Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Balsamic Black Bean Salsa

*Serves 6-8 as an appetizer

1 (15 ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed well
1 (15 ounce) can whole kernel corn, drained well
½ medium onion finely diced (about 1/3 cup)
½ cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
1 (7 oz.) can salsa verde (I used Mrs. Renfro's brand)
Juice of 1 lime
½ teaspoon cumin
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix all of the ingredients together in a medium bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let the salsa marinate for a few hours (or overnight before serving). Drain most of the liquid from the salsa before serving. Serve with tortilla chips.

My Favorite Sugar Cookies

from My Kitchen Cafe (

*Note: the baking temperature for this recipe may seem high but I believe it is one of the keys to success. The cookies still remain soft and light because they bake for such a short time (and they keep their shape really well!).

*Makes 2-3 dozen sugar cookies (about 2-3 inch size)

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) butter, softened to cool room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup powdered sugar
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 tablespoon lemon zest (from about 1 lemon)
5 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugars for 3-4 minutes, until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add vanilla extract, almond extract and lemon zest; mix. Add two cups flour, baking powder and salt. Mix. Add remaining flour and mix just until flour is incorporated and the dough is smooth and soft.

The dough can be wrapped in plastic wrap and kept in the refrigerator for up to a week or it can be rolled out right away. Dust a counter with powdered sugar or flour and roll the dough to desired thickness (I prefer my cookies on the thick side so I roll my dough out to about 1/4-inch, maybe even slightly thicker than that). Cut the dough into shapes. Place the cookies on a lined or lightly greased baking sheet. Bake for 7-8 minutes. The cookies won't appear browned on top (or on bottom) when they are done baking so don't let them overbake! I find 7 1/2 minutes is about perfect but if they are even lightly browned on bottom, I decrease the time by 30 seconds. I like them super soft with not even a hint of browned edges or bottom. This way they literally melt in my mouth.

Cool the cookies completely on a wire rack before frosting. The baked cookies (unfrosted) can be stored in a tupperware or ziploc bag in the freezer for up to a month. I also often freeze 1/2 of the sugar cookie dough when I don't have time or don't want to roll it out and cut shapes. I wrap the dough in plastic wrap and then stick it in a freezer-safe ziploc bag and freeze it for up to a month. I take it out the night before I want to roll it out and store it in the refrigerator to thaw (for about 12-15 hours). About 30 minutes before I want to use it, I let it sit on the counter to soften a bit and then I roll it out and cut out the cookies.

Whipped Cream Cheese Frosting

*Note: the key to success here is using really soft cream cheese and beating it with the powdered sugar until no lumps remain.

*Makes about 4 cups of frosting

1 (8 oz.) block cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream

In a large bowl, combine the softened cream cheese, powdered sugar, salt and vanilla. Mix until very smooth and light and no lumps remain. In a separate bowl, beat the cream to stiff peaks. Add the whipped cream to the cream cheese mixture. Mix until well combined and smooth. Store in the refrigerator for up to one week.

Cream Cheese Chicken and Vegetable Soup

from My Kitchen Cafe (

2 tablespoons butter
1 yellow onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 stalks celery, diced
1/2 cup diced carrots (about 2 regular carrots or a handful of baby carrots)
3 cups chicken broth
2-3 potatoes, peeled and finely diced (I like to leave the peels on red potatoes, if using them)
1 cup milk
4 tablespoons flour
1 (8 oz. package) regular or light cream cheese
2-3 (about 1 pound) boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cooked and diced

In a large pot, melt the butter and add the onion, garlic, celery and carrots. Saute, stirring often, for 3-4 minutes, until the veggies are slightly tender and the onions are translucent. Add the chicken broth and potatoes. Bring the soup to a simmer and cook, partially covered, until the potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes. In a liquid measuring cup, vigorously whisk the flour and milk together until smooth. Whisk the mixture into the soup, stirring quickly, and cook over medium heat for 3-4 minutes, until the soup begins to thicken slightly. Stir often to ensure the soup doesn't burn. Soften the cream cheese in the microwave until it is very soft/melty. I usually place the unwrapped cream cheese on a plate and microwave it for one minute at 30% power. I like it really, really soft so it doesn't leave lumps in the soup. Add the cream cheese to the soup in small tablespoon-size pieces. Let the pieces sit in the soup and warm through then whisk or stir the soup until the cream cheese melts and mixes in well. Add the cooked chicken and heat through. Season with salt and pepper. Serve.