Friday, November 13, 2009

Chicken Corn Chowder

I've said it before, but it bears repeating, I love the Autumn season.  I enjoy all the beautiful Fall colors, the crisp chill in the air, the beginning of Colts football and, of course, I love that the seasonal changes influence my cooking and baking. Fewer meals are planned for the grill while dinners become heartier, comfier soups and stews cooked on the stove-top or slow cookers. Fruity, leafy salads begin taking the backseat as squash casseroles and potatoes jump into the drivers seat and park on our dinner tables. Oh, Fall is such a beautiful and wonderful "experience" all around!

This chowder was perfect to serve my family after an evening of soccer and cheer practices. Both boys were cold from the damp, chilly weather and the girls were simply famished after a long day of school and practice. The chowder has so many wonderful flavors that come from the addition of celery, onion, red pepper and jalapeno pepper. Yes, jalapeno. I was so thankful that I followed Melanie's advice and added this. She shared that the pepper didn't add "heat" to the chowder, but gave it a delicious flavor, and she was so right. We LOVED this recipe so much that I'm already planning to prepare this with some leftover turkey the day after Thanksgiving. This will be perfect to return home to after a busy day of Christmas shopping. :)

Chicken Corn Chowder

**Plan Ahead: This recipe calls for cooked chicken. (Thanks Mel!)

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 stalks of celery, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 jalapeno, finely chopped, seeds and membrane removed (DON'T omit this!!)
1/4 cup thinly sliced or cooked chopped ham
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 (14-oz.) cans chicken broth
3 tablespoons flour
3 ears of fresh corn kernels or 1 1/2 cups frozen corn kernals
2 large chicken breasts, cooked and shredded
4 oz. softened cream cheese
1 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Place olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Saute celery, bell pepper, onion and jalapeno until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and ham; cook for another 3 minutes. Whisk the broth with the flour in a liquid measuring cup or bowl and then stir into the soup. Stir in the corn and chicken. Bring to a low boil and reduce heat. Whisk together the cream cheese and milk in a large bowl until smooth. (Make sure your cream cheese is really soft or you'll have lumps in the mixture!) Whisk the cream cheese/milk mixture into the soup along with the salt, pepper and cheddar cheese. Simmer on low until ready to serve.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Menu Planning, Meal Sharing and Meaty Lasagna Stoup

I've shared with you before that I am blessed to have the opportunity to work from home caring for my friend, Sarah's two precious little ones while she teaches first grade in our school district. When school resumed this fall, both of our households endured many major adjustments. For us, this marked the first year all four of our children would be in school all day. That probably doesn't sound like an earth shattering adjustment, but when you throw in homework, piano lessons, soccer, school cheer, competition cheer, youth group and daily responsibilities at home, I was struggling to keep our household afloat. For Mike and Sarah; she was returning to teaching after three long months of bed rest and six months of maternity leave with the birth of their second child. She is also continuing her education by pursuing her Masters Degree. Balancing a full time career, continuing education, family and household responsibilities were wearing on Sarah too. Several times during the first couple of weeks of school, we shared with one another our "leftovers" from a previous meal to help each other out on particularly busy nights. This worked so well that we decided to create a meal sharing schedule.

Here's how we've worked it out:

1.) We plan our menus two weeks at a time.
2.) We create our menus separately but communicate our ideas for the four meals that we will be sharing with one another.
3.) I am scheduled for Monday and Wednesday nights' dinners and Sarah is scheduled for Tuesday and Thursday. For our family, Friday is typically left over night and our weekend meals are planned according to whatever commitments we have.

I can't share with you how much of an INCREDIBLE blessing this has been for my family. On the two busiest nights of the week, when we're literally running in six different directions, I can relax knowing that there is a home cooked dinner waiting at home for us because Sarah brought it to me that morning when she dropped the kids off for the day. All I do is warm it up for the family and everyone eats according to their schedule for the evening. Whew-what a relief for me! On the nights that I send dinner to Sarah's, it offers her more valuable time to spend enjoying her kiddos without worrying about dinner preparations etc.  :)

We'll be sharing more tips and meal sharing ideas soon and I hope to begin listing our menus on the sidebar of my blog to share with you too. You can also check out the wonderful meal ideas that she has been sharing with us over at her blog;

This meal that I'm sharing with you today was a huge success for both families and made a large quantity of yummy goodness. This is basically lasagna in thick soup form. The noodles are broken up into the soup and they thicken the soup quite nicely. I loved that there were fresh veggies thrown into this too-always a great way to sneak nutrition into the kids' diet without them knowing. :) What's also wonderful about this recipe is that it's a Rachel Ray 30 minute meal, so you know it comes together quickly yet is full of wonderful flavors.

From the heart of my kitchen to yours, may your experience be fun and the food always flavorful. Enjoy!

Lasagna Stoup

2 tablespoons EVOO
1 lb. ground beef sirloin
Salt and Pepper
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and grated
3 to 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
One 32-ounce container (4 cups) chicken broth
One 28-ounce can Italian crushed tomatoes
1 lb. lasagna noodles, broken into jagged pieces
1 cup basil leaves, torn
1 cup whole-milk ricotta
Grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese, to pass around the table

1. In a soup pot, heat the EVOO over medium-high heat. Add the beef, season with salt and pepper and cook until browned, 3 to 4  minutes. Stir in the onion, carrots and garlic and cook until softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in 2 cups water, the chicken broth and tomatoes; cover and bring to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, about 15 minutes. Stir in the basil and season with salt and pepper.

2. Serve the stoup in bowls and dollop with the ricotta. Pass the parmigiano-reggiano at the table.

Source: Everyday with Rachel Ray-March 2009

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Pumpkin Spice Scones

Everything's coming up pumpkin!! We've been on a pumpkin eating spurt lately. I'm so thankful that my kids love the delicious taste of this versatile puree!! Last week I made my first batch of pumpkin scones and everyone was so captivated by their scrumptious taste and texture that the entire batch was gone in less than two days. I've made an additional two batches since then, adding dried cranberries and a little more pie spice both times (changes are noted in red), and they have been devoured quickly. Obviously, this has become a new favorite at our breakfast table!

From the heart of my kitchen to yours, may your experience be fun and the food always flavorful. Enjoy! 

Pumpkin Spice Scones

2 cups flour
1/3 cups Brown Sugar, Tightly Packed
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon Cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon Ginger 
1/2 teaspoon Nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon Pumpkin Pie Spice
1 teaspoon Orange Zest, or Lemon, Optional
1 stick Unsalted Butter, frozen
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup dried cranberries 

For the Glaze (Optional)

1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon Cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon Ginger
2 teaspoons corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla

Heavy cream (enough to let icing reach consistency of honey)
1/2 cup toasted, chopped walnuts (I omitted) 

Mix first 8 ingredients with a fork and add the frozen butter stick by grating it on a cheese grater over the flour mixture. (Note: work quickly, holding the frozen butter in its wrapper and a paper towel to keep it from melting.) 

Mix butter curls into the flour mixture with a fork. In a small bowl, mix the pumpkin and cream and pour into the flour/butter mixture. Add cranberries. Fold with a wooden spoon just until flour is moistened, then turn out onto a lightly floured board and gently knead over a couple of times. 

Pat into a circle about 1 inch thick and cut into 8 sections like pie slices. Separate scones onto a cookie sheet and place them in the freezer for 30 minutes. (Or make these ahead and place them in the fridge overnight.) 

Bake at 400 degrees for about 25 minutes till just firm and golden around the edges. Let cool to room temperature.

Mix the first 5 ingredients (powdered sugar, cinnamon, ginger, corn syrup and vanilla). Add heavy cream in small amounts at a time, stirring often, until icing reaches the consistency of honey.

With a lare soup spoon, spoon icing over the cooled scones. (I poured the glaze into a sandwich baggie, cut the tip off and drizzled the scones.) Sprinkle toasted walnuts over the top. Let the icing set a bit before putting the scones away in an airtight container. 

Source: Tasty Kitchen

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

I Want S'More Muffins!

Would a s'more still be a s'more if it didn't LOOK like a s'more? Huh? Whadya say? Did you ever wonder if you could enjoy the wonderful, chocolate-y, marshmallow-y goodness without a roaring fire and roasting fork? Have your kids ever begged and pleaded to have chocolate for breakfast? Have YOU ever had a craving for some rich, chocolate goodness before 9 a.m.?  duh!! If you answered yes to any of the afore mentioned questions, please continue reading my post for the solution to your problems! :)

These little babies catapulted me right up to "Super Mom" status in my children's eyes when they realized that I was seriously offering them chocolate for breakfast before school. Every bite is bursting with yummy marshmallows, chocolate chips and graham cracker crumbs, and they taste JUST LIKE their namesake, the s'more!! The kids really enjoyed these with a large glass of milk for breakfast and as an after school snack. Needless to say, they didn't last long!

From the heart of my kitchen to yours, may your experience be fun and the food always flavorful. Enjoy!

I Want S'More Muffins

3 tablespoons butter, softened
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
4 teaspoons sugar
1 egg
1/3 cup sour cream
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
3 tablespoons 2% milk
1/3 cup milk chocolate chips
6 tablespoons marshmallow creme

In a small bowl, cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Beat in egg. Stir in sour cream. Combine the flour, graham cracker crumbs, salt, baking powder, cinnamon and baking soda; add to creamed mixture alternately with milk just until moistened. Fold in chocolate chips.

Coat six muffin cups with cooking spray; fill one-fourth full with batter. Spoon 1 tablespoon marshmallow creme into each muffin cup. Top with remaining batter.

Bake at 400 degrees for 14-16 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 5 minutes before removing from pan to a wire rack. Serve warm.

Source: Taste of Home Fall 2009

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Cinnamon Caramel Corn with Pecans and White Chocolate

Who doesn't love the seasonal snack of popcorn coated in "stick-to-your-teeth" carmel? Every Autumn I begin making my Grannys recipe for carmel corn and we enjoy nibbling on many, many batches of the gooey snack all through the holidays. Lately, I've seen so many wonderful variations and additions to this traditional snack that I thought it would be fun to try a few different kinds this year.

My first recipe that I wanted to try I found on Our Best Bites. I was intrigued with the addition of cinnamon to the caramel and I knew the kids would flip over having the white chocolate drizzled over one of their favorite snacks. I followed my Granny's recipe for her caramel and then continued with the directions on Our Best Bites. I have to say that this variation was DELISH!! The cinnamon was a perfect addition, the chocolate enhanced the sweetness of the snack and the pecan halves added a wonderful crunch. Yummy!!

From the heart of my kitchen to yours, may your experience be fun and the food always flavorful. Enjoy!

Cinnamon Caramel Corn with Pecans and White Chocolate

12 C popped popcorn (about 1/2 C kernels)
1 C pecan halves, roughly chopped
1 C brown sugar
3/4 t cinnamon
1/4 C karo syrup (or honey makes a good substitution)
1 stick real butter (1/2 C)
1 t vanilla
1/2 t baking soda

3 squares almond bark (about 4 oz)

Preheat oven to 250 degrees

Place popcorn and chopped pecans in a large bowl and set aside.

Combine brown sugar and cinnamon in a 2 liter capacity microwave safe bowl. Mix well. Chop butter into chunks and place on top of sugar mixture. Pour corn syrup over the top of everything. Microwave on high for 30 seconds and then stir to combine. Return to microwave and heat for 2 minutes. Remove and stir and then microwave for 2 minutes more.

Remove from microwave and add in vanilla and baking soda. Stir to combine. Mixture will foam and rise. Pour caramel mixture over popcorn and pecans and stir very well so everything is well coated.

Spread popcorn mixture onto a foil-lined jelly roll pan. Place in oven and bake for 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes.

Remove from oven and spread out on a large piece of parchment, waxed paper, or foil.

Melt almond bark according to package instructions. Drizzle over popcorn mixture. When almond bark is hardened and popcorn is cool, break into chunks and enjoy!

Source: Our Best Bites

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Happy Birthday!

This past weekend we celebrated our youngest's 7th birthday. Shamefully, her birthday was earlier this month, but this was the first opportunity we have had to host a party for her. She was very excited to celebrate her birthday on Halloween afternoon and the possibilities that that offered for her party theme. Her only request for her cake was that it not be "spooky". Cuz "Mommy, spooky is no fun and it's my birthday. So it should be a happy cake with all the colors but no ghosts or spooky stuff." Her simple request made my heart swell and gave me even more determination to make her a beautiful and fun, Halloween themed birthday cake.

The bottom layer of her cake was chocolate fudge with buttercream filling. Very simple flavors, but we're talking about young girls taste pallats here. I didn't think they would appreciate some extravagent flavored cake with a fruit or fanciful filling. Simple is often times better, especially with youngins'. We decided that this layer would be wrapped with purple fondant and decorated with moons, pumpkins and witch's hats. This year Lauren chose an adorable little witch costume and when I told her that the hats on the cake represented her costume she thought that was pretty cool! :)

The top layer was milk chocolate with buttercream filling. One of Lauren's favorite Fall candy is Candy Corn. So I wrapped the layer with orange fondant and draped it with yellow and white "ribbons" of fondant and then rolled the ribbons to make a large bow for the top. She LOVED it!!
The birthday girl with her cake.
Another view of Lauren's cake

We also wanted to have special party favors for all of her friends and Lauren asked if I could make Halloween cookies for everyone. Well, when I bake cookies for everyone else who asks, and my husband and kids always come first, this was a no brainer....I geared up and baked and decorated 5 dozen cookies. The birthday cake cookies are inspired by, and a direct copy of, cookies I saw on Bridget's blog. If you enjoy decorating sugar cookies, you MUST check out her amazing blog!! She is so inspirational and offers so many "how-to's" for decorating. Thanks Bridget for sharing your talent and inspiration with all of us!! The birthday cookie was Lauren's favorite and she thought it was so cool that each one had 7 candles on them. :)

I think this little bucket of goodies turned out to be my favorite treat for all the girls! Why? Well, as I was rolling fondant and decorating the cake Lauren came to me and asked if she could do anything to help. One of the best advise I've ever received  has been to embrace and accept help from my children as often as possible. To learn to let go of my desire to have things perfect and cherish the opporunities of working alongside my kids. So..I melted the chocolates for the pretzals, stood Lauren on a chair at the stovetop, showed her how to cover half the pretzals with the chocolate and sprinkles and......stepped away. I wish I had taken a picture of her as she worked diligently at her task. She was so precious to watch with her serious little face as she worked on her task and I loved watching her tiny fingers twirl the pretzals in the colorful chocolate. But the best moment was when she turned to me with a HUGE smile of success after filling two baking sheets with cooling chocolate covered pretzals and said, "Mommy, I'm all done with my job. Is there anything else I can do?" Priceless!!!

I hope you've enjoyed this tutorial of our precious daughter's birthday celebration. I know she'll be beyond excited when she sees her pictures on the blog and any responses that you may write.  :)

From the heart of my kitchen to yours, may your experience be fun and the food always flavorful. Enjoy!