Sunday, November 27, 2011

Holiday Leftover Season Begins

Thanksgiving is over and now, if you're like most cooks in America, you've got a refrigerator full of leftovers. Turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy (unless you're at my house where the gravy was so good I ate all of it!), vegetables . . .  the list goes on and on. I imagine most of you have tried every recipe imaginable to use up the leftovers and are probably at the point where you just can't stand the thought of eating one more bite of turkey.

Don't despair and don't throw out the turkey or other leftovers! I've got a great recipe to use up all of those leftovers. And bonus! You can make it a variety of ways, depending on what you have for leftovers and how much time you want to spend preparing the recipe.

First, let's start with the main part of the recipe itself. You'll need your leftover turkey. You can use white or dark meat or a combination of the two. Next, get out any vegetables you have left - like whole kernel corn or green beans - that weren't part of a casserole. Do you have any celery or carrot sticks left from the relish tray? How about mashed potatoes - any of those left?

Now, for the recipe. We're going to make a filling out of your Thanksgiving leftovers!

Turkey & Bacon Pot Pie Filling

4 strips of uncooked bacon, diced
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1/2 cup celery, sliced - use your leftovers from the relish dish!
2 medium carrots, peeled & diced into 1/2" pieces - use your leftovers from the relish dish!
1 tsp. thyme
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1/4 cup flour
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup milk
3 cups turkey, diced into 1/2" pieces - use your leftovers!
1 cup green beans - use frozen beans or peas (thawed first), if you don't have leftovers
1/2 cup corn - use frozen corn (thawed first), if you don't have leftovers

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a large saucepan, cook the bacon over medium-high heat until crispy. Remove the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate and set aside. Lower the heat to medium-low and cook the celery, carrots, and onion in the bacon grease. Add a tablespoon of butter, if  needed. Season with the salt and pepper and cook until tender, about 8-10 minutes. Stir in the flour and cook for 30-60 seconds. Raise the heat to medium-high and add the chicken broth, scraping up the brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Cook until the broth mixture thickens. Add the milk, turkey, green beans (or peas) and corn and continue cooking until the mixture is heated through. Remove from heat.

There is a variety of ways you can use this filling. Three of my favorites are:  a shepherd-style casserole, a pot pie, or in a puff pastry shell. All three are easy to make and equally as good.

Let's start with the shepherd-style casserole and any leftover mashed potatoes you might have. If you want to use this preparation and don't have enough leftover mashed potatoes, that OK. Just make more mashed potatoes or you can even mix up some instant mashed potatoes to finish this dish. All you need to do to finish this style is ladle the filling into individual ramekins (this recipe makes 4-6 servings) or a casserole dish depending on how you want to serve it. Next, add a layer of mashed potatoes over the filling. If you're using leftover mashed potatoes, add a little bit of milk to them and reheat the potatoes in the microwave or on the stove top just until they're warmed through. After adding a layer of mashed potatoes, sprinkle a little shredded cheddar or parmesan cheese on top of the potatoes, if you like. Bake in a 400 degree oven for 20-25 minutes. Let the casserole cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Another way to use this filling is in a pot pie. Some pot pie recipes call for just a top crust, but I like a bottom and top crust for my pot pies. You can make it however you like. I used just a top crust for the photo. Prepare your favorite pie crust recipe (single if you'll just be using a top crust) or you can pick up some refrigerated pie dough or puff pastry at the store and use that. As with the casserole above, you can use individual ramekins or individual pie pans or one 9" pie pan. Assemble this just as you would a pie. If you're using a top crust only, be sure to seal the crust around the top of the ramekin or pan. If you like, you can brush a little water across the top of the crust to moisten it and sprinkle a grated parmesan cheese on it. Bake for 25-30 minutes in a 400 degree oven and be sure to let it cool before serving.

Finally, a puff pastry shell is an elegant way to serve this filling. You can buy pre-made puff pastry shells or you can make them yourself. I like to make my own, so I can adjust the size of the shells. You can buy puff pastry in the frozen section of your grocery store or you can make your own. To make the puff pastry shells, use a 4 1/2" round cookie or biscuit cutter (or whatever size you'd like) and cut out circles of pastry. Next, with a smaller round cookie cutter, score - but don't cut all the way through - the cirlce of pastry. I used a 4" cookie cutter inside of a 4 1/2" circle. Scoring the puff pastry helps to form the "lid" of the shell and will make it easier to remove the top once the shells are baked. Brush the pastry circles with an egg wash (1 egg beaten with 2 tsp. water) and sprinkle with grated parmesan cheese. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 12-15 minutes until the pastry is puffed, golden, and crispy. Cool the shells on a wire rack and, once cooled, cut the tops of the shells and remove. You may have to gently pull away some of the pastry inside the shell, as well. Ladle the hot filling into the pastry shell. Sprinkle with a little chopped fresh parsley and serve with the top resting just slightly off center so you can see the filling.

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My indoor herb garden has started to grow! I use basil, parsley, and rosemary on a regular basis and I prefer to use fresh herbs whenever they're available. My local stores do carry fresh herbs, but they're not the same quality as if I grow them myself. I have a little greenhouse to start my seedlings in because my house is so dry during the fall and winter months. If you have a hard time getting seeds to germinate in your house try putting the containers or pots in a greenhouse, if you have one. If you don't have one, you can improvise and use an old aquarium with a lid or a cloche (it looks like a clear bell). I've even seen some made out of plastic wrap (Saran Wrap) and a cardboard box with holes cut in the sides! I put a little glass of water inside my greenhouse for added humidity. Be sure your seedlings have plenty of sun light. I have mine in a south-facing window so they can get as much of the sun as possible. I'll thin the seedlings in a few days and wait for them to get big enough to move to a larger container. If you like to cook with fresh herbs or if you'd like to begin using them, pick some up at your grocery store or try growing them yourself. Fresh herbs make a huge difference!

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Would you like to win a stand mixer? Or maybe one of the other great prizes Unilever is giving away? Enter their sweepstakes and you might be one of the lucky 31 winners!: 


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Brine, Brine, Brine . . . and Gravy!

If you're roasting a turkey this year for Thanksgiving and it's still frozen, you might want to consider beginning the defrosting process NOW! According to the experts at Butterball, you should always defrost your bird in the refrigerator. Cold water thawing is ok in an emergency, but room temperature defrosting is never recommended. I'll confess, I've used the cold water method more than a few times and it does work, but the refrigerator method is much safer and much better. You just have to remember to get the bird out in time! The experts also give the guideline of allowing 1 day of refrigerator defrosting  for every 4 pounds of turkey. For more turkey tips and techniques from Butterball, visit their website at

Do any of you brine your turkey before roasting it? Alton Brown, from the Food Network, first got me interested in brining poultry during a very entertaining pre-Thanksgiving Day episode. But it wasn't until another Food Network chef, Sunny Anderson, made her apple cider-brined fried chicken that I started brining poultry. I don't always use a brine - only when I'm roasting or frying and the chicken or turkey is the main entree. Brining is simply soaking meat in a salt, sugar, and water solution. The brining solution can be as simple as water, sugar, and salt (use kosher salt!) or you can flavor the brine with spices, herbs, juices (like citrus), and so on. So why brine your turkey? Brining tenderizes your meat by loosening the protein structure and ensures moist, juicy cooked meat. The extra flavors are retained by the protein giving the meat more flavor. The best types of meat for brining are poultry, pork, and many seafoods.  Take care you don't over-brine the bird. What goes in, stays in and you could end up with a really salty turkey. I found a really handy guide to brining times on the internet and I've included it below. One final thought on brining your turkey, adding moisture to the skin and the flesh can prevent the skin from crisping when roasted. A simple solution to this is to use a technique used in Chinese cooking. After brining the turkey the day before, rinse the bird inside and out. Place it on a rack on a rimmed pan, use paper towels to absorb as much moisture as possible, and put the turkey uncovered in the refrigerator to dry overnight. This allows the surface moisture to evaporate and will promote a crisper skin when the turkey is roasted. There are some who say only brine a fresh turkey because frozen turkeys are often given an injection of sodium. I'm not one who subscribes to that school-of-thought. I've brined several turkeys before roasting them and not had any problems. I'll leave it up to you whether to brine or not, but I think it's worth it. There are many brining recipes out there - it's up to you to decide what flavors you like! And, if you have an opportunity to order a fresh turkey, do it. It saves a lot of time.

Brining Guide

OK, so you're going to brine your turkey this year. The most important thing you're going to need - besides the turkey - is a pail or bucket big enough to submerge the turkey in. A 5 gallon pail is best. If you already have one, but it's been used for other things, you might want to consider buying a new one or make sure the one you're going to use is completely clean. Your food is going in it! If you need to buy one, you can find clean (relatively speaking) 5 gallon buckets at your local hardware or home improvement store. Be sure to give them a good cleaning, too, before you use it!

On to brining . . . .

Alton Brown's Brining Recipe

For up to a 20 lb. turkey

2-3 days before you roast your turkey, you should begin the thawing process in the refrigerator, unless you're using a fresh turkey. Make the brine.

1 cup kosher salt (use table salt, if you don't have kosher salt)
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 gallon vegetable stock (use low sodium chicken stock, if you don't have vegetable stock)
1 tbsp. black peppercorns
1 1/2 tsp. allspice berries (use 1/2 tsp. ground allspice, if you don't have the berries - they're hard to find!)
1 1/2 tsp. chopped candied ginger (use a pinch of ground ginger, if you don't have candied ginger)

You'll also need:  1 gallon water and lots of ice cubes later in the brining process

Combine all the ingredients except the water and ice cubes in a large stock pot. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Stir occasionally. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Refrigerate until you're ready to brine.

The day before you'll be roasting your turkey, combine the brine, water, and ice cubes in a 5 gallon bucket. Remove the "innards" (heart, liver, gizzard, etc.) from your turkey, give it a quick rinse, and put it into the bucket with the brining solution. The turkey must be completely submerged in the solution, so weigh it down, if necessary (a dinner plate and a couple of large canned goods usually does the trick). I know the guide above says to brine a whole turkey for 24 hours, but Alton's recipe calls for 8-16 hours, so we'll follow his directions. Turn the turkey over 1/2 way through the process.

Once the turkey has brined, remove the turkey, and rinse it. Pat it dry with paper towels inside and out, as best you can, and place the turkey on a rack inside a rimmed baking sheet. Place the turkey in the refrigerator overnight right up until 30 minutes before you plan to begin roasting it. Discard the brining solution and clean your bucket out.

Now you're ready to roast your turkey . . . .

Take the turkey out of the refrigerator at least 30 minutes prior to beginning the roasting process. Let it sit at room temperture.

Preheat your oven to 500 degrees. Yes, that's right. 500 degrees. While the oven is preheating, spread 2 tbsp. of room temperature butter all over the outside of the turkey and sprinkle it with salt and pepper. Place the turkey on a rack in a roasting pan and tuck the wings under.

At this point, you may (loosely) stuff your bird or add some aromatics to the cavity. Some of the aromatics commonly used in turkeys are lemons, oranges, limes (all cut in 1/2 first), rosemary sprigs, sage leaves, apples, onion. You get the idea. Alton also has a good aromatic recipe at:

Roast the turkey on the lowest oven rack level for 30 minutes at 500 degrees. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue roasting. The amount of time you'll need to continue roasting your bird at depends on whether it's stuffed or not and how big the turkey is. Below is a roasting guide from Butterball. Remember to deduct 30 minutes from whatever the guide says for roasting time! Occasionally, baste you bird with roasting juices or butter. If you plan to glaze your turkey, wait until a thermometer stuck in the thickest part of the thigh, reaches 125 degrees and begin glazing. Rotate the pan and continue glazing the turkey every 15 minutes. Roast until a thermometer (stuck in the thickest part of a thigh) registers 180 degrees fahrenheit. Remove the turkey from the oven and place on a serving platter. Tent with foil to keep it warm and let it rest for 15-30 minutes before carving.

Roasting Guide

If you'd like to try brining with a little less "involved" recipe, try Sunny Anderson's brining recipe. I tried this first making her Cider-Brined Fried Chicken (very delicious!). It's a quick recipe that yields great results. You might also want to try using aromatics like apples, onions, and rosemary inside the cavity while roasting or maybe even apple-sausage stuffing.

Sunny Anderson's Apple Cider Brine

1 gallon (16 cups) apple cider (use apple juice, if you don't have apple cider)
1 cup kosher salt (substitute table salt, if you don't have kosher salt)
1 gallon water
Lots of ice cubes

We'll use Alton's techique with this brine, too. The day before roasting:  mix the apple cider and salt together in a 5 gallon bucket. Add the water, ice cubes, and the turkey. Be sure the turkey is completely submerged in the brining solution. Add more water, if necessary. You may add other ingredients (spices, herbs, seasonings), if you like, but cook the brine first, following Alton's instructions. You won't need to add more sugar because the apple cider has plenty. Brine the turkey for 8-16 hours. If you like, you can use the brining guide times above. Be sure to turn it over 1/2 way through the process.

Once the turkey has brined, remove the turkey, and rinse it. Pat it dry with paper towels inside and out, as best you can, and place the turkey on a rack inside a rimmed baking sheet. Place the turkey in the refrigerator overnight and leave it in there until 30 minutes before you plan to begin roasting it. Discard the brining solution and clean your bucket out.

Follow the instructions above for roasting or you may use whatever method you like best. Be sure to let the turkey rest before carving!

Martha Stewart's Brown Sugar Glaze

2/3 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar, preferably dark brown sugar
2 tbsp. orange juice
1/2 tsp. grated orange zest
2 tbsp. butter

In a small saucepan, combine the vinegar, brown sugar, and orange juice.  Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally until syrupy - about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in the butter and the orange zest.

When a thermometer stuck in the thickest part of the thigh, reaches 125 degrees and begin glazing. Rotate the pan and continue glazing the turkey every 15 minutes. Roast until a thermometer (stuck in the thickest part of a thigh) registers 180 degrees fahrenheit. Remove the turkey from the oven and place on a serving platter. Tent with foil to keep it warm and let it rest for 15-30 minutes before carving.

Apple Cider Gravy

2 cups chicken stock
1 cup apple cider
1 cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf
1 apple, diced (Granny Smith works best, but you can use any variety)
1 clove garlic
1 onion, diced (small to medium in size)
1/2 - 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
fat from roasting the turkey

While the turkey is roasting, combine the stock, cider, cinnamon stick, bay leaf, apple, garlic, and onion in a covered saucepan and simmer until just before you're ready to serve dinner. Strain the cider mixture into a bowl and discard the spices, onion, garlic, and apple. Reserve the cider. When the turkey has been removed from the roasting pan, drain off the juices and fat. Skim the fat and place it back into the roasting pan. Place the roasting pan over a burner or two (depending on the size of your roasting pan) and heat fat over medium heat. Begin adding the fat a 1/4 cup at a time and whisk, adding flour until it resembles wet sand. Continue whisking and cook for 30 seconds - 1 minute. Slowly pour the cider mixture into the flour/fat mixture (this is called a roux) and continue whisking until the gravy thickens to your liking. Taste and season with salt and pepper accordingly.

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Do any of you remember the carving demonstrations that were shown during one of the commercial breaks during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade on tv? I watched so many of those, one would think I'd be a champion carver by now. Well, anyone who knows me or has seen me try to carve a turkey knows I am not the one to ask for pointers on how to do this. The best demonstration I've seen, to date, was on one of Martha Stewart's shows. Here'a a link to the video, if you want to take a look while you're turkey is roasting: Scroll down just a little and click on the link to the video on the left side of the page.

If you have any questions about any of the recipes or techniques in this blog, please contact me at: I'd love to hear from you! And, don't forget, you can also follow this blog on Facebook:!/pages/Its-not-just-about-the-recipe-/251289108232470



Sunday, November 13, 2011

Super Sides

In an earlier post, I mentioned the movie, Ratatouille. Throughout the movie, a particular line was repeated several times - "Anyone can cook!" Declaring "anyone can cook!" doesn't mean everyone will can be a world-class chef. It means (literally) anyone can cook. I believe, not only can anyone cook, but, with a little patience and practice, anyone can cook well. For a long time, we've been led to believe that cooking tasty, sometimes gourmet, food is hard and something the average person can't do. That idea couldn't be more wrong. Get out there and do it! Cook. Experiment. Have fun. Watch Ratatouille, if you haven't seen it already. Who knows? Maybe you will end up being the next world-class chef! At the very least, you'll save money, be in control of your own healthy menus, and you'll feel a sense of accomplishment and pride that comes with creating and serving great tasting food to your family and friends.

Thanksgiving (in the United States) is less than two weeks away and can be a source of stress for even the best of cooks. It's a big meal, usually served to several guests - mostly family, and there are certain "expectations", if we're being really honest. Next week, I'll give you some great tips for how to roast a turkey your dinner guests will rave over. This week, I thought I'd mention a couple of easy side dishes:  one is a Thanksgiving standard in most homes and the other is an easy, tasty new side dish that'll be requested over and over.

Wonderfully Fluffy Mashed Potatoes

My recipe for mashed potatoes doesn't have exact measurements for the ingredients, but I'll do my best. This recipe is more about the technique. It's something you can use to bump your mashed potatoes up to the next level.  For approximately 4 servings, I peel 6-8 medium-sized potatoes. I consider a medium-sized potato to be about the length of your hand (heel to fingertips). I prefer to use white or russet potatoes (Yukon Gold are especially good), but you can use red potatoes. The first tip/technique for making great mashed potatoes is to cut your potatoes to the same size after peeling them, so they'll all cook at the same rate. The next tip is to start with cold water, so put the peeled, cut-up potatoes in cold, salted water. When it comes to how much salt to add to the water, think "ocean water". Taste the water after adding the salt, if you need to. If you're a little hesitant to do this, just remember that this is the first chance you have to season the potatoes. Don't worry, they'll be great. Boil the potatoes just until they're fork tender or until a fork can easily be inserted into a potato. When the potatoes are cooked, they'll usually float.

See how they're floating?
Try not to overcook them or they'll get too mushy. Even though they're going to mashed in the end, you still don't want to have mushy potatoes in the beginning. Here's the REALLY big tip for great mashed potatoes. I learned this tip watching Emeril one day on Food Network:  drain the potatoes, return them to the pan, and put them back on medium heat. Mise en place is especially important here, so have all your finishing ingredients ready because you won't want to step away from the potatoes, at this point. Don't add anything yet! Heat the cooked potatoes until they "dry" out, about 5-10 minutes over medium heat. You'll be able to see the water leaving the potatoes and you want this to happen. The drier the potatoes are, the fluffier they'll be when you mash them.

Do you see how the potatoes are turning white around the edges?
I shake the potatoes in the pan a few times to keep them from sticking. As soon as most of the water has left the potatoes, I use a potato masher to smash the potatoes. Next I add about 4 tbsp. butter (it's up to you how much of the finishing ingredients you want to add). I continue to mash the potatoes and the butter until they're combined before I add 2-3 heaping tbsp. sour cream. Mix well and to finish the potatoes, I add a splash or two of milk (until the potatoes are the consistency you like). Taste and add salt and pepper to your liking. If you aren't going to be serving the potatoes right away, turn the heat down to low until you're ready to serve.


Slow Cooker Cream Cheese Corn

This is a side dish we started making at our holiday dinners a few years ago. It's creamy, a little decadent, and it leaves you wanting more. It's a fix-and-forget side dish that allows you to devote your time to the other dishes on your menu. If you want to "dress it up" a little at your holiday table, serve it in a pretty dish and garnish it with a few sprigs of parsley and maybe a star or two cut out of a red pepper.

Serves:  6-8

4 cups frozen whole kernel corn
1 - 8 oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter, melted
Salt & Pepper, to taste

Spray slow cooker crock pot with vegetable spray. Combine melted butter and cream cheese in a bowl; mix well. Pour cream cheese/butter mixture into slow cooker. Add corn and stir to mix. Cover and cook on low for 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Taste and add salt and pepper before serving.

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Many recipes call for fresh herbs and, if you have them available, use them! I live in Zone 4 of the Plant Hardiness Zone Map which means plants will not survive being outside once it gets cold.

Our outdoor growing season for plants, like herbs, usually ends in September. But don't despair! Many herbs can be grown in containers inside during the winter months. Growing herbs indoors may require just a little extra care and attention, but it's definitely worth it. Below is a link to the seven steps to having a healthy indoor herb garden:

I use three herbs consistently:  basil, parsley, and rosemary. This week, I started my "indoor herb garden" with these three herbs. Right now, they're not much to look at, but as they bloom and grow, I'll post pictures on the blog along with different recipes using fresh herbs. So, stay tuned!

And, if you don't have fresh herbs available, you can always use dry ones. A general rule of thumb when converting between fresh and dry herbs is to use 1/2 the amount of dry herbs for the amount called for in the recipe. For example, if the recipe calls for 1/4 cup of fresh basil, use 2 tbsp. of dried basil leaves.

You'll also want to check out the Facebook page for "It's Not Just About the Recipe" at!/pages/Its-not-just-about-the-recipe-/251289108232470. I post quick recipes on the Facebook site during the week. You can find a recipe for Candied Carrots there right now and I'll have another quick recipe later this week!


Sunday, November 6, 2011

Fall Favorites

Look what came in the mail for me this past Thursday!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011 was National Pumpkin Day. To celebrate, the Stonewall Kitchen blog had a giveaway and the prize was a package of their Pumpkin Scone Mix and a jar of their Pumpkin Caramel Sauce. I won! Not only did I win the scone mix and sauce, I also received a great little recipe booklet filled with recipes using many of the Stonewall Kitchen products. Keep watching for new recipes featuring these wonderful products from Stonewall Kitchen in future posts.

In the meantime, check out the Stonewall Kitchen blog at: You can also purchase the Stonewall Kitchen products from their catalog at their website: In addition to the Pineapple Chipotle Salsa I used in the turkey meatloaf last week, my family and I are also partial to their Raspberry Champagne Jam, their Wild Maine Blueberry Jam, and their Butter Pecan Syrup.

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It seems like every household has a favorite soup and ours is no different. I started making this soup many years ago, when my children were still young, "selective" eaters. The first time I served it, I expected to hear the usual chorus of "I don't like this" or "I don't like (fill-in-the-blank for whatever noticable ingredient they don't like)". But I didn't! While each of us still has our individual favorites, this soup is the family favorite and the one my daughter, Allison (my most "selective" eater), asks for most.

A few tips to share that come in handy when making a recipe like the one below:  first, read the entire recipe (including the instructions) and get all of your ingredients ready and have them all together. Many recipes go together quickly so it helps to have everything ready or "mise en place" (a French phrase defined by the Culinary Institute of America as "everything in place"). When you're in the middle of cooking and it's all going together really fast, you won't be sorry you prepared all the ingredients before starting. Second, try to chop all of the ingredients, like vegetables, to the same size. Not only will they make a better presentation, but - more importantly - they will all cook evenly and at the same rate. Have you ever made a dish that had some of the chopped ingredients get mushy while others weren't quite cooked through? If you have, chances are the ingredients were different sizes. And third, if you're browning the chicken before the vegetables, dry the chicken with paper towels before adding it to the butter. Meat always browns better when it's dry.

 I have everything ready to make the soup!
I've combined ingredients that go into the
recipe at the same time in one bowl, like the
flour & pepper and the vegetables.

Chicken-Wild Rice Soup

Makes 4 Servings

4 tbsp. butter, divided (you can also use 2 tbsp. butter & 2 tbsp. olive oil)
2 medium stalks celery, sliced (about 1 cup)
1 medium carrot, coursely shredded (about 1 cup)
1 medium onion, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1 small green bell pepper, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
3 tbsp. all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 1/2 cups cooked wild rice (I like Uncle Ben's Ready Rice Long Grain & Wild Rice)
1 cup water
1 1/4 cups chicken broth or chicken stock
2 cups chicken, cubed (may also use leftover cooked chicken, but add it with the half-and-half)
1 cup half-and-half (I've also used milk or milk blended with cream)
1/3 cup slivered almonds, toasted - if desired
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley (or 2 tbsp. dried)
Salt and pepper, to taste

Melt 2 tbsp. butter in a 3-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and brown until almost cooked through over medium-high heat. Remove from pan and set aside. Melt the remaining butter in the same pan. Add the celery, carrot, onion, and bell pepper and cook until tender, about 4 minutes. Stir in the flour and pepper until blended. Add the rice, water, broth, and chicken (if you're using cooked chicken, add it here). Heat to boiling; reduce heat, cover, and simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 30 minutes. Stir occasionally. If you like, you can transfer the soup to a slow cooker and allow it to simmer on low until you're ready to serve. To serve, add the half-and-half, almonds (if you like), and parsley. Add salt and pepper, to your taste. Heat just until hot (do not boil or the soup may curdle).


* If you're using cooked, leftover chicken, decrease the butter to 2 tbsp.

Serve with the Cheddar Bay Biscuits (recipe below) or a rustic, crusty bread and a side salad with a light vinaigrette or your favorite salad dressing. This soup is even better the next day! If it becomes a litte too thick, just thin it with a little milk.

Red Lobster's Cheddar Bay Biscuits

Makes 4 Servings

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. shortening (Crisco)
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/8 tsp. garlic powder

Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl (you can also use a food processor or mixer) and cut-in the shortening. If mixing the biscuits by hand, you can use a pastry cutter, but I like to use my fingers to blend the shortening into the dry ingredients. Blend until the mixtures resembles cornmeal. Add the milk and cheese. Mix until a soft dough forms. Drop by spoonfuls onto an ungreased baking sheet. Mix the melted butter and garlic powder in a small bowl. Bake biscuits for 6-8 minutes in a 450-degree oven; brush with butter/garlic powder mixture and return to oven for another 4-6 minutes or until golden brown. Brush the butter/garlic powder over the biscuits when the come out of the oven.

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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Imitation is the Purest Form of Flattery

The caramel got away from me!

Makes 2 - 8 oz. or 1 - 16 oz. cup

1/2 cup fresh espresso - see note below, if you don't have an espresso machine

2 tbsp. vanillla syrup - see recipe below, if you don't have a bottle of the store-bought syrup

1 cup milk, steamed with froth - see note below, if you don't have an espresso machine or steam wand

3-4 tbsp. caramel sauce - see recipe below, if you don't have the store-bought sauce

Top Secret Starbuck's instructions (for a 16 oz. serving - cut the measurements in half for an 8 oz. serving):  to a coffee mug, add 2 tbsp. vanilla syrup and 1 cup steamed milk. Use a spoon to hold back the froth while adding the steamed milk. Top with the milk foam and then add freshly brewed espresso (this is the super-duper secret to a great macchiato - add the espresso after the syrup, steamed milk, and foam!). Drizzle the caramel sauce in a criss-cross pattern across the milk foam. Enjoy!

1 cup water

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 tsp. vanilla

Combine the water and sugar; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes or until sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat and add vanilla. Cool and store in a covered container in the refrigerator.

How to make espresso without an espresso machine:  place 1/2cup of finely ground coffee into your automatic drip coffee maker basket. Pour 1 cup cold water into the water reservoir. Brew coffee. This should make approximately 1/2 cup espresso.

How to steam/froth milk without a steam wand:  there's a couple of ways to accomplish this - you can place 1 cup cold milk into a jar with a lid and vigorously shake the jar for 30-60 seconds or until the milk has doubled in volume (you'll see big bubbles at first, but they'll become smaller as you continue shaking).  Remove the lid from the jar and microwave the milk for 30-45 seconds, keeping an eye on the milk so it doesn't become too hot (you'll lose the froth). Or, if you have an immersion blender, you can use that instead of shaking a jar of cold milk. You still start with cold milk, froth it with the immersion blender, and then microwave it to heat it. With either method, the froth will really form up when it's heated.

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