Sunday, February 26, 2012

Slow Cooker {Beefy} French Onion Soup

My in-laws keep us supplied with delicious onions. My father-in-law works for a family onion farm, so we are often sent home with a 50 lb. bag to use (and share!). I have been slowly won over into the onion lover's camp (although I still can't handle them raw- except in salsa) through the big, sweet yellow onions we are supplied with. The last installment had me thinking they would make a lovely bowl of French onion soup. And they did. I try to make most of my soups in the crock pot since our soup night is an evening when we are away from home until later and it is fantastic to meet aromas and a warm bowl of soup when you walk in the door. So when I found a recipe for French onion soup made in the crock pot, with chunks of stew meat, I knew I had to try it.

The result was an amazingly rich, beefy broth, full of sweet caramelized onions and tender meat, topped, of course, in traditional style, with toast smothered in swiss cheese. I think the cheesy toast is almost my favorite part of the soup! It adds such a classy look and delicious flavor to the dish, with the cheese melting down the side and into the broth...okay, now I'm getting hungry.

Slow Cooker Beefy French Onion Soup
(printable version)
serves about 6 main dish, 8 side dish

about 7 small onions, cut in half and thinly sliced (about 7 cups)
1 TB butter, melted
2 TB sugar
2 bay leaves
1 1/2 lbs. beef stew meat
3 cans (10.5 oz) condensed beef consomme (I used broth)
1/4 cup dry sherry or apple juice
1 cup apple juice
1/4 tsp dried thyme leaves
1/2 in. thick slices French bread, toasted (1 per serving)
sliced or shredded swiss cheese (1 slice or 1/4 cup per serving)

Toss onions, butter and sugar in slow cooker. Top with bay leaves and beef. Cover and cook on low heat 9 to 10 hours or until onions are deep brown (caramelized).
Stir in consomme, sherry, apple juice and thyme and increase heat to high. Cook unti hot, about 10 min. Remove bay leaves.
To serve, spoon into oven safe soup bowls or ramekins and top each serving with a slice of toast and cheese. Broil with tops 6 in. from heat 3 to 5 min or until cheese is bubbly and starting to brown.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Lemon Blueberry Bars

These delicious and colorful treats jumped out of a magazine at me just in time for spring!

Am I being too optimistic? Is it not spring yet? Oh, fine. So it's still February. It's almost March, right? I'll take it.

Anyway, as spring approaches...I've found you the perfect way to welcome it- with a fruity and beautiful bar, loaded with creamy lemon and topped with sweet blueberries.

It doesn't get much easier, either. This tasty recipe consists of a simple crumbly, buttery crust, topped by a creamy mixture of canned lemon pie filling and sweetened condensed milk, followed by a can of sweet and pretty blueberry pie filling to top it off.

Lemon Blueberry Bars
(printable version)
serves 24

3/4 cup butter or margarine, melted
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
2 1/4 cups flour
1 can lemon pie filling (any size)
1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated milk)
1 (21 oz) can blueberry pie filling

Preheat oven to 350. Line 13x9 in. pan with foil.
Combine butter, powdered sugar, vanilla, and salt. Add flour gradually until well blended.
Press dough evenly into bottom of prepared pan. Bake 20 min. or until edges are lightly browned.
In separate bowl, combine lemon filling and milk until well blended.
Spread lemon mixture over baked crust.
Spoon blueberry filling gently over lemon mixture. Return to oven and bake 15 min. or until set.
Cool in pan on wire rack. Cut into squares.

Source: (originally found in AllYou Magazine)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Risotto {a little taste of heaven}

Here's a riddle for you...
What is creamy, flavorful, surprisingly easy and practically melts in your mouth?

If you guessed "risotto" you are absolutely correct! :) I recently discovered this fantastic side dish and I am in is the perfect way to dress up a meal and eat your helping of rice in a whole new and improved way!

The first time I made risotto, I needed to use up some butternut squash, so I googled a recipe for it - and it was out of this world! Unfortunately, it did not make it's way into pictures...but I knew I would try it again. This time, I made "plain" risotto (although plain is hardly a word I would use to describe this heavenly concoction...) from a recipe off of a site I knew I could trust- Olive Garden. Another love of mine is the Olive Garden restaurant, so I was sure that even though I have never had risotto there, it would be fantastic! And once again, Olive Garden did not let me down. The risotto was creamy and bursting with flavor. The thing I love about risotto is that unlike the regular rice cooking method, you boil the rice in liquid uncovered, so that the majority of it that is not absorbed by the rice evaporates, leaving only the concentrated flavor.

I served the delectable risotto alongside one of my favorite chicken dishes, chicken breasts simmered in a balsamic vinegar and garlic sauce, and they were a perfect match.

serves 4 (can be easily halved for 2)

1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice (you can also use medium grain rice, although it may require longer cooking time)
1/2 cup white wine
5 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 TB butter
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
salt & pepper to taste
fresh parsley to taste (I didn't have any on hand, so dried parsley works too!)

Heat oil, add onion and cook for 3 minutes or until soft.
Keep broth warm in separate pot.
Add rice to onions and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. 
Add white wine and let evaporate. Add the broth 1 cup at a time, stirring frequently. Wait until each addition is almost completely absorbed by the rice before adding the next cup. Continue to add broth until rice is creamy and cooked to al dente (slightly firm). Turn off heat.
Add butter and cheese and stir to combine. 
Garnish with parsley.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Meals-for-a-Month {February/March}

Well, I still haven't been grocery shopping yet, but this is the proposed menu for this month! Hope it gives you some inspiration! Happy cooking!

Week 1 (Feb. 14-18)
Out with hubby for Valentine's Day!
Side: Toppings!
Entree: Asian Salmon for me, Tacos for my non-fish-loving husband :)
Side: Rice and broccoli
Source: What's Cookin' Chicago via Pinterest
Entree: Pepperoni Pizza
Side: Fresh veggies and fruit
Source: Somewhere on the internet
Valentine Dinner at our church

Week 2 (Feb. 21-25)
Side: Risotto and asparagus or broccoli
Entree: Beefy French Onion Soup
Side: Toasty cheese bread
Side: Roasted Mexi-potatoes
Source: Somewhere on the internet!
Entree: Pizza
Side: Fresh veggies and fruit
Side: Chips
Source: Catz in the Kitchen

Week 3 (Feb. 28-March 3)
Side: Italian bread
Source: How Sweet It Is
Entree: Lasagna Soup
The Deen Bros. via Pinterest
Entree: Spaghetti (for Crazy Cooking Challenge!)
Side: Bread and veggie
Source: You'll have to wait to find out!
Entree: Pizza
Side: Fresh veggies and fruit
Side: Fresh fruit

Week 4 (March 6-10)
Side: Steamed Veggies
Side: Corn Muffins
Source: The Pioneer Woman
Side: Baked Sweet Potatoes and steamed veggie
Entree: Pizza
Side: Fresh veggies and fruit
Out at benefit dinner

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Crock-Pot Chicken Tortilla Soup

Yesterday was beautiful and sunny...but COLD. The perfect day to come home to a house filled with delightful aromas and a hot bowl of hearty soup.

This particular soup has become a staple at our house. It is filling and flavorful, chock full of beans, corn, tomatoes and chicken simmered in a mildly spicy red broth. It is also VERY easy and adaptable, depending on your personal taste. Take the basic recipe and alter it if you like more or less heat, add chilies if you prefer, leave out the beans, make it your own, but you certainly can't go wrong! It is a cinch to put in the crock pot in the morning and will welcome you with delicious aromas when you walk in the door. Who doesn't like that?

You can also experiment with toppings- we like to garnish ours with grated cheddar cheese, a dollop of sour cream and of course, tortilla strips, but avocado or fresh cilantro would be marvelous as well!

Crock-Pot Chicken Tortilla Soup
(printable version)
with my tweaks
serves about 6 main dish

1 lb chicken breast (if you have shredded chicken on hand, you can use it here, otherwise, follow directions below for deliciously moist chicken)
2 (15 oz) cans petite diced tomatoes
1 (15 oz) can low sodium black beans, drained (but not rinsed)
1 (10 oz) package frozen corn
1 (10 oz) can mild red enchilada sauce
1 medium onion, diced (about 1 cup)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup water
2 (14.5 oz) cans low sodium chicken broth
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp chili pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 bay leaf

Topping suggestions:
Sour cream
Grated cheddar cheese
Lightly crushed tortilla chips
Diced avocado
Fresh cilantro, chopped

Place all ingredients in crock-pot and stir to combine. Cover and cook on low 6 to 8 hours or on high 4 to 6 hours. If using whole uncooked chicken breasts, check after about 4 hours. If chicken breasts are cooked through, remove with slotted spoon and shred. Return shredded chicken to the crock-pot for the duration of the cooking time. Serve with toppings of choice.


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Texas Sheet Cake {Crazy Cooking Challenge}

It's Crazy Cooking Challenge time again! When I saw that this months challenge was the ultimate chocolate cake, my heart sunk. I LOVE chocolate cake, don't get me wrong. But I've been on sort of a diet, so I knew making chocolate cake for just the two of us to eat was not going to happen. But thankfully, I found a way I could participate and make a delicious cake...and not eat the whole thing myself. Keep reading... :)


I come from a large family. Thus, we eat food in large quantities. Thus, my mom had some pretty good "feed a crowd" recipes...especially for company. This cake definitely feeds a crowd, and is a perfect pleaser whether being served at a birthday party, a company dinner, or a church potluck. This particular recipe comes courtesy of a blog called "A Southern Fairytale", but it is very similar to the one my mom and I often made together. It has a cake brownie-like consistency and is moist and fudgy on top, not overly rich, with just a hint of cinnamon. It's also easy to whip up- which makes it the perfect last minute dessert for unexpected visitors. I slightly altered Southern Fairytale's recipe, leaving out the nuts in the frosting (I don't remember ever eating it with nuts) and upping the chocolate by a tablespoon. It turned out absolutely delicious!
I made this special cake for a bittersweet occasion. A wonderful family in our church is moving away, and as a farewell treat, I served up Texas Sheet Cake after church on their last Sunday with us. We have a small congregation, so this large, thin cake was the perfect size to feed everyone. When I had served the last person, only one piece remained. I turned to see several teenage boys eyeing it hungrily. I stepped out of the way and said, "Have at it!" and they did...I looked back to see them even scraping the pan to lick up the last of the frosting clinging to the sides!

Start by mixing the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, salt) together.

Meanwhile, heat margarine, cocoa powder and water until the margarine melts and the mixture is boiling.

Pour it over the flour mixture; add eggs, soda, buttermilk, cinnamon and vanilla and stir till well blended.

Pour into a greased high-sided baking sheet or jelly roll pan and bake!

When the cake is near to being done, get to work on the frosting! The most important thing about making this cake is to pour the frosting over the cake while it is still hot, just out of the oven. I know that is usually verboten in cake-making and frosting, but this is a must! It causes the frosting to seep into the cake, creating a fudgy layer on top that is essential. And delicious. So, heat more margarine, cocoa and milk. Add powdered sugar, cinnamon and vanilla and stir till smooth. The only way I have found to minimize lumps in this frosting is to mix rapidly with an electric mixture. It doesn't get all the lumps, but it helps. Pour the frosting directly over the warm cake and smooth it out.
When the cake is cool, slice and serve. You can cut it into as few as 16 or as many as 24 pieces, depending on the size of your crowd and the size of their appetites! My mom's original recipe states that the cake will stay moist up to a week...if it lasts that long! It usually doesn't.
I don't usually decorate this cake, but for this special occasion, I did.

I apologize, I wasn't able to get a good photo of a slice of the cake so you can see that delicious fudgy layer, but trust me, it's there!
Whip this up for your next gathering of at least 16 people (unless you want to be eating cake for the next week!) and I guarantee they will love you. And then you won't be able to get rid of them. But...that's your problem. :)

Texas Sheet Cake
(printable version)
adapted from A Southern Fairytale
serves 16-24, depending on size of slices

2 scant cups of flour
2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 sticks (1 cup) margarine
1 cup water
4 TB cocoa powder
2 eggs
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp cinnamon

1 stick margarine
3 TB cocoa powder
6 TB milk
1 box powdered sugar (hard to find boxes's about 4 cups)
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350.
Stir together flour, sugar and salt.
Heat margarine, cocoa and water over medium until boiling. Pour over flour mixture.
Stir in eggs, baking soda, buttermilk, vanilla and cinnamon until well blended.
Pour into greased high-sided cookie sheet or jelly roll pan. 
Bake 18 min.
Meanwhile, prepare frosting. Heat margarine, cocoa and milk. Stir in powdered sugar, vanilla and cinnamon until smooth. Pour over cake while still warm.
Cool, slice, serve, and be adored!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Pepperoni Pizza Pinwheels

Looking for a quick snack to take to a game day party? Need something to feed to hungry kids or teenagers? Or just a platter of something tasty to fill up the potluck crowd at church? If the last, I can sympathize. This is the "end of the month" grocery-wise for Travis and I, so I was trying to figure out what I could bring to our church potluck that could materialize out of the limited supply left in my cupboards. From somewhere, suddenly it hit me! A genius idea. Pizza pinwheels! I have seen this idea before and I think it originates with Pillsbury, using their crescent dough or pre-made pizza dough- which would work great! But I decided to use my own favorite pizza crust recipe and experiment a little. Wow. These little guys are fantastic- and I if I can keep hubby from eating them all tonight, I think they will disappear tomorrow!

Start with a basic pizza crust recipe. I doubled mine, which you can find here. I opted to leave out the whole wheat flour and did all white instead, but I'm sure it would be great either way. Allow it to rest about 5 minutes, which gives the yeast time to make the dough stretchy. Roll it out on a floured surface into as large a rectangle as you can without it breaking.

Yes, this is a rectangle...ish.

Spread your favorite pizza sauce on top and sprinkle with cheese and any other toppings you like. I just used pepperoni, but anything would really be fantastic.

Starting at one of the long ends, roll tightly, cinnamon roll style.

Slice into 1/2 in. rounds (I used a serrated knife, and it worked pretty well). Arrange on a greased cookie sheet and bake.

Voila! Cheesy, bubbly, pizza filled swirls of yummyness! 

Pepperoni Pizza Pinwheels
(printable version)
A KitchenJoy original recipe
makes about 36 pinwheels

Doubled recipe pizza crust dough
pizza sauce
shredded cheese
pepperoni (or other toppings)

Preheat oven to 425.
Roll out dough very thin into a large rectangle.
Spread sauce on top, sprinkle with cheese. Top with pepperoni.
Starting at a long edge, roll cinnamon roll style.
Slice into 1/2 in. rounds. Place several inches apart on greased baking sheet.
Bake 10-12 min. Let cool 1-2 min, then remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Reese's Pieces Peanut Butter Cookies

We have established the unrivaled, fabulous pairing of peanut butter and chocolate (at least in my book). But have you discovered the delectable combination of peanut butter and...wait for it...peanut butter???!!

 Redundant you say? Like a bad song that rhymes love with love?? Oh, no, my friend. Perhaps if the combination was ordinary peanut butter (is there such a thing? I think not.) and ordinary peanut butter. But when one of the peanut buttery components begins with the familiar "Reese's" which has always delivered such happy know you must have stuck gold. And you would be correct.

Don't take my word for it! Take the word of the empty plate after our home group Bible study! Take the word of the teenagers who scarfed down at least 4 or 5 a piece! Take the word of my husband, who keeps dipping his hand into the cookie jar, hoping it will be like the widow's flour and oil that never ran out (don't know what I'm talking about? Read 1 Kings 17:1-15! This might be a side note, but that's a great story!)!

Anyway....the point (yes, I am finally arriving at the point) is that the addition of Reese's Pieces to peanut butter cookies is phenomenal! These cookies are soft and chewy and the color, crunch and flavor of the Pieces adds the perfect touch. Okay, you can take my word for it.

Reese's Pieces Peanut Butter Cookies
(printable version)
Originally by The Cook's Illustrated
makes approx. 3 doz.

2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup butter, at room temperature
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 cup white sugar
1 cup peanut butter
2 eggs, at room temperature
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup Reese's Pieces candy

Preheat oven to 350.
Sift flour, baking powder, soda and salt in medium bowl.
Beat butter until creamy. Add sugars, beat until fluffy, about 3 min. with electric mixer. 
Beat in peanut butter, then eggs, one at a time, then vanilla. 
Gently stir in dry ingredients until well incorporated. 
Gently stir in candy.
Roll into fairly large balls (1-1 1/2 in.) and place 2 in. apart on baking sheet. 
Flatten slightly with bottom of a glass. 
Bake 10-12 min. (they will not look fully baked) or until lightly browned on edges, not on top. 
Cool slightly and remove to wire racks to cool completely.

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