Thursday, December 22, 2011

Baked Potato Soup

I hate being cold. But I do love Winter because of the following: Christmas, sweaters, and soup. There is just something ultra comforting about all three and it's a special treat when you can sit under the lights of the Christmas tree wrapped in a cozy sweater eating some warm and hearty soup. Ahhhh!

Baked Potato Soup
5 large baked  potatoes
1 small onion, diced
1 small bell pepper, diced
2 Tbsp butter 
3-4 pieces cooked bacon, crumbled
8 oz. sour cream
2 cups milk
2 cups chicken broth
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp salt
freshly ground black pepper
shredded cheddar cheese
minced fresh parsley

In a 5 qt. Dutch Oven melt butter over medium-high heat. Add chopped vegetables and saute until tender-crisp and lightly browned. Add broth and milk and stir. Cut potatoes into large chunks and add to pot along with crumbled bacon. Fork mash the potatoes, leaving some good chunks still in tact. The more you mash, the thicker your soup will be.  Add salt, basil and ground black pepper to taste. Garnish with fresh parsley and some shredded cheese.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies and Christmas Magic

Just a few days ago I was complaining to a friend that Christmas, usually my favorite time of year, just didn't feel magical to me this year. I'd been trying to get into the Christmas Spirit but still hadn't managed to come up with my normal Christmas cheer. No goodies had been baked for the neighbors, no carols had been sung, no presents were under the tree. Trials are hard... They are harder at Christmas.

There is something about the season that just seems to accentuate the losses that we've experienced, whether it be the loss of family, of work, of faith, or even the loss of it all. Every Christmas carol reminds you of days gone by. Every brightly lit home of the cheer that should be within. Even the smells of cookies and eggnog bring back treasured memories that seem so far away. Sometimes, whether or not we are struggling financially, we feel so poor in Spirit... It is from these shallow depths that some of the most important lessons in life are experienced.

Last night we had a surprise knock at the door. Somebody delivered Christmas magic to our front step. My first response was almost a panicky plea for them to take it all away to somebody who needed it more than us. I know there are so many! But in came boxes with gifts and food... But we're fine, I said, and haven't been struggling to buy groceries for goodness sakes! But then a closer look showed me that these weren't just groceries- They were the ingredients to holiday baking. They were the perfect gifts for my children. They were thoughtful items meant for each member of my family. They were a way of saying,
"I know you. I love you.You are my friend and I care." 
I immediately felt the Holiday magic that had been missing surge through me with a challenge to rise above my trials and do more to help those around me. So thank you, whoever you are. You humbled me, brought tears to my eyes and magic into my heart. Merry Christmas!

With our goodies was several containers of oats and cinnamon which was so perfect since I'd had this recipe saved as a draft for a couple weeks. This gave me the perfect opportunity to bake today!

I have been playing with this recipe for the past twelve months. Last year my aunt mentioned that her husband (one of my favorite uncles) LOVES oatmeal chocolate chip cookies but they always have a hard time finding any that are really delicious and live up to his high expectations. I made it a personal quest to create the perfect oatmeal chocolate chip cookie for him for this Christmas. (Yes I realize I sound like a complete nut working on a recipe for an entire year just to give somebody a cookie... )

Anyway, the thing that I always struggled with when making oatmeal cookies was that they always ended up being flat and unappealing. I'd try to add more flour and then they'd taste more like flour than oats... Finally I think I've figured it out and the recipe is as follows:

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups white flour
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3 cups quick cooking or rolled oats
1 1/2 - 2 cups chocolate chips

 Set oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Depending on your oven and cookie size each batch should take about 10-15 minutes. I usually make my cookies on the smaller side so mine take about 10 minutes.

Cream butter and sugar. For the best results, beat until mixture is lightened in color. I mixed mine for close to 5 minutes to get the texture I was desiring. (This is where it'd be nice to have a Kitchen-Aid mixer.) I've learned that this is an important step when making oatmeal cookies or they tend to come out quite flat.

Add eggs, vanilla and salt and mix well.

Combine flour, soda, oats and cinnamon in a separate bowl and then gently combine into your wet mixture. Don't over-mix or, again, the cookies will end up flat and runny.

Fold in chocolate chips.

Drop by heaping tablespoonful onto cookie sheets lined with parchment paper. (You can skip the parchment if you absolutely don't have it... but I highly recommend it!)

Bake with the oven light on so you can monitor your first batch. I usually take the cookies out before they look completely done. They should be dry and slightly browned around the edges, but the middle may still look a tad underdone. Trust me on this! The cookies will continue to cook after they've been pulled from the oven and they will set into soft, chewy cookies instead of little rocks.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Marinated Mushrooms

Ok, I couldn't get marinated mushrooms off of my mind since my heart was set on them last week. So, despite the enormous size of my mushrooms, I did cook myself up a batch yesterday. However; I did not leave them whole...
Also, no pictures this time. I tried, but no matter what angle I snapped I just could not figure out how to make a fungus (especially a sliced fungus) look delicious. Oh! But they were delicious!

And just a quick side-note. I am extremely thankful for my herb garden when I am cooking recipes like these. Last week for my pate, I threw on my slippers, grabbed my flashlight and picked parsley at nearly midnight because, on a whim, I decided I wanted to add it. This one was thought ahead more so I didn't have to pick the herbs in my pajamas. But if I didn't have these on hand, I would sacrifice and add dried over paying an arm and a leg for fresh.

Marinated Mushrooms Recipe:
1 pound of brown or white mushrooms, or a mix of both
4 tablespoons of good extra virgin olive oil, or more if needed
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 cloves of garlic, minced 
1/4 cup of red onions or shallots, finely chopped
2 tablespoons of fresh oregano, finely chopped (Use 1 tsp dried leaves if fresh is not available)
2 tablespoons fresh thyme, finely chopped (Use 1 tsp dried leaves if fresh is not available)

1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon coriander seeds (optional)

Wash mushrooms well and remove stems. Boil mushrooms in salted water for about 10 minutes, drain and let cool. While mushrooms cool, combine all other ingredients in a jar or large bowl with a tight-fitting lid. Close the lid and shake until it's all combined. Add mushrooms, close lid and refrigerate overnight. Remove from the fridge at least 10 minutes before planning on serving it.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Happy December! (Chocolate Chip Cookies)

Here it is December already and to be honest with you I keep thinking that it should still be October! I am seriously lagging behind in the Christmas Spirit this year so to pump it up a notch I decided to bake some cookies today. This is always dangerous for me because I am an honest-to-goodness cookie addict and for Christmas this year I decided to give myself back my favorite jeans. (A Summer of stress does not bode well for for the waist line...) So the first thing I had to do after snapping pictures was to load these morsels up and give them away! (I may or may not have eaten one first...)
I scoured this blog the other day and realized that I didn't even have my all-time-favorite-standby chocolate-chip cookie recipe on here. Sometimes we take for granted that which we bake all the time. So here they are, the best chocolate chip cookies ever. Enjoy and Happy December!

Chocolate Chip Cookies
1 cup soft brown sugar
1/2 cup powdered milk (or use 1/2 cup granulated sugar)
1/2 cup soft butter
1/2 cup Crisco
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
2 cups flour
1 cup rolled oats
12 oz. chocolate chips (or 2 cups)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Cream butter, Crisco and sugar in a mixing bowl. Add eggs and vanilla. Mix well. Combine dry ingredients except oats and chocolate chips and mix in completely. Stir in oats and chocolate chips and drop by teaspoonful onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake 8-9 minutes or until slightly golden on the sides.