Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Zuppa Toscana

Soup season is here! I love soup so much that I make it every week from the first hint of fall until spring is almost over. One of my favorite soup to eat out is the Zuppa Toscana from Olive Garden. It is so different than other soups and it is super healthy with the addition of freash kale. This was the first time that Phillip & AJ had tried this soup and they were pleasantly surprised that it was so hearty.

6-8 cups chicken broth
1 lb italian sausage, removed from casings
2 baking potatoes, scrubbed
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
salt & pepper to taste
1 bunch fresh kale
1/4 cup half & half

In a large dutch oven over high heat, add the chicken broth and bring to a boil.

While the broth is coming up to a boil, prepare the potatoes by slicing in half lengthwise and then cutting each half into 1/2 inch slices with the skin on. Set aside.

With the italian sausage removed from the casings (or you could use bulk italian sausage too), crumble the sausage into the hot broth.

Add the potatoes to the pot, season with spices and cook until the potatoes are tender, about 15-20 minutes.

As the potatoes soften, prepare the kale by cutting away the tough core and stem. Slice the leafy greens into slices and place in a bowl.

Once the potatoes have softened up, remove from heat or turn the heat off. Stir in the kale and half & half. (The heat of the soup will cook the kale without turning it brown.)Serve hot.

Source: What's Cooking Chicago?, Joelen's Culinary Adventures with Friends and Food

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Beatty's Chocolate Cake

This month's Barefoot Bloggers choices were by Mary of Passionate Perseverance and Susy of Everyday Gourmet. They both chose party cakes, and while I was only able to get to one of them, they both look like great choices if you are celebrating a birthday or other special day. Check out some of the other Barefoot Bloggers to see how they took on the challenge of Ina's Birthday Sheet Cake. I made this chocolate cake the other night, and we are still enjoying it! The chocolate frosting was a little rich for me (very semi-sweet tasting), but I would definitely use this chocolate cake recipe again. It was a really easy recipe to put together, and was very moist and chocolaty.


Butter, for greasing the pans
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
2 cups sugar
3/4 cups good cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk, shaken
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee


Chocolate Buttercream, recipe follows

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter 2 (8-inch) round cake pans. Line with parchment paper, then butter and flour the pans.

Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low speed until combined. In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry. With mixer still on low, add the coffee and stir just to combine, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 30 minutes, then turn them out onto a cooling rack and cool completely.

Place 1 layer, flat side up, on a flat plate or cake pedestal. With a knife or offset spatula, spread the top with frosting. Place the second layer on top, rounded side up, and spread the frosting evenly on the top and sides of the cake.

Chocolate Frosting:
6 ounces good semisweet chocolate (recommended: Callebaut)
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 extra-large egg yolk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
1 tablespoon instant coffee powder

Chop the chocolate and place it in a heat-proof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Stir until just melted and set aside until cooled to room temperature.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-high speed until light yellow and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg yolk and vanilla and continue beating for 3 minutes. Turn the mixer to low, gradually add the confectioners' sugar, then beat at medium speed, scraping down the bowl as necessary, until smooth and creamy. Dissolve the coffee powder in 2 teaspoons of the hottest tap water. On low speed, add the chocolate and coffee to the butter mixture and mix until blended. Don't whip! Spread immediately on the cooled cake.
Source: Ina Garten, Barefoot Contessa at Home page 165-166

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies

I've been hearing grumblings at school recently. "Where are the cupcakes?" "We haven't had any goodies recently." They're right. I've gotten lazy about spoiling my friends. I had some extra time today, so I made them these fall treats to take to school in the morning. My future sister-in-law, Hannah, was my assistant for this recipe (and Phillip's birthday torte), and we both made sure to test these to make sure they passed our standards. They were soft and pumpkin-y, perfect for my friends!


For the pumpkin cookies:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
2 tbsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
½ tsp. ground nutmeg
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
1 cup canola oil
3 cups chilled pumpkin puree
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract

For the maple cream cheese filling:
3 cups powdered sugar
½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
8 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
3 tbsp. maple syrup
1 tsp. vanilla extract

To make the pumpkin cookies, preheat the oven to 350° F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda, and spices. Set aside. In a separate bowl, whisk sugars and oil together. Add the pumpkin puree and whisk to combine thoroughly. Add the eggs and vanilla and whisk until combined. Sprinkle the flour mixture over the pumpkin mixture and whisk until completely combined.

Use a small ice cream scoop with a release mechanism to drop the dough onto the prepared baking sheets (about 1.5-2 tablespoons.), about 1 inch apart. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until the cookies are just starting to crack on top and a toothpick inserted into the center of a cookie comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let the cookies cool on the pan for about 10 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat with remaining dough.

To make the filling, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment beat the butter until smooth with no visible lumps. Add the cream cheese and beat until combined. Add the powdered sugar, maple syrup and vanilla and beat until smooth. Be careful not to overbeat the filling or it will lose structure.

To assemble, turn half of the cooled cookies upside down. Pipe filling onto the flat side of the overturned cookies. Place another cookie, flat side down, on top of the filling. Press down slightly so that the filling spreads to the edges of the cookie. Repeat until all the cookies are used. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to firm before serving.

Source: Annie's Eats

Chocolate Peanut Butter Torte

Happy Birthday Phillip! I let Phillip peruse my favorite blogs to choose his birthday dessert, and he chose this beauty from Annie's Eats. It made the perfect dessert for his birthday dinner tonight. It was salty and sweet, but not too dense. It was a big hit!


For the crust:
32 Oreo cookies, finely processed into crumbs
5 1/3 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Small pinch of salt

For the crunch:
1 1/4 cups salted peanuts, finely chopped, divided (for the filling, crunch and topping)
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. espresso powder
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
Dash of ground nutmeg

For the filling:
2 cups heavy cream
1 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
12 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups creamy peanut butter (not natural)
2 tbsp. whole milk

For the topping:
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

To make the crust, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9-inch springform pan and place it on a baking sheet. Combine the Oreo crumbs, melted butter and salt in a small bowl. Toss with a fork to moisten all of the crumbs. Press into a thin layer covering the bottom and sides of the springform pan. Freeze the crust for 10 minutes. Bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely before filling.

To make the crunch, in another small bowl combine 1/2 cup of the chopped peanuts, mini chocolate chips, sugar, espresso powder, cinnamon and nutmeg. Toss with a fork to mix and set aside.

To prepare the filling, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip 2 cups of the cream until it holds medium peaks. Beat in 1/4 cup of confectioners’ sugar and whip until the cream holds medium-firm peaks. Scrape the cream into a separate bowl and refrigerate until needed.

Wipe out (do not wash) the mixer bowl, replace the whisk with the paddle attachment, and beat the cream cheese with the remaining 1 cup of confectioners’ sugar on medium speed until the cream cheese is satiny smooth. Beat in the peanut butter, whole milk, and 1/4 cup of the chopped peanuts until well combined.

Using a large rubber spatula, gently stir in about 1/4 of the whipped cream just to lighten the mousse. Still working with the spatula, stir in the crunchy peanut mixture, then gingerly fold in the remaining whipped cream. Scrape the mousse into the crust, mounding and smoothing the top. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight; cover with plastic wrap as soon as the mousse firms.

To finish the torte, put the chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water. Leave the bowl over the water just until the chocolate softens and starts to melt, about 3 minutes; remove the bowl from the saucepan. Bring the 1/2 cup of cream to a full boil. Pour the cream over the chocolate and, working with a rubber spatula, very gently stir together until the ganache is completely blended and smooth.

Pour the ganache over the torte, smoothing with a metal icing spatula. Scatter the remaining peanuts over the top and chill to set the topping, at least 20 minutes. When the ganache is firm, remove the sides of the springform pan. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Source: Annie's Eats

Bacon Wrapped Jalepeno Poppers

I was blessed last weekend with a bounty of Jalapenos from Phillip's Aunt Rita. They have been sitting on my counter staring at me since then. I decided to make some snacks out of them, and turned to my favorite cowgirl The Pioneer Woman. These were so simple to make, and they hit the spot. I will for sure make them again this fall for a football snack.


Fresh Jalapenos, 2-3 inches in size
Softened Cream Cheese
Thin, Regular Bacon, sliced into thirds

Cut jalapenos in half lengthwise. With a spoon, remove the seeds and white membrane (the source of the heat; leave a little if you like things HOT). Smear softened cream cheese into each jalapeno half. Wrap each jalapeno with bacon piece. Secure by sticking toothpick through the middle. (At this point, you can freeze them, uncooked, in a Ziploc bag for later use).

Bake on a pan with a rack in a 375 degree oven for 20-25 minutes. You don't want the bacon to shrink so much so it starts to squeeze the jalapeno. If, after 20 minutes, the bacon doesn't look brown enough, just turn on the broiler for a couple of minutes to finish it off.

Serve 'em immediately if you want them hot, or they're good at room temperature.

Source: The Pioneer Woman Cooks

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

New Flavor of the Half-Year Chosen!

Almost two years ago, when I was planning my wedding, I was having difficulty deciding on the flavors for my wedding cupcakes. Upon tasting some samples, my brother AJ looked me straight in the face and said "you have to have raspberry, it's the flavor of the half-year." Really? The flavor of the half-year, was he on crack!? Who chooses the flavor of the half-year, I asked? "I do, of course." After the subsequent choice of lemon (fall '08), and the VERY late choice of lime (chosen one day before the end of the spring '09 half-year), it was decided that a committee should be formed to choose the flavor of the half-year.

Today, the Half-Year Flavor Selection Committee was formed and guidelines were established. The basic guidelines are that the flavors will be chosen on the day after Christmas and the 4th of July, and that each committee member (my brother, his fiance, Phillip & I) can nominate a flavor and will then rank the choices, deciding on a winner.

The flavor of this half year has been chosen, and the winner is..... APPLE!

The flavor was inspired by Phillip & my trip last weekend to Huber Orchard and Winery. We made it home with a whole bag of fresh-picked apples and a gallon of cider, along with butternut squash, whole wheat bread and local honey.

Dinner tonight utilized quite a few of our purchases from Huber.

Parmesan Pork Chops with Cider Gravy and Apple and Pecan Saute

4 Pork Loin Chops
1 Cup Italian Breadcrumbs
1/4 Cup Freshly Grated Parmesan
3 Tbsp Butter
Salt & Pepper
2 Tbsp Flour
1 Cup Apple Cider
2 Apples, finely diced (I used the Jonathans that we picked)
1/4 cup chopped Pecans

Combine the breadcrumbs, parmesan, salt & pepper. Dry the pork chops and press into the crumb mixture. Add 2 Tbsp butter to medium-high pan, and saute chops for 3-4 minutes per side. Remove chops from pan and add flour to pan drippings. Cook flour for a minute until browned, and whisk in 1/2 cup cider, stirring until gravy is thick.

Add 1 Tbsp butter to another pan, and heat on medium heat. Add apples and pecans, cooking until apples are caramelized. Add 1/2 cup cider and cook until apples are soft.

I served this with roasted butternut squash puree, and it made a great fall dinner on an 80 degree day!