Friday, June 24, 2011

Tortilla soup (...or IS IT??)

Big things come in sets of three, right?? I know that bad things do... but what about good things, too?? Banana splits have three flavors, for example. Dad got three flavors of cookies for Father's Day, and I'm about to give you one soup recipe that can be three different, wonderful things.

I love salads. They're crunch, fresh, healthy, and no heating up the kitchen in a sticky summer. However, sometimes people with digestive diseases (like Crohn's or IBD) have problems digesting raw vegetables (mmm, fiber!!).
With all the warm weather, and cooking rich foods way more than I was used to during class, I haven't been feeling super great lately. And I sometimes let myself get over-worked (big surprise) and then I feel even worse because my body is tired but my brain isn't. And then I get frustrated because I see myself as weak, and then I don't let myself rest because that's weakness. This is all, of course, crazy train. If I admit to being crazy, that means I'm not actually crazy, right? Because crazy people don't know that they're crazy... please say right. Obviously, a huge challenge with any chronic disease is self-acceptance. It's just as hard with the Crohn's (something that not everyone can see, but I feel), as it is with the Alopecia (something everyone feels, but doesn't hurt me). They're challenging for different reasons, and often at different times, but what they have in common is acceptance. And lately, I've been eating what I want (not what I should) and today I feel a little crummy because of it. That was dumb. Admitting to crazy and dumb... I'm on a roll.
One of the ways to ease digestion of tasty, tasty vegetables is to cook them. Obviously, not a treat anyone is looking forward to on hot days (at least, I can assume... being in the northwest, we've only had one hot day this year...). These soups I am about to show you cook up quickly, with lots of tummy friendly vegetables, and it's light and fresh enough to not melt you on a hot summer's night. The recipe below was roughly inspired by the great and wonderful Emeril Lagasse. However, if you look at the recipe, you'll find that first he makes his own chicken stock, then he makes corn tortillas and then fries them into chips. AND THEN HE STARTS THE SOUP. I mean really?? I'm a busy woman here!! I have a hungry husband and two cats that think they're dogs. I don't have time for your silliness, oh great and knowledgeable Emeril. First of all, I am of the opinion that store-bought stock is worth the money, and it won't heat up your home like crazy business. Having never made corn tortilla chips, I'm not super anxious to start learning. Just buy a good bag. It's fine. Unless you are supreme chef. At which point, you're not going to learn anything from me.
 Now, once I started changing things from his recipe like, not making stock and buying chips (I know, I'm super lazy), I decided to change a whole lot more - so really, that recipe is just the crazy-train that answered the question "what's for dinner?" but did not tell me how to make it. Now, you can probably guess that version #1 of this soup is Tortilla soup. After the first recipe, I'll tell you some super tasty updates that will also Tuscan Soup and Mediterranean Soup. Just by changing the seasonings and one or two other ingredients. It's a working girl's dream. Not only is it a super easy recipe to memorize, but if you get it once, you have three recipes built right in!
Now, I am going to start by throwing out a handful of shortcuts, and then you should create from there!! That's the wonderful things about soups - you though stuff in a pot. Add liquid to pot. Cool until delicious. Frankly, it's hard to mess up. SO!
  1. For all soups, I used about half of a deli rotisserie chicken - I made my hubby shred it by hand while I cooked the rest. Put your hubby or munchkins to work!
  2. Some grocery stores sell pre-chopped mirepoix in the produce section - no shame, no judgement - just realistic. I used measurements for the oh-so-hard work of chopping a few veggies.
  3. For the Tortilla soup, I used a packet of low-sodium taco seasoning to season it, but you can use your favorite mix. In the recipe, though, I listed a seasoning mix similar to taco seasoning, and you can adjust the cayenne pepper to your spice level.
  4. Don't be a hero - it's okay to use store-bought chicken stock. Or you can be a hero, if you're one of those "plan-ahead" type people and you remember to save chicken bones to actually make your own stock... I am not so awesome.
  5. If you are into it, you can use fresh tomatoes. I am not into that. If you like them, feel free to substitute 6-8 Roma tomatoes, chopped.
  6. You don't have to use the tortilla chips - one of the other recipes I read used hominy, and the chips replace that as a thickener - and I keep them in all recipes. I like it.
  7. The hand blender is not a necessary step - I like the soup a little less chunky, so I used the stick blender a bit. I don't know that its worth getting a blender dirty. Because it just has to go back into the pot.

 1 small onion, chopped
2 large carrots, peeled and chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped (leaves are okay!)
1 T cayenne pepper (approximately, to taste)
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp paprika
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 jalapeno, ribs removed and chopped
1 can crushed tomatoes (with juice)
Large handful of corn tortilla chips
About 6 cups chicken broth
2 zucchini, chopped
2 cups shredded chicken
2 Tbl chopped cilantro
For garnish: avocado, lime, sour cream

  • In a pot, heat up a few tablespoons of olive oil. Sautee the mirepoix and salt lightly to sweat them. Let them go a few minutes, then add the seasoning (taco seasoning, or the long list above) and sautee for 3 minutes.
  • Add garlic and jalapeno and cook until fragrant (2-3 minutes).
  • Add tomatoes and their juice and cook about 2 minutes, then crush the tortilla chips over the mix and stir until combined. Add the broth and let simmer for 15-20 minutes.
  • Use the immersion blender chop up to your desired thickness.
  • Add zucchini and simmer about 10 minutes more.
  • Add cooked chicken and cilantro and simmer until heated through (about 5 more minutes).
  • Garnish with avocado, a squeeze of lime, and sour cream if you're into that.
This makes about 4 man-sized servings.
For Tuscan soup:
Replace the taco seasoning with your favorite Italian herb trio - mine is basil, thyme, and rosemary. These are fragrant herbs, and three is enough. Maybe 1/2 tsp of each if dried, about 1 tsp if fresh. Be sure to still salt the mirepoix, but you may omit the jalapeno. When you add the zucchini, also add a can of drained white beans. When you finish the soup, instead of avocado and lime, garnish with some fresh bruschetta (chopped Roma tomatoes with basil and balsamic).
For Mediterranean Soup:
Add in 1 chopped bell pepper with the mirepoix, replace the taco seasoning with dried oregano, salt, and pepper, and omit the jalapeno. For the garnish at the end, consider a little bit of feta cheese and a squeeze of lemon.

Have fun with it and enjoy!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Father's Day Cookies (3 of 3)

The conclusion to the trilogy...

First let me apologize. I'm a bad, bad blogger. I'm still learning! I've been delayed by technical difficulties and, well, life. I am SORRY! I'm still learning - and I'll get better!

Now, on to the conclusion of the Epic Cookie Trilogy... Homemade Nutter Butters!

My dad did get the cookies in time for Father's day, and word on the street is that he enjoyed them :-) Nailed it!

Now, I love peanut butter. And I hear that little bit both "nature" and "nurture' play into preferences. Dad loves his peanut butter. I remember when we would have bagels for weekend brunch, Mom would schmear hers up (just like she grew up with) and Dad would take his two cinnamon raisin bagels (fruit?!? In a BAGEL?? Yes.) and coat it in tasty creamy peanut butter (don't you dare put crunchy in his way!!). He would eat 1 1/2 bagels, and then split the last half in two. We had two dogs that loved to beg, but also loved peanut butter. So, he would take his last two pieces of bagel, and give each to a pupper... by sticking it to the roof of their mouth. And it would stay. Due to peanut butter. And don't give me that face!! The dogs loved it!! Seriously. AND! It distracted them! For a good 10 minutes, as they tried to nom the bagel... one lick at a time. I still laugh when I picture the dogs trying to get it off!

And whenever my cats are doing something weird (because cats are weird sometimes) I look at them and say "D-O-I-N-G? What are you doing??" Name that show?? 

It's M*A*S*H! When "This Old House" wasn't on TV, I feel like Dad always had M*A*S*H on. I've learned to love that show - in fact, it's still one of my favorites. I love to have the DVD going in the background during studying... it's just comforting! It's things from home that make me miss living closer to my parents. Getting older is so often bitter-sweet. Missing the times with family and traditions you know, but excited for making new memories with a new life, a new love, and some new family. Luckily I don't have to let go of the old family - it's just hard to make room for the new, as well. (also, they don't always think I'm funny... but I crack myself up!!)

And now that I'm done lamenting... My favorite cookie in the trilogy is this Nutter Butter. A moist cookie that's not crumbly and a creamy-not-too-sweet peanut buttery filling. Perfection!

I got the recipe from Smells Like Home, and I didn't change anything! They were so perfect and easy to make! I did double the recipe... And I ended up with a humongous pile... Quite daunting!

So - maybe just make one batch... because these are also kind of rich. So get yourself some peanut butter, and make these cookies!!

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
8 Tbsp butter, room temperature
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter (I used the natural stuff)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup Quaker oats

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet or two with parchment paper (these can get a little oily with the fat, so the parchment will help with a quick transition between batches!).
  2. In a small bowl, combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt with a whisk or fork. Set aside.
  3. In a mixer, beat together the butter, peanut butter, and both sugars until light and fluffy (about 2-3 minutes).
  4. Add in egg and vanilla until incorporated, then add in the flour mixtures just until combined. Stir in the oats until mixed throughout.
  5. Use a small cookie scoop or spoons, and roll cookies into balls about 2 tsp in size. Place them on a cookie sheet just a few inches apart, and bake them for 10 minutes, rotating the sheet halfway through. Take them out of the oven and let them cool on the tray for 5 minutes, then move to a cooling rack until completely cool. Once cooled down, you can start pairing them up for the sandwiches! Oh fun.

Filling: (Yuuuum - you can also make this and eat it with a spoon. Or put it on ice cream. Or pancakes. Or.... bananas! or really anything)
4 1/2 Tbsp butter, room temperature
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter (I'm sorry that I can't offer much advise on how to measure this... it's just messy!)
1 1/2 cup powdered sugar
5-6 Tbsp heavy cream

Combine the butter, peanut butter, and sugar in a bowl of an electric mixer and whip together on high until combined. Add in some heavy cream, a little at a time, and whip until fluffy (you'll need more or less depending on the day, basically).

Combining the delectable parts:
Put the filling in a pastry bag with wide tip (or, in my case - a gallon size plastic big and snip a little of the tip off...) and squeeze some icing onto one side of your cookie pair, and then smoosh together! If you're doing a double batch, it might be easier to ice everything, and then sandwich.

Enjoy!! It is probably a good idea to keep these in the fridge... and any extra filling should definitely be kept in the fridge... but these might not even make it to the fridge!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Father's Day Cookies (2 of 3)

I'm sorry that this is a little late... I spent lunch on Friday typing something brilliant... and then I forgot to email it to myself to retrieve and finish later... So I had to start over. I hope this is almost as good... 

Sometimes growing up is hard. But I learned a lot from him as I grew up - Dads are great at that. I learned how to dance by standing on his toes at Father-Daughter dances in elementary school. I learned how to make pancakes, and have been hopelessly addicted ever since. I learned jokes, that no one else gets, and how to crack myself up (he still gets me hook-line-and-sinker, though...). I learned how to ride a bike, how to drive a stick, and how to pan for gold. I learned that mustaches can be cool, Saturday mornings belong to "This Old House", and manly men can still cry now-and-then.
I saw him cry at my Bat Mitzvah, and then got me almost as messed up as my mom next him with moose ears (more on that later). He got just a teensy bit choked up at both high school and college graduations, and at our wedding, he was the only man crying almost as much as Jason. And that's okay - because I love them both. He's always there to talk things through, and he handles my "crazy" girl moments pretty well, and helped me learn how to handle myself.

 And, above all, I learned that Oreos are, like, the awesomest cookie, like, ever. And, I learned by myself, that if you search the web for a homemade Oreo recipe, the only one you will find is from Smitten Kitchen. Seriously - this woman is amazing. I'll probably have to do a whole post dedicated to her awesomeness, but I digress. The only posts I found out there for homemade Oreos, were either hers, or other people posting about how awesome her recipe is. I was a little wary about her caution about the sweetness - so I did use just one cup sugar, I used salted butter instead of unsalted, and I rounded up the salt added. These came out just a teensy bit salty with that, but none of my tastetesters seemed to mind :-) And I'm always over critical of my own baking. But the filling tasted EXACTLY as if you scraped it out of an actual Oreo. My only advice to you: Make. These. Cookies. Om nom nom. Oh, and she says that the recipe makes over 2 dozen sandwiches. I'm not sure how this is true. At all. I got maybe 18, and I made the cookies smaller than she said. And the filling just barely filled the 18 cookies. That is the only untruth that Smitten Kitchen as ever spread.

For the cookie:
1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
1 1/4 stick butter, room temperature
1 egg

For the filling:
1/2 stick butter, room temperature
1/4 vegetable shortening
2 cups powdered sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. I was able to use two racks (and rotate trays halfway...).

Whisk together dry ingredients, then beat with butter and egg in electric mixer until combined in doughy goodness. It will be thick. 

Take a small cookie scoop and make little dough balls on cookie sheets (parchment is helpful) and put them about 2 inches apart (these do spread a little). Use wet fingers to flatten just a teense. Bake for 9 minutes, rotate halfway. Cool on racks.
 To make the cream, place butter and shortening in a mixing bowl, and beat until combined. Add in the sugar and vanilla, and whip together on high for about 2 minutes, until fluffy.

Put the cream in a pastry bag with a small tip (or, a plastic bag and cut the corner off). Match up the cookies with similar sizes, and squeeze some cream onto a cookie. And press the other cookie on top!

 Voila! Cookie sandwich! Repeat with lots of cookies.
Dunk in milk, send to dad, bribe coworkers, or make new friends. Because seriously. Like whoa.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Father's Day Cookies (1 of 3)

I enjoy Washington. I wandered here for college, but stayed for work/husband. Unfortunately, my family is not close. Now, when I was growing up, I was used to being far away from family. Grandparents, aunts, and uncles - each living in 4 different states from us. And here I am, a few days away from Father's Day, and my dad is 3 states away. It's holidays like this that make family seem that much further away.

I've been especially close with my mom lately, but I've always been a bit of a daddy's girl. I was in high school when I first lost my hair to Alopecia. And when I shaved my head, my dad shaved his head with me. When I was in college, among the other things that both my parents did, my dad (a rocket scientist) would send me random notes, written on graphing paper, just to say hi, or with an article he thought I'd like, or with something to help me through the semester. I still have some of the notes. 

Because of the engineer in him, he would never answer a question with a simple answer. I had to also learn the who/what/where/why that got there. Of course he could tell me the simple answer to my physics questions, but he would also overwhelm me with all the other details... When I was a teenager, of course it would annoy me. "Oh no, here he goes again..." but now it's become endearing and I ask him specific things because of the stories I know will follow.

And also due to his engineering, practical brain, he's always been hard for me to shop for. Father's Day has been particularly challenging. And this year, when lamenting to my mom about my challenge, and she helped me come up with the perfect plan. Daddy loves his cookies. And I remember a few of his favorites - Oreos have always been a staple. But he also loves his peanut butter, and what dad could go without the oatmeal raisin. The plan: make cookies, and mail to Dad.

To add to the brilliance of the plan, you need to know a little more back story... When I was in high school, I worked in the bakery section of a local Mom-and-Pop meat market. I worked there for... almost 3 years? And for my last year or so, I transferred to the location right across from my dad's office. And he would, occassionally, stop by to pick up some cookies with lunch. And, among some of his other more endearing nicknames, I earned the nickname "Cookie Fairy."

SO! Make cookies. Send to Dad. From his Cookie Fairy. I ran out of graphing paper, though, what with me not being an engi-nerd, and all. So I included a card.

The first recipe: Salted White Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies. 
I got the recipe from Smitten Kitchen and I didn't change a dang thing. I made a test batch and took them to work. People came up and told me that they hate cookies, but love these. They love them! And since I dislike raisins so much (more on that later) that I cannot endorse a single one in cookie form, that this would a perfect way to embody Dad's favorite oatmeal!

1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. table salt
1 3/4 sticks butter (room temperature)
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 cups oats
6 oz white chocolate
flaky sea salt

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment paper (this helps a TON!). In a bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and table salt in a bowl, Set aside.
2. Beat butter and both sugars until light and fluffy. Scrape down bowl, and add egg and vanilla. Beat and scrap again. Gradually add flour and mix just until incorporated. Slowly add oats, then chocolate and add until incorporated.
3. Divide the dough into 2 Tbl portions (this made exactly 24 cookies with my 1" cookie scoop). Roll into a ball, then place on a cookie sheet, at least 2" apart (seriously, folks - these will spread!). With fingertips, gently press down to about 3/4" thickness. Sprinkle a few flakes of sea salt on top of each cookie.
4. Bake about 13-16 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through.

*notes: If the dough has stayed out for a while, or if it's warm in your kitchen, you might consider putting the dough in the fridge a little bit before baking - these spread

*More cookies to come tomorrow!!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Cookie Teaser...

I'm making cookies!!

Like, a crazy 3 batch cookie-spree (two batches are doubles) and 2 of them get made into sandwiches (FROSTING!!!!). This would be hard in 2 days without work and, like, sleep. WOO!

Sooooo - I have to go back and bake. BUT! And exciting, over-the-top, 3-part cookie post to come... probably tomorrow. Just sayin.

Are you excited yet?? I know Jason is... he doesn't think I'm watching. But I am. ;-)

Monday, June 13, 2011

Easy weeknight gnocchi!

Before you read this, you should check out my guest post at WBACC - Wanna Be a Country Cleaver!

I cheat with gnocchi. Truth: I've never made gnocchi. But I love it. I've always wanted to make it. But let's be honest - after you've been working for 9 hours, have a hungry husband, and crying kitties, who wants to make gnocchi from scratch? Okay, another truth - sometimes I do crazy things. Gnocchi is not a crazy thing that I've done... I want to. Monday night is not the night. If it is your night to do crazy things like make gnocchi from scratch, then you deserve a medal. And then a foot rub and a nap. Because DANG.

Back to my story - I also like to take boring things from a jar, and make them taste-tacular by adding fresh ingredients. Because we're busy people! So I made a Bistro Gnocchi Bake! It dirtied two pans - but with a little patience, you could easily do it in one. And it took about 45 minutes (because there was some chopping and bake time).

  • 1 lb sausage (I used spicy chicken sausage - low fat!)
  • 1/2 onion (or 1 large shallot) minced
  • 3-4 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 8 oz mushrooms, rough chopped
  • Garlic
  • 1 package of gnocchi (or, if you're like, super woman, a batch of homemade stuff)
  • Jar of your favorite sauce (because we're being realistic here)
  • Ricotta and/or shredded cheese for the finale
Start by putting a large pot to boil water for gnocchi. (If you are set on using one pan, cook the gnocchi completely in the pot, then set aside in the baking dish and use the large pot for the saucey goodness). Next - start browning the meat. When it's done, remove from pan (put on a plate) but leave the juice in the pan -  then you don't have to add oil for the veggies! In the hot, juicy pan (um... I'm not sure where this is going... oh! Now I remember)... In the hot pan, toss in garlic, onion, and celery. Salt it - because it's a good thing.
Remove the pretty veggies, and then quick sautee the mushrooms (I like mine firm because of the bake time, but you can adjust to your preference).
Is the water boiling yet? (wait, which order did you do?) If it is, add the gnocchi. Watch carefully - cook it just under the full time. Drain and add to a baking pan.

In the veggie pan, toss in your jar of sauce. Let it scrape up all the tasty bits from the veggies and meat. Better already! Then add back in the meat and all the veggies...
This is where my stove got wrecked a little messy because I underestimated my pan size... still good! Heat everything thoroughly. Season to taste with salt, pepper, any fresh herbs that you have growing on your porch...  I have none. But it was still good!! Now pour this tasty, tasty sauce all over the anxiously waiting gnocchi, and then dollop with some ricotta.
Bake at 350 for about 15-20 minutes. And then, because your whole place will smell amazing, enjoy!!
*Chef's note: There are two of us. Based on the left-over count, I think this serves about 6 people*

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Welcome to my humble posts!

I should start by saying that I don't enjoy being stressed. I like to be busy. Like, crazy busy. Like, since the time that I have graduated college, I have held a full time job and either (1) had a second job or (2) planned a wedding during every waking second or, most recently, (3) took evening classes towards my Master's degree. When I'm not busy, I have unrestrained anxiety energy. Being busy keeps me focused.

Aside from that, I have Crohn's disease and Alopecia (let's talk about the stress?). I've struggled with one, or both of them, on and off for the last decade. They're both as much as part of my life as my wonderful husband is, so they will all be popping in and out of here as I learn coping skills with each of them (even learning things about my husband!). One of the ways that I deal with stress is to cook. That's where this comes in!! Nothing helps me unwind like cooking coming some tasty, eating it, and then telling someone about it!

I hope you enjoy this journey with me - full of bumps - as I get a hold on my disease, and learn how to use new cooking techniques, and share it all with you.

This is not my kitchen. I wish it were. But that would involve living with my in-laws again...