Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Broccoli Cheddar Soup

You know it's warm outside when you work up a sweat just making the bed.  We are definitely living in warm and sunny California.  We went from having freezing temperatures to 70 degree weather.  I shouldn't be complaining as I know most of you would spend lots of money on a family vacation for this kind of weather.  It's nice for a day or two but I like my seasons.  Maybe because growing up, I spent a lot of time on the East coast.  It's February so it's supposed to be cold. It's an excuse to snuggle up with a good book and enjoy a nice bowl of warm soup. I decided to pretend it's cold outside and whip up some easy but yummy soup to go with our 70 degree weather.  We just turned up the air conditioner and the ceiling fans and recreated the wintry setting (no, not really). :)

This soup is easy and quick with lots of flavor from the cheese.  As with most of my recipes, you can tweak them as you need to and they'll still be good.  If you want something different than your usual steamed broccoli this is a nice change and is good alone or with some bread, crackers or even a salad.  Make sure you season with salt and pepper as you go - each layer.  This way, every dish you make will have great flavor!

Broccoli Cheddar Soup

2 heads broccoli, cleaned and cut up
1 1/2 quarts chicken stock/broth
3 cloves garlic peeled
4 oz cream cheese
1/2 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
Salt and pepper
Bacon bits
Garlic Croutons (optional recipe below)

In a large saucepan, add 1 quart of chicken broth/stock, garlic cloves, broccoli, salt and pepper.  Bring to a simmer.  Cook until broccoli is tender.  Add cream cheese and let it melt.  In a blender or with an immersion blender, blend soup.  Add cheddar cheese.  Add additional stock/broth to get desired consistency.  Stir until combined. Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Garnish with bacon and croutons.  Serves 4.

Garlic Croutons

1/2 loaf crusty bread, cut into 1 inch cubes
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil

Over medium heat, add olive oil to a saute pan.  When hot, add garlic and cubed bread and stir to combine well.  Let breadcrumbs get toasty and brown stirring often so they don't burn. 

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Saturday, January 15, 2011

Quick Chicken Parmesan

I'm sitting on the couch, nursing a cold. My husband has a bad movie on. At least he is cooking dinner so I can't complain. I have a hard time though not going into the kitchen to see how things are going. It's his time and he likes to do things his way. He usually cooks a good meal but it does take a while. I expect we won't be eating for at least another hour if not two.

I haven't been sick in a long time. Of course it's like 70 degrees outside today and all I wanted to do was lay on the couch. It's probably good for me to chill for a day. It's not often that I lay around, catch up on all my shows on the DVR, read and nap. Sounds rough, huh.

Here is an easy chicken parmesan recipe that you and your family can enjoy any weeknight. You can serve it with pasta or just a salad. To shorten the cooking time of the chicken, I cut them in half by taking a not quite thawed breast and with the palm of my hand on top of the breast, I slice it in half. You can also put a piece of plastic wrap on top of a breast and pound it thin, trying to make it a uniform thickness throughout, with a heavy pan or a meat mallet. If you prefer not to do this, just cook your chicken longer.

Quick Chicken Parmesan

1 lb. chicken breasts, cut in half or pounded thin
2 tablespoons olive oil
Thick slices of mozzerella cheese to cover each breast
1/4-1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
Tomato Sauce (see recipe below) or you can buy a canned pasta sauce
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup chopped basil

Easy Tomato Sauce

2 tablespoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves, chopped finely
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes with garlic, basic and oregano
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/4 cup chopped basil, optional
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

In a saucepan over medium heat, add olive oil. When hot, add garlic and let cook for a few minutes, stirring so it doesn't burn. Add can of tomatoes and tomato paste, salt and pepper. Stir to combine and turn heat down to low. Let simmer about 10 minutes. Add basil and turn heat to lowest setting to keep sauce warm.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. For chicken, season both sides with salt and pepper. Add olive oil to oven friendly frying pan and when hot, add chicken to pan. Give them plenty of space so they'll brown. After both sides are brown but not cooked through, add a spoonful of sauce to each chicken breast. Place pan in oven and cook another 10 minutes. Remove from oven and check to see if chicken is no longer pink. If still pink, place in oven for another 5-10 minutes.  When done, add a slice of mozzerella cheese and parmesan cheese to each breast and place in the oven until cheese has melted. When cheese is melted, remove pan from oven, sprinkle with basil and serve. Extra sauce can be served on the side. Serves 4.

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Sunday, January 9, 2011

Shrimp Quesadillas

How's your new year going?  We're already 8 days in.  We made it to the U.K. for the holidays and had a great time.  We're home and finally getting back into the swing of things.  I have been wanting to post something all week but haven't had the ingredients or the time.  Today instead of putting the Christmas stuff away (yes, it's still out) and instead of cleaning the house, I decided to cook for you all.  Right, you say!  Really, I know you wait on baited breath for my next posting...   

Quesadillas.  Do I really need to say anything else?  I don't know of anyone who doesn't like them.  They are incredibly versatile in that you can put anything in them - whatever the picky people in your family will eat.  Everything is covered in gooey cheese and when you bite down on the crunchy, buttery crust, all the flavors melt together to form a perfect bite.  

A few years ago I reconstructed a pizza that I used to eat at a pizza place in San Diego.  It had shrimp, feta, pesto and some kind of white cheese on it.  It may sound strange to you but it was absolutely delicious.  I started thinking that maybe the same ingredients wouldn't be too bad on a quesadilla.  It didn't disappoint and the husband gave it a thumbs up.   

Keep in mind, you can put anything in quesadillas.  Experiment, be creative.  Surprise your family with something new.  A salad on the side makes a great meal.  

A quick tip:  I use shrimp a lot because it's so fast and easy to cook with.  I can keep it in the freezer and when I need it, I empty the bag of shrimp into a bowl and add enough water to cover.  Let it sit.  It will thaw out in a matter of minutes.  If you're really in a hurry, let it sit about 5 minutes and then drain the water and add new water.  This will speed things up a bit.

Shrimp Quesadillas

1 lb. shrimp, thawed and chopped in 1/2 inch pieces
4-5 tablespoons pesto sauce
1 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1 cup monterey jack cheese, grated
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
8 soft taco size flour tortillas
4 tablespoons butter
Salt and Pepper

Add your favorite toppings:
Sour Cream
Hot Sauce
Shredded lettuce

In a medium saute pan, add olive oil and garlic.  On medium heat, let your garlic cook a minute (don't let it burn).  Add your shrimp to the pan.  Make sure you drain your shrimp well.  I use a paper towel to dry it off well before adding it to the pan.  Season with salt and pepper.  Saute for about 5 minutes or until pink.  Remove to a bowl.  

Take four tortillas and spread 1-2 tablespoons of pesto on each.  Make sure you get to the edges.  Set aside.  In the same pan that you cooked the garlic in, over medium to high heat, add 1 tablespoon butter and let it melt. When it starts to bubble, add one of your tortillas, pesto side up.  Add 1/4 of the shrimp, 1/4 of the feta, 1/4 of the monterey jack cheese and cover with a plain tortilla.  Press it down a little.  When the bottom tortilla is brown, flip it over gently.  If your pan is dry, you can add more butter.  Brown the other side and then remove from pan.  Use a pizza cutter to cut into quarters.  Repeat to finish the other 3 quesadillas.  I put mine in the microwave to keep them warm or you can put them in a low oven, 200 degrees.  Add your favorite condiments on top and enjoy!  Serves 4.


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