Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Carrot Ginger Soup

This soup is so perfect for the start pf spring -- light, zesty, and flavorful, yet still warm and comforting for dinner on a cool evening.  The carrot-and-ginger combination is nothing new, but I love adding a little bit of orange to brighten up the other ingredients.  After combing through several carrot and ginger soup recipes online, this is the hybrid that resulted.  My first iteration of this recipe was pretty good -- I was a little heavy-handed with the orange, and the result was more of a carrot-orange smoothie.  It probably would have been delicious served chilled, but that was not my objective! :)  Second try was the winner.  Less orange, more ginger.  Less tang, more bite.  This recipe makes about 4 small servings.  Hello spring! :)

8 large carrots, cut into chunks
1 large white onion, chopped
1/2 an orange
1 tbsp. grated ginger
2 cups chicken stock 
2 cups water
a couple of threads of saffron (optional)

chives and goat cheese
Peel ginger with the back of a spoon before grating it

Drizzle a small amount of olive oil into a large pot and saute onions over medium heat until translucent.  Add carrots and continue to saute, about 10 minutes.. Then, add ginger, orange, saffron (optional), chicken stock, and water.  Season with salt and pepper.  Allow the mixture to simmer over medium heat, approximately a half an hour, until carrots are soft and can break apart with a fork.  Transfer the mixture to a blender, and puree until smooth.  Serve with chopped chives, goat cheese, or cream fraiche.

Right before the liquids go in....
I like to add garnish -- keeps it from looking like baby food!
Pretty and swirly

Monday, March 10, 2014

Curried Kale and Sweet Potato Hash

"Waste not, want not!" Definitely one of my cooking mantras. Staring into my fridge the other night, I realized that a couple of items were on the brink of expiration.  It pains me to throw away food (you would think I was starved as a child), so rather than toss out my kale, sweet potatoes, and eggs, I threw together a simple dish that combines the three -- Curried Kale and Sweet Potato Hash.  Seeing that St. Patrick's Day is right around the corner, I figured a "hash" of somesort would be timely anyway.  I'm always looking to celebrate!

This dish was simple, and satisfying... and kept with my "clean eating" goal that I attempt most days of the week.  Adding curry powder removed any remaining bitterness in the kale, enhanced the flavors of the sweet potato, and blended with the runny egg yolk to create a satisfying sauce.

Don't have sweet potato? Use a russet.  Don't have kale? Use spinach. Don't have curry? Just season with salt and pepper.  This was an unexpectedly delicious weeknight supper!

1 large sweet potato
4 cups of chopped kale
1/2 large white onion, sliced
1 tablespoon curry powder
1/2 cup chicken broth
1-2 tbsp. olive oil

Bake or microwave sweet potato and set aside to cool.  Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large sautee pan, add onion and saute for a couple of onions.  Then chicken broth and chopped kale, two cups at a time to the sautee pan.  Allow the kale to wilt, then add curry powder.  Chop up the cooked sweet potato, and add to the mixture.  Stir gently.  Next, fry eggs (however many you want).  Serve the kale sweet potato mixture into individual serving bowls and top with fried eggs.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Strawberry Shortcut Cookies

I really enjoy cooking from scratch, but patience is not my strong suit.  This explains why I generally prefer cooking to baking, since cookies and cakes often take more time and precision than I can offer.  Right now, I am facing some non-negotiable deadlines, and the thought of spending two hours in the kitchen sends me into panic-attack mode.  But how could I let Valentine's Day pass without making something sweet (preferably pink and pretty)?  For the sake of my mental sanity, it was time to surrender and take a short-cut.  Easy cake-mix-cookie posts are ubiquitous on Pinterest these days, so I decided try making my own version: Strawberry Shortcut Cookies.

It was a success!  Strawberry boxed cake mix is how you cut corners -- it gives these cookies all the color and flavor you need.  This recipe is too easy for words... make that "two" easy for words.  The cookies only require two steps (step one mix, step two bake), and maybe 20 minutes in the kitchen.  I was so proud of these adorable little treats that I'm even bagging some of them to give to friends in lieu of Valentine's cards.

15 oz. box of Strawberry cake mix
2 large eggs
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips (optional)

Pre-heat oven to 325.  Dump everything (except chocolate chips) into a large mixing bowl.  Stir until completely incorporated.  No need to use an electric mixer.  Mix in the chocolate chips, if desired.  Use a tablespoon to scoop batter onto the baking sheet.  Bake for 8-10 minutes.  Allow to cool on baking rack.  Serve to your Valentine.

This Valentine's Day, I've had a change of "heart"... I love a quality short-cut!


Monday, February 3, 2014

Skinny Cannoli Dip

I love cannolis, but they can be pretty scarce here in Texas.  Which may be a good thing since they are not exactly figure-friendly.  So to solve these two dilemmas, I decided to try my hand at a homemade ricotta chocolate chip cannoli dip, lightened up.  Here's why I love it...

...It's easy
...It looks pretty
...No piping, no pastry bag needed
...Hi-cal/Low-cal (high calcium, low calorie)
...Appropriate any time (summertime poolside, holiday parties, weeknight light dessert)

I'm planning to whip this up again as part of a Valentine's Day spread.  Strawberries and chocolate are always be a part of Valentine's Day, right?  Plus, because it's a dip, you have permission to play with your food.  Valentine's treats should be fun like that (wink, wink).

After doing a little online research of multiple similar recipes, I formulated this mix.  Which is really all it is -- a simple mix of all of the ingredients.  From there, you can dip whatever you want in it.  Try whatever fruit is in season, graham crackers, vanilla wafers, etc.  This time, I used bananas, strawberries, blackberries, and animal crackers.  Get creative!

16 oz. part-skim ricotta
1/3 cup confectioner's sugar
2 tbsp. mascarpone cheese (or reduced fat cream cheese)
1 tsp. almond extract
3 tbsp. semi-sweet mini chocolate chips.

Mix ricotta, confectioner's sugar, mascarpone cheese, and almond extract.  Then add 2 tbsp. mini chocolate chips and mix.  Scoop into your serving bowl, and sprinkle remaining 1 tbsp. mini chocolate chips on top for garnish.


Thursday, January 16, 2014

Spaghetti Squash Chicken Pad Thai

Ok, enough of the cupcakes and pies, it's back to reality!  I'm finally facing the fact that my jeans are getting a little too "cute" after the holidays.  Time to clean up my act and get back into some reasonable eating habits!  Truthfully, I really enjoy making and eating healthy food, so this is a welcome transition.  Simple, clean eating can be very easy and inexpensive. When you experiment with different flavor combinations, your dinner routine will never get boring.  Enter Chicken Pad Thai.

This recipe is full of colors, flavors, and healthy ingredients.  It's also a perfect way to polish off any leftover cooked meat you may have in your fridge.  I used chicken, but you could use beef, pork, turkey, shrimp, tofu, or leave it meatless.  Thai cooking was intimidating to me, until I actually got in front of the stove and did it.  If you've never attempted, I hope you are pleasantly surprised by this recipe.  It's looks way more challenging than it is, so get ready for lots of compliments!  Oh, and it's man-approved.  In fact, it's a man magnet.

 1-2 cups of shredded or cubed cooked chicken (or cooked meat of your choice)
1 whole spaghetti squash
1 tbsp. olive oil or vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 large cloves of garlic, minced
1 red bell pepper, cut into strips
2 zucchinis, cut into half-moon chunks
1 cup of snow peas (or sub sugar snap peas)
2 tbsp. peanut butter
1 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tbsp. lime juice (1 lime)
2 tsp. sriracha chili sauce
1 tbsp. fish sauce (optional)

chopped green onion
chopped cilantro
chopped peanuts
lime wedges

Prep your spaghetti squash first, and bake it while you assemble the rest of the dish.* In a large saute pan, heat oil, then add chopped onion and garlic.  Sautee about 3 minutes, until onions are softened.  Then add red bell pepper, zucchini, and snow peas.  Continue sauteing for about ten minutes, then add cooked chicken to heat through.  Meanwhile, in a small mixing bowl, combine peanut butter, soy sauce, lime juice, and (optional) fish sauce.  Stir until you create a smooth sauce.  Remove the cooked strings of spaghetti squash from the skin, then add to the sautee pan with the chicken and vegetables.  Pour sauce into the sautee pan and stir to combine.  I recommend garnishing with green onion, cilantro, peanuts, sriracha, and lime wedges.

Spaghetti squash instructions: Preheat oven to 400F.  Carefully slice the spaghetti squash in half, lengthwise.  Scoop out the seeds.  Place the squash halves, cut-side down, onto a roasting pan.  Bake for approximately one hour.  Allow to cool just a bit.  Then using a fork, scrape out the stringy insides of the squash. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Hot Cocoa Cupcakes with Melted Marshmallow Frosting

It's as good as it looks!
This recipe puts everything you love about hot cocoa into a portable paper baking liner!  And, it's easy...  like dump-and-stir easy.  Even though the base of this cupcake recipe is a boxed mix, you still have permission to call it homemade because of the little touches that make the final product different! ;)

This recipe is perfect for the holidays because....
...it's festive (c'mon look at those little marshmallows on top!)
...it's portable (bring 'em to Christmas dinner parties or you kid's classroom holiday party, giftable)
...it's fast (who has extra time right now?)

I made this recipe for a dinner party I was hosting on Friday, as I was getting dressed to attend the bf's company holiday party on Thursday.  Multi-tasking at its finest!  Basically it's a boxed milk chocolate cake mix, made with prepared hot cocoa instead of water.  I stuff a marshmallow inside each cupcake, then top it with a two-ingredient frosting.  There's absolutely nothing healthy or made-from-scratch here... please don't judge!  However, it is totally festive, fun, and fast.

Un-apologetically delicious

Boxed milk chocolate cake mix (plus vegetable oil, 3 eggs, 1 1/4 cup water, or whatever is specified by the boxed mix you use -- I used Betty Crocker)
4 packets of marshmallow hot cocoa mix (I used Swiss Miss)
1 bag of big marshmallows (I used Jet Puffed)
1 jar of marshmallow creme (I used Jet Puffed)
1 12-oz tub of white frosting (I used Betty Crocker Whipped white icing)
Cupcake tins and liners

Sift out the mini marshmallows to use later

Preheat oven to 350 and put cupcake liners in the cupcake tins.  Sift the mini marshmallows out of three of the four packets of hot cocoa mix and set aside.  Heat the water (the amount called for in the cake mix) in a microwave safe cup for approximately a minute, then stir in the sifted hot cocoa mix.  Allow it to cool slightly.  Prepare the cake mix according to directions, substituting the cooled hot cocoa for the water.  Pour the batter into the tins slightly less than halfway up. 

Substitute hot cocoa for water

Here's how you create the marshmallow filling inside the cupcake:
Stuff one big marshmallow into the middle of each cup of batter.  Bake for about 18-20 minutes.  Baking the marshmallow into the batter creates a little cavern in the cupcake.  Don't worry if it makes a mess.  Pull the cupcakes out of the oven.  Push another marshmallow into the center of the cupcake and bake for two more minutes.  This will melt the marshmallow into the hole you created!  Remove cupcakes from tin and allow them to cool completely before icing.  This should yield about 24 cupcakes.

Stuff marshmallow into each cup of batter

After baking 18-20 minutes, you get a soft cavern
Stuff a second marshmallow in the middle
Bake two more minutes, and you get melted perfection!

For the icing, mix the jar of marshmallow creme with the tub of frosting and spread over the cool cupcakes.  Dust the tops of the cupcakes with the last packet of dry hot cocoa mix, and sprinkle the reserved mini marshmallows on top.
Two-ingredient frosting

Garnish with whatever additional toppings you like -- candy canes, mini chocolate chips, sprinkles, etc!

Those mini marshmallows from the cocoa mix make a comeback!
Cupcake cross-section
Just try to deny!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Soft-Baked White Chocolate Cranberry Cookies

Cranberry hater? This cookie recipe might just cure you of your aversion!  Cranberries boast a distinctively tart taste, but combine them with sweet, creamy white chocolate, and you get a palatable flavor combination.

The batch I just whipped up is going to the children at the Esperanza After School Program. Tutoring these loving, lively elementary schoolers is one of the highlights of my weekly routine.  The kids have mastered their etiquette lessons in preparation for their Thanksgiving feast: keep your elbows off the table, say please and thank you, chew with your mouth closed, etc.  We're going potluck style -- all of the volunteer tutors are preparing a different Thanksgiving dish.  I claimed cranberries as my contribution, but rather than go with the typical cranberry sauce, I opted for cranberry cookies.  Kid-friendly and parent-friendly (3rd graders + cranberry sauce = stains, what parent wants to deal with that?).

The base for this cookie is super-simple, and makes for a rich, soft, tender cookie.  And you get the authentic "zing" of cranberries.

Makes 30-50 cookies, depending on size

2/3 cup shortening
1/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup light brown sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 egg
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt   
1 cup chocolate chips
3/4 cup dried cranberries (I used Ocean Spray Craisins)

Preheat oven ot 375.  In a large mixing bowl, cream together shortening, sugar, light brown sugar, and vanilla, using an electric or stand mixer.  Then fold in one well-beaten egg.  In a medium-sized bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt.  Then gently stir together the dry mixture into the wet mixture, a little at a time.  Stir in white chocolate chips and dried cranberries.  Bake cookies on a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet. 

If I'm providing for a crowd, I like to scoop out table-spoon sized portions.  This will make about 48-50 small cookies, but adjust as you wish, and feel free to double!