kid-friendly pasta salad

You guys, I just discovered I haven’t posted a recipe here since 2010. You know why? Not because I don’t cook every single freaking day. Because, ugh, I really do. No, it’s because I mostly cook really boring things, like brown rice. And soup. Soup and rice don’t photograph particularly well!

When I do make something that’s actually pretty I always forget to photograph the ingredients, the process, and sometimes even the finished product. We eat it and then I think, “crap, I should have taken a picture!” I would make a terrible food blogger.

Anyway! We all know that since school has started again we all have potlucks looming. I made a pasta salad this weekend that is perfect for a potluck or picnic because it doesn’t have mayonnaise in it. My kid doesn’t like mayo! It’s like I don’t even know who he is. Of course, I’m not really eating mayo these days either – I love it, but it doesn’t particularly like me. So! This is my new go to salad.

I’ve made this a lot recently, and it’s just perfect; easy, light, and kid-friendly.

Mix it all up and finish seasoning to taste. You might need a little more olive oil or vinegar. I don’t measure mine so I guessed at the amount!

We love this salad exactly like this but you can use the recipe as just a base for the raw veggies your family likes – onions, chives, olives, shredded carrots, diced cucumber, celery (gag) or whatever.

If you want to make it a complete one dish meal add in some cold diced chicken and hard boiled eggs. I’ve also made a similar one using cold pesto as the dressing instead of the olive oil vinegar and seasonings. So good!

chicken soup weather!

A friend of mine recently asked me for my chicken soup recipe. Since it’s cold and rainy, and I made this soup for lunch, I thought it was the perfect time to finally write it down.

I admit, I make really, really good chicken soup. And I make it often – in the winter it simmers on my stove at least once a week. The problem is I don’t really have a recipe. I use what I have on hand and go on instinct. Sometimes I have lots of time to make it and I do it one way, other times I want to get it done quick so I do some things another way. Either way, the end result is pretty much the same, so whatever way YOU want to get it done will work fine!

First, some notes. Because I am nothing if not long winded. And really, this is the most important part – because a recipe won’t really do you any good if you don’t know techniques, substitutions, and tips on winging it. Winging. Chicken. Hee hee. 🙂

The chicken! I roast a medium chicken almost every week, so I always have cooked chicken to throw into my soup, if you do this, you need at least half the chicken. We usually get couple of meals out of it, and then I make my soup.

As a side note, after I roast it, I strain and reserve the “juice” in the refrigerator, and when I make my soup I skim the fat off the top and use the gelatinous portion from the bottom. This adds a lot of flavor to the soup and it’s good for your bones, joints, hair, and nails! It’s a good quick soup fix when I can’t make my own stock. (Stock would be a whole other post!)

Okay, so you don’t want to roast a whole chicken? Really, any cooked chicken will do. Have some breasts in the freezer you need to use up? Bake them, cube them, and throw them in ten minutes before you serve the soup. (Sooner will dry white meat out.) Found some thighs on sale? Cut off as much skin and fat as possible and boil them in about six cups of water until just barely done, debone if necessary, then cut them up quickly (against the grain always!) and throw them back in with everything else. Don’t dump the water – That’s your soup starter!

Next up, onions. At least one large white or yellow onion. (Or 2 medium, or three small. Whatever!) My family loves the taste of onions, but they hate the texture of cooked onions in anything. So I puree them in a food processor. If you and your family love chunks of onions, by all means start by sautéing some in a bit of butter or oil right in your big soup pot. Just don’t burn them! I often start this way when I have the time, but when I have to get it done quick the pureeing really helps because you can dump them directly into your broth.

Garlic, garlic, and lots more garlic. Seriously. I am of the opinion you can never have too much garlic. Even more important than onions – don’t burn the garlic! If you are sautéing the onions, and using fresh minced garlic add it when the onions are almost done. If you are pureeing your onions (be like me and try this!) put your fresh cloves in the food processor with them! Easy peasy. If you are using jarred garlic (and there’s nothing wrong with that!) you can add it to your broth any time. Just put in more than you think you should.

The broth. I love to make a good stock out of the chicken bones but I can’t always do that, and I’m really not a stock purist so canned broth and bouillon cubes are always in my pantry. If you can make your own stock, great, use it! Especially since boiling those bones add lots of extra calcium to your soup! If not, don’t worry, your soup will still be great. 🙂 Just remember you can always add more bouillon later, but you can’t take it out if you add too many to start.

The recipe (such as it is!) All quantities are approximations. I never, ever measure, so please adjust to your liking.

Start with your stock/broth/water/ and your rice/barley/quinoa in a large soup pot on med-high and bring to a low boil. If you are using fresh veggies now is the time to add them if you like them well cooked. I’m not big on crunchy carrots in soup!

After you reach a boil, turn the heat down to low, add pureed onions and garlic if you haven’t already, bouillon cubes if you’re using them, and simmer for about 30-45 minutes, or until the rice is cooked. Now you can add frozen veggies, cooked chicken, and any other seasonings. Simmer another 10-15 minutes.

Taste for seasoning and broth level. Add more of whatever as needed to suit you. Taste, taste, and taste again until it’s perfect. I like mine with lots of black and cayenne pepper, but if I expect Josh to eat it too I have to hold back on the spicy! But the garlic? He looooves the garlic. 🙂 I hope you do too!

and then there was cake

Josh’s party was completely awesome. We had gorgeous weather, and fabulous guests. 🙂 We didn’t run out of goodie bags, but it was darn close! I have never had that many people in my house, but it was so much fun!

I spent all day Friday baking and prepping. All day.

I hope I never have to make a Lego cake again. But it was worth it just this once:

The knobs are half a marshmallow! Pretty stinking cute if I do say so myself!

Then I added the shortbread minifig cookies:

It looked a little like an army – guarding the cake with their lives!!

I had lots of shortbread dough leftover, so I cut rectangles and then added dots to look like Lego bricks.

Damon said they looked like Legos only in a Picasso kind of way, and someone else called them dominos. ~ahem~ I called them delicious. Phhhtttttt.

spicy leek and potato soup

As you know one of my favorite things in the world is soup. One of my newest faves is an easy spin on leek and potato soup. I’m working on adding more veggies to my diet and having meatless meals more often, and this soup does both with making me feel deprived. It’s not really low calorie, but any broth based soup that fills you up is going to be lower calorie than most meaty meals anyway.

This one is super easy, and it’s a great way to use up leftover mashed potatoes. If you don’t want to make mashed potatoes just for this, you can use a small package of instant. Keep in mind I’m not so perfect with the measurements. More or less any of these ingredients won’t make much difference. Sweat your onions, not the small stuff.

I like my onions pretty well cooked (crunchy onions in soup = ewww!) so start sweating your onions in the butter or olive oil first. Don’t brown them, just make them translucent.

While those cook you can prep your leeks. I like to split them down the middle and finely julienne them so I have fairly small pieces. Then I put them in a big pot of water to soak. The leeks will float and the dirt that is always caught in them will fall to the bottom. Once they are clean just skim the leeks right off the surface of the water and put them in with your onions to cook down.

When the leeks and onions are both translucent you can add your broth, potatoes, and spices. If you like your soup a little creamier you can add some half and half or whatever you have on hand. Simmer for a few minutes, and it’s ready.

Note: I like my soup pretty spicy so I add about 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne, but you can skip that if you don’t want it hot.

Let me know if you try it! I’m going to have my leftovers right now…

apple picking

When I was growing up my family had a mini apple orchard in our backyard. I was spoiled with homemade apple crisp and applesauce throughout every fall. I’m not so lucky to have apple trees in my own yard now, or even enough sunlight to support them if I tried, but we do have lots of orchards in our area.

We went apple picking this morning, and it was a perfect day for it, cool, but sunny. When we got there, we decided to go check out one of the fields a little further away, assuming the close by trees would be fairly well picked over. It was a great decision! I’ve never in my life seen such huge gorgeous apples, nor trees so full of them.

Seriously, every single branch looked just like this one.

The woman working there said it was a bumper crop. Not only did the apples love the rainy weather we had in July, but the owners had brought in extra bees to help pollinate and boy did they ever pollinate! (Did you know there’s been a bee shortage in New England for the last few years?)

Btw, they taste as good as they look too. Those apples were truly glorious.

The scent of fresh cinnamon applesauce is permeating everything in my house right now. I bet if you scratch your screen you can sniff it. 😉 I’m definitely making apple crisp later this week. Who’s coming over with the vanilla ice cream?

simple egg drop soup

Some days I crave Chinese food in the worst way, especially the soups. Oh, how do I love hot and sour soup and egg drop soup. This is one of those days!

Instead of ordering out I make a simple, quick, and low calorie egg drop soup that is just as satisfying, and better for me, than the restaurant version.

Simple Egg Drop Soup

One cup of water.

One bouillon cube (Preferably low sodium because holy cow do you know one regular bouillon cube is almost half of your daily sodium allowance??!)

1/2 cup to 1 cup fresh bite size spinach – I use baby spinach so I can throw in the stems and all and I don’t have to tear it up.

1 large egg

Microwave the water and bouillon in a large mug 1-2 minutes until it’s boiling and bouillon has dissolved.

Beat one egg with a fork in a separate bowl.

Slowly slide the egg into the water (or equivalent broth) and stir gently. Add in the spinach.

The hot water will cook the egg and wilt the spinach perfectly!

Now enjoy your 84 calorie lunch!

By the way, you can replace the spinach with anything you prefer: diced scallions, julienned Chinese peapods, bean sprouts, cooked carrots, water chestnuts, kale, etc. I just happen to like spinach in my soups and generally have it on hand.

soup obsessed

I think I spent the whole day in the kitchen today. I bought some great pork ribs cheap yesterday along with a 4 lb chicken for 3 bucks!

I had the ribs in the oven by 9 this morning (3 hours on 250 =  perfect ribs no matter what sauce you like on them) so we had our “big” meal of the day for lunch. I like to do that as much as possible, although it’s hard to do on weekdays. I just think we all feel better if we have our smaller meal at night.

I also roasted the chicken to make soup with. I used my new Pampered Chef dish that my friend Nicole gave me for Christmas – I seriously love it. An hour and a quarter on 400, (covered) and the chicken comes out gorgeous.

We’ve been on a soup kick around here lately. Partly because it’s been so cold and snowy (another 7 inches last night!!) that it’s nice to have a soup cooking all the time, and partly because we’re (always) trying to eat healthier. We seem to eat a lot more veggies, and much less meat when we have soup. I’ve been skipping the pastas more now and going for brown rice, barley, black beans, and quinoa in our soups. It’s a good way to get more whole grains and fiber in our diet without really noticing it.

I have a hard time digesting whole grains when they aren’t cooked well so I can’t really have most of the whole grain breads on the market. If you can see the seeds I can’t eat it. Same goes for pasta. The whole grain versions are really hard on me. The only one I can eat is Ronzoni’s Smart Taste, which is basically a white pasta with added fiber (6 grams per serving). I just wish they would make a frozen ravioli or tortellini out of it! We love cheese filled pastas but they are all seem to be made out of white flour so we don’t have them very often.

I find myself obsessively reading ingredient labels for fiber, protein and sugar content lately and I’ve noticed some interesting things. Since we cut white rice out of our diet I just bought whatever brown rice was on the shelf. Last weekend I had three different brown rice brands to choose from. A well-known brand that was the highest price, a never-heard-of-before brand that was the lowest price, and an organic brand that was mid range.

Automatically I chose that lowest price, because, of course, rice is rice is rice. Right? Wrong. The no-name was only 1 gram of fiber per serving. I just happened to glance at it and that really surprised me – I thought it would be more! So I looked at the top name brand – same serving size but it was 2 grams of fiber. Huh? Okay, so what was the organic? 3 grams! Weird isn’t it? I suppose that means the organic is less processed so more of the rice germ remains?

Apparently I need to learn more about buying organic, and I need to pay even more attention than I am. If that’s really possible.

Btw, I bought barley on the same trip and wouldn’t you know, it has 5 grams per serving! It’s slightly more expensive than rice but I guess it’s worth it.

Bored yet? I know I’m analyzing my food way too much. Hopefully I’m not the only one!

Anyway, I have my rice, barley, and veggies cooking right now, just waiting for me to throw in the chicken. That means I have to go tear apart that darn carcass. That’s the only bad thing about making soup!

So what are you having for dinner?

ps. Got a good soup recipe for me? Make sure you leave me a link in comments, I’m always looking for new soup recipes to try out. (As long as it’s not beef!)

comfort food

It seems I’m not the only sick chick online. It truly seems everyone I know has a touch of something. At least bloggy friends can’t catch it from each other! I have enough potential germs flying at me from the schoolyard, I don’t need any more. 😉

So yesterday was one of those weird days where I didn’t need to cook for anyone else, but being hungry myself drove me to the kitchen. Sick boy just wanted frozen pizza, and sick husband just wanted to be left alone. Easy enough. So what to make for myself? What is the ultimate comfort food?

I used to think it was chicken noodle soup. Until I discovered risotto. Now when I have a cold I either crave hot & sour soup from the local Chinese place, or a big bowl of creamy garlicky risotto. Well, I just had hot & sour soup a couple days ago and all I could think about was that I had half and half in the fridge that I needed to use up and that I had all the other ingredients on hand. (Arborio rice, chicken broth, onions, garlic, butter, cream, parmesan cheese.)

When I went to bed last night, I could smell the garlic coming out of my own pores. That’s pretty bad. But oh, so very good.

What’s your ultimate sick day comfort food? I may need to cook something else today and I need ideas. That is, if someone will come clean my kitchen first.

it’s all about the pie

So this past Saturday I had committed to working at a bake sale for a local charity that I’m involved with. Well you can’t go work a bake sale and not bring something baked to sell! I knew others were bringing cookies so that was out. What’s even easier than cookies? Pie. Pumpkin pie is way easier than cookies! Apparently other people don’t think so though.

I brought six pies and I got a number of comments about how ambitious that was. More ambitious than dozens of cookies? No way!

Cookies have to be portioned out evenly on the pans so they all look the same. They have to be watched carefully as they cook or they’re likely to burn. They have to be baked in batches because there’s never enough room in the oven. You have to wash the cookie sheets in between batches since you never have enough of them. You never ever get to leave the kitchen when you make cookies.

Six pies? That’s just six pre-made crusts spread over six tin foil pans. A few ingredients all mixed together in the biggest bowl you have. All can be baked at once. All come out at the same time. Plus or minus a minute or two of cooking time won’t ruin them, and they take long enough to bake that you can go sit on the couch for a while! Easy peasy!

At least I thought so, until I got an email from someone who bought one, loved it, and asked if I would make more for her. Huh? She thought I did if for a living. Huh? It occurred to me that not everyone realizes how easy it is to make a pumpkin pie. Have they always just had the crappy ones from the grocery store and don’t know the difference? Seriously?

Have any of you never made a pumpkin pie?

If you haven’t you really should try it. Don’t worry about the crust. No one cares about the bottom crust anyway, just use the Pillsbury ones that you unroll out on to the pie plate. (Now pies with a top crust are different. You really need to make homemade crust for that. Sorry!) Pumpkin pie is all about the filling.

So here’s my recipe for easy pumpkin pie, adapted my way from the back of a can of pumpkin.

1 – 15oz can of pumpkin (do not use the One-Pie brand, only use plain canned pumpkin)
1 – 12oz can of evaporated milk
2 eggs
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tsp. vanilla (I use just a little extra – and I do use homemade vanilla so that makes a slight difference in taste.)
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
pinch ground nutmeg
dash ground cloves

Mix well with whisk. Pour into pie shell.
Bake at 450 for ten minutes then turn oven down to 350 for another 30 minutes. At this point it’s good to cover the crust with a little tin foil (or a crust cover if you have one) to keep them from over browning. I hate burnt crust! Keep baking for another 10-20 minutes – until you stick a fork in and it comes out clean, and it doesn’t jiggle. Really scientific!

Oh, and no, I didn’t bake more pies for her. I have to work on my real job so I sent her this recipe instead!

tortilla soup

I haven’t posted a recipe in ages. I was typing up this soup recipe I created over the weekend and I thought it would be great for today’s post – it’s chilly and overcast out and a warm hearty soup is perfect.

This soup was good enough that DH wants to eat it a third night in a row tonight! I figured if we like it that might you might too.

Quick and Hearty Tortilla soup

1 package ground chicken or turkey
1 large (48 oz) box chicken broth
2 cups tomato juice
1 ½ cups cooked rice
2 tablespoons dry quinoa
1 package taco seasoning
1 can black beans, rinsed
1 can corn, drained, or use frozen
1 medium onion, chopped fine
1 cup diced carrots
1 cup diced celery
5 or 6 pepperoncinis, chopped fine, or other equivalent hot peppers
1 tablespoon minced garlic
chili powder
black pepper
lightly crushed tortillas

In soup pot, cook down carrots, celery and onion with a splash of olive oil. Add a tiny bit of broth as needed if it starts to stick.

In a separate pan, cook ground chicken or turkey with the taco seasoning, cumin, chili powder, and black pepper to taste.

As the veggies have cooked a bit, add corn, garlic, peppers, and black beans. When everything is hot through, add chicken/turkey mixture, tomato juice and chicken broth.

Bring to bowl, add quinoa and rice, and lower heat to a simmer for 20 minutes or until quinoa is cooked. Taste test for seasonings. Serve with crushed tortillas on top.

Btw, if you’ve never cooked with quinoa, you should really try it – it’s considered a super food and it’s a great way to bulk up a soup with extra fiber and nutrients.

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