Ghosts of Recipes Past

or my body turned on me, so I am turning back the clock

Sigh.  This has been quite the year, and sadly my entries have taken the brunt of the neglect as a result.  Not only did our darling bundle of joy arrive last Summer, but my body decided that it was considerably displeased with its current situation.  The most severe issues landed me in the ER, and subsequently led to the removal of an internal organ that I would have preferred to have kept, but the side effect has been a lack of interest in food (if you follow me at all, you will know this would be devastating for me).  Fortunately as I am healing my interest in food is slowly returning, and hopefully my ability to eat meat!  Sadly, it is taking its own sweet time.  So, in loving memory of my lost appetite I bring to you today a selection of recipes from the past that I enjoy this time of year.  The ghosts of recipes past....

For the main event: brined and roasted turkey
We make this every year and I always have someone asking me what kind of turkey I buy or what I do to it to make it so tender and full of subtle flavors.  It really isn't that much work to prep it the night before and let it soak up all that goodness int he brine, if you haven't tried it before I highly recommend it.

Share-worthy side: homemade applesauce, stove top or pressure cooker
For me, a share worthy side dish must be kid friendly.  It must have a good base following.  And it should not be too outrageous   For the holiday season, I feel that applesauce appropriately meets all of this preliminary criteria.  It is easily customizable to show your own unique tastes, but it stands strong on its own as a base.

Decadent desserts: sugar cream pie or a variety of trifles 
Make ahead is the way to go, and it doesn't hurt to be easy and cheap as well.  With a well stocked pantry, the sugar cream pie only requires me to buy two items.  And the trifle doesn't even require the stove or oven!  Can they really get any easier than that?

Leftover lovers: thanksgiving in a bowl turkey soup
Because leftovers can be given new life, and really - don't we all deserve a second chance?


Oh So Simple Potato & Corn Chowder

or a slow cooker soup base for any season

I believe I have casually mentioned my ongoing love affair with my slow cooker, a bond which has only become closer now that I have entered into the world of mommy-hood.  Slow cookers are good for many things and since I was already on roll this month with two slow cooker recipes in the bag, I thought I would just go ahead and wrap it up on the same theme.  The last two were very hearty dishes, which is great for the blustery weather we are facing in our corner of the world, but not all slow cooker recipes have to be that way.  Soup is an excellent way to use your slow cooker year round without it always being heavy.  So to shine a spotlight on the versatile joy that is the slow cooker, I offer you today a recipe that can be easily modified for year round consumption.

I know, I know, potato and corn chowder sounds like a hearty comfort food, but it doesn't have to be that way.  What I love about this recipe, aside from how easy it is to throw together, is that you don't even have to decide on the consistency until the end.  The more concentrated base can be thinned out with more heavy cream or water if you prefer a lighter soup for warmer weather days.  The lighter soup also reheats nicely without thickening a lot.  If you want a heartier chowder type feel - just start with a half of a cup of heavy cream and go from there.  This can be prepped entirely the night before (with typical pantry staples none the less) and just dumped into the slow cooker in the morning, then it is just two quick steps before dinner and it is done!  Just three steps to yummmm... Here you go:

3 cups rich chicken stock (or 1 heaping tsp chicken base to 3 cups hot water)
1/2 tsp vegetable base (or 1 flavor boost packet)
6 medium sized golden potatoes, peeled and diced
6 oz frozen corn
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 tbsp dried minced onion
kosher salt & freshly cracked pepper
1 cup heavy cream

Hardware: slow cooker and one of the following: immersion blender, blender, food processor, or (in a pinch) potato masher

1. Dump the following into the slow cooker: prepped potatoes, frozen corn, chicken stock.  Stir well to combine.  Add in the vegetable base, garlic powder, salt, pepper, and dried minced onion.  Stir again to ensure that the flavors combine and get all cozy together.

2. Cover and cook: on low for 8 hours or on high for 3-4 hours.

3. About 30 min before serving, strain out 1/4 of the potatoes and corn and set aside in a bowl. Process the rest until smooth with an immersion blender or one of the other options listed above (remember to allow extra room at the top if using a regular blender or food processor and follow manufacturer instructions to avoid burns).  Add the reserved potatoes and corn back in and stir well.  Add 1/2 cup heavy cream first then add additional cream or water until desired consistency is reached.  Turn the slow cooker to low and allow it to warm back up.  Enjoy!


Rock it Slow Root Vegetable Stew

or veggie converter comfort food success

So, every year the following equations enter my kitchen: Jacket weather = comfort food  -and of course-  Comfort food = meat + starch.  This year we have added to the mix: meat = digestive chaos.  Thank you benevolent little dictator for this lovely gift.  But, what can you do?  You work with what life throws at you, or in my case - what an adorable baby girl threw at me.  Well I am not about to abandon my comfort food for a second year in a row so in the spirit of embracing changes I converted my favorite beef stew recipe, posted earlier this month, to a vegetarian comfort meal.  I can still tolerate meat based broths so I used a combination of beef base and vegetable base but if you are a full on veggie it is just as yummy with all vegetable base (and those newly named "flexitarians" in the foodie world will probably enjoy it with entirely beef base).  You can even add some beef stew meat if you like, just make sure to brown it first, but be warned that this makes a pretty full crock pot as it is so you may need to cut back elsewhere a bit.

Get ready for some comfort food goodness, brace yourself, here it comes...

3 medium to large golden potatoes, peeled and diced
1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced
2 medium sized parsnips roughly diced
2 medium sized carrots roughly diced
1/2 large sweet onion diced
1 tsp fresh minced garlic
1-2 tbsp butter
4 cups vegetable or beef stock
1 cup red wine
1/4 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp parsley
salt & pepper
4 tsp cornstarch + 4 tsp water

Hardware: slow cooker, saute pan

1. Heat butter in a saute pan. Pour in the onions and saute for about 5 minutes, add the garlic and saute until the the garlic aroma fills the kitchen and onions are translucent (should only be a couple more minutes).

3. Dump the potatoes, vegetables and spices into the slow cooker.  Top with the onion and garlic mixture, add red wine, water, and beef broth. Stir well to combine so the flavors get all friendly together then cook on low for 6-8 hours.

4. Turn the slow cooker to high.  In a small bowl, blend 2 tbsp cornstarch with 1/4 cup water; stir into the stew and let simmer for a few minutes to thicken and integrate flavors. If needed, repeat the process again with the remaining 2 tbsp cornstarch. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper.  Allow to cook for about 10 min for all the flavors to settle down then stir and serve.  Enjoy!


Simply Slow Bacon Beef Stew

or a cold weather comfort food classic from my kitchen to yours

Not much time here now that baby land is in full swing, with our little girl quickly approaching 6 months old our free time is just as quickly dwindling.  I did want to take a moment though and "officially-ish" welcome everyone to comfort food season, the most wonderful season of all.  I adore Fall - the weather, the colors, the food - it is all my favorite things rolled up in one.  So here is a recipe that is like a great big bear hug welcome to comfort food season - slow cooker beef stew.  This recipe is really more "winter coat weather" than "jacket weather" but you need to prepare early for these things, planning is everything you know.

This recipe is not as straight forward as my favorite "dump and go" slow cooker recipes, but the extra effort to get those flavors working early is definitely a must.  There is a difference for the recipe if using slab bacon versus regular bacon, I recommend the slab bacon if you can find it, but either will give a great flavor base to the stew.  I highly recommend serving this up with some delicious baking powder biscuits (which can be made the day before for less stress).

6 slices of thick bacon, cut in half, or an equal amount of slab bacon cut into small cubes
1 – 1.5 pounds cubed beef stew meat
1 large onion, finely diced or minced
1 cup carrots, small dice
5 small yellow potatoes, well scrubbed and diced
1 cup red wine
3 cups beef broth
1 cup water
4 tbsp cornstarch
2 tbsp olive oil
1/4 tsp thyme, 1/2 tsp flat leaf parsley, 1 tsp fresh minced garlic
1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp ground black pepper

Hardware: slow cooker, large pot or deep pan

1. Crisp bacon in olive oil in a large pot. Add beef and brown. (If using regular bacon, remove once crispy, crumble and set aside for topping later.  Slab bacon stays in with the beef to cook in the stew)

2. Add onions and carrots and saute for about 5 minutes.

3. Pour into slow cooker, top with potatoes and spices, add red wine, water, and beef broth, and cook on low for 6-8 hours.

4. Turn the slow cooker to high.  In a small bowl, blend 2 tbsp cornstarch with 1/4 cup water; stir into the stew and let simmer for a few minutes to thicken and integrate flavors. If needed, repeat the process again with the remaining 2 tbsp cornstarch. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper.  Allow to cook for about 10 min for all the flavors to settle down then stir and serve.  Enjoy!


Rollin' in the Greens (spinach lasagna rolls)

or any day comfort food is a snap

The weather is cooling down here the last couple weeks, by cooling down I mean it has actually dropped below 90 for more than a few days at a time, and that is putting me in the mood for food - comfort food that is.  Fall isn't quite in the air yet, but it will be soon, and then all bets are off - I'll be strapping on my apron for my favorite cooking season.  To get warmed up for this wonderful time of year I started with a quick, no fuss Italian style dinner - spinach lasagna.  To simplify it a bit, both for serving and for leftovers, I changed it up a bit and made it into lasagna rolls.  I love this idea.  It is a small change that makes the meal a bit more fun, a bit more fool proof, and a nice change up for an any day meal.

It may seem like it takes a while to make, approximately 10 min prep-40 min cook-10 min set, but since the active work time for this is only about 10-15 min I still consider this a win.  Bonus - it can be prepped a day in advance and stored in the refrigerator, if you are using a glass baking dish just take it out and let the dish come to room temperature a bit before baking so it doesn't break.  Make ahead meals are such a stress reliever for me, I hope this one will be for you too.  Check it out:

12 lasagna noodles
1 small tub ricotta, 8 oz (I like to use reduced fat)
3 tbsp egg beaters, egg substitute, or 1 egg
½ cup mozzarella or Italian blend cheese, shredded
¼ cup grated
2 tbsp Italian bread crumbs
1 tsp garlic powder
½ tsp basil
8 oz frozen chopped spinach, thawed
2-3 cups tomato based pasta sauce, homemade or store bought

Hardware: 9x13 baker

Preheat oven to 350 F

1. Cook lasagna noodles to al dente according to package directions.

2. In a mixing bowl dump the following: ricotta, egg substitute (or egg), mozzarella, Parmesan, Italian bread crumbs, and spices. Mix until combined and happily consistent throughout.

3. Drain the thawed spinach and use your hands to squeeze out all the liquid you can, this is great for getting out pent up frustration. Once you have squeezed every last drop of liquid out of it, fluff the spinach up a bit to build up its self esteem again and add it to the cheese mixture. Stir well to combine and ensure that all the ingredients are well acquainted.

4. Spread a thin layer of sauce over the bottom of the baking dish.

5. Rinse the cooked lasagna noodles and drain. Lay out a series of noodles on a flat surface (like a cutting board). Take a heaping tablespoon of the cheese mixture and spread it over one noodle, add more or take some away as needed. You will want to leave about 2 inches at the end without cheese. Start gently rolling at the end with the cheese, you don't need a lot of pressure just enough to make it stick You will notice the cheese spreads down a little as you roll it but you want to make sure the very end is cheese free. Place the rolls seam side down in the baking dish. Repeat with as many rolls as can fit or until you run out of usable noodles.

6. Pour remaining sauce evenly over top. Cover with foil and bake for 30-40 min, until the cheese is melted. Remove from oven and uncover, allow to sit for 5-10 min so the cheese will set.


Mini Loaves of Legumes (Vegetarian Meatloaf Muffins)

or comfort food survives a veggie conversion

I miss meat.  I dream of steaks and ribs and yes - even meatloaf - these days.  For the past year or so I have been converted, against my will, to vegetarian.  Turns out that pregnancy can do weird things to your body, and they don't all resolve postpartum.  But our sweet baby girl is well worth the sacrifice, even if I have visions of meatballs instead of gumdrops dancing through my head at night.  But that is getting a bit off track. The point is, and I do have one, that most of my comfort food loves involve meat of some sort.  I have recently started coming to terms with the fact that I am now "meat free" for the most part and that puts forth the urgent matter of where will I get my comfort food???  You can only eat so much macaroni and cheese...  And since my body was not thrilled with soy substitutes I have moved on to the arena of the legume.  It is a scary world to some I know, it was not all sunshine and lollipops in my mind as I approached it, and even though I have only tested the waters here with lentils - so far they seem like a fair alternative.  And the results of this particular recipe taste test were a definite success, even my husband gave it a good review (and his skepticism of meat alternatives knows no bounds).  Even if you are not veggie inclined I suggest you give these little cuties a try.  Who knows, you might just find something new to crave.

I started with this recipe for "vegetable balls" and modified it to fit my needs: http://www.grouprecipes.com/91887/vegetable-balls-in-barbecue-sauce.html

Here is what I ended up with...

1/2 cup dried brown lentils
1 cup white rice, uncooked
2 tbsp dried minced onion
1/2 tsp house seasoning blend
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 cup Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
1 cup egg substitute or 4 eggs 
2 tbsp + 6 tsp BBQ sauce
3 tbsp Vegetable oil

Hardware: medium sized sauce pot, 2 muffin tins (6 muffins each, I use silicone ones)

Preheat oven to 350 F

1. In the medium pot combine the dried lentils with 1 3/4 cups of water.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 8 min.

2. Add in the rice, dried minced onion, and seasoning blend stirring well to combine.  Bring back to a boil then reduce to a simmer and cover, cook for 10 min at a simmer.

3. Uncover and allow to rest for 10 min.  Then add in the egg substitute (or eggs, yolks broken up with a fork first), breadcrumbs, salt, and 2 tbsp of the BBQ sauce.  Stir until well combined and consistent throughout, this makes for a happier mix.

4. Use the vegetable oil to lightly grease the muffin pans.  Using a 1/4 cup measuring cup, because that was easiest for me, scoop out equal amounts of the mixture into each of the 12 muffin cups.  Bake for 10 min.

5. After 10 min, top each "muffin" with 1/2 tsp BBQ sauce spreading evenly (think frosting style, you want all of the top covered, you will notice that I did not do this in the picture above and I have regretted it ever since).  Return to oven and cook for another 5 min.  Remove and allow to cool for 5 min before removing, this helps them set a bit more.  This goes excellent with some form of potatoes and a nice roasted veggie side dish.


Indian Inspired Slow and Low Veggies

or baby stepping into curried foods

This recipe was a bit of a process to work out for me.  I really enjoy Indian flavors but have never tried to cook with them.  On top of that, as much as I do like the flavor base, I am not used to the spice level of many traditional Indian curry dishes so I had to account for that as well.  I do like "butter chicken" so I combined some flavors for those recipes with ones for curried veggies and found a reasonable, albeit non-traditional, place to start.  So first I tried it with just chickpeas and extra sauce, then I added other vegetables, and finally adjusted spices a bit more.  After a couple moderately successful batches, I finally have a winner with the last one!  

Making it is pretty easy, one of those just toss and go style dishes that works great once finished off for families that may have to eat at off set times, and the left overs are excellent reheated.  I think any dish that results in leftovers that are as good or better for lunch is a definite stress reducer.  Add to that the benefit of this helping clear out any existing sinus issues for me and there really is no reason not to make it every week or so.  This is how it's done:

1 can drained chickpeas
1 bag frozen cauliflower, 8 oz
2 med golden potatoes, peeled and diced
1 cup baby carrots, whole or halved
1 ½ tbsp dried minced onion
1 ½ tbsp ground ginger powder
1 ½ tbsp minced garlic
2 tsp chili powder
1 tbsp curry paste or powder

dash or two cinnamon
3 cans diced tomatoes, undrained
2 cups plain yogurt
1 cup heavy whipping cream
to taste salt and pepper
2 cups white rice

Hardware: Slow Cooker/Crockpot

1. Dump everything except the yogurt, cream, salt and pepper into the slow cooker. Stir really well to combine, the consistency should be the same throughout. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours. 

2. Uncover, stir in the yogurt and cream. Turn to high for about 10 min. Make the rice according to package directions. Stir well again and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve over rice.

I love the leftovers from this dish but I like to add a small pat of butter between the rice and veggies before storing. This adds a nice creaminess to the dish when reheated.


Roasted Veggie Soup

or a creamy and flavorful bowl of garden goodness.

A Summer home with my baby girl should have resulted in more cooking on my part, but I failed to take into account healing.  Seems that healing is very important after childbirth.  Well I learned my lesson after a few failed attempts at things like weeding the garden and going for long walks early on, sometimes the extra pain is just not worth it.  So this season was spent on easier meals (i.e. semi-homemade) and tried and true recipes.  One chance I did take to experiment was with some left over veggies from the farmers' market and my rather bare garden this year.  I had always thought about trying my hand at roasted red pepper soup but I didn't have just red peppers wasting away on the counter so I thought "ah what the heck, let's just toss it all in and see what happens."

I absolutely love roasted garlic soup so using that as a base was a must for me.  But since I undertook this endeavor during our several month long heat wave, I made it a bit less creamy than the exclusively garlic version.  This turned out great and really didn't need a whole lot of seasoning with all the vegetables involved, but if you want a bit more flavor I would toss in some Italian spices since they would get along nicely with the flavors already there.  This does take a little bit of "at home" time to prepare so you may want to do it on a day when you'll be hanging around the house for a bit.  Don't let that deter you though, the extra care is definitely worth it.  Check it out:

red bell pepper - 2 (or one red and one orange)
garlic - 2 heads
leek - 1 medium
chicken stock -
4 cups 
heavy cream - ¾ cup
Parmesan cheese -
¼ cup 
olive oil
salt & pepper

Hardware: cookie sheet, medium pot, immersion blender or food processor.

1. Prepare the peppers.  Turn the oven to broil.  On a cookie sheet, place the peppers and brush lightly with olive.  Broil the peppers, turning periodically, until blackened on all sides.  Remove and allow to cool.  Place in a paper bag and shake to help remove the blackened skins.  Once the skins are removed, cut the peppers taking care to remove the seeds and dice up then set aside.

2. Prepare the leeks.  Cut the tops and bottoms off the leeks, keeping only the white & light green areas, and slice in half lengthwise.  Wash the leeks well and then cut them down into small "moons" and set aside.  Add the leeks to the cookie sheet after the peppers are removed and brush with olive oil.  Broil a couple minutes, watching so they don't burn, until they start to caramelize.  Remove and set aside.

2. Prepare the garlic.  Cut the tops off the garlic heads just to expose the tops of all of the bulbs. Place in a sheet of aluminum foil and drizzle tops with olive oil, salt and pepper.  Close the foil around them in a sort of packet, leaving some space between the tops and the foil, and place in the oven at 350 degrees F.  Roast until soft and fragrant, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Remove, allow to cool, and squeeze out the garlic into a bowl.

3. Heat the chicken stock to a simmer, stir in all the veggies and cook for 15 min.  Remove from heat and blend until smooth with either the immersion blender or food processor.  Strain to remove any stubborn bits.

4. Return to medium  heat and add the heavy cream and Parmesan cheese.  Continue to cook, stirring constantly, for a few minutes until heated through.  Serve with garlic Parmesan croutons.

Parmesan croutons (this is one of my favorite quick recipes, I have been known to make a big pan of these and just chow down on them solo):
Day old bread, hamburger buns, or hot dog buns
4 tbsp olive oil
4 tbsp Parmesan cheese

1. Cut or tear the bread product up into bite sized pieces and toss in olive oil to coat.

2. Cook over medium high heat, flipping pretty regularly, until starting to toast.

3. Sprinkle Parmesan over top while the bread gets crispy.  Allow it to sit on the side that is touching the pan for a couple seconds so it will adhere to the bread better.  (if you are having problems getting it to stick, press down with the flat side of the spatula similar to how you might while making grilled cheese)  Once it is golden brown, toss in soup and serve!


Build Me Up Brown Sugar Zucchini Bread

or the breakfast bread of garden champions.

I like a challenge.  So this week I took on a food that my hubby is not very fond of in an attempt to change his mind - zucchini bread.  He was persuaded to try it by the aroma that filled the house when he got home and the taste test certainly did not disappoint.  I win!  *resounding applause fills the house*

Now, I was never a fan of zucchini bread growing up but it was more on principle since it was threaded with unnerving flecks of green that I did not believe had any place in bread.  I have since made my peace with the presence of the offending vegetable and decided that it was time to convince others to do the same.  This recipe has a nice hint of the earthiness of zucchini without it being overwhelming, if you really want the zucchini flavor you may want to increase the volume in this recipe but I haven't tested the bake times and texture with that adjustment so you do so at your own risk...  The brown sugar really provides a nice richness to the bread and a hint of molasses undertone that really adds to the aromatic appeal while it is baking.  You can add any number or type of mix-ins to the base recipe if you like nuts or other type of flavored "chips" aside from semi sweet chocolate, just try not to make it too crowded or the ingredients will start to battle each other (and nobody wants to be a part of an ingredient throw down, everyone loses in the end and the kitchen is just a disaster).  This is excellent as either breakfast or dessert, I highly recommend warming it a bit when enjoyed after it has cooled and been stored as it restores it to its fresh out of the oven glory nicely.  Check it out:

Flour - 3 cups
Salt - 1/2 tsp
Baking Soda - 1 tsp
Baking Powder - 1 tsp
Cinnamon - 2 tsp
Nutmeg - 1/2 tsp
Vanilla - 3 tsp
Egg Beaters - 3/4 cup
Vegetable Oil - 1 cup
Sugar - 1 1/4 Cups
Brown Sugar - 1 cup
Zucchini - 2 cups grated (about 2 medium sized)

Optional per loaf, to "build it up":
Mini Chocolate Chips - 1/3 cup
Dried Cherries - 1/2 cup

Hardware: 2 loaf pans, greased and floured
Preheat oven to 325 F

1. Mix in a large bowl: flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg.

2. Make a well in the center and beat the following together within that well: egg beaters, vanilla, vegetable oil, sugar, brown sugar.

3. Mix all the ingredients in the bowl together until well blended.  Stir in the grated zucchini.  I like to separate the batter at this point and make two different variations.  I pour half the batter into the first pan and then add the optional cherries and chocolate chips into the remaining batter before pouring it into the second pan.

4. Bake for 50-60 min, until a toothpick comes out clean in the center. Place on cooling rack for 20 min to set.  Store in the fridge for up to 2 weeks (if it isn't devoured sooner).


Slow and Comforting Vegetable Soup

or how I survived the loss of our fridge, a freezer and pantry based soup

So, balancing our new little angel and our temporary financial constraints of me being off work for FMLA to care for her has been challenging.  Add into that the time it took me to heal, the time it took to develop a new routine, and a few unexpected events and you have a recipe for a seriously delayed return to my beloved cooking blog.  Fortunately I have been cooking, so once things sort themselves out a bit more I do actually have recipes to share.  Today's recipe comes to you straight from our most recent unexpected event - the untimely demise of our fridge's control panel.  We have been without our full size fridge and freezer for five days now and let me tell you, it has certainly made me creative in using up what we have on hand.

This recipe quite honestly surprised me, I had my doubts up until I had a bowlful in front of me.  It started with a turkey I made yesterday that had been residing in our freezer before the catastrophic event.  Said turkey yielded a tasty stock overnight in the slow cooker.  The 101 F day outside today kept me away from the stove, so it made perfect sense to carry on in the slow cooker for dinner tonight as well.  I raided the remaining freezer vegetables we had in our small back up freezer outside (I had to clear out more room for breast milk storage for our little one), then I raided the pantry.  What I came up with is not really a standard vegetable soup mix, but it definitely did the trick.  And nothing perks up a frustrating day like an easy comfort food dinner.  The key to the broth balance in this soup is the starch from the cannelloni beans and tortellini, it adds a nice touch to the light tomato base that is started by the stock and crushed tomatoes.  You can of course mix up the vegetables based on what you like or have on hand, but I suggest sticking with the starch providers for optimal results.  Check it out:

13 oz (1/2 of a large can) crushed tomatoes
2 quarts turkey, chicken, or vegetable stock
1/2 bag frozen peas
1/2 bag frozen green beans
1/2 can drained cannelloni beans
1 tsp celery salt
1 tsp Italian Spice Blend
1/2 tsp dried basil
2 tsp dried minced onion
1 tsp chicken seasoning
1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 1/4 cups dried four cheese tortellini
Parmesan cheese

Hardware: slow cooker (crockpot)

1. Pour the first five ingredients into the slow cooker and stir well to combine.

2. Add in all of the seasonings and onion then stir again.  Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours.

3. When there is an hour left in the cook time, stir in the tortellini.  Cover and cook for the remaining hour.

4. Stir well and serve topped with a bit of shredded or shaved parmesan cheese.


Get back..

Get back to where you once belonged...

Well, here I am!  Applause is not necessary, but much appreciated.  It has been a while, I know, but hopefully I am back on track.  A little over a month ago our little "bun in the oven" arrived and changed our lives forever. Now that things are finding their place in our new "norm" I hope to be a bit more present in the blogging world again and to have a few new recipes to share with you all.  As soon as the adorable little benevolent dictator permits, I will be happy to be experimenting once more and sharing the successes with you all.  Until then, take care of you and yours, you will be hearing from me again soon!


Garden Pasta Salad

or a base to build on, a pasta salad for daily use.

I apologize for the short post today, but it turns out that these last 5-6 weeks of pregnancy do a number on me both physically and mentally.  I thought I would at least take a moment to share one of my favorite vegetarian lunches of recent weeks - a base for pasta salad.  This one is kind of nice because it doesn't make an over abundance of food like you would need for a party, it makes enough for dinner and maybe a lunch or two depending on how many you are serving and if it is a side or main dish.

The ingredients here are what I have used most recently, but the great thing about this is that it can work with just about any veggies you have in the fridge (though you may need to steam or blanch them first).  That is why I call this a "garden" pasta salad, that and because I really like the flavors of the multicolored garden rotini with it since it brings its own base flavor to the party.  I personally like the salt factor of the green olives but if that turns you off just switch to black olives or omit it entirely.  Check it out, I hope you enjoy it as much as I do:

4 servings

Pasta - 1 cup (garden rotini)
Mayonnaise, reduced fat or olive oil - 1/2 cup
Sour Cream, reduced fat - 3 tbsp
Sugar - 2 tbsp
Cider Vinegar - 2 tbsp
Green Olives - 1/4 cup
Paprika - ½ tsp
mustard - stone ground - 1 tsp
Salt - 1 tsp
Pepper - to taste
cherry tomatoes - halved - 1 cup
cucumbers - diced - 1 cup

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta according to directions. Drain and rinse with cold water.

2. Whisk the mayonnaise, sour cream, sugar, vinegar, salt, and pepper in a large bowl until the sugar has dissolved. Add the tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, cheese and pasta, folding in carefully until the salad is evenly covered with the dressing.

3. Store in refrigerator or cooler until served.


Simply Pressured Corned Beef Brisket

or Americanized Irish Food is a breeze

I don't get all rowdy in celebration of St Patrick's Day, but I do enjoy making a good Irish-American meal as my mom did when we were growing up.  In the past I have sought out Irish bacon to make a form of this dish that is truer to its origins but unfortunately this year I seem to lack both the time and the energy to complete the task.  So I am returning to the tried and true corned beef and cabbage that I grew up enjoying, the benefits of the nostalgia factor are incredible even if the authenticity of the dish is not.

I believe that part of the reason some people are turned off by corned beef is that it takes an endless amount of time to cook and the results are something that is more foreign than familiar in flavor and texture.  Part of this can be resolved by changing the cooking method.  I am not a huge fan of the boiled or slow cooker methods, while it does soften it up some it doesn't quite infuse the flavor enough and I just don't like waiting that long, so I take the pressure cooker approach.  It is fast, easy, and delicious!  There's no need to save this for once a year when it can easily become a standard weekend meal.  I can devour an entire 2 lb brisket myself so I usually opt for the slightly larger size even though it takes a little longer.  Check it out:

Corned Beef Brisket (2-5 lbs)
Seasoning packet (comes with the brisket)*

Hardware: Pressure cooker

1.  Remove the brisket from the package and set aside the spice pack.  Rinse the brisket under running water to reduce the salt factor.

2. Place the brisket in the pot of the pressure cooker and sprinkle the spices over top.  Add enough water to cover the brisket.

3. Secure the lid and bring to pressure according to manufacturer guidelines.  Cook for 40-50 min for 2-3 lbs brisket, 60-70 min for 4-5 lb brisket.

4. Turn the heat off and allow to release pressure naturally per manufacturer guidelines, the kitchen will smell delicious at this point, hang in there the wait is worth it.

5. Remove the brisket from the pot and trim off the top layer of fat.  I like to reserve the liquid from the pot (after skimming the fat off and filtering out the spices) to make reuben soup with the corned beef stock that results.  Slice across the grain and serve alongside boiled potatoes and steamed cabbage.

* if there is no spice packet, alternative suggestions for seasoning include: pickling spice blends or a combination of mustard seeds, coriander seeds, cloves, bay leaf, and peppercorns.  You can also supplement the packet with some of these spices if desired.


Baked Oatmeal Cups

or how I contaminated a previously healthy breakfast

A good, easy breakfast or mid morning snack can be hard to find.  It is easy to get lost in sea of pre-made options from the frozen foods section or burn yourself out on peanut butter toast.  And if you are in a state of pregnancy, such as myself, or just in the apparently rather healthy habit of eating 6 small meals a day in place of 3 large ones having something homemade that you can reach for at a whim is essential.  Now I am sucker for freezer meal options and cooking once to satisfy a multitude of meals so anything that results in a moderate bulk of food is right up my alley, so I went in search of breakfast options that reheat well and can last 3-4 days in the fridge before turning on you and attacking when you open the door.  There is a multitude of homemade breakfast sandwich options out there in freezer cooking world, but I haven't come to terms with the concept of freezing and reheating cooked eggs at home yet so those were out.  And there are a lot of bulk slow cooker breakfast casseroles out there, but they aren't all that great reheated in my opinion (sadly, I have tried).  So I went more towards a carb focused approach.

I found a fair amount of recipes out there for baked oatmeal and that seemed like something that was just crying out to be reheated since oatmeal is a pretty hearty substance to begin with so I thought that would be a great place to start.  Most of the recipes called for a single large baking dish method, not the best for my grab and go concept, so I continued to look around.  I found some single serving options on healthy eating blogs and settled on the one by Sugar Free Mom, diabetic friendly and focused on creating a healthier you.  That's all well and good, but since me and oatmeal are not long time friends I needed to sweeten up the deal.  I started by halving the recipe, then I added a bit more applesauce (I used homemade because I had it on hand), added a touch more milk, and infused it with refined sugar.  Frozen cherries were my filling of choice for a bit more sweetness, albeit natural this time.  The baking time is a bit longer, but that is probably from the extra liquids I used.  I was really happy with the texture at the end, though this is definitely  a spoon or fork dish and not one I would recommend picking up with your hands.

Here is my, much less healthy, take on the personal sized baked oatmeal recipe from Sugar Free Mom:

1 egg
1 cup applesauce
2 ½ cups rolled oats
1 ⅓ cups low fat milk (1-2%)
1 small banana smashed, or ½ of a large banana smashed
1 ½ tsp baking powder
¼ cup sugar (or 2 tbsp depending on preference, I like it sweet)
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp vanilla extract
24-36 frozen cherries
cinnamon sugar blend or dark chocolate chips for topping

Hardware: cupcake/muffin pan, cupcake liners
Makes 10-12 cupcake sized servings

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

1. In a medium bowl mix the egg, vanilla, applesauce, mashed banana and sugar until well blended.

2. Next add in the salt, baking powder, and cinnamon and mix well with wet ingredients.

3. Stir in the oats until well blended and then pour in milk and combine.

4. Place 10-12 cupcake liners in the muffin pan.

5. Pour some of the mixture into the liners, filling each a little less then half way. Add 2-3 frozen cherries per cup, pressing down so they are partly submerged, and then add more of the mixture to cover.

6. Sprinkle the tops with a cinnamon sugar blend or dark chocolate chips (because it was just a little too close to looking healthy, and it is a nice touch of flavor).

7. Bake 35-40 minutes or until they look set. Cool and enjoy, refrigerate, or freeze individuality and then combine them in gallon freezer bags.

I like them reheated as is, just remove the cupcake liners first. But if you mash up the muffins and add a couple tablespoons of cream or milk you can have a thick oatmeal texture for some variety.

Ready for reheating at work:
(not the best photo, but it gives you the idea)


Pressure Makes it Better Applesauce

or steaming your way to homemade applesauce is a breeze...

I have three great loves in my kitchen that may not make the list in yours - my slow cooker, my pressure cooker, and my home canners (both hot water and pressure versions).  I have found on many occasions that to my surprise even the first two of these are not common tools in many of my friends' kitchens. I can understand the canners not making the cut, not everyone is as into home canning and preserving as me, and most did not grow up with the process as I did.  But the first two tools have long been essential to food prep in my life, even before I considered the process to be actual "cooking."  Now, I find that lately the slow cooker, or crockpot, is getting some new found love as a rising trend and I certainly do my best to encourage it here on my blog when I can, but the pressure cooker is still being largely neglected in the every day culinary world of home kitchens.  I, for one, would like to stand on my soap box for a minute or two shouting its praises.. (this would be far more impressive in person so I'll just let you imagine me up there passionately rambling on for another few minutes about its glories)   

Ok, now where were we?  Right, applesauce.  (don't look at me like that, I was going to get around to it eventually...)  Applesauce is surprisingly easy to make, though doing it with the stove top method it can take somewhat of a  time commitment.  The results are delicious, trust me on this, but we don't always have that much time to dedicate to it when we have apples ripening on the counter top.  So I suggest pulling out that trustworthy old pressure cooker and whipping it up in 30 min or less round trip.  A big time saver here, aside from the obvious cook time, is that you do not need to peel the apples - the pressure cooking process breaks them down enough to blend them into the mix.  This gives the resulting applesauce a lovely rosy hue.  If you do not like that particular color for your sauce you are welcome to peel the apples in advance, but I find it to be a nice change.

12 lg to med apples 
¾ cup water
¼ cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
dash of nutmeg
¼ tsp cinnamon

Hardware: pressure cooker

1. Core the apples and cut into large slices

2. Add the apples to pressure cooker with the water.  Cover securely and bring to pressure according to manufacturer guidelines.  

3. Leave the apples to cook for 5 min then turn off heat and allow to cool down naturally

4. Use a stick (i.e. immersion) blender to puree the apples, they will mash easily with a potato masher but the blender dissolves the peels better.

5. Stir in sugar, vanilla, and spices until dissolved.  Adjust to taste.

If you are interested in delving into the world of pressure cookers even further, I highly recommend checking out Hip Pressure Cooking's website.  They have a good amount of resources and recipes to help you out along the way.


Oven Roasted Cauliflower

or toss and roast your way to vegetable delight

Cauliflower and I do not get along so well.  We aren't exactly friends.  More like acquaintances.  I started to build the bridge to acceptance with my Cauliflower and Potato Soup a year ago today, and now on the anniversary of that initial gesture I am taking another step forward and facing it head on.  This recipe really lets the cauliflower shine in its own right.  It is cheap and easy, so there isn't a large financial or time commitment to fear in giving it a try.  Personally the rosemary and Parmesan cheese really sold it for me, but you can't discount the impact of the lemon juice on the process.  Whether you are a long time fan of this pale vegetable or just coming to terms with its potential, like myself, I suggest giving this recipe a try.  You never know, you may add a new veggie to the welcome list at your table...

½ bunch cauliflower
4 tbsp vegetable oil (or olive oil)
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp minced or crushed garlic
1 tsp fresh rosemary, minced
Salt & Pepper
4 tbsp grated parmesan cheese

Hardware: baking dish (large enough to form a single layer with the cauliflower)
Preheat oven to 400 F

1. Chop cauliflower into small florets and toss with vegetable oil in the baking dish.

2. Add lemon juice, garlic, rosemary, salt, and pepper.  Toss again to incorporate the flavors throughout. Shake the dish gently to create a natural, single layer (you don't want any over crowding or unwanted touching going on to ruin the mood).

3. Bake for 20 min, the edges of the cauliflower should start to turn golden.  Stir and then top with parmesan cheese, because cheese makes everything better, and return the dish to the oven for 5 min.


Cannoli Cream Dip (A Tasty Kitchen Treat)

or a big bowl of cream cheese heaven

This is a slightly adapted recipe, the original recipe can be found here: http://tastykitchen.com/recipes/appetizers-and-snacks/cannoli-dip/

The recipe is delicious, easily gluten free, and not one I can call mine.  As long as you give credit where credit is due over at Tasty Kitchen I encourage you to try it for yourself.  I made it a bit sweeter, a touch creamer, but essentially the same.  This is an incredibly easy dip to make for desserts or snacks at parties, or just because you happen to have a box of graham crackers laying around begging for a dip (though I really just use them as a spoon...).  This is easy enough to make just for yourself, but you may want to portion it out in that case or you'll find yourself wondering who snuck in and ate it all when you weren't looking.

I almost always have cream cheese in the fridge, and most of the other ingredients in the pantry, so this tends to be a very cheap thing for me to make as well.  I think the addition of heavy cream helps make this more scoop-able and reducing the chocolate chips helps to balance the increase I made in confectioner's sugar.  You could always make this in a stand mixer and that would be even faster, you may even get a more "whipped" effect which would be nice, but I have not tried it yet.

Here is how it goes:

8 oz cream cheese (I prefer reduced fat, it can't hurt and it softens faster)
1 stick of butter
1 cup confectioner's sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
1-2 tbsp heavy cream (or milk)

1. Very important - soften the cream cheese and butter.  This can be done by leaving them out over night or softening in the microwave.  If you skip this essential step, it will use a lot more arm power to mix and take a bit longer to make.  My arms prefer if I soften the ingredients first but if you want to be hard core knock yourself out....

2. In a medium sized bowl combine the cram cheese and butter until you have an even consistency throughout.  Add the vanilla extract and 1 tbsp heavy cream and stir well.

3. Add in the confectioner's sugar and blend.  If you want it to be a little smoother, add another tablespoon of heavy cream and blend well.

4. Stir in the mini chocolate chips.  Serve with graham crackers or vanilla wafers.  Refrigerate leftovers, if you happen to have any.


Simply Spinach Au Gratin

or out of season, but on our plates, a veggie for the winter months

Vegetables are always important regardless of the season, unfortunately they just don't taste the same year round.  So there have to be creative ways to perk up those options and make them appealing when out of season or they just won't make it to the dinner table.  One of my favorite ways to entice less than optimal veggies to join the party to is to bake them them with some of my favorite flavors - mostly a dash or two of cheese and carbs (in the way of seasoned bread crumbs).  This dresses up everything from broccoli to asparagus to brussel sprouts, it really can't go wrong.  But when it came to spinach, those oh so healthy dark green leaves seemed to beckon for a bit more and a richness it so rightly deserves.  It may seem like a lot of food when you toss all this together, but it cooks down to a reasonable amount for a family of two to four.  This is a great side dish for heavier meats such as steak or thick cut grilled or broiled fish, and spinach isn't nearly as scary as it may seem when all dressed up like this.  Check it out:

1 large bunch fresh spinach
½ cup heavy cream
½ cup low fat milk
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp crushed garlic
salt to taste
6+ tbsp Italian seasoned bread crumbs

1. Wash out the spinach and shake dry.  Cut of the stems and roughly chop if desired.

2. In a large bowl combine all of the remaining ingredients except for half of the breadcrumbs and stir well to combine.  Add in the spinach leaves and toss to coat.

3. Pour the mixture into a large baking dish and top with the remaining seasoned bread crumbs.  Bake at 350 F for 20 min or until the spinach is wilted and the "sauce" a bit thickened.  Allow to rest for a couple minutes to set before serving.

Side note: depending on how creamy you like this dish, you may choose to reduce the amount of milk and cream a bit after you make it the first time.  Just keep in mind if you are doing it while cooking that the end result is quite different than how it looks going into the oven.  It is part of the magic of the shrinking spinach syndrome. 


Sober Shrimp Scampi

or a creamy, alcohol free shrimp saute for any day

There are days when a "fancy" meal would really just make everything better, and unfortunately these tend to be the days when you just don't have the energy and initiative to do a lot of cooking.  I have been having more and more of these lately, and as I am currently relying on the hubby to cook when I am too worn out from this whole being pregnant and creating life thing I have been living on more packaged foods than usual and that only makes matters worse.  So what to do when the hubby looks at you like you have three heads when you tell him you are craving a homemade cream sauce or some rich and savory seafood?  Just do what I do - find a shortcut or two and pull it together while he mans the sides.  You may collapse afterward from the added exertion, but the food coma feeling that you get in return will make it all worth it.

This dish was definitely a pick-me-up and is about to become dinner again tonight.  We haven't had a lot of open bottles of wine around the house since I am currently unable to drink them so this went the way of a booze-free approach right off the bat.  I also initially used precooked shrimp to make it go even faster but you do not need to do that to make it work.  It may sound like a lot, but the total time investment is only about 15 min and it makes 2 servings.  Check it out and give it a shot, it's a great way to kick up any weekday meal without a lot of fuss.  (Sorry for the lack of photo, I have a problem with this dish with devouring it before I remember to get photographic evidence.  I will try again though, we'll see if I can remember...)

4 tbsp butter
16 peeled and deveined shrimp, you can even do the precooked frozen ones if you want (just thaw them first)
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp dried parsley
salt to taste
2 tbsp flour
Grated Parmesan Cheese for topping

1. Remove the tails from shrimp if desired, I like to do this if serving over pasta.  And melt the butter in a small to medium pan.

2. Add the minced garlic and lemon juice to the butter and saute for a couple minutes to allow the garlic to season the butter.  Then add in the shrimp and saute until heated all the way through and no longer pink if using raw shrimp.

3. Remove the shrimp and about half of the butter mixture and set aside.  Gradually stir flour into the the remaining butter in the pan until a golden paste like consistency forms (a roux).  Then stir back in the remaining butter to create a creamy sauce.  Season with salt and parsley.

4. Add the shrimp back in and stir to coat.  Simmer for a minute or two.  Remove the mixture from heat to serving dishes and top lightly with shredded Parmesan cheese.  (optional - serve in individual ramekins topped with Italian breadcrumbs and broiled momentarily to crisp the top)


Stir and Go Slow Cooker Shells and Cheese

or so easy it's scary, comfort food made while you wait

So, a couple weeks ago, I was innocently making my own pregnant way through the work week when out of nowhere the migraine I had been fighting all week roared up and took over my life.  As anyone who has had a migraine knows, this took me completely out of commission immediately.  The main problem with this, aside from my hormonal reaction, was that I was home alone and needed to make sure that I was able to eat something without causing myself too much pain in the way of worsening my condition.  So chicken soup was out, I was out of prepped freezer meals, and I was desperately craving comfort food.  Enter the pasta...

Carbs are most definitely comfort food, cover them in cheese and how could you go wrong?  But the process usually involves at least occasional periods of effort, which meant more up and down and activity in general (which my migraine was seriously arguing against).  So what to do?  Use the slow cooker of course!  Now, this is not a recipe that I could set in the morning and have ready after work, since I do not have one of those new fancy slow cookers that are programmable, but on a day when I am home simply incapable of physically manning the kitchen - this was perfect.  The only real effort it took was stirring enough before setting it so that the cheeses were all incorporated.  And the result was delicious, perfectly comforting and ready and waiting when I awoke from my pain induced sleep, I mean nap....  This came to mind again today as my hubby is sitting at home with a head cold trying to nurse it back to health, if only he liked macaroni and cheese in general I wouldn't have to worry about him forgetting to eat.  Oh well, it brought it to my mind and therefor I bring it to yours to share.  Check it out, I hope you enjoy!

2 tbsp. butter, melted
1 ⅔ mini shells or macaroni, uncooked
3 cups low fat milk
10 oz shredded Cheddar & Monterrey Jack cheese
6 oz  ricotta
½ tsp garlic powder
salt & pepper to taste
Parmesan cheese for topping before serving

Hardware: slow cooker, crock pot (3 qt sized preferred)

1. Toss all the ingredients together into the slow cooker and stir until the cheeses are well blended.
2. Cover and cook on low for 3 hours.
3. Serve immediately topped with freshly grated Parmesan cheese, or top with Italian breadcrumbs and broil the top slightly to crisp in an oven safe container.

The leftovers are perfect for fried mac & cheese experiments, I haven't perfected my own variation yet but I will link it here as soon as I do!