Friday, October 27, 2017

Fully Loaded Baked Potato Soup

One of JC's favorite soups that I make! This makes a huge pot, but all that cheese won't freeze well, so either cut down the recipe or find hungry friends for the leftovers.
  • 5-6 medium baking potatoes, scrubbed well
  • 8 ounces center cut bacon, diced
  • 1/2 sweet onion, diced
  • 1 large shallot, diced
  • 1/4 cup dry sherry
  • 7 cups chicken broth 
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 teaspoons ground white pepper
  • 2 cups half & half
  • 4 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 cup mild shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup  sharp shredded cheddar cheese
  • 3 green onions or several fresh chives
Cook the bacon, in a large pot over medium high heat, until crispy. Drain off all the fat (but don't scrape the pan!) and let the bacon drain on paper towels. Return the pot to the stove and add the onions and shallots. With a wooden spoon, stir well to remove the browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Cook for two minutes and add sherry. Cook on high until sherry is almost gone.

While the bacon cooks, dice the scrubbed potatoes into bite sized pieces. I cut each potato in half, lengthwise, and then cut each half in three, and slice those into five or six pieces. After the sherry reduces, add the potatoes and broth (or water and stock cubes), thyme and pepper to the pot. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce to medium high and let cook 20 minutes or until potatoes are tender.

Whisk together the half and half and the cornstarch.

Take the pot off the heat, but keep the burner on at medium. Add the half & half mixture to the pot and stir well. Gradually stir in the sour cream. Return to the burner, and let cook slowly for a few minutes. When slightly thickened, like a light cream sauce, sprinkle in the cheeses and stir like crazy to melt them throughout. Let soup sit over heat, but do NOT let it bubble. While everything heats together, slice green parts of green onions or chives into tiny pieces and sprinkle over pot. Stir well.

If desired, top each bowl with some extra crispy bacon pieces or bacon bits and shredded cheese.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Praline-Crusted Peach Cobbler Cheesecake

My dear friend Lacey is from Georgia, and when she went home recently, she brought me all kinds of goodies: fresh peaches, pecans and peach preserves. Before that trip, she and I had already brainstormed on a cheesecake idea that used both peaches and pecans.... and then it crossed my mind to add the pie crust crumb from the Momofuku Milk Bar Cookbook, by the incredible Christina Tosi, as a cobbler-type topping to finish the concept. I had made the fantastic Apple Pie Layer Cake from that amazing cookbook a few months earlier, and we all agreed that the pie crust crumb was one of the best elements of it. So the pie crust crumb is taken directly from that, and the rest is from my imagination.

Pralines are candies made of pecans cooked in a heavenly mixture of butter, cream, vanilla, sugar and salt, and then allowed to dry, so I thought that flavor would do well for a cheesecake crust.

If you want to break this into two days, make the pie crust crumb and the crust the day before. The pie crust crumb will keep for several days in a plastic zip-top bag or other sealed container and the crust is fine to keep overnight. They bake at the same temperature and for the same time, making things easier.

Heat oven to 250.

Praline Crust: 

  • 8 ounces pecan halves or pieces
  • 1 cup graham cracker crumbs 
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt 
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 stick butter, melted 

Toast the pecans at 250 for 8 minutes. Remove and let cool. Once cool, grind into fine crumbs in the food processor. Add graham cracker crumbs, sugar, salt and vanilla. Pulse to combine. Stream in the melted butter, checking after half has been added, and add enough so that you have a fairly wet crumb mixture. Press into the bottom only of a 10 inch springform pan, and wrap the bottom of the pan in aluminum foil. Set aside while you make the pie crust crumb -- they will bake together -- and turn the oven up to 350.

Pie Crust Crumb: 

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt or sea salt 
  • 8 Tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons water 

Combine the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a mixer or another large bowl. With the mixer running, stream in the butter and water. Pulse briefly until the mixture is a coarse, crumbly mixture -- do not overmix. Dump the bowl onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and spread out evenly, making sure the pieces are random sizes. Bake the pie crust crumb and the praline crust for 25 minutes and let cool. Cover the crust and bag the crumbs, if finishing the next day, or continue while the crust cools.

Cheesecake Filling: 

  • 4 8-ounce packages cream cheese (light is fine)
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup granulated sugar 
  • 3 very ripe peaches, pitted, peeled and diced. 
  • 2 Tablespoons peach schnapps 
  • 2 Tablespoons corn starch 

If you're on day 2, heat the oven to 350. Fill a large roasting pan with hot water and set on the lowest possible rack of the oven. Set the other rack in the center.

Peel, pit and chop the peaches. Tip: to peel ripe peaches, cut an X in the bottom of each one and lower it into boiling water for 60 to 90 seconds. The skins will slip right off. If that doesn't work, your peaches aren't ripe enough for this recipe!

In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the cream cheese and sugar, adding 1/4 cup sugar after each package of cream cheese. Beat on high until light and fluffy, stopping to scrape the bowl occasionally. Reduce the mixer speed to medium, and beat in the eggs, one at a time, making sure each one is fully incorporated before adding the next. Mix in the peach schnapps. Turn the mixer off.

Puree the peaches in a food processor or blender until liquid. Mix into the cream cheese mixer until well-blended. Sprinkle the cornstarch over the top and stir in by hand, mixing gently.

Spray the ring of the cheesecake pan with non-stick spray or rub it with butter. Pour in the cheesecake batter and smooth the top. Tap the sides of the pan to eliminate air bubbles. Bake on the center rack for 65 minutes. Turn the oven off, open the door slightly and leave the cheesecake for at least two hours and up to six hours. Chill thoroughly, at least 12 hours.

Note: Cheesecakes crack -- it's a fact of life. This recipe is written with the tips and tricks that help stop that from happening: greasing the sides of the pan, adding cornstarch to stabilize the batter, not over-beating the eggs and adding a pan of water to the oven. If it still cracks, and it may, that's what topping is for! 

Peach Topping: 

  • 4 ripe peaches
  • 1/3 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon 

Peel, pit and dice peaches as above. Toss with brown sugar and cinnamon. Refrigerate until serving time.

To Serve: 
Remove the ring from the springform pan. Spoon peaches over the cheesecake, sprinkle with pie crust crumbs and enjoy!

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Chocoholic Cheesecake

For my wonderful friend Margot Winick, the biggest chocoholic I know, I take on the challenge of seeing how much chocolate I can shove into a single dessert for her birthday. Margot likes her chocolate with more chocolate, no mint, no liqueurs, no other flavors. This year, she has taken a new job that will take her to Gainesville, so she won't be here for her birthday in August -- I took the opportunity to make her a chocolate-loaded cheesecake for her last day at UM. A brownie crust, chocolate laden cheesecake studded with mini-Oreos, layers of fudge sauce, and of course, whipped cream!! A few people asked for the recipe, and were surprised when I told them I made it up, so here it is, in writing! Serve SMALL pieces, otherwise insulin shots may be required!


  • 1 box brownie mix, for an 8 inch pan 
  • 1 stick butter, melted and cooled slightly 
  • 2 teaspoons instant espresso (I use Bustello, of course!) 


  • 4 8 ounce packages cream cheese, softened 
  • 4 large eggs, at room temp 
  • 1 cup granulated sugar 
  • 24 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chips or bars, melted 
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon instant espresso 
  • 1 bag mini-Oreos 

Hot fudge sauce
Whipped cream

Heat oven to 350. In the oven, place a large roasting pan or two loaf pans filled with hot water. Spray a 10 inch springform pan with cooking spray.

Dissolve the espresso powder in the melted butter. Stir in the brownie mix and mix until combined. Press into the bottom of the springform pan and bake 10 minutes. Cool completely and then top with hot fudge sauce, spreading to the edges of the crust. Spray the ring of the springform ring again.

Melt the chocolate and cool slightly, using a double boiler or a glass bowl in the microwave in 30 second bursts, stirring after each one, until melted and smooth.

Using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese, one package at a time, adding a quarter cup of sugar and one egg, once the cream cheese is fluffy.  Incorporate the vanilla and the espresso powder, beating thoroughly. With the mixer running, beat in the chocolate. Stir in the mini-Oreos. Pour the cheesecake batter into the pan and bake at 350 for 60 minutes. Turn the oven off, and open the door. Let the cheesecake sit in the open oven for 30 minutes. Let cool completely before chilling overnight. To serve, top with more hot fudge sauce and whipped cream.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Cinnamon Hazelnut Bread Pudding with Granny Smith Apples and Caramel

I literally dreamed this one night but it was a little more of a nightmare - in my dream, the glass pan I baked in exploded in my oven.... no doubt a surfaced memory of when a huge glass bowl of rice pudding did exactly that to my mother! Anyway, I was intrigued by the combination and decided the next day to give it a try, using an aluminum pan for safety!

I considered a few ways to infuse the whole dish with hazelnut flavor, including using a Torani syrup or Frangelico liqueur, but settled on Nestle's Coffee Mate Natural Bliss creamer with Hazelnut as the way to go. It was the perfect amount of hazelnut flavor, and the Natural Bliss line is just milk, cream, sugar and natural flavorings, so none of the artificial stuff in many creamers. I used that as part of the liquid normally included in any bread pudding recipe.

A key component of any bread pudding is, of course, the bread. I recommend using a challah, brioche, or another quality loaf. My Publix was out of challah and brioche, but had a lovely, soft but substantial Colombian bread available -- it was perfect! A single loaf should be about a pound, and I prefer to use unsliced bread and just tear it up roughly before a light toasting, but that's a matter of taste.

  • 1 cup hazelnuts
  • 2 large Granny Smith apples, coarsely chopped 
  • 1 loaf bread, preferably challah or brioche, torn in pieces 
  • 4 large eggs 
  • 1 bottle Nestle Coffee Mate Natural Bliss Creamer with Hazelnut
  • 2 cups half and half 
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 stick butter, melted 
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla 
  • Ground cinnamon
  • 1 bottle Hershey's Caramel Syrup 
Heat the oven to 350. Toast the hazelnuts for 7 minutes and let cool. While the hazelnuts cool, toast the bread pieces on a baking sheet until light brown, between 5 and 10 minutes -- start at 5 minutes and check frequently after that. Don't let it get too dark. While all of that is toasting, chop the apples into bite-sized pieces -- don't bother peeling them unless you really want to. 

Whisk the eggs and hazelnut creamer together with the butter, brown sugar and vanilla. Mix the toasted bread with the egg mixture, working it well together. Add 1 cup of the half and half, and mix again, working in as much of the second cup of half and half as needed so that the mixture is quite wet. Layer half of it into a greased three quart casserole or 9x13 pan, then layer on half the apples and hazelnuts. Sprinkle the layer well with cinnamon -- as much as you want! Repeat with the rest of the bread, apples and nuts, finishing with the cinnamon. Bake at 350 for one hour, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. 

Serve warm or at room temperature, drizzling each serving with caramel syrup. Vanilla ice cream wouldn't hurt, of course! It works as dessert or breakfast! Make it ahead and bake in the morning - perfect with coffee. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Chicken in Creamy Rondele Sauce

I love Rondele, Boursin, flavored cream cheeses -- anything cheese-based that's spreadable and tastes good, basically. Rondele was on a rare buy-one, get-one deal at Publix yesterday, so I grabbed a couple of containers for our game watch that night. Because I (as usual) made WAY too much food (including my Mediterranean Spinach Dip), they weren't touched. So I decided to use one to make a light, creamy, flavorful sauce for chicken tenders. This is really easy to make - once the chicken is browned, you do nothing for 15 minutes but look at it once in a while to make sure it's not cooking down too much. After that, it's about 3 minutes to done! I served this with brown rice for JC and steamed kale for me. The sauce was delicious with both!

Rondele makes several flavors of spreadable gourmet cheese, including Herb and Garlic, Artichoke and Garlic, Garden Vegetable, Chipotle and Tomato and Roasted Tomato and Basil. I used Herb and Garlic because I thought JC would like it the best, but this is so basic that the cheese really controls the flavor of the dish, so use whatever you like. You can make this regularly, with different flavors of cheese, and it will be a completely different dish each time.

To make 4 servings:

  • 8 chicken tenders 
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Sea salt 
  • 2 tablespoons butter 
  • 2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth 
  • 3/4 cup any flavor Rondele Gourmet Spreadable Cheese 
  • 6 green onions, sliced, dark green parts reserved
  • Rice, noodles, mashed potatoes, gnocchi or steamed greens, to serve

Lay a large sheet of waxed paper on the counter. Lay the chicken tenders on it and sprinkle them generously with pepper and just a touch of salt. Sprinkle with the flour and coat well on both sides.

Melt the butter over medium high heat in a large skillet. Brown chicken on both sides, working in batches if needed to avoid crowding it in the skillet. Add the white and light green parts of the sliced green onions to the skillet, and pour in the chicken broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and let simmer for 15 minutes. Keep an eye on the level of broth, because the flour on the chicken will make it thicken. Add more if it seems to be cooking down too quickly.

Carefully remove the chicken pieces from the thickened broth and set aside. Stir the Rondele cheese into the broth, letting it melt and blend well. Stir in the reserved dark green parts of the green onions, and add the chicken back into the skillet. Let simmer for a minute and serve immediately.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Bacon-Cheddar-Ranch Potatoes

These are great for breakfast or brunch, perfect for a tailgate and would make an excellent side dish for pork chops, burgers or BBQ chicken. I came up with these for a tailgate a few weeks ago and they were a huge hit. I made them again, and they disappeared even faster the second time. If -- ESPN forbid -- we have another noon game this year, I'll double or triple the batch! They're THAT good!

  • 1 32 ounce bag southern-style hash browns, thawed 
  • 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese, divided 
  • 1/2 cup diced onion
  • 1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
  • 4 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 3 tablespoons flour 
  • Large pinch chipotle chile powder or cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup milk 
  • 8 ounces sour cream (light or regular) 
  • 2 3 ounce pkgs real bacon pieces or 1 cup crumbled cooked bacon 
  • 1 envelope Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing mix 

In a medium saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium high heat and cook the red bell pepper and onion, covered, until softened, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in the broth and milk, then the chile powder, garlic powder and pepper. Cook until you have a very thick sauce, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in sour cream until well-blended.

While the vegetables cook, mix the thawed potatoes, bacon pieces, 1 1/2 cups of cheese and the ranch dressing mix in a large bowl. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and pour over the potatoes. Mix the cooked sauce into the potatoes. Pour into a greased casserole dish and cover with foil. Bake at 400 for 30 minutes. Remove the foil, sprinkle the rest of the cheddar over the top and bake another 15 minutes. Stand back to avoid getting trampled once they're out of the oven!

PRO TIP: Skip the onions and peppers, and swap the southern-style hash browns for Ore-Ida Potatoes O'Brien. They include the onions and peppers, saving you a step, and the cubed potatoes hold up better than hash browns if the dish needs to travel or stand for a long while before serving.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Easy Tortellini Soup with Spinach and Chicken Sausage

Tortellini soup (tortellini in brodo, in Italian) is one of my favorite comfort foods, and today, I came up with the easiest version I've ever had -- and the most delicious! This is entirely made from stuff in boxes and bags and jars; there is NO difficult prep work involved, and only a tiny amount of chopping! It took a whole 20 minutes to put together, and although I didn't plan to write about it, it was too good not to share. (You'll thank me later!)

Sooooo here we go:

Pour both containers of broth into a large pot. Bring to a boil.

While the broth heats up, heat the olive oil in a large skillet and brown the sausage. Once the broth is boiling, add the frozen tortellini. After 5 minutes, add the spinach. Once the tortellini is cooked, which means you will see it floating to the top, stir in the pesto and the browned sausage, with the olive oil it cooked in.

When serving, sprinkle some grated Parmesan on each bowl.