Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Chipotle Chicken Soup for Late February

A couple of weeks ago, a renowned weather forecaster named Phil predicted that spring was just around the corner.  And although I don't want to complain about the snow and all-too-often grey skies, I was pretty excited last week when it seemed as though he was right, and we enjoyed a couple of sunny, 65 degree days. 

But with last night's snow and tonight's 14 degree forecast, I'm going to have to take it back.  Phil was wrong.  Good thing he doesn't control these things anyway!  Besides, who would trust a hairy furball of a groundhog?

And I'm still not complaining; today was actually pretty beautiful from my upstairs window vantage point.  The snow covered rooftops and trees and sunny skies were really delightful, and I stayed warm inside with a cup of hot chocolate and a bowl of soup.  I really am quite content.

This spicy soup was a great surprise.  The flavors were bright and fresh, and my husband pronounced it one of his favorite soups ever. 

Chipotle Chicken Soup

Adapted slightly from Cooking Light

1 (7 oz) can of chipotle chilies in adobo sauce, divided
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 carrots, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
6 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 medium red potatoes, cubed
15 oz can hominy, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup half & half
2 plum tomatoes, diced
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 lime, cut into 8 wedges

Remove one chipotle chili and one teaspoon adobe sauce from the can; freeze or refrigerate the remaining chilies and sauce for another use.  Place the 1 teaspoon adobe sauce in a small bowl with the tomato, cilantro and salt; set aside.  Chop the chipotle chili. 

Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat.  Add the chopped chili, onion, carrots, celery, garlic, and spices.  Cook, stirring often, for seven minutes, or until the onion is translucent.  Add the broth and chicken breasts; bring to a simmer.  Reduce heat to medium low, cover and cook for thirty minutes. 

Carefully remove the chicken to a cutting board and allow to cool slightly.  Shred the chicken; cover and keep warm.

Using an immersion blender, puree the soup.  Alternately, carefully puree in batches in a blender and return to the pot. 

Stir in the cubed potatoes and hominy; bring to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for twenty minutes.  Stir in the chicken and half & half; cook for five minutes.  Remove the pot from heat; stir in the adobo sauce, tomatoes, cilantro, and salt.  Serve with lime wedges. 

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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Loved, and Strawberry Almond Dream Cream

Wow.  I don't know what to say, but that I am blessed with a wonderful husband and fabulous friends.  There are so many adjectives I could use here, but it suffices to say that I feel so loved. 

This post might not begin far from the facebook status updates, tweets, and blog posts from many other happy and in-love husbands, wives, friends, children, or parents over the past few days.  After all, most of us celebrated love on Monday. 

My husband and I joined in these amorous festivities.  On Saturday night, I prepared an elaborate menu for two, in the comfort of our own kitchen.  I served a Pomegranate Arugula Salad to start, an entree of Passionfruit Glazed Salmon and Green Beans followed by a cheese course, and Strawberry Almond Dream Cream for dessert.  We ate, talked, danced to a jazzy mix of Harry Connick, Jr., Michael Buble, and Norah Jones, and oogled at each other across the candlelit table.  And, for as much as I cook for him, it always delights me when he says, "this is spectacular." 

Our celebration of love didn't stop there (and I hope it never stops, ever).  But on Monday night, I returned home from an afternoon full of classes to a wonderful smelling apartment and a delicious meal, cooked by my sweet husband.  He prepared a stuffed pork loin, roasted winter vegetables, green beans, and a divine bourbon panna cotta.  It was a treat and a blessing, and I was very impressed with his culinary skills! 

This two-part celebration of love is enough for me to express how blessed I am, what a wonderful husband I have, and how much I love and am loved by him.  But I cannot leave it there.  I have to tell you about Sunday night. 

You see, on Sunday night, we were invited to a birthday celebration for a friend.  It was a surprise party, and there were a few glitches with the timing of the event, but we finally arrived, pulled our cameras out and went to join the others in anticipation for the birthday girl to arrive.  I came around the corner to join my friends who I knew were waiting in the living room, and SURPRISE!, the birthday party was for me!  I was completely blown away.  One of my friends, a fabulous artist, painted a "Belle of the Kitchen" sign; everyone prepared a recipe from the blog (recipes posted below); and best of all, I was so honored by all of these sweet friends who took their time to bless me (not to mention messages, texts, and cards from those near and far).  Yes, I am honored and blessed, and feel so completely loved, and the older I am, the more I realize and appreciate this. 

With all of this love around, I wanted to share with you a recipe that expresses the same.  This Strawberry Almond Dream Cream is a sweet treat to share with those whom you love, whether you are celebrating Valentine's day, a Birthday, or just love, in general.  It is best served the day it is prepared.

Strawberry Almond Dream Cream

Adapted from The Bride & Groom First and Forever Cookbook

1 1/4 teaspoon plain gelatin
3/4 cup whole milk
1/4 cup amaretto
1 cup half & half
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
4 strawberries, sliced
Strawberries and Basil or Mint sprigs, for garnishing

In a small bowl, whisk together the gelatin, milk, and amaretto. 

In a small saucepan, combine the half & half and sugar.  Heat to about 175 degrees (when you can just see steam rising from the pan, but not to a full simmer).  Remove from the heat and whisk into the amaretto mixture until combined.  Whisk in the extracts. 

Divide the sliced strawberries among four parfait or martini glasses.  Pour the warm mixture over the strawberries and refrigerate for 2 to 3 hours.  Garnish with a strawberry and basil sprig just before serving. 

This is best served on the day it is prepared, particularly when it is just set and very tender. 

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Want to know what my friends prepared for my surprise birthday party?  Here are the recipes:
Aniversary Shrimp and Grits
Mixed Green Salad with Pecans, Goat Cheese and Fruit
Artichoke Bruschetta
Cheese Straws
Tomato Salsa
Peanut-Peanut Butter Brownies
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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Ways to say "I Love You," and Grand Marnier Cake

Valentine's day is approaching, and it seems appropriate to talk about love.  In January, I took a class which emphasized the essential qualities of a counselor.  The subject matter was largely introspective and reflective, but even so, I think the class could have been alternately titled "How to love others well." 

As I took this class in January and had a proverbial mirror held before me, I realized how little time and effort I spend intentionally seeking to love those in my life.  I think it is easy to go on "auto-pilot" when it comes to loving family and friends.  We let the days and weeks pass us by, while we love one another only clumsily, if we make any effort to love at all.  So, in light of Valentine's day, a day to celebrate love (whether romantic or not), I want to reflect a bit on practical ways to love others intentionally. 

Call, Text, or E-mail.  My tendencies concerning communication revolve around necessity rather than love.  If I need something, or I need to communicate something, I will pick up my phone or computer.  But rarely do I purposefully seek to encourage or love others without prompting.  I hope to be more purposeful in initiating loving and encouraging words using these oh, so easy conveniences!  I know those words will be appreciated and the recipients will certainly feel loved. 

Write a hand-written letter.  This is another area where I struggle.  I want my letters to be heart-felt and well-worded, and so I tend to put off letter-writing for another time when I can invest more time and thought.  But the truth is, hand-written letters will be greatly appreciated, no matter how brief or brilliantly stated. 

Spend time together.  Whether time is spent together studying over books, chatting one-on-one over tea, or savoring the company of friends and a good meal, I am learning more and more the benefits of setting aside time for others.  I find that I am more purposeful about this when I put it on the calendar.  When we do spend this time together, I am learning to make sure that I will not be distracted, so that I can truly enjoy and love those in my company. 

Do something for them.  As I am learning to be more intentional in loving others, I realize that sometimes lives can become hectic and there is little time for tea, much less dinner together.  But loving well might mean going to the store for a friend, or proof-reading a paper, or doing something else that might make their "to-do" list a little lighter. 

Give them a gift.  This is easiest for me, but I still need to strive to seek to love others in a way that they would feel loved.  A trip to a favorite store, a box of a favorite kind of tea, tickets to a movie, or a thoughtful after-school snack will all be sweet reminders that "I love you."  And, of course, chocolate, especially in cake form, being synonymous with love, also expresses that sentiment. 

I hope that my musings and strivings to love others well have encouraged you to think about how you can intentionally love those in your life.  I would love to hear your ideas of how you purposefully show love to your loved ones!

Grand Marnier Chocolate Bundt Cake

Adapted from Mom's Special Company Cake, Cooking Light, September 1998

For the Cake:
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup Grand Marnier or other orange-flavored liqueur
2 large eggs
Zest of one orange

For the Glaze:
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup stick margarine or butter
1/3 cup Grand Marnier or other orange-flavored liqueur
1/4 cup water

Preheat oven 350.

Butter and flour a bundt pan. In a large bowl, combine all of the cake ingredients except the orange zest. Using a hand mixer, beat the ingredients for 30 seconds, then increase the speed to medium and beat for three minutes. Using a spatula, stir in the orange zest. Pour the batter into the prepared bundt pan.

Bake at 350 for 50 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Leaving the cake in the pan, prick the cake all over with a fork or wooden pick. Combine the glaze ingredients in a small saucepan, and bring to a boil for one minute. Pour the glaze over the cake; allow the cake to cool completely in the pan. Once cooled, remove to a serving plate and store in an airtight container.

This cake is even better on the second or third day, and would be excellent with Frangelico, Kahlua, Amaretto, or other chocolate-friendly liqueurs in place of the Grand Marnier.

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Thursday, February 3, 2011

Hospitality, Entertaining, and Scrambled Eggs with Mushrooms and Truffle Oil

When we open our home for others, there is often a silent heart struggle between whether we are showing hospitality, or merely entertaining.  Sometimes the two concepts seem synonymous and they look largely the same, but I am coming to understand how largely different they are as a matter of the heart. 

Entertaining is welcoming someone who you love and enjoy into your home.  It is largely about spending time together and enjoying the company of one another.  You bring out your best things and you serve your best meal.  The problem with entertaining is that it all too often becomes all about me, the host or hostess.  The focus can quickly change from loving and serving your guests to impressing your guests; it can quickly become self-centered.  Everything can turn into a show, an occasion for praise; the focus is no longer on serving or even enjoying the company of your guests but impressing them.  When opening your home turns this direction, you find yourself becoming frazzled if things do not go as planned, and a successful evening is judged by the number of compliments offered.  I speak from experience here, can you tell?

Hospitality, on the other hand, is welcoming someone into your home in order to love, serve, and enjoy them.  The actions might look the same, but the heart is different; it is others-centered.  You bring out your best things and serve your best meal in order to honor your guest.  Your time together is less about you, and more about how you can serve, love and enjoy them.  The focus is not on the success of a well-executed meal, but rather is on blessing those who are in your home. 

I don't want to come across saying that it is wrong to have friends over for an impressive meal, but I hope that each year I might do less entertaining, and more hospitality.  Hospitality seems to emphasize love of others despite myself; it calls me to open my home and life to both friends and strangers, to those who I enjoy and those who annoy, whether I am on top of my game or exhausted at the end of a week.  Being a gracious hostess means that when others walk away from our home, they take a blessing with them.  It is an embodiment of true love. 

We are beginning a new semester today (my final semester), and one thing that I hope to keep before me throughout this semester is to love others well, even in the busyness of life.  With this in mind, we decided to seize our last "free" morning to open our home to some of our best friends for brunch, with the hope of loving them well.  I hope that our friends enjoyed this delicious meal (including these wonderful scrambled eggs), but more importantly, I hope they left our house feeling blessed and loved. 

Scrambled Eggs with Mushrooms and Truffle Oil

1/2 tablespoon butter
8 oz mushrooms (Cremini or a mix of wild mushrooms), chopped
2 green onions, sliced (divided)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 tablespoon butter
8 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons half & half
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
1 teaspoon truffle oil

Heat 1/2 tablespoon butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat.  Add the mushrooms and 1 tablespoon sliced green onions for 5-10 minutes, until the mushrooms are tender and most of the liquid evaporates, stirring often.  Season the mushrooms with 1/4 teaspoon salt and transfer the mushrooms to a small bowl, set aside.

Stir together the eggs and half & half.  In the same skillet in which you cooked the mushrooms, melt 1/2 tablespoon butter over low heat.  Add the eggs to the skillet and cook, without stirring, for 1-2 minutes.  Once the edges start to set, gently stir the eggs once every 30 seconds until the eggs are almost completely set; remove from heat.  Season the eggs with salt and pepper.  Pour the eggs onto a warmed serving platter and drizzle truffle oil over the eggs. 

Return the mushrooms to the hot skillet and cook over medium heat until they are warm; pour over the scrambled eggs.  Sprinkle the remaining green onions over the top. 

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(In case you're wondering, that not-so-lovely but oh-so-yummy treat in the background of these photos is praline bacon).

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