Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Soup Season is Upon Us and I am SO Excited!

This weeks soup was a repeat, first made it back on Oct. 24, 2009 but since I didn't have a picture and accurate notes in my cookbook I had to give it another try.  This soup is a bit different but good and a healthy vegetarian choice.  The peanut flavor and allspice is what stands out with a hint of heat which it originally needed to spice it up a bit.  First bite, I wasn't sure but it grew on me.  In the end I liked it which is why my original note simply said good, wouldn't say great but it is a 3 out of 5 because it is different but after two days of eating it I wanted no more.  It is a good Fall or Thanksgiving time soup.  The second time I made it I used chunky peanut butter but the blender doesn't get all the nuts so I think smooth is best, however it does work. Original recipe came from Eating Well October 2009, pg. 75.

3 medium sweet potatoes (light yellow flesh)
1 T. canola oil
1 red onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, grated or minced
2 (14.5 oz.) cans V8 juice
2 (15 oz.) cans vegetable broth, open one first
4 oz. can diced green chilies, drained
2 t. fresh ginger, grated
1 t. ground allspice
½ t. cumin
¼ t. red pepper flakes
¼ t. freshly ground pepper
½ C. natural smooth peanut butter

Prick potatoes with a fork several times.  Microwave on high 10-15 minutes or until a fork can be easily inserted and removed.  Set aside to cool.  Chop onion.  In a 10” skillet with lid saute onion in oil till tender.  Add lid so it softens but doesn't brown.  Add garlic and cook 1 more minute.  Add juice, one can of broth, green chilies, ginger, allspice, cumin, red pepper flakes and pepper.  Adjust heat to a gentle boil and cook for 10 minutes.  Meanwhile cut the potatoes in half and scoop out pulp.  Add to pot along with peanut butter.  Stir.  With an emulsion blender puree until smooth.  If too thick, add second can.  Makes 4-5 servings.

Note:  Depending on the size of your potatoes you may need to add more liquid which is why the second time I made it I had to add an additional can of broth

Stuffed Medjool Dates for my Wine Tasting Party

I first made these dates on 5/8/2011 for my Kentucky Derby party then most recently for last months Wine Tasting Party.  I loved them but didn’t realize dates were dried and very sweet, like candy.  I'm not sure what I thought, maybe I was thinking figs. The cheese stuffing and salty prosciutto off set the sweetness well but don't skimp on the cheese.  I originally misread the recipe and used cream cheese vs. goat cheese along with mascarpone, this time I used goat cheese and cream cheese since cream cheese is cheaper and it was just as good. Original recipe came from Giada de Laurentiis.  It was an expensive recipe, $18 but using the cream cheese reduces the price and if you can find a smaller box of dates vs the Costco box it will also save you some.  You can make more than stated depending on the size of your dates but a little goes a long way.

¼ C. (2 oz.) cream cheese
¼ C. (2 oz.) goat cheese
¼ C. fresh basil, finely chopped
¼ Kosher salt
¼ coarse ground black pepper
20 Medjool dates, pitted
8 thin slices prosciutto

Mix cheeses, basil, salt and pepper.  Slice date in center and squeeze ends to open slit.  Take out pit and  stem end if there. Stuff with ½ -1 t. cheese mixture.  Wrap with a piece of prosciutto.  Cut in half.

Note:  The first time I served them whole but since they are so rich and sweet a smaller bite is better. Also be sure to put enough cheese because the savory taste is needed to offset the sweet.

These were good but might have been better with a bit more onion and cheese.  They were still tasty even once they cooled which works well for a party.
1 sheet puff pastry, thawed
1 caramelized onion
-Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400°F.  Follow recipe to caramelized onions.  Thaw one sheet of puff pastry according to package directions.  On a silicon lined cookie sheet, unfold, roll out slightly and prick all over with fork.  Spread caramelized onions on top of pastry, grate cheese over top.  Bake 20 minutes or till golden brown.  Cool 5 minutes, cut in squares.

  • Instead of Parmesan use 2 oz. rind removed, diced brie cheese and 2 oz. Gorgonzola.   Sprinkle 2 T. fresh tarragon
  • Drizzle 2 T.  balsamic vinegar over onions, mix.
  • Sprinkle 1 T. brown sugar over onions, mix.
Everyone knows of Magic Cookie Bars, I found this version on Valerie Bertinelli cooking show. I think MCB are better but these are easier to eat.
Magic Cookie Balls, Truffle Style:  Mix:  1 ⅔ C. Graham crackers, ⅔ C. coconut, ⅔ C. walnuts, chips and a pinch of salt.  Mix and bake in a greased 8x8" pan for 15-20 minutes on 375°F.  Mix to combine, let cool enough to handle and roll into balls and while still warm roll in powdered sugar.

½ C. margarine or butter
1 ½ C. graham cracker crumbs
14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated)
6 oz. pkg. semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 ½ C. flaked coconut
1 C. nuts (walnuts, pecans), chopped

Preheat oven to 350°F (325°F for glass dishes).  In a 9x13 inch baking pan, melt margarine in oven.  Sprinkle crumbs over margarine; pour sweetened condensed milk evenly over crumbs.  Top with remaining ingredients; press down.  Bake 25-30 minutes or until lightly browned.  Cool.  Cut into bars.  Store loosely covered at room temperature.  Makes 24-36 bars.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Wine Tasting Club Party, Success

Our first wine tasting party worked out great, well enough to contemplate another tasting party.  Everyone was asked to bring a bottle of wine, a food pairing for your wine and to have done some research so they could tell the group a little something about the wine they brought so we could all learn.  I was a bit nervous because I'm used to being more in control, supplying most of the food and drink and in order for this party to be a success I first needed people to commit, then to show up on time and finally to bring food and drink.

To reduce the stress I decided to start the tasting with a bottle of champagne, this way I could serve something when the first people arrived.  Standing around without a drink in your hand, waiting for everyone to arrive to see who brought the lightest wine wouldn't have worked out as well.  The first guests arrived starting at 6:45 and the last guests were there by 7:00.  To improve it for next time I will plan on having two bottles of champagne on hand so when people arrive they will be greeted with a glass of champagne vs. a tasting.

I did put out some basic snacks beyond my food pairing, so we had some munchies just in case it was a bust.  After everyone arrived it looked like we had too much food but surprisingly almost all of it went.  I did have some extra Stuffed Dates, Magic Cookie Balls and Hummus that didn't make it out of the fridge but other than that I only tossed about 10 individual appetizer pieces, some hummus and some cheese that didn't look great after sitting out for 10 hours.

The theme of this party was, “Bring your favorite wine, something you have wanted to try or that bottle you have been saving for a special occasion that never seems to arrive”. 

As it turned out everyone bought reds, which surprised me.  I thought one or two people would have brought white wine but I was not disappointed since reds are my favorite.

The plan was to limit the guest list, 12 people to equal 6 bottles of wine a 2 oz. (4 count) serving of wine per person which is a half of a bottle of wine per person.  After talking about it during the party we thought we could have had one, maybe two more couples because not everyone wanted a 2 oz. pour but we also had one non drinker.  A 2 oz. pour was a good size taste so it could be less but I think the party would have been less manageable unless two people were pouring.  In the end some brought extra bottles of red, two bottles of dessert wines and a port.  In total we drank 12 bottles of wine.  It turned out to be one of the best parties, it lasted the latest (last person left around 1 or 1:30am) and I was totally sober so I was able to help in the clean up prior to going to bed at 3am.

I did a bit of decorating to bring out the theme and to make it more festive.
  • I put a runner of brown craft/wrapping paper across the width of my kitchen island.
  • On the runner I put a piece of cream 8 ½”x11 card stock for each bottle of wine
  • On top of that a smaller piece of craft paper (3.5”x5”) towards the top of the paper where each wine bottle sat.  Not knowing what people were bringing I used three beige squares and three burgundy squares to accommodate for red or white since I didn’t know what people were bringing but have extra colored squares so the  square identifies the wine.
  • I sat out a bowl of wine charms so once someone chose their glass they could identify it.  Since I didn’t have enough matching red wine glasses I used white but red glasses would be better because people can swirl.
  • I filled a tray with wine corks and a basket with I spilled onto the counter.
  • I put out colored pens and a sheet for each person to rate their wines so they could make notes or write down their favorites to take with them when they left.
  • I asked people to look up their wine so they could tell us something about it and this is what people did. 
    • Wine notes written on a name card of sorts, a folded 3”L x 1”H piece of card stock, which was then able to sit in front of the bottle of wine on top of the above place mats
    • Using their iPhone to show the description of the wine.  They sat that in front of their bottle which was very clever and gave it a modern vibe.  Only problem here was that the screen goes black and you then need to unlock it.
    • Several people, including myself printed a page describing their wine on an 8.5x11 piece of paper.  Notes included the background of the wine, what it pares with, winemaker notes, where it’s from, price, grape sourcing, vintage, wine making notes, flavors and nose, winery information, other producers of this type of wine, definition of the style,  a picture of the wine label and a picture of the winery.
    • Printed on a colored 4.5”x11 piece of paper which included a picture of the label.  What I liked here was that this person made multiple copies so that each person could take one if they wanted.
    • Told a story of when and where they got the wine along with their notes on the wine.

Wines & Pairings
#1 R&D:  Big White House Peche Mignon (peach champagne).  Paired with a Puff Pastry Caramelized Onion Tart & Puff Pastry breadsticks.  I'll publish my recipes in my next post.

#2 C&L:  Dusk to Dawn 2013 Pinot Noir.  Paired with assorted cheeses (Cypress Grove Chevre Goat Milk  cheese, Brillat Savarin Brie cheese and Black Diamond (3yr old) cheddar with crackers.
#3 MT:  Williams Selyem 2009 Pinot Noir.  Paired with Spicy Calebrese Salami with Cambozola (mild blue cheese), Prociutto with Tallegio (Mild Italian soft cheese), Duck with Sharp Vermont Cheddar, Varzi Salami with Campignon (Brie with mushrooms)

#4 D&A:  Toccata 2010 Dolcetto.  Paired with homemade Foccacia bread topped with
#5 J&J: White Rock 2006 Napa Valley Claret.  Pared with Trader Joe Pot Stickers
#6 V&J:  Page Mill.  Paired with Panda Express Salt & Pepper Chicken
#7  R&D:  Cuda Ridge 2013 Petit Verdot.  Paired with Spicy sausages, Magic Cookie Balls and Goat Cheese Stuffed Dates wrapped in prosciutto

#8  MT:  Cowichan Tawny 2008 Blackberry Desert Wine
#9 MT:  Cherry Point Solera Dessert Wine
#10 R&D:  Cedar Mountain Tortuga Royale
#11 V&J:  Occasio 2012 Zinfandel
#12 MT:  Williams Selyem 2009 Pinot Noir, 2nd bottle

Thursday, October 22, 2015


Today I just made my second spinach soup of the week.  The first one was a bisque, more creamy and fatty and the second one was a spinach puree with a lot less fat especially since I read the recipe wrong.  Both were great, simple and made it to my cook book.

When I made the first one, Spinach Bisque, I left the baby leaves whole but if I was serving it for company I would roughly chop them before adding to the soup.   The big leaves were a bit hard to eat.  The recipe came from the ContraCostaTimes newspaper, 10/18/2015.

1 T. butter
1 shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
3 T. flour
15 oz. can chicken broth
1 ½ C. whole milk
2 oz. cream cheese
¼ t. Kosher salt
¼ t. coarse black pepper
2 oz. sharp cheddar, shredded
5 oz. container fresh baby spinach

Heat a large skillet with 2" deep sides over medium low heat.  Add the minced shallots, cook till translucent about 5 minutes.  Add the minced garlic clove, saute another minute.  Add the flour, cook and stir another minute.  Whisk in the broth, milk, cream cheese, salt and pepper until cream cheese melts and begins to thicken.  Do not boil.  Remove from heat, add cheddar and whisk until cheese is melted.  Add spinach and let sit 5 minutes to wilt.

The second recipe came from The Pioneer Woman of Food Network.  I accidentally made a big change by omitting the 1/2 a cube of butter but it was a happy accident because it tasted great to me and I saved calories.  Next time I'll reduce the salt by 1/2 t. as indicated in the recipe I have here.  The other thing I did differently was puree it at the end with my stick blender so that there were not chunks of onions, better.

Drizzle EVOO
10 oz. fresh spinach
¼ C. warm water
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
½ medium onion, chopped
¼ C. flour
3 C. whole milk
1 ½ t. kosher salt, or more to taste
½ t. cayenne pepper, or more to taste
¼ t. coarse ground black pepper

Chop the garlic.  In a large 2" deep skillet, drizzle with EVOO, heat over medium heat. Add the spinach and garlic.  Cook, stirring constantly, until the spinach is wilted, 2 to 3 minutes. Add to a blender along with the water and puree.
To same pan cook the onions in a touch more oil over medium low heat until the onions begin to soften. Sprinkle the flour over the top and stir to combine. Cook about 2 minutes, pour in the first cup of milk to combine milk and avoid clumps, stir in remaining milk, salt, cayenne and black pepper and stir to combine and avoid scorching milk. Cook over medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the pureed spinach, cook until thickened, another 3 to 5 minutes.  Puree with an emulsion blender to break up onions.

Since I made it ahead of time I like to store soups in these inexpensive pitchers that I got at Marshalls.  They take up less room in the fridge vs. a bowl.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Taco Stuffed Shells

It has been awhile since I posted something.  I'm always trying new recipes but when they need improvements I don't publish them.  This one was perfect.  I got it out of the newspaper, Contra Costa Times and I will definitely make it again, especially since we didn't have seconds and hubby forgot to put the leftovers in the refrigerator so they had to be tossed, sad morning.
The original recipe used the entire box of shells and 1 1/2 lb. of ground turkey and topped it with green onions and I used the cheese I had on hand, Colby Jack, but the rest was the same so you will be able to do more shells but not sure if the filling will do the whole box of shells as suggested.
The only change I will try next time is to use my homemade taco seasoning and the cheese will be what ever I have on hand.  I would also like to try another sauce like enchilada but the Taco sauce was great.  I think it would also be good served with sour cream, guacamole and shredded lettuce to bring the TACO theme full circle.

1 lb. ground turkey, cooked and crumbled
2 t. chile powder
½ t. cumin
¼ t. salt
10 oz. tub of cream cheese with chives
Half box jumbo shells, 22
12 oz. bottle Taco sauce
1 C. Mexican cheese
10 crumbled tortilla chips

Cook and crumble ground turkey till  no longer pink.  Add seasoning and cream cheese.  Stuff 21 shells, place in a 7x11” baking dish.  Top with taco sauce.  Cover with foil, bake 20 minutes.  Top with Mexican cheese and crumbled tortilla chips and bake another 15 minutes.  Makes 22 shells.