April 23, 2012

Chicken Chili

What happened to springtime and sunshine? We've been having clouds, rain and cooler weather for the last two days... today in the 50's, it felt much colder (if it weren't for the green leaves on the trees, I would probably be bummed that winter was still going strong). I hate being cold, and immediately started craving something to warm me up from the inside out.

As I've mentioned before, I don't like chicken soup... But, for some reason, that it where my mind went at first when I started thinking about warm, comforting, rainy day foods with chicken (perhaps because I had defrosted chicken for dinner...). I caught myself, however, and immediately settled on chicken chili.

I have made chicken chili before... usually "white" chicken chili, (meaning not tomato based), but it usually ends up tasting like spiced up chicken noodle soup. (Which, needless to say, disappoints the chicken soup hater in me). Instead of searching for a recipe, I just headed to the grocery store and starting thinking about what flavors I loved in regular chili... and what I wanted to warm me up. My first stop? The bakery for some crusty bread!!

I hate to brag, but this chili was delicious. It had all the flavor I was looking for, was quick and easy to throw together and definitely make a good comforting warm meal on a rainy night. I hope that you have the chance to enjoy it as much as I did!!

Chicken Chili
Serves 4-6

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into "bite-sized" pieces
1 large yellow onion, diced
3/4 cup celery, diced
3/4 cup carrot, diced
1 jalapeno, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp oregano
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp chili powder
1 14.5oz can diced tomatoes with their liquid
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 14.5oz can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 tbsp yellow corn meal
Kosher salt and black pepper
Olive oil

In a large stockpot, heat olive oil (enough to cover bottom of pot), over medium-high heat. Add diced chicken, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp black pepper. Saute until chicken is browned. Remove from pot, set aside.

Add small amount of oil to pot. Add onion, celery, carrot, jalapeno and garlic to pot. Add spices, (1 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp black pepper, 1 tsp oregano, 2 tsp cumin, 1 tsp chili pepper), and cook until onion is translucent. Add can of diced tomatoes, tomato paste and beans. Stir. Add browned chicken and chicken broth. Cover, and simmer on medium heat for 15 minutes. Add 2 tbsp yellow corn meal. Cover, and simmer for additional 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Serve. Would be awesome garnished with some fresh cilantro!

Notes on this recipe: Yum. I thought that this chili had just the right amount of spice*, (warming, flavorful, a little spicy without burning)... Just enough to leave you craving seconds. I will definitely be keeping this recipe nearby- to make whenever I need a light, but comforting meal. *Spiciness can depend a lot on your jalapeno... if you think you want to make it spicier, I encourage you to taste the finished product before adding more spice... you can always add more, but you can't take it away, (trust me, I've made this mistake!!)

April 21, 2012

Asparagus Soup

Happy Spring!! I hope that everyone is enjoying the warmer weather, the greenery, and some fresh spring produce! I really enjoy springtime- seeing everything come back to life, flowers and greenery popping up all over the place, sunshine... the end of winter! Of course, I also enjoy the fresh produce that seems to appear overnight at the grocery store... one of my favorites being asparagus.

I typically enjoy grilled or roasted asparagus... but, for Easter, (I know, this is a pretty belated recipe share), I tried something a little different, and made some delicious asparagus soup. I didn't follow the recipe completely, (no big shock there)... I kept it simple and easily portable by making only the soup, choosing to omit the croutons completely- a decision that I don't regret in the least. Everyone loved the soup, and I will definitely be making it again and again! Delicious, creamy (without any added fat or cream!), and simple- it would be an awesome starter or make a great light meal when paired with a little salad and some crusty bread. Gotta love Cooking Light!!

Asparagus Soup with Cheese Croutons
Yield: 8 servings

1 14oz can fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
1 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
1 1/2 teaspoons butter
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/4 cup thinly sliced shiitake mushrooms
8 1/2oz slices French bread
Cooking spray
1/4 cup (1oz) shredded Gouda cheese
1/4 cup cooked brown rice
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground green peppercorns
1/8 teaspoon sea salt

Place chicken broth and asparagus in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat; bring to a simmer. Cook 8 minutes or until asparagus is tender. Remove from heat.
Heat butter and olive oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add sliced shiitake mushrooms to pan; cook 3 minutes or until mushrooms begin to brown. Set aside.
Preheat broiler.
Place bread on a baking sheet covered with foil; coat bread with cooking spray. Broil 2 minutes or until golden brown. Turn bread over, and sprinkle evenly with cheese. Broil 2 minutes or until cheese bubbles.
Pour asparagus mixture into a blender. Add rice, peppercorns, and salt; puree until smooth. Ladle 1/2 cup soup into each of 8 bowls; top evenly with mushrooms. Top each serving with 1 crouton.

Calories: 86; Fat: 2.6g, Sat. Fat: 1.2g, Monounsaturated fat: 0.9g, Polyunsaturated fat: 0.1g; Protein 4.3g; Carbohydrate: 11.9g; Fiber: 1.9g

*Notes on this recipe: As I mentioned above, I did not make the croutons... and I didn't miss them. The shiitake mushrooms were special in this soup- I would definitely not suggest substituting or omitting them. I do not have green peppercorns in my arsenal, so I used freshly ground black pepper to taste.

I highly recommend this soup to anyone who enjoys asparagus- its an easy and delicious way to enjoy a little bit of spring!

You can find the original recipe here at CookingLight.com. 

April 18, 2012

Whole-Grain Spaghetti with Brussels Sprouts and Mushrooms

I am sort of a cookbook collector. It's not a huge collection, but definitely a tasty one. I recently discovered the Williams Sonoma Cookbook Club... my idea of a good night out. Once per month, they feature a cookbook and provide cooking demonstration/class comprised of recipes from the featured cookbook. I had the opportunity to go to a class this month, for my mom's birthday, which featured Giada De Laurentiis' new cookbook Weeknights with Giada. I really enjoyed the recipes they featured, and couldn't wait to explore my new book and see what else it had to offer.

Tonight, fueled by fresh spring produce and a desire for some comforting pasta, I tried out Giada's recipe for Whole-Grain Spaghetti with Brussels Sprouts and Mushrooms. Simple, bright, and filling- it was all that I was hoping for. I highly recommend this dish for a yummy spring (or anytime) dinner...

Whole-Grain Spaghetti with Brussels Sprouts and Mushrooms
Serves 4 to 6

1 pound whole-grain or whole wheat spaghetti
1 cup grated pecorino romano cheese
1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 pound mushrooms, such as cremini, button or stemmed shiitake, cleaned and cut into thick slices
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed, halved and thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup (8oz) creme fraiche, at room temperature
1/2 cup vegetable or chicken broth
Grated zest of 1 large lemon
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (from 2 large lemons)
1 cup slivered almonds, toasted

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain and transfer to a large serving bowl. Toss with 1/2 cup of the cheese.

In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and mushrooms, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft and the mushrooms are golden, about 6 minutes. Add the Brussels sprouts and garlic. Cook for 6 to 8 minutes, until the sprouts are soft.

Add the creme fraiche, vegetable broth, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Bring to a simmer and stir until the mixture forms a creamy sauce, about 2 minutes. Season with 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper.

Pour the sauce over the pasta, add the almonds, and toss until coated. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup cheese and serve.

*Notes on this recipe: Yum! I only made a half-batch of this pasta, to avoid having loads of leftovers, and could have easily served 4 with what I made. I used spaghetti- as directed, but I will be trying penne next time. Since the sauce wasn't abundant, it was difficult to keep the spaghetti neat and easily mixed. I did not have creme fraiche in my refrigerator, and didn't feel like hunting some down, so I used what I had on hand- part-skim ricotta cheese. It worked well, but in the future, I will hunt down the real stuff to see how the intended flavors come together. The almonds were awesome- they added a little something extra which definitely shouldn't be sacrificed!

I hope everyone is having a good night! What's your favorite cookbook?!? Any suggestions for my library?

Recipe from: De Larentiis, Giada. Weeknights with Giada. New York: Clarkson Potter, 2012. Print.

April 02, 2012

Spicy Asian Lettuce Wraps: Perfect Meal for a Busy Night

Its awesome to find a recipe that is both delicious, and incredibly simple. This is one of those recipes, and I'm delighted to have found it!

Sunday is my menu planning and shopping day. If Sunday gets thrown off, the whole week (of food, at least) is messed up. Of course, there is always the challenge of what to eat on Sunday night... after returning from shopping, (not an activity that I enjoy), I want to make dinner as quickly and easily as possible so that I can enjoy the last few precious hours of weekend relaxation. These would also make a great weeknight meal on the go!

I made this recipe for the first time this past Sunday night, dinner was ready in about 15 minutes, (due to the miracle of store bought rotisserie chicken), and it was delicious... no substitute for P.F. Changs, but still delicious, and worth making again!

Spicy Asian Lettuce Wraps
Cooking Light: 4 servings

2 1/2 ounces bean threads (cellophane/ thin rice noodles)
1/2 cup minced fresh cilantro
1/2 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1 tbsp chile paste with garlic
2 tsp dark sesame oil
2 cups chopped roasted skinless, boneless chicken
12 large Boston or Romaine lettuce leaves

Cover bean threads with boiling water. Let stand for 5 minutes or until softened. Drain, and rinse under cool water. Chop noodles.

While bean threads soak, combine cilantro, soy sauce, chile paste, and oil in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk. Add noodles and chicken to soy sauce mixture; toss well to coat. Spoon about 1/3 cup chicken mixture down center of each lettuce leaf; roll up.

Per Serving: Calories 213; Fat 4.9g, Sat Fat 1g, Monounsaturated fat 1.8g, Polyunsaturated fat 1.5g; Protein 23.2g; Carbohydrate: 18.3g; Fiber 0.7g

Notes on this recipe: Depending on how spicy you like things, and how spicy your chile paste is, you may want to use less chile paste. I used a tiny bit more than a tbsp. and it was pretty spicy! I would also consider using just a little less soy sauce... they were very yummy, (and made a great lunch today), but I could do with a little less saltiness. I would suggest adding the soy sauce to taste.

I hope that you all enjoy :-)

March 22, 2012

One of My Favorites: Balsamic Succotash

Although I frequently try new recipes, (and make things up on my own), there are a few recipes that I fall back on... things that I have tried, loved, and crave.

One such recipe is this Cooking Light recipe for balsamic succotash. Its an awesome side dish... simple, flavorful, EASY! 

Balsamic Succotash
Cooking Light, 6 servings

2 tablespoons butter
1 cup chopped yellow onion
1 garlic clove, minced
2 cups frozen corn kernels
1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
1 tsp dried basil
1 10oz. package frozen lima beans
1/2 cup fat-free, less sodium chicken broth
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

Melt butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onion and garlic; cook 3 minutes or until onion softens, stirring occasionally. Add corn, bell pepper, basil, and beans; cook 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add broth, sugar, salt, and black pepper; cook 7 minutes or until liquid almost evaporates. Remove from heat, stir in vinegar. 

*Notes on this recipe: To simplify things, I often use a bag of frozen succotash, rather than using separate corn/beans. I recommend using high-quality balsamic to finish this recipe, as you can really taste and appreciate the difference. I like to use a specialty flavored balsamic (eg. Habanero Lime Balsamic Vinegar . 

I hope that you try and enjoy this succotash... I know that lima beans get a bad rap, but this side is delicious!

February 26, 2012

Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Banana Muffins

Good morning!! I hope that everyone is enjoying their Sunday morning! The flavor of the weekend in our house is banana. Ben tried bananas, (see my post about homemade baby food), for the first time this morning, and loved every mouthful. Watching him enjoy his new flavor left me wanting to make something special to celebrate.

A few months ago, someone brought my husband and I some chocolate chip banana muffins, (perhaps from Trader Joes?)... I don't remember exactly where they came from, but they were quite possibly some of the best muffins I've ever had.

As I've admitted before, (and as one could guess, based on the number of posts I've written about banana bread/banana muffins), I love banana muffins. I also love the combination of bananas and chocolate. Growing up, as a special treat my mom would get the banana-chocolate Entenmann's cake... one of those food memories that makes you smile... and want cake. Yum!

Fast forward to this morning... I had three very ripe bananas, an urge to bake, and a desire to make something a little bit special for a Sunday morning treat. I set out to make something reminiscent of the Entenmann's cake...

Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Banana Muffins
Makes 2 dozen

2 cups whole wheat flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
2 large eggs
1/2 cups mashed ripe banana
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 bag mini chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line two muffin pans with paper muffin cups.

In medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and salt.
In mixing bowl, beat softened butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Alternately add flour mixture and bananas, beginning and ending with flour mixture, occasionally scraping side of bowl with rubber spatula. Beat just until blended. Mix in vanilla mixture. Stir in chocolate chips. Pour into muffin tins, and bake 30 minutes, rotating pan halfway through.

These muffins are awesome. A perfect morning, (or any other time of day) treat... I think I'll have one again later today for dessert.


February 25, 2012

Making Baby Food!

This has been quite a week! I am very grateful that the weekend has arrived, and I have time to regroup. I have been keeping up with cooking dinner almost nightly, and have made some blog-worthy meals, but I haven't been very good at photographing my time in the kitchen... I might just start posting with fewer photos.

For those who follow me, (hi mom!), you know that I have a *gasp* 5 month old baby boy! He's a big boy, and has recently been given the green light from the pediatrician to start eating some pureed foods. We attempted rice cereal, but he wasn't a fan... and I wasn't crazy about feeding him food from a box that looks like the flaky food people give their pet fish. Needless to say, I was psyched when the words "sweet potato", "squash" and "banana" came out of the pediatrician's mouth.

I had planned on making baby food at home, fueled by my love for cooking and encouraged by friends and acquaintances who reported that it really is easy, affordable, and possible on a limited schedule. So, when one of my closest friends, knowing me as well as she does, got me the Baby Bullet as a baby shower gift, (proving not all off-register purchases are bad!!), I was very excited and couldn't wait for the chance to make some baby food!

Last weekend, I made sweet potatoes. First, I cleaned, peeled, chopped, and steamed the (organic) sweet potato. Then, I put the very well cooked potato pieces into the large mixing bowl, along with the cooking liquid and pressed down... less than a minute later, I had perfectly pureed sweet potatoes. The single sweet potato made 10* baby servings, which I very easily stored in the single serving containers, and in the freezing tray.

He loves sweet potatoes! I love that I made his food, very inexpensively... no preservatives, no unknown ingredients, and nutrient rich! Everyone is happy. (Unless its dirty diaper time, lol).

Today, I whipped up some pureed banana for him to try tomorrow morning... Very easy! Sliced raw banana, water, puree... done! Cleanup is very easy too, since all of the pieces are top-rack dishwasher safe. (I hate doing dishes). I'm looking forward to being my little man's personal chef, (and to playing with my new favorite kitchen gadget).

*We will be getting more than 10 baby servings out of the potato. The first couple of days, while getting used to eating, he didn't take a full serving. We started with a tablespoon per meal, and are now up to about two tablespoons per meal. We just follow Ben's lead.

**Do not start feeding your baby foods without guidance from your pediatrician! This website is not intended for baby advice, its simply a documentary of my experience. If you have questions about feedings, what foods to choose and how to feed your baby, it is best to speak to your pediatrician.**

February 14, 2012


Happy Valentines Day! I hope that everyone found a way to celebrate today. I decided to be festive by cooking a delicious, comforting meal...

I had never had Moussaka before tonight. I really enjoy Greek cuisine, but never quite get brave enough to go out on a limb and try big new things... that, and I don't particularly care for lamb, the meat that Moussaka is often made with.

But then, along came Martha Stewart. A few weeks ago, while planning out the weekly menu for our house, (which has become a MUST do in order to stay sane), I stumbled upon a Martha Stewart recipe for a "Quick Moussaka"... I quickly ran down the list of ingredients, and couldn't wait to dig in!! Eggplant, onion, garlic, cinnamon, oregano, parsley... and since I was making it myself- beef instead of lamb. Tonight, I finally got the chance to try out her recipe... and I'm in love! I will definitely be making this again and again!!

Quick Moussaka
Martha Stewart- Serves 4

Butter, for baking dish*
1 large eggplant (2 1/2 pounds), peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
7 tbsp. olive oil, divided
Salt and pepper
2 onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound ground beef or lamb*
1 28oz can whole tomatoes, drained*
2 teaspoons tomato paste
1/3 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 cup (9oz) ricotta cheese, room temperature*
3/4 cup (4oz) feta cheese, room temperature*
1 large egg, room temperature

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Butter a 4-quart ovenproof dish. On a baking sheet, toss eggplant with 6 tbsp oil and 1/2 tsp each salt and pepper. Spread in a single layer, and roast in the oven until soft and golden, 20 to 30 minutes. Transfer eggplant to prepared dish, spreading in an even layer.

In a large saucepan, warm remaining tablespoon oil over medium heat. Add onions, garlic, and ground meat; cook, stirring to prevent sticking, until meat is browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in drained tomatoes, tomato paste, parsley, oregano, cinnamon, and 1/4 tsp each salt and pepper. Simmer, crushing tomatoes with the edge of spoon, 15 minutes. Spread the mixture evenly over the eggplant.

Heat broiler. In a small bowl, mix ricotta, feta, egg, 1/8 tsp pepper and a pinch of salt. Pour mixture over the casserole, and spread evenly to the edges. Broil until topping is browned in spots, 5 to 10 minutes. Serve hot.

*My Notes: Instead of butter, I used cooking spray- it worked well, and cut a little of the fat. I loved it with beef, but will probably also try this recipe with ground turkey, or even tofu crumbles. Instead of whole tomatoes, I accidentally used a 28oz. can of crushed tomatoes- it saved me a step, and the consistency and taste was still excellent. To cut fat, I used part skim/reduced fat cheeses for the topping.

This dish was fabulous!! It was a little bit of a pain to peel the eggplant, but completely worth it. I wouldn't really call this recipe "quick" (eg. not good for your typical weeknight on the fly dinner), but overall, its an easy recipe. I'm not sure how the flavors compare with traditional Moussaka, but I'm curious to find out... Has anyone out there tried a few different versions and willing to let me know what you think?!?

January 30, 2012

Oatmeal: It's What's for Breakfast!

Oatmeal?!? Yes, oatmeal. Warm, delicious, satisfying, versatile oatmeal. 

For the longest time, (about 25 years), I thought that oatmeal was the stuff that cookies were made of, or the powdery, sugary, unsatisfying stuff that came in a paper envelope that cooked in the microwave. (A box of which would last me six months). On cold mornings, I would sometimes throw a bowl of said powdery stuff together in an attempt to eat healthy and warm myself up... only to end up sugared up and hungry 30 minutes later.

Then I found steel cut oats. My mother made them for me the first time I had them, and I felt like I was being treated to a gourmet breakfast. She cooked the oatmeal, then added sliced banana, toasted walnuts, and a dash of cinnamon... It was like warm, gooey banana bread, but better, (and healthier!). For a long time, steel cut oatmeal was something of a treat for me... something my mom would make when she was up visiting- an indulgence that made me feel like I was on vacation at a great bed and breakfast... but, I talked myself out of eating them more often, getting stuck in the mindset that it was too labor intensive or time consuming for a regular breakfast. 

Then came baby. Then came baby weight. Then came the quest for a "diet" that I could actually stick to, to help me shed the baby weight. I decided I needed to consistently eat breakfast, (and not just a granola bar on the run), a breakfast with protein and fiber to keep me full, something I could eat everyday and not get tired of...so, I decided to eat more real oatmeal. My plan: make a large batch of steel cut oats on Sunday to enjoy throughout the week. 

I have never come up with a more fun and delicious plan.

To start, I cook my oatmeal (I use Quaker Steel Cut Oats) with water, (I don't care for the flavor of warm milk). They take about 30-40 minutes to cook... and as they cook, I plan my fixin's. Then, after they have cooled, I package them in serving sized containers, and add a few fixin's. In the morning, I stick the container in the microwave with about 2 tbsp of skim milk, stir it up, and enjoy every bite. I have had a lot of fun coming up with different "oatmeal recipes" to try out. I have yet to find a combination I don't like... 

Here are a few that I've really enjoyed:

- Craisins, cinnamon, brown sugar
- Banana slices, cinnamon, brown sugar, walnuts (great with or without the nuts!)
- Toasted coconut, banana slices, cinnamon, brown sugar
- Toasted coconut, chopped dried apricot, cinnamon
- Diced dried figs, honey, cinnamon
- Crunchy peanut butter, strawberry jam
- Maple syrup, cinnamon, walnuts

...there are endless possibilities. 

Peanut butter is an awesome addition because it adds a good amount of protein, but also makes the oatmeal creamy and velvety... very filling. I think one morning, I will try it with just a little bit of Nutella and see what happens... though it might not be the healthiest option. Other ingredients I plan to try out are: molasses, blueberries, apple pieces (I'm going to see if I can make it taste like apple pie...), and different nuts. 

So far, so good... It has been about a month, I'm shedding weight, eating breakfast, and having fun with it. I look forward to my bowl of oatmeal in the morning. Any ideas for more oatmeal recipes? Anything delicious you think I should try?? Please share!!

January 22, 2012

Warm Soup for Cold Nights

Yikes! Life has been moving at warp speed lately, I think. Last I remember, it was my birthday! (Which means the last two weeks have completely buzzed by...) I have been cooking a lot lately, but unfortunately, not taking the time to take photos... I have also been falling asleep by 9:30 at night, which puts a damper on my blog time. Luckily, I have a running list, a photo file of things I haven't shared yet... like this recipe that I tried when I was still trying to use leftover Christmas ham!

Growing up, I was never really a soup person... that all changed when I moved to New Jersey and experienced my first real, cold winter. There is nothing like cozying up to a bowl of soup... I started loving soup even more when I realized how incredibly easy it was to make. It's the ultimate one-pot dinner!

This Mexican Ham and Bean Soup is a Cooking Light recipe, which I tweaked a little- my additions are in italics... It ended up having just the right amount of spice and heat to warm up a cold night.

Mexican Ham and Bean Soup
Cooking Light- Serves 8

1 pound dried pinto beans
8 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
2 cups chopped onion
2 cups water
8 ounces cubed smoked ham steak
1 tbsp chili powder
2 tsp ground cumin (I used 1 tbsp)
2 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp kosher salt
3 bay leaves
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 chipotle chile (I used chipotle chile in adobo)
1 1/2 tsp adobo sauce
Juice of 1/2 lime
1/2 cup shredded Manchego cheese or Monterey Jack cheese*
1/4 cup chopped cilantro, plus 1/2 cup minced fresh cilantro (garnish)

Sort and wash beans; place in Dutch oven. Cover with water to 2 inches above beans; bring to a boil. Cook 2 minutes; remove from heat. Cover and let stand 1 hour. Drain.
Combine beans, broth, and next 10 ingredients (through garlic) in a Dutch oven; bring to a boil. Partially cover; reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer 1 1/2 hours or until beans are tender.
Stir in tomatoes and chile, (and adobo sauce if using); simmer 30 minutes. Discard bay leaves and chile. Stir in lime juice and 1/4 cup cilantro. Ladle soup into bowls. Top with cheese (if using); sprinkle with cilantro.

Notes on this recipe:
*I chose not to use the cheese in this recipe to make it lactose free.
My husband and I love spicy food... If you prefer things to be less spicy, definitely do not add the adobo
sauce. The lime juice added a much needed fresh, bright flavor to the soup, as did the 1/4 cup of cilantro that I stirred in. I really enjoy the flavor of cilantro, which really livened up the flavors in this soup! I would not make this soup without adding the lime and cilantro. If I could do it again, I wouldn't go through the whole process of using dried beans... it doesn't really add anything to the flavor of the soup, and it was kind of a pain in the butt. I'm more than willing to put in the extra effort if it pays off, but in this case, I don't think that it did. Next time, I will substitute with canned beans to make this a much quicker/easier meal...

What kinds of soup do you like?? Any great recipes that you want to share?!? I'm on the hunt for some crock-pot soups that I set and forget during the week... I hope everyone is staying warm!

January 08, 2012

Happy Birthday to Me!!

Homemade Ice Cream Cake!!
The holidays are almost over in our house... we've made it through Christmas, New Year's Eve, my husband's birthday, and tomorrow- my birthday- will mark our brief break from celebrating. Just to make things a little more fun, we've now added our son's baptism to the mix. Today, after the ceremony, we had a big family party to celebrate three birthdays and a baptism.

My mom took care of the food, (sorry I didn't get any pictures to share!!).  We had roasted vegetable meatloaf sliders, two different recipes of Spanish slow roasted chicken, yellow rice, and (my favorite)- Columbia Restaurant's 1905 Salad, which I've talked about before here. All of it was incredible!! It was really wonderful to be able to pass the torch this time, and let someone else plan, cook and even clean!

My mother in law was in charge of dessert. She ordered a special cake for the baptism, and made two different ice cream cakes- customized to what the birthday people liked. My husband and his cousin Sara, (who share a birthday with "a few" years in between), requested cookie-dough and chocolate ice creams with oreos and m&m's mixed in. My cake was coffee and vanilla ice creams with almonds and chocolate and toffee chips... paired with an Oreo crust, they were awesome. I'll be getting the recipe from her, so that I can make and enjoy them again! I will share the recipe and method with you all next time... Tonight, I want to brag!
Since it was a part birthday party, I got to open some presents :-) My mom, who happily supports my cooking habit, really pampered me this year with some Pampered Chef gear (You can view all of the items below). I find cooking and baking enjoyable no matter what, but (like anything), having the proper tools makes it even better!! A couple of years ago, I went to a party and purchased my first Pampered Chef knife- a 5" Color Coated Santoku knife. It is probably the most-used, and most loved tool in my kitchen. Knowing how much I love it, my mom got me the color coated 7" Chef's knife to match! These knives are amazing... She also got me the Pampered Chef Smooth Edge Can Opener (not your average can opener!), and a set of their Easy-Read measuring cups... Awesome. The measuring cups are really great- no more putting the cup on the countertop and then squinting while doing squats to look at the numbers on the side to check and make sure your measurements are correct, then checking, and rechecking to make sure you saw it right. The cups are also designed to make pouring your properly and easily measured ingredients into your mixing bowl much easier and cleaner.

It was a wonderful party and a great afternoon! Best of all, we got to spend a lot of time with our families and celebrate our little boy. 

I hope that everyone has a great week!