Cheddar-Beer Fondue Soup

>> Monday, November 25, 2013

Cheddar-Beer Fondue Soup

This recipe started out as something completely different: a potato-cheese soup with a bit of apple to brighten it up. Then I said, "Joe, can you invent a soup that tastes like a cheese fondue?"

Turns out, he can. And man, do we love fondue. Since the girls were little, restaurants like Fondue Stube and The Melting Pot were their favorite places to go for special occasions. And cheddar, beer, and homemade pretzel bread - what's a better combination for watching the Sunday football game?

Joe put together this soup by cooking classic cheese fondue dippers like potato, carrot, apple, and celery, while making the cheese sauce according to classic fondue prep techniques, then slowly stirring the cheese into the soup pot. This recipe comes together even quicker if you use Kraft's packets of shredded cheeses. We made a batch of pretzel bread for the side, and dipped it in as we ate. Swoon.

If we could have sent a big pot of this soup to the Chicago Bears yesterday, I'm sure they would've trounced the Rams. Next time we'll invite them all to dinner.


3 large russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1" dice
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
2 medium yellow onions, peeled and chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 large garlic clove, minced
4 cups chicken broth
1 large Granny Smith or other tart apple, peeled and cut into 1" dice
4 tbsp butter
1/4 cup flour
1 tsp dry mustard
1 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp white pepper
2 tsp salt
3 cups Kraft sharp cheddar, shredded
1 cup Kraft Swiss cheese, shredded
1 cup beer
1/2 cup white wine or sherry


In a large pot, add the potatoes, carrot, onion, celery, garlic, and chicken broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cover, and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the apple, then continue simmering, covered, until the vegetables are tender - about 20-30 minutes.

In a smaller saucepan, melt the butter. Slowly stir in the flour, spices, and seasoning, until the texture is creamy. Pour in the beer and sherry, and simmer until the alcohol is evaporated.

Strain the broth from the vegetables and return the vegetables to the soup pot. Cover the pot and keep the vegetables hot. Slowly stir the broth into the beer-flour mixture until it is creamy, about 10 minutes. Gradually add the cheeses, stirring constantly so the cheese melts and is incorporated into the broth.

Pour the cheese mixture over the vegetables and continue to heat over a low flame until heated through. Stir frequently, and be sure not to boil the soup, since this will cause the cheese to separate from the broth. This soup will keep all day in a slow cooker pot on warm heat, if you stir it occasionally.

If you'd like, garnish the soup bowls with thin slices of apple and a sprinkle of paprika.

Serves 4.


Apple-Cranberry-Currant Relish

>> Friday, November 22, 2013

Apple-Cranberry-Currant Relish

My friend Becky gets compliments and requests for this cranberry sauce every year, and with good reason. It's a perfect make-ahead chutney when you want something a little more sophisticated, but still enjoy those Norman Rockwell-like traditional flavors of tangy cranberry and sweet orange.

This Thanksgiving, we are celebrating at The Boy's parents' house, so that Jessie and Erich don't have to dash from our house to theirs to Jessie's dad's, and try to eat enough to be polite at each home. We love their family, and we're going to skip the jar of jellied cranberry and bring this instead.

We're also bringing this luscious pecan-orange sweet potato casserole. Happy holidays all!

Pecan orange sweet potato casserole


1 medium onion, cut into 1/2-inch-thick wedges
2/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup dry red wine
1 (12-ounce) bag fresh cranberries
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 tsp fresh ginger, grated
2 tsp curry powder
Juice and grated zest of 1 orange
1/3 cup dried currants (if you can't find currants, try dried cherries, or add more apple)


Place the onion, sugar, and wine in a medium saucepan, and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer 5 minutes.

Stir in the remaining ingredients, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer again. Crush the cranberries slightly with a spoon, then cook for 10 minutes. Serve at room temperature.

Make about 2 cups relish.


Risotto Milanese (Saffron Risotto)

>> Wednesday, November 20, 2013

cooking risotto to a creamy consistency

Joe taught me how to cook risotto, which is a much different technique than cooking rice. You put rice and water and seasonings into a pan and simmer it for 20 minutes or so, then fluff it up at the end. Risotto is cooked with small amounts of liquid stirred in here and there while the short fat grains become tender and creamy in the sauce.

This risotto with saffron (ground or in threads) is perhaps the most classic preparation. I intended to look up the reason why this recipe is called Milan-style and why it uses saffron and onion together. But Thursday I had a photo shoot on Chicago L trains and a French small plates cooking demonstration.

Commuter on the Skokie Swift
Commuter on the Skokie Swift

L train pulling into the Merchandise Mart stop
L train pulling into the Merchandise Mart stop

Waiting for the L, Chicago
Waiting for the L, Chicago

Train platform stairs, Chicago
Train platform stairs, Chicago

This weekend we cooked Thanksgiving casseroles to freeze for a busy holiday week, then made pretzel bread and cheddar-beer fondue soup (recipe to come). Sunday we were at church all morning, attended a meet & greet with our new pastor and had a long worship band rehearsal, then created a slide show of charities we helped for the Thrivent Chapter Board annual dinner that night, and came home late.

I'm not complaining a bit. I love this kind of busy - the kind with lots of good food and great company and a long rainy Saturday cooking companionably with my love. Actually, we're lucky this recipe was written this weekend at all. I bet the Milanese would love the risotto Joe cooked Friday night, though I still don't know why they prepare it this way.


3 tbsp butter
3 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup onion, minced
6 cups hot chicken broth
2 cups Arborio rice
1/4 tsp ground saffron
1 cup grated Romano cheese
2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped


Melt together the butter and oil at medium heat in a large saucepan. Add the onion and salt and saute until tender. Add the rice and saute until white and covered with oil, about 2 minutes.

Slowly stir in 1/2 cup broth, allowing the rice to start to absorb the broth and thicken it. Stir in the saffron.
Continue adding the hot broth 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly until the broth thickens before adding the next 1/2 cup. After 5 1/2 cups of broth are absorbed by the rice, taste for tenderness. If rice is still hard, continue stirring and add the rest of the liquid. The risotto is ready when the grains are tender on the outside with a small firm al dente core.

stirring broth into risotto

When the rice is ready, stir in half the Romano cheese and the parsley. Divide into 6 portions and top with the remaining cheese.

Serves 6.


Orange-Cranberry-Rosemary Muffins

>> Monday, November 18, 2013

Orange-Cranberry-Rosemary Muffins

Rosemary isn't the first ingredient you'd think of to put in muffins, right? Well, in this recipe, the fresh herb adds a little tang and zest without becoming too pine-y or overwhelming. It's a delicious addition.

I came across this recipe a few years ago when I was writing the herb section of my book
The Complete Guide to Food Preservation. When I started writing my next book, The Complete Guide to Growing Windowsill Plants, I put a pot of rosemary on a sunny windowsill. The next winter it was huge and bursting with pale lavender flowers that lasted until May.

Now that rosemary plant is a bush near a sunny window in my kitchen, and I can't use the branches fast enough to keep it decently trimmed. Rosemary is a wonderfully hardy houseplant for a sunny location; it handles neglect and drought well, and smells lovely every time you brush up against it.


2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
2/3 cup orange juice
½ cup milk
1/2 cup butter, melted and cooled
2 tablespoons orange zest
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary (can substitute dried)
1 cup dried cranberries, lightly chopped
2 tbsp orange zest, divided
3 tbsp powdered sugar
1 tbsp vanilla
1 tsp milk


Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly grease or line a 12-cup muffin tin.

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. In a smaller bowl, mix the egg, orange juice, milk, and melted butter until combined.

Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, until just combined. Fold in the rosemary, cranberries, and 1 tbsp of orange zest.

Spoon the batter into muffin cups, nearly to the top. Bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Stir together the powdered sugar, vanilla, milk, and the last tbsp of orange zest, and use this to frost the tops of the muffins as they cool.

Makes 12 muffins.


Black Bean Mango Salad with Shrimp

>> Friday, November 15, 2013

Black Bean Mango Salad with Shrimp

A few weeks ago, our friends John and Peg invited us over to dinner and a play down at the Goodman Theater in Chicago. John is a fabulous cook who was working on a tropical theme - this mango and black bean salad, chicken with mango, papaya, and coconut, and a dessert of chocolate ice cream balls coated in toasted coconut.

John peeled and deveined raw shrimp, marinated them in the lime juice, then grilled them before adding to the salad. We went a less expensive route with frozen precooked tiny shrimp, but if it's in your budget, I'd really recommend cooking the shrimp fresh for the best taste.


For the shrimp:

10-12 oz. cooked salad shrimp
1 tbsp fresh lime juice
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander seeds
Salt and pepper to taste

For the salad:

1 ripe mango
2 cups canned black beans, drained and rinsed
4 tbsp finely chopped mint
4 scallions, minced
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp fresh lime juice


Stir together the shrimp ingredients and let them marinade in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Peel the mango and cut into 1/2" pieces. Saute the shrimp for 2 minutes, then mix into the rest of the ingredients. Let set for 10-15 minutes before serving.

Serves 4.


Sriracha Sea Salt Sprinkle and Spicy Roasted Almonds

>> Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Sriracha Sea Salt Sprinkle

Last Christmas, we send bundles of herb blends to our family, including this Sriracha sea salt sprinkle, Joe's Rib Rub, and his Grillmaster's Blend. People are already clamoring for refills on all the bottles, and we're happy to make more!

The home smells wonderful while the Sriracha salt is drying. We keep a bottle of the seasoning right next to the stove because we add it to a lot of dishes that need just a little kick and a bit of salt at the same time: omelettes, roasted potatoes, corn on the cob, steamed veggies, and so on. It's also wonderful on popcorn, or one of our favorite snacks, roasted nuts.

Tuesday night our bible study group met at our place, so we were making snacks for people to nibble on while we studied the story of the wedding in Cana. We learned some pretty interesting things about Jewish marriage customs in the first century A.D. For example, men would ask their father's opinion on a woman he wanted to marry, before formally going to the woman's father to ask permission to marry her. When the father and the bride-to-be agreed, they made a covenant together, then the bridegroom would build a wedding chamber in his father's house for them to live.

When the place was ready, the man would do a mock kidnapping in which he and his friends would take the woman, her friends, and sisters on a parade through the street, laughing and joking and singing. Pretty festive, right? Once they got back to his father's house, they would have a seven-day party that ended with a huge feast. That's where the story of Jesus turning water into wine would have happened.

It sounds just as elaborate as weddings are today, or maybe even more so. I can't imagine having to plan a seven-day celebration! It's pretty likely they would have served almonds and sea salt at the feast as a Mideast food staple, so I will use that as my very awkward segue into two quick and delicious recipes.

Spicy Roasted Almonds

Sriracha Sea Salt Sprinkle

2 cups fine sea salt
1 cup Sriracha sauce
2 tbsp lemon pepper
2 tbsp dried oregano

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Stir together all ingredients and spread onto a baking pan. Bake slowly in the oven, stirring every 5-10 minutes, for about 30 minutes. Turn the oven down to 225, and continue baking and stirring for 30-60 minutes more, until the salt is completely dry.

If the salt is too coarse after it's fully dry, whirl it in a blender, food processor, or spice grinder until it is the consistency you like. Store in an airtight jar.

Makes 2 cups.

Spicy Roasted Almonds

12 oz unblanched whole almonds
4 tbsp butter
1/4 cup Sriracha sea salt (or more, to taste)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread out the almonds on a baking sheet. Melt the butter, then allow it to cool slightly, Stir in the Sriracha salt. Pour the mixture over the nuts and stir them so that they are completely coated.

Bake for 5 minutes, then stir the nuts and bake for about 5 more minutes. Take them out before they look completely browned and toasted; they will continue cooking for several minutes after you remove them from the oven. 

These are best if you make them a day ahead and let the spices develop. Store in a plastic bag or airtight container until ready to serve. These make great little gifts too, packed into plastic gift bags and tied with some pretty ribbon.


Pork Tenderloin with Date and Cilantro Relish

>> Monday, November 11, 2013

Pork Tenderloin with Date and Cilantro Relish

Bon Appetit has done it again. I'm not sure I would have put together dates, cilantro, and vinaigrette, but I'm so, so glad they did in the November issue. This juicy tenderloin is so full of flavor we literally paused, closed our eyes, and just savored for a minute. "This is amazing," Joe whispered.

Joe found a luscious loin rib roast for $1.49 a pound, and we cut it into several pieces to last a few meals. I don't know about you, but we don't find deals like this very often. The sweet/savory fruit relish was perfect; lush and flavorful and special enough for Christmas dinner. If you use a tenderloin, it's also quick to make, since the meat only needs to roast a short time to keep it tender and juicy.

Pork tenderloin rib roast


2/3 cup dates, finely chopped
3 tbsp orange juice
1 tsp sage
3 tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped, plus whole leaves for serving
3 tbsp olive oil, divided
1 1/2 lbs pork tenderloin
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tsp garlic powder


Whisk together dates, orange juice, sage, cilantro, and 2 tbsp olive oil. Set aside.

If you're cooking a tenderloin, heat the oven to 425 degrees. If you have a bigger, thicker rib roast, you'll want to cook it at 350 for a longer time.

Heat the last tbsp of oil in a large ovenproof skillet. Sprinkle the salt, pepper, and garlic all over the roast, then brown it on all sides - about 6 to 8 minutes. 

Pan roasting pork tenderloin

Place the skillet in the oven and roast the tenderloin at 425 degrees for about 15 minutes, or the pork roast at 350 for about an hour. The meat is done when a meat thermometer stuck in the center reads 140 degrees. Remove from oven and let it rest on a cutting board for 10 minutes.

Drain the oil from the pan drippings, then stir the drippings into the fruit relish mixture. Slice the pork, then spoon the date mixture over the top before serving.

Serves 4.


Fab Four Fall Desserts

>> Friday, November 8, 2013

Four fabulous fall desserts

There's something special about fall baking; warming up the oven, the luscious scents filling the house, and the satisfaction of a big platter of sweets. These four recipes combine some of our most favorite fall flavors...spices, pumpkin, apple, caramel, and pastry. And chocolate. And nuts. And sugar. Oh my.


1. Apple Cinnamon Sugar Cookie Bars, from Recipe Chatter

2. Acorn Treats, from The Hungry Housewives

3. Chocolate Pumpkin Brownies, from Recipe Girl

4. Salted Caramel Pear Tarts, from Vikalinka


Harvest Apple Kale Salad

>> Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Harvest Apple Kale Salad

Joe says he rarely thought about adding fruit to salads until we started cooking together, and he likes to call me the master at salad-making in our house. Of course, now that there are only two of us at home, that title is...well...oh heck, I'll just take the compliment.

Apples, apple cider vinaigrette, and a touch of cinnamon pulls together great tastes of fall on a pretty plate. If you don't feel like arranging the salad on individual plates, just toss it in a big bowl with the dressing before serving.

The person that gets the salad bowl last gets all the delicious heavy bits that fall to the bottom of the bowl, like the nuts and cheese. No, go ahead, take all the greens you want. Pass me the bowl after you're done.


For the Vinaigrette

3 tbsp apple cider
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

For the Salad

1/3 cup walnut pieces
1 large Honeycrisp or Jonathan apple
4 oz. Swiss cheese
3 cups kale, collard greens, or spinach
3 cups mesclun lettuce mix


Whisk together the vinaigrette ingredients and set it aside until ready to serve.

Heat a small frying pan at medium heat, then add the walnuts and toast them, shaking constantly, until they are golden and fragrant. Let them cool.

Core the apple and cut into thin slices. Cut the Swiss cheese into a small dice, about 1/4" square (you don't really have to measure this). Chop the kale or other greens, then mix with the lettuces. 

To assemble, put the greens on four plates, then arrange the apple slices in a pinwheel shape around the center. Sprinkle with the cheese and walnuts, then drizzle with the vinaigrette.

Serves 4.


Fried Sage Leaves (Salvia Fritta)

>> Monday, November 4, 2013

Fried Sage Leaves (Salvia Fritta)
Thanks to Lawrence Rice for capturing these luscious leaves. :)

Just as the last leaves fall and the first snows start, a sage bush in the herb garden is still pumping out leaves. That's probably why sage is such a traditional part of Thanksgiving seasonings. In Tuscany, we found that they're in love with sage, too. We swooned over a small side dish of fried sage leaves that accompanied a rosemary-scented porterhouse steak. Now we're fried-sage evangelists.

Sage is a powerful herb, but the light crust and quick frying transforms the leaves into a mellow crispy treat, kind of like a flavored potato chip. These are wonderful alongside any kind of meat, or as a good snack or appetizer. You might find yourself whipping up a batch to sprinkle over a vegetable or grain dish, too.

Actually, we have trouble getting them to the table, since we like to munch on them while we're putting the finishing touches on dinner. Yes, they're that good.


24 large fresh sage leaves
1 egg
2 tbsp water
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ tsp salt, plus more for sprinkling before serving
Vegetable oil for frying


Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Rinse the sage leaves and pat them dry with paper towels.

Whisk together the egg and water in a shallow bowl. In a plate, stir together the flour and salt. Layer a platter with paper towels to drain the cooked leaves. 

Pour about 1 inch of oil into a large frying pan and heat until a drop of water sizzles on contact. Working quickly in small batches, dip the leaves into the egg mixture, let the excess drain off, then dip them into the flour and shake off the excess. Drop them into the oil and cook until barely golden - do not let them brown, as this will make them taste bitter.

Drain the cooked leaves on the paper toweling, and set the platter in the oven to keep them warm while you finish the rest of the leaves. 

Sprinkle with salt before serving.


Chicken-Chorizo Tinga Poblana (Shredded Spicy Chicken)

>> Friday, November 1, 2013

Chicken-Chorizo Tinga Poblana (Shredded Spicy Chicken)

Chicken tinga poblana is a traditional way of simmering chicken with tomatoes, garlic, peppers, and herbs until it shreds into fabulously flavorful bits of tangy meat. We added just a bit of chorizo to the pot to pump up the flavor even more, but this dish is great without it.

It's also a perfect recipe for a slow cooker - just swap out the chicken thighs for sliced chicken breast, add all the ingredients at once, and let it cook all day.

Tinga is a long-time specialty of the Puebla, the south-central state along the curve of the Gulf of Mexico. Any kind of savory shredded meat works in this recipe - pork, beef, turkey, rabbit, fish. We use chicken thighs, stripped of skin and fat, because the meat has more flavor than breasts. Serve the meat in warmed corn or flour tortillas, over rice, or in tamales.


4 chicken thighs, skinned and fat removed
2 cups white onions, quartered
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp salt
1/2 lb Mexican chorizo, skinned and crumbled
1 15-oz can stewed tomatoes
1 tsp oregano
1 bay leaf
1/3 cup canned chiles in adobo sauce, chopped

To Serve

16 corn or flour tortillas, tostadas, or rice 
1/2 cup white onion, finely chopped
2 ripe avocados, peeled and diced


Place the chicken, onions, and garlic into a medium saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes. Drain and reserve all but 1 cup of the cooking liquid for another use. Pull the meat off the chicken and return to the saucepan with the onions and the 1 cup of broth.

In a frying pan, cook the chorizo until browned and crumbly. Add it to the pan with the chicken, then add all other ingredients to the pan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 15-20 minutes, until thickened and well blended.

Serve in tortillas and top with onion and avocado chunks.

Serves 6.

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