Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Taco Soup

It's getting colder and time for some warm comfort in a bowl, and this might be just the thing to satisfy your hunger while saving you some calories (if you skip the chips and cheese) for the mashed potatoes and pies you'll no doubt be indulging in this week. I first had this soup a couple years ago when a neighbor brought it to a potluck dinner. I immediately fell in love with it...and then modified it ; ).  I made this over the weekend for a potluck of my own and it was a success once again.  It couldn't be any easier-just open a bunch of cans and dump. This is great for a crowd becuase its easy and cheap. The best part is that it is very forgiving and you can swap out whatever you want. Rather have more black beans? Add another can. Don't like black beans? Add a second can of chili beans or omit them altogether. You can use some leftover chicken (or turkey) and cube it, ground beef, ground turkey, Morningstar crumbles, etc. I do make it quite often with out any meat or meat substitute at all and it's equally wonderful. My one recommendation is that you do use No Salt Added ingredients and my salt-free taco seasoning as much as possible. Using the regular stuff makes it quite salty, and it's better to add a little salt while its cooking and control the amount yourself. Make sure that you do taste it because canned beans already have quite a bit of sodium and so does the ranch seasoning.

Taco Soup

olive oil
1 lb. ground chicken breast
1 medium white or yellow onion, finely diced
1 can (14 oz.) hot chili beans
1 can (14 oz.) black beans, rinsed and drained
1 can (14 oz.) white beans, rinsed and drained
1 can (14 oz.) No Salt Added, corn undrained
1 can (14 oz. ) No Salt Added, diced tomatos
1 can (14 oz.) tomato sauce
1 can (4 oz.) diced green chilis
8 tsp. homemade taco seasoning or 1 store bought packet
1 packet ranch seasoning

1. In a large skillet, heat 1-2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat.  Add onion and saute until soft.
2. Remove onion from the pan. Add a little more oil and the chicken to the pan. Season with a few pinches of taco seasoning and cook through.
3. Add onion, cooked chicken and the remaining ingredients to a 6 quart crock pot, along with 2 cans of water. I use the water to rinse out the cans first to get any sauce that sticks to the inside.
4. Stir to mix ingredients, making sure to dissolve seasonings. Cook for 8-10 hours on Low setting or 4-5 hours on High.

Garnish with shredded cheese, tortilla chips, sour cream, green onion, avocado...anything you can think of.

*Update* - 1/14/2010 - I recently made this recipe as a vegetarian chili to top baked potatoes. Just drain the corn and diced tomatoes, omit the extra water (and chicken), and only use about 2/3 of the can of tomato sauce. I added some chopped red and green peppers too. Thick and delicious!!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Double Layer Pumpkin Cheesecake

I have been promising a pumpkin cheesecake to the previously mentioned snarky friend for something awful like 3 years now. I used to make this recipe quite often and usually for Thanksgiving, so unlike my friend, it might be just in time for you. The original is ultra easy because it uses a pre-made graham cracker crust. However, I don't know if you have ever really looked at them, but they contain a ridiculous amount of trans fat, 2 g per "serving". That's more than recommend daily maximum and there's no way I get 8 servings out of that little thing, so you'd be eating even more. Ok, I am finished with my health rant for the day-I know, know this is a cheesecake! Anyhow, this discovery coupled with the recent crust revelation generated a "kicked-up" homemade crust. Because this was meant to be made in a 6 oz. crust, it's a smaller (shallower) cheesecake than some others, but it does give more of a pumpkin pie feel. I also add more pumkin than the recipe calls for so it doesn't set-up as hard, but you'll thank me later.

Double Layer Pumpkin Cheesecake
adapted from Kraft Foods

1 1/2 c. graham cracker crumbs (preferably homemade)
1/3 c. melted butter
3 Tbsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
2-8 oz. packages of cream cheese, softened
1/2 c. sugar
2 eggs
2/3 c. canned pumpkin
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
large pinch each of cloves and nutmeg-about 1/16 tsp. ;)

1. Preheat oven to 300 F.
2. Combine graham crackers crumbs, butter, sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl, and stir to mix. Press into the bottom of a 9 inch springform or pie pan.
3. Beat cream cheese, sugar and vanilla with electric mixer on medium speed until well blended. Add eggs, 1 at a time, mixing on low speed after each addition just until blended.
4. Remove 1 cup of the batter and place in another bowl. Stir in the pumpkin and spices.
5. Pour remaining plain batter into crust. Carefully, top with pumpkin batter.
6. Bake for 40 minutes or until center is almost set. Cool. Refrigerate 3 hours or overnight.

A tip for packing the crust into the pan: use a flat bottom measuring cup! Press firmly all the way around. I learned this trick from Paula Deen. It also makes it easy to push the crumbs up the side of the pan. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Aloo gobi mattar bhaji

(Potato, Cauliflower, and Pea Bhaji)

I recently posted the comment "So many recipes, so little time..." on a random social networking site. To which, a rather snarky friend of mine replied "So many friends to invite over for dinner..." We made a date, and when the husband's away, the garam masala will play. Dan is not a fan of Indian food so I had to take this opportunity seriously. Aloo gobi was the very first Indian dish that I ever tried-at the time, it seemed the most "safe." It was, and I have been in love with the dish and the cuisine ever since, much to the dismay of my better half. It only makes sense that this would be the first dish I try my hand at. The recipe is from a great little book that I recieved for Christmas last year, and is one of my few cookbooks. Who needs a ton of cookbooks when you have the internet? I really do feel this way, but also say it to defend my somewhat lonely collection of books. The book is Global Vegetarian Cooking: Quick & Easy Recipes From Around the World. It's very user friendly, and when they say easy they mean it. The book is full color, it has an introduction all about food and nurtrition, and each recipe has a paragraph preceeding it that tells a little story about the culture and the dish. My only gripe is that many of the recipes have the ingredients listed by weight, this one calls for 1/2 pound each of the cauliflower, potato, and peas. And since I don't have a kitchen scale-sigh-I have to rely on the ones at the grocery store. For the record 1/2 lb. heads of cauliflower don't exist, and exactly how much is a 1/2 pound of frozen peas from a bag anyway? I did the work for you on this one by simplifying the amounts and adjusting the spices accordingly. The red pepper flakes were my addition and next time I'll be adding more!

Aloo Gobi Mattar Bhaji
adapted from Global Vegetarian Cooking

1 small head cauliflower (1 1/2-2 lbs.), cut small
1 medium baking potato, peeled and diced
1 c. frozen peas
2 tbsp. canola oil
3/4 tsp. chili powder
1 1/2 tsp. turmeric
3/4 tsp. garam masala
3/4 tsp. cumin seeds
1/8 tsp. red pepper flakes
salt (a few pinches)
2 tbsp. fresh cilantro, chopped

1. First, heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat and fry the chili powder, turmeric, garam masala, cumin seeds, and pepper flakes for 30 seconds-1 minute.
2. Then add the vegetables, half the cilantro and salt, and stir-fry to mix the ingredients for 1-2 minutes.
3. Pour in a little water to cover the base of the pan. Put on the lid and cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring from time to time and partially mashing the ingredients.
4. When cooked, garnish with the remaining cilantro leaves before serving.

This was beyond easy and so fragrant and delicious, but not overwhelming. I served it with Trader Joe's Garlic Naan-the original naan is fantastic too. You can find them both in the freezer section.

*Update* - 1/16/10 - I made this again this week, and for those of you who are wondering if it's really necessary to buy cumin seeds for's not. I accidentally used 3/4 tsp. ground cumin instead just beacause that's what I am used to grabbing and I couldn't tell the difference.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Chicken Enchiladas and Taco Seasoning

Let's say that you have 8,000 flour tortillas leftover from a recent party and some chicken in the freezer. Solution = Enchiladas. When I was growing up, tacos and nachos were on the permanent dinner menu rotation, but we seemed to ignore other, arguably more delightful, mexican dishes. The first time that I had homemade enchiladas was at a good friends house. She's a very good cook, an even better baker, and just so happens to have some Mexican blood. Quite a while ago I had the privledge of helping her whip up a batch. She makes hers with homemade tortillas, which are beyond excellent all by themselves, mole sauce, muenster cheese, and cream cheese in the filling. Very rich, but very worth it. Mine are not as heavy and I use canned enchilada sauce. I have tried a few different kinds and they are all pretty good, even the national brands. Check the nutritional information though, some are just packed with sodium. You can even find a couple that have a decent amount of fiber. We like it with medium heat so I mix some of a hot variety into a can of the mild. But, if anyone has a good recipe for a tasty homemade sauce, I am all ears. Until then, I make up for it with my own taco seasoning. It's more flavorful, salt free, and without the nasty MSG. I use it in my chili, tacos, and refried beans. If you search the web you can find several recipes for taco seasoning, but this one comes with my seal of approval: Amy tested, Dan approved. And, it's cheaper than buying the little packets for $1 a piece. 

Chicken Enchiladas

olive oil
2 bonless, skinless chicken breasts
Taco seasoning - *recipe below
1 large (19 oz.) or 2 small (10 oz.) cans of your favorite enchilada sauce
2 oz. freshly grated, reduced fat cheddar cheese
8 oz. freshly grated, monterey jack cheese
3/4 c. canned black beans, rinsed and drained
2 tbsp. diced green chilis - about 1/2 of a 4 oz. can
black pepper
8-10 small flour tortillas

1. Preheat oven to 350 . Heat olive oil, once around the pan, in a small skillet on medium heat. Liberally season chicken with taco seasoning, add to pan, and saute until golden brown and cooked through.
2. Remove chicken from pan and alow to rest for 10 minutes. Shread chicken by pulling apart with 2 forks.
3. In a large bowl, mix together the shreadded chicken, cheddar cheese, black beans, green chilis. Add pepper, another sprinkle of taco seasoning, and about 1/3 c. each of the monterey jack and enchilada sauce.  Mix well.
4. Spray a 13 x 9 inch glass or ceramic baking dish with cooking spray. Fill tortillas with chicken mixture, roll, and place in dish. Pour the remaining sauce over the tortillas, and top with remaining jack cheese.
5. Bake for 30 minutes or until the sauce bubbles around the edges and the cheese begins to brown.

Taco Seasoning

6 tsp. chili powder
5 tsp. paprika
4 1/2 tsp. cumin
2 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
2 1/2 tsp. onion powder
1 1/2 tsp. cornstarch
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes

Combine in a well sealing container and shake to mix. 7-8 teaspoons of this mix is about the same as one of the packets.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Moroccan Style Vegetable Couscous

About a month ago, I had a fabulous vegetarian couscous dinner at a friend's house, and I realized that I have never made couscous. I have been thinking about it ever since, and decided to stew some vegetables for myself. This was basically an attempt to come up with some more relatively easy vegetarian recipes that both my husband and I can agree upon. Inspired by the smell of fresh fall leaves on the crisp autumn air, I really wanted to add some butternut squash to the mix; however, mentioning this idea only produced a semi-frown upon the face of the aforementioed husband. This, plus the dilemma of what to do with a large unused portion caused me to leave the grocery store sans squash. Oh, but I'll be back for you sometime soon, Mr. Butternut, don't get too comfortable.

For now, this is a hearty, aromatic, vegetarian dish that does a decent job of showcasing the mighty chickpea, garbanzo, ceci bean, Indian pea, or whatever you want to call it. They look like mini peaches to me. ; ) Anyway, it was very tasty, but not a fast favorite. I probably won't use plain couscous next time-oh yes, it was good enough for a "next time"- and some fresh lemon juice might shake up the flavors a bit. It must also be said that like any good stew or chili, it was even better as leftovers. Plus, with "Moroccan" in the name it forces be back into an old, but newly revisited hobby: Vacation Dreaming. Right now, my thoughts flock to Ireland, Costa Rica, France, Italy, the Caribbean, the Grand Canyon, and Disney World, where in Epcot there is Moraccan restaurant!

Moroccan Stlye Vegetable Couscous
compiled from many sources

2 Tbsp. olive oil
3 small red potatoes, unpeeled, and cut into large chunks
3 small carrots, chopped
1 small yellow onion, large dice
1 large clove garlic, crushed
1 zucchini, about 7-8 inches long
1/2 sweet bell pepper, large dice (I wanted yellow for color, but settled for orange)
1 can (15 oz.) chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 can (14 oz.) No Salt Added, diced tomatoes with juice
1 c. low-sodium vegetable stock
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. coriander
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes (or more if you like it spicy!)
1/4 tsp. salt
Plain Couscous

1. Heat oil in a large skillet on medium-high heat. Add potatoes, carrots, onion, and garlic, and saute for 5 minutes or until onions start to soften.
2. Add chickpeas, tomatoes, vegetable stock, and spices. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 10-15 minutes. The potatoes should be almost fork tender.
3. Add zucchini and bell pepper. Continue to simmer for an additional 10 minutes until all of the vegetables are fork tender. Meanwhile, prepare couscous according to package directions. (I prepared 1 c. dry couscous for the two of us.)
4. Serve vegetables over couscous. Salt and pepper to taste.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting and Chocolate Spiderwebs

So, these little beauties are why I had the buttermilk. I know that many people think of Red Velvet for Valentine's Day and Wedding cakes, but who doesn't want a fantastic "blood" cupcake on Halloween, eh? So I started with a recipe from Paula Deen, the queen of southern cooking that she is, and then compared it to some others. I have to admit I was quite reluctant when it came to the amount of oil in the recipe. It seemed like alot, and some recipes use oil and some butter. Never having made a cake from scratch before, I wasn't sure which works better, or why you'd choose one over the other. But, Paula Deen and Martha Stewart say oil, and if Deb uses oil, well then who am I to argue. ;)

Red Velvet Cupcakes
adapted from Paula Deen and Martha Stewart

2 1/2 c. all-pupose flour
1 1/2 c. sugar
1 teaspoon salt
 2 tbls. cocoa powder (I used heaping tablespoons)
1 1/2 c. vegetable oil
 2 large eggs, room temperature
1 c. buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 teaspoons distilled white vinegar
2 tbls. red food coloring or 1/2 tsp. red gel-paste food color

1. Preheat oven to 350 °F. Line muffin pans with paper liners. Whisk together flour, cocoa, and salt.
2. With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat together sugar and oil until combined. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Mix in food color and vanilla. 
3. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture in three batches, alternating with two additions of buttermilk, and whisking well after each.
4. Stir together the baking soda and vinegar in a small bowl (it will foam); add mixture to the batter, and mix on medium speed 10 seconds.
5. Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each three-quarters full. Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until a cake tester inserted in centers comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Transfer tins to wire racks to cool completely before removing cupcakes.
Yield 24 cupcakes.

Cream Cheese Frosting
from Paula Deen-this is her recipe halved! It's plenty to frost 24 cupcakes

8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 stick butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 cups confectioners sugar

In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla until smooth. Add the sugar on low speed, beat until incorporated. Increase the speed to high, and mix until very light and fluffy.

Chocolate Spider Webs

I saw these in Country Living and had to make the toppers. I used Baker's semi-sweet chocolate baking squares rather than chocolate chips because I liked how well they melted for the cheesecake. Here is the template: Itsy Bitsy Spiderwebs

These were delicious. Even though they ended up being more of a burgundy velvet than red velvet.  I had what I thought was red gel, but when added it gave more of a hot pink color, so I added several drops of red liquid food coloring to "fix" it. It was still not red. The gel looked red, and the bottle and cap were red, but the box did read "pink." I decided to use it anyway mostly because I had already bought it. Next time I don't think I will be as generous with the cocoa powder (Ms. Deen's recipe only calls for a teaspoon) for less of a chocolate taste, and I'll stick to the liquid food coloring, or look for actual red gel. The toppers turned out pretty awesome too. I'll have to remember this for future events, and with all of the colored chocolate available for candy making you could really make anything you want.