8/31/11

Quick and Easy Mexican Casserole

Now that our house is on the market, we are in the middle of relocating 1000 miles away and I just got 2 kids off to college; 'dinner' time in our home is completely different than it's ever been before.

My cooking and baking revolves around "how long will it take?" and "how much of a mess will it make?" and "will it leave a lingering aroma in the house?" more than what sounds good, looks good or what I'm in the mood for.

Sunday night I returned home from having a house showing, and with no other showings scheduled over the next couple days I was ready to cook.  My busy full time schedule at work on top of everything else I was handling that week had me exhausted and eating quick meals by myself at the kitchen counter (that didn't take long, didn't smell up the kitchen and didn't make a mess to prepare!).  By Sunday night I wanted a nice, hot, comfort food.  Mexican Casserole it was.

Starting with a base of ground beef or pork, you can add or delete what you have in the cupboard.  That's the awesomeness of a recipe like this one.  It will turn out.  It will taste good.  It can usually be served as a casserole or a dip with tortillas as well.  Yum!


Quick & Easy Mexican Casserole
Add what you want, leave out what you don't.  Just keep the general idea and have at least 4-5 layers.

1 lb. ground beef or ground pork
1 onion, chopped
1 can refried beans or a can of northern beans, drained
1 can green chili peppers, chopped
2-3 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 c salsa
1 can white or yellow corn (or Mexican blend style)
1 - 16. oz. container sour cream
black olives
green olives

Brown the ground beef with the chopped onion.  Place the refried beans in the bottom of a casserole dish, top with the drained beef/onion mixture.  Top with layers of the chilis, 1 cup cheese, salsa, corn, sour cream and the rest of the cheese.  Finish with green and/or black olives.  Bake at 350 for about 35 minutes until warmed completely through.  Serve as a casserole with warm flour tortillas or as a dip for tortilla chips.


I decided to mix the beans WITH the ground pork this time

Mmm cheese.  I always double what it calls for

More cheese on top!  Cheese is God's way of saying "Hey, I love you guys!"

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8/30/11

Homemade Marshmallow Fondant

Although I've used fondant in the past, I admit (freely) that I've bought it.  I think I attempted to make homemade fondant years ago but it's a dim memory.  In the last 6 years I've begrudgingly parted with the money to purchase it already made.  However, pricing it a couple weeks ago in what is typically the most affordable store to buy it, showed me the price had jumped!  It had gone up almost $3 a package and those packages are not large.

This morning I was thinking about my son's birthday next week and deciding what kind of cake to make him.  As I quickly looked over the recipes in my collection I saw this one for homemade marshmallow fondant - which I've never tried.

Being that our home is currently on the market and we have 1-2 showings pop up every week, my cooking and baking plans usually revolve around one question to myself;  "How much of a mess will it make?"   After almost 20 showings now I'm tired of cleaning and sometimes the clean up and amount of dishes required for a dish is the sole factor in deciding whether or not I'm going to make it!  As it is, I'm not sure what kind of a cake I'm going to make my son yet so this recipe is 'on ice' for me;  but maybe one of my readers is looking for something similar right this moment!

Homemade Marshmallow Fondant

1/2 pound mini marshmallows
2 T of water
1 lb. of powdered (confectioner's) sugar
Shortening (Crisco)
plastic wrap


Grease the inside of a heat safe bowl and a wooden spoon with shortening. Place marshmallows and water in the bowl. Microwave the marshmallows for 30 seconds at a time stirring the mixture in between with the wooden spoon.

When the mixture is the consistency of Marshmallow Fluff, stir in 3/4 of the powdered sugar one cup at a time.

Cover your work surface with powdered sugar and cover your hands with shortening.

Turn out the fondant on the sugared surface and knead the rest of the sugar in. Continue kneading until smooth.

Separate the fondant into different parts and color as desired. When coloring, add a bit of gel color at a time with a toothpick and knead in until the color is evenly distributed and you get the color you want.

Wrap each piece in plastic wrap until you use it. Wrap leftover fondant tightly in plastic cling film and store in a zip lock bag.
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8/28/11

Say "Thank You" with Chocolate Chip Cookies


Yesterday morning I was going to meet my friend for coffee.  Because we are both so busy, we ended up running errands together as well as having coffee and during that time she told me about how an early morning jogger showed up at her home last Saturday morning to give her her driver's license, credit card and other items he had found thrown in her neighbors yard.  Apparently she had dropped her billfold getting out of the car and during the night someone had found it, stolen the cash and her debit card, and strewn the rest of the items on the ground.  She was thankful to him for returning her things.  She was planning on bringing him some homemade cookies as an extra 'thank you'. 

It just so happens I had been meaning to make cookies as a 'thank you' of my own. Our home is currently on the market and because we are located in a cul-de-sac without traffic passing by, my realtor asked the homeowners on the corner if we could please put a location sign in their yard pointing towards our home.    They agreed. It's been there almost 3 months now.  I know they are probably tired of it and wondering how long it will be there.  As a small "Hey, thanks!" I have been wanting to make them homemade cookies but over the last 6 weeks I've been out of state, working full time, working a couple late nights till 9:pm, I've also been doing about 18 house showings, moving 2 kids to college on other sides of the state...  I've been so busy I've been putting off making the cookies.  When I DID have time, I didn't want to do so because I knew it would mean extra cleaning for the house showings.

But yesterday was the day.  And of course it didn't take long, didn't make a big mess and I was very happy to put together a cute Autumn themed plate of cookies with a handwritten 'Thank You' card tucked inside.

Is today your day to make cookies?  Is there someone you can say "Thanks" to or brighten their day or deliver a few cookies just to say "I was thinking about you!"?
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8/24/11

Great Frosting for Pumpkin Bars and Carrot Cake: Cream Cheese Frosting

 Although the last two days saw sweltering temperatures in my area of the country, the early mornings as the sun rise feel like Autumn is just around the corner.  Listening to my body, I knew it was time to make pumpkin bars, and what is the best frosting for pumpkin bars?  Cream cheese frosting! I'm having a piece right now with my morning coffee.  Mmmm.

mix the cream cheese and butter
Super Easy Cream Cheese Frosting
 
2 packages cream cheese (8 oz), soft
1/2 c  butter, softened
2 c  confectioners' or 'powdered' sugar
1 t vanilla extract

Mix the cream cheese and butter together until creamy.  Add the vanilla.  Mix in the sugar and beat until smooth.  Great with carrot cake and pumpkin bars and other spicy Autumn desserts.
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8/23/11

Spinach Ricotta Ravioli

A favorite of mine: an Italian hand cranked pasta machine

Spinach Ricotta Ravioli

3 eggs
2 3\4 cups flour
1 tsp salt

Filling:
2 tbsp butter
4 cups spinach cleaned and stems removed or 2 10 oz. frozen packs frozen spinach, thawed and drained
1 cup ricotta cheese
1\2 cup Parmesan cheese

salt
pepper
egg

Sauce:
1 tbsp butter
1 1/4 cups half and half
3/4 grated Parmesan cheese
salt
pepper




Mix together the eggs, flour and salt to form a ball.  Use extra flour to dust the area you'll knead the dough on.  If you're rolling it out by hand knead for 10 minutes, a little less if you are using a hand crank pasta machine. Let the dough rest in plastic wrap for 10 to 15 minutes.

While the dough is resting, start to prepare the filling.  If using fresh spinach, chop and cook it in a pan with butter. Cook stirring occasionally until the water has cooked out of it (5-8mins). Put the spinach into a bowl and let it cool. If using frozen thawed spinach, microwave until heated through and drain again.

Cut the pasta dough in half, put one half back in the plastic wrap and start rolling out the other half. Roll The dough out until it's about 1/8 inch thick, the thinner the better. Cut the rolled out pasta into two 2 1/2 inch strips.   If using a hand crank pasta machine, start with #1 and work down to a #4 or #5 strip.  Cut the flat strips into two - 2 1/2 inch strips.

Mix the spinach with the other ingredients. Put small tablespoon scoops of filling on the strips about 2 inches apart. Take some water ,use your finger or a pastry brush and wet the edges of the strips plus in between each mound of filling.  Place one flat strip over the other and press the pasta together to form the ravioli. Try to make sure the air gets pushed out of each one and try not to get the filling in where the pasta should be pinched close(this can make it fall apart when it cooks). Cut the pasta into squares around each sealed filling and let them sit on floured dish clothes while you finish the other pasta.

Fresh pasta cooks quickly, you'll only need to cook the raviloi 5-8 minutes.  Put them in salted boiling water. 

Put the sauce ingredients in a pan and bring to a boil while stirring. Do this for about three minutes and you're ready to eat. Toss the sauce with the pasta and if you wish, sprinkle with a bit of parsley to garnish and serve. 
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8/21/11

Frosting made with meringue powder

There is an old saying that goes, "Easy as pie!"  but really, frosting is much, much easier even than pie!  How about this oldie but a goody?  If you have meringue powder and don't know what to use it in, just whip up a chocolate cake and top with this gooey goodness!





Meringue Frosting

4 cups powdered sugar
1 tablespoon meringue powder
1/4 cup hot water

Beat together all ingredients with an electric mixer until smooth. Use immediately.
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8/14/11

A Grown Up Grilled Cheese: Broiled Cheese on Rustic Bread

One of my favorite Comfort Foods:  Grilled Cheese


Friday night I was craving 'comfort food'.  My crazy busy schedule and the stress of everything has me on the go from about 6:am to 11:00 pm every day and sometimes I just want the world to STOP and I want to sit and eat something hot and comforting.  That day I had been thinking about grilled cheese.  Not just any grilled cheese, but a thick, hearty bread with various cheddars and gouda's.  When I found I would be alone at dinner time that evening I knew exactly what I would make myself!

Broiled Cheese Sandwich

2  pieces of your favorite thick, hearty bread
Butter, real
Various cheeses of almost any sort that you love

If you are using a hearth bread or ciabatta, slice it in half lengthwise to make 2 slices.  Butter the tops with a thin layer of real butter.  Place under the broiler in your oven just long enough to toast it and give it a golden, crispy layer.  Top with your favorite cheese(s).  I mix it up different each time but this time used shredded Cheddar, a Cheshire Cheddar from England, Gouda from Wisconsin and topped it with a slice of good old American.  Return the sandwich to the broiler for a minute or two until the cheese melts and starts to bubble.  Serve immediately with a bowl of hearty soup, or a salad or just as it is.

Slicing a hearth bread to make 2 slices

Top with your favorite cheeses; pictured it Cheshire Cheddar from England

Broil until melted and bubbly


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8/8/11

Impromptu Dinner: Feta, Artichoke and Dried Tomato Pizza


Yesterday I had returned home from long travels.  I was exhausted and hungry and wanted something quick and easy.  Impromptu pizza sounded like a great idea and I had a premade thin crust ready in the refrigerator.

I didn't measure so my amounts are approximate, but if you are a frequent visitor to this site you know I always encourage you to play with your food - to use what you have - substitute what you don't and make it your own.  This is a great pizza to 'play' with.


1 premade pizza crust
1/2 c mayonnaise
1/4 - 1/2 c crumbled feta cheese
4 oz. can sliced black olives
1/2 can (14 oz.) artichoke hearts, (about 2-3 large) chopped
1/2 t fresh minced garlic
1/4 t dried Italian seasoning
1/4 t dried basil
5-6 sun dried tomatoes, chopped
1 small red onion, sliced

Mix mayonnaise and feta cheese.  Add the basil and dried Italian seasoning and garlic.  Mix well and spread on pizza crust.  Top with artichokes, black olives, sun dried tomatoes and sliced onion.  Bake at 400 until hot through, the crust is golden and the onions are just starting to turn golden on the edges.


Spread the mayonnaise and cheese mixture on the crust and top




If you don't like a certain food leave it off.  Add what you like!

Bake until golden brown

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Back online but then I left town!

New computer... back online... but then I left town!

As some of my regular readers know, we are in the middle of a relocation to another state about 1,000 miles away.  I've just returned from a solo trip to see my husband and daughters there, get them moved into temporary housing, sign leases, get my daughter signed up for high school in the 'new' area, find a vet for the cats (one of whom got a UTI so finding the veterinarian, while on my 'todo' list, wasn't planned for that trip) and then rushed back home just 2 days later.  Exhausted but safe and sound; I'm now ready to start a new week at work full time AND get back to updating.

I have a delicious feta artichoke pizza I made last night for an impromptu dinner.  At least I remembered to take photos before I devoured it! Updates soon now that I'm back in town!


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8/1/11

New Computer: I'm back online

I'm back online!

This weekend I researched (briefly) some computers online. I quickly found one I liked that was in my budget (about $400) and got good reviews by 'real people' rating it.  They had it in stock at my local Best Buy so I went in, got it and got out.

I couldn't even set it up because I was home a grand total of 15 minutes before leaving to go camping with extended family about 3 hours away.  There was so much on my plate however with the relocation, house showing, setting up rentals in the new city and more that my brain was fried and I was preoccupied.  I came home Sunday and finally, Sunday night, the new computer up and running.

It's great to be back online!
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