Creamy Chicken and Wild Rice Soup

Our weather has been very grey, wet, and dreary lately. Homemade soup always seems to take the edge off a soggy day. The only other chicken and rice soup I’ve tried came from a can, and I didn’t love it. The rice is always so mushy. This homemade version is a big improvement. It’s hot, hearty, thick, and filling. The recipe makes quite a bit, so I froze the rest. This is guaranteed to hit the spot on days we’re feeling under the weather.

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Creamy Chicken and Wild Rice Soup
(Original recipe: Food and Wine)

4 tablespoons butter
3 celery ribs, diced
2 carrots, diced
1 medium onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme, finely chopped
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup wild rice (I really like Lundberg Farms)
2 quarts chicken stock
2 cups water
4 cups bite-sized pieces of roasted chicken
1 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large saucepan, melt the butter. Saute the celery, carrots, onion, garlic, thyme, and a generous pinch of salt and pepper over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables just start to soften.
Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables and cook, stirring, until evenly coated and lightly browned, about 3 minutes.
Add the wild rice to the saucepan and gradually stir in the stock and water.
Bring to a boil, then simmer over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes.
Add the cooked chicken and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the wild rice is tender, 10 to 15 minutes longer.
Stir in the cream and season with salt and pepper.
Ladle the soup into bowls and serve.

 

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Bûche de Noël

Every Christmas, I challenge myself to at least one cooking/baking challenge. This year, I chose a Bûche de Noël, otherwise known as a Yule Log. It is a traditional French roulade (or jelly roll cake) filled with fruit and/or cream, covered in chocolate and decorated to look like a log. The most well-known in America is probably that of Julia Child, complete with meringue mushrooms.

After reading through many recipes, including Julia’s, I decided on the vanilla sponge cake and cream cheese filling from Natasha’s Kitchen, with the addition of strawberry jam. As this was my first attempt at a jelly roll, I allowed myself a few shortcuts, namely pre-made strawberry jam and chocolate frosting.

I gathered all my tips – including How to Cook by Julia Child and this helpful video from Sophia at My Great Challenge – and went for it. I used the damp towel trick for rolling the cake and used the fridge to cool it off whenever it got too warm to work with. I skipped the meringue mushrooms, opting instead for fresh cranberries and leaves for a holly decoration on top.

I was pleased enough with the exterior but didn’t know what to expect of the inside until we cut into it after Christmas dinner. Imagine my shock to find an almost-perfect – and rather delicious – spiral. I’m pretty darn proud of this first attempt! I’ll definitely try again next Christmas, only this time, I’ll make the fruit filling and chocolate ganache from scratch.

Bûche de Noël

Sponge cake:
6 large eggs, room temp
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp real vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour

Preheat Oven to 400˚F. Line 15×21″ baking sheet with parchment.
In the bowl of your mixer, beat 6 eggs with whisk attachment on high speed 1 minute. With mixer on, gradually add 2/3 cup sugar and continue beating on high 5 minutes. Mixture will be thick and fluffy (very important since you’re relying on egg volume for the cake to rise).
Sift 1 cup flour in thirds into batter, folding with a spatula between each addition and scraping the bowl to ensure you don’t have pockets of flour hiding at the bottom. Drizzle in 1/2 tsp vanilla and gently mix just until blended (do not over-mix or you will deflate the batter). Spread batter into prepared baking pan and bake right away at 400˚F approximately 12-14 minutes or until top is golden.
Remove from the oven and quickly loosen the edges with a thin spatula. Right away remove it from the baking sheet, flipping the top over onto a damp towel. Remove the parchment paper from the back and gently roll cake into a log with the towel, starting from the narrow end. Leave the cake tightly wrapped in the towel to cool on the counter until room temp.


For the cream cheese filling:
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream, very cold
8 oz pkg cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar

Additional ingredients:
Fruit spread, 4-6 ounces (I used strawberry jam)
Chocolate frosting, 1 can

While the cake is cooling, combine all ingredients to make the cream cheese filling.
When the cake has cooled, unroll and gently spread a thin layer of fruit spread over the entire cake, followed by a layer of cream cheese filling. Re-roll the cake tightly, making sure the seam is on the bottom. Place it in the refrigerator to cool completely.
Once cooled, trim the ends of the cake. Frost it with chocolate frosting, using the back of the knife or the tines of a fork to make the cake look like a log. The cake can be kept in the fridge in plastic wrap for up to 4 days, if needed. Before serving, sift powdered cocoa around the bottom to look like dirt, and dust confectioner’s sugar on top to look like snow.

Thanksgiving 2017

An overdue handful of shots from this year’s Thanksgiving:

Pumpkin pie A

Making pumpkin pie

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Experimenting with leaf cutters and a braided crust

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Simple tablescape with menus and name cards created on PicMonkey

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This year’s 16 lb herb turkey

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A new side this year: pear, Roquefort, and candied pecan salad

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Beverage station: coffee, apple cider, tea, cocoa

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Cheese, fruit, and nut board; served alongside creamy pumpkin soup

Hearty Guinness Beef Stew

Several nights ago, while watching a Chopped competitor attempt beef stew in 30 minutes, my usually-apathetic husband turned to me and asked if I would make “a better beef stew than that” for dinner this week. So I dug up a recipe I’d previously used for St. Patrick’s Day and modified it. Despite not being huge beer drinkers in our house, a dark stout like Guinness adds a delicious depth of flavor to beef stew. If you’re in the mood for something thick that will stick to your bones as winter settles in, try this stew.

NOTE: I was unable to find boneless chuck, so I went with a beef/lamb stew mix I found at Trader Joes instead, and it worked beautifully!

TIP: The stew will already be rather salty from the bacon and its fat. I recommend tasting before adding additional salt to the dish.

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Hearty Guinness Beef Stew
(Original recipe: Williams Sonoma)

3 lbs. boneless beef chuck, cut into 1-1/2 inch cubes
6 thick slices applewood-smoked bacon, chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 yellow onion, chopped
4 carrots, chopped
4 stalks celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 TBSP unsalted butter
6 TBSP all-purpose flour
1-14 oz bottle of Guinness
2 3/4 cups beef broth
2 TBSP tomato paste
1 TBSP minced fresh thyme
1 TBSP minced fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf
1 1/4 lbs red potatoes

Position a rack in the lower third of an oven and preheat to 325°F.
In a large Dutch oven, cook the bacon over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the bacon is crisp and browned. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels to drain and set aside. Pour the fat into a heatproof bowl.
Return 2 TBSP of the fat to the pot and cook the beef, stirring occasionally, until browned on all sides. If necessary, cook the meat in batches to avoid overcrowding. Transfer the beef to a plate.
Turn the heat down to medium. Add the onion, carrots, celery and garlic and cook in the remaining fat and meat drippings, stirring occasionally, until the onion softens.
Stir in the butter and let it melt. Sprinkle with the flour and stir well. Gradually stir in the stock, and then stir in the tomato paste, the thyme, rosemary and bay leaf. Return the beef and bacon to the pot and bring to a boil. Cover, place in the oven, and cook for 90 minutes.
Cut the unpeeled potatoes into 1-inch cubes, add them to the pot, stir, re-cover and continue cooking until both the meat and potatoes are tender, about 45 minutes more. Season the stew with salt and pepper to taste.

Apple crisp cookie cups

Apple crisp cookies A

It’s officially autumn, which means it’s baking season around here! ((squeal of delight))

I knew I wanted to make something with apples. Since my husband loves apple crisp and cookies, I figured I couldn’t go wrong with this Pinterest recipe. The base cookie is slightly different than the oatmeal cookies I’m accustomed to, but that’s not a bad thing. It’s perfectly sweet and strong against the apples. I also recommend using a mixture of honeycrisp and Granny Smiths for the filling.

Tip: While you need to press a well into each cookie immediately out of the oven, do so in the muffin tin and keep them there until they’re fully cooled. Otherwise, the sides will break.

Apple crisp cookies D

Apple crisp cookie cups
(Original recipe: Delish)

1 1/4 c. brown sugar (divided)
3/4 c. granulated sugar (divided)
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened (plus more for cooking apples)
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 3/4 c. old fashioned oats
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
3 large or 6 small apples, peeled, cored and finely chopped
2 tsp. cornstarch
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
In a large mixing bowl, combine butter, 1/2 cup granulated sugar and 1 cup brown sugar. Beat with mixer until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla and mix until evenly combined. Add flour, oats, baking powder, cinnamon and salt, and stir until just combined.
Cover 2 regular-sized muffin tins with butter. Using a medium ice cream scoop, scoop dough into muffin tins, press down with a spoon to create cups. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the cookie cups are golden brown and set. (Don’t worry if the cookie cup centers rise.)
While the cookies are still warm, make the cups. Spray the bottom of a small shot glass with cooking spray and press it down into the center of each cookie to create cups. Let cool, then transfer to wire cooling racks.
Meanwhile, melt about 2 tablespoons butter in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add apples and sauté until beginning to soften. Add the remaining sugars, nutmeg, cinnamon and cornstarch and cook until soft and caramelized.
Spoon the apple filling into the cups. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Apple crisp cookies BApple crisp cookies C

Rosemary Chicken, Bacon, & Avocado Salad

I’ve never been a huge fan of rosemary, but the photos of the original post were just so mouthwatering, I had to try it. I’m so glad I did, because this is delicious! I’ll be adding not just the full salad recipe to my regular rotation, but also the vinaigrette and most especially, the method of cooking the chicken. And yes, I added garlic. Because garlic.

Tips: Make sure you use fresh rosemary and take the time to mince it finely; it better distributes the oil and makes a killer sauce. And make sure the chicken gets that nice brown crust on it; you’ll be licking the drippings, I promise you!

Rosemary chicken salad

Rosemary Chicken, Bacon, and Avocado Salad
(Original recipe: How Sweet Eats)

4 slices thick-cut bacon
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, thinly sliced
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, finely minced
1 tsp garlic powder
6 cups spring greens
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1 large avocado, thinly sliced

Rosemary Vinaigrette:
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, minced
salt and pepper to taste

Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add the bacon. Cook until it’s crispy and the fat is rendered. Remove the bacon and place it on a paper towel to drain any excess grease. Chop into large chunks once cooled.

Season the chicken with the rosemary, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. In the same skillet, over medium-high heat, add the chicken and cook until golden and crisp on both sides, about 5 to 6 minutes per side. Remove the chicken and let it rest a few minutes.

While the chicken rests, make the vinaigrette: whisk together the mustard, oil, and vinegar. Whisk in the rosemary and a pinch of salt and pepper.

Toss the greens with the tomatoes and some of the vinaigrette. Top with the sliced chicken, the bacon, and the avocado. Finish with another tiny drizzle of the vinaigrette.

Tomato Basil Parmesan Bisque

One of my husband’s favorite meals is – and always will be – simple, classic grilled cheese and tomato soup. It was one of the first meals I wanted to master when we began cutting out preservatives. I found a base tomato soup recipe years ago and have been tweaking it ever since. This is the result; a thick, rich bisque, loaded with basil. Because basil.

One of the shortcuts I take without shame is using canned tomatoes. Removing tomato skins can be frustrating and not always worth the effort, considering canned San Marzano tomatoes from Italy have lower acidity. I recommend the consistency and quality of the Cento brand, available at most grocery stores.

This recipe freezes well. I frequently double it, serve two servings for dinner, and freeze the six remaining quarts as individual servings for later, making it just as easy to grab as a can of Campbells.

Tomato basil bisque

Tomato basil Parmesan bisque

2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 – 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes
1 – 14 oz can of whole tomatoes in tomato juice
2 cups of chicken stock
1 TBSP dried basil
1 tsp of salt
1 tsp of sugar
1/2 tsp of fresh ground black pepper
1/3 cup of heavy cream
1/4 cup fresh basil, julienned
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated

Combine garlic, tomatoes, chickens stock, dried basil, salt, pepper, and sugar in a medium sauce pan. (Add the whole tomatoes one at a time, squeezing each into the pan to break them up.)
Simmer the soup on a medium heat for 20 minutes.
Pull off the heat. Puree soup with an immersion blender until all the tomato chunks have become smooth. Stir in heavy cream and julienned fresh basil.
Return sauce pan to the stove. Simmer until heated through.
Stir in Parmesan cheese and adjust salt and pepper to taste before serving.

(Note: if any of your tomato-based dishes taste overly bitter – from marinara sauce to salsa – it’s likely the acidity level of your tomatoes. Try adding a little sugar to counter it.)

Copycat Denny’s Super Birds

I grew up with many trips to the American diner, Denny’s. Their grilled turkey and bacon sandwich called the Super Bird was one of my favorite late night meals throughout high school. While I haven’t frequented a Denny’s in quite some time, I found an excellent copycat recipe for those nights I’m madly craving diner food.

These are especially good with oven fries. If you’re looking to achieve that very particular Denny’s taste, the order in which you stack the elements of this sandwich actually matters. Whenever I randomly throw this together, it doesn’t taste right, so follow the recipe: bread, cheese, turkey, bacon, tomato, bread.

These are sublime as a midnight snack, late at night or early morning, when you’re starving after a long day, right before you pass out in bed. For the best taste, indulge in the butter and salt. These are totally worth the extra squats the next morning.

Super Bird C

Copycat Denny’s Super Bird
(Original recipe: Food.com)

3 -4 slices deli turkey
2 slices bacon
2 slices swiss cheese
2-3 slices beefsteak tomatoes
2 slices sourdough bread
Butter, softened

Cook bacon and set aside.
Heat some butter in non-stick pan over medium heat. Grill the turkey breast in a stack until the meat is golden brown on both sides. Remove and set aside.
Butter bread lightly on one side of each slice, Place one piece in the hot pan, butter-side down.
Place a slice of Swiss cheese on unbuttered side, put turkey on Swiss cheese, sprinkle lightly with salt.
Place bacon strips on turkey. Stack tomato on top of bacon. Top off with remaining sourdough slice, unbuttered side toward tomatoes.
When golden brown, flip entire sandwich.
After 2 minutes, remove from heat. Serve sliced into 3 equal size pieces.

Super Bird B

The best Beef Stroganoff I’ve ever had

I’ve long searched for an exceptional Beef Stroganoff recipe that does not use canned soup. There are countless options floating around the internet, and I’ve tried most of them. They have all disappointed. They weren’t bad, but they weren’t good, either.

And then, I found Vikalinka. She’s Russian, so she knows what she’s talking about. I gave her traditional recipe a shot, and boy howdy, this stuff is good. I couldn’t even stop myself from licking the spoons and skillet while washing the dishes after dinner. Even my hard-to-impress husband asked how soon I could make this again.

The secret ingredient is brandy. If you know as little about brandy as I did before this endeavor, I’ll share the advice I was given: use a VS (very special) cognac (type of brandy), and invest in a decent brand. I went with Courvoisier VS Cognac; it costs about $20 USD at my local grocery store. It worked beautifully; the flavor of this sauce is phenomenal.

Interestingly, Russians don’t thicken their stroganoff and always serve the thin sauce over mashed potatoes. However, since I’m an American raised on Hamburger Helper, I thickened the sauce with cornstarch and served it over egg noodles. It was what I was craving, and it worked perfectly.

TIPS: Get your pan screaming hot before searing the steak; you want those dark brown bits! Don’t skimp on the salt; the dish needs it to balance the sour cream. Oh, and don’t skip the bay leaf or mustard. They make a difference!

Beef stroganoff

Beef Stroganoff
(Original recipe: Vikalinka)

2 TBSP butter
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
8 oz crimini mushrooms, sliced
1 lb beef tenderloin, cut in strips
1/4 cup brandy
1/2 cup beef stock
1 bay leaf
1 tsp whole grain mustard
1 cup sour cream
1 TBSP fresh chives, chopped
a dash of parsley
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat butter in a heavy skillet; cook onions and mushrooms over medium-low heat until soft. Remove and set aside.
Turn heat up to high; add steak strips to the same skillet and quickly fry over high heat. Make sure the pan is screaming hot; you want to sear the steak.
Add brandy; deglaze the pan, scraping up all the brown bits of flavor on the bottom. Simmer until alcohol burns off.
Add stock, mustard, bay leaf, salt and pepper. Return mushrooms and onions to the pan; cook until everything is heated through and bubbling.
Stir in sour cream, chives, and parsley.
(If you wish to thicken the sauce, add in a slurry of 1 TBSP cornstarch and 1 TBSP water at this point. Fold it into the boiling sauce, stirring as it thickens.)
Remove the bay leaf; serve over egg noodles or mashed potatoes.