Monday, September 27, 2010

Update on Free Food

Back in the beginning of June, I wrote a post on “Budget Friendly Food” and I listed a bunch of free offers and discounts I’d gotten for signing up for restaurant email clubs, etc.  Well, since most of those clubs have other offers periodically, as well as birthday incentives (and my birthday was recently), I have a new list of “best of” offers to share:

-free Orange Julius drink
-free dessert at Buffalo Wild Wings
-free dessert at Fazoli’s
-free fried ice cream at La Mesa
-free Like It at Cold Stone Creamery
-free frozen yogurt at TCBY
-free cookie at Bruegger’s Bagels
-buy one, get one Blizzard free at DQ
-free burger at Ruby Tuesday (and you thought it was just going to be desserts!)
-free appetizer at Famous Dave’s
-free “Rooty Tooty Fresh ‘N Fruity” meal at IHOP (or meal of equal/lesser value)

And, for those of you who are more interested in lasting free stuff rather than just food (or, if you’re trying to stay away from empty calories!), perhaps this will appeal to you:  since signing up for Westroads Mall and Oakview Mall’s email clubs in May, I’ve received $50 worth of free giftcard offers.  I’ve only been able to redeem $30 worth of them due to schedule conflicts, but that means I’ve gotten $30 worth of free stuff at those malls since May!!!  The giftcards are redeemable at every store in those malls.  Totally worth the monthly update emails I get from their clubs. 

Friday, September 24, 2010

Smith Family Favorites: Meal Edition

The following recipes are all meals I grew up eating.  My mom was an amazing cook and definitely passed on her love of food to me.  Most of these recipes are of the comfort food variety, which is always a hit with me.  

Porcupine Meatballs
1 lb ground beef (I’ve been using ground turkey lately)
½ C long grain white rice
1 tsp salt
1 T minced onion (I use onion flakes)
1 can condensed tomato soup
2/3 soup can of water

Form first 4 ingredients into meatballs, not too big.  Mix soup & water; pour over meatballs.  Cover & bake at 325 degrees for 1 ½ hrs.  (Love served with garlic mashed potatoes!)

Sour Cream Enchiladas
½ C chopped onion
½ C sour cream
1 dozen tortillas
1 C diced cooked chicken
2 cans cream soup (chicken, mushroom, celery, etc)
4.5 oz can chopped green chiles

Combine soup, sour cream & chiles; stir til smooth.  Mix together chicken & onion.  Add spoonful of sour cream mixture down the middle of each tortilla, then add a spoonful of chicken filling.  Roll each tortilla & place side by side in baking dish.  Pour remaining sauce over all & bake at 350 degrees for 20 min.  (Can add cheese on top, but not in my house, of course.)

Mom’s Microwave Meatloaf
1 lb lean ground beef or turkey
8 oz tomato sauce
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 C quick oats
1 T minced onion (onion flakes)
1/8 tsp minced garlic or garlic powder, to taste
1 ½ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper

Combine all ingredients into a microwavable loaf pan (I have a Pyrex one); cook 8-10 min. 

1/3 C ketchup
1 tsp Worchestershire sauce
1 T brown sugar
1 T mustard

Blend well; pour over loaf.  Cook an additional 3-4 minutes.

Ham Balls / Loaf
2 lbs. ground ham or ham loaf mix
2 lbs. ground beef
2 C graham cracker crumbs
2 eggs
1 ½ C milk

Mix & spread into pan or shape into balls. 

1 can tomato soup
1 ½ C brown sugar
¼ - ½ C vinegar

Pour sauce over loaf/balls & bake at 325 degrees for 45 minutes.

Baked Pork Chops with Stuffing (from Grammy P.)
6-8 pork chops
2 C bread crumbs
1/3 C marg/butter, melted
1 C hot chicken broth or V-8
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 stalks celery, finely chopped
1 tsp poultry seasoning or sage

Brown pork chops in small amount of oil.  Season with salt & pepper; place in baking dish.  Combine remaining ingredients to make stuffing.  Spoon a mound of dressing on each pork chop.  Bake at 350 degrees  for about an hour.

Bacon Chicken
1 pkg dried beef
2-4 chicken breasts
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 C sour cream
4 pieces of bacon

Line 9x13 pan with dried beef (I break up into smaller pieces).  Wrap chicken with bacon and place on top of dried beef.  Mix soup & sour cream.  Pour over chicken.  Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour.  Serve over long grain & wild rice mix.

5 Hour Oven Stew
2 lbs stew meat
2 tsp salt
1 onion
2 T tapioca (not pudding - just tapioca granules)
6 potatoes
3 stalks celery in large diagonal cuts
1 T sugar
6 carrots in large chunks or baby carrots, cut into chunks
1 large can V-8 juice

Put all ingredients in an oven dish or pan and cover tightly.  Bake at 325 degrees for 5 hours.  Uncover midway & stir.  Serve with biscuits or corn muffins. (This is a very thick stew.)

Baked Potato Soup from The Machine Shed
2 ½ lbs baby red potatoes, quartered
½ lb bacon, diced
1 jumbo yellow onion, diced
¼ bunch celery, diced
2 oz chicken soup base
1 qt milk
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 ½ sticks marg/butter
¾ C flour
1 C heavy whipping cream or ½ & ½
¼ bunch parsley, chopped or dried parsley

Boil potatoes in 1 qt water for 10 min.  Set aside.  Do not drain.  In a large pot, sauté bacon, onions & celery over medium-high heat until celery is tender.  Drain bacon grease & return bacon, onions & celery to pot.  Add milk, potato water, chicken base, salt & pepper.  Heat over medium-high heat until very hot.  Do not boil.  In large saucepan, melt marg/butter.  Add flour.  Mix well & allow to bubble, stirring for 1 min.  While stirring soup, constantly add the flour & marg mixture slowly.  Continue stirring until soup is thick & creamy.  Stir in potatoes, parsley & cream.  Serve while hot.  Garnish with shredded Cheddar, fried bacon bits & chopped green onions.  (We love Tastefully Simple’s Bacon Bacon for bacon bits.)

Savory Beef Skillet
1 lb ground beef
¾ C onion, chopped (or onion flakes)
1/8 tsp garlic powder
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp oregano
Dash of pepper
1 ½ C tomato juice
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 C Minute Rice

In large skillet, brown meat & onion; drain grease.  Stir in remaining ingredients.  Bring to a boil; simmer 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. 

Mexican Chicken Casserole
3 C cooked chicken, diced
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 can Rotel tomatoes or 12 oz salsa
1 medium onion, chopped
Broken up Doritos or tortilla chips
Shredded Cheddar cheese (optional)

Mix soups & salsa/tomatoes together.  In dish, layer ½ Doritos, chicken, onion, soup mixture & cheese.  Repeat, ending with cheese.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. 

Sunday Dinner (aka Pot Roast)
4-5 lb beef roast (arm roast preferred)
1 pkg Lipton’s beefy mushroom soup mix (or beefy onion or onion)
Peeled potatoes
Peeled carrots or baby carrots
Small peeled onions, if desired

Brown roast on both sides in Dutch oven or roasting pan.  Sprinkle dry soup mix over roast.  Cover tightly and put in oven at 350 degrees for 1 hour.  After an hour, put carrots, potatoes & onions around roast.  Cover tightly & return to oven at 275 degrees for 2 -2 ½ hours.  After removing meat & veggies, use drippings to make wonderful gravy. 

Hot Chicken Salad
3 C cooked chicken, cubed
1 C diced celery, optional
1 – 2 C cooked long grain rice
1 can sliced water chestnuts, drained
½ C milk
¾ C Miracle Whip
1 T lemon juice
2 T finely chopped onion (or onion flakes)
3 hard cooked eggs, diced
1 can cream of chicken soup

Mix all ingredients together & put in 9x13 dish.

1 C cornflake crumbs
¼ C melted marg/butter
½ C slivered almonds

Spread on top & bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

Seafood Pasta
4 T marg/butter
½ C flour
Milk, as desired
1 can chopped clams
Other seafood, such as shrimp or crab
Salt & pepper, as desired

Melt marg/butter, add flour & garlic; stir over low heat until flour has been absorbed.  Add milk while stirring over low heat.  It will bubble and get thick so keep adding milk & let cook until it’s the thickness you like.  It’s good if it’s fairly thick before adding the clams because the juice will thin it down.  Don’t let it boil after you add the clams, to avoid the clams getting tough.  Add rest of seafood, salt & pepper, to taste.  Serve over cooked pasta. 

My family also grew up loving cooked broccoli with Hollandaise sauce (refer back to the previous Brunch post for the Hollandaise sauce recipe).  The creamy texture and crisp lemon acidity is a perfect accompaniment to the chewy green broccoli.  And, though I never loved it due to my abhorrence of sauerkraut, most of the rest of the gang loves Canadian bacon or bratwurst & sauerkraut pizza.  Just a few of our favorite things!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Smith Family Favorites: Brunch Bunch

Continuing what I started, I’m now going to give you some of my family’s favorite breakfast or brunch recipes.  Some of these may strike you as odd, but I assure you they’re delicious!  Our family has sometimes been known for the “odd” but also known for good food (I like to think).

Mom’s Microwave Monkey Bread
¼ C butter/marg
½ C brown sugar
½ tsp cinnamon
1 T water
7.5 oz Pillsbury Flaky Layers biscuits (comes in 4 pack)

Microwave butter, sugar, cinnamon & water for 1 min or until butter is melted & sugar dissolves.  Cut biscuits in half with kitchen shears.  Mix well.  Spread into greased microwave bunt pan (must have!).  Microwave 2 ½ min or until biscuits are no longer doughy.  Flip over onto plate to serve.

German (Baked) Pancakes – similar to a popover puff
1 C flour
6 eggs
1 C milk
4 T melted marg/butter
½ tsp salt

Place all ingredients in blender until well mixed.  Pour into greased pan (bar pans work best – double the recipe for a jelly roll size pan).  Bake at 450 degrees for 20 min.  Serve with melted butter & powdered sugar.

Scrambled Pancakes
4 eggs
1 C milk
1 tsp salt
2 T sugar
4 T butter/marg
1 ½ C flour

Beat eggs well before adding milk, salt & sugar.  Add flour & mix well.  Melt marg/butter in skillet until hot.  Pour batter into skillet.  Stir & chop as it cooks until contents are similar in size & shape to scrambled eggs.  Serve with syrup or melted butter & powdered sugar. 

Homemade Hashbrowns
Potatoes, unpeeled & washed
2 T canola oil
Cookie’s Seasoning

Cut potatoes into small chunks.  Heat oil in large skillet.  Spread potato chunks into skillet; sprinkle with seasoning.  Cook on medium heat, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are soft.  Sprinkle with seasoning, if necessary.

Matt’s Oven Bacon – truly amazing!
1 lb. thick sliced bacon
Brown sugar

Line jelly roll pan with tin foil.  (He says Walmart’s brand heavy duty foil is the best for nonstick.)  Spread bacon slices over foil.  Sprinkle with brown sugar.  Bake at 400 degrees for 15 – 30 min (the thicker the slices, the longer it will take to bake).

Goldenrod Eggs
6 T butter/marg
½ - ¾ C flour
3-4 C milk
1 hard boiled egg per person + 1 extra
Bacon bits
1 piece of toast per person (or more, depending on how hungry you are!)

Melt butter/marg in large fry pan; after melted, add 1/2-3/4 c. flour, enough to absorb the butter.  Stir in some milk on low heat until thickened.  Then add more to make a good sauce.  Separate egg yolks from the whites.  Slice the whites and add to the sauce, then mash the yolks.  Pour sauce over toast & sprinkle with mashed yolks and bacon bits. 

Eggs Benedict
English muffins
Canadian bacon / ham
Eggs, cooked over medium or poached

Hollandaise sauce:
3 egg yolks
6 T butter/marg (butter works best)
3 T lemon juice

On low heat, stir in lemon juice with egg yolks; add butter ½ at a time, stirring the whole time.  It will slowly start to thicken.  If it separates, stir in 1 T hot water.  Pour sauce over muffin that's been topped with Canadian bacon and an egg.

When we still lived in Cincinnati, we found a little bistro that served the most amazing French toast.  And you’re thinking, “Cari hates bread.  How could she say ‘the most amazing French toast?!’”  And you’d be right on target.  I do not love French toast.  But let me describe this particular dish and see if you can’t understand why even I craved this French toast: two slices of Texas toast, dipped in vanilla bean batter, rolled in Frosted Flakes crumbs, cooked to perfection, covered with crème brulee sauce, topped with sliced bananas & whipped cream & dusted with cocoa.  Seriously.  Amazing.  Even my sister, who is not the biggest fan of bananas, loved this meal.  It also comes with a side of fresh fruit and we always ordered their homemade seasoned hashbrowns for something that cut the sweetness a bit.  Every person we introduced to this French toast has loved it.  How could you not?!  Last time we went back to visit “the Nati”, the bistro had moved, but we hunted it down and had our way with that French toast.  And we look forward to doing it again.  And again.  And again.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Smith Family Favorites: Dessert Style

I recently visited my younger brother in Illinois and while I was there, he inspired me to write a few posts with recipes that are a bit unique and beloved by our family.  Our family loves food, thanks to a mom who was a great (and, at times, innovative) cook!  I thought I’d start off with desserts.  None of this ‘saving the best for last’ nonsense!

Black Bottom Cupcakes

Cake Batter:
1 ½ C flour
1 C sugar
¼ C cocoa
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 C water
1 T vinegar
1 tsp vanilla
1/3 C oil

Mix; beat well.  Fill foil-lined muffin tins 1/3 full with batter. 

8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 egg
1/3 C sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1 C semi-sweet chocolate chips

Beat well, adding chips last to prevent melting.  Top each muffin cup with heaping spoonful of filling.  Sprinkle with sugar.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 min.

Coconut Cream Cake
1 white cake mix, plus ingredients to make cake
1 can sweetened condensed milk
4 oz cream of coconut (not coconut milk)
8 oz Cool Whip
Flaked coconut

Bake cake mix according to directions. Poke holes in it while still hot.  Mix together cream of coconut and condensed milk.  Pour mixture over cake.  Allow to cool.  Spread Cool Whip over cake and sprinkle with flaked coconut.  Refrigerate til ready to serve.

Sour Cream Chocolate Cake
2 eggs, well beaten
1 C sugar
1 ½ C flour
1 tsp salt*
1 C sour cream
2 T cocoa
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla

Beat together; add ½ C boiling water.  Bake in 9x9 pan at 325 degrees for 20-25 min. 
*For 9x13, double recipe, but do not double salt.  Bake for 1 hr.

Frosting: (Vanilla Buttercream)
3 C powdered sugar
1/3 C marg/butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla
1-2 T milk

Mix sugar & butter in medium bowl; stir in vanilla & milk.  Beat until smooth & spreadable.  Frosts one 9x13 cake. (I halve the recipe for the 9x9 cake above.)

Butterscotch Blondies
1 C butterscotch chips
¼ C marg/butter
1 C brown sugar
2 eggs
½ tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking powder
1 C flour
¾ tsp salt

Melt chips & butter together (I use the microwave, stirring every so often).  Add brown sugar & cool for 5 min.  Stir in remaining ingredients.  Mix well.  Spread into 9x13 pan & bake for 25 min at 350 degrees. (I put into a slightly smaller bar pan; otherwise the bars will be very thin.)

Oatmeal Fudge Bars
1 C sugar
1 C brown sugar
1 C marg/butter, softened
3 C oatmeal (I use quick oats for better consistency)
2 eggs
2 C flour
1 tsp baking soda

Chocolate filling:
1 C chocolate chips (I use semi-sweet)
1 can sweetened condensed milk
½ C butter/marg

Cream sugars & marg/butter.  Add remaining ingredients & divide mix in half.  Spread half in an ungreased 9x13 pan.  For filling, combine all ingredients in saucepan & stir over low heat until melted.  Pour filling over mixture in pan, then sprinkle/crumble remaining mixture on top.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30 min.  Let cool before cutting.

Texas Sheetcake Brownies
2 C sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 C flour
1 tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
½ C oil
½ C buttermilk
½ C butter/marg
4 T cocoa
1 C water

½ C butter/marg
4 T cocoa
6 T milk
1 lb. powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
Chopped nuts, optional

Beat eggs & add sugar, then remaining ingredients.  Melt butter & water together.  Combine butter mixture with egg mixture.  Spread batter into a greased jelly roll pan.  Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.  For frosting, bring butter, cocoa & milk to a rapid boil.  Remove from heat.  Add powdered sugar & vanilla.  Frost while brownies are hot & sprinkle with nuts, if desired.

1 C peanut butter
½ C butter/marg
2 C powdered sugar
3 C rice krispies
1 tsp vanilla
1 C chocolate chips (I use semi-sweet)

Melt chips & butter together.  Add other ingredients & mix well.  Roll into balls & refrigerate for 15-20 min.  (This is great to make with kids!)

Mom’s Ice Cream Mix
6 eggs, beaten til foamy
½ C sugar per egg, added gradually
1 pint whipping cream
1 quart ½ & ½
½ tsp salt
2 T vanilla
Fill with milk up to line on canister

Granola Bars
1 C brown sugar
¾ C butter/marg
4 C oatmeal (I use quick oats for better consistency)
¼ C honey
1 C chocolate chips (I use semi-sweet)
½ C chopped pecans, optional

Melt butter/marg, then stir in brown sugar.  Add remaining ingredients, chips last to prevent melting.  Stir well.  Press firmly in an even layer into a 9x13 pan (I use a slightly smaller bar pan for thicker bars).  Bake for 25-30 min at 350 degrees or until golden brown.  Cool before cutting. 

Aunt Jeanie’s Fudge
3 C semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 ½ tsp vanilla
Chopped walnuts, optional
Dash of salt, optional

Melt chips & milk in microwave, stirring occasionally.  Add salt (optional).  Add walnuts (optional).  Add vanilla.  Mix well.  Spread into 9x9 pan.  Cool & cut.

Fresh Peach or Strawberry Pie
Graham cracker crust or baked pie shell
Fresh fruit, ready to fill crust
1 C sugar
3 T cornstarch
1 C water
2-4 T peach or strawberry jello (I usually use regular, not sugar-free)

Cook sugar, cornstarch & water until clear.  Add jello.  Pour over fruit in pie shell or crust.  Chill.  Serve with Cool Whip.

Funfetti Cookies
1 pkg. Pillsbury Funfetti cake mix
1/3 c. oil
2 eggs
1 can Vanilla Funfetti frosting

Heat oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl combine cake mix, oil, and eggs. Stir by hand until thoroughly moistened. Stir in sprinkles from cake mix (if separate). Use cookie scoop for desired size of cookies. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet. Flatten with bottom of glass dipped in sugar. Bake 6-8 minutes until edges are golden brown. Cool 1 minute. Remove from cookie sheet. Frost while warm. Store in tightly covered container.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Candy Time!

Who doesn’t love candy?!  Its melt-in-your mouth (or hand) delicious!  One of life’s simple pleasures.  But my husband and I can have very different candy preferences.  I will always choose the almond variety over the peanut butter (aka M&M’s, among other things).  I sometimes like fruity options rather than just rich, chocolaty ones.  Jake really isn’t into fruit in any form.  Sometimes I just want a good, smooth chocolate, which is pretty much something he’d never choose for himself.  And when it comes to milk or semi-sweet chocolate chips in our cookies, we’re split on that decision as well.  (I prefer traditional semi-sweet.  Which is odd since I grew up with giant milk chocolate chips, but I always wanted the “Nestle Tollhouse” ones I saw on TV instead, so that’s probably where that comes from.)  Most times I also like a little crunch in my munch, either nuts or wafers or cookies, even pretzels. (Hello, Take Five!  Though I haven’t loved the new pretzel M&M’s yet for some reason.)  Jake is a peanut butter cup, 3 Musketeers, Reese’s Fast Break guy.  I don’t even understand the Reese’s Fast Break!  Peanut butter, nougat – where’s the substance?!  Where’s the nutty layer breaking those other two up?!  Nasty.  And no matter how old I get, hard candy has never and apparently will never appeal to me.  Thanks but no thanks, suckers!  (This does not apply to the rock candy mentioned below, however, which is in a category of coolness all its own.)

Here are a few of my favorite (candy) things:

-Skittles & Starburst tie for my favorite fruity treats.  Though they are very different in form they have one thing in common: the strawberry options are by far the best.
-Of the Almond variety: M&M’s, Mars bars (WAY better than Snickers if given the option), Almond Joy, Hershey’s bar with almonds.
**Nestle used to make a white chocolate bar with almond pieces that was simply amazing; similar to the Hershey’s Cookies & Cream bars but even better.  Can we get a petition going to bring it back?!

-Nostalgia wins:  rock candy, Black Jack gum or anything black licorice-flavored, Big League chew, circus peanuts (my dad used to hide these in his office drawer at the church for special treats).

-Anything coconut will catch my eye.  My sister-in-law, Christine, used to spoil me with Key Lime Coconut patties that were dipped in chocolate on one side.  Fantastic!  I believe she purchased them at Cracker Barrel. 

-Lindt’s Lindor Truffle balls are my very top chocolate pick and the White Chocolate are the only way to go for me.  They do have many flavors for the white chocolate haters, though.  The melt-in-your-hand-then-mouth creamy center is a truly eye-drooping indulgence. 

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Easy Stuffed Cornish Hens

Now that it’s getting to be a bit more “fallish” weather out, my cooking mind is turning to those cool-weather comfort recipes.  This one is sometimes a special treat for us if we stay in on Valentine's Day or something.  It looks and tastes pretty fancy but it’s really so simple.

Stuffed Cornish Hens
6.2 oz pkg fast-cooking long grain & wild rice mix
1 small onion, chopped
2 T butter/marg, divided
1 can cream of mushroom soup
4 oz can mushrooms, drained
2 to 4 Cornish game hens
salt & pepper

Cook rice according to pkg directions.  In small skillet, saute onion in 1 T butter/marg until tender.  Stir in the soup, mushrooms & prepared rice.  Sprinkle inside & outside of hens with salt & pepper.  Stuff with rice mixture.  Place in a greased shallow roasting pan; cover with foil.  Bake at 400 degrees for 40 min.  Remove foil.  Melt remaining butter; brush over hens.  Bake 25-35 min longer or til juices run clear & meat thermometer reads 180 degrees for hens & 165 for stuffing.

**Notes:  I sometimes skip the onion part, just adding onion flakes & the 1 T butter to the rice mix.  I also use spray butter for the outside of the hens.  You can leave out the mushrooms if you don’t like them, and you could use any kind of cream soup.

My favorite part is the stuffing, especially the part that gets crispy on the outside of the hen, but is still infused with the meat juices.  Yum.  Hope you like it! 

Friday, September 10, 2010

Brand Battles

Maybe it’s because my mom always bought generic brands of food items or maybe it’s because it’s they’re cheaper, but I have no problem buying a generic brand of food, with very few exceptions.  Really, I have more brand loyalty when it comes to paper towels (Viva!), toilet paper (Charmin Ultra Strong, though I’ve recently been tempted to buy the Ultra Soft instead) and Clorox Wipes (HAS to be Clorox – they don’t streak like even Lysol ones do).  

However, my husband doesn’t have the same carefree attitude about generic brands, especially when it comes to Macaroni & Cheese.  For him it has to be Kraft original.  Nothing else will do.  (And, yes, he eats original Kraft Mac ‘n Cheese, even though it’s CHEESE.)  Even when the store is out of Kraft original and I’m forced to buy a couple generic boxes.  He swears that they (generics) taste funny and so he’s scared to even try them.  They sit on the shelf until I break down and just eat them myself.  And they taste the same to me.  And are about a third of the price.  Whatever.

Recently I had a discussion with some friends about ketchup.  Apparently they will only buy Heinz and definitely will NOT buy Hunts.  Funny since my husband has the same hatred of Hunts.  But his mom will only buy Hunts.  That cracks me up.  I also remember having a conversation some years back with a friend in Cincinnati that will only use Philadelphia cream cheese.  She swears to its far superiority over generic brands.  I cannot tell one little bit of difference. 

Here is a short list of items that have had brand war waged over them in our house & others:

-         Oreos (only brand name for us)
-         Soda (no generics here)
-         Ranch dressing (only original Hidden Valley Ranch will do & in large quantities at that)
-         Pickles (I just discovered that our Walmart does carry more than just Vlasic and a generic brand – Claussens are located in the lunchmeat section.  Weird.  How often have I shopped there & never noticed that?!  Definitely try Famous Dave’s sweet & spicy pickles sometime – they’re amazing!!)
-         Cereal (we go generic on this as much as possible, though not with Cheerios or Honey Nut Cheerios – those generics are always off on texture for me)
-         Cool Whip (I’m good with generics usually)

Have you waged any brand battles?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Compliments of Chris: Cadbury Egg Recipe!

My husband’s dad recently sent me an electronic copy of a very interesting cookbook.  He’s been reading my blog (thank you!) and thought I might like it. Its a collection of very unique recipes, including ones from various restaurants like Applebee’s Oriental Chicken Salad, Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia ice cream and Olive Garden’s House Salad Dressing.  It even has recipes for making your own cream cheese.  Or sweetened condensed milk.  (Who knew these were items one could actually MAKE instead of just buying at the store?!)  I’ve never seen a cookbook quite like this one.  Seriously, the first major ingredient in Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing is 15 saltine crackers pulsed in a blender!  I know I wouldn’t have guessed that correctly.  But one of the greatest finds I’ve ever seen in any cookbook is the recipe for Cadbury Eggs.  I could cry with glee!  Who knew I could possibly make these treats for myself any time of the year?!  I will forever be in your debt, Chris Christian.

Cadbury Eggs
1/2 cups light corn syrup
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 teas. vanilla
1/4 teas. salt
3 cups powdered sugar
4 drops yellow food coloring
2 drops red food coloring
1 − 12 oz. bag milk chocolate chips
2 Tbls. shortening

Combine corn syrup, butter, vanilla and salt in large bowl. Beat well with electric mixer. Add sugar, one cup at a time, mixing by hand after each addition. Remove about 1/3 of the mix and place in small bowl. Add yellow & red coloring and stir. Cover both mixes and refrigerate at least 2 hours. When mixes are firm, roll a small ball from the orange filling and wrap
around it a portion of the white filling that is twice that size. Form into the shape of an egg and place onto a cookie sheet that has been brushed with shortening. Repeat with remaining ingredients. Refrigerate 3−4 hrs. Combine chocolate chips with shortening in glass bowl. Microwave on high for 1 minute. Then stir and microwave another minute. Use a fork to dip each center into the chocolate. Place candy onto wax paper to dry. After 1−2 hours of chilling, dip each candy one more time and chill.

Monday, September 6, 2010

One of the Best Meals I’ve Had

Recently we were invited over to the house of some friends of ours from our church small group for dinner.  They truly spoiled us with some amazing food.  Evidently Rick loves food as much as we do.  And I’m sure Erin benefits from that love of food frequently.  I know we did! 

I thought I’d give you the quick menu so you can share in my revelry.  The meal started off with bacon-wrapped sweet & spicy marinated grilled shrimp.  Yep, amazing.  I could probably stop right there & have you drooling.  But there’s more.  Our main course was grilled steaks with baked potatoes & grilled corn on the cob, which was smothered with some kind of herbed butter sauce Rick concocted and put on before he wrapped the corn in foil to grill.  Just delicious.  (Oh, and I contributed a lame-o bag of salad to this fine meal.)  Did I mention that the steaks were the size of my plate?!  For a perfect finish, Erin had made a scrumptious chocolate cake with a homemade peanut butter frosting and a drizzle of caramel sauce over the top.  Yeah, I know you’re jealous now.

During dinner, our conversation turned to an interesting food topic.  Apparently the men in Rick’s family (VERY Italian, by the way) have a unique routine while they’re cooking.  No matter what he’s making for dinner, Rick’s grandfather will be munching on a bologna sandwich during the process.  And then he’ll finish off his dinner with a bologna sandwich.  Rick’s dad eats hot dogs while he grills, too.  It doesn’t matter what the actual dinner meat is; he’ll add a couple extra hot dogs to the grill to enjoy while he’s out there.  This is a very interesting phenomenon to me.  Especially the part where Rick’s grandfather ends every meal with a bologna sandwich, no matter how full he already is from dinner foods.  But I decided that it’s probably not all that different from me feeling like I have to end a meal with something sweet, even just a small bite.  It just depends on what you condition your body & your taste buds to want.  I think this is similar to the fact that I “need” to drink soda with pizza.  Nothing else will do.  And though it probably wouldn’t actually kill me to drink something else with pizza, I’d rather not ever test that theory.  Ever.

So, thanks to Rick & Erin for one of the best meals we’ve had in a long time!!  And some interesting dinner conversation to boot.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Ethnic Picnic: Irish Food

My first experience with Irish food was while we were living in Cincinnati.  A nice restaurant down at Newport on the Levee opened up called Claddagh, which I’ve found is a chain restaurant.  It has an upscale pub atmosphere.  We were invited to go with our friends Matt & Becky, so we tried it out.  They loved the fish & chips and recommended that, which was a fairly reasonably priced option at around $10.  But that didn’t seem to trip my trigger that night, so I went for something a bit more indulgent: chicken stuffed with ham and herb cream cheese smothered with a cheesy sauce, served with mashed potatoes and veggies.  This feast was preceded by a bowl of creamy clam chowder served with Irish soda bread.  As you know if you’ve read this blog previously, I’m no bread lover.  But this bread was dense & chewy, similar to a bagel but slightly lighter.  Perfect for dipping in the clam chowder.  Sadly, it appears that this chicken is no longer available on their menu.  I would be surprised if some of their other offerings don’t have a similar delight, however.  Definitely worth checking out!

One of the best Irish food experiences was had at a nice Irish pub restaurant in the Washington, DC area with our friends Amy & Curtis.  I loved what I had so much I made a point of going back there once right before they moved from that area just to be sure I had it again!  And for the life of me, I can’t remember the name of the restaurant.  But I remember what I had: cottage pie.  This is similar to a shepherd’s pie, but with chicken and a creamy sauce instead of tomato-based sauce.  Which is similar to a chicken pot pie, except that it is topped with whipped mashed potatoes instead of a flaky pastry crust (or biscuits, if you’ve seen my recipe).  The cottage pie I had is the only cottage pie I’ve ever had and I loved it.  Big chunks of chicken, creamy but flavorful sauce, perfect mashed potatoes.  All baked to golden perfection.  And it was a large portion, served in a single serving baking dish – all for me!  It’s just a simple meal, but just delicious.  And I’ve had shepherd’s pie since and really enjoyed it too.  But cottage pie will always take precedence for me.

My favorite and most recent Irish food delight took place last March 17th, St. Patrick’s Day 2010.  Jake’s aunts, mom and I were having regular “Ladies Nights Out” and had just incorporated the idea of some “Ladies Nights In” as well, to save a big on budgets.  So Marti, Jake’s aunt, cooked up a smorgasbord of amazing dishes to tantalize our taste buds.  And it did the trick!  Beef & rice stuffed cabbage rolls covered in a creamy tomato sauce paired with mashed potatoes infused with chunks of ham and cabbage (which was perfect with the cabbage rolls’ sauce).  This was such a good meal that I’ve already told Marti I’m requesting it for my birthday dinner!  It was even great as leftovers.  I raved & raved about it to Jake and since we had leftovers for him, I don’t think he was disappointed.  Cabbage can be kind of daunting to some, too, so I’m sure he was prepared to not appreciate it as I had.  I’ve found I rather like cabbage, though.  Not when it’s rotten and stinky (i.e. sauerkraut) but prepared pretty much any other way, from fresh to stuffed.

So there you have it!  I would recommend anyone try a good Irish feast.  There are several pubs around Omaha with which to experiment as well, though I’ve yet to try any and therefore have no specific recommendations.  Perhaps one of these days someone will pay me to try their restaurant creations & then I will finally be able to afford my expensive taste!  Though I’ll take a good cheap order of fish & chips too.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Classic Crockpot*

Some might say that crockpot cuisine is classically cold weather comfort food.  Which I would agree with.  But I think that the summer is a perfect time to dust off this old faithful friend as well.  It doesn’t heat up the house like the oven or stove and can be utilized to make tantalizing ribs, pork chops, chicken tacos, etc.  Which are all typical summer food (or can be just as easily as burgers & corn on the cob).  Below is a list of my top crockpot recipes, come warm OR cold weather.  (Note: I have recently acquired some great crockpot recipes from some of you that I have yet to try, but fully intend to so.  But since I have not actually tried them yet, I’ve left them off for now.)

You’ll find that I prefer recipes that require little to no prep work, basically just dumping everything together.  I’ve heard that it’s best to leave the lid on the crockpot & go, not stopping to stir it every so often, as that lets out the steam heat that’s cooking the food.   A good tip: use very flavorful ingredients so the finished product doesn’t just taste like overdone mush. 
I’m also a big proponent of crockpot liners.  Change your life!  

No Peek Beef
1-2 lbs. stew meat (or roast, cut into 1 inch pieces)
10 oz can cream of mushroom soup
4 oz can mushrooms, drained or fresh sliced mushrooms
1 envelope onion soup mix (I sometimes use Beefy Onion; Onion Mushroom would work well too)
½ C red wine or water (I use wine)

Combine all ingredients in crockpot.  Stir together well.  Cover & cook on low for 8-12 hrs or high for 5-6 hrs. (Mixture will be saucier if cooked on low; fresh mushrooms will also create more water, thus saucier.)  Serve over rice or noodles.

Crockpot Scalloped Potatoes & Ham
about 4 potatoes, peeled or not, sliced thin (I do not peel)
onion flakes or diced fresh onion (onion flakes!)
family-size can cream of mushroom soup
leftover ham or 4 oz. pkg cubed ham
¼ C milk

Spray crockpot (or use liner).  Combine soup & milk.  Layer ½ of potatoes, ½ onions, ½ soup mixture, ham, rest of potatoes, onions, & soup.  Cook 7-8 hrs on low or 4-5 hrs on high.  (Will be creamier and saucier cooked on low, which my husband always prefers.)

Chicken Tacos
1 ¼ lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs (can use breasts but will be drier)
1 envelope taco seasoning mix (I use Pampered Chef’s Southwest Seasoning Mix
which has better flavor, in my opnion)
1 T packed brown sugar
4.5 oz can chopped green chiles
1 can whole kernel corn, drained
10 oz can enchilada sauce (I use more authentic, mild brands rather than Old El
Paso, etc)
4 medium green onions, sliced
Taco shells
Shredded lettuce
Chopped tomato

Spray crockpot (or use liner).  Place chicken in crockpot; sprinkle with taco seasoning mix & brown sugar.  Toss to coat.  Mix in green chiles, corn & ½ C enchilada sauce.  (Refrigerate remaining enchilada sauce.)  Cover & cook on low for 6-7 hrs.  Use forks to shred chicken.  Stir in green onions.  Cover & cook on low for 15 more minutes.  Heat remaining enchilada sauce & serve chicken in taco shells with lettuce, tomato & warm enchilada sauce.

Barbecue Beans & Polish Sausage
2 cans great northern beans, rinsed & drained
2 cans black beans, rinsed & drained
1 large onion, chopped
1 C BBQ sauce
¼ C packed brown sugar
1 T ground mustard
1 T Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp chili powder
1 ring fully cooked smoked Polish sausage (I use the low fat or turkey kind)

Spray crockpot (or use liner).  Mix all ingredients except sausage in crockpot.  Place sausage ring on bean mixture.  Cover & cook on low for 5-6 hrs.

French Dip Sandwiches
Beef roast (your choice but I prefer boneless arm roasts)
1 pkg Italian dressing seasoning mix
1 pkg Au Jus seasoning mix
10.5 oz can beef broth (not condensed)
1 C water
Hoagie buns

Cook roast with next 4 ingredients for 10-12 hrs on low in crockpot.  Remove any fat or bones; shred beef.  Use broth for dipping, if desired.

Italian Chicken
2-6 chicken breasts (can be thawed or frozen)
1 bottle Italian dressing (not light or fat-free as oil in regular helps to
infiltrate chicken for more flavor during cooking)

Place chicken in crockpot (use liner if preferable).  Poor dressing over chicken.  Cover & cook on low for 6-8 hrs.  (If using frozen chicken, meat will tend to be a bit drier when cooked.  But sometimes ease wins out anyway!)

Country-Style Ribs
1 ½ lbs boneless pork ribs
1 medium onion, sliced
2 C tomato juice
½ C packed brown sugar
¼ C cider vinegar
¼ C ketchup
2 T Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp ground mustard
¼ tsp chili powder

Places ribs & onion in crockpot.  In a small bowl, combine remaining ingredients.  Pour over ribs.  Cover & cook on low for 5 ½ - 6 hrs.  (VERY saucy, so works well to serve with mashed potatoes.)

Sweet ‘n’ Sour Pork Chops
8 oz can crushed pineapple, undrained
1 C honey BBQ sauce
1/3 C finely chopped onion
2 T chili sauce
4 bone-in pork loin chops, ¾ inch thick & 8 oz each

In small bowl, combine the pineapple, BBQ sauce, onion & chili sauce.  Poor half into greased (or lined) crockpot.  Top with pork chops & remaining sauce.  Cover & cook on low for 4 ¼ - 5 ¼ hrs.  (Works well to serve with rice for the sauce.)

Chili (my sister-in-law’s recipe)
3-4 regular size cans tomato sauce (not small, not huge)
3 12 oz. cans tomato juice
1 sauce can of water
2 cans light kidney beans, rinsed & drained
2 lbs cooked hamburger, adding onion & garlic powder during cooking (I used
lean ground turkey & it worked really well)
1 medium onion, chopped
Sugar to taste (1/8  - ¼ C)
Chili powder, no more than 1 tsp

Combine all in crockpot & cook on low for 7-8 hrs.  (I halved this recipe for just Jake & I and it was perfect – enough for a couple bowls each & just a few leftovers.)

For those that care (this means you, Haley!), the recipes for No Peek Beef, Crockpot Scalloped Potatoes & Ham and French Dip Sandwiches are from Mama S.  (Or at least adapted from; every good cook changes it up a slight bit to make it her own, though with my mom’s recipes, I do that very, very little.)

*I use this term generically for all slow-cooker appliances though a “Crockpot” is technically a brand name like “Kleenex”.