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Archive for January, 2011

Since returning to work full time, I am taking a serious look at how we’re going to eat during the week, or more practically, how in the world I am going to find time to cook between my full time job and the baby.  I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion that soups are going to be the way to go – or maybe soups in the winter and big hearty salads in the summer?

Cold and rainy/snowy weather is the perfect time for soup.  Something about it is as right as a roaring fire for this season.  I also love the process of making soup. I love the chopping and the smell of onions sauteeing in olive oil, which is how soups almost always start. I love the sizzle as more ingredients hit the pan.  I love peeking into the pot and seeing it bubble away.  I like that it’s a whole meal, possibly with bread or salad on the side, but not necessarily.  I like being able to put leftovers into the freezer for another heart- and belly-warming meal on another cold and rainy day down the road.

Since I’ve been making soup a lot recently I’ve been thinking about all my favorites.  Here is my list of top five vegetable soups – all super healthy and super delicious.  I highly recommend an immersion blender for making some of these soups – it comes in handy for lots of other things as well.  It makes the whole process quite a lot easier when you don’t have to transfer hot soup to a blender or food processor in batches, and this one cleans up easily and is not bulky to store.

1. Provencal Vegetable Soup

2. Broccoli Soup

3. Roasted Butternut Squash Soup with Curry Condiments

4. Pappa Al Pomodoro

5. Spiced Pea and Coconut Soup

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One of my friends in Chapel Hill is throwing a cocktail party next week and we were talking about appetizer ideas last night.  I just sent her a few of my favorites, and then thought this might be a common interest, so I will share them with you too!  These are all tried-and-true favorites of mine which are not complicated (though a couple take some prep time) and are not a last-minute hassle.

I just watched a Barefoot Contessa episode about cocktail parties and she recommended having six appetizers, 2 of which you actually make (from scratch) and the others which are just assembled.  Some of her assembled ideas are roasted salted nutes (almonds or cashews), olives, sliced salami and cucumbers, and an assortment of cheeses.  That sounds like a great strategy to me – the fun of making some things from scratch but no pressure to create the entire spread.  And when you’ve mixed it up like that, no one will be able to tell the difference!

If you’re lucky enough to live near a Trader Joe’s, they have some fabulous appetizers in the freezer section which are super easy to bake up.  A couple of my favorites are the lemongrass sticks (for dipping in soy sauce), the little carmelized onion and cheese puff pastries, and a new product that I recently found, little parmesan palmiers, very tasty!

So here are my favorite appetizer recipes for winter!

  • Rosemary Roasted Cashews – This is an easy, very snackable fancied-up cashew bowl with unusual but tasty flavors. I buy my unsalted cashews at Trader Joe’s.
  • Parmesan and Thyme Crackers – Making homemade crackers is nowhere near as hard as you might think.  These are basically savory butter cookies.  Make double or triple the recipe and freeze the log of dough so you can pull it out to slice and bake any time you need an easy app!
  • Pan-fried Onion Dip – I don’t like to put out a lot of dips because they are not easy finger food, but if you have a good spot for it, this one is AMAZING.  It takes a while to cook the onions so that they develop their full flavor but it is totally worth it.
  • Winter Squash Dip (recipe below) – I would only do one dip, but if the onion one above is not your thing, here’s another suggestion.  I like the creamyness of this dip, and that it has a little kick of spice to it as well.  It makes a ton so you could freeze half to have more on hand for another occasion.
  • Stuffed Dates (recipe below) – I didn’t think I liked dates until I tried this recipe.  Stuffed with cheese (or sausage) and wrapped in bacon, dates are delicious!  Their earthy sweetness plays really well with creamy cheeses and salty bacon.  They also keep well at room temperature, which is good for a party.
  • Cranberry Bruschetta (recipe below) – This recipe is from my Wine Club book and is one of my favorites.  For some reason I find it difficult to get good appetizers from the seasonal fruits and foods of winter.  This is a perfect savory use of cranberries – they have both tang and heat, and are well-balanced with the cream cheese.  You can make up the whole platter so they are easy finger food.

Winter Squash Dip

1 winter squash (about 2 pounds), such as butternut or turban, unpeeled, seeded, and cut into 3 inch pieces

Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

2 heads garlic, tops cut off to expose cloves

1 ¼ sticks (10 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature

8 scallions, white and pale-green parts only, sliced ¼ inch thick

2 chipotle chiles (canned in adobo sauce)

2 cups (16 ounces) sour cream

8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature

1 ¼ cups grated Parmesan cheese (about 4 ounces)

4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

Paprika, for sprinkling

Breadsticks, for dipping, and an assortment of veggies

  1. Preheat oven to 400. Place squash on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with oil, season with salt and pepper, and toss. Spread squash in a single layer. Place garlic on a piece of parchment-lined foil. Drizzle with oil, and wrap loosely. Place on baking sheet with squash. Bake until squash is soft and golden brown, about 50 minutes. Let cool slightly.
  2. Meanwhile, melt 4 tablespoons butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add scallions, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 4 minutes.
  3. Scoops flesh from squash, and transfer to a food processor. Squeeze garlic from skins, and add to squash. Add scallions and chipotles, and pulse until smooth. Add remaining 6 tablespoons butter, the sour cream, cream cheese, Parmesan, and lemon juice, and pulse until just combined but not smooth. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Pour into a serving bowl. Refrigerate for 1 hour. Sprinkle with paprika, and garnish with pepitas. Serve with breadsticks.

Goat Cheese-stuffed Dates

24 large Medjool dates

6 oz goat cheese

12 strips of applewood-smoked bacon, cut in half crosswise

  1. Cut a slit along one side of each date, pry open and remove pit.  Fill each with 1 tsp of goat cheese and close the date.  Wrap one piece of bacon around the date and secure with a toothpick.
  2. Place a cooling rack inside a rimmed sheet pan.  Place dates on the cooking rack.  Cook dates in a 400 degree oven for approximately 10 minutes, or until bacon is crispy and brown.
  3. Remove dates to a paper towel to drain and serve warm.

Variations:

–        Substitute goat cheese for fresh (not smoked) chorizo sausage.  Remove sausage from casings and cook thoroughly; drain off grease.  Mix sausage with ¼ cup chopped parsley and stuff into dates.

–        Any other tasty filling can be substituted for the goat cheese – other types of cheeses, flavored couscous, etc.

Cranberry Bruschetta

1 long baguette-style loaf of French bread

2 Tbs butter, melted

2/3 cup diced red onion

½ cup rice wine vinegar

1/3 cup sugar

1 Tbs grated fresh ginger

½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes

1 cup cranberry sauce (leftover or purchased)

½ tsp minced fresh rosemary

8 oz cream cheese

Preheat oven to 375.  Slice baguette into ½ inch thick slices.  Arrange in one layer on a large sheetpan and lightly brush 1 side of each slice with melted butter.  Bake about 10 min or until toasted and cool.

In a heavy saucepan, combine onion, vinegar, sugar, ginger, and red pepper flakes.  Simmer over medium heat til the vinegar is reduced by more than half and the sugar begins to caramelize (the red onion will become pink and translucent).  Reduce heat; stir in cranberry sauce and minced rosemary.  Bring to a boil.  Remove from heat and cool completely.

To serve, smear each toasted baguette slice with cream cheese and top with the cranberry mixture.


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I made up this easy recipe for a side dish tonight and LOVED it!  I am not normally a big fan of squash, but I find roasting it, especially butternut squash, actually makes it sweet and carmelizes it a bit – and that I like! I’m particularly liking the squash since I’ve found it pre-cubed at Harris Teeter, Trader Joe’s, AND Costco! What an awesome time-saver. The goat cheese adds a nice creamy coolness and the walnuts add some crunch.

Roasted Butternut Squash with Chevre and Walnuts

1 large butternut squash, about 3 lbs, peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch chunks (or buy it pre-cubed!)

1 Tbs olive oil

balsamic vinegar

salt and pepper

2 oz goat cheese

½ cup walnut pieces

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  • Place the squash on a sheet pan and toss with the olive oil.  Sprinkle salt and pepper to taste.
  • Roast in one layer for 25-30 minutes, tossing once to prevent sticking, until squash is tender.
  • Remove the pan and sprinkle balsamic vinegar and the walnuts over the squash; toss with a spatula and return to the oven for 2 minutes to toast walnuts.
  • Plate the warm squash and crumble goat cheese over each portion to serve.

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Pumpkin and Feta Muffins

New Years Resolution: Pay attention to the blog – share more, worry less about pictures.

My hope is that I’ll stop worrying about trying to update this and get perfect posts with great pics and just share the good recipes I find, as they come up!  There are a lot of things I keep MEANING to write about and one thing or another gets in the way.  So if there aren’t always pictures, or a lot of description, please forgive me and just try the recipe!

And to put my money where my mouth is, here’s a savory muffin I made TONIGHT that I am really excited about!  I found this recipe for Pumpkin and Feta Muffins on one of my two favorite cooking blogs, 101 Cookbooks.  I am pretty sure everything of hers that I’ve made (including recipes from her cookbook, Super Natural Cooking), has been fabulous.  She has a knack for creating huge flavor with really healthy ingredients.  We’re still on a healthy eating / diet / detox at our house and though these DO have flour in them, I figured they counted as a healthy side – and mixing them up confirmed that hunch.  The mixing bowl was full of veggies and flavorful cheeses – then you add in a couple eggs, and some milk, and just enough flour to bind it all together.  And I put in half and half whole wheat and all purpose flour, too!  They smelled amazing coming out of the oven and tasted even better.  I think this is the first muffin I’ve never even wanted to put butter on!  I used butternut squash instead of pumpkin, and you could use sweet potato as well, I’m sure.  The root veggies take on a really sweet flavor after roasting, and the feta and parmesan add great salty flavor.  I bet you could even use the measurements to sub in different kinds of veggies and cheeses, depending on what you have around.  These may be a staple savory bread side with soup for us…we’re loving them tonight with Brocoli Soup with Lemon Parmesan Cream from my other favorite cooking blog (check out my blog post about that here).

Happy New Year – Happy Cooking!

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