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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Easy Tortellini Soup

   A cold front moved through the area today, bringing a wicked thunderstorm complete with heavy rain, high wind and  much cooler temperatures. Brrr....fall is really here.
   Sitting in my kitchen contemplating what to make for dinner I thought about one of my sons who works on the railroad. No, really, he literally works on the railroad tracks. Today would be the third consecutive day he will be coming in drenched to the bone; even with his rain gear, he somehow manages to get soaked to the skin. Soup, I thought, soup will warm him up, after his hot shower, I'll have some nice hot chicken soup for him to warm up his insides. Okay, but let's make this chicken soup really something he won't be able to say, "no thanks, Mom."
   Jesse is a pasta hound, put pasta in it, on it, under it, and he's in. Ah, I have some cheese tortellini in the freezer; and some leftover chicken fingers. The gears started turning and I turned out a soup that I was very proud of, and a soup that all the men ate. Jesse even ate his BEFORE his shower. Wow.
   Okay, to start off with I decided the soup needed to have some body, but not as thick as a chowder, but heavier than a plain broth. I need a roux. Okay, a thin roux would put just enough 'Umprh' to make it stick to your ribs.

Easy Tortellini Soup
Serves 4

  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1 rib celery diced small --the smaller the better, so it will just kind of disappear into the broth
  • 1 small carrot shredded on the largest hole of a box grater
  • 1 tablespoon dehydrated onion
  • 4 tablespoons flour
  • 48 ounces of chicken broth- I used Progresso® in the box about 1-1/2 boxes
  • salt and pepper to taste-- or leave out if you have to watch your sodium intake
  • 4 cooked chicken fingers, diced--I removed any of the breading that came loose
  • 1 cup cheese tortellini
   In a 3 quart saucepan melt the butter, add the celery and carrot and sweat for about 5 minutes to start to soften the vegetables. Whisk in the flour and cook until smooth, and bubbly. Stir in the dehydrated onion.. Whisk in the broth, being sure to stir the roux up into the broth. It will still look rather thin, broth-like at this point, but just keep going. Simmer the soup for 10 minutes to finish cooking the vegetables and marry the flavors. Add the diced cooked chicken and the tortellini. Cook over low heat until the tortellini is done. Cooking it without a cover will evaporate some of the broth, concentrating the flavors, and by cooking the tortellini  in the broth adds to the heartiness of the broth because of the the retained starch. It takes about 10 minutes to cook the tortellini, and of course that is al dente. Done!

   See, didn't I tell you it was easy? And you also learned how to make a roux at the same time! Two for the price of one. Now, how's that for a bargain?
   Would love to hear your take on this recipe!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Easy Breezy Lasagna

   Went apple picking again, with my oldest son, thanks, Eddie, couldn't reach the top of the trees without you!

   Made a few quarts of unsweetened applesauce for a family friend who is diabetic; just followed the regular stove top instructions, peeling, coring, and slicing about 4 different types of apples, a little lemon juice and water to keep it from browning and burning. I stuck a whole cinnamon stick in this pot, and ground up some fresh allspice. It was perfect, of course, just not sweet enough for my family's taste--so Richie, I hope you enjoy it!

   I bought a new cookbook last month; The Stocked Kitchen, by Sarah Kallio and Stacey Krastins. It is a system of stocking your kitchen with one grocery list and then having over 300 recipes using only those items you have stocked in your pantry. Sounded very intriguing and as it turned out I already stocked about 90% of the required items anyway.

  Over the course of the following weeks I have systematically picked up the items from the shopping list I didn't normally stock, because there were quite a few recipes I felt would work in my house. As for those items, its not that I didn't ever use them, but I don't usually have slaw mix on hand unless I planned on making cole slaw. I also didn't always have fresh ginger, but I bought a tube of it, so it will stay well in between uses.

   Finally I had enough on hand to try out a few of the recipes, and let me tell you, I was not disappointed. Although a few of the recipes had what I deemed "unusual" mixtures the final outcome was awesome! I tried the Moo Shoo Stir Fry Shrimp, serving them wrapped in flour tortillas. EVERYBODY  raved, and I got "permission" to make it again. Now that is a hands down home run in my house.

   I next tried the Kidney Bean Tortilla Lasagna, but, you know me, I had to tweak it just a bit. I added browned and drained chopped beef to the mixture,  and I omitted the mushrooms, as I do from every recipe--no one here likes them-- and once again: HOME RUN!

   That recipe gave me an idea to make regular lasagna using flour tortillas instead of the lasagna noodles. Holy cow--it was by far much easier to make and it stood up better than any lasagna I have EVER made. I haven't mentioned this here yet, but I make homemade ricotta and mozzarella, and later we will delve into those techniques, but for now, just use the best ricotta and mozzarella you can find (the fewest ingredients and no chemicals on the labels).

Easy Breezy Lasagna
  • 1 lb. lean ground round
  • 1 lb. bulk Italian sausage
  • 6 flour tortillas
  • 15 oz.ricotta, drained for at least 30 minutes
  • Spaghetti sauce--Jarred,  canned, homemade--whatever you prefer --you'll need about 64 ounces,but don't dump it all in at once--use as much or as little as you prefer, but reserve about 1 cup for the top
  • 1 lb mozzarella shredded, divided
  • 1/2 lb. cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 3/4 cup good grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese, divided
  • 1/4 cup freshly chopped flat leaf parsley
  • 2 teaspoons granulated garlic, divided
  • salt and pepper
   Spray a 13 x 9 baking dish with cooking spray.
   Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

   Spray a large skillet with cooking spray. Brown ground beef and sausage meat until no longer pink. DRAIN fat from skillet. Stir in 1 teaspoon of the granulated garlic and as much of the spaghetti sauce you need to make a nice gloppy mixture, not runny, but not stiff. You want to still have about 1 cup of sauce left. Salt & pepper to taste if you want.

   In a separate bowl mix the ricotta with the parsley, the rest of the granulated garlic, 1/2 of the mozzarella, and 1/2 cup of the Pecorino, salt and pepper to your liking.

   Spread 1/2 cup (about) of the meat/tomato sauce mixture in the prepared dish. Layer two tortillas, 1/2 of the cheese, 1/2 of the balance of the meat mixture, two more tortillas, the rest of the cheese mixture, the rest of the meat, two more tortillas, spread the reserved spaghetti sauce over the top. (I usually then add about 1/4 cup of water to the dish--not on top--and sprinkle the remaining mozzarella, and Parmesan and all of the cheddar cheese on top. Cover with foil and cook for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and cook an additional 15 minutes until it is bubbly and the cheeses are browned and melted. Remove from oven and let stand 15 minutes before cutting.

   I always serve Italian dishes with a salad of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, garlic, oil and vinegar. Black olives are optional, as are croutons, and Italian bread--okay, yes I usually make it from scratch, too, but that's only if I have time..

   I found this recipe easy enough to make for not only special occasions--maybe not an after work meal, so a Saturday and definitely on a Sunday.

   Let me know how yours turns out!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Apple Spice Bread with Amish Friendship Bread Starter

 September 2011

    While the Amish Friendship bread starter thawed out on the counter I added 1 teaspoon of sugar, just to make sure it would have plenty of food to come back to life. This morning it was bubbly and smelled just perfect. I searched around and found an Apple Spice version of the Friendship bread, but, of course, you know me, I just had to alter it some more. Here's what I did:

  • 1 cup Amish FB Starter 
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (okay, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and cloves, you can use them separately and yes, freshly grate the nutmeg, or leave out the cloves, its your bread, you know?)
  • 3/4 cup chunky applesauce (my homemade)
  • 1/4 cup apple butter (my homemade)
  • 1 cup Quaker® Natural Granola Cereal (Oats, honey & Raisin)
  • 1 large apple, peeled, cored and diced
Preheat oven to 325 °F. Spray 2 loaf pans with cooking spray, then dust with sugar for a real good heavy coating.  Split batter between the two pans. Bake for 40 minutes. Test with toothpick in center, comes out clean.

   Well, it was just a little damp at 40 minutes and the sides had not started to pull away from the sides, so I just shut off the oven and left the little beauties in there for 15 minutes. The original recipe stated that it tended to be on the dry side, so I watched it carefully. When after 15 minutes sitting in the cooling oven the toothpick finally came out clean and the sides just started to pull away from the sides I pulled it out of the oven.  Please note the top was flat, not raised up in the middle like other ones have come out, but, I didn't care about that if it tastes good.  I let it cool about 15 minutes and tried a sample piece. OMG!
   It was delicious! and moist, not dry at all, and yes, it was cooked through! So there's my tip on this one. Just get it close to being done and turn the oven off, let it sit in there and check every 5 minutes until you get it to the "doneness" (don't think that is a word, but in cooking, you know what I mean) you're looking for.

   Okay, I would be remiss if I didn't remind you that in all Friendship bread preparations it is recommended to not use metal bowls or spoons. It does not, however, say anything about the loaf pans. So I used one glass and one metal, and there was no difference between the two results. Maybe someone out there with a real degree in chemistry could explain the reasoning behind the non-metal rule. Or explain why using a metal loaf pan is different than using a metal bowl or spoon. Maybe the heat has something to do with it. I don't know. Any thoughts?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Welcome! Apples Apples Apples!

 Hi, Food Fans! My name is Barbara and I will be your guide through the wonderful world of cooking:  foods, flavors, and techniques. We will experiment with all sorts of techniques, old and new, for your pleasure. We will check out new cookbooks and, well, lets just see where this takes us. Ready? Here goes.

September 2011:
    Apples...holy moly, am I up to my eyeballs in apples! When my husband and I relocated to upstate rural New York 25 years ago we began planting semi-dwarf fruit trees: apples, cherries, apricots, plums, pears, peaches, only to learn, the hard way, that our climate is not conducive for growing stone fruits. So the cherries, apricots, plums and peaches have not fared well. However, the apples and pears have gone WILD! Well, sorta.
   We had an exceptionally good spring and summer in 2011, weather wise, so we have a bumper crop of apples and pears from the 15 apple trees and four pear trees. What to do with all these apples? 
   First thing you need to know is that the trees have NEVER been sprayed with any kind of insecticide--ever. Fertilizer? Well, maybe the first few years we tended to the trees we might have, and neither of us actually remembers, used Miracle-Gro®, you know, the stuff they use to grow thousand pound pumpkins and what-not. We probably haven't fed the trees for the last 15 years--minimum. 
   We have apples of almost every type--except Granny Smith--the brother-in-law mowed the 2 trees down not once, but twice, and I admit I am not a fan of the Delicious varieties, I find them to be not-so delicious, but we do have a tree each of both red and yellow.
   I have made apple pie, applesauce, apple butter, and dried apples so far. I have just taken my Amish Friendship Bread starter out of the freezer...I will try to make one with some apples.
    I guess we'll start with The All-American Apple Pie
    The easiest apple pie I have ever made is accomplished by utilizing those nifty rolled pie crusts you buy in the dairy section of your local supermarket-- hey I never said this was going to be all homemade stuff--if you want to make your own crust, go right ahead, its your decision and your pie. If you don't have an apple-peeler-corer-slicer machine my advice is to GET ONE! Or you can do it the old fashioned way, peel the apples--use at least 2 different varieties for the best flavor.

  • 6-8 cups peeled apples, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice--prefer freshly squeezed, but don't fret if you use the bottled stuff
  • 1 cup of white sugar OR 1/4 cup packed brown and 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 2 more tablespoons of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon--yes you can grind that fresh, if you must
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg*
  • 1/2 tablespoon butter cut into little tabs
  • 1 9-inch 2 crust pie crust
  • 9-inch pie tin, plate, pan -- I usually spray it lightly with cooking spray--just to be sure it comes out
   Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare your crusts and ease the bottom into the pie plate. I add the apples to the lemon juice as I am peeling them to prevent them from getting too dark. Toss the 1 cup of sugar, flour, and spices with the apples. Pour into your pie crust. Put the tabs of butter around the top of the apple filling (that prevents the apples from foaming--something fruits do when they're getting cooked). Cover with the second crust, seal and flute**, poke the top of the crust with a fork 3 or 4 times in a spoke fashion, toward the middle, sprinkle top with the 2 tablespoons of sugar. Here you can either use a pie ring or cover the edge with foil to prevent over browning, but I usually just let it ride. Place pie on a cookie sheet to catch the drippings and put in oven. It takes about 50 minutes, sometime longer. this is not an exact science. You'll smell the apples and it will be bubbling up through the vents. If you used a glass pie dish you can look to see that the crust is browned on the bottom. If not...well next time you'll know to keep it cooking a little longer. Sorry, that's the best I can tell you. but most cooking is just one experiment after another, that's where the fun comes in!
   Let the pie cool at least 30 minutes, and longer will be even better, so the juices can tighten up a bit. I serve mine with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, while it is still quite warm, and even reheat it in a warm oven the next day for the same effect.

Okay, now let's address the *'rd items:

* 1/8 freshly ground nutmeg--okay you can use the ground stuff you have hiding in the back of your pantry, but trust me, freshly grinding whole nutmeg is by far superior to even a brand new can of the store bought ground stuff. I use a rasp and just rub the whole nutmeg over the bowl, the aroma is divine, and just eyeball the measurement. Its all good.

** seal and flute: To seal the pie, gently fold the top crust over the edge of the bottom crust, and press together. Yes there will be a double layer of crust, all the more to flute! As for fluting I use my fingers this way: with the pie in front of me, I use my right index finger to push the dough gently between my left thumb and index finger, into a point. Viola! that's all there is to it. See simple. I told you!

Let me know how yours comes out!