Monday, January 24, 2011

Creamy Potato Soup

Creamy potato soup is one of the last things I can remember my mother making before she fell ill, and it still brings me comfort to this day. It's funny how one views things as a child and then comes to understand them as an adult... Of course, being that my mother had five children to feed, potato soup is something that she could make a lot of and it could be stretched for a few days, so it was something that we had often during the winter months. Even though I understand that now, though, that doesn't mean that it holds any less comfort value for me! It ranks right up there with toasted cheese sandwiches and tomato soup or sausage gravy over biscuits! I even find a bowl of chili to be quite comforting on a cold winter day...
While everyone's recipe for, and idea of good, potato soup is different, this is what I've come up with that tastes the most like my mother's recipe. Knowing her, I'm sure she just threw a bunch of stuff together, much like I did, so there wasn't ever really a recipe to follow and it was probably a little bit different every single time! Make it your own! :-)

5 lb. russet potatoes, peeled and diced
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 sticks unsalted butter, cubed
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 - 2 cloves garlic, minced
5 stalks celery, chopped
1½ - 2 lb. diced ham
1 qt. whole milk
½ gallon skim milk
Instant potatoes, optional

Place the diced potatoes in a large stockpot and fully cover with cold water; boil over medium to medium-high heat until the potatoes are fork-tender and then drain well. Set aside.
In the stockpot, combine the olive oil and a couple tablespoons of butter, allowing the butter to melt over medium temperature. Add the onions and cook until translucent, seasoning slightly with salt and pepper; add the celery, garlic, and ham during the last couple of minutes. Add the remaining butter to the pot, allowing it to melt before adding all of the milk. Then, add as many of the already cooked potatoes to the pot as you would like, reserving the rest to mash or rice into the soup to thicken it. If you would like the soup to be a little thicker, you may feel free to add some instant potatoes to the stockpot, adding a little at a time until the desired consistency is reached.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Brussels Sprouts with Bacon

While I would definitely like to take all of the credit for this recipe, I cannot... But, I must give Sunny Anderson, and whoever her inspiration was, credit, because these are absolutely delicious! Go figure, since they have bacon in them!! ;-P
Now, I know what you must be thinking... "This poor girl is gonna die of a coronary in no time with all of that bacon she eats!" And I would just like to clarify that I am in NO way like Paula Deen! While I completely adore bacon and would eat it every single day if I could, I do possess some small degree of restraint and only enjoy it occasionally. And never in moderation then! Hee hee hee!

As for this recipe, I did change a couple of the things from the original. While I do thoroughly enjoy bacon, I also do try to keep things healthy so opt for the center cut bacon which is leaner and also tends to be lower in sodium. (I have serious issues with sodium-infused food products. Have you heard that rant yet?! Lol) I also don't count on the Brussels sprouts roasting in the pan, since they don't have enough time to cook properly, so I steam them first and then add them to the pan to roast. When you steam the sprouts for a few minutes before adding them to the pan, they come out perfectly in the end - cooked, but still crisp-tender. Please, DO NOT EVER overcook your vegetables!!
Just a few little differences, but I rather enjoy my results! :-)

Printable Recipe

10 strips center-cut bacon
2 lb. fresh Brussels sprouts, cleaned and halved
2 Tbsp. butter
2 shallots, diced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place the strips of bacon onto a sheet pan fitted with a rack and place into a cold oven. Turn the oven to 400° and cook for about 12 to 20 minutes, depending on how crispy you like your bacon. Remove the bacon from the rack, reserving the pan drippings, and drain on paper towels, then roughly chop or crumble.
Meanwhile, steam the Brussels sprouts, working in small batches, for three minutes per batch. I use a special steamer set that's designed for the microwave - if you do this, be sure to change the water between batches and add fresh cold water to the steamer bowl before adding each new batch of sprouts. Place the already steamed Brussels sprouts in a large bowl until you're ready to add them to the pan.
In a large sauté pan or Dutch oven, melt the butter with 2 tablespoons of the bacon drippings over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook until they are transparent. Increase the heat to medium-high; add the Brussels sprouts and cook, stirring occasionally, until sprouts are golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, to taste, and toss bacon into pan. Serve immediately. Yield: 6-8 servings (or 2-4, whatever! :-D)

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Almond Butter Cutout Cookies

Okay, so I'm breaking down and letting you all in on the secret recipe for my cutout cookies... But, that only means that I'm expecting to see some in the mail every now and then, as a thank you! ;-P
I can't remember where exactly I found the base recipe for these cookies, but I was immediately drawn to them, as I find regular sugar cookies to be more than a little on the gross side. The thing I like most about these cookies is that they are nice, thick cookies and so they stay soft when you bake them. Additionally, I LOVE frosting, so it's nice to have a thicker cookie that can stand up to all of the frosting. :-)

1 c. butter, softened
1 c. sugar
2 egg yolks
1 tsp. almond extract
2 c. all-purpose flour
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. baking powder
1 c. ground almonds
Almond Buttercream Frosting, recipe follows
Colored sugar, optional

In a mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Beat in egg yolks and extract. Combine flour, salt and baking powder; gradually add to creamed mixture. Stir in ground almonds. Cover and chill at least 2 hours.
Roll out on a lightly floured surface to ⅜-inch thickness. Cut with cookie cutters; place on ungreased baking sheets. Bake cookies at 375° for 10-13 minutes or until the edges just begin to brown. Cool on wire racks. Frost and sprinkle with colored sugar, if desired. Yield: 2-4 dozen cookies, depending on the size of your cookie cutters

Almond Buttercream Frosting:

½ c. solid vegetable shortening
½ c. (1 stick) butter or margarine softened
1 tsp. almond extract
Splash of vanilla extract
4 c. (approximately 1 lb.) sifted confectioners' sugar
2 Tbsp. milk

In large bowl, cream shortening and butter with electric mixer. Add vanilla. Gradually add sugar, one cup at a time, beating well on medium speed. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl often. When all sugar has been mixed in, icing will appear dry. Add milk and beat at medium speed until light and fluffy. Keep bowl covered with a damp cloth until ready to use. Makes 3 cups of frosting
For best results, keep icing bowl in refrigerator when not in use. Refrigerated in an airtight container, this icing can be stored 2 weeks. Rewhip before using.

For thin (spreading) consistency icing, add 2 tablespoons light corn syrup, water or milk.


If you know me, you know how big a fan I am of Alton Brown. And he gets all of the credit for this recipe; I didn't change a single thing about the recipe as it is perfect just the way it is. There's whole wheat flour in it, which makes me feel good about eating them, yet they don't taste like cardboard diet junk. BONUS!! As if that wasn't enough reason to enjoy them, they're also so light and fluffy it's like biting into a cloud of airy deliciousness!
I just want to make sure to let everyone who reads my blog know this... These are not like any other waffles you've ever had. The batter looks nothing like any other batter, and they don't taste like any other waffles I've ever had. When you prepare the batter, you're going to let it rest for 5 minutes after you mix it all together; I don't know what happens, or how it happens, but the batter is kind of like a really airy bread dough. Kind of... It's not a runny batter at all, so it won't pour onto the waffle iron very easily. And I've found that the best way to ensure the batter spreads out is to manually spread it out on the iron so that it comes to the edge before you close the lid. Every waffle iron is different, but mine takes approximately 1 cup of batter per waffle even though the directions state to use only 2/3 of a cup and I got 4 waffles from this recipe. I also have a Belgian Waffle maker, though, so my results will probably not be the same as everyone else's. Just play around with it until you find what works for you! :-)

4¾ oz. all-purpose flour, app. 1 cup
4¾ oz. whole-wheat flour, app. 1 cup
½ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
3 Tbsp. sugar
3 whole eggs, room temperature, beaten
2 oz. unsalted butter, melted
16 oz. buttermilk, room temperature
Vegetable spray, for waffle iron

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, soda, baking powder, salt, and sugar. In another bowl, beat together eggs and melted butter, and then add the buttermilk. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir until combined; allow batter to rest for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat waffle iron according to manufacturer's directions.
Ladle the recommended amount of waffle batter onto the iron according to the manufacturer's recommendations. Close iron top and cook until the waffle is golden on both sides and is easily removed from iron. Serve immediately or keep warm in a 200°F oven until ready to serve. Yield: Approximately 4 (8-inch round) waffles

Sunday, January 2, 2011

"Just Right" Spicy Chili

For as long as I can remember, I have always liked spicy foods. In fact, I remember while I was growing up, my mother would always make two pots of chili for the family, one that wasn't very spicy at all for herself and my brothers and sisters while the other was extra spicy for my stepdad and me. I can remember my uncle Mike bringing potato chips for me on a regular basis that were extra crunchy and jalapeño flavored. Even as an adult, I love spicy food, going so far as to put red pepper flakes on my macaroni and cheese, hot pepper sauce and Cajun seasoning on my pizzas, and continuing to spice up my chili.
Of course, everybody has their own ideas about what good chili really is... Some people insist that if you add macaroni then it's no longer chili, but goulash. Some people don't like kidney beans or chili beans. Some people put corn in theirs. Some people make a tomato-based chili, while others have more of a broth base, and still others are cream-based. It really is all a matter of personal preference! But since this is the kind of chili I grew up eating, I'm somewhat partial to this method of preparation. Although, I do add some stuff that I'm pretty sure my mother didn't think to add back in those days, like chorizo sausage... If you've never had chorizo, it's a spicy, Mexican-style sausage, and I really like the added layer of flavor this gives to certain things, like chili. Depending on where you live, you can sometimes get it right from your local grocery store's meat department, where it's usually made fresh. And, depending on my mood, I eat my chili with macaroni. If I'm not in the mood for macaroni, though, it's definitely sour cream, diced avocado, and shredded cheese or cheese curds on top! YUM!!
One of the best things about chili is that you can make a ton of it and it tastes just as good, if not better, the next day. It also freezes really well, without any noodles in it, so you can make a lot of it and then save some of it for a later time. Another thing that's convenient about it, unlike some other soups, is that you can prepare all of the stuff beforehand and then put everything in a slow cooker to simmer all day.

1 lb. ground sirloin
1 raw chorizo sausage, casing removed
½ medium onion, chopped
1 (64 oz.) container tomato juice
1 (15 oz.) can tomato sauce
1 (28 oz.) can diced tomatoes
1 (15 oz.) can spicy chili beans
1 (16 oz.) can kidney beans
1 (2.87 oz.) container chili powder
2 - 4 Tbsp. red pepper flakes
Cooked macaroni, optional
Shredded cheese, optional
Sour cream, optional
Diced avocado, optional

In a large dutch oven or stockpot, combine the hamburger, chorizo sausage, and onion; salt and pepper to taste. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the chorizo is cooked through and all of the meat is browned and the onion translucent. When the meat is cooked through, add the tomato juice and sauce, diced tomatoes, chili and kidney beans, chili powder, and red pepper flakes (crush the red pepper flakes a little in your hands before adding to the chili, as this helps to release the flavors and oils in the dried seeds). Allow to simmer on medium heat for at least 30 minutes to allow the flavors to marry and yummify; the longer it simmers, the better it gets. (This would be a good time to transfer the chili to a slow cooker if you want it to simmer all day.) Serve the chili over macaroni and/or with any of the other additional toppings.

Cherries Jubilee

This is a recipe I've been making for probably about 8 years now, and it's a tradition for me to make it every single year when cherries come into season again. I can't remember how exactly I came across the recipe, but I managed to talk my best friend Stephanie into coming over and making it with me (she's pretty much always game for my shenanigans). Of course, this was before we knew about cherry pitters and tools that would make the job of removing the cherry pits easy work, so we had to do things the hard way... Somehow, we found some information, stating different ways to pit cherries without the actual tool, including methods using a straw and others using paper clips or bobby pins. And we tried them all! Our hands and clothes looked like they could have been involved in a terrible massacre, but we did manage to accomplish pitting all those cherries.
I have since acquired (at least) one of the actual tools for accomplishing such a task, and have even considered purchasing one that would allow me to pit many cherries all at once. Sadly, I cannot justify spending more money on something I only use a few times every year, in a good year... And I will say this, for all of the work involved, it really is worth it!
Now, there are several other versions of this delightful dessert floating around in internet land, but I prefer this one, as there aren't a lot of extra flavors shoving the naturally wonderful taste of cherries out of the spotlight. This is a pretty simple recipe, with very little ingredients, so the flavor of the cherries is prevalent in every single bite. As for adding the alcohol and lighting it on fire... While it's kind of a cool show, it isn't necessary.

2 lb. pitted cherries
½ - 1 c. sugar
2 Tbsp. cornstarch or 4 Tbsp. flour
1½ c. water
⅛ c. brandy, optional
Vanilla ice cream

Combine sugar, flour, and water in a saucepan; add pitted cherries. Cook over medium heat until thickened, stirring constantly. If desired, pour brandy over the top of the cherry sauce and light on fire, moving the sauce around a little until the flames die out so as to avoid burning any of the fruit. Serve hot on top of ice cream.