Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Tips and Treats

Hee, hee, hee!  Wasn't that a clever little play on words?  I was particularly pleased with myself on that one.  Probably too much so, but it really takes very little to amuse me.

Anyway, since it's Halloween and I spent the evening taking my evil queen and the grim reaper out trick or treating, I did not make anything for supper.  Our fridge is stocked full of tasty leftovers - Italian meatloaf, cream of double onion soup, etc., so that's what we had as a quick meal before we went out.  I assume many of you will be out as well, so I thought I would keep this fairly short and simple tonight.  I'm going to throw a couple of tips at you and one treat.  The tips are some new finds of mine, but the treat is one that I have loved for a long time, I had just forgotten it, I guess.

Here's the first tip:

Please take note of these whole grain corn taco shells because they are AMAZING!  Last month when I was doing our huge grocery shopping trip I came across these.  I think they are fairly new, as I have never noticed them before.  Saturday night I made tacos for supper and pulled these out.  They are a little larger, but not huge by any means.  That's not what is so great about them.  They are a thinner taco shell, unlike your normal corn shells.  These are more like the homemade chips you get at a good Mexican restaurant.  Very light and crispy.  Plus, being whole grain, they are better for you.  If you get a chance, definitely give these shells a try.

Tip number 2:

I just found this yesterday.  I am normally not a huge fan of premade soups, and particularly Campbell's, as they have typically been very one-dimensional in taste.  If I am going to eat a canned soup I'll go with Progresso almost every time, but these bags caught my eye as I was rushing down the aisle.  They, literally, stopped me in my tracks.  There are 6 different flavors, in brightly colored bags, and awesome flavors, like the Coconut Curry or Creamy Red Pepper with Smoked Gouda.  Even though I already had lunch back at work, and didn't need to buy anything, I had to give this a go.  I was pleasantly surprised by how good it was.  Not your normal Campbell's soup, that's for sure.
When I first opened the package, it was very aromatic with a strong coconut smell.  Upon first taste, I was expecting to be hit full force with an overpowering coconut flavor but it's actually the green curry that you get at the forefront.  Followed by the taste of real coconut, not imitation.  That's huge.  I hate imitation coconut flavor!  HATE IT!  Also, there was a depth to this soup that I wasn't expecting, and it even brings a tiny bit of heat from the curry after several spoonfuls.  It's chocked full of carrots, water chestnuts, bok choy, shitake mushroom slivers with hints of lime and lemongrass.  If you want a quick and easy meal, this is a good one for the money.  It was only $2.48 at Walmart.  Give it a whirl.

Finally, your treat:

Ricotta cheese!  For too long this little gem has been relegated to simply being the filling in lasagna or stuffed shells, or as the sweet stuffing in cannolis (Ah, cannolis - little gifts from heaven!), which is too bad, really.  It has so much more to offer.  It's great as breakfast or a snack with a teeny bit of sugar or sweetener, some cinnamon and dried fruit, like cherries and cranberries, and nuts.  Or with fresh fruit, like blueberries, strawberries, and even Mandarin oranges.  And, there are so many health benefits, as well.  It's high in calcium and protein, and omega fatty acids (the good fat).  Half a cup for breakfast fills you up as well as oatmeal, and sticks with you throughout the morning.  I get the part-skim ricotta, and it is wonderful.  If you haven't given it a try, please rush right out to your grocery store and pick some up!  You can thank me for it later.

Well, that's it for tonight.  Hope the rest of your Halloween is a good one, and safe.  As for the tips and treats, Enjoy!


Here is a picture of my Evil Queen & Grim Reaper

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Cream of Double Onion Soup

Yesterday, I walked into work and found a nice little care package on my chair.  What was it, you ask?  Was it chocolate?  No, better?  Was it wine?  No, we were at work, remember?  A billion dollar winning lottery ticket?  Would I still be here?  Okay, guessing games aren't your forte, are they?  Let's make this simple, then.  It was a bag of huge, and I do mean huge, yellow onions courtesy of my best friend's dad.  He had gotten an enormous bag of them and was happily giving them away.  Being the sweet guy that he is, he made sure to send some home for me.  Thanks, Bob, much appreciated! 

So, what was I going to make with these big, beautiful onions?  A huge vat of caramelized onions sounded appealing but I would have to share them with my husband and daughter, and sometimes, sharing is highly overrated.  Hmmmm, what to make, what to make?  Thinking about it now, I could have caramelized a few and made a homemade pizza with that as the main ingredient, which would have been divine but my mind was already elsewhere.

How about Cream of Onion Soup, I thought?  We do love onions, and soups, why not put them together?  As soups are wont to do, the recipe started forming in my head.  Yes, I wanted it creamy, but my waistline reminded me that we have been trying to slim down a little, so let's do a "skinny" version.  Hey, this could work!  Some non-fat Greek yogurt and non-fat half and half would make it silky and smooth.  A little sage to tease even more flavor from the onions.  And, why not go over the top with this and use some green onions, too?  Yep, it's decided, this is what we are having for supper, and we shall call it "Cream of Double Onion Soup!"

Here is your Cast of Characters.

4 Large onions
10 Green onions
3 Tablespoons butter, divided
2 Cups plain, non-fat Greek yogurt plus 3 tablespoons flour
2 Cups fat-free half and half
5 Cups chicken broth
1 Tablespoon peppercorns
5 Sage leaves, fresh or dried
2 Tablespoons Lawry's season salt
1 Teaspoon, each, Mrs. Dash Onion & Herb seasoning & McCormick Perfect Pinch Garlic & Herb seasoning
1/2 Teaspoon nutmeg
1 1/2 Tablespoons chicken bouillon granules (not pictured because they were a last minute addition)
Couple of dashes of cayenne pepper - optional (another last minute addition)

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large pot over low heat while you chop the onions into thin wedges.  You can do rings, but I wanted something a little smaller and easier to eat.

When all the onion are chopped, toss in melted butter and turn to medium heat.

Cook for 25 minutes, stirring frequently.  Meanwhile, crush the peppercorns until pretty fine.

Add sage, and crush a little more.

Stir flour into the Greek yogurt, blend well.  Cut the white and light green parts of the green onions into little rounds.

After timer has gone off, add remaining tablespoon of butter and chopped green onions.  Cook for 10 minutes, remembering to stir every now and then.

Cut the green onion tops on the diagonal, and set aside for now.

Add seasonings to the onions, and cook for 1 - 2 minutes.  Then, broth and half and half.  Scrape the bottom of the pan to get all the goodness from it!

Next, blend in yogurt mixture.  Stir well to combine.

Cook for 10 minutes, and stir in green onion tops.

Turn to medium-low heat, and simmer for another 10-15 minutes, until flavors have melded.
Optional, add a couple of good dashes of cayenne pepper.

Taste, and adjust seasonings as needed.

Serve with a warm, crusty loaf of bread.  I used some of my grandma's bread. 

For those of you who might be doubtful about a whole soup based around onions, first let me remind you of French Onion soup.  Second, let me tell you about what's going on in this soup.  The Greek yogurt plays two roles.  It definitely makes the soup creamy, and the flour thickens it a little.  Then, it also adds a twang to the soup.  I can't describe it any better, but once you taste it, you'll know.  We also have the sage and nutmeg, which are more subtle, but enhance the onions perfectly.  And, finally, the chicken bouillon granules add depth that the soup was missing prior to that.  With using so many onions, the soup is hearty and filling.


Monday, October 29, 2012

Italian-Style Meatloaf

Few things say comfort food like meatloaf, and I made it yesterday for that very reason - I was in need of a little comfort.  I had left work on Friday in a bad mood, and those feelings tried to linger through the whole weekend, despite my best efforts.  I didn't want to take my irritability out on the family so I decided I needed something to kick me out of that funk - cooking was it.  I spent my whole day in the kitchen, starting with some lovely little oatmeal muffins - 3 batches to be precise, meatloaf, garlic butter pasta and oven-roasted brussel sprouts for lunch, and the afternoon was filled with bread and roll making - more from my grandma's recipe.

As the day wound into evening, we had snacked on mini muffins, eaten our nice family dinner and enjoyed rolls, fresh from the oven with butter and honey, and my mood had lifted.  With all of that cooking and baking, I didn't have time to dwell on anything unpleasant.

I must say, I have an amazing meatloaf recipe that involves oatmeal and cheddar cheese.  I found it many years ago in a Taste of Home magazine, and it has been my go-to meatloaf recipe ever since.  Of course, I've tweaked it, because as we've said before, I may or may not have an illness that prevents me from following a recipe precisely.  But, I decided I wanted something different after hearing that my best friend, Michelle, had made a wonderful stuffed Italian meatloaf the prior night.  That began my quest for my own version.  This is what I came up with.

Here's your Cast of Characters.

4 Teaspoons minced garlic
1 Large onion, chopped
3 eggs
1 Teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 Teaspoons Italian seasoning
1 Tablespoon Sicilian seasoning
1 Teaspoon, each, Mrs. Dash Onion & Herb seasoning, McCormick Perfect Pinch Garlic & Herb seasoning and crushed fennel seed (not pictured because it was a last minute add in)
1 Cup grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano
1 Cup dried breadcrumbs
1 Lb., each, very lean ground beef and Italian sausage
2 Tablespoons, each, Worcestershire sauce and balsamic vinegar
1 1/4 Cups marinara sauce, divided  (You can use a good jarred, or I made my own chunky sauce.)

Yes, I know there's a lot of stuff going in here, but it's what makes it good!

Preheat oven to 400, and grease a medium casserole dish.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs well.

Add all of your seasonings.

Mix well, and add bread crumbs.  Stir well to combine.

Next, add your garlic, onion, 1/4 cup marinara, balsamic vinegar and Worcestershire sauce.  Use a fork to break up any lumps in the bread crumb mixture, and stir until well combined.

Add the cheese, I used Pecorino Romano, ground beef and Italian sausage.

Here's where you get your hands dirty, literally!  Take off your rings, ditch the spoon and fork and dive right in!  I have learned over the years that the best way to mix up meatloaf and meatballs is by hand.  You just can't get everything really combined otherwise.

Shape into a loaf and put in your prepared pan.

Spread remaining 1 cup of marinara sauce over the top.

Bake, uncovered for 1 - 1 1/2 hours, until a meat thermoter registers 160 degrees F in the middle of the meatloaf.

Let the meatloaf rest for about 10 minutes before cutting it.



On my way home from work tonight, only about a mile and a half from my house, I saw 2 bald eagles.  This isn't completely unheard of, as we seem to be in their migratory path, so we see them a couple of times a year.  Regardless of how many times I've seen them, they still take my breath away.  They are just so regal and beautiful!  Of course, I rushed the last mile home, ran in the house, grabbed my camera quick, and my son, who had to bring his camera, too.  (Like mother, like son.)  We went back to the trees where I had spotted them, but only one remained.  He was a bit camera shy and flew away as soon as I parked the car, but thanks to the zoom, I was still able to get a couple of good shots.  It was a nice way to end my workday, and I thought I'd share them with you, as well.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

My Grandma Roberts' Light Rolls

I am no master bread maker.  In fact, far from it!  Bread and roll making has always been my nemesis.  I grew up watching both of my grandmas, and various aunts, make homemade bread and rolls that were so good they would make you cry.  The house would be filled with that special aroma of baking bread, and all was right with the world.  As an adult, I just assumed that I, too, would have the ability to make homemade bread and rolls.  I was sadly mistaken.  I can't tell you how many times I have tried and failed, yet every year, at least once, I find a new recipe and try again.  My best friend tells me it's an illness.  Maybe so.  All I know is that I am consumed with a need to be able to make bread and rolls from scratch.  (Wait, with that last statement, did I just confirm that I have an illness?)

I can't tell you how many hours I have spent scouring the internet, over the last few years, looking for good bread and roll recipes.  I would carefully look through the ingredients, trying to find something that looked close to what my grandma made.  I always read a number of reviews, just to make sure the recipe didn't have any surprise flaws.  Then I would give it another go.  Every time I would wait with bated breath until they were finished, hoping that these would finally conquer my breadmaking curse.  Yet, every time my hopes were crushed.  They either didn't rise, were very heavy and dense, or both.  It would take months for me to work up the courage to try again.  Why didn't I give up, you might ask?  Well, that is just not an option for me.  I hate having something that I can't do.  Maybe my friend is right because it does kind of drive me crazy.

Finally, a couple of months ago I dug out the Roberts Family Cookbook and turned to my Grandma's light roll recipe.  I have never tried it before because, honestly, it intimidated me a little - not because there were a lot of ingredients or anything, but because there weren't a lot of measurements either.  For those of you who know me and the way I cook, you might find that hard to believe since I don't like to measure either, but when it comes to baking and breadmaking, you kinda have to measure.  Otherwise, bad things happen.  I decided to try and figure out the measurements based on my many memories of watching Grandma make them.

Let me tell you, my persistence is going to pay off for you because I finally did it!  I made good rolls!  That first time, the house was filled with that wonderful aroma of yeast bread baking, and I was transported back to Grandma's kitchen.  When I tasted a warm one, my knees buckled a little, it was so yummy!  My grandma's were better, but I'm working on it.

Here are some things that I have discovered about working with yeast dough.  Pay attention because these are very important!  Always use fresh yeast.  Check the expiration dates and don't use it if the date has passed.  For nice, light and airy rolls or bread, do NOT overwork the dough!  This is a huge one.  Do not knead it too much.  The rolls or bread will be very heavy.  Lastly, don't rush it.  I am not a patient person so this is a hard one for me, but it's key in this process.  When the dough is rising, keep it warm and let it go as long as it needs to in order to double in size.  Okay, that's all the secret wisdom that I have accrued.  You should be well armed to go out and make these for yourself.  May the force be with you!  (I don't even know why I just said that!  I am not a Star Wars fan.  I have never even watched one of the movies.)

Here's your Cast of Characters.

4 Cups very warm water
1 Package of active dry yeast (Quick rise yeast was pictured but I wasn't happy with the results.  The pictures are from regular yeast.)
1/2 Cup sugar
1 Large handful of salt
2 Tablespoons lard, melted (It really does make the rolls and bread better, but if you don't want to use it, you can substitute shortening.)
11-12 Cups flour

And, here is the really important piece.

Yep, a bowl, but not just any bowl.  A big-a**, well a big bowl, preferably crock or glass.  I can't tell you how much you need a huge bowl!

If you have an oven that has a "Keep Warm" setting, turn it on the lowest setting.  If not, heat to the lowest temp possible, and turn off as soon as it gets there.  Let it cool slightly while you are making the dough.

In a medium bowl, add yeast to the water. 

Let it sit until yeast has dissolved, about 5 minutes.  It should look something like this when you are done.

Meanwhile, in your huge bowl, put about 11 cups of flour.  Make a well in the center, and add the sugar and salt.

When the yeast is done, add the lard to the well first.  Then slowly add the yeast water.

Mix just until the dough gets thick.  DO NOT OVERMIX!

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface.

Knead until the lumps are out and the dough is slightly elasticky (yes, it's a word).  Again, DO NOT OVERWORK THE DOUGH!  It should only take a minute or two to get the lumps out.

Let the dough rest on the floured surface for a few minutes.  Wash your big bowl in the meantime, and then lightly grease it.

Place dough in your bowl, and cover it with a light towel.

If you had your oven on "Keep Warm", turn off now.  If your bowl is oven safe, place it in the warm oven to rise.  If not, find the warmest spot for the dough, but it may take a little longer for it to rise.  You want it to double in size.  (For me, in the oven, the first rise took 1 - 1 1/2 hours.)

Punch the dough down.  Then take it from the bowl, and gently give it a couple of quick kneads before placing back in the bowl.

Cover again, and put it back in the oven, or warm place, until it doubles in size, once more.  About 45 minutes - 1 hour.

Now you are ready to make the rolls or loaves of bread.  I usually do 2 loaves, and the rest rolls.  Somewhere between 1 1/2 - 2 dozen.  Spray your pans with nonstick cooking spray.  When making the rolls, just pinch off a piece of dough slightly smaller than a tennis ball.  (Here's a little tip, if you want flatter, bigger rolls then space them out a little in your pan.  If you want taller, fluffy rolls, crowd them in the pan a bit.  I made the flatter ones, which are good for sandwiches, burgers or sloppy joes.

For loaves, form the dough into a thick log, and place in greased pans.

Place back in the oven and let rise for the last time, until double in size.  (Here's another tip, turn oven back to keep warm while you are making the loaves and rolls, and turn off when you are ready to put them back in.)  This usually takes about an hour.

Take out, and heat oven to 375.  Bake bread 45 minutes - an hour, depending on how big the loaf is, and rolls about 20 minutes.  Take out when they are a deep, golden brown and sound hollow when thumped.

These are so good, fresh from the oven, piping hot and butter dripping from them! 

Even better is with a little honey drizzled over the the melted butter.  That is all kinds of awesomeness!