Thursday, December 2, 2010

Presenting Course #1: Pumpkin Soup

Until last week, I had never made pumpkin soup before. I know, I couldn't believe it either! As a woman completely and utterly obsessed with all things pumpkin (pancakes, pie, cake, risotto, ravioli, bread...), soup was one thing I had not yet tackled.

I mean, unless you're adding two cups of sugar, some eggs, yummy spices and possibly buttermilk and chocolate, how can you make that can of orange mush tasty by heating it on the stove?

Like this...

Start with some chicken stock, garlic, and chopped onions in a big pan on low heat. 

Then add the pumpkin, salt and pepper, some fresh thyme and stir that puppy up real good. (Apologies: we had our annual showing of "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation," and I'm channeling my inner Cousin Eddie.)

After this orange bath simmers for about 30 minutes, get out your boat motor (aka immersion blender) or food processor and puree the mixture until it's smooth and thick.

At this point, you could add a bit of heavy cream to make it silky and rich...I thought it tasted so delicious freshly pureed that I just left it be...and let the autumn pumpkin flavors get all happy with the sweet onion, biting garlic and lemony thyme. Mmmm!

Pumpkin soup. It won't disappoint, I promise.

Pumpkin Soup
(*aka Barbara's Pumpkin Soup recipe, Junior League of Athens cookbook Beyond the Hedges)

6 Cups chicken stock
1 1/2 tsp. salt
4 Cups pumpkin puree
1 Cup chopped onion
1/2 tsp. freshly chopped thyme
1 garlic clove, minced
5 whole black peppercorns
1/2 Cup heavy whipping cream

1. In a large stockpot over medium-high heat, combine the chicken stock, salt, pumpkin, onion, thyme, garlic and peppercorns. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes uncovered.

2. Puree the soup using an immersion blender or food processor.

3. Return soup to pot and return to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer an additional 30 minutes, uncovered.

4. Stir in cream, pour and serve!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Who Says Lemon and Herbs are Just for Spring?

Barefoot Contessa is my hero.

Her newest cookbook, How Easy Is That?, is a fantastic gift to put underneath the tree for that foodie on your list (well, except me...I just bought it!). Every recipe is super-easy and can be made with fresh ingredients readily available at your local grocery.

One of my new favorite recipes is her Lemon Chicken Breasts. I made this recently and couldn't believe how much flavor is infused into the juicy chicken breasts by just a few key ingredients: good olive oil, garlic, white wine (good enough to drink), lemons, fresh and dried herbs.

To accompany this delicious and easy weeknight chicken (which is way more than weeknight chicken), I roasted up some fingerling potatoes with the same herbs I used in the chicken and with an added bit of dill and parsley from the fridge.

I eat veggies with every meal (right, who am I kidding?!), so I whipped up a salad with some easy grated onion vinaigrette.

Check it out and let me know what you think!

Easy Onion Vinaigrette
(courtesy of my friend Kristy who writes the fantastic blog, Short Order Mama)

1/2 C. good olive oil

1 tsp. salt
2-3 tsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. grated onion
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
Pepper to taste

Combine everything in a sealable container and shake, shake, shake!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

This past Thursday, Santa Claus himself arrived in New York City's Herald Square officially ushering in the Christmas season. And after the leftovers have all been consumed, the decorating begins!

I. Love. Christmas.

Seriously. If it could be Christmas 12 months out of the year, it wouldn't be too many for me.

My house is currently a-glow with white twinkle lights, glistening glass ornaments in jewel tone colors and holly berries and candles in every nook and cranny.

The mantel is decked out with glass vases filled with silver and red glass balls and garland that's home to more twinkle lights and holly berries and then topped of with stockings hung for me and Max.

Yes, Santa Puppy comes to my house every year.

This year, I added some garland up the stair case, which I must admit adds a nice warm glow to a normally dark part of my house. Plus, the garland I bought for the top of my armoire turned out to be like 25 feet long, so what else was I going to do with it?

With the house brimming with gold and green, there is no better way to end a relaxing Sunday afternoon of dozing and football than with a yummy dinner. I'm about to head in the kitchen to whip up some herb-sauteed chicken thighs and cranberry pecan couscous.

To be washed down, of course, with a glass of wine.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, November 28, 2010


Each year, as I watch all the holiday commercials of families gathered around tables brimming with golden turkeys, creamy mashed potatoes, steamy dishes of stuffing and green bean casserole (all of which I consumed this year might I add), I get a little wistful for that idyllic, Norman Rockwell moment.

Right. This is 2011 - who's Thanksgiving looks like that?

Most likely you have some crazy aunt (or uncle) that shows up with a jello mold and pinches your cheeks and remarks how you've grown (although you've been north of 30 for a while now). There are probably one too many casseroles, sides and pies than there are ovens, causing tensions to run high as the turkey gets cold. Perhaps there's fighting over the remote..."Parade!" "No, football!" And maybe like at my house you have 12 paws worth of canines all trying to secretly sneak a nibble of any of the delicious smells wafting from the kitchen (luckily, we've never had to actually order a pizza because of the darlings ravenous appetites).

For all this, I am thank-full.

Full of cheesy cornbake...

Full of herb-roasted turkey breast, soft and buttery rolls, sweet and tangy cranberries, cinnamony pumpkin pie with a dab (well, maybe a whopping dab) of whipped cream.

Thankful for the blessings of my family, good friendships, health, prosperity, my Hallmark Christmas CDs (don't judge me please) and of course red wine.

Perhaps most of all, as we prepare to celebrate the birth of a baby born so many years ago in a stable, I am thankful for hope in the year to come.

Yes, for all these things, I am thank-full.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Have Some Chowda

A long time ago, I made a personal resolution to experience authentic regional cuisine whenever I travel to new places. What's the point of eating at an Applebee's or Waffle House in a place like Charleston or New York City?

So, what better place than San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf to try a bread bowl of clam chowder?

Oh. My. Gosh.

The smell of the bread alone at the Boudin Bakery was nearly more than I could stand...the warm, sweet scent of the freshly baked bread wafting through the air...sends memories of homemade pies wafting through my grandmother's kitchen.

Then, there's the chowder. One look at that ivory sea of velvet makes me weak in the knees. The way the creamy lusciousness slides down the throat and warms the belly is like a first kiss on a long sweet summer night. Mmmmm....

What goes better with a hot, steamy bowl of "chowda" than a crisp, cold bottle of local beer?

Next time you're in the Wharf, stop by Boudin and partake for yourself. You won't regret it. I promise.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

My First Michelin

September 30, 2010. This date will go down in history in the life of FunGirlCooks. It's going in my baby book, every scrap book and journal I own. This was the day I ate at my very first Michelin-star rated restaurant: One Market in the grand and glorious city of San Francisco.

What is a Michelin star you ask? First published in 1900 in France, the Michelin rating system has become "the benchmark in gourmet dining" by sending its professional, anonymous inspectors to restaurants around the world to rate the food on the plate.

And man, do those guys know what they're doing!

In San Fran for a work conference, I took the opportunity to get in some culinary adventures since it is one of the most magnificently mouthwatering cities in the country (in my humble opinion).

My delectable meal began with a warm, spicy glass of 2007 Freeman Pinot Noir from California's Russian River Valley and a hand-picked Dungeness crab salad over green apple water with jalapeno and cilantro garnishes.

Dinner was the Daily Roast of a tender, juicy fillet of beef wrapped in pancetta and bathed in a smoky, caramelized onion sauce that wrapped the meat in warmth like a velvet glove in the middle of winter. Served with a la carte roasted, organic baby carrots right out of Peter Rabbit's garden, it was utter perfection.

(It was so good, I forgot to take pictures! Unforgivable, I know.)

To end this intoxicating culinary experience, I had the seasonal dessert of luscious, creamy sugar pumpkin cheesecake laced with hints of warm cinnamon and nutmeg and sprinkled with maple pecans. Paired with a scoop of sweet maple ice cream and a crisp gingerbread autumn cookie, the entire piece of art was drizzled with warm caramel sauce, allowing it to simply slide from the tongue down the throat into a state of pure, unadulterated pleasure.

Seriously. I now want to marry the Michelin man.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

33 Years of Love

I love birthdays. Mine. Yours. Theirs. Everyone's. This past weekend, I celebrated my 33rd year with many of my precious loved ones. In my family, your birthday is the day you get to be completely doted on and most importantly, get to eat whatever you want.

For me, nearly all of those years, that has meant a yellow cake with chocolate frosting and Brach's "little pumpkins." And this year was no exception.

Mom has long since ceased making the cake herself, but turns to our dear friend and owner of local Bill Rhodes Bakery, Becky Evans, to make this special (and gorgeous!) treat each year. This year was no exception.

The best part is the leftovers.

Ok, who doesn't like to start a meal with dessert? This moist, melt-in-your-mouth magnificence was preceded by one of my favorite dinners that embodies love for my family: Miss Elizabeth's chicken.

Miss Elizabeth was a dear lady in my dad's hometown of Boonville, Missouri that brought a steaming casserole dish of this comfort food to the farmhouse after my sweet grandmother's funeral and the rest is history. We've been making it for the past 17 years. This recipe is as homespun as they come and straight out of the church potluck cookbook. Most people call it Chicken and Rice Casserole. It's warm and creamy and utterly rich and filled with love.

Just to make sure that our veins don't completely explode from all the "love" filled food, this year's celebration was rounded out with a little greenery: a wedge salad with homemade blue cheese dressing, steamed green beans and roasted brussel sprouts with pancetta and Parmesan. Mmmm, mmmm, mmmm.

Thirty-three years of love right here on the plate.

Miss Elizabeth's Chicken

1 can of cream of chicken soup
1 can of cream of mushroom soup
1 can of cream of celery soup
1/2 soup can of water
1  1/2 Cups of white rice, uncooked
6-8 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 stick of margarine
Salt and pepper

Heat oven to 275 degrees.

Melt margarine in a large saucepan.

Add the soups and water; heat and stir well.

Add rice and stir.

Pour half of the mixture into a greased 9 x 13 baking dish.

Place chicken on top; salt and pepper.

Pour the rest of the mixture on top of chicken.

Cover with foil and bake for 2 hours; uncover and bake for one additional hour until golden and bubbly.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Gnocchi for Goblins!

Hello again my foodie friends, and Happy Halloween!

October has flown by, and once again, I've not done my due diligence in keeping you all up to date with my frightful foodie adventures...(hey, I'm feeling spunky this Halloween night).

Now, I'm not much of a gnocchi eater, but I am a huge fan of pumpkin. Big surprise as a Halloween birthday girl, eh? (Yes, Halloween really IS my birthday.) So, naturally when I saw this pumpkin gnocchi at my local World Market it was a no brainer. I had to try it.

I also just happened to have some of my favorite autumnal liquid wheat at home...

This counts as a whole grain, right?

As a busy gal on the go, I was in need of a quick, easy dinner that I could make with things I had around the house. So...I fixed up the gnocchi according to the package directions...

...sauteed up a sweet onion and some mushrooms in a bit of garlic-infused olive oil. Now, you can buy this oil at many grocery stores, but if you can't find it, don't fret. Just add minced garlic to hot olive oil in the pan, and you'll get the same basic taste.

Next, I added the veggies to a jar of tomato-basil spaghetti sauce from the pantry...

...and topped the pasta with the sauce and then garnished it with some chopped green onions and fresh Parmesan.

Voila! Gnocchi for your little goblins (ok, well, not really, but it's Halloween).

Gnocchi with Sauteed Mushrooms and Onions

1 package of pumpkin gnocchi
1/2 Cup of diced sweet onion
1/2 Cup sliced baby portabello mushrooms
1/4 Cup chopped scallions/green onions
1 jar spaghetti sauce (I love tomato basil)
2 T. garlic-infused olive oil (or 2 T. olive oil and 1 clove of garlic, minced)
1/4 C. fresh shredded or grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper


Cook gnocchi according to package directions.

Heat spaghetti sauce in medium saucepan.

Heat oil in medium skillet (add minced garlic once oil is hot if not using garlic-infused olive oil).

Add sweet onions and saute until translucent; add mushrooms and saute until browned. Salt and pepper to taste.

Add onions and mushrooms to spaghetti sauce and stir until completely mixed. 

Place gnocchi in serving bowl, spoon spaghetti sauce mixture over pasta. Garnish with green onions and Parmesan cheese.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Pimm's What?

My college roomies and I just celebrated our 10 year anniversary with a trip to the beach complete with succulent shrimp and salmon on the grill, light and lemony cheesecake with a cherry-raspberry sauce that would knock your socks off, and my very first Pimm's Cup!

What's that you say? It's a fantastically refreshing summer drink that our friends the Brits (cheerio!) fill with luscious fruit and crisp cucumber, a dash of Pimm's (that's a liquor in case you didn't know...I didn't), and top off with fizzy ginger ale.

Dr. Nellie has been dying to make this drink for us for quite some time now (she's having a love affair with England). And I must admit, the red wine lunatic in me was a bit skeptical, but the verdict is in: fantastico!

Here's how it works...You start by cutting the fruit and cucumbers.

You put it in a glass.

Then you add the Pimm's.

Isn't it a fun bottle?

Then you top it off with the ginger ale.

And's fun in a glass!

And this is how much Dr. Nellie likes it...

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

"Double" Chocolate Celebration

This year, two of my dearest Fungirl friends will each have a new little bundle under the Christmas tree...they will each be welcoming a new little Funbaby! ("We're" having a boy and a girl in case you're names yet. I've asked.)

Recently, we showered Rebecca for this first little blessing of she and her hubby, Kenton. (A girl!) Dr. Nellie opened her adorable home, and in true Fungirl fashion, we had a fantastically delicious spread.

A local bakery supplied these precious petit fours...and these were double the chocolate for double the celebration. Let. Me. Tell. You.

I've got a bit of an obsession with bruschetta these days! (I don't have a picture, but it's in the background in the one above.) The thing I'll remember the most fondly about this dish though was the sweet time I spent in the kitchen with Rebecca and Dr. Nellie whipping this up. I love those times...perhaps because they are few and far between with our busy lives in separate states.

Of course, no Fungirl event would be complete without Dani's famous frosted sugar cookies. I don't know what she puts in hers, but I think it's highly addictive. No one can eat just one. (How cute are these little babies in stork baskets?!)

The guest of honor, Rebecca (left) with Elaine (expecting Baby Boy #2).

I love baby showers.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Summer Round-Up

I'm not much of a summer kind of gal. I'll admit it. I don't like to sweat. I don't like bugs. And I don't like the beach (I know, go ahead and gasp). One thing I DO like about summer is the abundance of delicious, fresh fruits and veggies and the crisp, clean tastes of the season. It's been a crazy busy summer, so I thought I'd show you a bit of what my tastebuds have enjoyed this season...

Let's begin with a nice cool, frosty pitcher of strawberry lemonade...

Then on to the enchiladas I made for family dinner with my small group girls...

Oh yeah, and we can't forget the mini-cupcakes and "two-bite" brownies!

There was a lasagna and green salad thrown in for good measure this summer...

Along with homemade bruschetta topped with sweet, succulent heirloom cherry tomatoes drizzled with olive oil and topped with crumbled goat cheese (mmmm)!

Then came the Sunday dinner of grilled salmon with roasted fingerling potatoes and broccoli sprinkled with lemon juice and parmesan. And a salad thrown in for good measure.

Can't forget the low-country boil!

And of course, everything capped off with a glass of sangria (happy happy joy joy)!

Now, welcome autumn!