Monday, October 27, 2008

Country Apple Cake with Caramel Sauce

To go with my hearty Sunday dinner I wanted a delicious, seasonal dessert. I pulled a recipe for Caramel Apple Layer cake from my recipe binder, where I'd been saving it for some time, and got prepared to bake. Then I thoroughly read the recipe and saw it called for more that FOUR sticks of butter. I simply could not bring myself to prepare something quite so fattening so I shoved the recipe back into the binder and grabbed my Best of the Pillsbury Bake-Off Desserts cookbook to try to find something similar.

I almost immediately found this recipe for Country Apple Cake with Caramel Sauce. It captured the same flavors as the Rachael Ray cake, but was practically diet food in comparison. The only change I made to this recipe was the flavor of quick bread mix I used. I have never seen nut quick bread in my NJ grocery stores (maybe it's a regional thing) so I choose cranberry instead to keep with the fall flavors and just added some additional walnuts.

This cake was super easy to assemble and smelled delicious in the oven. I let it cool while we ate dinner, and once the dishes were done I whipped up the decadent caramel sauce to drizzle hot over the cake. Add a scoop of vanilla ice cream and - YUM! The cake itself is great - not overly sweet, moist and full of tender apple chunks. The cranberry turned out to be a great accompaniment too. The "naked" cake could probably be eaten for breakfast (and probably will be!). In fact, I had a "naked" slice later that night while watching True Blood (What? We ate early!) But don't skip the caramel sauce when you serve this for dessert! It's thick and rich, just like caramel should be and really adds something. Everyone loved this and I will definitely make it again. Who needs four sticks of butter anyway?

Country Apple Cake with Caramel Sauce

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2large eggs
1 (15.4 oz.) package cranberry quick bread mix
3c ups apple pie filling
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 qt. vanilla ice cream (optional -but highly recommended!)

Heat oven to 350°F. Spray 13 x 9-inch pan with no-stick cooking spray. Combine oil and eggs in large bowl; beat well. Add quick bread mix, apple pie filling, cinnamon and nutmeg; stir 50 to 75 strokes with spoon until mix is moistened. Stir in 1/2 cup chopped walnuts. Spoon into prepared pan; spread evenly.

Bake 43 to 50 minutes or until cake is deep golden brown and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 30 minutes while making sauce.

Combine sugar, brown sugar, butter and whipping cream in medium saucepan; mix well. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat; stir in vanilla.

Cut warm cake into squares; place on individual dessert plates. Top each serving with warm sauce and ice cream, if desired.

Sunday Dinner: Pot Roast with Mushroom Gravy

Yesterday I was in mood to make a hearty, Fall-like, classic Sunday dinner so I decided on pot roast. Even better, this meal allowed me to use my crockpot so the work was minimal. I invited the in-laws over to share the feast, then tossed everything together and let the crockpot do it's thing. I used the recipe for Pot Roast with Mushroom Gravy from Sandra Lee's Slow Cooker Recipes cookbook and it was fantastic! Dinner was a hit - everyone raved about it and helped themselves to seconds (and thirds, in some cases). The nice variety of vegetables and rich mushroom gravy made this a standout. Served with a yummy Fall salad full of cranberries, candied walnuts and apples and some fresh bread it was the perfect Sunday meal with the family.

Pot Roast with Mushroom Gravy

1 lb red potatoes, cut into wedges (I used more)
8 ounces baby carrots
1 package (8 ounces) presliced fresh mushrooms
1 onion, cut into 1-inch wedges through core
2 ribs celery, sliced
3 lb beef chuck roast
1 can (14 ounces) reduced-sodium beef broth
1 can (10 ounces) mushroom gravy
1 packet (1.5 ounces) slow cooker beef stew seasoning mix

In a 5-quart slow cooker, combine potatoes, carrots, mushrooms, onion and celery. Place roast on top of vegetables. In a medium bowl, stir together beef broth, gravy and beef stew seasoning mix. Pour over roast. Cover and cook on low for 8 to 10 hours.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Fajita Mac

Yum! This was a great dinner, if not exactly gourmet. A few weeks ago I was organizing my recipe binder and found a ton of recipe I had filed but never tried. This fajita mac was one that's been in the binder forever and I decided to finally give it a shot last night. Originally titled Fajita Macaroni and Cheese, I changed the name because, in my opinion, there was just not enough cheese to justify calling it mac and cheese - the recipe only called for a sprinkling of cheese on top before baking. However, just now while writing this post I re-read the recipe and realized I was supposed to use salsa con queso which would have given me the extra cheese. I had just used regular salsa, although I did mix in a little shredded cheddar before baking. Oh well - Joe and I still thought this was awesome, and it was healthier with just the plain salsa. I think in the future I'll continue to use regular salsa since we enjoyed this so much as is! The only other change I made was to top the casserole with crushed baked tortilla chips instead of taco shells and to use whole wheat elbow macaroni. (My changes are reflected below, but refer to the original recipe if you want it cheesier!) Reminiscent of Hamburger Helper, this had fantastic flavor and the comfort food feeling of enjoying an old guilty favorite. It was a great Friday night dinner!

Fajita Mac

1 pound ground beef
16 ounces elbow macaroni, cooked and drained
1 (1.4-ounce) envelope fajita seasoning mix
1 (15.5-ounce) jar salsa
1/3 bag of baked tortilla chips, crushed

Brown ground beef in a large skillet, stirring until it crumbles; drain. Stir in macaroni, 1/4 cup green onions, seasoning mix, and salsa; pour into a lightly greased 13- x 9-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with crushed chips.
Bake at 350° for 30 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup green onions.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Chicken Cobbler Casserole

What's better than bread on the side of a meal? Bread IN the meal! This recipe for chicken cobbler casserole jumped right at me off Colleen's blog and I knew I had to make it. I'm glad I did! This dinner was delicious! First off the sauce is fantastic - I'd like to make the filling of this casserole and try it over pasta. Plus the buttery and crunchy bread on top is the perfect accompaniment. I used more bread than called for and baked the meal in a larger dish than recommended. Next time I'll use a smaller baking dish and a little less bread - there was an uneven bread to filling ratio. Not that anyone complained. Three of us polished off the entire casserole in one sitting. It's a winner!

Chicken Cobbler Casserole

4 tablespoons melted butter, divided
4 slices cubed sourdough bread, about 4 cups
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley or 2 teaspoons dried
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium-size sweet onion, sliced
1 (8-ounce) package sliced fresh mushrooms
1 cup white wine
1 (10 3/4-ounce) can cream of mushroom soup
1/2 (about 4 ounces) cup drained and chopped jarred roasted red bell peppers
2 1/2 cups (about 1 1/2 pounds) shredded cooked chicken (I diced up three chicken breasts and cooked them up on the stove)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Toss 4 tablespoons melted butter with next 3 ingredients; set aside. Sauté onions in one tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat 10 minutes or until golden brown. Add mushrooms, and sauté 3-5 minutes. Stir in wine and next 3 ingredients; cook, stirring constantly, 5 minutes or until bubbly. Spoon mixture into a lightly greased 9-inch square baking dish; top evenly with bread mixture. Bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown.

Simple Sub Supper

I'm slightly embarrassed to post this dinner since it's not really a recipe, nor did it require any real cooking, but Joe deemed it a contender in his list of top five favorite dinners so I though that earned it a spot on the blog. Last weekend Joe picked us up sandwiches at Wawa (yes, we love the convenience store's sandwiches - wanna make something of it?) for lunch and he got the seasonal special - hot turkey and gravy on a roll. He loved the sandwich and was thrilled when I told him that I could easily recreate it for him for dinner this week. So we purchased thick cut turkey at the supermarket deli and I tossed it into the crockpot with two jars of turkey gravy. It heated on high for about two hours and was ready to go! We were both amazed at how delicious the turkey turned out. It was so juicy and moist that you would never have known it was from the deli and not a slow-roasted bird. I served Joe's sandwich on a torpedo roll and made mine into two mini sandwiches using the dinner rolls I made the other night. I also put a slice of cranberry sauce on my sandwiches. Yum! This was a great dinner for essentially no work!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Daily Bread

Oh carbs, how I love you. I adore you in all shapes and ways, but when you come in the form of warm yeasty bread you are truly at your best. And these rolls are some of the best. Just look at them - big, soft, fluffy and yeasty....mmmmm. Plus they are super easy! The dough can be made in your bread machine, then they just need 40 minutes of rising before you can pop them into the oven. 15 minutes later you'll be in bread heaven. These were awesome (if not slightly large) dinner rolls, and next time we make burgers I'm making these babies to serve them on. But don't wait until your next grilling - make these now!

Bread Machine Rolls

3 cups bread flour
3 tablespoons white sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup dry milk powder
1 cup warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast

1 egg white
2 tablespoons water

Place the bread flour, sugar, salt, milk powder, water, butter, and yeast in the pan of the bread machine in the order recommended by the manufacturer. Set on Dough cycle; press Start.

Remove risen dough from the machine, deflate, and turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide the dough into twelve equal pieces, and form into rounds. Place the rounds on lightly greased baking sheets. Cover the rolls with a damp cloth, and let rise until doubled in volume, about 40 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).

In a small bowl, mix together the egg white and 2 tablespoons water; brush lightly onto the rolls. Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes, or until the rolls are golden brown.

Trying new things

If you like polenta, I think you'll really like this dish. Unfortunately, Joe and I apparently do not like polenta. Go figure. Neither of us had tried polenta before so I thought it would be fun to experiment, so I picked up a roll of sundried tomato and garlic polenta and went searching for a recipe. Colleen recommended this recipe and since Joe and I are big fans of Italian flavors I thought it would be perfect. I made a lot of changes to the recipe to suit our tastes - I took out the peppers and replaced them with spinach and I used parmesan chicken sausage. I also took out the olive oil and used less mozzarella to make it a little healthier (changes are reflected in the recipe below). There was nothing wrong with the dish - the flavors are great - but Joe and I couldn't really get behind the texture of the polenta. But at least now we can say we've tried it!

Baked Polenta with Sausage and Spinach

Cooking spray
1 can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
1 medium yellow onion, halved lengthwise, then cut into thin wedges
1 bag spinach
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon each salt, freshly ground black pepper, and red pepper flakes
5 links any flavor chicken sausage, cut into small pieces
1 tube (16 ounces each) prepared polenta, sliced into 1/2-in.-thick rounds
Shredded mozzarella

Preheat broiler to high. Spray a 2- to 3-quart saucepan with cooking spray and set over medium heat, then add tomatoes and oregano and simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Stir in spinach after 10 minutes and allow to wilt. Meanwhile, in a large frying pan coated with cooking spray, add chicken sausage, onion, garlic, salt, pepper, and pepper flakes, and stir to combine. Cover pan, lower heat to medium, and cook until vegetables soften and sausage heats through, about 5 minutes. Add tomato sauce and simmer 10 minutes.

While sauce is cooking, spray a 9- by 13-in. baking pan with cooking spray. Add polenta slices to pan arranging lengthwise in 3 slightly overlapping rows. Broil polenta about 4 inches from heating element until golden brown and crispy, 10 to 15 minutes. Pour sauce over broiled polenta, then sprinkle mozzarella over top. Broil until cheese is melted and beginning to brown, about 2 minutes. Let cool slightly before serving.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Donate and enjoy!

Oh yes, these ARE as good as they look! But how could they not be good? Chocolate, peanut butter, marshmallow...what's not to like? I've had this recipe from Jaime's blog printed out and filed away for quite awhile now but for some reason I hadn't gotten around to making them. But I got the chance last night. Pet Rescue of Mercer, the animal rescue group I volunteer with, is having a dinner and silent auction fundraiser tomorrow and we volunteers were enlisted to prepare some desserts. I wanted something super delicious but relatively quick to make, since I'd be whipping them up on a weeknight. These seemed to fit the bill and I had all the ingredients on hand.

I am so glad I made these. Like Jaime, I used a 13 x 9" pan and omitted the nuts. They are a snap to put together and I love the fact that they are different from your typical brownie or cookie bar. And they taste fantastic! The different textures of the soft marshmallow and crunchy topping make them interesting and addicting! And they made my house smell awesome. I'm sure these will be a hit at the auction tomorrow and will hopefully encourage everyone to make big donations to our animals! Save a puppy - eat one of these :)

Deluxe Chocolate Marshmallow Bars

3/4 cup butter
1-1/2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1-1/3 cups all purpose flour
3 tbsp baking cocoa
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup chopped nuts, optional (I omitted)
4 cups miniature marshmallows

1-1/3 cup chocolate chips
1 cup peanut butter
3 tbsp butter
2 cups crisp rice cereal

In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar. Add eggs and vanilla; beat until fluffy. Combine flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt; add to creamed mixture. Stir in nuts if desired. Spread in a greased 15 x 10 x 1" or 13 x 9" pan. Bake at 350F for 15-18 minutes (mine baked for closer to 25 minutes). Sprinkle marshmallows evenly over cake; return to oven for 2-3 minutes. Using a knife dipped in water, spread the melted marshmallows evenly over cake. Cool. For topping, combine chocolate chips, peanut butter and butter in a small saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until melted and well blended. Remove from heat; stir in cereal. Immediately spread over bars. Chill.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Pumpkin Butterscotch Mini Muffins

My poor Roger has an ulcer in his eye :( He's going to be fine, but in addition to the eye drops, ointments and antibiotics he needs to visit the vet once a week. Luckily, my sister is a vet tech and Roger receives awesome (and discounted) care while he's at the office. The staff gives him lots of attention and cuddles and makes him forget that he's there for unpleasant reasons. To thank the staff (Princeton Animal Hospital rocks!) and to make sure that they continue to feel inclined to give my Roger special treatment, I show up for each visit with Roger and some kind of baked good. Since I drop Roger off around 7:30 AM I thought a breakfast treat would be appropriate this week, and since it is fall I decided to make something pumpkiny. I found this recipe for pumpkin butterscotch mini muffins on All Recipes and decided to give it a try. I was a little leery of the butterscotch chips since they can sometimes be overpoweringly sweet, but in this case they are perfect. The muffins themselves aren't too sweet and have just the right amount of pumpkin spice and the butterscotch really pulls it all together - they're delicious! I think they should earn Roger a few extra snuggles tomorrow :)

Pumpkin Butterscotch Mini Muffins

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup melted butter
1 cup canned pumpkin
1 (6 ounce) package butterscotch chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease mini-muffin pan with cooking spray.
Sift together the flour, brown sugar, white sugar, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl. Whisk together the eggs, butter, and pumpkin in a separate bowl. Mix the flour mixture with the egg mixture. Stir in the butterscotch chips; pour into each cup of the muffin pan to about 3/4 full.
Bake in preheated oven until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean, 10 to 12 minutes.

Hooray! Creamy Mac and Cheese

Thank you, Cate! You've finally helped me overcome one of my culinary challenges - my inability to make creamy macaroni and cheese. I've tried before, more than once, but my macaroni and cheese was always lacking that creamy gooeyness that I love. So when I saw this recipe on Cate's blog I decided to give it one more try and - success! Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that this mac and cheese is made on the stove and not baked, or maybe it's just the simplicity of the ingredients, but this came out perfect! Like Cate I used a full-fat cheese (white cheddar, to be exact) and I used 3/4 cup of skim milk and 1/4 cup fat free half and half. I also used whole wheat elbow macaroni (I didn't know that elbow macaroni came in whole wheat. It's practically health food now!). Have I mentioned that this was good? Just look at that creamy sauce! I served this alongside my favorite teriyaki turkey burgers and some roasted green beans and it made for a delicious dinner.

Creamy Macaroni and Cheese

1 1/4 cups uncooked macaroni
1 cup 1% milk
2 tbsp all purpose flour
1 1/4 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 tsp salt
a few grinds of a pepper mill

Cook pasta in a medium saucepan according to package directions.
Transfer to a colander.
In the same saucepan, combine the milk and flour over medium heat, stirring with a whisk.
Cook, stirring constantly until thickened (about 2 minutes).
Add cheese, salt, and pepper, and continue whisking until all the cheese is melted.
Turn off heat, stir in the pasta, and let sit for a few minutes before serving.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Awesome Tuna Casserole. Really!

I don't know about you, but for me, the words "tuna casserole" don't typically make me think "Yum!" They typically make me picture some gloppy, tasteless mess in a baking dish. So I'm not sure what inspired me to bookmark this Rachael Ray recipe for tuna casserole, but I'm really glad I did! John made this for us last night and it was awesome. Really! The spinach, the white beans, the tuna, the cheese - all so good! Even Joe, whose not really a fan of spinach or tuna (unless it's in his grandmother's tuna pasta), really liked this. I can't wait to eat the leftovers tonight. Trust me, put aside your stigma of tuna casserole and make this dish - it's a winner!

Tuna Casserole

1 box whole wheat penne
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
2 garlic cloves, grated
1 small onion, chopped
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup chicken stock (we used chicken broth)
1 cup half-and-half (we used fat free)
Ground black pepper
A pinch of nutmeg
1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, plus some for passing at the table
1 can cannellini beans (15 ounces), drained
2 boxes frozen spinach (10 ounces each), thawed and squeezed in a kitchen towel to remove excess moisture
2 cans tuna in water (6 ounces each), drained

Pre-heat the oven to 400°F.Place a large pot of water over high heat and bring up to a boil to cook the pasta. Once at a boil, add some salt and the pasta and cook until al dente, according to the package directions. Drain the pasta thoroughly, return it to the pot and reserve.In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat 1 tablespoon EVOO, one turn of the pan, and the butter. Cook the garlic and onion until tender, about 2-3 minutes. Sprinkle in the flour and cook for another minute, then whisk in the chicken stock and half-and-half and season with salt, ground black pepper and nutmeg. Bring it up to a bubble and thicken.Turn off the heat, then fold in the parsley, grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, cannellini beans, spinach, tuna and penne. Pour the mixture into a 13-inch x 9-inch baking dish and top with the remaining cheese. Place in the oven to brown the topping, about 10 minutes. (John used the broiler for about 1 minute also to get a nice crust on top.)

Rolling Towards Thanksgiving

Joe's favorite holiday is Thanksgiving. Why? Because his favorite meal is Thanksgiving dinner. Each Thanksgiving we go to my mom's house for dinner and have all the traditional foods - turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, etc. My mom calls it her "signature meal" and since Joe enjoys it so much you usually makes it for him at least one or two other times throughout the year. I'm not quite so ambitious (I've never made a whole turkey) but I do try to incorporate Joe's favorite flavors into various meals throughout the year. So when I saw these turkey and stuffing rolls on Ashlee's blog I knew they'd be a hit with Joe. Ashlee's a superstar and did these up right, making her own stuffing and gravy. Me? Well I was too busy cutting antibodies out of sugar cookie dough to have time to make stuffing and gravy, so I cheated! I made up a box of Stove Top and rolled the stuffing inside my thick-sliced deli turkey. I put the rolls in a 9 x 13" baking dish and covered them with some jarred turkey gravy, then covered it all up and baked for 15 minutes. Done! Joe really loved these and they couldn't have been easier! Be sure to see Ashlee's blog for the non-cheater version of this recipe!

Does a body good

For those of you unfamiliar with biotechnology (what, you're NOT familiar with biotechnology?), the funny little "Y" symbol above represents an antibody. It's also my company's logo. And for those of you unfamiliar with township zoning laws, it is really, really, really hard to get approval to put something as simple as a little Y-shaped antibody on the side of a building. I should know, because I've been working for months to get approval for my company to put that little sucker up. Yesterday I managed to score a meeting with the township officials to review my application and decided that I would try to win their favor with cookies. Anybody who knows me knows that if they want to win me over (or apologize to me, cheer me up, express their love, etc.) they should give me some cookies - right Joe? So I figure that all people can be bought with cookies.

I didn't want to bring just any cookies to my meeting though - I wanted to be memorable! So I spent Sunday making antibody shaped sugar cookies to bring to my meeting. And I have to say, I'm quite proud of how they turned out:

I made an antibody-shaped template from an index card and cut the shape out of Pillsbury sugar cookie dough. For the frosting, I wanted something that would harden nicely so I could transport my cookies easily. I found this recipe on All Recipes and it was perfect. I halved it since I only had about 15 cookies to ice (the below is for the full recipe). I used M&Ms to complete the treats - teal ones that I had left over from my company holiday party and black ones that I picked from a bag of Halloween M&Ms. I like to think that the township people were impressed with my creativity and wit - I was! ;)

Sugar Cookie Frosting

4 cups confectioners' sugar
1/2 cup shortening
5 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
food coloring (I left it white)

In a large bowl, cream together the confectioners' sugar and shortening until smooth. Gradually mix in the milk and vanilla with an electric mixer until smooth and stiff, about 5 minutes. Color with food coloring if desired.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

More Ruined Food. And Creamy Ham Fusseli

Sigh. I officially dub this the week of ruined food. This creamy pasta from Rachel's blog came out fantastic. It was the contents of our spare basement fridge/freezer that lost the battle. I came home from work excited to make this delicious-sounding pasta. I got cooking and then ran down to the basement to get a bag of frozen peas. I opened the freezer and discovered that at some point in the last few days we'd blown a fuse down there and the refrigerator has been off. EVERYTHING inside was ruined. And there was a lot - a 6 lb bag of chicken breasts, two dozen Lean Cuisines, bags of frozen veggies, butter and cream cheese, coffee creamer, yogurt...oh the humanity.

While silently weeping over the huge amount of money that was just wasted, Joe and John tossed everything while I went back upstairs to try to modify our dinner that was simmering away on the stove. I was sad to lose the peas (I LOVE peas) and I had no other green veggies on hand. I did have some of John's homegrown tomatoes on the counter though so I chopped those up and tossed them in with the ham. We sat down to eat still depressed about the loss of all that food, but this pasta definitely lifted our spirits. It is SO good - light and creamy but so full of flavor. The ham is a great addition and a nice change from our usual chicken or beef. We enjoyed this with a loaf of oatmeal bread I got from Whole Foods and ate our troubles away.

And no one minded that there were no peas, especially Roger. He thought it was irresistible anyway!

Creamy Ham Fusseli

1 cup part skim ricotta cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tbsp butter, cut into 8 pieces
1 lb thick sliced ham, diced
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 lb pasta (I used whole wheat fusseli)
1 large tomato, diced (or 2 cups frozen peas if your freezer is working!)
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice (half of one lemon squeezed)

Bring 4 quarts of water to boil for the pasta. Combine the ricotta, Parmesan, butter, 1/4 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper, in a serving bowl large enough to hold the pasta. Cook the ham in the oil in a 12 inch skillet until the ham is cooked through and browned. Drain onto a plate lined with paper towels, reserving the oil. Cook the onions in the oil until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 15 seconds.

(I cooked the onions first in just a tiny bit of olive oil and some cooking spray, then added in the ham and garlic. The tomatoes went in last for just a few minutes to soften them up. If you're using peas, follow the directions as written.)

Remove from heat and add to the ricotta mixture, stir to mix well. When the water is boiling, stir in 1 tbsp salt and the pasta. Cook stirring often, until the pasta is almost tender, but still a little firm to the bite. Add the peas during the final 30 seconds of the pasta cooking. Reserve 3/4 cup of the pasta cooking water and then drain the pasta and peas. Whisk the lemon juice and 1/2 cup of the reserved pasta cooking water into the ricotta mixture until smooth. Add the pasta and peas and toss to coat. Add the reserved ham, and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Save the remaining 1/4 cup pasta cooking water to loosen the sauce before serving.

Ole! Taco Soup

After Wednesday night's crockpot disaster I needed to get back on the horse. Luckily I had all the ingredients for this yummy taco soup ready to go. I found this recipe on Emily's blog and I starred it right away. It seemed perfect for fall, plus Joe and I love tacos so putting the flavors in a soup seemed like a great twist. This can be made on the stove as well, but I opted for the crockpot so it could simmer all day while we worked. We played racquetball after work (um, if anyone has any tips to teach me how to be even a little bit good, I'd appreciate it!) and came home to this delicious spicy soup. I made a few changes to Emily's recipe - I added about a cup of beef broth to ensure that it stayed "soupy" all day in the crockpot, reduced the amount of ingredients, etc. and it came out great! It was like tacos in a bowl! I served these with cheese quesadillas for dipping - yum! AND I remembered to take the plastic of the beef this time - score one for me!

Taco Soup

1 pound ground beef
1 cup diced onions
1 (15 1/2-ounce) cans pinto beans
1 (15 1/2-ounce) can pink kidney beans
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes with chiles
1(4 1/2-ounce) can diced green chiles
1 (4.6-ounce) can sliced black olives, drained
1 (1 1/4-ounce) package taco seasoning mix
1 (1-ounce) package ranch salad dressing mix
Garnish of choice for serving - cheese, sour cream, corn chips, etc.

Brown the ground beef and onions in a large skillet; drain the excess fat, then transfer the browned beef and onions to a large slow cooker. Add the beans, tomatoes, green chiles, olives, taco seasoning, and ranch dressing mix. Cook on low for 6 to 8 hours.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Crockpot Barbecue Beef and Beans...Almost

Sigh. Obviously the above picture is NOT of barbecue beef and beans. And there's a good reason for that. Last night, instead of eating the delicious dinner I simmered all day long in the crockpot we ended up ordering pizza. Why? Because I lovingly cooked my beautiful 3 lb chuck roast for 12 hours in the crockpot with the plastic packaging still attached to the bottom of the meat. So while the dinner looked delicious and smelled delicious it had strings of melted plastic running through it. My brother-in-law John wanted to eat it anyway, but I figured all those plasticy chemicals could not be healthy and tossed the whole dinner :( I had planned to shred up the meat and bake the mixture into calzones, but with that plan out the window I decided to brown up some ground beef and onions, add barbecue sauce and corn and bake THAT mixture into some calzones. But then I opened my refrigerated pizza dough only to find that it was all torn and would not allow me to roll it out no matter how hard I tried. Tired and frustrated I tossed the dough into the trash with my ruined crockpot meal and told Joe and John to order a pizza. Oh well. So my apologies to Stephanie at A Year of Crockpoting for destroying your recipe. I do plan to try it again - with uncompromised meat.

Crockpot Barbecue Beef and Beans

3 pound chuck roast
1 yellow onion, sliced in rings
3 cloves chopped garlic
1 can (16.5 oz) barbecue baked beans
1/4 cup prepared barbecue sauce
cheese, optional
jalapeno slices, optional

Place meat in crockpot (AFTER removing all packaging) and add in onions and garlic. Add the beans and barbecue sauce. Cover and cook on low for 8-12 hours, or until meat shreds easily with a fork. Serve on rolls, buns, rice cakes, or over rice (or if you try to make calzones with it, let me know how they are!). Add slices of your favorite cheese and sliced jalapenos.