Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Tortellini Meatball Soup

A few months ago three of my neighbors joined me in hosting a progressive dinner at our homes.   We had a lovely dinner starting with appetizers and cocktails at my house and ending with dessert at another neighbor's house.  In between we enjoyed a soup and salad course and our entree at two other neighbors' homes.

The soup we enjoyed that evening was delicious and I wanted to make it a regular on my soup rotation.  I also thought is was a soup all of you would enjoy as well, so I'm sharing it today.  Carol, my neighbor who made this soup, kept stressing how easy the soup is to make.  Her recipe relies entirely on prepared foods from the grocery store, including frozen chopped onions, and the result is wonderful.

I made my own chicken broth and diced fresh carrots and onion.  I also substituted dried basil for fresh, but those were the only deviations from the original recipe.  One thing you'll want to be careful about is the amount of salt you use.  The amount of sodium in your chicken broth will drive how much salt you need to add.  The only way to tell is to taste the soup.  A tablespoon of salt worked for me, but you may need more or less.

Cooking the tortellini in the soup works well if you are going to serve the soup right away.  If not, the tortellini will absorb the broth and you may find yourself with less broth than you like.  You can cook the tortellini separately in another pot and then add it to the soup just before serving.


Tortellini Meatball Soup
Serves 8
  • 24 1/2 ounce Italian meatballs (your own or frozen)
  • 1 pound of carrots, diced (fresh or frozen)
  • 1 large (20 ounce) package of fresh cheese tortellini
  • 1 medium onion, chopped (fresh or frozen)
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 8 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • 1 cup water
  • 6 cups fresh baby spinach leaves (1 package)
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat.  Add the onions and cook until soft and tender.  Add the broth, water, and carrots to the pot.  Bring to a boil and reduce to simmer.  Cook for 5 minutes.  Taste the broth and add salt and pepper to taste.  I used 1 tablespoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper.



Add the meatballs to the pot and cook for 18 minutes.  Add the tortellini, parsley and basil.  Cook gently for 8 minutes, until the tortellini is tender.  Stir in the spinach and remove the pot from the heat.  Cover the pot and let stand until the spinach is wilted, about 2 minutes.



Serve immediately.



You can get the printable Tortellini Meatball Soup recipe by clicking the link

  Enjoy!
 
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Monday, February 27, 2012

Braised Short Ribs

We recently spent the weekend in Ludlow, Vermont.  Normally, it would have been a peak weekend for the New England ski town.  It is the home of Okemo Mountain, a popular ski destination, but this year snow has been elusive.

Okemo Mountain, Vermont
Braised Short Ribs
Regardless of the fact that there is no snow in ski country, it is winter in New England and when visiting ski country we want our food to be hearty and comforting.  Braised short ribs fit that description.  They may sound fancy schmancy, but in reality short ribs are amazingly easy to make.  After a few preparatory steps they are a "set in the oven and forget" kind of meal.  Short ribs are also terrific to make in advance because they taste delicious when reheated.  That makes beef short ribs an ideal dish to take with you for a weekend dinner in Vermont, or anywhere you want to take a special main dish.  It is also a perfect dish to make for a family dinner and you won't have to spend all of your time in the kitchen. 


This recipe includes a technique I learned from Chef Anne Burrell's short ribs recipe.  She suggests making a paste of the vegetables used in the sauce.  Normally, I would have diced the vegetables and made a chunky sauce, but I thought I'd give the pureed vegetable approach a try. 

The Vegetable Puree

The result is a lovely, yet robust sauce that pairs well with those mandatory mashed potatoes you'll be serving on the side.  You should note that this recipe includes a hefty portion of tomato paste, resulting in a rich tomato based to the sauce.  You can also make a yummy pot roast with this recipe by substituting a chuck roast for the short ribs.

Braised Short Ribs
Serves 4
Braised Short Ribs Ingredients
  • 8 beef short ribs, about 5-6 pounds
  • Kosher salt, to season the ribs
  • Extra virgin olive oil, for the pot
  • 1 large onion, cut into chunks
  • 2 stalks of celery, cut into chunks
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1-12 ounce can of tomato paste
  • 3 cups hearty red wine
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
Season the short ribs well with the kosher salt.  Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy pot over medium high heat.  Get the oil very hot and add the short ribs to the pan, browning each side of the ribs really well.  It is important not to crowd the ribs in order to get a nice sear. 

Browned Short Ribs

Remove the ribs from the pan when browned.  Drain the fat from the pan.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Place all of the vegetables in your food processor and puree until you have made a paste.  Add olive oil to the same pan in which you browned the ribs.  Add the vegetable paste.  Season with salt.  Cook the vegetables until they have browned and started to coat the bottom of the pan. 


The Vegetables will Brown and Stick to the Pan

Cook and scrape, being careful not to burn the vegetables.  Add the tomato paste to the pan.  Cook the tomato paste with the vegetables for about 5 minutes.  Add the wine, stirring to mix the vegetables and wine.  Cook to reduce the mixture by about half.

The Reduced Sauce will be Thick


Add the 2 cups of water, thyme and bay leaves to the pan.  Stir to combine.  Add the ribs to the pan.



Cover tightly and cook for 3 hours in the preheated oven.  Check periodically and add additional water to the pan, if necessary.  You can remove the cover for the last 30 minutes to thicken the sauce.  Remove the ribs from the pan and skim any fat from the top of the sauce.  Serve over mashed potatoes with the braising liquid as a gravy. 

 You can get the printable Braised Short Ribs recipe by clicking the link.

Enjoy! 

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Friday, February 24, 2012

A Vermont Weekend

Snow on Okemo Mountain
Last weekend we visited Vermont.  It was Presidents' Day weekend, typically a peak weekend for visitors to Vermont's ski country, but this has not been a good year for snow in Vermont.

The only snow to speak of was the snow on the mountains.  Even though the ski slopes have been making snow, ensuring skiing and snowboarding activities continued, we choose to spend our time exploring the area. 


Our home base was Ludlow, Vermont, home of Okemo Mountain Ski Resort.

Ludlow on a Map

To explore we headed North.  I wanted to make a stop at the King Arthur Flour facility in Norwich, Vermont.  King Arthur Flour is undergoing a major expansion to their facilities, so if you visit before summer 2012 you may find them in some disarray. 

King Arthur Flour Store
The retail store has plenty of hard to find kitchen items and many unique baking ingredients recommended by the fine King Arthur bakers on their Baking Banter blog.

King Arthur Products for Sale

I snagged some cinnamon chips and cinnamon Flav-R bites that I have been wanting to try for months and months.  They are destined for some scones in the very near future.  You won't go hungry while you are there.  There is a cafe in one section of the store so while there you can relax with a coffee and a cookie from their bakery. 

Is there a teenager in your family?  Down the street a few miles, in the town of Hanover, New Hampshire, you'll find the campus of Dartmouth, one of the eight Ivy League colleges.  College towns are always fun for a visit.

Cupcake Snow Sculpture at Dartmouth

On the way to Norwich you'll want to admire the scenery.  Take time to stop and admire the Quechee Gorge, a 165 foot deep, one-mile long gorge.

Quechee Gorge

If the weather allows, make sure you leave time to walk the trail along the gorge.  It was too icy for us on this trip, but we want to go back during warmer weather.

This section of Vermont is also home to some talented artisans.  Those of you who admire fine glassware will want to stop in to visit the Simon Pearce store in Qechee

Simon Pearce in Quechee, Vermont
The handcrafted glassware and home accents you'll find here are a feast for the eyes, but be warned. The prices reflect the quality and craftmanship.  Even the seconds will put a huge dent in your wallet.

Simon Pearce Glassware

There is a lovely restaurant on the premises that overlooks the adjacent river and falls.  You may recall that Vermont was hit hard by tropical storm Irene last year.  The floodiing from the storm was devastating to Vermont.  While there has been much progress in restoring the roadways throughout Vermont, you will be able to see signs of the damage wherever you look.  The picture below shows, the banks of the river littered with debris from the flood outside the Simon Pearce store.

Vermont's Flood Debris
Another, not to be missed, stop is the Shackleton Thomas gallery at The Mill in Bridgewater, Vermont.

The Shackleton Thomas Gallery
Here you'll be able to watch the woodworking and pottery craftspeople at work creating fine, handmade furniture pottery and home accessories.

The Shackleton Thomas Woodshop
It was here that I fell in love with Miranda Thomas' pottery, particularly the black carved designs.  I want some of the mugs.  I dream about them.

Miranda Thomas' Bkack Carved Pottery
These mugs are on my wish list...

Enjoy!
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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Savory Swiss Chard

Do you find yourself in a vegetable rut?  This time of year I find myself stuck eating the same vegetables over and over again...carrots, broccoli, Brussels sprouts.  This may be a great time to pick up a bunch or two of fresh greens and change up your vegetable sides a bit.  Spinach is my usual leafy green vegetable of choice, so on my most recent trip to the grocery store I decided to shake things up with some Swiss Chard.

Colorful Swiss Chard

Prepare your Swiss chard by rinsing the leaves well and cutting about an inch from the stems.  Discard this portion of the stems.  The rest of the stems are tasty.  Cut the stems from the leaves and chop into 1 inch pieces.   Cut the leaves into 1/2 inch widths.  It's as simple as that.

Savory Swiss Chard Ingredients
Savory Swiss Chard

  • 1 bunch of Swiss chard
  • 1 tablespoon garlic flavored extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 slices of bacon, diced
  • 1/2 small red onion sliced
  • 1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock

Directions
Heat the tablespoon of garlic flavored olive oil in a 12 inch frying pan over medium heat.  Add the red pepper flakes and bacon.  Cook the bacon until crispy.  Remove from the pan and set aside.  Add the red onion and stem pieces from the Swiss chard.  Saute until tender, about 5 minutes.

Saute the Stems and Onions
Add the Swiss chard leaves and the chicken stock.  Stir to distribute the ingredients.  Cover the pan and cook for 5-10 minutes, until the Swiss chard is wilted and tender.

Adding the Swiss Chard to the Pan


 Remove the cover.  Stir and add the cooked bacon.  Grate a little bit of nutmeg into the pan, toss and serve.

Savory Swiss Chard Topped with Bacon

This same recipe works well with other greens with the cooking time adjusted based on the tenderness of the greens.  Get the printable Savory Swiss Chard recipe by clicking the link.
Enjoy!
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Monday, February 20, 2012

Caramel Brownies

About a year ago I went in search of my favorite brownie recipe.  I baked and compared three very delicious brownies, but chose just one, the Baked brownie, as my favorite.  You may have heard of the Baked brownie before.  It's praises have been sung far and wide.  In my opinion it is a very praise worthy brownie recipe.  It produces a dense, moist and fudgy brownie with no frills.  That's the way I like my brownies...most of the time.

The Caramel Brownie
Occasionally I like a kicked up brownie.   Last week I wanted to make an over the top brownie to take to a friend's house for dinner.  I decided to use the Baked brownie as the base and add a layer of caramel, then top it all with a layer of chocolate ganache.  Does that sound kicked up enough for you?  The resulting brownie is delicious...decadently delicious.  Oh, yeah, baby!  I am not kidding.  This is one heck of a brownie.

There are three steps to this brownie, so you'll need to plan accordingly.  Start by making the Baked brownie.  While the brownies are cooling you can make the caramel layer.  Have no fear, it's easy to make the caramel.  You'll need a candy thermometer though, to make sure you get the right consistency to the caramel.  It is soft and creamy, not thick  and chewy.  It's a perfect consistency for the topping the brownie.  Once the caramel is spread over the brownies it needs to cool for 15 minutes before adding the chocolate ganache.  Then the brownies must cool in the refrigerator for at least an hour.  I'd say you'll need about three hours from start to serve.

Step 1
The Baked brownie
The Caramel Ingredients
Step 2
The Caramel Layer
  • 14 ounce can of sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 2 tablespoons dark corn syrup
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Step 3
The Chocolate Ganache
The Ganache Ingredients
  • 6 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 3 tablespoons heavy cream
Directions
Bake the brownie layer per the recipe.  Be sure to line the pan with parchment paper leaving enough of an edge exposed to lift the brownies from the pan in one large piece.  Use large office clips to clip the paper to the edge of the pan and hold it in place while the brownies are baking.  Bake until the brownies are moist, yet set.  A toothpick inserted in the center will have a few crumbs on it when removed.  Cool before adding the caramel layer.

Bake the Brownie Layer

To make the caramel layer, place all of the ingredients in a pot over medium heat.  Stir well to combine.  As the mixture heats, clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan. 

Make the Caramel Layer

Continue cooking, stirring with a whisk constantly until the temperature of the mixture hits 225 degrees.  Pour the caramel over the brownies, smoothing with a spatula.  Set the pan aside to cool until the caramel layer sets, about 15 minutes.

Pour the Caramel over the Brownie Layer

To make the ganache, place the chocolate chips and the cream in a bowl.  Heat them together in the microwave for 15 seconds.  Stir and repeat until the chips are fully melted and the mixture is thick and creamy.  Pour the ganache over the caramel layer. 

Spread the Ganache over the Caramel

Refrigerate for at least one hour before serving.
Use the parchment paper to lift the brownies from the pan.  Place the cake of brownies on a cutting board and slice into individual servings. 

The Caramel Brownie
You can get the printable Caramel Brownies recipe by clicking the link.

Enjoy!
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Friday, February 17, 2012

Asiago Pesto Potatoes

Asiago potatoes were a side dish offered at a restaurant that became a favorite stop of mine on a recent visit to Florida.  Naturally, I wanted to find a way to replicate those tasty potatoes.  They are a simple to make potato dish, packed with great flavor.  They make a perfect accompaniment to a hearty dish, or even as your main course with a side salad.

Asiago Pesto Potatoes
A quick review of Internet recipes reveals a variety of approaches to making these potatoes.  Some recipes use tiny red potatoes and some suggest slicing the potatoes au gratin style. 

I decided to start by cutting medium sized red potatoes in half and go from there.  The rest of the ingredients are simple:  asiago cheese, garlic, basil and mayonnaise.  I decided to highlight my own homemade basil pesto in this recipe. 


Let's see how, shall we?

Asiago Pesto Potatoes
Makes 16 potatoes
The Ingredients
  • 8 medium red potatoes, washed and cut in half
  • 16 cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons basil pesto
  • 8 ounces asiago cheese, shredded
  • 1 cup reduced fat mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon salt

Directions
Place the potato halves in a large pot filled with cold water and the salt.  Bring the pot to a boil and cook the potatoes until tender, about 15 to 20 minutes.  Drain the potatoes and cool to room temperature.

Boil the Potatoes

While the potatoes are cooling, heat the extra virgin olive oil in a pan over medium heat.  Add the cloves of garlic and cook at a very gentle simmer until the cloves are soft and tender.  Use a fork to test for softness.
Cook Garlic Cloves until Tender

Remove the garlic from the oil and mash.  Reserve the oil for another use.  It will now be garlic flavored.

Mash the Garlic

Shred the asiago cheese.  Mix the mayonnaise, pesto and mashed garlic together in a bowl until well combined.  Add the shredded cheese and mix until the mayonnaise mixture is well distributed throughout the cheese.

Mix the Filling

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  With a spoon, scoop some of the potato out of the center of each potato half.  Place the potatoes in a baking dish. 

Scoop the Centers from the Potatoes

Fill each potato with the cheese mixture, distributing the mixture evenly among the potatoes.

Fill Potatoes with Cheese Mixture

Bake the potatoes for approximately 20 minutes, or until the cheese mixture is melted and browned.
Asiago Pesto Potatoes

Get the printable Asiago Pesto Potatoes recipe by clicking the link.

Enjoy!
 
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