Thursday, November 29, 2012

Creamy Slow Cooker Tomato Soup with Cheesy Quinoa Dippers


Soupy, soup, soup, soup.

This soupy soup is a fine soup indeed.

I don't know how to describe this soup to you without being lame. I feel like I'm always pathetically attempting to coerce you into making my recipes by telling you how freaking amazing they are. But here goes. It is my husband's favorite soup, and my little boy, who doesn't always dig soupstuffs, gobbled it right up! So good is this soup, this was the text my husband sent me during lunch the next day while eating the leftovers: "I think this may be the best tomato soup I've ever eaten. Yum!"

And, oh my, it IS tasty. A bit more fuss than your usual crock pot soup, but worth the effort in every way. It starts the way you expect, dump ingredients in, turn it on, and walk away for most of the day. But then it gets a bit more hands-on. I like this recipe for a busy weekend supper. Maybe after sledding or picking out a Christmas tree (that is, if you're not a cheater like me -- I like my pre-lit fake tree and you can't talk me out of it).

So that's the soup.

Shall I talk about the quinoa dippers next?


There's really nothing earth-shattering about them, but they sure are satisfying. And they make a great substitute for that greasy grilled cheese you had in mind. And they're not a bit more work. The whole meal is simple pleasure at its best.

Creamy Slow Cooker Tomato Soup
Adapted from Today's Mama

2, 14 oz cans (or 1, 28 oz. can) diced tomatoes, with liquid
1 c. diced celery
1 c. diced carrots
1 c. diced onions
1 tsp. oregano
1 Tbsp. dried basil
4 c. chicken broth
1 bay leaf
1/2 c. flour
1/2 c. butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 c. half and half (fat free would probably be fine -- or even milk, skim included), warmed
salt and pepper to taste

Place tomatoes, celery, onions, carrots, oregano, basil, chicken broth and bay leaf in the bowl of slow cooker and heat on low for 6 hours, or until vegetables are soft.
Puree until smooth, or as smooth as you like it. If you did this in a food processor or blender, return to slow cooker.
In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Stir in garlic, and saute in butter for one minute. Add flour and stir to make a roux. Whisk in one cup soup, then all of the half and half. Let thicken slightly before adding back into the slow cooker along with parmesan cheese and additional seasoning to taste (you can also add extra basil and oregano if desired).
Cover and cook on low for an additional 30 minutes.

Cheesy Quinoa Dippers

1 egg
1/4 c. flour
pinch (1/2 to 1/4 tsp.) salt
dash (1/8 tsp. or so) pepper
1 1/2 c. cooked quinoa, cooled
1 c. shredded mozzarella or fontina cheese

In a medium mixing bowl, beat egg and whisk in flour, salt, and pepper. Gently fold in quinoa and cheese until thoroughly combined. Heat about 1 Tbsp. oil in a large pan over medium heat. Drop mixture by tablespoons into the hot pan. Cook until golden on first side, about 2 minutes, then flip and cook for about the same amount of time on the other side, patting down with spatula as needed to create a fairly flat disk. Continue until all the quinoa mixture has been made into patties, adding more oil to the pan as needed.
Serve hot with the soup.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Triple Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Are you ready for some cookies that are gift-worthy? Cookies that will make your neighbors beg you for the recipe and make you famous? These are the ones.
 These cookies are my own rendition of the much lauded (and for good reason!) New York Times recipe. You've probably heard about it from everyone and their brother by now, but I have to throw my own accolades into the mix.

I've always struggled with chocolate chip cookies. My dad has a recipe he's famous for, but for me they always came our flat as pancakes with little dark chocolate chip lumps sticking up awkwardly throughout. Other recipes came out much the same. But this one is perfect every time I make it.

And when I say perfect, I mean the-best-cookie-you've-ever-eaten kind of perfect. (No joke, I've had people tell me as much, word for word.) So why not just direct you to the original recipe? Well, I think I have improved upon it, for one thing, and for another, you probably already know where to find it. This is my version, though. The one you'll want to use to give away to your neighbors.

But first, a word or two about the creaming method.
You might remember this method from the Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies I shared not long ago -- you dice the cold butter and add it directly to your sugars without softening it. I love this method.

I may be wrong, but I do think that part of my problem with other cookie recipes has been over-softened butter and/or over-creaming the fat and sugars. Cookies are much different from cakes, where creaming the fat and sugars gives it it's light and fluffy crumb. Chocolate chip cookies need to be dense and chewy, in my personal estimation, not light and cakey.
And so, I employ this method instead of the conventional method called for in the original recipe. It turns out perfectly for me. I suppose if you want to wait the extra half an hour for your butter to soften, you can do that, too. But since you already have to wait 24 hours before baking these puppies, I would rather get them chilling sooner than later.

And another thing that sets these apart from the original is the chocolate. The original calls for dark chocolate, and I have no real objection to that, but on its own I find it a little too rich and bitter. I love a combination of milk, semi-sweet, and dark chocolate chunks. I cut them myself from Trader Joe's Pound Plus bars, so they end up more like chocolate shards than chocolate chunks. I think it lends something special to my cookies. So find good quality chocolate bars and chop them yourself, okay? Call it a labor of love.

I actually chop my chunks smaller than this. These are kind of gigantic.

Triple Chocolate Chunk Cookies
adapted from NY Times

8.5 oz. cake flour (2 c. minus 2 Tbsp.)
8.5 oz. bread flour (1 2/3 c.)
1 1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 1/4 c. (2 1/2 sticks) butter, diced into cubes
1 1/4 c. brown sugar
1 c. + 2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
1 1/4 lb. chocolate chunks (I do about 1/2 lb. milk chocolate, 1/2 lb. semi-sweet chocolate, and 1/4 lb. dark chocolate.)

In a large bowl, whisk together flours, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
In the bowl of your mixer, combine butter cubes and sugars. Cream until no lumps of butter remain. Add eggs one at a time, then vanilla.
With the mixer on low, gradually add dry ingredients into the bowl, mixing until just combined. Fold in chocolate chunks.
Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24 hours or up to 6 days.
When ready to bake, remove dough from refrigerator for about half an hour before scooping using a standard size ice cream (3 oz.) scoop onto parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake at 350º for 15-20 minutes, or until golden on the edges but still slightly wet-looking in the center. Let cool on sheet for 10 minues before transferring to wire rack.
Dough can also be portioned out (after 24 hour resting period) and frozen for up to 3 months. (Portion out onto cookie sheets and freeze for about an hour before transferring to zip-top bag.) Baking time for frozen dough will probably increase about 5 minutes.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Grandma Ople's Apple Pie

Let me start by saying that I do not have a Grandma Ople. I have a Grandma Zina, though, does that count? I think it should because my Grandma Zina is awesome.

Now that that's out of the way, let's talk about Thanksgiving.

I don't really feel qualified to tell you much about Thanksgiving just yet. I'm only 27, and last year was the first year I ever cooked and hosted the biggest meal of the year. I'm still on the hunt for those recipes I want to include every year. Thanksgiving with my family growing up was deliciously basic, and there aren't many tried and true recipes for me to hang my hat on. My mom is always trying new things herself, which I love about her.

Pie, though, is a different story. I can talk about pie. This apple pie in particular, because I have actually been making it for quite some time and can wholeheartedly recommend it for your Turkey Day feast.

I found this recipe years ago on and was struck by the sheer volume of 5-star rave reviews. So, of course, I had to try it. It's an unusual technique for apple pie --you basically make a caramel and pour it over your apples in the crust. As written, it is wonderful, but I had to tweak it.

Just a little.

The original does not call for spices, which are essential to me in an apple pie. So I added just a hint. I also added a bit more flour, to thicken things up, and some vanilla (because there must always be vanilla).

The pie pictured (while it's not my best photo ever) was the BEST apple pie I've ever tasted. I feel strongly that a large part of that was the apples I used. They were Gravenstiens; an heirloom variety that is only in season in late August and early September. They don't store well, unlike most other varieties, so you have to strike while the crop is practically still warm from the sunshine. But any baking apple will work here, including the classic Granny Smith. Find one that you like, or use a combination.

But FIRST, make some pie dough. Make Deb Perelman's All Butter, Really Flaky Pie Dough. I'll wait. (It won't take long.)

Now that that's waiting in the refrigerator, let's make the filling:

Grandma Ople's Apple Pie
adapted from

1/2 c. butter
1/4 c. flour
1/2 c. white sugar
1/2 c. brown sugar
pinch kosher salt
1 tsp. vanilla
8 medium baking apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. nutmeg (freshly grated is best, if you have the equipment)
one recipe for two-crust pie dough

Start with the "caramel". In a medium saucepan, melt butter. Add in flour to make a paste, then add sugars and water. Bring it to a boil, then reduce to simmer and let cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, and add vanilla.

While that's working, roll out your pie dough, and carefully place the bottom crust in your pie plate.

Then get going on the apples.

Slice your apples quite thinly. You can use a knife or mandoline. I'm usually to lazy to get out my mandoline, which is pretty ironic, actually, so I end up using my knife. Place apple slices in a bowl and squirt on a little lemon juice. Toss. (I am not the quickest cook, so I usually add lemon juice to my apples a little at a time as I work to keep them from browning.)

Once your apples are all sliced, toss them with your spices and a sprinkling of flour. Then pour in your caramel sauce. Toss to coat, pour into pie plate and place top crust. Seal edges with egg wash and crimp decoratively. Vent top crust (I just cut a few simple slits with a sharp knife), and brush with egg wash.

Bake at 425 for 15 minutes to set crust, then lower temp to 350 and cook for 35 - 45 minutes more. If the edges of your pie begin to get too brown, wrap them carefully with foil.

Let pie cool for at least 30 minutes before cutting and enjoying, otherwise things will be a little too liquid. And don't forget the vanilla bean ice cream.

Monday, November 12, 2012

"Marie Callender's" Cornbread

I have an heirloom cookbook put together by my maternal grandpa and his siblings. It's classic, really. They entitled it "Cooking with Memories" and gathered a bunch of fabulously fun family recipes, along with original drawings done by my great uncle -- some are even of my great grandparents' homestead in southern Utah, where they all grew up. There are quotes every few pages about their family life growing up, which I find endlessly fascinating.

Everyone should have a cookbook like this because it is something I truly treasure.

There's no time like Thanksgiving for breaking out the classic family recipes. This is one of those. It comes from that very cookbook, which has a section in the back called "Celebrity Showcase", and features copies of handwritten recipes from generations of family cooks, along with recipes attributed to actual celebrities like John Wayne and Lucille Ball. And while I can't vouch for the authenticity of the recipe as a copycat of the famous restaurant version, it is absolutely the best cornbread recipe I've ever made or tasted, and has been time tested by generations of my family.

So if you're looking for an excellent side for your Thanksgiving table, look no further!

"Marie Callender's" Cornbread

2 1/4 c. flour
3/4 c. yellow cornmeal
1/4 c. + 2. Tbsp. sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 c. buttermilk, at room temp.
1/2 c. butter, melted
3 lg. eggs, beaten. at room temp.

Mix dry ingredients together. In a separate bowl, combine buttermilk, butter and eggs. Make a well in the center of dry ingredients and pour in milk mixture. Mix until moist but lumpy (don't over-mix). Pour into a greased 9x13" pan. Bake at 425 for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick tested in the center comes out cleanly.

Friday, November 9, 2012

DIY Pumpkin Puree

Thanksgiving is less than two weeks away -- can you believe it?
Yeah, me either.

I'm starting prep now so I don't have as much on my plate on the day itself. What can you do two weeks in advance, you ask? The answer is make your own pumpkin puree.

If you've got an extra hour or so this weekend, making your own pumpkin puree is a cinch and will make you feel like a kitchen wizard when you pull it out to make your pumpkin pie.

That said, however, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. That pumpkin you never got around to turning into a jack-o-lantern, it probably won't make super great pumpkin pie. Carving pumpkins have a much lower sugar content than their pie-bred counterparts, and more water content as well, making for a soggy pie. Be sure to buy a pie pumpkin. Some varieties to look for: Amish Pie, Sugar Pie, Lumina (white on the outside, orange on the inside!), New England Pie.
{Click here for more information on picking a good pie pumpkin.}

Once you've picked the right pumpkin, here's how you do it:

Get your oven going at 350º and line a sheet pan with foil.

Cut your pumpkin(s) in half and remove seeds and stem. Place cut-side-down on prepared baking sheet, and roast for 90 minutes, or until soft. (A fork should meet with no resistance at all.)

Remove from pan and let cool. (You can wait for them to cool all the way, or you can wait just until you won't burn your fingers. Won't make too much difference.)

Once cooled a bit, the skin should peel away easily. You can also use a spoon to scrape out the flesh, but I find it's much faster to simply peel away the outer shell.

Place pumpkin flesh in the bowl of a food processor (or blender, I suppose) and process until smooth. Scrape sides and bottom of work bowl, then process for another few seconds to ensure a smooth consistency. (If your pumpkin is too dry to process easily, go ahead and add a little water. You can strain it off later.)

And, Ta-Da! You're done!
Scoop into freezer bags and freeze until you're ready to get baking.

DIY Pumpkin Puree

whole pumpkin
water (only if absolutely necessary)

Preheat oven to 350. Slice pumpkin in half, cut off stem, scrape out seeds (reserve for roasting and, later, snacking if you're into that sort of thing) and pulp. Place pumpkin halves cut-side down on a rimmed baking sheet, and place in oven on center rack.
Roast for 90 minutes, or so, until flesh is soft and yields to the touch.
Let cool before scraping flesh from the skin of the pumpkin and scooping into the bowl of a food processor. If there is too much pumpkin to puree all at once, work in batches.
Process until smooth, adding water if needed -- I find that my food processor sometimes needs assistance with really thick items. (If you wish for a really thick puree, you can easily strain off the excess water later.) You could also do this in a blender. (But don't ask me about the finer details, because I don't own a blender.)
When you are satisfied with the consistency of your puree, freeze flat in freezer bags until ready to use.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Time-saving Overnight Oatmeal

I've already mentioned that my go-to breakfast is often steel-cut oats because my heart has great fondness for their chewiness and wholesome heartiness. It is also my go-to breakfast because it takes almost no work on my part to make.

Here's how I do it:

At night, set a fairly large pot with a tightly-fitting lid (but don't put the lid on now, okay?) over medium heat and melt a pat of butter (oh, a tablespoon or so). If you feel like it, go ahead and keep that butter cooking until it's browned (but not burned, because in that case you have to start over). If you don't feel like it, no worries. Either way, then just chuck in your oats (I use 2 c. for that amount of butter) and stir and cook for a minute or tow, until they smell good and toasty.
Pour in 2 parts water to the amount of oats used -- in this case, 4 cups. And add a light pinch of salt. Crank up the heat and bring to a boil.
Give it a stir and turn off the heat. Put the lid on, and slide it to the other side of the stovetop (or take it off the stove and place on a trivet on the countertop; tomayto, tomahto).
Now, walk away.
Better yet, go to sleep. Everyone needs more sleep.

In the morning, stumble into the kitchen (with or without a baby on your hip) and remove the lid from your pot. The oatmeal will have soaked up all of the water. Give it a stir.
What you do from here depends largely on how you like your oatmeal. I do not like mine "pourable", I like it thick, so I add, oh, maybe 1/2 c. of milk. If you like it creamier or runnier, go ahead and add more. Heat it up again over medium heat. Add 1 tsp. cinnamon, 1/4 c. brown sugar, 1 tsp. vanilla, and 1/8 tsp. nutmeg (1/4 tsp. if freshly grating, since the freshly grated variety is "fluffier"). Or season as you like. Add raisins or craisins or dried cherries, oh my!
Once it's warm and creamy to your liking, serve it up.

This is a gigantic batch (6 cups, plus a bit more), which I portion out in 1/2 c. servings and freeze for later enjoyment. Simply portion out, let cool, and freeze. I've used a muffin tin in the past, but found that the portions were a bit too small for me unless I heaped them really high. Maybe a jumbo muffin tin... Hmm...

Since it's really a ratio thing, you can easily scale it up or down to fit your needs. Just remember 2 parts water to 1 part oatmeal.
And it's worth mentioning that the butter is completely optional. I like what it brings to the party, but if you don't want to use it, I would toast the oats for a couple of minutes in a dry pan over medium-high heat, until they smell toasty, before adding your water. Proceed from that point as outlined.

If you have a little extra time, feel free to roast up some pears to top it:

Peel and dice up a firm pear. (Bosc is a variety that works well. You know, the not-so-alluring brown ones, as in the picture above.) Melt a Tbsp. of butter in a small pan, and add in your pears along with 1 Tbsp. brown sugar. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently to prevent sticking and burning, until pears are soft.

You could do the same with apple, if that's what you have or like.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Bistro Chicken with Caramelized Onions

On a recent trip to Costco, I ran into a friend out of the blue, which was awesome because I adore her! But I just knew she would see what was in my cart and think me so strange.

Want to know what it was?

Onions. Ten pounds of them. For two adults and a toddler.

I felt like Matthew Cuthbert dragging home twenty pounds of brown sugar.

Seriously, though, ten pounds of onions for $5 -- I couldn't walk away from that. Because I use onions just about every time I cook something. And they keep really well in our pantry. In fact, we've already used most of them up in about a month's time. Reality check time for me -- we eat a lot of onions.

I particularly love to caramelize them. It takes some time, but it's so simple, and brings out such delightful sweetness. You can caramelize a big batch and freeze them for later use, which will give you a lot of bang for your buck of time invested in making them.

And them you can use them to top all sorts of things, like French Dip Sandwiches, or this Bistro Chicken.

If this dish doesn't appeal to you, I just give up. Everything about it appeals to me. I love the tender chicken, the brick-red, savory sauce, the melty cheese, and the golden, tender, schlumpy caramelized onions.

Mmm Mm!

It is fantastic with garlic mashed potatoes or buttered egg noodles. But usually I just serve it with a side of steamed broccoli (or, when feeling fancy, broccolini).

Oh, and it's easy. Weeknight-dinner easy.
You could even assemble it in advance and refrigerate for a day or two before serving it, only in that case I would bake it for about 20 minutes at 350º, or until heated through with bubbly, happy cheese, instead of broiling.

Bistro Chicken
adapted from This Week for Dinner

1 Tbsp. oil
4-6 chicken breasts*
1, 14 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 can French Onion Soup concentrate (Campbell's)
1/2-1 tsp. Italian seasoning (I love the blend from Penzey's)
salt and pepper to taste
Swiss or Provolone cheese
caramelized onions (optional)

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Season chicken on both sides and add to skillet. Cook about 4-5 minutes on each side, or until golden and cooked through. Remove from pan and place in greased, broiler-safe baking pan.
Into the same skillet, add diced tomatoes, French Onion soup, Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper. Bring to a bubble and simmer until reduced and slightly thickened. At this point, I usually remove about two thirds of the sauce mixture and puree it before adding it back to the pan, but this is an optional step. If you don't want to puree, know that the sauce will not be very thick, but still yummy.
Pour sauce over chicken in pan and top with slices of cheese. Place pan under broiler set to high. Broil until cheese is golden and bubbly.

*I find that no one (in my family at least) needs a whole chicken breast, so I generally butterfly them, giving me two thinner pieces of chicken per breast. If you do the same, you will only need 2-3 whole breasts. Cooking time will also be quicker. Good step-by-step instructions here (only cut all the way through and don't bother pounding them out).

Basic Caramelized Onions

In a medium-sized skillet, heat 1 Tbsp. oil or butter over medium-low heat. Meanwhile, slice one medium-sized onion. I like my slices to be on the squat side -- a little shorter and fatter than usual -- but you can slice them as thinly and as long as you prefer. However you slice it, make the slices as even as you can.
Add onion to skillet, along with a pinch of salt and a skiffing of pepper. Let onions cook over low heat until they turn golden and soft. This may take an hour or more, but don't turn up the heat or your onions will burn. Stir them around occasionally to make sure things cook evenly.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Raspberry-Filled Chocolate Chip Muffins

From the age of 5 until just before my 11th birthday, my family lived in a pretty small town not far from Park City, Utah. As much as my family hated it there, and as much as I am not really a small-town girl now, it was a pretty great place to be a kid.

There was a drugstore where I plunked down whatever money I had on Charleston Chews, a rustic mercantile (I kid you not, a mercantile),  an awesome playground and fairgrounds for the county fair -- all within biking distance. That is a kid's dream right there. I lived on my bike. 

I'm pretty sure that you can't get your I-lived-in-a-small-town punchcard filled out until you join 4H. So I joined in for a bit. Or maybe I just went once or twice... Really, all I remember (apart from a snipe hunt and winning a blue ribbon at the county fair -- which is a story for another day) is muffins.  These muffins, ostensibly -- Chocolate chip muffins with raspberry filling. And they were so easy! Are so easy. So easy that my juvenile self could not only make them, but I have remembered them all these years.
And that means that you can (and should) make them, too.

Concievably, you could change this up to include whatever combination of mix-ins and fillings you like, but why?
Only, wait, I just thought of blueberries with lemon curd filling... no, cinnamon chips with apple butter filling...

In any case, I think we can all agree that it's time to make some muffins.

Raspberry-Filled Chocolate Chip Muffins

1 3/4 c. flour
1/2 c. sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 egg, beaten
3/4 c. milk
1/4 c. oil
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 c. mini chocolate chips
raspberry jam

In one bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. In another, mix together egg, milk, oil, and vanilla.
Add egg mixture all at once to dry ingredients, and fold together until just moistened -- it should still be a bit lumpy, but with no streaks of dry ingredients remaining.
Gently fold in mini chips, reserving some to sprinkle on top, if desired. (Or do as I do, and just use extra for the top. I like extra.)
Using a large spoon, fill each cavity in a greased and/or paper-lined muffin tin 1/3 full. Using a teaspoon, drop a little bit of raspberry jam into the center of each. Spoon in more batter until each section is 2/3 c. full.
Bake 400º for 5 minutes, then open up the oven and carefully sprinkle tops with reserved chocolate chips. Continue to bake for another 13-15 minutes, or until golden and toothpick comes out cleanly when tested in centers. Cool in the pan for 5 minutes prior to serving.