Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Cookies

Merry Christmas from the Munoz's!

Well, the big day is just about here.  If you haven't finished your wrapping, or even your shopping, the clock it is a ticking... loudly!  I finished the last of my shopping yesterday afternoon, which is actually fairly late for me.  I usually like to be done a week or so in advance, but I decided to pick up some things from wine country at the last minute, so I made an impromptu trip up to Napa yesterday morning.  I stopped at Starbucks to get a Gingerbread Latte before I got on the freeway, tuned the radio to the Christmas music station and sailed up there in record time.  I was in and out of my destination in 5 minutes and I hit the road back home within an hour of originally leaving my house.  Not Bad!  Then the traffic grinch decided that I was too full of Christmas good cheer and sent me 3 hours of traffic to wade through on my way home.  Bah Humbug!

Thankfully, once I eventually made it home to my house, which is all dressed up in it's holiday finest, my Christmas spirit returned pretty quickly.  Time to being on Christmas-  The presents are bought, the gifts are wrapped and my holiday baking is done!

I was a baking machine this year.  I tried 4 new cookie recipes, in addition to my Chocolate Chip & Cherry Cookies, which I make regularly.  It was a non-stop parade of goodies coming out of my tiny oven, all made in my tiny kitchen.  Normally I don't mind having a small kitchen, with only about 4 sq feet of counter space, but this year, wow I really could have used a little more room.  There were cooling racks on every flat surface, and containers of cookies stacked everywhere.  I found all 4 new recipes on and three out of the four were awesome.  The mini New York style Black & White's were a lot of work to make, and nothing to write home about after all that work.  They will be scratched off the list for future baking.  The biscotti, toffee bars & chocolate peppermint crinkles were great though, and will be back next year for sure.  The links to the recipes are below, along with the recipe for my Dark Chocolate & Cherry Chunk cookies.  These are your basic chocolate chip cookies, but use dark chocolate chips & dried cherries instead of the regular semi-sweet chips & walnuts.  Yum!

Dark Chocolate & Cherry Chunk Cookies
1 Cup (2 sticks) of butter, softened
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 6 oz bag of dried cherries
1 12 oz bag of Ghiradelli 60% cacao bittersweet chocolate chips

  1. Beat Butter & Sugars.  Preheat the oven to 350 deg.  In a stand mixer beat the butter on medium-high until it's soft & fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Add in both sugars and continue to beat for another 5 minutes.
  2. Add in the Eggs & Vanilla.  Add the eggs in, one at a time, beating the batter until the egg is well incorporated before adding in the next one.  Beat in the vanilla.
  3. Add the Dry Ingredients.  Turn the mixer down to low and add in the salt & baking soda.  Then add in the flour, a cup at a time.  Make sure the flour is all incorporated before you add in more.
  4. Add the Chips & Cherries.  Once the dough is well mixed, add in the chips & cherries and stir for a minute or so, until they are well mixed in to the batter.
  5. Bake.  Drop the dough by the tablespoonful onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and bake for about 9 minutes.
  6. Enjoy!  Let the cookies cool on a wire rack for a few minutes.  They go great with a glass of cold milk!

I hope everyone has a very Merry Christmas and a Happy 2011!  I am heading home to New Jersey for the holidays, so there will be nothing cooking at the Munoz's for the next week or so.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Split Pea Soup with Kale & Andouille Sausage

If you've been following this blog since it's start, a mere month or two ago, you are probably starting to notice that we like soup in this house, a lot.  When the weather turns cold and the winter rain starts here in the Bay Area, soup becomes a weekly staple in our house.  Actually, we eat quite a bit of it in the spring, summer and fall too.  There is just something about a bowl of delicious soup that makes you feel good.  Cold soup, hot soup, it doesn't matter, soup is just plain good for the soul.  Pancho and I are avid Top Chef fans, and we've noticed that anytime someone makes a soup, they almost always end up winning that challenge.  So it's not just us, it appears that every one goes nuts for a good soup.

Tomato soup has always been my favorite.  Throw a grilled cheese sandwich on the side and I am instantly transported back to the winter weekends of my childhood, when after a morning spent playing in the snow my mom would make us grilled cheese & tomato soup before sending us back out to enjoy the winter wonderland that is New Jersey in winter.  It was awesome then, and still one of my favorite weekend lunches, even though there is no snow to be found where I now live in California.  I make a killer roasted tomato & red pepper soup that has reigned supreme at the top of my favorite soup list for quite a while, that is until this past fall, when I came across a little split pea soup recipe in Bon Appetit.

I've always liked split pea soup, and this recipe seemed simple enough, so I figured I would try it out.  There weren't many ingredients, it took like 30 minutes to make, and the recipe was so straight-forward I didn't really tweak it at all.  When it was done, it smelled pretty darn good, and looked delicious.  My husband and I sat down with a bowl of it for dinner and... it was fantastic.  So, so good.  My roasted tomato soup was dethroned, I had a new favorite.  Since discovering it in early fall I've probably made it a half dozen times and Pancho and I are still in love with it.  It's got kale & andouille sausage in it, 2 twists on the traditional recipe which give this soup great flavor and texture.  I've started keeping dried split peas in the house at all times, along with Aidell's Andouille Sausage in the freezer, so that I can make this soup at a moments notice.  Luckily we eat a lot of greens around here too, so I always seem to have some kale or mustard greens in the fridge.  That's basically it for ingredients- split peas, andouille sausage, kale & chicken broth.  So simple to make, really inexpensive, and crazy delicious.  The judges on Top Chef are right, a delicious soup is a winner!

Split Pea Soup with Kale & Andouille Sausage
1 16-ounce bag dried green split peas
1 package Aidell's Andouille Sausage
8 cups (or more) chicken broth
5 bay leaves
4 to 5 cups chopped kale (chopped into thin strips)
Salt & Pepper

  1. Cook the Split Peas with the Sausage.  Combine the split peas, the whole sausage links, 8 cups of chicken broth, and the bay leaves in a large heavy pot. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring often. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer until the peas are tender, 30 to 35 minutes.
  2. Take out the Sausage & Cut Up.  Once the peas are done, remove the sausage links from the soup and place on a cutting board.  Careful, they will be very hot.  Cut the links lengthwise in half, then crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick half-rounds.
  3. Puree the Soup.  Remove the Bay Leaves from the soup and puree using an immersion blender.  If you don't have an immersion blender you can use a regular blender.  Puree the soup one cup at a time in your blender, and then return the pureed soup to the original pot.
  4. Add the Sausage and Greens.   Add the sliced sausage half-rounds back in to the soup pot and then add in the thinly sliced greens.  If the soup is really thick you can add more broth to thin it out to the consistency you like.  Simmer the soup until the greens soften, 3 to 4 minutes. Season with a little salt and pepper.
  5. Serve!  Serve pipping hot with some thick crusty bread or with some croutons sprinkled on top.  Prepare for people to want seconds, it's crazy delicious. is home to the Original Recipe.  it is recopied here, almost exactly.  There are only two things I do differently- I take out the Bay Leaves before I puree the soup and rather than using a traditional blender to puree it, I just use my immersion blender right in the soup pot.  Much faster & easier than transferring to a blender and then returning the soup to the original pot, and less clean-up afterwards.  I've mentioned it before, but if you don't have an immersion blender, put one on your list for Santa this year.  It's one of the kitchen tools I just couldn't live without.

Bon Appetit!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Turkey Sausage & Kale Stuffed Shells

It's been a rainy rainy weekend here in Northern California but despite the weather, we had a fantastic weekend.  A lazy Saturday morning and afternoon at home, a holiday party Saturday night with great friends, an early morning matinee to see Tron, Legacy in 3-D this morning, and then a stop at the local outdoor mall to finish up the Christmas shopping this afternoon.  We got caught out in the rain at the outdoor mall, so by the time we got home, around 2pm, we were soaked and pretty chilled.  A roaring fire in the fireplace was definitely in order, and for dinner, comfort food was definitely going to be on the menu.

For me, Italian casseroles are the epitome of comfort food.  Lasagne, Baked Ziti, Stuffed Shells, these are the dishes I grew up eating and when I crave comfort food, these dishes are what I want.  Stuffed Shells are probably my favorite of all.  The traditional version is stuffed with cheese, and more cheese.  I fill mine with veggies and spicy turkey sausage, and just a little cheese.  Whole Wheat pasta shells and a quick home-made spicy tomato sauce finish the dish.  Just as delicious as the original, but a little less guilt inducing on the nutritional scale.  I like to use kale for the stuffing, but spinach works too and I use reduced fat ricotta and mozzarella cheese to help keep the dish on the lighter side.

Turkey Sausage & Kale Stuffed Shells
Olive Oil
1 pkg Spicy Turkey Sausage
1/2 red onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large portabella mushroom cap, diced into small pieces
1 bunch of kale, roughly chopped
Salt & Pepper
1 15oz container Ricotta Cheese
1 & 1/2 cups grated mozzarella
1 box jumbo shells

Tomato Sauce
Olive Oil
7-8 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 red onion, finely diced\
Salt & Pepper
1 to 2 Tbsps dried oregano
1tsp red pepper flakes
2 or 3 bay leaves
1 cup red wine (Any dry red will work, Cabernet is a good choice)
1 28oz can of crushed tomatoes
1 15oz can tomato sauce
Fresh Basil, finely chopped

  1. Make the Sauce.  In a large saucepan sauté the onions in a little olive oil over medium heat for about 5 minutes.  Add in the garlic and continue to cook for another minute.  Season with salt & pepper, then add the oregano, bay leaves and hot pepper flakes.  Stir for a minute or two, turn the heat up to high and add in the red wine.  Continue cooking over high heat until the wine has been reduced by about two-thirds.  Turn the heat down to medium-low, add in the crushed tomatoes and tomato sauce, and let sauce simmer, covered, while you make the filling and cook the noodles.
  2. Cook the Turkey Sausage.  If the turkey sausage came in links, remove the casings and cook the sausage in a large skillet over medium high heat.  Once the sausage is browned, drain the sausage and set aside.
  3. Cook the Veggies.  Wipe the excess grease out of the skillet the sausage was cooked in, add a little olive oil, and cook the onions over medium heat for a few minutes.  Add in the minced garlic and mushrooms, season with some salt & pepper and continue to cook until mushrooms and onions have softened.  Add in the kale and continue to cook over medium low heat until the kale has cooked down, stirring occasionally.  Once the kale has cooked down , remove the veggie mixture from the heat and transfer them to a large mixing bowl.  Let cool.
  4. Cook the Pasta.  Cook an entire box of jumbo shells according to the package directions.  I like to use whole wheat shells, but regular ones work just as well.  Once they are done, transfer to a colander and run under cold water to prevent them from sticking together.  Drain the shells really well.
  5. Make the Filling.  Once the kale, onion & mushroom mixture has cooled, add in the browned sausage, the container of ricotta cheese and a cup of shredded mozzarella.  Stir well.
  6. Stuff the shells.  Stuff each cooked pasta shell with a couple tablespoons of the kale & sausage mixture. 
  7. Finish the sauce and build the casserole.  Preheat the oven to 350 F.  Remove the lid from the tomato sauce and stir in the basil.  Remove the sauce from the heat.  Cover the bottom of a 9 x 13 casserole dish with some of the sauce and then fill the dish with the a single layer of the stuffed shells.  One box of shells should fill one 9 x 13 casserole dish.  Pour additional sauce over the top of the shells.  Sprinkle 1/2 cup of grated mozzarella cheese over the top and then bake the casserole for about 35 to 40 minutes.
  8. Serve!  When the casserole is done, take it out of the oven and let it sit for about 5 minutes, then serve the shells with the remaining tomato sauce on the side.
Bon Appetit!

Oh, and if you are wondering what we thought of Tron, Legacy, well, it was Awesome.  With a Capital A.  We loved it.  Amazing to look at, and a pretty good story for a SciFi movie.  It's certainly not an Academy Award contender, but, it is a great sci-fi adventure that sucks you in to it's world for 2 hours, and well worth the extra bucks to see it in 3-D.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Spicy Black Bean Soup

I studied Equine Science in College, which was basically a way for me to hang out in a barn and still go to school.  I grew up riding horses, and being a horse nut, so when I found out there were actual programs at real universities devoted to the 4 legged creatures I was obsessed with, it sounded like a dream come true.  What I didn't learn until I got there was that the Equine Science program, at least at Colorado State University where I ended up going to school (Go Rams!), was part of a larger Agriculture Department, and, that I would be required to take several "meat science" classes, in addition to all the horse related stuff.

Meat Science classes were not something I had signed up for.  To this day I wish I couldn't look into a field of cattle and name the breed I am looking at, and I really wish I couldn't tell you how to slaughter those same steers.  I wish I didn't know how to "estimate" the degree of marbling and amount of back fat on a cute little lamb, and what that lamb looks like underneath it's fluffy coat & skin.  I would pay good money, no, GREAT money, to forget the smell of a large working pig farm.  I have serious issues with factory farmed poultry- Poultry Science may have been the most disturbing class I ever took, and I took some disturbing classes, including one called Live Animal & Carcass Evaluation, or, "Alive & Dead" as we affectionately called it.  That class didn't even come close to Poultry Science.  For years after I finished with school I was a vegetarian.

The lure of the humble burger eventually pulled me back into the meat-eating world, there really is nothing quite like a big, juicy, hot off the grill cheeseburger.  I think it might qualify as my favorite food.  I eventually made my peace with what I know about the meat industry, and now I make consumer choices I can live with- about where I buy my meat and from whom. I share all this with you because while I am still quite content to eat vegetarian meals on a very regular basis my husband is not.  I am always trying to find meat-free options that he will like and will satisfy my conscience.  I know I've mentioned it before, but he thinks dinner without some sort of cooked animal is just not dinner.  I once tried to pass off a portabella mushroom as a "burger".  After just one bite the gig was up and he wanted to know where the burger was.

I have found one thing that he will eat for dinner without caring that there are no animals involved- Spicy Black Bean Soup.  It's one of the most simple soups to make, it's rich & delicious, and incredibly healthy, plus meat free.  Since it was raining off and on all day today, a hearty soup was the perfect choice for dinner.  I chopped up some avocado, along with a little swirl of non-fat greek yogurt to top it off and had a yummy vegetarian dinner that even my carnivorous husband loved.

Spicy Black Bean Soup
Olive Oil
2 15oz cans black beans (undrained)
1 10oz can diced tomatoes with chilies (like Ro-Tel)
1 red pepper, diced
1 green pepper, diced
1 onion, diced
7 to 8 cloves of garlic, minced
1 to 2 Tbsps cumin
1  to 2 tsp chipotle powder
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 avocado, cut into chunks
Greek Yogurt or Sour Cream

  1. Saute the Veggies.  Heat up some olive oil over medium heat in a large, heavy bottom pot.  Add in the onions and cook for about 5 minutes.  Add in the garlic and cook for another minute.  Add the green & red peppers, season with salt & pepper and continue to cook until the veggies have all softened, about 5 to 10 minutes.
  2. Add the Beans, Tomatoes and Spices.  Add the 2 cans of black beans and the can of diced tomatoes with chilies to the soup pot.  Add the cumin & chipotle powder.  We really like the flavor of cumin, so I tend to add a lot of that.  We like the soup medium spicy, so I generally add only about a tsp of chipotle powder.
  3. Add the Chicken Broth and Puree.  Add a cup of the chicken broth and let the soup simmer, covered, over medium low heat for about 15 minutes.  Remove the pot from the heat and using an immersion blender puree the soup until smooth.  If you don't have an immersion blender, well. just get one, they are the best.  But seriously, if you don't have an immersion blender you can puree the soup in a food processor or regular blender, it's just much faster and easier to do it right in the soup pot with an immersion blender.  Add up to an additional 1/2 cup of chicken broth, if desired, to thin out the soup after it's been pureed.
  4. Serve!  I chop up a fresh avocado to serve in the soup, and add a dollop of fat-free greek yogurt, which is my standard substitution for sour cream.  For a Latin twist on Grill Cheese & Tomato Soup, serve the Black Bean Soup with a cheese quesadilla on the side! 

Monday, December 6, 2010

Grilled Pork Chops with Burst Tomatoes

It turns out keeping up with a blog is no easy task, especially during the holiday season.  My original goal was to update the site about twice a week, and I was doing an OK job up until Thanksgiving, but since then I haven't had a chance to add anything.  But, Thanksgiving is over, the house is decorated for Christmas and Hanukkah (We are an interfaith household), my holiday shopping is mostly done and work has slowed down to a manageable pace.  Time to get back to writing & cooking!

I hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving.  We had a fantastic 4 days.  Spent Turkey day with our family and spent the day after Thanksgiving with our good friends, creating what I hope is a new, long standing tradition- the Leftover Feast.  We all packed up the leftovers from our respective Thanksgiving dinners, carted them over to our friend Julie's house and heated everything up for a repeat of the big meal- this time with the family that gets made from your group of close friends.  It was an awesome night, lots of laughs & wine, a few games of some friendly poker and delicious food.  Plus, it was a great way to use up a good portion of the Thanksgiving leftovers.  I ended up with just enough leftover turkey to make nachos one night for a quick dinner.  The weekend after Thanksgiving we headed down to Paso Robles to see some more friends and explore the wine country down there.  It was 4 days of good friends, good food & good wine.  It doesn't get much better than that.  

This was our first visit to the Paso Robles wine country and we didn't know quite what to expect.  Turns out they make some absolutely delicious wine down there.  Mostly all reds, and mostly of the Rhone varietals.  No big California Cabernets, not a Pinot Noir to be found, but some of the best Syrahs and GSM's (Grenache, Syrah & Mourvédre) we have had in a while.  We ended up picking up quite a few bottles to add to our collection.

Tonight seemed like a good night to open one of those new bottles, so I needed to make something that would go well with a Syrah, and was quick to make.  I had some thin cut pork chops in the fridge and some cherry tomatoes, add in some broccoli for a veggie side and dinner was set.  I've been making this pork dish for quite a while and it's always a favorite, plus, it's pretty cheap to make & takes literally no time to make.  You just throw the pork chops on the grill and while they are cooking you sauté some shallots & cherry tomatoes until the tomatoes burst & release their juices.  Then add a dash of balsamic vinegar to the tomatoes and onions and you've got a delicious topping for the pork chops. You can use whatever type of Pork Chop you like- bone in, boneless, thin cut or thick cut it really doesn't matter.  The tomatoes work well with any variety of chop.

Grilled Pork Chops with Burst Tomatoes
2 to 4 Pork Chops
Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper
1 pint size container small sweet tomatoes, washed clean but left whole
1 large shallot, halved & then sliced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 Tbsp Balsamic Vinegar
  1. Prepare and Grill the Pork Chops.  Season the pork chops on both sides with Salt & Pepper and brush with a little olive oil. Heat your grill, or grill pan, up to medium high and grill the chops until cooked through.  We like ours medium, about 6 minutes a side.
  2. Sauté the Onions & Tomatoes.  While the pork chops are on the grill, cook the shallots in a little bit of olive oil, in a medium sized sauté pan over medium heat, until just starting to soften, about 5 minutes.  Add in the garlic and cook for another minute.  Add in the tomatoes, season with salt & pepper and cook over medium high heat until the tomatoes start to burst.  Add in the balsamic vinegar and stir for a minute or so then remove from heat.
  3. Serve!  Place a grilled pork chop on a plate and put a couple spoonfuls of the tomato & shallot mixture over the chop.  Tonight I served some roasted broccoli on the side.  And the wine?  We opened a 2006 Linne Calodo Sandbagger, it was delicious!
Bon Appetit!