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 sautĂ©ing 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 sautĂ©ing 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!

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…

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.

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
cumin
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.

cooking, just for fun

You all know I like to cook, but when it comes to making meals day in and day out, it gets a little tiring. With no little one around this week relying on me for sustenance, I resolved to only cook what I felt like, when I felt like. That’s just what I did today.

I had two things in the pantry that I wanted to use up. A bag of hot dog rolls. Not yucky, but just a little dry and past their prime. Eh, If hot dog rolls really have a prime that is. I also had a can of condensed milk that was nearing it’s sell by date. Do those two things together inspire you? Make you think of anything?

How about bread pudding?

Specifically, caramel bread pudding:

Oh. My. God.

I sort of threw this all together, and it came out perfectly. Not one measurement was done in the making of this lovely concoction.

But I can make it up for it you if you really want me to.

Mix everything all together, put it in a 9×12 baking pan, and stick it in the oven for about 40 minutes at 350. You will not regret it.

Moving on. Do you remember the many pounds of strawberries I picked, cleaned, and froze?

Mmmmmmmmmmmm.

Did I ever mention we have a little Cuisinart ice cream maker? It’s pretty sweet. Heh.

We hadn’t used it in awhile, but knowing we had all those strawberries made us pull it out and get it going.

Can you say fresh, homemade, strawberry ice cream?

The recipe is straight from the Cuisinart recipe booklet.

DH wants you to know the pudding and the ice cream were best together, although I preferred mine separate! I’m picky that way. He also thinks the pudding would be even better with chopped apples and some raisins. I hate raisins, but I agree that the apples would be fantastic.

No, we didn’t have a real meal today. Just dessert. And popcorn at the movie theater. Indy’s still hot, baby! I might need to go cool off with some more ice cream.

Mmmmm, Guacamole

Since I’m still slammed with work this week (penguins are cute but they all start to look alike after awhile and I still have a long way to go) and I bet you are too, I thought I would post the absolute easiest recipe in my repertoire. This is the dish I always bring to parties.

Easy Guacamole

Mash avocados very smooth. Add all other ingredients and mix well. Cover with saran wrap so it is touching the top of the guacamole (so it will not brown before serving.) Chill until ready to use. Stir again just before serving.

Now I’m craving some guac and chips! I hope you like it as much as I do!

lazy man’s (or busy woman’s) chicken corn chowder

(Yesterday I promised a little something new and fun this week! Well, here it is! My latest recipe is cross-posted over at Chop. Stir. Mix. It’s the cutest foodie site ever, and it’s a great resource for busy women. Go see for yourself!)

Back when dh and I were living in Northern Virginia we would sometimes go to Red Hot and Blue, a bbq restaurant that was just down the street from us. One of the menu items we both loved was their chicken corn chowder, which had just a hint of smoke and heat. Now that we’re back in New England I can’t get no RH&B, so I had to come up with my own version of the chowder.

Now, mine certainly isn’t the same, and it would NEVER be called gourmet, but the flavors are perfect, it’s hearty, and it’s one of the easiest meals I make. I could boil the potatoes myself and I could bake the chicken myself (and sometimes I do.) I could also milk a cow myself (hee hee), and heck I could grow the corn too (well, probably not) but some nights I just don’t have time to do anything but open cans. Do you have those nights too?

The point is, I’m giving you my easiest version of this, and you change it up however you want, k? The only super duper important things here are the roasted corn and the spices.

Lazy Man’s (or Busy Women’s) Spicy Chicken Corn Chowder

2 cans corn, one drained, one not!

2/3 bag frozen roasted corn (I had a 1 lb bag from Trader Joes)

1 package pre cooked diced chicken, or 1 cup diced baked chicken

1 can diced potatoes drained or 2-3 boiled potatoes diced

1 can cream of potato soup

1 can cream of chicken soup

1 ½ – 2 cups milk

1 cup light cream (if using skim milk use more cream and less milk)

salt and pepper to taste

cayenne pepper

chili powder

optional:

4-5 scallions or 1-2 small onions chopped fine

2 tbsp butter/margarine

(If using onions or scallions, start by lightly sautéing them in butter.)

Get a big pot and dump in all of your ingredients, all the corn, (including the can with the water), cream of potato soup, cream of chicken soup, potatoes, milk, cream. Slowly heat on Medium to a low boil (not roiling), then turn to low to simmer. If soup is too thick add extra milk or a little water, if too thin add extra cream or more corn. Add cayenne, chili powder, salt and pepper to taste, (remember the canned soup has salt already so go easy.)

Simmer for a few minutes to meld the flavors, and enjoy!

ps. Here’s a printable pdf version if you want it! spicy-chicken-corn-chowder

not your mama’s vanilla

I have a secret.

Well, it’s not really secret, but I only learned it a few years or so ago, and I’m going to share it with you.

For awhile now, every time I bake something, most notably brownies, I get rave reviews, and requests for more. Frankly, I don’t think I’m that much of a baker. I find a recipe I like and I stick to it. My chocolate chip cookies are always tollhouse. My oatmeal cookies are off the quaker oats container top, my cakes are always box mixes.

My brownie recipe is taken from the back of the box of unsweetened hersey’s baking chocolate. (Which I might add I’m having trouble finding in my local grocery stores lately so I’m glad I photocopied it long ago. Do they not make it anymore?) Anyway, the only difference between mine and the printed recipe are that I underbake them a bit, I sometimes add chocolate chips too, and I use REAL VANILLA.

Real, homemade, vanilla.

Did you know you can make your own vanilla? and if you do it will completely change your baked goods forever. For the better.

Here’s what you do. You go to a health food store and you buy whole vanilla beans (maybe three or so.) Second you go to the liquor store and you buy some vodka. (Maybe a quart? Doesn’t really matter. If I made a whole gallon I’d probably put in 10 beans.) You take them home and swig a shot you take a sharp knife and cut a slit all the way down each vanilla bean. You put your beans in the bottle of vodka. You DATE THE BOTTLE with a marker. Put it in some high cupboard for a few months and forget about it. I like to wait at least six months, but some people say you can start using it within a few weeks. I beg to differ.

When it’s ready you can start using it the exact same way you would store bought vanilla. But I warn you, make enough that you don’t ever have to use the artificial stuff again, because you will disappoint everyone in your life if you give them brownies any other way, ever. When you start getting low, just make another quart gallon. Right now would be a great time to start a batch that you can later re-bottle in something cute and give away as presents for the holidays. Just be sure when you put some in a fresh, smaller bottle, at least one of the beans goes with it.

ps. I learned all this from my mom! I’m pretty sure her first batch was made in a 30 year old bottle of vodka they had hanging around the house. It was awesome.

pps. I’ve started a batch in a small bottle of clear rum instead. I can’t wait to see how it turns out!

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