Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Grown-Up Grilled Cheese & Tomato Soup

You'll have to forgive the camera-battery-dying-hungry-family-waiting-not-so-great picture of the Grown-Up Grilled Cheese & Tomato Soup. When the first cool fronts of the season bring rainy gray skies, it's time for comfort food. Many moons ago Josh and I worked at The Funky Art Cafe in Brenham, Texas. The owner, Connie, was famous for her Grown-Up Grilled Cheese. Every three months she'd completely change the cafe's menu, and always featured a seasonal grilled cheese sandwich. Crisp, buttery panini bread, and a sophisticated blend of cheeses - no American cheese here. The tomato soup is my own special combination of recipes I've loved over the years. I've trimmed a lot of the fat (omitted the heavy cream most recipes call for) and added a few surprises.

Grown-Up Grilled Cheese

1 loaf of your favorite panini bread (our favorite is Panera's Tomato Basil)
Boursin cheese (usually found near the goat cheese)
Smoked Gouda, sliced
Medium Cheddar, sliced

Assemble sandwiches on a large cookie sheet. Spread a generous amount of Boursin cheese on one side of all slices of bread you'll use. Layer Smoked Gouda and Medium Cheddar slices on one piece of bread per sandwich pair. Place piece of bread without cheese slices on top of the other slice. Melt a small pat of butter in a small non-stick skillet, if you have a grill or panini press use it instead. Grill sandwiches until golden brown and inside cheese are melted. If you're cooking in a skillet you will need to flip the sandwich halfway through cooking. If the cheeses do not melt completely, microwave for 20 seconds before serving. If you are preparing a lot of sandwiches, put the finished ones in a 200 degree oven until you're ready to serve. Experiment with your own cheese blends!

Tomato Soup

1 medium yellow onion, chopped
4 large cloves of garlic, quartered
3 slices of bacon, chopped
1 Tablespoon olive oil
6 large tomatoes OR 2 28-oz cans diced tomatoes
1 14-oz can tomato paste
1 14-oz can chicken stock
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
5 thyme sprigs, left whole OR 5 basil leaves, chopped
white pepper
sea salt

In a large stock pot heat olive oil. Add onion, garlic, and bacon. Saute until bacon is crispy and onion and garlic are tender. Add remaining ingredients, stirring frequently. Simmer 15 minutes. If using fresh thyme sprigs, remove. Use an immersion blender until soup reaches desired consistency. If you don't have an immersion blender, carefully ladle soup into a regular blender and pulse gently. Return soup to pot and simmer 5 more minutes, stirring frequently. Serve with Grown-Up Grilled Cheese sandwiches, great for dipping!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Menu Planning

I know, I know - I haven't blogged here in forever. Now that I'm finally posting, it's not even a new recipe.

In my journey to cook healthy, but tasty and affordable meals for our little family I've tried many methods of menu planning. Not planning out the meals I'll cook each week is not an option. If I don't write out a list of meals, we end up eating out or having cereal for dinner. Plus, we have random groceries left unused. For a while I would just write out meals on paper, then I found this Feed Me template at The Container Store. I've used it for the past year, and it was a great place to start. After using it for a while I knew there were certain things I liked, and some that I did not.

I created my own template. It hangs on the message center in the entrance to my kitchen.

Of course I had to 'cute' it up a little.

This picture is a little blurry, but here is what it looks like all filled out. I don't like feeling tied down to cook certain things on specific days, so I just made spaces for four Meal spots with room for a main dish and sides. The lines are long enough to write the name of the meal and the name of the cookbook and corresponding page number. I have a section for breakfasts/desserts, and another section for things we run out of during the week. I do not have a spot for grocery list, the Feed Me template had one. I use an iPhone app (Grocery Zen) to keep my grocery list. Plus, it's a bit risky to take your whole menu planner to the grocery store. If you lose it you're stuck with a bunch of groceries and no direction.

There's nothing magical about my menu planning form, but it works for me. If you'd like a blank copy, just send me an email at I'd love to hear your menu planning tips and advice. Comment below!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

World's Best Cherry Pie Filling

About a month ago I began dreaming about cherry pies. There were no fresh cherries available anywhere. Last summer I adapted a Williams-Sonoma recipe for cherry pie filling. I filled pies, ramekins, heart-shaped pockets, and even served it over vanilla ice cream. Last week we finally found some cherries in the produce department! This recipe is really easy, especially if you have a Pit Crew.

Ava removed the stems, and J pitted the cherries.


Chery Pie Filling

2 cups granulated sugar
6 Tablespoons corn starch
1 teaspoon salt
8 cups pitted cherries, whole
4 teaspoons Mexican vanilla

In a large pot stir sugar, corn starch and salt. Add cherries and vanilla. Simmer for 25 minutes, cool completely.

Makes enough filling for 2 deep-dish pies, or 24 heart-shaped pockets. I usually freeze half, just thaw in the refrigerator overnight before second use.

Looking for the perfect crust recipe to accompany your cherry pie filling?
Click HERE for my favorite crust recipe ever.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Sick Soup

The name of this soup should really be Chicken and Wild Rice, but Josh christened it Sick Soup many moons ago. When we were first married we lived in Independence, Texas, which is, according to Rand McNally, a ghost town. One evening he came down with a high fever and I didn't want to leave him alone for thirty minutes to drive to the grocery store, but also knew he needed to eat something healthier than the frozen pizza in our freezer...yes, we were young and dumb once. No pizzas in our freezer now, I promise. Anyway, I rummaged around in our cabinets and vegetable drawer and found ingredients to make the first ever Sick Soup. It's so simple and delicious, perfect for comfort or illness. I love to take it to friends who are sick, recovering, or just plain sad. Make this big portion and share half with someone who needs a little extra love.

The ingredients:

1/2 pound organic white meat chicken, boneless and skinless, chopped
1/2 pound organic dark meat chicken, boneless and skinless, chopped
3 cups Royal Blend rice (or your favorite wild rice mix)
8-10 organic carrots, cut on a bias about 1/4 inch thick
2 large stalks organic celery, coarsely chopped
32 ounces organic, low sodium, reduced fat chicken broth
32 ounces water
2 Tablespoons dried sage (you can also use thyme or tarragon, just pick one - don't mix them)
fresh cracked peppercorns
sea salt

Cut carrots on a bias (see below), chop celery and chicken - in that order, and toss into your favorite soup pot

Put remaining ingredients into the pot and stir gently.
Turn burner to medium heat, cover tightly with lid.

When the rice is fluffy, chicken is cooked, and vegetables are tender your Sick Soup is ready, about 45 minutes to an hour. I purposely don't put a lot of liquid in this soup because Josh is not a fan of broth, but you could definitely add more water or chicken stock to make this more 'soupy'.

This dish refrigerates well and serves as delicious lunch and leftovers the next day or two... or six. But it really shouldn't last that long because you're sharing it, remember?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Triple Chocolate Biscotti

I'd like to thank my sous chef, Ava, for doing most of the work this evening. Please excuse our Sunday nap clothes. We cook comfy chic.

*The recipe, without picture interruption, will be available at the bottom of this post.

First soften 1/2 a cup of your favorite butter, we prefer salted organic.

Choose your weapon wisely.

Cream the softened butter for about 30 seconds.

Add 2/3 cup granulated sugar,

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder,

and 2 teaspoons baking powder.

Beat until combined, scraping sides when necessary

Crack two eggs into a separate bowl, we bought these beauties from the Norman Farmer's Market.

Mix eggs into dough.

Add one cup of your favorite whole wheat flour, we love King Arthur (way more affordable in Texas, so OK folk should stock up when they can).

Blend in 3/4 cup of unbleached, all-purpose flour. If I was making these for just me I would use all whole wheat flour, but not everyone likes to chew their biscotti quite as much as I do.

Blend in 1/2 teaspoon Extract of Almond

Add one teaspoon of cinnamon.

Add 1/2 cup each of Ghirardelli white chocolate, dark chocolate, and milk chocolate chips.
(Target runs great sales on Ghirardelli chips, just watch the baking aisle...and leave some for me or I will hunt you down.)

Line a baking pan with parchment paper and grease slightly.
Shape dough into two long rolls and flatten.

Bake in a 375 degree oven for 20 - 25 minutes. Remove parchment paper from pan, gently, and allow to cool completely. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees.

Slice into 3/4 inch wide pieces and place, cut side up, on baking sheet. Return to oven for 8 minutes. Flip biscotti and cook for another 8 minutes.

Store in an airtight container.

Enjoy with your favorite coffee or milk!

Triple Chocolate Biscotti
preheat oven to 375 degrees

1/2 cup softened butter
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 eggs
1 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour
1/2 cup white chocolate chips
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips
1/2 cup milk chocolate chips

Cream butter for 30 seconds. Add sugar, cocoa powder and baking powder. Blend together, scraping sides when necessary. Add the two eggs and mix. Add flours and chocolate chips.

Line baking pan with parchment paper and grease slightly. Form dough into two rolls and flatten. Bake for 20 - 25 minutes. Remove paper from pan and cool completely, reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees.

Slice into 3/4 inch wide pieces and place, cut side up, on baking sheet. Return to oven for 8 minutes. Flip biscotti and cook for another 8 minutes.