Sunday, November 28, 2010

Italian Turkey Soup

 Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving weekend!  We had a very delicious holiday that I managed to forget to take pictures of EVERYTHING.  Guess I was too busy enjoying the weekend.  Oh well. Last night, we had a previous recipe, Chicken Wild Rice Soup (but with turkey, of course!). I'm not sure how many of you still have leftover turkey, but this recipe for Italian turkey soup another very un-Thanksgiving recipe to maybe help use up the last of it.  And, in case you don't, it's also good with chicken or ground turkey!

 Italian Turkey Soup 
Serves 6-8
1 20 oz. package lean ground turkey or 2 cups leftover shredded cooked chicken or turkey
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
6 cups chicken broth (about three 15 oz cans), or turkey broth
1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes with basil and garlic (undrained)
1 15 oz. can white beans drained and rinsed
1 8 oz. package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained (or a couple big handfuls of fresh spinach)
2 cups frozen or refrigerated cheese tortellini or mini ravioli
2 tablespoons pesto (optional)
shredded parmesan cheese for garnish

In large soup pot, brown ground turkey (or if using precooked meat, skip to next step).  Season with salt, pepper, garlic and herbs.  Once turkey is browned, pour in chicken broth, can of tomatoes and beans.  Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes over medium-low heat.  Add tortellini and simmer another 7-8 minutes or until tortellini is cooked through.  Stir in spinach and simmer a couple more minutes until spinach is heated through.  If using, swirl in pesto right before serving. Pass shredded Parmesan cheese for sprinkling on top.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Pecan Pie Bars

Oh. My. Word.  In the spirit of Thanksgiving's arrival, I thought I would post a recipe that you should definitely try for the holiday, Pecan Pie Bars.  They're like pecan pie you can eat with your hands.  'Nuff said.  Actually, that's not true, I must also add that they are pure, sweet, chewy, evil deliciousness that I try to slow down my consumption of by putting the leftovers in the freezer only to discover that they taste fantastic frozen as well.  Instead of a pie crust, this recipe uses a boxed cake mix, which makes for an amazing texture.  You will never want to use yellow cake mix for another purpose.  Ever. Again. 

What dish are you looking forward to for Thanksgiving?

Pecan Pie Bars
1 box yellow cake mix
1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter, melted
1 egg
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter, melted
2 eggs
1 tablespoon flour
1 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups halved pecans (or chopped pecans)
Whipped Topping for serving, optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a large bowl, mix together cake mix, butter and egg with electric mixer until well combined.  Mixture will be very stiff.  Press into a 9x13" baking pan.  Bake for about 20 minutes or until crust starts to become golden brown.

Meanwhile, prepare filling.  In same bowl (no need to clean the bowl or beaters!), combine sugar, eggs and butter.  Mix thoroughly.  Add flour, milk and vanilla extract and mix again until well combined.  Stir in pecans.  Pour filling mixture on top of crust.  Bake an additional 20-25 minutes or until filling is set but is still wobbly like jello.  Allow to cool before slicing into bars.  Top with whipped topping, if desired.

Notes: This recipe is inspired by "The Cake Mix Doctor."  In her recipe, the filling calls for corn syrup.  I did not avoid corn syrup on principle (I just didn't have it), but if you like to make your pecan pie filling with corn syrup (and half the fat, hence once less stick of butter), here's her filling recipe.  I have made them both ways and I have noticed that this filling recipe is definitely stickier but other than that, haven't noticed much difference.  Either way, in the words of Martha Stewart, "they're a good thing."

3/4 cup dark corn syrup
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans or pecan halves
Mix all ingredients except for pecans until well combined.  Stir in pecans.  Continue as followed above.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Migas, or really delicious Tex-Mex style eggs

Migas, which translates to "crumbs" is a Tex-Mex style dish that is the perfect way to use up those leftover, broken tortilla chips in the bottom of the bag (seeing as how frequently my husband goes through chips and salsa, we always seem to have).  The chips, when mixed with scrambled eggs, salsa and cheese make for an absolutely heavenly combination.  I had read about the concept on a couple different blogs and one night last week when we were fending for ourselves decided to give making them a try.  I was very glad I did.  Even the husband (who was skeptical at first) was very impressed.  Apparently, they're a breakfast staple in Austin, but seeing as I've never been there, I wouldn't know.  What I do know, however, is that this is a simple and fantastic dish that is perfect for breakfast, lunch or dinner. 

(serves one)
cooking spray
1/4 cup pico de gallo, salsa, (or combination of finely diced onion, peppers and tomatoes)
1/2 cup crushed tortilla chips, plus more for garnish
2 eggs, well beaten and seasoned with salt and pepper to taste

1/4 cup shredded cheese (Mexican blend or colby-jack recommended)
chopped cilantro for garnish

In a small saute pan coated with cooking spray over medium heat, combine pico de gallo or salsa and crushed tortilla chip.  Stir to combine.  Pour in eggs and allow to set, folding ever so gently (do not stir and only fold as infrequently as possible.  Basically, you just want to push a section of eggs once they've set toward the middle and then tilt the pan so that the runny part gets to run onto the pan) until eggs are fully set but not dried out.  Sprinkle cheese over top of eggs, reduce heat to low and cover just until cheese melts (1-2 minutes).  Remove from pan and transfer to a plate.  Top with more crushed tortilla chips and chopped cilantro to garnish.  

Sunday, November 14, 2010

"Make Shift" Mu Shu Pork with Broccoli Slaw

When I was growing up, we almost never ate out at restaurants (having five kids in the family makes dining out a bit of a challenge financially and logistically).  What we did do for special occasions, however, was get Asian takeout.  Although we usually got Vietnamese or Thai food, occasionally we would get Chinese and when we did, my mom especially loved to order mu shu pork.  It's a little unique, because it's one of the few dishes not served over rice.  Instead, you get to enjoy a tortilla-like pancake brushed with smoky-sweet plum or hoisin sauce and topped with a mixture of stir fried pork and vegetables.  Delicious!

A few nights back, I was trying to come up with something to use up a bag of broccoli slaw.  When Googling "Broccoli slaw," all that came up was recipes to make it into a salad (go figure).  Then, I remembered the mu shu pork of my childhood and felt inspired.  Although the recipe is far from authentic, it turned out so delicious that my four year old (who sat at the table crying for an hour the other night because he didn't want to try his broccoli cheese soup) even wanted the leftovers for lunch the next day!  To make things even easier, you can try substituting flour tortillas for the Mandarin pancakes (really, they don't take too much effort, give them a try!).

Make Shift Mu Shu Pork
serves 4
2 thick cut pork loin chops (about 3/4 pound), trimmed of fat at sliced into thin, bite-sized strips
3/4 cup your favorite bottled stir fry sauce (SoyVay or Trader Joe's Soy Yaki suggested)
2 eggs, well-beaten
salt and pepper
cooking spray
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and minced
4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
4 green onions, white and green parts, sliced
1 bag broccoli slaw (or substitute coleslaw mix)
 cup your favorite bottled stir fry sauce (SoyVay or Trader Joe's Soy Yaki suggested)
1/4 cup hoisin or plum sauce

Directions: If making your own pancakes (see recipe below), make ahead of time and warm just before serving.
Stir together strips of pork and 1/4 cup of stir fry sauce.  Set aside and allow to marinate for about 30 minutes.  In a large skillet over medium-high heat sprayed with cooking spray, scramble eggs seasoned with salt and pepperl.  Once cooked through, remove from the skillet and set aside.  Add 1/2 tablespoon oil and over medium-high heat, stir fry pork until no longer pink.  Remove pork and add to scrambled eggs.  Wipe out pan with a paper towel and add remaining oil.  Over medium high heat, stir fry garlic, ginger and green onions stirring frequently until fragrant and onions are softened (about 1 minute).  Add slaw mix and stir fry for an additional few minutes or until vegetables are beginning to soften but are still crisp-tender.  Add remaining stir fry sauce, scrambled eggs and pork back to the pan and cook just until heated through.

To serve, spread a small amount of hoisin sauce on pancake or tortilla, top with a couple spoonfuls of pork mixture and fold to eat like a soft taco.  It is helpful to fold the bottom part of the pancake up so the filling doesn't escape!   Also, it truly isn't "mu shu" without mushrooms, I didn't have any that night (and honestly, we didn't miss them).  If you're wanting to be more authentic, though, go ahead and add some sliced mushrooms (preferably a shitake or wood ear type) while stir frying the veggies.

Mandarin Mu Shu Pancakes (or can use flour tortillas)
makes 16 small pancakes
(from Cooking Light)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup boiling water
1 1/2 tablespoons dark sesame oil

Lightly spoon the flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour and water in a large bowl. Stir until a soft dough forms. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead until smooth and elastic (about 3 minutes). Shape the dough into a 1 1/2-inch-thick log. Divide the dough into 16 equal portions. Roll each dough portion into a 6-inch circle on a lightly floured surface. Brush 8 pancakes evenly with oil. Top each with one of the remaining pancakes, gently pressing together.
Heat a medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Place 1 pancake stack in pan, and cook 1 minute on each side or until slightly puffed. Remove from pan, and cool. Peel pancakes apart.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Cream Puffs with Vanilla Pastry Cream and Chocolate Ganache

Do not be intimidated!  I am here to tell you that making your own cream puffs is not only do-able, but more simple than you can imagine.  Not quite as simple as picking up the frozen box from Costco, but more delicious and certainly more impressive.  Additionally, in this post you receive additional ideas for each component of these little treats.

Included here is the recipe for the light and airy, cream puff pastry (not only can you fill this with sweet things like pastry cream, pudding, whipped cream etc., you can also put chicken, egg or tuna salad for a savory use as well!), the rich and creamy, pastry cream (as featured in a post on September 7th), and finally, an insanely easy preparation for a velvety chocolate ganache topping (I dare you to not feel fancy using chocolate ganache!  Another item whose use is not limited to topping cream puffs--try it on top of brownies and cake or use the hardened ganache as the center of homemade truffles). 

Cream Puffs

Cream Puff Pastry  (Choux Pastry)
(adapted from Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything")
1 cup water
1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter
pinch salt
1 cup (about 4 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
4 eggs

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Combine water, butter and salt in a medium sauce pan: turn the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil.  Cook, stirring, until the butter melts (almost immediately).  Add flour in all at once and cook, stirring constantly, until dough holds together in a ball (1-2 minutes).  Remove from heat (also transfer dough to a bowl if you can't use beaters in your pan).

Add the eggs one at a time, beating hard after each addition (can be done by hand but much easier with an electric mixer).  Stop beating when mixture is glossy.

Pipe mounds of cream puff pastry onto a lightly greased baking sheet or use two spoons to form mounds of desired size (pastry will puff up to about 3 times its size, for mini cream puffs, make mounds about 1-2 teaspoons, for bigger servings, 1-2 tablespoons).

Use fingers dipped in water to smooth out the mounds, if desired.

Bake for 20-40 minutes, depending on size of cream puffs.  When done, they will be very puffy, golden brown and hollow sounding when tapped.  Prick each with a skewer to let steam escape and allow to cool to room temperature.

Use a pastry tube to pipe filling into each cream puff or simply cut off top, spoon in filling and replace the cap. 

If desired, top with chocolate ganache.

Pastry Cream Filling
(can also fill cream puffs with sweetened whipped cream or prepared pudding of your choice--use a cook and serve or packaged pudding cups for the quickest fix!)

2 cups milk
1/2 cup sugar, divided
pinch salt
3 tablespoons corn starch
3 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla

In a medium sauce-pan, combine milk, 1/4 cup of sugar and salt.  Bring milk to a simmer over medium heat, stirring frequently. 

While milk is coming to a simmer, combine remaining sugar and egg yolks in a medium bowl.  Stir in corn starch, one tablespoon at a time, until fully incorporated and mixture is thick and lemon-colored. 

Slowly add a ladle-full of steaming milk to egg mixture, stirring constantly, to help temper the egg mixture (brings up the temperature of the egg mixture slowly so you don't get scrambled egg yolks).  Continue to add remaining milk, slowly and stirring constantly.  When all of milk is added, return entire mixture to the sauce-pan and stirring constantly, bring to a boil over medium heat.  Allow to boil (still stirring) for 1-2 minutes or until mixture is thick.  Remove from heat.  Stir in vanilla. 

Pour pastry cream into a shallow dish and place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface to keep from forming a skin on the top.  Allow to fully chill in the fridge.

You can also use pastry cream recipe for cream pies and other pastries!

Chocolate Ganache
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 cup good quality chocolate chips or bar chocolate chopped into small pieces

In a small, microwave-safe, bowl, heat heavy cream until it comes to simmer (about 30 seconds-1 minute--watch very closely so it doesn't boil over!).  Remove from microwave and stir in chocolate.  Stir constantly until chocolate is fully melted and mixture becomes thick and shiny.  Immediately spoon (or dip the cream puffs upside down into the ganache) on top of pastries.  You can also use it to top cakes and brownies!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Lighter Zuppa Toscana (Sausage Potato Soup)

Back when I was in college, I was a server at the Olive Garden.  After all the time spent there, I can still say that I never grew tired of their famous soup, salad and bread sticks.  One of their signature soups is a creamy potato and sausage soup they call Zuppa Toscana.  I never knew the real recipe, but I had the feeling that it would be right up my dad's alley (the man loves him some potato soup) and worked to recreate it for him some time ago.  Since then, I have found it to be a crowd favorite.  And who can blame them?  Warm, substantial, a little bit spicy and creamy all at the same time.  It comes together quite quickly which is a nice bonus.  Add it to the lineup for one these chilly fall nights! 

Zuppa Toscana Clone (Sausage Potato Soup)
3/4-1 pound bulk Italian sausage (see notes)
1 medium onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
4 cups chicken broth
4 medium russet potatoes, scrubbed and sliced as thinly and evenly as possible (see note)
salt and pepper to taste
crushed red pepper (optional)
2 cups whole milk
1/2 bunch kale (about 4 loose cups), washed, ribs removed and leaves torn into pieces

In a large pot, over medium-high heat, brown sausage until cooked through.  Remove from pot and set aside.  Drain off all but one tablespoon of grease (reserve in pot).  Add onion and saute for 2-3 minutes or until onion is softened.  Add garlic and saute about 1 more minute, stirring frequently.  Add chicken broth, sausage and potato slices to pot.  Raise heat to high and allow to come to a boil.  Lower heat, cover and cook until potato slices are tender but not yet falling apart (about 15 minutes).  Remove cover, stir in milk and allow to warm through.  Adjust seasonings with salt, fresh ground black pepper and crushed red pepper.  Just before serving, stir in torn kale, allowing it to wilt just slightly. 

Notes: On the Italian sausage, feel free to use hot, mild or a combination of both.  If you cannot find bulk sausage, buy the links and just squish the sausage out from the casings (totally gross, but kind of enjoyable).  You can also substitute turkey sausage for a lower fat option.

For the potatoes, leave the skin on.  This is a place where it's really nice to use a mandolin or a food processor to get a really nice thin and even slice from the potato but if don't let that stop you, it can be done by hand or on a box grater as well.

Finally, the restaurant recipe has bacon in it as well.  I prefer not to put it in, but if you would like, add a few tablespoons of precooked bacon pieces to the soup before serving. 

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Shortcut Dessert: Jam Thumbprint Cookies

It's that time of year again.  Time for the annual cookie exchanges.  Now, as much as I'd love to say that I slave over baking treats, it's not exactly true.  I don't remember if I've said this before on here, but I am definitely not a baker first.  Baking requires precision and measuring, two things I'm not especially fond of because I lack patience (and am always looking for ways to cut down on dirty dishes).  Thank heaven for boxed mixes.  This cookie recipe (and another I'm sure I'll share soon!) starts with a boxed mix and can be put together in single bowl but feels special enough for the holidays.  As long as you keep them on the under baked side, they're soft and squishy (my ideal cookie is always soft and squishy), almond-flavored sugar cookies with a little jam jewel in each center.  Bake up and exchange away (or keep them all to yourself)!

Short Cut Jam Thumbprint Cookies
1 box sugar cookie mix (suggested brand, Krusteaz)
1 egg
1 stick of butter, softened
1 teaspoon almond extract (or can substitute vanilla extract)
1/2 cup favorite flavor of jam or preserves (the classics would be raspberry or apricot)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  In a bowl, combine egg, butter and extract.  Stir in cookie mix to form a soft dough.  Drop by small spoonfuls (about 2 teaspoons) onto a cookie sheet placing dough about 2 inches apart.  Using a (clean) thumb, press down on the middle of the dough ball to form a little indentation.  Put a small spoonful (1-2 teaspoons) of jam in the middle of each indentation.  Bake at 375 just until cookies are set, 8-10 minutes. 

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Sweet Potato Shepherd's Pie

In the checkout lane of several grocery stores, I have been referred to as the "weird produce girl."  I frequently challenge the checker in his/her memory of obscure produce codes.  What can I say?  I've never met a vegetable I haven't liked (unless you count parsley, which I would consider an herb--hate that grassy-tasting stuff!).

I definitely find joy in buying some of the more overlooked vegetables, such as the root vegetables featured in this recipe.  Winter is the season for root vegetables, i.e. vegetables that grow under the ground (look for them for around a dollar a pound).  Today, I want to share them with you in a Shepherd's Pie.  Filling and comforting, think of this dish as the "Snuggy" among entrees.  Tender vegetables and savory ground meat all cozy under a blanket of mashed potatoes (in this case, a mixture of both sweet and regular potatoes--if you do all sweet potatoes, it feels a little too cloyingly sweet like perhaps it should be covered in marshmallows and featured next to the roast turkey). 

A Small Primer in Root Vegetables:
 Rutabaga: (also known as "swede") firm, round, yellow-fleshed and ranging in shape and size from a baseball to softball, was originally a cross between a turnip and cabbage.  It has a bit of a cabbage taste.
Turnip: similar in size and shape to the rutabaga, mild flavor, firm texture, white with purple near the top.
Parsnip: looks like a white carrot with an extra long root, a bit sweeter and more intensely flavored than a carrot.
Carrot: hopefully, we are all familiar with the humble carrot

Sweet Potato Shepherd's Pie
serves a lot -- 6-8 hungry folks
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic
1/2 pound lean ground hamburger or turkey
2 tablespoons ketchup
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 large carrots, peeled and diced into bite-sized pieces
2 small rutabagas (about 1/2 pound), peeled and diced
2 small turnips (about 1/2 pound), peeled and diced
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup frozen peas3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
2 medium white (I used plain, ol' russet) potatoes, peeled and diced
3 tablespoons butter, divided
1/4 cup milk
2 tablespoons shredded Parmesan cheese

In a large pot over medium high heat, saute onion in olive oil for 2-3 minutes or until it starts to become translucent.  Add garlic and cook for 1 more minute, stirring frequently, or until garlic becomes fragrant.  Add ground meat and allow to cook until no longer pink.  Stir in ketchup and Worcestershire sauce.  Toss in diced carrot, rutabega and turnips and stir to combine.  Add broth and bring to a boil.  Cover, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until root vegetables become tender (about 30-45 minutes, depending on the size of the pieces).  Remove lid, raise heat and allow to simmer uncovered to allow most of liquid to evaporate.  Once most of the liquid is gone, add 1 tablespoon butter and frozen peas.  Stir to combine and remove from heat.

Meanwhile, to make mashed potatoes, place diced sweet potatoes and white potatoes in a medium-sized pot.  Add water to cover and 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and cover, simmering until potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork (about 20 minutes).  Drain water and add 2 tablespoons butter and milk.  Mash, with a potato masher (or for fluffier texture, whip with a hand-held electric mixer).  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

To assemble, preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Spoon meat and vegetable mixture (really, it's a stew, right?) into a baking dish (or you can be especially cute and put into individual ramekins.  Spoon mashed potato mixture on top of vegetable mixture.  Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese (you can also stir some cheese into the mashed potatoes if that floats your boat).  Bake at 400 degrees for about 5 minutes or until cheese is melted and top is starting to brown.