Thursday, March 27, 2014

Spring Is Late? Have Some Stuffed Pepper Soup

There's no use complaining about the weather, is there?  Still, we do.

After living in western Pennsylvania for most of my life, I should be used to long and cold  winters. And I guess I am.

Usually, come February, I ache to be able to mow the yard or weed the garden. (Let's see if I remember that in June.)

And now it's the end of March, and we're still mucking frozen horse sh*t in the barn every morning and pounding frozen water out of the drinking buckets.

Enough is enough. It has been one, l-o-o-o-n-g winter. And so, we complain. Mr. Rosemary said:
   "We just have two seasons: winter and non-winter."
Let's just suck it up and remind ourselves that spring will come. Or maybe we'll just go straight into summer.

At any rate, these cold days are great excuses to make hearty, comforting soups -- like this stuffed pepper soup.

I have to admit, I'd never made stuffed pepper soup before, mostly because Mr. Rosemary isn't a fan of stuffed peppers in the first place. I reasoned, though, if he likes chili, he's got to like this, too.

He loved it. And while it was good,  I thought it needed a little something more. I've been advised, though, not to change a thing.

And so I won't.


Stuffed Pepper Soup
adapted from All Recipes
makes about 8 servings

2 pounds ground beef (or turkey; I used a mix of ground beef and venison)
1 green pepper, chopped
1 sweet onion, chopped
1 15 ounce can tomato sauce                     }I used the equivalent of my own
1 15 ounce can diced tomatoes, with juice  }tomato sauce which is pretty chunky!
2 cups beef broth
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon soy sauce
2 cups cooked white rice
Shredded cheddar cheese, for serving

In a soup pot or Dutch oven, brown the meat over medium heat for about 5 minutes and drain off any fat.

Add the chopped pepper and onion and cook for 3 to 5 minutes until the they're softened.  Add all the remaining ingredients -- except the rice -- and simmer, covered for at least 20 or 30 minutes. Then add the cooked rice and heat through. Serve topped with shredded cheddar cheese.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Green Soup for a Post Valentine's Day Cure

If you were looking for any kind of chocolate, red velvet, caramel-ly, sugary, sweet something on the internet these past couple weeks, you sure didn't have to go very far. The world has been having one major love affair with Valentine's treats.

I'm still doing battle with the love handles my Christmas indulgences fed!

I  had my share of sweet treats this past weekend, so now it's back to a more healthy routine. Although I'm not exactly saintly about it, I am going to the gym at least three days a week and eating more mindfully.

Still, it's taking more effort than it used to. No one ever warned me about the toll a slowing metabolism would have on my waistline. The experts recommend an hour of exercise a day for a woman my age just to maintain weight. I still want to shed a few!

Losing weight is always a problem for someone like me who likes to cook  -- and who likes to eat! This metabolism thing is pretty aggravating.

So as a public service, I'm offering you this gem of a green soup as a great way to -- yes, get your greens -- get filled up and still have the satisfaction of cooking and stirring and concocting great food.

I  have to admit I was surprised how much I really, really like this soup. It's more than good for you. It really does taste good. And it's fun to make. And that's important to a cook.

Slowly caramelizing the onions is key to the soup.

The secret is the slow preparation of the onions which, aside from the greens themselves and a handful of rice, are the only thing that add bulk to the soup. That, plus the zing of a bit of cayenne and a splash of lemon juice, makes it special.

I was a slow convert to this green soup. My sister convinced me. She's a great cook and I trust her instincts -- and taste.

After one trial, I was hooked. I'm usually a little slow at joining popular food trends. By the time I'm catching on, the fad is passe.

I know that green smoothies are very popular, for instance. But they have no appeal to me because I'm more of a soup lover. Warm it up and I'll have it. Eating cold, pureed greens -- even sweetened with fruit -- just isn't for me.
The green soup pre-puree!

This green soup, however, is one that's going to be a new classic in my kitchen.  (Note that I have not included Mr. Rosemary as a new fan.)

You do need an immersion blender to simplify the making of this soup. You can use a regular blender, but that really complicates things and makes too many dishes to clean up for just a soup. Get an immersion blender, please.

Anna Thomas created the recipe and says that you should get the soup perfectly smooth. I've never been able to get it perfectly smooth.I also tried to make a picture of my soup garnished with olive oil, as in the picture below. But my drizzle ended up looking like a silly smiley face, so I nixed it.The only substitution I made was using kale instead of chard. I do imagine that any kind of green, or mix of greens, would be great.

Did I mention that there's only 99 calories for a 1 1/2 cup serving? You're welcome.

Now, off to the gym . . . .

Basic Green Soup Recipe
photo from Eating Well

Basic Green Soup
slightly adapted from Eating Well 
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 large yellow onions, chopped
1 teaspoon salt, divided
2 tablespoons plus 3 cups water, divided
1/4 1 big bunch kale, about 1 pound, thick stalks trimmed
14 cups gently packed baby spinach (about a 12 ounce bag)
4 cups vegetable broth
1/4 cup arborio rice
Big pinch of cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon lemon juice, or more, if you like

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add the chopped onions and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions begin to brown, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, add 2 tablespoons water and cover. Cook, stirring frequently until the pan cools down, and then occasionally, always covering the pan again, until the onions are greatly reduced and have a deep caramel color, 25 to 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, combine the remaining 3 cups water and 3/4 teaspoon salt in a soup pot. Add the rice and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook for 15 minutes.
When the rice has cooked for 15 minutes, add the trimmed kale greens. Return to a simmer,; cover and cook for 10 minutes. When the onions have caramelized, add them to the rice, along with the spinach, broth and cayenne pepper. Return to a simmer, cover and cook, stirring once, until the spinach is tender but still bright green, about 5 minutes more.
Puree the soup in the pot with an immersion blender, or in a regular blender in batches. Stir in the lemon juice. Taste and add more lemon juice if you'd like. Garnish each serving of soup with a drizzle of olive oil

Makes about 8 servings, 1 1/2 cups each

Friday, January 31, 2014

Cosmic Snow Rollers | Quick Chicken Chili

When we looked out into the yard last Monday morning, we were astounded by the sight of  "snow rollers," although at the time we didn't know what they were. The entire yard, all our fields, were dotted with balls of snow of all sizes. We theorized as we walked to and from the barn to feed the horses (in the sub-zero temperatures) that "That sure must have been some wind last night" and "Look how this one just rolled down the hill!"

As we learned during the day, this was indeed a rare phenomenon, one that occurs only when all the perfect meteorological conditions exist at the same time. As I drove into town later that morning, it was absolutely breathtaking to see that the entire area had been sprinkled with these ethereal looking snow masses.

Some people likened them to rolls of toilet paper, or bales of hay. I thought they looked like cannoli, ready to be filled with sweetened ricotta and speckled with chocolate.  I read that this has only happened once before in Pennsylvania, and that was 10 years ago. (I must have been sleeping.)

It has been one weird and terribly frigid January -- the coldest in a century, I read -- and I for one will be anxious to hear the groundhog's report this weekend. Spring can't be soon enough.

The good thing about this kind of weather is that it demands comfort food and I had a craving for chicken chili. I've made a version of this several times, but I wanted to hurry things along. So I found a quick version in a back issue of Cooking Light. (I'm in the midst of whittling my "I'm sure I'll use them some day" pile of cooking magazines down. It's a slow but very enjoyable task. This could take a while.)

With a few changes made possible by my pantry contributions, I had this chili ready in less than 20 minutes.
And then I carried my bowl into the living room and sat by the fire. Winter can be good.

Quick Chicken Chili
adapted from Cooking Light

1 tablespoon grape seed oil
1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into bite-size pieces
1/2 cup chopped onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
2 15-ounce cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 15-ounce can creamed corn
1 cup water
2 4-ounce cans chopped green chilies, undrained
1 whole fresh jalapeno, chopped (ribs, seeds, and all!)
1 14-ounce can chicken broth

  • Heat a soup pot over medium high heat. Add oil. 
  • Add chicken and saute about 4 minutes.
  • Add onion, garlic, cumin, oregano and red pepper; saute 3 minutes.
  • Add 1 can of the beans, the can of creamed corn, the water, 1 can of the chilies, the fresh jalapeno and the broth.
  • Bring to a boil.
  • Mash the second can of beans with the second can of chilies in a bowl with a fork. (Or puree in a food processor.) Add to the soup and simmer 5 minutes.

Makes about 6 servings

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Cold Cauliflower Nivernais Salad (and Benson & Hedges)

Although promotional cookbooks still exist, none can compare in quality and class to those produced by the masters: Benson & Hedges. Their marketing people were geniuses. They managed to commandeer the cooking prowess of the likes of James Beard to partner with them in creating honestly great cookbooks!

For those non-smokers (or youngsters!), Benson & Hedges is a brand of cigarette originally produced in Great Britain. When Philip Morris bought the brand in the 1960's and extended the length of the cigarette to 100 millimeters and put their marketing machine to work, a bold marketing campaign was unleashed and we benefited from these cookbooks!

The cookbook I got this cauliflower recipe from, "Recipes from Great American Country Inns," was part of a pile of cookbooks my sister gave me. Another cookbook collector, my sister was dividing her spoils with me after a friend of hers (another addict, to be sure) cleaned house.

I picked this recipe because the page was dog-eared. I figured someone else must have liked it. While it was good, it wasn't a bell-ringer, just a nice mild accompaniment to a spicy dish.I would like to try the Peanut Soup from the Wayside Inn, in Middletown, Virginia. Or maybe the Braised Lamb Shanks, from The Golden Lamb in Lebanon, Ohio.

So how does my version compare with the pro's?

By the way, "Nivernais," for the French-challenged like myself (despite four years of study) is a former province of France. I'm not sure what makes it "Nivernais" or even French. Is it the mustard? The cream? I know I have difficulty trying to name something I've created. A geographic appellation is often used but I can't imagine naming anything I've created "a la Fisher," my little village!

Cold Cauliflower Salad Nivernais
from Three Village Inn, Long Island, New York
via Benson & Hedges "Recipes from Great American Country Inns"
Makes 6 servings
4 cups cauliflowerets (1 medium head)
2/3 cup mayonnaise
3 tablespoons sour cream
2 tablespoons Dijon-style mustard
1 tablespoon cream
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
Lettuce -- your choice
Pimiento or red pepper strip and chopped parsley for garnish

Cook the cauliflower in boiling salted water for 5 to 6 minutes. Drain and cool slightly.
Combine the mayonnaise, sour cream, mustard, cream , lemon juice and salt. Toss with cauliflower and chill.
To serve, toss with torn lettuce leaves and garnish with the pepper and parsley.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Merry Christmas Cranberry Salad

I have never been much of a cranberry fan. Or a Jello fan either. I must harbor strange childhood memories:

  • A family holiday tradition was making a cranberry relish that had only three ingredients -- freshly ground whole cranberries and whole oranges, sweetened by as much sugar as you wanted (or not.) The grinding was fun, but I really didn't like the texture of the relish. My adult senses are wiser.
  • I distrusted any food that you could see through. Or that jiggled. I didn't think it was fun food;  it just reminds me of bad school cafeteria fare. Although cafeteria food has much improved, I do believe Jello is still a staple. I would eat it only to strengthen my nails.
This salad was different. It has been the regular contribution of a family to our annual church Christmas dinner. Last year I was so bold as to ask the man (who I didn't know too well) for the recipe. He immediately began rattling off the precise measurements.

"Wait a minute, wait a minute, Dave," I said. "Let me get a pen!" I was really surprised that the recipe had Jello in it; although I wondered as I was writing things down, if plain gelatin and fruit juice would be a good way to make this. But first, try it as written. I did . . . and I still liked it.

After I thanked him and started walking away, Dave, the retired accountant, said, "You know, it's not a cheap salad to make." and then he began itemizing the cost of each ingredient. Even the math-challenged me recognized that it wasn't a bargain. But it is Christmas, after all, and generosity prevails.

When I asked what his family called it, he just shrugged and said, "We always just called it Christmas salad."

So that's what we'll call it here.

Christmas Cranberry Salad
3 cups whole cranberries
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 large package raspberry Jello (any red flavor will do)
1 cup grapes, seeded and halved
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup crushed pineapple, undrained

Cook the cranberries over medium heat  until they have popped. Add the sugar and Jello and stir until dissolved. Remove from stove-top and cool until the mixture starts to thicken; then add the grapes, walnuts and pineapple. Chill  until ready to serve.

Merry Christmas to you and yours . .  and best wishes for a happy new year!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Pickled Brussels Sprouts and Pantry Envy

If I was upset that the blight spoiled  the garden's tomato crop this year, the Brussels sprouts more than compensated for it by nearly over-achieving. We had a small forest of mini-palm trees growing well into October, though they might have lasted through a couple frosts, if we hadn't been so eager to get "winter-ready."

I've grown to love Brussels sprouts, even though as a kid the mushy, smelly little cabbage heads had no appeal for me. (Little sister Rita, however, has always loved them; I happily gave her my share.)

I thought it was just the fact that my taste had matured that changed my outlook on Brussels sprouts. But I learned that there's a scientific reason that Brussels sprouts have become more fashionable: Breeding research conducted in the Netherlands about 30 years ago resulted in less bitterness and improved health benefits. This led to increased cultivation and a surge in the vegetable's popularity.

If you'd like to read more about Brussels sprouts, try a nice article about Brussels sprouts that called them "The Unexpected Culinary Swan."

Discovering different ways of preparing Brussels sprouts has to account for its increased popularity, too. It used to be that boiling or steaming them was the only way we knew to prepare them. Now, since they are less bitter, sauteing and roasting, even raw in salads, have become increasingly popular, and infinitely tastier, ways of cooking Brussels sprouts. My favorite way to cook sprouts is roasting, although this recipe is darn good.)

Although I love the sprouts fresh, I'm not too fond of them frozen. I did freeze a few quarts  this year, but despite the fact I blanched them briefly, put them in an ice water bath, and drained them well before vacuum sealing them they're just not as good as fresh.

Since I had this bumper crop then, I had to come up with another way to preserve some of this bounty. The answer: Pickling!

My neighbor Dude (Yes, it's the real name of my 70 something neighbor; has been since he was 8 years old!) cans quite a lot. Fresh vegetables, pickled vegetables, soups, stews, just lots of stuff.  I knew he did because we swap garden stories all spring and summer.

But it wasn't until he took me to visit his pantry that I realized just how much he did can. Just take a look at this . . . .

And this . . . .

I always get a sweet sense of satisfaction when I go to my basement and see my little jars of garden treasures, glistening like jewels under the light. But my little store pales by comparison to Dude's mother lode! See why I have a twinge of pantry envy?

Do I dare take a jar of my pickled Brussels sprouts to Dude? Will he laugh?

Pickled Brussels Sprouts
from Edible Wisconsin
makes 3 pints
This is a small batch but worth it. These sprouts have a tang with a hit of hot. A nice addition to a relish tray . . . or maybe a Bloody Mary! they're best used whole, but you can halve large ones.

! 1/2 pounds Brussels, sprouts (about 6 cups)
1 1/2 cups cider vinegar
1 1/2 cups water
4 teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon cardamom seeds
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon whole peppercorns
3 garlic cloves, sliced

Sterilize 3 pint-sized canning jars and lids

Bring a large pot of water to boil and blanch Brussels sprouts for about 2 minutes. Immediately drain and submerge in ice water to cool.

Meanwhile, combine vinegar, water, salt and suagr in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.

Turn down heat and boil for about 3 minutes, stirring until salt and saugar are dissolved. Turn off heat.

Drain Brussels sprouts and pack evenly among the three jars. EVenly distibute the spices andgarlic among the jars, too.

Carefully pour the brine in the jars to 1/2 inch below the top of the jars. Screw on lids.

For refrigerator pickles, let cool to room temeprature then put in fridge. Wait a few days before opening (if you can.) Should keep about one month in the fridge.

For canned pickles, process the jars in a boiling hot water bath for 10 minutes. Remove and let cool. Wait a few days before opening. Will keep indefinitely.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Pumpkin Spice Crunch Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Filling -- A Mouthful of a Story!

Some of us are bakers and some of us are cooks. Few of us are really good at both. (Although I know quite a few who are!) And then there are some -- like me -- who refuse to admit that it doesn't make any sense that a good cook can't be a good baker -- so I continue to bake, mistake after mistake, failure after failure.

And once in a blue moon a mistake blooms into a roaring success! Case in point: these cupcakes.

It's a long story; I'll (try to) keep it short.  Since cheesecake is one dessert I can bake successfully time after time, I planned to make one for my sister-in-law's birthday party. A maple walnut cheesecake, to be precise. (It was scrumptious.)

But even cutting it into 16 pieces wouldn't be enough for the expected crowd, so I planned to make cupcakes, too. Not ordinary cupcakes, mind you. The "creative" baker in me was going to experiment. In cooking, that's not something I'm unaccustomed to doing. Baking? Another story.

I had some canned pumpkin pie filling lurking in the pantry. (A mistake purchase; meant to grab plain ol' pumpkin. Got the "filling" instead in a blind reach.) Found a cake recipe that called for using pumpkin pie filling. So far, so good. But to make it special, to put my imprint on it, I decided to fill the cupcakes with cream cheese, a method I'd used several times making these pumpkin cream cheese muffins.

I made a couple other additions, subtractions, deletions to the original recipe, and popped these babies in the oven.

Testing for doneness was a little tricky for me, because of the creamy filling and the crunchy topping. So I trusted my own experience with my oven and took them out two minutes early. I let them cool just a bit. Still warm,  I tore one apart to test. "Hmmm," I say to self, "still too gooey. Either they're not done, or just still warm."

Although panic had not yet set in -- the gathering was still a few  hours away -- I was stymied for Plan B. Just then, the phone rang. It was my friend Susie suggesting that she bake something extra for the birthday. Was she psychic? Had she eavesdropped on my near-panic? What a godsend! Hallelujahs all over the place! Bless you, Susie! I did not tell her my tale of baking woe and simply said, "Great idea!"

Later that evening, everyone was delighted with both my cheesecake and Susie's spice cake. The next day, my daughter was visiting and casually asked about the cupcakes she spied.

"Oh, those, " I said, "I'm afraid they 're a mistake. I tried to get creative and it they didn't turn out so swell. Wanna try one?"

Amy pronounced them delicious and I had to try myself then. They were delicious! They just needed a little cooling, time to set up.

So a basic cooking lesson I learned long ago was reinforced. Never make something brand new for a special occasion. If you do, have a good friend as a back-up.

Pumpkin Spice Crunch Cupcakes 
with Cream Cheese Filling
adapted from
makes 24 cupcakes

8 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons confectioner's sugar
1 package spice cake mix, divided
2 large eggs
1 2/3 cup pumpkin pie filling
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/3 cup flaked coconut
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
4 tablespoons butter, softened

About two hours before baking, mix the cream cheese and sugar well. waxed paper, form a log about 12 inches long. Using the waxed paper to help, roll the log into a tube. Wrap again with foil, and pop in the freezer for at least two hours until firm.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare muffin pans by lining with paper cups, or using non-stick spray.

Combine 3 cups only of the cake mix (saving the rest for the topping), eggs pumpkin pie mix and the spices in a large mixing bowl. Mix on low speed until moistened. t\Then beat on medium speed for 2 about one tablespoon of batter into prepared muffin pans. Take the chilled cream cheese log from the freezer and cut into 24 slices. Place one slice in each cup. Then pour the rest of the batter evenly among the muffin

Combine the reserved cake mix, coconut and nuts in small bowl. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender and sprinkle over batter.  Bake 15 to 20 minutes. Let cool completely on wire rack.