Saturday, September 13, 2014

My Crock Pot Potato Soup

You've probably seen the recipe posted everywhere lately for the crock pot potato soup.  Last year a friend shared it with me but I never got around to trying it. Yesterday I actually had everything on hand, so I gave it a shot.  I made a few tweaks, but if you want to stick with the original, here's the one I started with. It was ridiculously easy, delicious, kid-approved and budget-friendly (other than the bacon - and I was told Canadian bacon works well as a cheaper but tasty substitute - it does. YUM).

My Crock Pot Potato Soup

1 30 oz. bag of frozen shredded potatoes (make sure they don't have lots of other ingredients - it should be potatoes, and that's about it!)
1 32 oz. box of chicken broth (I added another can of broth later, since my crock pot was running hot, so you might want extra on hand)
1 small onion, diced
1 recipe of cream soup base (I left out the salt, so I could adjust the soup later)*
4 oz. Neufchatel cream cheese, cubed (regular is great, too, but don't use fat free)
salt and pepper to taste

Optional (but seriously recommended) for topping the soup: 
sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
fresh chives, minced (adds SO much flavor!)
1 pkg. of uncured bacon, cooked, drained and crumbled or chopped (it's bacon - it's not really optional) OR 4-6 slices of Canadian bacon (I chopped it up, browned it in a pan, and then sprinkled on top - so good)

Add potatoes, chicken broth, cream soup base and a pinch of salt and pepper to the crock pot. Cook on low for 6-8 hours or until potatoes are tender.  I recommend checking it periodically toward the end, since my crock pot was running warmer and started to brown and stick on the bottom of the crock.  I stirred in another 16 oz. or so of chicken broth, and switched my cooker to warm, and we were good to go until dinner.

About an hour before serving, stir in the cream cheese cubes, and stir to incorporate them as they melt.  I may have also interfered a little bit and did a few runs through the soup with my immersion blender to smooth it out a little bit, but that is not necessary (in fact, in later attempts, we actually kind of preferred with without doing that).  To serve, ladle soup into bowls and top with cheddar, bacon, chives, and a good grind of black pepper.  Serve with a crusty piece of bread and a salad, and you're good to go.

*Apparently you can freeze that cream soup base, so you could make a big batch and freeze it in 10 oz.-ish portions for the future - I am definitely going to try this.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Tomato Feta Appetizer

I made these recently for a snack - super easy, and super delish.   Preheat the broiler while you prep.  Halve some grape tomatoes the long way,  and arrange on a baking sheet or in a broiler-safe baking dish.  Top each half with a small cube of Feta cheese, drizzle with some extra virgin olive oil (I used a garlic-infused one I had), grind on some black pepper, and stick under the broiler until the cheese starts to get toasty.  They're perfect alone, or on top of grilled or broiled slices of bread.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

"Grab & Go" Cinnamon Rolls

Quick post - I made these cinnamon rolls today, but did 2 things differently.

#1, I used cake spice instead of plain cinnamon, mostly because I realized I was out of cinnamon (?!) and partly because I thought the extra spices would be fab. They were.  Do this.

#2, I need to transport these to a gathering, and they need to be easy to grab & go.  Enter the muffin tin and cupcake liners.  I just laid the slices in the cupcake liners, baked the rolls without letting them sit out to rise, and it worked wonderfully.  Try this.

I even popped them into the cupcake carrier I received as a gift a few years ago - I thought I would rarely if ever use it, but I actually use it quite often. If you're transporting birthday treats, work snacks, or "grab & go" cinnamon rolls from time to time, you might want to check one out (they actually make even cuter ones now).


Sunday, May 4, 2014

My Favorite Blondies

I'm a fan of blondies.  I love the brown sugary goodness, especially when combined with dark chocolate.  Add almonds (like these ones right here) and I am a a very happy camper.  This is a more basic recipe - very easy to make, and so tasty.  I always come home with an empty plate when I bring these along.

My Favorite Blondies

1-1/2 c. packed brown sugar
1/2 c. butter, melted (can also use coconut oil)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1-1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1-1/2 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 10 oz. pkg. dark chocolate chips (you can use semi-sweet, but I highly recommend the dark)

Add butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla to a large bowl and mix until just combined.  If you want to combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a separate bowl and then add, you can, but I'm lazy and just added it all in, and then combined with the brown sugar mixture.  Stir in the chocolate chips.  The mixture will be a little more "sticky" than a cookie dough.  Spread into a parchment-lined or greased 9 x 13 pan and bake at 350° for about 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Let cool, and slice (a plastic knife makes nice, clean cuts for brownies and blondies - try it!).

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Italian Tossed Salad

I tossed this together with things I had on hand to bring to a pizza party at a friend's house the other night.  It was super easy, and was a nice alternative to Caesar salad or just a plain dinner salad.  I didn't really measure, so I'm guessing below, but like I always say, do what looks right to you!

Italian Tossed Salad
2 hearts of Romaine, chopped, washed, dried 
about 1/3 c. chopped hard salami
about 1/3 c. chopped Picante Provolone cheese
1/2 of a small red onion, sliced very thin
banana pepper rings (a few forkfuls from the jar)
2 tbsp. Italian dressing (I poured a little in, and then tossed to coat, and adjusted as needed)
2 tbsp. of grated Parmesan
freshly ground black pepper

Note: If you're bringing the dish somewhere, add the dressing when you get there so it doesn't get soggy. Add lettuce to a large bowl.  Sprinkle in salami, cheeses, onion, banana peppers, a few good grinds of black pepper, and toss to combine.  Add dressing when ready to serve.  

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Asian-Inspired Slaw

I tried a recipe from the "try it eventually" folder last night for some Asian chicken sliders, and they were decent, but unremarkable.  It was still a fruitful effort, however, because I found a super simple, tasty side to serve in the future (although the kids were not fans). I guestimated on the measurements, since I just chopped and added - do what looks right to you.  I made about 1/2 of this recipe, since it was just for 2 of us, but you could easily multiply it for a larger crowd, too.

Asian-Inspired Slaw

2 tbsp. fresh lime juice
2 tbsp. EVOO
1/2 c. cilantro, minced
pinch of kosher salt
a few turns of freshly ground black pepper
2 c. red cabbage, shredded
1/2 c. carrot, julienned or grated on the large holes of a box grater
1/2 c. red onion, finely diced (could do thin slices if you prefer)
1/2 c. red bell pepper, julienned or diced

You could get crazy here, and add some sliced scallions, toasted sesame seeds, minced jalapeno, garlic, etc.  I'll be experimenting with this over the summer, for sure.

Whisk together the first 5 ingredients.  Add remaining ingredients, and toss to coat.  Serve on a BBQ chicken or pork slider, on the side with any BBQ dish, etc.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Addictive Parmesan Wonton Crisps

I was looking through my Pins for a recipe I wanted to make tonight, and found this one.  I decided to try it, and oh. my. word.  They are so good.  I did have to tweak it a little, though.

For me, following the suggested baking time resulted in the 2nd photo - burned to a crisp (ha ha, get it?).

So I baked mine for HALF that time, for 4 minutes at 375 degrees.  I also added a TEENY sprinkle of cayenne pepper on some to try it, and I liked the kick - might be a good variation next time, with cumin, garlic powder, oregano, etc.  I will be experimenting a lot with these babies, for sure.

This combo was some freshly ground black pepper, grated Parmesan, and some dried parsley, since I didn't have fresh.  I also sprinkled a little garlic powder on some.

On my wonton wrappers, it says 1 serving is 8 wrappers, and if you slice them in 1/2 (like top photo), you'd get 16 crackers.  If you went with the lil' triangles like the 2nd photo, you'd get double that. That's a decent serving size - very satisfying.  They won't do as much damage as a handful of Cheetos (you actually know what all of the ingredients are, too), and are just about as addictive.

I will definitely try these for a party since they look so fancy, but they're going to happen for random snacking from time to time, too.

Feel free to share some flavor combos in the comments if you try some!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Fabulous French Onion Soup

I LOVE French Onion Soup.  I hadn't made it yet this season, so I made a big pot this weekend.  I froze half of it, and served the rest for a Sunday lunch.  The kids don't mind it, but they tend to supplement a much smaller portion with a grilled cheese or salad.  

The key to the amazing flavor is the caramelizing of the onions, so take your time and do it right.  You can do it a day or two in advance if you like, as long as you're cool with onion-ing up your house for 2 days (my kids are always horrified with the oniony aroma when they come home on a day I've been reducing a big pot of onions).  I also recommend making the soup a day or two before you're going to serve it - the flavor is even better when you give it a little time.   The recipe below looks long and involved, but it's really not bad at all.   You can walk away from the onions while they're in the oven, as long as you set a timer, and the stove time is not bad.  Give it a try!

Fabulous French Onion Soup
Adapted from From Cook's Illustrated
Serves 6

Be patient when caramelizing the onions in step 2; the entire process takes up to an hour.  45 to 60 minutes. For the best flavor, make the soup a day or 2 in advance. Alternatively, the onions can be prepared through step 1, cooled in the pot, and refrigerated for up to 3 days before proceeding with the recipe.

2-3 tbsp. unsalted butter
4-6 large yellow onions, sliced thinly (I use my mandoline)
2 c. water, plus extra for deglazing
1/3 c. dry sherry (Don't buy cooking sherry, please - it's salty and gross.  Go to the wine section.)
4 c. low-sodium chicken broth (Swanson Natural Goodness is good)
2 c. beef broth  (Swanson Natural Goodness is good)
6 sprigs fresh thyme (tie with twine if you have it - makes it easier to retrieve stems)
2 bay leaves
salt & pepper to taste

Cheese Croutons
(I prefer these to the giant glob of melted cheese on top that you often get at restaurants.)

1 small baguette, cut into 1/2-inch slices
approx. 2 c. shredded Gruyère cheese (I've used a combo of Swiss and Asiago, too)

Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Spray inside of heavy-bottomed large (at least 7-quart) Dutch oven with nonstick cooking spray. Place butter in pot and add onions and 1 tsp. salt. Cook, covered, 1 hour.  We're not done.  

NOTE: Do not forget to wear your oven mitt when you remove and replace the cover of your Dutch oven over and over during the process.  Not that I have ever done that.  

Remove pot and stir onions, scraping bottom and sides of pot - you'll see some liquid in the bottom of the pan, and your heap o' onions will have reduced a bit.  Return pot to oven with lid slightly ajar and continue to cook for another hour, and stir again.  Continue for another 30-45 more minutes, until onions are golden brown and soft.  I have stopped at this point, and refrigerated my onions for a day or two.   

Place Dutch oven on the stove over medium-high heat.  Don't walk away during this step - you need to watch so you don't end up burning that golden goodness!  Cook onions, stirring frequently and scraping bottom and sides of pot, until liquid evaporates and onions brown, 15 to 20 minutes, reducing heat to medium if needed.  Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until pot bottom is coated with dark crust, 6 to 8 minutes, adjusting heat as necessary. (Scrape any fond (the dark, gooey good stuff) that collects on spoon back into onions.) Stir in 1/4 cup water, scraping pot bottom to loosen crust, and cook until water evaporates and pot bottom has formed another dark crust, 6 to 8 minutes. Repeat process of deglazing up to 3 more times, until onions are dark brown. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the pot for any remaining bits of fond.  Stir in sherry and cook, stirring frequently, until sherry evaporates, about 5 minutes.

Add broths, 2 cups water, thyme, bay leaf, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Increase heat to high and bring to simmer, uncovered. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer 30 minutes. While the soup simmers, make your cheese croutons.  Arrange baguette slices in single layer on baking sheet, sprinkle liberally with shredded Gruyere, and put under the broiler until cheese begins to bubble. Set aside until it's time to serve.  Remove and discard the bay leaf and thyme stems and season with salt and pepper.  Ladle into bowls, add a cheese crouton or two, and you're ready to go.  Enjoy!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Easy Penne with Chicken & Broccoli

I pretty much always have the ingredients to whip up a pasta dish like this for the fam.  It's something I know everyone will eat without complaining or picking things out.   It's a great way to use up things in the fridge, too.  Here's the basic recipe - use what you have on hand and tweak as you like.

Easy Penne with Chicken & Broccoli
Serves 4-6

  • 1 box (8 oz.) penne or your favorite pasta noodles
  • 1 rotisserie chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces, or 1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, or 1 whole chicken, cooked and cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 2-3 crowns of broccoli (asparagus is good, too), cut into spears
  • 1 c. chicken broth (I use Swanson Natural Goodness)
  • 1/2 c. Asiago cheese, grated
  • 1/4 c. Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1/4 c. (ish) Half & Half (I just poured a little - may have been a little more)
  • 1/2 container (ish) of grape tomatoes, halved (or use 2 Romas, seeded & diced)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (or 1 biggie)
  • 1/2 small onion, diced
  • salt & pepper to taste

Prep your pasta.  You can add the broccoli to your pasta water at the end, and cook it with the noodles, or steam it on the side, or whatever you prefer.  In a large skillet over medium heat, cook your onion in in a little evoo.  Add garlic, cook until fragrant.  Stir in cheese and half & half.  Add chicken, broccoli. tomatoes and pasta noodles.  Stir to combine.  Season with salt & pepper.   Serve with extra Asiago cheese if you like.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Salted Caramel Thumbprints

These babies caught my eye and were deemed "rip-worthy" - so I ripped the page out of the Dash (original recipe here) newspaper insert over the holidays, set it on the dining room table for 3 months, and finally got around to making these cookies. They are definitely rip-worthy. I just tweaked it a teeny bit.  The fam loved them, and I'm hoping the bake sale shoppers will, too!

BTW, this is a solid sugar cookie dough, so you can use it for a cut-out cookie, or whatever.  Their feature had a few different recipes in it.  I was impressed.  Anyway, back to the one I actually MADE....

Salted Caramel Thumbprints

3 c. AP flour
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
2-1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1-1/2 c. granulated sugar
1 large egg, beaten
1 Tbsp. whole milk (I used skim, and nothing horrible happened)
1 tsp. good quality vanilla extract
2 egg whites, beaten
1/2 - 1 c. finely crushed pretzels
18-20 (ish) chewy caramel candies (I used Kraft since I was in a hurry and they were fine and all, but next time I might something more awesome like Becky's Blissful Bakery caramels next time)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Cover your baking sheet with parchment and set aside.  Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl.  Set aside.  Beat butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.  Add eggs, mix to combine.  Add milk and vanilla extract, mix to combine.  Gently form dough into a disk and wrap in plastic wrap or wax paper, and chill for at least 2 hours (up to 3 days, apparently).  Crush pretzels, and beat egg whites.  Unwrap and slice a few caramels in half.  (The recipe in Dash had crushed peanuts involved as well, but I don't think they needed them at all.)

Roll chilled dough into 1" (about 1 oz.) balls, and coat each ball in egg white.  Roll each ball through pretzel crumbs, then place on cookie sheet (allow 1-2" between each ball).  Use your thumb (thumbprints, get it?) to make an indentation.  Place a caramel piece in there.  Bake until the bottoms just start to turn brown, about 12-18 minutes, depending on your oven.  Cool on the baking sheet, then immediately consume one of the cookies.  So good!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

10 Hungry Men

I hosted my first "carbo cram" recently (a big carbohydrate-laden meal the night before a sporting event, mostly meant for team bonding).  It never ceases to amaze me how much food 10 teenage dudes can put away!  I made spaghetti & meatballs (the meatballs are based on a recipe from a friend - I sort of 1-1/2'd it, and are GREAT for freezing, so make a big batch and freeze them, and take out as many as you need for dinner, or to bring to someone), baked penne alfredo, bread, salad and ice cream dessert.

3 lbs. ground chuck
2-1/3 c. Italian bread crumbs (I used Panko with some Italian seasoning - it's what I had)
3 eggs
2-1/4 c. sour cream (I used light)
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper

Preheat oven to 375.  Mix all ingredients well and form into loosely-packed balls.  I actually weighed all of mine, and it made 57 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 oz. meatballs.  Bake on a rimmed baking sheet for about 25 minutes. I froze mine on the tray after baking, since I made them in advance, and then tossed the frozen meatballs into my slow cooker with 3 jars of pasta sauce I had on hand.  They simmered all day and were fall apart tender by dinner time.  SO good.  I made 2 lb. spaghetti noodles, and served that lightly tossed with olive oil, freshly ground black pepper and Grated Parm on the side.  I could have made 3 lb. of spaghetti noodles, and they likely would have finished it. 

A way to use leftover meatballs - serve with little dinner rolls (we like the Hawaiian bread rolls) and some mozzarella cheese for meatball sliders - makes a great substantial app or even dinner.  Just bake in the oven until the cheese is melted.  So good.

Baked Penne Alfredo
1 lb. penne pasta, cooked & drained
salt & pepper to taste
1 recipe Alfredo sauce (see below)

Optional: 2 c. cooked chicken, diced; 1-2 c. broccoli, steamed & chopped; 1/4-1/3 c. sun-dried tomatoes, chopped, 1/2 - 1 c. sauteed mushrooms; red pepper flakes (1 tsp.)

Preheat oven to 350.  Prepare a 9" x 13" baking dish (non-stick spray, butter, whatever) and set aside.  I cooked up 1 lb. penne noodles according to the directions on the box, drained it, and set it aside while I made the sauce.  Then I stirred the pasta into my sauce and spread it into my baking dish. Since I was making this for a group, I didn't get too fancy, but I think adding some chicken, sauteed mushrooms, diced onions, sun-dried tomatoes and broccoli would be awesome.   I baked this for about 15 minutes, or until it was all heated through, stirred it up, and then topped with some Parm and put it back in until the cheese started to turn golden brown.  I served some red pepper flakes on the side, versus adding them in.

Alfredo Sauce:
1/4 c. unsalted butter
1/4 c. AP flour
2 cloves garlic, minced
2-1/2 c. heavy whipping cream
2 c. grated Parmesan cheese

Melt butter in sauce pan over medium heat, then whisk in flour, cooking for about 2 minutes to remove the raw flour taste.  Remove from heat, and add cream, whisking well.  Return mixture to heat and bring it ALMOST to a boil, then remove from heat.  It takes a few minutes for the sauce to start thickening, but then all of a sudden, it does.  Stir in Parmesan cheese.  

I served everything with some foccacia bread cut into strips and 2 loaves of Italian bread with some butter (dipping oils too tough with the crowd), and a big salad.

For dessert, I made an Oreo Ice Cream Dessert.  The recipe was a combination of 4-5 different ones I found online.  Judge all you want, make your own "oreos," ice cream, and chocolate, whatever, but I just used the store-bought stuff, because, well, I made everything else and I didn't feel like it.  And they wouldn't have noticed or cared.  And yeah.

Oreo Ice Cream Dessert

I made this dessert for the first time for a carbo cram for my son's team.  It's great for a crowd, and you can, of course, make it in advance, which is hugely helpful when you're entertaining lots of people.

I didn't make everything from scratch for this dessert, and I decided to live dangerously and serve it anyway.  You do what you need to do - find a better, super healthy dessert, make your own homemade components of this one, or just go nuts and do it this way.  An offset spatula is a handy tool for building this dessert, if you have one.

Oreo Ice Cream Dessert

1 pkg. regular Oreos
3 tbsp. butter, melted
1 1/2 gallon container chocolate ice cream, softened
1 1/2 gallon container vanilla (or cookies & cream, or mint chip), softened
1 jar of fudge sauce (I grabbed Mrs. Richardson's)
1 container Cool Whip

Line a 9" x 13" baking dish with foil or parchment.  Set aside.  Process 30 Oreos (the whole cookie - none of this scraping out the filling business) in your food processor to get a fine crumb mixture.  Add in the melted butter, pulse to combine.  Pat the crumb mixture into your baking dish. Layer 1, check.  Crunch up the rest of the cookies into rough pieces and set aside.

Spoon chocolate ice cream onto your cookie crust and carefully spread, so as not to totally wreck the cookie crust. You can also slice a brick of ice cream, and arrange the slices over the crust, and sort of mold them into place, as well - you pick.  I just scooped and spread.  Freeze for at least 15 minutes.  Layer 2, check.

Heat your jar of fudge sauce (or your homemade goodness) so it will spread, and spoon onto your chocolate ice cream layer.  Work sort of quickly, as the ice cream will start to melt into the hot fudge, but it's not the end of the world.  Then stick it back in the freezer for another 15 minutes or more.  Layer 3, check.

Spread the vanilla ice cream (or cookies & cream, mint chip, etc.) on top of the fudge layer (and some people added an extra layer of cookie crumbs here, but it's really not necessary) quickly.  Then, you guessed it, stick it in the freezer. Layer 4, check.

Finally, spread the whipped topping on your vanilla layer, sprinkle the remaining cookie crumbs over top, drizzle with some remaining hot fudge sauce, cover the whole thing, and stick it in the freezer.  Freeze overnight if possible, and then remove from the freezer about 10-15 minutes before you serve it so you don't need a chainsaw to cut pieces.  You should be able to lift it out of the pan with the foil, and cut.  It should serve anywhere from 12-24 people, depending on how wild you get with your serving sizes.

Friday, January 10, 2014

BLT Bites

I needed a quick, easy app the other night using existing ingredients since I was NOT going back to the store again, and I found the stuff to make these guys.  I don't think you can even call it a recipe, but if you need a guide, here ya go.

BLT Bites

Cook a pound of bacon (thick sliced is great, but whatever works) in the oven (try it, it's less painful that tending a skillet with grease spitting at you.  Preheat an oven to 400, throw your bacon on a foil-lined baking sheet (use one with a rim, please), for about 15 minutes, or until brown and crispy.  Keep your eyes on it, because if it burned, that would be sad.).  Transfer it to some paper towels to cool/drain.

While it's still warm (so it won't crack into pieces), cut each slice in half or into thirds, and then let it cool completely.  When you're ready to assemble the bites, slice the crusts off some sourdough bread (optional - leave them on if it makes you happy), toast it, and then cut it into bite-sized pieces (or two-bite-sized pieces).  Spread a little dollop of mayo (mix a little pesto or djion mustard in if you want, but the classic BLT taste works great, too) on each piece of bread.  Top with bacon, lettuce, and a grape tomato half or a slice of Roma, etc.  Spear it all with a toothpick, stick it on a place, and you're done.  You could hit them with some pepper if you like, but whatever works.

That's it.