Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Creamy and delicious

I had plans for dinner a week ago Monday.

I told daughter Anna I’d make one of her favorite recipes, a yeasty, one-dish pizza dish she adores. Anna woke up with a sore throat that morning, so while she was at school that day I decided to change our dinner plans and searched the Internet, looking for soup recipes that would soothe her red throat.

When she called after school, she told me all she wanted was something warm for dinner, something that would feel good to her throat. I was happy I could oblige.

I settled on a creamy vegetable soup for this very cold evening. Anna doesn’t really like meat, so I thought this dish would be perfect for her. There are many versions on the websites I visited, including a copycat recipe for a creamy soup we had at Dixie Stampede in Myrtle Beach. They also sounded similar.

I decided to combine my favorite parts of several recipes and came up with my own version that uses onions, celery, carrots and a sweet potato, which I added for a little sweetness and more nutrition.

Many of the recipes don’t suggest blending the vegetables, but I decided to pull out my immersion blender and make the soup creamy — leaving only a few small pieces of vegetables in the soup for a little change in texture. But if you’d rather have the vegetable pieces, I’m sure that would be good, too.

For the cheese in this soup, I used a blend of shredded Velveeta and Cheddar because I had a partial bag in my refrigerator. But I’m sure either Velveeta or Cheddar alone would work well.

Many of the recipes I looked at listed whole milk or 2 percent milk and some even called for half-and-half. But I used skim milk, and was very pleased with the results.

The mix of the four vegetables I chose was delicious and flavorful, but you could certainly add others. I saw a number of recipes that use a bag of frozen California blend vegetables for cream soup. I plan to make this again soon, adding broccoli to my ingredient list.

No matter which vegetables and which kind of cheese you use, this creamy soup recipe is a wonderful way to warm up your family on a cold winter day and to sneak in plenty of vegetables in the process!

Creamy vegetable soup
  • 32 ounces chicken broth (I use Swanson’s Natural Goodness, lower sodium, fat-free)
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup diced carrot
  • 1/2 cup diced celery
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup chopped sweet potato (peeled)
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • Dash salt
  • 4 cups milk (I used skim)
  • 1 cup shredded Velveeta/ Cheddar blend or other favorite cheese
In a medium saucepan, bring broth to a boil. Add carrot, celery, onion and sweet potato; simmer, uncovered, for 10 to 15 minutes or until vegetables are tender.

While the vegetables are cooking, in a large saucepan melt butter. With a whisk, stir in the flour and salt until blended and gradually add milk. Bring milk mixture to a boil over medium heat and cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened and bubbly; continue stirring, being careful not to let the mixture stick. Pour in vegetables and broth and stir to combine. Remove from heat and stir in cheese until melted.

Use an immersion blender to blend the soup to the desired consistency. If the soup is too thick, add more chicken broth.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Colors of the rainbow

After all the sweets I had around Christmas, I promised myself not to eat anything that resembled a dessert until February, at least. But I broke that promise after my daughter made a batch of tie-dye cupcakes before her school break was over.

A few years ago, I had seen a number of recipes and photos for rainbow or tie-dye cakes and thought they were so pretty with their brilliant red, blue, green, purple and yellow layers. But I never made them. It seemed like too much trouble.

Anna is much more adventurous. She called me from home one morning and asked if I cared if she cooked. I told her it was fine as long as she cleaned up the mess. (That’s my standard answer for many things in life.)

Later that morning, she showed up at the office with a container of very pretty cupcakes that she made from a lemon supreme cake mix she doctored with food coloring: red, green, orange and yellow.

The cupcakes were very pretty, and the colors were so brilliant that you could see the swirled designs through the thin cupcake paper. I bit into mine and held it out to admire the pretty patterns that are unique to each cupcake.

So how did she make them? She said it’s easy, but a little more time-consuming than a regular cupcake.

Using a cake mix, make the batter as directed on the package. Choose a light colored mix such as yellow or lemon. Take out the food coloring you want to use and get an equal number of small bowls. Divide the batter among the bowls. Add drops of dye and stir, repeating the process until the batter is the shade you want.

Then spoon the different colors into each cupcake holder (with a cupcake liner inside) and don’t stir the batter — just drop the colored batter in around the edges and middle of the cupcake liner. You could do this is a layer cake as well.

Bake the cupcakes as directed on the box.

Anna covered half of her cupcakes with vanilla frosting and left the other half without frosting. They were delicious both ways.

In addition to making rainbow cupcakes, wouldn’t it be fun to make themed cupcakes? You could use the colors from the two opposing teams for a Super Bowl party, for instance, or pink and red for Valentine’s and red, white and blue for a Fourth of July party.

Tie-Dye Cupcakes
  • Cake mix (Use a light color mix such as yellow or lemon; make batter according to box instructions)
  • Paper cupcake liners
  • Various food dyes
  • Frosting (if desired)
Choose the dye colors for your cupcakes and divide batter into the same number of small bowls.

Add drops of food dye into each bowl and stir to make the colors you want.

Spoon batter into muffin pan filled with cupcake liners. Spoon batter around the edges and in the middle and do not stir.

Bake according to box instructions.

Frost, if desired, when cool.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Peanut Butter Cheerios

Last week, my son and I went grocery shopping for "essentials" he needs back at college this semester: Chef Boyardee Ravioli, kettle chips, Snickers, Gatorade that's a sickening shade of blue. In our shopping, I saw that Cheerios has a new flavor— peanut butter. I do love peanut butter, and I also love Cheerios, so I bought a box and tried them as soon as I got home. I loved them dry and started thinking of how I could use them in a favorite recipe I make that's sort of like Rice Krispies treats.
Then it hit me. If Cheerios is making a peanut butter product, does that mean their other products will now carry a peanut allergy warning? I know that's happened with other products.
I have a teenage niece who has a peanut allergy. I know she's eaten her fair share of Cheerios because it's always been a safe food. Whenever they come for a long visit, her mom buys a fresh box for Jillian to eat while she was here.
I sort of panicked. What if Susan bought the Cheerios for Jillian and didn't see a warning on the label?
I had to know, so I went straight to the source. After some back and forth, I got this answer from the General Mills folks:
"Multi Grain Cheerios Peanut Butter contains peanuts. Cheerios has a commitment to allergen management. We can say with complete confidence that Multi Grain Peanut Butter Cheerios will not cross-contaminate other Cheerios varieties.
"Currently, Honey Nut Cheerios, Banana Nut Cheerios, and Oat Cluster Cheerios Crunch contain almond. Only Multi Grain Cheerios Peanut Butter contains peanuts.
"All other varieties, including original Cheerios, Multi Grain Cheerios, Apple Cinnamon Cheerios, Chocolate Cheerios, Cinnamon Burst Cheerios, Frosted Cheerios, Fruity Cheerios, and Yogurt Burst Cheerios, do not contain nuts."
I'm so pleased with this answer and wanted to share it with any of you who love someone with a peanut allergy!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A year of recipes

I’m always a little surprised in December when I look back over the recipes I made over the previous 12 months. I think, “Did I cook all that?”

I’m happy with myself for trying so many new things, but sometimes I discover recipes I had forgotten since the first of the year and quickly make plans to try them again. That’s why I do this overview every year, not only to remind me of what I’ve cooked, but also to give my readers a second chance to try some good food!

The recipes from my food column in 2011 have been a good mix between desserts, main dishes and side dishes, I think. Several of them came from friends, including Harriet Page’s garden pea salad and Anne Liles’ Colorful Marinated Salad. I lost count of how many readers told me they had made these two dishes. I’m very grateful for friends who don’t mind sharing a good recipe!

I had a huge grin on my face when a reader stopped me in the grocery store after the recipe for vegetarian stir-fry appeared in the paper in February. She was making dinner for a guest who is a vegetarian, and she was shopping for ingredients for the recipe. That recipe was inspired by the American Heart Association’s Heart month celebration.

Other recipes came from browsing through cookbooks and magazines and online recipe sites.

The recipe for mini cheesecakes is a popular one with many cooks, and I was able to adapt one from the Allrecipes website for a Relay for Life fundraiser at my church. The cheesecakes were a hit at the father-daughter banquet and were so much fun for my daughter and me to decorate.

A very simple recipe for ham and cheese biscuits has been made many times at my house since I published that recipe in April. They are addictive! Give them a try.

And I love it when my mother-in-law, Ollie Batts, tells me how much she’s enjoyed making chocolate covered cherry cake and how many variations her friends have come up with. It really makes me happy when I know people try these recipes.

Apple crisp and peach cobbler were other reader-favorite recipes this past year, so was the easy recipe for pumpkin bars using white whole wheat flour. My daughter’s boyfriend asked me to make the pumpkin bars, adorned with cream cheese frosting, for his 18th birthday in December. I was thrilled he asked me and that he liked the dessert so much. Again, many readers stopped me in public to tell me they had made these recipes. Their comments help me figure out what kinds of recipes my readers like — simple ones using local and seasonal ingredients. I’ll be looking for similar ones in 2012.

And when I was making our grits and sausage casserole for Christmas morning, I told my family I wish I knew how many people told me they would be making the same thing for their holiday breakfast. Again, a simple recipe with a few basic ingredients.

Thanks to everyone who read my column last year and to those who took the time to email me or speak to me in public to say how much they like trying my recipes.

I have a few ideas for the coming year, but if you have suggestions of things you’d like to see in this column, send me an email. I love new ideas!