Monday, October 31, 2011

Toasted Coconut Cream Waffles with Greek Yogurt... and the Changing of the Seasons

It's been so fun and inspiring this month to see all the seasonal, creative and festive recipes and decorating ideas that everyone is coming up with.  I love when everyone gets as excited for the holidays and changing seasons as much as I do.  In reading a few of my favorite blogs, I'm also reminded of how much those seasons vary in other parts of the world.  While I'm getting excited about pumpkins, chocolate spiderwebs and my favorite pair of boots, people on the other side of the equator are happy that it's no longer snowing, they're dusting off their ice cream makers to prepare for the warm weather to come and testing out new custard bases for frozen treats.

When I lived in China, I didn't look forward to the summer quite as much, because with the heat came the dreaded humidity, although the bone-chilling wind coming off the sea in the winter was no picnic either!  My brother has been living in Hawaii for the past few years, and he talks about missing the experience of four seasons, as weather in Hawaii is much more mild throughout the year - never extremely cold or extremely hot.  And I'm sure my friends in England just want to see a glimpse of sunshine through all the clouds and rain!

My brother-in-law teases my sister that she, like me, is a little fickle when it comes to the seasons - as much as she longs for one to come, she's just as ready for the next one after that.  I think this is partly the fault of stores, though, since they start stocking Halloween costumes in July and Christmas decorations in September, so you can't help but think about and mentally prepare for what's coming!

And I suppose when you're tired of winter, that's the time to take a little vacation (if you can afford it, that is!).  I always start dreaming of tropical weather in January, although I've never been able to take a tropical vacation.  My list of dream vacations continues to grow:  Maine in the Fall, "somewhere" tropical in the Winter, Italy in the Spring, and Greece in the Summer...  tasting seasonal food, soaking up the warm, dry sunshine, walking along the beach, and enjoying the Greek way of life - where good food and fine taste makes for good living and a healthy life.  Now that's something I could really enjoy.  And something that I will do my best to bring into my life, and those around me, this holiday season.

Spring and Fall compete hard with each other for first place as my favorite season.  I love Spring for rescuing me from scraping ice off my car, feeling cold all the time and my ghostly pale skin which desperately needs a kiss of sun after winter.  Seeing all the spring flowers, leaving the house without bundling up, wearing a fluffy white skirt for the first time in 7 months...  it's those little things that make me happy.

But then there's Fall...  the fire colored leaves, the nip in the air, the way a dog's bark or an airplane passing overhead carries a different sound, sweaters and boots, warm fires, fuzzy slippers, sugar cookie candles, baking and all things pumpkin...  And even though Fall in Colorado is short (we've already had a major snowstorm), I still love the season because I know that the snow that fell yesterday will likely be gone tomorrow when the sun comes out again.

Halloween weekend was one of those relaxing weekends where we actually didn't have a schedule or anywhere we had to go, and were able to just enjoy some time together.  We carved our pumpkins (mine, sweet and innocent with pretty vines and leaves from a Martha Stewart template, and Jamie's, a zombie pumpkin eating a dismembered foot complete with red gel food coloring for blood).

We roasted pumpkin seeds in the oven, low and slow, to get them as crisp as possible, although the husk is always still slightly chewy.  I seasoned one batch with olive oil, salt and pepper, and the other batch with butter, brown sugar and cinnamon.  The Halloween pie was made and taste-tested, with most of it wrapped up in the freezer and a couple pieces saved to take to my parents.

And Saturday night, we went out to eat at a Vietnamese restaurant where I had the most amazing coconut chicken curry with potatoes that I'm determined to figure out how to make.  And to end the day, a scary movie, of course, since it was Halloween.

It's all these simple ways of enjoying the season that makes life so good!

After tasting that amazing coconut curry Saturday night, I had coconut on my mind, so Sunday morning I concocted a recipe for Toasted Coconut Cream Waffles.  These waffles are crisp and hearty, with Greek yogurt, coconut milk, toasted coconut and pecans baked into the batter which gives it lots of flavor and texture.  And while the batter is very thick, the cooked waffle has such a nice texture that doesn't get at all soggy when topped with honey or syrup.

I used up all my Greek yogurt in the batter, but as we ate the waffles for a late breakfast, I kept thinking about what could make them even better.  And I think a dollop of Greek yogurt on top of the waffles, mixed with honey and a little coconut extract would be just the thing to really enhance the coconut flavor, so I've included that in my recipe below.  These waffles would also be wonderful topped with some fresh slices of pineapple.

I'd love to hear what all of you do to enjoy the season! :)

"As part of the Foodbuzz Featured Publisher program, I have been entered for the chance to win a trip to Greece courtesy of FAGE. You too can enter to win one of three trips to Greece by entering the FAGE Plain Extraordinary Greek Getaway here:"

Toasted Coconut Cream Waffles

·         1 cup sweetened coconut flakes, divided
·         ½ cup chopped pecans
·         1 cup all-purpose flour
·         ¼ cup brown sugar
·         1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
·         ¼ teaspoon baking soda
·         ¼ teaspoon salt
·         ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
·         ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
·         ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
·         1 egg
·         1 ½ cups Fage Greek yogurt, divided
·         2/3 cup sweetened coconut milk or coconut cream
·         6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
·         ½ teaspoon pure vanilla
·         ¼ teaspoon coconut extract
·         2 tablespoons honey (plus extra honey, agave nectar or syrup, for drizzling)

Preheat the oven to 350 F.  Spread the coconut flakes and pecans on a baking sheet and toast until browned and fragrant, about 10 minutes.  Watch the coconut carefully – it can go from golden to burned very quickly.

Take the coconut and pecans from the oven and set aside.  Reduce the temperature to 200.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, ¾ cup of yogurt, coconut milk/cream, melted butter and vanilla.

Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and stir until just combined – batter should be lumpy and very thick.  Stir in the pecans and half of the toasted coconut, reserving the rest of the coconut to sprinkle on top of the finished waffles.  Set the batter aside to rest for 20 minutes.

Preheat your waffle iron and cook the waffles according to your waffle iron’s instructions.  I measured out 1/3 cup dollops of batter to yield 8 waffles.  Keep the cooked waffles warm on a baking sheet in the 200-degree oven while you cook the remainder of the batter.

In a small bowl, combine the remaining ¾ cup of Greek yogurt with the coconut extract and 2 tablespoons honey.  Serve the waffles with your choice of honey, agave nectar or syrup, topped with a dollop of the coconut honey yogurt, and sprinkled with the remaining toasted coconut.

Yields 8 waffles (2-3 waffles per person).

Sunday, October 30, 2011

a Pie for Halloween... Chocolate Caramel Cream Pie with a Chocolate Spider Web Drizzle

My man LOVES caramel.  In one of our magazines we subscribe to, he saw a picture of a salted caramel pie topped with mounds of whipped cream, and looked at me with persuasive blue eyes that hinted we have to make this.  We meaning me, of course.  :)  I like when he has special requests for recipes, though, and I aim to please!

This pie took many forms in my head before I actually made it, and it became much more than just a pie of caramel and whipped cream.  Even as I was making it, I adjusted my original plan of three layers (caramel on the bottom, chocolate ganache in the middle, and whipped cream cheese on top, finished with the chocolate spiderweb).  But the caramel was not nearly as thick on its own as I was expecting, and I suppose I could have cooked it longer to thicken it more, but I was becoming impatient as it had already been cooking for two hours (a simple process of cooking sweetened condensed milk in a water bath in the oven until it becomes thick and caramelly).

So as it was, the caramel was the consistency of thin Dulce de Leche, and was still very spreadable, more like a topping, and I was afraid it wouldn't thicken enough as it cooled to hold up in the pie.  So instead of spending any more time on cooking it, I decided to combine the chocolate and caramel layer into one, and just poured the hot caramel over chopped chocolate to create a thick and rich chocolate caramel layer on the bottom, knowing that as the chocolate cooled, it would naturally thicken the caramel.

A light and creamy layer of cream cheese folded with slightly sweetened whipped cream was a delicious topping for the rich chocolate caramel, and with Heath toffee bits sprinkled between each layer, a salted graham cracker crust on the bottom and the chocolate spiderweb drizzle on top, the result was a scrumptious pie that tastes very much like a candy bar!

This pie is very rich and one piece is definitely enough, so share this with friends or family, or wrap individual slices to freeze and enjoy later.  Kids and adults alike will love the dark and light creamy layers, the chocolate spiderweb, and of course, a fake spider on top adds the final fun and creepy finish for a Halloween dessert.

Chocolate Caramel Cream Pie with a Chocolate Spider Web Drizzle

·         2 ½ cups finely crushed graham cracker crumbs (2 “sleeves” of graham crackers)
·         1 teaspoon salt
·         ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

Chocolate Caramel Layer
·         2 cans sweetened condensed milk
·         4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped (70% cacao)
·         1 bag (8 ounces) Heath toffee bits

Whipped Cream Cheese Layer
·         1 cup whipping cream
·         8 ounces cream cheese, softened
·         ¼ cup powdered sugar
·         1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste

Chocolate Spider Web Drizzle
·         ½ ounce semi-sweet chocolate (62% cacao)
·         1 teaspoon unsalted butter

Step 1: Crust
Preheat the oven to 350 F.  Spray a 10-inch spring form pan with non-stick spray.

In a bowl, combine the graham cracker crumbs and salt.  Pour the melted butter over the crumbs and toss with a fork to moisten.  Press the crumbs firmly against the bottom and up the sides of the pan; the crumbs should come two inches up the sides.

Bake for 10 minutes, just until golden brown.  Set crust aside to cool and raise the temperature of the oven to 425.

Step 2: Chocolate Caramel
Pour the sweetened condensed milk into a 9x13 baking dish.  Cover with foil.  Set the dish inside a larger pan, such as a roasting pan.  Fill the roasting pan with water so that the water comes halfway up the sides.  Place in the oven and cook for two hours, stirring 2 or 3 times, until the milk has caramelized, appearing thickened and tan-colored.  Refill the water as needed.

While the milk is cooking, chop the 4 ounces of bittersweet chocolate, place in a large bowl and set aside.

When caramel is ready, remove the pans from the oven.  Stir the caramel to remove any lumps and pour the hot caramel over the chopped chocolate.  With a silicone spatula, stir until completely smooth.  Mixture will be very thick.

Sprinkle half of the heath bits on the bottom of the cooled crust.  Immediately pour the chocolate caramel mixture over the heath bits and smooth out the surface.  Sprinkle with the remaining heath bits.  Place the pan in the refrigerator to cool while you prepare the cream cheese layer.

Step 3: Whipped Cream Cheese
With an electric mixer, beat the whipping cream for about 5 minutes on medium speed, until soft peaks form.  Set aside.

In a separate bowl, beat the cream cheese, powdered sugar and vanilla bean paste on high speed for two minutes until smooth and creamy.  Gently fold the whipped cream into the cream cheese mixture, one half cup at a time, until fully incorporated.  Spread the cream on top of the chocolate caramel layer and use a spatula to spread out the top as smooth as possible.  Set back in the refrigerator while you prepare the chocolate drizzle.

Step 4: Chocolate Spider Web
Place the ½ ounce of semi-sweet chocolate and 1 teaspoon butter in a small, microwaveable bowl.  Melt the chocolate and butter at high speed in 15 second bursts, stirring every 15 seconds, until smooth.  Pour into a zip-lock bag and set aside to cool for five minutes.

Remove the pie from the refrigerator.  Snip a small piece off the corner of the zip lock bag.  Starting at the center of the pie, pipe the chocolate in a spiral pattern, with about 1 ½ inches between each line, until you’ve reached the edge of the pie.  Gently drag the tip of a knife through the chocolate from the center to the edge, all around the pie, to create a spider web pattern.  Cover the pie with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 4 hours, or overnight.

Before serving, let the pie sit at room temperature for five minutes, then run a sharp knife around the side, between the pan and the crust.  Carefully remove the sides of the pan and set the pie, still on its base, on a serving plate to slice and serve.

For a fun Halloween touch, place a few fake spiders on top of the pie or on each slice.

Yields 8-10 servings.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Steamed Mussels to start and Carrot Streusel Pudding to finish...

The "before and after" of a meal is almost as important as the main event itself, sometimes even more so if you're an appetizer and dessert person like me.  Aside from the taste of desserts, they're just so beautiful that I love making them.

I got my inspiration for this Carrot Streusel Pudding from a carrot souffle that Jamie made a while back.  The souffle was slightly sweet, almost like cornbread, but much more moist, and I thought that I could adapt the recipe to make a delicious dessert also.  Jamie says this dish isn't a pudding (since it's not a smooth, creamy custard-like pudding), but I beg to differ.  Puddings come in all forms, and I'm calling this a pudding.  :)

These puddings were creamy and so moist, light and not too sweet, and topped with a crumbly brown sugar and butter streusel topping that gives it a delicious crunch.  The color of the pudding was such a lovely shade of orange that I almost hated to cover it up with the topping, but I did anyway knowing how good it would taste.

These rose very dramatically in the oven...  and then sank just as dramatically after I took them out, so I may need to do some tweaking for the high altitude.  In spite of that, though, these tasted incredible.  And after they sank back down, I just re-distributed the crumbly topping a little and they looked just as pretty.  Nothing wrong with how these look, is there?

We tend to eat dinner pretty late on Friday nights, so we usually start with something to tide us over before we start cooking.  Sometimes it's as simple as a few olives, bread with oil, cheese or roasted garlic, fresh fruit, etc...  Last night, Jamie came home bearing a bag of live mussels.

All these needed were a quick steam bath in some chicken broth, white wine and seasonings to open them up, and they're ready to go in minutes.  A little cocktail sauce on the side and a few wedges of lemon to squeeze over the mussels is a nice addition, too.  Simple and delicious.

Carrot Streusel Pudding

·         2 medium carrots, peeled, chopped into ½ inch chunks
·         1 tart apple (such as Jonagold), peeled and cored, chopped into ½ inch chunks
·         3 tablespoons unsalted butter
·         2 eggs
·         2 tablespoons cream (or milk)
·         ½ teaspoon vanilla
·         2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
·         ½ teaspoon baking powder
·         ¼ teaspoon salt
·         ¼ cup granulated sugar

streusel topping
·         2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
·         ¼ cup brown sugar
·         1/3 cup all-purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 350 F.  Spray 4 individual small ramekins with non-stick baking spray.  Set the ramekins in a baking dish.

Place the chopped carrots and apple in a saucepan and cover with water.  Bring to a boil, and simmer until tender, about 20 minutes.  Drain.

Place in a food processor with the butter and puree until smooth.  Add the eggs, cream and vanilla and puree until well combined.  In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar, and add that to the puree.  Pulse a few times to combine.  Pour the mixture into the ramekins.

In a bowl, combine the butter, brown sugar and flour for the streusel topping, mashing with a fork until moist and crumbly.  Sprinkle on top of the pudding.

Fill the baking dish with hot water, halfway up the sides.  Bake for 40 minutes.  The pudding will rise, with the top slightly cracked, and the topping will be golden brown.

Remove ramekins from the water bath and cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes before serving.  If your puddings deflate after you take them out of the oven (like mine did), don't worry.  Crumble up the topping and redistribute it a little and no one will be the wiser!

Sprinkle with a little cinnamon or nutmeg, and top with whipped cream or ice cream for serving, if desired.

Yields 4 servings.

Steamed Mussels with Cocktail Sauce
  • 1 bag of live mussels (approximately 30 mussels)
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 teaspoon chopped tarragon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon horseradish
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 whole lemon, cut into wedges

Wash the mussels well to get rid of any grit and to remove the beard.  Throw away any mussels that do not close most of the way when tapped or that have a bad odor - which indicates a mussel that is already dead - and you want to make sure they are all live and fresh before cooking them.

In a large flat-bottomed pan with a tightly fitting lid, bring the chicken broth, wine, tarragon, salt and pepper to a boil.  Add the mussels to the pan and cover with the lid.  Boil over medium-high heat until the mussels have opened.  Once they are open, they're ready to eat.

Meanwhile, stir together the ketchup, horseradish and lemon juice for a quick cocktail sauce - adjust the ratio of the ingredients to suit your own taste.

Drain the mussels (reserving the liquid for another use, if you like), and place on a large platter.  Serve with the cocktail sauce and lemon wedges.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Getting your Food a little Sloshed... Bourbon Peach Galette with Mascarpone, and Beer Can Chicken...

I don't like beer.  Not even a little bit.  Which is unfortunate, since it's usually easier on the wallet.  But if I try to drink beer, I sip it so slowly that by the time I'm halfway through, it's all lukewarm and even more disgusting.  So Mike's hard lemonade is my "beer".  And of course I love sharing a good bottle of wine with Jamie on Friday nights with dinner, and a girly cocktail now and then.  My students in China used to tell me that beer is cheaper than water - which it actually was.  It's interesting that there's no drinking age over there, and yet you don't often see rowdy, drunk young people causing trouble like you do in the States.

For Jamie's birthday in May, I baked for him a Chocolate Caramel Bread Pudding with Bourbon that he requested.  I was skeptical at first, because I don't like Bourbon either.  That's just waaay too strong for me.  But I was a blown away by that dessert.  It was absolutely amazing - you could taste the bourbon, and yet, it tasted wonderful with the chocolate and caramel.  Every bite of croissant was soaked in its deliciousness.  I was wanted to try something else.

So I made a "drunken" peach galette with bourbon, and topped each slice with a dollop of mascarpone cheese and a little honey.  The galette was very good, just like a peach pie, but the taste of the bourbon really didn't come through.  I used far less of it - 2 tablespoons as opposed to the 6 tablespoons in the bread pudding so that's why the flavor wasn't as strong - but I was forced to use less since the galette was so juicy that any more liquid just wouldn't have worked.  If peaches were still in season, then I would have used fresh, but as it's October, I used canned peaches.

Not stopping there, Jamie decided we should make beer-can chicken.  I know people have been doing this for a long time, but I've never eaten it, so again, I was a little skeptical.  I just didn't want my chicken to taste like beer.  We bought a roasting pan that has a detachable cup in the middle to hold liquid (I didn't realize you can buy a contraption at Bed, Bath and Beyond for $5.99 for the very purpose of holding a can of beer).

If you've made a whole chicken this way, then you know what I'm talking about when I tell you how juicy and tasty the chicken was.  Crispy, browned skin, moist meat inside, and deliciously flavored throughout from the beer, but without tasting like beer.  We also brined ours overnight, before grilling it, which made it even better.  I was happy.  Of course, it doesn't have to be beer - you can use chicken broth or apple cider or juice...  really any sort of liquid will do to achieve this effect.  I also made some homemade sweet potato tots, but they were only okay, so I won't share that recipe.  The star of this meal was the chicken.

And another benefit to cooking a whole chicken...  making rich chicken stock from the bones for soups throughout the winter.

Drunken Peach Galette with Mascarpone Cheese
  • 1 recipe for a standard-sized single-crust all-butter pie crust (recipe below - use 1/2 of below recipe)
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cans (14.5 ounces each) sliced peaches (in water or light syrup), drained well, or 3-4 ripe fresh peaches, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons bourbon
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 tablespoon coarse turbinado sugar
  • 4 ounces mascarpone cheese
  • 1/4 cup honey

Preheat the oven to 350 F.  Roll out the prepared pie dough into a circle about 12 inches in diameter.  Place on a Silpat baking mat on a baking sheet.  Sprinkle the dough with the 2 tablespoons flour and set aside.

Place the drained peach slices in a bowl.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, lemon juice, bourbon and cornstarch.  Pour over the peaches and toss to coat.  Arrange the peach slices on the pie dough, leaving a 2-inch border all around.

Fold the edges of the dough up, overlapping every two inches, and pressing the edges gently together.  Don't worry about sealing the folded edges too carefully yet.  Using a pastry brush, brush the egg white all around the edges of the galette, making sure to get it under the folds, too.  This will help to seal the folded edges.  Sprinkle with the turbinado sugar.  Pour the remaining liquid from the bowl the peaches were in over the peaches.

Bake for 40-45 minutes, until golden brown.  Cool for one hour before slicing, to allow the juices to thicken.

Serve each slice with a dollop of mascarpone cheese and a drizzle of honey on top.

Yields 6-8 slices.   
Tip:  Because this galette is so juicy from the peaches, it's best served the day it's made, as the crust will absorb too much of the juice and become soggy if left to sit until the next day.

All-Butter Pie Crust
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) very cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 4-6 tablespoons ice water

Whisk together the flour, sugar and salt, and place in your food processor.  Scatter the cold butter over the flour, and pulse the food processor a few times until mixture is crumbly, with some pieces of butter the size of peas.  Don't over process the mixture.  When the dough bakes, the water will evaporate from the butter, creating little steam pockets in the crust, which is what gives it a nice flaky texture.

Sprinkle 3 tablespoons of ice water over the mixture and pulse a few times.  Add more water, a little at a time, until the dough starts to pull together.  Stop, turn the mixture out onto a work surface, and gather it all together.  It should be pretty thick and a little sticky.

Divide into 2 equal balls (for 2 standard pie crusts) or 4 equal balls (for 4 mini pie crusts).  Flatten the balls into a round disk with your hands, then wrap each tightly in plastic wrap.  Refrigerate until ready to use.  If you don't use the dough within a few days, store in the freezer.

Beer Can Chicken
  • 1 whole roasting chicken, thawed, innards removed
  • 1 can/bottle of good-quality beer (we used Sam Adams - "Bonfire Rauchbier")
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon tarragon

For best results, brine the chicken overnight.  You can buy brining mixes (we used some that we had leftover from Thanksgiving last year), which are just a mixture of coarse salt, pepper and spices, or make your own.  Pour 1 cup of the brining mix into a large stock pot, fill with 1 gallon of water and bring to a boil.  Remove from the heat, and bring to room temperature, then cool the water in the refrigerator for several hours.  When the water is cold, place the chicken in the brining liquid, cover, and chill overnight in the fridge.

After the chicken has been brined, remove it from the brining liquid and discard the liquid.  Season the chicken well with salt, pepper, garlic and tarragon.

Preheat your grill to medium-high - about 400 degrees.  You will need a roasting pan that has a cup in the center for holding liquid, or if you're like MacGyver and can figure out how to balance a chicken on a can of beer so that it doesn't fall over, then more power to you!  Fill the cup in the roasting pan with beer.  Place the chicken on the cup.

Cook until the internal temperature of the chicken reads 165 and the skin on the chicken is nicely browned and crispy.  Refill the beer as it evaporates during the cooking process.  Ours cooked through in about 1 1/2 hours.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Comfort in a Pot of Bean and Ham Soup... and a Love of Garlic

There's few things I find more comforting in the fall and winter than a pot of soup simmering on the stove on a relaxing Saturday, filling the house with its wonderful scent so that everyone can hardly wait for dinner.  I've always loved soups, and in my 20s while living abroad, I made a pot of soup almost every week, which I ate for dinner night after night until it was gone.  It was inexpensive to make, and healthy too, as well as being about the only thing I knew how to cook at the time.

One of my favorite times to make soup is the day after Thanksgiving.  My mom always made Turkey Vegetable Soup and traditional Bean and Ham Soup.  I've never been able to decide which is best, because I love them both so much.  After cooking a rich stock from the bones, all of the Thanksgiving leftovers go into the turkey soup.  And I do mean ALL.  Mashed potatoes.  Green Bean Casserole.  Stuffing and Gravy.  All of those elements make an amazingly flavorful broth.  And the Bean and Ham Soup is so wonderfully salty and rich with chunks of ham, beans and bits of carrots.  Store-bought bean and ham soup doesn't stand a chance!

I'll tell you something, though.  You don't have to wait for Thanksgiving, or even spend all day cooking a fantastic ham dinner before you can make a rich and flavorful Bean and Ham Soup.  A wonderful shortcut to this amazing soup is canned beans and store-bought ham hocks.  I really like using canned beans in soups because I have little patience waiting for dried beans to soak and soften, and even then they never really get as soft as I would like.  So a soup that might normally take a day or two to prepare will only take about an hour and a half with a few simple shortcuts.  The ingredients are also relatively inexpensive - I made a large pot of this soup, about 7-8 servings, for less than $15.

As the ham hocks render, they will create a wonderfully flavorful broth that's very rich.  If your leftover soup looks a little gelatinized after it cools down in the fridge, don't worry!  That's supposed to happen when the connective tissue, which contains collagen, gets converted into gelatin during the cooking process.  That gelatin is what thickens the broth.  Because pork is fatty, be sure to skim the grease off the surface of the broth as you simmer the soup.

And of course, every pot of soup loves a side of crusty bread.  If that bread has garlic on it, that's even better!  I developed a love of garlic while living in China.  Let me tell you, the Chinese LOVE their garlic.  I've watched them eat entire cloves of raw garlic with their meal, which is always on the table in restaurants over there, along with the soy sauce and vinegar.  Raw garlic is a little much for me.  However, roasted garlic that's soft, spreadable and caramelized....  now that's what I'm talking about.  And a glass of wine to wash it down doesn't hurt either.

If you've never roasted garlic, you really need to.  And it's so simple.  Just slice off the top of a whole head of garlic, drizzle the cloves with olive oil, cover tightly with foil and bake at 350 for one hour...  and you will have an amazing concoction of nutty, caramelized, garlicky goodness that you can spread on toasted bread or mash and mix with softened butter for garlic butter.  And the oil that's left in the baking dish - that garlic oil is good stuff, too.

Now, I understand if you're worried about garlic breath and all that.  But really, that's just something you have to get over.  And if everyone has garlic breath after dinner, then what is there to worry about?  After you've been smashed into an over-crowded bus with 100-plus other people, in 95 degree heat and 100% humidity, and some creepy man decides to take advantage of the situation by standing as close as possible behind you on said bus...  well, let me just say there are worse things out there than a little garlic on your breath.  Oh, and by the way, the creepy guy?  Yeah, he got a few really hard jabs in his ribs with my elbow.

Here's something that should really make you drool.  Cheesy garlic knots made from pizza dough.  These are so easy, you might just cry for joy after you're done and you taste how delicious they are.  As well as addictive.  Good luck trying not to eat all of them in one sitting.

You can use your favorite homemade pizza dough recipe for this or a store-bought refrigerated dough.  I mixed up a simple dough using an instant yeast that requires hardly any resting time.  After baking, these get all golden and puffy, and are incredibly fun to eat as you pull all the twisted dough apart revealing the cheese, garlic and herbs inside.

You know you want to make these.  And the bean and ham soup.  It's the ultimate comfort food for fall.

Kelly Ripa and Electrolux are searching for America's favorite comfort food!

Check out America's comfort food favorites and select your own by clicking here. When you do, Electrolux will donate $1 to the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund as part of our $1 million dollar commitment to the cause.1 Plus, you'll be entered for a chance to win an Electrolux Induction Cooktop.2

Bean and Ham Soup
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup diced red onion
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 2 carrots, peeled or scrubbed, diced
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 sweet potato, peeled, cut into bite-sized chunks
  • 1 pound ham steak, cut into bite-sized chunks, with the fat trimmed off and discarded
  • 1 1/2 pounds ham or pork hocks
  • 2 cans (15 ounces each) low-sodium white beans, such as Great Northern beans, un-drained
  • 1 can (15 ounces) low-sodium black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 4 cups low-sodium, fat free chicken broth
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper

In a large stock pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat until it shimmers.  Add the onion, celery, carrots and salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute.  Add the remaining ingredients.

Bring to a boil, then reduce to medium low and simmer, uncovered for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until thick and flavorful.  Skim the fat off the surface as the soup simmers.  You can adjust the seasoning as needed, but you should not need any additional salt as the ham is already very salty.

Since the ham hocks will not fully render in such a short time, you can cool these and place them in a freezer bag to use again later.

Yields 8 servings.

Roasted Garlic
  • 1 head of garlic
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat the oven to 350.  Slice the top third of the head of garlic off to reveal the cloves.  Set upright in a glass baking dish.  Slowly drizzle the olive oil onto the cloves, allowing it to run down between all the cloves.  Cover the pan tightly with foil and roast for about one hour, until the garlic is very soft, spreadable and caramelized.  Serve with toasted bread.

If you have any leftover garlic, mash it with a fork with a few tablespoons of softened butter, and store in the refrigerator for future use.

Don't throw out the extra oil in the baking dish!  Use that garlic oil to saute vegetables, or to drizzle on toasted bread.

Cheesy Garlic Knots
  • 1 prepared pizza dough, homemade or store-bought/refrigerated
  • 2 tablespoons roasted garlic butter, melted
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons Italian seasoning, divided
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1/4 cup grated cheddar cheese
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400 F.  On a floured surface, roll out the pizza dough to a rectangular shape measuring approximately 10x16 inches.  Brush the melted garlic butter over the dough with a pastry brush.  (If you don't have any garlic butter, just use unsalted butter or olive oil, and sprinkle with a teaspoon or so of garlic powder or minced garlic.)

Sprinkle evenly with 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning, pepper, salt, and cheddar cheese, and press down gently to press the seasoning and cheese into the dough.  Fold the dough in half, from one long end to the other so that the herbs and cheese are sandwiched inside two layers of dough.  Using a pizza roller, cut the dough into 9 equal strips.  Pick up a strip, holding it at each end, and twist until it twists up into itself.  Form it into a loose "knot" and place on a greased baking sheet.  Repeat with remaining dough.

Brush each knot with the olive oil and sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon Italian seasoning.

Bake for 14-15 minutes until puffy and golden.

Yields 9 large knots.