Thursday, December 29, 2011

Pumpkin Dip

Every New Year's Eve, my family concludes the season of pigging out by making all sorts of tasty appetizers--bite-size spanakopitas, sausage-stuffed mushrooms, artery-clogging chili-cheese dip, piglets in the blanket, and, if they aren't already long gone, leftover tamales from Christmas dinner.  After church we spend the evening grazing, playing games, and waiting for the ball to drop so we can go to bed.

Since most of us have already gained 50 pounds from cookies and eggnog at this point, I'm feeling the need to contribute something healthy.  Hummus?  Carrot sticks?  Pumpkin dip?  Pumpkin's a vegetable, right?  (Or is it a squash?  I can never remember.)  Okay, so the main ingredient might be cream cheese.  And it tastes just as good with gingersnaps as with apples.  Compared with Velveeta and sausage, though, it might as well be a bowl of brussels sprouts.  And no, I don't suggest bringing brussels sprouts to your New Year's party.  Try making this instead.

Pumpkin Dip (from here)

3/4 cup (6 oz.) 1/3-less-fat (Neufch√Ętel) cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup canned pumpkin (NOT pumpkin pie filling)
1 T. maple syrup (use the real stuff if you can)
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
gingersnaps or apple slices, for serving

Combine cream cheese, brown sugar, and pumpkin in a medium bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well combined. Add syrup and cinnamon and beat until smooth. Cover and chill 30 minutes.  Serve with gingersnaps or apple slices.

A couple of tips:  You can freeze the leftover pumpkin.  I use an old sour cream or cottage cheese container--make sure to label it!  Also, if your apples will be sitting out for a while (as in at a party), sprinkle with lemon juice to prevent them from browning.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Apple-Oat Muffins

At the risk of making everyone think that all I eat is soup and muffins, here's another muffin recipe.  Let's face it.  You can never have too many muffins.  Especially ones like these, bursting with little apple nuggets and chewy oatmeal, golden brown and crusty on top, cakey and dense inside.  Add a hint of cinnamon and you can almost imagine it's still autumn, even though snow is falling and all the trees are looking for their leaves.  (Don't get me wrong; I like snow and winter.  I just like fall more.)

If you still have a few wrinkly apples left from your visit to the orchard a couple of months ago, they will be great for this recipe.  I actually used up some windfalls I still had from the co-op.  If not, any kind of cooking apple will do.  The original recipe calls for plain yogurt, which I happened to have on hand, but sour cream or applesauce can be substituted as well.  (If you have homemade applesauce, all the better.)

Apple-Oat Muffins (from this recipe)
Yield:  1 dozen
Total time:  35-40 minutes

2 cups peeled shredded apple (about 3/4 pound)
1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup quick-cooking oats
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 cup milk
2 T. vegetable oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup (8 oz.) plain low-fat yogurt (OR applesauce OR sour cream)
1 egg

Place apple on paper towels; squeeze over sink until barely moist; set aside.  Combine flour and next six ingredients (through cinnamon) in a medium bowl; stir with a whisk.  Make a well in center of mixture.  In a separate bowl, combine milk, oil, vanilla, yogurt, and egg; stir well with a whisk.  Add to flour mixture, stirring just until moist.  Stir in apple.

Spoon batter into 12 well-greased muffin cups (they should be filled almost to the top).  Bake at 400 F for 20 minutes or until muffins spring back when touched lightly in center.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Curried Pumpkin Soup

As much as I love cooking, sometimes all I feel like doing when I get home from work is throwing a bunch of canned food together in a pot and calling it a meal.  And while I usually just laugh at those "recipes" that call for a box of cake mix and a can of frosting, I don't think real cooking requires five-course dinners and countless hours bent over the stove or oven, either.

So here's a tasty soup for those days when all your customers are crabby and your kids are whiney and your hair looks like it got attacked by a cat and all you want is a nice hot meal to toss together before you stay up half the night untangling Christmas lights.  You can get all the ingredients from the co-op, except the seasonings, which you probably have on hand already.  I substituted evaporated milk for the heavy cream.  The leftover evaporated milk can be stored in the refrigerator for a week or two (transfer to a plastic or glass container first).

Curried Pumpkin Soup (from a recent seminary graduate)
Serves 4
Time:  15-20 minutes

1 T. vegetable or canola oil
1 T. butter
1 medium onion, chopped
1 can (14.5 oz.) chicken or vegetable broth
1 can (14.5 oz.) black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can (14.5 oz.) diced tomatoes
1 can (15 oz.) pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie mix)
1/2 cup heavy cream OR evaporated milk
1 1/2 tsp. curry powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
coarse salt, to taste

Heat a deep pot over medium heat. Add oil and butter. When butter melts, add onion and saute 5 minutes, until tender. Add broth, black beans, tomatoes, and pumpkin. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to low and stir in remaining ingredients. Simmer 5 minutes.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Crostini with White Bean Dip

'Tis the season for parties galore, and even if you're not hosting one yourself, I can pretty much bet that you've been invited to one.  Maybe you're supposed to bring some food, and cheese spread and meat balls just aren't cutting it this time.  Maybe your culinary creativity has been called upon to concoct some delicious appetizer for the family Christmas dinner.  Or maybe you just like tasty snacks.  In any case, crostini (a.k.a bruschetta) are a great place to begin, especially if you have one of those Panera baguette loaves from the co-op on hand.

The great thing about crostini ("little toasts" in Italian, in case you were wondering) is that you can pile them with all sorts of different spreads and other toppings.  Tapenade and tomato-basil mixtures are the most common, I think, but I just discovered a yummy white bean dip that uses lots of co-op ingredients, so that's the one you get to hear about today.

Homemade Crostini
Time:  35-40 minutes

1 baguette loaf
2 T. olive oil
1-2 large cloves garlic, peeled

Preheat oven to 375 F.  Slice baguette on an angle into 1/4" to 5/8" thick slices.  I use my biggest kitchen knife, rather than a bread knife, for this.  The older the bread, the harder it is to cut, so you may even want to slice it within a day or two of getting it; you can always toast it later.  Also, resist the temptation to use those bags of pre-sliced bread.  They work in a pinch, but they aren't nearly as good as the real thing.

Next, spread out the bread slices on a baking sheet (you'll probably need two).  Cut off the wide ends of the garlic cloves, then rub the garlic over each piece of bread (sort of like you're grating the garlic).

Use a pastry brush to very lightly coat each slice with olive oil (you can also use a mister).  If you don't have a pastry brush, go to the paint department at Menards and get a couple different sizes of their cheapest brushes.  They have some with wooden handles and natural bristles for under a dollar.  I also just saw some mini silicone brushes at Kroger/Scott's in their Christmas section for a dollar.  I think the natural bristles work better with olive oil, though.

Bake for 10 minutes, then switch the pans (if you're using two) and continue to bake in 5-minute increments.  Mine took about 20 minutes.  I like my crostini to be quite dark, but you can go for a more golden color if you want.

Cool completely and store in sealed plastic bags for up to two weeks or so at room temperature (if they last that long).  Be forewarned that your kitchen will smell very strongly of garlic after baking.  If you're expecting guests, you might want to make the crostini in advance so you don't have anybody swooning.

Now for the dip.  It calls for fresh rosemary, which is about $2 for the little plastic containers at Meijer and Kroger.  I had some in the freezer from a recipe I made months ago, but you can just leave it out if you don't want to splurge.  Just drizzle with a tablespoon of plain olive oil at the end, and sprinkle with a pinch of finely chopped dried rosemary if you have it.

White Bean Dip with Rosemary Oil (based on this recipe)
Yield:  2 cups
Time:  20 minutes

3 T. olive oil, divided
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 (15 oz.) cans white beans (I used Great Northern), drained and rinsed
2 T. fresh lemon juice
2 tsp. coarse salt (or 1/2 to 3/4 tsp. regular salt)
3 sprigs fresh rosemary, rinsed (optional--see note above)

1. In a medium pan over medium heat, stir 2 T. olive oil with the garlic until fragrant, being careful not to brown garlic, about 1 minute. 

2. Pour the oil and garlic into a food processor. Add white beans, lemon juice, and salt to the food processor and whirl until smooth (it will have a creamy consistency similar to hummus). Transfer to a serving bowl.
(If you're like me and have a small food processor, do this in two batches.  Pour in half the olive oil and one can of beans; repeat; then stir everything together with the lemon juice and salt in a serving bowl.  If you don't have a food processor, you could try mashing the beans with a fork or spoon, then using a hand mixer to combine everything, but I haven't actually tried it, so don't take my word for it.)

3. Return the frying pan to medium heat and add the remaining 1 T. olive oil and the rosemary sprigs. Warm the rosemary in the olive oil until fragrant, about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally so the rosemary doesn't burn. Remove from heat and let cool 10 minutes.

4. Set the rosemary aside and drizzle the olive oil over the bean dip. Mince one teaspoon of the rosemary leaves and sprinkle over the dip.

5. Serve your delicious dip with crostini, pita chips, or crudites.  Can be made up to 3 days in advance.

Spicy Shredded Chicken Sandwiches

My crock pot is the most forlorn member of my kitchen appliances.  I almost never get it out.  To be sure, the idea of throwing a bunch of ingredients together in the morning and coming home to a deliciously aromatic dinner in the evening is an appealing one.  There's one problem, though:  every crock pot recipe that I make tastes the same--like crock pot.  And I'd rather spend an extra half hour cooking a delicious stovetop dinner than eating something that tastes like it came out of, well, a crock pot.

I do have one recipe, though, that works every time and tastes delicious.  Unfortunately, you'll have to go to the real store to buy some uncooked chicken for this one.  I won't pay more than $2 a pound for boneless chicken; sometimes you can find fresh chicken on sale, but if all else fails, you can get frozen chicken at Aldi.  They have three-pound bags of boneless skinless breasts or thighs for $5.99.  I really can't think of a way to make Brakebush work in a crock pot.  If you've figured it out, let me know.

Anyway, these spicy sandwiches are brought to you by the same friend who introduced me to Rustic Herb Bread, so you know they've got to be good.  The ingredient list is short, and you really just dump everything into the slow cooker--there's no pre-cooking or chopping or anything that will force you to get up a half hour early to get it ready.

P.S.  If you have a good co-op worthy crock pot recipe that you'd like to share, I'd love to try it out.  Just use the "Share!" button under "Submit a Recipe" on the right-hand side of the page.

Spicy Shredded Chicken Sandwiches
Time:  4-6 hours
Serves about 6

4 uncooked boneless skinless chicken breasts or thighs, thawed if necessary
1/4 cup Frank's Red Hot sauce (or the generic equivalent)
2 T. vinegar
2 T. butter
Hamburger buns
Mayonnaise, blue cheese dressing, and/or additional Frank's Red Hot, for serving

Combine first four ingredients in crock pot; slow cook on low for 4-6 hours.  Shred chicken into the juice with a fork.  Serve on buns with mayo, blue cheese dressing, and/or Frank's Red Hot.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Broccoli Cheese Soup

I have finally found the perfect homemade broccoli cheese soup recipe.  Yammie over at Yammie's Noshery recently posted a copycat version of Panera's broccoli cheddar soup, and it is amazing.  This is not your typical watery, limp, mass-produced fellowship hall fare.  If you're a broccoli lover (like me), you should try it.  If your husband is sick of cafeteria-style broccoli soup (like mine is), even he might love it (like mine did).  If you hate broccoli, you should 1. try again, because it's awesome, and 2. visit Yammie's blog anyway.  Her posts will make you drool and laugh at the same time (a dangerous combination, I admit).  Not to mention she's a Lutheran, too.

A few notes on making this co-op style:  Make sure you chop and measure your broccoli first, to make sure you have enough.  The co-op broccoli should make about 3/4 recipe.  I made half a recipe, which was about three servings.  Also, you can substitute one part milk plus one part canned evaporated milk for the half-and-half (1 cup milk and 1 cup evaporated milk for a full recipe).  Any leftover evaporated milk can be stored in the refrigerator for a week or two (transfer to a glass or plastic container).

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Lemon-Cranberry Muffins

Just before Thanksgiving, in a moment of weakness, I bought two bags of fresh cranberries without the slightest idea of what I was going to make with them.  I'm not a huge fan of cranberry sauce, but I've been on a berry kick lately and I figured they had to be good for something.  Right?  Anybody?

After wasting large amounts of time perusing my favorite recipe website, I decided to try combining this muffin recipe with this one.  The verdict?  You should make them, too.  They're amazing.  And if nothing else, they're the perfect way to use up that last half-bag of cranberries skulking in the fruit crisper.

(Yes, I know cranberries aren't in the co-op.  If you don't have any left over from Thanksgiving, Aldi had them for $.50 a bag on sale last time I looked; I think they're regularly $1.)

Lemon-Cranberry Muffins
Time:  30-45 minutes
Yield:  1 dozen

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup wheat germ (or flour, either whole wheat or AP)
2/3 cup sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup chopped fresh cranberries (use a food processor if you have one)
2/3 cup milk
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 tsp. grated lemon rind (you could also use orange rind)
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 egg, lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 400 F. Combine flour, wheat germ, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl; stir well with a whisk. Stir in cranberries; make a well in center of mixture. Combine milk, butter, rind, vanilla, and egg; add to flour mixture, stirring just until moist. Spoon batter into 12 greased muffin cups. Bake at for 18 minutes or until muffins spring back when touched lightly in center. Remove muffins from pan immediately; place on a wire rack.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Sugared Asparagus

This is the recipe that turned me from an asparagus-hater into an asparagus-sort-of-lover.  (Don't worry, broccoli.  You're still my favorite dark green veggie.)  Seriously, though, how can you go wrong with butter and brown sugar?

The hardest part about making this recipe co-op worthy was cutting it down to fit a half-pound bag--the original recipe calls for two pounds.  You'll also want to make it within a day or two, since it tends to get mushy quickly.  (That's why I didn't post a picture.  My asparagus was a little sad-looking.)  The co-op asparagus also tends to be quite thin, which makes it nice and tender but also decreases cooking time.  Just keep an eye on it so it doesn't overcook.

Sugared Asparagus (from this recipe)
Time:  30 minutes
Serves:  2

1 T. butter
2 tsp. brown sugar
1/2 pound fresh asparagus
1/3 cup chicken broth

1. Prepare asparagus:  Snap off ends, then snap asparagus in half (for larger asparagus, break into 2-inch pieces).  Rinse.
2. In a medium skillet over medium-high, heat butter and brown sugar until sugar is dissolved.  Add asparagus pieces; saute for 2 minutes.  Stir in chicken broth; bring to a boil.
3. Reduce heat; cover and simmer 8-10 minutes or until asparagus is crisp-tender.  (Start checking after 5 minutes or so.)  Remove asparagus to a serving dish and keep warm.
4. Cook sauce, uncovered, until reduced by half (5-10 minutes).  Pour over asparagus and serve immediately.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Five-Minute Blackberry Cobbler

You know a recipe is going to be good when it ends with the phrase "golden brown and bubbly."  Usually it applies to gooey, cheese-topped casseroles, but I'm pretty sure a golden brown and bubbly dessert never hurt anyone, either.

As promised, this one is bursting with the $.50 blackberries that Meijer has been advertising for at least three weeks.  Stock up and freeze some for later, too--they'll still work for baking.  If you don't have self-rising flour, just add 1 tsp. baking powder and 1/4 tsp. salt to the dry ingredients.  This recipe takes only 5 minutes to prepare, and although it does have a long baking time, it's very much worth the wait.

Five-Minute Blackberry Cobbler (from this recipe)
Serves 6
Prep time:  5 minutes
Total time:  65 minutes

1 1/4 cups sugar, divided
1 cup self-rising flour (or 1 cup AP flour + 1 tsp. baking powder and 1/4 tsp. salt)
1 cup milk
1/2 cup butter, melted
2 6-oz. packages fresh blackberries (about 2 cups), rinsed

Whisk together 1 cup sugar, flour, and milk just until blended; whisk in melted butter.  Pour batter into a lightly greased 12" x 8" baking dish (I made a half recipe and used a 7" square dish).  Sprinkle blackberries and remaining 1/4 cup sugar evenly over batter.  (Don't stir them in.  If it looks kind of weird, you're doing great.)

Bake at 350 F for 1 hour or until golden brown and bubbly.