Spicy Tomato Basil Soup

It has recently come to my attention that I missed Groundhog’s Day. To most people, this is not a big holiday, but for me this tradition might be my favorite thing about America (clearly an exaggeration). But really, I love the absurd and the magical so this groundhog business is absolutely delightful to me. Unfortunately, it passed by without a wave or a nod AND we are scheduled for six more weeks of winter. Ughh. Fortunately, it is sunny & clear skied so I’ve got my fingers crossed that the mystical Punxsutawney Phil Sowerby misspoke this year.

Anyways, we’ve got to find ways to keep happy and warm for another six weeks. I suppose we could always fall back on an old childhood favorite – tomato soup & grilled cheese.
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Spicy Tomato Basil Soup
yields approximately 3 servings

needs:
1 – 28 oz can peeled, whole tomatoes, separate tomatoes from liquid
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1-2 T. olive oil
salt & pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 450.

Separate the canned tomatoes from their reserved juice. Place them on a small, foil lined jelly roll pan or cake pan. Drizzle oil over them with a dash of salt & pepper & the minced garlic. Bake for about 15 minutes.

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2 T. butter
1 shallot, minced
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 carrot, peeled & chopped
1/2 serrano, chopped with seeds in
1 c. veggie broth
1 bay leaf
1/4 c. cream
1/4 c. chopped basil

In a medium sized sauce pan or stock pot, melt the butter and add in the veggies, except the serrano. Cook the veggies down over medium heat for about two minutes. Add the serrano and continue to cook until the veggies are browned & translucent.

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Add the reserved juice from the can of tomatoes & the veggie broth. Drop in a bay leaf and the tomatoes which should be finished roasting. Simmer over medium heat for 15-20 minutes, allowing the flavor to meld.

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When ready, transfer the soup to a blender and add the basil & cream. Blend on high for about 2 minutes or until the soup is smooth.

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Distribute into bowls & serve with crunchy croutons or a grilled cheese!

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Be My Valentine Vanilla Cupcakes & Strawberry Buttercream

Happy Valentine’s Day, my sweet darlings! I love this holiday for a multitude of reasons.

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1. It is a day dedicated to reminding special people in your life that you care about them & love them.
I’m a very sentimental person. Sometimes we get caught up in life and forget to tell one another how much their continued support & friendship means to us. It’s really weird to just walk up to your friend on a random Tuesday with a card, covered in hearts no less, that states all the reasons why you appreciate them. They might get the wrong idea. We all get lonely and insecure sometimes and it’s nice to know you are cared for.

2. It gives you a reason to be thankful and grateful for the people in your life during a month that generally sucks.
By this time (especially in the Midwest), you’ve totally given up hope that it will ever be warm again. You hate looking at the delicate little snowflakes falling peacefully from the sky and you genuinely wonder why you ever said you liked to wear boots. Now is the time to be reminded of that awesome summer you and your lover/friend spent together and to make plans for spring picnics. Remember how fun it is to spend time with someone outside the constraints of sweatpants & netflix?!

3. Crazy things can happen!
You might have a honey that wants to smother you with kisses for a full 16 hours, surprise you with a pink Pomeranian puppy, or an icy cruise to Alaska. You might have a secret admirer who has planned some elaborate scheme to win your heart. Better yet, you could spend this day happily celebrating the fact that, for once, you aren’t eating a mediocre dinner at a mediocre restaurant, among a multitude of other couples, with someone who doesn’t really even make eye contact with you. Fuzzy slippers, a bubble bath, & a few glasses of wine for you. Surprise yourself with all that self-love!

Anyways, it’s not all commercialism (even though it kind of is), it’s about giving you an opportunity to practice love during a month that isn’t very inspiring or sexy.

To celebrate this great holiday, we shall make beautiful cream & pink colored cupcakes:

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Lightly Lemon Vanilla Cupcakes with Strawberry Buttercream
yields approximately 10 cupcakes

needs:
1/2 c. butter
2/3 c. sugar
2 eggs
1 t. vanilla
1 1/2 c. cake flour
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
zest of one lemon
1/2 c. milk

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Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a bowl, combine flour, lemon zest, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. In a mixing bowl, cream the sugar & butter with a hand blender. Add the vanilla & eggs and blend until combined. Alternate adding the milk & dry ingredients until all are incorporated into a smooth batter.

Pour prepared batter into a cupcake liners positioned in a muffin pan. Fill to about 2/3 full. Place in oven and bake for about 15-17 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Be sure that these cakes don’t brown too much or they will be dry.

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While they are baking, let’s move on!

We are making a strawberry puree reduction for this buttercream. Why? Because it is delicious, natural substitute to red food coloring in honor of this pink & red holiday. This reduction process will remove a great portion of the water content from the blended berries while concentrating that yummy strawberry flavor into a thick liquid.

Strawberry Puree Reduction:
1 c. whole strawberries

Place one cup of strawberries in the blender and whirl at high speed until chunks are reduced to a smooth puree. Transfer to saucepan. Cook over medium heat for about 15 minutes until the cup of berries is reduced to about two tablespoons.

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By the time you are finished with this reduction, you can get your precious cakes from the oven and let the reduction cool with them, side by side. (This gives them time to hang out before they are going to get together later, hehe).

Strawberry Buttercream:

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needs:
1/2 c. butter, softened
2 T. reduced strawberry puree
2 c. powdered sugar
1 t. vanilla

Blend all ingredients in a mixing bowl at medium speed until combined into a light, fluffy frosting. Transfer to piping bag, taking care not to lick your fingers, and pipe onto cupcakes.

Share the love 🙂

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Hot Toddy

Since I was a little girl, I’ve wanted to be a witch. I used to think up spells to make the water hotter in the shower and would make ‘stews’ in old pickle buckets consisting of lake water & whatever my grubby child hands found interesting that day. These kinds of childhood fascinations don’t just disappear with age but instead find new ways to manifest in a more socially accepted form. I still dream of having all my cooking spices lined up apothecary style – alphabetically in identical glass jars. I can see bright rows of homemade jams & jellies & pickles & vinegars sitting in the rustic cupboard of my future.

Part of being a witch in the contemporary age is knowing a variety of homemade concoctions, herbs, or potions to heal the sick. The winter blues are pretty brutal mid-February as are head colds & flus. So I am making a magical little drink known as the hot toddy. There is no better cure for a sore throat and a tired body.

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Hot Toddy

8 oz. hot water
1 bag of black tea
1 T. (or 1/2 oz) honey
1 oz. whiskey
1 lemon twist
cinnamon stick (optional)

Let the teabag steep in the hot water for 3-4 minutes. Add the honey & whiskey stir to combine. With a vegetable peeler or a zester, peel a long section from a lemon. Twirl and place on rim. Garnish with a cinnamon stick. Feel warm & happy 🙂

Mini Chicken Pot Pies

So, I claimed that this blog would help you to make a variety of dishes from similar ingredients without having to eat the same flavors over & over again. I’ve, so far, not been very good about following my mission statement. I’m working on it.

So let’s think about what we’ve got in the fridge from chicken noodle soup. Carrots, celery, a little leftover chicken, fresh thyme. Maybe a little broth. OK. OK. What else? We always have milk, butter, and flour. Okay. I’ve got it. We’ll make little Sunday night pot pies, one to share or to make everyone jealous about at work!
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Mini Chicken Pot Pies
yields 2 pot pies

For the recipe, I am using Calphalon mini pie pans. There is no way I can eat a traditional sized pie by myself. Also, I am over the moon at how precious these pans are!

crust:
1 cup flour
pinch of salt
6 T. cold butter
4-6 T. cold water

In a mixing bowl, combine the  flour and salt. Cut the butter into the dry ingredients using a pastry blender. Keep working the butter into the flour until the combination looks like a coarse grain. Gradually work the cold water into the dough until a soft dough forms. Cover tightly in plastic wrap & place in freezer (if doing this quickly) or fridge for later on.

Moving onto the sauce now…

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sauce:
1 T. butter
1 T. + 1 t. flour
3 T. milk
1/2 c. chicken or veggie broth
salt & pepper, to taste
a pinch of cayenne pepper

In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the flour and stir quickly to coat. Allow it to cook for 30 sec-1 min. Add the broth & milk. Season to taste. Continue to heat until the sauce thickens. Remove from heat & set aside.

Moving on to the filling…

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filling:
1 T. butter
1 small carrot, chopped
1/2 c. onion, minced
1/3 c. peas, frozen are fine
1 c. shredded chicken, cooked (I used leftover from a rotisserie)
2 stalks celery, thinly chopped
1 sprig thyme, leaves only

In a small saute pan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the minced onions & thyme. Allow the onions to saute for about 3, or until they start to lose their rigidity and color. Add the celery & carrot and continue to saute for another 3 minutes or so.

**We want the veggies to be softened, but it is important to remember that they still have a little bit of time to cook in the oven. I like them to keep a little crunch in the pies, so try not to cook them down to mush.

In the final moments, add the chicken and peas and heat until everything is warm. Oh and preheat the oven to 375 degrees! We’re almost there!

Time to assemble!

Roll out the dough on a clean working surface. The dough should be pretty thin, but keep it thick enough to move easily without tearing.

Turn the pie pans upside down on the rolled dough. Cut around the outside, leaving about 1/2 in. extra dough around the outside. Do this four times total. You will need one for the pan and one for the top.

Press the first circle down into the pie pans.

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Distribute the veggie & chicken mix evenly between the pie pans. Don’t be afraid to stack it in there!  It will make hearty pies! Next, ladle the sauce over the top of the mix, not covering the ingredients completely, but enough to create a semi-even surface near top of the pan.

Now take the other crust and cover your pie, pressing the doughs together with your fingertips over the rim of the pan. If you can do a decorate edge, this is your time to shine. If you are just hungry and sick of dealing with crusts, press firmly with your fingers or use a fork to create a pattern around the edge. Cut any excess dough off with a dull knife.

With a scoring knife, create a slit in the top of the pie to create an outlet for steam. Place in the oven and let bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the dough is firm and slightly golden.

Remove from oven & let cool for 5 or so minutes. Gently remove pies from pan and enjoy! Try not to burn your tongue!

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Warm & Comforting Chicken Noodle Soup

The polar vortex has finally caught up with me. I feel like my head is an angry balloon. My knuckles are red & cracking from the cold & I am seriously considering giving up on Ohio. Take me to mountain & ocean air!

The sad part about being sick & living alone is that you either have to cook for yourself, hope someone loves you enough to bring you food, or rely on the temporary fix of the fine food establishments surrounding you. Well as it turns out no one loves me & I didn’t want to leave the house multiple times, so this girl zombied around the grocery & made herself some soup.

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Chicken Noodle Soup 
yields approximately 8 servings

1 T. butter
1 onion, minced
2 cloves garlic
3 stalks celery, thinly chopped
2 carrots, cut into quarter inch disks
2 sprigs thyme (leaves only)
2 – 32 oz. chicken broth
2 cups cooked shredded chicken (I used a rotisserie)
salt & pepper, to taste
1 bay leaf
1/4 t. cayenne pepper
1/4 t. turmeric (for color)

In a stock pot on medium heat, combine butter, onion, garlic, and a dash of salt & pepper. Allow the onions to cook down for 1-2 minutes before adding the carrots, thyme sprigs, & celery. Stir occasionally to ensure all the vegetables are cooked evenly. Cook until soft & lightly browned.

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Add both cartons of chicken broth, the bay leaf, turmeric, and cayenne pepper and allow the soup to slowly heat to boiling. In the meantime, we shall make our noodles!

homemade egg noodles:

1 1/4 c. flour
1 egg
1/4 c milk
dash salt

In a bowl, combine the dry ingredients. In a liquid measuring cup, whisk together the milk & egg. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the egg & milk mixture. Gently mix the two together with a spoon or fork until a rough dough is formed. Turn the dough out on a clean working surface and knead for 2-3 minutes, then form the dough into smooth ball.

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With a rolling pin, roll out the dough to the desired thickness, a little thicker than a nickel, perhaps.

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With a knife or a pizza cutter, cut your noodles into long strips, somewhere between 1/4 in. & 1/2 in. If you like long noodles, keep them long or if you prefer those short 1-2 inch noodles, then you can cut them down accordingly.

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When the noodles are cut, simply scoop them up and drop them into the boiling soup. At this time, you can also add the shredded chicken. The noodles will look puffy & rise to the surface.

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Allow the noodles to simmer in the soup for at least 3-5 minutes. Adjust your salt & pepper ratio to taste and serve your soup  with crusty bread or crunchy crackers.

Here’s to feeling better soon.

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Cupcake Craze Part 5: Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

I lied. I thought the cupcake craze was over, but there was another birthday that appeared. Here is a confession: I have no interest in red velvet cupcakes. I think they are just bad chocolate cakes dyed red. They can be beautiful but I don’t feel like there is a lot of creative potential since they are a little too ‘classic.’ I am also a little weary of the nearly necessary use of maddening amounts of food coloring. For your benefit, I shall one day use the scarlet reduction from beets or pomegranates but today is not that day.

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Before beginning, I will say that I made two batches of red velvet cakes. I won’t disclose which site I based my first recipe on for the sake of good blogging manners, but I will say that they were inedibly dry and quite wretched. Instead, this recipe was adapted from our sweet Martha Stewart.

Red Velvet Cupcakes
yields approximately 10 cupcakes

1 1/4 c. cake flour
1 T. cocoa powder
3/4 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
3/4 c. sugar
3/4 c. vegetable oil
1 egg
1 t. red food coloring
1/2 c. buttermilk
1 t. vinegar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a small bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, & salt. In a mixing bowl, whisk together sugar & oil. Whisk in the egg & food coloring. Measure out the buttermilk & vinegar in a liquid measuring cup and gradually alternating adding the wet & dry ingredients to the sugar mixture. Whisk together until combined.

Pour batter in cupcake wrappers situated in a muffin pan. Place in the oven for about 15 minutes, or until an toothpick comes out clean. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

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Cream Cheese Frosting

1/4 c. cream cheese
1/4 c. butter
2 c. powdered sugar
1 t. vanilla
1 T. milk

In a mixing bowl with an electric mixer, combine all the ingredients until the desired consistency is reached. Transfer to piping bag and put in fridge until ready to use.

Arguably, my favorite part of baking cupcakes is thinking up the garnish. For the garnish for these cakes, I really wanted some red sprinkles to bring out the color of the cakes. Unfortunately, I did not have red sprinkles. I did, however, have some raw sugar.

To make your own colored sprinkles:
1 T. raw sugar
one drop of desired food coloring

Drop the color in the sprinkles and stir quickly to coat the sugar.

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When the cupcakes are cool, pipe the icing and garnish with your colored sprinkles & chocolate shavings!

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Vegetarian Corn Chowder

When I think about corn, one of two thoughts emerge: the time in college where my best friend couldn’t be convinced to eat anything but bags of reheated frozen corn or that horrible sensation I get from shucking sweet corn, when the silky hairs creep all over my hands and wrists. I also conjure the pictures my mother loves of my siblings & I grinning with sticky smiles & ears of corns as big as our arms teetering precariously between pudgy fingers.

In the spirit of these grand corn memories, I’ve decided to make one of my most favorite soups. I absolutely love combinations of salty & sweet & spicy. I love how vibrant the fresh thyme leaves make an otherwise dull vegetable broth.

Spicy Vegetarian Corn Chowder
yields 3-4 servings

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Needs:
1 T. butter
1/2 yellow onion, minced
1 clove of garlic, minced
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme, just the leaves
1/2 t. salt
1/2 poblano pepper, diced
1/2 jalapeño pepper, minced (or more if you want more spice!)
3 T. flour
2 cans of vegetable broth (or one of those cartons if you prefer to buy the cartons)
1/2 t. cayenne powder
fresh ground black pepper, to taste
1 medium-large potato, cubed
1 c. cream or half & half
3 ears of corn or 1 1/2 c. frozen corn

To begin, melt the butter in a saucepan or stock pot. Add the onions, garlic, & salt. Cook on medium heat until translucent, about 4-5 minutes. Add the thyme leaves, jalapeño, and poblano pepper. Cook until the peppers begin to soften and the onions brown, maybe another 3 minutes. This caramelization process is where much of the rich flavor will derive from for the soup.

Add the flour (this is important for the subsequent thickening of the broth) and toss it around a bit to coat the vegetables in the pot. Pour in the vegetable broth. Add the black pepper & cayenne pepper. Keep soup on medium heat, slowly bringing the broth to boiling. Add the potatoes and cream and allow to simmer for 7-10 minutes, until the potatoes start to break down and the cream begins to thicken the soup. If using fresh or frozen corn, you can add it in once the potatoes and cream begin to simmer. Once the potatoes are soft and broken down, you can remove the pot from the heat & gently use a pastry blender (if and only if your pot is leaves enough room to do this without putting your entire hand in scalding soup) to mash some of the potatoes to add additional thickness or you can leave them as larger chunks, depending on the consistency you desire.

Garnish the soup with fresh thyme sprigs and serve immediately with warm crusty bread.

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Basic Pasta Dough

The best valentine’s day gift I ever received was a bright red Imperia pasta roller. It’s amazing the epiphany you experience when you’ve spent your whole life eating dried & packaged pasta noodles only to discover it’s fluffier, hand rolled counterpart. I will admit that the first time I rolled out the pasta, I was a bit intimidated by how much more work it was in comparison with the drop-handfuls-of-noodles-in-a-boiling-pot method. In time, it became easier and now I think of homemade pasta as a benevolent side dish instead of a leering task.

This recipe relies on Semolina Flour. I use Bob’s Red Mill which can be some trouble to locate. I’ve always found it at Whole Foods & sometimes in the natural food section of the renovated Krogers. The combination of all-purpose flour & semolina is, I feel, the most important part of this recipe. The all purpose flour evens out the coarser semolina, making the dough softer and smoother while the semolina gives the all-purpose a little grit and absorbs the liquid of the dough eliminating the characteristic stickiness from traditional flour doughs. It’s truly a beautiful match.

Basic Pasta Dough

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Dough:
3/4 c. all purpose flour
3/4 c. semolina flour
1 t. salt
2 eggs
2 T. olive oil

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In a bowl, combine the flours and salt. create a well in the center. In a smaller bowl, combine the eggs & olive oil. (It is probably best to scramble the eggs before including them in the dough, but apparently on the photo taking day, I simply just didn’t think to worry about that). Pour the wet ingredients into the center well.

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Starting in the center, (you could scramble the eggs now) gradually work the surrounding flour into the liquid center. Continue until the wet ingredients are incorporated. Turn the dough out on a clean working surface and knead for 3-5 minutes, or until the dough becomes slightly elastic-y.  Cover tightly with plastic wrap for about an hour to allow the liquids to absorb in the flours.

Follow instructions included with your pasta roller to create delicious homemade fettuccine, spaghetti, ravioli, and lasagna.

Cupcake Craze Part 4: Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Buttercream

Since I was of legal working age, I have found myself holding a series of jobs in restaurants to pay my bills while I pursued other dreams of degrees and art-related jobs. While it is certainly not the most thrilling job one might hold, it offers certain oddities that keep life ever dramatic and interesting. There is absolutely nothing but a job in food service that will can provide a social environment that is at once sickly incestuous and dysfunctional while also filled with friendship, teamwork, and general camaraderie.

This final installment of the cupcake craze features a cupcake made for the ever dysfunctional rendezvous known as ‘a coworker’s birthday party.’ In the restaurant world, this means a message is sent out via employee messaging & everyone goes to the bar that is the closest to work. Some people get fancy and bring a change of clothes while others trudge over in their precariously stained shirts from the dinner rush. It is in this venue that work crushes are pursued, friendships sustained, and enemy lines erected. It’s quite frankly a zoo and best experienced in extreme moderation.

So anyways, our lady of the evening confessed she loved chocolate & peanut butter and thus:

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Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Buttercream
yields 18 cakes

For the cake base, I steal Ina Garten’s recipe because it is moist & delicious. In fact,  it’s always a little amazing that it forms a cake due to all the liquid in the batter. I was more than a little worried the first time I made it.

Her recipe reads:

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
2 cups sugar
3/4 cups good cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk, shaken
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. In a large liquid measuring cup, combine oil, eggs, vanilla, and buttermilk. Incorporate slowly into the dry ingredients. Once combined, slowly stir in the coffee. Pour batter into cupcake papers to just over 3/4 full. Bake in oven for 13-16 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Transfer to wire rack to cool.

Peanut Butter Buttercream
2 c. powdered sugar
1/3 c. butter
1/3 c. crunchy organic peanut butter
1-2 T. milk

Combine in a mixing bowl and mix on medium speed until combined. Gradually add milk until the frosting reaches desired consistency.

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Cupcake Craze Part 3: Maple Cupcakes with Espresso Buttercream & Candied Pecans

Oh maple syrup! How lovely you are, all sweet & sticky and straight from the trees. I chose maple as my final flavor inspiration in the spirit of fall. This will conclude the trio of cupcakes made to bid farewell to my lovely best friend.
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Maple Cupcakes with Espresso Buttercream & Candied Pecans
yields approx 18 cupcakes

2 1/2 c. cake flour
2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. ginger

1/2 c. butter
1/2 c. brown sugar
2 eggs
2 t. vanilla
1 1/4 c. maple syrup
1/2 c. buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a bowl, combine dry ingredients. In a separate mixing bowl, cream the brown sugar & butter. In another small bowl, combine eggs, syrup, vanilla and buttermilk. Alternate adding a portion of the dry ingredients and a portion of the wet ingredients until combined.

In a cupcake pan, fill cupcake cups a little over 3/4 full. Place cupcakes in the oven for approx. 15-20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Gently remove cakes from the pan and set aside on a wire rack until cool.

Espresso Buttercream

1/3 c. butter
3 c. powdered sugar
2 T. espresso syrup*
1-2 T. milk

Place all ingredients in a mixing bowl. With an electric mixer, beat on medium speed until the frosting is the desired consistency. Transfer to piping bag and put in refrigerator until ready to pipe the cupcakes!

To make espresso syrup:
Method 1: Combine a double shot of espresso & 1/4 c. brown sugar in a sauce pan. Heat over medium-low until the sugar dissolves.
Method 2: Combine 1/2 c. strong coffee & 1/4 c brown sugar in a sauce pan. Heat over medium-low heat for approximately 10 minutes, until some of the liquid dissolves and the sauce thickens.
**For extra flavor in this buttercream, I added a little spoonful of molasses to the syrup while it was heating!

Now you might be thinking,’wowza wow wowza there is way to many sweet ingredients in these little cakes!’ And honestly, I was worried about it too, but it’s fine. They are just lovely!

Pipe the frosting on the cupcakes and garnish with candied pecans!*

*To candy pecans, simple put one cup of pecans in small saute pan with 1/4 c. maple syrup. Saute over medium heat until the liquid from the syrup has evaporated and the pecans are sticky. They harden as they cool 🙂

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