Monday, December 31, 2012

Snow for Christmas and Slow Cooker Chicken Noodle Soup

It's been a quiet Christmas-to-New-Year week around here. Snow fell on Christmas night and left a gorgeous heavy white frosting on everything. So warm and cozy to sit inside reading and cooking. 

While I've been relaxing, the slow cooker has been in high gear, making a new pot of soup everyday -- Pat's Easy Vegetable Soup, Clam Chowder (recipe coming soon) and a really delicious Slow Cooker Chicken Noodle Soup.

Slow Cooker Chicken Noodle Soup
1 quart chicken broth or stock
1 can cream of chicken soup
1/2 cup onions, chopped fine
1/2 cup celery, chopped fine
1/2 cup carrots, chopped fine
1/2 cup leeks, sliced and chopped
1/2 cup green onions, sliced
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 rotisserie chicken, meat removed from bone and shredded
1 8-oz. bag of Amish-style egg noodles (such as Essenhaus Thin Homestyle Noodles or Mrs. Weiss' Kluski)

Add the broth, soup and chopped vegetables to the slow cooker and cook on Low for 3-4 hours. Add the shredded chicken and egg noodles and raise heat to High; continue to cook for 1 more hour. Serve hot. Makes 6-8 meal-size bowls of soup.

Tonight, I've made Chili in the slow cooker for New Year's Eve. I'm also making Corn Dog Muffins - another Pinterest-inspired recipe. The Corn Dog Muffins sound fun, so I'll let you know how it goes. 

We really know how to ring in the New Year around here, don't we! 

Happy New Year to all of you 
from snowy Southern Illinois!

The Point on Arrowhead Pond

View from the Front Porch of the Swing at the Dock
Winding Walkway

A Man and his Christmas Gift
Bent Birch
Little Cabin in the Woods

Peace for the New Year

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Almost-My-Own Signature Brownies

Hands down, The-Best-Brownie-Ever

I still adore my mother-in-law's brownies ... very similar to these ... but these are  even  way better.

I owe a forever debt of gratitude to my dearest friend, Robin. She had best friend status way before these brownies, but when she included them as part of my Christmas present a few years ago, that status became Dearest Friend For Life. Now that I think about it, they may have been a whole family gift ... I just don't remember sharing.  Sorry family.

Anyway, I've been in love with them ever since then. If I was still six years old, I would not hesitate to say, "I want to marry them!" 

Fortunately, though, I am a bit older, and I can make a batch whenever I want. More fortunately, I guess, with age comes wisdom, so I know better than to bake them without having a specific purpose in mind for sharing my brownie bounty.  Bake, cool, cut ... and then out of the house!

Sometimes, I freeze them, just so I can't eat even one without due consideration. Otherwise, I'm telling you, there could be trouble. Step away from the brownies!

After I cut up two dozen yesterday to stack on a pretty Christmas plate for dessert to take to a luncheon, I shared one over a cup of coffee with my friend, Sonnet.  It was, after all, a special occasion ... Wednesday .... brownies for breakfast day ... right? 

Still lots of brownies left in the pan ... lots! Did I mention this recipe makes a sheet-load of brownies? That's a half-sheet pan by standard kitchen measure. I made Sonnet take some home to her family. No real arm-twisting required. Still lots of brownies left.

At the luncheon, I was besieged by requests for the brownie recipe and chastised for never putting it on Cora Cooks. 

It's not my original recipe ... even if I have claimed it for my Signature Brownie Recipe. Nor did it require significant adaptations to be absolutely perfect. I always give credit to Barefoot Contessa, for her inspiration to use the Chocolate Glob recipe in the SoHo Charcuterie Cookbook to create these brownies ... and then sell them at her Barefoot Contessa shop in the Hamptons ... and then including them in her first cookbook, The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook* ... so I could bake them to wide acclaim ... and now share them with you (at least, those of you who have not discovered them already!)

Isn't that just the way of all good recipes? From one person to another ... and another ... and another ...

... and now you know.

By the way, Outrageous Brownies make perfect Christmas gifts! Hint, hint!

Barefoot Contessa's OUTRAGEOUS BROWNIES  - link to recipe posted on Food Network Website

Cora's Notes for baking Outrageous Brownies:
  1. Measure out all ingredients first - seriously! Both the flour and chocolate chips are split up to use at separate times and it helps to have everything already divided.
  2. Use a heavy, commercial sheet pan. This is a lot of heavy brownie batter and the heavy pan helps. If you don't have one already, you will love yourself for buying it.
  3. I grease the pan with a combination of butter (for flavor) and Crisco (to avoid burned butter taste.)
  4. Do not even think about leaving out the instant coffee granules. In fact, I add a pinch to other chocolate recipes to really bring out the chocolate flavor. That being said, if the chocolate with coffee granules flavor is too intense, you could try using a smaller amount of coffee, before omitting it all together.
  5. I prefer roughly chopped walnuts, but pecans or without nuts are perfect too.
  6. DO NOT OVERBAKE! The time given works perfectly in my Viking oven.
  7. Refrigerate whole pan of brownies after cooling and before cutting with a heavy knife - they will come out of the pan looking picture-perfect.
  8. Two-inch squares are perfect for chocolate lovers, but don't be afraid to cut them a bit smaller for mere mortals.
  9. Package and freeze any brownies you will not eat or share in a day or so, to keep them at optimum flavor.

* More of my favorite and most excellent recipes from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook - this cookbook truly is a keeper!
Crab Cakes
Perfect Roast Chicken
Salmon with Fennel
Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Roasted Fennel
Homemade Applesauce
Outrageous Brownies
Pecan Squares (as good as the Brownies!)
Croissant Bread Pudding (I have adapted this one to include my Amaretto Sauce recipe on top - more later)  

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Jolly Holiday Snack Mix

OK, here it is! 

In response to actual requests from friends and blog followers I don't even know, I have created this, the second in a series of seasonal munchies to give or to keep -- Jolly Holiday Snack Mix

Give the readers what they want!

Nothing was spared to come up with the best mix possible. In fact, My Favorite Husband and I combed the shelves of the grocery for every imaginable ingredient to bring home to the test kitchen. 

First I made a mix with kids in mind -- see the second picture below.  Marshmallows for snowballs, teddy grahams for toys, cheese crackery penguins for cute cold-loving creatures, pretzels for snap, heart-shaped white pretzels for sweet love and mini oreos for obvious reasons! That's not all, but you get the idea - not that kids will, but it's a mom/teacher thing. 

Then I hauled out the big - make that huge mixing bowl and started emptying ingredients into it for the serious snacker mix. Stirring was a challenge! The end result - well, half of the end result - can be seen in the jar pictured above. That's 2 gallons of cripsy, crunchy, sweet and salty holiday delicious-ness! And it is heavy!

The actual recipe, as written, contains a switch-er-roo or two, made to tweak the mix you see in the jar. We put our personal quest for absolute perfection aside, in the interest of time and the fear of losing even more counter space to another jar of the stuff. Four gallons to divide and share with everyone we know is e-n-o-u-g-h! 

I know it is unlikely that any of you would study the jar to find the slight differences between what you see vs. the recipe, but it's that whole honest disclosure thing. Just take my word for it and follow the list, make your own substitutions for personal preferences, if you wish, and you'll be very happy - and satisfied.

Just a final note - or two - or several: 

I love the flavor of the Oatmeal Squares much, much more than the Chex cereals in this mix. Save the Chex for a big batch of the classically awesome Original Chex Mix.

I like using individual cans of nuts vs. mixed nuts, just to preserve the individual flavors better. Call me picky!

Any old pretzel would probably work, but I do love the light, crisp snap of the Snyder's Snaps. Hey! Great name!

Red Craisins or dried cherries are a no-brainer for their jolly color!  Same for yogurt raisins, although chocolate covered would also work and - well - then that would be more chocolate!

Mini Oreos and Nutter Butters are just too cute and too good to leave out, as are red and green M & M's - duh! Choose as many flavors of M & M's as you like - they all look the same, so there is that little element of surprise in every bite! Kind of like the presents under the tree ... you already got that, didn't you?

And with the Oreo cookies and M & M's for chocolate, I would be happy with a double dose of Cinnamon Teddy Grahams. Cinnamon is a nice spice for Christmas.

For my money though, the best single ingredient is the butterscotch chips. They add a nice flavor note and the yummy aroma is so darn good when you open the jar - well, you'll see!

So, there you have it! A well-considered blend for holiday snacking and treat sharing, even if all you care about is how good it tastes.

Enjoy the season! Remember to snack responsibly!

Quaker Oat Squares (or Chex cereals) - 2 boxes
Cinnamon Teddy Grahams
Chocolate Teddy Grahams
Snyder’s Pretzel Snaps
Mini Nutter Butters
Mini Oreos
Snyder’s Pretzel Dips – White Crème
Dry Roasted Peanuts

Salted Cashews
Salted Almonds
Craisins or Dried Cherries
Yogurt Raisins
Hershey’s or Nestle’s Butterscotch Chips
Christmas Red & Green M & M’s – use one or more of Plain, Peanut, Peanut Butter and/or Mint 

Mix all ingredients in a big bowl. Store in airtight container. 

This is a great combination for lots of flavors associated with Christmas. Add or delete items as you choose. One batch makes lots!

Fill decorated cellophane gift bags for: teacher, mailman, hairdresser, hostess gifts, house guests, party favors, children, grandchildren, class parties, neighbors and friends.