Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Easy Slow Cooker Taco Pasta

I have made this recipe about 5 times since I tested it a few months ago and as I was making it last for last night's dinner, it hit me that I haven't shared it with you!  You can already guess it's a family favorite being that we've made it so many times already, so hopefully it'll be a success with your family as well!

This pin comes from a site called Inspired Dreamer, which is a blog where you can get ideas for things like food, home decor, wedding, and travel.  I'm not quite sure how you can get an account as there is no link to create an account, only if you lost your password.

This is what I call a 3-step slow cooker process.  You cook something before you start the slow cooker, let everything cook in the slow cooker, and you have to cook something after everything is done.  It's really simple though, so don't think that it'll take extra time to prep!  If you have time the night before, you can prep the cooked stuff before you go to bed and then put stuff in the slow cooker the next day!

Here are the ingredients and directions from the site:
Ingredients-Taco Pasta
  • 1 lb lean (at least 80%) ground beef
  • 1 cup Progresso® beef-flavored broth (from 32-oz carton)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 package (1 oz) taco seasoning mix
  • 1 can (14.5 oz) organic diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped white onion
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 1 package (8 oz) chile and roasted garlic Mexican cooking sauce
  • 4 oz (half of 8-oz package) cream cheese, soften, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 3 cups cooked medium pasta shells
  • 2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese (8 oz)
  1. In 10-inch skillet, cook beef over medium-high heat 5 to 8 minutes, stirring frequently, until beef is thoroughly cooked; drain.
  2. In 5- to 6-quart slow cooker, place cooked beef and remaining Taco Pasta ingredients except pasta shells and Cheddar cheese; stir until well combined.
  3. Cover; cook on Low heat setting 4 to 5 hours.
  4. About 15 minutes before serving, cook and drain pasta as directed on package. Uncover slow cooker; stir in pasta and shredded Cheddar cheese until well combined.
  5. Cook uncovered on High heat setting 10 to 15 minutes longer or until cheese is melted.
  6. Serve topped with sour cream, salsa and/or shredded cheese.

Since we've made this a few times already, I can share the changes we've made.  We don't use a store bought taco seasoning, we do a homemade version.  The husband likes how we can alter it to make it spicier if we want or if he wants to taste more a particular spice.  I'll update this post once I blog about the homemade taco seasoning we use.  You can also add the taco seasoning to the beef after you drain it, or just toss it in the pot with the rest of the ingredients; it doesn't change anything. :)  I don't cube up the cream cheese.  The first time I made this, I was pressed for time in between appointments, so I just threw everything in with the beef and it still came out great.  Another note about this dish is we have found that we like more of a "soup" vibe with this dish, so we find that we add more broth when we warm up left overs or sometimes we don't add the shells in the end because it soaks up so much of the broth.  We'll add the shells when we're about to eat it.  Up to you how you'd like to enjoy it!

Beef, tomatoes, onions, broth, water, cream cheese ready to cook!

The finished product right before plating.  The kids love being able to add sour cream and as many tortilla chips as their little hearts desire.  I add more broth here after it's done.  We went ahead and put in the shells like the directions say so you can see what it looks like finished.

Verdict: Of course it's a hit with our family!  It's gone usually by the second day, so leftovers never last long for this dish.  You could also add some peppers if you'd like some kick! :)


Sunday, September 7, 2014

Crockpot Buffalo Chicken Pasta

from allthecooks.com, a place where people of all cooking backgrounds can share their recipes!

Makes 6 servings (Increase/Decrease).
Preparation time is 15 min
  • 1 pound · Chicken breasts, bite-sized pieces
  • 1 can · Cream of chicken soup
  • ½ cup · Hot sauce, like for buffalo wings
  • 1 ½ cup · Shredded mozzarella cheese
  • ½ cup · Crumbled blue cheese
  • 3 cup · Uncooked penne pasta
  • 1 ½ cup · Sour cream

  • 1 
    Season chicken with salt and pepper and put in crockpot.
  • 2 
    Add soup and hot sauce. Stir.
  • 3 
    Cook on low 4-6 hours or high 2-3 hours.

  • 4 
    Stir in cheeses and sour cream. Turn off crockpot.
  • 5 
    Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain. Add to crockpot.
  • 6 
    Stir well and serve!

This recipe was simple enough.  When I tested this, I had night class, so I had the chicken, soup, and hot sauce in the pot cooking for the husband.  I mixed the cheeses and sour cream in a bowl and put it in the fridge so that he'd just have to dump the bowl in the crockpot once the chicken was done cooking.  With the chicken in smaller chunks, I reduced the cooking time to low for 3.5 hours, which he said was good.  

He sent me a text in class after he added the pasta and had dinner with the kids.  He even took pictures of the finished dish for me! :)

Verdict: Another hit! The kids actually really loved the flavors of the sauce!  The mister mentioned that it could probably work as a dip as well if shredded chicken was used, maybe throw in some beans of course no noodles.  He wants to experiment with that now that it's football season. :)  I think this one is going into the recipe book now!


Saturday, September 6, 2014

Beef Stew!

The weather here in Northern Cali has been very odd this summer.  Yesterday, we had rain and lightening!  For as long as I've lived here, rain during the summer is unheard of!  I actually welcome it with open arms considering that we've been experiencing a horrible drought this year. :(

With the weird weather, I wanted to go ahead and try a pin I'd been saving for cold weather.  I've never attempted beef stew before, only had it from the can (thanks, Progresso) or an MRE!  Gotta love military ready to eat meals.  Anyway, after going through a few pins, I found this one:

It had a lot of good reviews on the blog, Get Crocked, managed by the lovely Jenn Bare.  Man, if you want a site with tons of slow cooker recipes, this is the site for you!  There are a few other beef stew recipes on the blog, but this one had the most votes!  The ingredients and directions are as follows:
  • 2 lbs. stew beef
  • 1/4 c. flour
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • 4 lg. carrots, peeled & sliced in 1/2 inch pieces
  • 3 lg. potatoes, peeled & chopped into chunks
  • 1 c. condensed beef broth
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. pepper
  • 1/3 c. soy sauce
  • 1 lg. onion, sliced
  • 1 can tomato sauce (8 oz.) 
  1. Layer potatoes on the bottom of your slow cooker.
  2. Next, layer carrots on top of potatoes.
  3. Place meat on top of carrots.
  4. Sprinkle meat with soy sauce, salt, paprika, pepper & flour.
  5. Layer chopped onions evenly on top of sauce/seasonings.
  6. Combine beef broth & tomato sauce and pour over everything in the slow cooker.
  7. Cover. Cook on Low for 7 – 8 hrs. (or high 4 – 5 hrs. if pressed for time)
  The husband and I are fans of red potatoes, so we went with 3 large ones for this recipe.

                                 Potatoes first since they take the longest to cook!
Carrot layer
Beef layer and pouring the soy sauce mixture over
And last but not least, the tomato sauce and beef broth 

At first I set the slow cooker on high because I started it pretty late.  Almost two hours into it, the husband reminded me that the last time I cooked beef on high in the slow cooker, it was tough.  :(  I switched it to low for 4 more hours.  The aroma coming from the crock pot was amazing!  One of the things I love about cooking with the crock pot is that it fills your house with whatever delicious dish is cooking!  Of course the downfall is that it can make you hungry before it's done!!

The verdict: amazing! Seturned I turned it down in time because the beef came out tender!  Flavorful and hearty! I'll probably add celery and more onions next time, but it really is delicious! 

Monday, August 25, 2014

"Braided" Nutella Bread!

NUTELLA!  Yes, everyone's favorite hazelnut spread, right?  I'm sure you've pinned at least 4 or 5 pins that have something to do with Nutella.  If you haven't, this post may not be for you.

Maybe you've seen it and skipped over it because it looked difficult to make, or maybe it's sitting on your food board.  I know many of you have thought that this would be divine if you could figure out how to make it.  I was intimidated, I won't lie.  I haven't really used yeast before, so I enlisted the help of a couple family friends when I tested this recipe.  :)

The pin should take you to a website called Good Home Design, but there be careful.  There are a lot of pins for this particular recipe that are incorrectly linked!  Even though I tried fixing the link on the pin on my board, Pinterest won't allow you to go to the website.  :(  

Good Home Design is the correct originating website though. 

Here are the ingredients and instructions for the Braided Nutella Bread from the website:
• two and a half cups of all purpose flour;
• a half of teaspoon of yeast;
• a cup of water;
• a teaspoon of salt;
• a tablespoon of sugar;
• some Nutella;
• cornmeal;
• one egg;

Start by dissolving yeast with a quarter of a cup filled water, poured into a small bowl. Take another bowl, and while you let the yeast rest for 10 minutes, mix in – with the use of a stand mixer – the appropriate amount of flour, salt, and sugar. Add the yeast and mix at a low speed. Smoothly turn the speed to medium and keep turning for 7 minutes.

Get another bowl and lightly oil it and place the dough you recently made in there. Cover it with a plastic wrap and in about an hour of sitting in a warm place it will double in size.

Roll some of the dough in order to make a circle. Careful you leave enough because you’ll have to make another circle in a few minutes. Take the Nutella (be careful to take it out the fridge for a while so it would be easy to spread; you could also microwave it for 30 seconds to be sure) and pour an even layer on the surface, but leaving half an inch of margin of dough all around.

The next step is to place another roll off dough (Nutella free) on top. Afterward, place it on a parchment-lined or silicon-lined baking sheet. It’s advised you sprinkle the sheet beforehand with cornmeal. Use a knife to cut the dough down the middle, but keeping one end intact. Look at the image for guideline.

By turning the cut side toward the top, twist the ends of the dough overtop each other. Do this for every cut you made. For the next 20 minutes, let your future bread sit in a dry place, but make sure you cover it with plastic wrap. In the meantime, prepare the oven. Set it to 350°F. Before placing the dough in, brush it with some egg wash. Then, bake at this temperature for about 20 minutes. To get that lightly brown look and taste on top, raise to 425°F and bake for another 5-7 minutes. It’s done! Let it cool before serving.

If that doesn't sound intimidating to you, you're braver or more confident that I was when I first read the instructions!

Before we attempted to make the bread, we read through the comments.  I find that when I test recipes, I check to see if any readers, much like yourself, have tried the recipe and what they say about it.  One of the biggest issues we noticed was that the amount of yeast the recipe calls for is not enough.  We were definitely glad that we read the comments because 1/2 tsp of yeast is definitely not enough!!  So there, we give you change #1, use the entire packet of yeast.  We dissolved that in 1/4 cup of warm water, as stated in the directions.  When it came time to add the dissolved yeast to the flour mixture, we then added 3/4 cup water to the mixture (change #2).  When we placed it in another bowl to allow it to rise, we let about 2 hours to pass.  This is only because we forgot about it since we forgot to set a timer.  :p

When it is time to take the dough and roll it out, one thing they do not mention is that you will need more flour.  If you're as inexperienced as I am with dough, you will need to flour your space so that the dough will be manageable.  Change #3- flour your rolling surface!

Stephanie working with the dough
Jayson stepped in to roll out the dough and shape it.  Since we were experimenting, we didn't take the time to get a bowl to cut it out to be a circle.  

Stephanie spreading out the Nutella.  I don't know about you, but we do not 
refrigerate ours, especially since the container says not to!

 Jayson cutting out slices in the dough

Stephanie twisting the dough.  This made us want to look for a pin that actually calls 
for braiding the bread so that it lives up to the name :)

 Stephanie applying the egg wash

The finished product!

The verdict: It was good, but definitely need to tweak it a bit more.  The dough wasn't as flaky as we wanted it and we thought it could be sweeter.  The husband described it as "pretzel dough with Nutella."  We're definitely going to experiment with this more and once we perfect it, I will definitely share it!  If you have any suggestions, please feel free to share!


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Slutty Brownies

Oh my, I've neglected to update this blog!  I know I don't have a large following, but I do apologize for anyone who was following.  School has definitely taken up most of my time since I left the military!  I promise I'll do better! :)

Today, I bring you something sinful.  So rich, you'd be crazy not to pour yourself a glass of milk to accompany it.  I pinned it because the name itself was intriguing.

Right?  I visited the blog where you can find out about these devilish brownies, Debbie Doo's, and unfortunately there was no real explanation as to why they are slutty.  I like to find out the reason behind the name when they're out there, don't you?

The ingredients and directions are very, very simple.  3 ingredients and that's it.  Pre-made cookie dough, Oreos, and brownie mix.  Sure, you could make the cookie mix and the brownie mix from scratch, but if you're limited on time, just pick up the ready to make mix!  Simply place the cookie mix first, then place some Oreos on top, and then pour the brownie mix on top.

I made it for my husband's class he was teaching at the time.  He told me was that his class loved them!  Of course, he asked them for any suggestions to possibly improve them.  One student recommended added marshmallow fluff.  I made the brownies again when we had company in town with double stuf Oreos and marshmallow fluff.  Wow.  Didn't think they could come out any better.  

If you add the fluff, I recommend adding it as the second layer, after the cookie dough.  I put it on top of the Oreos, and being that I never worked with it before, I found it difficult to lay it down without it bringing up Oreos!  So putting it under the Oreos or maybe even mixing it in with the brownie mix before putting it on top would be better.  :)

Hopefully it's a hit with your family!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Apple Enchiladas

 There's nothing quite like warm apple pie... is there?  This pinned recipe is pretty darn close.

I'm too intimidated to attempt apple pie from scratch, so when I found this pin, I was excited because it meant that I make a quick, easier version a bit similar to the popular pie.

Ingredients and directions:

Cherries or peaches can be substituted for apples.

1 (21 ounce) can apple pie filling
6 (8 inch) flour tortillas
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup water

  • Spoon about one heaping quarter cup of pie filling evenly down the center of each tortilla.
  • Sprinkle with cinnamon; roll up, tucking in edges; and place seam side down in prepared dish.
  • In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine butter, white sugar, brown sugar and water. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly; reduce heat and simmer 3 minutes.
  • Pour sauce over enchiladas and let stand 45 minutes.
  • Bake in preheated oven 20 minutes, or until golden.
  • Serve with vanilla ice cream.

Combining the sugars, butter, and water smelled so nice while it warmed on the stove!

When you start to spoon the apple pie filling into each tortilla, you begin to realize that one can probably isn't enough to really fill the inside.

 I folded them up and placed them in a 9x13.  I know, I know, my enchiladas are inconsistent in size.  The first one is filled more when apple pis filling than the ones at the top.  The last ones I did aren't as full and I folded them loosely in attempts to make them similar to the other ones.

I plated the apple enchiladas with some vanilla bean ice cream and also some whipped cream.  I also drizzled some of the sauce over everything. :)

Verdict:A very tasty dessert!  The tortilla was still a bit soft, I think maybe it would've been a bit better if it was crispier.  Definitely will buy two cans of apple pie filling next time so that there's more to fill up. 

Friday, August 30, 2013

Broccoli & Garlic Penne Pasta

I don't know about you, but I am a fan of garlic!  I know it doesn't leave you with kissable breath, but I'm willing to sacrifice that to have a great garlic-y tasting meal.  I saw this pin and thought that it had to be great!  Broccoli too?  I was sold.

The recipe originates from the Schnucks website, which is a grocery chain in the Midwest.  I had to search around for their "about Schnucks" link; I've never heard of them until I tested this recipe.

Here are the ingredients and directions:
What you need:
(click + to add ingredients to your shopping list)
+ 1 c. Swanson® Chicken Broth or Swanson® Chicken Stock
+ 1/2 tsp. dried basil leaves, crushed
+ 1/8 tsp. ground black pepper
+ 2 cloves garlic, minced
+ 3 c. broccoli florets
+ 1/2 of a 1-lb. pkg. penne pasta (about 3 c.), cooked and drained
+ 1 Tbsp. lemon juice
+ 2 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
What to do:
1. Heat the broth, basil, black pepper, garlic and broccoli in a 10-in. skillet over medium heat to a boil. Reduce the heat to low. Cover and cook until the broccoli is tender-crisp.
2. Add the penne and lemon juice and toss to coat. Sprinkle the penne mixture with the cheese.
Nutritional information:
Calories: 124;   Total Fat: 2g;   Saturated Fat: 1g;   Cholesterol: 4mg;   Total Carbs: 22g;   Fiber: 3g;   Protein: 6g;   Sodium: 281mg;  

It's a really simple and easy recipe!  I used more garlic because 2 cloves didn't seem like it would really be enough to taste, especially in the broccoli.

The verdict?  If you're trying to watch your waistline, this recipe is for you.  The husband told me I should've been tipped off by the "lightness" of the flavors just from the calories alone. ;)  It's definitely light and the flavor barely comes through.  I ended up adding more garlic and lemon juice to get more of a taste to come through.  I won't add this to my recipe box, but if I'm trying to cut back, I may come back to this one.


Sunday, August 18, 2013

Oven Baked Corn on the Cob

Who doesn't like corn?  Such an easy food to prepare as a side dish for any meal.  I especially love eating corn straight from the cob.  It beats canned corn any day, in my opinion.

This pin was a screenshot of a Facebook post from someone's phone.  I thought it was interesting that it was pinned like this!  Someone must've seen this recipe on their Facebook feed, didn't want to forget it and decided to pin it right on their board so they wouldn't have to scroll through to look for it later!  Genius, if you ask me.  I know I've seen a few shared recipes on my feed that I wish I had saved but didn't. 

If you cannot read the instructions from the picture, this is what it says:

Never boil corn again!  Want to know the easiest way to cook corn on the cob? Throw it in the oven at 350 for 25-30 minutes.  That's it.  Leave the husk on, it will trap in the moisture, leaving you with juicy, tender corn.  The husk and silk will peel away easily once it's cooked.  Cut off the large end and it slides right out with no silk.  Bonus - keeps more of the nutrients in the corn (no boiling is best).  Who Knew!

The husband had picked up a few ears of corn from a local produce stand and I figured this was a perfect time to test this out!  After setting the oven to 350 degrees, we decided to spread some butter on the corn.  We had to pull back the husks for this, so we tried our best to keep them intact so that we could close them back up afterwards.  We just used a cookie sheet for the corn.

What is that? You're probably asking yourself, right?  It's a chili, salt, and lemon spice that is usually found in the Mexican section.  It has a bit of kick to it, so watch out!  The husband is a Texan and says he loves this on fruits and veggies (try sprinkling it on avocado).

Popped the corn in the oven for 25 minutes and that was it!  Done!  Seemed way too easy to really be good.

Verdict: JUICY, flavorful corn on the cob!  The husks came right off easily! We cut off the one end were the husks were still together and no silks remained.  Of course it helped that we peeled them back prior to baking it so they came off without any problems.  The kids exclaimed that it was the juiciest corn they ever had.  Good enough for me to keep this recipe!


Saturday, August 10, 2013

Restaurant Style Beef Broccoli (©Rainy Day Gal 2009-2013)

Beef broccoli is probably my favorite dish at a Chinese restaurant.  I make sure to order it whether we're eating at the restaurant or if we're doing take out.  The first beef broccoli pin I ever tried was a disaster.  I didn't have high hopes for this one, although I figured it had to turn out better than the last since it wasn't in a slow cooker.

Reading through the ingredients as I prepared to go on a grocery run, I was a bit shocked when I read that it uses cooking sherry.  Sherry in a Chinese dish?  This made it even more interesting.  I think my husband and I have cooked with sherry maybe once before.  I quickly did some research on cooking sherry before we looked for some and a lot of the feedback I read was to skip the "cooking" sherry and head to the wine aisle and go with something you'd drink.  We aren't fans of dessert wines and sherry is no exception. 

This homemade beef broccoli version comes from the lovely Jenny's blog, The Rainy Day Gal.  Jenny is a supermom; SAHM, writer, blogger, and cook who used to teach!  She lives in Seattle with her adorable family and she posts about food, her family, and her novel!  Yes, she's a published author!  Go check her out!

Her pictures are so detailed that there is no way that you could possibly mess this recipe up! Ingredients and directions as posted on her blog:

This easy version of the Chinese takeout classic requires only a short marinade to
make the beef fork tender. Serve over white or brown rice. Serves 4.
©Rainy Day Gal 2009-2013
Prep Time: 10 minutes + 1 hour for marinade
Cook Time: 8 minutes
First, marinate the meat:
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp cornstarch
1 tbsp low sodium soy sauce
1 tbsp water
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 1/2 lbs flank steak, sliced into thin strips
1. Whisk together the baking soda, sugar, cornstarch, soy sauce, water, and vegetable oil in 
a large bowl. Toss the steak with the marinade to coat. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour, 
then proceed below.
1/2 c low sodium soy sauce (Do NOT use regular.  The final product will be way too salty)
2 tbsp brown sugar
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp flour
1 tbsp sherry
3 tbsp vegetable oil
2 heads broccoli, crowns only
1. In a small bowl, stir together the soy sauce, brown sugar, garlic, flour and sherry until smooth. Set aside.
2. In a large wok or saute pan, heat 2 tablespoons of the vegetable oil over high heat 
until shimmering. Add broccoli and saute 3 minutes, stirring often. Transfer broccoli to a plate.
3. Reduce heat to medium high. Carefully add the remaining tablespoon of oil to
the hot pan. Add the marinated meat and half of the sauce mixture and saute for 3-4 minutes, 
stirring often, until the meat is cooked through and no longer pink. Stir in the broccoli and remaining 
sauce. Saute 1 minute more. Serve.

This is the sherry that we used and yes, I tried it.  Definitely not a fan.  The husband
describes it as "sweet whiskey".  Blech.
The one thing we did different from her instructions is marinading it for an hour.  We already had dinner planned the night we bought the steak, so we let it marinade over night.
As you can see, we did have quite a bit of beef (but we're not complaining) and it soaked up all of the marinade. 

We followed the instructions and before we could even plate it, we tasted a piece of beef because it was too tempted after smelling all of the aromas from the pan!

You  may notice that our sauce isn't quite as dark as on the blog.  We couldn't quite figure it out but didn't make a big deal of it.  This plate was actually put together by our oldest; she wanted "more beef than broccoli" but after eating it, she went back for more broccoli!


The verdict:  Beef? Tender.  Sauce?  Perfect (the low-sodium soy sauce was a great call by Jenny).  Dare I say it?  It was the best homemade beef broccoli.  Our daughter thought it was good enough to be from a restaurant!  Husband loved it and it is going into our recipe book!  Definitely try this one out!