Cold Day Minestrone

Texas winters may not compare to the winters experienced in Vermont, Alaska or even Missouri but we still get cold days and we still need our cold-day soups. As I covered some of our more fragile plants with blankets and sheets to protect from the impending freeze I knew it was going to be a soup night. But, what soup?

It didn’t take me long to enthusiastically decide to put on a huge pot of my new favorite soup, minestrone. This “big soup,” as it is translated, is chocked full of scrumptious vegetables, hearty legumes, incredible italian flavors, all backed by a delicious broth. In my book, that’s the makings of a perfect soup. Minestrone is definitely a meal on its own and the only thing that can make this soup even better is a big slice of delicious bread.

This is a fairly simple soup; depending on if you use fresh or canned beans, and if you decide to make your own broth–something I definitely suggest, as vegetable broths are super easy–this soup will take between 45 minutes and two hours. Of course, the pest part of soup is, most of that time is spent out of the kitchen while the soup does all the work.

My minestrone is also just one ingredient shy of being vegetarian, and just two shy of being vegan. Bacon and parmesan are those two ingredients and while I say they are vital for us omnivores and dairy eaters, if you are not, feel free to remove one or both. You will still get a delicious soup though you may need to use a tad more salt.

This recipe produces a lot of soup, enough to feed a small town, or eight hungry mouths two times over. You can cut the recipe in half if you’d like, but one of my favorite parts of soup is it’s incredible leftover potential. It’s perfect for a quick lunch–just heat a bowl up in the microwave for a couple minutes–or a quick dinner–just bring the soup to a slow simmer in a pot to heat through.

Ingredients:

4 quarts Vegetable broth, preferably homemade
2 tablespoons olive oil
5 slices bacon, sliced fairly thin
1 1/2 cup chopped onion (1 1/2 medium onions)
2 cups sliced carrots (about 5 carrots)
1 cup chopped celery
4 cups chopped cabbage (1/2 cabbage)
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups chopped potatoes (2-3 medium potatoes)
1 parmesan cheese rind
5 ounces vermicelli
1 1/2 cups chopped tomatoes
1 1/3 cup garbanzo beans, cooked
1 1/3 cup red kidney beans, cooked
1 1/3 cup navy beans, cooked
1/2 cup pesto, recipe below
Salt & pepper to taste
Grated Parmesan to taste, as garnish

 

Step One: Heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook through, about five minutes.

Step Two: Add the onions, carrots, celery and cabbage. Cook about eight minutes, stirring the mixture often, until the notions are just translucent.

Step Three: Add the garlic and cook another two minutes.

 

Step Four: Add the hot broth, potatoes and Parmesan cheese rind. Bring the liquid to a slow simmer* and cook at a very slow simmer for about 30 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.

*Do not let the pot come to a full boil. With a slow simmer you’ll see a few stray bubbles pop to the surface every few seconds. This low-temperate simmer is perfect for soups.

Step Five: Meanwhile, cook the vermicelli according to the box. Drain and set aside. Make the pesto (recipe & instructions below).

Step Six: After 30 minutes or once the vegetables are tender, add the cooked vermicelli, cooked beans and tomatoes.

Step Seven: Season the soup with pesto and salt and pepper to taste. Remove the parmesan rind.

Serve this soup with grated Parmesan on top and enjoy!

Pesto Ingredients:
3/4 cup chopped basil
1/4 cup chopped parsley
3 tablespoon roasted pine nuts
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
3 cloves chopped garlic
1/3 cup good olive oil

Pesto Instructions:
Step One: Add the basil, parsley, pine nuts, parmesan and garlic to a food processor or blender, pulse until broken down.

Step Two: With the processor running, slowly pour in the olive oil and mix until you have a paste.

Lasagna with Homemade Semolina Pasta

There’s pasta and there’s pasta, and then there’s lasagna. Do you like pasta? Uh, yeah. Do you love lasgana? It’s scary how much you love it, huh? How can you say no to a meaty, cheesy, sauce-filled delicious baked pasta dish like lasagna? While there are many variations on this classic, my favorite is definitely the simple, original classic. Here is my version of that staple.

The star in this dish is not just one particular item, but the scrumptious combination of meat, tomato sauce, four cheeses, and homemade semolina pasta. Scared about making your own pasta? Don’t worry. It can be substituted with the store bought stuff, but I definitely suggest trying it with the homemade pasta! Not only is it delicious, but super fun to make.

The key to any delicious pasta dish is fresh ingredients, and homemade, always from scratch, sauce. The tomato sauce I use for my lasagna is super simple; it does all the work. And like all my recipes, I definitely suggest fresh herbs and good-quality cheeses.

If you’re a little unsure about the time involved in making everything for scratch, I can assure you it will only take about an hour and half of prep time before baking. If you go with the store bought pasta, which works great in this dish, then you can cut that time down to about 45 minutes. The key to a calm hour or so of prep is time management. Luckily for you I’ve made this lasagna over a dozen times, so if you follow the steps below you will have no problem at all. This is also a dish you can bring the family or friends in to help!

Because the pasta, and sauce are stand alone recipes that can be used for numerous other dishes, I have them housed on their own respective pages. I will include and reference each as “tomato sauce” and “semolina pasta” in this master recipe, each time with a link to their page.

I have the ingredients split between the various parts (meat mixture, ricotta mixture, etc), so you’ll notice some ingredients listed a few times. I feel this way is easiest, especially if you are the type to prep and separate all your ingredients before starting a single step.

Ingredients:
Homemade Semolina Pasta (2 lb)

Homemade Tomato Pasta Sauce (2 quarts)

Meat Mixture
3 lb ground chuck beef (80% lean, 20% fat)
2 tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped (2 teaspoons dry)
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Ricotta Mixture
30 ounces ricotta cheese
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
1/4 cup roman cheese, grated
2 eggs
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Mozzarella
1 1/2 lb fresh mozzarella, sliced

Topping
1/4 cup parmesan, grated
1/4 cup roman, grated
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup fresh basil chiffonade

Prep

Step One: Preheat the oven to 375F.

Step Two: Mix/Knead the Semolina Dough. Let it rest while you prepare the rest of the lasagna parts.

Step Three: Prepare the tomato sauce. Let it simmer while you prepare the rest of the lasagna parts.

Step Four: Brown the ground beef in a heated pan over medium-high heat. Once the pink is gone, add the oregano, parsley, salt, pepper and 1 cup of the tomato sauce from the simmering pot. Stir well.

Step Five: Reduce the heat on the ground beef mixture to low. Cover and simmer while you prepare the rest of the lasagna parts.

Step Six: Mix the ricotta, parmesan, romano, eggs, parsley, salt and pepper in a bowl until well combined. Set aside.

Step Seven: Cut the semolina pasta into long sheets, as long as the dish you are baking the pasta in and half as wide as the dish. You’ll need eight of these sheets Cook in salted, boiling water for 2 minutes. Dry the pasta on towels and set aside. You may want to cook the semolina pasta in batches to avoid crowding the pasta.

If you are using store-bought pasta, cook the pasta to aldente according to the box instructions.

Assembly:

Step One: In a large baking dish, about 15 inches long and 10 inches wide, pour just enough sauce in the bottom to coat the dish.

Step Two: Add a layer of pasta.

Step Three: Add 1/3 the ricotta mixture.

Step Four: Add 1/3 the meat mixture.

Step Five: Pour 1/4th the remaining sauce over the meat mixture.

Step Six: Add 1/4 the mozzarella cheese.

Repeat Assembly steps Two through Six two more times for a total of three layers.

Step Seven: Add a final layer of pasta on top.

Step Eight: Pour the remaining sauce on top.

Step Nine: Add the remaining mozzarella cheese to the top.

Step Ten: Add the parmesan, roman, and pepper reserved for the topping.

Step Eleven: Bake in a preheated oven for 45 minutes, uncovered.

Step Twelve: Remove from the oven and sprinkle the chiffonade basil on top.

Serve right away, or you may let it cool for a moment. All this dish needs as a side, if anything, is a nice big loaf of bread.

This lasagna is also a great refrigerate-and-enjoy-for-the-week dish. I enjoyed this for dinner last night, and am munching on it for lunch now.

Russell’s Really Spicy Chili con Carne

Apples and pears; cranberries and pumpkins; soups and so much more. Fall is a wonderful time, especially when it comes delicious food. Of course, you can’t forget about Chili–and while chili may be more suited for a cold winter night, I think it works perfectly for fall. This chili, like so many great dishes that make the south wonderful, is layered with spices and in-turn is quite spicy. Not quite spicy-chili-contest spicy, but it definitely a hold-on-to-your-hat spicy, or a dish that will not go over too well with those who are not spicy aficionados.

Russell's Really Spicy Chili con Carne
Russell’s Really Spicy Chili con Carne

Chili was invented right here in Texas many, many years ago–chili con carne is even the official dish of Texas. And even though the exact origins of chili is disputed, the concept has remained pretty much the same. Back then, and even to some purists today, chili is a beanless dish–this came to be thanks to the availability and cheapness of beef in Texas’s numerous cattle towns. I personally think the beans add a nice texture and a little depth to the flavor so I use them, despite what the Chili Appreciation Society says.

I fed this chili to six hungry friends and everyone loved it. I served this chili with corn chips, freshly baked french bread, a sharp cheddar, a spicy cheddar, and sour cream; I let everyone choose their toppings/additions. I had mine with a big pile of sharp cheddar, though I tried some with a sour cream mixed in and that combo was delicious as well. Scooping some chili out with a corn chip was also very tasty, and dipping some french bread in the chili was a treat. So, I’ll give you the recipe for the chili and let you decide how you serve it.

Oh, and did I mention this is one of those kitchen-sink chilis. It has a lot–and I mean a lot–of ingredients.  So hold on to your hat and get ready to take copious notes. Of course, if you have a printer, you may just want to click print and save yourself the time. But dont worry, aside from having an entire pantry of ingredients, making it is pretty simple.

Ingredients

Olive oil
1 1/2 yellow onion, chopped
1 yellow bell pepper, chopped
1 orange bell pepper, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 jalapeño, finely chopped
1 serano, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 tablespoons cumin
2 tablespoons oregano
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1 1/2 lb chili meat (80/20 ; protein/fat)
1 1/3 lb ground chuck (80/20)
12 oz Chorizo, removed from the casings
3 strips bacon, chopped & pan fried

3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon Cholula hot sauce
1 tablespoon Louisiana hot sauce
2 teaspoons Tabasco-Habeñero hot sauce
8 oz tomato paste
1 30 oz can fire roasted tomatoes
1 30 oz can ranch-style beans
1  15 oz can chili beans
2 1/2 cups beef broth
2 bay leaves

Salt & pepper

Instructions

1. Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion, bell peppers, jalapeño, serrano, and celery and saute until tender for about 7 minutes.

2. Add the garlic and saute for another 2 to 3 minutes.

3. Add all the spices (cumin, oregano, chili powder, cayenne pepper, paprika, crushed red pepper and cinnamon) and cook for another minute or two.

4. Add all the meat, minus the bacon, and cook until browned.

5. Add the cooked bacon, worcestershire sauce, three hot sauces, tomato paste, tomatos, beans, beef broth and bay leaves. Stir until well mixed.

6. Bring the chili to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for two hours.

8. After an hour, using a spoon, smash apart the tomatos if you used whole tomatoes. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste.

9. After the total two hours taste the chili again and add salt & pepper to taste. Remove from the heat and serve.

Allowing the chili to simmer for two hours will help break down the fattiness in the meat, making it tender, and will also help meld all the flavors. As many aficionados will say, the longer you simmer chili the better it will taste; some people will even say you must refrigerate the chili overnight before serving. I say two hours should be just fine!

Enjoy!

Four Cheese Baked Mac & Cheese

Four Cheese Baked Mac & Cheese
Four Cheese Baked Mac & Cheese

Mac & cheese. Two words–well, one word and one abbreviation–that together mean perfection. Kill me now so I can live a life in heaven, which I can only imagine consists of swimming in pools and lakes and seas and oceans of delicious, creamy, cheesy mac & cheese. If you can’t tell, I love macaroni and cheese. If mac & cheese wasn’t your favorite childhood food then you just might be an alien. If it isn’t one of your favorite meals to this day, then I don’t even know what to say.

I constantly praise the joys of being an adult–eating doughnuts whenever you want, dessert for breakfast, alcohol with meals or without meals or for breakfast–and reinvented mac & cheeses have to be one of the best parts. No longer is mac & cheese stale noodles in a box and “cheese” in a shiny pouch; it’s your favorite cheeses mixed into a well seasoned thick béchamel sauce made from a no-food-corporation-can-touch-this, classic white roux. The possibilities are almost endless and the differences achieved by playing with new cheeses always remind me why I love mac & cheese.

This could possibly be the 200th mac and cheese I have made. I usually always use three or four cheeses and rarely do I use the same cheeses, aside from when I find a recipe I like, such as this. I usually always use at least a couple cheddars–typically a very sharp variation.

Here I use three different cheddars for sharpness and tanginess (a sharp cheddar, extra sharp new york cheddar, and white artesian cheddar). I also use havarti to add creaminess and sweetness. The combination is fantastic. So, if you haven’t had a good mac & cheese in a while, I definitely suggest trying this recipe out. Now don’t get me wrong, I love throwing bacon or ham or tomato or broccolli or some other delicious addition in to mac & cheese, but this time I just wanted the mac & cheese. So here it is, my four cheese, only cheese, mac & cheese. Say cheese again. Cheese (I hope everyone got the Mean Girls reference there. If not drop what you’re doing and go rent Mean Girls).

Four Cheese Baked Mac & Cheese Ingredients
1/2 white onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 bay leaf
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
3 cups whole milk
1/2 tsp nutmeg
salt & pepper to taste
2 oz sharp cheddar
2 oz extra sharp cheddar
4 oz Artisian cheddar plus 2 oz set aside
4 oz Havarti

1/2 lb Rigatoni (or any tubular, ridged pasta)

Four Cheese Baked Mac & Cheese Instructions

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Heat the milk in a pot until its scalded.

2. Melt the butter in a large sauce pan (big enough to hold the cheese sauce plus all the pasta). Add the onion and saute over medium/medium-high heat until tender (about five to seven minutes)

3. Add the garlic and bay leave. Saute for another two minutes.

4. Add the flour and cook over low heat for a couple minutes to cook out the flour taste.

5. Pour the scaled milk into the roux. Simmer for ten minutes.

6. Off the heat stir in the cheeses, a little at a time (about a couple ounces at a time). Save the 2 oz of Artisian cheddar.

7. Pour the finished pasta into the cheese mixture and stir thoroughly. Pour the mac & cheese into a baking dish. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over top.

 

8. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden on top and the cheese is bubbly.

Be careful though. Once you pull it out of the oven, it is going to go quick. I blinked and half of it was gone!

Enjoy!

Lemon Rosemary Grilled Chicken

Lemon Rosemary Grilled Chicken recipe
Lemon Rosemary Grilled Chicken

Summer may be over but that doesn’t mean it’s time to pack up the grill. The other night we had a particularly gorgeous evening–one of those nights where you have to be outside. We decided since it was starting to get a little chilly too we’d build a fire to go along with our outdoor evening. Of course it wasn’t long before everybody noticed I was neglecting my dinner-making responsibilities. “I don’t want to go inside!” I was ready to point everybody to the pantry to get snacks for dinner when it hit me, “the grill!

My grill was mere feet away from our make-shift bonfire so I had no problem whipping up a quick meal. Of course, I couldn’t just grill up chicken and call it a meal. There needed to be some sort of side, but I wasn’t going to cook inside. No sir, no way. Luckily my grill has a side burner so I threw on an oiled cast iron skillet and ran inside to see what I had. There they were, begging to be fried up, little new potatoes! Don’t have a burner on your grill? Throw the cast iron skillet straight on the grill!

This is one of those easy, quick meals that can be made all on the grill, and will let you walk away to tend to guests, or that beautiful evening. Besides, its grilled chicken! Yum! And the rosemary? Delicious!

Lemon Rosemary Grilled Chicken

Ingredients
1 chicken cut up, bone-in
1 sprig rosemary
1 lemon
Olive oil
Salt & pepper

Instructions
1. Heat the grill grates over high heat. Leave half of the grill on high and the other half on low.

2. Generously drizzle olive oil over the chicken on both sides. Add a generous portion of salt and freshly ground pepper to both sides also.

3. Roughly chop the rosemary and add it to the chicken on both sides. Squeeze the juice from one lemon all over the chicken.

4. Brush the grates with oil. Add the chicken to the grill grates, over the high heat. Sear each side of the chicken a few minutes until the chicken just begins to turn white, and the grate marks are browned on the chicken.

5. Move the chicken to side of the grill over low heat. Grill the meat for about twenty-five minutes, turning occasionally until the skin is browned, and the meat is cooked through. Add olive oil and more lemon juice occasionally as the meat cooks.  You can check the doneness by cutting into the thickest piece of meat; the juices should run clear.

Fried New Potatoes

Ingredients
25 small new potatoes
1 onion cut into eighths
5 cloves garlic
1 sprig rosemary, finely chopped
Salt & pepper
Olive oil

Instructions
1. Heat a cast iron skillet over a burner or grill on high heat. Add olive oil and lower the heat to low.

2. Add the potatoes, onion, rosemary and garlic. Generously sprinkle everything with salt and freshly ground pepper.

3. Cook over low heat for 20 minutes, adding oil occasionally.

So get out there and heat up that grill before it gets way too cold–I have to admit if we got snow here in Texas, I would probably still grill in a blizzard. Summer may be over, but the time to grill never ends.

Enjoy!

Lamb Burgers & Onion Rings Recipes

It’s no secret; I like burgers. In fact, it’s been said that on the day of my birth I came out with a note attached, “this one likes burgers.” From that day on I began a stringent regiment of eating burgers almost daily. They’re messy, they’re greasy, they’re far from healthy, and they’re delicious! When asked that all-too-common, “if you could eat only one thing for the rest of your life what would it be?” I typically answer with Sushi, but out of fear of mercury poisoning, I quickly change my answer to burgers. When I lived in Austin I was spoiled with countless delicious burger joints; here in cypress I am being tortured with a serious lack there of. I’ve learned to make my own.

The best part of making burgers at home is the control. You get to choose what kind–and quality–of meat you’re getting, the ingredients and flavors your adding, and how you cook it. The second best part is the experimentation. That’s what I did here. I had left over ground meat, specifically lamb and pork from my Bobotie post, so I decided to experiment a bit with a new burger.

Yes, my lamb burgers are actually lamb and pork burgers, but the lamb is the star here. The pork adds juiciness; the lamb contributes that delicious, unique lamb taste. They are a pair made in heaven, and perfect for a unique take on the burger. As for the onion rings, they’re the perfect side for any burger. Here, they’re also perfect for sitting atop the burger.

 

Lamb Burger Ingredients
1 lb ground lamb
1 lb ground pork
1 white onion, grated
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tablespoons mint, finely chopped
2 teaspoons oregano, finely chopped
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Lamb Burger Instructions

1. Mix all the ingredients in a bowl. Ina Garten has a great tip here: Use one hand to mix everything up so that you don’t overmix. You just want everything mixed through.

 

2. Shape the patties. Each burger should be about 3/4 inch thick. You should get eight medium sized burgers or five to six larger burgers.

 

3. On a heated grill, over high heat (highest setting for propane, or over very hot coals) cook the burgers for five minutes on each side.  Remember, only flip each burger once, and never squish of flatten the burgers with a spatula (this will help keep the burgers from falling apart, and will keep the burgers juicy respectively).

 

I served my burgers with an option of kaiser, ciabatta, or onion rolls. My favorite ws the ciabatta. As for toppings all this burger needs is some sliced tomato, and some delicious homemade onion rings. Want to know how to make those onion rings? Keep reading.

Onion Ring Ingredients
2 large yellow onions
2 cups flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
3 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons freshly ground pepper
1 cup cream
3 eggs

Onion Ring Instructions
1. Heat frying oil to 350 degrees (I use canola or a mix of canola and vegetable).

2. Prepare the process. Slice the onions into 1/2 inch rings, then pop out each layer so that you have individual rings. In one bowl mix all the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, salt and pepper). In another bowl beat together the cream and eggs.

 

3. Dip each onion ring first in the flour mixture, then in the egg mixture, then back in the flour mixture, coating the onion rings thoroughly each time.

 

4. In batches, fry the onion rings for two minutes on each side, flipping just once.

 

Not only are these onion rings incredibly easy to make, but they are very, very delicious! If you’ve never made onion rings before, I suggest trying it out.

So, what’s better than a burger and onion rings? Homemade lamb burgers and onion rings of course! These burgers are all about the lamb. The mint and oregano in the meat pull out that delicious lamb flavor; the sweet bite of the yellow onion rings pair so well with the lamb burger.

What’s your favorite burger? How about your favorite Lamb Burgers & Onion Rings side to have with a burger?

Bobotie, South Africa’s Definition of Delicious

Bobotie, South Africa's Definition of Delicious
Bobotie, South Africa’s Definition of Delicious

When I think of South Africa I think first and foremost of my heritage, but also of how far removed I am from this seemingly bizarre world seven time zones and many miles away. My memory struggles to recall the sights and experiences of a seven week trip I made to the country fourteen years ago. I was there to visit what at the time seemed like my long lost family. I was there to learn about a tumultuous world that had an inner beauty so strong it managed to hold captive all of my paternal family, except one: my father. He escaped to the states long before I was born. Even though he never forgot his roots, any sort of South African influence in my life was so watered down that it is hard for me to say I am half Afrikaaner. I’ve never cooked a South African dish and it’s been nearly a decade since I last tasted a dish from that country.

The country, like it’s beginnings, is an eclectic mix of cultures coming together in an astonishingly beautiful setting. The food, like Its people, is eclectic too, with roots in many different parts of the world. This is what drew me to bobotie (pronounced buh-booty!–excuse my phoenetic short hand). Bobotie, a dish which could be considered South Africa’s national dish, came to be nearly three-hundred years ago. As a settlement–an ancient truck stop of sorts–developed in the Cape of Good Hope, so did this very peculiar and delicious dish. This stop serviced Dutch traders as they made the trek from Indonesia to Holland; the food at this stop reflected the collision of flavors from these two cultures. It stayed with the country ever since.

This dish is one memory I cannot forget from my trip to South Africa. It is a dish I have so long wanted to try on my own. Now, I finally have an excuse. To prepare, I began looking through recipes. Shock overcame me as I browsed through the various ingredient lists. How could this be?! Can these ingredients really come together to create something so delicious? I quickly found myself in what had to have been a Chopped nightmare.

Ok, it wasn’t that bad, but this recipe really does manage to combine some very different, exotic flavors that juxtapose each other perfectly. This dish is best served on yellow rice with uie & tamatie (onion and tomato condiment). A recipe for both follows the bobotie recipe and each can be prepared after you put the bobotie in the oven. This recipe also uses a mango chutney, both in the bobotie and as a condiment. You can go with store bought but making it on your own isn’t that hard. Check out my recipe here. Shopping for kitchen blender to make this recipe at this article.

Bobotie Ingredients:
3 slices white bread (crust removed)
1 cup whole milk
1 tablespoon sunflower oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 large onion finely chopped
3 garlic cloves chopped
1 1/2 tablespoon curry
2 teaspoons turmeric
Juice from 1 lemon
1 lb ground lamb
1 lb ground pork
4 bay leaves (or lemon leaves if you can find them)
3 tablespoons mango chutney
1/4 cup ground almonds
1/4 cup chopped raisins
Rind from 1 lemon
1 tablespoon sugar
4 eggs

Bananas
Coconut shavings

Bobotie Instructions:
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degress. Soak the bread slices in the milk until saturated. Remove from the milk and allow the excess milk to drain. Save both the bread and milk.
2. Add the oil and butter to a large saute pan and heat over medium heat.
3. Add the onion and brown, about ten minutes.
4. Add the garlic, cooking another two minutes.
5. Add the spices (curry & turmeric). Cook, stirring for a minute then add the lemon juice and continue to cook for another minute.
6. Add the lamb and pork; cook until the pink is just gone.

7. Add the bay leaves, mango chutney, almonds, raisins, lemon rind and sugar. Stir to mix thoroughly.
8.  Beat 1 egg and add to the mixture. Add the bread from earlier. Mix well.
9. Put the mixture into a baking dish. Do not press it into the dish.

10. Beat the remaining three eggs with the reserved milk from above. Pour the custard evenly over everything in the baking dish. Leaving the meat light/fluffy will allow the custard to fill into the dish. You may need to use a knife of fork to aid this process.
11. Bake for 45 minutes.

While you wait for the bobotie to bake, prepare the condiments and yellow rice.

Uie & Tamatie Condiment Ingredients:
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup water
1 small onion finely chopped
3 small tomatoes chopped
1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves chopped
1 tablespoon brown sugar
Salt & pepper to taste

Uie & Tamatie condiment Instructions:
1. Put the chopped tomato and onion in a bowl.
2. Mix together the vinegar, water, brown sugar, salt, pepper and oregano.
3. Add the vinegar mix to the bowl and toss. Allow this mixture to sit for at least 30 minutes.

Yellow Rice Ingredients:
2 cups rice
4 1/2 cup water
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 tablespoon turmeric
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup raisins
Salt and pepper to taste.

Yellow Rice Instructions:
1. Place all the ingredients except the raisins into a pot and bring to a boil.
2. Reduce to a simmer and cook 25 minutes or until all the liquid is absorbed.
3. Add the raisins in once the rice is cooked. Stir to combine.

Time the rice so it will be ready to serve when the bobotie is ready.

Bobotie is a great family style meal.

Not only is the uie & tamatie a great condiment for this dish, but so is mango chutney, freshly sliced bananas and coconut shavings.

I’d you’ve never had a South African dish, or bobotie I urge you try this recipe! It may look intimidating but it is a pretty simple dish to compose and it is down right delicious!

The best part is piling up your plate with all the delicious components.

Of course that neat, organized pile won’t last long. You’ll quickly discover this dish is best all mixed up, allowing the savory, spicy and sweet to all play so well together.

 

 

Mango Chutney

Chutneys, often used in and originating from Indian cuisine, are delicious sauces that accompany a main dish. Here I have a mango chutney that contains an idiosyncratic combination of spices and fruit, but that is no doubt delicious. Chutneys are fairly easy to make as well; it’s almost like making jam.

Ingredients:
3/4 cup vinegar
1 1/2 cup white sugar
1 1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon Ginger
3/4 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
4 whole cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 onion finely chopped
1 Clove garlic finely chopped
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup golden raisins
4 cups sliced mango

Instructions:
1. Place the vinegar, sugars, and spices in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and maintain a low boil for 30 minutes.
2. Add the onion, garlic and raisins and boil for another 30 minutes.
3. Add the sliced mango and boil for 30 minutes to an hour until the mango just begins to break down.
4. Let cool before serving. You can pour the chutney into sterilized jars if you wish to store them.

Mom’s Tuna Melt

The tuna sandwich is all too often left plain, boring, and unappealing (see exhibit 1.A). Untoasted bread, boring; no cheese, what?! Where are the veggies? Where’s that something extra?

1.A - A boring tuna sandwich
1.A – A boring tuna sandwich

Luckily the drab tuna sandwich can quickly be converted into a sandwich god: the tuna melt (see exhibit 1.B). And while it is almost as easy as adding a good cheese, there are a few other things that can make the sandwich truly perfect and super delicious.

For one, add tomatoes. Don’t stop there though (see figure 1.C). After you’ve melted the cheese throw the tomatoes on top and throw em under the broiler for a few minutes (see figure 1.D).

1.C - Tomatoes are great and all...
1.C – Tomatoes are great and all…
1.D - Thats better... Tomatoes love to bathe under a broiler
1.D – Thats better… Tomatoes love to bathe under a broiler

Since I’m a cheddar freak, I used a very mature white cheddar; it adds a lovely sharpness with just a hint of sweetness. As for the recipe for the tuna salad, well that’s super simple. I call this my mom’s tuna melt because the tuna salad portion is what I grew up on. It was and is a recipe I never tire of.

Ingredients:
1 large can tuna drained
1 stalk celery chopped
2 tablespoons onion (yellow or sweet) chopped
1/2 cup miracle whip (use this mayonnaise for sweetness)
Salt & pepper to taste
1 roma tomato sliced
2 leaves romain lettuce
4 slices extra sharp or mature cheddar cheese
2 slices whole wheat bread
Instructions:
1. Turn the broiler on. Broil one side of both pieces of toast. On a baking sheet.
2. Mix the tuna, celery, onion, miracle whip, and salt and pepper in a bowl.
3. Add the tuna salad on the untested side of one slice. Flip the other slice. Crumble the cheese over the tuna salad. Put the baking sheet with everything back under the broiler until the cheese has melted, about five minutes Be sure to take out the other slice before it browns too much.
4. Add the tomato slices onto of the cheese and place under the broiler for another 5 minutes until the tomatoes just begin to cook.
5. Move to a plate, add the romaine, a little fresh cracked black pepper, and top with the other puce of toast.
Ta-da! A tuna melt as easy as can be, and tasty as tasty gets. The tuna salad is sweet, so are the tomatoes; the sharpness of the cheddar adds a nice bite and pop. The romaine adds just a slight hint of that bitter herb flavor. Together all the pieces make a great sandwich. My first slice was devoured before I could even move away from the kitchen counter ( see exhibit 1.E, 1.F, 1.G, 1.H).

1.H - Maybe I should sit down?
1.H – Maybe I should sit down?

What’s your favorite tuna salad recipe?

Deliciously Simple Potato & Leek Soup

Who loves soup? I know I do! Although, I actually managed to forget how much I liked soup, and how easy soup can be to make. Last night I decided to try my hand at a slow simmered soup; last night I fell in love with making soup all over again. This is one of those soups where you wonder how so few ingredients can create such a delicious soup. Then you remember the main ingredient is the leek and that these almost forgotten cousin of the onion provide a wonderfully tame/mild onion flavor; boiling them keeps the flavor quite mild and are perfect for soup.

POTATO & LEEK SOUP
POTATO & LEEK SOUP

The ingredients are as simple as counting to six: 1 lb potatoes, 2 leeks, 3 garlic cloves, 4 pints water, 5 links sausage and 6 tablespoons creme. Incase my little trick to help you remember does little to actually help you remember, here are the ingredients listed in normal fashion:

Ingredients
2 quarts water (4 pints)
2 leeks thinly sliced (use all the white and a little of the light green – yields about 4 cups)
1 lb chopped potatoes (I use red potatoes with the skin on-yields about 3 to 4 cups)
3 garlic cloves smashed but whole*
1 tablespoon salt
5 links sausage (about 1-1 1/2 lb)
6 tablespoons cream

Light handful chopped parsley
Salt & pepper to taste

*Before removing the skin from the garlic clove take a wide faced knife and lay it side-down on the clove(s). With a quick powerful hit from the side of your first, whack the side of the knife where the garlic lay underneat. This will make it easier to remove the skin and it will help the garlic flavor the soup.

Instructions

1. Fill a large pot with the water. Toss in the potatoes, leeks, garlic cloves and salt.

2.  Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat immediately and simmer for 45 minutes (make sure the soup remains at a simmer).

3. While the soup is simmering, cook the sausage links. I usually fill a sauce pan with an inch of water and place the links in the pan. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce the heat to a simmer. It should take 10-15 minutes for the sausage to cook through. Set aside until it cools.

4. Chop the sausage into cubes and add to the soup five minutes before the soup is to be done (4o minutes in).

5. When the soup is finished remove from the heat. Remove the garlic cloves. Stir in the cream, 1 tablespoon at a time. Correct the seasonings with a little salt and pepper to taste. Add the chopped parsley and stir.

I suggest serving this with a nice big hunk of bread. Some suggest serving soup with a salad and other items if it is dinner, but I suggest grabbing a bigger bowl and a bigger chunk of bread!

Enjoy!

TORTILLA SOUP

That’s really all that needs to be said about tortilla soup. From the intensely spicy, to the calm mild variations, there always exists the yum factor with a good tortilla soup. That’s why I’ve decided to finish off my Cinco de Mayo week with one. That and I needed to feed 8 (plus a few second servings) and what is better than tortilla soup to make tons of!

TORTILLA SOUP
TORTILLA SOUP

I decided not to make a crazy spicy one, instead one that would let the flavors of the chicken, onion, tomato, and corn tortillas come through. This is a soup that is quite yummy on its own, and even more delicious with a bite homemade baked  corn tortilla, or slice of avocado, or both. I also employed the use of mild banana peppers, a new sweet favorite pepper of mine. Combined with everything else this tortilla soup is definitely one worth trying.

I served the soup with some delicious homemade cornbread and I suggest doing the same. I happened to find the recipe on the back of a corn meal bag (photos below) and it was one of the best cornbreads I’ve had. If you have your own recipe I think it will work just fine here.

[Now, by this point you might be wondering where are the pictures of this so called delicious Tortilla soup?! I mean we all know that is the best part of a food blog. And yes, I can assure you that this soup does look scrumptious. Unfortunately though I lent my camera to my father today without thinking to upload my photos from last night, my photos of my delicious tortilla soup. Sad I know. So, as soon as I get my camera back, I will quickly get those photos up. Until then though you’ll just have to read plain, boring, never-ending text. Lucky for you though I was able to use my mother’s camera to snap the recipe for the corn bread–while I may not have the blogging skills that demand a large audience (and therefore large sponsors) I’m going to go ahead and say bravo to Canon as I use a 7D usually and my mother’s point and shoot Powershot SD780 more than stood up to the challenge and saved the day. So expect a picture someone down below! Until then, back to the pictureless recipe for tortilla soup!]

Ingredients
Meat from 1 whole chicken
5 corn tortillas sliced
2 1/2 quarts chicken stock
5 garlic cloves
1 1/2 yellow onions quartered
2 mild banana peppers rough chopped
1 cup yellow corn
3 tomatoes chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons cumin
Salt & pepper to taste
olive oil

Garnish
1 avacado sliced
3 corn totillas sliced & baked (Bake in an oven at 350 for 10 minutes or until crispy)
Fresh Cilantro

Instructions
1. In a food processor coarsley chop the garlic, onion & banana peppers. Set aside.

2. In a large soup pot heat olive oil over low heat. Throw in the 5 sliced corn tortillas and cook until just crispy.

3. Add the onion mixture and simmer until coated with olive oil.

4. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste and cumin. Simmer for ten minutes.

5. Slowly Add the chicken stock and simmer over low until the soup is reduced by 1/3 about 30 minutes. Add the cooked chicken in for the last ten minutes.

6. Serve with tortilla strips, avacado and cilantro.

If you’re like me you love bread with soup, and corn bread is one of my favorites, especially with a tortilla soup.

I found a wonderful recipe on the back of a wonderful corn meal.

I suggest trying both!

Enjoy!

Cream Cheese Thumbprints

I fully intended to have a week-long cookie marathon before/during/after Christmas, but with everything going on it sort of got pushed to the back burner. But, at least in my book, you don’t need an excuse like the holidays to make cookies.

Pretty much for as long as we’ve been together, Billy and I have always baked something a little special for our families around the holidays. For the past two years, we’ve done an array of cookies and made little goodie bags to distribute after dinner. This year, these cream cheese and jam thumbprints were on the top of my list. I think thumbprints are a must-have cookie around the holidays, and this recipe seemed like something a little more special…perfect for that special time of year (or, for all 365 days of the year).

Cream Cheese Thumbprints

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Here’s what you’ll need:
Makes: 5 dozen
– 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
– 3 oz. cream cheese
– 1 cup sugar
– 1 egg yolk
– 3 tsp vanilla extract
– 2 1/2 cups flour
– jam (any flavor you prefer)

Instructions:
In a large mixing bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer), cream together the butter, cream cheese and sugar until light and fluffy, about two minutes. Beat in the egg yolk and vanilla until well combined. Finally, mix in the flour a little at a time until thoroughly combined. Cover the mixture and refrigerate for about an hour, or until it’s easy to handle.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

When the dough is ready, begin shaping into 1-inch balls and place about two inches apart on an (ungreased) baking sheet. After all the dough has been formed into balls, begin creating the thumbprints and filling with jam. (The recipe suggested using the end of a wooden spoon, but I found it easier to use a knuckle or my thumb). Be careful when making the indention not to reach the bottom of the dough, otherwise the jam will leak out. Fill the thumbprint with about 1/4 teaspoon jam, or as much as will fit. Bake the filled cookies at 350 for 14 to 16 minutes, or until set and golden on the bottom. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool and store in an air-tight container.

Of all the cookies we made this holiday season, these were easily my favorite. The cookie was soft and chewy with a perfectly golden, crisp bottom. They had a delicious buttery, creamy texture that paired perfect with the jam filling. I literally could eat these all day long. We used strawberry and raspberry jam, and both were delicious (though, the strawberry were better in my opinion). I imagine these would be good with pretty much any flavor jam under the sun.

If there’s one of our Christmas cookies you try, this should definetly be the one — I promise you won’t be disappointed. And, since it’s not really a Christmasy cookie, you have no reason not to make these right now. Yes…they’re that good.

This recipe was featured in a 2009 holiday cookie magazine from Taste of Home, but you can also find it on the Taste of Home website.

Lamb Chops with Blueberry Sauce

I’m not gonna lie…there’s nothing special about this lamb. But the sauce, oh the sauce, it’s out of this world! And it pairs perfect with the lamb. I got this recipe from Carrie who writes Our Life in Food, a blog I absolutely adore. This wasn’t our first time using fruit (or something else sweet) in a savory application, but it still sounded a little…odd. But I trust Carrie’s judgment, and she didn’t have one bad thing to say about this dish. Plus, sometimes the same ol’ lamb application can get boring, so this was a good way to mix it up. You won’t regret giving this recipe a shot, I promise!

Lamb Chops with Blueberry Sauce

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Here’s what you’ll need:
Serves: 2
– 2 to 4 lamb chops, depending on size
– salt and pepper
– 1 tbsp butter
– 1 tbsp olive oil
– 1 or 2 shallots, diced
– 1 or 2 garlic cloves, minced
– 1/4 cup red wine
– 1/2 cup fresh blueberries
– 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar

Instructions:
The original recipe called for the lamb to be browned in the same pan that you plan to make the sauce, then finished off in the oven. We decided to grill our lamb chops instead (might as well while the weather’s still decent, right?). Either way will work just fine.

Season the chops on both sides with salt and pepper. Cook the lamb as you normally would to desired temperature (with lamb, I always recommend no more than medium to medium-well). While the lamb is cooking, make your sauce.

In a medium saute pan, heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Saute the onions until translucent and soft, about five minutes. Add the garlic and cook for an additional 30 seconds, until fragrant but not brown. Deglaze the pan with the red wine, stir the pan around and simmer away until reduced by half, three to five minutes. Add the blueberries and balsamic vinegar, stirring again to combine, and simmer for about three minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and transfer to a food processor. Puree until smooth and sauce-like. The finished product will be a beautiful purple-blue sauce.

Plate the lamb chops on top of something starchy that will soak up all the extra sauce (we used couscous, but pretty much anything will work nicely) and spoon the sauce on top.

I’m not a huge fan of meals that revolve solely around meat, but this really hit the spot. The strong flavor of the lamb really paired well with this delicate sauce. Surprisingly, the sauce wasn’t as sweet and blueberry-y as I expected — you could really taste the red wine and balsamic in each bite. The one complaint I had about the sauce was that it was a little too thick. Other than that, this dish rocked!

Make sure to check out Carrie’s blog for more delicious recipes!

Homemade Pasta – A Photo Tutorial

As you can probably tell from my lack of a Sunday Project Food Blog post, I’m out of the competition. I can’t lie and say that I wasn’t bummed, but making it to round three was absolutely amazing. And I couldn’t have done it without your help, so thank you for all your kind comments and of course for your votes. Make sure to check out all the round four entries, there are some very talented bloggers still in the competition!

We had no choice but to do this challenge in advance of the results for round three (which I’m convinced is the reason I didn’t make it through — I jinxed myself!), so all the cooking was done and the pictures taken. Therefore, I decided to post anyway, whether it be for my reassurance, my benefit (or maybe even yours!) or just in support of all the other PFB challengers out there. So…here it is, my would-be post for round four of Project Food Blog.

Before I get into the details though, a few notes on making fresh pasta. Marcella Hazan is the Italian God. We turn to her for any and everything Italian that I don’t know from my family. According to her pasta-making tips, regular old all-purpose flour works perfectly fine for fresh, homemade pasta. In fact, she says it’s best for home cooks. Traditional pasta is made with 00 or doppio zero flour, which is apparently near-impossible to find. It’s the finest of flours, perfect for traditional Italian cooking. Then there’s semolina flour, which is what’s traditionally used in dried pastas. Marcella actually suggests not using this type of flour as it’s frustrating to work with. Well, we read this after buying semolina flour specifically for this challenge. So, we used it anyway. The semolina flour reminded me more of cornmeal than flour, and it was a little more difficult to work with than regular all-purpose flour, but in the end everything turned out just fine. We actually liked the taste and texture of the cooked pasta better than any pasta we’ve made using all-purpose flour. Anyway, enough blabbing. Basically, it’s up to you what flour you use, but all-purpose is probably the safest bet.

Homemade Pasta

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Here’s what you’ll need:
Makes: about 1 pound
– 1 cup flour
– 2 eggs

Instructions:
Pour the flour out onto a large counter or flat workspace in one large mound (in other words, don’t spread it out). Using your hand or the bottom of a measuring cup, form a hole in the center. Make sure the “walls” of the mound are secure since you’ll be mixing the eggs in the center. Crack the eggs into the center of the mound and gently beat them with a fork. As you’re beating the eggs, begin to draw some of the flour over onto the eggs, mixing with the fork, until the eggs are no longer runny.

Because you may not need to use all of the flour, push some to the side before mixing completely. Draw the sides of the mound together with your hands and begin to work the eggs and flour together using your fingers and the palms of your hand. The dough will still be pretty sticky at this point. Continue to work the eggs and flour together until you have a smooth mixture. Test the dough by pressing your finger into the center — if your finger comes out clean and the dough doesn’t feel sticky, no more flour is needed. If the dough is still too moist, add some of the flour you set aside. Clean your work surface and begin kneading the dough.

According to Marcella, there’s a “proper way” to knead the dough: “Push forward against the dough using the heel of your palm, keeping your fingers bent. Fold the mass in half, give it a half turn, press hard against it with the heel of your palm again, and repeat the operation. Make sure that you keep turning the ball of dough always in the same direction. When you have kneaded it thus for eight full minutes and the dough is as smoother as baby skin, it is ready for the machine.”

After kneading for eight full minutes, prepare the dough for the pasta machine. Set up an area near your machine with clean, dry cloths to allow the pasta to dry. Cut the dough into three equal parts and wrap two of the separated balls in plastic wrap so they don’t dry out. Working with one piece of the dough, flatten it with the palm of your hand. Using the widest opening of the thinning rollers on your machine, feed the flattened piece of dough through the machine. Next, fold the dough twice into a third of it’s length and feed it by the narrow end through the machine again. Repeat this process two or three times on the widest setting, then close down the opening to the very next setting. Run the dough strip through the lower setting one time, then close down the opening by one notch again. Continue this process, lowering the setting by one notch each time, until you reach the desired thickness (you don’t necessarily have to go to the smallest setting on your pasta machine). Place the flattened dough on the towel and repeat the whole process again with the other two pieces of dough. Once all the strips have been flattened to the desired thickness, let them dry for at least 10 minutes before cutting. The strips are ready to be cut when they’re still moist enough so they won’t crack, but dry enough so they won’t stick together.

Once all the pasta is cut it’s ready to be cooked (or dried for storage). Place it all in one cloth and carefully slide it into a large pot of salted, boiling water. Begin stirring the pasta immediately to keep it from sticking together as it cooks. Fresh pasta will cook in five minutes or less, so make sure to keep a close eye on it. I also like to keep my fresh pasta moving as it cooks.

I’m reading over this blog and it sort of sounds really difficult and a little confusing, but I promise it’s not. It’s just a lot to explain, but it really is an easy thing to do — and the results are worth the little effort it takes. The dough comes together easily, and once you get in a routine of flattening and cutting the pasta, you’ll find that it’s ready to cook in no time.

Fresh pasta is so much different than dried. It’s…fresher (obviously), and that’s evident in the cooking process and (of course) the taste and texture. It cooks so quickly, and it plumps up as it cooks. The end result is thick, pillowy strands of pasta that can never be compared to the dried variety. A simple, light sauce is perfect for homemade pasta — you don’t want something that’s heavy and overpowering for the delicate work you’ve done!

Homemade pasta doesn’t have to be scary. It’s definitely not something you’ll do all the time, but it’s great for a special treat. Plus, it’s pretty dang awesome to enjoy a homemade dinner from start to finish! A special thanks to Billy for doing all the hard work while I snapped a million photos. 🙂

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cupcakes

A few weeks ago, Annie’s recipe for chocolate chip cookie dough cupcakes came across on my Google Reader and I immediately starred them knowing I’d make them next time I had an excuse to feed people a delicious dessert. It didn’t take long to find a reason to make them, since my mom’s birthday was only weeks away. So this past weekend when we got the family together to celebrate, I didn’t hesitate to pick up the dessert duties. I made the cookie dough cupcakes fresh Saturday morning and they were more than a hit on Saturday night. I can’t wait ’till the next time I have an excuse to make these little pieces of heaven.

There’s not much that beats a great dessert, especially one that involves chocolate. But these cupcakes are seriously one of the best desserts I’ve ever eaten (and coming from this sweet tooth body, that’s saying a lot!). Even Billy, the hater of all things chocolate, liked them! I never thought I’d say this…but they may even be a contender to my all time favorite dessert. These cupcakes had three main components, the actual cake, the cookie dough filling and the frosting. Looking at the recipe, they seemed like they might be a lot of work, but they were actually pretty simple to make — just a little time consuming. In the end, though, they were worth every minute they took (and more).

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cupcakes

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Here’s what you’ll need:
Makes 24 Cupcakes
Cookie Dough Filling
– 4 tbsp butter, at room temperature
– 6 tbsp brown sugar, packed
– 1 cup plus 2 tbsp flour
– 7 oz sweetened condensed milk
– 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
– 1/4 cup mini semisweet chocolate chips
Cupcakes
– 3 sticks, at room temperature
– 1 1/2 cups brown sugar, packed
– 4 eggs
– 2 2/3 cups flour
– 1 tsp baking powder
– 1 tsp baking soda
– 1/4 tsp salt
– 1 cup milk
– 2 tsp vanilla extract
– 1 cup chocolate chips
Frosting
– 3 sticks butter, at room temperature
– 3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
– 3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
– 1 cup flour
– 3/4 tsp salt
– 3 tbsp milk
– 2 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Instructions:
(you can use either a hand or stand mixer for all of the mixing in the following steps)
We started by making the filling because it had to chill for at least an hour before we could fill the cupcakes. To make the filling, cream the butter and brown sugar in a medium-sized mixing bowl until light and fluffy, about two minutes. Next, beat in the flour, sweetened condensed milk and vanilla until incorporated and smooth. Finally, stir in the chocolate chips. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate about an hour, or until the mixture has firmed up.

While the cookie dough filling was chilling, we made the cupcakes and the frosting. First things first, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line two cupcake pans with paper liners (a total of 24).

For the cupcakes, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk together and set aside. Cream the butter and brown sugar in a large mixing bowl until light and fluffy, about three minutes. Next, begin adding the eggs and mixing in, one at a time, beating well after each addition (scrape down the sides of the bowl between each addition to make sure everything gets properly mixed).

Begin adding the dry ingredients to wet ingredients, alternating with the milk. Make sure to begin and end with the dry ingredients, mixing each addition just until incorporated. After all the dry ingredients and milk have been incorporates, mix in the vanilla. Finally, fold in the chocolate chips with a spatula.

Fill the prepared cupcake pans about 2/3 of the way full. Bake at 350 degrees for 18 to 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into a the center of a cupcake comes out clean. You may want to rotate the pans halfway through the cooking, but it’s probably not necessary. Allow the cupcakes to cool in the pan for about five minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.

While the cupcakes cooled, we made the frosting — the last component to these amazing cupcakes. To make the frosting, beat together the butter and brown sugar in a medium-sized mixing bowl until creamy. Mix in the powdered sugar until smooth. Next, beat in the flour and salt until completely incorporated. Finally, mix in the milk and vanilla extract until the frosting is smooth and creamy.

At this point, the only thing left to do is to assemble the cupcakes. First, cut a cone-shaped portion out of the top center of each cupcake. Fill each hole with a chunk of the cookie dough, cut the cone off of the cutouts (saving only the top circular part of each cutout) and cover the hole back up. Frost the cupcakes and garnish with a few chocolate chips. Refrigerate the cupcakes until ready to serve.

I really can’t even describe how amazing these cupcakes are. I’m not a huge cupcake fan, but I could seriously eat these any day of the week. The cookie dough center was chewy and a perfect little ball of chocolate chip heaven. It reminded me exactly of the little cookie dough balls in cookie dough ice cream, only better (because it was homemade, of course). The cupcake itself was fluffy and cakey. I thought it tasted just like a chocolate chip cookie, only with a cake texture. The frosting was really tasty, but I actually thought the cupcakes would have been just as good without it.

The one thing I would do differently next time is use mini chocolate chips throughout. I thought the regular-sized chips were a little too big for the cupcake. Nevertheless, the final product was beyond delicious, and something I’ll make time and time again. The birthday girl (and the rest of the family) absolutely loved them, too. Thanks, Annie, for the recipe!

For those of you who don’t already, make sure to check out Annie’s Eats for this and other delicious recipes!

Strawberry Agua Fresca

Summer is definitely upon us here in the Southwest, and that’s the best excuse to have refreshing drinks available at all times. Usually my go-to summer drink is lemonade, but this year things are different. A few weeks ago, Gaby over at What’s Gaby Cooking posted about one of her favorite summer memories — drinking refreshing agua fresca with her friends on weekend trips to Mexico. Just thinking about the possibilities of this popular Mexican drink made my mouth water.

During a recent BBQ we hosted, I decided I would try my hand at this traditional fruity and refreshing Mexican water. Agua fresca, which translates to fresh water, is basically just a fruity flavored water. It’s a lovely refreshing drink for the hot summer months that lie ahead, not to mention a break from the norms of ice water and lemonade. It’s hard to believe that something so simple can be so good!

Strawberry Agua Fresca

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Here’s what you’ll need:
Makes: about 6 cups
Note: all of these measurements can be easily altered to suit your taste
– 4 cups fresh strawberries, tips trimmed off
– 6 cups water
– 1/3 cup sugar
– 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
– 1/2 cup sparkling water (optional)

Instructions:
Combine half of the strawberries, half of the water and half of the sugar in a blender and blend on high speed until the the strawberries are all pureed and the water is a nice pink color. Strain through a fine sieve into a pitcher to separate all the seeds from the liquid. Repeat the process until all of the strawberries, water and sugar have been blended together and strained.

Add the lime juice and sparkling water (if using) to the blended and strained water and stir to mix well. Refrigerate and serve cold over ice.

For something so simple, this is probably one of the most delicious drinks ever. It’s fruity and refreshing — perfect for a hot summer day — and totally easy to throw together in no time. The fresh strawberries really give the water a distinct fruity flavor, and drinking it ice cold really intensifies that flavor. The addition of lime juice adds just enough tang to counter the sweetness of the berries and sugar. I think you could easy leave out both the sugar (and even the lime) and still get the same effect and make a healthier version.

This agua fresca is also really easy to adapt to anything you like. You can use any fruit you like as long as it will puree up and strain easily and you can adjust all the measurements to adapt it to your tastes.

This is a drink that I plan to make over and over again this summer (we’ve already made it twice!) with different fruits. Just the thought of sitting out on a hot summer afternoon drinking a cold, fruity drink is interrupting my work flow! Must. Have. Agua. Fresca.

Check out Gaby’s watermelon version and get yourself some inspiration for fruity summer drinks!

Finger Lickin’ Good BBQ Sauce

I haven’t always been a huge barbecue sauce fan, but I obviously was going about the whole thing wrong. For the first time ever (!) we (I say we as if I had anything to do with it, but the truth is, I was getting my hair done and Billy was busting his ass in the kitchen. I can only take credit for forwarding him this recipe.) made homemade sauce and slathered it on some fall-off-the-bone-tender ribs. Oh. My. GOSH. I have never been so fond of BBQ sauce my entire life. I literally licked my fingers clean. After each rib. That’s right, I’m not afraid to admit it.

Conveniently, at the exact time our ribs were slow cooking in the oven Georgia from The Comfort of Cooking posted about her awesome experience creating BBQ sauce (and also slathering it on ribs). I sent the link to the hubs, who was holding down the fort for the day, and we both immediately knew that we’d be whipping up a BBQ sauce that night. While we didn’t follow Georgia’s recipe exactly, we did use it as a basis for what we ended up with. And let me tell you, we ended up with the absolute best barbecue sauce we’ve ever had. It was sweet, spicy, tangy and sticky. This sauce was the very definition of finger lickin’ good.

Finger Lickin’ Good BBQ Sauce

{Print this Recipe}
Here’s what you’ll need:
Makes: about 1 cup (enough for a full rack of ribs, plus a little extra)
– olive oil
– 2 cloves garlic, minced
– 2 tsp dried minced onions
– 3/4 cup brown sugar
– 1 tsp dry mustard
– 1/3 cup ketchup
– 1/4 cup soy sauce
– 2 tbsp Worchestershire sauce
– 2 tbsp Sriracha
– 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
– 2 tbsp white wine
– salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:
Everyone brace yourself, I don’t know if you’ll be able to handle the intense directions that lie ahead!

In a small saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat and saute the garlic and onions until the garlic becomes fragrant, about two minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients to the pan and stir well to make sure everything is combined. Bring the mixture to a bubble (not quite a boil, but make sure there’s some bubbles forming around the edges of the pan) and let it simmer away for about 15 minutes, or until nice and thick and flavorful.

Yes, it’s literally that easy. I’m sure you’re wondering, much like we were in between delicious bites of homemade BBQ sauce slathered ribs, why you’ve never made barbecue sauce before.

Billy’s saucy creation was sweet, spicy and tangy all at the same time. All the familiar flavors of a traditional barbecue sauce were great, but the hint of Asian flavor really made this sauce something special. The sweetness from the brown sugar really lent itself to the kick from the Sriracha. Move over Pat and Gina Neely, here comes a new pit master!

We slathered our new favorite BBQ sauce on a nice rack of slow cooked, quick grilled ribs and chowed down. I don’t know if there’s a better vehicle for BBQ sauce than ribs, but I definitely think this sauce was best suited for that fall-off-the-bone kind of meat that comes from slow cooking.

I’m no barbecue sauce expert or anything, but I do know what tastes good — and this sauce definitely tasted good. All the ingredients are subjective, so feel free to play around with the measurements or add or take out anything you like. But please give BBQ sauce a shot. You won’t be disappointed.

P.S. Thanks, Georgia, for the inspiration!

Cajun Fried Wings

We love chicken wings, so when I saw Des from Life’s Ambrosia’s post on her Aunt’s famous wings (with a kick, of course), I starred it in my Google Reader and put it on my ever-growing list of recipes to try. Well, we finally tried them and they were amazing.

It’s basically a crime (well, at least to all you chicken wing lovers out there) to have sauceless wings, but I’m here to tell you that these wings don’t need any sauce. That’s right, I said it. We made sauceless wings and we loved them. When it comes to flavor, these wings get a huge boost from a two hour marinade in cajun seasoning, honey and olive oil .

Cajun Fried Chicken Wings

{Print this Recipe}
Here’s what you’ll need:
Serves: 4
– 1 1/2 lbs chicken wings, tips trimmed
– 3 tbsp cajun seasoning
– 1/4 cup olive oil
– 1 tsp honey
– 1 tbsp corn starch
– 1 cup flour
– 2 tsp salt
– oil for frying (anything that holds hear well will do, but something on the healthier side is our favorite)

Instructions:
Prepare your chicken wings by trimming the tips and separating the drumette from the…other part of the wing thing that I don’t know the name of. (You don’t have to do this, but it makes them more like restaurant style wings.) Rinse the chicken and pat dry with a paper towel.

In a large Ziploc bag, combine the cajun seasoning, olive oil and honey. Throw the chicken in the bag, seal and mix everything around so the wings are nice and coated with the mixture. Refrigerate for two hours.

After the chicken has been marinading, combine the corn starch, flour and salt in another Ziploc bag. Transfer the chicken from the marinading bag to the flour bag and toss around to coat all the wings with a nice layer of flour. Remove the wings from the bag and let them sit out on a plate for about 15 minutes before frying (this is a good time to start heating your oil).

Heat about two inches of oil in a heavy-bottomed pan (or you can use a deep fryer) over medium-high heat. Bring the oil to 350 degrees and start frying the chicken, in batches to hold a constant temperature, until golden brown and cooked through, five to seven minutes. Transfer the fried chicken to a plate lined with paper towels to cool and drain off the excess oil.

I can’t lie when I say that these are probably the best homemade chicken wings I’ve ever had. Sauceless or not, these were the bomb. They were crispy on the outside, tender and juicy on the inside, and packed with a ton of flavor from the cajun marinade. I’m a dipper, so we decided to make a little cajun aioli to dip in, which was awesome (thanks to Billy) and complimented the wings perfectly.

I think this is a pretty versatile recipe, so I’m excited to try these again with different flavor bases. Thanks, Des, for an awesome wing recipe! Make sure to check out Des over at Life’s Ambrosia for this and other awesome recipes!

Pasta with Creamy Bacon and Pea Sauce

After being glued to the TV every Friday night to watch Jamie Oliver work his magic on Food Revolution, Billy and I decided it was time to go pick up his latest book and get some new British inspiration. Jamie’s Food Revolution Cookbook is full of simple, flavorful and (most of all) healthful meals that are accessible to any home cook in America. Much like the show did for public schools, Jamie’s Food Revolution helps the average American rediscover what healthy, home-cooked eating is all about, without skimping on flavor.

The first recipe we tried from the food revolution cookbook was this pasta with bacon and peas in a creamy sauce. I think this recipe is proof that you don’t have to cut out things you love (like carbs and creamy goodness) to eat healthy — everything is acceptable in moderation.

Pasta with Creamy Bacon and Pea Sauce

{Print this Recipe}
Here’s what you’ll need:
Serves: 4
– 1 pound small shaped pasta
– 1 to 2 tbsp olive oil
– 1 to 2 tbsp butter
– 10 slices bacon or pancetta, cut into short, thin slices
– 2 cups frozen peas
– 2 heaping tbsp creme fraiche
– small bunch of fresh mint, finely chopped
– salt and pepper
– juice of 1 lemon
– 6 oz. Parmesan cheese

Instructions:
This is another recipe with a really simple sauce, so before you start any really cooking you want to bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and drop your pasta. Make sure to reserve a cup or so of the cooking water. We started cooking the sauce as the water began to boil and the timing seemed to work out perfectly.

In a large, high-sided pan, melt the butter and olive oil together over medium heat. Toss the bacon into the pan with some pepper and cook until crispy and golden brown, about five minutes. Add the peas to the pan, stirring to combine. Give the peas a minute or two to defrost, then add the creme friache and mint. Stir until the creme friache has melted and coated everything nicely. Season with salt and pepper.

Drain the pasta and add it directly to the sauce pan. Pour the lemon juice over the pasta and stir everything to combine well, making sure the sauce coats each piece of pasta nicely. Finally, mix in the Parmesan cheese. Add some of the cooking liquid to thin out the sauce if desired (this is based totally on personal preference…we didn’t add any water).

This is really a great recipe — something different, yet familiar. The combination of the creme friache and Parmesan made for an extra creamy sauce that wasn’t too heavy. The mint brought a great springy, fresh flavor to the pasta without overpowering it, and the peas burst in your mouth in every bite. The bacon gave the whole dish a light smokey flavor, but I think next time I’d opt for pancetta in place of it (Billy disagrees). This is a great creamy pasta dish for those who fine traditional cream sauces too heavy, and a great dish for spring and summer months. I think it would also be great with some grilled Italian sausage.

Check out this (and other!) recipes from Jamie’s Food Revolution Cookbook on his website. Jamie’s recipes never disappoint, and with all the new healthy ones, you can’t go wrong!

Spring Green Risotto

As I’ve probably mentioned before (and if not, it might be apparent from this post, or this one), we love risotto. It’s a great “work for your food” kind of meal. It’s not difficult to make, per se, it just requires a lot of attention and love. But in the end, it’s more than worth it. Possibly one of my favorite things about risotto (besides the creamy deliciousness) is that it can take on so many different variations. It’s easy to create different flavors and add different meats or veggies to make it different every time.

That’s exactly what we did with this spring green risotto that came across on my Google Reader from Annie’s Eats. Risotto is typically a pretty heavy dish, but this spring version made it seem light as a feather.

Spring Green Risotto

{Print this Recipe}
Here’s what you’ll need:
Serves: 4
– about 5 cups chicken broth/stock
– 2 tbsp butter
– 1 tbsp olive oil
– 2 shallots, minced
– 2 leeks, chopped
– 1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
– 2/3 cup white wine
– 1 lb asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces
– 10 oz. frozen peas, thawed
– 1 tbsp lemon zest
– salt and pepper
– 2 tbsp lemon juice
– 1/3 cup mascarpone cheese
– 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

Instructions:
Like all risotto, you want to start by heating the broth — bring it to a boil, then reduce to simmer and let it hang out while you’re cooking. This will ensure that all liquid additions during the cooking process are already hot so the rice cooks correctly.

In a pot large enough to cook all the rice (remember, it’s going to grow as you cook it), heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Saute the shallots and leeks with a little salt and pepper until tender, about five minutes. Add the rice to the pan and stir to coat all the grains with butter, cook for about one minute. Next, begin adding liquid, starting with the wine. Stirring constantly, let the wine simmer until it has evaporated almost completely, about three minutes. After the wine has evaporated, begin adding the broth, a half cup at a time, letting it evaporate almost completely before each addition (this should take three to five minutes per addition). Make sure to stir constantly throughout the cooking process.

After the third liquid addition, add the asparagus and continue cooking like normal. Once the rice has been cooking for 15 minutes, stir in the peas, lemon zest and more salt and pepper. Continue adding liquid and stirring until the rice is tender and creamy, 20 to 25 minutes after the first liquid addition.

Once the rice is cooked, turn the heat off and stir in the lemon juice, mascarpone and Parmesan. Season with salt and pepper, if necessary, and serve.

This was really a great variation of one of our favorite dishes. It was light and fresh and reminded me of spring with each bite (I guess that’s why it’s called spring green risotto, huh?). There were a ton of vegetables, so each bite was full of something green — which I loved. The lemon zest really came through throughout, which added another element of fresh, light flavor. And finally, the mascarpone. It really added a whole other level of creamyess to this already creamy dish, which we both really liked. Come to think of it, I don’t think there was anything about this risotto that we didn’t like.

I found out after the fact that the original recipe also called for fennel, which is an ingredient that I’ve become very fond of recently. Next time we make this, I’ll definitely try it with the fennel and see how that changes it up. If you’re a risotto fan, I strongly recommend that you give this one a try…it’s something totally different and really tasty. I guarantee you’ll love it. 🙂