Monday, December 10, 2018

Candy Cane Crunch

You have to try these if you like Rice Krispie treats and peppermint!  The base recipe for this is from Buns In My Oven.  I saw it last summer and thought it looked so pretty, but thought it could really use some peppermint!  Because I added candy canes, I changed the name to Candy Cane Crunch.  I also added vanilla extract to the marshmallow mixture (something I always do with Rice Krispie treats) and a slightly larger pan so they wouldn't be so incredibly thick.
  
They turned out really nicely.  My husband is not a huge peppermint fan, but he liked them anyway.  These are a great little break from all the cookies at Christmastime.  I made them for the first time last year, but I'm sure we will have them again many times in the future.
   
If you want them super pepperminty, buy mint M&Ms.  That's what I used this time and they were really good, but I think next time I will try plain Christmas colored ones.  You could even add 1/2 tsp or so of peppermint extract to the marshmallow mixture and use mint M&Ms if you really want a peppermint blast, but I thought my beloved would complain about eating toothpaste if I did that.  As is, it was really nice having the mintyness offset by the vanilla and cereal flavors.
  
Quick Note: Chop the candy canes roughly.  They don't need to be obliterated into candy cane dust, but you don't want giant chunks that will be unpleasant to bite into.
  
Candy Cane Crunch
  
1/4 C salted butter
10 oz mini marshmallows
1 tsp vanilla extract
6 C Rice Chex
3/4 C Christmas colored M&Ms, divided
8 crushed mini candy canes, divided
2 Tbsp Christmas colored round sprinkles, divided
  
Line a 7 by 11 pan with parchment paper.  Get your cereal, candies, and sprinkles measured out.
  
Place butter in a large pot and heat over medium-low until melted.  Add marshmallows and stir constantly until they're completely melted.  Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla extract, then stir in the cereal until it's well coated.  Add 1/2 C of the M&Ms, 3/4 of the crushed candy cane, and 1 Tbsp of the sprinkles.  Stir until the candy and sprinkles is evenly distributed.  Immediately press the cereal mixture into the parchment paper lined pan.  Sprinkle with the reserved candy and sprinkles, then press the toppings down firmly with your hands, keeping a layer of parchment paper between the bars and your hands so it doesn't stick.
  
Let the bars sit for 2 hours before cutting them into bars.
  
Yield: About 20 bars

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Slow Cooker Tomato Basil Tortellini Soup aka Christmas Soup

This is one of our favorite soups and I've made it several times, usually 2-3 times a year, which is a lot for me.  We call it Christmas Soup in December because of the colors and my fondness for holiday themed everything, but we love eating it the rest of the year, too.  The soup is rich and delicious, easy to make, and makes a ton!  It is originally from Cooking Classy, but I've changed it some by leaving out the sugar, increasing the amount of cream slightly (what am I going to do with 1/4 C leftover cream?), and using beef broth because that tastes better.  Feel free to use vegetable broth if you're a vegetarian, though.  I also choose to cook the tortellini separately so they don't get soggy when you have the leftovers. You can also toss in a parmesan rind if you have one (remove it before blending!) and garnish the individual bowls of soup with grated parmesan.
 
If you're really in a hurry, you could use baby carrots, a quartered onion, whole peeled garlic cloves, and skip the step where you saute the vegetables.  You could also use 2 or 3 tsp dried basil added at the beginning instead of fresh at the end, but of course the fresh basil is pretty tasty. 
  
I have frozen it quite successfully as well, just add the tortellini right before the individual bowls go into the freezer.
   
Slow Cooker Tomato Basil Tortellini Soup 
    
2 Tbsp butter
2 C peeled, roughly chopped carrots
1 onion, roughly chopped
5 cloves garlic, chopped
3 28 oz cans whole tomatoes, undrained
1 quart beef broth
1 tsp pepper
4 bay leaves
parmesan rind (optional)
salt to taste (I didn't have to add any)
1 C cream
1 lb refrigerated tortellini
1 bunch fresh basil, cut chiffonade
   
Melt butter in a skillet.  Add carrots and onion, and saute for a few minutes until they start getting a little golden.  Add garlic and saute another minute or two, don't let the garlic change color. Transfer the vegetable mixture to your slow cooker. Add tomatoes, beef broth, pepper, and bay leaves.Cover and slow about 7 hours, until vegetables are tender.  This isn't really a recipe that can be overcooked, so let it just keep doing its thing until you're ready to eat if the vegetables get soft before you expect!
   
When it's dinner time, remove bay leaves (and parmesan rind if you added on) and puree soup with immersion blender.  Stir in cream.  Taste and add salt if necessary.  Let it continue to cook while you prepare the tortellini.
   
In a separate pot, cook the tortellini according to the package directions.  Drain them and return them to the pot.  Do not mix them into the soup!
   
When ready to serve, ladle soup into individual bowls, and top with a few tortellini and a sprinkle of basil.
  
Yield:  About 10 large servings

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Cranberry Salsa

How?  How have I not posted my recipe for cranberry salsa yet?  It's so, so good.  The original came from a friend's sister about 8 years ago, but I have tinkered with it substantially over the years to make it just right.  I make it almost every Thanksgiving/Christmas. 
 
This salsa is really good, and rather unique.  It's sweet and tart, but also a little spicy and on the savory side.  It's actually kind of hard to describe, but I love it, and most of the women who have tried it love it as well.  For some reason most guys don't like it, but I did bring it to a potluck the other day and one guy came up to me to tell me that he loved it, so there are obviously exceptions!
 
I always serve this salsa with tortilla chips, but think it would also be great served over cream cheese with crackers, in the style of the traditional low effort but mind blowingly tasty cream cheese and jalapeno jelly appetizer.  It would also be an interesting alternative to cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving or on turkey sandwiches.  It would also be a good appetizer recipe to make if you expect vegan guests and want something different from regular salsa.
 
Quick Note:  The onion can get very overwhelming in this salsa, you really do not want very much.  A quarter of a small onion doesn't sound like a lot, but stick with that amount, at least the first time you make it!  Also, don't just dump everything into the food processor at once or you risk over processing the cilantro and cranberries.
 
Cranberry Salsa
 
leafy parts of 1 bunch of cilantro
12 oz cranberries, rinsed and any icky ones picked out
1 granny smith apple
1/4 small red onion (take the "small" part to heart!)
1 jalapeno, veins and seeds removed
3 Tbsp lime juice
2/3 C sugar
 
Pulse cilantro in a food processor and then dump it into a large bowl.  Add cranberries to food processor and pulse until they're finely chopped.  Add to the bowl with the cilantro.  Cut apple, onion, and jalapeno into large chunks and place in food processor with lime juice.  Pulse until as chopped up as you'd like.  Add to bowl with the cilantro and cranberries, then stir in sugar.
 
Let salsa sit in the fridge for a few hours before serving so the flavors can marry, then serve with tortilla chips.
 
Yield: about 3 cups of salsa

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

From Scratch Tuna Casserole

I came upon this tuna casserole recipe on BBC Good Food a while back and decided to give it a whirl.  Tuna casserole is my go to "sick food" when I have a bad cold or something.  It's just cozy, I guess!  My husband is usually the one who ends up making it and he's made this for me a few times now.

This recipe is a little different from the norm because you make an actual sauce instead of using a can of cream of blank soup, and it uses corn instead of peas.  You can definitely use peas instead, though, or go on and add 8 oz of them in addition to the corn, why not?  

My version is pretty loyal to the original, but I add garlic and cut the cheese into cubes instead of shredding it.  Shredded cheddar kind of disappears into the casserole, but cubes give you little pockets of melty cheesiness.

For the pasta, you can use pretty much anything.  I think of egg noodles as being the traditional tuna casserole pasta, and that's very good, but it's also good with macaroni, penne, fusilli, shells, or other short shapes.  I'd stay away from something long like spaghetti or very tiny like orzo, but pretty much anything else is good.  Whole wheat pasta works nicely, too.  

If you're looking for a decent whole wheat pasta option, I have tried a lot of them and the company Bionaturae makes by far the best.  Many of the other brands are pretty gross.  DeLallo makes pretty good whole wheat pasta as well, but Bionaturae tastes almost like regular white pasta.  I've taken to ordering bulk packs of 6 lbs of Bionaturae on Amazon because only one local store sells it, they only have penne, and it's $4 a pound at the store.

From Scratch Tuna Casserole

1 lb short pasta of your choice
8 oz frozen corn
4 Tbsp butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 Tbsp flour
2 1/2 C milk
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
10 oz cubed cheddar
1/4 C minced fresh parsley
2 cans tuna, drained

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 9 by 13 dish and set aside

Boil pasta in salted water and add the frozen corn when the pasta is 2 or 3 minutes from being done.  When the pasta is a little less cooked than you'd prefer (it will continue cooking in the oven), drain it.

While the noodles cook, melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium and add garlic.  Saute the garlic for a minute or so, but don't let it brown.  Increase the heat to medium-high, add the flour and saute for a couple minutes longer, until you have a nice, smooth roux.  Pour in the milk 1/4 C at a time for the first cup, stirring well after each addition until the sauce is completely smooth.  After the first cup of milk has been added, you should be able to add the rest of the milk all at once.  Cook, stirring constantly, until the sauce comes to a simmer and thickens.  Continue cooking and stirring for 2 or so minutes longer.  Remove pan from heat and add the salt and pepper.

Stir sauce into cooked noodles.  Stir in tuna, parsley, and cheese cubes.  Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed.

Spread pasta in greased baking dish.  Bake 20-30 minutes, until hot and golden on top.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Dill Dip for Veggies

I already have a dill dip on my blog (one of the first recipes I ever shared!), but it calls for Beau Monde seasoning, which I did not have.  Instead, I found this recipe on the blog Rachel Cooks and had it all stirred up in just a couple of minutes.  My version uses sour cream instead of Greek yogurt because it's what I had, and I used different amounts of most of the seasonings so it would suit our tastes.  I also added a little apple cider vinegar to give it a bit of a tang.  The sour cream I used was organic and for some reason it's not as sour as regular sour cream, so you may want to taste the dip before adding the vinegar, or just add 1 tsp to start with.  Lemon juice would be fantastic as well, but I had just made Lemon Chive Dip the week before and wanted something different. 
  
This dip tasted good, but average when I put it in the fridge.  After it spent a few hours in there, though, the flavor was completely transformed into something out of this world amazing.  I won't even bother with the Dilly Dip recipe anymore because this one is so incredibly good.  The vinegar thins it a little bit so it would work great as a salad dressing, too. 
 
Dill Dip for Veggies
 
1 C sour cream
1/4 C mayo
2 tsp dried dill
1 tsp dried parsley
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp onion powder
2 tsp apple cider vinegar
 
Mix together all ingredients in a bowl.  Refrigerate for several hours before serving so the flavors can marry.
 
Yield: 1 1/4 cup

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Bacon Pumpkin Soup

This is the best pumpkin soup I've ever made!  I've tried a few over the years, but it's been a while because they've all been pretty disappointing.  My husband and I both really enjoyed this one, though.  It's a little sweet since pumpkin is sweet, but does not taste like dessert.  It's just all around delightful and nice and creamy without being too heavy, and of course the bacon crumbles make it extra yummy.
  
The recipe comes from the blog Spend with Pennies.  My only changes (other than to make a much larger batch) had to do with the preparation, a couple small changes with the seasonings, and I added soy sauce to boost the umami flavor.  It does not taste like soy sauce, of course- you can't identify the flavor as soy sauce at all.
  
I served the soup with baked butter herb chicken and steamed green beans.  The chicken was just something I tossed together- chicken breasts cut down the middle and topped with butter mixed with dried herbs, a little mustard powder, onion powder, garlic powder, salt, pepper, and paprika, then baked in a greased pan at 350 until cooked through.  It all made for a very tasty, perfect autumn dinner.
  
Below, I wrote you can use either 1/4 or 1/2 tsp nutmeg.  I used the smaller amount because I didn't want to be punched in the face with nutmeg, but next time I'll try using 1/2 tsp because the nutmeg was quite subtle and I think it would work just fine to use the full amount.  I also used half and half instead of cream because the store was out of cream, and it turned out really great that way.  Next time I'll probably use cream, because why not?
  
I took a bit of a gamble on us liking it because I quadrupled the recipe!  My husband and I are expecting our first child soon and I've been stockpiling food in our freezer, I thought this one would freeze well and be super cozy to enjoy after our baby arrives.  It also only takes, maybe 5 more minutes to make a quadruple recipe, since all you have to do is roughly chop some extra veggies.  You don't have to make them small since they will be blended.
 
One last thing- I'd like to add that you could easily do this in the slow cooker or Instant Pot.  I would have done that if my Instant Pot wasn't being used for something else already when I made this soup.  We really need to get another one!  Anyway, if you decide to do it in a slow cooker, you could just skip the step of sauteeing the veggies and just add everything except the half and half/cream and cooked bacon to the crock and cook it until the veggies are tender, then proceed with the recipe.  If you go the Instant Pot route, you should probably only try it if you have the larger 8 quart model.  Saute the veggies in the bacon grease on the saute setting, then add the remaining ingredients except the half and half/cream and cooked bacon, then put on the lid, seal it, and cook on Manual for probably 30 minutes.  A quick pressure release should be fine, then proceed with the rest of the recipe.
  
Bacon Pumpkin Soup
  
8 oz bacon
2 large onions, peeled and chopped roughly
2 C peeled and roughly chopped carrots
4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
4 tsp brown sugar
10 C chicken broth
4 16 oz cans pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling, the only ingredient should be pumpkin)
4 Tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp dried parsley
1 tsp salt, plus more to taste (depends on how salty your chicken broth is)
1 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp pepper
1/4 to 1/2 tsp nutmeg, depending on how much you like it- I used the lesser amount
6 bay leaves
2 C half and half or cream
  
Set oven to 400 degrees.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil, being sure to cover the sides of the sheet with foil.  Evenly spread out the bacon and bake until crisp to your liking and the fat has rendered out.  Remove bacon, pat off grease, crumble, and refrigerate.  Pour the grease (you want about 1/4-1/3 C, this isn't an exact science) into a large pot.  
  
Heat pot over medium and add onions, carrots, and garlic.  Saute until the veggies begin to soften and turn lightly golden, about 10 minutes.  Add brown sugar and cook another minute.  Immediately stir in broth, then all the remaining ingredients except the cream and crumbled bacon.
  
Bring soup to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for an hour, stirring occasionally.
  
After an hour has passed and the veggies are completely soft, remove the bay leaves, puree the soup well with an immersion blender, stir in the cream or half and half, add salt to taste, and serve with a sprinkle of crumbled bacon.
 
Yield: About 14 approximately 2 C servings

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Cheater's Chicken Noodle Soup

Why is chicken noodle soup so good?  Growing up, I never had it while sick, so I don't associate it with it making me feel better, but I do really like it.  It's so homey and warming and delicious.  My favorite is chicken soup made with both the chicken broth and noodles made from scratch, but that takes quite a bit of time and work.  This recipe is pretty low maintenance and still very good.

  
This is sort of a copycat Campbell's chicken noodle soup recipe, except it has veggies because veggies are great!  I always make canned chicken noodle soup with half the amount of water because I like the broth being really rich and savory, so I added chicken soup base (Better Than Bouillon brand) and some cornstarch.  The cornstarch does not make it thick, it just gives it a tiny bit more substance.  It doesn't register as, "Wow, this sure is thick!" or anything.  It's also pretty heavy on the noodles, which works for me, because the noodles are the best part!
  
You can add more carrots if you want.  I love carrots, but feel like they make broth very sweet so don't add many.  If you don't mind it being a tiny bit sweet, double the carrots.
  
Quick Note:  This recipe makes a lot of soup.  I made such a large batch because I wanted to freeze it for lunches.  You can halve the recipe if you'd like, but since it's almost as easy to make the full recipe and it freezes well, why not make the whole gallon?
   
Also, I know it's a weird step, but please do strain out the noodles (any chicken or veggies that come out with them is fine as well) before refrigerating, unless you like soggy noodles and not much broth.  Just refrigerate the noodles separately from the liquid.  When you're ready to reheat leftovers, you can scoop some noodles and some broth into your bowl and then reheat, no problem.
   
If you decide to freeze some soup, let it cool completely overnight in the fridge with the noodles separate, then recombine, portion out the soup into freezer containers, and freeze it immediately.  Reheat the soup from frozen and it will be just fine.  If you want to let the soup thaw before you reheat it,  you'll need to freeze the noodles and liquid separately to avoid soggy noodles.

Cheater's Chicken Noodle Soup

4 Tbsp butter
2 stalks celery, sliced
1 large carrot, peeled and sliced
2 onions, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 quarts chicken broth
1 lb fettuccine or linguine noodles, broken into 1 inch pieces
2 chicken breasts, cleaned and chopped fairly small
chicken soup base to taste (I used 3 tablespoons)
1/2 tsp pepper
4 Tbsp cornstarch
1/2 C water

Melt butter in a very large pot over medium, add all veggies except garlic and saute until they begin to soften.  Add garlic and saute another minute.  Add chicken broth.  Cover.  Simmer on medium for 30 minutes, until veggies are completely tender.  Add chicken and cook 10 minutes.  Taste and add chicken soup base if it needs to be saltier, as well as pepper.  Add noodles, cover pot, reduce heat to medium low, and simmer until cooked through , stirring occasionally.  Make slurry with cornstarch and water, pour into simmering soup and stir and cook for a couple of minutes.
If you have leftovers (and you probably will), strain out the noodles before refrigerating and store the noodles and liquid separately so the noodles don't get soggy.

Yield: About a gallon of soup (8 or so large servings)