Friday, November 30, 2012

Chunky Roasted Tomato Soup

It is cold here.  Like 14 degrees above zero cold.  And, the wind is blowing at a pretty good clip so with the wind chill, we are lucky to be at zero.  No, it's not freezing cold, we do get quite a bit colder with a significantly higher wind chill, in the dead of winter, but it's still COLD! 

I'm sitting here, typing with cold hands, thinking of soup.  All kinds of lovely soups, and how I just want to wrap my hands around a warm bowl.  Hold on a second, I'm envisioning it right now............  Shoot!  I thought if I really got into the visual, maybe I could trick my brain into thinking my hands are warm.  Nope, didn't work.  Well, the next best thing would be to actually make some soup.  Wait, I think the cold has done something to my brain!  Next best thing?  No, it's better - homemade soup is much better than just thinking about soup!

I decided to make a roasted tomato soup, which means that we will have grilled cheese sandwiches with it.  I must have grown up in a bubble when it came to grilled cheese because we never had tomato soup with our sandwiches, but it seems to be a universal combo, and my husband loves it.  I would actually prefer just the soup.  Grilled cheese sandwiches are not among my favorite things.  So when I make them for myself, I jazz things up a bit - different cheeses than the plain, old American slices and I add things in the middle, like pesto.  That's how my daughter likes them, too, but my husband and son want regular grilled cheese - nothing fancy.  I digress.  This is about the soup.

Until a few years ago, I had never made homemade tomato soup.  I was always content with the Progresso brand, which is really quite good.  Then I saw a tip on Food Network for a simple tomato soup using canned tomatoes.  The guy, and I can't even remember who, said the trick was to roast them in the oven, then they didn't tasted "canned" anymore.  Of course I had to try it, but I really wasn't expecting it to turn out so well.  Seriously, one of the best tips I have come across in recent years.  Once again, roasting works its magic and turns a boring can of tomatoes into the base of a wonderfully flavorful soup.

Here's your Cast of Characters.

4 (14.5 oz.) Cans diced tomatoes
2 Onions
4 Cloves of garlic
3 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Cups chicken broth
2 Cups fat-free half and half
1 1/2 Teaspoon Lawry's season salt
1/2 Teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 Teaspoon Mrs. Dash Onion & Herb seasoning
1 Teaspoon McCormick Perfect Pinch Garlic & Herb seasoning
1 Teaspoon McCormick Tuscan seasoning
1 Teaspoon McCormick Sicilian seasoning

Preheat oven to 425.

Rough chop onions and garlic.

You don't want the garlic pieces too small or they will burn instead of roasting.

In a large mixing bowl, pour in cans of tomatoes, juice and all.  Add onions, garlic and olive oil.

Stir well.  Spread out on a large baking sheet lined with foil.  Sprinkle generously with all seasonings (not the measured amounts - those go in the soup).

Mix seasonings in well.

Roast in oven for 45 minutes - 1 hour, stirring often.  You'll know it's done when the garlic and onions have become translucent, and the liquid from the tomatoes is all gone.

Place half of the tomatoes in a large pot.

The other half goes into a food processor.  Puree until smooth.

Place that in the pot with the chunky tomatoes.  Add remaining ingredients in.

Cook on medium-low until the soup has heated through and the seasonings have had a chance to meet and get cozy with each other.  Do not boil!  It will cause the half and half to separate.  It will taste alright but won't look attractive!

There's my pesto grilled cheese.  They were great together!

Here's where you can see the chunkiness of it.  If you want a smoother soup, puree all of the tomatoes.  I just like something with a little substance to it.


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Tis the season.........for a list of cooking tips!

Lists, lists and more lists.  This girl loves lists.  From my little list of errands each day all the way to my massive monthly grocery shopping list.  I wouldn't get very far without them.  And, now we are at the time of year when we make up our Christmas lists and let Santa check them twice.  It's also when most of us will be doing even more cooking than usual, whether it be for various holiday parties or the big Christmas dinner.  Which means that a list of cooking tips should be perfect right about now.

Actually, I have been putting a cooking tip of the day on my Facebook page for a couple of weeks, and it was as I was posting yesterday's tip, that I decided to gather 10 of the best ones for here.  I figured that everybody loves helpful pointers - we try them, we share them and it's all good.

Let's get started with #10 -

Store spices in a cool, dark place, not above your stove. Humidity, light and heat will cause herbs and spices to lose their flavor.

I was lucky enough to have my dad make a spice cabinet for me many years ago.  It is perfect for keeping my herbs and spices cool and dark.

# 9 -

Cook pasta 1 minute less than the package instructions and cook it the rest of the way in the pan with sauce.

I actually go 2 - 3 minutes less, and cook the rest of the time in the sauce.  I find the pasta picks up more of the flavor from the sauce that way, and the extra time helps to thicken the sauce.

# 8 -

Recipes are only a guideline, not the Bible. Feel comfortable replacing ingredients with similar ingredients that you like. If you like oregano but not thyme, use oregano.

Boy, oh, boy, I could NOT agree more!!  I am all about looking at a recipe simply to get an idea, then putting my  preferences all through it.  Don't be afraid to change things up.

# 7 -

A cast-iron pan is a valuable kitchen ally. It offers an even cooking surface and is a breeze to clean.

I am a big proponent of the cast-iron skillet.  You can see from my pictures, I use mine all the time and would be lost without it.  One thing that I swear doesn't taste as good cooked in any other kind of skillet is country gravy.  My grandpa taught me how to make country gravy, and that was one of his best tips, make it in a cast-iron skillet.

# 6 -  Rest, rest, rest! Always let your meat rest — especially off a hot grill!

This is so important.  It gives the juices time to redistribute, and keeps the meat moister.  Even just 5 minutes makes a difference, but 15 is best.

# 5 -

Plunge vegetables in ice water after blanching (boiling) them so they maintain a bright color.

It also stops the cooking immediately.  This is key if you want to keep your veggies crisp-tender, as opposed to mushy.

# 4 -

Invest in parchment paper for lining pans. It makes all of your baked goods super easy to remove, and it makes cleanup a dream (no butter-flour mixture or errant batter to scrape off).

I have only recently started keeping parchment paper on hand all the time, and am very glad that I do.  The last couple of weekends I have done some cookie baking, and nothing sticks.  It's awesome!

# 3 -

To optimize the juice you get from a lemon or lime, roll it hard under your palm for a minute before juicing.

I have tried this many times and found it works very well.  It also brings out the oils in the peel, if you need to zest it.

# 2 -

 Prolong the lifespan of greens by wrapping them loosely in a damp paper towel and placing in a resealable plastic bag.

I found this out with my garden lettuces and spinach.  I washed them in water with a little vinegar, patted them dry and placed them in between to damp paper towels in a clean ice cream pail.  They were crisp and good for a week or better.

# 1 -

When making a homemade pasta sauce, reserve 1 cup of the generously salted pasta water right before you drain it.  Add it to the pasta sauce along with the pasta.  It will thicken your sauce plus season it a little.  Finish with a pat of butter.  It pulls everything together. (This and # 9 go hand in hand.)

And, here's a bonus - my favorite tip given to me by my best friend -

Try roasting vegetables in the oven, especially the ones that you might have tried another way and didn't like.  My friend, Michelle, talked me into giving brussel sprouts another try with this method and I am so glad she did!  They are now one of my favorite veggies.  Roasting brings out the natural sugars, as well as a nutty flavor in most.

What's your favorite tip that you use all the time?  Is it something you read or did someone share it with you?  Please let us know in the comments - maybe it will become one of our new favorites.


Here's a picture of the spice cabinet my dad made for me 17 years ago.  He decided if I was moving to a farm that I needed a barn cabinet.  I love it as much today as I did then!  I know my dad won't see this, as he's a bit technologically impaired, but I'll say it anyway - Thanks again, Dad!  I love it!

Butternut Puff

At the risk of boring you, I have another squash dish to share with you.  I’m sorry, but I had no choice.  The butternut squash was calling to me from the freezer.  Taunting me, actually, ever since I used half of it for the Butternut Squash Gorgonzola Cream Sauce.  It has tormented me – just knowing it was there.  I tried to hold off as long as I could.  For your sake, not mine.  I didn’t want you to get burned out on squash recipes.  I certainly don’t want to be repetitive, but I do so love squash!  And, today’s offering puts a different spin on it.  I didn’t roast it, or make a sauce from it.  I mixed it with an egg and made a nice little puffy, soufflĂ©-type side with it.  Aren’t you a little bit interested now?  Good!  Then here’s what I’m going to do – give you yet another reason to love squash as I do!
Here’s your Cast of Characters.
1 1/2 Cup butternut squash, cooked
1/2 Cup fat-free half and half
1/2 Cup chicken broth
1 Egg, beaten
2 Teaspoons minced garlic
1/2 Cup green onions, chopped
1 1/2 Teaspoons dried sage, crushed
1 Teaspoon Lawry's seasoning salt
1/2 Teaspoon pepper
1 Teaspoon parsley
1 Teaspoon McCormick Perfect Pinch Garlic & Herb seasoning
1/2 Teaspoon McCormick Tuscan seasoning
1/2 Cup Gorgonzola, plus a little extra for sprinkling on top

Preheat oven to 425.  Spray a small casserole dish with nonstick cooking spray.

In a medium mixing bowl, take a fork and mash squash to get out as many lumps as possible.

Add half and half and cream.  Stir to combine.  Not all of the liquid is going to incorporate, but that's okay.  It will be absorbed as it cooks.

Add remaining ingredients except egg and gorgonzola.  Mix well.

Here's where I did a little taste check with my seasonings, before putting the raw egg in.  If anything needs adjusting, now is a good time to do it.  I didn't add anything, but once you are okay with it, add egg and 1/2 cup gorgonzola.

Stir very well to get egg completely combined.

Sprinkle a little extra gorgonzola over the top.

Cover and bake for 30 minutes.  Uncover and continue cooking for another 30 minutes, or until center is set and no longer jiggles.

Serve as a side dish, or use it like I did for a meatless main course.

I like the above picture because you can see all of the major components, the orangey-yellow of the squash, the egg, the green onions and gorgonzola.  Yum!


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Parmesan Potatoes

When I decided to make Pork Chops with Rosemary Cream Sauce, I racked my brain for a little while trying to figure out what side I wanted with it.  I already knew that my vegetable was going to be roasted cauliflower.  We haven't had that in a while, and my kids were asking for it, but that didn't help me with a potato, pasta or rice.  All of a sudden, au gratin potatoes came to mind.  I haven't had them in.......well, I can't remember when I had them last.  They sounded great, and my heart was set on having them when I realized that I didn't have any good, sharp cheddar cheese.  Bummer!  You know how you can't get something out of your head, especially once you know you can't have it.  Yeah, that was me with the au gratin potatoes.  So, I decided to go with what I did have on hand.  I always have cheese, just not always cheddar.  As far as shredded cheese, I had an Italian Blend or Colby Jack.  Neither one had a strong enough flavor for au gratin.  The other types of cheese I had were Gorgonzola crumbles, which I would love in this recipe but my husband and son might balk at pure, unadulterated blue cheese potatoes, Pecorino Romano - that's a possibility, or Parmesan - BINGO, we have a winner!  Parmesan au gratin potatoes - these have the potential to be better than regular au gratin potatoes!  I'll let you decide.

Once I settled on the Parmesan, then I decided to try and make these a little skinnier than regular au gratin potatoes.  I think I did a fair job, and in doing that, I cut out some of the excess sauce.  Never fear, though!  Even if they are not drowning in sauce, they are still full of flavor!

Here's you Cast of Characters.

8 - 10 Medium potatoes
1 Onion, chopped
2 Teaspoons minced garlic (I used roasted but regular is fine, too.)
1 Tablespoon butter, unsalted
1/2 Cup chicken broth
1 Teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 Teaspoon Lawry's season salt
1/2 Teaspoon, each, onion powder and McCormick Perfect Pinch Garlic & Herb seasoning
4 Oz. neufchatel cheese (1/3 less fat cream cheese)
1 Cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Grease a 9 x 13 pan.

Peel potatoes.  Cut them in half lengthwise and cut into 1/2 inch thick slices.

Parboil for 10 minutes.  So as not to overcook them, set the timer from the moment you place them on the burner.

Meanwhile, in a medium skillet, melt butter.  Saute onion and garlic over medium heat, stirring frequently.

Cook for about 5 minutes, until onions start to turn translucent.

Add chicken broth, cream cheese and seasonings.

Cover and cook on medium-low for 5 minutes, stirring every so often to mix in cream cheese.

After timer for potatoes has gone off, drain and place in prepared pan.  Set aside for a moment.

Once cream cheese has been incorporated into sauce, add Parmesan cheese.  Stir well, but it doesn't have to melt completely.

Pour over potatoes.  Now this isn't going to seem like enough sauce, but it will be.

Use a spatula to gently stir the sauce in, coating the potatoes.  Be careful not to break the potatoes into smaller chunks.

Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes.  Uncover and bake another 10 minutes.  To finish it off, broil on low for 5 minutes.

The top isn't going to get really golden, but the bottom has a nice layer of brown, crispy potatoes!


Monday, November 26, 2012

Pork Chops with Rosemary Cream Sauce

I have to start off by apologizing for the lack of post yesterday.  Towards the end of the afternoon I started getting the beginnings of a migraine, and just couldn't seem to string even two words together.  I suppose I could have kept going, as the ensuing jibber-jabber might have been very entertaining, but I don't think it would have produced a worthwhile recipe. 

Today's dish is one of those shiny examples of something simple giving the appearance of being more complicated and time-consuming.  It is delicious, mainly in part because of that age-old pairing, rosemary and pork.  They are truly the stars in the whole show, with the other seasonings being the supporting cast, meant to enhance only.  The cream at the end, is just enough to pull it all together, without being terrible for you.

If you have fresh rosemary, all the better.  It makes the sauce a beautiful, sagey green color, which my son loves.  He doesn't remember the names of everything I cook, but will say things like, "Mom, can you make the pork with the green sauce?"  By that, I know he means Pork Chops with Rosemary Cream Sauce.  It's one of his favorites.  Mine, too, for that matter.  Who knows, maybe it will be one of yours, as well!

Here's your Cast of Characters.

4 - 6 Pork chops, bone in or out, about 1/4 inch thick (You could use 1/2 inch but adjust the cooking time.  I like these because they cook very quickly.)
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
2 Teaspoons rosemary, crushed
1 Teaspoon Lawry's seasoning salt
1/2 Teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 Teaspoon McCormick Perfect Pinch Garlic & Herb seasoning
1/2 Teaspoon onion powder
3/4 Teaspoon chicken bouillon granules
1 Teaspoon minced garlic
3/4 Cup chicken broth
1/2 Cup heavy cream

In a large pan, melt butter on medium heat.  Add chops, sprinkle lightly with rosemary, pepper, Lawry's, garlic & herb and onion (not the measured amounts).

Sear both sides, about 5 minutes total.

Add garlic and saute for 1 minute, stirring constantly so it doesn't burn.

Add  broth, seasonings and chicken bouillon granules.  Stir well.

Cover and cook for 15 minutes.  Uncover, remove pork chops from the pan and add cream.  Stir to combine, while scraping any flavor bits from the bottom of the pan.

Place pork chops back in, turning to coat both sides in sauce.

Cover and cook for another 5 minutes on medium-low heat, or until pork chops are cooked through.


Saturday, November 24, 2012

Horseradish Popcorn

The holiday season is officially upon us, which means that the internet will now have a plethora of recipes ranging from grand entertaining ideas to simple party snacks.  I look forward to this time of year for all of the obvious reasons, but also because I love culling through all of those offerings, hoping to find my new favorite thing.  I am never disappointed.  Every year someone has either come up with a new twist on an old favorite, or sprung a completely new idea upon us.  And, sometimes inspiration comes from the simplest thing.  That's where today's recipe came from.

I was hanging out on Facebook earlier today, and saw a post by a friend of mine that mentioned horseradish popcorn.  I was immediately intrigued, as my son and I, both, love horseradish.  After a couple of questions, I found it was incredibly simple.  Of course, it quickly became an obsession with me, and I had to try it as soon as possible.  But first, I had to make sure I had popcorn since it's been a long time since I used my airpopper.  Then, it was cleaning up my very dusty popcorn maker.  After that, it was a piece of cake, and I had a very tasty and addicting snack!  Thanks, Rob, for the idea - it was one that had never come to me before!  I'm so glad you shared!

Here's your Cast of Characters.

1/2 Cup popcorn kernels
1 Teaspoon popcorn salt
1-2 Teaspoons crushed peppercorns (I used 2 because I love pepper!)
3 Tablespoons prepared horseradish
Airpopper (If you don't have one, never fear, you can make it in your microwave in a brown paper bag.  Here's a link:  Microwave Popcorn Using Brown Paper Bag )

Pop 1/2 cup popcorn.

When it's done popping, add salt, pepper and horseradish.  Put Press and Seal tightly over the bowl and shake well.  (You can also use a brown paper bag to mix it up.  Just roll the bag down a little and shake away.)

Here's what you're going to have - a pungent, spicy, peppery snack that is pretty guiltless.

See the little splotches of horseradish?  Awesome!


*Note:  If you want to make this as a party snack, and I would definitely come to a party serving this, you should serve it right away.  It is going to be a little wet from the horseradish, just like it would be if you added freshly melted butter to the popcorn, so it will become soggy over time.  One option is to use dry horseradish powder instead.  You can find it in some stores, or order it online.  Here's one online site that has great spices for wonderful prices:

Friday, November 23, 2012

Rigatoni with Italian Sausage, Mushrooms and Red Onions

Mushrooms and red onions.  That's what I based the whole meal around.  What could I make that would showcase those two ingredients?  One idea was a homemade pizza with Italian sausage, garlic white sauce and caramelized red onions and mushrooms.  That, actually, appealed to me very much, but I didn't have pizza crust, wasn't going to the grocery store and didn't want the mess of making it a couple of nights ago.  I'll put that one on the list for a weekend meal.  Another thought was a creamy pasta sauce using cream cheese but, as that type of sauce is a weakness of mine, I was pretty sure I would overindulge.  Okay, so let's lighten it up a little. 

Then, my mind went to a darker pasta sauce, something with red wine.  That would go very well with the mushrooms and red onions.  One teeny-tiny little problem - I don't have any red wine.  I don't keep it on hand.  My wine drinking is still a work in progress.  I have made giant strides away from Boone's Farm Strawberry Hill, and shudder at the thought of drinking it now, but I haven't progressed to red wines yet.  They are, for the most part, still too dry for me.  Okay, so plan B.  Wait, pizza, creamy pasta, red wine sauce........better make that plan D.  How about Red Wine and Balsamic Vinegars?  This could work.  It would be a tangier sauce, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.  Reduce it down, and it would sweeten a little bit on its own.  Hey, I think I might be on to something here!

Here's your Cast of Characters.

1 Lb. Italian Sausage
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, undivided
1/2 Cup Red Onions, diced
1 Carton baby bella mushrooms, sliced
1/2 Cup red wine vinegar
1/2 Cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 Cup chicken broth
1 Lb. box of rigatoni
1 Teaspoon minced garlic
2 Teaspoons Lawry's season salt
1/2 Teaspoon crushed peppercorns
1 Teaspoon McCormick Tuscan seasoning
2 Teaspoons McCormick Perfect Pinch Garlic & Herb seasoning

Brown sausage in a non-stick skillet, breaking it up as it cooks.  In a separate skillet, brown 2 tablespoons butter and onion about 10-12 minutes on medium heat.

Add garlic and mushrooms; saute for 2 minutes.

Once mushrooms start to soften a little, add broth and vinegars.

Turn to medium-high heat; cook for another 2 minutes.

Add seasonings and cooked sausage. 

Continue cooking on medium-high heat, until the liquid has reduced down by more than half, stirring frequently. 

Meanwhile, cook pasta in a pot of very generously salted water.

When pasta is about 2 minutes from being done, remove one cup of pasta water.  Add it to the sausage mixture, along with remaining 1 tablespoon of butter.  Stir until butter is melted and sauce has thickened a little, 1-2 minutes.

Drain pasta and toss with the sauce.

Grate a little Parmesan cheese on top.  It cuts the tanginess and pulls the whole dish together.