Thursday, January 30, 2014

Chicken and Orzo Soup

Never thought I would see the kind of snow we had here in South Carolina the past two days!  Nothing to do but to stay inside and try to stay warm.  I will admit that I love looking out the window at the snow; but having grown up in Chicago, I was not too anxious to go out in it.  One way to stay warm while dealing with the boredom, is to make a big pot of soup.  Chicken soup really is good for the soul, especially during sub-freezing weather!

Chicken and Orzo Soup Recipe
(Serves 4)
Ingredients
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium carrot, diced
1 rib celery, peeled and diced
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3 cups cubed cooked chicken
1 bay leaf
1 sprig fresh thyme
5 cups chicken broth
fresh ground black pepper
1 cup orzo
4 cups baby spinach
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped, for garnish

Preparation
Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, carrot, celery, and salt; cook until tender, about 8 minutes. 
Add the chicken, bay leaf, thyme, black pepper and broth to the vegetables, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes.
Add the orzo to the soup and cook until al denté, about 8 minutes.
Add the spinach and cook for an additional minute.
Remove bay leaf and thyme sprig.  Ladle into warm bowls and garnish with fresh parsley.   


Monday, January 6, 2014

Baked Cod With Kalalmata Olives, Limes and Capers


Now that the holiday season has come and gone, we can get back to our normal routines.  For some of us that means some sort of diet to lose the pounds we gained as the result of our overindulgence of the many recent celebrations. And I am not totally innocent of said digressions.

Every year I vow to improve my eating habits.   That usually lasts for about two weeks until all of my "cravings" eventually come screaming back at me!  I am proud that I have made it to the 6th day of January...  So let me be among the first to offer up this quick and easy to prepare, healthy  and extremely tasteful entree.  Happy New Year!

Baked Cod With Kalamata Olives, Capers and Limes 
(Serves 4)
Ingredients
4 (6 ounce) cod fillets
Seafood Spice Blend
12 thin lime slices
1/4 cup chopped kalamata olives
1/4 cup drained capers
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
1/4 cup olive oil

Preparation
Preheat oven to 475℉.  Put cod fillets  in an ovenproof baking dish and season with spice blend.  Top each fillet with 3 lime slices, the olives, capers and rosemary.  Drizzle with olive oil.
Bake until the fish is cooked through and flakey, 10-12 minutes.  Remove the fish from the oven and serve with spanish-style rice and your favorite steamed veggie.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Pumpkin & Spice Cookie Ice Cream



What to do with a leftover pumpkin may not be a huge ordeal for most people, but this was the first time I had to make such a decision.  Pumpkins are not something I normally purchase - but this year I caught the pumpkin bug.  How could I not, with the entrance to every supermarket flooded with them? And so  I purchased one!  My intention was never to carve it; I just wanted it to add a little bit of Halloween ambiance to my kitchen. However, the day after Halloween I could not rationalize disposing of it, being a firm believer that everything has more than one purpose.

Somewhere between making the decision to put the pumpkin into my shopping cart and being determined not to discard it, I turned it into my fall/winter version of "cookies and cream" ice cream.  Great decision!

Pumpkin & Spice Cookie Ice Cream
Ingredients
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup Muscovado sugar, or brown sugar
1 tablespoon coffee spice mix
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 egg yolks
1 cup pumpkin purée*
1 teaspoon bourbon, or vanilla 
1 cup spice cookies, crumbled

Preparation
Make an ice bath by putting some ice and a little water in a large bowl and nest a smaller bowl inside it.  Set a mesh strainer over the top.  Heat the cream, milk, sugar, spices and salt in a sauce pan until it almost boils, about 5 minutes.
Reduce heat to low.  Add 1/2 cup of the cream mixture to the egg yolks to temper them.  Stir and add the eggs to the sauce pan.  Cook at low heat without boiling until slightly the cream mixture thickens and coats the back of the spoon.  Store in an airtight container in the freezer.
Pour the mixture through the strainer into the bowl nested in an ice bath.  Stir until cool; then chill thoroughly, preferably overnight.  When chilled, whisk in pumpkin pureé and bourbon.  Pour into the bowl of your ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer's instructions.  Add crushed cookies the last 5-10 minutes of freezing. To serve, garnish with more crushed spice cookies.

*You can use canned pumpkin purée in the recipe, but it is very easy to make especially if you have a spare pumpkin hanging around your kitchen.  For easy to follow instructions, try this recipe by The Pioneer Woman:  Homemade Pumpkin Purée




Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Chef Belinda Spices New Flavor and New Label!

Introducing our newest flavor, Greek Spice Blend.


Savory Spice Blends



Coffee Spice Blends




Sunday, August 4, 2013

Peach Cobbler with Vodka Pie Crust

For months I have been discussing the ins and outs of making peach cobblers with my very good friend and pastry chef Sharon Beamon.  I don’t know why cobblers scare me - I’ve been making pies since I was 9 years old.  Maybe it is the “lattice” that has always seemed so elusive to me.  I used to watch while my mother performed this magic, but I assumed it was one of those mom things that I was suppose to admire, but not attempt.  Until now!

I had so many questions, mainly about the dough and how many crusts - top only or top and bottom - and should I pre-bake the bottom crust before adding the filling.  Everyone I consulted had a different opinion.  I finally solved the crust controversy when I discovered an old issue of Cooks Illustrated  that featured pie crust made with vodka.  That got my attention - anything made with vodka in it couldn’t be a bad thing.  Wouldn’t you know, I just happened to have peach vodka on hand.  So then I decided it was time to throw caution to the wind and face the cobbler lattice monster.

Well, it wasn’t at all difficult, although it was tedious. I decided to make the cobbler with both bottom and top crusts - mainly because that was the way my mother made it - and  I pre-baked the bottom crust.  All in all, it took me over 3-1/2 hours from start to finish, but it was worth it!!  Not only did my cobbler emerge from the oven a nice golden brown, and worthy of all the time spent, but the taste of the filling was amazing. I tweaked my mother’s recipe and instead of adding lemon juice and vanilla, I used Fiori di Sicilia - my latest find from King Arthur Flour - which is a combination of citrus and vanilla with a moderately floral aroma.  The bottom crust, which I expected to be a bit soggy because of the juice in the filling, was extremely flaky and tender like the lattice top.  

As for the vodka in the crust, according to Cooks Illustrated: Water bonds with flour to form gluten and too much of it makes a crust tough. Using vodka, which is just 60 percent water, produces an easy-to-roll crust with less gluten and no alcohol flavor, since the alcohol vaporizes in the oven.  The alcohol does not promote gluten formation, so it helps the crust stay much flakier and more tender.

Peach Cobbler Filling Recipe
Serves 8-10
Ingredients
8-10 medium-sized ripe peaches, peeled and sliced
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 cup sugar
1-1/2 teaspoon Turkish Coffee Blend
1 teaspoon Fiori di Sicilia (or lemon juice and vanilla extract)
pinch of salt
Butter
Vodka Pie Crust

Preparation
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.   Roll out half of the pie crust dough to 1/8 inch thickness.  Place in a 9" round baking dish, covering the bottom and up the sides.  Cut away any excess. Cover with parchment paper and secure with pie crust weights or dry beans.  Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Remove paper and weights.
In a large bowl combine sugar, cornstarch, Turkish Coffee Blend, Fiori di Sicilia and salt.  Add to peaches and combine well.
Pour peaches into cobbler shell; add 3-4 individual tablespoons of butter  on top.  Add lattice strips.  Bake for 45-60 minutes or until golden brown on top.

This peach cobbler was the perfect ending to my Saturday night dinner of beef stew and cornbread.


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Tilapia Veracruz with Spicy Oregano

Last year while sourcing herbs for my herb garden I discovered spicy oregano.  I was intrigued so of course I added it to my ever-gowing collection. This year I was surprised as it was the only herb that survived the winter - and abundantly so. 
While traditional Greek oregano is perfect for pizza and tomato sauce, spicy oregano blends the traits of oregano with the heat of a mild chile pepper making it great for Mexican dishes and chili. Immediately I knew I had to try it in Veracruz sauce - a spicy and tangy sauce that fuses the flavors of Mexico and Spain.

Tilapia Veracruz with Spicy Oregano
Serves 4
Ingredients
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 large sweet red and green peppers, cored, seeded and thinly sliced
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 large jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
4 cloves garlic, sliced
4 plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 8 ounce can no-salt-added tomato sauce*
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
4 tilapia fillets (about 4 ounces each)
1 cup spicy oregano, 
3 cups cooked brown or wild rice 
1 lemon, cut into wedges

Preparation
Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add peppers, onion, jalapeno and garlic. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in tomatoes, tomato sauce, 1/2 cup water, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and 1/8 teaspoon of the black pepper. Bring to a simmer.

Season tilapia with remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon black pepper. Place fish in skillet and cover with sauce. Simmer, covered, for 6 minutes or until fish flakes easily. Sprinkle oregano over top.

Serve with cooked rice. Squeeze a few lemon wedges over each serving.

*When using reduced-sodium products such as tomato sauce, punch up the flavor with add-ins like hot peppers, fresh herbs and lemon juice. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

Meatball Lasagna



Tony Danza once said in an interview - when asked if he had a favorite lasagna recipe - “if you want to make lasagna, first you have to make meatballs.” For some reason that stuck with me, until finally one day I decided to try it. Incredible!  Now this is the only way I make and enjoy my lasagna.
Most times I find it very therapeutic to make everything from scratch - well, I mean the meatballs and the sauce.  Not quite ready yet to make the lasagna noodles when there are so many good brands available on the shelf.  But there are times when I take the easy way out and buy the frozen meatballs and marinara in a jar.  Either road you take, the result will be a very delicious, filling lasagna that will make you look like a rock star!
I am sure you already have a meatball recipe you like; however, just in case you'd like to try mine, refer to my previous meatball post.