Sunday, December 04, 2016

Roasted Spiced Pears and Cranberries

Pears are a favorite in our household. Any time I utilize them in my cooking and baking, I know I'll be in the good graces of my family. This recipe is one that takes little effort to prepare and only requires a handful of ingredients. The aromas that will fill your house while this is roasting are so cozy and delightful ... a truly intoxicating holiday scent.

Once roasted, the pears and cranberries can be served up with whipped cream or ice cream. They, also, can be mounted atop waffles, pancakes or oatmeal. (A good dusting of powdered sugar to top everything off once plated won't hurt anything either.)

And, to note ... even if you'd like to omit the cranberries, the roasted pears are fabulous all on their own. But, the cranberries do lend the perfect amount of tartness that really compliments the sweetness of the dish ... especially if pairing with sweet whipped cream or ice cream after cooking.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Simple Thirty-Minute Stovetop Vegetable Soup

Let's face it - most of us indulge a little too much during the holidays. Whether it's Thanksgiving, Christmas or Easter, temptation in the form of potatoes, gravy, butter, pies, rolls, cakes, candies and carbs galore hit us from every angle. So, it's often nice to have some recipes in our arsenal that are quick to whip up and ones that fall a little more into the "healthful" category to make in the days that follow (ya know, once we've devoured all of the leftovers). This soup is one such recipe.

It's adapted from a Trisha Yearwood recipe that she featured awhile back on her cooking show. I was immediately drawn to it because it seemed incredibly easy to make, used just a handful of ingredients, was totally uncomplicated and wasn't a heavy, cream-based soup. Basically, some chicken broth, tomatoes, diced potatoes, garlic, onions, frozen veggies and seasoning come together on the stovetop in like, twenty-five minutes.

This soup is a great one to experiment with since the flavor profile is pretty basic. The recipe as written is awesome. But, if you'd like to play around with different herbs or seasonings, the sky really is the limit. I encourage you to maybe try it as-written, then go from there the next go-round. (I've used a slight sprinkling of Mrs. Dash's Original Blend seasoning a couple of times in this soup ... and have really come to love it that way.)

What you will find is that this is light and refreshing. Yes, as odd as it sounds, this soup is refreshing (as much as a soup can be, I suppose). It isn't heavy at all and due to the quick cooking time, the vegetables don't become mushy as often happens with longer-cooked soups.

In my house, we love this soup served with saltine crackers and a little shaved Parmesan on top just prior to serving.

Yields 6 servings.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Apple Cider Ginger Fizz Cocktail

Looking for a refreshing, fizzy drink to serve at your upcoming holiday gathering? I may just have you covered with my Apple Cider Ginger Fizz Cocktail. It is light, bubbly, bursting with seasonal flavors and comes together quickly. The adults at your party will thank you when you place one of these chilled, crisp drinks in their hands.

The recipe for these is quite easy and requires only a few ingredients. I recommend putting these together right when you're ready to serve them so that the ginger beer doesn't lose its effervescence. The real key to this recipe is to keep the apple cider and ginger beer very chilled right up until preparation of the drink. Ice cubes can be made the night before using apple cider instead of water, if desired. Doing so will ensure that the drink doesn't get watered down.

Garnish options can include thinly-sliced apples, cinnamon sticks, whole cranberries ... or all three together as I have done. I really encourage you to include the cinnamon sticks, however. When the drink is brought close to the nose while sipping, the scent of the cinnamon truly is unmatchable and really drives home the seasonal aspect of this drink.

If you wanted a little bit of a different hue, some cranberries could be "muddled" with a tiny bit of sugar in the bottoms of the glasses prior to adding the liquids.

Note that I tested this recipe with both bourbon and gin. Either works fabulously, so it's really just a matter of preference on your part.

Servings: 4

Monday, November 14, 2016

Sweet Spiced Pear & Brown Sugar Puff Pastry Tart

Keeping puff pastry on hand in the freezer is something that I recommend for every home cook. It's just so versatile and easy to use. It can be used to create both sweet and savory dishes. The puffy, flaky, buttery layers present so beautifully. And, the results are always delicious and crowd-pleasing. Guests think you've invested a great amount of time in preparation, but the truth is that working with store-bought puff pastry is almost effortless and very uncomplicated. With this recipe, I've taken a sheet of puff pastry, brushed it with perfectly-spiced and sweetened butter, lined it with thinly-cut pear slices and baked it to perfection.

Something truly magical happens during the baking process. The butter mixture becomes almost caramel-like, the pear slivers soften up beautifully, the juices from the pears slightly release to help flavor the tart and the dough puffs up all around the fruit so stunningly.

This can be enjoyed as a dessert or even with coffee in the morning. For dessert, I recommend serving this with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, a dollop of whipped cream or even a light dusting of powdered sugar.

This would be a pretty dessert to grace your holiday table this year, too. And, know that you could easily make this into 4 - 6 individual tarts simply by cutting the pastry into small squares prior to topping and baking.

Note that the pear slices can be arranged however you prefer. You can do basic, straight lines of pears or switch it up and do a more-rustic, varying pattern as I have done.

Serves 4 - 6.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Lightened-Up Apple Crisp

With apple season in full swing recently, many of us look for ways to incorporate them into our cooking and baking. But, I, also, know that so many of us are trying to keep to a healthier lifestyle these days. Personally, I have been working lately to cut back on the amount of sugar in my daily diet. Here, I've taken apple crisp - a fall dessert that we all know and adore - and I've made it a bit more healthy. With just a couple of slight changes to my traditional recipe, I've managed to make apple crisp something that I don't feel as guilty about indulging in this time of year.

The changes aren't major ones. The end result is still something that we're all familiar with ... I promise. Basically, I've lessened the amount of sugar to both the filling and topping (about a third less compared to my traditional recipe), swapped in some orange juice and coconut oil for the butter component of the crumbly topping and amped up the warm, autumnal spices for this version.

My husband and I actually found that we preferred this rendition since so many apple crisps can be cloyingly sweet. All of the satisfaction was still there, but with a little less guilt.

Of course, serving it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream is totally up to you. (Swoon!) But, if you'd like to stay on course with the healthy vibe we've got going here, you could opt for a low-fat vanilla frozen yogurt or a small dollop of low-fat Greek yogurt. (FYI:  I like mine with just a tiny splash of heavy cream.)

NOTE: I prefer a combination of both sweet and tart apples for apple crisp.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Apple Pie Croissant Pudding with Caramel Butter Foam Drizzle

This fall-inspired dessert is somewhat of a cross between traditional bread pudding and apple pie. This is an incredibly simple recipe to make and one that requires mostly pantry ingredients that many of us already keep on hand. I've made an abundance of bread pudding-style desserts throughout the years, but this one was declared "the best" by my husband and kids during recipe testing. And, I think I have to agree!

Let me start by saying that subbing in croissants for run-of-the-mill bread when making bread pudding already is a game changer. The inclusion of croissants takes bread pudding to a completely different level ... a really, really good level. So, this recipe is already elevated drastically because of those flaky, buttery croissants.

I must mention that one of the things that turns me off from some bread puddings is that sometimes it tastes as if I'm eating bread baked up in sweetened scrambled eggs. (Anyone else?) Some recipes just simply call for way too many eggs. Here, you'll find that there is only one whole egg and one egg yolk in the custard, which results in no over-the-top egg-y taste or texture.

Cinnamon, vanilla and nutmeg come together in the custard base to flavor up this dessert. (And, your house will smell awesome while this bakes, too.) Next, I break open a can of apple pie filling to dollop atop the dessert to really drive home the autumnal flavor.

The highlight of this dessert has to be the sauce, however. I'm telling you, guys ... I don't even know how to describe it in words. It's so incredibly different than any other dessert sauce I've ever made, but I think it just might be the best. Something magical happens due to the addition of baking soda in the sauce. It gets all frothy and foamy. It's so insane in theory, yet it is definitely insanely amazing in taste. I beg of you ... do not skip the Caramel Foam Drizzle sauce.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Roasted Sweet Potato Salad with Apple Cider Vinaigrette

Salads are a favorite of mine any time of the year. I especially love coming up with salads that highlight seasonal ingredients. For example, fresh sweet corn and juicy, red tomatoes often turn up in my summer salad creations. Radishes, scallions and fresh-from-the-garden peas usually make appearances in salads that I enjoy throughout the spring. For this salad, I'm showcasing sweet potatoes - one of my favorite ingredients of all time. Roasting them enhances their flavor and brings out their natural sweetness. They really shine here and lend themselves well to my hearty, fall-inspired Roasted Sweet Potato Salad with Apple Cider Vinaigrette.

I've taken just a handful of autumnal ingredients and turned them into a fresh, yet hearty salad that is great on its own or paired with pork chops for dinner. This salad, also, holds up well, so it's perfect to take along to work if there are any leftovers.

I've used both white and traditional sweet potatoes in this salad, but feel free to use whatever variety you can find or prefer.

I like serving the roasted sweet potatoes and their accompanying ingredients atop a bed of arugula or other dark, leafy greens. But, you can totally omit the greens, if desired, and serve some cooked quinoa, wild rice or other grain as the base instead.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Chicken Tikka Masala Over Basmati Rice

I have to admit that Indian cuisine is pretty new to me. I have tried it while out at a few restaurants throughout the years. Some dishes impressed me more than others. One that I enjoyed in particular was Chicken Tikka Masala. I recently started testing some recipes at home for this rich, earthy Indian dish. If you're not familiar with it, Chicken Tikka Masala often begins with chicken that is marinated in yogurt and spices, then cooked in a tandoor oven. The chicken is then combined with ingredients like, tomato sauce, garlic, ginger and coconut milk/cream. And, it's usually served with basmati rice.

Since I do not own a tandoor oven (and I'm pretty sure that most of you don't either), I decided to simplify the recipe using one large pot right on the stove top. My recipe begins by slightly cooking chunks of boneless chicken in a little oil. Next, some onions, garlic and ginger get stirred in. I, then, add the spices in so that they get a chance to slightly toast in the oil prior to proceeding with the recipe. I like the inclusion of chickpeas, but this is completely optional. Tomato puree is added as the chicken finishes cooking. The mixture gets finished with some heavy cream, plain yogurt or full-fat coconut milk. (Any of the three worked well in my testing of this recipe, but I did prefer using the coconut milk.)

Serve this vibrant, beautiful chicken over a bed of basmati rice (easily found in the rice section of most supermarkets these days) and garnish with fresh cilantro. (I prefer everything doused with a squeeze of lemon, too.)

Serving this with naan bread (an Indian flatbread found pretty easily in the bakery section at your supermarket) is almost a requirement. The bread is used to scoop up the chicken and to dip into the sauce as you make your way through this outstanding dish.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: I have made several versions of Tikka Masala as I have researched the dish and recipe tested during the development of this recipe. I had success converting this to a vegetarian dish solely using canned, drained chickpeas or with using cubed, roasted butternut squash. So, there is some leeway in the recipe if you'd like to make it a vegetarian one. I have, also, read that cauliflower florets can be a good substitute for meat in this dish.

Yields 4 - 6 servings.

Monday, October 03, 2016

Creamy Chicken and Gnocchi Soup {Olive Garden Style}

This is a hearty, comforting soup laden with pillow-y potato gnocchi, tender chunks of chicken, fresh spinach and shredded carrots. The broth is rich, creamy and ultra decadent.  It's a popular soup at Olive Garden, but making it at home is simple and satisfying. {Plus, you'll probably end up with leftovers ... and that's always a good thing when it comes to soup.}

If you're not familiar with gnocchi, they are Italian-style mini dumplings made from cooked potatoes and flour. You can find a plethora of recipes online if you'd like to make you own, but pre-made gnocchi are easily found in most grocery stores these days. Buying them ready-to-use is a total timesaver and there are some pretty good quality ones out there from which to choose. Typically, packages of gnocchi can be located in the dry pasta aisle. But, gnocchi can sometimes be found frozen and even fresh at specialty markets.

In my household, we prefer this soup pretty thick. If you find that you'd like it a bit thinner, just stir in some additional chicken broth {or even water} at the end of cooking.

Serves 6 - 8.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Pineapple Upside Down Cake with Rum Caramel Sauce

I've amped up the flavors of a basic Pineapple Upside Down Cake recipe by adding a little splash of spiced rum to the caramel sauce here. And, I've ventured off the path of traditional canned pineapple by going "fresh" for this version. Dark brown sugar is swapped instead of light to bring some additional depth to the sauce. Note that this particular recipe, also, is a semi-homemade one. Total timesaver. A boxed cake mix is used, but between the buttery caramel sauce and rum flavor seeping into the cake as it bakes along with an upgrade to one of the ingredients called for on the box, the cake turns out just as awesome as one completely from scratch.

You'll be replacing the water called for on the box with a combo of juice and milk. Typically, I would add some of the pineapple juice to my cake batter when using canned pineapple. But, using fresh fruit meant that I didn't have that luxury. Instead, I used some 100% pineapple-orange juice along with milk in place of water. The juice doesn't overpower anything, but does lend a nice subtle flavor that is appreciated. And, the milk makes the cake a little more rich and decadent.

Much to the disappointment of my children, I withheld the maraschino cherries that I usually intermingle among the pineapple slices, but, of course, you could add a few in if you'd like.

NOTE: The brown sugar/butter "sauce" can be totally made without the addition of rum, if desired. It will still taste amazing and turn out wonderfully.

Yields 6 - 8  servings.