Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Easter Entertaining and Menu Ideas

After a long, cold winter with tons of ice and snow (you should see the condition of our driveway... it's a cracked mess!) I am so excited that the flowers are finally blooming, the grass is green and Easter is this weekend!

I'm hosting a small Easter dinner this year and I'm very excited. One of the best things about moving to a larger home with a formal dining room has been sharing our space with friends and family for special meals, parties and holidays. It really makes the hassle of moving worth it.

I'm in the process of finalizing our Easter dinner menu. I've created a board on Pinterest with my menu and tablescape ideas, so please check it out and let me know what you think. My plan is to make a traditional meal, but to make sure that it's distinct from the heavier foods that we typically serve during the cold weather holidays (Thanksgiving and Christmas).

I'll be trying some new recipes as well as some that I've made in the past that aren't on the blog. There are a few old favorites from this blog that will make an appearance at dinner:

Sweet and savory roasted sweet potatoes are a lighter and healthier way to bring sweet potatoes to your holiday dinner table. I love to enjoy these in the spring and summer with barbecue.

Asparagus is in season and roasted asparagus is always a spring favorite around here.

Of course in addition to turkey and roasted pork loin, we'll also have macaroni and cheese, Southern-style cornbread dressing, and some indulgent desserts, too.

Do you have any special plans for the Easter holiday? Have you hosted a family holiday meal? I'm new to this, but Thanksgiving was a hit last year, so I'm looking forward to many more!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Weeknight Red Beans and Rice

This recipe was born after I bought way too many cans of red beans. I have no idea what I was thinking, but somehow I accumulated more than 25 cans of red beans over the course of a year. We typically eat black beans, so I still don't know how or why I made this mistake, but I decided it was time to find a recipe for these beans.

I'm not from New Orleans, so it goes without saying that this red beans and rice recipe probably isn't authentic. Despite this fact, it tastes great and it's quick enough to prepare that you can put it into your weeknight dinner rotation.

I browned the vegetables in a little rendered bacon fat, which brings an extra layer of smoky flavor to this dish. I keep bacon fat in my refrigerator for special meals. Whenever I cook bacon I pour the rendered fat into a mason jar and store it in the refrigerator. However, you can substitute vegetable oil if you don't have or use bacon fat. You can also use a chicken andouille sausage if you don't eat pork.

Most of the ingredients have a decent shelf life, so you can shop for this meal a week or more in advance and have everything on hand for when the mood strikes you. I was looking for a change from the typical pizza/pasta/sandwich quick weeknight dinner rotation. I wanted something complex and savory. This hit the spot. It's very savory, a little spicy and has a a fresh ending with those green onions on top. The leftovers are even more awesome than the original meal.

Weeknight Red Beans and Rice
yield: about 6 servings

3 tablespoons bacon fat (or vegetable oil)
1 medium onion, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 piece of smoked turkey (you can find smoked turkey parts in the meat section of the grocery store)
about 14 ounces of andouille sausage or smoked sausage
1 1/2 cups water
3 cans of red beans (I use small red beans), 2 rinsed and drained and one straight from the can
chopped green onion, for garnish (optional)

Heat bacon fat in a wide pot on medium-high heat until melted.

Saute onion, celery and bell pepper until softened, about 3-5 minutes.

Mix in garlic, tomato paste, thyme, garlic powder, black pepper and smoked paprika. Stir and cook for about two minutes.

Add in smoked turkey, smoked sausage, water and beans. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.

Simmer for 15 minutes. Use a potato masher or the back of a spoon to mash up about half of the beans to thicken the sauce. Simmer for an additional 10 minutes.

Check seasonings. Add salt and pepper, if necessary. Serve over rice. Garnish with green onions, if desired.

Monday, March 31, 2014

The Lime Shortage

photo from Wikipedia
Have you heard all the news stories about the lime shortage? Bad weather in Mexico (where we get most of our limes, at least in my part of the US) is causing supply to decrease and prices to skyrocket. I used to pay about .25 per lime at ShopRite, but on my most recent visit limes were $1 each. I couldn't bring myself to pay a dollar for a small, blemished piece of fruit. It's funny how as soon as I knew I couldn't get limes for a cheap price I had a strong craving for limes and lime juice. Salsa, margaritas, Thai food, chicken tortilla soup... all of a sudden I craved every single recipe that involved limes.

Shortly after I went into shock over lime prices, the media was flooded with explanations. Apparently the next crop of limes will be ready in May, so there may be some price relief in the short term.

In the meantime, I celebrated when I found a 5 pound bag of limes at Costco for $9 last night. Did I need five pounds of limes? No. Will I find a way to use them? Probably. I may even share a few. Apparently they're worth $1 a piece.

What are your favorite lime recipes? I'm hoping this batch of limes will last me a few weeks into April, so I'm looking for some good ways to use them. Anyone else feeling impacted by the lime shortage?

Friday, March 21, 2014

Buttermilk Biscuits

Apparently I love biscuits. There are several biscuit recipes on this blog, including two different versions of cheddar bay biscuits (here and here). And don't even get me started on the scones (in cinnamon raisin, cheddar, and blueberry), which are pretty much a cousin to the biscuit.

What can I say? I love a buttery biscuit (or scone!).

I love that biscuits can be served at any time of day, come together quickly, and they play nice with one of my favorite ingredients: butter. In addition, you can make a large batch of biscuits and freeze the unbaked biscuits for a quick bread option anytime. Just add a few additional minutes to the baking time when baking from frozen.

The key to a good biscuit is not overworking the dough and making sure you add enough salt and fat (in this case butter) to get the taste and texture right. I like to use a food processor to sift my dry ingredients, mix in the butter and finally mix in the wet ingredients. Then I knead the dough very, very briefly (as in, no more than five times) and start cutting my biscuits.

I love this recipe because the biscuits are buttery, flavorful, fluffy and they rise very well due to all the baking powder. I baked a dozen for Sunday brunch and they didn't make it through the day.

If you're looking for a good, basic biscuit recipe, this is it. If you have no willpower, I strongly suggest you park some of these biscuits in the freezer for future meals. I had a hard time resisting them and I was happy when my brother took a few home and saved me from biscuit overload. Enjoy!

A note on ingredients: I use kosher salt, salted butter and aluminum-free baking powder. You can find aluminum-free baking powder among all the other options in the baking aisle. 

Buttermilk Biscuits
makes about 1 dozen

2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons baking powder, cut into small pieces
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
1 cup buttermilk
2-3 tablespoons butter, melted, for topping biscuits after baking

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a food processor (or in a large bowl with a whisk) pulse/blend together flour, salt, and baking powder.

Add butter to food processor and pulse (if working by hand, use a pastry blender) until mixture resembles wet sand (about 10 pulses). Don't overmix!

Pour in buttermilk and pulse (or stir, if working my hand) until the wet and dry ingredients are just blended. Don't overmix!

Turn mixture out onto a a floured surface and sprinkle a little flour on top of the dough. Knead three to five times and then gently pat into a rectangle-ish shape about 1" thick.

Cut biscuits with a round mold or the top of a drinking glass. I use a 3" biscuit cutter.

At this point you can either freeze the formed biscuits (flash freeze them on wax paper on a tray before piling them into a freezer-safe bag) or you can put them on a baking sheet and place them in the oven. Bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Brush the tops of hot biscuits with melted butter. Serve warm and enjoy!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Chicken Tortilla Soup

We've had a rough winter here in Delaware. We've seen record cold and record snowfall. We pretty much didn't see the grass in our yard from December until late-February... and it's snowing again. I love snow. It's beautiful...

But, it makes for hazardous driving and walking conditions and it often leaves the entire family stuck indoors for days. Cabin fever sets in. We miss sunshine, barbecues, the backyard.

So when I'm not at work, I'm cooking and baking. These days I don't get around to blogging as often because I'm very absorbed in the chronicles of a certain 19 month-old...

But trust me, I'm doing a lot of cooking! In all of this cooking I think I've finally perfected my chicken tortilla soup recipe. I love it because it's hot and a little spicy and warms you up on a cold day, yet at the same time has a burst of fresh flavor that reminds you of summertime. You could definitely serve this all year. I served it back in December at my cookie exchange party (along with butternut squash soup) and it was a hit.

Before I share the recipe, here are a few tips:

1. A pre-cooked rotisserie chicken is great for many meals that contain chicken. It's the basis for my chicken pot pie, chicken and dumplings, chicken tamale casserole and this soup. I pick up a big chicken at Costco for $4.99.

2. You can freeze any pre-cooked chicken (grilled, baked, rotisserie, etc.) and save it for future recipes. In this case, I take leftover rotisserie chicken, remove the skin and bones and seal it with my Food Saver for future meals. I just pop the frozen, cooked chicken in the microwave for two or three minutes, chop it up, and proceed with my recipe.

3. This soup freezes well. You can freeze it in quart-sized deli containers or any freezer-safe food container. I like to add fresh toppings when I serve it (chopped red onion, cilantro, cheese, lime, etc.) to kick up the flavor.

I love topping my soup with shredded cheese, red onion and cilantro and enjoying it with a cheese quesadilla on the side. If you're looking for a kick of summertime freshness during these last few days of winter, try this soup.

Chicken Tortilla Soup
8-10 servings

1 medium onion, diced
1 red or green pepper, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 can Rotel (Original flavor)
4 cups low sodium chicken broth or stock
3 cups water
1/3 cup uncooked long grain white rice
1 cup frozen corn
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
2 cups chopped, cooked chicken seasoned to taste with salt, cumin and chili powder
3 tablespoons corn flour (masa) dissolved in 1/3 cup water
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup fresh lime juice (from 1-2 limes)
salt and pepper, to taste
diced red onion, cilantro, shredded cheese, tortilla chips, etc. for topping (optional)

In a large pot, saute onions and green/red pepper in about 4 tablespoons of vegetable oil over medium heat for about 5 minutes, or until softened.

Add garlic, tomato paste, cumin, chili powder and garlic powder to the pot. Stir and cook for 1-2 minutes.

Add Rotel, chicken stock, water, rice corn, black beans, chicken and masa mixture to the pot. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce to simmer. Simmer for 20-25 minutes.

Add lime juice and fresh cilantro. Check for seasonings. Add additional salt, pepper, cumin or chili powder, if desired.

Serve with red onion, additional cilantro, shredded cheese and tortilla chips for garnish. Leftovers freeze well. Soup may thicken in the refrigerator. If this happens, thin it out with additional chicken broth before heating and serving leftovers.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Cheddar Scones

I'm proud to say that over the past year I've mastered the scone technique. What's not to love about a buttery, biscuit-like pastry filled with sweet or savory ingredients? My family loves my cinnamon raisin scones so I wanted to try a savory version that could go beyond breakfast and coffee breaks.

These cheddar scones (pictured here with butternut squash soup) are a burst of cheesy, savory flavor. Yes, you can enjoy them with your breakfast, but they're even more fun when they show up in the bread basket for lunch or dinner.

I encourage you to make double batch and freeze the cut, yet unbaked scones so you can bake them fresh as needed. They're like a cheddar biscuit, only fancier. Enjoy!

Cheddar Scones
yield: about 16 small scones

3 cups all-purpose flour
5 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
2 sticks (1/2 pound) butter (I use salted butter), cubed
1 egg
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese (I love Cabot)
1 additional egg for egg wash

In the bowl of a food processor, combine flour, baking powder, salt, garlic powder, pepper and butter. Pulse until butter is pea-sized and mixture has a sandy texture. If you don't have a food processor, place these ingredients in a bowl and combine using a pastry cutter or two forks.

Pour flour mixture into a large bowl. Mix in shredded cheddar.

In a small bowl, whisk together one egg and buttermilk. Stir wet mixture into flour mixture. Mixture will be crumbly. Knead gently with your hands. Pour onto parchment paper (or an oven-safe silicone mat). Roll into a rectangle about 1/2 inch thick. Place in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes to chill dough.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Cut dough into 16 small triangles. [At this point you can flash-freeze the scones and bake them at a later date.] Place on a baking sheet leaving 1 inch between scones. Whip one egg and brush egg on top of unbaked scones. Bake scones for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Grocery Tips | Stock Up and Save with Canned Goods

Last week I did a post for ShopRite's Potluck Blog to promote and support their semi-annual Can Can Sale. If you live in the mid-Atlantic region, you're probably familiar with the event, but even if you live outside this area, I shared some helpful tips for utilizing canned foods in recipes.

Take a minute to check out my post and let me know what you think!
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