Hearty Potato & Ham Soup

This recipe was originally posted in the Winter of 2010. I broke out this recipe for dinner yesterday. It's feeling like Fall on the Washington Coast so soup is on the menu...hope you enjoy!!!

Comfort soup at its finest! Potato soup is one of the most universally popular dishes in the world today. With Easter upon us you'll find this recipe perfect for using any leftover ham.

Potato & Ham Soup Bread Bowl
This soup is hearty and works well served with tortilla chips, hearty whole wheat toast, grilled cheese sandwiches or a tossed green salad.  Make your potato soup eye-appealing by topping each serving with minced parsley (fresh is preferred; however dehydrated is fine) and some shredded cheese...a sharp cheddar is especially nice. For special occasions you can fill bread bowls with the soup and toppings.

This recipe is fairly inexpensive to prepare as well as being very flexible. You can easily get away with adding more or less potatoes and/or ham and the recipe will still turn out delectable. You can attain very nice variations by adding chopped celery or maybe some corn.  Experiment and make it your own!

Hearty Potato & Ham Soup
5 cups peeled and diced potatoes (approx. 6 med/lrg)
1 cup finely chopped purple onion
2 cloves minced garlic
2 cups diced cooked ham
1 chicken bouillon cube dissolved in 1/2 cup hot water
Sea Salt to taste
Ground black pepper to taste
2 cups nonfat milk
1 Tbsp corn starch dissolved in 1 Tbsp cold water
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Shredded Sharp Cheddar Cheese, optional
Minced Parsley, optional

- Place peeled & cut potatoes into a large microwave safe bowl with salt and enough water to cover the bottom of the bowl (1/4" deep +/-).  Cover bowl with plastic wrap and microwave for 6 to 8 minutes or until potatoes are barely cooked (they'll finish cooking on the stove).

- While potatoes are cooking in microwave...lightly coat the bottom of your pot with olive oil. Brown onions and garlic over medium heat. Stir in chicken bouillon mixture.

- Pour cooked potatoes (including any remaining water) into onion/garlic mixture. Add salt, pepper, your favorite non-salt seasonings and stir everything together thoroughly. Reduce heat.

- Add milk and ham; stir together thoroughly.

- Cover and simmer for 30 minutes or until potatoes are cooked through. Tip: Make sure milk does not boil.

- Stir in corn starch & water mixture to thicken soup...add more until you get the desired consistency. Let soup simmer another 5 minutes or until you're ready to eat.

Serve each bowl with parsley & shredded cheese.

French Toast with Cinnamon Apple Topping

Golden brown french toast smothered in cinnamon apples is the perfect breakfast treat.

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Makes: 6 servings (2 or 3 slices each)

Non-Stick Cooking Spray
3 large McIntosh or other cooking apples, peeled, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup golden raisins
1-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
3/4 cup Egg Substitute
1 cup milk
1 loaf (16 oz each) French bread, cut diagonally into 1/2-inch-thick slices
Optional: Favorite whipped topping

Prepare large skillet by spritzing with cooking spray. Add apples and lemon juice to pan; toss to coat. Spray evenly with cooking spray. Add raisins and cinnamon; mix well. Cook over medium heat 6 to 8 minutes, or until apples are crisp-tender, stirring occasionally. Stir in sugar; cook 2 to 3 minutes, or until apples are evenly coated with glaze, continue stirring occasionally. Remove from heat; cover to keep warm.

Beat Egg Substitute and milk in large bowl with wire whisk until well blended.
Spray another large skillet or griddle with cooking spray; heat over medium heat. Dip 3 or 4 of the bread slices into egg mixture, turning to evenly coat both sides. Add to skillet; cook until golden brown on both sides. Repeat with remaining egg mixture and bread slices. Serve topped with the apple mixture and optional whipped topping.

Just Desserts for Springtime Party

"An all-sweets shindig is a great way to splurge on flavor - not your bottom line," according to famed pastry chef, Diana Sproveri. Springtime reminds me of tea parties and get-togethers with friends, however the cost associated with hosting a get-together can easily get out of hand. The cost of delicious Desserts is cheap when compared to preparing a full dinner. 

When planning your party, remember that variety is key. Appeal to all taste buds with a range of goodies from fruit tarts and cream puffs to red velvet cake and the classic chocolate chip cookie. Have a bowl of fresh fruit and low-fat sorbet for the diet crowd as well as water, coffee and wine.  Here are some easy and cost effective ways to host a fabulous Springtime party.

Create a beautiful ambiance for your guests
- Candles improve the atmosphere along with dim lighting and soft music. Don't forget to keep scented candles away from the food so that they do not interfere with the tempting aromas. Bouquets of fresh flowers add a charming ambiance.

Decorate the Table
- Pick up old dishes, jars, glassware and serving pieces at a secondhand store such as Goodwill© and don't be afraid to mix and match styles...it's part of the fun. Make sure to keep to no more than two colors so that the desserts remain the star of the show.

- Give your table some height. The height will add visual impact to the table and a bake shop feel. Arrange cupcakes on cake stands; bar cookies on tiers; cut up brownies can fill a martini glass.  Glass apothecary jars make elegant cookie jars.  Make sure each dessert has a serving utensil, and that there are ample forks and spoons for each guest.

- Doilies on dessert plates add a beautiful touch and pretty mini-muffin liners are great for displaying tidbit sized treats and nuts into.

Vintage plates add instant charm
 - Fill two large white mixing bowls with ice and old fashioned glass bottles of milk.

- You can never have too many cocktail napkins, both on the buffet and on end tables.

- Place the plates at the far end of the table, the food in the middle, and the beverages, cutlery, and napkins at the other end so guests are free to reach for the pastries.

For eight people: 80 pastries, 4 bottles of wine, 2 pots of coffee
For 16 people: 160 pastries, 8 bottles of wine, 3 pots of coffee
For 24 people: 240 pastries, 12 bottles of wine, 5 pots of coffee

Dessert Ideas
Blackberry Cheesecake Squares: Cut a frozen cheesecake into 1 inch squares and refrigerate. In a blender, puree 2 cups of blackberries with 2 tbsp. of sugar.  Pour the blackberries onto small plates and place cheesecake squares on top. Top each little square with a single blackberry.

Cookie Sandwiches: Use store-bought cookies or cookie dough to make sandwich cookies. After baking the cookies simply spread the flat side of each with 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of jam or frosting.  Sandwich the filling between two cookies.

Dipped Wafer Cookies or Pretzels: Melt a half a bag of chocolate chips (or any type you like) in a Pyrex measuring cup on 50% power. Check and stir chips every minute until fully melted. Be very careful not to burn the chocolate. Dip cookies or pretzels one by one into the melted mixture. Coat a cookie sheet with wax paper and place dipped cookies onto sheet. Chill in refrigerator for an hour.

Mini Chocolate Chip Cookie Shots: Bake or buy little cookies to sit on top of shot glasses which are filled with milk. 3 ounce shot glasses work perfect.

Dusted Brownie Bites: Cut brownies into little squares and dust them with powdered sugar.

Don't forget mini cupcakes!
Chocolate-coated Strawberries:  Begin with a carton of large ripe strawberries with stems. Melt two to three large dark or milk chocolate bars per carton of strawberries in the microwave, in a  Pyrex measuring cup. Be very careful not to burn the chocolate. Hold strawberries by the stem, dipping them one by one into the cup. On a large plate coated with wax paper, rest the strawberries (which should only be dipped just over halfway) and chill for about forty-five minutes. 
Puff Pastry Palmiers & Apple Tarts: Puff pastry is a rich, buttery dough that expands into thin, flaky layers when heated. Available frozen, it requires thawing. Pepperidge Farm© works fine, but a richer, all-butter alternative is Dufour©, sold at Whole Foods Markets and specialty stores. Recipes: http://www.realsimple.com/food-recipes/browse-all-recipes/palmiers-10000001131116/index.html

Pie Crust Rugelach: Pie crust isn’t just for pies. It can also be used for rolled cookies, like rugelach. In addition to crust that comes in a pie plate, Pillsbury© makes two others...one that’s folded and one that’s rolled. Recipe: http://www.realsimple.com/food-recipes/browse-all-recipes/rugelach-10000001131183/index.html

Orange Spiced Mini Muffins: A great casual buffet dessert. Recipe: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/gale-gand/orange-spiced-mini-muffins-recipe/index.html

Lemon Thyme Bars: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/giada-de-laurentiis/lemon-thyme-bars-recipe/index.html

The Party is Over
Provide dessert doggie bags. As with any party, you'll probably make much more than your guests can eat. Send them home with extra treats in favor bags or Chinese take-out containers that match your decor.

Keep your life simple and whatever works best for you is the right way to go. Enjoy!

Get Your BBQ Warmed Up! Sweet Pepper Steaks

These juicy, thick steaks are topped with a rainbow of sweet peppers. This easy BBQ recipe can be on your dinner table in less than 30 minutes!

Tellicherry Black Pepper is an essential ingredient in our kitchen.  If you haven't made the switch to freshly ground whole peppercorns, start with Tellicherry black peppercorns. What makes these berries so special? Grown in southwest India along the Malabar Coast in Kerala, these peppercorns are vine-ripened and allowed to mature longer to develop a deep, rich flavor.  The berries are larger with a full, robust flavor. You may certainly use any cracked black pepper you like or have available.

Makes: 4 servings; Prep: 15 minutes;  Grill: 11 minutes

Cracked Tellicherry black pepper
4 12-ounce beef top loin steaks, cut 1 inch thick
1/2 of a medium red sweet pepper - cut into bite-size strips
1/2 of a medium yellow sweet pepper - cut into bite-size strips
1/2 of a medium green sweet pepper - cut into bite-size strips
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 
1 envelope au jus gravy mix (0.6-ounce pkg.)

1. Press cracked pepper into 1 side of each steak, using about 1/2 teaspoon pepper per steak.

2. Grill steaks on the rack of an uncovered grill directly over medium coals to desired doneness, turning once halfway through grilling. Allow 11 to 15 minutes for medium-rare (145 degree F) or 14 to 18 minutes for medium doneness (160 degree F).

3. Meanwhile, in a medium skillet cook sweet pepper strips in extra virgin olive oil until tender. In a saucepan prepare au jus gravy mix according to package directions.

4. Serve steaks on warm plates; top steaks with pepper strips and au jus gravy. Makes 4 servings.

Nutrition Facts
Servings Per Recipe 4 servings Calories 535, Total Fat (g) 30, Saturated Fat (g) 13, Monounsaturated Fat (g) 12, Polyunsaturated Fat (g) 1, Cholesterol (mg) 160, Sodium (mg) 910, Carbohydrate (g) 5, Total Sugar (g) 1, Fiber (g) 1, Protein (g) 58, Calcium (DV%) 5, Iron (DV%) 33, Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet

Recipe adapted from: http://bhg.com/

A Bit of the Irish...Classic & Guinness Irish Stew Recipes

Do you have a bit of the Irish in ya? I do; but never really paid much attention to the upcoming St. Patrick's Day holiday.  St. Patrick's Day was first celebrated in America in Boston, Massachusetts in 1737, and is now celebrated nationwide as an opportunity to wear green and consume green libations. The celebration in Ireland is more of a religious matter, whereas in the U.S., it is a festive occasion. The wearing o' the green is a symbol of Ireland's lush green farmlands.

I thought I'd make some Irish Stew this year; however found myself inundated with a multitude of variations for the classic recipe.  The ingredients are simple, but the result is a hearty dish which the Irish have enjoyed for generations

Irish stew is a filling, flavorful peasant dish made with the cheapest, most readily-available ingredients. The Irish raised primarily sheep and root crops for subsistence. The sheep provided wool for warm clothing, milk for drinking and making cheese, and eventually food. Potatoes were the main food crop, prior to the potato famine. Irish stew is traditionally made of lamb or mutton (less tender sheep over two years of age), potatoes, onions, and parsley.

When the Irish people began immigrating to the United States, fleeing from the ravages of starvation caused by the potato famine, they naturally brought along their wonderful hearty food traditions. The stew evolved and adapted to include the local offerings.  Sheep were not as plentiful in America, so other types of meat were often substituted. When made in the traditional manner, the result is very thick and hearty, not thin like soup. This traditional peasant dish has evolved from a basic lamb, potato, and onion stew to more elaborate versions approaching gourmet status. Some versions may have different meat substituted for lamb or mutton.

Here is a classic Irish stew recipe as well as a very different one made with beef and guinness. As with any recipe, feel free to modify it to meet the needs and tastes of your own family.

 Classic Irish Stew - Crockpot Style

Let your crockpot do the work on this hearty Irish stew made with lamb and vegetables. This recipe may easily be converted to oven or stove-top methods.

Prep Time: 15 minutes; Cook Time: 10 hours

•2 pounds boneless lamb cubed, browned, and drained
•2 teaspoons salt
•1/4 teaspoon pepper
•2 cups water
•1 small bay leaf
•2 medium carrots, peeled and cut in 1/2-inch slices
•2 small onions, thinly sliced
•4 medium potatoes, peeled and quartered
•1/4 cup quick-cooking tapioca (optional - see Note)
•10 ounces frozen peas

Sprinkle browned lamb cubes with salt and pepper. Place lamb in the crockpot along with water, bay leaf, carrots, onions, potatoes, and tapioca. Cover and cook on low for 10 to 12 hours, adding peas to the stew during the last hour. Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Note: If you do not wish a thickened gravy, omit the tapioca.

Recipe Source: Peggy Trowbridge Filippone, About.com Guide

Beef & Guinness Stew

The Guinness stout beer not only helps tenderize the beef, it also gives a rich malty flavor to this chunky stew. It is also flavored with onions, carrots, garlic, and thyme. The stew may be made on the stove-top or oven.

Prep Time: 15 minutes; Cook Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes

•2 pounds lean stewing beef
•3 Tablespoons oil
•2 Tablespoons flour
•Salt and freshly ground pepper and a pinch of cayenne
•2 large onions, coarsely chopped
•1 large clove garlic, crushed (optional)
•2 Tablespoons tomato puree, dissolved in 4 tablespoons water
•1-1/4 cups Guinness stout beer
•2 cups carrots, cut into chunks
•Sprig of thyme

Trim the beef of any fat or gristle, cut into cubes of 2 inches (5cm) and toss them in a bowl with 1 tablespoon oil. Season the flour with salt, freshly ground pepper and a pinch or two of cayenne. Toss the meat in the mixture.

Heat the remaining oil in a wide frying pan over a high heat. Brown the meat on all sides. Add the onions, crushed garlic, and tomato puree to the pan, cover and cook gently for about 5 minutes.

Transfer the contents of the pan to a casserole, and pour some of the Guinness beer into the frying pan. Bring to a boil and stir to dissolve the caramelized meat juices on the pan.

Pour onto the meat with the remaining Guinness; add the carrots and the thyme. Stir, taste, and add a little more salt if necessary.

Cover with the lid of the casserole and simmer very gently until the meat is tender -- 2 to 3 hours. The stew may be cooked on top of the stove or in a low oven at 300 degrees F. Taste and correct the seasoning. Scatter with lots of chopped parsley. Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Recipe Source: The Complete Book of Irish Country Cooking by Darina Allen (Penguin USA)

Poor Man's Stroganoff

I've been making a variation of this recipe since I was first married back in the early 1980's. It's certainly not a healthy recipe, however it is cheap, fast and filling...something many of us need these days. It's very similar to Hamburger Helper, but without all the additives.  My husband was the one that encouraged me to share as he just loves it...actually everyone that I've ever made it for loves it.

We use a very lean ground beef which produces no fat in the bottom of the pan (purchase chubs from Costco in frozen foods) so I can cook the onion, garlic and meat together.  As with all my recipes, add or delete what you want or use the type of seasonings you like to make it your own.

Poor Man's Strogranoff
That Girl Can Cook!©

1 Package of Egg Noodles (12 oz. pkg)
1 pound of Ground Beef (as lean as you can afford)
2 cans Mushroom Soup (condensed, 10.75 oz. each)
1/2 Purple Onion, chopped
1 to 2 Cloves of Garlic, chopped
1 to 2 tablespoons Mrs. Dash or similar non-salt seasonings
2-3 Tablespoons Sour Cream
Splash of Milk
Black Ground Pepper
Mediterranian Sea Salt
Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Prepared Egg Noodles as directed on back of package.

Once you get the water started for Noodles then brown the ground beef in a large skillet until browned & fully cooked. Drain, if necessary.

Toss in onions and garlic and saute with meat for a few minutes (adding EV Olive Oil if necessary)

Stir in cans of soup, add splash of milk until you get consistency you want (we like it thick)

Sprinkle in salt, pepper, any alternate seasonings.  Let warm in pan until Noodles are done.

Drain Noodles and put back into their pot, dump sauce mixture over top of Noodles and stir. Stir in sour cream (adds a nice creamy texture).

15 minutes and you've got dinner. Enjoy.