Monday, December 31, 2012

Spinach & Pecorino Romano Stuffed Mushroom Caps

As I sit here writing, I am waiting on our New Year's Eve dinner to finish.  My husband and I used to go out for New Year's Eve, but it was always a hassle trying to find a sitter for the kids and a place to eat that wasn't jammed packed, where we would wait an hour for food.  Then, several years ago we decided to stay home and start our own tradition with the kids.  Instead of spending a ton of money going out, we always get something nice for our meal at home.  Usually lobster, crab legs or shrimp along with sides dishes like twice-baked potatoes or stuffed mushrooms.  We can't forget the sparkling cider so that everyone can make a toast in our fancy (pretty-colored plastic) champagne glasses.  Our night usually involves watching a movie, followed by a nice desert.  Here's what's on the menu for tonight:  Appetizers of lobster cakes with remoulade sauce, small side salads, broiled chili and garlic flounder with a Cajun finishing butter, petite baked potatoes and cheesy garlic breadsticks.  Dessert is a cinnamon swirl pound cake sandwich with a filling of mascarpone cheese, cinnamon, nutmeg, brown sugar and pecan pieces.  I think Chris and I look forward to it as much as the kids do.  We don't eat like this every night, so it's always a treat, and a great way to start our New Year.

Fast forward 4 hours, and we have finished our meal.  It was decadent and heavenly!  My daughter declared that flounder was her new favorite fish.  I enjoyed it, as well, but my favorite is still grouper.  My husband and son say walleye, all the way.  Regardless, it was very good with chili and garlic seasoning.  The remoulade complemented the lobster cakes to perfection.  And, the dessert?  Oh, boy, the dessert!  Mama mia, it was GOOD!  The filling, alone, could have been the dessert.  It's probably best that the pieces of poundcake were small.  Let me just say this, if you have never tried mascarpone cheese, you are missing out, my friend!  Think cream cheese, but slightly sweeter, creamier and oh, so much better!  Just for fun, try it in place of cream cheese in one of your favorite recipes.  I guarantee you will not be disappointed.  Now, that it's becoming more well-known here in the U.S., you can find it in most grocery store's specialty cheese section.  Go on, give it a whirl!

Much as I would have loved to post one of those recipes tonight, by the time I got home to start dinner, I had no extra time to write recipes and take pictures.  Besides, I still have two good appetizers from my friend's birthday party to share, as well as a lovely Mediterranean Pork Roast from Sunday dinner.  And, I have to admit, the stuffed mushrooms were my favorite, of what I made, the other night.  So, here you go!

Here's your Cast of Characters.

4 - 5 Boxes of baby bella mushrooms
1 Big handful of fresh spinach leaves
1 Small red onion
2 Packages (2.8 oz.) real bacon pieces
4 Oz. Neaufchatel cheese (1/3 less fat cream cheese), softened
1 (6 Oz.) Plain Greek yogurt
1 Cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano
1 Teaspoon, each, Lawry's seasoning salt and McCormick Perfect Pinch Garlic & Herb blend
1/2 Teaspoon freshly ground pepper
(No green onions - that was for the last appetizer recipe and they wound up in this picture.  What can I say, sometimes these things happen when you have 3 recipes going at the same time.)

Preheat oven to 325.  Line a large baking sheet with foil.

Wash mushrooms well - they are dirty little buggers!  Remove the stems, reserving them from one box of mushrooms.  Spread your caps out on the baking sheet.

Chop up the reserved stems pretty finely and add to a large mixing bowl.

Next, dice the red onion.  Throw in the bowl.

Now, you are going to want to grab a big handful of spinach leaves.  There's no measuring here. 

Cut the leaves into ribbons, then go through again, and chop into slightly smaller pieces.

Toss that into the bowl, followed by the remaining ingredients.  Stir well to combine.

Use a teaspoon to fill the caps, generously.

Bake, uncovered, 45 minutes, or until heated through.

Now, here's where I dropped the ball, a little.  I made these the night before the party, so I didn't have a finished shot.  I kept thinking that I would get a shot once I pulled them out of the oven at the party.  But, here's what happened instead.  I was running behind, so I dropped them off to cook while I made a quick trip to Walmart.  When I came back, everyone else was there, and we started visiting.  I pulled the mushrooms out, as we chatted some more.  We encouraged people to go through the line, as we talked some more.  Needless to say, I went through the line, filled my plate with several of these little gems, and completely forgot to get the final shot.  I'm sorry!  You'll have to use your imagination - they were golden brown on top, with little specks of deep green spinach peeking out.  The bacon had turned a lovely shade of brown.  And, they were all kinds of awesome!  Even a friend of mine, who doesn't care for mushrooms tried them, and said she liked them.


One final note, I wish everyone a Happy and Healthy New Year!  May 2013 be all you dream!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Prosciutto Wrapped Feta

On Christmas day, my very best friend turned 30, and tonight we had her birthday party.  Even though she is a decade younger than I am, we are so connected and similar in many ways.  She has a lot of quirks, as do I, which means that we can poke fun at each other because we understand one another.  She knows most of my secrets, my moods, my many opinions, my good side and bad, and still likes me.  In short, she gets me, and for that I am truly grateful! 

Because my friend, Michelle, is as beautiful inside as she is out, we, her friends, wanted to do something special for her on this milestone birthday.  She loves good food just as much as I do, so it was a lot of fun to plan the menu.  We decided to stick with a theme of appetizers, and let me tell you, there was no shortage of wonderful food!  I made spinach, bacon and pecorino romano stuffed mushroom caps, finger sandwiches with rye bread, garlic cream cheese spread, onion and alfalfa sprouts topped with sundried tomatoes, pimentos and chives, and the prosciutto wrapped feta.  These recipes will work their way into the blog later this week.  For now, on to the recipe.

Here's your Cast of Characters:

1/2 Pound prosciutto slices
Fresh basil
Fresh chives
Fresh Italian parsley
Block of feta cheese
Olive oil

Cut the feta into slices, then matchsticks.

Be very careful with the feta, it will crumble easily.  Take your slice of prosciutto, and tear it into 4 - 6 pieces.

Place a leaf of basil on the prosciutto, followed by a folded chive stalk and a couple of Italian parsley leaves.

Wrap a matchstick of feta very carefully.

For a Caprese version:

Fresh Basil
Sundried tomatoes halves
Mozzarella pearls

Cut tomato halves in half.  Layer prosciutto, basil, tomato and mozzarella.

Roll into a ball.

Just before serving, drizzle a little olive oil over all.


Friday, December 28, 2012

Thursday Cooking Tip.....

As promised, here's your Thursday night cooking tip:

Caramelize onions very quickly by cooking them in a dry nonstick sauté pan over medium-high heat. They will caramelize beautifully in a lot less time than with traditional methods.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Party Parmesan Broccoli Slaw

Welcome back!  I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas.  I certainly did.  I received some truly awesome gifts, but what made it special was the time spent with our family.  My in-laws house was packed to the gills with my husband's siblings, their spouses and children.  Utter chaos!  But, it wouldn't be a family gathering if it were any other way, nor would we want it any differently. 

We packed a lot into our weekend and holiday.  Saturday, my husband and I managed to get away, for most of the day, to finish our Christmas shopping and have a nice meal together.  That doesn't happen very often, where it's just the two of us, so we thoroughly enjoyed it!  Saturday night was spent with the family, amidst much laughter and merrymaking.  Okay, a little alcohol might have been involved.  Only a teeny-tiny amount.

Sunday we went to the 96th birthday party of my husband's grandma.  We are so blessed to still have her with us!  It was a nice gathering with lots of delicious food.  That's where this recipe came from.  I wanted something different to take to the potluck, and this evolved in my head. 

Monday night had Santa making an appearance at my in-laws, much to the excitement of all the kids.  They ran from room to room, peeking out the windows, trying to catch glimpses of him before he dropped off a few of their presents.  It was one of the best things of the night - seeing the excitement on their faces.  After they opened their presents, we exchanged gifts with everyone else.  I can only say that I feel very fortunate, not only for the things I was given, but for the time with our family.  My husband's uncle has had a major health scare and we are all very thankful for every moment we have together.  We were a very close family before but it has made us very aware to not take anyone, or thing, for granted.

Christmas morning we watched our children open their gifts from us, and Santa.  They were giddy, which pleased us to no end.  After they had time to spend with their presents, we were back at my in-laws for a magnificent feast of turkey, stuffing and all the trimmings.  It.........was.........heavenly!

I suppose, we should really get down to business with the recipe.  Now, mind you, we had a lot of people at the birthday party, so this is a good size amount of slaw.  You could easily scale it down by cutting it in half, or even quarter it.

Here's your Cast of Characters.

4 Bags of broccoli slaw
1 Yellow or orange sweet bell pepper
1/2 Medium onion

3 Cups mayo (not Miracle Whip)
1 Cup, each, fat-free half and half and light sour cream
1/3 Cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 Cup, each, sugar and Parmesan cheese
1 Cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 Tablespoon freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 Teaspoon, each, Lawry's season salt, McCormick Perfect Pinch Garlic & Herb blend and Mrs. Dash Onion & Herb blend

In a large bowl, dump the broccoli slaw in.  Finely dice the pepper and onion, and add to the slaw.

In a medium mixing bowl, add all of the dressing ingredients.

I know you know how to grate cheese, but I had to take this opportunity to show you one of the nifty Christmas presents a friend gave me.  I LOVE kitchen gadgets!  Okay, I'm done with my little diversion.

Next, add the dressing to the slaw mixture.

Stir to combine well.  With this amount of slaw, it takes a lot of mixing.  Just when you think every piece is coated, you add another turn and find dry parts.  Keep stirring, my friends!

Cover and refrigerate at least one hour before serving.

This can be made a few hours early, but no more.  Even a day early will have the slaw starting to lose its flavor and crispness.


Sunday, December 23, 2012

I will return.....

after Christmas.  I had no intention of taking off more days so soon after taking a hiatus while studying, but with trying to finish getting ready for the holidays and spend time with the family that is here, it is what I am doing.  I've had an extremely hectic month, and I just need some downtime to relax.

I hope that you will all stay with me, and check back in on Wednesday, where the recipe will be Party Parmesan Broccoli Slaw.  I came up with it today, while trying to think of something to bring to the birthday party of my husband's 96 year old Grandma.  I think it turned out pretty well.

I have also decided to make some changes in the frequency of posts.  I love the idea of sharing a recipe every night, however, I will be starting my new job in earnest on January 2nd and am not sure that I will be able to maintain the blog that often.  I am also working on a book, and currently don't have any free time to spend on that.  So, here is what I am thinking.  I will post recipes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday's, with an occasional one thrown in on the weekends.  On the off days, I will post a tip or two, which won't take much time and will allow me to spend more time with my family and, hopefully, writing.

Since I won't see you before then, I wish everyone a very Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Nutty Caramel Popcorn Bars

I have been busy for the last few days getting holiday treats ready to send to my family in Missouri.  I decided this year not to make any candy.  I simply didn't have the time because it's an all day thing.  So I chose some new cookies instead:  spritz and chocolate gingersnap crackles.  I had a few leftover, and my husband has really been enjoying the spritz cookies!  I guess I'll have to make them again for him - before next Christmas.  I also wanted caramel popcorn but didn't want popcorn balls or cake.  They are just too messy.  That's when it hit me.  Why not make them in bar form?

I searched the internet to find popcorn bar recipes to no avail.  I settled on an easy caramel popcorn recipe that I could convert to bars.  At the last minute, I decided to add nuts, because really, what isn't made better by nuts?  Of course, if you are allergic or don't like nuts (I've been told there are people who don't like nuts, but I find it so hard to believe.  I think it's an urban legend, myself.), you can easily leave them out.

I doubled the batch so I would have plenty to give away, and have some to keep here.  Big mistake!  I can NOT control myself around caramel popcorn.  I can't allow myself to make anymore this season - it's that big a problem.

Anyway, if you want a fairly simple treat, this is for you.  Here's your Cast of Characters.  (Because it's caramel, and you have to work very quickly, I didn't get pictures during the making.  Only finished product.)

4 Tablespoons butter
1 Cup brown sugar
1 Teaspoon vanilla
1/2 Cup light corn syrup
1/2 Teaspoon baking soda
1/2 Teaspoon salt
1/2 Cup popcorn kernels
3/4 Cup, each, chopped pecans and cashews (optional)

Line a jelly roll pan with wax paper.

Pop the kernels and put into a greased large bowl, making sure to throw out the unpopped or half-popped pieces.  Put nuts on top of the popcorn.  Set aside.

Melt butter on medium heat in a medium saucepan.

Turn heat down to low, and add brown sugar, stirring well.  Turn heat back up to medium and stir constantly for 1 minute.  Add corn syrup and vanilla, mixing until incorporated.  Continue stirring and cooking until it starts to bubble.  Cook for another 1 1/2 minutes. 

Add the salt and baking soda.  This will make the sugar double in size so be careful not to let it go over the sides of the pot.  Mix well.

Remove from heat and immediately pour over popcorn and nuts.  Stir quickly, until caramel has covered the popcorn completely.  Moving fast, transfer to jelly roll pan, using a spatula to pat down.  Once it has cooled, lift out by the wax paper.

Use a large knife to cut into squares.  Wrap, individually, in cling wrap.


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Creamy Spaghetti

Don't let the name fool you, it's not really a cream-based sauce.  It is a name that my son came up with a few years ago for one of my quick and easy, go-to recipes.  And, let me tell you, after the last 4 weeks of non-stop studying, exam-taking and now the crush of getting things ready for Christmas, I definitely needed something simple and fast.  I was up late last night making snickerdoodles for my dad, nutty caramel popcorn bars (which will probably be tomorrow night's post) and wrapping presents, all to get packaged and mailed to Missouri, where my family is at.  To say that my brain is fried would be the understatement of the year.  Tonight's supper abolutely had to be something I didn't have to think about.  That's when I decided on Creamy Spaghetti.  Tanner has been after me to make it for a couple of weeks now, and he couldn't have been happier when he found out what we were having.

I can't even remember now what prompted me to change up our normal spaghetti sauce but, out of the blue, one night I decided to add cream cheese.  We liked it enough to have it again, and from there it has evolved into tonight's meal.  I found that we like it better with Italian sausage.  The fennel gives a little bite, which keeps the cream cheese from being too rich.  I always add a little extra Sicilian seasoning in, as well, for the same reason.  I hope you like it as much as we do!

Here's your Cast of Characters.

1 Lb. Italian sausage
1 1/2 Teaspoons, each, Lawry's season salt and McCormick Sicilian seasoning
1 Teaspoon, each, McCormick Perfect Pinch Garlic & Herb blend and Mrs. Dash Onion & Herb blend
1/2 Teaspoon pepper
1 Teaspoon minced garlic
1 Jar spaghetti sauce
1 8 Oz. neufchatel cream cheese (1/3 less fat), softened
1 Lb. linguine or fettucine

Brown sausage over, medium heat, in deep skillet along with minced garlic.  Sprinkle all of the seasonings lightly over sausage (not the measured amounts).

When sausage has cooked, add measured seasonings, spaghetti sauce and cream cheese.  Stir, as you break up the cream cheese a little.  Cover and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, while you cook the pasta.

Make sure that you get the cream cheese incorporated well into the sauce.  Once pasta is done and drained, top with sauce and some freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese, if desired.


Monday, December 17, 2012

Garlic Chicken

Tonight was the Christmas program at our school.  It's something I look forward to each year, beginning with the kindergarten class.  Seeing all those cute little faces, focusing so hard on the task at hand, faces all aglow with excitement makes me smile every time.  Then when my children are up there, my heart swells with pride.  And, listening to the high school choir finishes the night off beautifully.  It was a wonderful Christmas program, and I felt blessed to be able to enjoy it with my children and family - truly blessed! 

The recipe tonight is a great one for those nights when you need something quick but don't want to sacrifice taste.  There are very few ingredients, and it comes together so fast, you won't believe it.  The added bonus is that if you run into a stray vampire, you will be completely protected!  It really is a prerequisite that you love garlic.

Here's your Cast of Characters.

1 1/2 Cups chicken broth
2 Tablespoons butter, sliced into thin pieces
6 Cloves garlic
4 - 5 Boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Lawry's season salt
Freshly ground pepper
McCormick Tuscan seasoning
McCormick Perfect Pinch Garlic & Herb blend
Pecorino Romano

Preheat oven to 450.  Line a large baking dish with foil.  Pour chicken broth in the pan.  Dot butter throughout.  Chop garlic into thin slivers.

Sprinkle evenly throughout the pan.  Sprinkle lightly with Lawry's and freshly ground pepper

Lay chicken breasts over broth, butter and garlic slivers.  Sprinkle with the seasonings.

Cover with foil, and bake for 30 minutes.  Uncover and grate a little Pecorino Romano on each.

Put back in the oven and bake for another 15 minutes, or until chicken are done.  Broil on high for 2 minutes.


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Rosemary Sweet Potato Medallions

This weekend has gone by in the blink of an eye, and I am sitting here trying to convince myself that it is really only Saturday and I have tomorrow to relax.  Not working, to my chagrin.

I really didn't do a lot yesterday, so I shouldn't complain.  I just needed some time to unwind.  The only thing I accomplished was to get these sweet potato medallions made - FINALLY!  After that, it was off to a birthday party with my husband.  It was a fun night out for the two of us, and much needed.

Today, however, I really kicked things into gear.  Cleaned house, did laundry, decorated the Christmas tree - FINALLY, and made Christmas cookies (Spritz cookies for the first time and Chocolate Gingersnap Crackles).  My day has flown by, and I can't believe that it is already so late.  I actually thought about skipping tonight's post, but since I took last night off to go to said birthday party, the guilt kicked in.  So, instead, I am going to keep it short, and get right to the recipe.

Here's your Cast of Characters.

3 - 4 Medium to large sweet potatoes (I used Jersey and Garnet)
Olive oil
2 Teaspoons rosemary, crushed
1 Teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 Teaspoon, each, Mrs. Dash Onion & Herb blend and McCormick Perfect Pinch Garlic & Herb blend
Freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 450.  Combine rosemary, kosher salt, Onion & Herb blend and Garlic & Herb bend.  Line a large baking sheet with foil.  Scrub potatoes and cut off ends.  Cut into 1 1/2 inch medallions.

Arrange in a single layer on prepared baking sheet.

Cover with foil, and bake for 30 minutes, or until they are tender when pricked by a fork.  Remove from oven.  Use the bottom of a glass to smash the medallions (a juice glass works well).

Drizzle each one generously with olive oil. 

Sprinkle heavily with spice blend.

Place back in the oven, uncovered, on the bottom rack for 25 minutes.  Move to top rack and broil on low for 5 - 7 minutes, until brown and crispy.

See how beautifully caramelized the bottoms got?  They were so delicious!


Friday, December 14, 2012

Spicy Avocado Relish

It's Friday, so you know what that means - Friday Family Movie Night in the Soupir household.  I was planning on those Roasted Sweet Potato Medallions, and my husband volunteered to make burgers to go with them.  Both would be good for our living room picnic - nothing too messy.  So, I headed to the grocery store after work, in search of Jersey sweet potatoes.  Do you see where this is going?  I was in the produce section again and completely lost track of time.  I walked away with kumquats, oranges, ruby red grapefruits, lettuce, yellow tomatoes, avocados and the sweet potatoes that I originally went in there for.  Plus some garnet sweet potatoes.  They were sitting right next to the Jerseys and they called to me.  Seriously.  I wouldn't kid you about this.  They really called to me.  They said, "Hey, look at us.  We're red.  We're beautiful.  Look at our name - Garnet.  How could we have that kind of name and not be fabulous?  Take us home with you.  You won't regret it.  Trust us."  So, I did.  I trusted them, and I brought them home with the intention of doing half Jersey and half Garnet for the medallions.  I swear to you, that is exactly how it happened!

So why, you might ask, isn't this post about the sweet potatoes?  Well, I simply ran out of time.  After spending entirely too long at the store, I still had three other errands to go.  By the time I left town, it was 6:15 already, which would mean that I wouldn't get home until 6:45.  There was no way to get the potatoes done in time for our movie.  Shoot!  How did I let that happen yet again?  I found myself scrambling around, for the second night in a row, trying to figure out what recipe to put on the blog.

About halfway home, it came to me.  I bought the avocados to place on the top of my burger, along with some jalapeno slices, for a Southwest burger.  Why not combine those to make a spicy relish instead?  The rest of the drive was deciding what was going to go in the relish, besides those two ingredients.  This is what I came up with.

Here's your Cast of Characters.

1 Small onion
1/2 Sweet yellow or orange bell pepper
3 Tablespoons lime juice
1 Avocado
1 - 2 Tablespoons pickled jalapeno slices (depending on how hot you want it)
1 Tablespoon jalapeno "juice" from the jar
1 Teaspoon, each, minced garlic and cilantro
1 Teaspoon McCormick Perfect Pinch Garlic & Herb blend
3/4 Teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 Teaspoon, each, freshly ground pepper and cumin
1/4 Teaspoon cayenne pepper (which I realized later is turned around & it's driving me crazy)

Finely dice onion and pepper, and put in a small mixing bowl.

Add lime juice and mix.  Pit and peel the avocado, then cut into small chunks.

Place in the bowl with peppers and onions.  Stir well, breaking onions apart as you go.  Finely dice the jalapeno slices.

Add those to the bowl, along with the remaining ingredients. 

Mix well.  You can serve right immediately, which is what I did, or you could refrigerate it for about 30 minutes, letting everything meld.  I can tell you, it was pretty darn good right away!


*Note - I used 2 tablespoons of jalapeno slices, and combined with the juice and cayenne, it packed a punch, which was perfect for my burger.  You can certainly tone it down by using less jalapenos, substituting more lime juice for the jalapeno juice and/or leaving out the cayenne.  I just happen to like it with some kick.