December 30, 2011

Tortilla Soup

Many many years ago....  When I was stilling working for the bank, in downtown St. Paul, I had my choice of so many places to lunch at.  We would take the skyway system to our choice of the day and get whatever flavor or food group it was we were craving.  One day when out on our daily lunch hunt, my friend Nancy and I, went to a sub joint in the Depot building.  This particular place always had homemade soups, and on this day they were serving Tortilla Soup.  I had never had this kind of soup, so of course I ordered it. It was just amazing, and I was in love.  The flavor was like no soup I had ever had.  It was just the perfect Mexican flavorings and veggies all pulled together in one little bowl. YUM!

And then ....this sub place closed. I really was just about devastated. From then on, any time I went to a restaurant, diner or deli that was serving Tortilla Soup, I had to order it. None of the soups I tried have ever compared.  I have tried cooking various recipes myself, but just couldn't find that flavor combination that rocked my taste buds like that first bowl.  Until now that is!! I was so excited when I read the recipe for Tortilla Soup that Sweet Pea's Kitchen had on her blog.  It sounded amazing just reading it!  

Like everything else this month, it was complicated getting ready to make it.  Can't keep the vehicle running to get to the store.  Can't go shopping with all the ice, you know... one thing after another.  Well, finally all ingredients in hand, I made the soup, and it was delicious. The right balance of spices, and I really think the cilantro is what pulled it together with that amazing flavor combination! Next time, I will save just a little bit of Cilantro for some garnish.

Tortilla Soup 

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
2 1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
2 (10.5 ounce) cans chicken broth
1 cup whole corn kernels
1 cup white corn (I used Green Giant Chipotle White Corn)
1 (4 ounce) can chopped green chile peppers
1 (15 ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
2-3 boneless chicken breast halves
Tortilla chips, crushed

1 avocado, sliced
Shredded Cheese (Cheddar or Colby)
Green onions, chopped
Cilantro, chopped
Sour Cream (I topped with Greek Yogurt)

Heat oil in a medium stock pot over medium heat. Saute onion and garlic in until soft, about 5-7 minutes. Stir in chili powder, cumin, salt, pepper, tomatoes, broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes.

Stir in corn, hominy, chiles, beans, cilantro, and chicken. Simmer for 30 minutes. Remove chicken and shred. Return to pot and continue to simmer for an additional 30 minutes.

Ladle soup into individual bowls and top with crushed tortilla chips, avocado slices, cheese, green onion, cilantro and a dollop of sour cream.

Favorite Things Friday

I love the Blue Ridge Mountains.  They are absolutely breath taking.  I have only seen such a small area of them, but can say that I have had the pleasure of driving part of the Blue Ridge Parkway, and that is a drive I will never forget.  Given my choice of where to vacation, anywhere in the mountain range is going to be my first choice of destinations.  I would so love to pick up where I left off on the Parkway, and travel further on it.  

Some years ago, when I was relocating to this "Coulee Region", I had to laugh when I saw some of the hills here lovingly referred to as the Lil' Smokies.  These hills are a miniaturized version of the impressive Blue Ridge Mtns. Guess that is one of the reasons that I love this region.

A couple years ago, I found photographer Dave Allen on Facebook.  He is, by far, my favorite photographer from the Blue Ridge area.  I love his work, and am happy to say that besides having his calendars for a couple years, I even own one of his prints. 

Check out his website and take a look at his amazing work!

December 23, 2011

Favorite Things Friday - 12/23

It is the Eve before Christmas Eve, and we are still enjoying some of my favorite garden vegetables.  Having veggies from our own garden is definitely a favorite thing of mine!  It was such a fun year growing my own garden veggies and herbs.  It was a lot of work, and we almost lost it two times in storms, and had to replant a lot of things, but it was soooo worth the work!  

(Yummy Yukon Golds)

We are nearing the end of our potatoes, onions and squash.  Thankfully, I froze potatoes and onions when I knew we had plenty of fresh to last a couple months. I am already looking forward to getting the garden going next year and expanding on what I did this year.  

(Delicata Squash)

(Candy Cane Onions)

December 17, 2011

Gingerbread Cookie Success!!

I have never before made any sort of Gingerbread or Molasses cookies, mainly cuz I never have molasses in the house.  The last big grocery shopping trip we made, I saw the molasses on the shelf and grabbed it, just in case I was feelin' crazy this Christmas baking season.  I thought about making gingerbread cookies the other night, but wasn't sure if I should be so daring.... this week was kinda challenging for me, did I need one more challenge?  All the other new recipes I tried had been disappointing.  It took 5, yes 5, days to get our Christmas tree decorated, and we apparently can only have decorations from thigh high or above.  If we go any lower, our insane "crack kittie" Bobbie, will attack.  I honestly didn't expect the tree to be standing the morning after decorating....  It was though, yeay!!!  
What the heck, let's give the cookies a shot.  

I decided to use King Arthur's recipe.  I have been hearing so many people rave about King Arthur recipe's and products.  Why not try it.  Oh my gosh...  LOVE King Arthur.  The recipe was a success.  Another cool thing about the King Arthur website is that for this recipe, they have a blog.  When I was making the cookies, I started to panic as the dough was like no other dough I have run into for a cookie.  That's when I saw that they had a blog, so I flipped over there and found that I was doing just fine!  There is a just a huge reason for refrigerating the dough, (it needs to chill and to set).  On day two, rolled and baked.  Day three decorated.  Not a stellar decorating job, but they are tasty and kinda cute! I rolled mine a little thicker so they are a soft gingerbread, I really liked that, instead of the thin crisp cookie

Now, I need to try King Arthur baking products now and see if they are as amazing as the recipes!

King Arthur Ginger Bread Cookies

3/4 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
3/4 cup molasses
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon allspice or cloves
1 large egg
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3 1/2 cups flour

In a saucepan set over low heat, or in the microwave, melt butter, then stir in brown sugar, molasses, salt, and spices. Transfer the mixture to a medium-sized mixing bowl, let it cool to lukewarm, and beat in the egg. Whisk the baking powder and soda into the flour, stir dry ingredients into the molasses mixture. Divide dough in half, and wrap well. Refrigerate for 1 hour or longer. (Mine was in the fridge for about 24 hours)

Preheat your oven to 350°F. 

Take one piece of dough out of the refrigerator, and flour a clean work surface, and the dough. Roll it out as thin or thick as you like; for slightly less crisp cookies, roll it out more thick (I went just under 1/4 inch). Use flour under and on top of the dough to keep it from sticking to the table or rolling pin. Cut out shapes with a cookie cutter, cutting them as close to one another as possible to minimize waste. 

Transfer the cookies to ungreased cookie sheets. Bake the cookies until they're slightly brown around the edges 8 to 12 minutes, or until they feel firm. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for several minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool completely. Repeat. 

I just piped on royal icing for decorating.  Kept it simple.

December 16, 2011

Favorite Things Friday - 12/16

I can remember the first time I had a boiled peanut, it was in Gafney, South Carolina.  I had told my cousin I wanted to try those boiled peanut things that Paula Dean was making on her show.  He obliged my request, and delivered a steaming cup of boiled peanuts from a local peach farm.   I tried 'em but was sooo not a fan!  A day later, and across another state line, I  changed my mind...  I did like those things and wanted to try them again!  I have been in love with my boiled peanuts ever since.  I have no idea why I obsess over all things southern, obviously they are so good, but I think it has to have something to do with being born down south?  My mom must have sat in these southern restaurants during her whole pregnancy chowin' down on all these awesome foods! Now, I just crave them all the time.

Like my love for Waffle House, loving Boiled Peanuts is a HUGE problem when you live in Wisconsin.  I go crazy for them when I am on vacation and can get my hands on 'em.  I beg and plead with friends and family going on vacation to bring them back for me (thank you all).  I order them, and have them delivered.  I have also ordered raw peanuts, and boiled 'em myself.  They are pretty good that way to, but this northerner can't compete with a southerner's cookin' skills.  

This week, I found the GREATEST thing at Walmart in LaCrosse, Wisconsin of all places..... you guessed it... they have stocked on their shelves... big ol' cans of boiled peanuts.  I hope they continue to sell 'em, I hope, I hope, I hope....  

December 12, 2011

Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree....

A real Christmas Tree, is a tradition I have kept up every year, except for two years when I was taking a break from all the decorating.  Some years the tree's may have sometimes been cut down for me and purchased in a parking lot, but they were real.

Last year it was quite a challenge to find a real tree.  The parking lots were so picked over, only one or two left... and those had probably been sitting there for a month after having been harvested and shipped several hundred miles.  That just wasn't acceptable, so I started doing some research to find a tree farm and to support a local business.  I finally found two within a reasonable distance, but due to how late we were shopping, one of the farms was already closed for the season.  Off to the other we went.  We did love it, it  was so cute and the owners were so inviting. Very cute cottage all decorated and treats waiting when we were done to help us warm up.

This year we tried the second "local" farm.  It was not as manicured as the other farm, but charming in it's own way.  It was just like walking out in the woods to find your tree. This year it was strange walking through the field since there wasn't a single snow flake on the ground. BUT, it was nice to not be frozen and shivering during the event.....  (Yes, I am a little "princessy", and not very tough when it comes to dealing with winter conditions.)  With the first couple tree's I picked out, my boyfriend had to remind me of our ceiling height.  We finally found that perfect tree, and it was a balsam!  I was so excited...  I have never had a balsam for a Christmas Tree before.

We (he) cut the tree down, then we (he) went to retrieve the truck and bring it to the tree, so we didn't have to drag it up and over the hill.  Back to the store we went for some hot apple cider and cookies.  We even bought some treats for ourselves while in the store.  Real Wisconsin Maple Syrup, and Wild Rice harvested in northern Wisconsin.  Once we got home, we had to trim the top just a little bit to make it fit. NOW...  if only the lights in storage still worked so that I could finish decorating the tree.  Maybe tomorrow!

December 9, 2011

Favorite Things Friday - 12/9

Do you have that one favorite place to eat? Mexican, Italian, American? And what about that one favorite item on the menu? Cheeseburger, Echiladas, Mosticolli??  Everyone has that favorite food they can't wait to have... So, do I.  But, my favorite place to eat is Waffle House, a chain diner, and the nearest one is 315 miles away.  It's heartbreaking, that there isn't any closer.  Anytime I am on vacation, the one thing I must do is get my Waffle House fix. 

Waffle House is just another one of my southern loves and obsessions.  The funny thing about my love for this place, is I have never ordered a waffle from them.  My obsession with them begins with their hashbrowns. They have their own terminology for ordering, I always get mine, Scattered, Smothered and Covered.  Sometimes Capped.  What is that you ask???  "Scattered" on the grill, "Smothered" in onions, "Covered" with Cheese, and "Capped" in mushrooms.  They are the most amazingly scrumptious hashbrowns ever.  When I was reading on their website, they have served 1 MILLION more orders of hashbrowns, than they have of their signature waffles!  I am obviously not alone in thinking they are the best!  One last bit of trivia, according to an old version of their menu, with all the topping options, there were 1,572,864 ways to enjoy them!! You just can't go wrong.

My last visit to a Waffle House was in Corbin, Kentucky in September of 2010.  Doesn't look I will get to have my hashbrown's in 2011, but I know I will get 'em in 2012!!

If you ever have the chance to try 'em, please do!   If you know Waffle House.... How do you order yours???

I took this pic in Corbin, KY...  Sweet, sweet memories!!

December 4, 2011

Favorite Things Friday - 12/2

I am running a couple days late on this post!  That nasty weather we were having had my attention, but that is all past now.

Greek Yogurt.  Have you tried this? Over the years I tried the "regular" yogurt that most people eat, but could never get past the smell of it. It was never appealing to me.  Even the odd attempt where I got past the smell, the texture was odd to me.  Then along came Greek Yogurt. YUM!  Chobani is my favorite, more appealing to me than the other brands I have tried.  I LOVE this stuff.  Pretty healthy for you too!
If you read Chobani's information on their website, you will see that they make their yogurt with milk from their local farms. You have to love a business that supports their communities.  All natural ingredients, no preservatives, and no artificial flavors. They currently have ten flavors.  I've only tried half of them, as my store, doesn't carry all of them. Maybe some day I will get to try the rest of the flavors! I am frequently buying the plain yogurt and using it in place of sour cream. It's so darn good.

Try some Chobani the next time you are at the store.  You won't be disappointed!!

December 1, 2011

Easy as One, Two, Three

I love to cook!  I love to eat!  I was such a picky eater for so many years, I really don't know how my parents handled getting me to eat.  Then something happened years later, I started trying new things and found out how many good foods were out there that I had avoided unnecessarily.

With our love of food, I am continually trying to get away from processed foods and make what we are eating better for us.  Sometimes that is a challenge, but I am learning more and more, that it really is simple.  It's just a matter of having your pantry stocked with the right foods.  We love macaroni and cheese.  Who doesn't, right??  Either you make the box with the packet of powdered cheese and who knows what else... I am sure there is corn syrup in there too, but we will get into my hatred of corn syrup another day.  You can also make the box with the cheese you squeeze out of the packet. Probably better, but is it? I haven't read the ingredient label on that, and will probably just skip that.  Especially after this amazingly easy recipe I have found!  I can't believe how simple it is, and how good it is!!

My search for a macaroni and cheese recipe, led me to a blog named Macaroni and Cheesecake .  Seemed like a good place to start??  5 Ingredients, and 25 minutes for homemade goodness!  I had to try it! The first time making it, I tried the oven finish.  The second time, I skipped the oven finish and loved it even more. 

Revolutionary Mac & Cheese

2 cups dried pasta
2 cups milk (I used 2 %)
1 cup loosely packed shredded cheddar cheese
1 tsp salt
1 tsp dijon mustard

In a small saucepan, add pasta and milk.  Bring to simmer, then reduce heat to low and cook for 20 minutes, until pasta is soft, stirring frequently.  Be sure milk does not boil.

Turn heat off, add cheese & salt.  Stir to combine.  Stir in the mustard a little at a time to taste. Cover and let stand for about 5 minutes, then stir again and serve. Add a tablespoon or more milk to your desired creaminess level.  Gently stir.

Oven Finish:
Place in a baking dish and top with a generous sprinkling of cheese. Bake at 375 degrees for approximately 10 minutes until cheese has melted.