Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Broccoli Soup with Cheddar Toasts

It's new year's eve, a day for canapes, chips and dips, and cocktails. So what would
be better to help you prepare for the onslaught than a wholesome, soul-satisfying lunch? Yes, my thoughts exactly. It's time for Martha Stewart's broccoli soup.

I've always liked cream of broccoli soup, but the prospect of making it wasn't appealing because I felt like maybe I didn't want to witness with my own eyes exactly what goes into it. Well this soup is no cream of broccoli. In fact, there is no cream in it whatsoever. Just a whisper of milk. An Alfred Hitchcock-esque cameo of milk. If you're lactose intolerant or vegan, you could leave it out altogether. But I do think it adds something.

When you get to the puree step, feel free to use a blender or food processor. But if you are as lucky as I am to have one of these babies, now is the time to bring it out of its hiding place.

Broccoli Soup with Cheddar Toasts
Adapted from Martha Stewart's Every Day Food magazine

Serves 3-4


2 teaspoons EVOO

1/2 a large onion, or one small onion, coarsely chopped

1 garlic clove, coarsely chopped

1 bunch of broccoli (about 1 to 1 1/4 pounds), stems and florets chopped separately into 1/2 inch pieces

2 1/4 cups low sodium vegetable or chicken broth

pinch of coarse salt

1/2 cup skim milk

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4 cup grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese

4 slices of quality crusty bread
ground pepper to taste


1. Heat oil in a medium-large pot over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Add onion, garlic, and broccoli stems. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until veggies are soft, about 10-15 minutes.

2. Add broth and salt; cover and raise heat to medium-high. Bring to a boil.

3. Add broccoli florets; reduce heat, and simmer, uncovered, until florets are just tender, about 10 minutes.

4. Remove from heat, and cool about 10 minutes. (Unnecessary if you're using my friend pictured above). Puree in batches in your blender or food processor, or all at once with your handy-dandy stick blender.

5. Return soup to pot (if you removed it in the first place); stir in milk and cayenne. Cook over medium heat until heated through (do not boil). Season with salt and pepper as necessary.

6. Heat broiler. Divide cheese among bread slices; toast under broiler until melted and golden brown, no more than two minutes.

7. Divide soup among bowls, and serve with cheese toast.

The puree is bordering on velvety and rich, but you can almost taste the nutritional value. No kidding. We enjoyed the soup very much. I hope you do too! And have a happy new year.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Spicy Twice-Baked Potatoes

We are back in Los Angeles, and back to work (or at least some of us are). And I am back in the kitchen, which for me is the silver lining on this cloud we call reality. Tonight my husband is fighting off some kind of flu-ish horribleness, so I decided it was time for comfort food. Namely, twice-baked potatoes with yummy things mixed in, and a green salad.

I found the inspiration for this recipe in Cooking Light magazine a few months ago, and tweaked it to my liking. The flavors are bold, both a little bit spicy and a little bit salty. If you abstain from bacon, feel free to leave it out. It will be missing a little something (umami, as I have recently learned in one of my favorite Christmas gifts, The Flavor Bible). But it will still be tasty. Absolutely do not leave out the chipotle, as it is the best part. I have recently discovered the joy of chipotle chiles in adobo and I can't stay away from them. You can find cans of them in the "ethnic" aisle of your grocery store, and if you refrigerate the part you don't use in tupperware, it will last for months.

Spicy Twice-Baked Potatoes

Adapted from Cooking Light Magazine
Serves at least 2, up to 4 (depending on how hungry you are)


(look at the potato trifecta! just waiting to be twice-baked and eaten!)

3 large baking potatoes
Olive Oil spray

2/3 cup skim buttermilk (or 2/3 cups skim milk whisked with 2 tbsp lemon juice)

3/4 cup shredded extra sharp white cheddar, divided

3 tables
poons thinly sliced chives
1 chipotle chile in adobo sauce, finely chopped, plus 1 tablespoon of the adobo

a pinch of ground sea salt

2 bacon slices, cooked, drained and crumbled


1. Preheat oven (or toaster oven, which I would recommend for energy-saving purposes) to 450. Pierce potatoes with a fork, spray lightly with olive oil spray, and pop them in the oven for 50 minutes. Turn once about halfway through.

2. While the potatoes are baking, combine the buttermilk, 1/2 cup of the cheddar, and the rest of the ingredients in a bowl. Set aside.

3. When the potatoes are done, let them cool for a few minutes. Cut them completely
in half when they are cool enough to handle. Scoop the potato pulp out of all three potatoes, leaving about a 1/4 inch thick shell. Discard two of the six shells (or save for a later use - potato skins tomorrow, anyone?). Add the potato pulp to the mixture you made in step 2, and mash with a potato masher until everything is combined.

4. Spoon potato pulp mixture evenly into the four remaining shells. Sprinkle remaining 1/3 cup cheese evenly over the potatoes. Bake at 450 for an additional 10 minutes, or until you can't stand the delicious smell any longer.

Serve alongside a simple green salad for a balanced meal. I made mine with mixed baby greens, sliced grape tomatoes, and topped it with a home-made red wine vinaigrette (3 parts EVOO + 1 part red wine vinegar + a splash of lemon juice + salt + pepper).

Friday, December 19, 2008

Best. Cookies. Ever.

I promise not everything that I make has pumpkin in it. But after the pasta the other night, I had 2/3 a can of pumpkin puree just waiting to be used. Just look at it, doesn't it look sad?

So I decided to make my world-famous (that's right, I said world-famous) pumpkin chocolate chip cookies. I can't really claim credit for this recipe, as I found it online once upon a time, and only made some very minor changes to it. But I've made these cookies about a million times, and they are always a hit. I decided to whip up a batch to take with us to see the in-laws. We'll see how many cookies are left by the time we get off the plane in Chicago - I guess it depends how long we are delayed by the weather...

A side note - I always use white whole wheat flour in my baking. If you prefer regular all-purpose flour, that will work too. I like to convince myself my cookies are "healthy" so I can eat "more" of them.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

makes about 2 dozen cookies, fewer if you make them big like I do.


1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

1/2 cup white sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 large egg

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup canned pumpkin puree

1 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (combo of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves)

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips


1. Preheat oven to 350. Grease cookie sheets or line with parchment (or silpat liners, the greatest things on earth).

2. Using a mixer, beat the butter until smooth. Beat in the white and brown sugars, a little at a time, until mixture is light and fluffy.

3. Beat in the egg, followed by vanilla and pumpkin puree.

4. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, and spices. Slowly beat the dry mixture into the batter in thirds. Stir in chocolate chips.

5. Scoop cookie dough by heaping tablespoons (or ice cream scoops!) onto prepared cookie sheets and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until cookies are browned around the edges. Remove cookies from the oven and let them rest for 2 minutes. Transfer to wire racks for cooling.

6. Take a deep whiff and EAT them.

There won't be any posts for a few days, until we get back to LA. Happy holidays, everyone!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Improvised Chicken Parmesan

When you're about to go on vacation, you find yourself trying to empty out the fridge. We're leaving on Saturday morning to fly to the midwest, so I challenged myself to make something interesting and tasty out of what we happened to have on hand. The result was an improvised version of chicken parmesan. We ate ours with some lovely soft bread (perfect for sopping up the marinara sauce), but if you're a more civilized person you might want to serve it with a vegetable of sorts.

I prefer not to bread my chicken parmesan, to make the dish a little bit healthier. But don't worry, it still comes out browned, juicy and delicious. Also, if you happen to have mozzarella around, I'd throw about half a cup on before the parmesan, and then bake it. We were fresh out of mozzarella in our house, so this is a slightly less cheesy chicken parmesan. This is a very fudge-able recipe, folks, so don't feel constrained by my amounts. This is just the way I recommend it, and I won't take it personally if you adjust some of the numbers.

Improvised Chicken Parmesan
serves 2

for the marinara sauce:

2 tablespoons EVOO

1 large or 2 small shallots, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed

1 bay leaf

2 stalks of celery, finely chopped

1 1/2 cups of canned crushed tomatoes

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

salt and pepper

1/4 cup dry red wine (I used Syrah)

for the chicken:
3 tablespoons EVOO

1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
salt and pepper
3/4 lb. chicken breast tenders, or chicken breast cutlets

1/3 cup freshly grated parmesan (not the pre-grated stuff please!)


1. Start with the marinara sauce. Heat EVOO in a heavy medium sized saucepan over medium heat. Add shallots and cook for about 3 minutes, until they start to soften. Add garlic, stir and cook 1 minute. Add the bay leaf and celery, and cook until the celery is starting to soften, about 5 minutes.

2. Add the crushed tomatoes, oregano, red pepper flakes, and season with salt and pepper. Stir. When the sauce starts to bubble, reduce heat to medium-low and cover partially. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Uncover and add the wine. Stir and cook for an additional 10 minutes or so, until it starts to smell amazing. (And it will). Fish out the bay leaf and discard.

3. In a shallow dish or wide bowl, create herb oil for coating the chicken cutlets by pouring in the EVOO, rosemary, parsley, and season with salt and pepper. Mix and then add the chicken, coating thoroughly with the herb oil.

4. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Heat a medium-sized skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and brown it only, (do not cook all the way through), about one minute each side. Put it in a shallow baking dish. (Or leave it in the skillet if yours is oven-safe). Spoon the marinara over the chicken, surrounding it on all sides. Top with the cheese and bake for 8 minutes, until cheese is brown and bubbly, and chicken is cooked through.


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

beautiful balsamic dressing

Wednesday night has recently been established in the Mullin household as "date night." Tonight, however, it is raining, I am getting over a cold, and my husband is stuck in traffic on his way back from Burbank. So instead, we will be having leftover soup (not home-made, I'm sorry to say) and a quickly-thrown-together green salad. I decided to make at least a smidgen of effort, and turned to Jamie Oliver for some salad dressing inspiration. Here is what Jamie and I came up with.

Does it count as a recipe? I'll let you decide. This is the kind of dressing that will keep you from ever wandering down the bottled salad dressing aisle again.

Beautiful Balsamic Dressing
serves 2 people for a dinner salad, or 4 for side salads


2 tablespoons of good quality balsamic vinegar
5 tablespoons EVOO
4-5 basil leaves, chopped
handful of pine nuts, toasted and then chopped


Whisk all the ingredients together in a bowl.

That's it! Bottled dressings be damned. I would also vote that this would be excellent drizzled over fresh mozzarella, as a dip for fresh crusty bread, or even as a marinade for steak (or tofu for our vegetarian friends). Yum!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

penne with pumpkin sauce

As fall segues into winter (and yes, even in California this seems to be happening), a nice rich dish of saucy pasta seemed like just the thing. This is a recipe I've been wanting to try for a while, ever since I saw Rachael Ray make it on 30 minute meals. And it is incredibly easy.

Now before I go any further, I have to address the Rachael Ray Controversy. I know there are a lot of people out there who hate her. I'm talking about something beyond dislike. They *hate* her. (Which by my mother's definition means they wish Rachael would die, but I don't think they mean it that way. At least I hope they don't.) I understand that Rachael's perpetual perkiness can wear on you if you watch her for too long, and that her cutesy nicknames for things do inspire some rolling of the eyes.

My counter arguments are these: she seems like a genuinely nice person, and more importantly, she gets people like me to really love cooking. Those of us who thought our culinary prowess might be limited to some prepackaged meals from Trader Joe's, well, we ventured out of the (admittedly delicious) haze of TJ's and into the produce section of our grocery stores. She made real cooking approachable and fun. And even as I like to think I am growing into a decent cook, I still love making her recipes, many of which populate my list of favorites. Bottom line is that she was the gateway drug that led me to a hard-core addiction to cooking. And I am eternally grateful. So expect to see her recipes in this blog fairly frequently. I promise not to use any of her catch phrases, apart from calling extra virgin olive oil "EVOO," which just makes good sense.

I tweaked her recipe a little, and here is my version. I know not everyone loves a creamy sauce, but this one manages to be rich and hearty without being too heavy or cloying. The end result is a subtly sophisticated flavor with just a hint of delicious spiciness. Definitely do not skip the hot pepper sauce, as it makes the dish.

Penne with Pumpkin Sauce
Adapted from Everyday with Rachael Ray, October 2007
serves 2



1/4 pound whole wheat penne (enough for 2 people)

1 tablespoon EVOO

1 shallot, finely chopped

1 clove of garlic, m
inced or pressed
3/4 cups chicken or veggie broth

1/3 of a 15 oz can of pure pumpkin puree; about 2/3 cup

splash of heavy cream (about 2 tablespoons)

a few drops of hot pepper sauce (more if you want it spicy)
pinch of nutmeg
black pepper

3 leaves fresh sage, thinly sliced


1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, salt it, add the pasta and cook until al dente.

2. While the pasta is cooking, heat the EVOO in a skillet. Add shallots and garlic and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the chicken/veggie broth and cream. Add hot sauce and nutmeg; season liberally with salt and pepper. (Taste to make sure it has enough kick). Let simmer until thickened, about 5 minutes. Stir in half of the sage.

3. Toss the pasta with the sauce, top with remaining sage.


Monday, December 15, 2008

first post

Every weekend I pick a handful of recipes to try during the coming week. Usually they are recipes I have never made before. Some are delicious, and some are, well, not. The plan is to use this blog to document my many culinary adventures. As a relatively new cook, but a long-time lover of food, I hope that sharing my messes and successes will be at least minimally entertaining.

Real food posts to come soon, I promise!