Friday, January 25, 2013

French Onion Soup with bay leaf and thyme

In a surprise move, Mr. Spice went to the winter farmer’s market and brought home three onions. We add onions to nearly every dinner, so that was fine, but with company anticipated over the weekend, I decided to try my hand at French onion soup. I’ve had some good ones, while others have been watery and bland, so I searched on-line to learn how to caramelize the onions in a slow cooker. Thankfully, I found both recipes on the same blog!
I made half the recipe, and should have measured only half the olive oil (no adverse effects, just a touch too much oil in the soup). I didn’t realize the entire house would smell of raw and cooking onions for hours, but the results were worth it.
The flavor was lovely and I’ll definitely make the recipe again. Imagine having those onions on hand for garnish in other dishes!
The thyme stems were so well dried that the leaves fell off before a bundle could be tied, so here they are loose.
I didn’t take a final photo because I tore up slices of bread and melted the cheese by microwave instead of broiler (note to self: need larger ramekins!). Thank you for respecting photo copyrights.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Bread Pudding

With leftover finger rolls after a large meal, I decided to make bread pudding for the first time. I made many substitutions to a recipe in a Weight Watchers cookbook. The ingredients I used:
4 cups of 1-inch cubes of bread (for a healthier version, use whole-grain bread)
1 ripe pear, chopped
1 cup of frozen mixed fruit (blueberries, strawberries, etc.)
½ cup sugar
¾ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg
3 cups of milk (I used 1 cup of skim, 1 cup of almond milk, and 1 cup of chocolate milk)
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp chocolate extract
5 TBSP maple syrup

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. I used a 9x13 baking dish because I don’t have the 9x11 size called for. During baking, the pan is supposed to rest in another (larger) pan of water. I also didn’t have another pan larger than the 9x13 so I used a cookie sheet with raised edges. If you have a baking dish that fits into another dish, use that. I didn’t want to use a smaller dish for the bread pudding to fit inside the 9x13 pan because I’d tried that before with a breakfast casserole and found that the deeper dish resulted in a well-done top and an under-done center.

Spray baking dish and put bread squares into pan. Add layer of fruit(s). In a large bowl, stir together sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Add milk, eggs, and extract(s). The original did not suggest the different types of milk and used only vanilla extract (2 tsp). Pour over the bread and fruit. Press down gently on the bread so it can absorb the milk mixture. Cover with foil and let it sit for 30 minutes. Bake inside another dish with water half-way up the sides for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake about 30 more minutes, until the top looks puffy and is very gently browned.

I learned that soft white bread doesn’t need as much liquid as the whole grain bread originally called for in the recipe, so next time I’d reduce the amount of milk or maple syrup (if using white bread). I also could have warmed up the frozen fruit and drained off liquids from the thawing process. The flavor was great, and the chocolate came through very mildly, so next time I’ll add some chocolate chips! The dark berries released their colored juices into the bread pudding- it didn't look very attractive in the end, so here is a summer photo for those in wintry climates now!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Chestnut soup with nutmeg

I had chestnut soup for the first time in Germany 5 years ago, and was immediately intrigued. It was made with venison, which I don’t remember having had before, and the depth of flavor was just wonderful. I searched for a recipe and found several, but didn’t try any until the Boston Globe printed Adam Ried’s recipe in 2008. I couldn’t locate it anywhere online to post here, but I still have that page in my recipe ringbinder!

The first time I made this soup, I boiled the whole, raw chestnuts and peeled the inner and outer layers around the nut meat, then decided “never again”. Every year since, I’ve used jarred or vacuum packed chestnuts, preferring the flavor of the jarred (pre-peeled) chestnuts.

The recipe does not call for any meat, which is fine with me, since I usually serve it as an appetizer before a meal with meat choices. I’ve always omitted the 1 TBSP brandy called for, but feel free to add some to yours. The use of an immersion blender makes the job much easier than in an upright blender.
Melt 1 TBSP butter at medium heat, add 2 chopped leeks, 1 chopped pear, and ½ tsp. salt. Stir, cook about 2 minutes, then reduce heat, cover pan, and continue to cook about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add 4 cups chicken broth, 1 jar (14.8 oz) roasted chestnuts* and bring to a boil. [*reserve 5 chestnuts for garnish, chopping finely]. Lower heat and simmer 30 minutes. Puree the mixture, then add ½ cup half-and-half, 1/8 tsp nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste. Heat through, and serve with a garnish of chopped chestnuts. The soup can be frozen for later without any ill effects before adding the half-and-half.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Stuffing Breakfast Muffins with Sage and Thyme

What to do with leftover, rather bland, store-bought (dry, from a bag) cornbread stuffing? Toss? Google some recipes and see what others have created? Ding!
I decided to give this “concoction” a try, as it looked brilliant!
Here is my adaptation:
Whisk together 5 regular eggs and 1/4 cup liquid egg substitute, 1/3 cup half-and-half, and salt/pepper to taste (may need very little if using pre-spiced stuffing). Stir in 2 cups leftover prepared stuffing, and 1/2 cup leftover vegetables (I used corn and tomatoes). If the stuffing does not already have spices in it, add 1/4 teaspoon each of sage and thyme. If the stuffing recipe does not include meat, add 1 cup of chopped leftover ham or turkey.
The extra ingredients resulted in a longer bake time, 20 minutes at 400 degrees. That's steam rising from the "muffin", and you can see that I used muffin liners. Do you have any creative ways of re-serving stuffing?