-2 pounds
1 envelope taco seasoning
1 15-oz. can diced tomatoes and green chilies, undrained

Place in a 4- or 5-qt. slow cooker. Sprinkle with taco seasoning. Pour tomatoes over top. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours or until meat is tender.

Remove meat from slow cooker; shred with two forks. Return meat to slow cooker; heat through. Place ½ cup meat on each tortilla; top as you see fit.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Raspberry Cream Cheese Coffee Cake

 She would always serve the most delicious coffee cakes at her brunch, some of them yeast dough, some of them not, but all of them had one thing in common and that was that they were absolutely delicious. One of the family favorites was Raspberry Cream Cheese Coffee Cake. I went through all of her recipes and couldn't find the one that she used, but I did find this one online and it came very close. I was too busy to get a chance to taste it the day of my brunch, but I had it the day following, and it was absolutely wonderful. I had made it a week ahead of time and popped into the freezer. The morning of the brunch, I took it out very early and let it thaw at room temperature. Perfect! So not only is this a relatively easy coffee cake to put together, but it can be made ahead, and frozen.

Don't wait until the holidays to serve a coffeecake of this kind. Make it something that you do for yourself, and your family, as a special treat. You won't be sorry.

Raspberry Cream Cheese Coffee Cake

For the filling:
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 egg white
1 cup raspberries, washed and drained*

For the cake:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
5-1/2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup sour cream

For the streusel topping:
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup flour
3 tablespoons butter, chilled and cubed

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease 8 or 9-inch springform pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Set aside.

To make the filling: Mix together the cream cheese and sugar on medium-low speed until creamy. Add egg white and mix on low just to combine. Set aside.

To make the cake batter: In a bowl stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

With an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar on medium-low speed. Add egg, egg yolk, and vanilla. Slowly mix in the flour mixture alternating with the sour cream. Transfer the batter into the prepared pan and smooth top with a spatula.

Spread the cream cheese filling on top. Carefully place raspberries onto cream cheese filling.

To make the topping: Combine sugar, flour, and chilled cubed butter in a bowl. Stir with a fork or pastry blender until the mixture is crumbly. (I used a mini food processor for this – so much faster.)

Sprinkle the streusel on top of raspberries, covering the fruit.
Bake for 40-45 minutes until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a rack, run a thin knife around the cake edge, and loosen the ring of springform pan.

Store in the fridge.

*I drained these on a paper towel, open side down.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Ham and Potato Chowder

It is “Sip Some Soup Sunday” yet again, and here is another soup that eats like a meal. It calls for nothing special in it's assembly, so you most likely have everything on hand in order to make it. Leave the ham out for a vegetarian version, or, if you don't have ham, top each bowl with a hearty portion of cooked and crumbled bacon. Everyone is going to love this bowl of comfort.
Ham and Potato Chowder

2 cups diced, peeled potatoes
2 cups chicken broth
½ cup sliced carrot
½ cup sliced celery
¼ cup chopped onion
¼ cup butter
¼ cup all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk
¼ to ½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups (8 ounces) sharp shredded cheddar cheese
1½ cups cooked ham, cubed
1 cup corn
In a large saucepan, combine the potatoes, chicken broth, carrot, celery, and onion. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and cook for 10-15 minutes or until potatoes are fork tender.

Meanwhile, in another saucepan, melt butter. Stir in flour until smooth. Gradually add the milk, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil and cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly, until thickened. Stir the mixture into the potatoes and chicken broth. Stir in cheese until melted. Add ham, corn, and red peppers. Heat through.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Loaded Cauliflower Casserole

I don't know about you, but I am always planning a party. Sometimes I'll be in recuperation from the last, and I'm already planning the next. It's not that I have a lot of them; it's just that I enjoy the planning so much. It's almost like planning for a vacation; sometimes that's a whole lot more fun than the actual vacation (particularly when visiting one's spouse's family, but I digress). I have in mind a party for early summer to celebrate my dad's birthday. My hope is that it will also be a christening of the new enclosed deck and open side area that I'm having built, and is currently scheduled for spring. I'm excited about it. It's going to give me a lot of additional living space, an entirely new spot to decorate, a wonderful place to have my morning coffee (while still in my jammies -- who's to know?), a bohemian relaxation area, and that open side deck that is going to give me a wonderful place to experiment with the grill.

I'm already thinking that brisket from my favorite barbecue place is going to be the main dish, and am currently contemplating the sides. I like to try to come up with something new and different, and I am not at all averse to trying new recipes on company. I spotted this one online, and, lover of vegetables and cauliflower that I am, I had to try it. This dish is wonderful! Not only is it relatively easy to put together and tremendously toothsome, but it can be made a couple of days ahead prior to baking, or can be frozen and saved to bake later.

I didn't steam my cauliflower florets as the recipe called for, I decided to blanch mine for about five minutes instead. After blanching them I drained them and then plunged them into cold water to stop the cooking process. I prefer blanching to steaming because it does not rob the vegetables of all of their nutrients, and often the flavor as well. I saved about 1/2 cup of the blanching water to stir into the cheese mixture.

You must try this. I'm sure your family will love it and that you will agree with me that it is a keeper.
Loaded Cauliflower Casserole
As seen on

2 lbs. cauliflower florets
8 oz. shredded sharp cheddar cheese, divided
8 oz. shredded Monterrey Jack cheese, divided
8 oz. block cream cheese, softened
4 tablespoons heavy cream
2 bunches green onions, sliced (1 1/2 cups)
6 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 clove garlic, minced
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350

Steam cauliflower florets until tender. Meanwhile, cream together 6 oz. of the shredded cheddar, 6 oz. of the Monterrey Jack, all of the cream cheese, and heavy cream. Stir in sliced green onions, chopped bacon, and garlic; set aside.

Drain any liquid from steamed cauliflower and add to cheese mixture. Stir cauliflower and cheese mixture together. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Pour into a 2-3 quart casserole and sprinkle on remaining cheddar and
Monterrey Jack cheeses. Cover dish with foil and bake for 25 minutes; remove foil and continue to bake until cheese is bubbly. 

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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Mexican Coffee

This past weekend we were deluged with one icing event after another, running from Thursday night through Sunday morning. While the temperatures had warmed up significantly from those in the single digits and teens of the week prior, seeing a glazing of ice everywhere somehow made it feel colder. It was a weekend where I knew I would be going nowhere, so settled in by the fire, with stitching projects and lots of good books (Why didn't you all tell me that the Rosemont series was so good?!), and cup after cup of Mexican Coffee.

I'm not particularly a fan of flavored coffees unless somehow alcohol is involved (as in Irish coffee, something I don't drink nearly often enough), but wanted to give this a try because it sounded so good. As it turned out it was very good, and I'm sure would make an excellent after dinner drink with the addition of a shot or so of KahlĂșa. It's as easy to make as it is to enjoy, and with plenty of winter left, you have no excuse not to try it.

Mexican Coffee

1/2 cup ground dark roast coffee
1 T. ground cinnamon
1/4 t. ground nutmeg
5 cups water
1 cup milk
1/3 cup chocolate syrup
1/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 t. vanilla extract
Whipped cream and ground cinnamon for garnish

Put coffee in filter basket of coffeemaker; add 1 T. ground cinnamon and ground nutmeg. Add 5 ups water to coffeemaker; brew coffee as manufacturer’s instructions. Mix milk, chocolate syrup, and sugar in large pan; cook over low heat, stirring constantly until sugar dissolves. Stir in brewed coffee and vanilla extract. Pour at once into mugs and top each serving with a dollop of whipped cream and ground cinnamon. Serves 6.
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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Melissa's Hollandaise Sauce

Are you familiar with the term Hygge? It's a Danish word, and it means to live in a cozy, comfortable, soothing fashion. It's what the Danes consider partially responsible for their country being number one on the list of happiest countries in the world. I've been reading a lot about that lately, and embracing this wonderful lifestyle. Actually, I've been doing this for a long time; I just didn't know that there was a word for it. I am a nester. Yes, I've traveled a good bit, but to me there is absolutely no place like home. And when I am home, I love to hunker down and get cozy. I will light a fire in the fireplace, and enjoy it while I'm having my morning coffee. I love to burn candles, I love pillows and throws, and I love everything that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Another way to embrace this idea is by making things simpler for ourselves, and that includes cooking. It doesn't mean that we shouldn't have wonderful food, it just means that that wonderful food shouldn't be him impossibly difficult to make. As we head into the New Year, let's make things easy on ourselves, and get a little help from some friends.

My friends at Melissa's Produce are among my best. I have a total love affair, as I'm sure you all know by now, with their
Fire Roasted Sweet Red Bell Peppers. I also have a new best friend in their prepackaged Hollandaise Sauce. A produce of France, it is stored in the fridge, and any time you want a bit of hollandaise on top of vegetables, eggs benedict, let's face it even over a simple poached egg, all you have to do is snap off the corner, place the packet it in a glass of warm water to heat it up, or toss it in the microwave for 10 seconds, and you have a delicious, elegant hollandaise sauce. Put this on your list for the New Year, you’re going to want to have plenty of this in stock.

Disclaimer: I was sent complimentary packets of Hollandaise from Melissa’s Produce by way of introduction, and am I ever glad they did!

Monday, January 16, 2017

Best Ever Pecan Pie Bars

As you probably know from reading this blog, I am not a pie lover. I'm not sure exactly what it is that I don't like about pie, but I suspect it's the crust. I'm just not a crust person. If I were to pick the pie that I liked the best, I would probably say pecan. It's my dad's favorite too, so maybe our liking for it is genetic. But if you take the crust out of the mix and replace it with a shortbread cookie, that's the dessert I can really sink my teeth into. That exact thing has been done in this recipe from Ina Garten called The Best Ever Pecan Pie Bars, and they are.

I have been trying recipes for pecan pie bars for the past three or four years. I haven't been wild about any of them, largely because one of the main ingredients is honey, and I just don't care for honey in this case; I think it overwhelms the delicate taste. But this recipe does not call for honey, and that is what makes it so good. I took these to dad's along with barbecue that I picked up at a local barbecue joint when number two son and I took Christmas Eve lunch to him. They were a huge success! They're easy to make, keep forever,  and I know this because, quite frankly, I'm still eating them. And I suspect they freeze beautifully, although I haven't tried that yet. If you love pecan pie, and you're a fan of cookies like I am, this is the best of both worlds.

Best Ever Pecan Pie Bars
(Thank you, Ina Garten)

1 1/4 sticks (10 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 large egg
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cups + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
1/4 cup light corn syrup
3/4 cups light brown sugar, packed
1 tablespoon heavy cream
1/2 pounds pecans, chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line an 8" x 8" pan with foil, leaving a 2" overhang on each end. 

To make the crust, cream together the butter and sugar until light, approximately 3 minutes. Add eggs and vanilla and mix well. Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix the dry ingredients into the batter with the mixer on low speed until just combined.  Press the dough evenly into your foil-lined baking pan, pressing it up the sides a bit to form an edge. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes, until the crust is set but not browned. Allow to cool.

To make the topping, combine butter, corn syrup, and brown sugar in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Cook over low heat until the butter is melted, stirring frequently. Raise the heat and boil for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the heavy cream and pecans. Carefully pour over the cooled crust. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the filling is set. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold. Using foil edges, lift from pan onto a cutting surface and cut into bars.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Slow Cooker Creamy Tortellini Soup

Once again it is “Sip Some Soup Sunday,” and what a perfect weekend this has been for making and enjoying soup. I have been iced in since Friday afternoon, so nothing has pleased me more than to be able to sit in front of the fire, sip some cinnamon tea, binge-watch my favorite British mysteries, and stir up one pot of soup after another.

It may come as a surprise to you to learn that I have never made tortellini soup. You may be further surprised to know that I've never eaten tortellini soup either. So, when I spotted this recipe on the Cafe Delights blog, and further learned that it was made in the crockpot, well, you just know I had to try it out. I adapted the recipe slightly to fit my medium-sized (4-quart) crockpot.

I used dried tortellini, and chose the cheese variety for the soup, but I also picked up some portobello mushroom tortellini that looks sensational. (Both of these I got at Aldi -- who knew?) I’m excited to be using tortellini for the first time in my life. As far as the spinach goes, if you're not wild about spinach, use kale. If you're not wild about either, leave it out. I think the spinach is wonderful; I used about three handfuls, that seemed to suit me, and I do like the addition of the green here. The soup will thicken as it cools and the tortellini absorbs all of that wonderful moisture. If it is too thick for your liking, feel free to thin it with stock or milk. Give it a try and let me know what you think.
Slow Cooker Creamy Tortellini Soup
Adapted from Café Delights

10 ounces ground hot Italian sausage, browned
1 medium onion, diced
2 medium carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
2 teaspoons low-sodium beef soup base
½ teaspoon salt
3 cups beef broth

2 Tablespoons cornstarch dissolved in 2 Tablespoons water
1 12-ounce can evaporated milk
1 8-ounce packet three cheese tortellini (I used dried)

3 handfuls fresh baby spinach
1 cup whole milk

Place the first 9 ingredients into the slow cooker. Cover and cook on high for 4 hours or low for 7 hours.

Uncover and skim and discard any fat that may have risen to the top. Add the cornstarch slurry, evaporated milk, and dry tortellini. Stir together. Cover and cook on high for 45 additional minutes.

Uncover and add spinach, pressing down into the liquid as you do so. Cook until wilted, 5-10 minutes more. Stir in milk, and serve with crusty bread and a side salad. This is truly a soup that eats like a meal.