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Super Bowl Salsa

One of my resolutions this year is to eat healthier (of course).  It always comes after Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s- we eat like the year is going to end (pun intended), and punish ourselves later by limiting everything we like, right?  Well, I’m hoping it’s not a punishment, but more of an unhealthy “flush”, if you will.  So my challenge is to find healthy alternatives that are still great, just less greasy with more overall nutrition.  So yesterday our very loved San Franisisco 49ers played in the NFC Championship Playoffs, and sadly lost to the New York Giants.  My husband is from the Bay area, and this was an extremely somber occasion as we hoped for them to make it to the Super Bowl.  None-the-less, at least our stomachs didn’t suffer a loss from the poor game food that is accustumed.  And seeing as the Super Bowl is not just for football fans, but has become more american culture, I thought perhaps an amazing Super Bowl salsa would be useful for anyone who wants an amazingly flavorful  and fresh snack with the added bonus of it being healthy.

SuperBowl Salsa

Ingredients
4-5 plum tomatoes, small dice
1/2 of a large red onion, small dice
1 avocado (i used a zutano, but hass will work fine as well) diced.
1 can of black beans (drained and rinsed)
1 can of corn kernels (i use the “no added salt” kind) drained and rinsed
1/2 cup of chopped cilantro
1/2 cup of lime juice (about 4-5 limes)
salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
 

Directions:

In this recipe technique is the most important from an okay salsa, to a spectacular one.  You want to make sure your onions are evenly diced and small enough to not be pungent. 

Keep most of your vegetables evenly diced and your results will be impeccable.  In a large bowl mix together all of your ingredients except your avocado, adding enough lime juice to wet and dress all your vegetables. 

Add salt and pepper to flavor as you like, and at the very end gently toss your avocado, coating with the lime juice to prevent from browning.  Serve with corn tortilla chips.  You can even spoon this over salads or top grilled meats with it for a tropical twist.   Beware:  I’ve been told this salsa is very addicting–and I have to agree!  Enjoy without the guilt!

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I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas and a great start to the new year!  My Christmas break was really fun, but extremely busy- ironically I spent most of my time baking and cooking, with little of that time to actually blog about it!  As this New Year has rolled in I have started to, of course, re-evaluate my schedule and my priorities.  And I have found that even though I am a stay-at-home mom and wife, and don’t actually report to a job where I clock in and out, I find myself extraordinarily busy most of the time, and stressed out over things that should not be stressful.  So one of my “resolutions” this year (more of a goal, really) is instead of doing more, which is the norm for me, to do less.  I am going to try to do less of the things that I consider distractions and non-essentials, and focus on the things that are really important.  Making more time to focus on my husband and son, to actually read (especially the Bible as I’ve started a one-year plan), and have time to actually be available to others, to serve and to really “suck out all the marrow out of life” as Henry David Thoreau said.  So this blog will not be a daily blog, as you’ve probably already noticed, but it may be a weekly or even bi-monthly blog.  I hope to post some really good recipes and tips along the way and hope you’ll check in from time to time.  God Bless you this 2012! ~ Pamela

Besides all the baking and hosting dinner parties, this time of year is also associated with colds and the “sniffles”.  So every good wife spouse should have a good chicken soup up their sleeve, right?  Well, here’s mine.  It is a south-american style soup, in keeping with the one my mom always used to still makes us to this day.  It’s easy, usually using the ingredients I have on hand, and my husband loves it and requests it now every time he’s sick.  Of course, ladies, you can probably identify with this scenario:  men tend to milk their sick days for everything they’re worth!  But I guess it’s ok to take extra good care of them once in a while, right?  😉

Ingredients
2 lbs of chicken parts (sometimes I use drumsticks or thighs… even used chicken necks)
1 yellow or Spanish onion, chopped
2-3 large carrots, peeled and diced
2 sticks of celery, diced
½ cup of lentils
½ cup brown rice
½ cup pearled barley
2/3 cup of diced potatoes
½ cup small pasta, like ditalini or orzo
water
salt & pepper to season
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp of cumin
1 tsp of paprika
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
2 bay leaves
chopped parsley for garnish
 

Directions

Sautee onions, celery, and carrots in a heavy bottomed soup pot with the warm olive oil.  Allow onions and vegetables to soften at med-high heat.  The onions will become translucent.  Now add your chicken, skin side down.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Allow the chicken to brown on both sides. 

I used chicken necks- only about $1 and change and they flavor the broth really well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once browned, add about 10 cups of water, or about 2/3 of the way up on your pot.  Stir and scrape the bottom with a wooden spoon to loosen and tidbits.  Season your water with a little salt, pepper, and your cumin, paprika, bay leaves, and rosemary sprigs. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once water has come to a boil, add your grains and potatoes (except pasta) and reduce the heat to medium and allow to simmer for about 20 minutes or until the grains are cooked and your potatoes are tender.  

 

 

 

 Remove your chicken, remove the skins, and with a fork shred or chunk it and then add it back to your pot.  Discard the skin and bones.  Also, fish out the rosemary stems (if the leaves have fallen off, that is ok) and bay leaves.  With a large spoon skim as much of the fat that has floated to the top and collected along the sides of your pot. 

 Now add the pasta to your pot, and allow to simmer for another 10 minutes. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Check for seasonings at this point and adjust to your taste.  Jeremy says this bowl nurtures a sick kid back to life!  It is definitely a heartier, thicker chicken noodle than normal, but with all the good-for-you grains and veggies in there, you will certainly get a boost of vitamins.   Feel better soon!

I was at the farmer’s market the other day and found the most beautiful, gigantic looking plums.  They must have weighed a pound at least.  So I got about 5 of them and decided that’s what I was going to take to my life group at church on Sunday.  I only got a small taste of this light and flavorful cake, but I guess it’s a good sign when you turn around to go for seconds and it’s gone.  This recipe is from a 1995 Gourmet magazine.  It makes two coffeecakes, which makes it perfect for this season- just freeze away one for Christmas morning!

Plum Streusel Coffeecake

Ingredients
 
For streusel
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup walnuts
3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into pieces and softened
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
For cake batter
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 pound plums (4 to 5 medium), sliced
confectioners’ sugar for sifting over cake
 

Directions

Preheat oven to 350°F. and butter and flour a 9-inch round or square baking pan at least 2 inches deep.

Make streusel:
In a food processor pulse together streusel ingredients until combined well and crumbly.

Make cake batter:
In a bowl with an electric mixer beat butter with sugar until light and fluffy and add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, and vanilla. Sift in flour with baking powder and salt and beat until just combined.

Spread cake batter in pan, smoothing top, and arrange plum slices over it in slightly overlapping concentric circles. Sprinkle streusel over plum slices and bake cake in middle of oven 1 hour, or until a tester comes out clean. Coffeecake may be made 1 week ahead: Cool cake completely in pan on a rack and freeze, wrapped well in plastic wrap and foil. Reheat cake, unwrapped but not thawed, in a preheated 350°F. oven until heated through, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool cake slightly on a rack and sift confectioners’ sugar over it. Serve coffeecake warm or at room temperature.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who decoroates my house for the fall with real pumpkins, gourds, and squash.  It’s not only pretty to have a few pie pumpkins and acorn squash, but it’s also practical and efficient!  As long as they are kept at a room temperature of 75° or below (let’s face it, in Florida these would not last outdoors) they can keep a good 1-2 months.  But what do you do with them after Thanksgiving and it’s time to take the autumn decór down?  Well, I like to use them to make a special “transition-to-winter-dish”.  I’ve made things from pumpkin risotto served inside the pumpkin to pasta sauces and soups.  This time a pumpkin soup was in order.  A second-aunt was visiting from Ecuador and she had heard of my pumpkin soup and requested it.  In Ecuador they don’t serve a lot of seasonal items, being that there aren’t really any distinctions in the yearly seasons over there.  No, since it’s on the equator, and actually in the middle of the world, the seasons sort-of occur in one day.  Cold and brisk mornings, warmer mid-mornings, the sun is scorching by mid-day, and cooling back up by dusk.  And it pretty much stays this way year-round.  So, this soup was a big hit.  Usually I freeze half of my soups in containers to keep for busier days, but this wasn’t one of them.  It is actually a lighter soup too, even though many people don’t usually associate pumpkin with lightness.  And of course, you know it has plenty of amazing nutrients and benefits, as pumpkin is one of the superfoods.   Go ahead and try this soup, it may become your “transition-to-winter-soup” as well… and your spouse will be so proud of you for being so resourceful with your decorating budget 😉

Pumpkin Soup

Ingredients
About 3 small pumpkins or a total of 5 lbs of pie pumpkin and/or any variation of pumpkin or winter squash
4 tbsp olive oil
2 yellow onions (about 2 1/2 cups total) diced
4 celery ribs, diced
1 quart chicken stock
1 1/2 white wine
2 cups water
10 sage leaves, destemmed, and chopped
1 stem of rosemary
3 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp crushed black pepper
 

Directions

 

Halve your pumpkins or squash and scoop out seeds (save for toasting if you like this as a snack, if not discard) and place on a baking sheet, open side up.  Drizzle lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Put into a 350°F oven for about 20 minutes, or until you can easily pierce the flesh with a knife.  Set aside to cool.

  Once cool enough to handle you can actually just use a pairing knife and slice off the skin of the pumpkins like you would peel the skin off an apple.  Baking the pumpkins first makes it so much easier to peel.  If you have a grapefruit spoon you can even scoop the flesh out with that, and save yourself so much time.  Once peeled, cut pumpkin into 1-inch cubes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next, heat a heavy-bottomed pot with the olive oil over med-high heat.  Once hot add the onions, celery, and salt and give it a stir.  *Adding the salt to the onions while sauteéing causes the onions to release their juices or sweats them out and softens them quicker.  Allow the onion mixture to get nice and soft; the onions should be translucent.  Now add the pumpkin and stir into the onion mixture and allow them to meld together for about 5-7 minutes. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At this point the pumpkin should be soft enough to smash with the back of your wooden spoon.  Now add the white wine, and with your spoon stir the vegetables and scrape off any sucs or deposit of caramelized sugars, carbohydrates, and/or proteins that form on the bottom of the pan.  Then add the chicken stock, water, and your rosemary stem and chopped sage leaves. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Allow this to simmer for about 20 minutes, uncovered on a medium heat.  Remove your rosemary stem, then puree and serve with a dollop of plain greek yogurt, a sage leaf, and toasted pepitas. 

Stay tuned tomorrow for a winter apple salad to serve with your soup!

  

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Tiramisu

In the summer of 2006 my parents and sister came to visit Jeremy and I in Germany.  We were so excited that we planned a road trip to Tuscany.  Needless to say it was just amazing… and having our car available to us to stop wherever we wanted definitley made it worth the drive.  My dad was also celebrating his 20th year of practicing medicine, and since food has always bonded us, I decided that a Tuscan cooking course right in the heart of  Tuscany (Firenze) would be the perfect gift.  I was right.  We learned to make delicious things in only a day, and we still make them for special guests.  Well this past weekend I invited two of our favorite couples over for a couple’s dinner.  It was so nice to leave our son with my parents and just have some adult time.  We culminated the evening with Tiramisu and a game of “Would you rather”.  Tiramisu actually means a “pick me up”.  It is a great dessert to take to a mid-afternoon office gathering because it will literally wake you up.  That night I combined it with a side of fresh coffee-not a good idea!  I could not sleep until after 2am.  So if you are eating this at night-no coffee on the side!  Unless of course you have a term paper, then it’s a great idea.  If you like coffee, you will love this dessert.  

Tiramisu

Ingredients 
1 lb (16oz) mascarpone cheese
5 eggs, separated                                                                                                                                                                                      
5 tbsp sugar
package of Savoiardi cookies (they sell these in most italian markets- better than ladyfingers)
3-4 cups of espresso
1.5 cups of Frangelico (or any coffee liquor, like Kahlua)
1 pinch of salt
100 grams of dark chocolate (a few pieces)

Place the yolks and sugar into a bowl and beat with a fork until you it is pale yellow.  Add the mascarpone and continue beating until smooth and well mixed.  In a mixer beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until stiff peaks form.  Next fold in the stiffened egg whites to the cream mixture and mix thoroughly, being very careful not to collapse the mixture. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Line a deep baking dish (8 x 8 works best) with a first (thin layer) of cream mixture.  Combine the slightly cooled coffee with the coffee liquor and pour some into a small bowl.  Dip the biscuits very briefly into the coffee mixture, then quickly turning them over and layer them in rows into the baking dish.  It is important not to soak them for too long- you want the biscuits to absorb the coffee but not be soggy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When your first layer is finished spread half of the cream mixture over the soaked Savoiardi cookies.  Smooth it out slighly with a spatula.  Repeat the same for the next layer, finishing with the cream mixture on top.  Allow to refrigerate at least 4 hours, if not overnight.  Before serving take a vegetable peeler and peel chocolate curls all over dish.  It is delicious!  Buon Appetito!

 

The weather in Florida is finally getting cooler.  I love cooler weather.  Our family can finally enjoy opening the windows and turning off the air conditioning for a while (hopefully).  I have been craving a good tomato-basil soup for a while now, so as soon as I woke up yesterday I decided that it would be the perfect soup along my other craving: grilled cheese.  You see my parents-in-law went out to California for Thanksgiving, that’s where they used to live for 20+ years, and spent some time with my sister-in-law, Keely.  As I was bidding them farewell I just casually slipped them a hint.  That if they wanted to bring me back anything, a loaf of San Fransisco sourdough bread is all I wanted.  Well, if they aren’t the best in-laws, I don’t know who is.  Guess what they brought me back? 

Of course you can make your grilled cheese with any bread, but I recommend finding a good sourdough loaf to take it to that next level 🙂

Fresh Tomato-Basil Soup 

 Ingredients:
4 lbs of tomatoes (I used 2 pints of grape tomatoes, 1 pint of heirloom tomatoes, and 1 big ugly tomato)
2 onions, approximately 2 1/2 cups
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 shallot, diced (or can substitue garlic)
1/4 cup basil, julienned, + more for garnish
2-3 tbsp olive oil
3 tsp salt + more to taste
2 tsp fresh ground pepper + more to taste
1 quart chicken stock
1 tbsp tomato paste (helps to develop flavor quicker)
3 tsp sugar
1/4 cup 2% milk
optional: croutons or parmesan shavings for garnish

Directions:
Heat olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot at medium-high heat. Add the onions, carrots, salt and pepper to the pot and allow them to become soft and translucent, about 10 minutes; stirring periodically.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now add the shallots, stir and continue to cook until you can press a carrot piece with the back of your spoon and it easily falls apart.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next add in the tomatoes, tomato paste, sugar, stock, and finally the basil.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Allow your soup to simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the tomtoes are soft and cooked down.  Now check for seasonings, and add more salt and pepper if needed. Now use your immersion blended (or in 2 batches in blender) and puree the soup down. If you don’t like bits of tomato skin you can strain your soup, but I personally love the bits and pieces of texture in this soup. You can also use a food mill if you have one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now I add the milk and give it a stir. Serve in a mug or bowl and top with your favorite garnishes- I used parmesan shavings and basil. Really great flavor, super fresh, hence the name 😉 and really nice thicker consistency.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next the grilled cheese to eat along side your soup. 

Ingredients:
sourdough loaf of bread cut into whatever thickness you prefer (i like medium thick slices 🙂 )
sharp yellow or white cheddar cheese, about 2 slices per sandwich
muenster cheese, 2 slices per sandwich
swiss cheese, 1 slice per sandwich
2 tbsp mayonnaise
2 tbsp dijon mustard
3-4 tbsp of butter
 

Directions:

Combine your mayonnaise and mustard in a small bowl.  Spread this sauce on both insides of bread.  Next, arrange your cheddar slices on one sourdough slice of bread.  Place your swiss cheese in the middle and your muenster slices on the other side.  Top with your already mayo’d slice of bread.  You can either spread your butter lightly over both top and bottom of your sandwich bread-or if you want a little less butter, like me, I just used a brush to spread  it directly on my George Foreman grill..(I don’t have a panini grill yet, and this was a gift).  If you don’t have a panini press you can use a skilled and place a plate or heavy lid on top of you sandwiches, flipping halfway through.  Total time is about 4 minutes.  You can try your own combination of cheeses, let me know what the results are!

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
So there you have it, the perfect combination on a cool Florida evening:  fresh and hot tomato-basil soup with a crunchy crust on the outside, melty and cheesy on the inside with a slight tanginess from the sourdough and dijon, but a slight sweetness from your swiss cheese- sandwich.  And if you dip one into the other, some say fireworks go off…  a bit exagerated?  I don’t know 😉  Some really have seen said fireworks 🙂  I hope you enjoy this one!