Sunday, December 30, 2012

Broccoli Cheddar Soup

We spent the holidays at "home home" in California. It was sunny and gorgeous and warm... and other people cooked the whole time! I made this bread once, and that's it. We ate at some of our fave local spots (not enough though,) we ate some amazing home-cooked meals and the baby ate a lot of beach sand. It was a delicious vacation. Getting home from the airport was overly eventful with a lost cell phone, a parking shuttle chase and a road-raging psycho driver. Needless to say, today was a reset day and we needed a quiet, at home, comforting dinner. I've made this broccoli cheddar soup a few times now. I use WAY lighter ingredients than a lot of other recipes I've found online, (milk, not cream and less sharp cheese, rather than a lot of milder cheddar) but it's still soup made with cheese, so it's never going to be calorie free... but I don't believe in fat free cheese... I like this in-between version.

Broccoli Cheddar Soup - inspired by Panera and lots of Googling.
Makes 4 hearty portions

12 ounces broccoli florets - about 4 cups
2 medium carrots grated - about 1.5 cups
1 medium onion chopped fine - about 2 cups
2 small potatoes chopped - about 2 cups (potato is totally optional)
2 garlic cloves chopped - about 1 tablespoon
6 ounces grated cheddar cheese - about 1.5 cups
4 tablespoons butter - divided
1/4 cup flour
2.5 cups milk - I use whole milk
2.5 cups chicken broth
Salt and Pepper

In a large, high sided pan melt 2 tablespoons of butter and add onion, garlic, carrots and potatoes. Cook until onions are becoming translucent and veggies are beginning to soften, about 5 minutes.

Add remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and melt onto veggies. Sprinkle in the flour and stir to coat veggies. This will make a sort of roux that will thicken the soup since we are using milk, not heavy cream. Cook for about 2 more minutes.

In a small pan, heat the milk and broth until warm - do not boil. Add the warmed milk to the veggies and stir to combine, make sure to scrape the bottom of the pan to incorporate all of the sort-of-roux.

Add in the broccoli and gently simmer the soup for about 10 minutes or until the veggies are tender, but keeping their shape and texture. Make sure not to boil - the soup will thicken slowly.

Add in the cheese and cook on low for 5 more minutes. The cheese will further thicken the soup. Season with salt and pepper.

A few things about this recipe...

I've used an immersion blender to partially puree this soup - it's just as good and still looks pretty! 

Because we are using milk, it's really important not to overheat this soup. It will separate. Just heat gently and slowly. The veggies will cook and soften in no time. Promise.

The potatoes are totally optional, but especially good if you use an immersion blender, they really make this soup nice and thick. 



Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Hot Chocolate Mix with Dark Chocolate Bits

Hot chocolate is my way of keeping my sweet-tooth in check during the winter.  And since I need something sweet after almost every meal, I drink ALOT.  Don’t judge me, lol.  Before I created this recipe, I drank hot chocolate made with store-bought mix – some of which had ingredients I had never heard of or artificial sweeteners.  I try my best to limit these things so I couldn’t wait to try my own recipe with NOTHING artificial.

This mix has 5 ingredients and who doesn’t love recipes where you throw everything in a bowl, mix it up, and you’re done???  It’s the best!  The hardest part of making this is the cleanup.  All of the powdered ingredients get everywhere!  But it is so worth it.  I think I’m still breathing in cocoa powder :)  I was really intrigued by the flavor of this hot chocolate.  The dark chocolate gives it richness that I love and prevents it from being overly sweet.  I had mine with water and milk and both were amazing.  Choose water if you want to lower the calories.  Choose milk if you want it to have a rich and creamy texture.  Or, maybe mix the two???  You can’t beat this.  I plan on having some at home and at work…just for those times where I need a little sugar fix.

Hot Chocolate Mix with Dark Chocolate Bits

3c nonfat dry milk powder
4c powdered sugar
1 ½ c unsweetened dutch cocoa powder
1 ½ c dark chocolate chips
2 tsp salt

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl.  Split into two large portions.

Tip: Some baking cocoas can be very bitter.  Using a good dutch cocoa prevents any weird after-taste you may get with other baking cocoas.

Take the first portion and add to the bowl of a food processor.  Process until dark chocolate bits are fairly ground up.  Some bits may remain.  Move processed mix to a large bowl.

Repeat previous step with the other half of the mix and place in the same large bowl.  Mix with a large spoon and store in an airtight container.

Mix ¼ c of mix with 8oz of hot water or milk.  Top with whipped cream or marshmallows.

Makes ~9 cups

I was making hot chocolate for 3 days between building the recipe and making enough for 12 co-workers.  I made cute little hot-chocolate kits in lidded glass jars as Christmas gifts.  They loved them!  Since I was making them for others, I took into account different palettes and didn’t add too much sugar.  I don’t like my hot chocolate too sweet and people can always add sugar to it if they would like.  If this is not sweet enough for you, add another cup of powdered sugar.  For me, this version was absolutely perfect with a whipped cream topping.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Crockpot Chili and Skillet Cornbread

Right about now, my husband and I (lovingly?) start referring to the Pacific Northwest as "The Frozen North." We are not originally from here, so our blood is naturally thinner and our constitutions naturally weaker. We are weather wimps. Therefore, we look for winter crutches. We seek out things like puffy jackets and furry slippers. We also go through a fair amount of chili. We've made a few different recipes, but this is our favorite! Justin found and adapted the recipe, so we call it Husband Chili. We make it in the crockpot overnight - super easy and really delicious. Last time we had this, I made some skillet cornbread to go with it.

Husband Chili - adapted from Epicurious
Makes 6-8 hearty servings

1/4 cup water
1 large red bell pepper, chopped
1 large green bell pepper, chopped
2 anaheim peppers, chopped
2 serrano chilies, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
3 (14.5oz) cans of beans, drained - kidney, red, pinto or black - mix and match
2 (14.5oz) cans of tomatoes, drained
5 large garlic cloves, chopped
1.5lbs ground meat, browned - this time we used ground turkey
6 tablespoons cumin
6 tablespoons chili powder
1/3 cup brown sugar 
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon oregano
3 bay leaves, crumbled
1 teaspoon vinegar

Add all of the chopped bell and hot peppers, onions, water, beans, tomatoes and garlic to the crockpot and cook on high for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, brown the meat and then add it to the crockpot. Cook for 30 more minutes.

Add all of the amazing spices and the vinegar and stir well. Turn down to low and cook for at least six hours... and even overnight. The picture below is after about 7 hours. All of the veggies are nice and soft and the flavors have combined and the sauce is rich and delicious. When cooked overnight, the chili gets much darker, spicier and it's harder to pick out the separate ingredients. Totally delicious, but different than these pictures. We were hungry. 

Skillet Cornbread - slightly adapted from The Pioneer Woman
Preheat oven to 450

1 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 cup buttermilk (if you don't have buttermilk, add 1 tablespoon of white vinegar to a measuring cup and fill to 1 cup with milk)
1/2 cup milk
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup shortening
2 tablespoons shortening
2 tablespoons honey

Stir together flour, salt and baking powder in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, or large enough measuring cup, combine buttermilk, milk and egg and mix to break up the egg. Add the baking soda and stir again. Add milk mixture to cornmeal mixture and stir until just combined.

In a small bowl, or pan, melt the 1/4 cup of shortening and stir in the honey. Add to the batter and stir until just combined. Melt the 2 tablespoons of shortening in an iron skillet over medium-high heat.

Pour the batter into the hot skillet and spread out to even it a bit. Cook on the stove for 1 minute and then bake for 18-20 minutes. I used a 12 inch skillet, so my cornbread is thinner and cooks faster than if you use a 10 inch skillet. Flip out and enjoy another upside-down dish!

A few things about these recipes...
We cut the cumin and chili powder down from the original recipe by almost half. The original was too spicy for us, and we like spice! If you are really into spice, you may want to up the spices again, or add some hot sauce at the end. This is super flavorful and pretty picante, but it's not crazy as we cook it now. We've used beef and turkey - both are great! Beef tastes "heartier."

The Pioneer Woman doesn't use honey in her cornbread. I like just a touch of honey baked in to take away some of the bitterness I find in cornmeal. 

And... I know the first picture is pretty and the napkin is all clean and nice, but here's how we usually eat chili. Like the cartoon, foam place mats? So does our baby. Like the sloshed around plate my husband carried to the table while he carried a baby in the other arm and scooted a highchair around with his toe? Super chic, right? It's totally Pottery Barn spread up in here. Enjoy!


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Pumpkin Spice Cookies

Happy 12-12-12!  Today, I’m sharing my pumpkin spice cookies recipe with you.  These were inspired out of just rummaging through my pantry.  I noticed I had two cans of pumpkin puree and I really had no idea what to do with them.  So, I got creative!  I had all of the ingredients for cookies but I hadn’t made pumpkin cookies before.  I wasn’t sure of the amount to use or what texture they would turn out to be.  And what do you do when you have no idea what to expect???  You WING IT!

I was blown away by how good these cookies were.  I honestly didn’t think they would be “blog-worthy”.  (By the way, that’s my new saying when I make good food lol).  I thought this would honestly be a failed experiment because getting the right cookie is really a science.  You have to ask do I use butter or shortening?  What about the flour to sugar ratio?  It’s really a lot to think about it.  Plus, pumpkin makes food softer than normal.  I have no idea why.  I know I’m typically full of scientific facts but I can’t answer this one!  The cookies turned out with a cake-like texture.  They were super light and super soft.  Unexpected, but delightfully delicious.

Pumpkin Spice Cookies

½ c granulated sugar
½ c brown sugar
¼ c butter, softened
½ c canned pumpkin puree
1 large egg
½ tsp vanilla
1 ¼ c all-purpose flour
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp pumpkin pie seasoning

For dusting:
2 tbsp granulated sugar
½ tsp cinnamon
1 tsp pumpkin pie seasoning

Heat oven to 350F.

Beat butter and sugars in large bowl, with an electric mixer at medium speed until fluffy.  Add pumpkin puree and mix until combined.  Beat in egg and vanilla until well blended.

Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and pumpkin pie seasoning.  Gradually add flour mixture to sugar mixture at low speed until well blended. 

Note: Don’t eat cookie dough!  Raw eggs may contain salmonella.  If you totally can’t resist, use pasteurized eggs.

Line cookie sheet with parchment paper.  Drop dough, one tablespoon at a time, onto the cookie sheet.  Flatten slightly.  Dust with sugar and spice mixture.

Bake 13-15 mins or until lightly pressing on cookies does not yield a dent.  Transfer parchment paper to wire rack and allow to cool. 

It was really interesting when I discovered that the second batch of cookies had a bit of a crispy bottom.  I realized that this was because I only used butter in the cookies.  I put the second batch on the hot pan that I had just pulled out of the oven and we loved that batch even more!  You may want to try preheating the pan with the oven for the first batch to see if you get the same result.  Let me know if it works!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Spiced Nuts and Bourbon Cocktails

You know what's stupid hard? Melting white chocolate. Yep. Who knew!? And, you know what kinda stings? Tossing peppermint extract all over yourself. Yep. I had a bummer kitchen flop tonight. I burned up quite a bit of chocolate. Lame. BUT! I repaired myself and made cocktails! All good, all around! Anywho, posts that were supposed to be Spiced Nuts and Peppermint Bark have turned into Spiced Nuts and The McIver Cocktail. Cheers, ya'll.

Spiced Nuts - recipe compliments of my dear brother
Preheat oven to 350

1/2 pound of pecans (about 2 cups)
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon chile powder
Boiling water

Measure nuts and start a large pot of water set to boil. In a very large bowl, mix sugar, cinnamon and chile.

Line a baking dish with parchment paper. Pour nuts into boiling water and boil for one minute. Drain nuts and toss quickly in the sugar and spice mixture. You want to do this quickly - enough to coat the nuts, not so much as to melt the sugar. Spread in a single layer on the parchment lined baking dish. Bake at 350 for 10 minutes, then turn off the oven and let the nuts cool in the oven. 

These are delicious! I am so happy my brother gave me this recipe a few years ago.

A few things about this recipe...
I've doubled this recipe, but they really turn out better when I make only 1/2 a pound at a time. These are great on their own, but also delicious on salads and ice cream. They are especially delicious while drinking bourbon... which leads me to...

The Bourbon McIver
Serves 2

2 sugar cubs
A few dashes bitters
4 ounces bourbon
2 thick slices of orange

Muddle in each of two glasses one sugar cube, a large orange slice and a few dashes of bitters. Pour bourbon over orange concoction and enjoy!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Black Bean and Chorizo Bake

Hi everyone!  I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving.  Sarah and I shared pictures of our Thanksgiving meals on our Facebook page so be sure to check out the page.   We would love to hear ideas of what recipes you would like to see for Christmas so be sure to email us or send us requests on Facebook.

We have a football household and I was looking for the perfect dip or appetizer that would work for any football watch party.  Every Sunday (and Monday…and Thursday…) are about football for us.  As you can see, it takes over our lives!  So we often need food that is good for just sitting back while cheering on your favorite team.  It’s not fancy, it may not be pretty, but it’s easy, it’s good, and it’s fun :)

This “bake” was slightly modified from the Cooking Light recipe.  It’s not as light because I added more cheese.  They also used more of a layering technique and I just kinda threw everything together.  (Think football lol).  I needed something quick and delicious.  Serve this with lime Tostitos tortilla chips and you are good to go!

Black Beans and Chorizo Bake

1 tbsp EVOO
½ c diced Spanish chorizo
cooking spray
1 c chopped onion
1 jalepeno pepper, seeded and sliced
½ tsp salt
½ tsp ground black pepper
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp crushed red pepper
4 garlic cloves, minced
¾ c fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth
2 (15oz) cans black beans, rinsed and drained
1c halved and seeded cherry tomatoes
¾ c shredded Mexican blend cheese
¼ c thinly sliced green onions

Preheat oven to 400F.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.  Add oil to pan; swirl to coat.  Add chorizo; sauté for 2 mins.  Add onion and jalapeno; sauté 4 mins, stirring occasionally.  Add salt, black pepper, cumin, red pepper, and garlic; sauté 1 min, stirring constantly.  Stir in broth and beans; bring to a boil.  Cook 5 mins. 

Mash to desired consistency.  Stir in tomatoes while hot.  Spoon bean mixture into a baking dish coated with cooking spray.

Tip: To seed tomatoes, cut in half and lightly squeeze over a bowl.

Top with cheese.  Bake at 400 for 20-25 mins or until lightly browned.  Top with green onions.