Butternut Squash Soup

Butternut Squash Soup

We woke up this morning with snow on the ground and on days like today I want to bake things and I want to make soup! I decided I wanted to make an old stand by of mine Butternut Squash Soup. This soup is creamy, hearty and just perfect for a cold winter day!

What You’ll Need For the Soup:
1 large butternut squash, peeled and chopped
1 red onion, chopped
1 large sweet potato, cut into cubes
1 large carrot, cut into chunks
1 large parsnip, peeled and cut into chunks
1 large apple, cored and chopped
1 large stalk of celery, chopped
Coarse ground pepper
Pinch of sea salt
1 container of vegetable broth

Place veggies and apple in a large stock pot and pour in broth. Add water until the veggies and apple are just covered. Add salt and pepper. Bring ingredients to a boil over medium heat and cook until tender. Remove vegetables from broth, reserving the liquid. In a food processor or blender process veggies until smooth adding broth as needed to smooth out the mixture. (Normally no more than 1 cup of broth total).

Serve immediately.

Note: Leave the peels on the potatoes and apples for added vitamins. You can also add 3 or 4 garlic cloves if you like. It’s a healthy, easy soup to play with and it’s delicious!! I usually reserve the left over broth to make lentil soup or something later.

Bread Machine Brown Bread

Brown Bread

I love brown bread! The darker the better in fact! I was recently very surprised to learn that the flour is not what makes the bread brown, but in fact the addition of unsweetened cocoa (no you didn’t read that wrong…COCOA!) and/or coffee are what do the trick! I even asked a local baker what they used and their reply was, “You won’t believe me, but cocoa!” So I knew the recipes I was finding must not be off, though at first I was convinced that there were a lot of typos out there! 😉

My pumpernickel flour has not arrived yet, but I decided to try a dark rye bread instead. This recipe is an adaptation from page 94 of the book “The Cook’s Encyclopedia Of Bread Machine Baking” by Jennie Shapter entitled “Russian Black Bread”. I switched some things around and did not add the coffee, because well I was afraid it would taste like coffee and who wants that? (Not me!) The Cocoa however surprisingly does not make the break taste like chocolate.

The bread is very hearty and soft. It’s perfect! And I’m really beginning to believe the old adage if you make you own bread you won’t want the stuff that comes from the store. It just tastes better!

Brown Bread

What You’ll Need:
Almost 1 2/3 cups of water
2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
2 1/2 tablespoons of honey
1 1/4 cups of rye flour
3/4 cup of whole wheat flour
2 1/4 cups of unbleached all purpose flour
3 tablespoons of wheat bran
3/4 cup of bread crumbs
1 1/2 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons of sea salt
1 1/2 teaspoons of yeast

Place in your bread maker’s pan and set to the whole wheat cycle. (I used the 2 pound whole wheat rapid cycle). Sit back, let it do it’s thing and in a few hours you’ll have a scrumptious loaf of brown bread!

Dianne’s Kicked Up Clam Chowder

Dianne's Kicked Up Clam Chowder

I love New England clam chowder. I mean I LOVE it! I have loved New England clam chowder since I was a child and for years I have ordered it at restaurants whenever I had the chance. A few years ago I set out to make some myself. I’ll admit at first I was a bit intimidated, because it’s yet another one of those recipes that have a “hard” mystique about it, though it’s a mystique that is unfounded as I’ve found with many recipes over the years that have that aura about them . So I developed a basic clam chowder that was creamy and good!

A year or so ago I happened to try the clam chowder at Outback Steakhouse and it had a zing to it. It took me about two seconds to realize their “zing” was Old Bay Seasoning or something like it and I decided to take my basic clam chowder recipe and add a little Old Bay and see what happened. The results were delicious!

What You’ll Need:
Extra virgin olive oil
1 red onion, chopped
2 large celery ribs or 4 small ribs, chopped
1 potato, unpeeled and cut into small cubes
1 pinch of sea salt
1 pinch of freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons to 1 tablespoon of Old Bay Seasoning (Add the amount of Old Bay in preference to your own tastes. If you want it a bit zingier go for the tablespoon, less so go for the teaspoons instead.)
1/4 cup of unbleached all purpose flour
2 – 8 ounce bottles of clam juice
1/2 a quart of half and half
3 bay leaves
1 -15 ounce cans of steamer or baby clams, drained and rinsed(If you’re in the mood for bigger clams go for the steamers. If you’ve in the mood for small bits of clams then go for the baby clams. Last night I chose the steamer clams.)

In a large stock pot over medium heat saute onion, celery and potato with salt, pepper and Old Bay seasoning until tender, but celery and onion still retain some of their color. Add flour and cook for 1-2 minutes. Then add clam juice, half and half and bay leaves and bring to a quick boil. Lower heat to simmer and cook covered stirring occasionally for 30-40 minutes. Add clams and cook for an additional 10-15 minutes and serve immediately.

Notes: I drain and rinse my clams because sometimes there is some residual sand and it’s always better to wash that away.

You add the clams at the last minute because you just want them to heat through since they are already cooked. You don’t want them to get too tough.

You can also serve this with chopped parsley if you like.

If you leave out the Old Bay seasoning you have just basic New England clam chowder.

One day I’m going to make it starting with fresh clams, but I haven’t gotten that brave yet.

Cheese Muffins

Cheese Muffins

I love bread. Who doesn’t? I also love cheese! Why not mix the two? These muffins are good with a nice bowl of soup, or as a snack by themselves. Try them and see!

For The Cheese Muffins:
1/2 cup of butter, melted
2 cups of unbleached all purpose flour
1 teaspoon of sea salt
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon of baking soda
2 cups of buttermilk
2 1/2 cups of shredded cheese (Cheddar, Monterey Jack, Colby, etc.), divided

Preheat oven to 425 F.

Mix melted butter, flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda and milk until a very sticky dough forms. Stir in 2 cups of shredded cheese and stir until incorporated. Spoon into a muffin pan that has been sprayed with non-stick spray and put a little cheese on the top of each muffin. Bake for 8-12 minutes or until golden brown.

Makes about 20 muffins.

Note: You can add in garlic salt with parsley or garlic powder and they taste very similar to the garlic cheese biscuits they serve at Red Lobster.

Hot Fudge Cake

Hot Fudge Cake

Most people will agree that an ooey, gooey chocolate dessert is exactly where the money is! Growing up my mom was somewhat famous amongst friends and family for her Hot Fudge Cake, which is an ooey, gooey, warm chocolate sensation. Several of my friends would specially request that she make her Hot Fudge Cake whenever they came over! My mom, being the wonderful person that she is, usually obliged.

My mom always used a chocolate cake mix, though sometimes the ice cream was homemade and sometimes it wasn’t. The hot fudge sauce was always made from scratch to bubbling perfection! But regardless of the make up it was delicious!

The olive oil, yogurt and chocolate make this chocolate cake moist, spongy and oh so chocolatey, while the hot fudge sauce gives it an even bigger chocolate punch. These two chocolate elements, paired with the vanilla ice cream, meld together to make the perfect chocolate delight and any chocolate lovers dream!

As I’ve gotten older I’ve moved away from box mixes, but that doesn’t mean you have to stop making something all together. This is my take on my Mom’s classic. It’s oh so good and oh so sinful! After all isn’t that exactly what you’re looking for in a dessert? 😉

What You’ll Need For The Ice Cream:
1/2 a quart of half and half
1 small carton of light cream
1 can of sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup of sugar
2-4 teaspoons of vanilla (Note: More if you like it really vanilla, less if you don’t)

Note: This recipe is designed to fill this ice cream maker, but you could easily double or triple it to fill a larger model.

Mix together and pour into ice cream freezer and freeze according to your model’s directions. For harder ice cream after making it put in an air tight container and store in the freezer until completely firm.

What You’ll Need For The Chocolate Cake:
3 cups of unbleached all purpose flour
1 cup of unsweetened cocoa (Note: I recommend Ghirardelli or Green and Black’s)
1 teaspoon of sea salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons of baking powder
1 cup of sugar
1 1/2 cups of plain yogurt
2 eggs
1/2 cup of light olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Sift together flour through baking powder in a large bowl. Add sugar, yogurt eggs and olive oil and stir until mixed and pour into a 13 X 9 inch baking pan that has been sprayed with non-stick spray. Bake for 30-35 minutes until cake sticks done.

What You’ll Need For The Hot Fudge Sauce:
2 tablespoons of butter
2 squares of baker’s chocolate (Note: Again I recommend Ghirardelli or Green and Black’s)
2/3 cup of sugar
1/2 cup of half and half or heavy cream
1 teaspoon of vanilla

Over medium heat melt butter and chocolate with sugar and half and half. Bring to a boil and boil for 2 minutes stirring to keep from sticking. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Serve immediately or store in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

To Assemble Hot Fudge Cake:

Cut cake into squares. For each person take a piece of cake and top with a scoop of ice cream. Top ice cream with a ladle of hot chocolate sauce and serve.

ote: If you’re a chocolate lover than you could easily make this Hot Fudge Cake with chocolate ice cream for a triple chocolate punch! You could even use chocolate yogurt in place of the plain in the cake if you were just really feeling chocolatey! ;o) This cake doesn’t really need it, but you could add whipped cream and some strawberries or cherries if you wanted. You could even go crazy and add a little chocolate whipped cream! 😉

Creamy Tomato Soup

Creamy Tomato Basil Soup

Earlier today when Alexis and I were at the grocery store there was a heavenly smelling tomato basil soup near the salad bar. It was one of those smells that just screamed out “Eat me! Eat me!” So when I got my salad for dinner (which I didn’t end up eating and will eat for lunch tomorrow instead) I got some of the tomato soup for lunch since we were running behind schedule. We bustled home and I couldn’t wait to try the heavenly smelling soup! Unfortunately it smelled much better than it tasted as is often the problem with store bought items.

The first bite of the soup was sickeningly sweet. I was shocked by the sugar content in this soup! Then after you got over the sugar shock you were hit by a secondary spicy heat sensation that was disturbing in that it didn’t hit your tongue in the area that normally senses heat! It was just weird! I tried to eat a little bit of it to see if I could figure out what they had done to the soup, but I just couldn’t get over the weird sweet/hot flavor combination that sort of made you feel as if you had vertigo!

So as always my brain kicked into gear and I started thinking about how easy it would be to make a simple Creamy Tomato Basil Soup and I decided to test my idea and what do you know…It worked! And it was perfect with the No Knead Bread I made yesterday! It’s simple, fast and delicious! You can have Creamy Tomato Basil Soup on the table in under an hour!

What You’ll Need:
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 red onion, chopped fine
2 large button mushrooms, chopped fine
2 baby portabella mushrooms, chopped fine
4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 teaspoons of dried basil
1 pinch of sea salt
1 pinch of freshly ground black pepper
2 – 15 ounce cans of tomato sauce
1 – 6 ounce can of tomato paste
1 cup of cream

In a medium sized pot saute onion, mushrooms and garlic with basil, sea salt and black pepper until tender in a little olive oil.

Add tomato paste, tomato sauce and cream and stir until mixed.

Bring to a quick boil and then reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 30-minutes to an hour and serve.

Notes and Thoughts: Tomato sauce in and of itself is sort of sweet so I’m not sure why they thought they needed to put so much sugar into the soup. I’m all for letting nature do it’s thing and there was absolutely no need to ruin the entire soup by sugaring it up.

If you wanted you could add some red pepper flakes for a kick if you like that sort of thing.

Vegetable Sushi Rolls

Cut Sushi

When we moved to Maryland I tried sushi for the first time and immediately fell in love! Since Alexis was born I haven’t had much of a chance to actually eat sushi given most sushi restaurants are not kid friendly and Jamison is an extremely picky eater, and sushi is nowhere near to any form of food he would even try, let alone eat. Several times over the years I’ve thought to myself that sushi (though everyone tries to tell you otherwise) would not be that hard to make.

Right after Alexis was born my sister even made me a little “sushi kit” complete with bamboo sushi mat, sushi vinegar and wasabi powder so I could give it a whirl. Today, 3 1/2 years later, I decided to do just that! The was only one problem…I have already packed my bamboo sushi mat (we’re planning to move to a new house sometime this year and I’m packing up things that aren’t essential to get a jump start on the whole situation!) and it never fails the minute you pack something you need it, but luckily I found an article online that suggested using a dish towel instead of a bamboo mat and it worked, though I would wager it would be a bit easier with the bamboo mat, but we’ll revisit that little hunch when the new house materializes.

So my experience with sushi today stuck with veggies as I’m doing a little experiment with no meat for the month of January. I’ll most likely add back in seafood and fish once the month is over, but for now the veggie thing is working out quite well. I really like cucumber rolls or avocado rolls or the like. Today’s incarnation has avocado, carrots and cucumber and I was extremely pleased at how well it turned out!

Over the years the reason I haven’t tried to make sushi up to this point is it’s one of those things that has an aura around it and some people who are good at making sushi like to make it seem harder than it really is. I’m here to tell you that it was EXTREMELY easy! I was shocked at how easy it was and how easily it went together!

Sushi Ingredients

What You’ll Need:
1 cup of sushi rice, cooked according to package directions and cooled to handling temperature (Makes roughly 2+ cups of cooked rice)
2 tablespoons of sushi vinegar (If you can’t find sushi vinegar you can make some yourself. (See step 2). I haven’t tried this method, but I plan to as soon as I run out of the bottle I have.)
1 small carrot, cut into matchsticks 1/4 of an English cucumber, seeded and cut into long strips
1/2 of a small avocado, cut into strips
A bowl of lukewarm tap water with a pinch of sea salt
Soy sauce
Sushi Ingredients

Once the rice is cooked according to package directions remove from heat and transfer to a bowl. Add 1 tablespoon of sushi vinegar per cup of cooked rice (2 in this case) and stir until incorporated. Let cool.

Once rice is cool to the touch lay a single piece of Nori on a bamboo sushi mat or a clean dish towel. Wet your fingertips in the bowl of lukewarm water and spread sushi rice to the edge of the Nori leaving a 1 inch to 1 1/2 inch edge on the bottom:

Nori and Sushi Rice

Next line your ingredients across the bottom edge of the rice on the end with the edge:

Ready To Roll

Using your sushi mat or dish towel slowly roll the sushi placing the seam side down:

Sushi Rolls and Ingredients

Slice and serve with soy sauce and wasabi. Cut Sushi I personally like my sushi a bit chilled so I put it in the fridge, covered for about 30 minutes prior to eating. You can eat it immediately if you like. This recipe made 2 rolls with just a little rice left over.

Cut Sushi