Saturday, May 4, 2013

Chicken Sausage, White Bean, and Kale Soup


The other night, I needed to make dinner and didn't have anything planned.  I went through the fridge and freezer to see what was hanging around and found some chicken italian sausage and a bunch of kale.   I quickly looked to see if I had white beans, and score!  I didn't have much else, besides chicken stock, so I figured it was going to have to be good enough.  I didn't even have any garlic or onions! 

I was more than pleasantly surprised that this didn't need anything.  The flavor of the sausage melded all through the broth and this was perfectly flavorful.   The kids loved, Nico loved it, and I did.   I've made it again since with garlic and it was a nice note to have underneath all the other flavors.   A little sprinkle of parmesan cheese on top was a nice addition, too. 

Sausage, white beans, and kale are no shocking combination, of course.  I posted a kale and white bean saute last year that was perfectly complimented by pork.   But what surprised me was how packed with flavor it was with such simple ingredients.

I love having things like this that I can make with few ingredients for the end of the week, when the fridge is getting bare and its time to go shopping again.  

Chicken Sausage, White Bean, and Kale Soup

1 package chicken Italian Sausage, sliced into coins
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large bunch kale, stemmed and torn into small pieces
2 cans white beans, rinsed and drained
1 large box chicken broth

In a large pot, cook the Italian sausage until browned and cooked through.  Add the white beans and stir a bit until warmed.  Add the kale and cook until wilted.  

Once all the components have come together, add the chicken broth and allow to simmer for at least an hour, or as long as you need. The second time I made this, I had actually made it the day before, simmered it an hour, then put it in the fridge until the next day.   The longer it has to sit, the better the flavor, in my opinion.  


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

"Cream Egg" Brownies


Confession time:  I am no fan of Cadbury's cream eggs.  When I was a kid, I couldn't wait for spring when they'd be in stores again.  And as I've gotten older, I've bought one every year when they appear, out of habit, but recently realized that that's it.  It's just a habit.  Not because I can't wait to have them.  This year, I saw them at the supermarket checkout, bought two, and gave them to Evie and Liam.  



It's kind of weird when you outgrow something like that. I've been feeling that way about a lot of foods lately, and oddly enough, mostly chocolate.   Such as lately, I find M&M's to be too salty.  For real.  Am I the only one?  

Anyhow, not the rational side, but the habit side of my brain, saw these brownies on Pinterest and I could not get into the kitchen soon enough to make them.  A quick scan of the ingredients and I realized with a little tweaking, I had everything I needed on hand. 


One of the first things I wanted to do was swap out the brownie recipe for my favorite brownie recipe, which I'll share soon.  It's insanely rich, and dense, and sweet.  But I opted to stick with the recipe on Love and Olive Oil because it had far less sugar than my recipe.  And I thought, if I'm going to top these with that sugar glaze AND chocolate glaze, maybe it's best to start with a less sweet brownie.

I'm glad I did too.  For one thing, I stole a small corner of the finished brownie and they were so good as a stand a lone.  They use far less butter and chocolate than my usual brownie recipe, which  means I could probably get away with always having the ingredients for these in house.

I made some minor changes to the original posters recipe, only because she called for milk chocolate and I only had semi-sweet chocolate in my pantry.  To make up for this, and mind you I have no idea what I'm doing because baking is not my strongest suit, I added a little half and half.  (I can't even tell you if that was necessary.)  What I do know is that if I had added the milk to the melted chocolate, the chocolate would have seized and become very thick, no longer liquid.  So I added it to the egg and vanilla mixture.  Then I added that to the chocolate and sugar mixture.  It worked out very well.  And again, these brownies were amazing.

In all, it was a lot of steps, but I thought it came together pretty seamlessly.   There was enough down time between steps that my kitchen wasn't overwhelmed with dishes and messes.  I did not wait the two hours between layers, as they suggested you do on Love and Olive Oil.  I only waited about a half hour between steps.   The only final change I wish I would have made, to be more Cadbury-like in authenticity, would have been to make my second sugar layer more orange, and not yellow.  When I cut into a cream egg when I was done making them, I discovered my "yolk" coloring was off.
The kids loved them, but that was no hard sell.  I got the rest out of my house by bringing them to Evie's preschool.  I wrapped a few up in cute little boxes for each of her preschool teachers, and put the rest in a box to share with the other parents at pickup.  One of the dads there said he waits all year for Cadbury cream eggs, and had one.  He said it tasted just like the original.  In fact, he took the rest of the brownies home for his family.   My favorite part of baking is sharing what I make with our friends.

Cream Egg Brownies
recipe adapted from Love and Olive Oil

For the brownies:
2/3 cup flour
2 tablespoons dutch process cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 ounces semi sweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 stick unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 large eggs, at room temperature, slightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 cup half and half

For the cream filling:
1/4 cup light corn syrup
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
mik, as needed
food coloring

For the chocolate glaze:
3 ounces semi sweet chocolate, chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into cubes
2 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line the bottom and sides of an 8x8 inch brownie pan with parchment paper, leaving an overhang on the edges.

Sift the flour, cooca and salt together into a small bowl and set aside.

In a bowl set over a pan of gently simmering water, melt the chocolate and the butter.   Stir until smooth, then remove from the heat.  Add the sugars and whisk until sugars are dissolved and the chocolate is smooth and has cooled slightly.

Combine the eggs, vanilla, and half and half.  Add to the chocolate and mix until combined.   Sprinkle the flour mixture over the chocolate mixture and fold in gently with a rubber spatula.   Pour into parchment lined pan.

Bake for 25 - 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.  (Mine took exactly 25 minutes.)  Allow to cool in the pan.

Prepare the cream filling while the brownies cool.  Combine the corn syrup, butter, vanilla and salt in a medium bowl.  Beat on medium-high speed until combined.  Add powdered sugar, a little at a time, mixing until creamy.   After adding all of the powdered sugar, my filling became too thick to spread so I added milk a few drops at a time until it loosened up.   In all, I used maybe 2 teaspoons of milk.  

Pour 3/4 of the filling over the brownies and spread into an even layer.   Add a few drops of food coloring to the left over glaze and stir until the color is evenly distributed.   Add small drops of the colored mixture to the top of the white layer and swirl it with a spatula.  Refrigerate until set.

In a bowl set over simmering water, melt the remaining chocolate and butter.  Stir until smooth.  Because I wasn't using milk chocolate, and I didn't want the glaze to be grainy from sugar, or seize from milk, I added a few tablespoons of sweetened condensed milk to give the chocolate glaze a little sweetness.   Once combined, pour over the filling and place back in the refrigerator to set.

Once chilled, remove from the pan by pulling the parchment paper out of the pan.  Dip a sharp knife in hot water, then dry it, to slice the brownies into squares.    Keep leftover brownies refrigerated.
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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Chocolate Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

Another week went by, our bananas sat on the counter and no one wanted to eat them.  They are hit or miss, these kids.  But I buy the bananas week after week, because they are the perfect snack.   When no one eats them, typically, I peel them, then toss them in the freezer for smoothies.  I had so many in there, though. Probably 6 or more.   So when four bananas sat on my counter this week, turning black, I decided maybe we could make some muffins.

I have a banana muffin recipe I really like.  I wanted to add chocolate chips this time too, and started thinking we'd just do something new.   When I came across a recipe that used a chocolate muffin base, I thought there could be nothing wrong with that!

It was very simple to come together.  I only used one bowl, which was perfect.  I opted to use half whole wheat flour and half all purpose flour, but feel free to 1 cup of all purpose, it that's all you've got.  I made them again since the first batch, with applesauce in place of the butter.  The only thing I would recommend if you do that, is the spray the muffin cups with cooking spray.  I had a hard time getting the applesauce version out of the muffin wrappers.
Speaking of muffin wrappers, you'd think I'd keep cute little photo friendly wrappers in my house.  Seasonal, colorful, eye catching... nope.  Quite frankly, I was lucky to have any liners in the house, and Liam was pretty excited to see Lightning McQueen when he got his hand on a muffin!
Evie suggested we add peanut butter to them, because she likes peanut butter cups, and she likes bananas with peanut butter.  Smart kid.  I like the way she thinks.

Chocolate Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins
recipe adapted from Hot Polka Dot

3 large, over-ripe bananas
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1/3 cup butter, melted (or 1/3 cup applesauce)
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup good quality cocoa powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 375.   Line a muffin tin with wrappers, and spray with cooking spray, if desired.

In a large bowl, mash the bananas until smooth, then add the sugar, egg and butter.  Mix well.  Over the bowl with the banana mixture, sift the flour(s), cocoa powder, cinnamon, salt, baking soda, and baking powder.   Fold gently to combine.   Add in the chocolate chips.

Scoop the batter into the prepared muffin cups and bake for 18-20 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.   Transfer to a rack and allow to cool.
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Sunday, March 17, 2013

Corned Beef and Cabbage

I know I've written before about how food is so connected with memories.  Growing up, I was very close with my grandmother.  I would spend weekends with her during the school year, and in the summer, I would spend a few weeks at her house.  While Grandma was a very simple cook, the things she made were consistent and consistently good.  Even the most simple things she made, when made now, have the most profound effect on my memories.

For example, I loved the way she made a tuna fish sandwich.  Always on toasted bread with iceberg lettuce and a slice of tomato.  When she made hamburgers for us, she'd always sprinkle a little paprika on the burgers, which she said she did to give them a nice color.  She always made a few strips of bacon to put on them and she always toasted the hamburger buns.  She had this tiny little cast iron pan she used to cook the hamburgers... I broke down and bought one a few years ago.  It's a little thing I do to be at one with her, cook myself a paprika dusted hamburger in my little cast iron skillet.   She made the.best.ever pasta sauce.  I regret that I have never been able to replicate it, which is why I stick with Gram's spaghetti sauce.

And apart from the things she "cooked", there was something for me about just being in her kitchen.   I'd wake up in the morning and she would already have the red sauce simmering.  The whole house smelled like it.   Her washer was in the kitchen and some mornings, the kitchen smelled like fresh laundry and whatever she was cooking.   A breakfast "treat" for me at her house was Quaker instant oatmeal (apple and cinnamon flavored!) and although now I prefer to make my own oatmeals, whenever I smell apple and cinnamon instant oatmeal, I am transported back to my grandmother's kitchen, I am 7 years old, standing there in my nightgown.

I loved her whole house, but especially her kitchen.  It was small, but she had a small table in it, where we'd eat breakfast, lunch and dinner.  The dining room was for Sunday suppers.  The kitchen had a tin tiled ceiling, which I loved.  I loved the patterns and the textures.  Her stove and refrigerator were turn of the century (Wedgewood, maybe?) relics.  Although she had to light the pilot with a match every single time, that thing was solid.  Her fridge had those shelves that rotated out, which, why don't we have that anymore?? Talk about completely practical!  I loved her appliances.    I loved how I knew exactly where to find the goodies in her pantry.   Fudge stripe cookies and Andies candies, FTW!

Anyhow, my Grandma was an Irish girl who married an Italian boy and 75% of my food memories with her are Italian in nature.  But once a year, she'd make corned beef and cabbage and I loved it.   I didn't love it when just anyone made it, just her.  Two years ago, I mentioned that corned beef and cabbage gets a bad rap because it's very easy to make it bland and boring.  And in that same post I said I was going to make it that night, though it was with dismal results.  I've spent the last two years trying to figure out how to infuse flavor into it, the way she did.   This year, I had success!

I turned to Kevin, from Closet Cooking.  The man know's his way around a corned beef brisket.  He is full of St. Patrick's Day ideas, all are mouthwatering.  So I thought I'd look to him for some inspiration. I took cues from his Corned Beef Glazed in Honey Mustard.  I also did something I have previously turned my nose up at, I cooked it in the slow cooker.   I put it in the slow cooker for 1 hour on high, then added my veggies.  After another 2 hours, I removed the meat and veggies and brushed it with a mustard and brown sugar sauce.  I also removed the veggies, tossed them with some melted butter and put both into the oven for 20 minutes.   The results were divine!  It was the best corned beef I've had since my grandma made it for me last.   It was so good, I couldn't eat it fast enough.  And I as I ate, I thought of that sweet woman with the paper-y skin, soft white curls, and devilish laugh that I grew up admiring so much.

A meal can be emotional on so many levels and today, in honor of a great Irish lady, I shed a tear.   I know this is a widely known Irish blessing, but it hung on the wall in Grandma's kitchen, so I share it here with you:

May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
The rains fall soft upon your fields and,
Until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Corned Beef and Cabbage
recipe adapted from Closet Cooking

1 corned beef brisket (mine was just shy of 3 pounds)
1 cabbage, cut into thick slices
4 carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
8 red skinned potatoes, quartered
1 tablespoon mustard (I used a German delicatessen senf)
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1/2 stick of butter
salt and pepper

Remove the corned beef from the vacuum sealed package.  Place in the insert of a slow cooker along with any liquid that was in the package.  Cover with 2 cups of water and cook on high for 1 hour.

After 1 hour, add the potatoes, carrots, and cabbage.  I place these in this order: potatoes nestled around the corned beef, in the water; then the carrots; then the cabbage on top of all the other items.  Replace the cover and allow to cook for another 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Remove the vegetables from the slow cooker and transfer to a baking sheet.  Melt the butter and pour over the vegetables, concentrating on the cabbage.  Gently toss the carrots and potatoes, but don't toss the cabbage, so it remains in its "sliced" shape.

Remove the corned beef from the slow cooker and transfer to a baking dish.  In a small bowl, I combined the mustard and brown sugar, then thinned it out with some of the cooking liquid from the slow cooker.  Brush this over the corned beef.

Place the corned beef and vegetables in the oven and bake for 20 minutes.   Let it rest for 10 minutes, slice and serve.  
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Thursday, March 14, 2013

Ravioli with Mushrooms and Spinach

One of the downsides of being the only one in the house that cooks, is that no matter how I'm feeling, I still have to get my act together to make dinner.  I can't remember why I didn't eat the night I made this, but I do remember everyone devouring it.  There were a few pieces of ravioli left over at the end of the meal and I put them in the fridge for a few days later.  It was delicious.

This was a winner in so many ways.  Did I mention everyone loved it?  It was also super easy.  Even while not feeling well, it was simple.  Dinner came together in minutes, partly because everything I had in on hand was already prepared.  Evie loves to help me every time I have mushrooms to slice, so I never buy sliced mushrooms.  She did the heavy lifting on that, while I cooked up some frozen ravioli and toasted some breadcrumbs.   Sauté it all together with some spinach and garlic and, voila, dinner is served.   Admittedly, I got this recipe out of a Rachel Ray magazine, and she's the queen of quick and simple dinners.  She wins again.

We made this with cheese ravioli, but in the future if I'm planning to make this (instead of rushing to find a recipe that fits with what I have on hand), I might try it with spinach or mushroom ravioli.

Ravioli with Mushrooms and Spinach
recipe courtesy of Rachel Ray Magazine, March 2013

1 package frozen cheese ravioli (or 2 packages fresh ravioli_
3 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
salt and pepper
8 ounces button mushrooms, sliced
1 teaspoon minced garlic
8 ounces baby spinach

In a pot of boiling water, cook the ravoili according to package instructions. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of cooking water (which, truthfully, I NEVER remember to do).

In a large skillet, melt 1 tablespoon of butter over medium heat. Stir in the breadcrumbs and season with salt and pepper.  Toast until golden, 3 minutes.  Transfer to a paper towel lined plate.  Wipe out skillet.

Return to heat and add 1 tablespoon butter and melt.  Add the mushrooms and season with salt and pepper.  Cook until the mushrooms are tender and brown and liquids have been released.  Add spinach and garlic, tossing until the spinach wilts.

Add the ravioli to the pan with the remaining tablespoon of butter and toss to coat.  Serve topped with the toasted breadcrumbs.
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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Strawberry Milk

home made strawberry milk cook au vin

When I was a kid, I loved when my mom would by strawberry Quick milk.  It was a rare treat, but somehow better than chocolate milk.  When Evie was maybe about 3 years old, I bought her some strawberry powder one day, thinking we would both love it.  For her, I thought it would be a hit due to her love of strawberries and all things pink.  For me, I thought it was be a great nostalgic treat.   

Wrong.  It tasted so fake and cloyingly sweet, neither of us would drink it.   And, of course!  There is nothing natural about that stuff.  When I was a kid, convenience food was 90% of what I ate, since my parents worked a lot.   I don't know why I didn't even consider that when buying it.  I hate wasting things, so it sat in our cupboard until one time we moved and I threw the whole thing away.  I couldn't imagine giving it to someone to consume all that processed powdery sugar.
But for her birthday, I really wanted to make pink milk.  In the last year, I have been making our own chocolate syrup for chocolate milk, so I figured strawberry syrup couldn't be too hard.  I threw some strawberries in a pot with some sugar and water and let it reduce, then strained out the large pieces.  Viola.  Strawberry syrup.  It looked so pretty in the glass bottles with paper stripey straws at Evie's birthday party.  
I'll admit, I was disappointed that Evie still doesn't like strawberry milk.  Unfortunately, I have the taste for it now.  I can't wait for an excuse to make more!

Strawberry Milk

2 cups diced strawberries
1.5 cups water
1/2 cup granulated sugar
milk

Place strawberries, water and sugar in a small sauce pan.  Bring to a boil, then lower heat to a simmer, and let syrup reduce.    Strain through a fine mesh sieve to remove any large pieces.

Add about 3 teaspoons of syrup to 1 cup of milk and stir.  Extra syrup can be stored in the fridge for 1 month.

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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Speculoos and Banana Stuffed French Toast

Speculoos, Banana, French Toast
I know I said I'd post a few recipes from my daughter's birthday party, but I wanted to share this.  It's a completely indulgent treat, but so worth it.   Recently, Evie and I discovered speculoos.  Which is a spread made from cinnamon shortbread cookies (such as biscoff).  Evie just calls it cookie butter.  She calls the cookies "airplane cookies".

One of the first things I did with our jar of speculoos was to thinly spread it onto toast and top it with bananas.  Evie wasn't so much into the toast part.  She'd just ask for cut up bananas with a side of cookie butter.  But one day I took it a step further and made french toast instead.   Instant hit.

Evie would eat this every day for breakfast, but so far we've only had it once.  As a matter of fact, when this jar is gone, I think we'll have to take a break from it.  It's too dangerous.  I think I'd be willing to put this on just about anything.  

Speculoos and Banana Stuffed French Toast
2 slices whole wheat bread
1/2 banana, sliced
2 tablespoons speculoos
2 eggs
1 tablespoon heavy cream
1/4 teaspsoon vanilla extract

Spread both slices of bread with speculoos.  Place banana slices on one slice of bread, then sandwich the two slices together.  

In a wide bowl, combine the eggs, cream and vanilla extract.   Dip the sandwich in the egg completely coating both sides and letting the egg soak into the bread for a few minutes.

Heat a skillet over medium heat with a tablespoon of butter.  Add the egg soaked sandwich the skillet and cook until browned, about 2-3 minutes per side.

You could serve with with maple syrup, but honestly you won't need it.  The melty speculoos is rewarding enough.
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