Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Tom Kha Gai: Thai Coconut Soup

Today I bring you the last recipe to wrap up the month of soups:  Tom Kha Gai (Thai Coconut Soup)

Check out the other soup recipes from this month:  Broccoli Cheese Soup, Chicken Tortilla Soup, Italian Wedding Soup

Apparently Tom Kha Gai is a really popular Thai soup.  And from what I can tell, it seems like it's the Thai equivalent of chicken noodle soup, especially great when you're sick.

This was my first time venturing into Thai food at home.  This particular recipe doesn't require any "specialty" ingredients which means it's probably not very authentic, but hey, I went for it.  Don't let the name fool you, and don't be intimidated, cooking doesn't get much easier than this!

The flavors of this soup hit all over your tongue, sweet and sour, and the spice hits the back of your throat.  I will definitely make this again because it was so deliciously interesting and unlike anything else I've tasted.  Not to mention it was really quick to make!

Tom Kha Gai (Thai Coconut Soup)
Adapted from Food Renegade
Yield:  3-4 servings

1 quart (4 cups) chicken stock
1 (14.5 oz) can coconut milk
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp ginger, freshly grated
Juice of 2 limes
Salt (to taste)
1 1/2 cups cooked chicken, shredded or cubed (optional) (I used shredded pork because that's what I had leftover in the fridge)
1-2 green onions, chopped (optional)
Chopped cilantro (optional)
Rice noodles (optional)

Bring the stock to a boil, skim any foam that rises to the top and add coconut milk, lime juice, red pepper flakes, ginger, and meat (if using). Simmer for about 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt. Ladle into soup bowls and garnish with cilantro and green onions.
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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Snickerdoodle Blondies

I first told you about these Snickerdoodle Blondies in a recipe roundup in 2009.  I made them again to go with the other cookies I sent with Kevin to the conference.  A week or so later, I made these again to mail off in a care package.

This recipe is more cakey than other blondies, but they're still dense and durable.  They make a great portable dessert to throw in with your lunch.  I love bar cookies in general because they are quicker than scooping out individual cookies, and they travel really well.  If you're in the mood for a quick cinnamon treat, try these Snickerdoodle Blondies!

Snickerdoodle Blondies
Adapted from The Biscuit Pusher

1 cup (two sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup loosely packed light brown sugar
3 oz. mascarpone cheese (I used softened cream cheese)
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
3/4 tsp cream of tarter
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
2 cups all-purpose flour

Cinnamon Sugar (for coating):
1/3 cup sugar
1 heaping Tbsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350.

Insert foil (with edges overhanging) in a 9 x 13 inch pan and butter the foil. Sprinkle a little bit of the cinnamon sugar into the pan and move it around to make sure that the bottom and sides are coated. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, and cream of tarter.

Using an stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugars. Beat for three minutes. Scrape down the bowl.  Add the mascarpone cheese and beat until fully incorporated.  Add eggs, one at a time, scraping down the bowl after each addition.  Add the vanilla and beat for another 30 seconds.  On low speed, gradually add the flour mixture. Mix until fully incorporated.

Spread mixture evenly into prepared pan. This will be hard as it is a thick batter. Wet a spatula a little and press the batter into the pan, and even out the top.  Sprinkle more cinnamon sugar on top of the batter.  Bake for 20-25 minutes.  Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack.  Cut into squares and serve.

(I ended up having to bake these for about 30 minutes before they were done.  Every oven is different, so make sure you start checking before the specified time and continue to check until the blondies are done.)

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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Italian Wedding Soup

We're in Week 3 of Soup Month, check out the first two weeks: Broccoli Cheese Soup and Chicken Tortilla Soup.

Italian Wedding Soup is simple, has lots of flavor, and I continue to make year after year.  This base soup flavor is so good, that I could do without the meatballs.

I got this recipe from a friend who attended an Italian cooking class at The Viking Store.  This soup is really quick and easy to make if you use a shortcut and buy mini meatballs from the store.  If you live in the Cleveland area, I've found them at Gallucci's and more recently at Miles Farmer's Market.  You could also take regular sized meatballs and portion them into smaller balls for this soup.

I love that this recipe includes red pepper flakes.  It's not enough to make it spicy (though you could add more if that's what you want).  It's just enough spice to give it a little edge.  This would make a great chicken soup too, just sub cooked chicken for the mini meatballs.

The quality of this soup really depends on the type of chicken stock you use.  I strongly recommend using homemade, but if store bought stock is necessary, please use a high quality one.

Italian Wedding Soup
Adapted from The Viking Store

2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 large onion, diced
2 ribs celery, diced
2 carrots, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp thyme
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 cup un-oaked, dry white wine such as Sauvignon Blanc
2 quarts (8 cups) chicken stock
1/2 cup orzo pasta, uncooked (I use Israeli cous cous)
8 oz mini meatballs, cooked
3 cups (8 oz) fresh baby spinach, washed and dried
Salt and pepper to taste
Freshly grated pecorino romano or parmesan, for garnish (optional)

Heat the oil in a stock pot over medium heat.  Add the onion, celery, carrot, garlic, thyme and red pepper flakes.  Saute until the vegetables begin to soften.  Add the wine and stir and scrape the bottom of the pot removing any browned bits (deglazing).  Cook until the wine is mostly evaporated.

Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil.  Add the orzo, stirring to make sure it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pot.  Cook until the orzo is al dente (6-8 minutes), then add the meatballs and spinach.  Simmer gently (do not boil) until the meatballs are warmed through about 5 minutes.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Serve and garnish with grated cheese (if using).

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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies

Kevin (and a bunch of his friends) attend an annual nerd conference, and I always bake something to send along.  In past years, I've made Blondies and Chocolate Mint Cookies .  They really loved the mint cookies.  I didn't want to repeat recipe, but the guys were requesting them, so I compromised.  I used half of the cake mix to make Chocolate Mint Cookies and the other half to experiment with a chocolate and peanut butter version.  I started with the original Chocolate Crackle recipe and subbed peanut butter for the oil, added peanut butter chips and increased the water due to the moisture lost by removing the oil. 

I was really happy with the way these turned out, and I love how they puffed up.  They're a soft, peanut buttery, chocolate cookie!  Got milk?

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies
Adapted from the original Chocolate Crackles
Yield:  6 dozen cookies

1 (18.25 oz) devil's food cake mix
1 cup PB
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1/4 cup water
1 (10 oz) package PB chips (I used mini chips, just because that's what was in the pantry)

Preheat oven to 375.  Combine all ingredients except chips in a bowl.  Mix with a wooden spoon until well blended.  Add the peanut butter chips and stir until combined.  Shape dough into 1-inch balls.  Place on greased baking sheets.  Bake for 8-10 minutes.

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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Chicken Tortilla Soup

This chicken tortilla soup is ridiculously quick, full of flavor and very satisfying.  I highly recommend you make it soon.

Instead of the hunting down dried chili peppers, I used chipotle chili powder which gives the soup some smoky chili flavor and heat.

When serving, I sometimes skipped the sour cream, but do not skip the lime juice.  A good squeeze of lime adds a brightness to the soup that you don't want to miss.

Sopa Azteca (Chicken Tortilla Soup)
Adapted from Live to Cook . . . at Home, originally from Rick Bayless

1/2 tsp chipotle chili powder
1 (15 oz) can pureed tomatoes
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
5 garlic cloves, peeled & smashed
2 qts chicken stock
2-3 cups cooked chicken, shredded or cubed
1 (15 oz) can black beans, drained and rinsed
Salt and Pepper, to taste

For garnishing
1 large ripe avocado, pitted, flesh scooped from the skin and cubed
Cheddar cheese, shredded
Tortilla chips, roughly broken
Sour cream
1 large lime, cut into 6 wedges, for serving

Put the tomatoes with their juice in a blender jar along with the chili powder (a food processor will also work).

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic once the oil is hot and cook until caramelized, about 7 minutes.

Once the onions and garlic have caramelized, add them to the blender and process until everything is completely smooth.

Return this mixture to the pan over high heat and cook until it is the consistency of tomato paste, about 6 minutes. Add the chicken stock and simmer for 15 minutes.  Add the chicken and black beans and simmer for 5 minutes.  Taste and season with salt and pepper, if necessary.

While the soup is simmering, garnish each bowl with tortilla chips, avocado, and cheese.

When the soup is ready, fill each bowl and serve with sour cream and lime.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Salted Caramels

Happy Valentine's Day!  
I like to use Valentine's Day as another excuse to play with candy.  I've experimented with truffles and cake balls in the past.  This year I made salted caramels, pistachio cranberry white chocolate bark and peanut butter balls.
The salted caramels were a lot easier than I thought they would be.  Says the girl who burned her first batch . . .  Actually, the first batch burned because I was too concerned about the thermometer instead of following the visual queues given in the recipe.  And actually, they weren't burned to the point of ruin they just had an overly burnt sugar smell and flavor.  Still edible, just not good enough to send out in my treat packages.

When I said the caramels were easier than I thought, I was referring to getting the right texture, the right "chew".  You don't want a caramel that's so hard your fillings pop out when you chomp down, but you also don't want one that's so soft it doesn't keep it's shape.  I was really happy to get a nice medium.
The sea salt is a really great pair with the sweet, vanilla caramel flavor.
This recipe only uses the vanilla beans seeds, but don't discard the pod.  I keep a separate container for sugar to put empty vanilla pods in to create vanilla flavored sugar.  It's great for flavoring hot drinks.

Some candy recipes do not double well, but I have successfully doubled this recipe many times using a 9x13 pan.
Salted Caramels
From America's Test Kitchen
Yield:  About 50 caramels
1 vanilla bean
1 cup heavy cream
5 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch chunks
1 1/2 tsp fleur de sel (I used Maldon salt, a flaky sea salt similar to fleur to sel, but less expensive)
1 1/3 cups (9 1/3 ounces) sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup water

Cut vanilla bean in half lengthwise. Using tip of paring knife, scrape out seeds. Combine vanilla bean seeds, cream, butter, and 1 teaspoon fleur de sel in small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to boil, cover, remove from heat, and steep for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, line 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper (or aluminum foil coated with vegetable oil spray); set aside.

Combine sugar, corn syrup, and water in large saucepan over high heat. Bring to boil, frequently swirling pan (do not stir) until mixture is amber colored and registers 350 degrees on candy thermometer. Remove from heat and carefully stir in cream mixture (mixture will foam up). Return mixture to stovetop, reduce heat to medium-high, and cook, stirring frequently, until caramel reaches 248 degrees on candy thermometer, 3 to 5 minutes.

Carefully transfer caramel to prepared baking pan, and let cool for 10 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining ½ teaspoon salt, and then let cool to room temperature, about 2 hours. Cut caramel into ¾-inch pieces and individually wrap pieces in wax paper squares, twisting ends of paper to close. Serve.
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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Broccoli Cheese Soup

Okay, so you may have noticed that I shared a lot of appetizer dip recipes throughout January.  It wasn't an accident.  I'm going to try something a little different.  Each month I'm going to have a theme and I'll post a related recipe once a week. 

January was dips, and February is going to be soups.  I'm still going to post various non-theme related recipes as well.  This will be an excuse to commit myself to making a lot of items on my "To Make" list throughout 2012.  And the themes will force me to actually post about the food, because as of now, less than half of the finished ones have been blogged.

Now on to the soup!
Mmmm broccoli cheese soup.  I chose this recipe because it doesn't have any cream, and it's pretty similar to a Panera copy cat recipe I found. 

I was originally going to make bread bowls, but asked Kevin what he preferred.  I ended up making homemade bread served on the side.  I love dipping bread into thicker soups like this, no spoon needed.

No immersion blender?  Use a regular blender and follow these tips for blending hot soup.

Broccoli Cheese Soup
Adapted from Annie's Eats

6 Tbsp butter, divided
3/4 cup onion, chopped
1 cup carrot, chopped or shredded
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups broccoli, chopped
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 tsp onion salt (I used onion powder and added 1/2 tsp salt)
4 Tbsp flour
2 cups milk
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
Salt & pepper to taste

In a large stockpot or Dutch oven, melt 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat.  Add the onion to the pan and saute until tender, about 5-7 minutes.  Add the carrots and garlic to the pan and cook a couple minutes more.  Stir in the broccoli, chicken broth and onion salt.  Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer.

In a medium saucepan, melt remaining butter.  Add the flour and cook for 1-2 minutes until golden brown, whisking constantly.  Whisk in the milk and cook until the mixture thickens and bubbles, about 5 minutes.  Once the mixture has thickened, whisk in the cheese until completely melted.  Remove from the heat and add the cheese sauce to the soup pot.  Allow to simmer until warmed through and broccoli is tender.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  If desired, puree the soup with an immersion blender for a smooth texture.

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Monday, February 6, 2012

30 Before 30 - 3 Month Update

It's been 3 months since my 29th birthday, let's see how I'm doing so far.
By the looks of things, I haven't made much progress, but if it's an ongoing goal, I haven't crossed it off.

30 Before 30:
(in no particular order)
  1. Attend a concert at Blossom
  2. Keep in touch with people better (some progress, but not much, I really need to be better about this)
  3. Blog more regularly (so far so good, I've been keeping up with at least one post a week)
  4. Participate in a blog swap OBA hosted a blog swap (I posted on Amie's blog and she posted on mine)
  5. Sing karaoke in public (I'm really itching to do this, maybe one of our girl's nights should include karaoke)
  6. Bake for a good cause (I'm currently working on an idea for this, it'll be ongoing, not just a one time deal)
  7. Visit my sister in Atlanta
  8. Visit my brother in New Orleans
  9. Volunteer more (nothing yet, but have some coming up)
  10. Attend a Tremont Art Walk  (Who's free on Friday March 9?  And where's the best place to meet?)
  11. Visit one of Cleveland's beaches
  12. Now that the elephants are back in their new habitat, I want to visit the zoo again.
  13. Visit the MetroParks outside of Solon (the weather's been so nice for winter, I really have no excuse for not doing this yet)
  14. Host more parties (I've already hosted 3)
  15. Learn how to draw
  16. Spend less time on the computer (major fail on this one, but at least I am watching less TV)
  17. Visit Stan Hywet Hall
  18. Try to relax (hmm, I'll have to ask Kevin what he thinks about this one . . . I think I'm doing better now that the holidays are over)
  19. Make our wedding album (our 5 year anniversary is a month before I turn 30)
  20. Visit the West Side more often (I have been rocking this, I've crossed the River at least 3 times)
  21. Attend a Lake Erie Monsters game (only two more months left in the season)
  22. Attend a Burning River Roller Girls match (if we can get at least 10 people in on this, we can get special pricing, the season starts on 3/10)
  23. Go skydiving
  24. Learn how to use some of the features on our camera (I've been experimenting with the focal length when I take food pictures)
  25. Go tobogganing (not much of a winter this year, I'm hoping we'll get at least one more good snow)
  26. Be more positive about day to day stuff (I don't know that I'm more positive, but I am happier than I was a few months ago.)
  27. Try at least 6 new restaurants (This is going to be a lot easier than I thought due to more opportunities to dine out.  4 down, 2 to go: Taste, Washington Place Bistro, Tartine Bistro, Indian Delight)
  28. Drink more wine (started off really well, but slowed in January)
  29. Visit Cleveland's Asiatown and eat dim sum
  30. Exercise more (so far so good, although I didn't really start this until January)

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