Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Congo Bars

Today is Administrative Professionals day so I thought I would bring in a treat to the office. I quizzed everyone yesterday on what they would like. I decided to make congo bars/blondies mainly because I had all the ingredients.

Every time I make these I forget how good they are. My mom would often send me back to college with a batch and they would be gone before the drive was over! This is one of those recipes that you may add different ingredients to tweak it for your particular cravings. I typically stick to just chocolate chips, but I'm sure there are some nut lovers out there.

Congo Bars

1 1/2 sticks butter or margarine
1 box light brown sugar (2 cups packed)
3 eggs
2 cups flour
2 t baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 t vanilla
Chocolate chips (or whatever else you may like)

Preheat oven to 325
1. In a large mixing bowl, melt butter and brown sugar together in microwave
2. Add eggs, mixing well
3. Stir in flour, baking powder, and salt; add vanilla last
4. Pour into a greased 13x9 inch baking pan
5. Sprinkle chocolate chips on top (you can mix them into the batter, but we like it best on top)
6. Bake for 25 min - be careful not to overbake so that you don't mess up the gooeyness. If you like them firmer though, bake a little longer

Monday, April 13, 2009

Green Beans

Do you ever crave old fashioned green beans that have cooked for hours to the point of perfection? I absolutely love green beans but who has the time to let them cook all day long (plus I never have the bacon or ham to include that make the beans extra good). Well I have come up with a shortcut to making great tasting canned green beans without all the time and effort. Kris even suggested I post this because he loves these green beans and pointed out there are many people clueless on how to make green beans, other than serving the can straight up. Well here is my secret...add a little bit of sugar to your green beans and voila!

2 cans cut green beans
Spoonful of sugar

Put green beans (plus liquid) into saucepan
Add about a can and a half of water (up to 2 cans of water) and spoon of sugar
Boil green beans until liquid is gone (give it at least 20 min, but I guess you could try microwaving it for a while...some things I think are just plain better made on the stove)

**Make as many cans as you like...just make sure to add about 3/4 of a can of water for each can of beans. I have found that 2 cans are the perfect amount for Kris and I (that way I can eat lots of green beans and avoid getting seconds on other non-healthy items like macaroni and cheese).

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter to everyone! The Easter Bunny has not made an appearance at our place yet, but that's because he likes to get a bargain and buy the candy half off. :)

A few years ago my mom gave me my first pastry bag and tip set for Easter. I believe it was my first year of law school, but my memory may be slightly off. This then sparked my idea to make an Easter egg cake. I spent lots of time trying to get it perfectly egg shaped, and then proceeded to decorate it like a pretty colorful egg (it wasn't very pretty, but it was my first time). My oldest brother came over and this is when the fate of the cake set in. He was dead set on ruining my decorations by putting his finger in the frosting, so I pulled the cake away and acted like I was going to throw it on him. He then bet me $5 that I wouldn't do it, so of course the next thing I knew I was throwing my cake on him. Too bad I missed and the whole thing ended up on the floor! This cake is forever known as "floor cake" in our house, and don't worry, we did salvage some of the pieces that didn't touch the floor.

This year I am going to make a cake, but it certainly won't be a floor cake this year. Today I am going to make one of my favorite cakes...Chocolate Wet Cake. This is my go to cake for family dinners since everyone seems to enjoy it. I hope you try it sometime and love it too!

Chocolate Wet Cake

2 c sugar
2 c flour
2 sticks butter or margarine
4T Cocoa
1 c water
½ c buttermilk
2 eggs
1 t baking soda
1 t vanilla

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 13x9 baking dish
2. Combine flour and sugar in mixing bowl
3. Melt butter in the microwave
4. Stir in cocoa and water into the butter and microwave until it boils
5. Pour cocoa mixture over the flour/sugar mix and combine
6. Add eggs, buttermilk, soda, and vanilla and mix well
7. Bake for about 25 min (try not to over bake)
8. Before putting frosting on, poke the cake all over with a fork so the frosting will soak in

Chocolate Frosting

1 stick butter
3 T cocoa
6 T milk
1 t vanilla
1 16oz box powdered sugar

1. Melt butter in microwave
2. Stir in cocoa and milk and microwave until boils
3. Put the powdered sugar in mixing bowl, and then pour in the cocoa mixture and mix well
4. Add vanilla
5. The frosting should be slightly runny so that it will just pour over the cake, so if it is too thick add a little more milk
6. Pour on hot cake

Friday, April 10, 2009

Crockpot Turkey

If anyone is looking for a quick and easy turkey recipe for their Easter dinner, search no further. When Kris and I were in college, he mentioned he was going to cook a turkey one day and I was very impressed. I certainly didn't know the ins and outs of roasting a turkey and thought I had won the jackpot with a boyfriend who could cook. Then he mentioned it would be cooked in a crockpot and my skepticism kicked in. We did not use a crockpot in our family very much, and I only remember a gross green colored bean soup being made via crockpot. Therefore, I figured this turkey was bound to end up with a similar fate. Turns out Kris wasn't crazy and his mom passed down one tasty and easy recipe! To this day, this is a meal Kris usually makes without any help from me, so I need to give him full credit.

Crockpot Turkey

1 frozen turkey breast (or a full turkey if your crockpot is large enough)
1 can jellied cranberry
1 package of dried onion soup

1. Place turkey in crockpot (we usually move it to the fridge for overnight in order to remove from packaging and to cook a little faster, but it can be completely frozen). In full disclosure, I have never done this step so I have no clue if there are parts of the turkey to remove, but I assume there are.
2. Add in can of cranberry and onion soup
3. Turn on crockpot to low and let cook for 8 hours or until turkey is done; if it is completely frozen when you start to cook, maybe put it on high a couple hours to get it going faster.
4. When turkey is finished don't throw away the liquid in the crockpot. This is the cranberry and makes delicious gravy, with no extra steps necessary except for laddling it on. (it does have some of the fat from the turkey, but once you chill the gravy the fat will solidfy on the top and you can scrape it off - do beforehand if you are concerned about the fat and then reheat for gravy)

** If you are making a really large turkey, you may want to consider adding 2 cans of cranberry and 2 packages of onion soup

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes

I've mentioned before that Kris (the hubby) LOVES cheese. He will eat just about anything with cheese on top, or cheese as a meal in itself. A few years back I decided that I should make scalloped potatoes for a dinner, and they were a big hit with Kris and the rest of my family. These are a traditional southern food, but I only remember eating them a few times. Now that I started making them, Kris often requests them (as he did last night) and there are never leftovers. I soon learned to double the recipe when feeding the whole family (tip: place a tray underneath when doubling in case the dish bubbles over).

With Easter just around the corner, this would be a great side dish to add to your meal. This recipe is simple to make and the steps are pretty much the same as making the macaroni and cheese sauce.

3 russet potatoes
2T butter
2T flour
1 1/4 c milk
2 cups cheddar cheese (substitute another if you like)
Salt and pepper

1. Melt butter in mixing bowl in microwave
2. Add flour, whisk, and then microwave 30 seconds
3. Add milk, whisk, and microwave at 2 minute intervals until thick (just like macaroni so see that post for pictures) - resulting in a bechamel sauce
4. Mix in salt and pepper and half of the cheese to the sauce until melted
5.. After the sauce is ready, peel and thinly slice your potatoes. The thinner they are the faster it will cook. Kris and I bought a cheap mandoline at crate and barrel that makes this job very easy, although a knife will work just fine. It is important to wait to peel/slice the potatoes so they don't turn brown.
6. Put half of the potatoes in a large casserole dish. Sprinkle some cheese on top of the layer, then add remaining potatoes. Top with the rest of the cheese.
7. Bake at 350, covered, for 1 hour. Prick with fork after 1 hour to see if potatoes are tender; if not, cook longer until they are tender and do not have a "crunch"

I think I made the appropriate changes to my blog so anyone can comment now. Try it out and we'll see if it works. You may also now subscribe to my blog so you will receive an email when I enter a new post. New posting on its way later today!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Broccoli, Chicken, and Rice Casserole

Since my last few posts have been very unhealthy foods, everyone must be wondering what I eat on a regular basis (obviously too much or I would have lost some weight by now!). Tonight I am going to make one of my favorite casseroles, which evolved from one my mom used to make. She would often make this dish with chicken, broccoli, and cheddar cheese and I can remember one day asking for rice to be added. I would be willing to say I probably requested this for dinner at least once a week, and it would always be waiting for me when I came home on school breaks (just like the pimento cheese at my grandmother's house). We now have a version that has stuck around, and I can even get my anti-broccoli eating husband to admit this casserole is a keeper.

1 cup rice (I use white but try others if you want)
1 package of frozen chopped broccoli (the block size, not the bag)
Approx. 1 chicken breast shredded or cubed (I have come to use leftover rotisserie chicken, but will also boil a breast or omit if I don't want to make it)
1 can cream of chicken soup (I use the 98% fat free)
1 spoon of light mayo
Dash of lemon juice
Salt and pepper
Parmesan cheese

1. Cook rice according to instructions - it is best if you use chicken stock instead of water or a mixture of both
2. Dethaw broccoli and strain good (the microwave works just fine)
3. Mix together soup, mayo, milk, lemon juice (if you have it on hand), salt, and pepper. The mayo can be omitted, but I think it helps make it creamy. As for the milk, I usually pour it directly into the soup can and about halfway full and scrape out all the extra soup left behind. If you have some of the fat free half and half I would use that instead of the milk
4. Combine rice, broccoli, and chicken in casserole dish
5. Stir in soup mixture until well blended. I often add some parmesan to the entire mixture
6. Top with parmesan cheese
7. Bake at 350 until bubbly (20 min or so)

I hope you enjoy this just as much as I do! This is a basic recipe that you can easily alter to become your favorite.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Pimento Cheese

Pimento cheese is one of those foods that immediately sparks the memory of summer trips to Kentucky. You can't go to a church dinner, luncheon, or funeral in Kentucky without there being a tray of little triangle sandwiches made with pimento cheese and benedictine (the benedictine is a whole other story for a later time). My greatest memories of pimento cheese is eating it upon arrival to my grandparents' house. It was a guaranteed bet my grandmother would have some ready to eat once we arrived, always stored in an old mayo jar.

There are competing versions in my dad thinks it is best soupy with pickles, but my favorite is of course my grandmother's version that is a thick spread and pickle free. I never did make pimento cheese with my grandmother to know her secrets, but I discovered a couple years ago that my Aunt Edna and Uncle Harold's version is pretty much the same. Thank goodness I have them around to ask for recipes!!

You may make pimento cheese with any cheese you like, but the most common is cheddar cheese and maybe some American for texture. My Aunt Edna says they normally use scraps of cheese they have leftover, but my husband is a cheese freak so we don't normally have any leftovers. Since I am a more mild person, I decided to combine sharp and mild cheddar for mine, but you do as you wish! I also took advantage of using the pre-shredded cheese packages, but I'm sure my grandmother would never have adapted to such an invention. :)

If you are a golf fan, here is my recommendation for the perfect golf watching meal: Make a pimento cheese sandwich and wrap it in green wax paper. Take a seat on the couch and enjoy your sandwich along with an Arnold Palmer, and you will feel like you are at Augusta National on Master's Sunday.

Pimento Cheese

2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated
2 cups mild cheddar cheese, grated
Small jar of diced pimentos
Mayonnaise (it is best with the real mayo, but you can use light or fat free if you want)
Salt and pepper

1. Combine the two cheeses in a mixing bowl
2. Add the pimentos along with some of the juice (depending on my pepper mood, I may just use half of the jar and freeze the rest)
3. Mix in some mayo, start with a spoonful or two at a time, and mix until the the cheeses become spreadable
4. Add a little salt and pepper to taste, and then refrigerate

This is best if it has time to refrigerate so the flavors will combine, so may a day ahead if time permits. Serve as cold sandwiches (or it makes a fabulous grilled cheese), on saltine crackers (my favorite), celery, or whatever your favorite dipping item may be.

FYI - if you don't have the desire to make your own but still want to try it...go to the Fresh Market if there is one nearby and taste theirs. It is creamier than mine but I really like it.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Buttermilk Biscuits and Gravy

I woke up this morning with the urge to make something yummy today. At first I was brainstorming what to make for Sunday dinner, however my mind soon shifted to breakfast. I quickly found myself with my hands covered in sticky dough, making a batch of buttermilk biscuits and gravy.

Gravy is another one of those non-recipe recipes I learned how to make from my mom. Growing up she often made it for breakfast or to accompany certain southern dinners. I wish I didn’t know how to make it, because then I wouldn’t be regretting my choice to eat such a sinfully fat breakfast. Of course my bad decision made me feel even worse because right after I finished breakfast, I saw the first picture of my brother post-weight loss. Oh well….at least I made it with skim milk right??

As for the biscuits, I would normally go buy a bag of Pillsbury’s frozen buttermilk biscuits (why do the work when they are soooo good). Today I decided to make use of what I had on hand and made my first batch of biscuits from scratch. I have to admit, they turned out pretty good for a first-timer!

Buttermilk Biscuits

3 cups all purpose flour
2 T sugar
2 ½ t baking powder
½ t salt
½ t baking soda
½ c butter
1 cup buttermilk (maybe a little more if needed)

1. Preheat oven to 450.
2. Combine all the dry ingredients
3. Cut the butter into the dry ingredients with a fork or pastry blender, until it is crumbly and well mixed
4. Add buttermilk a little at a time, stirring until well mixed. This is where experience will tell you how much you need, which I certainly had no clue at the time. I added enough buttermilk to make all of the flour stick and hold together into a ball. The end product was very sticky.
5. Lightly flour a surface (countertop or cutting board) and knead the dough a few times (my goal was trying to make it less sticky, but who knows if that is right).
6. Roll the dough out to about ½ inch thick, and then use a biscuit cutter or glass.
7. Place in a greased cake pan or other baking dish and let the sides of the biscuits touch each other.
8. If you desire, brush the tops with a little bit of melted butter
9. Bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown.

This is another one of those dishes I make without a recipe, so hopefully these measurements will work well for you. The best way to know what you are doing is trial and error! In order for this to turn out well, you really need some bacon grease or to have just made sausage, fried chicken, fried pork, etc.

1/3 cup bacon grease (the next time you fry bacon, just pour the grease into an old jar and save in the fridge for future use)
1/3 cup all purpose flour
2-3 cups milk (I use skim, but use what you have)
Lots of salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat grease in pan on medium heat
2. Add in flour and whisk until smooth

3. Let it cook for a few minutes, continuing to whisk, until it turns a caramel color
4. Add in milk (start with 1½ to 2 cups and you can always add more later) and whisk to combine
5. Keep whisking on medium heat; once it starts to bubble the milk will start to thicken – may take 5 to 10 minutes (you don’t have to continuously whisk, but you want to stay close so that it doesn’t burn)
6. If the mixture is extra thick, add some more milk to thin it out; it will re-thicken as it cooks, you just want to be careful to not add too much milk to start
7. Season with salt and pepper to taste (it will need lots).
8. Spoon on top of biscuits or whatever else you may want gravy on.