December 30, 2011

Black-Eyed Pea and Ham Soup with Collard Greens

black-eyed pea soup

It's time to usher in a New Year, yet again (I could have sworn I just celebrated this holiday...).  It really is true that the older you get, the faster the years fly by.  Surely, someone can figure out how to slow time, even a little bit?  Just wishful thinking...

little peas of luck

Anyways, this was Jon and I's first time ringing in the New Year together, so I thought it would be the perfect time to begin some new traditions.  Jon's mother shared with me a few months ago that every Christmas Eve, their family would come together to share a rich and delectable lobster bisque and toast one another with a glass (or three) of champagne.  I loved the idea so much that I thought Jon and I should pick up the tradition for New Year's Eve.

wash, remove stems and cut greens into ribbons

A few problems have since blossomed.  And as I'm sure you have now guessed, the lobster bisque didn't happen.  First of all, I needed a dish that required much less attention than a labor intensive lobster bisque, as I spent New Years weekend recovering from a respiratory infection.  Second, Jon and I have had to buckle down; we are hence forward following a strict budget.  Therefore, a 3 lb live lobster seemed a little impractical and much too frivolous.

hickory smoked ham

So I thought back to a tradition I grew up with, one that had its roots in the South- and you should all know that I'm utterly eager to make Jon as Southern as I possibly can.  My mother encouraged my family to eat a healthy serving of black eyed peas every New Year's Day growing up.  Whether the black eyed peas were canned, dried or frozen and served either in a dip, casserole or soup- no matter what form you ate them in, they were meant to bring you good luck during the upcoming year.

mashed and unmashed peas

Now, I've never really been a big fan of black eyed peas, but year after year I ate my share of them, because I could never afford to turn my cheek on the opportunity for a little extra luck.  2012 brings about the same predicament.  I'm in desperate need of little luck as I enter this new year, meaning that once again, I feel I can't abandon this old Southern tradition.  Hopefully this year's helping of black eyed peas will bring me enough luck that by this time next year, just maybe, I'll be able to have my lobster bisque... and eat it too.

black-eyed peas, ham and collard greens

Black-Eyed Pea and Ham Soup with Collard Greens
Recipe adapted from

16 oz bag dried black-eyed peas
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 1/2 medium sweet onions, diced
2 ribs celery, diced
1 large green bell pepper, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups chicken stock
2 cups water
8-10 oz cooked ham, shredded or diced
3/4 lb collard greens
2 small bay leaves
2 tsp herbs de provence
2 tsp red pepper flakes (or more to suite your taste)
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 tsp apple cider vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

1. Fill a large saucepan with 8 cups cold water.  Add black-eyed peas and set over medium to medium low heat.  Let simmer for 1 hour, but do not let it come to a boil.  Once black-eyed peas are tender, drain, reserving cooking liquid.  Set both liquid and black-eyed peas aside. 

2. In a 3-qt sauce pan or small stock pot, heat 2 tablespoons of butter and 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat.  Add onions, celery and bell pepper and saute until tender, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes.  Add garlic, season with salt and pepper and saute 2 minutes longer.

3. While onion mixture is cooking, remove and discard stems and center ribs from collard greens and cut leaves into 1-inch ribbons.  Add chicken stock, 2 cups of cooking liquid from black-eyed peas, 2 cups water, ham, collard greens, bay leaves, herbs de provence, red pepper flakes and thyme to onion mixture and simmer 20 minutes, until collard greens are tender.

4. Move a quarter of the black-eyed peas to a small bowl and mash with a fork.  Stir mashed black-eyed peas and another quarter of whole black-eyed peas into the soup.  (Reserve remaining black-eyed peas for another use).  Continue to simmer soup for 5 minutes.  Stir in cider vinegar and season soup to taste with salt and pepper.  Serve and enjoy!

Makes 8-10 servings

December 24, 2011

Christmas Croquembouche

Christmas Croquembouche

It happened again, just as it does every year.  No matter how down on my luck I might be, you can guarantee that I will be bitten by the Spirit of Christmas year after year.  I don't think anyone can help it, really.  As soon as December 1st arrives, that holiday magic bursts into the air, spreading the Christmas Spirit.  It's contagious and it spreads quickly too.  All it takes is a simple wave to your neighbor and the wish of a Happy Holiday or a (less politically correct) Merry Christmas.

the pâte à chou process

I've been sick with the holiday cheer now for about three weeks.  I thought I had a pretty bad case of it, that is until I got home, back to Dallas, to my parents house.  My mom brings Christmas to life.  The walls reverberate with the Spirit of Christmas.  The sheer amount of decorations in the house is astonishing, but it makes you feel so warm and cozy inside.  You almost expect Santa and his elves to pop out from behind the corner somewhere.  

ready to bake and chocolate ready to melt

The Christmas Spirit that lives inside my parent's house inspired me to go the extra mile with a Christmas dessert this year.  I wanted it to embody this time of year.  Now tell me, what represents Christmas more than a Christmas Croquembouche?  It even looks like a Christmas tree!  

poke, fill and dip cream puffs

I'm not going to lie.  It took pretty much all day to make.  Granted, I'd have to stop to make things look pretty and take pictures, but all in all it was rather time consuming.  I even used a less traditional method that involves a styrofoam cone base.  (A traditional croquembouche would be made purely of cream puffs, from the center out).  

assemble the croquembouche

If I was going to make this again, and I just might have to, because it does make for a stunning presentation, I would break up the work.  The cream puffs, which make up the majority of the work, could be made two days ahead, the pastry cream filling and chocolate sauce made 1 day ahead, leaving the assembly for the morning of a festive Christmas get together.  Hey, you could even buy frozen cream puffs, eliminating most of the work, and taking all the credit for yourself.  Just don't tell anyone I told you so.  Merry Christmas!

croquembouche, pretty as a package

Recipe Adapted from

For cream puffs (pâte à chou):
  • 1 1/4 cups water
  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into 1/2" pieces
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 6 large eggs
For pastry cream filling: 
  • 1 1/2 cups half and half
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 2 tbsp all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup heavy cream
For chocolate sauce:
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 9 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
Assorted decorations of your choice: fresh cranberries, red hots, red and green M&Ms, silver dragées

Special Equipment:
Large pastry bag with 1/2-inch and 1/4-inch plain tips
clear tape
14-inch styrofoam cone (I bought mine at Michael's)
parchment paper
lots of toothpicks


For cream puffs (pâte à chou):
1. Preheat oven to 425º F. 

2. To make the pâte à chou (French name for the dough used to make cream puffs), bring water in a heavy saucepan to a boil with butter and salt over high heat. Once boiling, reduce heat to medium-low. Add flour all at once and beat with a wooden spoon until mixture pulls away from sides of pan, forming a ball of dough.

3. Transfer dough to the bowl of a standing electric mixer and beat in 6 eggs, 1 at a time, on high speed, beating well after each addition. Pâte à chou batter should be stiff enough to hold soft peaks and fall softly from a spoon.

4. Butter and flour 2 baking sheets. Spoon pâte à chou into a large pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain tip and pipe about 55 mounds onto baking sheets, each about 1 1/2 inches in diameter, leaving 1 1/2 inches between mounds. With wet fingertips, gently smooth pointed tip of each mound to round puffs.

5. Bake puffs in upper and lower thirds of oven 10 minutes, switching position of sheets in oven halfway through baking. Reduce temperature to 400°F. and bake puffs 20 minutes more, or until puffed and golden, again, switching position of sheets in oven halfway through baking. Let puffs stand in turned-off oven 20 minutes. Transfer puffs to racks to cool. 

6. With a skewer, poke a 1/4-inch hole in bottom of each puff. Cream puffs may be made 2 days ahead and kept in an airtight container. Re-crisp puffs in 400°F oven 5 minutes and cool before filling. If making puffs ahead of time, wait to poke holes in each until after re-crisping and ready to assemble.

For Pastry Cream Filling:
1. Bring half and half to simmer in a heavy medium saucepan. Whisk sugar, eggs, egg yolk and sifted flour in a medium bowl to blend.

2. Gradually, and very slowly, whisk in hot half and half as to temper the egg mixture. Transfer mixture back into the saucepan. Whisk over medium-low heat until mixture thickens and comes to boil, about 5 minutes. Boil 1 minute. Pour into another medium sized bowl. Stir in vanilla. Press plastic onto surface of pastry cream. Cover and chill until cold, about 4 hours. (The pastry cream can be made up to this point 1 day ahead. Keep chilled.)

3. On the day your croquembouche will be assembled, place chilled pastry cream base into the bowl of a standing electric mixer. Beat pastry cream until just smooth and soft enough to fold in heavy cream (do not overbeat).

4. In a chilled bowl with cleaned beaters, beat heavy cream until it holds soft peaks. Fold whipped cream into pastry cream. Chill filling, covered, about 1 hour, or until cold.

For chocolate sauce:
1. Bring heavy cream to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Remove from heat and add chopped chocolate; stir until chocolate is melted and smooth. Cool sauce until lukewarm. (Sauce can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. When ready to assemble croquembouche, rewarm over low heat until just lukewarm and pourable, stirring frequently.)

To assemble the croquembouche:
1. To fill the cream puffs, transfer pastry cream filling to a large pastry bag fitted with a 1/4-inch plain tip. Insert the tip into the hole in the bottom of each cream puff and barely fill each puff (do not overfill). Set filled puffs aside.

2. Using tape, cover styrofoam cone with parchment paper. Double tape to secure the bottom of cone to a serving platter.

3. Line a tray with wax paper. Working with 1 filled cream puff at a time, dip bottom in chocolate sauce, leaving top 1/3 inch uncoated and letting excess drip off. Set aside on wax paper.

4. Once cream puffs are dipped, arrange 1 ring of puffs around base of cone, placing as closely together as possible and inserting a toothpick through each puff into cone, so as to attach puff to cone. Push toothpick as far into cone as possible.

5. Attach second ring of puffs above first, again packing tightly and staggering so puffs in second ring are not directly above puffs in first ring. Continue in same manner to attach remaining puffs. Finish covering cone with 1 puff attached to the top of cone.

6. Decorate by pushing cranberries, M&Ms, red hots or dragées into the gaps and spaces between the cream puffs.

7. To serve croquembouche, dismantle, 1 puff at a time and enjoy!

December 18, 2011

Vegetarian Wonton Soup

tofu wonton soup

Have I mentioned how much Jon and I like to eat?  Surely, I have.  Because sometimes it feels like that's all we do.  Whether it's snaking, cooking or eating out, the two of us do more than our fair share of consuming.  The upside?  We have a lot of fun doing it.  The foodie in me always knew I would need to end up with someone who loved to eat and try new foods as much as I did.

vegetable broth

Jon is a very adventurous eater.  He has helped me expand my food horizons immensely.  I've ventured out and learned to like oysters, mussels and clams thanks to him (Jon is a lover of seafood).  But we've also had many foodie firsts as a couple.  Whilst pushing aside the thought of what a certain food might actually entail, together we have tried bone marrow, sweetbreads (the thymus glands of veal, young beef, pork or lamb), foie gras and just last week, tongue tacos.  Yep, it's been a lot of fun.

sautéed tofu

The downside of our gluttony?  We've put on a combined weight of about 20 pounds in the four months that we've lived together.  Interestingly enough, the two of us are also very active people.  With winter setting in, however, mountain biking and hiking are becoming less likely weekend activities, while snuggling by the fire in front of the TV has become increasingly more common.  More accurately, snuggling in front of the TV with a glass of wine in one hand and something edible in the other.  Hence, the 20 pounds.

wonton filling

I think it's fairly easy to guess what Jon and I's New Years resolutions will be this year.  Not only is the idea to shed that extra weight, but we would also like to introduce more vegetarian based meals into our diet.  Vegetarian meals can be just as satisfying, hearty and delicious as those loaded with meat (perhaps, with the exception of a bloody ribeye...).  The added bonus: a diet with more veggie filled meals is not only more friendly on the waistline, it's much kinder to your bank account as well.

spoon filling, fold over and pinch corners

So, in the spirit of "practice makes perfect", I thought it wouldn't hurt to test out some vegetarian recipes a little early this year.  Don't get me wrong, Jon and I have yet to break our bad eating habits.  I mean, who can really stick to a strict diet around this time of year anyways?  But, as soon as that clock strikes midnight, you can bet that Jon and I are going meat free.  Well, at least two days a week that is.

wonton soup

Vegetarian Wonton Soup
Recipe by Karlie Kiser

For the stock-
8 oz onions, coarsely chopped
4 oz leeks, outer layer peeled off and coarsely chopped
8 oz carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
6 oz celery, coarsely chopped
½ bunch parsley
5 cloves garlic, peeled
2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
5 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp black peppercorns
6-8 cups cold water

For the wontons-
8 oz firm tofu
1 ½ tbsp low sodium soy sauce
1 tsp rice vinegar
½ tsp sesame oil
2 tsp chili garlic sauce (available in the Asian food section of most supermarkets)
1 egg
2 scallions, minced (both white and green ends)
1 ½-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup carrots, julienned then minced
¼ cup water chestnuts, minced
½ jalapeno, seeded and minced
½ tsp Kosher salt
¼ tsp black pepper
About 25 wonton wrappers

For the soup-
1 lb baby bok choy, leaves halved lengthwise, then sliced crosswise
6 oz shitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
½ cup water chestnuts
2 oz baby spinach
2 scallions, thinly sliced

1. Place all ingredients for the stock, with the exception of water, in a 6 qt. stockpot. Add cold water to cover contents by 1 inch, about 6-8 cups and simmer over medium heat 45 minutes to 1 hour; do not let stock come to a boil. Skim off and discard any impurities or foam that rise and settle on the surface.

2. While the stock is cooking, heat a skillet over medium heat, spray with non-stick spray and crumble the tofu into the pan. Add soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil and chili garlic sauce, stir and sauté for about 2 minutes. Remove pan from heat, scrape tofu into a large bowl and set aside to cool.

3. Once the tofu is cool enough to handle, add the egg, scallions, ginger, garlic, carrots, water chestnuts, jalapeno, salt and pepper. Mix together with your hands until just combined.

4. Put 1 wonton wrapper on a work surface (keep remaining wrappers covered with plastic wrap). Spoon a rounded teaspoon of filling in center of square, then brush water around the wonton’s edges. Lift 2 opposite corners together to form a triangle and enclose filling, pressing edges firmly around mound of filling to eliminate air pockets and seal. Moisten opposite corners of long side. Bring moistened corners toward each other and pinch together. Make the remaining wontons in the same manner, repeating the process until the tofu mixture is gone.

5. Once the stock has finished cooking, stir in the bok choy, mushrooms and water chestnuts and season the broth with salt and pepper; continue to simmer for 3-4 minutes, until the bok choy is crisp-tender. Add the spinach, sliced scallions and wontons and simmer, gently stirring, for another 3 minutes. Serve and enjoy!

Makes 6-8 servings

December 7, 2011

Perfect Popovers with Strawberry Butter

perfect popovers

Somehow, someway, the holiday season is already in full swing.  I feel like it was just summer time, as if I was just running errands in flip flops and out walking Dexter in shorts and a tank top.  Come to think of it, I was just wearing flip flops and tank tops.  I live in Arizona now, after all.  Unseasonably warm weather aside, December crept up on me this year.  2011 in general has been a whirlwind, but these last few months in particular have flown by.  I know that Christmas morning will be here before I know it, which means I better get a move on my Christmas shopping.

the popover process

As much as I like buying the perfect gift for a loved one, I'd rather make someone's face light up through the perfect holiday meal instead.  Cooking in my kitchen, glass of wine in hand, is simply more enjoyable, as far as I'm concerned, than fighting the crowds at the mall during this time of year.

ready for the oven

Growing up, my family spent Christmas Eve celebrating with several other families.  Each family provided a certain dish of either ham, dips, appetizers or a simple dessert.  The idea was to mix and mingle and munch.  Every Christmas morning my mom would make breakfast burritos and cinnamon rolls, keeping the food simple so that she could spend as much time with my brother and I, helping us set up and play with our new toys Santa had so lovingly left beneath the tree.

popovers high as the sky

As I get older, I am starting to think about the traditions I want to eventually instill in my family.  Do I want to go the way of a Christmas feast, complete with a roasted rack of lamb, or do I want to follow in my mother's footsteps, providing an uncomplicated, yet heart warming menu.  Knowing myself, I'll probably do a little bit of both.  But there is one item I know I'll include.  It has that impressive quality that I typically like to showcase, but it's also deceptively simple to make.  Enter the popover.

my own personal dishwasher

I can always count on popovers to induce "oohing and ahhing" from my guests.  Not only are popover's sky high heights a sight to behold, but they are also airy, eggy and simply delicious.  I usually serve popovers with a side of honey butter.  This time around, however, I thought I'd try something a little different, strawberry butter.  Boy, am I glad I did.  This butter helps popovers make the move from  simple side to main event, tasty enough to be served up as dessert.

eggy, airy popover

Popovers with Strawberry Butter
Recipe Adapted from Neiman Marcus via

3 1/2 cups whole milk
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
6 large eggs, at room temperature
Strawberry Butter (recipe follows)
* special equipment: nonstick popover pan

1. Place milk in a bowl or glass measuring cup and microwave for two minutes or until warm to the touch.  Set aside.

2. Sift flour, salt and baking powder together into a large bowl.  Crack eggs into the bowl of a stand mixer.  Using the whisk attachment, whisk on medium speed for about 3 minutes, until foamy.  Turn mixer speed down to low and gradually add the warm milk.  Next, gradually add the flour mixture and beat for 2 minutes.  Let the batter rest at room temperature for 1 hour. 

3. Preheat oven to 450º F.  Spray popever pan generously with nonstick spray.  Fill each well almost to the top with batter and place the popover pan on a cookie sheet.  Transfer to the oven and bake for 15 minutes.  Turn the heat down to 375º F and continue to bake for 10 minutes longer, until the popovers are deep golden brown.  Remove pan from oven, pop out the popovers and let cool on a wire rack.  Serve hot with Strawberry Butter. 

* There will be extra batter left over.  Just set aside and use once the first batch of popovers are finished.

Makes approximately 18 popovers

strawberry butter

Strawberry Butter

3/4 cup butter (1 1/2 sticks), at room temperature
1/2 cup good quality strawberry preserves

1. Place butter in a medium sized bowl and beat with an electric mixture until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add the strawberry preserves and continue to beat until fluffy, about 2 more minutes.