Wednesday, November 28, 2012

'Tis the Season for Soup...Baked Potato Soup that is

My MOST favorite soup ever invented...

Soup #1

Seriously, you have no idea. I am about ready to drool just thinking about this soup. Which, according to the pre-schoolers I work with would be a sign that I'm an old grandma. I don't know why, but recently they've decided that when I hit the age of 41 (I'm 24 now) I'll be old and fall apart and most importantly I will not have control over my saliva. Unfortunate right? I thought so too.

Now I absolutely love Baked Potato soup in all it's marvelous forms. I probably have about 5 or 6 different recipes for this soup. This one is my favorite so far. I haven't played around with the other ones as much and this one just hits the spot whenever I'm craving it so I don't often venture away from this recipe. I've made it so much and changed it each time that I don't even think it is anywhere close to what the original recipe was. Therefore I feel pretty confident saying this is a creation of mine. Now whoever was the genius who decided, "Hey I like baked potatoes and I like soup, I'm going to put them together" deserves a prize in my opinion.

I think soups are fairly easy to make. In theory it's just throw stuff in a pot and let it mix together, right? Well, that's sort of the case. There's a bit more finesse with some soups than others. This one is pretty straight forward. Don't worry, I'll still go through all the steps! So let's just get right to this!

Here's what you need! ...a big pot to start...and then the ingredients

2 large russet potatoes
1/3 cup butter
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
3-1/2 cups of milk (I use 1% but whatever milk you have will work just fine too)
1/2 cup heavy cream
3/4 teaspoon salt (Kosher salt if possible)
1 teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon dried minced white onion
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon dill weed
Some hot sauce
About a cup of Cheddar Cheese (maybe more if you like cheese a lot like I do!)
1/2 cup sour cream
3 or 4 green onions thinly sliced/chopped
Bacon bits
More cheddar cheese

So, by 1 teaspoon or 1/2 teaspoon of the spices...I'm lying. I usually start out with about that much. I like my soup to have a lot of flavor. So we'll start off with the smaller amounts and work our way up to whatever flavor level you would like. And OK I know it looks like a lot, but trust me the spices are what make it so deliciously tantalizingly amazing.

First things first, gotta bake those potatoes. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Place the potatoes on a baking sheet. I usually put some aluminum foil on my baking sheet so I don't have to bother cleaning it later. Ahhh laziness.

Puncture the potatoes several times with a fork so they don't explode in the oven. I hate when they explode. It's a mess and then you've wasted two perfectly good potatoes.

Pop them in the oven for about an hour. Here's what you do. Put them in for an hour, then check them. If they're like my potatoes they won't be done yet. So you'll put them in for another 15-20 minutes after the fact. So when they're done pull them out of the oven, turn off your oven, and let them cool completely. So I like my potato chunks in my soup to be soft, like melt in you mouth soft. So sometimes I let the potatoes cool a bit, probably 20 minutes or so. Then re-check them to see if they're as soft as I want them to be. If they're not I pop them in the microwave for about 2 minutes on high and then they're definitely fully baked and soft enough to go into my soup. NOW you let them cool COMPLETELY.

**Side note: you can also just cook the potatoes in the microwave and skip the oven all together if you don't have the hour or so to cook them in the oven. No worries it'll be a great soup anyways!**

Once they're cooled completely, peel them and chop them up into bite-sized chunks. This is always a messy job for me because I totally don't let them cool completely. I'm just too impatient and often end up burning my fingers a bit in the process.

Now it's time to start on the good stuff!

In a large pot, saucepan, saute pan, whatever you want to cook your soup in...anyways in a large pot you're going to melt the butter on a MEDIUM HEAT. Melt it, don't burn it or let it boil away. Then you're going to stir in the flour like so...

Keep stirring the butter and flour until it's smooth and has formed the roux, the base for the soup. The roux is key to any soup or sauce really. Get that roux going and then add in some other stuff. So next is to add the first round of spices. So add in some white and black pepper, garlic and onion powder, dried minced onion, and a bit of chili powder. HOLD OFF ON THE DILL FOR NOW.

Again make sure your roux is nice and smooth and now contains some of the spices for the soup. Next up is to add in the milk. So pour it in, all while still stirring the soup. You want the milk to mix in with the roux as your adding it in, not just after. Don't know why, but it helps.

Once the milk is all poured in, add in the heavy cream and stir it all up. Now is the time to taste, see if you want more spices. Taste, taste, taste is important with this soup. I think it's why mine changes slightly every time I make it. Add in some hot sauce here if you want. And let it start to simmer together.

Looks delicious already doesn't it? So the next step is to bring the soup to a boil. It takes a few minutes so keep tasting and adjusting the spices as you please. This is where I added in my dill weed. I did this the last time I made the soup, just looking at my spices I was like, "hey I like dill, let's put some of that in there!" And it worked!

BOOM! Dill weed added! Continue to bring the soup to a boil. Once it is at a boil, cook and stir it for a couple of minutes until it thickens up to your liking. If you notice it's getting too thick add in a bit more milk or heavy cream that usually helps mine thin out a bit.

Here it is, thickened up and ready for the next step. Can you guess what it is? Well it's possibly more spices since you're tasting this delicious creation right now and going, "hmmm I like this" or "hmmm I think it needs a touch more garlic or onion or chili powder...maybe some more pepper or dill?" After that it's time for...

CHEESE!!!! Oh delicious, delicious cheese! Sprinkle about a cup, I honestly don't know I don't measure anything for this soup completely. It's all based on taste and instinct. A cup sounds about right though. More or less depending on how you feel. Remember it's your soup, make it how you want. Stir the cheese in so it melts together with the soup, taste again, then move onto the next step.

Remove the soup from the heat. Just move the pot/pan/dish whatever you're using over to the other side of the oven and put the burner you were using from medium heat to low heat. Whisk in the sour cream. Yes, whisk. I use a whisk for this soup from start to finish. It just works really well for getting it all mixed and melted together. Once the sour cream is in you can return your pot to the element/burner you were using, which is now on a low heat setting.

Add in the green onions. Oh my god I love green onions. I try to find a way to get them into so many dishes that I make. I don't know why, but I find them so freaken delicious! So green onions are in...

Time for the bacon!!! As much as I love green onions, I probably love bacon more. It's bacon. You cannot go wrong with bacon. So add as much or as little into the soup as you want. Maybe add some more cheese in now too? Sure why the hell not!? More cheese, more bacon, more spices? Taste, taste, taste!!

Finally, the time has come to add in those glorious potatoes...and more bacon/cheese :) Gently, very gently stir in the potatoes. OK you might not want to use a whisk for the potatoes. Use a spoon. Say goodbye and thank you to the whisk as you place it in the sink to be washed and say hello to the spoon. Once the potatoes are all mixed in, cover the pot/pan/dish up and keep it on the stove on a low setting for about 10 minutes. Why? So the potatoes can heat and the spices and flavors can develop even more in the soup. I know, 10 minutes is a long time to wait for this soup. Especially when you're smelling it first hand. Totally worth it though.

Garnish it with some more bacon and cheese and devour it!!

Store the extra...if any in the fridge and reheat when you want more. Add a bit of milk in when you reheat it because it thickens up in the fridge.  Also, this recipe can easily be doubled to serve a large group of people.

One last picture of the soup...and my dog staring at the floor in hopes of me dropping it.

Hope you enjoy this one as much as I do!
'Til Next Time!!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Chocolate Raspberry Bars

Chocolate Raspberry Bars...or Chocolate Strawberry Bars

First of all let me say, Happy Thanksgiving! I had a relaxing day of sleeping in until 11:30 this morning. The first day I had off in almost 3 weeks. Not waking up before 7am was the best feeling ever today. Add turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and gravy to that and I was in heaven. Oh and wine, you can add wine into that mix too. Now, being Canadian having Thanksgiving in November still seems a little odd to me. But with great food on the table and family surrounding me, I really can't think of any other way I'd like to spend my day.

So why am I writing this on Thanksgiving night and not doing something else? Because I have work tomorrow morning and I wanted to just relax tonight...and watch Shrek Forever After. Shrek cracks me up, watching the latest one for the first time right now. Fiona is kicking Shrek's ass in the backwards world he put himself in. Yeah, anyways onto these bars.

The best part about these bars is how well the raspberry jam and chocolate go together. And what's even better is that I discovered you can switch out the raspberry jam with strawberry and they are just as fantastic! The layers of these bars are great and add so much flavor that comes together when you bite into these. I've made these several times and they satisfy that craving I have for something sweet and chocolatey. There are a few different steps to these so let's get started. Here's what you need!

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup confectioners/powdered sugar
1/2 cup butter, still cold and cubed or sliced in some way

About 1 cup seedless raspberry jam OR strawberry jam OR whatever jam you want really
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons milk
1 cup vanilla or white chocolate chips, melted

3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons shortening

Alright so you do these bars in phases. There's quite a bit of time between the layers and stuff. But preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and we'll get started on the crust.

In a bowl combine the flour and confectioners sugar. Then cut in the butter until the mixture is crumbly. I use a pastry cutter to get the butter into the flour/sugar combo. So this should look like so...

Nice and crumbly. Now you're going to press this crust into an 8 x 8 square baking pan.

Alright, now you're going to pop this in the oven for about 15 minutes. You want it to be nicely browned, but obviously not burnt. You need it be firm so it won't crumble and fall apart later when you try to cut the bars. 

So your crust should look like this. Next up is the jam! Yay jam! You need to spread it on the crust while it's warm so it'll spread easier. Soooooo this is the funny part. My recipe originally called for only 1/2 a cup of jam. That was clearly not enough jam to cover the crust, so I don't know what that recipe was thinking. I easily double the amount...and then some.

So use however much jam you choose. Jam is tasty so in my head I figured the more the better. I wanted enough jam that I would be able to taste it in the bar, what's the point of putting it in if you're not going to taste it?

Next up! Take the chocolate chips and put them in a microwave safe bowl. Melt them at 50% power. I start at 2 minutes then stir, then another minute or so. Do not burn the white chips. It smells bad and you just wasted some chocolate chips.

Melted like this? Yes? No? If not, try again! :) Now you're going to....

Take the softened cream cheese and 2 tablespoons of milk and beat it until it's smooth. Then add in the melted chips and continue beating the mixture until it's smooth. It shouldn't take too long.

This is not completely smooth. This is not what I when I say smooth So keep beating the mixture until it IS smooth.


Now spread this carefully over the jam! As you can see I use a small spatula to do this. You need to do this with a light and gentle hand otherwise you'll mix the jam and the cream cheese layers together. I'm sure it would taste just fine, but I always like the look of having the separate layers. So just go slowly and do it carefully.

So here we are. 3/4 of the way done. Sort of...

Let this cool completely, remember the crust was still warm when you put the jam layer on. Once it's cooled you can pop this in the fridge for about an hour, until it is set.

So you got some free time for about an hour. So go have some fun or do some laundry, cleaning, drinking, watching TV. Run to the grocery store, that's what I usually do, because when I start making these I usually want to make dinner or something too. I don't know why, just happens. Like a cooking bug or something!

For the glaze it's really simple too. Take the microwave safe bowl you used before and put the semi-sweet chocolate chips and the 2 tablespoons of shortening in it. Again melt it at 50% for about 2 minutes, then maybe another minute. Stir it around until it's completely smooth.

Perfection! Alright, so your going to pour this over the cream cheese layer of the bars. What I do is I pour it over and then pick up the pan and move it around so the glaze is evenly spread over the whole pan.

Like this!! Ooooooo very nice right? You're going to pop this back in the fridge for another 10 minutes. Just enough for it to set a bit so you can score it then cut the bars.

Maybe not the most even bars, but I did my best. :)
Once you cut them in the bars. Leave them in the pan, the glaze isn't completely set yet so you need to return this to the fridge for sadly another hour or so. I know, this one has a lot of waiting around. I just want to eat these already!! Gaaaaah!! Don't worry, distract yourself with something else then when that hour mark can FINALLY enjoy these!!

That's it! You're done! Enjoy and try not to be like me and eat all of them. oops...hey sometimes it happens.

Just to leave you with a couple more pictures of your future deliciousness...

Happy Thanksgiving!!
'Til Next Time!!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Quick n Easy Wasabi Beef Fajitas

Wasabi Beef Fajitas

Alright, let me set the stage for you: It was a Monday night, I wanted to cook something, but didn't want it to take forever to get ready. Let's face it, when I cook something for the first time I take my time in the kitchen. I don't want to rush anything and I certainly don't want to make mistakes. I really don't want to ruin the food either because then it's a waste of money and time...and then I'm still hungry. So I flipped through some of my cookbooks and this. It was in the "30 minutes or less" cook-time section and I was in the mood for some beef. Double win in my book. Also, if I hadn't been so lazy over the weekend I would have gone to the store to buy the stuff to make these anyways. But I waited until Monday night.

So after a quick run to the grocery store, I started in on these. Fairly simple recipe and pretty quick to put together. Especially if your grocery store has fajita beef (or chicken) already sliced up for you and put in about a 1 pound package. These are already nicely cut up into the strips of meat you want for fajitas or stir-fry dishes. That took some time off my prep-time.

It was the wasabi in these fajitas that caught my eye. My dad is big on sushi and so are a couple of my uncles. I remember one time, my aunt found wasabi at the grocery store and bought some just because who knows when you'd like some wasabi? I don't know it was just so random and my uncle thought she was crazy for buying it. They didn't make sushi on their own, they went out to a sushi restaurant...where they provide the wasabi. There was no need for wasabi in the house. I was younger when that happened. Just cracked me up when I was at the grocery store, buying wasabi in a tube.

So here's what you'll need:

2 teaspoons cornstrach
3 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
2 teaspoons prepared wasabi
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger root
1 teaspoon minced garlic (about 1 large clove)
1 large red pepper, julienned
12 green onions, cut in half lengthwise (I only used about 10...)
2 tablespoons sesame oil, divided
About 1 lb uncooked beef stir-fry strips
Flour Tortillas (8 inches), warmed up a bit (6-8 depending on how stuffed you want your fajitas)
1 cup coleslaw mix OR I just used some sour cream and cheese

**Important possibly!!**
So I didn't want to use 3 tablespoons of soy sauce because even the sodium-reduced stuff is still really high in sodium. So I substituted some things. I used about 2 tablespoons of soy sauce and 1 tablespoon of Hoisin sauce

I would chop up the green onion first. I took the very tops off then chopped them in half lengthwise then cut them in halves or thirds depending on how long the onion was. So they should look pretty close to this:

Next I chopped up the red pepper. To chop something up julienne means to cut the vegetable into longer, thin strips. When things are julienned it makes the presentation of the dish look nicer. The green onions, the way I did them at least, ended up being mostly julienned as well. The fajitas would still taste the same if you chopped them up, but this way they look nicer. In my humble opinion.

So there you go. You got those cut up and out of the way. So set them aside and grab a small bowl to get started on the next part of this recipe.

In that small bowl you're going to combine the cornstarch, soy sauce, wasabi, ginger, and garlic until everything is well blended. OK once you have that all put together and it's all blended nicely, set it aside for a few minutes while we get the beef going.

Grab a large skillet and stir-fry the red pepper and green onions in 1 tablespoon of the sesame oil. This should take about 3-5 minutes depending on how hot your skillet gets and how quickly. I put my skillet on a medium-high temperature to do this stuff.

So this is the sesame oil that I use. Surprisingly I already had some from when I made some salad dressing a little while ago. So that was nice to have one less thing to get at the store. I like this sesame oil, it's not crazy expensive like some of the other ones I saw and it taste pretty yummy.

Alright so here are your veggies once they have cooked for a few minutes. They should be tender, not mushy. If they're mushy you over cooked them. You want them to still crunch, but obviously you don't want them to be raw. Once those are done, remove them from the heat and set them aside for a bit...just like the wasabi sauce!

Now it's time to grab your meat! See what my grocery store has all ready for me? Love it!! OK so go ahead and throw that in the same skillet you were just using along with the remaining tablespoon of sesame oil.

Do your best to separate the beef as you put it into the skillet. You're going to cook the beef until it is no longer pink. This should take about 5-7 minutes depending on how thinly sliced the beef stir-fry/fajita strips are cut.

Once the beef is cooked you're going to add in the wasabi/soy sauce mixture. Mix it in with the beef and bring that to a boil. Cook and stir for about 2 minutes or just until the sauce has thickened up a bit. 

The beef should look like so...

Alright so if your beef looks like that, which I'm sure it does, it's time to return the red pepper and green onions to the skillet. I also sprinkled a little bit of chili powder on everything at this point, just to add a little extra kick. I enjoy spice and I figured a touch more wouldn't hurt these fajitas.

Stir it all up to get everything nicely coated with the sauce mixture, and also to heat the veggies and meat together. You don't want hot beef with cold veggies, that's just playing tricks on your mouth. So heat everything throughout then you're pretty much ready to serve!

So warm up your tortillas and grab either your coleslaw mix or sour cream and cheese. Or if you just want the meat and veggies in a tortilla and have that be your fajita? That works just the same!

You want to spoon about 1/2 cup of the beef/veggie mixture down the center of the tortilla then top with the coleslaw mix. Or really, it's however much of the beef/veggie mixture you want. Half a cup does pretty well though.

If you're using sour cream and cheese like I did, you might want to do it a little differently. I spread the sour cream all over the tortilla in a thin layer, sprinkled with cheese, and then added the beef/veggie mix.

So this only took me about 35-40 minutes from start to finish. So it's a relatively quick dish to make. I'm a little slow sometimes in the kitchen as I've stated before, I just like to take my time and preferably not destroy my food and kitchen in the process.

Well I hope you enjoy these as much as I did! The flavors in these fajitas are quite delicious. The taste of the wasabi with the soy sauce, garlic and ginger is fantastic! It's a simple, straight-forward recipe that I'm sure will be a hit!

'Til Next Time!!