Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Silky Smooth Cream of Tomato Soup

It's been a stressful few days trying to get my daughters home for the holidays--flights to Portland cancelled, stuck in airports, re-routes to Seattle, car rentals and driving through the snow and ice and freezing rain--they finally made it to Roseburg late last night, two days later than planned. I had a batch of this soup waiting in the crockpot; the perfect accompaniment to a grilled cheese or chicken salad sandwich. This is nothing like the overly sweetened, high fructose corn syrup-laden, condensed tomato soup that comes in a can! If you've never had homemade cream of tomato soup, you're in for a treat.

1/4 cup (1/2 a stick) butter
1/4 cup flour
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups milk (I happen to have whole milk on hand for baking, but 1% or 2% works fine)
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme or basil (my home-canned tomato juice already has basil in it)
4 cups (1 quart jar) tomato juice or V-8 juice
salt and freshly ground pepper
heavy cream for garnishing (optional)

Melt the butter in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Stir in the flour with a wooden spoon or rubber scraper and blend into a smooth paste. Cooking, stirring constantly, for one or two minutes. Whisk in the broth, milk and thyme (or basil) and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Boil and stir for one minute. Whisk in the tomato or V-8 juice and heat through. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Garnish each bowlful with a drizzle of cream and swirl through with a spoon. Makes about 8 cups of soup.

If you are using home-canned tomato juice (which you must acidify with lemon juice) and you find the soup a bit tart, adding a pinch of sugar will balance the flavors.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Cherry-Hazelnut Granola

A lightly-sweetened granola featuring three fine Oregon foods: Dried Bing Cherries, Norm Lehne's hazelnuts, and local honey. I pitted and dried some Bing cherries I picked at Shady Lane Orchards last summer, but I also bought 60 lbs. of pitted Bing cherries from Hentze Family Farm in Junction City and dried about 40 lbs. of them. They are great for snacking and they make a flavorful addition to muffins, biscotti, oatmeal cookies and this granola. If you don't have dried cherries you can substitute dried cranberries.

I like to stir a big spoonful of this granola into a container of homemade yogurt for a quick breakfast.

This makes a big batch of granola. You will need two large cookies sheets with sides to bake it in. Of course, you can always cut the recipe in half.

1# 8 oz. rolled oats (8 cups) I like to use a mix of quick and regular oats.
5 oz. ( 1 cup) sunflower seeds
2 oz. (1 cup) wheat bran
2 oz. (scant 1/2 cup) sesame seeds
8 oz. (1 1/2 cups measured whole) coarsely chopped hazelnuts
8 oz. (about 1 cup) canola oil
8 to 12 oz. (about 3/4 cup to 1 cup) honey, depending on how sweet you want it.
8 oz. (2 cups) dried Bing cherries, snipped into bits with oiled kitchen shears

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Lightly oil the pans. Combine the oats, seeds, bran and nuts, mixing well. Stir together the oil and honey and add to oat mixture, coating everything well. Divide equally between the two pans. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes and rotating the pans, until the granola is golden brown. Watch it closely toward the end so you don't let it burn. Stir in the dried cherries and let cool completely. Store at room temperature in a tightly-sealed container. Makes a little over 4 lbs.

For gift-giving, scoop a generous amount into a cellophane bag and tie with raffia.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Update on Cocoa

Dark, minty chocolate grated on top of hot cocoa was the perfect way to warm up after heading out into the snow/slush/rain/mud to cut our Christmas tree today.

Friday, December 12, 2008

A Cup of Cocoa

Snow is on the way this weekend and nothing makes me feel cozy and warm like a steaming cup of hot cocoa. Not being a coffee-drinker, I fancy myself a "cocoa connoisseur" of sorts. Those little packets of powdered milk cocoa mix won't cut it around my house; it's got to be made from scratch. The ingredients are simple: good quality cocoa powder, sugar, and milk. Add a splash of vanilla extract or a spoonful of Torani flavoring to make it extra-special. Top it off with some real whipped cream and sit back and watch the snow fall!

For one incredibly good cup of hot cocoa:

In a cup or mug, combine 1 tablespoon sugar and 1 generous teaspoon cocoa powder*. Stir well until the cocoa is thoroughly blended with the sugar. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons Torani flavoring (I like Almond Roca or Hazelnut) and stir well into a smooth paste. If you don't have any flavoring, just use a tablespoon of milk. Add milk to fill the cup (whole milk is best, if you have it on hand, but I usually use 1%) and stir to combine. Microwave for about 1 minute and 35 seconds. Stir well again and top with a splash of cream or a dollop of whipped cream and if you really want to treat yourself, grate some dark chocolate on top. (Mini-marshmallows are reserved for the kids!)

*These amounts are for the standard teacup I usually use. If you're filling a big mug you will want to increase the sugar and cocoa.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Cakes to make you smile (or laugh out loud!)...

Okay, so I don't profess to be a professional cake decorator! But my children have always gotten a kick out of our homemade birthday cakes and often join in the fun of planning how to decorate them.

I'm heading to Splash!, the wave pool in Springfield, with a van full of ten-year old boys to celebrate my son's birthday, hence the Teddy Grahams swimming and floating in the water for this year's cake...

And from previous years, a castle with a fruit punch moat...

...a pirate ship

and a deserted island with a pretzel shack.

Have a good laugh on me!