Thursday, January 22, 2009

Italian Wedding Soup

I'm secretly grateful that Red and I agree that a big cup of hearty soup with maybe a few pieces of warm crusty French bread with a few slices of good stinky cheese is an ideal winter meal. I am always in the lookout for a new soup recipe that we both can enjoy on a regular basis. I prefer soups that are not too heavy (so any cream-based soups would be out for me) & this recipe fits perfectly to what I envision as an ideal soup.

It uses ground chicken and Italian sausage, pastas, and veggies... Aaah... did I mention those meatballs are heaven-sent? We don't normally eat meatballs, but we do now. We have made this several times now since we first found it a few months ago. I hope you enjoy this as much as we do!

Note: we couldn't find any ground chicken in our grocery store, so we used turkey sausages instead.

For the meatballs:
3/4 lb. ground chicken
1/2 lb. Italian sausage
2/3 cup fresh white bread crumbs
2 tsp. minced garlic
3 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup grated Romano cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3 tbsp. milk
1 egg, lightly beaten
Kosher salt and black pepper

For the soup:
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 cup minced yellow onion
1 cup 1/4-inch diced carrots
3/4 cup 1/4-inch diced celery
10 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 cup small pasta
1/4 cup minced fresh dill
12 oz. baby spinach, washed and trimmed


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

For the meatballs, place the ground chicken, Italian sausage, bread crumbs, garlic, parsley, Romano cheese, Parmesan cheese, milk, egg, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper in a bowl. Mix gently with a fork until well combined. Form the mixture into 1- to 1 1/4-inch meatballs and place onto the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes, until cooked through and lightly browned. Set aside.

In the meantime, for the soup, heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large Dutch oven. Add the onion, carrots, and celery and saute until softened, 5-6 minutes. Add the chicken broth and wine and bring to a boil. Add the pasta to the simmering broth and cook for 6-8 minutes or until al dente. Add the fresh dill and then the meatballs to the soup and simmer for 1 additional minute. Taste for seasoning, and adjust salt and pepper as necessary. Stir in the fresh spinach and cook for 1 minute, until the spinach is just wilted. Ladle into soup bowls and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, if desired.

Source: adapted from Barefoot Contessa: Back to Basics by Ina Garten

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Banana Foster

I first discovered this delicious way of cooking banana as dessert probably over 12 years ago in one of the cooking magazines. I don't really remember anymore the actual recipe, because I have since then memorized the recipe, tweaked it here and there and adapted it to suite my taste. I usually skip the liqueur, but use it when I want to be a little bit more fancy. I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I do!

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tbsp light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 ripe banana, peeled, sliced lengthwise and halved
  • 1 tbsp banana liqueur, or and 1 tbsp dark rum - optional
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 scoop vanilla ice cream


Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the brown sugar and stir until the sugar completely dissolves, about 2 minutes. Lay the bananas in the pan and cook on both sides until they become slightly soft and begin to brown, about 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and add the banana liqueur and then the rum and cinnamon. Tip the pan slightly and carefully ignite the alcohol with a long kitchen match or kitchen lighter to flambe. Put the pan back on the heat and shake it back and forth basting the bananas, until the flame dies out.

Divide the ice cream among dessert bowls. Gently lift the bananas from the pan and place pieces on the ice cream. Spoon the sauce over the ice cream and serve immediately.

Serve 1

Lemon Yogurt Cake

Barefoot Contessa's


  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
  • 1 1/3 cups sugar, divided
  • 3 extra-large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest (2 lemons)
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

  • 1 cup confectioners' sugar
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8 1/2 by 4 1/4 by 2 1/2-inch loaf pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper. Grease and flour the pan.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt into 1 bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the yogurt, 1 cup sugar, the eggs, lemon zest, and vanilla. Slowly whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. With a rubber spatula, fold the vegetable oil into the batter, making sure it's all incorporated. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 50 minutes, or until a cake tester placed in the center of the loaf comes out clean.

Meanwhile, cook the 1/3 cup lemon juice and remaining 1/3 cup sugar in a small pan until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is clear. Set aside.

When the cake is done, allow it to cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Carefully place on a baking rack over a sheet pan. While the cake is still warm, pour the lemon-sugar mixture over the cake and allow it to soak in. Cool.

For the glaze, combine the confectioners' sugar and lemon juice and pour over the cake.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Coconut Macaroons

I tend to crave crunchy and salty snacks instead of sweets. I do, however, have weakness for some certain types of desserts, like ice-cream, which I am now convinced that I inherited it from my mom. If I could have only one dessert in the world for the rest of my life, it would be Haagen Dasz's Light Caramel Cone.

My mom, on the other hand, really loves macaroons, so when I saw this recipe, another Barefoot's Contessa collection, I thought that I should give them a try sometimes, especially since I had some leftover shredded coconuts. She lives about 10 hrs away from me, so unfortunately she didn't get to try these. But definitely, I am keeping this as a keeper in my file.

This past weekend, Red and I were invited to a casual dinner at a friend's house, so I decided to surprise them with a platter of desserts. And this was one of the three desserts that we included a surprise. They absolutely raved about these little delights. So I guess the vote is two thumbs up!

  • 14 ounces sweetened shredded coconut
  • 14 ounces sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 extra-large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt


Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Combine the coconut, condensed milk, and vanilla in a large bowl. Whip the egg whites and salt on high speed in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment until they make medium-firm peaks. Carefully fold the egg whites into the coconut mixture.

Drop the batter onto sheet pans lined with parchment paper using either a 1 3/4-inch diameter ice cream scoop, or 2 teaspoons. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until golden brown. Cool and serve.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Cornmeal-Fried Onion Rings

We made these delightful rings to go with our Filet Mignon steakhouses. After this fantastic dinner -our house will never be the same. P.S. And my dad will be so proud of me... Yum! Yum! Yum!


  • 2 large Spanish onions (or 3 yellow onions)
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup (medium) yellow cornmeal
  • 1 quart vegetable oil


Peel the onions, slice them 1/2 to 3/4-inch thick, and separate them into rings. Combine the buttermilk, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, 1 teaspoon pepper in a medium bowl. Add the onion rings, toss well, and allow to marinate for at least 15 minutes. (The onion rings can sit in the buttermilk for a few hours.) In a separate bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Set aside.

When you're ready to fry the onion rings, preheat the oven to 200 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with paper towels.

Heat the oil to 350 degrees F in a large pot or Dutch oven. (A candy thermometer attached to the side of the pot will help you maintain the proper temperature.) Working in batches, lift some onions out of the buttermilk and dredge them in the flour mixture. Drop into the hot oil and fry for 2 minutes, until golden brown, turning them once with tongs. Don't crowd them! Place the finished onion rings on the baking sheet, sprinkle liberally with salt, and keep them warm in the oven while you fry the next batch. Continue frying the onion rings and placing them in the warm oven until all the onions are fried. They will remain crisp in the oven for up to 30 minutes.

Serve hot.

Steakhouse Steaks

Nobody, I mean nobody, has ever convinced me to cook steak at home. I can count with one hand how many times I have ordered, cooked, or eaten steaks. (Now it looks like it would be up to two hands!) My dad is a meat and potato kind of guy, but I have always relied on chicken, fish, and maybe pork to provide me with my protein requirement. And maybe tofu, because I love tofu. And if I have access to tempeh, I would have them every day as well, with tofu (they are like Jack 'n Jill, always together, in my opinion)....

BUT after I watched Barefoot Contessa's show where she made this gorgeous meat, I actually stopped at the meat counter during our grocery run, and asked for two filet mignon. Red's eyes were wide open, jaws dropped, but quickly recovered - maybe because he didn't want me to change my mind.

The reviews on Food Network basically said that this dish was pretty salty, and we agreed. But take a look at what she used instead of the regular Kosher Salt, Ina used Fleur del Sel, which I believe has slightly more subtle flavor. So in the future, if we ever make this again, we'll lighten up on the salt. (I apologize for the quality of the pic, I was in hurry to dig my fork into this handsome steak!).

  • 2 (10-ounce) filet mignon
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon fleur de sel
  • 1 tablespoon coarsely cracked black peppercorns
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, optional
  • Roquefort Chive Sauce, recipe follows

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Heat a large, well-seasoned cast iron skillet over high heat until very hot, 5 to 7 minutes.

Meanwhile, pat the steaks dry with a paper towel and brush them lightly with vegetable oil. Combine the fleur de sel and cracked pepper on a plate and roll the steaks in the mixture, pressing lightly to evenly coat all sides.

When the skillet is ready, add the steaks and sear them evenly on all sides for about 2 minutes per side, for a total of 10 minutes.

Top each steak with a tablespoon of butter, if using, and place the skillet in the oven. Cook the steaks until they reach 120 degrees F for rare or 125 degrees F for medium-rare on an instant-read thermometer. (To test the steaks, insert the thermometer sideways to be sure you're actually testing the middle of the steak.)

Remove the steaks to a serving platter, cover tightly with aluminum foil and allow to rest at room temperature for 10 minutes.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Chicken Stir Fry

My sister is a wonderful cook. She cuts up a couple of pieces of meats, throws in this and that, with a little pinch of seasoning or what not, and voila! She'd have some of the most satisfying dinners served on the table. One of my fondest memories with her was sharing a meal in her kitchen, when the dishes are simple, not pretentious, but never fails to hit just the right spots in my tummy!

This one is a recipe which I have adapted from her during our college years. It's a basic stir-fry recipe using Indonesian's Soy Sauce. This recipe is truly forgiving, you can modify the meat based on whatever you have on hand, it can either be pork, shrimp, beef or scallops. I personally prefer chicken. And whichever meat you choose, just make sure that you slice them uniformly to allow them to cook evenly. And the veggies are the same way. I usually have frozen stir fry in hand, and throws in whatever leftover veggies that I try to use up from the fridge.

I hope you can take this recipe and modify it to fit your family!

2 Chicken Breast
5 Cups of Mixed Vegetables (Carrots, broccoli, baby carrots, sweet peas, mushroom)
1 tbsp of peanut oil
1 Small onion, sliced thinly
4 Cloves of Garlic, minced
3 Tbsp of your fave Soy Sauce (in this one, I used Indonesian Soy Sauce)
2 Cups of Water
1 Tbsp of Chili Sauce (you can find this in Oriental Market, I used Sambal Oelek)
Salt & Pepper to taste

Saute the garlic and onion in peanut oil, until slightly browned.
Add chili sauce. Mix together.
Add sliced chicken. Cook for about 5-10 minutes, turn occasionally to make sure the chicken is cooked thoroughly. Cover pan if required to expedite cooking.
Add vegetables, 2 cups of water, salt, pepper, and soy sauce. Cover.
Cook for about 10 minutes.
Serve with hot rice.

Banana Sour Cream Pancakes

Red and I love banana pancakes. Well, actually this was a tradition that I had carried over from my single days. I had always loved banana pancakes. Not just *any* pancakes. Not buttermilk. Not blueberry.

I loved banana pancakes. As long as I had known pancakes, I always wanted to put sliced bananas in them. When Red and I had just started dating, I decided to make Red a pancake breakfast. I wasn't sure how he felt about banana pancakes, so I went with the more "mainstream breakfast" and grabbed some frozen blueberries from the freezer. This was back in March 2006, so blueberries were not exactly in season.

Little did Red know, I had never made blueberry pancakes before. Or, I have never made pancakes using frozen blueberries. We later found out that I just served my "heart delight" with half-frozen blueberries inside the pancakes.

"I love them, " he said, nodding, and continued licking his fingers. Needless to say, I realized that I didn't have to try to be someone else, even in the kitchen. We have since then shared hundreds of Saturdays or Sundays of banana pancake breakfast. He loves them, and he hasn't really asked for the "mainstream" breakfasts. He lets me "surprise" him with whatever my inspiration may be for the meal(s) that day.

This recipe from Ina was fabulous, because the sour cream and lemon zest really gave it a depth in flavor and took my little old pancake recipe to a completely different height. A little warning: this is very creamy, but fluffy, and definitely rich! Once you take this leap - you will never go back to the regular boxed pancake mix. Trust me. I know Red was licking his fingers, and said, "I really love this recipe!"

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon milk
  • 2 extra-large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • Unsalted butter
  • 2 ripe bananas, diced, plus extra for serving
  • Pure maple syrup

Sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the sour cream, milk, eggs, vanilla, and lemon zest. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ones, mixing only until combined.

Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat until it bubbles. Ladle the pancake batter into the pan to make 3 or 4 pancakes. Distribute a rounded tablespoon of bananas on each pancake. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until bubbles appear on top and the underside is nicely browned. Flip the pancakes and then cook for another minute until browned. Wipe out the pan with a paper towel, add more butter to the pan, and continue cooking pancakes until all the batter is used. Serve with sliced bananas, butter and maple syrup.

Tequilla Lime Chicken

When it's really cold outside, like right now, like it has been for the past three months in the middle of nowhere Iowa - nothing warms my heart like the thought of grilling outside with Charlotte drooling and licking her lips non-stop by the grill. This recipe won me over because it screams "summer", and it uses chicken breast, which is not the most flavorful piece of meat - but yet it's very healthy!

  • 1/2 cup gold tequila
  • 1 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (5 to 6 limes)
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (2 oranges)
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh jalapeno pepper (1 pepper seeded)
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic (3 cloves)
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 whole (6 split) boneless chicken breasts, skin on

Combine the tequila, lime juice, orange juice, chili powder, jalapeno pepper, garlic, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Add the chicken breasts. Refrigerate overnight.

Heat a grill with coals and brush the rack with oil to prevent the chicken from sticking. Remove the chicken breasts from the marinade, sprinkle well with salt and pepper, and grill them skin-side down for about 5 minutes, until nicely browned. Turn the chicken and cook for another 10 minutes, until just cooked through. Remove from the grill to a plate. Cover tightly and allow to rest for 5 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Mexican Chicken Soup

We had some leftover of veggies in the frig, so when we saw this soup recipe on one of Ina Garten's cookbooks and thought we should give it a try! This is very similar to what everyone probably recognizes as "Chicken Tortilla Soup". I personally prefer soups that are not cream-based, like chowder, or chunky soup with some sort of thickening agents. I like the lighter type like this one. I'm okay with a little bit of heavy cream or half and half, but I don't want anything too heavy.

We really enjoyed the flavoring, but Red and I thought that it needed more veggies, so we added a can of sweet corn to give it a little bit more chunks. We also skipped the sour cream & tortilla topping to make it a little bit lighter. I highly recommend the fresh cilantro though, since it really gave the "wow" flavor and aroma. This was filed as keeper. Enjoy!

  • 4 split (2 whole) chicken breasts, bone in, skin on
  • Good olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups chopped onions (2 onions)
  • 1 cup chopped celery (2 stalks)
  • 2 cups chopped carrots (4 carrots)
  • 4 large cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 1/2 quarts chicken stock, preferably homemade
  • 1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes in puree, crushed
  • 2 to 4 jalapeno peppers, seeded and minced
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander seed
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves, optional
  • 6 (6-inch) fresh white corn tortillas

For serving: sliced avocado, sour cream, grated Cheddar cheese, and tortilla chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Place the chicken breasts skin side up on a sheet pan. Rub with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and roast for 35 to 40 minutes, until done. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, discard the skin and bones, and shred the meat. Cover and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot or Dutch oven. Add the onions, celery, and carrots and cook over medium-low heat for 10 minutes, or until the onions start to brown. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the chicken stock, tomatoes with their puree, jalapenos, cumin, coriander, 1 tablespoon salt (depending on the saltiness of the chicken stock), 1 teaspoon pepper, and the cilantro, if using. Cut the tortillas in 1/2, then cut them crosswise into 1/2-inch strips and add to the soup. Bring the soup to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 25 minutes. Add the shredded chicken and season to taste. Serve the soup hot topped with sliced avocado, a dollop of sour cream, grated Cheddar cheese, and broken tortilla chips.

Note: This dish also freezes wonderfully! This makes approximately 6-8 servings, so I froze half of the soup for quick lunches in the future.

General Tso's Chicken

This was adapted from this awesome website called BlogChef. We thought that this was a winner, although just a little warning - it took a little time to put together. I am also wondering about what we can do to make it a little bit more spicy, again to balance the sweetness of the dish. Overall, this was excellent recipe.

1lb boneless skinless chicken thighs (cut into 1” chunks)
5 dried red chili peppers
3 green onions (sliced)
3 eggs (beaten)
½ cup cornstarch
oil (for frying)

Sauce: (I doubled the amount to coat the chicken nicely).
1 ½ tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons rice wine
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons cornstarch

In a large mixing bowl combine cornstarch and beaten eggs. Mix well to create a batter. Add chicken bits and coat thoroughly.
Heat deep fryer or wok to 375 degrees and deep fried chicken bits in batches. Drain on paper towels.
Add 1-2 tablespoons of oil to your wok. Add dried chili peppers to your wok and stir fry for 30 seconds. Add chicken bits to the wok and stir fry for a couple minutes.
Add sauce mixture to the wok and cook stirring until the sauce becomes thickened and bubbly. Garnish with green onions and serve.

(Makes about 2 servings, if served without additional dish)

Korean Spicy Chicken

This is a recipe courtesy of my sister, who found ways to cook simple homemade Korean dishes with a few basic ingredients.


2 Boneless chicken breast, sliced thinly
3 Tbsp of Korean red bean paste
1 Tbsp of Sesame Oil
1 Tsp of Sugar
3 Tbsp of Sliced green onions
1 cup of shredded carrots
1 cup of thinly sliced Onions
Salt & Pepper to taste


Mix together the paste, sesame oil, sugar, and sliced green onions.
Combine sliced chicken breast with the marinate. Leave for a minimum of four hours or more. (Overnight is best since the flavor then would really sink in).
Heat a large work for frying.
Mix the marinated chicken, carrots, and onions. Add salt and pepper.
Cover for about 10 minutes.
Turn and mix, make sure that the chicken are thoroughly cooked.
Cover for another 5 min.
Serve with steamed white rice.

Indonesian Ginger Chicken

From Barefoot Contessa

This was probably the only recipe that I have tried so far from Ina Garten's collections that neither Red or I are very crazy about. We love all of the ingredients and the flavor - but thought that it was too sweet! We thought that next time, we'd have to find a way to find a hot pepper or other ingredient to make it more spicy and cut down on the sweetness.

  • 1 cup honey
  • 3/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup minced garlic (8 to 12 cloves)
  • 1/2 cup peeled and grated fresh ginger root
  • 2 (3 1/2 pound) chickens, quartered, with backs removed

Cook the honey, soy sauce, garlic, and ginger root in a small saucepan over low heat until the honey is melted. Arrange the chicken in 1 layer in a shallow baking pan, skin side down, and pour on the sauce. Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil. Marinate overnight in the refrigerator.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Place the baking pan in the oven and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover the pan, turn the chicken skin side up, and raise the temperature to 375 degrees F. Continue baking for 30 minutes or until the juices run clear when you cut between a leg and thigh and the sauce is a rich, dark brown.

Banana Crunch Muffins

From Barefoot Contessa

I've been obsessed with trying out all of the recipes from Ina Garten in the past few months. Maybe because with all of the wonderful recipes out there, sometimes you wonder which one would turn out - and which ones would be successful. This was a big winner for me, since I love bananas and always find ways to incorporate them to our menu everyday.

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 pound unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 2 extra-large eggs
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup mashed ripe bananas (2 bananas)
  • 1 cup medium-diced ripe bananas (1 banana)
  • 1 cup small-diced walnuts
  • 1 cup granola
  • 1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
  • Dried banana chips, granola, or shredded coconut, optional

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Line 18 large muffin cups with paper liners. Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Add the melted butter and blend. Combine the eggs, milk, vanilla, and mashed bananas, and add them to the flour-and-butter mixture. Scrape the bowl and blend well. Don't overmix.

Fold the diced bananas, walnuts, granola, and coconut into the batter. Spoon the batter into the paper liners, filling each 1 to the top. Top each muffin with dried banana chips, granola, or coconut, if desired. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the tops are brown and a toothpick comes out clean. Cool slightly, remove from the pan, and serve.