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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Simplified Chicken Tortilla Soup



I first posted this Chicken Tortilla Soup recipe in the summer of 2009. I have consistently made it since then, and over the years I have slightly modified the recipe to make it more simple and quick. This soup is a staple for us during the winter months, and I often immediately freeze half the batch so we can have it ready for a quick weeknight dinner. The soup itself is quite healthy - it's a tomato broth based soup unlike many of the creamy/cheesy restaurant versions of Chicken Tortilla Soup. The toppings are certainly not optional for us - they really elevate this meal to something amazing. As Baby Sister is due to join us two weeks from today (!!!), I feel more at ease knowing there's a container of this soup in my freezer :-)   

Simplified Chicken Tortilla Soup

Ingredients:
5 vine-ripened tomatoes
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
3 cups chicken broth
1 cup water
1 or 2 jalapeño peppers (depending on your spice preference), ribs and seeds removed and roughly chopped 
1 14.5-ounce can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
salt and pepper, to taste
2 cooked, shredded chicken breasts

Optional toppings:
Crushed tortilla chips/tortilla strips (you can find these at the store near the croutons)
1 Roma tomato, diced
Chopped fresh cilantro
Shredded cheese (Monterey Jack, Cheddar, etc.)
Light sour cream

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 350°.

1. Slice the tomatoes in half. Spread 1 tablespoon of the olive oil on a foil-lined baking sheet and arrange the tomatoes on top, skin side up. Drizzle the tomatoes with another 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Roast the tomatoes for 35 minutes, until the skins wrinkle and the tomatoes are slightly brown around the edges.

2. Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed, 4-qt. soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and bell pepper and sauté about 5 minutes, until the vegetables become soft. Stir in the chili powder and cumin and cook for 1 minute.

3. Add the chicken stock and water. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then cover, decrease the heat and simmer 10 - 15 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, place the chopped jalapeños, the canned tomatoes with their juices, and the roasted tomatoes (included all the juices and browned tomato bits) in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Puree the jalapeño-tomato mixture about 1 minute. Transfer the mixture to the soup and continue simmering, covered, about  30 – 60 minutes.

5. Add salt and pepper to taste along with the cooked shredded chicken. Simmer a few minutes until chicken is heated through.

6. Ladle the soup into bowls. Top as desired and serve immediately.

Source: Adapted from You're Gonna Bake It After All, from Annie’s Eats  

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Thanksgiving Dressing




Some families have the same meal every Thanksgiving, using the same tried-and-true recipes year after year; while other's menu is constantly evolving to include new twists on classic dishes. For many years, my family's Thanksgiving was the former: the menu never changed. As Bob and I started hosting Thanksgiving at our house 3 years ago, we have tweaked the menu slightly- not eliminating dishes but rather adding a few of our own (like these Mashed Potatoes with Root Vegetables, Compound Herb Butter, and Honey Butter-YUM!) Each year we learn more about which dishes need tweaking and how to better execute the meal. One thing that we will never mess with is our traditional Thanksgiving Dressing. Dressing is basically "stuffing" that is cooked in a separate dish, not in the turkey. For that reason, it can get a crispy top and edges depending on how you bake it, which I think is one of the best parts! My family has never made stuffing in a turkey (and now it's actually not recommended because you either undercook your stuffing or overcook your bird). Our dressing recipe is very basic - no organ meat, sausage, or other fancy add-ins. It's actually the simplicity that I love, and it's one of my favorite dishes at Thanksgiving. My mom and my aunt got this recipe from their mother and have each adapted their own way to make it. I've taken each of their recipes and combined them into one master recipe. This dressing was designed to go well with chicken or turkey, so it's the perfect side dish any time of year!  

Thanksgiving Dressing

Ingredients:
1 stick butter                                               
¾ cup onion, diced small                                   
1 cup celery (boiled and diced small)   
1 loaf white sandwich bread (frozen and cubed into ½-inch cubes- crust and all)                                
1 tsp. salt                                                    
½ tsp. pepper
2 tsp. poultry seasoning
¾ cup celery water, hot
¾ cup chicken stock, hot

Directions:
1. Boil pieces of celery until soft. Remove strings.
2. Chop celery and onion into small dice.
3. Melt butter in pan, sauté onions and celery until onions are soft. 
4. Combine the celery water and chicken broth in a measuring cup, making sure it is hot (heat it up if it’s not).
5. Add bread cubes to a large bowl/pan, add the salt, pepper, and poultry seasoning.  Add the cooked onion/celery mixture and the hot celery water/chicken stock.  Stir until the bread is moist.  It is better to have the bread too moist than not enough because it will be baked.
6. Spoon the bread mixture into a pan. Do not flatten it out – leave little hills and valleys for the turkey juice or gravy to settle into.
7. Bake covered at 350F for around 40 minutes, then uncover for the last 20 minutes to brown (cook time total of 1 hour).  You may also add gravy to the top intermittently during the baking process, but not the last 20 minutes because you're looking to get that crispy top.

Notes:  Aunt Suey always doubles this recipe for Thanksgiving.  The dressing needs at least 1 hour in the oven depending on how deep the pan is.  Cook at 400F for a double batch. 

Source: Adapted from my Aunt Suey and my Mom



Friday, November 22, 2013

Warm Sticky Figgy Pudding



Last year, my sister, her husband, Bob, and I started talking about how fun it would be to have a Dickens Dinner around Christmas time.  At first, we joked about having a goose and eating only by candlelight, but soon we decided that our Dickens-inspired dinner would include only elements from the classic "A Christmas Carol".  As it turns out, goose is quite expensive, so we went with a turkey.  My brother-in-law made wassail, and I made a New England Sausage and Cranberry Stuffing, which I will share as soon as I can get a photo.  One thing we knew from the start, the English holiday dessert figgy pudding was a must!  While I don't know how traditional this figgy pudding is, it had great reviews on Food Network (and was featured on Ultimate Recipe Showdown) so I went with it.  I have to say, it was one of the best desserts I've ever had!  We all agreed that it was a hit and must return to our annual Dickens Dinner. We served ours with vanilla ice cream.  The combination of the warm cake and caramel sauce with the cold ice cream made this dessert even better.  I was only able to snap some poor shots last year because it was night time and I was wrangling a 1-year old.  I hope to get some better photos this year and will add them later, but I didn't want to sit on this recipe any longer - it's too good not to share!


Warm Sticky Figgy Pudding

Serves 4

Ingredients:
For the pudding:
¾ c. dried pitted dates, chopped
¼ c dried figs, chopped
1 c. water
½ tsp baking soda
3 ½ tablespoons butter, softened
½ c superfine sugar
1 egg
1 ¼ c. self-rising flour
1 ¼ oz. dark chocolate, grated
Butter for the ramekins

For the sauce:
1 c. brown sugar
1 c. heavy cream
7 tablespoons butter

For serving:
Vanilla ice cream or whipped heavy cream (optional)

Directions:
      1. Add the dates, dried figs, and water to medium saucepan and bring to boil over medium heat.  Remove the pan from heat and stir in the baking soda. Let cool for 5 minutes, then add to a blender to puree.
           2.  Using a hand mixer, cream the butter and sugar in a large bowl. Add the eggs and beat well. Fold in the flour, the pureed date mixture, and the chocolate.
      3. Pour the batter into buttered ramekins filling halfway.  I divided the batter equally into 4 ramekins. (At this point, I wrapped the ramekins in plastic wrap and took them to my sister's house, refrigerated them during dinner, then baked them.)
      4. Bake at 350F for 20 – 25 minutes.
      5. To prepare the sauce, stir the sugar and cream in a medium saucepan over low heat. Simmer until the sugar dissolves. Raise the heat to a boil, then reduce and simmer 5 minutes. Add the butter and stir until incorporated. (I made this at home and took it to my sister's. Then I reheated the sauce prior to spooning it over the cakes).
      6. Remove the ramekins from the oven and let stand for 10 minutes. Serve in the ramekin or unmold each cake onto a serving plate.  With a paring knife, cute a cross in the center of each cake.  Pour the sauce over the pudding and allow it to soak in slightly, then top with more sauce as desired.
      7. Serve warm topped with ice cream or whipped cream and enjoy!

Source: Adapted from FoodNework.com – Ultimate Recipe Showdown

Note:  The original recipe said it serves 4, but the reviews said it made much more so I cut the recipe in half and it was just right for 4 servings (meaning the recipe on FoodNetwork probably makes 8 servings rather than 4!)

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Witches Brew Punch

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Although Halloween has since passed, I wanted to get this recipe up because I think it's a great punch for any occasion - a holiday party, a baby or wedding shower, etc.  My favorite punch, Christmas Punch, has a number of ingredients while this one only has 3, and I like it almost as much!

I found this punch recipe on Pinterest last year and served it at our annual Halloween party.  I loved it so much that it made a return this year.  I've also added some suggestions to make it more festive for Halloween.

And for fun, here's a picture of my little cat:

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Witches Brew Punch

Serves 12

Ingredients:
1 large can pineapple juice, chilled
1 cup orange sherbet, softened
1 2-liter bottle of orange soda, chilled
*may add rum to make it more "adult"

Directions:
In a punch bowl, stir together the pineapple juice and sherbet until the sherbet dissolves.  Just before serving, slowly pour the soda into the juice mixture.  Add more scoops of sherbet.  Ladle into cups and enjoy!

Adapted from Very Culinary

Halloween touches:
Freeze water in a disposable glove, remove the glove (it helps to run the ice hand under cold-not hot-water to get the glove to separate from the ice. Using water that is too warm will cause the ice to crack! You may have to cut the glove off in certain spots).  Float the ice hand in the punch.  I recommend making at least 2 ice hands in case of a cracking incident.  A few fingers broke off the first hand I had- which may actually have been appropriate for Halloween!

Stuf canned lychees with dark colored grapes to make eyeballs and add to the punch or to individual cups when serving.

Lychee/grape "eyeballs"!
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Breaking Bad Spoiler Alert! 

My sister and brother-in-law's Halloween tribute to the finale of Breaking Bad:
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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

French Apple Cake

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I last posted on this blog in January.  It is now November.  Rather than go on about how busy we've been, how quickly time goes by, or list off excuses for my absence, I figured I would just dive right into a recipe.  We got rid of cable quite some time ago, and since then I have had to be creative to still get my fill of the types of shows I used to watch. America's Test Kitchen is great because it's on PBS and is similar in nature to the Food Network shows I love.  I saw this French Apple Cake featured on an episode this fall and almost immediately was in the kitchen making it.  We had leftover apples from the orchard that needed to be used, and I just wasn't in the mood to make a pie.  We really loved this cake.  Because it's made with oil instead of butter, it's more moist than other homemade cakes.  The bottom layer has a custard quality and contains the apples, and the top layer is more cake-like.  The cake is topped with sugar before baking to give it a nice crispy topping, although once you wrap it up the moisture in the cake takes away this crispiness.  I love that this cake is essentially one batter that is separated and then treated differently to create a custard layer and a cake layer.  It just seems simpler than having two batters from the start.  This cake cooks low and slow (1 1/4 hours!) so plan accordingly.

I will say that I have loved having this blog as a way to document not only our favorite recipes but also momentous occasions in our family, and I have missed not having a record of these events in time-stamped format.  Our daughter Ava is turning 2 next month !!! and I really cannot believe it.  Also, we are expecting her baby sister in February and are so excited to see what life as a family of 4 brings!

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French Apple Cake

Ingredients:
1 1/2 pounds apples, peeled, cored, cut into 8 wedges then sliced 1/8 inch thick crosswise (ATK recommends Granny Smith; I used Golden Delicious)
1 tablespoon Calvados (this is a French apple brandy; you can substitute another apple brandy or white rum. I used regular brandy, and it was fine.)
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 cup (5 ounces) plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup (7 ounces) plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg plus 2 large yolks
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Confectioners' sugar, optional

Directions:
1. Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 325F.  Spray a 9-inch springform pan with non-stick spray.  Place prepared pan on a rimmed baking sheet lined with aluminum foil.  
2. Place apple slices into a microwave-safe pie plate, cover, and microwave until apples are pliable and slightly translucent, about 3 minutes.*  Toss apple slices with Calvados and lemon juice and let cool for 15 minutes. 
3. Whisk 1 cup flour, 1 cup granulated sugar, baking powder, and salt together in a bowl. Whisk egg, oil, milk, and vanilla together in a second bowl until smooth. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and whisk until just combined. Transfer 1 cup batter to a separate bowl and set aside (this will become the cake layer).
4. Add the egg yolks to the remaining batter (to create the custard layer) and whisk until just combined. Using spatula, gently fold in cooled apples. 
5. Transfer custard/apple batter to prepared pan and, using an offset spatula, spread the batter evenly to the pan edges, gently pressing on the apples to create an even, compact layer, and smooth surface.
6. Whisk the remaining 2 tablespoons flour into the reserved batter. Carefully and evenly pour this batter in the pan on top of the custard/apple layer.  Spread the batter evenly to the pan edges and smooth the surface. Sprinkle the remaining 1 tablespoon granulated sugar evenly over the cake.
7. Bake until the center of the cake is set, a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, and the top is golden brown, about 1 1/4 hours.
8. Transfer pan to a wire rack; let cool for 5 minutes. Run a paring knife around the sides of the pan to dislodge the cake and then let cool completely, 2 to 3 hours. Dust lightly with confectioners' sugar if desired, cut into wedges, and serve.  For a nice crisp top, serve the same day without covering the cake. I loosely covered the remaining cake with foil overnight, and the crispness was lost due to the moisture of the cake (it's still good though!)

Source: America's Test Kitchen

*I prefer not to microwave plastic wrap as I'm unsure what chemicals leach into the food during the heating process, so I covered my pie plate with waxed paper then topped it with plastic wrap to get a good seal so no moisture would escape.  I suppose chemical could pass through the wax paper, especially if had gotten wet (it didn't), but it made me feel better to do it this way!


Sunday, January 13, 2013

Chocolate Pear Tart

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Happy New Year! I hope everyone is having a happy and healthy 2013. While this recipe is not exactly "healthy," it sure will make you happy! I have had this tart bookmarked since November 2009 when it was first posted on Confessions of a Tart, and I just now made it! Each winter I would vow to make it, put it on my calendar, then finally realize that it was spring and move it to the next winter on my calendar. I finally decided not to put it off anymore - and I'm so glad I didn't! I made this tart for a family holiday dinner and everyone loved it. The chocolate custard is very rich but balanced nicely with the vanilla-poached pears. The recipe is not difficult but makes for a stunning presentation. I urge you, while pears are still at their peak, to make this tart. Don't wait 3 years like I did :-)

Chocolate Pear Tart

Ingredients:
For the poached pears: 
4 ripe Bosc/D'Anjou/Bartlett pears (I used D'Anjou)
4-5 cups water
1 cup sugar
1/2 vanilla bean (seeds and pod) or 1 tsp vanilla extract

For the crust:
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioner's (powdered) sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 stick unsalted butter, very cold, cut into 16 pieces
1 cold egg, lightly beaten

For the custard:
6 ounces good semisweet chocolate, chopped
3/4 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla extract

To finish (optional):
Apricot jam or apple jelly to glaze
Powdered sugar

Directions:
1. Make the crust: In a large bowl, whisk the flour, sugar, and salt together. Scatter pieces of cold butter on top and cut in with a pastry cutter until the largest pieces are the size of peas and the mixture looks crumbly. Working quickly, drip the egg into the dough and toss with a fork until the dough sticks together when pinched. If the dough is too dry, add a tablespoon of ice water. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead a few times to incorporate the dry ingredients. 

2. Butter or spray a 10-inch tart pan. Lightly press the dough into the tart pan. The dough should cover all the sides but not lose its crumbly texture (if you work it too much the pieces of butter will melt). Place the tart pan in the freezer for 30 minutes.

3. Peel, halve, and core the pears (take care not to break the pear halves while coring). Bring the water and 1 cup of sugar to a boil in a large saucepan and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Scrape the vanilla seeds from 1/2 of a vanilla bean into the water and put the pod in as well, or just add the teaspoon of vanilla extract and stir to combine. Gently place the pears in the water (I lowered them into the water with a slotted spoon), lower the heat, and cook at a low boil until the pears are just tender when pierced with a fork (but not mushy), around 10-15 minutes. Carefully remove the pears with a slotted spoon and set aside.

4. Whisk the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla lightly in a medium-sized bowl. In a double boiler (or a bowl set over simmering) melt the chocolate with the cream, stirring and folding with a heat-proof spatula to combine into a smooth and shiny ganache. Stir in the 1/4 cup sugar and cook a few minutes more, until the sugar has melted. Set aside to cool.
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5. Remove the tart dough from the freezer and preheat the oven to 375F. Carefully transfer your pear halves to a cutting board and, holding each pear with one hand to keep it intact, carefully slice into thin slices. To fan out the pear slices, press the wide end of the pear gently towards the narrow end. Slide the knife under the fanned pears and arrange them in a circle inside the tart pan.

6. To make the custard, slowly dribble about 1/2 cup of the chocolate mixture into the eggs, whisking constantly. This warms the eggs, preventing them from cooking. Add the rest of the chocolate in a steady stream and stir to combine.

7. Pour the chocolate mixture into the tart pan, pouring as much as possible around the pears rather than on top of the pears. (I had a bit of custard leftover that I added to a ramekin to bake separately). Bake for 45-55 minutes or until the chocolate custard is puffed and set (it will be firm to the touch and slightly cracked around the edges). Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes.

8. Remove the tart from the tart pan and slide onto a plate or platter. If desired, brush the pears with a little bit of melted apricot jam/apple jelly to glaze and then sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving. Serve warm or at room temperature. Optional: Serve with lightly-sweetened whipped cream.

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Source: Confessions of a Tart

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Santa's Whiskers Cookies

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My mom got this recipe from a friend many years ago. She always added the pecans, so I never tried them as a kid due to my allergy. A few years ago I requested that she make some without nuts so I could try them. I had been missing out all these years! These cookies consist of a buttery cookie base, and the chopped candied cherries give them a chewiness, which is nicely complemented by the crunchy coconut exterior. Plus, aren't they so festive?! These cookies have now become a part of my Christmas baking tradition!

Hope you have a wonderful holiday season!  Here is a picture of Ava with Santa from this weekend :-)


And a happier one after the bearded man was out of sight:



Santa's Whiskers Cookies

Ingredients:
1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 Tbsp. milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup finely chopped red and green candied cherries (about 1/2 of small container of each)
1/2 cup chopped pecans (optional)
3/4 cup coconut

Directions:
1. Cream butter, sugar, milk, and vanilla extract.  

2. Add flour, cherries, and pecans (if using).

3. Form into 2 rolls each 2 inches in diameter and 8 inches long.  Roll in coconut.  

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4. Wrap in waxed paper.  Chill several hours.  

5. Slice 1/4" thick, place on ungreased cookie sheet.  

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6. Bake at 375F for 10 - 12 minutes.  

Makes 5 dozen.


Source: my mom's friend


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