Friday, February 28, 2014

The Pioneer Woman Wannabe: Sloppy Joes

I think my mom secretly works for The Pioneer Woman. She's managed to not only introduce myself, my 3-year old, and my brother's girlfriend to Ree Drummond but make us obsessed with her. Ok, that happened on it's own after we started watching the show, but still. From not having heard of her before, suddenly we're buying her books, trying her recipes, and making sure we're home from our errands in time for her show to come on. Recently it was my turn to try out one of her recipes and I chose Sloppy Joes. My husband had suggested it the night before and as I scoured the internet for recipes, I remembered watching one of her shows feature such an item. A quick trip to her website, and we were on our way!

Now, I'm not feeding anyone or anything on a cattle ranch, just myself, husband, and toddler who seems to have a bottomless stomach for snacks and sweets but not so much for entire meals. I take that back. She'd sell her soul for some eggs and 'tatoes. So I had to scale back and alter the recipe a bit. Here is Ms. Drummond's Sloppy Joe concoction:, and here is what I did:

1-1 1/2 pounds ground beef
1 Tbs butter
1/3 of a large onion, chopped
3/4 of a green pepper, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cup Ketchup
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 Tbs brown sugar
1 1/4 tsp chili powder, more or less to taste
1 tsp mustard powder
Few dashes of Worcestershire
1 1/2 Tbs tomato paste
Salt and pepper to taste

I put the butter in a big pot then added the ground beef when it started to bubble. I browned the beef then drained off a little bit of the fat. Then I added the chopped onion, green pepper, and garlic and let it cook until the onions were very tender. We enjoy the taste onions bring to a dish but not so much the crunch that goes with it.

I then added the ketchup, brown sugar, mustard powder, chili powder, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper, and water and let it simmer for about 20 minutes.

 Being pregnant, I'm sensitive to smells, especially that of cooking food. But this made the house smell absolutely heavenly as it cooked.

I didn't serve with Kettle chips like The Pioneer Woman, sour cream and onion seemed to fit the bill just fine. And with my toddler just about finishing an entire sandwich and my husband going back for thirds, the chips were pretty secondary to non-existent. 

Success! Add another Pioneer Woman Wannabe to the mix!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

A Happy Holiday Breakfast

You can't shoot a cooking show in a barrel these days without being inundated by various "alternative holiday dinners," "traditional holiday dinners," and "how-to-prepare-anything-in-under-an-hour holiday dinners." No one is giving much thought to breakfast these days, and many people are avoiding it altogether in futile efforts to "save room," for the big feast that takes place only hours before bedtime. Yet as we all know but insist on denying, eating breakfast is exactly how we save valuable tummy-room for our pal the turkey and all his trimmings.

Growing up, my mom always loved preparing the big holiday meal and didn't seem to mind that it required starting only hours after the sun came up. The smell of the turkey cooking all day was the payoff. While my mom always made a big breakfast on days the whole family was home together, Thanksgiving and Christmas weren't one of those so we got pastries, bread, and anything else that didn't require occupation of the oven or stove. This year I offered to take over breakfast duties and prepared Better Recipes Crock-Pot Breakfast Casserole, and, big duh here, altered some of the ingredients. You can find the original recipe HERE, and this is what I used and did:

30oz bag of frozen, shredded hash browns (I think rehydrated potatoes might be something worth trying as well)
2 packages brown n' serve breakfast sausage, cooked, with the fat drained off; 1 package Maple sausage and, 1 package Brown Sugar and Honey (or something else of the honey/maple/brown sugar variety)
3 tsp dried onion (or as preferred)
2/3 cup chopped small, red, yellow, and orange peppers
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
13 eggs
1 1/4 cup milk
2 tsp chili powder
2 tsp salt
black pepper as preferred

Once I cooked the sausage in a skillet and drained off the fat, I let them cool completely and chopped them into 1/4 inch chunks. Once the peppers were chopped, I layered the Crock-Pot - eye-balling everything into semi-equal thirds - as follows until there were three complete layers:

Potatoes - making sure the first layer of potatoes completely covered the bottom of the pot
Sprinkle of dried onions - 1 tsp per layer

In a separate, large bowl, I whisked together the eggs, milk, chili powder, salt, and pepper and poured it over the layers in the Crock-Pot. Then I covered it and set it on LOW to cook for 7-8 hours. I happen to be a middle-of-the-night-wanderer (perils of taking care of a newborn) so I set the Crock-Pot around 3am and declared it ready to serve between 10:30 and 11am Thanksgiving morning.

The benefits to this meal as a holidays staple are many. 1) Since the Crock-Pot can plug in anywhere, oven, stove, AND counter space don't have to be compromised; 2) everyone - and I mean everyone - gets a hearty breakfast to carry them through the day until the big finale. My mom will usually make dips and have nuts for people to snack on throughout the day - to also avoid any major lunch preparations - but after scarfing down the casserole, no one was too heartbroken those things were missing; and 3) aside from its enormity, the casserole's very ingredients are a recipe for satiety success. Protein, carbs, veggies, grab yourself some wheat toast and OJ and BAM! Admit it - I just blew your mind.

I'll be honest, though. For all of the benefits, this dish is a bitch. You can cook the sausage whenever (or used pre-cooked, as per the original recipe), it's only been my idiocy that's had me up at 9pm making breakfast sausage. But no matter when you do it, there is a decent amount of prep-work involved, not counting having to get up at 3am to turn it on if you don't want to eat at 5am. When all is said and done, there is quite a lot of food. My mom was worried that - in addition to Thanksgiving dinner - we'd have too much but she was the one going back for thirds. :-)

The recipe calls for serving it with salsa, but that really is of personal preference; sometimes I like it, sometimes I don't, but it always has to be mild.

Don't be afraid, there *will* be leftovers, but those are often just as good.

Here's hoping your tummy and hearts are full this holiday season!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Crock-Pot Veggie Chowder

I don't want to jinx myself, but I just might be getting the hang of combining ingredients to make something relatively tasty.

I love having a crock-pot, love using it, and always have such high expectation for dishes that are prepared with it. I think it's a great appliance to use during the summer to keep from having to heat up your house, and I even used it to make the main dish and cake for my daughter's 2nd birthday party. I love that it's uses have extended beyond chili's, soups, and stews to desserts, appetizers, and even things that don't require 8 hours to cook. But - and I know it's mostly of my own doing - a lot of meals I've made via crock-pot have turned out less than stellar so I'm never quite sure if 8 hours in the crock-pot will ultimately result in a last-minute pizza-run.

With it getting cold, I flipped through my Barnes and Noble bargain-rack find, Best Loved Slow Cooker Recipes for something I had yet to attempt: soup. I opened the "Beyond Basic Soups" section and selected a nice variety for the week, one of them being "Easy Corn Chowder."

This is the book's recipe:

2 cans (14.5 oz each) chicken broth
16 oz bag frozen corn, thawed
3 small red potatoes cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 medium onion, diced
1 rib celery, sliced
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp coriander
1/2 cup heavy cream
8 slices of bacon, cooked and crumbled.

And this is what I actually used:

3.5 cups chicken broth
1 16oz bag frozen "farmer's mix:" corn, carrots, and green beans, un-thawed (if I see an opportunity to throw more vegetables in, I take it)
3 small/medium red potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
Variety of small red, yellow, and orange bell peppers, eyeballed to equal 1 whole pepper, diced
1 green onion chopped
2 Tbs dried onion
1 rib celery, chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 tsp fresh flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
8 slices of bacon, cooked and crumbled

To be completely honest, I hadn't realized the recipe called for UN-thawed frozen veggies until just now. Also, I had some time to kill so a lot of the cooked bacon might have gone missing. I can't be sure.

The instructions state to put all of the ingredients, minus the heavy cream and bacon, in the crock pot, cover and cook on low for 7-8 hours. I didn't get everything in the pot until it was late enough so we'd be eating like fashionable Manhattan-ites, so I cooked it on low for the first 4.5 hours, then switched it to high for the last 1.5/2.

The recipe then states to partially mash the soup with a potato masher in order to thicken it up, stir in the cream, then turn to high until heated through. I got a little carried away with the potato masher, though. Then I added the heavy cream and let it cook on high while I heated some garlic bread in the oven.

I sprinkled the bacon on top as instructed but used it so it was more of an added ingredient rather than a garnish. I think it had such a good impact on the overall flavor of the soup that I might try harder to rein in my bacon-eating and add the 8 slices after the heavy cream is heated through rather than spreading it around to individual servings.

Overall, though, the soup - what I now call "Veggie Chowder," - was amazing. My husband - upon hearing it was 90-percent vegetables - was initially hesitant only to find himself finishing his bowl, and surprising himself with how much he liked it and how filling it was. I surprised myself, actually, and now I'm wondering how I can sell it to Campbell's...

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Upside Down Roasted Chicken

Forget what all of the TV chefs and "food experts," are telling you, *I'm* the one who (accidentally) discovered how much better an oven-roasted chicken is that has been roasted upside down.

I don't know if I've ever mentioned it before, but I never had any desire to cook. Before moving in with and marrying my husband, I had ventured as far as brats and tacos in terms of dinner preparations. Oh, and a Thanksgiving dinner. Even after we were married, breakfasts and dinners were of the microwave/frozen skillet variety, so when I decided to roast a chicken - like my Thanksgiving dinner adventure - I did it all from the vague memory of watching my mom prepare it when I was a child (and following some packaging instructions).

You might be thinking there are so many downsides to this. As it happened, there was only one: I mistook the back for the the breasts because I just knew that the "hump" was on top. It was the best mistake I could have made, the chicken turned out so good that my husband was still telling me about it days later. So now this is how I always oven-roast a chicken. I wonder if it would work with turkey....

I didn't - and still don't - have a proper roasting pan so I put the chicken on a cooling rack on top of a casserole dish. I use my fingers (my mom will swear to you, she'd never thought she'd see the day where I'd touch raw meat, especially chicken) to spread extra virgin olive oil all over what I can see of the bird (i.e. not the underside), then season for whatever I happen to be in the mood for. Sometimes I load that sucker with every seasoning I find in the cupboard, and sometimes I just use salt, pepper, garlic, dried onion, and parsley.

I roast it in the oven per the package instructions, which is usually about 20 minutes per pound at 325/350-degrees (when I find an oven that doesn't have a mind of its own, I might be able to follow package instructions verbatim). After an hour, I like to baste it. I don't think this makes much of a difference since most of the meat is getting juiced pretty regularly throughout the roasting process, but I always loved doing it as a kid. And now that I finally have a baster and don't have to scorch my arm using a tablespoon, I love it even more.

When roasting is done, I let the chicken rest for a while, then take a knife to it, which is surprisingly easy; I did it all myself this time without losing a finger (not to say that I've lost fingers every other time I've done it, I usually just make my husband carve it up). Since the juices have spent their oven-time dripping off the chicken, into the pan, then bouncing back up to the down-facing chicken breast, the meat is incredibly juicy and literally falls off the bone. I went to cut the leg off and the leg bone just slid out of the whole chicken, complete free of meat.

 In theory, you could season the breast-side, then flip it over to roast it to get flavorful skin on the breast meat. But since you don't really eat off the spine anyway, I usually just peel off the crispy, seasoned skin from the back and serve it up with the breast.

 I'm a leg n' wing girl, myself. The dark meat has a few more calories than the white, but both have health benefits. And if you've ever met me in person, you know I couldn't hurt to have a few more calories.

This is probably my signature meal. No, those aren't veggies picked from my not-yet-a-reality garden; they're frozen, picked from the Wal-Mart frozen-food section. They accompany oven-roasted, sliced red potatoes seasoned with extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper, dried onion, garlic, oregano, and basil, and roasted with the chicken. I didn't roast them long enough this time, however, so I ended up having to cook them on the stove, breakfast-style. Still turned out yum.

When I first made the upside-down mistake and told my mom, she giggled but said she thought I was on to something. Who knows - our kids could one day use the phrase, "You actually roasted a chicken breast-side up?! No way." I swear, it'll be exactly like that, too.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Crispy Spaghetti with Zucchini and Herbs

This is by far one of the yummiest things I've ever made. And - I'll be honest - I might try a lot of recipes, but I by no means make things you'd call "yummy." "Very good," and, "satisfying," maybe; but never "yummy." Maybe that has something to do with the fact that this is one recipe I actually follow to the letter. No, that's probably un-related.

While is my go-to when I'm in search of something, Woman's Day magazine is my favorite go-to to stumble on recipes and meal ideas. I never thought the day would come, but I out-grew Cosmo, so I usually pick up Woman's Day for the articles and come away with a lot more.

Along with the Cheesy Chicken Taquitos, Crispy Spaghetti with Zucchini and Herbs is an exercise in using up leftovers. As my mom mentioned as she copied down the recipe, good ideas for leftover spaghetti noodles are few and far between.

If you don't happen to have the September 2012 issue of Woman's Day lying around (I did; you wouldn't believe the size of my magazine collection), you can find the recipe here. Or - you know - just a few lines down right here...

1 Tbs olive oil (I use Extra Virgin, natch) to heat the pan to cook the onion mixture
2 Tbs olive oil to heat the pan to cook each side of the spaghetti mixture
1 small onion chopped (this is the only ingredient I eye-ball because I have no idea what constitutes as a "small onion")
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 Garlic clove, chopped
4 cups cooked, cold spaghetti
1 cup zucchini, shredded
3/4 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

As per the instructions, I heated the 1 Tbs of olive oil in the pan and cooked the onions - covered - with the salt and pepper. I accidentally threw the garlic in with the onion instead of cooking the onions for 6-8 minutes *then* throwing in the garlic for an additional minute, as the instructions instruct. I wasn't able to tell a huge difference in the final product, maybe it just makes the dish more garlic-y.

Then I tossed the cooked onion and garlic with the spaghetti, zucchini, parsley, and cheese while 1 Tbs of oil heated in a medium-sized skillet. Once the underside was brown, I inverted it onto a piece of parchment paper. Then I heated another 1 Tbs of oil in the pan and slid the spaghetti back into the pan until the other side was a nice, golden brown. The recipe estimates about 8-10 minutes on the first side, then 6-8 minutes on the other side, but since my stove decides on its own how and how long to cook things, I just keep an eye on it.

When I first made this dish - this, here, is my second rodeo - I wrongly concluded that I was supposed to cook a little bit of the mixture at a time, a la pancakes. They were still good, but a tad crispier than we would have liked. I just blamed that on the weird slant to my stove. In reality, you're supposed to put the entire mixture in the pan so it makes a sort of pie that you slice up and serve, hence the picture of a pie-slice in the magazine. You have no idea how hard I tried to make a freakin' triangle in the pan when I first made these.

Cooking the entire mixture at once was definitely an improvement and made the meal a little hardier. Of course, my husband mentioned how good it would be with sausage in it. Men.

(Still not a freakin' triangle, but a vast improvement.)

Monday, October 7, 2013

Beer 'N Brat Soup

Ok, the official title of the recipe is Octoberfest Beer and Brat Soup, meant for celebrating this time of year known as October. I, however, used it to once again keep summer alive by making a soup that - like my Cheeseburger Soup - sounds like something that should never be made. But, oh, it definitely should.

You can find the original recipe HERE, thanks to following Better Recipes on Twitter. See, it doesn't only have to be about politician-genitals.

Of course, I messed with the recipe, this time because I didn't have all of the ingredients and didn't want to go to the store. So since I didn't actually create the Better Recipes recipe, I changed the name up a bit too. I used:

2 Tbs butter
1/2 onion, chopped
Chopped carrot, enough to visually match the onion pile
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 large and 1 small-ish red potato, peel left on, chopped
1 2/3 cup chicken broth
12oz bottle of beer
1/4 tsp ground mustard
1/4 black pepper
(in retrospect, I should have also added celery salt)
1 cup shredded cheese
3 brats, cooked and chopped (because I'm also feeding a toddler)

Per the instructions, I melted the butter, but I used a giant pot instead of a saucepan. I then added the onion, garlic, carrot, and potatoes to the pot to cook until the onions became translucent. At least, I think they did. I'm pretty sure they did.

I then added the chicken broth and beer, brought it to a boil, then reduced the temperature so it could simmer for 10 minutes. I did not puree the soup as the instructions say so maybe that makes this more of a stew? I would like to try pureeing it in future attempts, the consistency seems appealing.

It's always a little risky mixing up a recipe, and I'll be honest, it doesn't always work out. When your husband is vomiting in the bathroom approximately six hours post-dinner, your home-maker ego isn't doing so hot. Luckily, this passed the Husband 'N Toddler Test. Whew!

A few things I do have to add, though: never buy Wal-Mart brand brats. I don't know what they taste like since I only used them for this recipe, but they cook up absolutely horribly. Also, I removed the thyme as I hate it and think it taste like eating a pine tree. Otherwise, enjoy gripping on to summer like grim death (which, ironically, is pretty much what fall is...)!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Taquitos a la Homemade: Easier Than You Think

Or maybe you already know. Or maybe you have thought about it and even though you've never actually done it, you think it would be the easiest thing in the world to make homemade taquitos. Or you're like me and think everything in the frozen section seems like you need to be some master chef to create it yourself.

As a bachelorette I routinely bought frozen Taquitos but knew the inevitable moment where it felt like I was chewing on a finger would soon be upon me. Growing older and arguably wiser, why would I want to put stuff in my body when I have no idea what it's made of?

But - mind you - Taquitos were never some integral part of my personal food pyramid. Yeah, they were good and easy but they weren't vital to my survival. When I recently found this recipe in Parenting magazine, though, it did become an integral part of my survival. Listed as an idea to use leftovers, this is a genius way to use leftover chicken, especially a whole bird (sidebar: I used the leftovers from making Glamour Magazine's famous Engagement Chicken. It's supposed to have instant proposal results but as an already married woman, it was just a really good tasting chicken.)

2 Cups shredded cooked chicken
1 Cup shredded cheddar cheese
 1/4 tsp garlic powder
12 tsp salt
1 tsp cumin
Corn tortillas

I also love this meal because there is minimal clean-up. Per the recipe instruction, I combine the chicken, cheese, and seasonings in a bowl. The recipe also instructs to heat the tortillas between two damp paper towels in the microwave for 20 seconds. I do 25. I'm such a rebel.

I spoon the chicken mixture on the warm tortilla, roll it up, and place seam-side down on an un-greased cookie sheet. When all are done, I spray them with cooking spray. I like the EVOO kind, natch. The recipe says to bake them at 400-degrees for 25 minutes, or until brown; but for my whack-a-do oven, this translates to 350-degrees for 20 minutes.

I'm getting better at this cooking thing. But, believe me, if I can do it, you can do it.