Pretty Party Meringues

Pretty much the only thing I ever want to do on New Year’s Eve is drink champagne and eat a pretty dessert at a friend’s house – preferably one I didn’t have to drive to. As luck would have it, that is exactly what I have been able to do for the last few years. It’s my across-the-street neighbors I have to thank for it. Ever since kids came into their lives they’ve been on the New Year’s at Home train and may God bless them for it. There’s always great drinking food (this year it was baked potatoes and chili), champagne, ping pong,  and a makeshift movie theater for the kids complete with sleeping bags and pillows so no one has to fork over a full month’s paycheck to pay for a babysitter. This year’s festivities included late night backyard karaoke. It’s definitely New Year’s when someone is singing American Pie (loudly) at 2 o’clock in the morning, someone else is being twirled into succulent wall decor, and it takes 20 minutes to travel the distance between next door neighbors. Well, it’s my kind of New Year’s anyway. You may have differing opinions, but no matter. Anyway, back to pretty desserts. I made these very festive little meringue bites for this year’s celebration and they were awesome. A little crispy, a little chewy, a little chocolaty, a little creamy, and a little hit of fruit. Also a little time consuming, but totally worth it. Don’t save them just for New Year’s though, a pretty dessert is necessary all through the year.
Meringues – makes 36 small shells
3 egg whites
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Whip egg whites in a stand mixer with a whisk attachment until frothy. (You can use a hand mixer, or just a whisk, if you prefer, but the stand mixer really does make it easier.) Add sugar and vanilla and whip until stiff peaks form. You want them really stiff so they will hold their shape while cooking.
Using a small spoon, scoop ping pong ball-sized mounds of egg whites onto a parchment lined cookie sheet. The meringues won’t spread while cooking so you can put them pretty close together. Using the back of a wet spoon, create a little well in the center of the mound.
Bake the meringues in a 225 degree oven for an hour and a half. They should be dry to the touch and come away from the parchment easily when done. Set aside (or seal in an airtight container for up to a day if you don’t want to do this all in 1 day).
Chocolate Filling
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1 cup powdered sugar
2-3 tablespoons cocoa powder
4-5 tablespoons milk
Place all ingredients into a medium bowl and mix well. I use a hand mixer for this job because I want it really smooth, but you can also use a whisk. Mix ingredients until completely combined and smooth. It should be the consistency of a not-so-thick frosting – think sour cream. And very, very smooth. If you need a touch more milk, add it by the teaspoon. Set aside when done.
Whipped Cream
1/2 pint heavy whipping cream
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Pour whipping cream into the bowl of a stand mixer. (As above, you can use a hand mixer or whisk, but the stand mixer is so easy.) Turn the mixer on low. Add sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time. Add vanilla. Turn up your mixer a few clicks and whip cream until firm peaks form. Don’t overmix it – you know what’ll happen. (Butter.)
Cooled meringues
Chocolate filling
Whipped cream
36 fresh raspberries
Handful of chocolate chips, briefly pulsed in a food processor
Lay out your cooled meringues on a pretty plate or platter. Using a small spoon (I’ve got leftover baby food spoons and they work great!), scoop a small amount of the chocolate filling into the wells of each meringues. Keep it off to one side for effect. Fill the other half of the well with a small spoonful of whipped cream. Place a raspberry on each meringue and dust with the processed chocolate chips. Serve the same day you make these and eat them all – they won’t keep well once assembled.
And that’s it! I know, it looks like a lot, but it’s really not hard at all and they are so fun and pretty and delicious and it’s always good to have a pretty little dessert idea tucked away in  your recipe box for a special occasion. Now you just need the party…

Savory Chicken Soup with Greens

Yesterday I found myself alone in my house with a tupperware of leftover chicken. The pretty pieces of sliced breast meat that just beg for a sandwich or salad had already been picked out so it was mostly the bits no one wants – wings, backs, you get the idea, but I refuse to let it go to waste. It’s perfectly good chicken! So, while my children were elsewhere in the neighborhood – honestly, the perks of your children having their best friends live 4 houses away are endless (playdates at your fingertips and no driving!) – I went to work on dinner. I knew what I wanted to do – soup. Rich, veggie-heavy chicken soup. This recipe evolves constantly, which is one of the things I love about it. If I don’t have onions, I skip them and add chopped fresh ginger instead. If I feel like doubling down on the mushrooms or substituting shrimp for the chicken, I do. And so should you. This particular version is a good place to start your experimenting. It’s fast, healthy, full of savory goodness, and it transforms those less attractive bits of last night’s chicken into something gorgeous. It’s a leftover miracle!
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 medium brown onion, thinly sliced into half moons
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Salt and pepper, to taste
3 medium carrots, peeled and sliced into thin disks
1 1/2 cups sliced mushrooms (any kind you like)
2 cups chopped, cooked chicken
32 ounces chicken stock
Soy sauce, to taste (start with 2-3 teaspoons)*
Squeeze of lemon
3 handfuls fresh spinach
12 ounces fresh rice noodles
Avocado garnish and Sriracha optional
Add oil, onion, garlic, salt and pepper to a large stock pot. Saute over medium heat until onions are brown and soft, approximately 10 minutes. Stir occasionally to avoid burning. Add carrots and mushrooms and saute another 8-10 minutes. Add chicken and cook 2-3 minutes. Add stock to the pot and simmer on medium-low heat at least 15 minutes.
At this point we’re going to start seasoning the soup so it’s a good time to taste it. Begin adding your soy sauce, 2-3 teaspoons to start, and a good squeeze of fresh lemon. Taste the soup again and adjust soy sauce, salt, pepper, and lemon to your liking.
When you are about 15 minutes from wanting to eat, add the spinach to the pot. It will look like a lot, but spinach cooks down a ton. Stir to combine, then let the soup simmer on medium heat for 10-12 minutes. Stir occasionally to make sure the spinach is getting down into the broth.
Meanwhile, bring a small pot of water to boil and cook your rice noodles (or regular noodles, whatever you want is totally fine. Regular ramen-style noodles would be good here) according to the package directions.
To serve: Place cooked noodles into a soup bowl and ladle hot soup over. Garnish with sliced avocado and Sriracha if desired.
Serves 4 generously with leftovers for lunch!
As an aside – not all rice noodles keep very well once cooked. The ones I use get very weird. I would suggest cooking only the amount of noodles you are going to eat and then cooking new noodles to go in your leftovers. Or just eat it without the noodles the next day, which is what I do. Anyway…
*Regarding soy sauce – I use Tamari Gluten Free Soy Sauce. That, with the use of rice noodles and gluten free chicken stock (Costco sells Organic Chicken Stock that is gluten free and tasty – of course, you could make your own stock, but that’s a whole other thing), makes this soup gluten free. Clearly, you don’t have to do it that way if you don’t want to, but I thought I’d let you know. Totally your call!