Thursday, December 30, 2010

Great ideas

I love pork in the slow cooker -- the method produces a tender result without watching a pot or timing anything. My children dearly love the pork recipe with cream of mushroom soup that I posted in September. But this week I decided to try a new recipe for pork loin, this one in the oven. It incorporates cinnamon, brown sugar, apples and dried cranberries or raisins. I will post the results soon (and modify it for the slow cooker if it is a hit.)

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Black and white chili

I love chili and I have loved making it since I was a teenager; it was a favorite Saturday meal growing up and one I have continued to modify, tweak and share. But I had always made it with kidney beans until my youngest son balked at eating them. He would eat the tomatoes, the meat, even other types of beans. But the kidney beans were a deal breaker. So I kept tweaking -- navy beans passed muster, ditto for black beans. So I settled on something we now call "black and white chili" in honor of the black and white beans. Last week, my husband told me he preferred it over the traditional kidney bean recipe.

Another thing we all love is the addition of tomatoes that have chipotle peppers added. In recent years, most stores carry tomatoes that are seasoned in various ways, especially Italian (with oregano, basil and onions) and Mexican (with chili peppers.) More recently I have found diced tomatoes with chipotle peppers in local stores. Chipotle peppers are smoked jalapenos -- they give a small amount of smoky heat. All my children love this addition and can eat it. Don't let the fear of too much heat keep you from trying this. It gives a smoky warmth similar to barbecue sauce (something I have also added to chili recipes in the past.)

Eating beans is an excellent source of low fat protein. And the slow cooker was made for the needed long, slow cooking for beans that have been dried. Be sure to drain excess fat from the meat to reduce the amount of fat in the finised dish.

Black and white chili

1 cup dried navy beans, soaked in water overnight, drained
14.5 ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 pound hamburger, browned and drained
15 ounce can diced tomatoes with chipotle peppers
½ cup tomato sauce
1 teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon black pepper
2-3 shakes crushed red pepper
½ teaspoon chili powder

Place the drained navy beans in a 6 quart slow cooker.

Cook one pound of hamburger meat. I started with a frozen block of meat:

And cooked it until it was browned; drain any excess fat before adding it to the beans.

Add the canned black beans, drained and rinsed, and the diced tomatoes with chipotle peppers to the slow cooker.

Add the oregano, black pepper, chili powder, red pepper and two small bay leaves. Do not add salt until the beans have finished cooking -- it can make them tough. Add water to cover beans.

Cook on low for 8 hours. Makes 8-10 servings -- and it will go fast.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Peanut butter balls

This candy is so simple and delicious that I can't believe I never tried it before now. Like the "remarkable fudge" recipe, I tried this at my husband's urging. Once I found a recipe and realized how easy it was, I was happy to give it a try. Once I tasted one, it became my new favorite candy.

These balls taste like Reese cups -- peanut butter on the inside and chocolate on the outside. The hardest part is forming the balls because the combination is a bit crumbly. But that crumbliness (if that is a word) is what gives the candy a texture just like its famous cousin.

You'll need:

1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup powdered sugar

Mix the ingredients thoroughly, until they adhere. The mixture will be a bit crumbly (and your hand will hurt from stirring; just keep mixing!).

Scoop the mixture into teaspoon-sized balls and shape them with clean hands. Work quickly and don't press too hard. I had a great helper on this part.

Our dog, Jake, dearly loves peanut butter and was hoping for a few balls to get free and roll away.

He was disappointed, though. The recipe makes about 30 balls. Once you have all the mixture rolled, put it in the fridge for about 20 minutes. Then heat chocolate candy bark until melted (I used the microwave, heating in 30 second intervals until it was melted and smooth.) Dip each ball in the candy coating, covering completely, then shaking off the excess. I lowered the balls using a spoon, then pulled them out with a fork to let the extra chocolate run off. Place each ball on aluminum foil until set, then store in the fridge.

My husband went crazy over these. Rarely do I think a homemade candy really tastes like its famous counterpart, but these candies are dynamite.

Remarkable fudge

I've always had poor luck with fudge -- I wind up scorching it, or it fails to set up. But my husband loves (I mean looooves) fudge, so I decided to try again this week. I found this recipe for "remarkable fudge" in my tried-and-true Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book. It was delicious and easy and despite my initial fears that it was not going to set properly, a quick trip into the fridge gave excellent results.

Even if you are not experienced making candy, try this one. You don't need a candy thermometer; just patience while stirring.

Remarkable fudge

4 cups sugar
10 ounces of evaporated milk
1 cup butter (2 sticks)
2 cups semisweet chocolate morsels
7 ounce jar marshmallow creme
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 teaspoon vanilla

Line a 9x13x2 inch pan with foil, extending the foil over the edges of the pan. Butter the foil (we sprayed it with non-stick spray). Set aside.

Butter side of a heavy 3-quart saucepan (non-stick spray again). In the pan combine sugar, evaporated milk and butter.

Cook and stir over medium-high heat until the mixture boils. Reduce heat to medium and continue cooking and stirring for 10 minutes.

Remove pan from heat. Add the chocolate pieces and stir well.

Add marshmallow creme, walnuts and vanilla. Stir until all melts and is well combined.

Beat by hand for one minute. Spread into prepared pan. Score the fudge while it is still warm. When fudge is firm, use the foil to remove it from the pan. Cut into squares and store in a covered container in the fridge. Makes about 4 pounds or 96 pieces (if you cut it in small pieces).

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Savory favorite for Christmas

According to the box, people have been chowing down on the original Chex brand party mix for more than 50 years. I remember my grandmother bringing it to us in Norfolk, Va., from her home in Raleigh, N.C. And today when I smell the mix toasting in the oven, I think of her.
It is a Christmas favorite in my house and I have made countless batches of the stuff over the past 20 years. But the thing about the mix that makes me chuckle is the fact that I have never made it precisely like the “original” recipe – one I doubt is truly original. This year the recipe promoted on the Chex website gives microwave directions first. There are also methods for cooking it in a slow cooker. The directions used to urge you to melt the butter in a 9x13-inch pan, add the other flavorings, and then dump the cereal on top. Big mistake, unless you wanted some cereal soaked in Worcestershire sauce and some pieces with nothing.
The “original” recipe also calls for bagel chips (Seriously? We are supposed to believe that in the early 1960s people were commonly eating bagel chips? I couldn’t find more than two kinds of pasta at the grocery store 20 years ago.) It also calls for garlic powder and onion powder; I’ve never used either in this recipe.
The original recipe is available on any box of Chex brand cereal you might buy, so check it out for yourself. But I still think the best part of making this savory Christmas favorite is putting your own spin on it. Two favorite additions in my recipe are Bugles snacks and Cheerios. I am not a fan of the wheat cereal in this mix, so the other cereals make up for it in volume. Former coworkers in Norton, Va. suggested addding the Bugles and Cheerios. Both win rave reviews. But to be clear: I hardly ever buy the name brand cereals, especially when I am making snack mix. The generic versions are cheaper and, in my view, you can’t tell the difference. Yes, I am a cheapskate.
And I never follow the dump method suggested in some recipes. Don’t add the dry cereal to a pan of butter and Worcestershire sauce, unless you want a soggy mess. Instead, melt the butter in a microwave-safe bowl for about 30 seconds, add the Worcestershire sauce and seasoned salt. Stir well and slowly add it, while mixing, to the cereal, pretzels, nuts, etc. that are in the baking pan.
My version:
Savory snack mix
3 cups square corn cereal
3 cups square rice cereal
1 cup Bugles
1 cup round oat cereal
1 cup mixed nuts (I often add extra raw pecans, if I have them on hand)
3 tablespoons butter or margarine (half a stick)
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 cup small pretzels (I often use sticks)
1 teaspoon seasoned salt
Mix cereals, nuts and pretzels in a 9x13x2-inch pan. Melt butter in a microwave safe dish for 30 seconds. Add Worcestershire sauce and seasoned salt; mix well. Pour over cereal mixture, mixing well. Bake for one hour at 250 degrees, stirring every 15 minutes.
The original recipe gives storage instructions (airtight container). We just gobble it up at our house.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Keeping warm from the inside out

For years I enjoyed making Russian tea and hot chocolate for the Norton, Va., Christmas parade. Hundreds of cold parade watchers would warm up inside The Coalfield Progress newspaper office and enjoy a cup of something warm, while the floats rolled past. But it has been since 2005 that I worked at the newspaper and this year the weather was so unpredictable that the Norton parade was cancelled.

But I still enjoy making these drink mixes for my family and friends. They are super simple and make great gifts. The Russian tea recipe using a favorite drink mix from the 1960s, Tang. And the hot cocoa mix comes from a church cookbook in Wise County, Va. The addition of coffee creamer and powdered milk makes this recipe, which is blended with hot water, particularly creamy.

Consider making a batch of either or both. They are great gifts and guaranteed to please a crowd.

Russian tea

3 cups sugar
2 cups Tang
1 cup instant tea mix
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves

Mix thoroughly. Add three heaping teaspoons to a mug of hot water.

Best-ever hot chocolate

Two 10-ounces boxes powdered milk
16-ounce bag powdered sugar
1 large jar coffee creamer
1 large container Nestle Quik

Mix ingredients thoroughly. Add 2-3 heaping teaspoons to a mug of hot water. Enjoy!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Pizza Meatloaf

This was a delicious creation born from ingenuity and what was on hand in the fridge Sunday night, plus some creativity from my 9-year-old son. It won raves and a guarantee to be repeated soon.

Pizza meatloaf

One pound ground chuck
1/2 cup pizza sauce, divided
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon chopped garlic
2 slices bread, crumbled
2 tablespoons barbecue sauce
1/4 cup mozzerella cheese, grated

Mix all ingredients together, except 1/4 cup pizza sauce and the grated mozzerella cheese. Shape into a loaf and place in a 9x13x2 casserole. Cover with the remaining pizza sauce. Bake at 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes. Remove meatloaf from oven and add grated cheese; return to oven for 5-10 minutes so cheese melts. I served this with white rice and green beans -- it was terrific.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Beef stew, revisited

I mixed up a pot of beef stew early this morning, based loosely on the recipe I posted here earlier this year. Take a look at my: Burgundy beef stew. This morning, I substituted rose wine for burgundy, steak sauce for worcestershire, and threw in a handful of thyme sprigs that are making the house smell divine.

Bottom line? Cooking is about experimentation. Try what you like. Substitute what you have. Improvise. But keep trying. I am so glad dinner was handled before 8 a.m. Now on to other challenges....

Friday, October 8, 2010

Chicken and vegetable soup

Certainly I love using my slow cooker year round, but as the weather turns colder I especially enjoy making soups. This recipe is a healthy option; its packed with vegetables -- both fresh and canned -- and I used chicken breast tenderloins, which are low in fat and high in protein.

Chicken and vegetable soup

8-10 chicken breast tenderloins
14.5 ounce can green beans, drained
14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes
15.25 ounce can corn, drained
2 stalks celery, diced
1 cup diced carrots
2 potatoes, diced
4-5 cups water, or chicken stock
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper to taste

Dice all the fresh vegetables (potatoes, carrots and celery) and place them in a 6-quart slow cooker.

You'll go from this... to this...

I used Yukon gold potatoes, which are my husband's favorite. They have a beautiful golden color and are buttery when cooked. Then add the canned vegetables, water or stock and the dried seasonings.

Next, cook the chicken breast tenderloins in a small amount of oil (about 1 teaspoon) over medium heat. Brown the tenderloins slightly, then let them cool.

Don't these look yummy? I let these tenderloins rest on the cutting board for about 5 minutes, then diced the chicken meat and added it to the slow cooker.

Stir to blend all the ingredients, then cook on low for about 8 hours. This soup was delicious (I ate three bowls!). Yield is about 10-12 cups. Plenty of leftovers to enjoy today.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Best-ever grilled chicken, improvised

Life happens. Things break. Some days the chicken you want isn't available at the store. The propane runs out. The grill won't work.

All those things happened about 10 days ago when we aimed to make my recipe for Best-ever grilled chicken. No chicken thighs at the store (we bought breast tenderloins). Two days later when we aimed to put them on the grill, the grill refused to cooperate. At first, we thought the tank was out. Then, we figured it might be that the ancient, rusty grill may have given its all.

But nearly everyone in America has one of these, right?

We had marinated the breast tenderloins for about two days.

Then got them on the hot grill.

Close the lid and grill the tenderloins for about 7 minutes.

Because the grill cooks from the top and bottom, you will get beautiful grill marks on both sides.

I'll not tell you that the indoor method is as great as grilling outdoors, but it was still pretty fine. And nothing tops this marinade. As the weather is turning colder, consider this method. It's delicious, I promise.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Super simple pork roast

Maybe this recipe should be called "souper" simple pork roast, since all it really needs is condensed cream of mushroom soup. This offering is a favorite of my children and one of the easiest recipes you can conjure up. I used a half pork picnic because a full picnic is too large too fit in a 6-quart slow cooker.

Super simple pork roast

Half pork picnic (or other pork roast); approximately 4 pounds
One can condensed cream of mushroom soup
1/2 cup water
Chopped parsley to garnish

Recipe will serve 6-8.

I used a half picnic and put it in the slow cooker while it was still frozen. This is one of the things I love about using the slow cooker -- no need to defrost.

Mix the can of condensed cream of mushroom soup with a half-cup of water.

Pour it over the pork roast; my youngest one helped with this part. Cook for 8 hours on low. This recipe creates a great sauce that my children love with rice or potatoes. This is a super easy option for dinner that everyone will love.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Ham and navy bean soup

There are as many versions to this recipe as there are cooks. I love adding diced tomatoes that include diced chili peppers; it gives the recipe a bit of spice without any extra work. This recipe is super simple and inexpensive -- two great reasons to try it.

Ham and navy bean soup

2 cups dry navy beans; soak overnight in water to cover
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
One 14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes with chilis
1 pound cooked ham, diced
1 teaspoon oregano

Serves 8-10.

In the morning, drain and rinse the navy beans.
Dice the ham and carrots and place them in a six-quart slow cooker.

Drain the navy beans and add them to the slow cooker.

Then add the diced tomatoes.

Add three cans of water, rinising out the can that had held the tomatoes. Also add the oregano.

Cook for 8 hours on low. As with most heartier soups, I love to serve this soup with rice. This was dinner earlier this week. Simple and delicious.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Best-ever grilled chicken

I know this is a cocky title for a chicken dish, but I promise it will meet expectations. This is a recipe used in my family for more than 40 years on chicken and beef, and frankly nothing surpasses it. This isn't a slow cooker recipe, but you gotta have patience (at least three day's worth) to do this one right. It uses what our family calls the Don Farris marinade, for my brother's godfather. He developed the marinade after years of dining out with my parents and having a similar dish in a Norfolk restaurant. By trial and error, he developed the Don Farris blend.

His recipe is as follows:

Don Farris marinade

1/3 cup corn oil
1/3 cup orange juice
1/3 cup soy sauce
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons brown sugar

Blend all ingredients and use it to marinate 10-12 chicken thighs or a london broil beef roast (his favorite) for about three days. Grill the meat over direct heat. For whole thighs, cook 45 minutes to an hour. For london broil, cook about 7 minutes per side, for medium rare. Slice thinly on the bias.

BUT.... Before you start mixing up the marinade to grill for the weekend, consider some modifications.

A third of a cup of oil is a lot of oil. This recipe originated in the 1960s, before people seemed to worry about eating so much oil. And my husband cannot eat garlic or onions. (I know, he is missing out on great pleasure in life.) And, here is the biggie: It took me more than 20 years of cooking on my own to break from cooking whole chicken thighs, like my parents. Buy the boneless, skinless thighs available in most grocery stores (or bone them yourself). Thighs are a juicy part that hold up well to grilling, but boneless thighs cook faster, reducing the chance for burning or drying out on the grill.

Here's my modified recipe:

Best-ever grilled chicken

10-12 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 cup soy sauce
3 tablespoons oil
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons brown sugar

Blend the marinade ingredients to completely dissolve the sugar. Add the chicken pieces and cover. It's best to use a recloseable plastic container, or a large resealable plastic bag. Regrigerate for three days, turning the chicken each day. After three days it will look like this. (The smell is fantastic, even if the raw chicken isn't!)

Prepare a charcoal or propane grill for direct grilling.

Place the chicken thighs on the grill.

Don't crowd the grill. Leave a few inches of space between the pieces of meat. (Yes, I was grilling barefoot on Tuesday!)

Close the lid and let the heat do the work. After about 10 minutes, check the chicken and give it a baste.

Again, close the lid and let the heat do the work.

Here's what it should look like after about 15 minutes, or midway through cooking:

Pretty, huh? Just close the lid again and let it keep cooking. This will cut down on flareups (as will using skinless thighs and less oil in the marinade).

Getting close to being done here. Just baste again...

And make sure the pieces are cooked through. Total cooking time for boneless thighs should be about 30 minutes. If some pieces are cooking too quickly, move them to cooler parts of the grill. If some are too slow, move them to the hotter spots. After 30 minutes, remove to a platter and voila:

Best-ever grilled chicken. This is so delicious, you won't be able to stop eating. I made this a couple of weeks ago and my children were tearing off bits of the chicken and eating it while standing around the grill. Last night, my husband and I made it again. Yes, this plate is a memory already; we enjoyed it for dinner, lunch and dinner again. Seriously, try this one; it is a home run and it will become a favorite in your family.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Burgundy beef stew

My husband doesn't really like beef stew, but normally eats it without too many complaints. I, on the other hand, love beef stew and think it is one of the wonderful reasons for using a slow cooker. This week I tried a new twist on beef stew, to delicious results.

You'll need:

3 medium potatoes, diced
5 carrots, peeled and rough chopped
1 pound of stew meat
8 ounce can of tomato sauce
1 cup burgundy or other full-bodied red wine
1 tablespoon worchestire sauce
1 teaspoon oregano
1 tablespoon of oil, to brown stew meat
1/2 cup flour, for dredging
Pat of butter
salt and pepper

Wash and dice the potatoes and carrots. I peeled the carrots, but left the skins on the potatoes. Why bother?

Slice the potatoes into half-inch slices, then lay the slices on the board and repeat. Dice in half-inch pieces. I rough chopped the carrots into similar sized pieces as the potato.

Place the chopped vegetables in a 6-quart slow cooker that has been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray.

Season the stew meat with salt and pepper. Put the flour in a resealable bag, then drop in about half the stew meat. Reclose the bag and shake, shake, shake. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Shake off the excess flour and place the meat in the skillet. Brown on all sides; this will take about 5 minutes. Brown the meat in two batches to reduce crowding in the pan.

Using a slotted spoon, place the browned stew meat on top of the vegetables in the slow cooker. Brown the remaining meat and add it to the cooker.

Top the browned stew meat with the tomato sauce and oregano. (You can cheat and substitute about a 1/2 cup of ketchup for the tomato sauce in a pinch). Now for the really yummy part. Add one cup burgundy or other red wine to the pan drippings in the skillet. Also add the worchestire sauce and a pat of butter.

It smells delicious! Once you add the pat of butter, cut the heat and stir the pan to melt. Then pour the wine mixture over the meat and vegetables. It will make them happy, I promise. Cook in the slow cooker on low for 8 hours. When you come home and stir the cooker, this is what you will see.

Gorgeous, right? And delicious, too. I promise. The wine gives this recipe a richer flavor than other beef stew recipes I've tried. It was so good, in fact, that after dinner (and before I packaged up the meager leftovers) I caught my husband sopping up the gravy from the bottom of the pan. That was the best -- and funniest -- news of the night. This recipe is a keeper.