Thursday, February 16, 2012

Homemade Macaroni and Cheese

Who doesn't love macaroni and cheese??

Did you know how easy peasy it is to make?

Follow these simple steps for a quick, easy, cheesy meal. Comfort food at its finest :)

1 cup elbow pasta, cooked according to package directions, then drained
2 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. flour
2 Tbsp. milk
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
Salt & Pepper

Preheat oven to 350*. Lightly grease a 1 qt. casserole dish.

In saucepan over medium heat, melt butter and wisk in flour to make a roux. Whisk in milk, stirring constantly. Add in cheese slowly, stiring to melt. Add in salt and pepper to taste.

Fold into drained pasta until combined. Tranfer to casserole dish and bake for 20 minutes or until heated through.

It's that easy! Enjoy :)

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Taco Dip

Super Bowl Sunday is here and if you're still trying to figure out what to bring to the party, look no further! This yummy dip is a cinch to make and everyone will love it.


First cook up a pound of ground chuck, turkey, or chicken. Using leftover taco meat is a GREAT way to make this dip (which is how it originated in my house in the first place.) But if you do use say...only 1/2 lb. or less of meat then you will need to adjust the measurements of the other ingredients accordingly, otherwise the dip will be too liquidy. It is best when it's a little thicker :)

First of all, I buy these big containers of seasoning. No more spending extra money on taco kits. The way we eat tortillas around here I always have some on hand for an impromptu taco night, and it's no sweat to run to the store for some taco shells if needed.

This also comes in handy because you will need extra taco seasonings for the dip, and the taco kits only comes with a pre-measured amount for cooking the meat.

I cooked up a double batch of meat here- half for a taco dinner (hey, why not, right? Dinner couldn't get any easier.) and the other half for the dip.

You will need 1 15-oz jar of queso or cheese sauce, 1/2 jar (1/2 cup) of salsa, and 1 15-oz can of black beans, drained and rinsed. You will also need to add 1 tsp. cumin and extra taco seasoning, to taste. This is for approx. 1 lb. of meat. If you use leftovers at 1/2 lb. or less, please adjust your measurements.

1 lb. meat + ingredients = 2 qt. casserole dish
1/2 lb. meat + ingredients = 1.5 qt. casserole dish.

Preheat oven to 350*. Place dip mixture into casserole dish and bake for 30 minutes or until heated through. Serve warm with tortilla chips.


Saturday, February 4, 2012

SuperBowl Round-up

I love the Super Bowl. It's the only time of the year that I'll watch a whole game (ok- most of a game). If I truly don't have an interest in either team then I find it a bit depressing, but hey- at least there's good food and company!

So with that in mind, here are a few of my favorite get together dishes that are sure to win over the crowd!

                                         ~Spinach and Artichoke Bake~  

Preheat oven to 350* and lightly grease 1 qt. casserole dish. Drain and mash artichoke hearts (1 can or jar, 10-12 oz). Thaw and drain 1/2 block of spinach of all water (reserve other 1/2 for another use). Mix together 1/2 cup mayo, 1/2 cup parmesan cheese (shredded is better than grated, but both work), 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella, 1 t. garlic powder, and add to artichoke and spinach. Mix together well and place into baking dish. Cook for 30 minutes or until hot and bubbly. Serve with tortilla chips.

                                   ~Potato Skins with Turkey Bacon~

Use small brown potatoes and baked them until done. Cut them crosswise in half and scoop out about half of the pulp. Heat some EVOO and briefly fried both sides for that restaurant taste (but this part is not necessary but definitely adds to the crunch adnd overall flavor). Cook up slices of turkey bacon, crumbled them up and divided them between the potato halves. Cut up stems from a green onion for a little bit of color and extra flavor. Then load and layer shredded sharp cheddar, bacon, chives, and more cheese, and then popped it back into the oven until the cheese is melted. Add a dollop of sour cream and enjoy!

                                               ~Chicken Tortilla Soup~

6 Corn Tortillas (6 inch)
2 T. Vegetable Oil
1 Small onion, chopped (1/3 cup)
2 Cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 Medium Anaheim, poblano or jalapeno chile, seeded & chopped
1 Carton (32 oz) chicken broth (4 cups)
1 Can (14.5 oz) fire roasted diced tomatoes, undrained
1/2 t. (kosher or sea) salt
1 1/2 C. shredded cooked chicken breasts
Avocado slices, if desired
Shredded Monteret Jack cheese, if desired
Chopped fresh cilantro, if desired
1 lime, cut into wedges
  • Heat oven to 450*. Brush both sides of tortillas with 1 T of the oil. Cut tortillas in half; cut halves into 1/4-inch strips. Place in a single layer on cookie sheets. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until strips begin to brown, stirring once halfway through baking; cool. Strips will become crisp when cooled.
  • Meanwhile, heat remaining 1 T oil in 3-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook onion in oil 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add garlic and chile; cook 2 to 3 minutes, stirring frequently, until vegetables are crisp-tender. Stir in broth, tomatoes and salt. Heat to boiling. Reduce heat; cover and simmer 15 minutes. Add chicken; heat until hot.
  • Top with avocado and cheese; garnish with remaining tortilla strips and cilantro. Serve with lime wedges and tortilla chips.
                                               ~Italian Beef Sandwiches~

In a crockpot put the following:
1 5-lb. rump roast, or other choice cut
1 medium onion, cut into large chunks
2 cups beef stock, or broth
1 T. oregano
1t. thyme
1t. marjoram
2 bay leaves
2 T. Worcestershire sauce
3 to 6 garlic cloves, crushed
1 T. basil
1 T. salt, or to taste

Cut the meat into sections so that every bit of it is submerged in the broth and seasonings. Allow to slow cook overnight, or for at least 8 hours, until the meat falls apart. Shred gently using 2 forks. Drain the veggies and seasonings from the broth and combine meat and broth again. Discard veggies.

Split an Italian roll and place desired amount of Italian Beef on one side. Top with slice of provolone cheese (or under the meat if you prefer) and lightly toast, open-faced in the oven for a few minutes. Add yummy giardiniera and enjoy!


Ingredients for Giardiniera:
1 sm head cauliflower, chopped
1 yellow bell pepper & 1 red bell pepper, chopped
2 – 3 ribs of celery, sliced
1 lb. bag of shredded carrots
1 jar small green olives
3 chile or jalapeno pods, sliced
4 cloves garlic
8 lg sprigs fresh dill
12 peppercorns
2 1/2 C. water
3 C. white wine or rice vinegar
4 T. sea or kosher salt
olive oil to top off

Thoroughly clean and trim the vegetables, including seeds from hot peppers (leave in for desired hotness), cutting into small pieces. This particular batch will be hot because I used 5 peppers and left in all the seeds. I also used a whole batch of fresh dill sprigs because you just can’t have too much dill. I also had to use really large olives because that was all that was available in my supermarket, so I sliced them up myself

Pack the veggies into 1 quart jars tightly. I use regular screw-lid jars. There is no need for boiling or sealing the lids. Make your pickling mixture using the water, wine, and salt. I’ve used the rice vinegar once and I did not like it at all. I’ve made this with a general dry chardonnay many times and it always comes out great! The vinegar makes it way too vinegary for my taste- the wine does an ample job of giving it a nice subdued vinegaryness (yeah, I know that’s not a word). Pour the water-wine mixture into the jars, submerging the veggies, and let it settle. Leave enough room for the 1/2 inch of olive oil that you will pour to top it all off with.

Screw the lids on tightly and store in a cool pantry for 2 -6 weeks. The longer it pickles the better it will be! Do not open the lids until ready to eat. Once the jar has been opened, refrigerate. Makes 3 quarts.

                                    Don't forget Dessert!

                                               ~Cinnamon Apple Tart~

1 large apple, peeled and chopped
1 tsp lemon juice
1 sheet refrigerated pie pastry
2 Tbsp apple jelly
2 Tbsp sugar
1/4 cup cinnamon baking chips
1/3 cup sliced almonds
1 tsp milk
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/4 tsp almond extract
1 to 2 tbsp milk
In a small bowl, toss chopped apple with lemon juice; set aside. On a lightly floured surface, roll pastry into a 14 -nch circle. Transfer to a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Spread jelly to within 2 inches of edges. Sprinkle with apple mixture, sugar, baking chips and almonds. Fold edges of pastry over filling, leaving center uncovered. Brush folded pastry with milk.
Bake at 400* for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. Wsu parchment paper to slide tart onto rack to cool. In a small bowl, combine ingredients for icing, adding enough milk to acheive desired consistency. Drizzle over tart. Yeild: 6 servings.

                                              ~Gingersnap Lemon Tarts~

Super easy to assemble :) Crush gingersnap cookies (or graham crackers) mix with a bit of melted butter and press into tart pan. Spoon a dollop of prepared lemon curd and top with a berry. You can't miss! Other variations include chocolate graham crackers, and/or sprinkled grated chocolate. Use your imagination- the sky is the limit. Besides, what's a gathering without chocolate??

                  ~HAVE A YUMMY SUPERBOWL DAY!!~

Friday, February 3, 2012

Hummus ♥

You may be familiar with hummus, you may not. It's a spread made from puree'd chick peas (or garbonzo beans if your prefer). It is very yummy and healthy, and a great protien alternative for a vegetarian. There are many varieties of prepared hummus you can buy from the grocery store, including red pepper, lemon, eggplant, cilantro, or spicy. In my opinion a good hummus needs no "flavors" -  but it's all a matter of taste.

If you've ever tried homemade hummus you will notice the difference from store-bought immediately. I don't like store-bought, mostly because I don't like the tahini and think it is unnecessary. Greek restaurants usually serve it as a pre-cursor to your meal, sort of like getting a bread basket at other places, or at the very least will be available somewhere on the menu.

Back in my single days I worked as a waitress in several Greek restaurants, one of which I learned their hummus recipe. It was my job to come in each morning and prepare enough hummus for the entire day. At this restaurant we gave each table small ramekins of hummus with toasted pita points as soon as they were seated. Back in those days I was opening huge, industrial sized cans of chick peas. These days I make my hummus one 15 oz. can at a time. As usual I have no measurements, but I promise you will never look at that store-bought hummus the same again.

15 oz. can of garbanzo beans
lemon juice
garlic, diced or chopped fine
salt & pepper
Food processor

Drain the beans and put into the processor. As you add ingredients you will need to taste the mixture. The hummus should be yellowish-beige in color and smoothish when done. The lemon, salt, pepper, and garlic are all flavorings. I like mine very garlicky, so you will be adding and tasting to your liking. The oil is the primary ingredient for that creaminess.

My food processor is a mini one, perfect for making hummus one can at a time. After putting in the beans, I'll add about a T. of prepared crushed garlic, and a  teaspoon each of salt and pepper. The lemon juice is trickier. I'll start out with maybe a teaspoon. If you're using juice from a plastic lemon then squirt for 5 seconds (how's that for a measurement?) Basically you want each ingredient to have it's stamp but not to over power the overall flavor of the hummus. Then I pour in about an inch of oil, turn on the processor and start to puree the mixture. Use a scraper to get all the beans pureed and then taste. If it's not creamy enough then you need to add more oil, which you almost always do (maybe a teaspoon or two, that's all) .

Hummus is best when refrigerated for a bit so that it can chill and the flavors can blend. Also it will have an oily taste at first and chilling it will remove that. So don't judge it right out of the food processor. Among pita bread, veggies dipped in hummus is healthy and yummy. It's also great to add to quesadillas, turkey wraps, or as the main protien in a sandwich.

Fresh pita points taste amazing with this dip. I use flatbread (wheat), brush a little olive oil over the top, and put under 350* for just a few minutes until warmed through and slightly toasted around the edges. Cut into wedges and enjoy!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

♥ Strawberry Crepes ♥

These were a favorite "special" breakfast when I was growing up. Even to this day these crepes bring back a certain taste of childhood for me. Perfect for any special day, you can't go wrong by whipping up a batch of these for your family on Valentine's Day ;)

Strawberry Crepes

2 eggs
2/3 cup milk
1/3 cup water
1/2 t. vanilla
1/2 t. grated lemon rind
3/4 cup flour
1/2 t. salt
2 T. powdered sugar
1 pint strawberries, cleaned and sliced
Cinnamon and additional powdered sugar

1. Beat eggs and combine with milk, water, vanilla, and lemon rind. Sift dry ingredients into wet ones. Using a very few quick strokes, beat together. Batter should be lumpy.

2. Heat a 5 inch non-stick skillet over moderate heat. Put in one big tablespoon of batter. Swirl pan to spread batter over surface of skillet. Let cook for a couple of minutes. Lift the side of the pancake to see when bottom is light brown. Turn over by loosening side of pancake with a fork and then picking up with your fingers. Makes about 8 pancakes (4 servings).

3. Put 1 heaping tablespoon of berries in each pancake and roll up. Put rolled pancakes in a warm oven (lowest setting) to keep warm while preparing the rest.

4. Sift a little additional powdered sugar over the rolled pancakes, then sprinkle with cinnamon.

*Usually after cleaning and cutting up the strawberries, I toss and coat with a teaspoon of sugar and let sit while I prepare the crepes. This helps pull the juices and sweeten the berries if they are hard and not very sweet. Frozen berries can be used, but should be drained and tasted before adding any extra sugar.


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

I ♥ Butter Toffee :)

Toffee is yummy.
If you like butter toffee you may just like this shortcut to homemade "toffee". Actually, this recipe may be new to me but I am discovering that it is not so new in general. In fact just the other day I came across two other blogs that posted different versions of this. Oh well :) What turned me on to it was an elder lady from church was passing out copies of this recipe this past Sunday and I thought, "I can make those!" So I did.

She called them Mystery Bars, but I believe there are several names for it. I call it a "faux" butter toffee, or a poor man's toffee crisp, but whatever name you give it, it's still incredibly yummy for such a simple and sweet treat.

Ingredients & Directions:
1 sleeve Saltine crackers (I used whole wheat crackers. You can also use graham crackers)
1 regular sized cookie sheet (use a baking sheet with sides).
Lay out as many crackers in a single layer as the pan will hold (this was all but 4 crackers on my pan)

Turn oven to 350* and let it pre-heat
Boil together 1 cup packed brown sugar and 1 cup butter in saucepan for 2 minutes,
Pour this mixture over the crackers and spread evenly.
Bake for 10 minutes.

Remove from oven and sprinkle 12 oz. package chocolate chips.
Allow to soften and melt (can place back in oven for a minute) and then spread evenly over the top.
Sprinkle chopped nuts on top of chocolate, if desired.

*I placed the pan in the fridge for a bit so everything could harden up a bit. Then I easily lifted it off the pan, broke it into pieces, and placed in an air-tight container. I keep mine in the fridge :)


I have to admit, I never would have thought of this. Normally I wouldn't make a treat out of crackers at all, but these are really good. Also, it was a great way to get my little helper in the kitchen with me for some quality time ;)

He looks thrilled, doesn't he? He certainly didn't mind eating all that hard work!

Enjoy your faux butter toffee bars!

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Caramel Cake

The Best Caramel Frosting Ever

1 small can Evaporated Milk
1 stick butter or margerine
1 cup tightly packed brown sugar (slightly more than 1 cup)
Combine in sauce pan and boil for 15 minutes, stirring. Careful not to burn. Cook the sugar down, carmelizing the ingredients.
Take the mixture and pour into meatl bowl. Use mixmaster or hand mixer and start adding in vanilla (she didn't give me an amount. Most of you bakers probably have an idea of how much to use. If you're like me, you can't ever have too much vanilla anyway!)
Add 1 box powdered sugar
Add maybe a 1/2 tsp water. Go slowly with the water. It only takes a minuscle amount and it's much easier to add than to remove (in fact, you can't remove) water. You might use up to 1 tsp. water.
Continue to beat while adding these ingredients until the frosting is fluffy and perfect ;)