White Bean Minestrone with Parmesan and Garlicky Croutons

Well, friends, I have been sick for over a week now. And I tell you what – I am sick and tired of being sick and tired! I’ve alternated between making comfort foods (like this tomato soup), snacking on whatever sounded good when I had no appetite, and ordering takeout on the days that cooking seemed an insurmountable task. Finally, I hauled myself to the grocery store on Sunday (my most sincere apologies to anyone who had to witness my sneezing, snotty, slightly-green-faced self), and loaded my cart up with all kinds of stuff to make a veggie-packed, comforting minestrone soup. I am not always much of a soup person, but a big bowl of soup filled with vegetables and pasta and lots of parmesan sounded like just the thing I needed.

White Bean Minestrone with Parmesan and Garlicky Croutons

Added bonus: it was pretty darn quick to make! So, about the time I felt the need to retire to my fainting couch for a rest, everything was in the pot and ready for a simmer. Excellent.

White Bean Minestrone with Parmesan and Garlicky Croutons
serves 4-6

5 slices of bacon, cut into 1/2″ pieces
3 medium carrots, peeled and diced small
1 large yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
15oz can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
two 15oz cans petite diced tomatoes, with liquid
1/2 lb green beans, trimmed and cut into 1″ pieces
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 3-4″ parmesan rind*
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp kosher salt (or more, to taste)
1/2 tsp black pepper
8oz small pasta, cooked until al dente
Croutons
Freshly grated parmesan

For the croutons:
one 3-4 oz ciabatta roll, cut into 1″ cubes
1 T olive oil
kosher salt
garlic powder

*Even if you are not in the habit of buying fresh chunks of parmesan, this soup would be a good reason to start. The rind of the parmesan adds a lot of flavor to the soup as it simmers, and it would be tough to pull comparable flavor from simply adding parmesan to the soup. As I go through parmesan, I just throw the rinds into a plastic ziploc bag, and keep them in the freezer for use later. If you don’t already have a rind waiting for you, just cut it off the fresh chunk of cheese you bring home from the store, and use it right away!

1.) Add the bacon pieces to a large, heavy-bottomed pot, and turn the heat to medium. Allow the bacon to cook until crisp, and then remove to a paper towel-lined plate with a slotted spoon. Drain off all but one tablespoon of the bacon grease.

2.) Add the carrots and onion to the pot, stirring to coat with the bacon grease. Season with a pinch of salt, and cook until softened, about 4-5 minutes. Add the garlic, and cook until fragrant, about one minute more.

3.) Pour the tomatoes and chicken stock into the pot, and bring the soup to a boil; immediately reduce to a simmer. Add the cannellini beans, green beans, parmesan rind, oregano, and pepper to the pot, and allow everything to simmer for about 15 minutes, until the green beans are bright green, and crisp-tender.

4.) While the soup simmers, make your croutons. Preheat your oven to 350°, and line a small baking sheet with foil. Pour the olive oil over the bread cubes, and toss until all the cubes are well coated. Sprinkle the croutons with the kosher salt and garlic powder, and bake until golden brown, about 10 minutes.

5.) When the soup is ready, spoon some pasta into the bottom of the bowls, and then ladle the soup over it. Top with some of the reserved bacon, croutons, and a sprinkle of freshly grated parmesan.

White Bean Minestrone with Parmesan and Garlicky Croutons

This soup covers a lot of bases: salty (parmesan and bacon), crispy (croutons), creamy (pasta and beans), and healthy (lots of veggies)! The crisp green beans lent a nice freshness to the soup, as well. One small side note: if you are planning to serve ALL of the soup immediately, you could add the pasta (already cooked) right into the soup a few minutes before serving, so it just warms through. However, if you’re planning on having leftovers, I find it’s best to keep the pasta separate from the soup, and just add it right before serving; that way, the pasta doesn’t get soggy and mushy from soaking in the soup.

Fingers crossed a few servings of this soup will kick the tail end of this illness,
Tina

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Ginger Pear Hand Pies

A couple weeks ago, a coworker of mine brought a GIANT bag of pears into the office. He has a huge pear tree in his yard, and it was producing so many pears that they couldn’t even begin to keep up with them all, and he didn’t want them to go to waste. So, lucky for me, I was able to take home a handful of beautiful, ripe pears, and make a fun dessert out of them!

Ginger Pear Hand Pies

The crust on these hand pies is unbelievably light and flaky, and the sweet pears and spicy ginger make for a great, balanced filling. They would be delicious topped with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream – but they’re great on their own, too!

Ginger Pear Hand Pies

Ginger Pear Hand Pies
makes about 12 mini pies

For the pastry:
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 sticks of salted butter, cold, cut into 1/2″ cubes
1/2 cup greek yogurt (2% or full fat)
1 T lemon juice
1/2 cup ice water

For the filling:
2 medium ripe, firm pears
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp butter
1/4 cup brown sugar

To top the pies:
one egg yolk
about 1 tablespoon water
turbinado sugar

1.) In a food processor*, add the flour, salt, and butter cubes. Pulse until the butter is just cut into the flour, and there are pea-size pieces of butter (about 4-5 pulses).

Hand Pie Pastry Dough

2.) In a small bowl, whisk together the greek yogurt, lemon juice, and water. Add 1/3 of this mixture to the food processor, then pulse twice; repeat two more times, until all the greek yogurt mixture has been added, and the dough has just come together (you want to keep the pulsing to a minimum, so as not to overwork the dough).

3.) Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and gently break it into two equally sized lumps; lightly pat each one so that it sticks together, and wrap them both in plastic wrap. Place them both in the fridge to chill for one hour.

Hand Pie Pastry Dough

4.) When the dough has chilled for an hour, lightly flour your countertop, and roll each ball of dough out to about a 1/8″ thickness. As you roll, be sure to lift and rotate the dough often, so that you don’t end up with your entire piece of dough completely stuck to the counter!

5.) Cut circles out of the dough, approximately 4.5″ in diameter (I used the lid from a plastic deli container to cut my dough). Place each piece of dough onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silpat liner. Reroll the scraps from both pieces of dough together, and cut more circles out. (I found my dough was warm and sticky by the time I cut the first round of circles out, so I refrigerated the scraps for another 20 minutes or so before rerolling). You should get about 12 circles out of the dough.

6.) Once all your dough circles are cut, place the baking sheets with the pastry on them in the fridge for another 30 minutes. Meanwhile, you’ll make your filling.

7.) Peel your pears, and cut them into a 1/2″ dice. Add the pears, grated ginger, butter, salt, and brown sugar to a small sauce pan, and place the pan over medium heat. Allow the mixture to cook for about 8 minutes, until the pears are slightly softened, but still crisp, and you have a somewhat syrupy sauce. Remove the pan from the heat.

Ginger Pear Hand Pies

8.) Remove your chilled dough from the fridge. Allow it to sit at room temp for about 3 minutes, until it’s just pliable. Place one heaping tablespoon of the pear mixture on one half of each pastry circle; use your finger or a pastry brush to brush some water around the edge of the pastry, then fold the other half over, and use a fork to crimp the edges shut.

9.) When all the hand pies are filled and crimped, place them back in the fridge for another 30 minutes. Preheat your oven to 375°. When the hand pies have chilled for 30 minutes and your oven is hot, remove the pies from the fridge; in a small bowl, whisk together your egg yolk and a little more than a tablespoon of water. Brush this egg wash over the tops of all the hand pies, then sprinkle with turbinado sugar.

Ginger Pear Hand Pies

10.) Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the pies are a nice golden brown. Allow the pies to cool for 5-10 minutes before serving.

*If you are not using a food processor, mix the flour and salt together; then cut the butter cubes into the flour with a pastry blender or two knives, until you have pea-sized pieces of butter. Add the greek yogurt mixture to the flour and butter mixture in three batches, mixing gently with a fork after each addition. Once all the greek yogurt mixture is added and mixed in, proceed with the recipe as written.

These hand pies are best served the day they’re made – however, they’ll keep for several days, in an airtight container at room temperature. If you want to reheat them for serving, put them on a baking sheet lined with parchment, and place the pies into a cold oven; turn the oven on to 350°. About 3-5 minutes after the oven has come up to temp, the pies will be warmed through, and nice and crisp.

I promise I’ll post something that’s not a dessert next week,
Tina

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies with Maple Cream Cheese Filling

This probably makes me a bad Pinterest/internet user, but I don’t think I’ve ever had a whoopie pie. They are EVERYWHERE on the internet, in hundreds of flavor combinations – there are even entire books written about whoopie pies! For some reason, I never felt compelled to give the whoopie pie trend a whirl, until this past weekend. I was making a couple kinds of chili for dinner with some friends, and I wanted a dessert that worked well with the fall feeling of chili and football – and pumpkin whoopie pies sounded like the perfect fit.

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies with Maple Cream Cheese Filling

For some reason, it didn’t occur to me that the cake part of a whoopie pie would be… cakey? I know, I know – Mensa is sure to be revoking my membership at any moment. Turns out a whoopie pie is basically like two cookie-shaped cupcakes, sandwiched together with frosting – making it infinitely easier and less messy to eat! Pretty genius, really.

These whoopie pies have a moist, heavily spiced pumpkin cake, and a sweet maple-y filling. As a bonus, they’re incredibly easy to make!

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies with Maple Cream Cheese Filling

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies with Maple Cream Cheese Filling
makes approximately 1 dozen whoopie pies

For the cakes:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 can (15 oz.) pumpkin puree
1 tablespoon molasses
1 egg
1/2 cup vegetable oil

For the filling:
8oz cream cheese, at room temp
1 stick of salted butter, at room temp
1 cup powdered sugar
2-3 tablespoons maple syrup

*For the cakes, it’s really helpful to have a cookie scoop (1 tablespoon size) with a release mechanism. This ensures that the cakes will be uniform in size and shape (which makes sandwiching them easier), and it also alleviates some of the messiness of working with a very soft cake batter.

1.) Preheat your oven to 350°. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg. In another bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, pumpkin, molasses, egg, and vegetable oil.

2.) Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, and whisk the two together until everything is evenly combined.

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies with Maple Cream Cheese Filling

3.) Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silpat liners. Use a 1 tablespoon cookie scoop to scoop the batter onto the sheets, leaving a few inches of space in between them. Bake the cakes, one sheet at a time, for about 12-15 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of one of the cakes comes out clean, and the top of the cake springs back when you touch it.

4.) While the cakes bake, make the filling. Add the cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar, and maple syrup to a bowl, and use a hand mixer or stand mixer (fitted with the paddle attachment) to beat the ingredients together until they’re well-combined, and the mixture is smooth.

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies with Maple Cream Cheese Filling

5.) Once the cakes are baked, and completely cooled, put the filling into a large ziploc bag. Cut one of the corners of the bag off, so you have about a 1/2″ opening, and pipe the filling onto the flat side of half of the cakes. Top the filling with the other half of the cakes.

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies with Maple Cream Cheese Filling

The whoopie pies will keep fairly well for a couple days, in a tightly covered container. I’d refrigerate them if you can, but they should be fine if you can’t. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t expect them to last long enough to need refrigeration!

Now I’m a little pissed that I didn’t pick up some apple cider to accompany these,
Tina

Bacon Corn Chowder

FINALLY, fall weather is upon us! We’ve had kind of a wonky summer up here in the Mitten – a few cooler-than-normal weekends in July and August, a lot of rain, and some weird, hotter-than-hell days where they shouldn’t have been. As an example, this past Wednesday. There is no reason in this world that Wednesday should have had a high of 95 degrees (with a heat index of about 100°), but it did, and it was kind of awful. Thankfully, the last couple days have brought some storms that have dragged in a cool front – and our high today is 61°! The temperatures are going to be in the low 40s tonight! (Maybe you think I’m nuts for being excited about that – but that is some perfect windows-open, blankets-piled-on-the-bed, my-face-is-so-cold-I-can’t-feel-it, sleeping weather.)

Anyways, the onset of chillier weather always makes me crave soup. A big bowl of soup and a Michigan football game is a perfect Saturday afternoon combination, if you ask me! In reality, I made this soup back in early August – when it should have been 100 degrees and humid, but it was 65° and pouring rain. Go figure!

Bacon Corn Chowder

This soup is nice and hearty, smoky and sweet, and delicious with some toasted, cheesy bread for dipping.

Bacon Corn Chowder
Makes 8-12 servings, depending on size

6 slices bacon, cut into 1/2″ pieces
1 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 medium russet potatoes (about 2lb) cut into 1/2″ dice
8 cobs of corn (about 3 cups of kernels)
4-6 cups of whole milk
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 T cornstarch
2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper

1.) Heat a large pot over medium heat. Cook the bacon until crisp, and remove it with a slotted spoon to a paper towel-lined plate. Pour off all but one tablespoon of the bacon grease.

2.) Add the onion and garlic, and sweat them until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes.

3.) Add the corn and potatoes to the pan, along with the salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes, and stir to combine everything. Pour the whole milk in, adding as much as you need to cover all the potatoes and corn (I used about 5 cups). Allow the soup to come up to a boil, and immediately reduce it to a simmer.

Bacon Corn Chowder

4.) Once the soup is simmering, whisk the cornstarch and a tablespoon of milk together in a small dish. Pour the slurry into the soup, and stir it in – this will help the soup thicken up a bit. Allow the soup to simmer for about 30 minutes until it’s slightly thickened, and the potatoes are cooked through.

5.) Taste the potatoes for seasoning – if a potato tastes a little bland, add more salt to taste. Add the bacon back into the pot just before serving.

Just because I like you guys, I’m going to offer you a little pro tip: check to be sure there is a shaker top on your bottle of red pepper flakes, before you shake it over the soup pot. If there’s NOT, you’re going to spend the next five minutes playing a little game called “Do You Think I Fished Enough Pepper Flakes Out Of The Soup, Or Will It Still Light Our Tongues On Fire?” And while that is certainly a way to pass some time on a rainy day, I can’t say I’d recommend it.

Bacon Corn Chowder

This soup would be a great way to kick off the fall season! It keeps well in the fridge for a few days, and I think it would hold up nicely in a crock pot, if you wanted to make it for a tailgate or something similar.

You know what else is a perfect fall food? Cider Mill Donut Bread Pudding!
Tina