Warm up with some hearty soup

The temperatures have steadily been dropping and today’s high didn’t get above 60º. I love hearty soups on chilly days. So here are two of my favorite soup recipes, they’re both fairly easy and they don’t require a lot of attention. You can leave them on the stove top or in the oven to cook, which leaves you to do other things like, rake leaves, pumpkin picking or watching some pee-wee football.

First on the the list is Split Pea soup. I like to use yellow split peas, for not reason really other than I like the color. Instead of ham or ham hock, I use chorizo picante. There’s several different types of chorizo, they vary in levels of spiciness and you can find raw or cured, aged varieties. For this soup, I’ve used a cured chorizo.

Split Pea Soup with Chorizo Picante, Green Onions and Serrano Chilies

Split Pea Soup with Chorizo Picante, Green Onions and Serrano Chilies

Split Pea Soup with Chorizo
1 lb dried split peas
1 cup chorizo picante diced
2 medium sized onion diced
2 cloves of garlic minced
2 large carrots diced
1 celery stock diced
1 jalapeño minced
3 quarts water, chicken or vegetable stock
salt and pepper to taste

To start, remove stones and debris from 1LB of split peas, rinse in cold water and let soak for 30 minutes. In a large dutch oven or stock pot over medium high heat, brown the chorizo. Add the vegetables and cook until the onions are translucent. Add the peas and water, turn the heat down to medium low and partially cover the pot with a lid. Simmer on medium low for 90 minutes. I usually will partially blend the soup with an immersion blender then I garnish the soup with a little chorizo and some scallions.

Next up, French Onion soup. Caramelizing onions can be time consuming and a bit of a chore. French Onion soup is normally a fairly time and labor intensive endeavor. Instead of caramelizing the onions on the stove top where they require quite a bit of attention, I’ll use the oven and add the onions in two batches. This reduces the amount of active cooking I have to do and it adds an additional textural quality to the onions. There’s a lot of onions in the recipe, so I’ll use a mandolin to make easy work of them.

French Onion Soup

French Onion Soup

French Onion Soup
5 Medium Sized Onions thinly sliced
2 Cloves of garlic crushed
2 TBS Butter
2 Quarts Beef Stock
½ Cup Brandy
a sprig each of rosemary and thyme
salt & pepper to taste
8oz. shredded Swiss, Emmentaler or Guyére Cheese
1 baguette

Preheat the oven to 350º, meanwhile in a deep sided dutch oven over medium high heat add the butter. When the butter bubbles, add half the onions and stir until the onions start to soften. Place the lid on the dutch oven and place in the oven and cook covered for 45 minutes. After 45 minutes, deglaze the pan with ½ cup of stock then add the remainder of the onions, garlic, rosemary and thyme. Cook for another 30-45 minutes, stirring periodically. Add the brandy and the remainder of the stock and cook for another hour. Remove the dutch oven from the oven and add salt and pepper to taste. Turn on the boiler and add soup into ramekins. Place a thin slice of bread on each ramekin and cover with cheese. Place under the boiler until the cheese browns. Enjoy.

Empanadas, pastel, hand pies, pasties or patties……..

Empanadas with picadillo and Jamaican Patties with curried beef.

Empanadas with picadillo and Jamaican Patties with curried beef.

It doesn’t matter what you call them, whether its empanadas, pasties, patties, hand pies or pastel. The various names for empanadas really depend on where you’re eating them. But essentially they’re all the same thing, packets of dough filled with either sweet or savory fillings that are baked or fried. Empanadas are designed for portability, they’re popular street food throughout the Caribbean and Latin America.

I find that just about any pie crust recipe can be used to make empanada dough. The key is to roll the chilled dough to ¼” thick. You can find empanada presses at kitchen supply stores. You can also use discos. They’re pre-made pre-rolled rounds of dough and come in two varieties, plain wheat and annato flavored. The annato variety are orange in color. The recipes below will easily fill 10 discos with 1TBS of filling each. They come frozen, so you’ll need to thaw them in the fridge for at least 24 hours before using them.


Jamaican Style Curried Beef
½ LB ground beef
1 finely minced scotch bonnet pepper (or whatever type of chili pepper you like)
4 cloves of garlic, finely minced
1 bunch of green onions finely chopped
3 TBS Jamaican Curry
salt and pepper to taste
1 package of thawed discos or pie dough of your choice.

In a food processor, blend all the ingredients together except the beef and set aside. In a large skillet, on mediam high, brown the ground beef. Once the beef has browned pour off the excess fat and add the veggie mix. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Put meat mixture into a bowl and let cool for about 30 minutes.

Place a tablespoon of meat into the center of the discos, brush the edge lightly with water. Fold the discos closed and crimp the edges with a fork. Turn over and crimp the edges with the fork. Bake at 350º for 15 minutes or until golden brown. I’ll usually flip these over about halfway through the cooking time. You can also fry them.

If you’re using an empanada press, place the dough into the press, there’s usually a depressed section in the center, fill that with meat, brush the edges with water or egg wash and press closed. Press the handles together firmly to seal the edges. Make sure that you don’t overfill them, or else they will not stay sealed during baking/frying.

½ LB ground beef
1 small sweet potato or yam diced into ¼” pieces
¼ cup raisins soaked in warm water
3 TBS Recaito (see note)
¼ cup green olives chopped
1 TBS capers (brine drained)
1 TBS cumin
1 envelope of sazon
2 tsp tomato paste
1 TBS Adobo or you can use ¼ tsp each, salt, ground black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder and ground oregano
1 10ct package of Goya Discos (thawed)

Soak the raisins in warm water for about 15 minutes, drain and set aside. Boil sweet potatoes in salted water until tender drain, rinse with cold water and set aside. Brown the beef in a large skillet until browned and drain off the excess fat. Add the sofrito and all the other ingredients, cook together for about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool for 30 minutes. Follow the steps listed above for filling the empanadas and cooking.

2 medium green bell or Cubanelle peppers, seeds removed
2 medium onions, peeled
1 head of garlic, peeled
1 bunch culantro or cilantro (if available) leaves
6 ajies dulces (small sweet chile peppers)

Chop and blend all the ingredients in a food processor or blender.

(Sazon, Adobo, and Recaito are available on the ethnic/international aisle of most grocery stores. Discos can be found in the freezer section of most grocery stores. Here in the NE I know that Wegman’s, Stop ‘n Shop and Shoprite all carry discos, sazon, adobo and recaito. Elsewhere, Safeway, HEB, Publix, Albertson’s and the commissaries on US Military bases carry them.)

Plum tart… or pie or whatever you wanna call it.

Tarts and pies are a nice way to enjoy seasonal fruits. Since plum season is winding to a close, what better way to enjoy them, than a plum tart? I’ve used this crust recipe with pretty good success, but use whatever crust recipe works for you or store bought. Yes, I did just suggest store bought pie crust. Commercial crust is usually pretty thick and tough, so you’ll need to roll it out so its thinner and more pliable.

You’ll need a smallish tart pan 8 or 9 inches in diameter. If you don’t have a tart pan, you can use a pie plate you’ll just need more fruit to fill the plate and the “pie” will take longer to bake.

Plum Tart Filling
6-8 plums cut into 1/2 inch wedges
dash of salt
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp corn starch
2 TBS lemon juice
Zest of half a lemon
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Line the bottom of the tart pan with the crust. Dock the crust and line with foil and then uncooked dry beans (don’t try to re-cook the beans they will never soften and be edible, but they’ll be great for blind baking crusts). Bake the crust ‘n beans in the oven for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and remove the foil with the beans and let the crust.

In a large mixing bowl, combine plums, salt, brown sugar, lemon zest and the ground cinnamon. Put the corn starch into a small cup and add the lemon juice, stir with a fork until the corn starch is broken up. You may have a few lumps but thats okay. Pour the corn starch mixture in with the plums and stir until the plums are well coated. Let the mixture set for about 30 minutes, so that the natural juices start to come out of the fruit.

Pour the filling mixture into the shell and bake fo 40 minutes at 350ºF.

You can top the tart with a crumb topping or use another crust and make lattice top. I brush the lattice crust with cream or milk and dust it with a little sugar before baking. If you notice the crust or crumb topping is browning too much, cover it with foil.

Crumb (Struesel) Topping
1/2 AP Flour
1/4 Brown Sugar
1/2 stick unsweetened butter (softened)

Combine in a small bowl and blend with a fork until its crumbly…

Cupcakes with Caramel Frosting and Cashew Brittle

I associate the rich flavor of caramel and nut brittles with Fall. So here’s a fairly quick brittle recipe that is a great topping for cakes, cupcakes, brownies or ice cream if you’re feeling decadent. Just use your favorite recipe for yellow cake and caramel frosting. My recipe for Cashew Brittle is below.

Cashew Brittle Recipe
5 TBS Unsalted Butter
1 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Cup Brown Sugar
1 tsp Light Corn Syrup
3/4 cup water
1 Cup Nuts
1/4 tsp baking soda
Cayenne Pepper to taste

Stir sugar, butter and 3/4 cup water in 3 quart saucepan over medium high heat just until sugar dissolves and butter melts. Cook without stirring 15 to 18 minutes until candy thermometer registers 280 degrees, soft crack stage.
Remove from heat; stir in baking soda and all nuts. Pour mixture immediately onto ungreased large cookie sheet; spread quickly into even layers about 1/2 inch thick. Cool completely about 30 minutes. Break cooled brittle into small chunks.

Bananas Foster

I prefer my bananas to be on the greener firmer side, so when they start to get too ripe, I’m not likely to eat one as a snack or a quick grab and go breakfast. The overly ripe bananas are ideal for banana bread, which I’ll cover in a future post, or caramelizing and using for topping on pancakes, ice cream or yogurt, or as an alternative to jelly on peanut butter sandwiches. If you add rum its bananas foster, if you leave out the rum its caramelized bananas.

Caramelized Bananas
1/2 a stick of butter
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
a dash of cinnamon
a dash of salt
1 oz. of dark rum or spiced rum (for Bananas Foster)
2 to 4 ripe bananas, cut in half lengthwise, then cut crosswise into 1/2″ pieces

In a non-stick skillet over medium high heat, melt the butter until it begins to bubble, add the salt, cinnamon and bananas. Cook the bananas for about 1 minute until they are heated through, stirring constantly. Add the brown sugar and cook until the sugar is melted. Again stirring constantly.

To make bananas foster, remove the skillet from the heat, and pour in the rum. CAUTION! NEVER, ever, ever add alcohol to pan that is directly on a burner or flame. Always move the pan off the heat. Your eyebrows will thank you.. Return the pan to the heat, and cook for another minute or two until the alcohol burns off. Don’t forget to stir….

Pumpkin bread pudding with a twist…

I was talking with some collegues over the weekend while we were enjoying some pumpkin flavored donut holes, it occured to me that leftover donut holes would make an awesome bread pudding. Bread pudding is a really easy to make, particularly for folks that find baking and all its precise measuring and special equipment too much of a bother.

Another great thing about bread pudding is that you can flavor it with a variety of different spices depending on the season or your mood. If you want chocolate bread pudding, substitute some chocolate milk for some of the half & half, or add in chocolate syrup and chocolate chips.

There’s 2 parts to bread pudding, the bread and then the custard that binds it all together. Day old bread works best because it tends to absorb more of the custard than fresher bread. For a decadently rich custard I usually use evaporated milk, half & half, sweetened condensed milk as the sugar, and whole eggs. The donuts are quite rich on their own so I’m using evaporated milk only. The glaze on the donuts and the sweetness of the dough itself, will make the pudding plenty sweet. The sweetened condensed milk might be a bit much here. So I suggest using 1/4 cup of brown sugar instead.

Pumpkin Donut (Bread) Pudding…
serves 4 to 8
2 Dozen day old assorted glazed and pumpkin do(ugh)nut holes, timbits, munchkins
whichever they’re called in your geographic area, cut in half
1 12 oz. can evaporated milk or equivilent in 1/2 & 1/2
2 whole eggs
1/4 brown sugar
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. each ground nutmeg, ground ginger and ground mace
1/2 cup pumpkin purée (preferably NOT pumpkin pie filling)

Preheat the oven to 350º F, rub the sides and bottom of a deep sided casserole dish with butter (this will make cleanup and serving a little bit easier) and set aside. Cut the donut holes in half, and place in the casserole dish. In a large mixing bowl, mix the eggs, brown sugar, spices, pumpkin purée, and evaporated milk until well incorporated. Pour the custard over the donut holes and let set until most of the custard has been absorbed into the donut holes.

Place the casserole dish into a roasting pan, make sure there’s at least an inch of space gap between the sides of the roasting pan and the casserole dish. Place the roasting pan on the top oven rack, then pour water into the roasting pan until it comes half way up the sides of the casserole. Bake in the oven for 60 minutes. Cover with aluminum foil if the top starts to brown too much.

CAUTION!!! Be very careful when moving the pan out of the oven. The water will literally be boiling hot. Make sure that pets and little people aren’t under foot.

If you cook the puddings in individual ramekins, you can cut the cooking time in half.

For a more traditional bread pudding
8 cups of cubed stale bread
4 whole eggs
1 12 oz. can of evaporated milk
1 can of sweetened condensed milk
1 tsp vanilla
a dash of salt
2 cups of half & half

Mix the custard ingredients together and pour over the cubed bread. Allow the custard to soak into the bread and bake as directed above.

Wonton three ways…

Homemade wontons with pork filling

Homemade wontons with pork filling

Wonton Filling
6 oz ground pork
1 TBS grated ginger
3 scallions finely chopped
1 TBS soy sauce
1/2 tsp five-spice powder
1/2 cup finely chopped napa cabbage
1 tsp corn starch

Add the corn starch to the soy sauce and blend with a fork then set aside. In the bowl of a food processor combine all the ingredients except the soy sauce corn starch mixture. Pulse until all the ingredients are combined. Add the soy sauce and corn starch and pulse until its incorporated. Chill the filling in the refrigerator for at least an hour.

Wonton wrappers are fairly easy to come by these days. Many grocery stores have them in their produce departments. Put about 1 tsp of filling in the center of the wont wrapper. Brush the edges with water and then fold. I bundle them up 6 at a time in wax paper and freeze them.

You can steam or boil them or fry them.

Fried Wonton with soy, chili and vinegar dipping sauce

Fried Wonton with soy, chili and vinegar dipping sauce

Fried Wonton with Dipping Sauce
I fry up a few of the freshly made wonton and serve them with a spicy dipping sauce

1/4 Rice Wine Vinegar
2 TBS Soy Sauce or Tamari
1 crushed clove of garlic
a dash of Sriracha or a 1/4 tsp of sambal oelek
a dash of chili oil
scallions and cilantro

Quick Wonton Soup

Quick Wonton Soup

Quick Wonton Soup
Serves 4

1 Quart Chicken or Vegetable broth
1 tsp chinese five spice powder
2 TBS Soy Sauce
2 Nickle sized coins of fresh ginger slightly crushed
2 Cloves Crushed Garlic
Scallions and cilantro for garnish

In a medium sized pot on medium heat, simmer the broth, soy, ginger, garlic and five spice together for about 10 minutes. Strain, out the garlic and ginger and raise the heat, bring the broth to a boil and add the frozen wonton. Cook until the wonton float. Serve in soup bowls and garnish with the scallions and cilantro.

Szechuan Wonton

Szechuan Style Wonton
1 TBS grated ginger
2 TBS finely minced garlic
4 scallions chopped
1 TBS Szechuan style chili bean paste
1 TBS Soy Sauce
1 minced serrono or thai chili
1/4 cup chicken stock
1 tsp Soy sauce
2 TBS Oil

In a small bowl add the chicken stock, soy sauce and corn starch together and mix with a fork until the corn starch is well incorporated and set aside. Heat a Wok or skillet on high heat and add oil. When oil starts to shimmer add the ginger, scallions and chilies. Be careful and do not stand too close to the stove. The steam coming up with be pungent and have a lot of the oil from the chilis in it. Stir the mixture constantly to keep from burning, add the garlic and chili paste and cook for about 2 minutes until the garlic is cooked through. Turn the heat down to medium and add the corn starch mixture. Add the wonton and let cook until the wonton are cooked through and the rawness is cooked out of the corn starch. Serve with rice.

Defrost a bundle or two of the frozen wonton in the fridge for a few hours before making. Boil the wonton in water for about 5 minutes or until they float remove from water and drain thoroughly and set aside.

Feeling chilly? Warm up with some football and some chili.


I look forward to Fall, not because I’m a big fan of Halloween or the trees changing colors. I like Fall because I feel like I now have the permission of the Weather/Season gods to stop eating salads and light grilled fare and can now eat heartier comfort foods like soups, stews, and roasts.

Chili is hearty, comforting, easy crowd-pleasing dish for entertaining because you can make it ahead or cook it in a slow cooker. It doesn’t require a lot of attention. Also, you can easily extend it to feed a good number of people by adding beans or serving with some kind of bread or chip.

I’ve found that chili is a good gateway to introduce folks to vegetarian food. I will typically use a combination of different beans in my chili as well as TVP (textured vegetable protein). You can buy TVP at health food stores and I know in my area both Wegman’s and Whole Foods have the powdered form in their bulk food section. I prefer to use MorningStar Farms® Meal Starters Grillers® Recipe Crumbles™ . Check for it in your grocery store’s freezer section or in their health food section.

The crumbles look like and are texturally similar to ground beef, this will lend a little familiarity and comfort to folks that are leery of vegetarian and meat-free dishes or have had a bad experience with tofu and tempeh. The crumbles come frozen and don’t require defrosting before cooking. They just need to be heated through. With the relatively short prep and cooking time, you can easily get a hearty meal on the table with minimal planning and effort.

Augment the “meat” with a couple of different types of beans and vegetables. I’m not a big fan of kidney beans so for something like a chili I’ll use a combination of different types like pinto, red beans, black beans or garbanzos. Each bean has its own unique texture and flavor. I like the contrast of texture that each bean lends to the chili. Use what you have on hand and your family likes. In addition to the usual chili ingredients like onions, garlic and peppers, I’ll also add vegetables like corn, red bell peppers, or zucchini, again its whatever you have and like. The version pictured above has corn, garbanzo beans and black beans.

I buy the small cans of beans, even though they are more expensive. I have less waste with a smaller can especially if I’m going to be using more than one kind. Canned beans tend to have quite a bit of sodium, so I’ll pour them into a strainer and rinse them in cold water before using. I also used canned chipotles in adobo sauce. Chipotles are fire roasted jalapeños. The roasted flavor from the chilies as well as the spicy adobo sauce lend a rich smokiness to the chili that typically would come from grilled meat. They can be fairly hot so use in moderation. I haven’t figured out how to make small amounts of chili, so this stores really well in the freezer it also makes for a great topping for nachos.

1 Yellow Onion Diced
1 Bell Pepper Diced
4 Garlic Cloves Crushed
1 Cup Frozen or Fresh Corn Kernals
2 cups of what ever type of beans you like
16 oz of Low Sodium Vegetable Stock/Broth
2 Chipotles chilies and 2 TBS of the Adobo sauce that they are canned with (optional) Add more chipotle if you like things really hot.
2 cups of MorningStar Farms® Meal Starters Grillers® Recipe Crumbles™ (optional)
1 15oz can of tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes
1 TBS Cracked Black Pepper
2 TBS Ground Cumin
2 TBS Chili Powder
Salt to taste
2 TBS Olive Oil

Heat the 2 TBS of oil in a large stock pot or dutch over over medium high heat. Add the onions, bell pepper and garlic and cook until the onions soften. Add the pepper, cumin and chili powder for about a minute then add the tomatoes. Turn the heat down to medium and cover and let simmer for about 10 minutes. Add the the remainder of the ingredients except the salt and cover and simmer until every thing is heated through.

Garnish with shredded cheese and green onions and serve with corn bread or corn chips.

Next up…a wonton three-way or rather, wontons three different ways.

The real breakfast of champions…after they’ve gone off their training diet

chilaquiles with fried egg, cilantro, scallions, and avocado.

chilaquiles with fried egg, cilantro, scallions, and avocado.

I love Latin American cuisines particularly Mexican food. One of my favorite dishes and one that’s a bit obscure here in the states is called Chilaquiles. Chilaquiles is a perfect dish for using up leftovers like chicken, salsa (I’ve included my green salsa recipe below) and corn tortillas. Its also a great dish for a buffet or brunch and can easily be extended by adding more tortillas and more vegetables.

The concept of chilaquiles is pretty simple, its just designed to be a filling dish to get you through the work day. It starts out with onions, chilies and garlic sautéed in a frying pan. Once the vegetables have softened add fried corn tortillas, they can be in the form of chips or leftover taco shells, whatever you have around. Add meat like shredded chicken or pork and then the salsa of your choice. Cook until the tortillas have softened up and the salsa is heated through.

Popular serving options are to top with cheese like cotija or queso fresco, crumbled feta is a good substitution for both, mexican crema which is similar to sour cream or creme fraiche, diced onions, cilantro, fried or scrambled eggs, and avocado slices.

1 medium onion diced
1 diced jalapeño (optional)
1 small can of diced green chilies (drained)
3 diced cloves of garlic
3/4 cup crushed tortilla chips per person
1/2 cup shredded meat per person
1 egg per person
1/2 cup cheese
3/4 cup salsa per person
salt and pepper to taste

In a large sauté pan over medium high heat, heat 1 TBS of cooking oil add the onions, garlic, jalapeños and green chilies and cook until the onions are soften. Then add the meat, tortillas and cook for 3 minutes until the meat is heated, add the salsa turn down to medium and simmer. In a separate pan, heat up 1 TBS of oil and cook the eggs. If you’re serving this for a lot of folks, I’d suggest scrambling the eggs and having them on the side.

Sam’s Salsa Verde
6 Large Tomatillos, peeled rinsed and cut into quarters
4 Jalapeños stems removed and cut in half
2 Medium onions peeled and cut into quarters
1 head of garlic, with the cloves peeled
2 limes (juiced)
1 bunch of cilantro
1 bunch of scallions greens and whites chopped
2 TBS olive oil
Salt to taste

Pre-heat the oven to 400Fº, place the tomatillos, jalapeños, onions and garlic on a foil lined cookie sheet and drizzle with the olive oil. Roast the veggies in the oven for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool for an hour. Once the veggies have cooled, blend all the ingredients in a blender until everything is incorporated.

There’s a similar dish called Migas that’s popular in the Southwest, its basically the same ingredients, but they’re all incorporated into scrambled eggs. I’ll cover that at some other time.