Friday, September 30, 2011

Apple Cider Beef Stew

I've been learning to do more with stew meat lately.  Partly because it's not too expensive, and also because we order grass-fed beef in bulk, so I'm learning to cook all sorts of cuts of meat I normally wouldn't know what to do with. I came across this recipe in a slow cooker cookbook and thought it looked delicious.  I ended up tweaking it a little bit based on ingredients I had on hand. I also add more liquid when I use grass-fed beef since I still have a fear of the meat turning out tough (especially stew meat).  I was expecting the apples in this recipe to cook like the potatoes, but they didn't stay firm. They just kind of dissolved in the broth. I will still add them because I enjoyed the flavor they added, even if I couldn't see the big pieces of apple.  I always add more carrots to recipes because my husband and son love carrots cooked in "meat juice." My husband really enjoyed this recipe (so did the kids). It was a nice mix of sweet and savory.  I will definitely be making this again, especially if this 90 degree weather ever changes!

Apple Cider Beef Stew
Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens

1 pound beef stew meat, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 carrots, cut into large pieces
4 red potatoes, quartered
2 onions, quartered
2 apples, cored and quartered
1 stalk celery, chopped
2 cups apple cider
2 cups beef broth
1 teaspoon fresh thyme or 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon pepper
salt and pepper, to taste

1) In a large skillet, brown meat in hot oil Drain off fat.
2) In a slow cooker, combine carrots, potatoes, beef, apples, and celery.  
3) Mix cider beef broth, thyme, and pepper in a large bowl. Pour over beef and vegetables.
4) Cook on low for 8 hours. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Simple Cooking Part 4: Crock Pots

Slow Cooker Goulash
I love my crock pot.  I also switch back and forth between the terms "slow cooker" and "crock pot" quite a bit, so I apologize for any inconsistencies in this post.  Thanks to my mom, who gave me one of her old crock pots, I am the owner of 2 large crock pots.  Her crock pot is at least 10 years older than mine, which is a good thing. The newer crock pots tend to cook things a little too fast, which sometimes leads to a mess and an overcooked dinner (which is supposed to be impossible with a slow cooker).  I haven't posted many of my crock pot recipes because most of them don't photograph well.  Slow Cooker Goulash is probably the pretties thing I make in the crock pot, so I decided to make that my picture for this post. I do have a few recipes posted under the slow cooker tag. Today I am going to post two of my family's favorite recipes that definitely do not photograph well!  I am not even going to pretend that they are healthy. Both recipes are simple comfort foods. Yes, I know that one of them has a can of cream of mushroom soup in it...and yes, I know you can make your own.  But I only cook with this stuff once a month at the most, so it's not a big deal to me to open up a can and dump it in the crock pot.   I hope you enjoy the recipes below as much as my family does!

Many thanks to my friend Krista, who tried a lot of recipes in "Fix-It and Forget-It," and gave me a list of the recipes that were good (and more importantly, the ones to avoid).

Ethel's Calico Beans
Adapted from "Fix-It and Forget-It"

1/2 pound ground beef
1 onion, chopped
1/2 pound bacon, diced
1/2 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
16-ounce can small red beans, drained
14.5-ounce can baked beans, undrained
15-ounce can butter beans, drained

1) Brown ground beef, onion, and bacon in skillet. Drain.
2) Combine all ingredients in slow cooker.
3) Cover. Cook on low 8 hours.

 I like to serve this with corn bread, french fries, or baked sweet potatoes.

Bean Tator Tot Casserole
From "Fix-It and Forget-It"

1 pound ground beef
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 onion, chopped
1 pound bag frozen green beans
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 cup shredded cheese
21-ounce bag frozen tator tots

1) Crumble raw ground beef in bottom of slow cooker. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
2) Layer remaining ingredients on beef in order listed.
3) Cover. Cook on high 1 hour. Reduce heat to low and cook 3 hours.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Bean Dip

I love seven-layer dip!  I really love just about any dip.  The first week of football season, I was planning on making a big plate of nachos for my husband and I.  At some point, I decided just to make a nice, layered dip instead.  This was delicious!!! It is not a true seven-layer dip, but it is fully of yummy stuff and tastes great on a tortilla chip.

Bean Dip
(makes about 6 cups)

1/2 pound ground beef
2 tablespoons taco seasoning, divided
1 can refried beans
1/2 cup shredded monterey jack cheese
Sour cream
1 tomato, seeded and diced
6 black olives, sliced
2 green onions, sliced
Chopped jalapenos, optional

1) Brown ground beef over medium heat until cooked all the way through (about 10 minutes). Add 1 tablespoon of taco seasoning and stir well.  Drain and set aside.
2) Mix refried beans and 1 tablespoon taco seasoning in the bottom of a greased, oven-safe glass dish. 
3) Add meat to the top of the beans. Top with cheese.
4) Bake at 350 for 20 minutes.
5) Spread sour cream over the top.
6) Top with lettuce, tomato, olives, green onions, and jalapenos.

Serve with tortilla chips.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Simple Cooking Part 3: Pizza

Black Bean Tostada Pizza
My kids are 2 and 5, so pizza is always a hit in my house. I really enjoy eating at restaurants like California Pizza Kitchen that make creative pizzas and try to "think outside the box" with pizza for my family. We are getting to the point where one pizza isn't always enough for the 4 of us, so I usually make two pizzas.  One pizza is almost always half cheese, half pepperoni! The second pizza is usually a  little more creative...or at the very least has peppers and olives on it (my kids don't enjoy those on their pizza). A few years ago, I would not have classified pizza into the "simple cooking" category because it took too much planning ahead.  Right now, planning ahead is what helps me keep things simple...I'm not in the right stage of life for last minute trips to the store, so I really have to think ahead on our meals. The crust is probably biggest obstacle to making a pizza.  You can purchase store-bought balls of dough, dough in a can, or the already baked crusts.  Another option is to make your own dough. For me, this doesn't require an extra trip to the store, so I make our dough. My usual pizza dough is made with semolina and bread flours and has olive oil in it, to keep it from being too sticky.  One of my favorite things about this recipe is that I can make quite a bit of it at one time and freeze the  extra dough in balls.  I just make sure to take the dough out of the freezer the night before I make the pizza and let it thaw in the fridge.
Once you've found the right crust for you and your family (store bought or homemade), the fun part of picking the toppings comes next.  My daughter loves cheese pizza and my son loves pepperoni pizza! Both of my kids really enjoy white pizza, which could easily be made with store-bought alfredo sauce. Buffalo chicken pizza and black bean tostada pizza are nice for "grown-ups" and more adventurous kids. I really wasn't expecting my son to like bacon and egg pizza (I left the onions off of his side), so I didn't make enough for him when I made it! He was in the middle of a growth spurt the last time I made it and was already eating more bacon and eggs than he usually does. I guess combining them with pizza was the perfect recipe for a growing 5 year old.
I have a few other pizza ideas that I haven't tried yet. The first idea is for Thai chicken pizza, using the peanut sauce from my favorite stir-fry recipe, chicken, shredded carrots, mushrooms, and mozzarella cheese.  My second idea is for Cajun chicken pizza. It would use the creole sauce, sausage, veggies, and cheeses from my pasta jambalaya recipe.
Now that you are hungry, go make some pizza! Be creative with the toppings. Trendy pizza restaurants don't have to follow "the rules," and neither do you :)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Simple Cooking Part 2: Sandwiches

I love a good sandwich! Some sandwiches are a little too much work (or a little too rich) for a quick lunch, so I try to make sandwiches for dinner from time to time.  I've found that sandwiches are a huge help when we are busy and I need to do some simpler cooking.  I love being creative with sandwiches.  One of my favorite things to do is buy some ciabatta rolls, set out meats, cheese, and condiments and let my family pick what they want on their sandwiches, then toast everything in the oven.  One of my personal favorites is spicy honey mustard, brie, and tart apple slices (served open-face). There really are no rules with sandwiches. You can use homemade or store-bought bread. Sandwich bread, bagels, rolls, pita, naan, etc.  They can be packed full of veggies or 3 kinds of meat. Hot or cold.  You can even make breakfast sandwiches for dinner!

Below is a list of previous posts about sandwiches. Some are simple, others are more complicated...but they are all tasty!

Thai Chicken Burgers
Pulled Pork
Croque Madame
Buffalo Chicken Sub (very easy)
Cube Steak Sandwich
Veggie Panini
Fried Pork Tenderloin (good for weekend cooking)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Thai Chicken Burgers

I made these recently for the first time in over a year.   Usually when I make these, I use store-bought peanut sauce. I decided to try these with my favorite homemade peanut sauce this time.  They were delicious.  I made them fairly mild so that my son would eat them.  These are a great dish to make when you want something a little bit different.  They are easy and tasty! I will definitely not wait a year before making these again. 

Thai Chicken Burgers
makes 4 burgers

3/4 cup peanut sauce, divided (I made the one from my favorite stir-fry recipe)
1 pound ground chicken 
Optional toppings: peanut sauce, sweet chili sauce, Asian BBQ sauce, sesame ginger dressing

1) In a large bowl, combine 1/2 cup of  the peanut sauce and ground chicken. Mix well.
2) Preheat a large skillet over medium heat.  If you are using ground chicken breast, you may want to add oil. 
3) Shape the chicken into patties. Season with salt and pepper.
4) Cook over medium to medium-low heat for 5 minutes on each side.  Baste with the remaining 1/4 cup of peanut sauce and cook for 2 - 3 minutes per side.  Check to make sure the burger is cooked all the way through.
5) Top with cabbage and your choice of sauces.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Taco Seasoning

This is my favorite taco seasoning recipe! I keep a jar of it by the stove and use it on shredded pork, beef, chicken, and beans.  I'll be posting a few "Simple Cooking" recipes in the next few weeks and taco seasoning is a pretty important ingredient to keep around.  Once you are stocked up on the spices, making your own taco seasoning is so much cheaper than buying the small packets of it!

Taco Seasoning
makes about 3/4 cup

3 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (use less if you like things mild)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons paprika
2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 tablespoon black pepper

Mix all ingredients in a 1 cup jar.

Use 2 tablespoons to 1/4 cup for making tacos with 1 pound of ground beef and 2/3 cup water.  If you want the mixture to thicken, add 1/4 teaspoon of cornstarch to the meat, water, and taco seasoning.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Simple Cooking Part 1

BLT with Malabar Spinach from the Garden
I really have been cooking quite a bit the last month.  I just haven't had much time to blog about it.  My son started Kindergarten at the beginning of August.  I've also been busy with things at church, swimming lessons, spending time in the garden, trying to keep up with laundry, and a little girl who misses her big brother during the day.  We are actually eating at home more than we were this summer, I am just doing much simpler cooking.  Sometimes this means using more convenience foods than I would like (Knoor pasta and sauce sides, Kraft cooking creme, Velveeta shells and cheese, frozen pizza), but I'm at peace with that because we are all adjusting to a new schedule.  As long as we are eating dinner together as a family I am happy.  Most of the time, though, simpler cooking for me, is doing less labor-intensive main dishes with cut up fruits and veggies on the side.  I've been doing quite a bit of crock pot cooking.  Most crock pot meals don't photograph well, so I'm bad about blogging them.  I promise, I will eventually share them, even if there is no picture. I am planning on (slowly) doing a "Simple Cooking" series on this blog.  Most people know how to heat up a frozen pizza or cooking mac and cheese from a box, but I talk with so many people who want to know more about simple meals that use fresh ingredients.  My hope is to share some of our favorite simple recipes with you.
For now, I will post links to some things on my blog that are simple, fresh, and big hits around my house.  Two simple meatless meals are sweet potato black bean burritos and egg and beans.  My slow-cooker tag has a growing list of recipes.  Two simple recipes that we enjoy are Goulash and turkey soup.  To make the soup in the crock pot, just throw everything in the crock pot and cook on low for 8 hours.  It is up to you if you want to soak the beans overnight or not.  A quick meal with fish that seems gourmet, but is actually very simple is parmesan crusted talapia. To make this meal even simpler, use already grated parmesan cheese.  A final simple recipe is the Pioneer Woman's steak sandwich. I've made this with cube steak and sandwich steak.  It is always good!

I hope that this helps all of you who are adjusting to a new school year, new baby, or any big changes in life.  I will post some more easy, quick meals...and possibly my menu for the month of September :)

Saturday, September 3, 2011

BBQ Pork

This is the first weekend of college football! For the next few months, my husband and I will be eating a lot of fun foods on Saturday evenings while we watch Gator football.  One really easy (and a favorite) "football food" is pulled pork. This BBQ pork recipe is from my mom and my Grandma.  It is delicious and the leftovers freeze really well.  Don't worry about buying expensive buns for this store-brand buns are the best, in my opinion!

BBQ Pork

For the Pork:
2 onions, sliced
4 to 5 lb pork roast or fresh picnic ham 
5 or 6 cloves
2 cups water

For the Sauce:
3 cups ketchup
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup brown sugar (I use molasses)
2t prepared mustard
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup water

1) Put half the onions in the bottom of the crock pot. Add the meat, cloves, and water. Place remaining onions on top.
2) Cook in crock pot on low for 8 - 12 hours, or overnight.  
3) After it has cooked, remove it the pork from the crock pot and drain all of the cooking liquid. 
4) Shred the meat.
5) Mix all of the BBQ sauce ingredients.
6) Combine shredded pork and BBQ sauce in crock pot. Cook on low 2 to 3 hours.