Vegetable and Tortellini Soup

After the chilly late fall weather, and stuffing myself on Thanksgiving, soup sounded lovely.  I like soup.  Especially in cold weather.  It’s the nice kind of warmth I need to feel like I can brave the outdoors again tomorrow.  Since I love cooking, I can’t just BUY soup.  No, no.  I need to MAKE soup.  Luckily for me, soup is incredibly easy to make.  There are some things I have learned over the process of writing this blog and that is there are some things you should rarely buy, because they are just too easy to make.

Exhibit 1: Cranberry sauce.  I had NO idea how simple cranberry sauce was until I made it for Thanksgiving this year.  Literally, you just boil cranberries in some liquid and add some sugar.  Just like that, you’re done.  Cranberry sauce.  Why would you ever buy it?  Plus, by making it, you can add some nice touches.  For instance, I boiled mine in orange juice and brandy.  I used some spices to liven it up.  I would post the recipe, but my fiance told me it tasted like a holiday candle (in other words, awful).  I didn’t think it was so bad  . . .

Exhibit 2: Creme Brulee.  I know, it sounds fancy and French, but its really just a custard with crystallized sugar on top.  Essentially, creme brulee is only 5 ingredients and a blow torch (or a broiler, if you know MY recipe).  Remember this the next time you order a $6 vanilla bean creme brulee for dessert.

Exhibit  3: Soup.  Now, creamy, blended soups are a little more difficult and require a little bit more work and some special equipment.  However, broth-based soups are pretty simple and can often be made from leftovers!  This soup is made from veggies most people have around the house and pre-made tortellini, but you could just as easily throw together soup from some leftover turkey or chicken, canned veggies, and broth.  Pasta and rice are great for another hearty layer.

This soup is really simple and delicous for a frosty winter night.

2 Tbl butter

1/2 large onion, chopped

3 cloves of garlic, minced

1 large tomato, diced

2 cups chicken broth

2 cups of water

2 Tbl of marinara sauce (or 1 Tbl pest0)

1 package of fresh or frozen cheese tortellini

1 1/2 cup fresh spinach, washed and torn, loosely

Melt butter in a large saucepan.  Add onion.  Cook until just barely translucent.  Add garlic.  Cook until fragrant; this should only take about 2 minutes.  Add tomatoes, water, and broth.  Bring to a boil.  Add marinara sauce or pesto to season.  Add tortellini.  Boil for 5 minutes, then add spinach.  Cook for 2 more minutes and serve!

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Breakfast Cookies

I’m on a roll this month!  This is another guest spot from my friend living in Germany.  She has been experimenting with recipes, especially those that incorporate cookies into breakfast!  This is recipe is especially nice because it is flexible.  She provided me with a base recipe, but you can add any other tasty ingredients you would like.  There are all sorts of different things you can add: craisins, raisins, or other dried fruit, chocolate chips, chopped almonds or walnuts, flax seeds, or sesame seeds.  (Personally, I think dried cherries, flax, and walnuts sound fabulous!)  You can also substitute half of the flour with whole wheat flour for a slightly less guilty indulgence.

Thanks for the great recipe!  These cookies are sure to make breakfast much more exciting.  After all, who can’t use a little dessert in the morning? 🙂

The base recipe is:
1 ½ cups brown sugar
2 ½ cups rolled oats
4 cups of flour
1 tsp. Baking soda
1 tsp baking powder together in a bowl
Add 5 eggs and ¼ cup of vegetable oil and mix well.
(You can add small amounts of water to reach the correct consistency.)

These cookies will be baked on a greased cookie sheet at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about eight to ten minutes.

Mix brown sugar with egg and oil mixture.  In a separate bowl, mix together dry ingredients.  Add dry ingredients to sugar, egg and oil mixture.

Lastly, add in any other yummy ingredients.  My friend used chopped almonds, 1/2 package of craisins, and 1/2 package of chocolate chips.  They turn out kind of like granola bar and a muffin mixed together; quite tasty 🙂

Drop cookies onto greased cookie sheet and bake.  Then ENJOY!

Pulled Pork Tacos

For me, tacos are a standby.  Anytime I don’t want to spend a ton of time cooking, but I want a filling meal with lots of flavor, I make tacos.   This recipe in particular is a standby for me because it’s quick, easy and delicious.  I have been making these for years, but only recently it occurred to me that I should post them.

Thats right, they look delicious too!  This is another “one pot meal” I make.  In fact, I take it step further and make it even easier by cooking the pork in a slow cooker.  Delicious.  I’m also a little partial to this recipe because I only cook it with Iowa pork.  Every time I go home, my parents give me pounds and pounds of Iowa pork, because they know what I know – Iowa pork is best.  I am an Iowa girl and I get a little misty-eyed thinking of the hometown butchers, rich with fresh, quality meat . . .  ahhh memories.

Needless to say, when I have leftovers from the stock of pig I bring from home, I like to make tacos.  You can easily change the amount of seasoning and reheat some leftover pork roast to make this as well.  Pork roast or pork butt is the typical cut used for pulled pork.  I would advise using one of these cuts.  They fall apart when you cook them which makes it amenable to making tacos.  Any other cut just won’t be the same.  This recipe also makes a LOT of servings, so unless you have a family of 8, be prepared for leftovers.

Seasoning (from All Recipes)

2 Tbl chili powder

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1/2 tsp onion powder

1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

1/2 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp paprika

1 Tbl ground cumin

2 tsp salt

2 tsp black pepper

Tacos

2.5 lbs of pork roast or pork butt

2 10-ounce cans of diced tomato and green chile

corn tortillas

Pat pork with taco seasoning.  Turn slow cooker on to your desired heat and time.  I usually use a probe to cook it to the right temperature.  When its done, or about 30 minutes from being done, drain the fat and break up the pork.  Add it back to the slow cooker, or a large pan.  Add the tomato and chile.  Warm through.  It’s that easy!  I like to heat up the tortillas and top  with cheese, lettuce, and salsa.  Enjoy!

Lemon Victoria Sponge Cake

Firstly, apologies.  I know I’ve been a bad blogger.  Life caught up to me.  But never fear faithful followers!  I have not quit cooking.  In fact, I’ve been cooking nearly as much as ever.  I just haven’t been posting about it.  I pledge to try harder.

It is fitting that I am writing about this cake for 2 reasons.  First of all, I missed my blog’s one year anniversary.  I never even posted any recipes that month!  In addition, I made this a short while ago for a friend who was celebrating her birthday!  (Happy belated birthday Rach)  She is also the Matron of Honor in my wedding.  She asked me if I could try to recreate a classic English dish her grandmother always makes her.  Now, please don’t hold this cake to the standards of traditional Victoria Sponge Cake.  There are many things that the traditional cake will or will not have that just doesn’t *quite* make it the same.

For instance, I could not make the cake in crazy British measurements.  Not that they are crazy in general; just crazy hard to replicate here in the States.  Exhibit one: 7 inch sponge cake tins.  I didn’t know a 7 inch round pan existed.  I have one smaller pie plate that would have cut it, but no second pie plate for the second layer.  So I did not use the pie plate.  Instead, you can use two 8×8 square pans.  Exhibit 2: Funny names for items like caster sugar and icing sugar.  These are just superfine and powdered sugar, respectively.   Exhibit 3: Directions in ounces in grams.  This is actually a brilliant way to bake.  Europeans are much more precise in their measurements when baking, so they use scales to get the exact weight of the ingredient they are using.  While this is much more accurate, most American kitchens don’t have a scale.

Needless to say, I had to do some math and some research.  But, in the end I had an actual cake that had a striking resemblance to an actual Victoria Sponge cake.  The most amazing thing is this recipe is actually pretty simple.  There are only a few ingredients and you can easily customize it.  As long as you are careful with your technique, you can easily have a homemade sponge cake in no time.

I used a recipe from this site.  It’s a really fun site that also explains a lot of the conversions.  It also has fun history facts about some of the ingredients, which is super cool if you are a food nerd like me.   But I won’t make you do the math.  Here is the American conversions for the recipe.  You can find superfine sugar at most large grocery stores.  The Domino brand is especially easy to find.

1 cup of butter, softened

3/4 cup of superfine sugar

1 cup of all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 eggs

zest of one lemon

1 Tablespoon of lemon juice

Raspberry preserves and powdered sugar to serve

Preheat the oven to 325.  Cream butter and sugar together.  The website explains that you want to do this, “until you get a pale, fluffy mixture that drops off the spoon easily”.  Beat the eggs, adding them into the butter and sugar mixture a little at at time.  It is important to do this slowly.  The best way to do this is add about a tablespoon of egg, then beat.  Add another tablespoon of egg, then beat.  Keep repeating until all the egg is incorporated.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.  Fold the flour mixture into the egg mixture.  Again, take your time folding this in.  Fold in lemon zest and juice. Make sure the mixture can slide off the back of a spoon. If your mixture is a little too thick, add more lemon juice.

Line 2 8-inch round cake tins with parchment paper.  Grease if you are worried.  Fill the tins evenly with mixture.  Bake for 25-30 minutes.  Cake WILL fluff up.  Thats good.  🙂  They will be springy in the center when done.  The most common way to serve this is with a thin layer of raspberry preserves between the two cakes, the sprinkled with powdered sugar.

Vegetable Fried Rice

Wow!  This dish is already famous and I haven’t even posted it yet.  A little while ago, I posted a picture of my vegetable fried rice and almost immediately people started asking me for the recipe.  Well everyone, the wait is over.  Here it is!

As I have previously discussed, I love Asian food.  I was craving Chinese food the other night, so I decided to take a stab at making fried rice.  Now, I would like to preface this post by saying I have never made fried rice before.  I am somewhat intimidated by Indian and Chinese food.  I keep thinking someone’s grandmother would be insulted by my creation.  But, I decided to try it anyway.

I looked all over the internet for recipes.  I watched videos of men cracking eggs into pans.  I scoured pictures of shimmering bowls full of beautiful combinations.  But in the end, I decided to just make a simple, home-grown version of fried rice.  I know this is bold.  But I didn’t I didn’t stray far from the basic combination of rice, vegetables, and egg.

Just to make the process clear, I took step-by-step photographs.  And I have a couple of tricks of the trade.  Firstly, I noticed that most people advise using leftover rice.  I would agree with this, but only if its sticky, already somewhat moist.  I used brown rice that had gotten nice and sticky while cooking and it worked well.  Secondly, the key to making good fried rice is all in the timing.  I tried to give the approximate times for everything.  However, it is important to note that the times will not help if the food is not evenly chopped.  Plus, this recipe takes very little time to cook, so take care to properly prepare the ingredients ahead of time.

A Delectable Endeavors Original:

1 large carrot, peeled and chopped

1 medium onion, chopped

3 scallions, sliced lengthwise and chopped

2 Tbls of oil

2 1/2 cups cooked rice

2 Tbls of soy sauce

2 tsp garlic salt

Like I said, make sure to prepare all your veggies ahead of time.  See all the nicely chopped vegetables?  They are evenly cut so each piece is approximately the same size.  This way they all cook evenly.

Heat oil in a large pan on medium-high.  Start by cooking the carrots.

Take about 3 minutes to cook the carrots.  Or, until they are slightly darker.  However, make sure they are not fully cooked.  They will be in the pan a bit longer.  Add onions.

Cook onions until they are begin to turn transucelnt.  This should only take a couple of minutes.  Season the mixture with salt and pepper.

Crack an egg into the pan.  Use a spatula to vigorously break up egg into small pieces while it cooks.  Only spend about a minute or two doing this, then add scallions.  Cook scallions in mixture for a minute, then add rice.

Mmmm now its starting to look like fried rice.  Cook this mixture for a minute while breaking up rice and evenly distributing the ingredients.  Then add soy sauce.

You can add this to taste, adding as much as you would like.  I added about 2 Tablespoons.  Mix this in, then add garlic salt.

Mix up this delicious mixture while you salivate.  It is ready to serve!  As you can tell, this is a very basic, simple version.  But, I think it tastes fairly authentic.

Obviously, this makes a LOT of rice.  It would easily feed 4 people plus.  But leftovers are delicious!  You can make some as a side for dinner and save the leftovers for a delicious lunch the next day.  At least thats what I did.  🙂

Fun, New Adventures

As mentioned in the previous blog, the fiance and I recently moved to a new neighborhood.  I went out exploring the other day and found an incredible haven nearby.  There is a place called the Randolph Street Market.  It is incredible.

This market is a foodie’s dream.  The entire street is full of wholesale food vendors with everything from paper supplies to massive produce markets.  The street is also lined with beautiful restaurants with cuisine from every corner of the world.   I think you are getting the picture.

The worst part (or best, depending on how you look at it) is that this market is literally minutes from my house.  I walked, no skipped, through the street with glee, dreaming of the beautiful, fresh food I would be getting and the delicious meals that would arise.  I should not have been set loose on Randolph street; it could get dangerous.

I love that some of the vendors are small, family owned places that have been there forever.  I bought some lovely spring onions and a box of cherries from this sweet little produce place.  You could tell the cherries had come straight from the tree.  I relished in their imperfectness.  The woman who owned the place was very kind and spoke in an accent I couldn’t place.  I love places like this because they really connect me to where my food comes from.  I grew up on a farm, so stores like this remind me of home.  Plus, I try to buy locally as often as possible to support small, local farmers.

In addition to the fabulous produce, there are wholesale fish markets.  Look at that!  Fresh crab legs in Chicago!  I could hardly contain myself.  Then I went in and began looking around at the buckets of fresh halibut fillet and red snapper halves, and realized I would not be cooking that night.  I could hardly buy such fresh fish and leave it in the refrigerator for a day.  I felt that would be disrespectful.  So I moved on to the next block.

This very inconspicuous store front is my new favorite shop.  This store is a culinary fantasy.  Inside were all the items a bona fide chef would need.  Ramekins and immersion blenders, and stainless steel Japanese knives, oh my!  I went crazy.  Secretly, I was peeking around corners trying to spot a famous chef.  As it turned out, I didn’t see any, but I did find a LOT of things to add to the wedding registry.

Among those things were these adorable mini potato mashers.  So cute!  And don’t think I just like them for their miniature novelty.  They are also very functional.  I only cook for two, and use smaller bowls, so I don’t really have the room or need for a huge potato masher.  These might be the next purchase I make at the market.

Leaving the market, I saw this sign.  Wow!  I’ve always wanted to make my own wine.  Now all I have to do is convince the fiance we have the room . . .

The return and French words

As many of you know, I have been MIA from blogging for a little over a month for lots of exciting reasons.  First, we moved.  The boyfriend and I had been living on the edge of the city in a quaint little suburb.  While this was a lovely area, new jobs and no more classes (hooray!) persuaded us to move into the city.  This way, we are both closer to work and friends.  We now have a nice little apartment in the city with a view worth a million bucks.  Here’s the proof.

You will notice the train tracks in front.  Yes, we live next to the train.  Luckily, it is a suburban commuter train so it provides more of a soft rustle than a loud, disturbing noise.  My favorite part about the new apartment is my huge kitchen.  It’s lovely, with lots of counter space and tons of cupboards.  I can’t wait to start filling them up!

Second, (as I alluded to above) I am officially and finally done with school forever!  Well, classes that is. When you are a professional, the work is never done, so I do not have my degree yet.  I now have the daunting task of finishing my dissertation and internship before they hand me my diploma.  I foresee lots of late night cooking to keep myself sane over the next year.

Lastly, the boyfriend has now become the fiance!

I love the ring and he proposed in a very sweet and personal way.  We are very excited.  However, the thought of planning a wedding in the next year while finishing my dissertation and internship makes me want to hyperventilate, so the actual event will be more than a year away.  In the mean time, the fiance (that word is still strange to me) and I are just enjoying ourselves in our new apartment.

In honor of strange, French words like fiance, I decided to post a French dessert called clafoutis.  Don’t let the French intimidate you; this is a very simple recipe.  I have made it a few times and it almost always turns out great.

Essentially, clafoutis (pronounced klah-foo-TEE) is a cross between a pancake and a custard.  Its light, slightly sweet, and should have the consistency of flan.  Clafoutis is one of those strange concotions that is difficult to explain, but has a strange familiarity when eaten.  It is often baked in a pie pan and has fresh fruit in it.  It is much easier to just show you what it looks like.

I used nectarines for this clafoutis.  Traditionally, the dessert has cherries or blackberries, but almost any ripe fruit works well.  The edges of this clafoutis really puffed up, a bit like a Dutch Baby.  This often happens with clafoutis because of the amount of egg in it.  I think it has a classy, rustic look.  It is a very simple dessert that you can make quickly for unexpected company with some basic ingredients you have around the kitchen.  In fact, I made this clafoutis for some friends of ours who happened to be in town and were stopping by after dinner.   It only takes about 30 minutes to prep and make, and is usually a crowd pleaser.

Clafoutis (adapted from Playing House)

1 Tbs unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup white, granulated sugar

3 extra-large eggs, at room temperature

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 1/4 cups milk (this works best with whole milk, or cream)

1 dash of salt

1 Tbs pure vanilla extract

1 large nectarine, sliced 1cm thick

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Butter a pie pan liberally.  If you like, sprinkle one Tablespoon of white sugar in the pan for a nice crust.

Beat eggs and sugar together in a large bowl.  Beat together well.  It is helpful to do this with a blender or stand mixer.  Slowly add in flour, milk, salt and vanilla.  Mix until smooth.

Place netarine in the bottom of the greased pie pan.  Pour mixture over the fruit.  Bake for 30 minutes.  Serve warm.  If you like, sprinkle with powdered sugar or ice cream.