Friday, December 28, 2012

Creamy Tomato Soup

The inspiration for this tasty soup came from vodka pasta sauce. It combines canned tomatoes, basil, and oregano with a splash of vodka and cream. (Fresh herbs would be delicious, but I only had dried ones on hand.) A little sherry rounds out the flavors and makes the soup decadent. We enjoyed ours with cheese toast—the perfect meal for a cold, rainy night!

Creamy Tomato Soup
1 onion, chopped
Olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp. dried basil
2 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
Salt and black pepper
1/4 cup vodka
2 (14.5-oz.) cans diced tomatoes
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup whipping cream
2 Tbsp. dry sherry

1. Sauté onion in hot oil until onion is tender. Add in garlic, and cook 1 minute. Stir in basil and next 2 ingredients. Season with salt and black pepper. Stir in vodka, and cook 2 minutes. Stir in tomatoes and next 2 ingredients. Use immersion blender to puree soup until desired consistency. Stir in sherry, and cook until thoroughly heated.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Cranberry-Oat Bars

Most Sundays, we share a potluck lunch with our church family. Sometimes our meal has a theme, but not always. This week, my friend Kylie challenged us to make a recipe that we had never tried before. These bar cookies were one of my contributions. The original recipe came from Cook’s Illustrated Christmas Cookies magazine. I made a few tweaks (of course) and will definitely add these to my repertoire. These make a delicious dessert and would be great for breakfast as well. Enjoy!

Cranberry-Oat Bars
1 (12-oz.) bag fresh cranberries
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup orange juice
2 Tbsp. orange liqueur
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 egg
2 cup oats
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup chopped pecans

1. Place cranberries and next 3 ingredients in a small saucepan; bring to a boil. Cook, stirring often, until cranberries begin to soften and mixture thickens. Stir in dried cranberries, and cook 1 more minute. Allow mixture to cool slightly.
2. Beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in vanilla and egg. Combine oats and next 3 ingredients; gradually beat into butter mixture until combined. Press two-thirds of oat mixture into bottom of a lightly greased aluminum foil-lined 13- x 9-inch baking pan. Spread cranberry mixture over top. Combine remaining oat mixture with chopped pecans. Crumble mixture over top of cranberry mixture.
3. Bake at 40 minutes or until done. Cool in pan two hours. Remove from pan by lifting edges of foil, and cut into squares.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Different Chocolate-Chip Cookies

These cookies are flatter and chewier than my usual recipe, hence the name. Carter, Caden, Iz, and I made this variation as well as these during our day of baking. Because the cookies spread when baked, I don’t think they are very pretty, but all that matters is that they taste good. I don’t think this will replace my favorite cookie. However we’ll definitely have them again. Enjoy!

Different Chocolate-Chip Cookies
1 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 large eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 package semisweet chocolate chips

1. Beat butter and next 3 ingredients with an electric mixer until creamy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating just until blended after each addition. Combine flour and next 2 ingredients. Gradually add to butter mixture; stir in chocolate chips. Drop dough by heaping tablespoonfuls onto parchment paper-lined baking sheets.
2. Bake at 350° for 12 minutes or until done. Remove from oven, and cool 10 minutes. Remove from pans, and cool completely.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Peppermint Bark Cookies

Nothing tastes like Christmas to me quite like peppermint bark. This simple-to-make candy is sweet, creamy, crunchy, and minty. My friends Carter, Caden, and Isabel spent the day with me, and we did a lot of cooking. Peppermint bark was on our to-do list—these kids love chocolate and peppermint! I sent half of it home with them but needed a plan for what was left. I decided to use my basic cookie recipe and add chopped bits of bark. The results are just right: a slightly salty-and-sweet cookie with the minty chocolate bits. My taste testers give this experiment two thumbs’ up. I don’t think I will wait until next Christmas to make more!

Peppermint Bark Cookies
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 cups chopped peppermint bark

1. Beat butter and sugars with an electric mixer until creamy. Add in eggs, 1 at a time, beating until blended after each addition. Beat in vanilla.
2. Combine flour and next 3 ingredients in a bowl. Gradually add to butter mixture; beat until combined. Stir in chopped peppermint bark.
3. Bake at 350° for 10 to 12 minutes.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Updated Blue Cheese Mac and Cheese

This is a variation on our favorite pasta dish. Pecans may sound like a strange addition, but they balance the richness of the blue cheese and bacon. Absolutely delicious!
4 bacon slices, chopped
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups milk
4 oz. sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded
2 oz. crumbled gorgonzola cheese
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Salt and pepper
8 oz. cooked pasta
1 cup toasted chopped pecans

1. Cook bacon until crisp; drain. Wipe pan clean, and melt butter. Sprinkle in flour, and cook, whisking constantly, 1 minute. Gradually whisk in milk; cook, whisking often, until mixture is thickened. Stir in cheeses and nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in pasta and bacon. Pour mixture into a baking dish. Sprinkle chopped pecans over top.
2. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Pork-and-Red Bean Stew

The inspiration for this recipe came from that Louisiana classic—red beans and rice. The consistency of my dish is similar to a stew and I used shredded pork as well as sausage. Instead of rice, I served the dish over bulghur (just stir desired amount into an equal amount of boiling water; cover and let stand 5 minutes). Very hearty and tasty!

Pork-and-Red Bean Stew
1 lb. dried red kidney beans, rinsed and sorted
2 cups shredded pork
1 lb. smoked sausage (I use Conecuh brand.)
1 onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. chile powder
1 tsp. black pepper
2 tsp. cumin

1. Place beans in a Dutch oven, and cover with 1 inch of water. Bring to a boil, and cook for 2 minutes. Remove from heat, cover, and let stand 1 hour. Drain beans, and return beans to Dutch oven.
2. Cover beans with 2 inches of water, and bring beans to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer, and cover. Cook, stirring occasionally, 2 hours.
3. Stir in pork and next 4 ingredients. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for 1 more hour. Stir in salt and remaining ingredients, and cook for 30 more minutes. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Toffee Blondies

This is a twist on my original recipe.
1 1/2 cups butter, softened
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs
1 Tbsp. milk
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. salt
1 bag semisweet or milk chocolate chips
4 Heath bars, coarsely chopped

1. Beat butter and next 2 ingredients until light and fluffy. Add in eggs, 1 at a time, beating just until blended after each addition. Add in milk, vanilla, and almond extract. Combine flour and salt; gradually add flour mixture to butter mixture. Add in chocolate chips. Pour batter into a lightly greased 13- x 9-inch pan. Sprinkle chopped Heath bars over top of batter.
2. Bake at 350° for 40 minutes or until done.