ALL the Go-Tos…AKA Showering Sasha.

Just a few weeks ago, I wrote about the epic bridal shower my mom threw for one of her BFF’s daughters.  She made lobster paella and smoked salmon canapes.  We drank champagne and rose.  I left home feeling happy, full, and totally in awe.

So, it was sort of a hubris-filled idea to host a bridal shower for one of my BFFs this past weekend.  You will note from the picture below what was not on the menu: lobster paella or smoked salmon canapes.  (Obvi on the champagne and rose, though).

IMG_3833For everyone’s benefit (and so that I’d actually have something to feed 15 people), I stuck to some tried and true standards.  These are truly the go-tos in our house: I realized as I was posting this that every single item is something I’ve already posted about here.  Which tells you I’m either really uncreative, or just totally confident in these recipes.  Probably both.

(I think) it turned out beautifully.  And most important, my friend Sasha seemed really touched.

IMG_3844 I hope everyone went home happy and full.  Unfortunately, I was already home, which means I was also in charge of cleaning up.

Good thing I had lots of leftover champagne and rose.  And basil vodka lemonade.  (Main idea: create a basil-infused simple syrup by boiling 1 part water, 1 part sugar and 1 big handful basil.  Add to lemonade, another handful basil and a big old splash of vodka.  Start showering/TPing the bride/asking the embarrassing “how well do you know your future spouse” questions.)

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Roasted Vegetable Soup

A week after roasting about 5 pounds of root vegetables, we’re finally finishing them off, much to the Husband’s delight.  I snuck roasted veggies in salads, on tarts, into a bowl of macaroni and cheese, and finally, into this soup.

Husband is so delighted, in fact, that he volunteered to go to the grocery store tonight after work.  If I understood anything about how odds are calculated, I would put a numeric figure here; since I don’t, I will just say that odds are very high we will not be eating vegetarian tonight.

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Roasted Vegetable Soup

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 2-3 cups roasted vegetables (our mix included parsnips, carrots, butternut squash, sweet potato, onion, fennel)
  • salt & pepper
  • fresh sage (about 4 leaves) and fresh thyme (leaves from about 6-8 stems)
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 2-3 cups veggie or chicken stock
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • optional toppings: green onions, sage, sour cream, pistachios, etc.
  1. In a large Dutch oven, melt the butter over medium heat.  Add garlic and cook for a minute or two.  Add vegetables and season with salt and pepper.  Add the fresh herbs and cook for about 3-5 minutes.
  2. Add the white wine to deglaze the bottom of the pan.  Cook off the alcohol (2-3 minutes) and add the stock.  Turn down the heat, cover the pot, and simmer for about 10 minutes.  (Note: this is an ideal time to get cornbread going! Recipe here.)
  3. Working in small batches in a blender/food processor OR with your awesome immersion blender, blend the stock, veggies and herbs together.  Add stock, as needed, for desired consistency. Season, if needed.
  4. Remove from heat and add the cream, mixing thoroughly.  Serve immediately with desired toppings…and with cornbread, of course!

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The Verdict:

While I debated the merit of posting a recipe that sounds a little too familiar (I did say that there were about 1001 variations on our favorite butternut squash soup), ultimately, I decided this was dinner chez nous last night, so I might as well.  (The real risk is probably in trying to make the Husband eat more roasted veggies.)  In the meantime, this is delicious, filling and makes tons of leftovers – using 100% ingredients that were already in my fridge.  Score for frost living.

Old faithful: Unbelievably Good Chili.

I think almost anyone who spends any time in the kitchen has at least one or two “go-to” meals.  This is the meal you cook without ever consulting a recipe book, the meal you prepare when you know you need it to turn out well.  My “old faithful” is decidedly low brow, but simple to make, healthy, and (dare I say), delicious.  It’s chili.

This recipe is adapted – but still largely based – on my very first cookbook.  On a last minute trip to BJ’s Wholesale club the week before I went to college for the first time, my mom bought me The Complete Idiot’s Guide to 20-Minute Meals.  This book, with its step by step instructions, reliance on simple ingredients, and helpful hints, first convinced me that I could make something edible.  More than ten years later, this cookbook’s pages are falling out; they’re splashed with food stains; they’re dog-eared.  The book naturally opens to page 117 – the page marked “Unbelievably Good Chili.”

I will never get rid of it.

Varina’s Go-to Chili

  • 1 large can diced tomatoes (you can buy with chilis in them to spice it up!)
  • 1 lb ground beef (lean and mean!)
  • 1 can refried beans (non-fat works perfectly – this is the secret ingredient!)
  • 1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • Large red onion, sliced/diced
  • Olive oil
  • Jalapeno or poblano pepper, diced
  • 1 can corn, drained and rinsed
  • Chili powder
  • Crushed red pepper flakes
  • Cumin
  • Salt and pepper
  • Feel free to twist it up – I like to add – tomato paste, green peppers, other types of beans
  • Toppings: Sour cream, cilantro, green onions, cheddar cheese, raw onions etc.
  1. In a large dutch oven or pot over medium-high heat, cook the onions down in olive oil until they’re translucent. Pop in a dash of salt and pepper.
  2. Brown the meat in the onions – making sure not to burn the meat. Especially if the meat is super lean (healthy as possible!), make sure it crumbles all the way (otherwise it gets clumps together and is pretty tasteless.)
  3. Add the diced tomatoes, corn, kidney beans and then the refried beans. Mix it all the way through. (Note: if you’re using tomato paste, put that in first so it has time to develop flavor).
  4. Cook down for about 15-20 minutes.  (This is a good time to get your cornbread going!)
  5. I like to add the jalapenos/poblanos/chopped green pepper with a few minutes to go before serving time, so they retain a bit of crunch.
  6. Add spices – a good handful of chili powder, about half a handful cumin. Salt and pepper to taste. Mix it up and let cook through another couple minutes.
  7. Serve with toppings!
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deliciousness in a bowl.

Doctored cornbread muffins

  • 1 box Jiffy cornbread mix
  • one egg
  • splash milk (use slightly less than the back of the box calls for, to make up for the moisture in the creamed corn)
  • can creamed corn
  • diced jalapeno
  1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  Line a muffin tray with paper liners (Tip: if you spray them lightly with non-stick spray, your cornbread won’t stick to the liner when it’s done.)
  2. Mix all of your ingredients together in a small bowl and pour into the muffin tins, until each cup is about 2/3 full.
  3. Bake for about 15-20 minutes.
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pink liners courtesy of my sister…

The Verdict:

See title of blog post.  Enough said!

(No, seriously.  And the bonus is, you can generally make this from ingredients you can keep for a long, long time – ground beef in the freezer, cans of beans/corn/tomatoes in the cabinet.  The fresh ingredients are an added bonus, but don’t make or break the dish.  And it makes a TON of leftovers, if you’re feeding only two people.)