Bacon and Blue Cheese Scones

bacon blue cheese scones
I’ve noticed a trend.  Every time it’s freezing, lately, snowing in particular, I post a blog entry.  I also bake something.  Today I made a banana chocolate chip bread with Olive and after putting her down for her “quiet” time (hardly ever quiet, but at least she stays in there), I came to write right away before the littler one wakes up from her nap.  Everything happens in thirty-minute windows, lately.  Feedings, naps, playtimes, snacks, lunch, cleanup, laundry folding, getting dressed, errands – it all goes like clockwork.

I remember this feeling of monotony and spinning my wheels when Olive was a baby.  I don’t know what it is about the infant phase – it is all at once sweet, boring, thrilling, gross, blissful and extremely isolating.  I think the feelings of isolation come from the cabin fever.  It’s hard to get a baby ready to go out and do something outside the home when you know you’ll have to do something baby related in another hour.  I love this phase but I am always looking forward to getting out of the house more and feeling productive.  January is the antithesis of productive as far as my photography business goes.  No hustle and bustle of bridal and engagement shoots, yet.  Everything is dead, gray and cold.  And maybe that’s okay.  It’s a big, gigantic pause button and one that I (usually) am glad to press each year.  But I’m a people-person.  And not just a little-people person.  I love interacting with grown-ups and perhaps that’s the catharsis of this blog.  It was born the year my first daughter was born and it kept me connected to all of you who love cooking just as much as I do.  I hope one day to have a cooking class.  How grand would that be?!  But the time isn’t right, yet.  For now, I’ll write about scones and look forward to hearing from you all.  And go feed the baby in another thirty minutes…

I improvised this lovely recipe from Annie’s Eats because I had neither scallions or cheddar and only about half the bacon her recipe called for.  I first made her original recipe when I went on a road trip and they were just wonderful.  My altered version was also great and amazing as a little side treat with a cup of soup.  Especially on a day like today, there’s nothing quite like the smell of bacon coming from the oven.  And with a bit of cold butter melting on top of one of these babies, you’ll be set.

Bacon and Blue Cheese Scones

Bacon and Blue Cheese Scones

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1-2 tsp. ground black pepper
8 tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1/2 cup blue cheese crumbles
5 slices bacon, cooked and chopped into small pieces
1 cup buttermilk (plus up to ½ cup extra, if needed)

For the egg wash:
1 large egg
2 tbsp. water

Preheat oven to 400F.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt and pepper and then cut in the butter with a pastry blender or a fork until broken down and the butter resembles crumbly sand.  Fold in the blue cheese and bacon and then stir in the buttermilk.  Add a little extra to form a sticky dough if it seems too dry.  Turn out onto a floured work space and form into a rectangle, about 1/2 inch thick.  Cut into squares or circles or daisies or whatever you prefer and place on a greased cookie sheet.  Brush with egg wash.  Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown.  Serve with cold butter.

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Cheesy Broccoli Rice from Scratch

broccoli rice casserole
This was undoubtedly a comfort food for many of you growing up, as it was for me.  Creamy and cheesy with just a hint of something green, but mostly rice and cheese.  So all in all, the perfect vegetable dish. 😉 My mom made it a lot and sometimes I crave it but I’ve never made it myself.

A lot of recipes you see online call for cans of stuff, velveeta and things that just don’t seem like…food.  Now, I’m not saying that the from-scratch version is any better for you, BUT it has all real ingredients and gives you a good feeling and that’s what makes the indulgence worth it.  I decided one day I would make this dish and since I don’t keep any cream-of-whatever on hand, I made a simple bechemel (white gravy base) and added in lots of extra sharp cheddar.  Each ingredient cooked separately in chicken stock to give lots of added flavor and the results were fabulous!

We still have lots of snow on the ground and the roads are hard to travel, so warm, cheesy dishes are the perfect meal to stay inside and enjoy.  Be warm and well fed! 🙂

Cheesy Broccoli Rice Casserole

 

Cheesy Broccoli Rice

  • 1 head broccoli, chopped small
  • 2 cups chicken broth (although vegetable broth would enable the entire
  • dish to be vegetarian)
  • 1 cup white rice
  • pinch of salt
  • 4 TBS unsalted butter
  • 4 TBS flour
  • 1 cup whole milk (plus more to adjust consistency)
  • 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • breadcrumbs and extra cheese for topping (I used crushed Ritz crackers)

Preheat oven to 400F.

In a large, deep skillet, bring the broth to a boil and throw in the broccoli.  Steam it with a lid covering until the broccoli is starting to get tender, about 5 minutes.  Remove the broccoli with a slotted spoon and set aside in a large bowl.  Add the rice to the broth and cook until tender (about 15-20 minutes).  Dump rice into the bowl with the broccoli (it’s okay if there’s a little extra liquid).

Wipe the skillet clean and melt the butter over medium heat.  Whisk in the flour until it’s all coated and bubbling, but not turning brown.  Whisk in the milk and let it come back up to a boil, adding more splashes of milk to maintain a gravy-like consistency.  I’m sorry I don’t have exact amounts, but it’s really an add enough until it looks right kinda thing.  Stir in the cheddar and whisk until melted.  Add more milk if it seems too thick.  Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper until it tastes right and then stir in the broccoli and rice.  Top with breadcrumbs and extra cheese and melt in the oven until bubbling.

Sweet Potato Tortellini with Sage Brown Butter

homemade sweet potato tortellini
This pasta is a yearly tradition that Matt generally does at the beginning of the fall season.  The classic combination of roasted pumpkin and sage is glorified with browned butter and served simply with a shaving of fresh Parmesan and a side of crusty bread.  This year, we dipped into the all-encompassing guide to Italian cooking, Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, by Marcella Hazan, for the recipe for the filling, which actually called for sweet potato instead of pumpkin (you can literally not taste the difference and the texture was great).  We also use her recipe for our pasta dough and it is velvety and amazing every time.  Making pasta from scratch is time consuming, but as we often do on the weekends, we incorporate the process of making the meal into our entertainment as well as our dinner.  I’ve included step by step photos of how to cut and fill the dough and for rolling it out, we have this hand-crank pasta machine.  It works great because I don’t feel like I can ever get pasta thin enough just rolling it out by hand.  I’m no Italian grandmother.

Also, just an FYI to the few of you who subscribe to this blog:  I’m due kind of any day, now.  So, as you’ve undoubtedly noticed, my posts have been waning at the end of this pregnancy, and when I have the baby, I’ll either drop off the face of the planet entirely for a few months, or have a ton of random pockets of time to do posts – I just don’t know how it’ll turn out!  But I’m thinking the former is more likely.  So I pray you are all here when I return!  And hey – when I return, I’ll be nearing the baby food making phase, again, and that may end up being great material for Family Meal posts, anyway!  Stay tuned…and a few prayers would be nice, too. 😉

cutting pasta
After rolling out the dough, for tortellini, cut into about 1.5″ squares.  It doesn’t have to be perfect and a good pizza cutter makes it super easy.
piping out tortellini filling
Pipe out the filling by teaspoons using a simple ziplock bag with one of it’s bottom tips cut off.  Using a serrated knife to lop off the portions helps tremendously so your hands don’t get all gunky.

folding tortellini
Wet the edges of the square with your finger dipped in water and fold one corner over to meet the other.  As you can tell, this particular one was not so “square.”

 

forming tortellini 2
Then, fold the opposite corner up, dotting with water to seal it.
forming pasta 2
Wrap one of the other corners over your finger, and making sure your other corner is wet, bring it up and seal on top of the corner draped over your finger.
forming pasta
Voila – you have a tortellini.  Now – do this 100 more times till you’re done with all of them, laying the finished pasta on a parchment-lined baking sheet dusted with flour to keep them from sticking together.  Use parchment to separate layers of tortellini until you’re ready to boil.

 

forming tortellini

sweet potato tortellini

Sweet Potato Tortellini with Sage Browned Butter Sauce

For the Filling:

1 3/4 lbs orange-fleshed sweet potatoes (so really, yams if you can find them)
A pair of Italian amaretti cookies (I’ve only found these at World Market.  I have a huge bag if you need a couple.  Just swing by.)
1 egg yolk
3 tablespoons chopped prosciutto
1 1/2 cups freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
3 tablespoons parsley, chopped fine
whole nutmeg
salt

For the Pasta:  

*this is a great site and nearly the exact recipe we used.  He just gives so much great instruction and homemade pasta could be its own post entirely, so follow his steps and then continue on with rolling it out into tortellini as pictured in my post here.

For the Sauce:

5 tbs unsalted butter
12 sage leaves, roughly chopped and a few left whole

Instructions for the filling:

Preheat oven to 450F.  Bake the potatoes in the middle of the oven.  After 20 minutes turn the temp down to 400F and cook for another 35-40 min until potatoes are very tender when prodded with a fork. Turn off the oven. Split the potatoes in half lengthwise and return the potatoes to the oven, cut side up, leaving the oven door slightly ajar.  Remove after 10 minutes.  This helps dry out the potatoes some.

Peel the potatoes and scoop the flesh into a food processor.  Add the cookies, egg yolk, proscuitto, Parmesan, parsley a grating of nutmeg and about a teaspoon of salt and puree until smooth.  Adjust taste with salt.

Use this filling to fill your pasta and boil the formed pasta in salty water for 10 minutes, or until they’re al dente.  We take one out around 5 minutes and test it and we usually let it cook a little longer.  Remove pasta from water and keep it in a bowl with a splash of pasta water to keep it all from sticking together.  If it sticks, more pasta water should loosen them up.

For the sauce: over medium heat in a large saucepan, heat the butter until it stops foaming and brown solids begin to form.  Careful to not burn!  As soon as foaming starts to subside, add in the sage leaves and swirl them around to crisp them up.  Continue letting the butter brown until fragrant.  Spoon browned butter and sage leaves over the pasta, top with a grating of Parmesan and serve!

 

Creamy Roasted Carrot Soup

roasted carrot soup with cayenne and ginger
Fall means soup.  Soup means it’s cold enough outside to not want to die at the thought of eating soup for dinner.  And it being cold enough outside seems to make everything around here better.  I sleep better, we can play outside longer without my redhead overheating and everything just feels fresh.  And I’m a bit of a broken record when it comes to hailing soups as a surefire way to get your kids to eat their vegetables, but I’m going to say it, again.  Cooking just about any vegetable and pureeing it into a soup is the easiest way to get a baby, toddler, picky adult to eat a vegetable otherwise sneered at due to its texture or appearance.  Olive used to eat asparagus.  But then, she turned two and decided she was no longer interested.  But the other day I made a batch of asparagus soup and she drank it down.  Same flavor, different delivery vehicle.  And when you add a piece of crusty, buttery bread on the side, the soup suddenly seems like a complete meal.

My go-to soup in the fall is usually butternut squash.  But I nearly always have a half-used bag of carrots in the fridge, waiting to become something more exciting than diced up for chicken pot pie.  The other day I made this soup and I loved it.  We ate on it for several days – always a good side dish or starter, and good for dunking toasted bread.  I don’t need to say it, again, but this batch of soup would fill up about 12 baby food jars.  Can you lend 30 minutes to making a vegetable soup?  How about $3 for a 2lb bag of carrots?  How much is a jar of baby food, again?  You get the point.

Yay, soup!

roasted carrot soup
Roasted Carrot Soup
serves 6-8

1 sweet onion, diced
3 TBS olive oil
2 lbs carrots, peeled and chopped
6 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1/2 cup heavy cream
Salt and Pepper to taste
ground ginger and paprika for garnish

Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium high heat until it shimmers.  Toss in the onion and saute until tender but not browned, about 5-6 minutes.  Add in the carrots and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring to coat in the oil.  Add the stock and let the pot come to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the carrots are tender.  Puree directly in the pot with an immersion blender, or take in batches to a standard blender and puree until smooth.  If you used a standard blender, return the soup to the pot and add the heavy cream.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and then ladle into bowls and sprinkle with ground ginger, paprika and a splash of cream or sour cream.

Double Dark Chocolate Waffles

Double Dark Chocolate Waffles
The chocolate cravings have gone overboard.  I really blame it in all seriousness on pregnancy.  When I’m not pregnant, chocolate is good and fine, about on par with every other sweet. Not pregnant,  I don’t think about it outside of seeing it, I don’t dream up ways of using it to its maximum potential in breakfast foods, and I don’t think that it’s “needed” to get from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. successfully.  When pregnant…well, all those things suddenly become priorities.  Like on Labor Day, I got up and looked up a basic buttermilk waffle recipe and then thought of the maximum way I could choco-fy it.  And I did.  Yes, I’ve had a similar waffle recipe on this blog before, BUT it wasn’t as good.  These waffles are fluffier, less dense, and the chocolate chips remain melty like a fresh-baked chocolate chip cookie during your entire breakfast.  So.  I’m not sorry for seeming repetitive.  If you’re pregnant, I’ll understand if I get a thank-you note in the mail later this week.
Double Chocolate Buttermilk Waffles
I topped these in three different ways and they were all good: melted butter and powdered sugar – easy, and the most cookie-like experience.  Butter with maple syrup: most waffle-like experience, but I’ve always felt that syrup on a chocolate anything is too much.  Turns out, it’s not.  And three: fresh raspberries all over the suckers.  Chocolate dipped fruit, anyone?  They were all good.  Dress it up, dress it down, this will be your new craving.

Double Chocolate Waffles
Double Dark Chocolate Waffles
makes about 12 Belgian-style waffles

2 cups AP flour
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons Dutch-process cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups buttermilk
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup dark chocolate chips

Heat your waffle iron.  In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients with a whisk until fully incorporated.  In a smaller bowl, whip up the wet ingredients.  Gently whisk the wet into the dry until just combined.  Fold in the chocolate chips.  Cook waffles to the waffle-iron’s suggested time (mine has a handy little light that goes off when they’re done) and keep in a 200 degree oven while you cook the rest to keep them nice and warm and crisp on the outside.  Serve with powdered sugar and melted butter, or whatever.  It really doesn’t matter – it’s all good.

Green Chile and Corn Chowder

green chile and corn chowder
Matt’s been talking for a few weeks, now, about the corn chowder I made around this time last year.  I made a curried corn chowder when we lived in our apartment a few years ago and it was definitely something to write home about, although no one wrote about it and we just enjoyed it, as people tended to do before Facebook.  Last year, the chowder was more traditional, but nonetheless delicious, and for some reason, so summery, despite its warmth and chowdery-ness.  Sweet summer corn, smoked bacon, and this year: the addition of roasted green chiles.

The joys of making a soup or stew, for me, are in the slow development of flavors, and figuring out the best way to go about that process.  This time, I knew I wanted to really preserve that sweet corn flavor while at the same time, bring in a little heat and umami that a roasted green chile can provide.  So,  at the beginning of cooking, I let the chilies and half the corn roast together and I let the trimmed corn cobs boil in the broth the entire time, to draw out the sweet milkiness that is left after you trim the corn off the cobs.  I pureed half the ingredients to blend up the chile skins, which I left on for flavor, and then added more chilies and fresh corn at the end, along with super smoky bacon to round everything out.  The results were pretty balanced;  just enough heat from the chilies, sweetness from the corn, and perfect with a crusty piece of bread to soak up all those flavors.

Summer is winding down and even if you miss out on making this soup while everything is still fresh, the method of cooking will give you wonderful flavors well into the winter soup months.  Enjoy!

green chile corn chowder
Roasted Green Chile and Corn Chowder
serves 6-8

4 strips of thick cut bacon, cut into 1/4″ strips
1 small onion, diced (about 1 cup)
2 ribs celery, diced (about a cup)
4 roasted green chilies (two whole, two peeled, seeded and diced)
4 ears of corn, kernels removed and cobs reserved
4 cups low-sodium chicken stock
5 ounces small, fingerling potatoes, cut into 1/2″ slices
1 1/2 cups half and half

Cook bacon in a large stock pot over medium-high heat until fat renders and bacon crisps.  Remove bacon with a slotted spoon and set aside on a paper towel to drain.

Add onions, celery, two whole green chilies (stems removed) and half the corn kernels to the pan and cook, stirring, until the onions are translucent.  Add chicken stock and corn cobs and bring to a boil.  Let simmer for 15-20 minutes.

Remove the cobs from the broth and discard.  Puree the soup with an immersion blender or in batches in a blender until very smooth.   If you used a blender, return the pureed soup back to the pot and add the remaining corn, potatoes and chilies and cook until the potatoes are tender, about 15-20 minutes.  Add half and half and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.  Stir in the bacon and bring the soup back up to a simmer. You can also just use the bacon as a garnish if you want it to remain crispy. Serve with crusty, buttery bread and enjoy!

 

 

Baked Chilaquiles – an amazing breakfast on a beach in Mexico or in your own kitchen

chilaquiles with egg
I remember this one year, my friend Cali, actually paid me to go to Acapulco, Mexico and shoot her wedding.  We had moments like this:IMG_8371bridegroom
It was also the hottest I’ve ever been in my life, so I went ahead and cashed her check. 🙂  However, there were extremely enjoyable moments, and one of them was having chilaquiles for breakfast, along with various fresh-squeezed juices.  I had never had chilaquiles before (pronounced: chee-lay-quee-les) and it was a bit of a revelation.  Tortilla chips softened with a rich tomato or chili or black bean sauce, mixed with tender bits of chicken and plenty of cheese.  This is actually a pretty typical breakfast for Mexico.  That may be ignorant of me to say, as I’m sure they have cereal, too, but when we got to go back with Cali and Alex to visit  Alex’s home in Mexico City a few years later, (um, yeah, we’re lucky to know them) it was pretty common to see things we’d associate with dinner, served for breakfast.  Like enchiladas or tostadas.  Not everything had to have an egg on it like we feel compelled to do, here.  Case in point: our version of chilaquiles sure enough had eggs on it.  However, it’s a delicious addition!  Matt made us this breakfast and I shot the picture, so once again, this is a true Family Meal kinda post.  We all contribute in different ways throughout the week and I’m always so happy when he has a plan for Saturday breakfast!

chilaquiles topped with scrambled eggs

chilaquiles
Baked Chilaquiles*
serves 6

10 oz thick tortilla chips
1 – 28 oz can whole tomatoes, drained
3 serrano peppers, seeded and roasted
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small white onion, sliced 1/4 inch thick
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 1/2  cups chicken or vegetable broth
Salt to taste,about 1/2 teaspoon
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
5 eggs, lightly beaten

1 cup shredded cheese, such as Monterey Jack or Mexican Chihuahua cheese

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Scoop tortilla chips into 13 x 9-inch baking dish.

In the oven, place seeded serrano peppers, cut-side down on a baking sheet and roast until blistered.  We did this under the broiler.  Take out and let cool.
Coarsely puree tomatoes and serrano peppers in a food processor or blender. Heat oil in large saucepan; add onion and sauté until golden, about 7 minutes. Stir in garlic, cook 1 minute, then stir in broth, tomato puree and salt. Heat to boil. Stir in cilantro. Set mixture aside.  In a separate pan, heat 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat and scramble the eggs and a half teaspoon of salt till they’re almost done.  Remove from heat.  Pour the sauce over the chips; coating them evenly with the sauce.  Layer the almost-done scrambled eggs on top of the sauce.  Sprinkle with cheese and bake until lightly browned on top and bubbling, about 15 minutes.

Garnish with extra cilantro and a few extra chips on the side.

*adapted from Rick Bayless’ recipe, Chipotle-Baked Tortilla Casserole

Hot Chicken!

Hot Chicken
Guest Post from The Bread Man, today:

When we went to Nashville to visit my family this summer I knew I had to try some hot chicken. I asked my brother and my cousin if they had been to Prince’s, and both replied that they would like to, but hadn’t found anyone willing to visit that part of town with them. Problem solved. We took my grandparents’ Buick to a little strip mall in east Nashville, and after a quick trip to the ATM (Prince’s is cash only) we ordered a bunch of chicken in heat levels ranging from mild to extra hot. We waited for our order for something close to an hour, with the kitchen constantly calling out orders. The room was always crowded, even on a weeknight, but I think I only saw one table where people were eating – everyone seems to order carry out. You can call ahead, but I got nothing but a busy signal whenever I tried.

When we got home everyone dug in. The chicken isn’t saucy like Buffalo chicken, the heat comes from a mix of oil and spices (notably cayenne) that is brushed on the chicken after frying. The bread each piece was packed with had soaked up the excess oil, making the chicken a relatively clean meal. Bread is a good idea too – or potato salad, or anything else you can find to tame the heat! I love it when I get something with just the right amount of heat – it builds until it seems too much, but a couple of minutes later I’m reaching for another piece. The crust on Prince’s chicken is super crunchy despite the oil, the chicken was juicy, and the spice is great – garlicky with a hint of sweetness. The “hot” chicken was about perfect for me, but even the medium is respectably hot. The mild was tame enough that my notoriously heat-averse grandfather enjoyed it. The extra hot? Too much for me. I know a couple of people that would probably enjoy it, but I couldn’t handle more than a couple of bites.
I loved making hot chicken at home. The oil and spice mix is a great technique – we made some cayenne-free pieces for Olive and the flavor of the brown sugar and garlic stands out so much more when brushed on after frying than it does when the spice is in the flour. Even if you aren’t making hot chicken, this trick is worth stealing. I encourage you though to be brave and mix entire tablespoons of cayenne into the oil – when do you ever get to put even a single tablespoon of cayenne in anything?. Get a jar of pickles, a side of potato salad, a stack of soft white bread, and find that sweet spot.

Hot Chicken Dinner
Seen here with a side of corn slaw and sweet pickles.  Perfect!

Hot Chicken*

2 – 3.5-4 lb chicken, each cut into 10 pieces (breasts halved)
1 TBS fresh ground black pepper
2 TBS  plus 4 tsp kosher salt
4 eggs
2 cups buttermilk or whole milk
2 TBS vinegar-based hot sauce
4 cups AP flour
Vegetable oil (for frying – about 10 cups)
6 TBS cayenne pepper
2 TBS dark brown sugar
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp paprika

Toss chicken with black pepper and 2 TBS salt in a large bowl.  Cover and chill for at least 3 hours.

Whisk eggs, buttermilk and hot sauce in a large bowl.  Whisk flour and remaining 4 tsp salt in another large bowl.

Fit a Dutch oven with a thermometer; pour in oil to measure 2 inches up the side.  Heat over medium-high heat until thermometer registers 325F. Pat chicken dry.  Working with 1 piece at a time, dredge in flour mixture, shaking off excess, then dip in buttermilk mixture, letting excess drip back into bowl.  Dredge again in flour mixture and place on a baking sheet.

Working in 4 batches and returning oil to 325F between batches, fry chicken, turning occasionally, until skin is deep golden borwn and crisp and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part registers 160F for white meat and 165 for dark, 15-18 minutes.  Transfer to a clean wire rack set inside a baking sheet.  Let oil cool slightly.

Whisk cayenne, brown sugar, chili powder, garlic powder and paprika in a medium bowl; carefully whisk in 1 cup frying oil.  Brush fried chicken with spicy oil.  Serve with bread and pickles.

*taken from the July issue of Bon Appetit magazine

 

Rustic Tortellini Soup

Tortellini Soup
I love this recipe because it first evokes memories of eating at a very dear friend’s house, second, it is incredibly flavorful and hearty and third, it is SO very simple to throw together.  It also makes enough for 8-10 people!  AND it tastes better and better the longer it sits in your fridge!  The glories of a good soup.

I had this soup for the first time at our friend, Rod and Jill’s house.  Rod and Jill were our travel buddies on our awesome road trip to Seattle last summer and besides sharing a love of recreational vehicles, we share a love of food and cooking!  Jill made this soup on a fall afternoon and invited us over last minute to share it.  No one in their right mind turns down a free meal and we have even been known to cancel our plans if we receive a dinner invitation last-minute.  Yes, I think it’s that important to take someone up on their offer to share a meal with you.  Drop what you’re doing, don’t worry about the details and just say “when can we be there and what can we bring?” (although I’m of the belief that you should not bring a dish to a dinner invitation unless you ask first!  If they say “nothing” then by golly, bring nothing! If you must bring something, bring wine!)

We may be exiting out of soup season with the coming of warmer weather, but since this could basically double as a pasta dish, I think a nice, crisp salad and some bread would turn it into an amazing summer-patio meal as well!  The tomato/basil/celery flavors are certainly reminiscent of summer!  Whenever you make it, I know you’ll love it and keep it in your recipe arsenal for future use!

Tortellini and Sausage Soup

Rustic Tortellini Soup*
serves 8-10

1 lb ground sausage (I used Wright’s hot and spicy)
1 onion, chopped fine
2 celery stalks, chopped fine
2-14 oz. cans fire roasted tomatoes
2-14 oz. cans white beans (cannelini or great northern – drain one can and puree the other can in its juices)
1/2 cup red wine
2 cups beef broth
2 lbs tortellini (any flavor – I found mine in the refrigerator section near the cheese)
a small bunch of fresh basil

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, brown the sausage and then set aside to drain on paper towels.  Pour out all but a tablespoon of oil and saute the onion and celery until they begin to soften. Add the two cans of tomatoes (with juices) and the drained and pureed beans.  Stir to combine everything and then add the broth and wine and bring to a boil, tasting for salt, pepper and adjust your tastes with more wine if you want.  Add in several of the basil leaves and let the soup simmer for about 10 minutes.

Cook the tortellini to the package instructions and put about a 1/2 cup in each bowl and then top with the tomato/sausage soup.  Garnish with some chopped basil and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese if you like.

*I would like to note that Jill’s recipe is better than mine.  I asked her via email if she knew it by heart and she said things like, “I think it was this much” and “I sometimes do this instead” and while I LOVED the way this version turned out, I have fonder memories of hers.  So this soup can be altered and flavored to your tastes!

Strawberry Shortcake

shortcake001
Happy Monday to you all!  In my head, we are having a glorious spring filled with the smell of honeysuckle and gentle breezes warming things to a moderate 70 degrees.  The reality is that we are in a dust bowl with winds around 50mph and gusts reaching into the 70mph zone.  Temps in the 90s already with occasional days of 30 dropped here and there to keep us nice and crazy.  I kind of forget why I’ve lived here so long.  Are the sunsets really THAT great?!

So the perfect spring in my head has lovely desserts enjoyed on front porch swings.  I can think of no prettier dessert than a strawberry shortcake.  I’m a bit picky when it comes to this dessert.  At the grocery store, they like to group items together so you’ll immediately think of a particular dish and buy every ingredient.  So, since strawberries are officially in season, you’ll see strawberries and angel food cakes set out next to each other in the produce section.

No.

Strawberry shortcake does not involve angel food cake.  Shortcake, shortbread – the “short” refers to the strands of gluten in the dough, making the final product dense and crumbly like a scone.  There’s not a lot to hold this bread together.  If you had long strands of gluten, it would make the bread chewy like bagels, pizza dough, etc.  So there’s your short lesson on shortbread.
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For my ultimate strawberry shortcake, I took my mother’s biscuit recipe and replaced the buttermilk with heavy cream and added vanilla and a tablespoon of sugar.  I also used lard instead of shortening and I absolutely think it turned out to be the BEST base for the BEST strawberry shortcake I’ve ever had.  Matt, who really would never prefer a fruity dessert over say, a chocolate one, commented a FEW times on how good it was (he is not generous with his exclamations).  My dad, who got to share this dessert with us and who IS generous with exclamations, was reduced to a silent appreciation while he ate.  It will change your very nature, it’s so good.

I’m generous with dramatic statements.

So try it out – I’ll give you the quick recipe for every component but the shortcake was the star.  Take advantage of strawberry season and those glorious, $2 huge containers while you can.  And if they are beginning to look like they’re going to go bad, chop them up, drizzle some sugar and lemon juice on them and in a day you’ll have the perfect strawberry concoction to use for this recipe!
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The Best Strawberry Shortcake

For the shortcake:

2 cups flour
1 TBS baking powder
1 TBS sugar
1/2 TBS salt
1/2 cup lard or shortening
1 cup heavy cream
1 TBS vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 425F.

In a large bowl, whisk together your dry ingredients and then cut the lard in with a fork or with your hands until it resembles coarse, crumbly sand.  Mix in the cream and vanilla until the dough holds together when pressed between two fingers.  If it’s still pretty crumbly, even after kneading it in the bowl a couple times, add a splash or two more.  By not weighing the flour, you may end up with more or less flour than I did.  I should have weighed it.  Apologies.
On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough a few times, form into a ball and roll out into about a 1/2″ disk and cut out rounds with a biscuit cutter.  Place on a greased cookie sheet and brush the tops of the biscuits with melted butter.  Sprinkle the tops with coarse sugar and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown.

To assemble: Cut a cake in half, pour plenty of strawberry/strawberry juice on top so it soaks into the cake.  Top with a generous dollop of strawberry whipped cream and drizzle more strawberry juice on top and serve.  Recipes for those other components below:

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For the strawberry whipped cream:

1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons of strawberry juice (from your macerated strawberries)
1 or 2 strawberries from the same concoction

In a large cup with an immersion blender or in a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, add the heavy cream, strawberries and juice and blend until thick and creamy.

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For the strawberries:

1 lb strawberries, sliced thin
1/4 cup sugar
2 TBS lemon juice

In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients and let the strawberries sit at room temp for a couple hours or in the fridge over night.  Stir once – the strawberries will release juices and form a glorious syrup with the sugar and lemon juice.