Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Good and cheesy

I hadn’t planned to do another recipe tied to Sunday’s Super Bowl, but over the weekend, my daughter suggested we try another new recipe she had seen on Pinterest. This easy recipe for mozzarella sticks comes together in just a few minutes and was very good! It would be a perfect treat for the big game.

My kids have always loved mozzarella sticks as appetizers at restaurants. I’ve made them a few times and have also bought the freezer variety. I think they’re all pretty good once dipped in warm marinara sauce!

This new recipe offers a new twist on the popular appetizer. Instead of dipping the string cheese in a bread crumb mixture and frying it in oil, you wrap the cheese in an egg roll wrapper and bake it. We made our cheese sticks and had them baked and ready to eat in about 20 minutes, I guess.

This is the first time I’ve used egg roll wrappers, and I was pleased with how easy they were to work with. (Wonton wrappers should also work, but you’d have to cut the cheese to fit and maybe adjust baking time.)

There are quite a few versions of this recipe on the Internet, and some do fry the cheese sticks rather than bake them. But Anna and I wanted a healthier snack, so we choose to bake ours. We also brushed a little olive oil on the outside hoping to encourage the wrappers to brown. They did brown a little, but don’t expect the baked variety to be as golden brown as its fried counterpart.

Some cheese did run out of a few of our cheese sticks. We just used a fork to wrap the melted cheese on top of the appetizer and ate it that way. I have since seen a tip from a recipe reviewer who said reduced-fat mozzarella string cheese doesn’t run out of the wrapper as much as the full fat. I will try that next time — maybe Sunday night because I have plenty of wrappers left!

Baked Mozzarella Sticks
  • 1 package Mozzarella string cheese (I will use 2 percent next time)
  • 1 package egg roll wrappers (found in produce section)*
  • Water
  • Olive oil
  • Marinara sauce
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Place one egg roll wrapper on cookie sheet (line with parchment paper or aluminum foil for easy cleanup). Position the wrapper so it looks like a diamond or kite. Brush a little water over wrapper.

Place cheese at the bottom point and roll to the halfway mark. Fold in corners and continue rolling. Brush olive oil over the wrapped cheese.

Repeat with remaining wrappers and cheese.

Bake at 400 for 10 minutes; turn after 5 minutes to brown on both sides.

Serve with marinara sauce.

* You can also use wonton wrappers, cutting cheese to fit.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Warm up with soup

It’s most certainly soup weather in these parts! And I’m guessing many cooks have had their soup pots out in recent weeks.

We have a number of favorite soup recipes at my house, but I’m always looking for new ones as well.

This winter, I’ve noticed a bunch of recipes for Italian soups on my favorite blogs, so I decided to try one.

I didn’t use one particular recipe. Instead, I read a bunch of recipes, then added ingredients I either had in my refrigerator or knew I’d use later. (I hate buying celery and using two ribs before the whole stack turns brown and gross; I bought it for this soup and will use it in other recipes in coming days.)

The main ingredients for this new soup are the same ones I use in my standby recipes for homemade soup: chicken and broth, tomatoes and onions. But some of the other ingredients are new for me with soup, including zucchini and bell pepper. I also added oregano, which gave it the flavor I desired, and ditalini. I love this little pasta, especially in soups. I opted to cook the ditalini separately and added it to the hot soup I poured into our bowls. That way the pasta keeps its shape and firmness and doesn’t get mushy after sitting in the soup or being warmed up.

I considered adding several other ingredients to the soup when I was shopping and might do that sometime, including spinach and cannellini beans. But I was trying to be thrifty!

I used homemade broth for this soup. I had cooked a chicken Saturday for tetrazzini and had plenty of leftover broth. I only had 11⁄2 cups of chicken and would have used more for the soup if it had been available. If you don’t have homemade broth, use canned, low-sodium broth.

I let my soup simmer for about an hour and loved the way my house smelled! I made the soup Monday evening, planning to eat it for lunches this week, but Reggie and I “sampled” it with our dinner and really enjoyed it. I especially liked the flavor a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese added!

Be creative when you make this soup, or any soup. Add some frozen green beans or dice some carrots. If you like garlic in your soup, add some toward the end of the recipe’s sauteeing time. I would have loved adding fresh basil, but I didn’t have any. Rosemary or thyme would also be good add-ins.

Serve this soup with hot, crunchy bread for a wonderful winter meal.

Soup With An Italian Twist
  • 5 cups chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 to 2 cups chicken, cut in bite-size pieces
  • 28 oz. can whole plum tomatoes
  • Olive oil for sauteeing
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup zucchini, cut in bite-size pieces
  • 1/4 cup onions, chopped
  • 2 ribs celery, chopped
  • Bell pepper, chopped (a few tablespoons)
  • 3/4 teaspoons salt or to taste
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper or to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano or to taste
  • Ditalini or other small pasta, cooked according to package directions
  • Parmesan cheese
Pour chicken broth, chicken and tomatoes in large soup pot and start to heat.

While broth is heating, sautee zucchini, onions, celery and bell pepper until vegetables start to get tender. Pour into soup pot along with seasonings. Let come to boil, then reduce heat and simmer about an hour.

Meanwhile, cook ditalini and drain. Add some pasta to individual bowls and pour soup on top. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Party dip

I’m sure many of you are thinking ahead to Super Bowl Sunday on Feb. 3.

You might not be rooting for either of the teams, but you still want to enjoy the game, the half-time show, the commercials and — of course — the food!

I know for many people, Super Bowl Sunday food means a big pot of chili simmering on the stove. But at my house, we’ve always enjoyed making a variety of dips and finger foods to enjoy during the game. Sometimes we try new recipes, and other times we just rely on tried-and-true favorites.

This year, I’m sure my son and I will be making a dip recipe we first made on New Year’s Eve.

Robert found the recipe for bacon, cheddar and potato dip in a Better Homes and Garden Publication of slow cooker recipes from last winter, and he knew right away it would be a hit in our family of potato-lovers, especially once you’ve added cheese and bacon. How can you miss with those ingredients, right?

The recipe isn’t complicated, but it does take a little prep work. The potatoes have to be peeled, cooked and mashed, and the bacon has to be cooked. We used pre-cooked bacon that we warmed in the microwave to crisp. After that, it’s a matter of mixing the ingredients and letting them warm in the slow cooker for a few hours. You’ll love the aroma as the dip warms!

This was the first time I had used the Kraft product cream cheese for cooking, and I had very good results.

The dip, which we chose to serve with baked ridge potato chips, tastes very much like a double baked potato. It’s a filling dip and would be a hearty accompaniment to a table lined with a variety of dips and appetizers.

There was quite a bit of dip left over that my husband and son were happy to warm and eat the next day.

Bacon, Cheddar and Potato Dip
  • 2 1/4 pounds Yukon gold or other yellow-flesh potatoes, peeled and quartered*
  • 4 slices hickory- or applewood-smoked bacon
  • 1 10-ounce carton original flavor cream cheese for cooking
  • 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/4 cup chopped green onions (2)
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic salt
  • Potato chips or sweet pepper wedges
In a covered large saucepan cook potatoes in enough boiling, slightly salted water to cover for 15 to 20 minutes or until tender; drain.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet cook bacon over medium heat until crisp. Cool and drain bacon on paper towels. Crumble bacon; reserve 1 tablespoon of the crumbled bacon for topping.

In a large bowl, combine the remaining crumbled bacon, cream cheese for cooking, 3/4 cup of the cheddar cheese, the sour cream, green onions and garlic salt. Press cooked potatoes through a ricer onto the cheese mixture; stir gently to combine. Spoon the potatoes mixture into a 11/2- or 2-quart slow cooker. Cover and cook on low-heat setting for about 2 hours or until heated through.

Top dip with the remaining 1/4 cup cheddar cheese and the reserved bacon. Serve immediately or keep warm, covered, on warm or low-heat setting for up to 2 hours. Serve with potato chips.

Makes 48 2-tablespoon servings.

Better Homes and Gardens' "Creative Slow Cooker Recipes"

*NOTES: We made several changes. We used red potatoes, because that's what I normally have, and pre-cooked bacon that we warmed in the microwave. I don't have a ricer, so I mashed the potatoes as I would for regular mashed potatoes, leaving them slightly lumpy at my family's request. We also mixed in all of the cheese and bacon at the beginning rather than reserving some for the topping.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Favorite recipes from 2012

Towards the end of December, I always look back over my food columns from the previous year to remind myself of the recipes I’ve shared with my readers, to enjoy the photos once again and to see which recipes I’m still making!

I did that again a few weeks ago and am giving you a chance to try some recipes you might have missed the first time around.

The new food column recipe I made the most in 2012 was probably porcupine meatballs from August. My husband and I love that recipe, which uses ground turkey, and made it often last fall, enjoying it the first night as well as in leftovers. We couldn’t get enough of the meatballs in a tomato-based sauce served with mashed potatoes. Yum!

But the most popular recipes of the year, with my readers, involved cake mixes.

In February, I ran a column about a simple cake made with only two ingredients: an angel food cake mix and a can of crushed pineapple. Unfortunately, there weren’t enough boxes of angel food cake mix on the shelves of Wilson grocery stores to go around, and readers called me and e-mailed me trying to find a box! I hope everyone eventually found the cake mix and made this easy and delicious cake.

I followed up with several other cake mix recipes, including pumpkin muffins, soda cake and in the spring, a strawberry angel food cake that is probably my favorite of all of them! The strawberry cake is so easy as well and is made with an angel food cake mix and two cups of lightly sweetened sliced strawberries. It’s delicious served with whipped topping!

But the run on the grocery stores for angel food cake mix was just a warm up for what happened in September when I published a recipe for pumpkin spice cake. The problem? The key ingredient — pumpkin spice instant pudding mix that’s only made in season — turned out to be hard to find, if not impossible. I got so many calls and e-mails from readers who wanted to make the cake but couldn’t find the pudding. It got so bad, in fact, that I contacted Kraft Foods, and they donated 96 boxes of the pudding mix, which we gave away in just a few hours in October. (I’m not including that recipe today because the pudding mix is not available.)

One more cake mix recipe also stirred a lot of interest. In January, my daughter made a batch of tie-dye cupcakes and photographed them. Many of you have told me you made the cupcakes over the last year and were pleased with how pretty they turned out. Anna made them again a few weeks ago, with great results again.

But not everything had a cake mix base in 2012. Other favorite recipes with my family and yours include a fruit salsa recipe I first had at Bible school; tomato and zucchini bake that many readers tried; chocolate chip banana bread, which I’ve made several times since I ran the recipe in September; and sweet potato bread, using Wilson County produce.

I was also thrilled that several of you made the Halloween recipes — candy-coated pumpkin pretzels and a Halloween mix — with your children. I love when youngsters get involved with food preparation.

Once again last year, readers of my food column encouraged me, gave me ideas and continued to read the paper, both online and in our print edition. It’s so rewarding when my readers stop me and tell me they have tried a recipe and enjoyed it. I also appreciate all of you who purchased the church cookbook I worked on this past fall and who have told me they are using it.

Please keep reading the column each Wednesday and keep cooking!

Favorite recipes from 2012