Archive for the ‘Cooking’ Category

Cookie Dough Review

I don’t have the patience to mix up a batch of homemade cookies, so I’m a huge fan of ready-to-bake cookie dough.  During the holidays, I baked the usual variety for the kids to decorate: gingerbread and sugar cookies.  Being in the midst of the magical season and wanting to do something different, I tried a new flavor: White Chocolate Macadamia Nut. They…were…heavenly!  Just the right amount of white chocolate chips (I’m not a big fan of any kind of chocolate chips, so this was a bonus) and enough macadamia nuts to taste in every bite.

So, as I was speeding through the grocery store a few days ago and picked up a package of dough, it didn’t occur to me to check out the brand label.  Big mistake!  I learned the hard way that not all refrigerated cookie dough is made of the same caliber.

What I ended up with was a batch of cookies that, according to my personal preferences, had way too many white chocolate chips and did not have enough nuts.  They were a huge disappointment.  The package should have been labeled “White Chocolate Chip Cookies” and in that case, I would have moved on…

The moral of the story is that, sometimes, brands do matter.  In this case, Pillsbury is the clear winner.  Sorry, Nestle!

Do brands usually matter to you?  What are some exceptions to your personal rule?

CC

 

Warm up with This Chili Recipe

Time is of the essence in my house when making meals during the week, so there’s no time to try on my Martha Stewart hat in an attempt to whip up something that’s fit for royalty. Most weekday meals must be quick, and hopefully, tasty.

Among the handful of quick and tasty recipes that I alternate cooking on cold winter days is chili. The ingredients are simple and stove-to-table time is approximately 30 minutes. Not bad!

If you’re looking to warm up with this easy chili recipe, you’ll need these ingredients on hand (I have no brand allegiance, I just buy what tastes good and suits my wallet):

  • 2 large cans of kidney beans (drained)
  • 2 cans (or jars) of pasta sauce (I prefer Hunt’s “Zesty” or “Meat” flavors for chili)
  • 1 small to medium can of chili seasoned tomatoes
  • 1 small can of corn (drained)
  • 1 packet of chili seasoning
  • 1 pound of ground beef

 

Preparation

  • Brown ground beef thoroughly in large pot and drain excess fat
  • Add packet of chili seasoning and can of seasoned tomatoes, stir until ingredients are mixed well
  • Mix in 2 cans of pasta sauce and 1 can of corn and stir well
  • Add 2 cans of kidney beans and mix well with all other ingredients
  • Reduce heat to medium, cover, and simmer for 5 minutes stirring occasionally
  • Adding ingredients slowly allows the flavors and seasonings to mix well; it also makes it easier to stir.

To stretch the recipe, or simply to make it heartier, add 1 pound of boiled elbow macaroni to the prepared chili and mix well.

Note: This recipe yields enough servings to feed my family of six for two nights and also yields a few servings for lunch and/or snack.

Serve with cheddar corn muffins and/or salad.

Cheddar corn muffins

Prepare 2 boxes of Jiffy corn muffin mix as directed and add 1/2 cup of shredded cheddar to the batter before pouring into baking cups. 

Tip!  Add 1 tbsp sugar if you desire sweet corn muffins or try adding jalapeno or pepper jack cheese for a spicy kick!

P.S. – I don’t fuss with homemade salad.  I use salad mix and toss in whatever suits me at the time be it cheese, croutons, grapes, nuts, strawberries.

Stress-free Thanksgiving Vacation and Dinner…Almost

My first attempt at going solo cooking a Thanksgiving feast was nothing less than a total disaster in every sense of the word.  Who knew that frozen turkeys required days to thaw?  Who knew that there was a bag of innards that needed to be removed before cooking?  Who knew that my parents didn’t wake up to begin cooking a lavish feast soon after midnight just because it seemed like a fun thing to do?

Well, apparently, the whole world knew except me.  Draw your own conclusions as to how my first Thanksgiving attempt really went down; it’s too nightmarish for me to recount.

Fast forward almost 15 years to Thanksgiving 2010.  Two words: Boston Market.  Yes, they have become my festive meal savior.  The new tradition in my household is to log onto BM’s site, order a holiday meal complete with two pies, and choose a pick-up date and time.  That’s exactly what I’ve done each Thanksgiving and Christmas since last year.  So this year, pairing a vacation with the promise of having a stress-free, Thanksgiving feast seemed like the right thing to do.   Those plans hit a snag and were in serious jeopardy just days before the big road trip.

You see, for the entire week leading up to Thanksgiving, I’d been terribly sick and was praying for a sign as to whether we should cancel our vacation plans, or stay at home while I nursed myself back to good health.  The answer to that prayer?  I awakened on Wednesday morning feeling much better than I had in a week.

I spent the morning taking care of a few chores, we left home just 10 minutes past our self-imposed deadline, and after running a few essential errands (including a stop at Boston Market), finally hit the road a mere 1.5 hours behind schedule.  Success!  This was going to be a wonderful Thanksgiving vacation.

Although the drive out of town was harrowing at times, we arrived at our destination unscathed, but you wouldn’t have known it if you’d seen the horror on my face as we drove up to the hotel.  How could it be?  I’d booked rooms at a townhouse-style hotel without knowing it!  What’s the big deal?  Well, the two rooms were in different buildings…a no-no as we were traveling with four children.  Not to mention, breakfast was in a separate building and the only pool on location was an outdoor pool – a no-go in 50-60-degree weather.

Sigh!  So I walked inside, inquired about a penthouse suite, learned that they were all booked, and ultimately handed over my form of payment – for two rooms – in separate buildings.  Not one to be defeated, I headed out to the van to call the hotel company’s reservations center and found an alternative hotel that suited our needs.  Just as I was giving the agent a credit card number, the call was disconnected.

Had I misinterpreted “the sign” about whether or not we should stay home?  If so, how many more roadblocks would be in our way over the next few days?

Still not discouraged, I called the reservations center again, gave the agent very specific information about where we wanted to stay and skipped ahead to the good part where I heard the magic words, “Your reservation number is…” Yes!  “Kids, buckle your seat belts!  We have a new destination!”  :-)

There we were, back on the road again, but this time, we needed only cover about 15 miles to reach our destination.  As we sighted the new hotel, the word “Hallelujah” came to mind.

As we checked in, we found that although the new hotel had interior room entrances (not separate townhouse-style buildings), no adjoining rooms were to be had.  Not a big deal, because the desk clerk said she’d give us rooms next to each other.  Well, it turned out that the rooms weren’t next to each other as the room numbers would imply, they were across the hall and diagonal.  Good enough!

After settling into our rooms, we headed out to pick up a few last-minute items from the grocery store and set out to find dinner as well.  Panera was nearby according to our navigation system, so we headed over for dinner!  The parking was metered, but payment wasn’t required this time of night.  Another good sign.

My husband and I strolled hand-in-hand down the walkway toward a much-anticipated bowl of broccoli and cheese soup.  It sure seemed dark inside, but Panera does tend to have tinted windows.  We tugged at the door handles, but the doors were locked.  Now what?  It was getting late on Thanksgiving Eve and our dining options were dwindling by the minute.

Back to the car we went – no merry stroll this time.  After using the GPS to search for other restaurants, we managed to find food.  Finally, went back to the hotel to eat, my husband and kids swam, and I enjoyed the hot tub.  A great night was had by all!  Things were going our way.

As I looked through our “fully-stocked” hotel room kitchen, I realized that there wasn’t a pot big enough for something that I needed to make the next day.  So we spent a portion of Thanksgiving morning hunting for a large pot in which to boil the pasta that was needed for the homemade mac & cheese.  Sorry, but the mac & cheese and cornbread stuffing are dishes that I don’t think Boston Market does well.  After just two stores, we found a suitable pot.

Let’s get this minimal cooking underway!  Gosh!  What was that horrid smell?  The pasta!  No!  The pot was cheap, therefore, the pasta burned after just a few minutes – and it was still undercooked.  After that part of this slowly-unfolding disaster was taken care of, I had to deal with the fact that neither or our rooms had ovens.

The hotel company decided that the extended-stay rooms no longer needed ovens, so all of the newly-built and newly-renovated locations that had granite countertops, stainless steel appliances, and flat-screen televisions have…no…ovens.

What happened to “all the comforts of home?”  Utensils…check!  Full-sized refrigerator and freezer…check!  Cloth dinner napkins…check!  Dishes…check!  Dishwasher…check!  Mixing bowls, pitchers, pots and pans…check, check, check!

Oven…Houston, we have a problem.  My home, as do most others, surely has an oven!  But no ovens were located in our “fully-stocked” hotel room kitchens.  Luckily, the front desk clerk offered to let us use the ovens in the main kitchen that the hotel’s chef uses.

Final crisis averted.

We enjoyed our almost-stress-free feast and relaxed before heading back to the pool and hot tub.

Our Black Friday plans didn’t involve going to stores that would be the scenes of pushing and shoving, so we slept in late (7 AM), enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, and headed out at 9:30 AM to pick up a new blazer for my husband and camera lens for me.  We conquered Black Friday sales in under an hour and ended up having the rest of the day to do whatever our hearts desired.

Speaking of which, we haven’t decided what to do for the rest of the day.  The kids are enjoying a low-tech game of Monopoly, my husband has awakened from a nap, and I’m bidding farewell for now to you.

I hope that a Happy Thanksgiving was had by all!

Feeling truly blessed,

CC

First Crock Pot Meal Success!

The fourth time was a charm!  After three failed attempts, my Crock Pot has finally produced something edible.  The difference?  I tossed the recipes and did what felt right – the method that I use when cooking on the stovetop or in the oven.

My first successful slow cooker meal was very simple.  A large bag of frozen meatballs, a large can of Swedish meatball gravy, a dash of white pepper, and a heaping scoop of confidence! 

The smell of slow-cooking ingredients filled the house for hours and I couldn’t wait to debut my newest dish.  The idea to serve it over a bed of egg noodles (cooked on the stove) was a hit! 

One of the benefits of having a slow cooker is that I’m able to cook larger quantities in one pot, which is ideal not only for cleaning purposes, but for producing leftovers.  Of course, leftovers mean less time getting dinner ready to put on the table.  We were able to enjoy yesterday’s dinner again tonight and since dinner was already done, I had a bit of free time to make my first batch of can-less biscuits.  Another bonus!

The recipes haven’t been tossed forever.  In fact, I plan to give my potato soup recipe another try tomorrow (armed with modifications) and on Sunday, I want to try a recipe for slow cooker sweet potato casserole.

For now, I am basking in the success of finally doing what countless other home-based chefs do – use a slow cooker.

What was your first slow cooker success, or disaster?

CC

Dinnertime Chaos

Most of my family and friends know that dinner is one of the most frequent gripes that I post about on Facebook.  Whether I’ve forgotten to defrost meat for the evening, misjudged (again) how much time I would need to prepare it, ruined it while cooking, or just plain ran out of time, dinnertime is stressful in my house. 

Thank goodness I have a favorite go-to for help - Bob Evans!  Their online ordering tool and family-sized meals are lifesavers, indeed!

Bob’s came to my rescue again tonight.  I misjudged how much time I had to cook dinner and get everyone fed before taking my youngest to dance class.  Having just 45 minutes to spare between finishing my work day and needing to leave for the dance studio, my only option was to log onto www.BobEvans.com.  Since I already have a profile, I just logged in, made a few selections, and showed up at their doorstep less than 30 minutes later.

Now while Bob’s staff are good, they can’t make miracles happen.  Miracles like eating and getting to the studio in the span of 10 minutes.  I was on my own for this one.  My clever solution?  Pack dinner for my daughter and me. She ate in the car during the drive and I ate while sitting in the van waiting for class to end.  My dear husband took care of feeding everyone else at home.

All is well.  Thanks, Bob, for all that you do to make my life a little easier.

What are some of your solutions for solving dinnertime chaos?

CC

I’m a Crock Pot Newbie!

Thanks to the recent Crock Pot craze, I am the proud owner of a new, shiny kitchen appliance that I have to figure out how to use.  I owned one years ago before slow cookers were popular, but I’m still a slow cooker newbie. 

I was a cooking novice who purchased a slow cooker based on a coworker’s advice.  She knew that I didn’t know my way around a kitchen and often offered tips on meal preparation.  I must admit that most of what she told me seemed impossibly simple.

At the time, my family was slightly smaller and my children were infants and toddlers who loved a handful of foods and needed nothing fancy.  The slow cooker meals were more for the adults in the house.  Well, sadly, after just one meal, the apliance was history.  My eldest child tripped over the cord, the slow cooker crashed to the floor and shattered, and I gave up on trying to be a creative cook.  So much for trying to use fresh ingredients and seasoning to create masterpieces.  Back to boxes, cans, dry mix, and frozen foods!

Now, with a family of six that includes four tweens and teens, what passed as a meal 10 years ago doesn’t cut the mustard today.  Everyone in my house expects me to be a chef, and not of the Boyardee persuasion.

Like most modern moms, I struggle with finding time to do everything that I think needs to be done, and that includes making meals using fresh ingredients.  I don’t have time to spend hours in the kitchen whipping up new culinary pleasures for my increasingly finicky crew, but the slow cooker would make them think that mommy spent all day preparing meals.

My hope is that if I spend a little time on preparing food on the front end, the slow cooker will do the rest.  I am dreaming of a world where dinner is ready at a decent hour, I won’t have to stand over the stove, and I won’t have to clean multiple pots and pans!

Wish me luck as I put this new toy to use on Sunday!  Any ideas that you have would be greatly appreciated!

CC

P.S.

During my research trying to find a slow cooker, I discovered that Crock Pot is a name brand (proper noun) and not the general name (common noun) of the appliance.  Who knew?

Superbowl Appetizer: Buffalo Wings w/Cilantro Lime Sauce

 

Check out this recipe from Celebrations.com.

Ingredients

For Wings

  • 3 lb chicken wings
  • 1/2 cup honey and
  • 1/2 cup ketchup tomato
  • 2 Tbs Worcestershire
  • 2 Tbs red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp dry mustard
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • Tabasco to taste

For Cilantro Lime Sauce

  • 1 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1 lime, juice and zest
  • 2 tablespoons of chopped cilantro
  • 1 clove of minced garlic

Directions

For Wings
1. Combine honey, ketchup, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, salt, pepper and Tabasco. Add wings; toss to coat well.
2. Refrigerate over night.
3. Place wings on a barbecue grill; grill over medium high heat 10 to 15 minutes, turning often and basting with reserved marinade, until wings are cooked.
4. For super saucy wings, reserve or make extra marinade….reduce on low heat on stove top and toss wings again once they are off the grill. Serve with a cilantro lime yogurt sauce.
5. Combine 1 cup of Greek yogurt with 1 lime juiced and zested , 2 tablespoons of chopped cilantro and 1 clove of minced garlic. Place in refrigerator for one hour before serving
 
For Sauce
1. Combine 1 cup of Greek yogurt with 1 lime juiced and zested, 2 tablespoons of chopped cilantro and 1 clove of minced garlic.
2. Place in refrigerator for one hour before serving.

Chicken and Broccoli Casserole

Chicken and broccoli casserole is a family favorite that I whipped up on a whim and the results couldn’t have been better.

Cooking time is approximately 45-50 minutes. Preparation is approximately 5 minutes. Yields 12-15 servings.

Ingredients

- 10 oz. of frozen diced chicken breast

- 1 cup of large broccoli florets (frozen)

- 1 lb. of pasta (any shape or cut)

- 8 oz. of shredded Italian or mozzarella cheese

- 1 small can of Campbell’s cream of chicken soup

- 1 small can of Campbell’s broccoli and cheese soup

- 1 teaspoon of parsley (fresh or dried)

- 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt

Preparation

Preheat oven to 400.

Boil pasta for 25-30 minutes, then drain and add to oven-safe casserole dish.

Cook frozen, diced chicken per bag’s instructions (adding 1/4 teaspoon of ground black pepper).  You may use fresh chicken, if desired.

Boil frozen broccoli for 10 minutes then drain and dice into bite-sized pieces.

Prepare cream of chicken and broccoli and cheese soups as directed (see can for details) and add to cooked pasta.  Mix to coat pasta.

Add cooked chicken, broccoli and garlic salt to pasta and mix well.

Coat entire casserole with shredded cheese.

Garnish with fresh or dried parsley.

Bake at 400 for 20 minutes.

Great side items for this meal are a garden salad and dinner rolls.

Enjoy!

Love to all!

CC

Easy Buffalo Chicken Salad

If you’re busy like me or don’t want to commit a lot of time to cooking, this quick and easy recipe is sure to become a favorite!  Many of the ingredients are optional, so you can really make this salad your own.

Cooking time is approximately 25 minutes and prep time is approximately 5 minutes.

Ingredients

- 1 bag of frozen buffalo chicken strips

- 1 bag of pre-mixed salad

- 1/2 cup of shredded cheese (any variety)

- 1/2 cup of croutons (any flavor)

- 1 tomato (any size) – optional

- 1 cucumber – optional

- 1/4 cup dressing of choice – I prefer Kraft’s Roasted Red Pepper Italian

Preparation

- Bake buffalo chicken strips as directed on the bag then cut them into bite-sized pieces. 

- Rinse and drain pre-mixed salad and put into a large salad bowl.

- Add diced buffalo chicken strips.

- If desired, dice tomato, cucumber, and croutons and add to salad mix.

- Pour dressing over mixture and gently toss.

Serve immediately and enjoy!

 For added pizzazz, use tortillas to make buffalo chicken wraps!

 Please post feedback if you try this recipe as-is or make alterations.

Love to all!

CC