June 25, 2015

The Best Beef and Vegetable Stew

Even though I think of a hearty beef and vegetable stew as a 'winter' food, for some reason I really, really wanted to make this yesterday.  It worked out perfectly though as it's about 100 degrees out this week and I was able to put this in the slow cooker and forget about it while it cooked away on the countertop and didn't heat up my kitchen.  I also used my solar oven to bake a loaf of bread so our dinner last night was not only delicious and filling but it cooked without my help or using the stove or oven!

This recipe is SO TASTY.  I apologized to my family a bit when I served it... I said, "I know stew is an old Grandma style recipe but...."  and I need not have bothered.  It was met not only with great enthusiasm, but the dish was scraped clean!

I did not have fresh carrots on hand - only about 1/4 cup leftover of the carrots I had dehydrated last month so that is why my photos don't show large, brightly colored carrot disks in them.  I also used my dehydrated sliced mushrooms and added them at the beginning of the cook time and we don't use corn very often in our home so I left that out.  Substitute as you need to or want to.

Beef and Vegetable Stew

3 c cubed, peeled potatoes
4 medium carrots, sliced
1 medium onion, cubed
2 lb. steak or other beef, cubed or cut to about 1" pieces
2 T oil
3 T flour
2 beef bouillon cubes
2 c boiling water
1/4 c white vinegar
1/4 c ketchup
1 T prepared horseradish
1 T prepared mustard
1 T sugar
1 c peas
1 c corn
1 c fresh sliced mushrooms

Place the potatoes, carrots and onions in a slow cooker.  In a large skillet, brown the beef in oil.  Lay on the vegetables in the slow cooker.  Sprinkle with flour.  In a bowl, dissolve the bouillon cubes in the water and stir in the vinegar, ketchup, horseradish, mustard and sugar.  Pour over meat in the slow cooker.  Cover and cook on high about 5 hours.  Add the peas and corn and mushrooms.  Cook an additional 45 minutes.  Makes about 5-6 servings.

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June 22, 2015

Easy and Delicious No Work Crockpot Homemade Applesauce!

For some reason Google did not cache this recipe and it doesn't come up in my site search on the right hand side of this page.  I know this because I've tried to quickly look for this recipe TWICE in the last 2 weeks and it wasn't there.  So I am going to RE POST IT and hopefully google will love it as much as my family does... because I cannot keep this on hand in our family!  Seriously...  my husband is like a sad little 6 year old when he finds out he finished off the last container of it.

I now keep this on hand constantly.  CONSTANTLY.  But it's SO EASY and no work that it's not a big deal.  I simply wash a bunch of apples, cut them up and core them, dump them all into a crock pot and pour a tiny bit of water in it, a bit of lemon juice, add 1 stick of cinnamon and a tiny bit of sweetener (a tablespoon or two) and then I put the lid on and FORGET ABOUT IT.  FOR HOURS.

And when my house smells really good, I remember the apples... I check on them and they are mushy, so I plop them into a food processor and pulse... and pour them into containers.  Sometimes they go into the refrigerator and other times I take a half hour longer to 'can' them in a water bath so I can store them in the pantry instead.

I've taken to putting these into pint sized jars - perfect size for my husband to eat in one sitting and he can take them in his lunch.

***You don't have to add sugar because it's sweet enough as it is, and because if you use it to bake with later on, you don't want all that 'extra' sweetness to ruin your dish.  Do a taste test.  I ended up putting a little bit of natural sweetener in this batch, (about 1 T) along with about 1 1/2 T Baked Right natural sweetener with cinnamon because my husband eats our applesauce - I don't cook or bake with it.  I canned this batch but you don't have to.  You can just put it in the refrigerator and eat it up!

Homemade Applesauce

4 lbs apples (about 10 medium of any variety reds you have on hand)
About 1/3 - 1/2 cup water
1 Tbsp lemon juice
3 pint canning jars with lids and bands
optional:  sweetener and/or cinnamon (I used some Just Like Sugar Baked Right Baked Right!)

You can peel the apples if you wish but the peels add color and nutrients to the applesauce and they get very soft during cooking so they are easily mashed in.  I just wash mine and then use an apple corer/slicer to core and cut them into wedges with one push.  Using this I have about 4 pounds of apples cored, sliced and into a crock pot in about 2-3 hours.  I just put them in and forget about them - and a couple hours later, open it, stir, and see if they are soft.  Your brand and size slowcooker is going to make a difference in how long they cook as well as the variety of apple you are using, how hard/crisp they are and how old they are.

Combine the apples with just enough water to coat the bottom of your crockpot or slowcooker so they don't stick.  Cover and heat on high for about 2-ish hours depending on your brand, size and style slow cooker.  Do not let them burn, but turn it off when the apples are soft.  You can also cook them on the stove if you wish.  On the stove, add enough water so the bottom of the pan is covered and the apples won't stick or burn.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Immediately educe heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 10 to 20 minutes, until apples are tender. Remove from heat and let cool about 5 minutes.

Get your canning supplies ready.  The jars should be clean and hot; kept in simmering water until you need them.  The rings and lids clean and hot. Have a pot on the stove with water ready to process them in boiling water.

Working in batches depending on the size of your food processor, process them on pulse with the S-blade until just smooth.  Don't over process.
Place apple mixture in a saucepan. Add lemon juice. Bring to a simmer slash boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently to prevent sticking.  You can add a bit of cinnamon or nutmeg if you wish too!

Ladle the applesauce into hot jars leaving 1/2 inch head space. Remove air bubbles by sliding a butter knife or skinny spatula around the jar and jiggling it a little to settle the sauce. Wipe the rim with a clean, damp rag or paper towel. Center lid on jar. Screw on the band just to hold the lid in place, not too tight.

Water bath process the jars in a boiling water for 20 minutes. Remove jars and let set on the counter to cool slowly. The lids should all be sealed down tight and not 'give' when pressed in the center with your finger or thumb.  That's it!  You're done.

*You can use citric acid or something like Fruit Fresh to help preserve the lighter color but I didn't on this batch.  You could mix about 1/2 teaspoon citric acid with the water before adding to the apples to cook.

Use a mixture of apples of different varieties for the best flavor.  Don't use green apples or Granny Smith though.

If you own one of these, you can have them sliced and cored in minutes.  You can peel them if you wish! I don't.

Throw them in a crock pot or saucepan on the stove with a little water.  That's it!

When they are tender and break apart easily, it's time to mash them or process them.  As chunky or smooth as you like.

I use a processor and pulse it a few times.  You can mash by hand though.

I added some sweetener and cinnamon to this batch - my husbands favorite.

You can make it very smooth, semi smooth, or leave it chunky.  Whatever you like.

Refrigerate it... or can it.  This batch makes 3 pints with just a little left over (the white dish in the photo above was the leftover after canning).

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Mini French Macarons (alternate spelling: French Macaroons)

Twice in the past week I've searched for a recipe on my own site, only to find Google hadn't included it in my searches (the search on the right side of this page)... it's not cached and I have no idea why.  So I've decided to re-post a couple recipes to see if Google will pick them up this time.

Here is a re-post of the macarons I made - and want to make again but it's been far too humid the past couple days and there doesn't seem to be any relief in sight.  No worries; I will find my recipe when I need it... which is why I actually started this site all those years ago! 

Just in time for Easter, I made these tiny little bite sized French Macarons (alternate spelling macaroons - both are used).  These are not the coconut macaroons, but a little crisp, light meringue bite with a bit of filling in the center.  Although many people find these difficult to make, and bakeries charge $2 per cookie, I am not sure why.   I currently live in the deep south where humidity levels are high, we had a rain storm the morning I made these and yet, they turned out perfectly for me.  In addition to that, I found they baked up perfectly (if not a little bit too high actually, as my batter was quite thick - I'll add a bit of liquid next time to flatten them out), but I had no sticking problems either - using just a basic non-stick parchment paper.

Because of our high humidity levels, I filled them and froze them until this Sunday.  They froze beautifully and my husband and I took a few out last night to enjoy - they were perfect in every way and thawed quickly, not losing any of their taste or texture.

Macarons  (Macaroons)

1 c confectioner's sugar
3/4 c almond flour
2 egg whites, room temperature
pinch of cream of tartar
1/4 c superfine granulated sugar
optional: 1-2 drops food color and 1/4 t flavor extract

Mix the confectioner's sugar and almond flour very well either by pulsing in a food processor until combined or using an electric stick blender or electric whisk, etc. It should be mixed very well and quite fine.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Whisk whites with a mixer on medium speed until foamy. Add cream of tartar, and whisk until soft peaks form. Reduce speed to low, then add a drop or two of food color if you are using it, a drop or two of flavor extracts if you are using them, and the superfine white sugar. Increase speed to high, and whisk until stiff peaks form. Sift flour mixture over whites, and fold until mixture is smooth and shiny.

Transfer batter to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain round tip if you have one, or if not, leave the round 1/2 inch opening of the bag or the white plastic piece you would normally put a tip on, and pipe 3/4-inch rounds 1 inch apart on parchment-lined baking sheets.  Drag the pastry tip to the side of rounds rather than forming peaks.

Tap bottom of each sheet on work surface to release trapped air. Let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes.

Option one:  Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. Bake 1 sheet at a time, rotating halfway through, until macarons are crisp and firm, about 10 minutes. After each batch, increase oven temperature to 375 degrees, heat for 5 minutes, then reduce to 325 degrees.

Option two:  If you bake a constant 300 or 325 without adjusting the temperatures, it takes about 17 minutes to bake crisp.  I tested both ways and found both to work for me.

Let macarons cool on sheets for 2 to 3 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack. (If macarons stick, spray water underneath parchment on hot sheet. The steam will help release macarons.)

Sandwich 2 same-size macarons with 1 teaspoon filling of your choice. Serve immediately, or stack between layers of parchment, wrap in plastic, and freeze for up to 3 months.

  • I use Honeyville Blanched Almond Meal Flour - which is incredibly expensive and has gone up $10 per 5 lb. bag in the last 1 1/2 years alone as they get to be more popular in gluten free baking.  I hate having to purchase it, but for baking flour-free cakes, cookies, pastries and more, it's the best quality I've found.  I use other brands or non-blanched for quick breads and recipes where the white color or the fine texture isn't as important to the finished product.  Sometimes I order direct from their site, other times I order through Amazon with other products I need. 
  • I put the eggs and the almond flour out on the counter the night before so both would be room temperature when I made them. 
  • I never use 'fresh' eggs for anything as I've found eggs that are 1-2 weeks old work best in almost all recipes and are the 'secret' to perfect hard boiled eggs every time.
  • My oven is conventional and/or convection.  I use the convection setting for them although I'm not sure if it's necessary. Because I used the convection setting, I didn't have to rotate my baking sheets while baking.
  • I baked one batch following the above directions and a second batch at a constant 300 degrees for 17-18 minutes.  Both turned out equally well.
  • I rarely buy or use white sugar and I did not have superfine sugar on hand so I used my stick blender (like a mini food processor) to grind up regular white sugar a bit.  You can use your mini food processor for that.  Don't over blend or you'll get powdered sugar. 

Sifting the confectioner's sugar and almond flour (I used a whisk)

Separating the eggs

A nice stiff peak

My least favorite part: folding in!

I did not use a tip but left the hole open

Tiny little thumbnail sized meringues

A nice dry crisp bite

A nice shell with a chewy center - perfect!

The batter was a bit thick so they puffed up more than I expected

You might also be interested in;
Non Stick Parchment Paper
Blanched Almond Meal Flour, 5 lbs.
KitchenAid 5-Speed Hand Blender
Cuisinart Smart Stick Hand Blender with Whisk and Chopper Attachments


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June 16, 2015

Quick and Easy Pink Lemonade Cookies

When I bought a pink lemonade cookie mix in the past as a quick 'whip it up' dessert for one of the many snacks I had on hand to serve at a family reunion; everyone loved them.  They were so tangy yet sweet and they were a hit. 

Last weekend we were again hosting a family reunion at the house and my daughter specifically asked me to pick up another box mix like last time.  Unfortunately, I didn't didn't find any at my local store(s) and apparently they stopped making them?  At least in my area. 

While at the store, I called my daughter to deliver the news I could not find them. Apparently they didn't make them any longer.  She was disappointed, but only briefly. 

"Will you make some up then? 

And I did.  With a lot of cooking and baking to be done, I decided to make this as quick and easy as I could.  Standing in the baking aisle, I brainstormed.  I could make a vanilla cookie with a tangy pink lemonade icing.  I could use...  Kool-aid!

In the end this is what I did;

Pink Lemonade Cookie

1 package sugar cookie mix
1 tub creamy white frosting
1 package dry pink lemonade Kool-aid mix
1 stick butter
1 egg
Mix the cookies as directed on the package with the stick of butter and 1 egg.  Mix approximately 1 teaspoon dry lemonade mix in the tub of vanilla frosting.  I was taste-testing to get the right amount.  I need to add that the lemonade flavor gets much, much stronger over night so keep that in mind when determining how much flavor you want to use and when you want to serve them.  They were tangy yet mild when first mixed and by the 2nd day the lemon tang was much more pronounced. Frost each cookie.

Amazon does not have many options but I did find two options if you can't find it locally in your area;

Pillsbury Pink Lemonade Flavored Cookie Mix, 17.5 Ounce (Pack of 12)
Pillsbury Pink Lemonade Flavored Cake Mix, Cookie Mix and Frosting, 4 Count (Pack of 4)

Also available:
Pillsbury Blue Raspberry Premium Cookie Mix
Pillsbury, Orangesicle, Premium Cookie Mix
Pillsbury Key Lime Premium Cookie Mix

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