Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Slow Cooker Plan C Lasagna

Today's meal plan got changed a number of times as I tried to plan around the Hurricane Sandy possibilities.
Plan A was to make soup, but as I prepped lasagna for later in the week, I realized that if we lose power, my slow cooker wasn't going to be a lot of use. Soup can be made out on the grill. So, Plan B, we would have the lasagna tonight. Except I couldn't find the lasagna noodles! My daughter tore the pantry apart, but they were no where to be found. Plan C involved some whole wheat elbow macaroni. It all worked out.

My apologies for the dark picture. I usually take my food outside to be photographed in natural light, but Hurricane Sandy decided that we would have nothing but dark skies today. So all you get is this pitiful picture from my kitchen of what was left over after everyone dug in. It turned out pretty well, so who needs lasagna noodles?!

Leni's Notes:
~Change up the seasonings and ingredients to fit your tastes. I don't think I have ever made it exactly the same way twice.
~This recipe fed 4 adults for dinner, with enough for a couple lunch servings left over. If the whole family was home, I'd double it.

1/2 lb. ground beef, browned
2 links Italian sausage, grilled and sliced into thin chunks
1 jar of your favorite spaghetti sauce
1 1/2 C water
1/2 lb. mozzerella cheese, shredded
2 C cottage cheese or ricotta
1/4 C parmesan cheese, grated
1 beaten egg
1/2 T dry parsley
1/2 T dry oregano
1 box whole wheat elbow noodles

~Mix the meat, sauce and water together.
~In another bowl, mix the cheeses, egg and dry herbs
~ In a greased crock, place the following layers:
1/4 Sauce
1/3 Noodles
1/3 Pasta
1/4 Sauce
1/3 Noodles
1/3 Pasta
1/4 Sauce
1/3 Noodles
1/3 Pasta
1/4 Sauce

~Cover and cook on low 4-5 hours.

Blessings from my kitchen to yours,

Monday, October 22, 2012

Shredded Chicken for the Freezer

My life has been hectic lately. Crazy, even. As much as I love to cook, I am rarely home to do so, and it makes me long for my stay-at-home-mom days. Honestly, I love having a day to spend in the kitchen. Probably why I love Thanksgiving so much. One day of the year set aside for  cooking more food than a house full of people could consume in one day! Bliss!

With my free time so very limited I've been challenged to find ways to still put home-cooked meals on the table with about 30 minutes to prep. The real challenge has been to find a way to pre-prep the food without losing any of the quality. Some veggies lend themselves well to pre-slicing, some side dishes can be made ahead and warmed, but the real stinker is meat.

I'll admit, I am picky about meat. I like a good cut of meat to begin with, and I can't stand meat that has that 'old' taste to it. Whether it's from sitting in the fridge or from freezer burn...I just can't stomach it. So what's a girl to do when she does not have the time to stop by the market every day to get fresh meat?

I have finally found my answer when it comes to chicken! It's been a lot of trial and error, but I found the method that produces a good post-freezer result.

I started off by getting four good roasting chickens. In the picture below, you'll see all four in one pan, but for roasting, I split them into two pans, so they weren't crowded.

We cooled them completely, and then I set Noelle to work on getting every bit of meat off of them that she could. (She has requested that next time we do two chickens at a time. ;o)

Once she had all the meat off the bone, I started making gravy. Now you could just do chicken broth, and if you're going to use the chicken in something non-gravy based, that's a good option. But for quality purposes, I really prefer the gravy method. Broth freezing was ok, but the meat texture was better with the gravy. (Gravy recipe below.) 

I made enough gravy to just cover the chicken, mixed it up and let it cool down a bit. Then we packaged it up in gallon size freezer bags. (Be sure to label and date your freezer food...no one wants to play the "How Long Has This Been In Here?" guessing game!)

Here's what we use this chicken for, usually in the crock pot.
Chicken and biscuits
Chicken Pot Pie
Chicken Noodle Soup (add more broth) 
Chicken/broccoli/stuffing casserole
Chicken and Mashed potatoes
Chicken Stew (with dumplings, yum!)

Gravy Recipe (May take more than one batch, depending on how much chicken you have)

1/2 C Butter
3 Tbsp bouillon concentrate (Better than Bouillon is my favorite)
1/2 C Flour
2 Quarts water

Melt butter and bouillon, slowly incorporate flour until smooth.
Cook, stirring constantly for about one minute.
While whisking, begin to drizzle in water, pouring slowly until all water is added. 
Continue to whisk til smooth, stir until it starts to thicken.
Remove from heat, and it's ready to use.

Hope this is useful for you. I have been delighted many times to open the freezer and find that my dinner issues were solved because I'd already done the work!

Blessings from my kitchen to yours, 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

MidWeek Check In

Wednesday is my day off of work, so it's the day I catch everything up. I tend to do meal prep, shopping, laundry, cleaning...you get the idea.

So today I have pork tenderloin roasting, and a super-secret dessert that I'm not naming since my hubby reads my blog. ;o)

Tomorrow we will have the Ham and Potatoes Augratin that I put in the crock pot over the weekend. From there, who knows?

What's on your menu for the week?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Chicken Salsa Soup

Cold weather is upon us! Fall is here, but that air has a decidedly Winter bite to it. I was inspired by some soup recipes I found on Pinterest this week, and decided to stock up my freezer with some lunches for my husband. As you can see from the half-empty crock, I had to work fast on getting it into the freezer, because everyone was eating it!

I started out following someone else's recipe, but by the time I finished, it in no way resembled the original, so I'm giving it it's own name. The soup doesn't actually call for salsa, but it gets kind of a salsa vibe since you're using a lot of the same ingredients.

Leni Notes:
~This recipe filled an 8 qt. crock pot, we got 12 good-sized servings out of this.
~A nice crusty bread or grilled garlic bread would be a nice accompaniment. 

6 Cups water
4 raw chicken breasts
2 (30 oz) can diced tomatoes
1 (30 oz) can black beans
1 Cup tomato paste
1 (4 oz) can diced jalapeƱos 
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 large onion, diced
6 tsp Chicken Better than Bouillon base or 6 chicken bouillon cubes
4 tsp chopped garlic (equivalent of 8 cloves) 
4 tsp cumin
4 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cayenne powder
8 oz. Pepper Jack cheese, shredded

~Place all ingredients in crock, except for the cheese.
~Cook on low for 8 hours.
~Pull chicken out, and place on plate. 
~The chicken will shred very easily, shred and place back into crock.
~Sprinkle cheese over the top and mix in.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Cocoa Cones for a Crowd (Wedding Favors)

What's this? A recipe post on a Wednesday? What can I say, I thought I'd throw caution to the wind. Plus with holidays, and soccer games, most of the time I have no idea what day of the week it is. Speaking of soccer, last night I about froze to death at my daughter's soccer game. Which made me think of how badly I wished we'd brought hot cocoa. And then I remembered the left over cocoa cones I had at home. 

For our daughter's autumn wedding, we decided to make Cocoa Cones. These were fun to make, and I love how they came out. 
The finished product on the table. A lovely family from our church added the final touches to our cones.

First we had a bunch of Moriah's childhood friends over to make the cones. Great fun!

Cocoa cones can be made for any event, as they are so easy to personalize. They can also be made in a variety of flavors and would be great for kids to make for gift giving at Christmas. We made ours into a fall theme by adding fall leaf sprinkles. My daughter then gathered a bunch of her favorite quotes on love and marriage to add to them. One side has the quote, the other has the cocoa directions and the couple's names and wedding date.

 I scaled the recipe back a little bit, as we made these for 200 people. Also, even if you're making them for 200 people, good luck with finding a container big enough to mix it all in at one time. And I have really large containers!! I saw a suggestion with one of the 1,000's of recipes I read, to mix it all in a garbage bag. I really didn't want the plastic taste added to it, but I suppose it's worth a shot if you wanted to do it all at once.

Leni's Notes:
~If you're making these in bulk, like we did, it will save you a lot of money to order the container supplies online. We bought our supplies for this and the cheesecakes at the WEBstaurant Store. Shop around, you might find better prices yet!
~Each of these cones makes 2 servings, or one really big serving!
~The cocoa portions stores really well, but if you're making them way ahead of time, hold off on the marshmallows until closer to the date. They can get a little stale.
~For flavor variety, try different flavored coffee creamers or add some instant coffee to the mix.
~ Also, to the powder mix, you can add cinnamon or ground red pepper, depending on your tastes. ;o)
~I highly recommend trying a cup of the cocoa before packaging to be sure you like the flavor. You might decide to adjust the cocoa or sugar content.
~If you are looking for decorating ideas, do a Google Image Search for Cocoa Cones.

Supply list:
Plastic cake decorator bags (2 bags for each cocoa cone.)
Closures for the bags (2 for each cone) - we used small zip ties. You could use twist ties, rubber bands, etc.
Sprinkles (optional, but really cute!)
Decorations (we did printed tags with colored ribbon. Whatever fits your theme.)

Ingredient List for 45 Servings:

3 Cups cocoa powder
6 Cups granulated sugar
10 Cups instant dry milk
2 Cups dry coffee creamer (plain or flavored)
Mini Marshmallows (1/3 Cup per cone)
Optional: flavored chips to add to the marshmallows. (Chocolate, peanut butter, butterscotch, etc.) or crushed hard candy, like candy canes.

In a large bowl, mix the cocoa powder, sugar, milk and creamer together.
Take half of your decorator bags and fill each with 2/3 C of dry mix.
Twist the top to push down the mix and close it off.
Seal very tightly with a zip tie. (We cut the extra off.)
Trim the plastic to about a half inch.
Place each filled decorator bag inside another bag.
Top with marshmallows, sprinkles (1-2 tsps) and chocolate chips.
Twist closed without smashing the marshmallows, seal with another zip tie.

Add your decorations and instructions (1/3 Cup mix with 3/4 Cup boiling water.)

Blessings from my kitchen to yours,

Monday, October 01, 2012

Pumpkin Chocolate Trifle

This is a recipe that does not fit into my plan of quick and easy, but it was worth the extra effort.

Seth turned 18 this past week. He wanted something pumpkiny, creamy and chocolately. Noelle piped up and said, "You should make a trifle!" So trifle it was. We are big trifle fans around here. It started years ago when friends from Ireland taught us how to make it. In those days, we were using cake and jello and fruit. Since then, we've expanded into many different flavors.

My favorite was the one  I made for my father-in-law many years ago. He loves lime, so I decided to make him a lime bundt cake for his birthday. I don't make those often, and soon remembered why. I can never get the things to come out of the pan without breaking! Sure enough, it broke, and I was left with lime bundt chunks. Appetizing.

So I did the only reasonable thing, and decided to turn it into a trifle! (I'm sure this is how trifle was born. Fixing cooking screw-ups.) I whipped up some vanilla pudding and whipped cream, and made a big bowl of trifle, with about an hour to spare before everyone arrived for the birthday dinner. As I was placing it in the fridge, breathing a sigh of relief, I knocked a can of biscuits into the top of it! Grrr! Took it out, patched it up again, and told my kids, "If anyone asks, this was the plan all along! And nothing fell into it!"

For today's recipe, I didn't have quite so many adventures, but it was a two-day process. I was creating this one from scratch, and getting all of the elements the way I wanted took a while. The results were just what I had hoped for, and everyone gave it a thumbs up. If I make it again, I would try it with a milk chocolate ganache, just to see if we like that flavor better.

The birthday boy was pleased with it, so I'm happy! (Said birthday boy just walked in and asked me if I'd make it again for Christmas. ;o)

Leni's Notes:
~If you don't have a trifle bowl, any clear dish will do. I've even used a large punch bowl when I was making trifle for a crowd. Part of the fun is seeing the layers.
~Most of my trifles are not so elaborate, and really do lend themselves to a quick throw-together. 
~Really is best to make this a two day process so you can let your cake cubes dry out a bit. Then they absorb the flavors better.
~I made the whole thing from scratch. You can shorten up the process a LOT with pudding mix, cake mix and jarred syrup. I don't guarantee it will be as good, but you can do it. ;o)

Simple Ingredient List:
Pumpkin Cake
Vanilla Pudding
Chocolate Ganache

Detailed Ingredient and Instruction List:
3 C flour
1 C whole wheat flour
2 C raw sugar
2 Tablespoons baking powder
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp each of salt, baking soda and fresh ground nutmeg
2 C pumpkin puree
1 C milk
4 eggs
2/3 C coconut or vegetable oil

Sift dry ingredients together in a large bowl.
Add wet ingredients, combine, then mix on high for a couple of minutes. 

Pour batter into a greased 13 x 9 pan. (or larger, but cook for less time if it's a larger pan.)
Bake for 1 hour at 350, test to be sure it's baked through. 
Set aside to cool.
When cool, cut into squares and spread out on a cookie sheet to dry out a bit. 
(You'll have extras, so feel free to let the kids snack a bit!)

While cake is baking, you can get started on the pudding.

1 C raw sugar
2/3 C flour
6 C whole milk
4 beaten eggs
2 Tablespoons butter
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract

Whisk together sugar and flour in a large pan.
Slowly whisk in milk until well combined, no lumps of flour left.
Turn pan on to medium, and stir until mixture begins to bubble and thicken.
I must admit, I am ridiculously impatient at this point, and always end up bumping up the heat to move things along. Unless you are right there watching every minute, DON'T DO IT! You will scorch your pudding and have a mess to clean up.
Remove the pudding from the heat, and ladle a cup or so into the beaten eggs, mixing continuously to temper the eggs. 
If you add the eggs directly to the mixture, you'll be sifting scrambled eggs out of your runny pudding. DON'T DO IT!
Take the egg/pudding mixture, and incorporate back into the pudding pan.
Place back on medium heat, and stir constantly just until it begins to bubble.
Turn the heat down a bit and cook for a couple minutes more, but do not let it boil. 
What happens if I let it boil? See note above about scrambled eggs.
Remove from heat, add butter and extract. 
When everything is melted in and stirred together, place saran wrap directly on the surface of the hot pudding and let cool without stirring. 
Refrigerate until ready to use.

Ganache (Make when you are ready to assemble the trifle)
13 oz. Semi-sweet chocolate (Spring for baker's chocolate and resist the urge to buy chocolate chips)
1 1/2 C heavy whipping cream (again, no substitutes)

Place the cream in a pan with a good heavy bottom. 
Turn burner on to low, stir occasionally. 
Chop up the chocolate and place in a glass bowl. (I feel that glass holds the heat better. Use what you have, but if you have glass, that's what I prefer.)
When cream is hot, pour over the chocolate and stir until everything is melted and evenly mixed. 

Trifle Assembly
This is where you can get artsy, or you can just throw the whole thing together and not worry about being fancy. Once it's on the plate, it's not too pretty anyways! ;o) I like to layer the sides so that you see all the ingredients in a beautiful pattern.

I did three layers, each starting with cake, then pudding, then ganache. You will end with ganache, and you can spread it right up to the rim of the dish, which seals it and eliminates the need for saran wrap, unless you're traveling with it. 

If you want to decorate the top for an occasion, it's best to wait until you get where you're going so it doesn't get smooshed. 

Blessings from my kitchen to yours,