Sunday, September 18, 2011

Creamy Vegetable Soup

What I really wanted to tell you was how to make "drips and drops" soup--but something about dripping and dropping seems more in line with a weight room than a soup pot. Tonight is comfort food Sunday, so dubbed because of the strenuous weekend we've had generally doing nothing but reading, sleeping, and lounging about.

You could also call this "I threw everything in soup" or "Literally, all the little bits are in here soup" or a personal favorite: "Clear out the pantry and fridge and freezer for the week soup." It's like poetry here.

This soup is really the product of realizing that I am becoming my mother. I mean this in the best possible sense, so please take it that way. My mom's pantry is like that of a food bank, with multiples of everything you can imagine--cherry pie filling, mandarin orange segments, artichokes in water, artichokes in oil, tomato soup, beans (seven kinds), water, chocolate chips, tonic water, barbeque sauce, Gatorade....and on and on. I won't tell you your address; you'd be tempted to go there in a crisis.

My smaller, less impressive pantry has been getting larger over the past few months, and with that comes the realization that I am a) getting older b) getting more prepared or c) forgetting what I have when I buy things. Ding, ding, ding. It's c, folks! No more--not after creamy vegetable soup. After seeing yesterday's Facebook post on Taste of Home's page, I've been craving creamy soup, and as the weather turns sharply to fall, it is indeed time.

And here's the mess of things I threw together to do clean-up duty in my house and make a comforting Sunday supper:

1 1/2 onions, diced (mix of red and purple in my case)
3 carrots, diced
3 celery ribs, diced
2 c. frozen mixed veggies
1/2 c. spinach and artichoke dip
2 T. turkey chili (I know!)
1 can evaporated milk
1 can cream of chicken soup
2 c. frozen shredded potatoes
3/4 serving of KFC mashed potatoes and gravy (need a poll here--will you ever read this blog after this?!)
1 1/2 c. shredded cheddar
1 T. minced garlic
1/4 c. parmesan cheese
1 piece of goat cheese we found--get this--in the freezer...
Salt and pepper to taste
2 t. chicken bouillon granules or 1 cube bouillon
Few splashes cream at the end

Literally all you have to do for this one is toss it all in a pot to simmer. I saved the cheese for the end, but you get the idea. The nice thing about this soup is that it will accommodate whatever you have on hand, and this is the way of cooking that ensures you'll never have to eat out or go hungry.

Have fun with this--make your own creamy soup with vegetables in it. On another night, I might thicken this soup with sour cream, cream cheese, mascarpone, cream, mashed potatoes, regular milk.  I might toss in leftover ranch or onion dip, frozen green beans, canned corn, egg noodles, or fancier spices (like herbs de provence).My basic recipe for soup is core vegetables: onion, celery, carrot, peppers, thickener (potatoes, milk, cream, cheese), flair (spices like cilantro, oregano, italian seasoning, etc; bits of salad dressing, dip, spreads, etc), and substance (noodles, meat, beans, etc). It sounds so appealing that way, doesn't it? if you pressed me to put a ratio on it, I'd guess we're looking at about 3:2:1:2/ But one of the things I like is that soup always comes out balanced and authentic this way--made with love.

We're having this with cornbread mix (another pantried item), and it's rather filling and delicious. Now my fridge, freezer, and pantry are a bit cleaner, though I have to admit that I do pride in knowing that I now appreciate a canned good saved for a rainy day.

What I appreciate even more is that I resisted the urge to type veggie multiple times during the creation of this post...

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Taco Piz

A few weeks ago, we enjoyed a lovely weekend afternoon at a winery that served grilled pizzas. The Taco Pizza caught our eye, and while all the flavors were good, this was the run away star of the afternoon for me. (I played DD).

So tonight, we are recreating Taco Piz for date night. Play with this and make it your own!

Crust: We use naan, an Indian flatbread, but you could also try pita, 100 calorie sandwich buns, lavash, tortilla, etc. You get the idea.

Meat (cook this ahead of time!): Ground beef sauteed with diced onion and some frozen corn. Would be equally good with diced chicken, cilantro, and pepper. Experiment!

Sauce: Tomato sauce with a bit of salsa or hot sauce added in. Would be good with all salsa or those Mexi-stewed tomatoes whirred in the blender to make a sauce. We just mixed a small can of tomato sauce with a few dashes of cumin and garlic and about 1/8 cup of salsa.

Cheese: Cheddar, or a mix of cheddar and jack or pepper jack.

Build your pizza with sauce, meat, and cheese, and place in a hot oven (or on a hot grill) until cheese is melted. We do our oven at the hottest temp with the pizzas on a cookie sheet. It takes about 8-10 minutes. Top with shredded lettuce, chopped tortilla chips, a drizzle of sour cream, and if you want, a sprinkling of salsa fresca or hot sauce. Yummy! It's kind of like an inverted taco salad but so much fun. And let's face it--this is great with the sangria I just blogged about, eh? Cheers!

Favorite Sangria

While this blog is certainly not Pig in an Alcohol Store, I have to share our new favorite sangria recipe. It's light and perfect for summer. Even better, it reaffirms the brilliance of buying bulk seasonal fruit and freezing it for a rainy (er, sunny) day when it's no longer fresh. Frozen fruit keeps sangria cold and delicious throughout its time in your glass.

If you're like me, you probably want to save your $20-40/bottle red wines for a good steak dinner. And you probably hesitate to buy a cheap bottle for any reason. However, let me steer you to Tisdale Merlot, which we get for about $3/bottle and is perfect for sangria, where it's not really about the quality of the wine anyway.

This recipe makes one drink. Double, triple, quadruple, etc for a pitcher.

1/2 large glass filled with one (put a full pour of wine in here)
2 squirts Torani ruby red grapefruit or blood orange syrup (Italian soda syrup)
Rest of glass full of icy cold club soda
Frozen fruit and maraschino cherry

Mix all ingredients well with a swizzle stick or similar, and enjoy. I suppose you could use a Tisdale white wine if you like white sangria, but we gravitate toward the reds. If you like your sangria a bit sweeter, you could add a splash of Midori or more syrup, but we usually like the wine to speak for itself (Hi, I'm cheap wine but also delicious!) and the sugar to take a backseat.

This is Southern California in a glass!

Best Beef Pot Roast

A dear friend of ours recently celebrated a birthday and had us over for a special meal. While I wish she would have let us make her a special dinner, I'm secretly glad she showed us on of her family's favorite recipes, which is now an all-star Sunday dinner in our home. Best part? Super simple. Beyond simple.

Pot Roast

2-3 lbs. of beef roast (chuck, for example)
1 envelope onion soup mix, dry
1 1/2 cans cream of mushroom soup

That's it--line a pan with foil, then top foil with onion soup mix (dry). Place roast on top, and then slather with cream of mushroom soup. Bake in the oven, covered with more foil, for 2-4 hours, or until meat is tender. The gravy will be there in the foil, and you just have to put it with mashed potatoes and green beans to complete the meal.

This is so good, and what I like the best is that it is doable on a week night--since the gravy makes itself, it is quick and has no intimidation factor. I've since heard that this type of recipe used to be a staple in households all over, though my family never made it. Which begs the question: What other super simple recipes have gone by the wayside but deserve an encore in today's busy kitchens?!!

Date Night Chicken Dinner

We've gotten to that point where we have date night. Sigh. Every Saturday night, we try to carve out some time together between reading books, running errands, working, and spending time with Helmut, our cat. Last week, we started date night with an argument. But from there, we got back into a cozy place and decided to stay in and cook with what we had, enjoying each other's company instead of going out to a crowded place.

Such a good decision! We happened to have frozen chicken tenders from Trader Joe's, fingerling potatoes, carrots, and frozen spinach, so we improvised a chicken dinner that turned out to be five-star quality. One of the best meals we've ever had.

Give it a try--pre-meal argument optional!

Cover the inside of a 9 x 13 pan with foil and spray with nonstick spray. Toss in cut up fingerling potatoes (peels on) and peeled carrots, all cut into chunks. If you have an onion, slice it up and toss it in too (we didn't.) Massage veggies with a bit of olive oil, parsley, salt and pepper, minced garlic (maybe not best date night choice), and oregano. Top veggie mixture with six frozen chicken tenders that you've tossed with a little oil, salt, pepper, and herbs de provence (one of my fav spice blends).

Put this all into the oven at about 400 degrees, and wait until it smells like chicken dinner to take it out. Check it after half and hour, and it will probably be done by an hour and change, but make sure you check your chicken. If you want to do this faster, par boil the veggies and use raw chicken. Same great flavors.

While this was all well and good, the star of the meal was the creamed spinach. I vaguely recall seeing creamed spinach with corn on a menu or having it at some point recently, though I can't recall where. So we flew by the seat of our pants on this one...put half a bag of frozen spinach and 1/2 c. frozen corn in a skillet. Drop in a tablespoon of butter and a teaspoon of olive oil. Add salt, pepper, cream cheese (we used 1/3 less fat), fresh grated parmesan, 4 T. cream, and a dash of milk. If you have some minced garlic, toss it in, and give it a sprinkle of nutmeg. Cook until creamy. This is irresistible with the corn and a new family favorite.

What is your favorite date night meal?

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Spinach Mashed Potatoes

I've been looking for ways to lighten up the mashed potatoes we both love by stretching the potato part with other veggies. Our first attempt was broccoli mashed potatoes, and they were delicious with some pureed broccoli and garlic added in. Last night, we made spinach mashed potatoes that were even better.

We love the chance to put all our veggies together on the plate, and I can only imagine that adding low-calorie veggies into traditional mashed potatoes is also a great plan for parents with picky eaters (I was one of those eaters in my younger days!). Even better, you get all the comforting mashed potato flavor and texture with a bit less starch and a lot more nutrition.

Without further fuss: spinach mashed potatoes!

2 large baking potatoes, peeled, rinsed, thinly sliced
2 c. chopped frozen spinach
1 T. Smart Balance butter
1/2 t. garlic powder
1 T. cream
1/4 c. 2% milk
2 T. light sour cream
Salt and pepper to taste (these can take a bit of salt with all the veggies)

Place potatoes into water and bring to boil. Let boil for 10 minutes. Drain. Return potatoes and rest of ingredients to pan and mash with a hand masher. Turn on the heat underneath these for about five minutes to heat through. Give potatoes one final mash once hot and serve.

These potatoes have a lovely spinach color and a delicious consistency.  Wonderful with a chicken breast or a few slices of turkey breast (what we had last night).

Birthday Chocolate Cuppies

We love cupcakes! On vacation a few weeks ago, we had the most delicious Oreo cupcakes that had chocolate and vanilla swirled batter and a delicious Oreo buttercream. I mean, it was a cupcake that makes you appreciate sugar in a whole new way. But since we've both been focusing more on our eating habits, we decided to reinvent our birthday cupcake tradition. For my birthday (the big 30!), I decided to use this recipe as a base and experiment to make it a little different: Hungry Girl's Yum Yum Brownie Muffins. Why not indulge minus the guilt, right?

I tweaked the recipe a bit, as I always do when I'm borrowing one, but the results were so delicious that we'd never go back to regular cupcakes!! Hungry Girl has the best tips and inspired this dish!!

Chocolate Cuppies

1 box chocolate cake mix (we used Devil's Food)
1/2 large can pumpkin puree (not sweetened)
1/2 t. pure vanilla extract
1/2 t. almond extract (really brings out great flavor in chocolate!!)
2 T. cooled brewed coffee

Mix all together. This batter is going to be stiff--don't frest. Pour into 12 lined muffin cups. Bake at 400 degrees for about 15-18 minutes, or until toothpick tester comes out clean. (Set the timer for a few minutes below and check these. You don't want to overbake.) Remove from oven and let cool. These are so moist and rich--decadent!

Cream Cheese Frosting

3 3/4 c. cool whip topping, frozen
3/4 c. whipped cream cheese
3/4 c. marshmallow fluff

Mix all ingredients together and use to frost the cupcakes. I could eat this out of the bowl, but it's so much better to have it with the moist cupcake. This recipe makes enough for all your cuppies, but frost them as you want to serve them. This frosting wouldn't do well to sit on the cakes in the fridge. If you'd like, garnish with chocolate jimmies or shredded dark chocolate. We are going to try a lighter version of another flavor for Doug's impending birthday.

By my calculations, one frosted cupcake has about 230-250 calories depending on the frosting amount. Don't quote me on it--I'm not a nutritionist. But what I do know is that these are so good that you'll never want to go back to those calorically expensive cupcakes in the bakery.