Monthly Archives: March 2012

Sweet & Spicy Wings

If you knew how good these tasted, your mouth would be watering right now.

Chicken wings come in all sizes and flavors. Walk into any local sports bar, tavern, family restaurant, etc, and if they have wings, they’ll almost always come in more than one flavor. Hot wings, BBQ wings, honey-mustard wings, lemon pepper wings, salt and  lime wings, wicked wings, sweet wings, the list goes on and on. Just as long is the list of seasonings you can use for your wings. Everyone has their favorite combination. It begins when you pull them out of the packaging and ends when you start eating.  Everything you do to to the wings,from the obvious seasoning, to the dusting, to the resting to the cooking changes the texture and taste of your wings.

I have to admit that chicken wings are one of my favorite foods. They make awesome appetizers or main courses. I am constantly playing around with the flavor and texture of my wings. I’m always trying new techniques to get the crispiest skin and most flavorful meat. There’s not a ton of meat on a chicken wing, but that makes it easier to experiment with and quicker to cook.

This time, I did something a little different. I brined my wings. Usually, you hear about people creating a brine for their Thanksgiving Day turkey. Well, this is pretty similar. A brine is basically saltwater with several other seasonings that intensely flavor the meat. It also forces the meat to hold more water, making it more moist and juicy than without.

I usually try new things, write it down, and try something different next time. If I do something really great, I will repeat and tweak it just a bit. That’s partially what happened this time. I’ve finally got super crispy wings, and I just needed to adjust the spices. Ok, I will stop delaying the goodness. Here’s how I made the best sweet and spicy wings I’ve ever made.

You can taste it before you add the wings. If you want it spicier or sweeter, you can adjust it now.

The Brine:

  • 2 TBSP Tony’s Creole Seasoning
  • 2 TBSP Kosher Salt
  • 1 TBSP Crushed Black Pepper
  • 1 tsp Garlic Powder
  • 1 tsp Onion Powder
  • 1/2 tsp Smoked Paprika
  • 1 TBSP Brown Sugar
  • 1 TBSP Dijon Mustard
  • 1/2 tsp Sriracha (or your favorite hot sauce)
  • 3 C Water
  • 1 1/2 lbs chicken wings, separated

 

  1. Combine everything except the wings in a mixing bowl. Whisk until it’s all combined. Dip a finger in and taste it. Can you taste all the flavors you want? Realizing it’s going to be salty, is the salt overpowering the rest of the spices? Is there a depth of flavor? Every palate is different, so be sure to adjust it as you see fit. This is the flavor that the meat of the chicken will carry, so it should be good to you.
  2. Separate the wings. This step is completely optional, but I always do it unless I’m serving the other larger parts of the chicken. When I’m serving wings, I think it’s nice for everyone to be able to grab the section they like the most. If you’re not sure how to do this, follow these simple steps:

    With a sharp knife, slice the loose skin between the drummette and the wing to help expose the joint.

    Bend both sections in opposing directions to pop out the joint of the drummette.

    Cut the remainder of the skin. There is no need to cut through any bone.

    Drop your wings into the brine and let them sit in the fridge for 2 hours to overnight. The longer, the better.

     

  3. Once your wings have marinated in the brine, and you are ready to fry them, remove them and place them in a plastic bag. Seal the bag and let them come to room temp. They need to sit out for at least 30 minutes. Meats remains juicier and more tender when you allow it to come to room temp before cooking. Otherwise, it’ll seize and become tough.
  4. Once your wings have come to temp, create a breading mixture with: 1 C all-purpose flour, 2 TBSP corn starch, 1 TBSP black pepper, pinch salt.
  5. Heat your cooking oil of choice in a fryer or frying pan to 320˚ F. This time, I used Crisco original shortening and it worked well. I’ve also used peanut oil and works just as well.
  6. Toss the chicken in the flour a few pieces at a time. Coat thoroughly and set aside.
  7. Once your oil reaches temp, drop your wings into the oil and allow them to cook for about 10 minutes. Remove them to a rack over a paper towel to allow excess oil to drip off. Heat oil to 360˚ F. Once heated, drop wings again and fry for 2-3 minutes. Remove them and set to the side.
  8. Now, for the Sweet & Spicy part. I saw Michael Symon do this and gave it a try. I love it! Mix equal parts honey and sriracha, about 2 TBSP each. Taste it first to make sure it’s not too sweet or spicy. Adjust accordingly. I think this is the perfect ration. Drizzle over chicken wings and serve. ENJOY!

Serve them alone as a snack, as an appetizer, or as a main dish with some other tasty grub!

 

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Easy Pot Roast… Oooooohhhh, the Possibilities

Simple, flavorful Pot Roast you can't mess up.

This recipe has two great characteristics everyone loves. 1) It’s super easy. 2) If you follow these simple instructions, you can’t mess it up. Now, I like to keep recipes like this as simple and natural as possible. I like the organic taste of good veggies, and this is another one of those recipes where you can use whatever you have on hand.You can add to or take away from the veggies that I’ve used. I didn’t use potatoes this time, but you can just toss them in with the rest of the veggies. You can cut them large or small, as long as they’re all about the same size.

I like a roast that has some fat in it. It keeps the meat moist and adds flavor as it cooks and large pieces can easily be peeled away from your tender, finished roast.

Often you’ll see herbs added to pot roast, like Bay Leaves, Thyme and Rosemary. None of that here. I want the pure flavor of beef and veggies, with a few additions to enhance that flavor. Here’s what I did.

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb Beef Roast (or Beef Brisket)
  • 2 Carrots, peeled and med dice
  • 2 stalks Celery, rinsed and med dice
  • 1/2 Onion (white or yellow), small dice
  • 1 C Mushrooms, sliced
  • 3 Garlic Cloves, smashed and peeled
  • 3 C Beef Broth
  • 1 C Red Wine (Not necessary, but it adds a ton of flavor)
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 2 TBSP Olive Oil
  1. Preheat oven to 350˚ F. (You can slow cook this also. Check down below for the easy way to make it happen.)
  2. Heat oil in a pan. Meanwhile, season the beef by sprinkling with salt and pepper on both sides. If there’s another seasoning you love on your beef, use it. (Creole seasoning, steak seasonings, meat tenderizer, etc all work well here.) When pan is hot, brown beef on all sides.
  3. While browning, prepare roasting pan or dutch oven with lid. Pour beef broth into roasting pan and add veggies except onions. Remove browned beef and place in broth and veggies.
  4. Deglaze the pan of beef remnants with red wine. Remember to remove the pan from the heat before pouring in wine. Add the onions and scrape up all the bits on the bottom of the pan. Cook the onions for about 2 minutes or until the onions begin to soften. Once the onions have softened, pour the entire pan over the beef.(To add extra flavor, you can cook all the veggies with the onions for about 7-10 minutes, or until they start to brown.)

    Let the onions cook on top of the beef. Mmmmmmm... oniony goodness.

  5. Cook 2 hours. Flip the beef and cook for another hour or until super tender. You don’t have to flip it, but I do.

Make this a Slow Cooker Meal:

Chop beef into uniform 1″ chunks. Season and brown on all sides. Dump into slow cooker. Pour wine into pan to deglaze, then add all veggies into pan and cook for about 7-10 minutes until they start to brown. Add to slow cooker, then pour in beef broth. Cook on high for about 2-2 1/2 hours until tender.

What can I do with it afterward? This meal has tons of possibilities once it’s cooked, both for the meat and the veggies. Try these variations.

Once it's this tender, just use a few forks to pull it apart. The large pockets of fat slide right off and can easily be discarded.

  1. Keep it Simple. Serve the beef sliced over mashed potatoes. Serve the veggies on the side. Pour a ladle of the leftover liquid on top. Mmmmmm.
  2. Shred the beef in the pan or dutch oven, and mix with the veggies. Serve over brown, long grain, wild, or white rice, mashed potatoes, or egg noodles.
  3. Remove beef and put on a cutting board. Shred or slice and place on your favorite toasted roll, I like onion rolls from the grocery bakery. Soft, fresh, and perfect when warm and toasty. But what about the veggies? Dump the rest of the pot, liquid and all, in the food pro or blender and process until you get a nice pureed texture.

    It might look like baby food now... but just wait.

    Now, pour into a sauce pan and heat. Add a few TBSP cream or milk and 1 TBSP butter and whisk until you get a smooth glossy sauce. Ladle over your meat on the bread and top with Slices of red onion or chopped green onions.

    Add salt and pepper if necessary.

  4. Shred it and add your favorite BBQ sauce for a shredded BBQ sandwich. Add some of your favorite sides to your sandwich and make it a meal!

    Homemade onion rings, steak fries and roasted asparagus complete this beef delight.

Madonna Jean’s Dirt Cake

Aunt Madonna

For me, cooking and baking are more than just a pastime or hobby; it’s in my DNA. I used to sit in my grandmother’s tiny kitchen and help her bake pies and cakes, cook meals, and listened to all her tips and tricks. My mother’s food was always good, but rarely healthy. We didn’t have a lot of money growing up, and since both of my parents worked, a lot of our meals were “Just Add (fill in the blank)” boxes of whatever was inexpensive. My aunt was also a wonderful cook, and she showed me some desserts and dishes that I will never forget. She was one of the biggest influences in my life. She definitely influenced the way I operate in the business world, and was a great role model for the women whose lives she touched. She was one of those people who made you better for having known them. If you could count her as a friend, you were the lucky one. My aunt died of breast cancer in 1998. She fought it for years. At one point near the end, I actually moved in with her to help her out. Some months before she died, she told me there were two things she wanted to see before she passed. The first was me to turn 18, which she did. The second, was for me to graduate high school. My birthday and graduation were a mere 2 months apart, but she didn’t make long enough to see me graduate.

There are many recipes I get from friends or family. Sometimes I can’t remember exactly who gave it to me, or where we were. This is not one of those recipes. I remember exactly how she taught it to me, where we were, and where we were going. Every time I make it, I still hear her voice telling me how to complete each step.

This recipe is awesome for so many reasons. The main reasons are, of course, the most important. It’s quick, easy, and inexpensive. You can easily make it to feed tons of people, and it’s easy to add variations to fit any occasion. The first time I made this for the group at the post I’m at now, they gave it a nickname… Cup of Love. I think about my aunt, and there could be no higher praise. This recipe is almost impossible to screw up. It requires no cooking, and you can complete it in 3 easy steps. Without further adieu, I give you the original Madonna Jean’s Dirt Cake… AKA, Cup of Love.

Ingredients:

  • 2- 15.5 oz pkg Oreo Cookies (Can use reduced fat)
  • 1- 8 oz pkg Cream Cheese, room temp
  • 1- 12 oz tub Whip Cream
  • 1- 1.4 oz or 3.4 oz pkg Vanilla Pudding (no cook)
  • 2 C Milk (for pudding)
  • 1 tsp Vanilla
  1. First, empty the packet of pudding into a mixing bowl and add the milk. It doesn’t matter if you use the 1.4 oz box or the 3.4 oz, they both take 2 C of milk. Mix it well and put it in the fridge to chill.
  2. Crush one entire package of cookies plus one row of another. You can do this a few different ways. You can put them in a food processor, or, dump them into a plastic bag. You don’t want them to be completely crumbs. You want pieces. If you cut the cookie into quarters, that’s about the size you want, but it doesn’t have to be perfect.
  3. Combine the cream cheese and whip cream in a bowl. Add the chilled pudding and vanilla. Stir until completely combined. Layer the dessert beginning with the pudding. There’s enough for 3 layers.

Your cookies should be around this size. The majority should be no smaller than a dime, but smaller than a quarter.

Little pockets of cream cheese are perfectly fine. Don't try to mix them out.

When layering, dollop pudding in the middle of the cookies.

Gently push to the outside in an even layer. Just like icing a cake. Keep from lifting the cookies into the pudding by tilting the bottom of the spatula toward the outside when spreading outward, and turn the bottom inward when moving back toward the center. Try not to lift it too many times until you've spread the layer out completely.

Pit it in a trifle bowl when entertaining, or a new, clean, flower pot with gummy worms and a plastic flower for a springtime gathering. Serve it using a gardening trough to complete the theme.

Like I said before, there are several ways to vary this dessert. Last week I made a St. Patty’s Day version of this by using mint Oreo cookies. You can also use green food coloring in the pudding to give it the full effect. Spring is here, at least in California, and now the golden Oreo cookies are out. If you’ve given up chocolate for Lent, use these instead.

Now, as much as I love my aunt, I have changed one thing. I make my whip cream from scratch. It’s way too easy not to, and I always have heavy cream and powdered sugar on hand. Here’s how to do it:

  • Pour 1 C heavy cream into a mixing bowl or bowl of a stand mixer. Add 1 TBSP powdered sugar and 1 tsp of either vanilla or almond extract. Whisk, mix with a hand mixer or whisk attachment with stand mixer until the cream thickens and forms stiff peaks. All done!

For friends that are chocoholics, you’ll find this version particularly exciting.

  • Use chocolate stuffed Oreo cookies in place of regular for extra sweetness, or use the regular ones to balance the extra sweetness of the chocolate.
  • Use chocolate fudge pudding instead of vanilla.
  • Use chocolate whip cream or, if making your own, use 2 TBSP of powdered sugar and 2 tsp of unsweetened cocoa powder.

Vegetarian Orecchiette in 18 minutes or less

Packed full of so much flavor and filler you won't even miss the meat.

So, I have to be honest and say, I’m no vegetarian. I love meat, but I also love to be healthy. For me, this means taking a few days off the meaty stuff to have something a little lighter. There are many recipes you can make that offer even the most devout carnivore a satisfying vegetarian meal. This is definitely one of those times. There are a few tricks I use to make this a fulfilling meal for my carnivorous hubby, while keeping it light for me.

I have two main tricks when I want to keep it vegetarian, but filling. The first, starch/carbs. When trying to sell people who love meat on a dish that has none, you have to make sure it’s filling. Potatoes, rices, pastas and breads are the key to this. *Remember that starches/carbs aren’t bad for you. The type and amount we eat can be, though, so starch and carb responsibly.

The second trick I have is to use veggies that somewhat mimic the consistency and, sometimes, the flavor of meat, like mushrooms or asparagus. I find that mushrooms especially are a good substitute for meat. Not only are they thick and hearty, but they can have a great flavor, and can be given great flavor. Asparagus has a dense feel when cooked just right, and using the entire stalk, and not just the tips, can add a heftiness to your meal.

There is one last trick, but that’s just getting them to eat it without complaining. Good luck with that. I often do it by telling my husband we’re going to have one vegetarian dish a week. Usually, he’ll go along with it, and feel the better for it afterward, instead of stuffed and bloated. Just in case it doesn’t work, though, I keep a bag of pre-cooked grilled chicken strips in the freezer. My husband is a soldier, and for any men who have to physically exert themselves during the day, sometimes they need that extra protein boost.

So, let’s get to the food! This Orecchiette doesn’t have many ingredients, and this dish is easy to time so you have everything done at once. This, though, is one of those recipes where it’s worth it to have everything fresh (except the pasta, which can be dry.)

Ingredients:

  • Orecchiette
  • Fresh Asparagus
  • Mushrooms, med dice or sliced
  • Butter
  • Flour
  • Cherry Tomatoes
  • Baby Spinach
  • Freshly Grated Parmesan Cheese
  • Fresh Basil
  • Salt, Pepper & olive oil (can use veggie, grape seed or canola also)

You will notice that I haven’t given any amounts to use of these ingredients. It really depends on how many people you are going to serve, and what you like. I like to have equal parts veggies to pasta. For 2 people, I use the appropriate amount of pasta according to the package. For the veggies, I used about 1 cup of each, asparagus, mushrooms and cherry tomatoes, then, 1/2 C baby spinach and a few roughly chopped basil leaves for garnish.

  1. Preheat oven to 425˚ F. Heat a pot of water to boiling.
  2. Prep Asparagus and cut into 1 inch pieces.Cut tomatoes in half. place in a mixing bowl and drizzle with oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. I like to use a coarse grind like kosher or sea salt and a large grind of pepper. Toss veggies and pour onto a sheet pan. I always line it with nonstick foil, but it’s not necessary.
  3. Drizzle butter over mushrooms. Toss and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss in a few TBSP of flour. Add to sheet pan of veggies and bake for 12 minutes in oven.
  4. Once water comes to a boil, add salt to the water. The water should be salty to the taste, but, remember, this is going to soak into the pasta. I use about 1 TBSP of kosher salt to 3-4 C water. Add the pasta and boil for about 12 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking and encourage even cooking. Test a few pieces by tasting them. This is a thick pasta, but should not have a hard, raw feel.
  5. While everything is cooking, slice your spinach into slivers (or ribbons) and set aside.
  6. When pasta is finished, drain and put in mixing bowl. Add spinach and toss. Add veggies to pasta and toss. Serve and top with grated Parmesan and basil.

For those of you who are desperate for the meaty addition, try this with grilled chicken chunks. It makes it super easy to get the pre-cooked pack of grilled chicken strips at the grocery store, and toss them into the oven as the same time as the veggies. Heat thoroughly, chop them in bite-sized pieces and toss them into the pasta. ENJOY!

Do It Yourself- Fudge Sauce

HOMEMADE FUDGE SAUCE

Do It Yourself Fudge Sauce

I have this game on my laptop called Chocolatier: Decadence By Design. (Yes, even my games often revolve around food and wine.) One aspect of the game is that you’re traveling around the world gathering ingredients so you can take them to a test kitchen and creating new products. At one point in the game, you get to make chocolate sauces. Well, it got me thinking, how would I even go about making a chocolate sauce? I’ve made berry sauces and wine sauces and gravies, but, surely, it can’t be that simple, can it?

I checked out several recipes for homemade fudge sauce, added my own twist, and came up with this super smooth, creamy and fudgey sauce that will have you making it for yourself and bottling it for your friends. It’s that quick and that easy! The best part is, you probably have everything you need in your pantry.

Try this sauce on strawberries, between cake layers, on ice cream, drizzled over doughnuts, in coffee, or in any of those, cravingly unhealthy ways we sometimes do, like with salt & vinegar chips or cheddar cheese cubes.

Let’s get started!

Ingredients:

  • 1 C Milk
  • 1 C Sugar (plain, white)
  • 1/3 C Cocoa Powder
  • 2 TBSP Flour
  • 2 TBSP Butter
  • 1 TBSP Vanilla
  • 1 TBSP Instant Coffee (gives a whole new depth to the chocolate flavor)
  • Pinch Table Salt

Mix everything, except the vanilla, together in a small pot or saucepan. Heat on med-high until boiling, stirring continually. Once it boils, turn down to medium and continue stirring until it thickens. Once it reaches that fudge sauce consistency and begins to thicken and coat a spoon, about 3-5 minutes, turn off the heat and stir in the vanilla.

All done! Use it immediately or allow it to cool slightly and store it in an airtight container in the fridge. A great thing about this sauce is that it only takes about 15 minutes, so you can whip it up easily before your craving goes away. It also makes the perfect amount so that you’re not burdened to use tons of it right away. You can use a tablespoon or two, and put it back in the fridge. It keeps really well for weeks in the fridge.

I hope you love this recipe. I know as I was making it, I kept smelling it and stirring it and watching it thicken up, and once I tasted it I knew I would never buy fudge sauce from the grocery again!

Super Simple General Tso’s Chicken

This recipe is way too easy not to try. You will make this once and it will become a staple and a simple go to. It doesn’t take a lot of time and it tastes delicious. This recipe is for 2 people. Let’s get to it!

Ingredients:

  • 1- 12 oz bottle General Tso Sauce (Find it in the international food section of the grocery)
  • 2 boneless, skinless Chicken Breasts, bite-sized cubes
  • 1/4 C Peanut Oil, or any other cooking oil (not olive oil)
  • 1 C Panko
  • 1/2 C Green Onions, sliced
  • 1/2 a Red Pepper, slice and chop into 1″ long strips
  • 2 C White Rice, cooked
  • *Optional- 2 C Broccoli, cooked (see recipe below)

Heat Oil in a pan. Sprinkle both sides of chicken pieces with salt and pepper. Toss chicken in Panko crumbs. Press the Panko into the chicken and coat it well. When the oil is hot, lay the chicken in the oil. Brown on both sides (be sure to cook through), and remove to drain.

Turn heat down to medium and make sure to remove oil from the pan. Put the chicken back in and pour entire bottle of sauce over chicken. Stir to coat chicken. Add pepper strips and green onions (and broccoli if using). Toss until heated through. Serve over over rice.

Was that easy or what?

Broccoli– I love to roast my broccoli. It produces so much more flavor than steaming or boiling. You can use either method you like. If you’re using frozen broccoli I don’t recommend roasting it. In that case, drop it into lightly salted boiling water for about 3 minutes, then drain it and add it to the chicken.

To roast it, preheat oven to 425˚F. Cut fresh broccoli into bite sized florets with short stalks. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss to coat. Place on sheet pan and make sure they’re not overlapping. Bake 10 minutes and add directly to chicken or serve on the side.  ENJOY!

Units of Measurement

 

So often I look at the ingredients in a recipe, and not the unit of measure associated with them. I find more often than not that I run into problems for one of 2 reasons. 1- the recipe is from the 90’s or before, when most things came in a can, and we weren’t so consumed with post-consumer recyclable materials. 2- I lived in Germany for a few years, and many of the recipes I collected there are in grams instead of cups. So, here’s a Cheat Sheet for some common units of measure you might see.

 

Tablespoon Conversions

  • Dash = 1/16 tsp
  • Pinch = 1/8 tsp
  • 3 tsp = 1 TBSP
  • 4 TBSP = 1/4 C
  • 5 1/3 TBSP = 1/3 C
  • 8 TBSP = 1/2 C
  • 10 2/3 TBSP = 2/3 C
  • 12 TBSP = 3/4 C
  • 16 TBSP = 1 C

Liquid Measures

  • 1 TBSP = 1/2 oz
  • 1 C = 1/2 pt = 8 oz
  • 2 C = 1 pt = 16 oz
  • 4 C = 2 pt = 1 qt = 32 oz
  • 16 C = 4 qt = 1 gal = 128 oz

Metric Conversions

Temperatures

  • 300˚ F = 150˚ C = Gas 2 (very low)
  • 325˚ F = 160˚ C = Gas 3 (low)
  • 350˚ F = 180˚ C = Gas 4 (medium)
  • 375˚ F = 190˚ C = Gas 5 (medium)
  • 400˚ F = 200˚ C = Gas 6 (hot)
  • 425˚ F = 220˚ C = Gas 7 (hot)
  • 450˚ F = 230˚ C = Gas 8 (very hot)
  • 475˚ F = 240˚ C = Gas 9 (very hot)
  • 500˚ F = 260˚ C = Gas 10 (extremely hot)
  • Broil F = Broil C = Gas Grill

Weights

  • 1/2 oz = 15 g
  • 1 oz = 25-30 g
  • 4 oz = 1/4 lb = 115-125 g
  • 8 oz = 1/2 lb = 225-250 g
  • 16 oz = 1 lb = 450-500 g
  • 1 1/4 lbs = 625 g
  • 1 1/2 lbs = 750 g
  • 2-2 1/4 lbs = 1,000g or 1 kg

US to Standard Metric

  • 1/8 tsp = 0.5 ml
  • 1/4 tsp = 1 ml
  • 1/2 tsp = 2 ml
  • 1 tsp = 5 ml
  • 1 TBSP = 15 ml
  • 2 TBSP = 25 ml
  • 1/4 C = 2 fl oz = 50 ml
  • 1/3 C = 3 fl oz = 75 ml
  • 1/2 C = 4 fl oz = 125 ml
  • 2/3 C = 5 fl oz = 150 ml
  • 3/4 C = 5 fl oz = 250 ml
  • 1 C = 8 fl oz = 250 ml
  • 2 C = 1 pt = 500 ml
  • 1 qt = 1 L

 

Bread Bowls Pt. 3- Shrimp Bisque

For this bread bowl, I used whatever they had at the grocery that was the right size and shape. This bread was much softer than the sourdough I used before, but, by using the oven technique, the toasting on the outside and inside helped firm up the bowl. It was also easier to eat the bowl afterward, using a softer bread.

Shrimp Bisque was the first bisque I ever learned how to make. I wanted to make something with seafood that I’d never made before. I started combing every recipe book I owned from Giada, Tyler, Ina, Betty Crocker, Better Homes…. Finally, I came to a book I’d never opened before. You have those. The ones you thought were a good idea at the time, but never used, or the one someone who thought they knew you bought for you, and you looked at it and said, “I would never make any of this,” or the one you flip threw and swear you’ll cook from, but never get around to that book. Well, this one came from a 1992 Campbell’s recipe book.

Any recipe book can be helpful to have around. My favorite thing about cookbooks is that they’re great inspiration to find a good idea, or an awesome recipe, then create shortcakes or tweek it to your own personal tastes. Even if you don’t find a recipe in a particular book, it can always give you ideas for creating your own unique meal. I love looking at books and saying, “I don’t have that ingredient, but, OH, I have this and it’d be great!”

The original recipe for this bisque is very good. Of course, I change it up slightly. It calls for fresh parsley, which I never use. Where I live, it’s just to hard to find some fresh herbs in our commissary. You can use dried parsley for garnishing if you’d like, but it’s good either way.

It also calls for a can of condensed chicken broth, but I use homemade broth or the regular boxed broth I normally use. It’s whatever I have on hand. I always have the bouillon cubes, and now they have small packets of condensed stock. Any of that will work.

The thing I like best about this recipe is that it has a chicken broth base, not a tomato base. I have made tomato based bisques before, but, like caramel, they frighten me. Hahaha, I don’t know why. Some things, no matter how good they are or how well they turn out, they strike a fewar in me that won’t go away. Tomato based bisques are one of these things. Maybe it’s because I’m so used to whipping up sauces, gravies and soups with beef or chicken, or even fish bases.In any event, this bisque has been a hit with anyone I’ve served it to. Even my mother-in-law, who, when I told her what was for dinner turned to me and said, “Well, I’m not really a bisque person. I’ll just try a small bowl.” She had two.

This is my take on the “Creamy Shrimp Bisque” recipe from my Campbell’s recipe book. It makes about 4 cups of bisque.

Ingredients

  • 4 TBSP Butter
  • 1 C Mushrooms, sliced (any will do)
  • 1 C Green Onions, sliced
  • 2 Cloves Garlic, minced
  • 1 lb shrimp, raw, deveined, shelled (I also remove the tails. It’s a pet peeve of mine)
  • 2-3 C Chicken Broth
  • 1/4 C Flour
  • 1/2 C Milk or light cream
  • 1/3 C Dry White Wine
  • *Optional- 2 tsp Crushed Red Pepper Flakes, more or less to your heat’s desire

Start by melting 3 TBSP of butter in a medium pot. Once melted, add mushrooms, 1/2 C of the green onions, *crushed red pepper flakes and garlic and cook on med/med-low until they begin to soften. You don’t want the onions or garlic to brown because it changes the flavor and you’re going for a fresh and light taste to this bisque.

Once the veggies have softened, add the chicken broth and shrimp and bring the pot to a boil. It doesn’t take long for shrimp to cook, so keep an eye on it. Your pot and it’s contents are already hot, so it will come to a boil quickly. (I mentioned earlier that I take the tails off my shrimp. It’s easiest to do this if you let the frozen shrimp sit in cold water for about 20 minutes, or let them sit on the counter for about 30-40 minutes. They will still be cold, but this will remove any ice and make things easier. Grab the body of the shrimp in one hand and gently tug. With the other hand, grip the very bottom of the tail above the two tiny fins at the end. Pinch and pull in the opposite direction of the body. The tail should slide right off. It just annoys me to have dishes hampered by having to stop and separate the tail when you’re trying to enjoy a dish.)

While your shrimp cook, combine the flour and cream into a mixing bowl and whisk until combined. Pour directly into your pot as soon as your shrimp begins boiling and stir. This thickens your bisque. Bring it back up to a boil, then, reduce it to a simmer.

Add the wine, last TBSP of butter and other 1/4 C of green onions. Stir until the bisque is heated through. Remove from heat and serve, garnishing with the remaining 1/4 C green onions.

I also like to garnish with some grated Parmesan cheese and crushed red pepper flakes (if I didn’t put many in already.) You can also use the original recipe’s parsley. This recipe is perfect as a cold winter day warmer, or a fresh, clean, summer day seafood starter or quick, light lunch. Either way, the key to this recipe is to have everything chopped or sliced or poured into a prep dish, so all you have to do is dump it into the pot when the time comes. It truly makes this soup a 15 minute or less meal.

Try it with fresh jumbo shrimp and garnish with fresh herbs.

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Chocolate Caramel Cookie Cups

These little treats are incredibly easy and require few ingredients. I will say that they take a little time, but it’s only because they have to cool completely before you can move on. So, let’s get started!

Ingredients:

  • Pre-made Cookie Dough (Something without chips is easiest, but I’ve used chocolate chips in this one. If you want to make your own dough you can, just be sure to chill it a bit so it’s not too sticky and easier to work with. )
  • 1/2 C Melting Caramels (you can use the squares, but the bits don’t have to be unwrapped)
  • 1/2 C Heavy Cream
  • *Optional- 1/2 C Chocolate Pieces (use chips or pieces like Dove, anything you can melt)
  • Special Equipment: Mini muffin pan or a silicone candy sheet. Make sure whatever you use s heat resistant.

Pre-heat the oven to 350˚ F. If you need to spray the sides of your pan, do so, but if you’re using silicone, don’t.

Roll cookie dough into a ball. Drop it into the center of the cup and push your finger in the middle. Make sure there is a whole in the middle, and the sides are fairly even. The sides should not be higher than the cup, but flush or slightly under is perfect.

Bake these for about 8 minutes. They should not be done all the way when you pull them out.

 

Once you pull them out, use the bottom of a wooden spoon or a metal spoon like in the picture, and just tap down the middle. Be gentle. You’ll notice that as soon as you touch most of the middles, they instantly deflate. Carefully tap down the inside and push the sides back a bit, creating your bowl.Put them back in the oven for another 5 minutes, until the tops are just barely brown.

 

Once you pull them out, you will notice that some of the holes may have filled in again. No problem. Use your spoon and push them back down. If you notice they are still tender in the middle, that’s fine. They will firm as they cool. If they are spongy and airy and wet, put them back in for another few minutes.

At this point, they need to cool for at least 30 minutes before you remove them from the pan. They have to completely firm up. If you want to speed up this process, you can put them in the fridge or freezer. Just make sure you have the cup area hollowed out, because once they are hard, that’s the shape they will hold.

While you’re waiting for the cookie cups to cool, let’s move on to the caramel.  don’t care how many times I’ve made these, this is the part that frightens me the most. Actually, heating or making caramel in general scares the crap out of me. I saw my grandmother make it, and even helped her make it, growing up. I have years of experience helping her make caramel for popcorn balls, toffees, toppings, etc. Doesn’t matter. I still usually burn it and I’m still always scared. I have to admit, though, this recipe for caramel sauce scares me the least. 1- the caramel is already made! All you have to do is melt it. 2- you don’t need a thermometer, or have to put it in a cup of cold water to see if it’s ready (the super old school method.) You just look at it. When it’s melted, it’s done. Simple!

So, we put our cream and caramels in a small pot. Turn the heat to medium, and don’t you dare walk away. Stir the mixture continuously and gently until the caramel is completely melted and combined with the cream. The awesome thing about adding the cream is that once the caramel cools in the cups, it will remain chewy.

Now that our caramel is finished, let’s check on our cookie cups. First, let’s check the tin. Is it cool? Good, we’re off to the right start. If you’re using a silicone pan, push evenly on the bottom to remove the cups without breaking them. The smaller your cups the easier this is, but don’t get frustrated if you break some. I have at least 2 or 3 broken ones in every batch. If it needs longer to cool, LET IT! This is probably the most important part in making sure they don’t crumble. If they keep breaking because they’re too thin, well, now you know. No biggie. If you’re using a metal tin, gently slide an offset metal spatula or knife around between the cup and the tin. I find it’s best to place a cooling rack or clean, plastic cutting board on top and gently flip them over. Lay them on the counter and slowly remove the tin. If you used non-stick spray at the beginning, they should slide right out. You can GENTLY tap the bottoms to encourage them as well.

With our cups completely cooled and removed, we can now fill them with caramel. Now, if that last section took you as long to do as it took me to write, your caramel has probably stiffened a bit. That’s ok. Just Turn the burner on high for about a minute, again, stirring constantly, and melt it back down. Remove it from the heat and continue stirring it to cool t down just a bit. (PLEASE REMEMBER THAT CARAMEL IS HOT, AND WILL BURN YOU SEVERELY IF IT’S TOO HOT!) Luckily, this caramel cools enough to handle pretty quickly. Now, hold your cookie cup over the pot, and with a small metal spoon, take a spoonful of caramel and fill the cup. Simple. Keep going until they’re all filled. How easy was that.

Ta-Dah!!! How good are those? You know you already tried one. So yummy. Now, we can leave them like this, or we can go one step further.

One step further it is! Melt your chocolate in the microwave, the same way we did it for the Chocolate Croissants (I’ll give you a moment to slip over to that, remind yourself and slip back.) Now, just like we did there, drizzle it over the top to make cute little drizzly, see-I-worked-extra-hard drizzle designs. Or, you can place some chocolate chips or small pieces on top of your cups. Preheat your oven to its lowest setting, or use the low broil setting. Place the cups on a cookie sheet and set them in the oven until the chips soften, about 1-3 minutes, depending on the method. If you are using the broiler, keep a close watch on your desserts. Just because the chips maintain their shape, it doesn’t mean they haven’t softened. Pull them out and use the back of a spoon or an offset spatula to smooth the softened chocolate over the top. Eat them immediately or save them for later. These are still wonderful a few days from now, so you can definitely make them ahead and store them in an airtight container. Enjoy these wonderful little treats. For more variations, use different chips like peanut butter or butterscotch. Or, for a hidden surprise, put the chips at the bottom before pouring in the caramel. As always, Happy Baking!

 

Bread Bowls Pt. 2- Chicken Bisque with Mushrooms and Spinach

Now that we have made a bread bowl, what do we put in it? Many soups and stews are perfect for your bread bowls. Any stew is perfect for this vessel, but I have my favorites.I prefer a nice creamy bisque. Here are two of my favorite fillings for my bread bowls.

The first is one I came up with the other night. My husband wanted something with chicken, and I had two loaves of bread I needed to use. I really wanted something I could put in a bread bowl. I also had mushrooms I needed to use, and I wanted to find some way to get some veggies into it, without making chicken and broccoli soup.

At its most basic, a bisque is a creamy soup. It’s French in origin, and is usually made from fish or shellfish, meat, or pureed veggies. I usually start mine all the same way, with a gravy base. Here’s how it’s done:

Ingredients:
2 Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts (Use 1 per person)
2 TBSP Olive Oil
8 TBSP Butter
1/2 C + 1 TBSP Flour
4-6 C Chicken Broth
2 TBSP Cream or Milk
1/2 C Mushrooms, chopped
1 1/2 C Baby Spinach, chiffonade cut
Salt and Pepper to taste
Green Onions for garnish

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan. Slice both chicken breasts as if to butterfly them, but cut them completely in half. Salt and pepper both sides of the 4 pieces. Place chicken in the saucepan. Once brown, flip and allow the other side to brown. Remove and set aside.

Melt 4 TBSP of butter in the same saucepan, whisking any brown bits off the bottom. Add flour and whisk until combined. Cook for about a minute to remove the raw flour taste. Slowly whisk in the chicken broth, beginning with 2 cups and slowly adding more until the desired consistency is reached. Bring to a boil, then, reduce to a simmer. Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir in cream and 2 TBSP butter to finish.

In a small pan, heat 2 TBSP butter until melted. Once hot, toss in mushrooms and sprinkle a TBSP of flour on top. Stir to coat and allow mushrooms to brown. Add to bisque.

Chop chicken in bite size pieces and add to bisque. Add spinach and stir gently. Allow to simmer for 5 minutes and serve. Top with chopped green onions.