Sunday, September 18, 2011

Tatertot Casserole - Mexican-ish Chicken

I'm always looking for a new spin on an old favorite.  Especially when that new spin makes that old favorite a little more healthy.

Here we've revamped the traditional tatertot casserole. 

Usually, this casserole involves ground beef, cream of mushroom soup, and canned green beans.  Maybe some other stuff, too.  Topped with tatertots.

Here's our version:

Combine all the below in your favorite casserole dish (or an 8x8 or 9x9 square pan):
Use about a pound of shredded chicken - we used some leftover rotissere chicken. 

Add a can of mashed beans. Any bean will probably do.  We used Great Northern, but black beans would have been my preferred bean to use.  My second choice would have been kidney.  But we had the GN beans on hand, so that was what we used.  Add a dash of milk to make them a bit creamier with a soupier texture.

1 finely diced red bell pepper.

1 finely diced green bell pepper.

1 can diced green chiles.

1 can diced tomatoes (or 1 - 2 large fresh tomatoes)

1 packet of taco seasoning (I use 3 Tbsp. homemade taco seasoning instead.)

Sprinkle with 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese.

Top with tatertots. 

Bake at 400 for about 30 minutes.  (45 if prepared ahead of time and refridgerated.) Crank the heat to 450 for the last 5 minutes to crisp up the tots.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Quick Hint: Too Much Cake

We have a small family.  As much as we love cake, sometimes we can't eat it all before it starts to go stale.  I've devised a plan for this - a plan that is working out pretty well for us so far.

When making a batch of cupcakes that will be just for the family, I'll use some of the batter to make one layer of a 6-inch cake.  Once it has cooled, I'll wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and freeze.

If I'm making a cake that will be just for the family, sometimes I will make three 6-inch layers instead of two 8- or 9-inch layers.  I'll use two of those 6-inch layers to make the initial cake, and freeze the other one (wrapped tightly in plastic wrap). 

When making frosting, I'll sometimes make up an extra batch and freeze it. 

Then...when the mood for strikes, but the desire to bake just isn't quite there, I'll grab a couple of those frozen cake layers and some frosting and viola - almost instant dessert!

For fun...mix and match cake layers - like this one that is one layer of white cake, and one of chocolate.

**Just a note: One leftover, 15 oz buttertub (washed, of course) packed full of frosting and frozen is perfect for a two-layer, 6-inch cake.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Margherita-ish Pizza

We had some extra fresh basil on hand that we didn't know what to do with.  We also had a couple of fresh tomatoes from our small, container/patio garden.  Our solution was a Margherita-ish Pizza.

This was a weekday, after-school meal, so we didn't have a lot of time.  That's my excuse for not making a crust from scratch.  My brother is an awesome pizza-maker.  He has a fabulous recipe for an outstanding crust that he has shared with me.  But I was lazy busy so used a store-bought crust instead.  It was still pretty good.

Here's what we did:

In a food processor, I pureed some canned tomatoes with some italian seasoning, garlic powder and cracked black pepper.  We spread about 4 oz. of this concoction over the crust, then layered with sliced fresh tomatoes, basil leaves (roughly chopped), and thinly sliced mozzarella cheese.  Then I sprinkled on a little bit more basil, a dash of olive oil and some kosher salt (making sure that the crust got salt on it).

Bake directly on the rack at 450 for about 12 minutes.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Quick Hint: Homemade Taco Seasoning

I'm a big fan of meat flavored with taco seasoning.  Ground beef, chicken, turkey, and pork.  Shredded beef, chicken, turkey, and pork.  Beans. - any variety. 

I'm not, however, a big fan of store-bought, packaged taco seasoning.  I don't care for the fake-y flavor and the incredible amount of sodium.  Ick. 

So, I make my own.  The recipe below is for the equivalent to one packet.  It makes about 3-1/2 Tbsp. of seasoning.  When I make it, I usually multiply everything by 8 or so and then store it in a large container (I have repurposed a container that once held coffee creamer) to use whenever I need it.  I've found that making as much ahead of time as possible is so much more convenient in the long run.

Taco Seasoning

4 tsp. dried minced onion
3 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. corn starch
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/8 tsp. black pepper

Mix it all together.  When ready to use, mix 3-1/2 Tbsp with 1/4 cup water and add to 1 lb. of meat.  Stir in and simmer until liquid evaporates and meat is seasoned.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Pudding Poke Cake

When I told my husband my plans for this dessert, he was not looking forward to it.  He thought - a cake without buttercream frosting?  Why bother?

Why bother?? Because this is SO MUCH EASIER!  Because (when we made it) it was 95 degrees outside!  Because it is DELICIOUS!

And after trying a piece (and then another)...he agreed.  It was worth the trouble (which was not much), and it was a nice change of pace.

My mom has made this cake for years, and I'm guessing that it is a recipe that is all over the place, although my mom is the only person (other than me) that I know who has made it (or at least who has made it and had me try it or told me about it...maybe everyone makes this cake and I'm just out of the loop).

So easy: start with your favorite white or yellow cake.  I used the white cake recipe from the red & white checkered Better Homes and Gardens cookbook.  That's my favorite...but a white or yellow cake mix works, too.

(I actually made this in early August, right before moving.  All my cake pans were packed except these - so I made it in two 8-inch sorta-round pans.  I would usually make it in a 9x13 pan.)

After the cake is completely cooled, poke holes all over the cake with the end of a wooden spoon.  Make sure the holes go all the way to the bottom of the pan.  I dipped the end of the spoon in flour so that the crumbs wouldn't stick to it.

Now, quick whip up a regular-sized box of chocolate (or your preferred flavor) instant pudding.  Don't let it sit as it sets up quickly, and pour over cake, taking care to fill all the holes, then cover the top and spread to frost.

Chill for about an hour to make sure that the pudding is set, and then enjoy!  Store any leftovers in the fridge.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Butterfly Burgers

Some days my girls' will eat anything I put in front of them.  Some days they won't touch a thing on their plate - even if they gobbled it down a few days before.  Cooking for two two-and-half-year-olds can be challenging, to say the least.  It would be stressful if I let it bother me.  Instead, I usually just cook whatever I want and if they eat it...great.  If not...well, that's their problem.

I'm not that hard-hearted, though.  I do make lots of attempts to make things that I think...that I hope...they will eat and enjoy.  The difficult thing is, however, that they are so incredibly inconsistent.  If they always hated bananas, well, that would be easy.  But they pick and choose when they don't like something.  Love it one day, hate it the next.  Even loves it on Monday and the other hates it, but they'll flip it for Wednesday.  Again...if I let it bother me, it would be stressful.

These Butterfly Burgers, however, they both loved.  And they both loved them when we first had them, then...they both  loved them for leftovers.  Score!!

Butterfly (or any shape) Burgers

Mix together:
1 lb. ground turkey
1 can. mashed white beans (great northern, navy, cannolini, baby butter, etc)
dash worchestershire sauce
dash olive oil
1 egg white

Pick your favorite cookie cutter.  Place the cookie cutter on the broiler pan, and fill with the meat/bean mixture, packing it tightly.  (If you do it on a seperate surface and try to transfer to the broiler pan, there's a good chance it will fall apart.  I found it much easier to just do it on the pan.)  Depending on the size of your cookie cutter, you'll probably get somewhere around 6 - 8 burgers.

Broil until no longer pink in the center and lightly browned on the outside.

I "decorated" just with ketchup, but it would be fun to decorate with cheese cut into shapes, or mustard, pickles, etc. 

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Snickerdoodle Bars

The start of the school year is synonomous with the start of fall.  Even if fall doesn't really start at the same time that school does (it was 97 degrees earlier this week...which translated to around 105 or so in my husband's upstairs, west-facing, non-airconditioned classroom), it still brings on the first hints of the fall-type feeling that I love so much.

The transitional seasons are my favorite.  In March, spring is my favorite season...but in September, Fall totally takes the cake.  I think that I might love these seasons so much because they were fairly non-existant where I grew up (New Mexico).  In New Mexico, it seemed like you moved directly from Summer to Winter and then back again.  I remember driving around one Fall my first year of college, when I saw my first real, live, brilliantly red maple tree.  It was magnificent.

These bars taste a bit like Fall to me, which is why I felt compelled to make them at the start of the season.  My husband thinks that I'm crazy that my baking is a tad seasonal.  Some things that I make can be made year-round.  But some things belong to a season, and it just doesn't feel right making them outside of it. These bars, for example.  Or my Harvest Bars, which will likely make an appearance around October (harvest time, duh).

The recipe originally came from The Brown Eyed Baker, but I've made some every so slight changes to the recipe below.

Snickerdoodle Bars

Bars -
2-2/3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
2 cups packed brown sugar
1-1/2 sticks butter, softened
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Topping -
2 Tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly spray a 9x13 pan with cooking spray.

In a medium sized bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg.  Set aside.

With and electric mixer, beat together the butter for about 30 seconds on medium.  Add the brown sugar and beat until fluffy and well-mixed (around 2 minutes).  Add the eggs, beating after each addition (about 30 seconds), add the vanilla.  Beat until everything is well combined - scrape the bottom of the bowl to make sure that everything is incorporated.  

Adjust mixer speed to low, and slowly add the dry ingredients until just combined (don't overmix).

Spread evenly in the prepared pan.  This is a thicker batter, so spreading it isn't the easiest thing in the world - an offset spatula or stiff table knife works best.

Combine the sugar and cinnamon for the topping, and sprinkle evenly over the batter.

Bake for 25 - 30 minutes.  Cool completely, then store in an airtight container.