Friday, September 26, 2008

Chicken Noodle Soup

I was on a soup kick for a while in the spring. My goal was to find a good minestrone soup recipe. Along the way, I found what looked like a good chicken noodle soup recipe. Chicken noodle soup and I go back a long way. Growing up, I ate so much Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup that it was known in my house as [nickname] Food. No, I’m not going to reveal my childhood nickname to the entire internet. I’m still embarrassed by it 50 years later.

I was attracted to this recipe because of the seasonings and the egg noodles. It was very easy to make and once you got through the onerous chopping of the veggies, it was very quick. The initial result was very unsatisfactory. All I could taste were the seasonings. Despite the chicken broth, it didn’t taste “chicken-y” at all.

All good recipes need a day to reach their peak flavors and this one is no different. By the following day, the basil and oregano had receded to the background and the “chicken-y” taste was in full flower. I will make a few changes the next time I make this. A medium onion instead of a large. There is too much onion in this soup. Three carrots instead of two. It needs more color. Wide egg noodles instead of medium egg noodles. Just because I like them better.

I’m eager to try the variations also. This soup will come in handy along with my pot pies as a way to use up leftover turkey after Thanksgiving. I can hardly wait!

Verdict: Yum!! This one’s a keeper!!

Chicken Noodle Soup

4 ½ cups chicken broth
1 cup chopped onion (1 large)
1 cup sliced carrot (2 medium)
1 cup sliced celery (2 stalks)
1 teaspoon dried basil, crushed
1 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 bay leaf
1 ½ cups dried medium egg noodles
1 cup chopped cooked chicken or turkey

In a 3-quart saucepan combine broth, onion, carrot, celery, basil, oregano, pepper, and bay leaf. Bring to boiling; reduce hear. Simmer, covered, for 5 minutes. Stir in uncooked noodles. Return to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for 8 to 10 minutes or until noodles are tender but still firm and vegetables are just tender. Discard by leaf. Stir in chicken; heat through. To serve, ladle soup into bowls. Makes 4 main-dish servings.

Chicken Tortellini Soup: Prepare as above, except substitute small broccoli florets for the celery and one 9-ounce package refrigerated cheese-filled tortellini for the noodles. Add the broccoli and 1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms when tortellini is added.

Parmesan-Pesto Chicken Noodle Soup: Prepare as above, except substitute 1 small zucchini, halved lengthwise and sliced for the celery; Italian seasoning for the basil and oregano; and dried small shell macaroni for the noodles. Add 2 cloves garlic, minced, to the broth mixture. Add the zucchini with the macaroni. Meanwhile, spread each of 4 slices Italian bread with 1 tablespoon refrigerated basil pesto; sprinkle each with 1 tablespoon finely shredded Parmesan cheese. Place, pesto sides up, on a baking sheet. Preheat broiler. Broil 3 to 4 inches from the heat about 2 minutes or until cheese melts. Top each serving with a slice of the bread.

Donate: Campbell’s soup labels to your local school

Recycle: broth cans

Compost: onion skins, carrot tops and peels, celery tops, bay leaf

Monday, September 22, 2008

Chocolate Chip-Oatmeal-Walnut Bars

I had a busy weekend in the kitchen. Friday, I made Three-Alarm Chili and Saturday I baked an apple pie for a contest. While the pie was in the oven, I made Chocolate Chip-Oatmeal-Walnut Bars for the Master Gardener Annual Picnic. I love attending the picnic, not just because it’s fun to hang out with a lot of expert gardeners, but because they have a plant swap. I always come home with some interesting stuff.

The picnic is potluck. Since I love to bake and the Master Gardeners don’t mind if I experiment on them, I usually try out new recipes. This is one fromCooking Pleasures. Somehow I ended up with a membership in the Cooking Club of America. I refused to send them the fees they demanded, but they still send me their magazine, newsletter and allow me to use their site.

I made one error with this recipe. I bought mini chips instead of the regular sized ones. I think that it does make a difference. "A" remarked when she tried them that the ratio of nuts to chocolate seemed off. I agree but I think bigger chips would have evened things out.

The recipe calls for toasting the nuts on a baking sheet in the oven. It seems like a waste to use the oven for such a small amount of nuts so I used my toaster oven. This is a very stiff batter. Spreading it evenly in the pan requires time and upper body strength. The batter baked up with no problem. Cutting the bars could be difficult thanks to the nuts. In cases like this, I use a pizza cutter. It slices easily through nuts and (large) chocolate chips and makes it very easy to cut in straight lines.

This recipe is billed as “Whole wheat flour and oatmeal add whole-grain goodness to chewy chocolate chip bars.” Perhaps. I found the whole wheat flour made them very heavy. If I made these again, I would use my usual unbleached flour.

Verdict: Not bad, but I don’t think I’ll be making these again.

Chocolate Chip-Oatmeal-Walnut Bars
(source: Cooking Pleasures)

1 cup butter, softened
¾ cup packed brown sugar
½ cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 ¼ cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup whole wheat flour
¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
Dash salt
1 (12-oz.) pkg. chocolate chips
1 ½ cups chopped walnuts, toasted*

Heat oven to 375°F. Beat butter in large bowl at medium speed until soft and smooth. Beat in brown sugar, sugar and vanilla. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Combine oats, whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, baking soda and salt in medium bow.

Slowly add flour mixture to butter mixture, beating until well-blended. Stir in chocolate chips and walnuts. Spoon and spread dough in ungreased 15x10x1-inch pan.

Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown; cool on wire rack.

*To toast nuts, place on baking sheet; bake at 375°F. for 4 to 6 minutes or until pale brown and fragrant. Cool.

Makes 32 bars.

Recycle: vanilla extract bottle

Compost: eggshells

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Wooden Spoon Cooks Face-off in a Bake-off

Hageman Farm, a nineteenth century farmhouse preserved by The Meadows Foundation, held their first annual Fall Festival today. In keeping with the autumnal theme and heirloom apples that were offered to the public to try, an Apple Pie Tasting Contest was held. The chairperson of the committee that oversees Hageman Farm invited the Wooden Spoon cooks to participate.

We took up the challenge with gusto. Last night saw us in our respective kitchens, furiously peeling and slicing apples and carefully rolling out pastry. Then came the nerve-wracking drive this morning to the site, each of us with one eye on the road and the other on our precious cargo. Both pies made it intact, joining the other entrants in the antique dining room.

We were able to relax for a while before the judging began. We toured the beautiful site, inspecting the careful renovations underway at the farmhouse, carriage house and cowbarn. Photos of Hageman Farm can be seen on Flickr.

Then the eagerly anticipated judging began. Participants were asked to wait outside while their pies were being evaluated on crust, appearance, filling and flavor. We sat on a bench under a tree and pretended to admire the zinnias lining the walk to the porch while making nervous small talk.

After what seemed like an eternity, the judges announced that they had reached their decision and the bakers filed into the dining room. Imagine our excitement to hear that the there had been a virtual tie for the third place between A’s pie and OldRoses’ pie! Since only one award could be given, the judges ruled in favor of OldRoses.

Did they make the right choice? We invite our readers to decide for themselves. Try A’s apple pie recipe and OldRoses’ apple pie recipe. Then leave us a comment to let us know which pie was the winner in your kitchen.

After the contest, the pies were offered to the public to taste. A took the opportunity to try the other entries. She has decided to adjust the spices in her recipe. OldRoses had another event to attend today so she didn’t have a chance to try the other pies. But keeping in mind the judges’ seeming preference for tartness, she is going to change the variety of apples used in her recipe.

Be sure to check back with us next September to see what tweaks we made to our apple pie recipes and how we fared in the Hageman Farm Second Annual Apple Pie Tasting Contest.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

OldRoses' Apple Pie

A and I have been invited to participate in an apple pie baking contest tomorrow. The timing couldn’t be more perfect. I always make my annual apple pie in September when the Macintosh apples are in season. Like my blueberry pie and pumpkin pie, I use a recipe from my trusty Betty Crocker cookbook. The only changes I have made is to use Macintosh apples instead of the Granny Smith that are called for in the recipe and add extra shortening to the crust to make it flakier.

I’m very nervous about this pie. Not only is appearance (not one of my strong suits) critical, but it has to be baked in a foil pan. I always bake my pies in the same pie plate that I’ve had since my college days. I have no idea exactly how old it is. It came from the house of a friend’s grandparents that was being cleaned out. It’s ugly, but I swear by it.

I’ve never baked a pie in a foil pan. I have no idea how much filling it will hold or how it will affect the cooking in the oven. I’m just going to have to cross my fingers and hope for the best.

Verdict: Yum!! This one’s a keeper!!

Apple Pie
(source: Betty Crocker Cookbook)

OldRoses’ Pie Crust
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
¾ cup shortening
5 tablespoons cold waer

¾ cup sugar
¼ cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon cinnamon
Dash salt
6 cups thinly sliced Macintosh apples (approximately 6 medium)

Heat over to 425°F.

Stir together sugar, flour, nutmeg, cinnamon and salt; mix with apples. Set aside.

Measure flour and salt into bowl. Cut in shortening thoroughly. Sprinkle in water and mix until all flour is moistened and dough almost cleans side of bowl. (1 to 2 teaspoons water can be added if needed.)

Gather dough into ball; shape nto flattened round on lightly floured pastry cloth. (For two-crust pie, divide dough in half and shape into 2 flattened rounds). With floured rolling pin, roll dough 2 inches larger than inverted pie pan. Fold pastry into quarters; unfold and ease into pan.

Turn apple filling into pastry-lined pan. Trim overhanging edge of pastry ½ inch from rim of pan. Cover with top crust; seal and flute. Make slits in top crust to let steam escape. Cover edge with 2- to 3-inch strip of aluminum foil to prevent excessive browning; remove foil last 15 minutes of baking.

Bake 40 to 50 minutes or until crust is brown and juice bgins to bubble through slits in crust.

Makes one 9” pie.

Compost: apple peels and cores

Friday, September 19, 2008

Three-Alarm Chili

The cool breezes of autumn are blowing and that means one thing: my kitchen is open again. I wanted something warm and filling and had a strange craving for chili. It’s a good thing too because I just happened to have a recipe for Three-Alarm Chili put aside to try.

As I was buying the ingredients, I thought to myself that this is a very expensive dish to prepare so it had better be really good. I had so much food that I had to use my largest pot. Then I realized that it makes twelve servings! Note to self: next time, halve this recipe. It will still make plenty but be cheaper and require a smaller pan.

I made a few of changes, one of them inadvertent but rather Freudian. I “accidentally” omitted the corn. I loathe corn so obviously my brain just skipped right over it in the ingredients list. I don’t normally use bottled minced garlic so I wasn’t about to buy it, especially when I had a nice fresh bulb in my fridge already. I substituted a large clove crushed for the bottled variety. I also wasn’t able to find bulk Italian sausage at my grocery store so I bought links and merely removed the skins.

This is one of those rare recipes that tastes even better than it smells while it’s cooking. I didn’t find it overly hot despite the name. “Three Alarm” to me means that my mouth is on fire and eyes are watering, but it wasn’t the case here. This is just a nice, spicy chili. It was great the first day and even better the second day. And the fact that it is easy to cut in half means you can use it for large gatherings or intimate family dinners.

Verdict: Yum!! This one’s a keeper!!

Three-Alarm Chili

2 17-oz. pkgs. Refrigerated cooked beef au jus
2 28-oz. cans diced tomatoes, undrained
1 large onion, chopped
1 medium green sweet pepper, chopped
1 medium red sweet pepper, chopped
1 fresh jalapeno chili pepper, seeded and chopped
1 tbsp. hot chili powder
1 ½ tsp. ground cumin
1 ½ tsp bottled minced garlic
8 oz. bulk hot Italian sausage
½ of a 6-oz. bar milk chocolate or dark chocolate, cut up
1 cup frozen whole kernel corn
2 22- to 30-oz. cans chili beans with chili gravy
Shredded cheddar cheese (optional)
Corn chips (optional)

Remove beef from packages and reserve drippings. Chop beef; cover and refrigerate until needed. In 6-quart Dutch oven, combine reserved drippings, tomatoes, onion, sweet peppers, jalapeno pepper, hot chili powder, cumin and garlic. Bring to boiling reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

In medium skillet, cook sausage until no longer pink; drain off fat.

Add chocolate to tomato mixture, stirring until melted. Add chopped beef, sausage, corn, and chili beans. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes more, stirring occasionally.

If desired, top each serving with cheese and corn chips. Makes 12 servings.

Recycle: tomato cans, beans cans, garlic bottle

Compost: onion skins, pepper stems and seeds