Monday, September 22, 2014

Pumpkin Spice and Everything Nice

I suspect it may be impossible to walk into any type of coffee shop and NOT see a pumpkin beverage on the menu. Even the supermarkets carry pumpkin coffee creamer. This gourd is everywhere!

My problem is while I am a huge pumpkin fan, I am not the biggest coffee fan. I do enjoy tea, though. And during these warmer autumn days, it's nice to have something cool to drink. So as part of my list of 25 things to do this fall, I decided to take the original Thai Iced Tea recipe I make during the summer months, and swap out some ingredients so it would be perfect for the season.

Iced Pumpkin Chai Latte

A Country Cooking Original Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 whole star anise pods
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 chai tea bags (I use Celestial Seasonings decaf India Spice)
  • 3 pumpkin tea bags (I use Celestial Seasonings Sweet Harvest Pumpkin)
  • 6 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk
  • whipped cream to your heart's content
  • a sprinkle of cinnamon, if desired

Directions:

  1. In a saucepan over medium heat bring water, sugar, star anise pods, and cinnamon stick to a boil. Remove pan from heat and add tea bags. Allow to steep for 1 hour.
  2. Discard anise, cinnamon, and tea bags. Whisk in sweetened condensed milk. Pour into container and chill for at least one hour.
  3. Top with whipped cream before serving, if desired.

Just some notes:

  1. I like to make this the night before and let it chill overnight in the fridge.
  2. The original recipe called for 1/4 cup sugar, but I cut that in half because I found it to be too sweet.
  3. In the summer, I use 4 chai tea bags, omit the cinnamon, and when I add the tea bags I also add fresh mint to steep. Better than any Starbucks drink!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Out of the Box

School is in session here. That means, homework, after-school activities, quicker dinners, and earlier bedtimes. The quicker dinners, for me, are the more difficult adjustment. Without those lazy summer days, I feel more pressure to get dinner on the table by a certain time. And if I end up working late, that means having to put dinner together fast.

Now, when I was first learning to cook, before I discovered 30-minute meals, most of the recipes I made came from either the back of a can, a soup mix envelope, or a 4- or 6-ingredient cookbook. These recipes have I have long since abandoned, scoffing at their simple ingredient list and turning to more complicated recipes that will challenge my skills in the kitchen.

But sometimes, you gotta go back to the basics.

And as I lamented while trying to come up with last week's menu, my husband suggested I go through some of my older recipes. They may be simple, but I can get them on the table much faster than what some of my usual dishes.

And he was right.

So with school now in session, if there are any busy weeknight ahead of you, you might want to bookmark this recipe. It's fast, easy, and tasty. What more could you want?

Chili Mac Skillet
Recipe from Del Monte

Ingredients:

  • 12 oz. ground beef
  • 1 15.25 oz. can corn
  • 1 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes
  • 1 15 oz. can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 4 oz. diced green chilies, drained
  • 3/4 cup uncooked elbow macaroni, or other small, short-cut pasta
  • 2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Directions:

  1. Cook beef in large skillet until brown; drain. Stir in corn, undrained tomatoes, beans, chilies, macaroni, chili powder, and water.
  2. Bring to a boil; reduce heat. Simmer, covered 12 to 15 minutes or until macaroni is tender.
  3. Sprinkle with cheddar cheese, if desired. Cover and let stand 5 minutes until cheese is melted.

Note from the Kitchen: I made a corn bread and we stirred some into our individual servings. It was delicious, and I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

#BestSummerEver

Country Living magazine put out a list this year: 50 Ways to Have the Best Summer Ever. My family has been checking items off this list throughout the summer. We drank lemonade on our front porch, visited our farmer's market, made our own popsicles, and made something with fresh peaches.

Two items on the list are "make a dish with your backyard bounty" and "make a summer soup."

And we checked both of those off the list with this vegetable and polenta soup.

I got some push back from my husband when I told him I was making this. To say he is not a fan of polenta would an understatement. But this soup won him over. The polenta, despite the recipe title, is not a star ingredient. It sings background, thickening the soup, perfect harmony to the fresh vegetables up front and center.

So as summer days become fewer and fewer, make the most of what the days and your garden have to offer. Dive into a steaming bowl of this soup.

Rustic Vegetable and Polenta Soup

Recipe slightly modified from Giada De Laurentiis
Makes 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and diced into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 3 plum tomatoes, seeds removed, diced into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 medium zucchini, diced into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth (substitute vegetable broth for a vegetarian dish)
  • 1/3 cup instant polenta, such as Gia Russa
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
  • Parmesan cheese, for serving

Directions:

  1. In a large, heavy saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the carrots, onions, 1 tablespoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onion begins to brown, about 6 minutes.
  2. Add the basil, rosemary, garlic, tomatoes, and zucchini, and cook for 3 minutes. Add the broth and bring to a slow boil. Slowly stir in the polenta and cook until the soup thickens and the vegetables are tender, about 8 minutes.
  3. Stir in the butter and season with salt and pepper.
  4. Serve with Parmesan cheese and crusty bread.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Tickled Pink

When I first started learning to cook, I would write out recipes on index or fancy recipe cards and keep them in cute boxes or in binders. Over time, this became a bit labor intensive, so I started just printing the recipes, putting them in sleeve protectors, and storing them all in your average binder from an office supply store.

So, given how much time my sons spends in the kitchen with me, it was no surprise when his aunt gave him a Yankees binder the first words from his mouth were, "I can keep all my recipes in here!"

And keep his recipes he did. We have bought kid-centric and parent magazines over the years, torn out recipes we could make together, and stored them in his binder in protective sleeves. So when summer rolled around, he flipped through and said, "Mommy, we need to make lemonade."

And so we did.

He essentially made this himself with my supervision, which gave him a great sense of accomplishment and pride. And it warmed my heart to see that smile beaming from his face.

So as summer comes to a close, tickle yourself pink with this delightful drink.

Pink Lemonade

Recipe from Yum for Kids
Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 4-6 lemons
  • 4 cups cold water
  • 1 cup cranberry juice

Directions

  1. Add sugar and water into a small saucepan and heat until the sugar has dissolved.
  2. Squeeze the juice out of the lemons using a juicer, or squeeze by hand, to produce approximately 1 cup of lemon juice.
  3. Add the cold water, lemon juice, cranberry juice and sugar water to a large pitcher. Refrigerate for approximately 1 hour before serving.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

From the Farmhouse

For me, nothing is more comforting and soothing than a big bowl of soup. It's the food equivalent of a great, big hug. It warms me, both figuratively and literally.

In the winter, I'll make a pot of soup at least once a week. I still make soup in the summer, but less frequently.

Except this summer.

While we didn't have many rainy days, we did have the cool, mountain summer I have been waiting 9 years for. And those cooler days provided me with a few extra opportunities to make soup for dinner.

I made this soup on what I knew would be a particularly busy day for me. This recipe was ideal because there wasn't a lot of prep work involved, and the slow cooker does all the work. The soup is light, yet comforting. And it was a great opportunity to use the zucchini I had picked from the garden.

So as autumn approaches, add this recipe to your arsenal. It'll warm your soul to walk in the house, the scent of the soup wafting through the air, and filling your belly after a day outside preparing for the winter ahead.

Creamy Farmhouse Chicken and Garden Soup

Recipe slightly modified from Crock-Pot: One-Pot Meals
Makes 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 package (16 ounces) frozen pepper stir-fry vegetable mix
  • 1 cup frozen corn
  • 1 medium zucchini, sliced
  • 2 bone-in chicken thighs, skinned
  • 1 14-ounce can chicken broth
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 ounces uncooked egg noodles
  • 1 cup half-and-half
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed
  • 2 tablespoons chopped basil
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
  • Parmesan cheese, for serving

Directions:

  1. Coat slow cooker with nonstick cooking spray. Place peppers, corn, zucchini in the bottom. Add chicken, broth, garlic, and thyme. Cover; cook on HIGH 3 to 4 hours or until chicken is no longer pink in center. Remove chicken and set aside to cool slightly.
  2. Add noodles to slow cooker. Cover; cook on HIGH 20 minutes or until noodles are heated through.
  3. Meanwhile, debone and chop chicken. Return to slow cooker. Stir in half-and-half, peas, basil, butter, salt, and pepper. Let stand 5 minutes before serving. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese on servings, if desired.

Note: To make this a vegetarian dish, simply omit the chicken and substitute vegetable broth for the chicken broth.

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Next Big Thing

As a kid, there are so many great things about summertime: no school, later bedtime, swimming, bike riding, and the treats.

Oh, the treats!

Roasting marshmallows after dinner was cooked on the charcoal grill, going out for ice cream, chasing down the ice cream man, watermelon, Jell-o pudding pops, and ice pops.

When I scroll through my Facebook newsfeed now, I see ads for or someone I know is having a Pampered Chef party. But when I was a kid, it was all about Tupperware. And one summer, my mom bought ice pop molds. These mold were particularly cool because the base was a shallow cup with a straw, so you could drink what melted. We weren't particularly creative with our pops. We made either iced tea or lemonade pops. But my sister and I had fun making them, and they couldn't freeze fast enough for us.

I now have my own ice pop molds, allowing me to carry on the ice pop making tradition with my son. The first pops we made were these mandarin orange cream ones. The classic flavors of summer. But wanting to expand the ice pop possibilities, I bought a book of recipes. This summer my son and I were flipping through it when we came across a recipe for chai tea pops. My son lives chai tea, and demanded we make them.

These are no ordinary pops for those with an ordinary palate. These are serious, sophisticated ice pops .... made right in your kitchen.

Which got me thinking ... With the closing of Crumbs, I think gourmet ice pops could be the next big thing.

Chai Tea Pops

Recipe from Ice Pops: Recipes for Fresh and Flavorful Frozen Treats
Makes 8 - 10 ice pops

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups water.
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 bags black tea
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 8 green cardamom pods, cracked with the side of a knife
  • 6 peppercorns
  • 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 3/4 cup whole milk

Directions:

  1. Using a cheesecloth, bundle the cloves, cardamom pods, ginger, and peppercorns.
  2. Place the sugar, cinnamon stick, and cheesecloth bundle in a saucepan. Pour in water. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has completely dissolved. Remove the mixture from the heat and let cool to room temperature.
  3. Remove the tea bags, cinnamon stick, and cheesecloth bundle. Stir in the milk until blended.
  4. If using conventional ice pop molds, divide the mixture among the molds. Cover and freeze until solid, at least 4 hours or up to 3 days. If using sticks, insert them into the molds when the pops are partially frozen, after about 1 hour. Then freeze until solid, at least 3 more hours.
  5. If using an instant ice pop maker, follow the manufacturer's instructions to fill the molds and freeze the pops.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Creamcicle Makover

When I first started cooking and baking, there was no rhyme or reason to what I would make and when. I only had a small amount of recipes in my arsenal, so I made what I could based on what ingredients I had on hand and how many people needed to be fed. It was that simple.

But as my skills in the kitchen started to grow, I wanted to start challenging myself. Not just will the skills needed to make the recipes, but finding the right one to express both the season and how much I cared for the people I was feeding.

I love eating seasonally. You won't catch me making an apple pie in the summer. Heck no! And as much as I love pumpkin, I don't crack open a can until October. And that has allowed me to fully appreciate and explore the abundance of summer's bounty and flavors.

The thing about summer is, it's just so ... fun. As a working adult, I don't get to spend the summer days running through the sprinkler or riding my bike to the public library any more. And because of where I live, no more chasing down the ice cream man, either. But I have found ways to capture that carefree feeling through food.

Enter these cupcakes.

First off, what is more fun than cupcakes. For me, the cupcake brings back memories of birthdays and class parties in school. Lining the tins for my mother with the papers and licking the leftover bits of frosting from the can. And as for summer flavors, few are as iconic as the creamsicle. So when I needed to bring a dessert to a family gathering this summer, it was a no brainer.

Summer may be coming to a close, but there are plenty of days left to enjoy the flavors of the season.

Creamsicle Cupcakes

Recipe from Woman's Day
Makes 24 cupcakes

Ingredients:

    Orange Cupcakes
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon each baking powder, baking soda, and salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons grated orange zest
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup buttermilk
    Orange Cream Frosting
  • 1 8-oz. brick cream cheese, softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons grated orange zest
  • 1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
  • Orange paste food color (optional)

Directions:

  1. Cupcakes: Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line 24 muffin cups with paper liners.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk flour, 1 cup of the sugar, the baking powder, baking soda, and salt until blended.
  3. In a large bowl with electric mixer, beat eggs, orange zest, and vanilla until blended. Beat in remaining 1 cup sugar. Beat in oil, then buttermilk, until blended.
  4. On low speed, beat in flour mixture just until blended. Spoon about 1/4 cup batter into each muffin cup.
  5. Bake 25 to 28 minutes until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove to wire rack to cool completely.
  6. Frosting: Beat cream cheese, vanilla and orange zest in a medium bowl with mixer on low speed to blend. Add confectioners' sugar and beat until fluffy. Beat in orange food color, if using, until light orange. Refrigerate until firm enough to spread.
  7. Spread about 1 tablespoon frosting on each cupcake.