Creamy Tomato Soup

IMG_7761 So.  If you are a regular reader of Brittany’s Pantry, you know that I am not the biggest fan of soup.  My husband and kids?  Yes.  Me?  No.  Unless it is ice cream, I would rather eat meals that require a fork.  However, if you know that about me, you also know that even though I don’t like to eat it, I love to make it.  All the vegetable chopping and stirring and seasoning; I love it.

Until just a year or two ago, the only tomato soup I had ever had was out of a can.  No offense to Campbells, but no thank you!  So then I started making this roasted tomato soup based on a Tyler Florence recipe, and it was actually quite good.  Unfortunately, in case you hadn’t noticed, its winter.  Winter means not great tomatoes (with the exception of cherry and grape) and there is a severe lack of good basil.

So, I started experimenting with canned tomatoes.  I figured if I could create a basic tomato soup recipe, I could just switch up what I served it with based on mood.  Panini, cheese sandwiches, crusty bread, croutons, and even a gooey scoop of mac and cheese.  Because everyone needs a good soup recipe now and then, right?
Creamy Tomato Soup Creamy Tomato Soup
I generally use crushed tomatoes instead of tomato sauce.  They give great texture to whatever you use them in.  This recipe is the perfect example.

1 large onion, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 T olive oil
salt and pepper
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried basil
2-28 oz cans crushed tomatoes
3-14 oz cans good quality chicken broth
1/2 c heavy cream, optional

In a large, heavy bottomed pot or dutch oven, sweat the onion and carrots in the olive oil over medium low to medium heat. Season with salt and pepper.  Continue to cook, stirring occasionally until the carrots start to soften and the onions are nearly translucent.  Add the oregano, basil, and chicken broth and cook another 15 minutes, or until the carrots are very soft.  Add the crushed tomatoes, and simmer the soup for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth.  Alternatively, puree the soup in batches in a food processor or blender.  BE CAREFUL!! It is hot!!!  Return to the pot and add as little or as much cream as you like.  Taste for seasoning.

Pomegranate Glazed Carrots | Brittany's Pantry I generally think of carrots as a kind of perfect side dish.  Aren’t they a kind of super hero in the culinary world?  When they showed up as an ingredient on Iron Chef America, people cheered!  Hooray!  A familiar food that you can do…ANYTHING with!!  With the exception of cooking them until they are mushy, they are pretty hard to screw up.  Most people like them, they go well with a wide variety of foods, they are good sweet or savory, and best of all-they are beautiful!  They add instant color and pop to any plate, making dinner that much more appealing.

I am always looking for  great ways to serve carrots.  I roast them with other root vegetables, I toss them with honey and butter, I dice them up and add them to couscous, and I steam them with broccoli.  I puree them and stir them into potatoes, snack on them raw or with hummus. and I braise them with roast beef.  And now, I glaze them with pomegranate.

Glazing carrots is nothing new, but what struck me about this recipe was the cooking method.  Kind of like getting all the benefits of roasting carrots but without the roasting; glazing carrots, but with way more flavor.  I made these carrots a lot to make sure that the cooking method was one that could be trusted and, well…honestly…didn’t need to be babysat.  I’ve got things to do, you know?  But after making these carrots to serve with crock pot roast beef, and then with Sweet and Spicy Salmon, and then with creamed chicken over mashed potatoes, I can say without reservation that they were never a problem to make.  They are however, extremely addicting.  I munched down about half of the first batch before it even made it to the the table.  So, a little attention on the stove with just a few ingredients and you have a spectacular side dish that tastes complex and fancy, but is still as down to earth as a root vegetable should be.  It is just carrots after all here people!  No soufflés please!  Just great food!  And this definitely fits the bill.Pomegranate Glazed Carrots | Brittany's Pantry One Year Ago: How To: Poach Chicken
Two Years Ago: Oatmeal Pancakes, Giada’s Chocolate Chip Cookies

Pomegranate Glazed Carrots
Adapted from The Noble Pig
Cranberry juice is a great, affordable alternative if you can’t fine pure pomegranate juice!

1/4 c pomegranate juice-pomegranate juice cocktail is fine
1 T balsamic vinegar
1 T honey
1 T butter
2 T olive oil or grapeseed oil
2 pounds of carrots, trimmed and peeled, cut in half or quarters
salt and pepper
splash of water, about 1/4 c

In a small bowl, whisk together the first three ingredients.  Set aside.  In a large skillet, not non-stick and with a lid, heat the butter and oil over medium heat.  Add the carrots, toss a bit to coat, season with salt and pepper, and then leave undisturbed for 2 or three minutes, allowing the carrots to acquire a bit of color.  Toss and flip the carrots, and leave again for a few minutes.  Turn the heat down slightly if they are starting to scorch.  Keep tossing every few minutes until the sides of the carrots are getting browned and lovely.  Once they are done browning, splash in your water and quickly cover the pan with a lid.  Let veggies steam until most of the water has evaporated, 2-3 minutes.  Remove the lid and pour the pomegranate mixture over top.  Toss the carrots with the glaze for a minute until the heat allows the glaze to coat the veggies.  Taste for seasoning.  Transfer to a bowl and serve.

Chicken Tamale Casserole

Chicken Tamale CasseroleI never really noticed how unflattering casseroles are until I started photographing them.  Can I have a show of hands please?  Who else has this problem?  Anyone?

In spite of that, this recipe is just too good.  I absolutely have to share it with you guys!  In these pictures, it is hard to get the point across that this dish tastes incredible.  I know I have whined about mexican food in the past, but this meal has got to be my number one exception to not being a big fan of the cuisine.  Ok.  So if you want to get all technical on me, this isn’t traditional mexican food.  Granted, this is a riff on an actual tamale, but it is sooo much easier to make this instead of filling corn husks with masa and chicken and steaming them for an hour.  You get the same flavors with all the convenience of a one pot meal.  You will love it because it is so easy it can be thrown together (not literally, of course…that would be messy…) on a weeknight!  It reheats great which is fortunate because you are going to want it again the next day for lunch.  The creamy sweet combo of the corn and cornmeal base is offset by the enchilada sauce.  Add chicken and cheese and you have a dish that is crazy addicting.  Add a margarita, and you may just want to start taking pictures of it….
Chicken Tamale CasseroleOne Year Ago: Beef Bourguignon & Tilapia W/Citrus Sauce
Two Years Ago: Buttermilk Bread S’Mores Bars

Chicken Tamale Casserole
I like to serve this with a big salad on the side and with a big scoop of sour cream on top.  Diced avocados are great too!

1 bag (2 c) shredded mexican blend, cheddar, monterey/jack, or co-jack cheese, divided
1/3 c milk
1 egg
1 tsp ground cumin
pinch of cayenne
1 (14 oz) can cream style corn
1 box corn muffin mix, such as Jiffy
1/2 can chopped green chilies, drained-use the full can if you like your food nice and spicy!
1 (10 oz) can red enchilada sauce
3 c chunked or shredded cooked chicken-I like to use the meat from one deli rotisserie chicken

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
In a small bowl, gently mix together 1/2 c of the shredded cheese, and the next 7 ingredients, through the chilies.  Pour into a sprayed 9X13 inch casserole dish and bake for 15 minutes or until set and dry across the top.  Remove from the oven and using a large fork, poke holes all over the top of the corn mixture.  Pour the can of enchilada sauce over top, spreading to cover the whole dish.  Top with chicken, and then sprinkle the remaining cheese evenly on top.  Bake for another 15 minutes, or until cheese is melted.  Let cool for 10 minutes and serve.  Top with sour cream and diced avocado if desired.  In the rare case that there are enough leftovers, I freeze individual portions for my husband to take to lunch!

Baked Garlic Brown Rice

Easy Baked Brown Rice is a fail safe, hands off side you will be making again and again! {Brittany's Pantry}I have a confession to make.

I’ve been holding out on you.  (Ooo…this is hard to say…) OK.  I’ll just type it really fast!  Sometimes I make food and I don’t blog about it!  Phew!  I’m glad I got that off my chest…

In truth, its good food.  Food that you would want to know about and make in your own kitchens and feed to your families and friends.  Sometimes it is food I make a few times a year, sometimes it is food I make a few times a month.  In my defense, I sometimes don’t blog about things because they really don’t photograph well.  For example, I have been making and tweaking and remaking this upside down pizza thing that is crazy good.  I mean crazy good.  Super easy and a total kid pleaser, but made with simple pantry ingredients.  I even had the recipe tested by a few other busy Moms (What up, Alters family and the Lewis crew?!)  Unfortunately, my totally yummy dish looks like a dogs breakfast when photographed.  I am toying with the idea of posting pictures of bunnies and kittens and sunsets and then just posting a recipe at the end and saying MAKE THIS FOOD!  But I am a little apprehensive.  I don’t want people to see pictures of kittens on a food blog and get the wrong idea…

The following recipe is one I have been holding on to.  I don’t know.  Sometimes I feel like I need to have some surprises, you know?  But a recent conversation with my closest friend-and fellow Mom-made me want to post this recipe.  She mentioned that unless she was going after a specific recipe for something I had made recently, she usually searched for ideas for side dishes when on my blog.  She was always looking for new food that she could pair with her tried and true main proteins.  This kind of surprised me but it made sense.  It gets really easy to do the same salads, potatoes, and veggies when trying to complete your weekly menus.

So here is an easy, super healthy, outstandingly tasty new side dish for you to try.  Do not be fooled by its simplicity.  Not only is there a ton of flavor here, but it will make your house smell outrageously good.  The hands-off method of cooking makes it a nice thing to serve when you are busy.  Its not fast (Hello!  Brown Rice!) but it is definitely worth it.  And don’t worry about all the garlic; it adds lots of flavor but is mellow and not as overpowering as it sounds.

There.  Now.  Aren’t you glad I shared it with you?Easy Baked Brown Rice is a fail safe, hands off side you will be making again and again! {Brittany's Pantry}Easy Baked Brown Rice is a fail safe, hands off side you will be making again and again! {Brittany's Pantry} Two Years Ago: Laura’s Salad

Baked Garlic Brown Rice
Recipe inspired by Annie’s Eats
You can easily double this recipe.  As long as the rice has room, the cooking time is the same.  Leftover rice is great in Sloppy Joes or used in a Fried Rice Scramble! 

2 T olive oil, grapeseed oil, or butter
1 c brown rice
5 cloves fresh garlic, minced fine
2-14 oz cans good quality chicken broth
salt & pepper
1/4 c chopped fresh parsley

In a small sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat and add the rice and garlic.  Toast lightly over the heat until fragrant, stirring often so that the garlic doesn’t burn, about 3 minutes.  Pour the rice mixture into a medium casserole dish with a cover.  Add one can of chicken broth, stir gently, cover, and place in a 375 degree oven for half an hour.  Stir.  If the liquid hasn’t been absorbed yet, cover and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes.  Add the last can of chicken broth, stir, cover, and bake for another 30 minutes, or until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is popped and fluffy.  Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed.  Stir in chopped parsley.  Serve.

My ‘Go To’ Sloppy Joe

My Go-To Sloppy Joe Recipe {Brittany's Pantry}One of the reasons I started blogging was because people would regularly ask me to pass along the recipes that I make all the time; recipes that were my ‘go to’ recipes because they were simple, straight-forward, and tasted good.  Well, BEHOLD!  This recipe is just that.  Classic and great using regular ingredients instead of a package of seasoning mix that has only God knows what in it.  It goes together just as fast as the convenience kind but has a ton more flavor and is much better for you.  Well, all right.  Fine.  It isn’t as fast as opening up a can of Manwich and dumping it on your meat, but almost.

You may think that the addition of a grain in this recipe is weird, but to me it is totally normal.  My Mom used to add a can of chicken gumbo soup to her sloppy joes, just to give them a bit more substance and to stretch the recipe a bit.  She used the chicken gumbo, I assume, because it had peppers and rice in it-two things that go well in sloppy joe mix.  I got in the habit of adding whatever leftover carb I had in the fridge and just stuck with it.  We always have peppers in the fridge (my kids LOVE them) so it was natural to include them in my recipe too.  Both add a hit of nutrition to an otherwise plain meal.  The other ingredients come from just trying to copy the flavors of a barbecue sauce because I didn’t want to actually add barbecue sauce.  The result?  A sweet and tangy staple that I make over and over.  The fact that it isn’t to shabby for your bod helps too!  Especially now, at the start of a new year.  Feel free whip this up and lick your fingers guilt-free!My Go-To Sloppy Joe Recipe {Brittany's Pantry} One Year Ago: Peppermint Meringue Cookies W/Mini Chocolate Chips
Two Years Ago: Shrimp Quesadillas, Alfredo, Filet Au Poivre, Honey Waffles, Hot Wings

Sloppy Joes
You could easily sub out the ground beef for ground turkey to make this even leaner.  Leftovers freeze beautifully.  I usually serve these on whole wheat buns, but they were out this particular day!

1 lb ground beef, 85 or 90% lean
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 sweet bell pepper, diced
3/4 c cooked brown rice or quinoa (barley would be nice too)
1 T mustard
1-2 T molasses (I use 2 but I like it a bit sweeter)
1 T worcestershire sauce
1 tsp chili powder
salt and pepper
1 (14 oz) can crushed tomatoes
whole wheat buns

In a large frying pan or cast iron skillet, brown the beef in a tiny bit of olive oil over medium heat.  Break it up into small pieces as you go.  When it is about halfway done, add the onion, garlic, and diced pepper.  Once all the meat is cooked through and no longer pink, and the veggies are getting soft, add the rest of the ingredients, through salt and pepper.  Let cook gently over medium low heat, stirring often, until the flavors have all come together, about 5 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes, and bring up to temp stirring often, letting it all cook together for another 5 minutes.  Taste for seasoning.  Serve on whole wheat buns.

Creamy Penne W/Shrimp | Brittany's Pantry Several years ago, when Evelyn was around three, she was sitting with me and watching Giada make this pasta on her Food Network show.  This was not unusual.  She is six now and still watches cooking shows with me; commenting on dishes like a seasoned chef.  But this particular time, she turned to me in her sweet, tiny voice and asked if we could make this particular dish.  I smiled and nodded absent-mindedly.  She asked me when?  When could we make it?  Tonight?  Nope not tonight.  Tomorrow night?  Sure, Evelyn, tomorrow night.

She held me to it and, as it turns out, it was New Years Day.  The pasta was so fantastic, a new holiday tradition was born.  What better way to start the year than with cream, carbs, and good seafood?!  This dish is not particularly involved or difficult, and you can make it in the time it takes you to boil the water and cook the pasta.  This makes it especially convenient if you happen to be doing a bit of weekday entertaining, are pressed for time during the holidays, or really any other time of the year.  It is definitely special enough to serve to your guests.  And let me just say again, this pasta is crazy fantastic.  The flavor is over the top amazing, due to a few key ingredients.  It earns a spot on my blog because it is just the kind of recipe I am always looking for, hence, I would imagine you are too.

I have a lot of cookbooks.  A lot.  Over 80 to be specific.  Yes, I am currently seeking help for my addiction.  Well, when I say seeking help I mean seeking more cookbooks.  My Christmas list doesn’t count, does it…?  Some cookbooks I use almost every week.  Others I pull out once a year.  I have antique cookbooks, mainstream cookbooks, local cookbooks, and specialty cookbooks.  But I don’t cook every single recipe in any of them.  The great thing for you is that I choose the best of the best from those books-and other places, obviously-to share here.  This is one of them. It is reliable, easy, and something you are going to want to make again and again.  And isn’t that the kind of dish we are all looking to add to our repertoire?  I thought so.Creamy Penne W/Shrimp | Brittany's PantryCreamy Penne W/Shrimp | Brittany's Pantry One Year Ago: Filet of Beef The Best Carrot Cake Ever
Two Years Ago: Blueberry Sour Cream Coffee Cake Muffins & Hot Chocolate #1

Holiday Pasta (Creamy Penne W/Shrimp)
Adapted from Giada DeLaurentiis
If you haven’t ever used clam juice before, fear not.  I know it sounds weird but it adds a tremendous amount of flavor to this dish.  Do not skip it!  In my grocery store, it is located by the canned tuna and salmon.

1 lb penne pasta, cooked according to package directions
1/4 c olive oil
1 lb medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
4 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper
1 (15 oz) can diced tomatoes
1/2 c chopped basil
1/2 c chopped parsley
healthy pinch of red pepper flakes
1 c white wine
1/3 c clam juice
3/4 c heavy cream
1/2 c parmesan

While the pasta cooks, sauté the shrimp in the olive oil with a bit of salt and pepper over medium heat until just barely pink.  Remove with a slotted spoon to a plate and set aside.  Add the garlic to the pan and let cook for about 30 seconds.  Add the tomatoes, red pepper flakes, and half the fresh herbs.  Let cook, stirring often until hot and starting to sizzle-about 2 minutes.  Add the wine and let bubble for a full minute, cooking out some of the alcohol.  Add the clam juice and cream.  Bring to a bubble over medium low until reduced by half and is starting to thicken slightly.  Add 1/4 c of the cheese, the rest of the herbs, the shrimp, and the cooked pasta.  Toss and heat together until hot.  Top with the last of the cheese and serve!

Classic Mashed Potatoes

Classic Mashed Potatoes The title of this post makes me drool a bit.  It isn’t the picture or the recipe, just the promise of potatoes and butter.  And like most honest, upstanding, hardworking Americans raised in the midwest, potatoes and butter have a special place in my heart and on my plate.  A very special place.  As in, I would take potatoes and butter to dinner on a date if I could.  Someplace nice….maybe Italian…

Fear not!  This is not a fancy dish.  Nothing complicated and no special ingredients.  I am not proposing a twist on an old classic or a riff on a recipe.  Just plain, straightforward, spectacular mashed potatoes.  Can you dig it?

I have been making pretty much these exact same potatoes for literally decades.  My Mom taught me how, but not consciously.  She just always did it the same and they were always outstanding.  I am pretty sure that if I were to eat them at her house today, she would be making them the same way.  Drain the potatoes, start the potatoes mixing in the Kitchen Aid, add a huge scoop or two of sour cream and a ridiculous amount of butter, then a splash of milk and some salt.  When they were whipped smooth, she would removed the whisk attachment and serve them right in the silver mixing bowl.  But not before taking the serving spoon and adding a huge knob of butter to the finished potatoes.  Plop!  Right on top, letting it melt into a well of salty, creamy, goodness while the rest of the food went to the table.  When I was little, I would volunteer to take the bowl to the table just so I could put it near my spot.  When it was time to eat, I wanted to be the first person to get the mashed potato bowl so that I could scoop out my serving with some of the freshly melted butter all over them.   Actually, I still eat my mashed potatoes this way; no gravy.  Just butter.  Mmm.

Below is a foolproof way of making mashed potatoes that just may upstage the turkey.  Make them this Thursday, make them with beef at Christmas, or make them on a Tuesday.  It’s your duty.
Classic Mashed Potatoes Classic Mashed PotatoesOne Year Ago: Maple Orange Cranberry Sauce
Two Years Ago: Corn Casserole

Classic Mashed Potatoes
Treat this recipe like a guide.  You don’t really need exact measurements.

3 lbs peeled potatoes, russets or yukon gold, cut into equal sized hunks (peel however much you need-3 lbs is just a good starting point)
1 tsp or 1 clove minced garlic
sour cream or buttermilk
salt and pepper
milk or cream
more butter

Add your potatoes to a heavy bottomed pot, covering them by a half an inch with cold water.  Add the garlic to the water.  Simmer gently until cooked through and a fork pierces them easily.  Drain your potatoes.

Method One:  Put the hot potatoes through a potato ricer into a large bowl.  This is what I do.

Method Two:  Add the potatoes to a bowl and break up with the whisk attachment on a mixer or use a hand mixer.  Beat dry for a minute or two, getting them as smooth as possible before you add any other ingredients.

Add a big scoop of sour cream, a half cup or so.  Add several tablespoons of butter and a healthy pinch of salt and pepper.  Stir.  TASTE THE POTATOES!  You should just be able to taste the tang of the sour cream in the background.  If they are bland, add more salt.  Mix and taste again.  Add more of whatever you need.  Add milk or cream until you reach your desired consistency.  Add a big glob if butter to the top of the bowl and serve.  These can easily be made the day before and reheated when you are ready to eat them.  Just stir in more milk or cream if you need the moisture.

Creen Beans W/Mushrooms & BaconIs it weird that I can’t stop staring at this picture?  The way the beans nestle in the bowl; the way the mushrooms and bacon add contrasting textures.  I love the bright, verdant green against the stark white of the bowl and the soft brown of the antique wood table beneath…I just want to eat it!  I mean, I already did eat it, but I look at this bowl of green beans and I have the overwhelming urge to snitch the bean right in the middle.  Do you see which one I mean?  The really long one that gets lighter green at the end?  So good...

Quite some time ago, I briefly mentioned my aversion to green bean casserole.  I really love green beans and smothering them in canned, creamy glop is just a sin.  A SIN, I tell you!  I agree that cream of mushroom soup has its place and there are a few cans of it in my pantry at all times.  Namely so that I can make Tator Tot Casserole at a moments notice.  But when you go to all the trouble of peeling potatoes, brining a turkey, roasting carrots and broccoli, rolling and baking fresh biscuits, making your own cranberry sauce (try this one, or this one, or this one), cubing day old bread and chopping vegetables to make your Grandmothers traditional stuffing, why would you serve canned green beans coated in heavy cream sauce and covered with processed onions that are so preserved you could live off of them in case of an apocalypse?  Please tell me you wouldn’t do this.  Instead, I give you a healthier, more beautiful, more appropriate version of green beans to serve to your friends and family.  I serve them like this year round, but I though they were a suitable side dish to post about today, mere days from Thanksgiving.

And let me tell you…the flavor!  Oh my goodness!  It is of course reminiscent of green bean casserole, but it is light and crisp and earthy and fabulous.  The bacon gives it a smokey, salty bite that makes the whole dish kind of addicting.  This is fantastic in the spring and early summer when green beans are in season, but it is just as great when the frozen kind are all that are available.  Either way, the fact that it is simply uncomplicated is a welcome change in a holiday table that can be laden with heavy foods.

To make this dish even easier to get on the table, Thanksgiving day or otherwise, save a few slices of bacon out of your breakfast a day or two before you plan on serving it.  If you are making brunch for a crowd before the holiday, set aside the cooked bacon, wrap it well and stick it in the fridge.  If you are having company for breakfast or brunch after the holiday, brown up all your bacon a few days in advance and reheat the few pieces you need just for the green beans, saving the rest for brunch the next day.  A minute or two in the microwave and it will be be hot and crisp, just as though you just took it out of the skillet.  Also, you can cut up your fresh mushrooms a day in advance or buy pre-sliced mushrooms, saving you time and dishes on the actual day.  These things make it super easy to whip this up while your turkey is resting, and all the other dishes are taking up space in the oven.  See?  This is sounding better already!  I know the turkey is supposed to be the star of the meal, but who wouldn’t want to dive into this!  Bring on the veggies!
Creen Beans W/Mushrooms & Bacon One Year Ago: Pumpkin Dinner Rolls, Rum Pumpkin Pie, & Sweet Potato Casserole
Two Years Ago: Broccoli, Bean & Cheddar Soup, Marshmallow Pumpkin Dip, & Spiced Tea

Green Beans W/ Mushrooms & Bacon
This dish is just as spectacular without the bacon.  Even though I use it as more of a garnish instead of an actual ingredient, feel free to omit it completely to make it totally vegetarian and/or to cut down on salt and fat.  You can sub out olive oil for the butter too if you like.

1 1/2 lbs fresh or frozen green beans, steamed until crisp tender
8 oz portabella mushrooms, sliced
2-3 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
salt and pepper

While the beans steam, heat a tablespoon of butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat.  Add the mushrooms and brown until just tender.  Add the cooked green beans and toss with the mushrooms, adding another pat of butter if it seems a bit dry.  Taste for seasoning and add the crumbled bacon.  Serve.

Pork & Prune Stew

Pork & Prune Stew | Brittany's PantryWhenever I come across this recipe I think of Fall.  It is exactly the kind of dish to warm you up after a long day of raking leaves, picking apples, running around a pumpkin patch, or just plain spending time outdoors bundled against the cold.  It is warm and hearty with an unexpected flavor that is comforting and satisfying at the same time.

If you are glancing below at the title of this recipe (save your neck-it’s called Pork & Prune Stew) and thinking to yourself, “Yeah right.  I don’t do prunes.”  Wait please!  I implore you!  Hear me out.  Prunes, now normally called ‘dried plums’ in an effort to revamp their reputation, have always been a favorite snack of mine.  They are sweet, chewy, and crazy good for you.  They are high in potassium, Vit K, and Vit A, and in case you are rolling your eyes at me, I will sum up.  THEY ARE GOOD FOR YOU!  You should be eating them, giving them to your children as snacks, and generally making them a part of a balanced diet. Aaaaand……end lecture.

I may have mentioned this before a time or two.  Or twenty.  But this recipe is the one of the reasons I started blogging.  People think that cooking, or baking for that matter, is hard or complicated or a process not worth bothering with.  And then they eat something like this stew at my house and they rave about how good it is and ask me to make it again when they come over.  I always say the same thing.  “Or you could make it yourself!”  Not because I don’t want to cook for them (obviously) but because people are so happy when they do something successfully.  And if I can pass along a recipe that I can nearly guarantee will turn out great and taste amazing, then that success is passed along to you.  Like I always tell my kids; “It isn’t rocket science, its just (fill in the blank)!”  In this case, that blank is filled with the word ‘cooking’.  So chill out.  Relax.  Make this stew, put it in the oven, go rake some leaves, then let the heavenly smells lead you back in where it is warm.  You will be so glad you did.Pork & Prune Stew | Brittany's Pantry One Year Ago: Chocolate Croissant Bread Pudding & How To: Homemade Pumpkin Puree

Pork & Prune Stew
Adapted from Eating Well
The prunes come out so wonderfully sweet you won’t believe it.  Apricots would work well here too.  This is fantastic served with carrots or roasted squash and it is even better as leftovers.

4 pounds pork butt, pork roast, or pork shoulder (it is actually all the same but with different names) trimmed of large pieces of fat and cut into 1 inch chunks-your butcher can do this if you ask nicely
salt and pepper
1 onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 tsp dried thyme
salt and pepper
1/4 c apple cider vinegar
1 T brown sugar
1 scant T freshly grated ginger
1 can beef broth
2 c pitted prunes
1 c port

In a large Dutch oven or heavy bottomed pot, heat a few tablespoons of canola, vegetable, or olive oil over medium to medium high heat.  Season the pork with salt and pepper and brown it in the oil in a single layer so as not to crowd the pan.  Do this in batches, removing the pork to a large plate.  If you put too much meat in it will steam instead of brown so be patient.  Let it get some color on it, but don’t worry that it isn’t cooked through.  Once all the meat is browned and set aside, add the onion, garlic, carrot, thyme, and a bit more salt and pepper.  Sweat the veggies over medium heat, scraping up the bits on the bottom of the pan as you go.  After a minute or two, and when the onions are just starting to cook through, add the vinegar, brown sugar, and the beef broth.  Let come up to a bubble and add the pork back in with any accumulated juices on the plate.  Stir it a bit until the pork is settled in the broth.  Cover the pot and place in a 350 degree oven for 1 1/2 hours, or until the pork is fork tender.  Meanwhile, simmer the prunes and port together in a small saucepan for 7-10 minutes, or until the prunes are soft and the port is thick and syrupy.  Set aside.  When the stew is done and the meat is soft, let it sit on the stove for a bit to settle and then skim or blot the excess fat off the top.  Stir in the prunes and port mixture and serve over polenta or mashed potatoes.

Killer Fries

Baked Fries“These are the best fries I have ever had!”

That was my husbands response the first time I made these.  Now, after a few batches, he just scolds me for not making enough.  Success!

I should let it be known that I am not a ‘fry’ person.  I like fries and on certain days I really love fries.  I can’t order a burger without them, and if we are being totally honest here (this is a safe place after all-namaste…) I actually go through phases where I strongly crave the chili cheese fries my best girlfriend used to get at Rubys.  It is a 50’s style diner we used to go to all the time when we were stationed in San Diego.  Fantastic burgers.  Awesome milkshakes.  And truly stellar chili fries.  Really, the perfect meal when you are missing your hubby; all salt and grease.  Mmmm.  But other than that, my kids and I can split a small order from a fast food place and barely finish them.  I guess I treat them as more of a condiment, not unlike the ketchup I eat them with, instead of a side item.  Well, all that ends today.

Also, just in case some of you are about to click over to Facebook, assuming I am going to lecture on the importance of double frying your potatoes– HALT!!  You will never catch me doing something so ridiculously time consuming.  If I want fluffy potatoes that are perfectly and uniformly crunchy and taste like they just came out of a restaurant fryer, I will go to a restaurant.  No sirree, Bob.  I would like my fries hearty, and crisp, and hot, and light, and fresh, and…*gasp*…I’ll just whisper this next part-healthy.

I like to sprinkle my fresh and hot out of the oven fries with garlic, parsley, and salt that has been minced together.  However, none of these options hurt anyone either:

* drizzle them with melted butter with a bit of sweet or smoked paprika mixed in
* garlic butter
* freshly grated parmesan
* season salt
* celery salt
* a quick squeeze of fresh lemon juice
* hot sauce
* chili powder, cumin, and brown sugar mixed together and lightly dusted over top

Now you can obviously inhale these with a burger, hot dog, or any other traditionally American main dish you see fries with.  But I urge you to serve them to your guests as an appetizer or snack.  Hot fries are meant to be eaten immediately.  Who better to scarf them down than hungry people loitering in your living room sipping cocktails?  They will eat them.  Your kids will eat them.  Your family will eat them.  Eat them ALL.  And maybe-just maybe-they will think they are the best fries they have ever had.
Baked FriesOne Year Ago: Fluffy Caramel Apple Dip
Two Years Ago: Fried Noodles

Killer Fries
You won’t need to serve these with ketchup.

4 medium russet potatoes, scrubbed well
olive oil
salt and pepper
1 handful of fresh parsley
1 clove garlic
extra pinch of salt

Cut the potatoes into sticks, a bit smaller than a half inch square.  You don’t want them as tiny matchsticks, but you don’t want big wedges either.  When in doubt, go smaller.  Spray a half sheet pan or cookie sheet.  THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT!  When I don’t do this, they stick and steam and don’t turn out crunchy.  Trust me.  Toss the potatoes with a drizzle of olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Spread them out in a single layer in the sprayed sheet pan and bake at 450 degrees until crispy and browned, turning them with a spatula half way through.  This will take about 20 minutes, but depends on your oven, how big you cut your fries, and how crowded your pan is.  I like to figure one potato per person, but Mike always wants me to make more, so you be the judge!  Let them go longer if you like them really crunchy!  Meanwhile.  Put the parsley, garlic and salt on a cutting board all together and chop the heck out of it.  Keep going until the garlic is minced.  The flavors will all end up mixed and lovely and the salt helps mash it all together.  Sprinkle over hot fries and enjoy immediately.

Vegetable Enchiladas

Veggie EnchiladasAs I was making this dish, it occurred to me just how often I use black beans.

I was writing this blog post in my head while I was cooking, something I do quite a bit in the kitchen, and I was kind of trying to pick an approach.  Generally, I have a pretty good reason for sharing a recipe with you.  It is super easy, reliable, fast to make but with great flavor, or it just tastes dang good!  I also like to let you know why I ever even made it in the first place.  Sometimes there is a history with a recipe that pertains to my family, sometimes I needed something specific for a certain event, or maybe I was in the mood to create a new flavor and decided to share my limited, yet enthusiastic, culinary wisdom about it with all of you.  To a certain extent (I can be rather long winded…) I like to make sure that you know I am not just cooking and blogging about it because my three kids, my husband, my house, church, and various extra curricular activities don’t keep me busy enough.  I do it because I love it.  And ultimately, I want you to go into your kitchen with a recipe recommended to you from a friend (me!) and love it too.

So…as I was saying…black beans.

I was thinking of other recipes I have that I could link back to this one and I realized just how often I cook with black beans.  They are in this salsa, this chili, this rice, this dinner–all super healthy dishes, by the way–and I was suddenly like, wowzah!  I buy almost nothing else. Granted, I like them the best when it come to beans, but I guess I kind of need to branch out a bit, huh?  Well, regardless of my new legume awareness, they are in this dish too. Heh heh heh…

If you have been reading this blog for awhile, you know that I am not the biggest fact of mexican food, but for my husband and children, I soldier on and cook it an eat it anyway.  This is not really all that difficult but if given the choice, meat and potatoes would rule it for me.  Well several years ago, I came across this recipe originally from Martha Stewart and I figured it looked like something I could easily add to my normal rotation.  You know, make the fam happy.  We had no idea that it was going to be so fantastic we would want to eat it all the time.  And bonus!  It is freezeable!  I have a serious weakness for things I can make ahead of time and pull out and throw the oven.  I get giddy.  Not weak in the knees, like when my husband kisses me, but definitely light headed….

Now when you read through the recipe below and realize that you will be making your own enchilada sauce, don’t despair!  This is easier than it sounds.  So easy in fact, you are never going to want to buy it from a can again.  This meal goes together quite quick and can feed a few people or a crowd.  It is healthy and vegetarian, but you won’t miss the meat, the salt, or the calories.  And if you feel like making something else with black beans, try one of the other recipes on this blog.  You never know when I’ll be adding more to the list!
Veggie EnchiladasOne Year Ago: Simple Vinaigrette & Roasted Broccoli
Two  Years Ago: Pork Roast W/Mustard & Peach Glaze, Simple Soup

Super Easy Veggie Enchiladas
Please note that you can make this meal in one big casserole dish, or two smaller ones, freezing the second pan for a later use.  Leftover seasoned taco meat or plain shredded chicken could easily be added to stretch the filling to make a bigger batch.

In a small sauce pan, whisk together:
1/4 c flour
1/4 c tomato paste
1 tsp cumin
good pinch of salt and pepper
Whisk over medium heat to cook the flour a bit.  Add:
1 can vegetable stock or a good quality, low sodium chicken broth
1/2 c water
Whisk until smooth and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until slightly thickend.  This takes about five minutes.  Carefully taste for seasoning and add more salt if necessary.  Set this aside and make the filling!

In a large bowl, combine:
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 (2 c bag) shredded cheese- cheddar, pepper jack, four-cheese Mexican, cojack, whatever
1 small bag of frozen corn, about 10 oz, thawed
1 box of frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1 tsp cumin

18 small corn tortillas

Mix the filling ingredients in the bowl.  Lightly spray one large, shallow casserole dish or two 9X9 pans.  Microwave the tortillas for a few seconds to soften and then put one large scoop of filling in the center of a tortilla, fold it over in thirds, and place it seam side down in the dish.  Continue until you have used all the filling.  I can only fit seven in my square glass baking dishes so the last few I roll up and put in a microwaveable dish for Mike to take to work.  Sprinkle the whole pan with a bit more cheese and then pour the enchilada sauce evenly over top.  If freezing, wrap well, chill, and freeze.  Defrost overnight or bake from frozen, adjusting cooking time.  If baking right away, put uncovered in a 400 degree oven for 20 minutes or until bubbly.  Serve with sour cream, salsa, and chopped scallions, if desired.

Roasted Tomato Pasta
Who has two thumbs and is super excited about today’s post????  THIS gal!

(Read the following really fast but monotone and with very little inflection in your voice.  That is how I hear these next words in my head as I type…)

Disclaimer:  I was in Barnes & Noble today-don’t you just love that place?- and had a coupon for a free one of those Starbucks Refresher drink thingys and they say that it is supposed to give you natural energy but I wasn’t fond of the taste and I don’t think that it gave me any kind of super energy or is in anyway going to help me stay awake after I was up a bazillion times last night with both of my boys and in any case I could totally use a little boost because my eyelids are totes feeling the whole gravitational pull thing and I am nursing so no coffee for me and I don’t drink pop, like, ever, but I was uber thirsty and had the coupon deal and bought one anyway and even though I only had a little bit and gave the rest of it to Mike, I don’t think it matters because I am not feeling any kind of buzz or energy power from it anyway.  K?  Just so you know.  I’ll try to keep the crazy to a minimum.

On to the pasta!  About a year ago I posted a How To on grilled pizza and Roasted Tomatoes were one of the recipes in that post.  You can check it out again here or find it in the Recipe tab above and scroll down to Side Dishes and then Vegetables.  They are so good and so sweet you could practically give them out on Halloween!  Although I do not recommend this.  Then in this post, I mention that I like to freeze these same tomatoes.  I go on to give some ideas of how to use them right from the freezer and that is what I am talking about today.  But instead of just telling you, I now have pictures.

Everything is better with visual aids.  Right?  Right.

I should also confess that there were a lot of things on my list of meals for this week-Chinese Chicken Salad, Asian Turkey Lettuce Wraps, and these stellar Vegetable Enchiladas, but this pasta dish was not one of them.  I only made it because I was trying to make room for all the baby food I was freezing.  More on that later.  While I was digging around trying to maneuver frozen blocks of sweet pastry dough for tarts, bags of frozen blueberries, and what I believe to be an unlabeled container of taco meat, this little quart bag of frozen tomatoes came flying out at me.  I swear it wasn’t there last month.  It was as though my freezer was mocking me and chortling, “You fool!  I have been hiding this for a YEAR now and ha ha!  It is no longer good and you must throw them away!  I win again!  Again!  Mwah ha ha ha haaaah!”  Don’t judge.  You weren’t there.  You didn’t hear the sounds it made.

Well the joke is on you Mr. Frigidaire!  Not only were they still good, but they still smelled, and tasted, like fresh summer tomatoes.  Awesome.  I should go back and note that in the recipe: ‘These tomatoes have super powers and will last forever in your freezer.  Or at least 13 months.’
Roasted Tomatoes See?  Don’t they look awesome?  Evelyn was helping us make pizza that day.
Frozen Roasted TomatoesThis is said bag of tomatoes.  I don’t know exactly how much was in it but I am guessing a couple of cups.  However many tomatoes fit on a sheet pan.   This is such a perfect way to use up all the late summer tomatoes that seem to suddenly all need to be dealt with immediately.  Romas especially.  Completely freezer proof.

And so darn tasty you won’t believe it!
Roasted Tomato PastaOne Year Ago: Caramelized Onion Dip
Two Years AgoDippin’ Biscuits, Spiced Peach Jam, Stuffed Shells

Roasted Tomato Pasta

1 recipe Roasted Tomatoes
olive oil
1 pound medium pasta shells, rotini, penne, rigatoni, farfalle, etc
1/2 c grated parmesan cheese
1 c reserved pasta water
freshly chopped basil
1/2 pound browned and crumbled italian sausage, optional

In a food processor, puree the roasted tomatoes, thawed if frozen, with olive oil until it reaches the consistency of applesauce.  Add the oil a bit at a time because you can always thin it with a bit more, but you can’t take it back out again.  Set aside.  Cook the pasta, reserving about a cup of starchy pasta water.  Drain the pasta and immediately toss with the sauce.  If pasta seems too dry, add a bit of pasta water.  Toss again.  Add cheese, basil, and sausage, if using.  Serve and enjoy!

Summer Salmon

Summer SalmonGreetings! I am in the middle of vacation but I definitely couldn’t wait to share this with you.  I promised you a new salmon recipe and here it is!  Granted, it is not the prettiest dish I ever made but what it lacks in looks it more than makes up for in taste.

And now.  Heed my words!  The most important part of this recipe is the tomatoes.  DO NOT FORGET THIS!  If you make this dish with tasteless, crunchy, mealy tomatoes from the grocery store, it will be good but nothing really all that special. You may not even really like it.  If you make it with real tomatoes, as in tomatoes grown in your own backyard or from the Farmer’s market, you will be emailing me messages of joy!  Real tomatoes that have grown in the sun and hung on the vine until juicy and ripe!  These are the tomatoes you need!  I have tried this both ways and cannot stress it enough.  Use good tomatoes!

That said, the freshness of this meal and the fact that it is so light and healthy, help make it particularly enjoyable during the summer months.  Add some whole wheat couscous or brown rice and steamed asparagus or quickly sauted zucchini and you have got yourself a truly spectacular meal.
Summer SalmonOne Year Ago: Baked Pasta W/Summer Veggies, Keebler Cracker Bars, & Cocoa Cake
Two Years Ago: Jane’s Margaritas, June Bug, Herbal Iced Tea, BBQ Pulled Pork

Summer Salmon
Inspired by Eating Well

1 salmon fillet per person, skin on, small bones removed
1 tomato per person, sliced
minced garlic
fresh chopped basil
olive oil
salt and pepper

On a large sheet of aluminum foil or parchment paper-I use a double layer of foil-lay a salmon fillet skin side down. Drizzle with just a bit of olive oil, some of the garlic, and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and about a teaspoon of fresh basil.  Slice a tomato, discarding the stem ends and lay the slices on top of the fish.  Repeat with the seasonings, being a bit more generous with the olive oil this time.  Bring up the sides of the foil or paper and fold and crease it together, leaving some space above the fish.  Fold up and seal the ends.  Repeat process for each serving.  Place fish packets on the rack of a grill over medium low heat.  You want to cook the fish, but not scorch it.  Close the lid and let the fish cook for about fifteen minutes, or until the fish is just barely cooked through.  Alternatively, you can bake the packets of fish in a 350 degree oven.  Be very careful when opening the packets!  Steam burns.  Use a spatula to lift the fish off the skin and place on a plate.  Enjoy!

Homemade Ranch Dressing

Homemade Ranch DressingThe first time I had homemade ranch dressing, it wasn’t really homemade.  It was one of those spice packets from the grocery store mixed with sour cream and it was actually required of me for a college class.  Long story.  But even so, the flavor was superior to the bottled stuff.  Fresh, tangy, and everything ranch should be.  I figured making it from scratch would be even better.  Turns out, I was right!

I have been collecting various recipes for this for years and years.  But it hasn’t been until this summer that I started experimenting with them.  And…well…it was rather disappointing.  Every time I tried a new recipe they were either overwhelmingly sour, they lacked flavor, or in the worst case, tasted like pureed onions and milk.  Yuck.  None of them tasted anything like they vehemently claimed to be-ranch dressing.

Until I made this.  Half my creation, half inspiration from other recipes, I finally nailed it.  Rich and creamy and a spectacular version of the dressing and dip we all love so much.  Although it is fantastic on a salad, my family has been enjoying it the most as a dip with vegetables.   They usually enjoy their carrots, bell pepper strips, cucumber slices, and broccoli and cauliflower florets plain.  But one taste of this and as Evelyn exclaimed, “I want to drink this!”  She may be a bit over dramatic.  And I have no idea where she gets it…
Homemade Ranch DressingOne Year Ago: BBQ Chicken W/Mustard Glaze & Smashed Potatoes W/Spinach
Two Years Ago: Matt’s Pancakes

Homemade Ranch Dressing
Inspired by this recipe.

3/4 c mayo-I use canola
3/4 c low-fat sour cream
1 T fresh lemon juice
1 clove minced garlic
1 T snipped chives
salt and pepper to taste
1/3 c milk, or more to reach desired consistency

Combine all ingredients in a bowl or jar.  Shake or mix and taste for seasoning.  Add more milk if necessary.  Will keep in the fridge, tightly sealed for up to two weeks!

Steak Salad

Steak SaladIt is no secret that I love the Farmer’s Market.  The small town that I live in has a very small one once a week that while tiny, fulfills most of my market needs.  Above all else, I love to support the local businesses and if I can, try and purchase something from each of them.  There are always at least two vendors there that have a decent range of fruits and vegetables and Sager Farms has kept our family in peaches every summer for years!  The variety is limited compared to the huge market we go to in Urbana, but totally worth it.  For Christmas, my sister-in-law got me this cookbook and I have been pouring over the recipes, advice, and stunning photographs.  Because of the heat and drought in this part of the country, our garden is toast.  Literally.  So I have been relying on the markets to stock up on green beans, peaches, plums, and zucchini to puree and freeze for baby food, and eventually I will freeze butternut squash, pumpkin, pears, and apples as they come in to season.  But more on that later.  Also, like most people, I have been purchasing tomatoes like crazy.  The basil in our garden is surviving so, because I love variety in my food, I like to mix things up.  This has been our menu the past week:

Sunday: Chicken Teriyaki, Garlic Brown Rice, steamed vegetables
Monday: Baja Fish Tacos-Everytime I make these, my family goes bonkers.  Seriously good.
Tuesday: Baked Pasta W/Summer Veggies and a quick salad with vinaigrette-I used a local goat cheese ricotta this time-AWESOME!
Wednesday: Sausage & Mushroom Pizza with this pizza dough that I froze months ago
Thursday: Tomato & Basil Salmon, whole wheat cous cous, Zucchini & Corn W/Basil
Friday: Burgers or Carne Asada and S’Mores if it isn’t too hot or if it doesn’t rain-GO USA!!
Saturday: Company for dinner!  Not sure of the menu but I think I am going to make Caramelized Onion Dip, Sun-Dried Tomato Dip, Grilled Yogurt Chicken, Panzanella Salad, my favorite fruit mix, White Sangria, Strawberry Lemonade and…I don’t know what else!
Sunday: I have no clue.  I will probably be cleaning out the fridge and finishing the leftover Keebler Cracker Bars I made for a recent play date.

The Summer Pasta with Veggies was our vegetarian dish for the week and we ended up having fish twice.  Never a bad thing, right?!  Yum.  Today’s recipe is so perfect for the summer and slips in to this weeks line-up because even though it centers around beef (As I wish all my meals could.  What can I say? I am a carnivore! Grrr!), the main player in the meal is veggies.  It is a nice, light meal that is adaptable, fast, doesn’t heat up the house, is good for you, and takes advantage of all that produce!  And even though you can of course use any kind of salad dressing you want, there is something really perfect about a fresh, cool, tangy ranch on warm, smokey, earthy steak.  A stellar combination to be sure.  The only thing missing from the above picture is fresh sliced mushrooms.  I had them, and then ate them all when I made a Fried Rice Scramble.  I also had planned to add cucumbers, but the kids finished them earlier that day at lunch time.  So use your imagination and add those two items to the salad and then you have the perfect steak salad.

What are YOU making with your Farmer’s Market loot?
Steak Salad Steak SaladOne Year Ago: Zucchini W/Corn & Basil, & Chocolate Chip Cherry Snack Cake
Two Years Ago: California Chopped Salad

Simple Steak Salad W/Homemade Ranch
One good steak for every two people seems to be the perfect ratio.  I like it simple and classic, but feel free to use your favorite rub or marinade on the meat.  Recipe for Homemade Ranch soon to come!

2 T-Bone or New York Strip steaks, drizzled with olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper
lettuce, spring mix, fresh spinach, or a combination of greens
hard boiled eggs
sliced mushrooms
sliced cucumbers
ranch dressing

Grill the steaks until medium rare and let rest while you assemble the salads.  Slice the steaks, one half for each person and top the salads.  Drizzle with ranch dressing and enjoy!