Monday, May 5, 2014

Secret Ingredient Restaurant-Style Mexican Rice

This is just a quick recipe share in time for your Cinco De Mayo festivities.

I have been using the America's Test Kitchen Slow Cooker Revolution cookbook religiously over the last year and half.  Some of my favorites in the book are in the "Enchiladas, Tacos and More" section.  They have several recipes for chicken, pork, ground beef and shredded beef fillings that I make big batches of and then freeze to use in enchiladas, tacos, and more.  So that's where they came up with the chapter title! ;-)

It wasn't until recently that I began paying attention to some of the notes below the slow cooker recipes.  There are tons of little gems in those notes, like additional recipes.  Score!  It's like a two for the price of one cookbook!  Anyway, I noticed a recipe for Mexican-Style Rice.  I have tried more times than I care to count to make a rice side dish that reminded me of the kind of rice you would get with your order at a good Mexican restaurant.  I have had success making cilantro-lime rice, but that beautifully fluffy and delicious rice studded with peppers always eluded me.  My versions always ended up either soupy and tasteless, with undercooked rice, or both.  Blech!

This recipe has a secret ingredient and a secret method that yields a huge pot of perfectly cooked, fluffy, delicious restaurant-style Mexican rice.  I wanted to share this with you to go with your Cinco De Mayo meals tonight!

Now, you may be wondering what the "secret" ingredient is in this rice.  It was a total "Duh!" moment for me, because my mother has been adding it to her chili for years, so I should have thought of it on my own.  In my past versions of Mexican rice, there is either too little tomato flavor from using fresh tomatoes, or too strong of a tomato flavor with gummy rice from using tomato sauce and/or paste.  The answer - I could have had a V8 (knocks self upside head)!  The perfect flavor was hiding in a can of vegetable juice.

And the secret method?  This bad boy gets thrown in the oven to cook!  *Mind Blown*

So here it is, without further adieu...

Secret Ingredient Restaurant-Style Mexican Rice
from where else...America's Test Kitchen
Printable Recipe

1/3 c. vegetable oil
2 c. long-grain rice
2 jalapenos, seeded and minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 c. chicken stock
2 c. V8 100% Vegetable Juice (original)
1 tsp. kosher salt
Juice of 1/2 a lime (optional)
1/4 c. cilantro, chopped (optional)

Heat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a dutch oven set over medium heat, add vegetable.  Heat until shimmering, then add the rice.  Cook until it starts to turn golden brown, about 10 minutes.  Stir occasionally in the beginning and then keep an eye on it and stir a little more frequently towards the end.

Add jalapenos and garlic, stirring for about 30 seconds.  Add chicken stock, V8 juice and salt.  Bring the mixture to a light boil, then cover the pot and put it in the preheated oven.

Cook for 15 minutes, then give it a good stir.  Put the lid back on the pot and cook for another 15 minutes in the oven.

Season rice with additional salt and pepper to taste, lime juice and cilantro.

Enjoy with enchiladas, tacos and more!

Happy Cinco De Mayo!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Triple Berry Baked Oatmeal

It is amazing how fast time flies.  I can't believe my last post was way back on Pi Day!  I have been cooking, but not blogging as much as I would like because things have been crazy both at home and at work.  Plus we have actually had a couple of opportunities to go outside the last couple of weeks which has felt AMAZING after what seems like the most grueling winter ever.  No way was I going to stay inside and sit at the computer while I could go on the swings and down the slides at the park with my daughter.  Fingers crossed that Spring has actually arrived and that (gasp!) we may actually see summer at some point this century.

If you want to enjoy your weekend, I suggest you start with this triple berry baked oatmeal.  It is a delicious, filling way to start your day.  And just in case the nip in the air is still getting you down, it is nice and cozy too.  Can food be cozy?  Well, to me it can...and thus this oatmeal is.

I made a berry baked oatmeal recipe a couple of years ago that was really good.  I had snapped a photo and put a link to it on my Facebook page and everything.  I had been craving it something awful, so I found the picture in my timeline, but the link no longer went to the recipe - it went nowhere, actually.  It was from a blog called Rather Be Baking, which apparently doesn't exist anymore.  Bummer.  I have tried several baked oatmeal recipes and they never turn out the way I imagine them.  They are either way too cakey, or underbaked, or just not right.  I remember a total fail with some steel cut oats that was practically inedible.  Why I hadn't made this winning oatmeal recipe in so long was beyond me.  But now I had no idea how to make it.  I searched the internet to find answers.  The recipe I originally used was just plain gone.  Guess I should have put it on a good old-fashioned recipe card when I had the chance.  Eventually, I stumbled upon multiple recipes that referenced this Super Natural Every Day cookbook.  I combined recipes and added a little of this and a little of that to come up with the final product.   

The result was just what I remembered - with sweet bananas, tart berries, touches of maple syrup, vanilla and cinnamon, and oatmeal that was just the right texture.  It's the perfect breakfast treat that you don't have to feel (too) guilty about enjoying.  Add a mimosa and you're all set to begin a fantastic weekend!

Triple Berry Baked Oatmeal 
Printable Recipe

2 cups quick-cooking oats
1/2 cup pecans, chopped
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 cups whole milk
1 large egg
3 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 ripe bananas, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
2 cups mixed fresh berries (I used a blueberries, raspberries and strawberries)

Preheat oven to 375 F. Generously butter the inside of a 2-quart baking dish.

In a bowl, mix together the oats, half of the pecans, baking powder & cinnamon.
In another bowl mix the milk, eggs, maple syrup, butter and vanilla.  Whisk until the mixture is well combined.

Arrange the bananas in a single layer at the bottom of your baking dish. Top with about 2/3 of the berry mixture.  Evenly pour the oat mixture over the top of the bananas.  Now drizzle the whole thing with the liquid mixture. 

Give the baking dish a little shimmy shake, and give it a couple of bumps on the counter to let the milk settle into the oats.  Top the oatmeal with the remaining berries and pecans.

Bake in the preheated over for 35 to 45 minutes, or until top is golden brown and oats seem set. 

Now, this is the most important and most difficult part.  You must let it cool for at least 15 minutes because A.) you don't want to burn the roof of your mouth off, and B.) it will allow any remaining liquid to soak into the oats making your oatmeal the perfect texture when you dig in.


Friday, March 14, 2014

Happy Pi Day!

Well, it's 3/14, and you know what that's Pi(e) Day!  So, it is the perfect time to share with you a recipe a tried recently, which had great results. 

This ain't your momma's chicken pot pie...but at the same time, it is.  It has all the comfort of a classic pot pie, but is fortified with awesomely nutritious ingredients like butternut squash and kale, which coincidentally, also make it even more delicious.  And the best part - this is a one-dish meal.

I spotted this gem of a recipe on Bon Appetit's website when they were sharing 8 flaky filled treats in light of the recent recall of Hot Pockets. (gasp!)  Seriously, if you're over the age of 20, there is no reason you need a Hot Pocket.  Even if you're under 20, you still don't need them...but, I digress.  I realized I had everything on hand to make the dish, and in fact, needed to use up some items that were about to wear out their welcome in the freezer.

I took about a hundred photos of this dish, but just wasn't happy with them.  Some were taken with my phone, others with my Canon, but I just couldn't get the framing of the shot right, and I was working with horrible light.  It was about 6:30 at night, prior to the switch to daylight savings time, so there was zero natural light to speak of, and only my recessed lighting over the countertop.  I Photoshopped to the best of my ability and used some fun actions I found on Pioneer Woman.  I think the actions would be awesome for quick adjustments to portraits.  My photos of the finished pie do not do it justice.  It was good.  All creamy and luscious on the bottom and then all flaky crisp on top...totally scrumptious!  I think some of the best photos came when I was cooking, when all of the great colors of the produce I was using could really show through.

All Hail Kale!
All of the filling ingredients simmering away
before I added the shredded chicken.

Another note is that the cast iron skillet I have is big one, at 12 inches.  The recipe is better suited for an 8 inch skillet as the recipe originally stated.  I think a 10 inch would work just fine too though.  If I had used a smaller skillet, the pastry would have covered the entire pan, which would have made for a lovelier finished product.  It sure did taste good though!

Skillet Chicken Pot Pie with Butternut Squash
Slightly adapted from Bon Appetit Magazine
Printable Recipe

1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 c. frozen white pearl onions, thawed
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. dried sage
1 small bunch kale, removed from stems, chopped
1/4 c. flour
3 c. chicken stock
1 1/2 c. butternut squash (about 1/2 of a small squash), peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 c. cooked chicken (about 1/2 a rotisserie bird), torn into bite-size pieces
1 sheet frozen puff pastry (such as Pepperidge Farm), thawed
1 large egg
Sea Salt
Black Pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. 

Heat olive oil in a cast-iron skillet (preferably 8 to 10 inches in diameter) over medium-high heat.  Add onions and cook a few minutes, stirring occasionally, until they start to brown.  Reduce heat to medium-low and add garlic and sage to the skillet.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until garlic is fragrant and beginning to brown, which should take only a couple of minutes.

Add the kale and season with a generous pinch of sea salt and black pepper.  Cook, stirring often, until the kale is wilted, about 5 minutes.  Sprinkle the flour over the top, and cook, stirring constantly for 4 minutes.

Stir in the chicken stock, about a 1/2 cup at a time, then add the squash.  Bring the whole thing to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the squash is just softened and the broth has thickened, which should take about 10 minutes.  Add the chicken to the skillet, then season to taste with more sea salt and black pepper.

Unfold the pastry dough and smooth out any creases to the best of your ability (I just couldn't get my creases to go away).  Place the pastry over the skillet, allowing the corners to hang over the sides.  Whisk egg and a splash of water in a small bowl or cup.  Brush the top of the pastry with the egg wash and cut a few steam slits in the top to vent the pie.

Bake the pot pie until the pastry is beginning to brown, about 15 minutes.  Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees F and bake until the pastry is deep golden brown and crispy, another 15 minutes.  Let the pot pie cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Enjoy your Pi(e)!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Happy (Belated) Birthday Dr. Seuss!

Did you know that yesterday was Dr. Seuss day?  March 2nd marks the birthday of Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known to the world as Dr. Seuss.  To be honest, I have a love/hate relationship with Dr. Seuss.  Don’t get me wrong, I think the books are great, but I also think they were written primarily to torture parents.  Have you tried reading “Oh the Places You’ll Go” to your child at the end of a long day?  You sound like a fool as you get tongue-tied reading those crazy sentences out loud.  It is frustrating to feel like I have somehow lost the ability to read.  But, Olivia loves them, so I trudge on, making wonderful memories with my daughter that will last a lifetime.  Thank you, Dr. Seuss.

I intended to do an entire Dr. Seuss food day for Olivia yesterday, but she was in one of those “I don’t want to eat anything you make me” kind of moods, so I didn’t bother with most of my ideas.  And she didn’t get any one fish two fish, red fish blue fish (a.k.a. Goldfish crackers) without eating any “real” food.  Sorry kiddo, but mommy and daddy aren’t going to let you live on milk and crackers alone.  I’m not sure if she wasn’t feeling well or was just being a cranky toddler (she does turn 2 next week so we might just be at “that” stage).  I guess my themed lunch will have to wait for another day.  Sigh. 

The day started with a green eggs and “ham” frittata for breakfast.  It was relatively easy to put together, and was really tasty!  I didn’t get to the store on Saturday because it was snowing AGAIN (#WorstWinterEver) and the roads were pretty slippery.  Thus, I didn’t have any ham in the house.  I did, however, have bacon.  Bacon!  I consider it a win, because frankly, bacon is so much better anyway!  I think Dr. Seuss would approve with the substitution.  If Sam-I-Am had bacon in the frying pan, he would never have had to ask the question “Do you like green eggs and ham?”  But, if that had been the case, there wouldn’t have been much of a book, huh? 

There’s no question.  I do so like green eggs and ham!
Thank you!  Thank you, Sam I am.

Spinach, Bacon and Parmesan Frittata
Printable Recipe

6 slices bacon
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
6 oz. baby spinach, roughly chopped (about 4 c.)
6 eggs
1 oz. grated Parmesan cheese (about 1/4 c.)
1/2 c. milk
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
Pinch cayenne pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a 10-inch nonstick oven safe skillet, cook bacon over medium-low heat until crisp.  Set the bacon aside on paper towels.  Remove all but a 1 tsp. of the bacon grease from the skillet.  Turn heat to medium and add onion.  Sauté until tender and beginning to brown, about 5 minutes.  Add garlic and sauté another minute.  Add the spinach, season with a pinch of salt and sauté until wilted and tender, about 3 minutes.

When bacon has cooled enough to handle, chop it into bite-sized pieces.  In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk and Parmesan.  Add the salt, pepper and cayenne, whisking to combine.  Stir in the chopped bacon.

Add the egg mixture to the pan, and give it all a good stir.  This is your only chance for stirring, so stir well and stir quickly.  Let the mixture cook on the stove top at medium heat until the eggs are set around the edges, about 5 minutes.  Transfer the pan to your preheated oven and cook until set, about 7-9 minutes.

Let frittata cool briefly, then cut it into wedges and serve.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

What I Ate Wednesday

I figured I better get this post done while it was actually still Wednesday!  Have you seen any of these “What I Ate Wednesday” posts floating around the blogosphere?  Some people blog about what they ate the Wednesday prior, but most just pick a random day.  You snap photos and blog about what was on your plate for a day.  I had hoped my first post would be a great illustration of how easy it is to achieve weight loss and fitness goals by eating right.  I feel like I have kind of fallen off the nutrition wagon the last few days.  I am on week 7 of doing P90X3.  The first four weeks were great.  My diet was on-point and I was totally motivated.  Lately though, I feel like my diet has been a little out of whack.  I have been trying to stay within 1500 calories per day, with 30% fats, 30% carbohydrates and 40% proteins, but that definitely didn’t happen yesterday.  My calories were in check, but my ratios were not.  I really should have tried to get more protein in yesterday.  But hey, you win some you lose some.  The day was still delicious!  This is what I ate yesterday.
I started the day by whipping up some homemade turkey breakfast sausage.  We love the recipe in the Primal Cravings cookbook - as simple as mixing dried sage, mustard powder, salt, pepper, smoked paprika, cayenne and red pepper flakes into the turkey, then forming it into patties.  The result is a smoky, slightly spicy sausage that is the perfect addition to a breakfast sandwich.  Breakfast sandwhiches are pretty much my go-to these days.  They are delicious, portable and a pretty balanced meal to have on the go.  I made mine on an English muffin with 2 eggs and a slice of colby-jack cheese.  I kicked things up a notch this time by adding a little maple butter.  It added a nice bit of sweetness, just like when you have pancakes and a little syrup gets in your eggs (which is the best part).  Basically, you get a McGriddle kind of vibe, but it isn’t full of chemicals and artificial flavoring.

The drive to work was pretty horrid, so once I got to there, I hit the coffee pretty hard to recover.  While I cringe at the idea of using powdered creamer, at least my office serves Colectivo coffee, which makes up for it.

My pre-lunch (a.k.a. morning snack) was a few slices of beef salami, some veggies and piece of string cheese.  My breakfast and coffee usually fill me up until just before noon, but then I need a little something to get be through the next hour or so until I take my lunch break.

For lunch, it was leftover Whole Wheat Orzo Salad with Kale, Chickpeas, Lemon, and Feta that we had for dinner on Meatless Monday.  The recipe was from Kayln’s Kitchen.  It was pretty easy to throw together and made for a quick refreshing dinner on a night that the drive home was less than ideal.  Thank you 7 inches of fresh snow!  We actually prepped the salad Sunday night.  We boiled whole wheat orzo and sautéed red onion with kale.  We mixed that together and added a can of drained and rinsed chickpeas.  Then Monday we mixed up a vinaigrette of lemon zest, lemon juice, white wine vinegar, olive oil, cumin, salt and pepper.  I think I liked it better as a lunch salad than as a dinner.

My afternoon snack was an apple and vanilla Greek yogurt.  So simple, but so tasty.  I have been a little obsessed with Pink Lady apples lately.  I love Honeycrisp, but they are so expensive.  Pink Ladies are more in what I consider to be a “normal” price range for apples.  They are sweet but just a little tart, somewhat floral and nice and crisp.

Dinner was on the hubs last night and he did not disappoint.  He whipped up Shrimp Coconut Curry in a Hurry from the Body Beast nutrition plan.  We had it with some leftover Chinese takeout rice from over the weekend.  See, I told you we were off track.  I can’t even remember the last time we had Chinese takeout before this weekend.  The shrimp curry is made by sautéing shrimp and red bell pepper, then adding a mixture of coconut milk, lime juice, honey, curry, ginger and garlic.  Finally you stir in some fresh cilantro.  It is sweet, spicy, creamy, delicious and pretty easy to throw together.  I love the fact that I have a husband who isn’t afraid to get dinner on the table.  Good thing too, I was HUNGRY when I got home.  I’m a lucky girl.

One last thing I want to share with you while we’re in the “What I Ate” vein.  For Valentine’s Day, I made one of the best dinners I have ever had (pats self on back) and it wasn’t even that difficult to put together.  I started by making mashed potatoes using The Pioneer Woman recipe, then made cremini mushrooms escargot-style using a recipe I found here, and pepper crusted sear-roasted New York strip steaks using this method with a horseradish cream dipping sauce from Weber.  I also had some steamed peas and carrots on the plate.  It was DELICIOUS!  I could probably make a meal of just the mushrooms.  This is the exact meal I will go to over and over again when I am craving a steakhouse quality dinner at a fraction of the price.

 So, what’s on your plate?

Friday, February 14, 2014

Spiced Dark Chocolate Shortbread Hearts

Happy Valentine's Day!

Valentine's Day is typically pretty low-key in our house.  We usually stay in and have a nice dinner at home instead of battling the crowds at nice restaurants.  One year we went to The Pasta Tree in Milwaukee, and while typically it would have a romantic kind of vibe, it was so packed and the tables were so close together you could hear everyone's conversations other than your own.  I think we have stayed home every year since.

For dessert this year, I decided to spice things up a bit.  Literally.  I made chocolate shortbread hearts - tender yet crisp, rich and buttery, with deep chocolate flavor, plus a little something extra.  I added cinnamon, chili powder and cayenne to give the cookies a little kick.  Don’t be scared, you can adjust the spices to your taste.  As written, the spice is very subtle in the rich chocolate cookie.  In fact, I don’t even notice it until just after I have inhaled finished it. If you really want these babies to go “KA-BLAM!” on your tastebuds, then I would suggest doubling, maybe even tripling the spices if you are feeling adventurous.

I have to admit, this is another recipe that originates from Two Peas & Their Pod (Chocolate Shortbread Heart Cookies).  There is something about their photos that draws me in like the Millenium Falcon to the Death Star.  Chocolate on chocolate, covered in sprinkles…the cookies were so cute, my resistance was futile (yes nerds, I know that one reference is Star Wars and the other Star Trek).  I knew I wanted to make the recipe my own though.  When baking, I am usually one to follow the recipe to a “T” the first time, and then make modifications if I choose to make it again.  This recipe seemed to lend itself well to modification from the get-go.  I love chocolate with a little heat, so I knew adding a blend of cinnamon, chili powder and cayenne was the answer.  I also decided to dip these cookies in dark chocolate as opposed to semi-sweet to make them even more rich and decadent.  I was running low on Dutch process cocoa, and after trips to multiple grocery stores, I came home empty handed.  Is it because it is Valentine’s Day or is there some kind of world cocoa shortage that I don’t know about?  I don’t think I want to live in a world without chocolate!  Luckily, I ended up having JUST enough Dutch process cocoa to make these beauties.  Whew!

These spiced chocolate shortbread hearts came together so easily.  I sifted together flour, cocoa, salt and my “secret” spices in a small bowl, then creamed sugar and butter together with my mixer and added a little vanilla.  Am I the only one tempted to just eat the butter/sugar/vanilla mixture?  I love it in all of its pale yellow, beautifully fluffy glory.  I added the flour mixture to the butter, then rolled the dough out between two sheets of parchment paper.  The dough was soft, so I popped it in the fridge for about 20 minutes, then cut it into heart shapes.

I popped them in a 350 degree oven for 12 minutes, or until the cookies were firm and starting to crisp up.  I let them cool on the pan for 5 minutes, then transferred them to a wire rack to cool completely.  Once they were cool, I dipped them partially in dark chocolate, and added some sprinkles.  Who can resist sprinkles?

The possibilities for this cookie are endless, you could save the dipping for after dinner and serve them with chocolate fondue or caramel sauce (or both!) for a dessert experience, or instead of topping with sprinkles, top them with chopped hazelnuts, pistachios, smoked almonds, crushed pretzels, a little bit of sea salt or an extra sprinkle of cayenne pepper.  You could even sandwich them with some vanilla, chocolate, or mocha buttercream…and THEN dip them chocolate.  You get the idea.  I think I might have to make another batch just to try different combinations!

As I was planning to make these, I realized I didn’t have a heart-shaped cookie cutter (gasp!), so I asked my mom if she had any I could borrow.  She pulled out some awesome “vintage” cookie cutters.  My favorite was the metal cutter with scalloped edges, so that is what I used.  Now I am in love with it and don’t plan on giving it back.  Sorry mom.  I am also in love with these cookies.

I tried to roll the cookies out to about 1/4 inch thick, but when I roll out dough, the edges always seem to be thinner than the middle.  I know there are tricks to getting the dough to be even all the way through, but I haven’t mastered it.  It worked out well in the end, because I liked the thicker ones, and Aaron preferred the thinner ones that got a little more crisp when baked.

He loved them and said the recipe was a definite keeper.  When Olivia woke from her nap to find me making cookies, her first exclamation was “CHOCOLATE!!!” and then she proceeded to grab a handful of dough and run away so she could shove it in her mouth before I took it from her.  Okay, I let her have some.  Luckily there aren’t any raw eggs in the dough.  I guess you could say these cookies are approved by all ages!

Now, go forth.  Bake cookies.  Show your Valentines how much you love them! 

Spiced Dark Chocolate Shortbread Hearts
Printable Recipe

2 c. all-purpose flour
2/3 c. Dutch processed cocoa powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 c. sugar
1 c. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 c. dark chocolate chips (for dipping)
Sprinkles (for decorating)

Sift together the flour, cocoa, salt, cinnamon, chili powder and cayenne pepper in a small bowl.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the sugar and butter.  Add the vanilla and mix until combined.  Slowly add in the flour/cocoa/spice mixture, mixing until combined.  At first it will seem crumbly, but it will come together.

Roll out the dough between two sheets of parchment paper to about 1/4 inch thickness.  Chill the dough for 20-30 minutes or until it has slightly hardened.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Cut out the cookies with a 2 inch heart-shaped cutter and place them on the prepared baking sheet.  They can be placed pretty close together because they don’t spread much.  Just give them about 1/4 inch around.   Bake the cookies for 12 minutes, or until they are firm and starting to crisp around the edges.  Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Place dark chocolate chips in a microwave-safe bowl and cook on high for 1 minute.  Stir the chips until completely melted.  If they will not melt, put the chocolate back in the microwave and cook at 20 second  bursts until you can stir it into a melted pool of deliciousness.

Dip 1/3 to 1/2 of each cookie in the melted chocolate and sprinkle the dipped portion with sprinkles or topping(s) of your choice.  Place the cookies on wax paper and let the chocolate set up - if you can wait that long ;-)


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Italian Sausage and Tortellini Soup

Is this winter ever going to end?  Winter sports fanatics - you know, the outdoorsy type - must be happy, because we have had a steady snowfall this year.  Even if it is just a dusting, it has definitely been consistent.  Commuting has been great!  Do you sense the sarcasm?  I am hoping that there are people enjoying the weather, but it isn’t really “my thing.”  Especially the temperatures.  I cannot recall a winter that has been as consistently frigid as this one.  All the cold makes me want to do is curl up with a blanket, a book and some hot soup.

When I spotted the photo and recipe for Italian Sausage and Tortellini soup on Two Peas & Their Pod, it begged me to make it.  I had seen some other tortellini soups recently on Pinterest and other blogs, but this one jumped out at me.  I think it may have been the styling.  The soup contrasted nicely with the white crock-style bowl placed on a rustic wooden table.  Perfectly placed meatballs and tortellini peeked through a sea of broth loaded with good-for-you vegetables.  It looked I put it on my menu list for the week and went shopping.

I picked up bulk Italian sausage from Sendik’s Towne Center in Brookfield, rolled into small balls and browned them in my trusty Le Creuset French oven.  I removed them with a slotted spoon and put them on paper towels to soak up some of the oil.

I added chopped onion to the rendered fat, sauteing for a few minutes, then added chopped red bell pepper, and finally, minced garlic.  After that cooked for a couple of minutes, I deglazed the pan with a little white wine, then added a bay leaf, red pepper flakes and some Italian seasoning (my go-to is the Little Italy blend from The Spice House), stirring it all around for a couple of minutes.  I then added a can of stewed tomatoes and broke them up with a potato masher (actually with a Pampered Chef Mix ‘n Masher, which is works even better).  Then I stirred in chicken stock and brought the whole thing to a boil.  I turned the heat down a bit, threw in some chopped kale and stirred it around until it was wilted.

Finally, I tossed in a couple of cups of cheese tortellini (I used Buitoni Mixed Cheese Tortellini) and piled my meatballs back into the pot.  Then I let it simmer until the tortellini were cooked through.  At the very end, I stirred in some chopped fresh basil along with some salt and pepper. 

It was a tasty and simple one-pot meal that was totally filling and the perfect warm-me-up.

I say this is a simple meal because the ingredients list isn’t very long and it doesn’t involve any complicated steps that a novice wouldn’t know how to accomplish.  However, after about 15 minutes into my ingredient gathering, rolling, chopping and mincing, Aaron shouted from the living room that he thought it seemed like a lot of work for soup.  I disagree, but maybe I just wasn’t as hungry as he was at the moment.

This soup was even better the next day (I think that is some kind of rule for soups).

Italian Sausage & Tortellini Soup (printable recipe)
Slightly adapted from Two Peas & Their Pod

1½ lbs. bulk Italian sausage
1 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 large red bell pepper, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ c. white wine
1 bay leaf
Pinch red pepper flakes
2 tsp. Italian seasoning
1 (15 ounce) can stewed tomatoes
8 c. chicken stock
3 c. kale, chopped
2½  c. tortellini (fresh or frozen)
¼ c. fresh basil, chopped

Roll Italian sausage into half inch balls.  Heat 1 tsp. olive oil in a dutch oven or soup pot over medium-high heat.  Add meatballs and brown them on all sides until cooked through, about 5-10 minutes.  Remove meatballs to paper-towel lined plate and set aside.

To your now empty pot (which should have some fat from the meatballs),  add the onion, and saute for a couple of minutes, then add the red bell pepper.  Cook a couple minutes more, then add the garlic.  Stir and cook for 2 more minutes or until the onions are starting to brown and peppers are soft.  Add white wine and scrap up any brown bits on the bottom of the pan.  Add bay leaf, red pepper flakes and Italian seasoning.
Add the stewed tomatoes, breaking them up with a spoon or masher.  Stir in the chicken stock and bring the whole thing to a boil.

Reduce the heat to a simmer, then add the kale.  Stir it around and let it wilt a little bit.  Add the tortellini to the pot, along with the reserved meatballs.  Let simmer until the pasta is cooked through and the meatballs are re-heated.

Remove the bay leaf, stir in the basil, and season with salt and pepper.  Enjoy!

Note:  While I thought the soup was great as-is, there are a couple of modifications I would make on the next go-round.  As much as I thought I would love the meatballs in this soup, they didn’t disperse evenly enough throughout the soup, so I counted how many were in each bowl to make sure I was being “fair” when serving.  When I looked back at the recipe, I realized that it said to roll the sausage into ¼ teaspoon size balls.  If I had done that, I would have been rolling tiny meatballs all day!  Next time, I think I’ll just brown the sausage, breaking it up into little crumbles instead and save myself a couple of minutes.  On the topic of sausage, I also wasn’t crazy about the bulk Italian I used.  It had a touch too much fennel for my taste.  Next time, I will either swap it out for a different brand, or modify the entire soup recipe to incorporate elements from my grandmother’s meatball recipe that I love.  I also think that instead of the fresh red bell pepper, I will use roasted red pepper to give the soup a tad more flavor.  I might even get crazy and puree the roasted red pepper and add it in with the tomatoes for a richer, thicker broth.  Overall though, this recipe was hearty and tasty as-is.

I suggest you give this recipe a try, with or without my suggested modifications, and let me know what you think.

Now tell me…What is your favorite soup to help get you through winter?

Friday, February 7, 2014

A New Year

Well hello 2014!  And goodbye January?  How is it almost Valentine’s Day already?  It may be a tad late for a New Year’s Resolutions post, but being punctual has never been my strong-suit.  Since it is my first post of the year, it only seems fitting.

I made several resolutions this year, along with revelations about the blog.

I am who I am, and what I am not is somebody else.

Totally deep, isn’t it?  Yeah, I know, not really.

When I began a blog, I had images in my head of what it would be like – amazing photos of cakes dripping with chocolate,  cookies stacked with a glass of milk standing by,  cheese oozing from every entrée (hey, I am a Wisconsin girl after all).  I would tackle complicated recipes and show the world how absolutely awesome I am.  There are thousands of food blogs that make it look so easy…why couldn’t I do it too?

Bottom line – I’m not them.  I am me. 

Look for more of ME in 2014 – the blog is turning into more of a journal - from recipes, to reviews, to life tips, to parenting, to my favorite things, to stuff I just feel like I have to share.  There is more to life than what is cooking in the delicious dairyland.

Here are my resolutions for the blog:

Regular posting.
This should be easy to accomplish by steering slightly away from a recipe-driven blog.  Let’s be honest, it will probably still be mostly recipes, but at least I get some wiggle room to liven things up if it wasn’t the best month in the kitchen.  Shall we set a goal?  How about at least twice a month?  Sounds easy enough.  Goal set.

Take better photos.
Presently, the way I photograph food is by snapping a shot of it before it enters my mouth.  I live in a real world where the hubby and toddler are hungry, and so am I…so I don’t take the time to shoot food photos the way I really would like to.  And frankly, I just don’t know how to get “that look” in my photos.  I plan to do a little research and figure out how I can incorporate better photos into an everyday fast-paced life.  Maybe I can enlist the help of my photographer extraordinaire sister-in-law to give me some pointers.  Check her out at

Additional resolutions include:

Lose 20 pounds.
I lost 40 pounds last year, but was totally a cookie monster this holiday season and put on a few pounds.  Time to kick start the healthy lifestyle again.  I started P90X3 on January 5th and am already down by nine pounds, so I’m on my way!

Cleaning schedule.
It is no fun to clean the house on a weekend.  Maybe it is okay in winter when you can’t be outside as much as you’d like to, but once summer rolls around, I want to be out experiencing the few minutes of nice weather we get!  By setting up a schedule of 15-20 minute tasks to do each weeknight, our weekends would be free of the cleaning burden.

Cookie decorating.
I want to learn how to make those perfectly decorated sugar cookies I see everywhere.  Basically, I want to learn how to use royal icing.  I may enlist the help of a friend at A Fancy Cookie ( to be my Obi Wan Kenobi.

Make meals fun for my toddler.
Right now my toddler’s meals consist of things I throw together while we’re heading out the door – usually leftovers from the night before, an English muffin, a banana, some string cheese, etc.  I want to get her to eat more vegetables and a better variety of food, so I plan to create bento box meals for her, incorporating shapes, colors, textures, etc.

New recipes.
Each month, I plan to try at least one brand new recipe, whether it be from a cookbook, a blog, Pinterest, whatever.  You can count on those recipes/experiences being shown on delicious dairyland, so stay tuned.

Meatless Mondays.
This was a failed 2013 resolution, but it is tough to be on a fat-shredder diet that is high in protein and cut meat out as a protein source when soy isn’t an option for your family.  Fingers crossed for 2014 that I can incorporate one meatless day per week.  It may have to wait until after I have finished P90X3, but I’ll get there.

2013 Resolutions Accomplished:

Lose weight.
I know, it is the resolution we all make, but not all succeed in.  My journey started in 2012, six months after my daughter was born, when I started the exercise program Power 90.  My diet was on-point and I pushed myself in the workouts, losing 20 pounds.  In 2013, I did P90X and totally brought it!  I lost another 20 lbs.  I’m not done yet, but definitely getting close to my goal!  2014 is my year.

Plan meals.
In past years, we would end up going to the store multiple times a week because we didn’t have this or that for a meal we wanted to make that night.  So in 2013, I resolved to plan a week’s worth of dinners before going grocery shopping on the weekend.  It was an awesome time saver and it was just nice not to have to worry about the “What’s for dinner?” question every day.

Join a CSA.
Done.  It was absolutely amazing to receive 20 weeks of fresh, organic, local produce.  It also made meal planning easy, because we received our CSA box on Thursdays and did our other grocery shopping on Saturdays.  We knew what we had on hand and made fantastic meals from some of the freshest produce we have ever had.  We plan on joining a CSA again in 2014. 

Use the slow cooker.
This is one of my best accomplishments of 2013 and I can't believe I actually stuck to it.  I made a resolution to make one meal in slow cooker each week…and I did.  That’s right folks, I used my slow cooker more than 52 times last year!  I really need to put a post together about some of my favorite recipes, because I definitely have some go-tos and tips I can share.  Nine out of 10 of my favorite recipes are probably from the America’s Test Kitchen Slow Cooker Revolution cookbook – arguably my new favorite piece of reading material.  It was a gift for Christmas in 2012, and boy did I put to use!

Well, that's about it from me now.  The munchkin is waking up from a nap, so ta-ta for now.

I hope you resolved to be awesome in 2014!