Friday, January 16, 2015

Soup's On: Jamie's Parmesan Tomato-Basil Soup

I have a confession to make.  I've never eaten or even tried any soup until almost seven years ago when the husband and I celebrated our first anniversary in San Antonio.  I don't even remember the name of the restaurant anymore but I do remember that he'd ordered a bowl of baked potato soup while I had a Caesar salad with no dressing.  (Funny story:  The waiter looked over at us and said, "Are you two getting married?"  We looked at each other and laughed and told him that we were still just dating, celebrating our first anniversary.  Maybe he was physic.... :) )  I decided to give soup a try that night, just to see if it was as bad as I'd always thought it would be.  I was surprised to see that it wasn't half bad but I always resisted eating soup until about two months ago.

Ryan took me to my favorite restaurant for my birthday, Mia Francesca.  That night, one of their specials was a tomato-basil soup.  So Ryan and I decided to order a small bowl and share it.  I wanted to have something different and since nothing I've ever gotten from there has been bad, I figured I'd give soup another try.  And I am SO glad that I did.  I'm telling you, I was considering not letting Ryan have any at all.  I'm pretty sure I could've eaten the entire bowl myself.

Now even though, for years, I've never liked soup, I don't mind making soup.  I'm happy to make soups and chilis for other people.  Ryan loves it when I make his favorite broccoli-cheese soup (even if I despise how cooking broccoli makes my kitchen smell).  And I make a killer slow cooker chili.  But I've never really had the desire to make soup for myself.  Because I didn't eat it!  (Go figure.)  After I'd had that delicious soup from Mia Francesca's, I knew I had to try and recreate this soup.  So I got right on it and I think I did a pretty good job.

(Yes, we have a new series starting.  Which I find slightly ironic since I love sharing recipes that I adore and I'm still not too crazy about soups.  Except this soup.  I'm sure world peace could happen with this soup.)

Jamie's Parmesan Tomato-Basil Soup
created by yours truly

2 - 28 oz. cans Crushed Tomatoes
1/2 c. Chicken Broth
1/3 c. Fresh Basil Leaves, finely chopped
1 c. 1% Milk
1/2 c. (4 oz.) 1/3 Less Fat Cream Cheese, softened
1 c. Parmesan Cheese
Salt and Pepper

Combine crushed tomatoes and chicken broth in a large stock pot and bring to a boil over high heat.
Reduce heat to simmer and cook for 30 minutes, uncovered, stirring occasionally.
Mix in your finely chopped basil, milk, and cream cheese and cook over medium heat until the cream cheese melts and the soup thickens (around 5 minutes).
Remove from heat and add in the parmesan cheese, stirring until its all melted.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Pour into bowls and serve alongside your favorite grilled cheese.  (No, the grilled cheese is not optional ;) )



Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Snickerdoodles: A Dedication

On August 30, 2001, a chocolate lab named Daisy gave birth to a litter of black and white puppies.  Six weeks later, I was driving home with the runt of the litter - a little female with a white star on her chest, whose top point extended all the way up to her chin.  I named her Liz.  I'm notorious for giving nicknames to EVERYTHING and she was no different.  Her very first nickname was "Snickerdoodle".  I distinctly remember my dad telling me that if I kept calling her that, she wasn't going to learn what her real name was.  Even though I did start using her real name, I would end up calling her so many nicknames that I'm not even sure of them all (and she answered to every last one of them, thank you very much)!  But that very first one stuck and I've called her "Snickerdoodle" and "Doodle" her entire life.  Speaking of life...

On June 20, 2007, she barked ONE TIME when she met my boyfriend for the first time.  She never barks ONE TIME at anything!

My then-boyfriend hid this on her collar on November 25, 2009:













Then she did this on October 16, 2010:





























(a candid shot of us)












When my husband and I purchased our first home, we said that we were really buying it for her.  We made sure it was carpeted (since she hated hardwood floors), had minimal steps to get in and out (because she had arthritis in her elbow and knee), and a BIG backyard for her roam around in (because she loves to be outside and smell everything).

She was a big foster sister to three rabbits, who she tolerated with no problems (even if one of the rabbits kept trying to jump onto the couch with her).  Then on November 1, 2014, we took her to the SPCA of Wake County to see how she would like having a little brother.  So then she became a big sister to a 5 year old Hound mix whom we named Chief Inspector Japp:










And then, on December 17, 2014, we lost her to nasosinal cancer.  There is this huge void in our lives where she should be.  We don't regret the decision to end her suffering because, in the end, that's what was happening - the cancer was affecting her ability to breath normally, terrible nosebleeds that were harder and harder to stop, losing weight, and affecting her sense of smell (which, for a dog who is half English Pointer, is tragic).  We were able to end her life on her terms - she walked into the vet's office with her head held high, gave everyone one last hug, and laid in my arms until the end.  Which is exactly how she would've wanted it.  And that's how we wanted it.

So to my dear, sweet, beautiful girl, my little Snickerdoodle, I love you.  I miss you.


Snickerdoodles
adapted slightly from King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion

1/2 c. Shortening
1/2 c. Butter, unsalted
1 1/2 c. Sugar
1 tsp. Vanilla
2 3/4 c. All Purpose Flour
3/4 tsp. Salt
1/2 tsp. Ground Nutmeg
2 tsp. Baking Powder
1 Large Egg

Coating:
2 tsp. Cinnamon
1/2 c. Sugar

Preheat oven to 400.
Lightly grease your cookie sheets or line with parchment paper.
Using a mixer, cream together the shortening and butter until smooth.
Add in your sugar and vanilla, mixing well.
Mix in your egg until well combined.
While that's working, whisk together your flour, salt, nutmeg, and baking powder in a large bowl.
To your creamed butter and shortening mixture, slowly add in your flour mixture, scraping the bowl every once in a while.
Now you need to mix together the sugar and cinnamon in a separate bowl.
Using a Tbsp. measuring spoon, take some dough and roll into balls.
Then roll your dough ball in the cinnamon-sugar mixture.
Place on prepared cookie sheets and, using the end of a drinking glass that's been dipped into your cinnamon-sugar, press lightly until each dough ball is flattened.
Bake for 8-10 minutes or until golden brown around the edges.
Cool on rack and store in air-tight containers.



(all professional photos are copyright Diane Lewis Photography.)

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap - Triple Chocolate Peppermint Cookies


The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap 2014

YOU GET A COOKIE!  AND YOU GET A COOKIE!  AND YOU GET A COOKIE!!  That's pretty much what you feel when you have three different batches of cookies shipped to your house.  Yes folks, I once again participated in the 4th Annual Food Blogger Cookie Swap.  Which meant three different people got to feel this way from me and three different people made ME feel this way :)  Isn't Christmas fun?

Christmas is mostly about the cooking baking.  Am I right or am I right?  But Christmas is also about giving back, whether its through donations to a local charity or partaking in a fundraiser.  Which is another reason why I LOVE doing this cookie swap.  Each participant must donate $4 to Cookies to Kid's Cancer in order to have cookies sent to you and then our brand partners, OXO, Dixie Crystals, Brownie Brittle, and California Olive Ranch would MATCH the donations.  This year?  We had 566 participants.  Which meant that IN TOTAL, we raised over $12k for Cookies for Kids Cancer!  How amazing is that??

Now since we all know that calories don't count during the holidays, I got cookies from these amazing bloggers:
Christmas Cake Batter Cookies from Currently Coveting (my husband's favorite)
Cinnamon Pinwheel Bites from Confessions of a Foodie (my favorite - because OMG cinnamon.)
Everything Butterscotch Bars from The Food Driven Life (my bestie's favorite)

These lovely ladies received my no-calorie cookies:
The Spiffy Cookie
from Captain's Daughter to Army Mom
The Skinny Chick Can Bake

We all know that fall is all about pumpkin.  But Christmas is where peppermint reigns!  Once you get past Thanksgiving, all those pumpkin things turn into peppermint.  Peppermint shakes.  Peppermint lattes.  Peppermint pie.  Peppermint cookies.  When I was going over what to bake for the cookie swap with my family and friends, I took a poll and these cookies were the unanimous winner.  I think the peppermint and the fact that it's Christmas time made people biased.  (Next year, I may do something crazy and make piƱa colada cookies just to shake people up. haha)  Since chocolate is totally acceptable at any moment, any day, any time of the year, these make for the perfect Christmas cookie - chocolate and peppermint!  What could possibly go wrong??


Triple Chocolate Peppermint Cookies
adapted from Andes Mints

2 c. + 2 Tbsp. All Purpose Flour
½ c. Hot Cocoa Mix
½ tsp. Baking Soda
½ tsp. Salt
1 c. Unsalted Butter, melted
1 c. Brown Sugar, firmly packed
½ c. Granulated Sugar
1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
2 Large Eggs
1 – 10 oz. package Andes Peppermint Crunch Baking Chips
½ c. Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips (I used mini chips but full-size works fine)
½ c. White Chocolate Chips

Preheat oven to 350.
In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, hot cocoa mix, baking soda, and salt.
In a large bowl, use a mixer on medium speed to beat your melted butter, sugar, brown sugar, and vanilla until creamy.
Beat in your eggs, one at a time.
Slowly mix in your flour mixture until well combined.
Stir in your peppermint chips, chocolate chips, and white chocolate chips.
Drop by rounded tablespoons onto a non-stick cookie sheet (or one lined with parchment paper), placing cookies two inches apart.
Bake for 10-12 minutes.
Let rest on your baking sheet for a minute and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Yields around 48 cookies.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Traditional Pumpkin Pie

Do you remember the other day that I mentioned my husband was back in a pumpkin mood?  Well, it seems that his year-long hiatus from pumpkin is now back - with a vengeance .  Not only did I make him pumpkin scones but then he asks me to make him a pumpkin pie!  Can you believe that?  You'd think he thinks I like to bake or something.  I have no idea.  Who knew men could be so demanding?

Generally speaking, I like to keep things traditional.  I'm not someone who makes a bunch of wild and crazy things.  I am interested in making different things but when it comes down to it, I love traditional Southern food.  With Thanksgiving coming up at the end of this week, what is more traditional than a pumpkin pie?  (Of course, every year, I make my Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cake because it's awesome but it certainly isn't a recipe you want to make multiple times a year, that's for sure.)

Traditional Pumpkin Pie
adapted slighlty from Libby's Pumpkin

3/4 c. Sugar
2 1/2 tsp. Pumpkin Pie Spice
2 Eggs (large)
1 - 15 oz. can Pumpkin
1 - 12 oz. can Evaporated Milk
1 unbaked Deep Dish Pie Shell  (no deep dish?  That's fine - this recipe will make 2 regular size pies.)

Preheat your oven to 425 with your cookie sheet.
Mix sugar and spices together in a large bowl.
Then beat in your eggs.
Stir the pumpkin into your egg mixture.
Gently stir in the evaporated milk.
Pour into your unbaked pie shell.  (Your shell will be VERY FULL!)
GENTLY transfer your pie to the oven and onto your preheated baking sheet.
Bake for 15 minutes.
Reduce your oven temperature to 350.  (Do not open your oven.)
Bake for an additional 40 to 50 minutes or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean.  (Mine took right at 40 minutes.)
Cool on a wire rack for at least two hours.
Then refrigerate or serve immediately... preferably with whipped cream.



Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Tips-n-Tricks Tuesday - Baking Filled Pies

Fall y'all.  Is there really any other time that makes us want to make pies more often than fall?  Apple.  Pumpkin.  Sweet Potato.  I mean, come on people!  And let's just be honest - we all know that everyone and their brother makes a pumpkin pie at some point between September 1st and November 30th.  My husband already made me make him one (recipe coming soon).  So that leads me to today's tip.... how do you make sure your bottom crust cooks properly when you're making a filled pie??  We've all had it happen - you go to cut that first slice only to realize that your bottom crust didn't cook all the way.  And then we want to sob because we wanted it PERFECT!!! 

The best way to help ensure that the bottom crust of your filled pies cooks perfectly is as simple as preheating a cookie sheet.  By preheating your cookie sheet before placing your pie on it, you allow a stronger heat to be absorbed through the base.  Which makes the cooking process start on the top and bottom of your pie, rather than your cooking starting from the top and working its way down (which results in a soggy crust).

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Pumpkin Scones with Cinnamon Chips

Many of my regular readers will know how much my husband loves pumpkin.  I've spoken about this many times.  Well, last year, suddenly he tells me that he's "off" pumpkin.  I apparently had made too many pumpkin things the year before and so he wasn't really feeling it.  I actually felt his forehead - I thought he was sick!  We have been together for seven years now (gee, where did the time go?) and he has always been, "Oh I love pumpkin!", "Make me something pumpkin!"  So you'll see why I wondered if I needed to rush him to the emergency room.  Or knock some sense into him... I wasn't really sure which.  So my mother-in-law (Hi!) calls me around a week ago asking if her son is still "off" pumpkin - she was as concerned as I was over that little development last year - and I was happy to report that he was, in fact, back in love with pumpkin!  We could all breath a little easier now.

Once my husband had made his happy announcement that he wanted pumpkin once more, off I went in search of recipes.  It had been a really long time since I'd made scones so I really wanted to make a pumpkin scone.  Apparently the recipe gods heard me because the very next day, my November issue of Bon Appetit magazine arrived in my mailbox and there it was:  Pumpkin Scones.  And as luck would have it, I actually had all the ingredients!  Oh happy day!  The original recipe included a cinnamon butter recipe and mixed cranberries into the scones.  Well, the husband doesn't like cranberries so I decided to meet-in-the-middle of this recipe and mixed in cinnamon chips (which are probably one of my favorite ingredients EVER).

I love making scones, almost as much as I love making cookies.  But scones can be deceiving.  When you add in your liquid ingredients, your dry ingredients look like they will never come together.  But PLEASE don't add in any more liquid.  Everything will come together, I promise.  I made the mistake of adding one tablespoon of extra liquid and it made my scones too sticky.  You want your dough to be on the dry side.


Pumpkin Scones with Cinnamon Chips
adapted slightly from Bon Appetit (Nov. 2014)

1/2 c. Sugar
2 tsp. Baking Powder
2 tsp. Pumpkin Pie Spice
1/2 tsp. Salt
1/4 tsp. Baking Soda
2 c. All Purpose Flour
3/4 c. Butter, unsalted (1 1/2 sticks)
1/2 c. Cinnamon Chips
1 Egg
1/2 c. Pumpkin (Libby's canned pumpkin)
1/4 c. Buttermilk

In a large bowl, whisk together your sugar, baking powder, pumpkin pie spice, salt, baking soda, and flour.
Using the large holes on a box grater, grate in your butter.  (Placing your butter in the freezer 30 minutes prior to grating and it'll go so much easier.)
Toss the butter in the dry ingredients to coat.
Mix in your cinnamon chips.
Now add your egg, pumpkin, and buttermilk, stirring to combine.  (Remember this may not look like enough liquid but keep going - it'll all come together.)
Transfer the dough to some parchment paper that's been lightly floured and pat into a 1 1/2" thick disk.
Cut into 8 wedges.
Freeze until firm, around 25 to 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 400.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown.


Pumpkin-y goodness.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Small Batch Pineapple Jam

Ladies, lets talk about something men just don't understand - the clearance section.  I know I'm not alone in my love for a deal!  I still talk about the time I got $40 shoes for $3 (gold sandals at JCPenney's, by the way).  My best friend knows that if we're Target, we are going to go see the endcaps to see what steals and deals they have.  I tell my husband all the time that if we ever get separated in a store, he can always find me in the clearance section.  Now, one of the surprising places to find a deal is the produce section of your grocery store.  Did you know that sometimes they will put produce that's maybe not quite as pretty as it once was on clearance?  Me neither - at least until a few months ago.  Now I love pineapple whether its in juice form or chunks - I love it all.  But pineapples can be expensive.  My local grocery store usually has them for $4.99 each.  Which, for folks on a budget, spending $5 on a pineapple sometimes doesn't make the final list.  So when I came across a pineapple wrapped up in the cling film that was marked $.69?  Yeah, that was going in my cart!  No it wouldn't be winning any special awards for appearance and it wasn't going to last long on the counter either.  No, this needed something to make it last MUCH longer...

Enter Pomona's Pectin.  I LOVE this stuff!  Pomona's Pectin allows the at-home canner to make jams and jellies (and lots of other things, according to their website) using much less sugar than your traditional pectin.  For example: strawberry jam using traditional pectin requires THREE CUPS of sugar. THREE! Using Pomona's Pectin, I use ONE CUP for the exact same amount of fruit. Talk about a big difference!  And I don't know about you but I find a lot of fresh fruits don't actually need that much sugar so it's great to see a product that will allow me to have much more control over the sugars rather than letting the sugar control me.  The insert that comes with the packets of pectin have plenty of jam and jelly ideas for you to try.  The pineapple jam had always intrigued me but, as you can guess, pineapple never stuck around long enough in my house to ever be made into jam.  But now, I had a pineapple that was just begging to made into jam.

Also, as a side note... as many of my readers know, I like to steer clear of preservatives and keep things as natural as possible.  Now, I will occasionally use tradition pectin because - well, sometimes a tradition is a tradition for a reason.  But have you looked on the side of a traditional Ball Fruit Pectin jar? It's dextrose (which is a type of sugar), fruit pectin, and citric acid.  Not exactly something I wanted to see.  But Pomona's Pectin?  From their website: "Pomona's Universal Pectin contains only 100% pure citrus pectin, which is vegan, gluten free, and GMO free.  There are no additives, preservatives, sugar, or dextrose.  There are no corn or apple by-products."  Now that sounds like a product I can get behind!  (side note:  I didn't get any compensation from Pomona's Pectin - I bought this product and I use it with quite a bit of regularity.)

So for the next question:  where can you find this wonderful product?  I found mine at my local Williams-Sonoma but you can also find it at Whole Foods Markets.  You can also order from Amazon (Prime eligible).  On their website, they do have a Store Locator to help you find it at a store near you.

Pineapple Jam
recipe from insert in Pomona's Pectin

2 c. Pineapple, mashed (one pineapple gave me the full amount)
1 c. Sugar
1 tsp. Pectin Powder (included in Pomona's Pectin)
1 tsp. Calcium Water (included in Pomona's Pectin)

Get your jars prepared by washing them and letting them stand in a pot of hot, simmering water (making sure the water is at least one inch higher than the top of the jars).
In a separate bowl, measure your sugar and mix in the pectin powder.
Pour the mashed fruit into a pan (DO NOT USE CAST IRON!) and stir in the calcium water.
Bring the fruit to a boil.
Add in your sugar and stir vigorously for 1-2 minutes until the pectin and sugar dissolves.
Bring the fruit mixture back up to a boil.
Remove from the heat.
Remove your warm jars from the water and turn up the heat, letting your water come to a boil.
Fill your warm jars to 1/4" from the top and wipe the rims clean.
Screw on your two piece, screwing them just "finger tight" (until you can't tighten anymore just using your fingers).
Return your jars into the boiling water.
Boil for 10 minutes (if you're above sea level, add 1 minute to each 1000 feet above sea level).
Remove from the water and let the jars cool with a towel draped over them.
The jars are sealed when you hear a loud pop as they cool.  (Unsealed jars should be eaten within three weeks and kept in the fridge.)

Makes two half pints.