Friday, September 29, 2017

Tortellini Soup with Spinach and Kielbasa

No matter how hard I tried, there was just no way to make this soup look as pretty and delicious as it tasted. I suppose if I had topped it with grated Parmesan, as I did before I ate it, it would have looked better; a sprinkling of freshly chopped parsley probably wouldn't have hurt either. But, despite its rather humble appearance, this soup is big on taste.

I found a package of cheese tortellini while cleaning the fridge the other day, and thought tortellini soup sounded so good. It didn't bother me that it was 95° outside. It was, after all, the month of September, and come September I switch into Soup Mode, weather be damned. In my search for recipes using cheese tortellini, I stumbled upon an interesting one on I adapted it to kick the kale to the curb (I am so over kale!), replacing it with the spinach that I always tend to have in my fridge. 

When I make it again, and I will, I'll add another can of cannellini beans, there weren't enough in here to suit me. I found this tasty and satisfying, not to mention a wonderfully hearty bowl of goodness. This soup will fill you up. All it needs is a nice roll, or piece of cornbread, and you have a wonderful meal. It keeps up to three days in the fridge; the jury is still out as to how well it freezes. I have a number of containers of it in my freezer, and come winter when I thaw them out, I'll let you know.
Tortellini Soup with Spinach and Kielbasa
Slightly adapted from

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 12-ounce fully cooked smoked kielbasa sausage, thinly sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup chopped fresh fennel (do not omit!)
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 ½  teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
10 cups low sodium chicken stock
4 cups of baby spinach
1 15-ounce can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 9-ounce package cheese tortellini
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Heat oil in a heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add next six ingredients, sauté until vegetables are soft and Kielbasa is brown, about 12 minutes. Stir in stock and bring to a boil. Stir in cannellini beans, reduce heat to low and simmer about four minutes. Stir in spinach and allow to wilt. Add tortellini to the soup and simmer until pasta is tender, but still firm, about five minutes. Serve topped with grated Parmesan.

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Thursday, September 28, 2017

Queso! by Lisa Fain, a Review

I have been aware of Lisa Fane ever since I first stumbled upon her blog at the end of 2005. Ever since then, I have been one of her biggest fans, pre-ordering both of her wonderful cookbooks, The Homesick Texan Cookbook and The Homesick Texan's Family Table Cookbook, finding these two among the most well used in my massive collection. She's a seventh generation Texan, transplanted to New York, with a chatty writing style, and delicious recipes that captured my Tex-Mex loving heart.

Her latest book
, Queso seems as though it was written just for me (I have long been campaigning to make queso another food group). It is impossible not to like, and the kind of book that makes queso lovers like me weep. Who, after all, doesn't like queso? Is it sheer genius to come out with a book full of nothing but queso recipes? What, after all, can be more comforting, than a dish of melted cheese and something to dip into it?
Well researched and comprehensive, this collection of more than 55 recipes contains not just Historic 1887 Chiles Poblano, but also classics like Austin Diner Style Queso and Chili Parlor Queso. I was particularly drawn to the chapter on Quirky Quesos, and immediately dug into making Indian Queso with Jalapeno Chutney (You'll find this recipe on the blog next week.), cumin lover that I am. I was not disappointed; it was delicious! Finding the recipe for El Paso Style Huevos Rancheros made me swoon, just knowing that it's acceptable to have queso for breakfast.
It's easy to get sucked right into this book, and read it like a novel. Each section is preceded with a nice, conversational introduction by Fane, each recipe the same. It's as if you're sitting down to a table with a bowl of chips and your best friend, talking about how much you love what you're about to dig into.
In addition to recipes for queso there are also recipes for tasty must-have accompaniments such as guacamole, pico de gallo, pickled jalapenos, and the like. I had never pickled jalapenos before reading this book, and now I don't seem to be able to stop.
If one of your friends or acquaintances claims to not be a fan of queso, well, first of all they're lying, second, you can direct them to the chapter on Queso in the Wild where it is used as a topper or ingredient for mouthwatering dishes such as Macaroni and Cheese with Green Chili Queso Blanco, Bacon Green Chili Queso Burger, Chicken Fried Steak with Queso Gravy (I tried this – wonderful!), or something simple like Frito Wedge Salad with Queso Dressing. Try this and you will never eat a wedge of lettuce again without topping it with a handful of Fritos and smothering it with melted cheese.
I can't say enough about this book. It is fun to read, the pictures are mouthwatering, the recipes are phenomenal, and it's just the right size as to be easy to handle and more importantly, store. This is a must have, no doubt about it. With the holidays coming up you need to stock up on this book, it would make a great gift for the cook or the queso eater in your life, as well as a very much appreciated hostess gift.

Highly recommended.

 Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

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Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Home Run Peanut Butter Cookies

I guess it had probably been 20 years since I last made peanut butter cookies. For whatever reason, I decided that I wanted to make them last Sunday. There was just something about the combination of nutty, sweet, and crunch that appealed to me. I was also watching the baseball game, and peanuts are synonymous with baseball, so that may have had something to do with my interest.

I combined a number of recipes to come up with what I think are the very best peanut butter cookies. I also made the tops a little different than what you have probably seen in the past. One of the reasons that I don't make peanut butter cookies is because I find, first, rolling them into balls to be annoying, and second, making that crisscross with a fork to be absolutely tedious.

About the time I had rolled these into balls, St. Louis Cardinals' manager Mike Matheny astounded fans by bringing in a guy who is the absolute worst pitcher in our bullpen. He's known for giving up home runs, and he did not disappoint us today, giving up a home run on his sixth pitch, causing us to lose the game. In my fury, I grabbed a meat mallet instead of a fork, and bashed every one of these cookies with it. As it turned out, I really liked the look! So, I'm going to call these Home Run Peanut Butter Cookies. The home run was the inspiration, and if you make these, you'll hit a home run with your family.

Home Run Peanut Butter Cookies

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup Crisco
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon butter flavoring
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 375°F.

In a large bowl, cream butter, shortening, peanut butter, and sugars until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Beat in eggs, one at a time, and then add flavorings. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and salt; add to creamed mixture and mix well.

Shape into balls and place 2” apart on ungreased baking sheets. Mash with a meat mallet as though your life depends upon it. Bake for 15 minutes or until golden. Remove to wire racks to cool.

You can eat them as is, or fill them to make sandwiches. I used Dulce de Leche, Nocciolata, and the following:

1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
3 cups confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5-6 Tablespoons milk
In a large bowl, beat the peanut butter, confectioners' sugar, vanilla and enough milk to achieve spreading consistency. Spread on half of the cookies and top each with another cookie.

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Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Italian Style Mac and Cheese

Pasta is a great fall and winter dish, and this Italian Mac and Cheese, adapted from a recipe by The Slow Roasted Italian is easy to prepare and tasty to eat. Initially, I'd wondered about adding Italian seasoning to macaroni and cheese, particularly in what I perceived as a rather large amount. But this dish is just perfect, and I enjoyed it a great deal. 

I did not use the penne pasta from the original recipe; instead I used my new favorite, pipette. I love this pasta that gets its name from the elbow pipes it resembles, because it holds so much saucy deliciousness in each bite. In addition to changing the type of pasta, I also adapted this recipe to change the called for 8 ounces of Italian blend shredded cheese, to 8 ounces of cheese that I had shredded by hand. Prepackaged shredded cheese always seems a bit dry, and contains additives to keep it from clumping. Ew! I also reduced the amount of pasta by half (the original called for a pound of pasta) because I prefer mine extra creamy.
 Italian Style Mac and Cheese
Adapted from The Slow Roasted Italian

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon dried Italian seasoning
2 cups whole milk
8 ounces
pipette pasta
8 ounces shredded Gouda cheese
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside while you work on the sauce.

In a medium-large saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Whisk in flour and Italian seasonings and cook for about two minutes. Whisk in milk, allowing the mixture to thicken, and then add cheeses and whisk until fully combined and thickened. Add drained pasta to the cheese sauce stir to combine.

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Monday, September 25, 2017

Slow Cooker Beef Barbacoa

It's a banner day when one of the local markets has chuck roast on sale. Yes, this is how sad my life has become, that I am excited over discount meat. Nonetheless, it's true, and I was thrilled to bits this past week when I spotted a sale. I happily placed four chuck roasts into my cart and, after checking out, had to keep myself from skipping to the car with glee.

Chuck roast is so flavorful and versatile, that I panic when I don't have one in the freezer. I love it in barbecued beef, it is a succulent addition to beef and broccoli, makes the best rogan josh I have ever tasted, and a fabulous Beef Barbacoa. If you're not familiar with the latter, you are in for a real treat. Ideally, it makes an excellent filling in hard or soft tacos, enchiladas, or burritos. I find it equally delicious on top of a taco salad. Toss on a couple of Fritos, and I am in absolute heaven.
 This is an easy recipe because, aside from searing the meat in a pan on the stove (something you need to do in order to seal in the juices), everything is done in the crockpot. Just sit back, relax, enjoy the heady aroma, and prepare for some delicious eating come dinnertime.
Slow Cooker Beef Barbacoa

4 pound chuck roast
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
4 large garlic cloves, minced
1-1/2 tablespoons cumin, more or less, to taste
2 chipotle chiles in adobo, more or less, to taste
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup chicken stock
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
2 bay leaves

Season roast with salt and pepper; set aside. In a large skillet, heat vegetable oil until shimmering. Carefully place meat into pan. Sear on both sides, and then all edges. Place seared roast into a 6-quart slow cooker, and set to "high."

Place remaining ingredients EXCEPT bay leaves into a blender or food processor and pulse until smooth. Pour the sauce over the meat, toss in bay leaves, cover and cook on high heat for 6 hours (or low for 10).

Carefully remove roast from slow cooker, shred meat, removing any pieces of fat. Return beef to sauce, stir to coat, and serve.

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Sunday, September 24, 2017

Butternut Squash and Roasted Red Pepper Soup

I always think of autumn as the season for making soup. I love to make use of vegetables that are just coming to harvest, of which butternut squash is one. When it comes to Butternut Squash Soup, there are two different varieties -- sweet (seasoned with warm spices like cinnamon and nutmeg), and savory. These days I am rocking to the beat of the savory music, so I chose the latter.

I love the color of Butternut Squash Soup, but wanted to do something different from the norm, and really have that color blazing like the late fall leaves that I love. So, I adapted the recipe that appears on the back of the box of Melissa's Peeled and Steamed Butternut Squash (If you haven't tried this, you must, it makes soup making so easy.) to include another of their products (and a personal favorite), Fire Roasted Sweet Red Bell Peppers.

You all know by now that I am a huge fan of red bell peppers, so I wondered what it would be like to add them to my soup. The end result was quite tasty. In fact, I tasted so much that I should have just sat down and had a bowl. It was that good (and how adorably cute does it look served in these
cabbage demitasse cups?). If you are ready to welcome autumn with a delicious bowl of nourishing soup, I recommend this one.
Butternut Squash and Roasted Red Pepper Soup
Adapted from Melissa’s Produce

2 shallots, sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 8.8-oz. package
Melissa’s Peeled and Steamed Butternut Squash
1 teaspoon fresh ginger root, minced
3 cups chicken stock
1 cup orange juice
2 whole
Melissa's Fire Roasted Sweet Red Bell Peppers, chopped
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Feta (for garnish)
Fresh basil, cut in julienne strips (for garnish)
Bacon, cooked and crumbled (for garnish)

In a medium soup pot, sauté the shallots and garlic in butter until tender. Add the squash, fresh ginger, and broth, and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and allow to cool for 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in orange juice, red peppers, salt, and cayenne. Using an immersion blender, purée mixture until smooth and creamy (If you don't have an immersion blender, use a stand blender or food processor to purée soup). Ladle into individual bowls and served topped with a dollop of sour cream, julienne strips of fresh basil, and crumbled bacon. This soup is equally good warm or cold, and keeps well in the fridge.

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Saturday, September 23, 2017

Greek Salad with Walnuts & Grapes

During my weekend of frenzied salad making (seriously, my salad spinner got the workout of its life), one of the taste-tempting salads that I made was this Greek Salad. I am a big fan of the Greek Salad and, even though traditionally Greek Salad does not have lettuce, mine always do. This time, for a change of pace, I added a couple of nontraditional ingredients in walnuts and grapes. I love the Muscato grapes this season, so used a trio of colors in the salad. I enjoyed it so much that I don't think I will ever make a Greek Salad again without including grapes.

I served it on these darling glass leaf plates that, sadly didn’t show up against the colorful fall fabric. You can find them here. They come in green, gold, and orange; I bought two of each. Try this delicious salad, and let me know what you think.
Greek Salad with Walnuts & Grapes

1 head Romaine lettuce, torn into bite-size pieces
1 cup cubed English cucumber
1 cup chopped tomato
1/2 cup Kalamata olives, halved
1/2 cup broken walnuts
1/2 cup sliced red onion
1/2 cup
Melissa's Muscato grapes, quartered
1 teaspoon capers
1/2 cup feta

2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 garlic clove

1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Combine salad ingredients in a bowl and toss with dressing.

To make dressing put all ingredients into a bullet blender, and process until emulsified.

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