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Friday Recipe Exchange: Not Afraid to Experiment

Spinach Tomato Soup

What a week we’ve had here. I retreated to the kitchen often, cooking truly reduces my stress and helps me refocus. And since everyone needs to eat, I have a perfect excuse to retreat and regroup.

Cool weather blew in today, signalling the start of soup season, a great time of year. I have quite a few soup recipes and I began the season with one of my favorites, Tomato-Spinach, pictured above and recipe here.

Next up, Pumpkin Bars, because I needed something to share with friends and this recipe makes a lot. Click here for recipe and photos.

JeffreyW went to the Farmer’s Market and made Refrigerator Pickles, there are plenty of great photos and the pickle recipe here. He went on to use the beans he purchased to make Three Bean Salad, here.

And finally, for the pet lovers, some Bixby pictures and a bit of an update.

It’s the last official weekend of summer, how will you usher it out? What’s on your plate for the weekend? We are going to head up to the mountains to take in some color, which is predicted to be a short show this year.

Sausages with Grapes

For tonight’s featured recipe, I decided to experiment with flavors I would have never thought of on my own. Facebook and blog friend Michael F, shared a recipe on Facebook from Italy, in Italian no less, and the photo intrigued me. I let google translate the recipe (which was a hoot) and went about putting my touches into it.

It was so unusual, my most reliable recipe testers politely declined my dinner invite. Totally understandable. But I will tell you I was pleasantly surprised how well this turned out. If you like pork and apples, this has a similar flavor palate. It was also quick and easy to prepare. I’m glad I decided to experiment.

All right, if you’re up for something new and different, here you go, tonight’s featured recipe.

Sausage and Grapes

  • 8 links Italian sausage (I used spicy, but you could use any style sausage you favor)
  • 1/2 sweet onion, finely diced
  • 2 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 cup green seedless grapes, washed, dried and halved lengthwise
  • 1 cup red seedless grapes, washed, dried and halved lengthwise
  • salt and pepper to taste (I used none, didn’t need it)
  • angel hair pasta
  • freshly grated Parmesan


Slice sausage links into four pieces each, add to skillet and fry on medium high for about 10 minutes. Add onion and fennel seeds, cook another 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until onions are translucent. Add grapes, stir until well mixed, cover and let simmer for an additional 10-15 minutes while pasta cooks.

Cook pasta according to package directions until al dente. Drain well.

You can toss with the sausage mixture, or serve separately. Serve with Parmesan.

The pasta was my addition. When I asked Michael what would be a good side, he suggested eggplant or roasted potatoes. Roasted zucchini spears would probably work well, too.

Here is the original recipe.

That’s if for this week. Have a great weekend. – TaMara



Soup Season: Updated Tomato-Spinach Soup

Spinach Tomato Soup

It’s been a rough week – mostly for people around me. I found myself retreating to the kitchen often to cook. Definitely helps clear my head and regroup. Soup season is in full swing as Autumn is fast approaching. We may actually blow off work tomorrow and head up to the mountains to see the colors.

Today I decided to make a big batch of one of my favorite soups. It did not disappoint. I ‘beefed’ it up because I had some ground beef that I needed to use up. I’ll do that again. Yum.

Tomato-Spinach Soup

  • 1 lb ground beef (or 1/2 ground beef, 1/2 spicy Italian sausage)
  • 1/4 of a small onion, chopped
  • 24 oz diced tomatoes (fresh or canned)
  • 2 cups loosely packed baby spinach, cleaned
  • 8 oz sliced carrots (I use frozen)
  • 1 cup green beans
  • 1 cup water, as needed
  • 2 tsp crushed garlic
  • 1 tsp dried basil, crushed
  • 1 tsp dried oregano, crushed
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (opt)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Grated Parmesan for garnish
  • spinach chiffonade for garnish

blender, saucepan

In saucepan, brown ground beef and onions. In a blender, blend together spinach and tomatoes, until smooth*.  Add to beef mixture, along with vegetables and spices.  Bring to low boil, stirring frequently, reduce heat and let simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.  Serve with Parmesan and spinach chiffonade.  Makes 4 generous servings.

*Blending the spinach, tomatoes together gives you a nice hearty tomato base for the soup.  You can add some additional spinach leaves at the end if you like, letting them get limp but not overcooked.

Original vegetarian recipe is here.


Panera’s Broccoli Cheese Soup

DSC_0785 (1600x1060)I wish I’d gone with the white bowl for this, I really thought there would be more contrast.  This is a copycat recipe, as far as I know, nowhere does it indicate it’s an actual Panera recipe.  I stayed right with the recipe as written except I added an extra handful of shredded Parmesan I had out for the garlic toast.  I can say that it’s a damn good soup, we both gave it two thumbs up.DSC_0788 (1600x1060)I couldn’t resist making a sammich out of the leftovers.

Parmesan Potato Soup with Bacon

DSC_9465 (1600x1060)This turned out pretty well.  The bacon made that a foregone conclusion but the Parmesan was an experiment gone good.  I simmered potato pieces in chicken broth until they were soft and then pureed everything in the pot with an immersion blender.  The bacon crisped up in a separate pan and was added after the blender did its job – save a little for garnishing at the table.  There’s some milk in there to thin it, lots of grated Parmesan and some cheddar I had leftover from burritos.  Seasonings include dried thyme, oregano, fresh ground black pepper and salt.  I used the same microplane grater I grated the Parm with on a little bit of carrot that you can see in the photo if you look hard.DSC_9462 (1600x1060)Since I am  lunatic I took the chance to add a little color to the plate with a healthy slug of my hot sauce.  It was good but I wouldn’t let the lack of it dissuade me from demolishing a future bowl of this soup.


DSC_4986 (1600x1060)Homer has been an outside kitty lately because of his ongoing battle with Toby.  He does come in everyday to spend time but gets ousted if he acts up.  I think he may be mellowing a bit – the cuddle on the sofa with Bitsy was rare enough that I thought a photo was warranted.DSC_9402 (1600x1060)I picked all the remaining jalapenos so Mrs J could take the pot away and dump the old potting soil.  I sliced and froze these.DSC_9390 (1600x1060)A couple of tacos with guac and sour cream and a few of the last peppers.  I think these were ground beef cooked in a mole made from dried ancho peppers.  More of that sauce is on top, covering the lettuce, tomatoes, and cheddar.DSC01113 (1600x1200)Here are those pups from the other day that were smiling for the camera.  Mrs J says they are terrier poodle crosses.DSC01086 (1600x1200)They are really rocking their little doggie sweaters.DSC01106 (1600x1200)I think she said they were eight weeks old and would be released for adoption pretty soon.  I bet they go fast.DSC_9429 (1600x1060)Here’s a sammich I made the other day.  I had a chunk of hot coppa in the freezer that I thawed and sliced thin.  It also has traditional ham, a slice of roast pork, provolone, and various veggies in a vinaigrette made with dijon and balsamic vinegar.DSC_9416 (1600x1060)This looks like spaghetti and meatballs but the meat is just sliced link Italian sausage.  The sauce was from this year’s tomatoes and has a lot of Parmesan in it.  Good stuff.DSC_9431 (1600x1060)It’s been ages since I made bread in my machine.  This loaf really puffed up when it baked, I thought it might raise the lid before it quit growing.  The soup is a basic chicken noodle made with wide egg noodles and various veggies.  I always add too many noodles to the pot.


DSC_9141 (1600x1060)Just a reminder:  You can make a burrito out of nearly anything you can wrap a tortilla around.  We had chicken chili with white beans a few days ago and the little dab of leftovers worked great with the addition of Monterey jack.DSC00571 (1600x1060)I call this a “cuddle” of puppies.  I like how the little guy with the white on his muzzle is framed in this picture.DSC_9146 (1600x1060)Mrs J likes banana bread so much that she buys bananas and lets them ripen just so she can make it.  The one has raisins and pecans.  I found a jar of apple butter on the pantry shelf, applesauce works well as an accompaniment but apple butter just goes it one better.DSC_4902 (1600x1060)Notice the subtle segue from apples to snakes?  LOL  Here’s your random wildlife, a small snake in the grass beside the walk this morning.  I’m not sure what species it is but I would guess it’s a juvenile black rat snake.  The mottled look fades over time.DSC_9158 (1600x1060)We made the last batch of tomatoes into soup and canned 7 quarts.  I amazed myself with a practical application of arithmetic – I knew my canner would hold seven quart jars so I figured how many inches of juice I needed and let the tomatoes reduce at a simmer until it measured the correct depth.  I won’t burden you with the formula lest I make a foolish error but if I remember correctly 7 US quarts is a tad over 5 inches in my 10″ pot, I think I went five and a quarter-ish, making a mark on a wooden spoon.DSC00585 (1600x1060)I never said there wouldn’t be math!  I did say there would be kittehs, though.  They named this one Brock and he was adopted the next day after Mrs J posted this picture on the shelter’s facebook page.DSC_9157 (1600x1060)I’ll close out with a couple of sammiches, here’s a loaded chicken tenders sammy with some potato salad from the local Kroger deli.DSC_9163 (1600x1060)More sauerkraut than pastrami on this reuben.  There wasn’t much pastrami left so I compensated a tad.

Friday Recipe Exchange: Chicken Buttermilk Biscuit Pie

Chicken Biscuit Pie_Snapseed1

They were predicting snow today, it did not show up, but it’s unseasonably cold. SNOW. I am not ready. But it does put me in the mood for cool weather recipes. Soups and tonight’s featured recipe, easy Chicken and Buttermilk Biscuit Pot Pie. 

Life has been hectic, I’ve been busy with house hunting, work and of course the puppy, so I’ve kept meals simple. I haven’t linked to it in a while, but I have a bunch of tips for keeping meals quick, easy and full of flavor right here, which may come in handy now that school and activities are back in full swing.

For the dog lovers, Bixby updates are here and here. He’s now 33 34 lbs and so smart, he’s been a breeze to train.

On to the recipes. Soup is what I miss most in summer, so as soon as the temperatures dip, I break out the soup recipes. Here are three for you:

Cream of Chicken Soup (recipe here).

Spicy Black Bean Soup (recipe and full dinner menu here)

Chicken Tortilla Soup (recipe here)

What’s the weather like in corner of the planet? What’s on your plate for the weekend? Hit the comments and share some of your favorite fall recipes.

For tonight’s featured recipe, I brought together some of my favorite comfort foods into one dish. If you don’t have an oven-safe skillet, you can transfer the chicken mixture to a baking dish and top with biscuits.

Chicken and Biscuits_Snapseed2

Chicken and Buttermilk Biscuit Pot Pie

  • 2 boneless chicken breasts, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 2 boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • Salt & pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 small onion, diced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 2 cups sliced carrots (frozen ok)
  • 2 tsp crushed garlic
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups chicken stock or canned low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 large Yukon Gold Potatoes, scrubbed and diced
  • 1 1/2 tsp poultry seasoning
  • 1/2 cup peas (frozen ok)

Set a 10-inch cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat

In a large bowl, combine the chicken with salt, pepper and olive oil. Sear chicken in pan, stirring occasionally, until the chicken begins to brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the chicken and set aside in a separate bowl. Add butter to the pan and, when melted, add the onion, carrot, celery, and garlic, stirring occasionally, until lightly caramelized, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the flour and cook, stirring for 1 minute. Add the stock, browned chicken, potatoes, and spices.

Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce heat so that the sauce just simmers, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the chicken and potatoes are tender…about 25-35 minutes.

While it simmers, prepare Buttermilk Biscuits, below.

Just before adding biscuits, fold peas into chicken mixture and then remove the pan from the heat.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Place the biscuits on top of the chicken and gravy, with 6 biscuits around the edge of the pan and the remaining 4 biscuits in the center (if you have a left over biscuit or two, bake on a separate baking sheet). Be sure the biscuits do not touch, so they cook thoroughly. Brush the tops of the biscuits with the melted butter and bake until the biscuits are golden brown and flaky…14 to 15 minutes. Allow the pot pie to cool briefly before serving. Makes 4-6 servings.

Buttermilk Biscuits:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp baking soda
  • 1/3 cup shortening
  • ¾ cup milk
  • 4 tbsp powdered buttermilk
  • 2 tbsp melted butter to brush on formed biscuits

Mix dry ingredients, make a center hole in the dry ingredients and add in shortening and milk.  Blend together, then knead 10-12 strokes on a floured surface, roll out to ½” thick, cut into 8-10 biscuits.

That’s it for this week. Have great weekend. – TaMara



copyright 2014 What’s 4 Dinner Solutions Cookbook: Spring



Ham and Beans

DSC_9047 (1600x1060)A cool front came through and dropped the temps from the 90s yesterday into the 70s today.  When I saw the forecast yesterday I knew that soup would work great for the menus today.  I soaked these large lima beans overnight and started them simmering in a big pot this morning.  I sifted through the results on a quick search and settled on this recipe to work with.  Turned out pretty good!  I departed from the recipe only slightly, using water and chicken seasoning paste instead of stock.  The teaspoon of Creole seasoning wasn’t something that I would have thought of for this dish but it worked nicely in there.  I went with a bacon and jalapeno corn bread using the recipe off the corn meal box and preheated the cast iron skillet to get that nice crust.  It spent 20 minutes in a 400 degree oven.

Friday Recipe Exchange: Goat Cheese Stuffed Chicken with Mushroom Risotto

DSC_8156 (1600x1060)

I’m neck deep in painting a porch glider before the weekend rains come, so this will be quick tonight. When JeffreyW posted the photo above, I knew I wanted to try the recipe, so it became the featured recipe tonight.

He also posted this delicious recipe this week: Moroccan Spicy Lamb Soup, pictures and recipe here.

And earlier this week, I made one of my favorite pasta dishes, Pasticcio, full dinner menu, recipes and shopping list here.

It’s meager offerings, so spice things up and share some of your favorite recipes in the comments. You know what I’m doing this weekend, what’s on your to-do list? And if I missed a recipe step in my haste, let me know in the comments and I’ll fix it.

For tonight’s featured recipe:

From JeffreyW:

I’m on a chicken recipe spree!  At least until I run out of chicken breasts, anyway.  This recipe from Emeril Lagasse looked pretty good, with the added bonus of  the side dish calling for the truffle oil that rounded out a recent online order I placed a while back and was looking for a place to use.

I didn’t have the proper arborio rice so I used the  jasmine variety that I do keep on hand and has worked for me before.  Instead of Parmesan I used fresh grated pecorino.  The mushrooms were the usual supermarket white buttons, nothing fancy.  I think I can take or leave the truffle oil, it not adding any particular enjoyment for me but I’ll wait a while and try it elsewhere before I make up my mind.

The goat cheese filling worked very well, every time I made a cut a little more oozed out and was quickly mopped up.  I used a lot more garlic than the recipe wanted.

Adapted from Emeril:

Goat Cheese Stuffed Chicken

  • 4 (6-ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
  • 3 ounces goat cheese
  • 2 teaspoons unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons minced chives
  • 1 teaspoon minced parsley leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon minced garlic
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon  cajun spice mix or Emeril’s Essence
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 teaspoons water
  • 1/4 cup clarified butter or vegetable oil
  • Mushroom Risotto, recipe follows, if desired
  • Julienned carrots, accompaniment, recipe follows
  • Chopped fresh parsley, garnish

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

With a chicken breast flat on a cutting board, using a sharp knife, about 1/3 of the way down the thick side, cut a deep pocket horizontally into the center of the meat about 3/4 of the way down, being careful not to cut through to the other side. (The pocket will be about 2 1/2 inches long and 1 1/2 to 2 inches deep.) Repeat with the remaining breasts. Wash hands well.

In a small bowl, mash together the goat cheese, butter, chives, parsley, thyme, lemon juice and garlic. Season with a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Divide into 4 equal pieces and form plugs to fit inside the chicken breasts. Insert 1 into each breast and press the edges of chicken meat to seal. Lightly season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

In a large shallow bowl, combine the flour and the Essence. In another bowl, beat the egg with the water.

One at a time, lightly dust the chicken on both sides with the flour, then dip in the egg, shaking to remove any excess. Place again in the flour and turn to completely coat, shaking to remove any excess. Set aside.

In a large, oven-proof skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and sear until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes on each side. Place the pan in the oven and bake until the chicken is cooked through, 7 to 10 minutes.

Remove from the oven. Arrange the risotto in the center of 4 plates and place the chicken to the side. Arrange the carrots along the bottom of the plates, and garnish with parsley. Serve immediately.

Mushroom Risotto

  • 5 to 6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped shallots
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 12 ounces assorted mushrooms washed, thinly sliced,
  • 2 cups arborio rice
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup fresh grated pecorino.
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons truffle oil, optional
  • 4 ounces prosciutto or Serrano ham, thinly sliced

In a medium saucepan, bring the stock to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce the heat to very low to keep hot.

In a large heavy saucepan, heat the oil and melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the shallots and garlic, and cook, stirring until fragrant and soft, about 3 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring, until wilted and their liquid is evaporated, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the rice and cook, stirring constantly, until the grains are opaque, about 1 minute. Stir in the thyme. Add the wine and cook, stirring, until nearly all evaporated. Add 3/4 cup of the stock, the salt, and pepper. Cook, stirring constantly, until the stock is nearly all evaporated. Continue adding more stock 1/2 cup at a time as the previous addition is nearly absorbed, until the rice is tender and the risotto is creamy, 18 to 20 minutes. Stir in cream, 1/2 cup of the cheese, and the parsley and mix well.

Remove from the heat and adjust the seasoning, to taste. If desired, stir in truffle oil to taste.

Serve immediately, topping each portion with a sprinkling of the remaining cheese and ham.

Moroccan Spicy Lamb Soup

DSC_8191 (1600x1060)We roasted a boneless leg of lamb for Easter dinner and had a lot leftover.  I remembered looking at recipes for lamb and thought they sounded pretty good so I did a search and ran across this recipe.  I used it as an ingredient guide for the proper amounts of the spices and kept with the spirit of the recipe although I made some additions and subtractions.  I did have some canned chickpeas, but no lentils of any sort so I left them out, as I did with the cilantro.

I used a can of San Marino tomatoes with their juices, roughly chopped, and added some garlic, orange and lemon zest, and a half teaspoon of Madras curry powder that has been lonely in the cupboard.  I dithered a bit on the pasta, thinking ditalini, but went with the pearl couscous.  I’m not a huge fan of the tri-color pastas but that’s all I had in the larger sized couscous.  It was very good.  We don’t often get out of the familiar spice “comfort zone” but I think we will try something like this again.


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