Sunday, January 30, 2011

Taco Rice Casserole

I made up this recipe a few years ago, and it's one my whole family enjoys. Tonight, for example, I had no idea what I was going to make for dinner. I looked in my pantry & fridge, and saw that I had all these ingredients. So, voila! It's a pretty easy dinner to put together. This was on my old blog, too, if it looks familiar to you. :)

Taco Rice Casserole
Printable version here

3/4 cup rice (regular, not instant)*
1/3 cup sour cream
2 tbsp. taco seasoning (and/or southwest seasoning)
1 lg. can tomato sauce (15-16 oz.)
1/2 lb. ground beef (or cooked, cubed chicken)
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
French fried onions (crushed)

1. Cook rice & 1 1/2 cups water in 3 quart saucepan, according to package directions.

2. Meanwhile, cook ground beef (if using). In a large bowl, whisk together tomato sauce, sour cream, and seasoning. Stir in meat, half the cheese, and rice.

3. Pour into an 8x8 (or 11x7) pan. Top with remaining cheese, and sprinkle with french fried onions. Bake at 375º for 15 minutes or until hot. Serves 3-4.

My notes- for the seasoning, my favorite is to use 1 T. of taco seasoning, and 1 T. of Pampered Chef Southwest Seasoning. I also don't measure the sour cream, cheese, and onions. I've made it enough times now that I just eyeball it. Also, if you make it beforehand and are baking it cold, add to the baking time. 15 minutes is about right if it's already warm (like the rice & the meat ). Last thing- if you think you'll have leftovers, I wouldn't put the french fried onions on that part. They get soggy if put in the fridge & reheated.

*Alternate to the white rice- here are my directions for making brown rice. That is delicious in this, too!

Why I love it? Like I said, it uses common ingredients that I normally have on-hand. It's good with either chicken or ground beef, which makes it a little more versatile. It's quick & inexpensive. Dave said he likes it "because it's always good," Daniel said "because of the rice", and I just like it because it's yummy & easy.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Pumpkin Trifle

I made up this recipe a few years ago by combining a few recipes. It's perfect for fall or Thanksgiving time, or really any time you have a pumpkin craving. :) It reminds me of pumpkin pie, but better! The different layers & textures, all mixed together in one dish- mmm!

This is made to fit in a large 15-cup trifle bowl, but if you don't have one, you could cut the recipe in half and use in a smaller glass bowl (I got this inexpensive one at Walmart one time, for times that I don't want to serve a huge crowd).

So you start with this (plus the Cool Whip, which was in the fridge):

And it becomes this!!

Pumpkin Trifle
Printable version here

1 pkg. spice cake mix
1 large pkg. (5.1 oz) instant vanilla pudding, divided
1 (15 oz.) can pureed pumpkin, divided
½ cup vegetable oil
3 eggs
1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1 large tub (16 oz.) whipped topping, thawed, divided

1. Make cake: Preheat oven to 350º. Lightly grease a 9x13 inch baking dish (or you can line with parchment or greased foil for easier removal). Combine cake mix, 2 tbsp. of the vanilla pudding mix, ½ of the pumpkin puree, ½ cup water, ½ cup oil, and 3 eggs. Mix on low for 30 seconds, then medium for 2 minutes. Pour into prepared pan. Bake for 38-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan on wire rack for 15 minutes, and then remove from pan. Cool completely on wire rack. (It's easiest to divide the cake into 4 sections. You will set aside about ¼ of the cake for another use, then you will use ¼ of the cake in each of the 3 layers.) Cut into 1-inch cubes.

2. Make filling: In a large bowl, combine remainder of pudding mix, ½ cup water, sweetened condensed milk, remaining pumpkin puree, and pumpkin pie spice. Mix well. Fold in just under half of the whipped topping until no streaks remain.

3. Assemble: Place 1/3 of the cubed cake in bottom of trifle bowl (or as much as you can fit in a single layer). Top with 1/3 of the pudding mixture, then 1/3 of the whipped topping. Repeat twice for a total of 3 layers. I then garnished the top with a light sprinkling of cinnamon. Refrigerate 8 hours before serving.

Why I love it? Beautiful, serves a crowd, pumpkin recipe that's perfect for the fall/holidays but tastes better than pumpkin pie! :)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Cheesy Ham & Potatoes

I found this recipe a few years ago when I was pregnant and looking for meals I could freeze. This recipe has stayed in my rotation ever since! It makes enough for 2 (medium-sized) dinners. I always bake one that night, and freeze one for later. It tastes just as good after freezing as it does the first day!

I like to serve it with a light side- like fruit, toast, or salad. I've also had it as a breakfast casserole before. I'm sure I would wake up more easily in the morning if I knew this was waiting for me! :)

Cheesy Ham & Potatoes
Printable version here

1 tbsp. vegetable oil or butter
1/2 cup minced onion
4 oz. cream cheese (can use more or less, depending on your preference)
2 (10.75 oz.) cans cream of celery soup, or homemade cream of celery soup
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 cup cheese, shredded (such as cheddar or Monterrey Jack)
1 1/2 cups cubed ham (about 8-10 ounces)
1 (24 oz.) bag frozen shredded hash browns

1. In a small saucepan, heat the oil or butter over medium heat. Saute the onions until softened. Remove from pan. Heat cream cheese in the warm pan over low heat, just until softened, stirring frequently.

2. In a very large bowl, whisk together the onions, cream cheese, soup, cheese and pepper. The sauce should be nice and creamy. Next, stir in the ham and potatoes.

3. Place in 2 greased baking dishes, approximately 8x8 inches. To bake right away: Bake covered for 50-60 minutes at 375º or until hot & bubbly. To freeze: Cover with foil and freeze. Thaw in refrigerator. Bake covered for about 1 hour at 350º.

*My Notes*
-The original recipe called for 8 ounces of cream cheese. That makes this very rich. Each time I make it I try it with less, and the most recent time I made it with only 2 1/2 ounces of cream cheese (all I had left)- and it was still great! So just use however much you'd like.
-The store only had 26 ounce packages of hash browns, so I took out a handful.
-You can also freeze this in large ziploc bags. Just squeeze the air out before sealing it. Then when you want to make it, just thaw it in the bag, pour in a baking dish, and bake.

Why I love it? It's really creamy, and I love how easy it is. It's great that I can make 2 dinners in pretty much the same time as it would normally take to make one! Besides my one picky eater who doesn't like the "green things" (celery), we all like it, and most of us come back for seconds.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Cookbook Review

Dave got me this cookbook for Christmas, and I love it! I just wrote a review of it on Amazon, and figured I would share it here, too. :)

Cook's Illustrated: The Best Make-Ahead Recipe

I received this book as a Christmas gift. My husband knows I love Cook's Illustrated, and I like trying to cook ahead (since making dinner is a bit nuts with 3 little kids), so he picked this out for me. I'm almost done reading it cover to cover, and I love it!! It has Cook's Illustrated's normal thorough explanation of how they created the recipe, plus the recipes are written very detailed & concise (helpful for a perfectionist like me!).

Now as for this book specifically, I like all the recipes they've given. The chapters are: Appetizers, Side Dishes, Double-Duty Cooking, Slow-Cooker Favorites, Stews, Chilis, and Sauces, Casseroles, Oven-Ready Entrees, Breakfast and Breads, Desserts, and Make-Ahead Holiday Menus. They range from basic, kid-friendly foods, to fancy, dinner party recipes. Some are a little too "out there" for me (I'm a little picky), but I'd say at least 75% of them are ones I'd like to eat.

The recipes I've made so far are: Classic Scalloped Potatoes, Chicken Enchiladas, and White Chicken Chili. They have 2 things in common- they were all time-consuming, but they were all the BEST version of those foods I have EVER eaten!!! They take a bit of time to make, but the payoff is that on a future date, I get to enjoy an awesome dinner with little to no preparation. I can't wait to make more of these recipes!

*Had to add, I just made the Individual Chocolate Molten Cakes, and they are to die for!! It was my first time ever making them, and they turned out amazing! They were easy to make. The book was worth it just for these! :)

Monday, January 17, 2011

Chocolate Banana Smoothie

This is just a quick recipe. Figured it was okay to post ones like this on my blog, too. :)

Chocolate Banana Smoothie

Banana (you can peel & freeze this first, if you want it more slushy)
Chocolate syrup (or chocolate milk powder)
Peanut butter

Blend in a blender until smooth. Enjoy right away!

(I never measure the ingredients for this. It's approximately 1 cup milk, 1 banana, and 1-2 tbsp. of peanut butter, plus the chocolate. I doubled that today, and it make enough for me and 3 kids.)

Why I love it? The ingredient list makes this pretty self-explanatory. :) It's delicious, and actually has some healthy stuff in it! It's really fast to make, too.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Creamy Italian Bake

This is one of the few of the recipes that I actually "made up". =) I had a frozen dinner-type thing one time, and decided to try to make my own (better) version of it. It's adaptable, so if you want you can make more or less of it to fit your family, this is just the perfect amount for us 5. You can add any other seasonings you want- one that would probably taste good is red pepper flakes, if you want it a little spicy, or you could add more garlic (something I might do next time). Parmesan cheese would be good on the top, too! But for now, this recipe is pretty good!

Creamy Italian Bake
Printable version here

1/3 cup whipping cream or half & half
16 oz. can tomato sauce
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
1/4 tsp. salt
1/3 cup halved pepperoni slices (half of a 3.5 oz. package)
6 oz. diced, cooked chicken (about 1 1/4 cups)
7 oz. dry noodles, cooked (about 2 1/2 cups, when measured with penne)
1 cup mozzarella cheese (about 4 oz.), divided

1. Boil water and cook noodles until al dente. Meanwhile, heat cream, tomato sauce, Italian seasoning, and salt in a saucepan over medium meat. Simmer for 3-5 minutes on low.

2. Mix sauce, noodles, pepperoni, chicken, and 1/2 cup of cheese. Pour into a glass baking dish (mine fit in a 2.2 quart, 11x7 dish).

3. Bake, covered, at 350º for 20 minutes. Top with remaining cheese and bake uncovered until cheese is melted, about 5 minutes. Serves 4-5.  (I've also made this with only 1/2 cup cheese, mixed into the noodles, and none on top- and it was still great.  It's done after the initial 20 minute bake.)

Why I love it? The sauce is good; I like the creaminess of it . Last night I made it with half & half, which was good... the cream is even better if you choose to use that! You can prepare the chicken, pepperoni, and grated cheese beforehand, and if you do that, it's a pretty quick dinner to throw together. It just takes the amount of time to cook noodles, throw it all in a pan, and bake. I also like having both chicken & pepperoni in this dish. The chicken adds healthy protein, while the pepperoni adds great taste! I hope you like this!

By the way, I just added this to! I think this link will work:

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Crockpot Chicken Stroganoff

My family loves this dinner served over rice. It's probably the easiest crockpot meal I have. You can change how healthy it is by substituting fat-free or low-fat versions of the ingredients (soup & sour cream). This serves about 4 adults. I make it in my small crockpot, and this amount fits nicely in there.

Crockpot Chicken Stroganoff

1 lb. chicken breasts, cut into large pieces
1 can cream of mushroom (or chicken) soup
16 oz. sour cream (I normally use about 8-10 oz.)
1 envelope dry onion soup mix

Put chicken in crockpot. Mix remaining ingredients and pour over chicken. Cook on low for 6-7 hours. Serve over rice.

Why I love it? It takes about 5 minutes to make! :) The chicken comes out very tender, and the sauce is delicious. It's creamy & flavorful. My whole family enjoys this dinner.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Watergate Salad

I found this recipe in a Kraft magazine, and I recently made it as part of our Christmas dinner. I wanted something festive-looking, so I picked this since it's green! :) I was in too much of a hurry to take a picture though... so here's one from the Kraft website:

Watergate Salad

1 cup miniature marshmallows
1 pkg. (3.4 oz) pistachio Jell-O instant pudding
1 can (20 oz) crushed pineapple, in juice (undrained)
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1 1/2 cups cool whip, thawed

1. Combine pineapple and pudding mix in large bowl, mix well. Add marshmallows and nuts.

2. Fold in cool whip until no streaks remain.

3. Refrigerate for 1 hour before serving. (Note- this recipe stays good in the refrigerator. My leftovers lasted a few days, and it tasted just as good towards the end as it did in the beginning!)

Why I love it? First, it's super duper easy!! It takes less than 5 minutes to make. Plus, all you need is a large bowl and a mixing spoon, so you're not making a lot of dishes to clean! The other reason I love it is because it is so tasty! It's sweet, creamy, and has nice textures in it (fluffy marshmallows, crunchy nuts, etc.). It's also a festive color. If you wanted to, you could add some maraschino cherries to the top for the complete red & green effect. :)

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Classic 100% Whole Wheat Bread

I got this recipe from the King Arthur Flour website. I've made it dozens of times now, and it's one of the easier bread recipes I've found. It's nice and soft, and has a good texture- but is not too dense (like some whole wheat breads). This is my go-to bread recipe. :)

(If you want to see my pictures of this recipe step-by-step, that post is here. Or, tips on slicing bread are here.)


Just for fun, here is a picture of my 8 year old son, and the loaf of bread he made completely by himself!  I helped explain the directions to him, but he measured and did everything.  It turned out great!

Classic 100% Whole Wheat Flour
Printable version here

1 to 1 1/4 cups* warm water, about 110-120 degrees (I normally do 1 1/8 cups)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup honey
3 1/4 cups (13 oz.) whole wheat flour
2 1/2 tsp. instant yeast
1/4 cup nonfat dried milk
1 1/4 tsp. salt
3 tbsp. wheat gluten**

* Use the greater amount in winter or in a dry climate; the lesser amount in summer or a humid climate.
** Using wheat gluten helps the bread be less dense.  If you don't have this, you can substitute flour, but it won't be as light.

1. In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients and stir until the dough starts to leave the sides of the bowl. Knead it for 6-8 minutes, or until it begins to become smooth and supple. Note: This dough should be soft, yet still firm enough to knead. Adjust its consistency with additional water or flour, if necessary. (I start the mixing with my paddle attachment, then once it has come together, switch to the dough hook. An optional step is to let it sit for about 10 minutes before kneading it- I'm still trying to figure out if that makes a difference. Supposedly that helps. I knead it for 8 minutes on speed 2 of my KitchenAid mixer.)

2. Transfer the dough to a lightly greased bowl, cover it, and allow the dough to rise until puffy (though not necessarily doubled in bulk), about 1 to 2 hours, depending on the warmth of your kitchen. (I typically let mine rise for 1 1/4 hours in my slightly warmed oven)

3. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled work surface, shape into a rectangle (about the size of an 8 1/2 x 11 piece of paper), then roll up into a log, starting at the shorter end.  Pinch the seam closed, then tuck the ends under and pinch them closed as well. (If desired, sprinkle some oat bran on the counter, then roll the dough in it; this just makes the bread look neater.) Place the log in a greased 8 1/2" x 4 1/2" loaf pan, cover the pan loosely with lightly greased plastic wrap, and allow the bread to rise for about 1-2 hours, or until the center has crowned about 1" above the rim of the pan. (Mine take about 1 hour) Toward the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 350º.

4. Bake the bread for 35 minutes. (The finished loaf will register 190º on an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center.)  Remove the bread from the oven, and turn it out of the pan onto a rack to cool.  Cool completely before slicing. Store the bread in a plastic bag (or other container) at room temperature.  Bread can also be frozen for later use.

Here's what my bread looks like just after shaping it, before the rise:

And all risen, ready to be baked:

Note- this is my favorite container for bread storage. I bought it at Albertson's, but they also have it on Amazon.

Why I love it? It's easy, for homemade bread. It tastes great, is healthy (because it's whole wheat, and because there's no preservatives or unknown ingredients in it), it's super-duper fresh, and it's inexpensive! :) My favorite tip for this bread is to make up the dry ingredients before-hand. What I did last time was get out quart size Ziploc bags (or large empty yogurt containers), and put all the dry ingredients in them. Then when I want to make bread- all I need to do is measure the water, honey, and oil, and dump in the bag. EASY!! :)