Thursday, December 27, 2012

Minestrone Soup

The very first soup that I made from scratch was Minestrone.  It was unusually cold and foggy, the wood stove was radiating a wonderful warmth and I was in the kitchen paging through a cookbook that my sister-in-law had given me.  I was looking for something that would warm us up!  When I saw the Minestrone soup recipe I decided that it looked like something I could was a hardy soup and would be perfect.

Well, I made the soup and, for just learning to cook, it wasn't bad, but, I knew that if I made it again something had to be done with the just didn't have the flavor that the soup had at the nearby Italian restaurant.   I laugh at that it would have that flavor!

That is when I began doctoring the recipe and came up with one that we have enjoyed over the years and is the soup most requested by my girls.

The vegetables vary based upon what's in the refrigerator.  I didn't have any spinach this time so I used Swiss Chard.  I think the great flavor is really in the meat preparation.

Minestrone Soup

1 pound stew meat (I had a top sirloin steak in the freezer so that is what I used.)
1 onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can beef stock  or beef consomme
2 cups chicken stock
1/2 - 3/4 cup red wine
1 tsp salt
1 tsp thyme ground or 2 tsp fresh
1/3 cup chopped parsley
2 tsp oregano
1 1/2 tsp basil
Pepper to taste

2 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 large potato, peeled and cubed
1/4 head finely sliced cabbage
Fresh or frozen spinach, amount to your liking
1 zucchini, if available, cut into large chunks
1 can kidney beans, drained
1/2 cup small pasta
Parmesan cheese, shredded, for topping

Cut the meat into small pieces.  Dredge it in a mixture of flour, garlic salt and marjoram. Cook  it in a stock  pot with a little olive oil.  Allow the meat to cook undisturbed until browned.  Stir to brown  evenly.

Add the onion and garlic to the pot and allow them to soften.  Add the next eleven ingredients.  Allow to simmer while you prep the vegetables.  Add the carrots, potato and cabbage first as they require longer to cook.  Allow to simmer for about 30 minutes then add the zucchini (if using), kidney beans and pasta.  Continue to simmer until the pasta is cooked.  Add one cup water to the pot if a thinner consistency is desired.

Top each serving with a sprinkle of shredded Parmesan.


Perfect on a cold and blustery day!

I am sharing at Full Plate Thursday hosted by Miz Helen's Country Cottage and Foodie Friday hosted by Michael at Rattlebridge Farm.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Almond Joy Bites

Traveling in December seems to leave one racing to get things done.  I got myself part because I was gone for a week enjoying my granddaughter's smile and because my sewing machine decided to stop.  It was a major stop, a new circuit board which meant that all projects came to a halt.  Thankfully, I was given a loaner and was back on the road again...but in the fast lane!

I finished two rather large rag quilts but have two quilts left to bind and not much time left.  All  of that said, I knew that cookie baking was halted and I needed to find something easier from the kitchen.

I have always wanted to make some candies and this was going  to be the year....the year for very easy candies!  I found a recipe for Martha Washington Balls at the Southern Bite. I have renamed them Almond Joy Bites...there isn't an almond in them but the taste and the coconut...oh, my goodness, just like an Almond Joy...heavenly...and, they must be removed from my kitchen!

Almond Joy Bites
adapted from Southern Bite

2 cups shredded coconut
8 cups powdered sugar
1 stick butter, melted
1 can Eagle Brand Milk
1 tsp vanilla or almond extract
4 cups chopped pecans
Chocolate flavored Almond Bark

Combine the first six ingredients well using a spoon and finishing with hands.
Roll into small balls 
(Using a small scoop allows for uniformity of the balls.) and place on a parchment lined baking sheet.  Place in the freezer at least 30 minutes. 
Once thoroughly chilled, dip balls in melted chocolate-flavored almond bark and allow to cool on parchment paper.
When the chocolate sets, decorate with a drizzle of dark chocolate or white chocolate and sprinkle with coconut, if desired.


My little morsels spent a few hours in the freezer as I got busy...I learned that the chocolate set up faster when the balls were frozen and it didn't effect the end result.

I am sharing at Miz Helen's Full Plate Thursday and at Foodie Friday hosted by Michael at Rattlebridge Farm.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Chocolate Peppermint Truffles

The holidays and peppermint go hand in hand for me.  I can remember, as a child, that I could hardly wait for the candy canes to be available in the stores.  So, yes, I am a long-time fan of anything with peppermint...can you imagine my excitement when a local ice creamery made peppermint ice cream, only to be made and sold during the holidays!?

Well, here is another item that is only available during the holidays....Chocolate Peppermint Truffles aka Candy Cane Peppermint Truffles that I saw on Kim's blog, Liv Life.  This has to be the easiest recipe around.  In a hour or two you can have some tasty chocolate peppermint morsels.

Chocolate Peppermint Truffles
adapted from Liv Life

1 box Trader Joe's Candy Cane Joe-Joe's
1 package reduced fat cream cheese  (not fat free), cut into small pieces
1/4 cup crushed candy canes or peppermint rounds (plus additional for sprinkling)
1 pound dark chocolate chips/morsels
1/8-1/4 tsp peppermint extract (I added just a dash of this as we are peppermint lovers!  Taste test first!)

Place the Joe Joe's in a food processor and process until crumbly.  Add the pieces of cream cheese and crushed candy cane and process until mixture comes together, being careful not to over-process.   Shape into 1-inch balls and place into the freezer for at least an hour (the balls are much easier to dip in chocolate when they frozen, or at least very cold - they stay together better and the chocolate sets up faster).

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler keeping an eye on it and stir occasionally until smooth.  Using two forks, dip the truffle into the chocolate.  Roll it around until covered and lift it out  using a fork.  Allow the excess chocolate to drip...I sometimes run the bottom of the fork on the edge of the bowl to remove and excess.  Place the ball on a piece of parchment or waxed paper and sprinkle it immediately with the remaining crushed candy canes.  Allow the chocolate to set.  

Truffles will last a few days if kept in a covered container in the refrigerator.


They made cute little gifts, too!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Old Fashioned Sugar Cookies

Continuing with the baking...sugar cookies are delicious any time of year but I believe that they are the best at Christmas time.  Sitting by the fire and reading, while enjoying a cup of tea and a sugar cookie or two makes for a perfect afternoon or evening!

I hope you have time to bake for the holidays and to enjoy a few quiet moments...

Old Fashioned Sugar Cookies

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light-brown sugar
1 Tbsp finely grated lemon zest, plus 1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks) softened
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
Sanding sugar, for sprinkling

Preheat over to 350 degrees.

Sift flour, baking soda, and salt into a bowl; set aside.

Put sugars and lemon zest in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed 30 seconds.  
Add butter; mix until pale and fluffy, about 1 minute.  Mix in eggs, 1 at a time, the vanilla and the lemon juice.  Reduce speed; gradually add flour mixture, and mix until just combined.

Scoop the dough with a 1 1/2 inch cookie scoop. Space the cookies at least 2 inches a part on parchment-lined baking sheets. (These cookies spread when baked.)  Flatten cookies slightly with a spatula.  Sprinkle the tops with sanding sugar, then lightly brush with a wet pastry brush; sprinkle with
more sanding sugar.

Bake cookies until golden, about 15 minutes.  
Let cool on sheets on wire racks for 5 minutes.

Transfer cookies to racks using a spatula; let cool completely. Cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature up to 3 days.


Sunday, December 9, 2012

Hazelnut Shortbread Sticks

It is time for the cookie baking to begin!  It is a love hate activity.  I love planning, baking, decorating and sampling after that I hate having them around the is hard to muster up the self control....they are so tempting.

The answer is to box them up and share with others.  So, the next thing I love to do is share!  I enjoy packaging them and delivering...

First on the list are the Hazelnut Shortbread Sticks....wonderful shortbread sticks dipped in chocolate and chopped hazelnuts...yum!

Hazelnut Shortbread Sticks
Bon Appetit, December 2004

1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup finely ground husked toasted hazelnuts (about 2 ounces)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 ounces high-quality milk chocolate (such as Lindt or Perugina), chopped
  • 1/3 cup coarsely chopped husked toasted hazelnuts

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 325°F. Line large baking sheet with parchment paper. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in medium bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat butter and sugar in large bowl until smooth. Beat in 1/2 cup finely ground hazelnuts and vanilla. Beat in flour mixture until just combined.

Shape dough by tablespoonfuls into 3-inch-long logs. Place on prepared baking sheet, spacing 1 inch apart. Bake cookies until light golden brown around edges, about 20 minutes. Cool on baking sheet 5 minutes. Transfer to rack; cool cookies completely.

Stir milk chocolate in top of double boiler over barely simmering water until melted and smooth. Remove from over water. Place 1/3 cup coarsely chopped hazelnuts in small bowl. Dip 1 end of cookie into melted chocolate, then into coarsely chopped hazelnuts. Return to rack. Repeat with remaining cookies. Let stand until chocolate is set, about 1 hour. (Cookies can be made 2 days ahead. Store in airtight container at room temperature.)


I am sharing at On the Menu Monday hosted by Yvonne at Stone Gable.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Curried Butternut Squash and Apple Soup

I flew to Seattle yesterday to visit my daughter, son-in-law and four month old granddaughter.  It was a cold, gray and rainy day.  The perfect weather for soup.  My daughter had a very large butternut squash on the counter and some tasty unfiltered apple cider so we revised a  previous recipe  and had a yummy dinner with crusty bread and slices of Dutch sheep's milk gouda....delicious!

Curried Butternut Squash and Apple Soup

2 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped 
2 Tbsp curry powder
1 large butternut squash, or two medium
3 large sweet apples (I used gala.)

4 cups vegetable broth
2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
1 cup apple cider (I used unfiltered apple cider.)

Warm the butter and olive oil in a large stockpot over low heat.  Add the onions and curry powder and cook, uncovered, for 15-20 minutes, until the onions are tender.  Stir occasionally, scraping the bottom of the pot.

Peel the squash cut in half, and remove the seeds.  Cut the squash into chunks.  Peel, quarter, and core the apples.  Cut into chunks.

Add the squash, apples, salt, pepper, and vegetable broth to the pot. Bring to a boil, then cover, reduce the heat to low, and cook for 30-40 minutes, until squash and apples are very soft.  Process the soup through a food mill or puree it coarsely in the food processor.  (I used a hand blender.)

Pour the soup back into the pot.  Add the apple cider to make the soup the consistency you like (you may need to add more than a cup of the apple cider); it should be slightly sweet and quite thick.  Check and adjust the salt and pepper, if needed, and serve hot.


A perfect soup on this very rainy day and sunshine provided by Sabine!