January 29, 2012

Delicious Honey-Sweetened Cornbread


Mmmmmm ... cornbread.  Such a wonderfully comforting food.  Especially when served up with a hearty bowl of chili or deliciously tummy-warming bowl of soup.  But not all cornbreads are created equal.

Since moving south from Vermont, I've learned that Northern cornbread and Southern cornbread are distinctly different animals.  Northern-style cornbreads include some form of sweetener ... just a touch to lend a mild sweetness ... and tend to be moister than Southern cornbreads.  Southern-style cornbreads tend to be drier and crumbly, and decidedly do not include any form of a sweetener.

Which style one likes better, I think, depends on what one is used to.  I, for one, prefer the slight sweetness of Northern style cornbreads, with my all-time absolute favorite being this honey-sweetened cornbread from Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen (which also happens to be one of my favorite cookbooks).  The honey in this version lends the perfect subtle sweetness, while the buttermilk creates a beautifully moist result.

Serve up a hunk my Vermont way - slathered with butter or topped with a hunk of Cabot, Vermont cheddar cheese -  and you've got yourself a little slice of cornbread heaven.  Or, go Southern like my North Carolina-native husband's family and eat it just plain alongside a big glass of milk.   Either way, it's delicious!



Delicious Honey-Sweetened Cornbread
Source: Adapted from Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen
(Printable recipe)
Ingredients
1 egg
1 c. buttermilk
1/4 c. honey
1 c. yellow cornmeal
1 c. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
3 T. melted butter

Directions
1.  Beat together egg, buttermilk, and honey.

2.  In a separate bowl, mix together the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Combine buttermilk mixture, dry ingredients, and melted butter; mix well.

3.  Spread batter into a buttered 8-inch square baking pan.  Bake at 425 degrees for 20 minutes.

Enjoy!


January 26, 2012

Lemon Curd Tartlets

Love lemon?  Then tart, tangy, and delicious Lemon Curd Tartlets are for you!  But don't be fooled by their size ~ these tiny tarts pack a huge lemon punch.

Lemon Curd Tartlets


I have a definite affinity for what I refer to as "little-bites" - bite-sized sweet treats like rum balls, cherry-topped brownie bites, or mini mocha-toffee crunch cheesecakes that are just perfect for entertaining.  (Of course, if you just feel like indulging in a variety of tastes for dessert, "little bites" are perfect for that too!)

One of my all-time favorite "little-bites?" You guessed it! ... tart, tangy, and delicious lemon tartlets.

And these tiny tarts pack a huge lemon punch.  Lemon lovers beware, these Lemon Curd Tartlets are impossible to resist.

The tartlets can be made with homemade or store-bought lemon curd.  Personally, I prefer to make my own ... but Lemon Curd Tartlets are simply delicious either way.


In my humble opinion, fresh lemon juice is absolutely key for fabulous lemon curd.  So, to get started with Lemon Curd Tartlets, squeeze a bunch of fresh lemon juice. 

I use one of these hand-held juicers, which just so happens to be one of my favorite kitchen utensils.  Fav. or. ite.  I mean l-o-v-e love it!  It's easy to use, gets the most juice out of the lemons of any type of juicer I've used, and keeps the seeds out of the juice and juice off my hands.

Squeezing Lemons

Combine the lemon juice with some sugar, cornstarch, and eggs in a saucepan.  Give it lots of stirring love with a whisk, and watch as it goes from a bright yellow watery mixture to a beautifully pale yellow and thickened lemon curd.

Making Lemon Curd
Making Lemon Curd

Once thickened, remove the curd from the heat and blend in some butter and lemon rind.

Making Lemon Curd

Then cool and refrigerate for several hours.  The curd will continue to thicken as it cools.

When you're ready to enjoy these delectable Lemon Curd Tartlets, spoon the curd into phyllo shells, top with a dab of yogurt-&-Cool Whip topping, and sprinkle with a lemon zest garnish.

Aren't they cute?    Lemon lovers, make these.  I promise you won't regret it.

Lemon Curd Tartlets
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Lemon Curd Tartlets
Source:  Adapted from Cooking Light magazine
(Printable recipe)
Ingredients
2 packages mini phyllo shells

Lemon Curd:*
1 c. + 2 T. sugar
1 T. cornstarch
1/8 tsp. salt
1 c. fresh lemon juice (approximately 5 lemons)
3 large eggs
2 T. butter
1 tsp. grated lemon rind

Topping:
1 c. vanilla low-fat yogurt
1/2 c. Cool Whip
1/2 tsp. grated lemon rind
Grated lemon rind for garnish


Directions
Prepare the Lemon Curd:
1.  Combine sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a medium saucepan; stir with a whisk.  Stir in lemon juice and eggs.  Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly with a whisk.

2.  Reduce heat; simmer 1 minute or until thick, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat.  Add butter and lemon rind; stir gently until butter melts.  Spoon mixture into a bowl; cool.

3.  Cover and chill at least 6 hours or overnight.  Lemon curd will thicken as it cools.

Prepare the Topping:
4.  Pour off any liquid from the top of the yogurt.  Combine yogurt and grated lemon rind.  Fold in Cool Whip.

Assemble the Tartlets:
5.  Spoon lemon curd into phyllo shells, filling almost to the top.  Top with a dab of the yogurt topping.  Garnish with grated lemon rind.  Serve immediately. 


Note - The phyllo shells lose some of their crunch as they sit after filling, so it's best to assemble these tarts close to the time of serving.  They are certainly still delicious after the shells soften (I've happily eaten leftovers the next day!), but will be missing the textural crunch from the shells.

*Store-bought lemon curd can be substituted.


Enjoy!


Enjoy these other sweet little bites from The Kitchen is My Playground ...


January 22, 2012

Hot Corn Dip

Serve up creamy and spicy Hot Corn Dip at your next get together ~ it'll be the hit of the party. 

Hot Corn Dip


I love corn.  I love warm-and-creamy comfort foods.  I love spicy.  I love dips.  And this Hot Corn Dip deliciously combines all these wonderful loves!

This recipe is from a friend of mine, who served it at her 40th birthday party.  Let me just say, it was the hit of the party! (Well, aside from the guest-of-honor herself, of course.)  And it's no wonder why.  This Hot Corn Dip is so, so, so good.

What could be better than this being a hit-of-the-party kind of dip?  This being a hit-of-the-party kind of dip that is super easy to whip up!

Hot Corn Dip

You start with a Mexican blend canned corn.  I tried making it with two different varieties - 'standard' Mexicorn and Chipotle White Corn.  They were both good, but I liked the Mexicorn version better.  By just a little bit.
 
Making Hot Corn Dip

Mix the corn up with some cheese, mayonnaise ... ya know, the typical dip creaminess stuff ... and some chopped jalapeno, just to give it a little attitude.

Making Hot Corn Dip

Now, hard as it may be, resist the urge to eat it all up just like this.  Trust me ... getting it all hot and bubbly is worth the wait.

After the cheesy yumminess is all baked up, dig in ... with pita chips, tortilla chips, or corn chips.  It would probably be good with most plain-type crackers, too.  Hey, whatever fits your fancy.

Hot Corn Dip

I'm tellin' you, this Hot Corn Dip is so good, you may want to make a double batch.  I'm just sayin' ...

Hot Corn Dip




Hot Corn Dip
Source:  A friend
Ingredients
1 (11 oz.) can Mexican corn, drained
1 c. shredded Monterrey Jack cheese
1/2 c. shredded Parmesan cheese
1 c. mayonnaise
Several slices jalapeno diced, to taste (fresh or pickled)


Directions
1.  Combine all ingredients.  Spoon into a lightly greased baking dish.  Bake at 350 degrees until bubbly and beginning to brown on top, approximately 30 minutes.  

2.  Serve with tortilla chips, corn chips, pita chips, or crackers.

Enjoy!


Enjoy these other hot and creamy dip creations from The Kitchen is My Playground ...



January 19, 2012

Cherry-Topped Brownie Bites



How absolutely precious are these little cherry-topped brownie bites?  I just love them!  I think they have so much potential ... great for a party ... a potluck ... a Christmas dessert tray .... or Valentine's Day!

And they're so absolutely easy, it's not even funny.  Seriously.  Easy.

All you do is bake up a batch of your favorite brownies.  I used a regular ol' box mix.  Then, use a round cookie cutter or biscuit cutter to cut brownie circles from your pan of brownies.  Be sure to eat all the scraps you want.  It's fun that way.




And finally, top each brownie circle with a cherry and a dab of the 'juice' from a can of cherry pie filling.  Sweet!  You've got cherry-topped brownie bites!  


They're just the perfect size for a little finger food sweet treat.  Serve 'em up on a platter and they're pretty, too.  Fun and tasty doesn't get much easier than that!




Cherry-Topped Brownie Bites
Source:  Adapted from King Arthur Flour, as seen in Christmas Cooking Southern Style magazine, Christmas 2011 edition (special edition of Southern Lady magazine)
Ingredients
You'll need:
A baked batch of your favorite brownies  (I use a box mix)
1 1/2 inch or 2 inch round cookie cutter or biscuit cutter
1 can cherry pie filling


Directions
1.  Cool brownies completely after baking.  

2.  Use a round cookie cutter or biscuit cutter to cut as many circles as possible out of the pan of brownies.  (Note - using a 1 1/2 inch cutter, you'll get around 30 brownie bites from a 9x13" pan.)  

3.  Just before serving, top each brownie circle with a cherry and a bit of the cherry liquid from the cherry pie filling.

Enjoy!


January 16, 2012

A Hearty Bowl of Chili



I don't know about you, but when the weather turns cold I crave warm-&-toasty, hearty soups and stews.  And what's more satisfying and body-warming than a hearty bowl of chili?  Not much.

When it comes to chili, I have a confession to make.  For the looooooongggest time I made my chili with one of those store-bought little envelopes of chili seasoning.  Now, there's absolutely nothing wrong with that ... but once I discovered how easy it is to throw together my own chili seasoning, and how much more flavorful my own chili mix is ... well, there was no turning back. 


I was introduced to this particular chili by one of my friends back in graduate school in upstate New York (which is way longer ago than I'd care to admit!).  And I've been hooked on this recipe ever since.  It's a really nice blend of cumin and chili powder that results in a medium-spicy-with-a-hint-of-cumin-sweetness end product.

To quote my friend's Mom, who used to make this for us on bitter cold football-watching Albany, NY winter days, "You can't have too much garlic powder or too many onions in this!"  But, as I've found out the hard way, it's best not to monkey with the other seasonings in this recipe ... other amounts just don't taste nearly as good as the original.  I guess some combinations are just meant to be left alone!

This chili is a staple in our household - we probably eat it about every-other-week!  The only change I've made over the years is that I now make it with ground turkey instead of ground beef.  It's great either way.

And, Kate, if you're reading, know that I think about you and your Mom every time I cook this.  Love and miss you both!

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'Kate's' Chili
Source:  My friend Kate & her Mom
Ingredients
1 lb. ground beef or ground turkey
1 large onion, chopped (add more, if you'd like!  I do.)
Garlic powder, to taste (I put in about 2 tsp.)
Salt & pepper, to taste
2 (15 oz.) cans dark red kidney beans
2 (14.5 oz.) cans stewed tomatoes
1 T. chili powder
1 T. ground cumin
1 T. Worcestershire sauce
1 T. white vinegar


Directions
1. Drain and rinse kidney beans.  

2.  Brown ground beef or turkey, onion, salt, pepper, and garlic powder together in a large saucepan.  (Note - when using ground turkey, I put a small splash of olive oil in the pan.  Since ground turkey has so little fat, it may stick to the pan without the olive oil splash.)

3.  Add remaining ingredients and simmer over medium-low to low heat for 45-60 minutes.

Serve as-is, or with a sprinkling of grated cheddar cheese and/or chopped onions.  I like mine just as-is.

Enjoy!

Please enjoy these other hearty "bowls" from The Kitchen is My Playground...



January 10, 2012

Easy Chocolate-&-Honey Fondue



Oh, fabulous fondue.  This is one of my absolute favorite meals to entertain with.  Why?  Because, truly, it's a really easy meal to prepare ... you gather together the stuff, and guests do their cooking themselves.  I mean, how easy is that??  And another thing? - It's just.  Plain.  Fun.

Fondue holds a very special place in my heart.  Growing up, fondue was my family's Christmas Eve tradition.  Mom would prepare three fondue courses - cheese fondue with bread for dipping, steak and shrimp fondue'd (I may have just made that word up) with peanut oil, and chocolate fondue for dessert.  Yum.  I am hard pressed to say which course was my favorite ... so hard to choose.  I can say for sure what my favorite dipper for the chocolate was - marshmallows!  I loved the marshmallows.

Back in those days, our fondue pots were the ones you had to keep a flame burning under as the heat source.  Anyone remember those little Sterno cup-like-things that burned blue flames?  I remember how hard it was for my mom to keep the pots at the right temperature for cooking with those little things.  We'd have to take breaks from the cooking during the steak & shrimp course to let the oil come back up to temperature!  Now, now we're spoiled.  With electric fondue pots.  If you're thinking of getting into fondue'ing, let me tell ya, electric pots are the way to go.  Easy sneezy (as we'd say in 1st grade). 

Recently, Mark and I had the pleasure of having friends over for an evening of fondue.  We had so much fun just chatting away, and cooking, and eating all evening long.  Way too much eating.  But hey, that's nothing loose-waisted pants can't accommodate, right?

So, just how easy is this easy chocolate-&-honey fondue?  Well, all you do is melt up some chocolate, honey, and evaporated milk in a fondue pot, and then dip away to your heart's content.  We usually make a big platter of dippers for people to choose from ... strawberries, bananas, and fresh pineapple are standard for us.  Other great choices ... pieces of pound cake, angel food cake, Rice Krispy treats, pears ...



... oh, and don't forget the marshmallows!  Happy fondue!

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Easy Chocolate & Honey Fondue
Source:  A Tracey original
(Printable recipe)
Ingredients
  • 12 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 3/4 c. honey
  • 1/4 to 1/3 c. evaporated milk
Directions
  1. Melt chocolate chips over medium heat in a fondue pot.
  2. Stir in honey. Add evaporated milk until mixture is desired consistency for dipping (I usually add only about 1/4 c. or so).
  3. Keep chocolate mixture warm in fondue pot.

Enjoy!



January 7, 2012

Creamy Chicken Noodle Soup with Brie, Spinach & Artichokes {Crazy Cooking Challenge}


It's Crazy Cooking Challenge time! The challenge presented for January by our hostess, Tina of Mom's Crazy Cooking, was  CHICKEN NOODLE SOUP.  The rules?  Our soups must include chicken, our soups must include noodles, and we must have found the recipe out there somewhere in blogland.  That was it ... anything else goes.  And you probably know me by now ... I had to find something that was, well, just a bit different.  I love, love, love to try recipes that have a crazy-sounding flavor combination or just a little something in them you wouldn't ordinarily expect.

Enter ...Elizabeth of Pine Cone and Acorns' Chicken Artichoke Brie Soup.    Ah hah!  I had found my 'little something different.'  Brie in chicken soup?  Oh, I was all over trying that.  And let me just say, I'm sooooooo  glad I did.  This soup is so richly creamy and flavorful, and beautiful, too, with the deep dark green of spinach running all through it.  Yum.

Another great thing with this recipe - it's pretty 'flexible' ... I think you could easily make changes to the ingredients to suit your personal taste and it still be just as wonderful as the original.  Here are the changes I made:
- Added noodles ... mini farfalle (bowties), to be exact.  Hey, The Challenge did require me to use noodles, right?
- Increased the amount of spinach
- Substituted whole milk for the half-&-half and whipping cream (I just couldn't bring myself to use three different kinds of milk in this one single soup!)
- Left a little bit of the rind on my brie, instead of cutting it all completely off.  It broke my heart to cut all the wonderful brie-y-ness off.
- Added a little extra seasoning of salt at the end of the cooking process
- Oh, and I changed the name.  Like Elizabeth suggested, I wanted a name that encompassed all the yummy ingredients in this soup!

So ... let's see how to whip up this totally delicious, creamy dreaminess of a chicken noodle soup. 

Just as so many totally tasty soups begin, start by cooking up some onion, celery, carrots, and garlic in a bit of butter.  Just soften them up a little bit and let them get to know each another.
Oh .... this is how sooooooo many wonderfully tasty soups begin!
Add in some chicken broth ... simmer ... then add in some small pasta ... and simmer again.  I chose to use this mini farfalle, also called bowties.  I loved the itty-bitty size of the mini farfalle.  Isn't it cute?
Mini farfalle - it's so cute!
Next, add in some flour that you've shaken up in a jar with some whole milk.  This starts the 'creamy' part of this creamy dreaminess.  Pour it on in ...
Bring on the creamy!
... and simmer it up for a bit.  Now you're ready to add in the green veggies - artichokes and spinach.

"I'm ready for my dip in the hot tub!"
Stir the veggies in and behold your beautiful soup!  Isn't it just gorgeous with all that deep dark spinachy green in it?  I think so!  Is it weird that I think food can be gorgeous?  I hope not, 'cause I sure do think foods can be stunningly beautiful.
Beautiful soup
Oh, and don't forget the Brie!  Stir this in at the end and get it all melty and creamy.
So-soft-and-squishy Brie
Now, let's talk about the Brie for a minute.  Two things.

Thing 1 - Does the Brie add a flavor element?
In Elizabeth of Pine Cone and Acorns' post, she pondered about whether the Brie added flavor to this soup, or if it simply made it nice and creamy.  Well, I had to explore that question further to find out.  Ya know, that's just what I like to do ... I'm always full of "I wonders."  So, I scooped out some of the soup before I melted in the Brie and later put it to a head-to-head comparison with the Brie'd version.

The verdict??  Brie does add a flavor factor, though it's indeed very mild.  Without doing a side-by-side, head-to-head taste test, I think it would be difficult to discern the Brie flavor element.  But the Brie flavor is indeed there.  The Brie absolutely adds quite a bit of a creaminess factor.  While the non-Brie version is certainly still creamy, the Brie puts this soup over the top in terms of creamy dreaminess.  That being said, if you're not a fan of Brie or just don't feel like running to the store to get some Brie, rest assured that this soup is totally wonderful and flavorful even without it.

Thing 2 - To rind or not to rind? -  that is the question!
The original recipe instructs us to remove the rind from the Brie.  Well, as I mentioned earlier in this post, cutting off all that Brie-y-ness in the rind just broke my heart.  So, I cut off some but also left some on.  I think the answer to this question is a matter of personal preference.  The rind that I left on melted into the soup just like the creamy inside, so there weren't any big ol' rind lumps.  I do think the rind gave fabulous flavor to the soup.  Next time I make this soup, I will simply shave off just a tiny bit of the rind and leave most of it intact.  Personally, I love the flavor of Brie rind.  But, if you don't, cut it off.

Serve this flavorful soup up with a salad and some biscuits or crusty bread, and you've got yourself one tasty and hearty meal.  Enjoy!




Creamy Chicken Noodle Soup with Brie, Spinach & Artichokes
Source:  Adapted from Pine Cone and Acorns Chicken Artichoke Brie Soup
(Printable recipe)
Ingredients
3 T. butter
1 c. chopped carrots (about 2 carrots)
1 c. chopped celery (about 2 stalks)
1 large onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 (14.5 oz.) cans chicken broth
1/2 tsp. ground white or black pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
2 c. whole milk
1/4 c. all purpose flour
1 c. small pasta (I used mini farfalle - a.k.a. mini 'bowties')
2 c. cooked chopped chicken (I used the white meat from a store-bought rotisserie chicken)
Additional 1 c. whole milk
1 (10 oz.) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and well-drained
1 (9 oz.) package frozen artichoke hearts
4 1/2 oz. Brie or Camembert cheese, some or all of the rind removed, and cut into chunks


Directions
1.  In a large saucepan, melt butter.  Add carrots, celery, onion, and garlic; cook until tender, about 5-7 minutes.

2.  Add chicken broth, salt, and pepper.  Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes.

3.  Increase heat to return broth mixture to a slow boil.  Add pasta; reduce heat to medium and simmer until pasta is al dente, about 5-7 minutes.

4.  Combine 2 cups whole milk and flour in a large screw-top jar.  Cover and shake well until smooth.  Stir into soup.  Increase heat back to medium-high; cook and stir until thickened and bubbly, about 8 minutes.  Reduce heat to medium.

5.  Stir in chicken, additional 1 cup whole milk, artichokes, spinach, and Brie.  Cook and stir over medium heat about 5 minutes more until the soup is heated through and the Brie is melted.  Be careful not to let the soup scorch.

6.  Give the soup a taste, and add salt as needed.  I found that an additional 1/2 teaspoon or so of salt added at the end of the cooking time really brightened up the flavors in this hearty soup.



Random thoughts:
- This soup is flavorful and delicious both with and without the Brie.
- Including the Brie's rind or cutting it off is a matter of personal flavor preference.
- I think this soup would be equally good with or without the artichokes.  So, if you're not an artichoke fan, simply leave them out.
- You could make this with turkey, too.  Great to use up leftovers from a big ol' turkey!
- Make sure to taste the soup at the end of it's cooking and add some salt, if needed.  I found that a little sprinkling of salt at the end really brightened up the flavors.

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