Thursday, January 30, 2014

Cheese Tortellini Soup with Sun Dried Tomato, Artichokes & Chickpeas

I have been making a lot of soups lately. We have been hit seriously with frigid cold weather in the past couple weeks, and I crave soup every day. I made a lentil and sausage soup that I really wanted to post on the blog, but we finished it all before I could take a picture. I plan to make it again soon though, so no worries, you won't miss out on the recipe! I also have made some soups that were good - but not great, and not worth sharing on the blog. This cheese tortellini soup is totally blog worthy. I made it last night and was blown away by how flavorful it is. There are no onions, garlic, or salt in the recipe! While I was making it, Greg told me it would be nice if I had prosciutto or some other type of meat to add to it. When he was eating it, I asked if he missed the meat, and he said not at all. He did tell me though that he wished he had some bread! I agree, when we eat it tomorrow night I'll make sure we have some bread to go with it.

Not only did this soup taste incredible, it was so simple to make. It required minimal chopping (just the sun dried tomatoes) and barely any cook time. I made it from start to finish in less than 15 minutes. The soup is comforting and filling and so amazingly good. Enjoy!

Recipe for Cheese Tortellini Soup with Sun Dried Tomato, Artichokes & Chickpeas

7 cups of chicken or vegetable broth (use vegetable to make the soup vegetarian)
3/4 cup of thinly sliced sun dried tomatoes in oil, drained of the oil (reserve 2 tsp.)
1 9 - 10 ounce package of refrigerated cheese-filled tortellinis
2 15-ounce cans of chickpeas, drained
1 8.5 ounce can of chopped artichoke hearts in water, drained (do not use marinated artichokes)
3/4 cup of half and half or light cream
3/4 tsp. of crushed red pepper flakes
Several grinds of freshly ground black pepper
Baby spinach leaves (for topping)
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese (for topping)

Put the broth into a dutch oven and set over high heat. Bring the broth to a boil and then add in the sun dried tomatoes and tortellini. Boil for 5 minutes, then lower the heat to medium low. Add in the chickpeas, artichokes, reserved sun dried tomato oil, half and half, crush red pepper flakes, and freshly ground black pepper. Cook for another 5 minutes.

Ladle soup into bowls. Top each with desired amount of baby spinach leaves and stir. Then top with freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Serve with your favorite crusty bread, if desired.

Recipe makes about 8 servings

Recipe Adapted from: Foodie Crush 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Warm Chocolate Pudding Cakes with Whipped Cream & Cacao Nibs

Okay, warm chocolate pudding cakes are seriously one of the best things I have ever tasted in my life. For real. If you are a diehard chocolate lover, you really need to make these.

Maryland was hit with a snowstorm on Tuesday, and even though we only got about 5 - 6 inches, my county school system was shut down for 2 days. And, since I work for the school system, I was off for 2 days. Yippee! It was way too cold to even go outside (single digits during most of those two days and the high was a balmy 14 degrees), so I stayed in and was as lazy as humanly possible. I hung out in sweats, played Scrabble with Greg, updated my Facebook status several times, and went through cookbooks. One of the cookbooks I went through was the Scharrfen Berger "The Essence of Chocolate" cookbook. I came across the recipe for warm chocolate pudding cakes and thought "I NEED to make these!" I ended up making them last night while Greg was out shooting an event. The warm chocolate pudding cakes are rich and chocolatey but not too sweet - and they are the ultimate comfort dessert. So much for my plan of eating healthy! It is really hard to eat healthy when it is so cold outside. Seriously - resolutions to eat healthy should be made in the Spring, not in January. Starting tomorrow though I am challenging myself to not eat sugar for five days (yes, only five days, I set realistic goals for myself). If I don't do this I'm sure my baby will be born addicted to sugar! Healthier posts on the blog will be coming soon. But for now, here is the recipe for these amazingly scrumdiddlyumptious warm chocolate pudding cakes. Enjoy!

Recipe for Warm Chocolate Pudding Cakes with Whipped Cream & Cacao Nibs

For preparing the ramekins/oven safe bowls
Unsalted butter
Cocoa powder (about 2 tablespoons)
For the pudding cakes
3.5 ounces of 99% unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
1 cup of heavy whipping cream
4 Tbsp. of unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes
2/3 cup of granulated sugar
1 Tbsp. of cornstarch
1/4 tsp. of salt
2 eggs
For topping
1/2 cup - 2/3 cup of heavy whipping cream
Cacao nibs

Adjust oven so that a rack is in the middle position and then preheat to 325 degrees.

Butter 4 - 5 ramekins or oven safe bowls that hold at least 6 ounces. Dust the bottoms and sides of each one generously with cocoa powder, making sure to tap out the loose excess powder.

Put the heavy whipping cream and cubed butter into a medium-sized pan. Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Once it simmers, immediately add in the finely chopped chocolate. Remove from heat and allow it to sit for one minute. Then whisk the mixture until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is nice and smooth.

In a large bowl, sift the sugar, cornstarch, and salt together. Add in the eggs and whisk. While whisking, add in the melted chocolate and mix until well incorporated. Place a fine mesh strainer over top a 4-cup liquid measuring cup. Pour the mixture through the strainer. You will get about 3 cups of batter in the measuring cup. Pour the batter into the prepared ramekins/oven safe bowls. Place them onto a baking sheet and put into the oven. Cook for 30 - 35 minutes, or until the tops are puffed up and slightly cracked. Allow to cool for 10 - 15 minutes.

While the pudding cakes are cooling, make the whipped cream. Place 1/2 - 2/3 cup of heavy whipping cream into a metal bowl and use an electric hand mixer set on high speed to mix until stiff peaks form. Top each pudding cake with a couple tablespoons of whipped cream and some cacao nibs.

*These are best when warm. If you save them, cover tightly with plastic wrap and store in fridge. Place in microwave for about 25 - 30 seconds before eating.

-This recipe is EASY to make-

Recipe Source: The Essence of Chocolate, by John Scharrfenberger and Robert Steinberg

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Best Ever Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies

On Sunday I had some friends over for another baking day. We made cinnamon rolls and these chocolate chocolate chip cookies. One friend brought the dough for the cinnamon rolls, and I was in charge of the chocolate dessert. I was torn between brownies with a ganache topping, salted caramel brownies, chocolate cupcakes with Nutella frosting, and the cookies! I decided on the cookies because the recipe made more than any of the other treats and because they are easy to transport. While making the recipe, I realized that I have actually posted this recipe on the blog before - it was one of my first posts. At first I didn't think I would post them again, but after they came out of the oven, I knew they deserved another spot on the blog. They are SO amazingly yummy! My friend's nine-year old son came to help us out in the kitchen, and he went crazy over the cookies. He said they taste better with the sugar rather than the sea salt, but us adults preferred the sea salt topping. On Monday morning I served Greg some cinnamon rolls for breakfast, and he told me that they were way too sweet. I of course loved them, because nothing is too sweet for me, but I told him that he did not have to eat them! He went on to ask why we didn't do a healthy baking day and that we shouldn't put sugary things into our bodies, yada yada yada, and I told him because obviously that is no fun. I let him know that I could give away the cinnamon rolls if he did not want the sweets in the house, and he told me he thought that was a good idea. So I then said "do you want me to give away the cookies too?" And his response was "no, you can leave the cookies." Haha! Anyways, these cookies are rather delicious. They are rich and chewy and chocolatey and gooey and heavenly and better than you ever imagined that they could be. Enjoy!

Recipe for the Best Ever Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies 

2 cups of all-purpose flour
1/2 cup of Dutch processed cocoa powder
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. of salt
14 ounces of semisweet (62%) baking chocolate, chopped
4 eggs
2 tsp. of pure vanilla extract
1 tsp. of instant coffee powder
10 Tbsp. of unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
1 1/2 cups of light brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup of granulated sugar
1 3/4 cups of semisweet chocolate chips
Chunky decorative sugar (optional)
Coarse sea salt (optional)

Put the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt into a medium-sized bowl and mix together. Put the eggs, vanilla extract, and coffee powder into a small bowl and mix well. Put the softened butter into a large bowl and use an electric hand mixer set on medium-high speed to beat until the butter is smooth. Add in the light brown sugar and granulated sugar and beat again until well combined. Set the hand mixer on low speed and gradually pour in the egg mixture and beat until combined.

Prepare the bottom pan of a double boiler with water and set over medium heat. Put the chopped chocolate in the top pan of the double boiler. When the water simmers, set the pan with the chocolate over the water and stir constantly until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth. Remove from heat.

With the hand mixer set on low speed, beat the  butter, sugar and egg mixture while pouring the melted chocolate into the bowl in a steady stream. Beat until the chocolate is well combined into the mixture. Add in the flour mixture and beat on low speed until the ingredients are just incorporated. Pour in the chocolate chips and fold in. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow it to sit for about 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Use a 1 3/4-inch cookie dough scoop to scoop the dough up into balls and set on the baking sheets. Make sure to leave about 1 inch of space between each ball of cookie dough. Sprinkle a little coarse sugar or sea salt over the balls, if using.

Put in the oven. Bake for 12 - 14 minutes. Remove from oven and allow the cookies to cool for 15 minutes, then transfer to a cooking rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

*Recipe makes approximately 3 dozen cookies*

Recipe source: Annie's Eats, originally from Baking Illustrated 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Creamy Lemon & Thyme Pasta (with or without Kale)

This is one of the easiest pasta dishes I have ever made. It takes less than 20 minutes to make from start to finish. I think it can be served alone as a main course, or you can serve it as a side with meat. The first time I made it I added some kale greens and this is a great idea if you want to get your healthy greens in! This meal is great for weeknights because it is so quick and easy, and it also makes enough to have for leftovers. Another bonus of this creamy lemon and thyme pasta is that all you need to make it is one large pot! The pasta cooks with the sauce, which makes it extra yummy and flavorful. Enjoy!

Recipe for Creamy Lemon & Thyme Pasta

4 Tbsp. of dried onion flakes
3 garlic cloves, pressed
1/4 tsp. of crushed red pepper flakes
1 tsp. of dried thyme
1/2 tsp. of freshly ground black pepper
1 1/8 tsp. of kosher salt
3 tsp. of lemon zest (use a microplane to zest)
2 1/2 Tbsp. of extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup of white cooking wine
1 12-ounce can of evaporated milk
4 cups of water
1 pound of penne pasta
3/4 cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 Tbsp. of freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/3 cup of heavy cream
2 - 3 cups of chopped kale greens (optional)

In a large pot, combine the onion flakes, garlic, red pepper flakes, thyme, black pepper, salt, lemon zest, olive oil, cooking wine, evaporated milk, water, and penne pasta. Set the pot over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Stir the pasta often (about every minute) and boil until the pasta noodles are al dente and almost all the liquid from the sauce has been absorbed (about 10 - 12 minutes).

Remove the pot from heat. Stir in the Parmesan cheese, lemon juice, heavy cream, and greens (if using). Let the pasta rest for 5 minutes then stir again and divide amongst serving dishes. Top each dish with freshly ground black pepper and Parmesan cheese, if desired.

Makes 6 - 8 servings. 

Recipe Adapted from: Pink Parsley

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Craving Healthy? Check out My Best Healthy Recipes from 2013!

Pasta with Arugula Pesto, Chicken Sausages, Walnuts & Goat Cheese
I don't know about you, but I am craving healthier foods these days! The holidays have a way of doing that - which makes it easier for us to set healthy eating goals for the new year. Usually after a few weeks or so of healthy eating I'm back to my not so healthy ways, but I compiled this list of healthy-ish recipes that I posted in 2013 which may help you and me to have a healthier start to 2014.

In putting together the recipes, I realized that I definitely did not cook as much this year and post as many recipes as I did last year. There was a drastic decrease in my posts in August - right about when my lovely first trimester pregnancy symptoms kicked into full gear and just being in the kitchen made me sick! Then in late September our fridge went out, so we went for weeks with just using a mini fridge and basically living on takeout. In November we took our big trip to the British Virgin Islands, and in December it was finishing up school work and getting ready for the holidays! I will try to post more this year (I'm sure a huge decrease in posts will come in April, right after baby Wendy is born)! I hope you enjoy this collection of healthy recipes. And, here is a link to my craving healthy post from 2012. Enjoy & happy 2014!

Let's start with sweets!

Banana Oatmeal Cookies Made without Butter, Sugar, Flour, or Egg

Simply Delicious Homemade Granola 
Healthy Frozen Chocolate Treats (Vegan) 

Make sure to try out this recipe for Zucchini Brownies when zucchini is back in season!

Now onto snacks/beverages.
Juicing Recipes Plus a Recipe for Delicious Muffins Using the Juice Pulp

Salads and Side Dishes

Honey Roasted Sweet Potatoes
Homemade Pita Chips
Quinoa Salad with Walnuts and Raisins
Mexican Salad with Cilantro Lime Dressing
Tropical Hearts of Palm Salad

Last, but not definitely not least - the MAIN course! 

And there you have it! Don't forget to check out my HEALTHIEST RECIPES OF 2012 POST! 

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Quinoa and Banana Johnnycakes

Okay, I think these are way more like a pancake and not so much like a johnnycake, but the cookbook called them I will too. At first I thought this recipe might be a total and complete flop. I had finished measuring everything out and had mixed most of the ingredients, but when I went to add in the egg, I realized I only had 2 eggs and not 4 like the recipe called for. So I had to take what I had already mixed up and I had to cut it in half. I also just wasn't sure how well the quinoa would taste, especially because its flavor can be overpowering at times. Well, it totally worked out! If I would had the 4 eggs, I would have ended up with 30 johnnycakes. The original recipe said it made 12, and with halving the recipe I made 15! The quinoa and banana johnnycakes (or pancakes) were really good and so much better than I thought they would be. Greg absolutely loved them. I was really happy that they turned out because lately I've been excited about trying new recipes and they turn out to be not so good, and that's a total bummer.

In this new year, I, like many of you, am trying to be healthier. There were just so many sweets during the holidays! Everyday I was exposed to coconut macaroons, chocolate pie, peanut butter and pretzel truffles, pretzel treats, sugar cookies, tres leches cake, See's candies, and so much more! Not that I don't love all these things...but I need a rest from the sugar. I had to go get my 28 week blood glucose test done on Thursday, and I actually may not mind too much if I am positive and have to cut out sweets (and I'm sure I'll change my mind on this if I find out next week that I did test positive)! Anyways, I've started off the new year with some healthier meals. These quinoa cakes are pretty healthy because they are loaded with superfood quinoa and potassium-rich banana. Serve them with some pure maple syrup and enjoy!! Hope everyone has an amazing 2014 - make it your best year ever!

Recipe for Quinoa and Banana Johnnycakes (Pancakes)

2 cups water
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup of red quinoa, rinsed well
1 cup of all-purpose flour
3 Tbsp. of granulated sugar
1 Tbsp. plus 1/2 tsp. of baking powder
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp. of ground cinnamon
*3/4 cup of 2 % milk
*1/4 cup of heavy whipping cream
*(or you can use just 1 cup of whole milk)
2 eggs
1/2 tsp. of pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. of canola oil
2 ripe to very ripe large bananas, mashed
Oil for cooking the johnnycakes

Put the 2 cups of water and salt in a pot and bring to a boil. Add in the rinsed quinoa and stir. Then adjust the heat to low, cover, and allow it to simmer until it is fully cooked. Make sure all the water is fully absorbed, remove from heat, and fluff with a fork. Allow it to cool.

Add the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon to a medium sized bowl. Stir to combine. In a large bowl, add in the milk, cream, eggs, vanilla, and canola oil and whisk well. Add the flour mixture to the bowl and stir until just combined. Add in the cooled quinoa and mashed bananas and mix. Let the batter sit for about an hour.

Brush the surface of a nonstick pan or electric griddle with canola oil or other cooking oil. Once pan or griddle is hot,  scoop up 1/4 cup of the mixture and drop onto the pan. Let cook for 2 - 3 minutes, then use a spatula to check if it is ready to be flipped, and then flip and cook for a 2 - 3 minutes more (or until lightly browned on each side and cooked through). Continue with the rest of the batter.

Serve with your favorite pancake toppings.

Recipe makes 12 - 16. 

Recipe Adapted from: True Food - Seasonal, Sustainable, Simple, Pure by Andrew Weil