Saturday, November 30, 2013

November Re-Make Recap

I hope you all had a very Happy Thanksgiving with your friends and family! Sorry for the lack of posts last week, but I took a little break so I could focus on the holiday. 

I'm one of those people who waits until after Thanksgiving to switch to Christmas mode, since Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. However, as of today, we are in the Christmas state of mind. We put up and decorated our tree today, our Elf on the Shelf arrives tomorrow morning, and the boys are busy coming up with a variety of random things for their Christmas lists (right now, Andrew's list consists of a snow globe, a magic wand that does real magic, and a hamster. Good luck, Santa!). Someone posted on Facebook last night that there are only three weekends left until Christmas, which gave me heart palpitations. I feel like that's very not much time at all to squeeze in all of the my favorite Christmastime activities, but I'm sure we'll manage.

The recap this month is a bit light, since I found myself turning to really simple dinners (spaghetti, pancakes, sausage and potato hash, and yes, frozen pizza) quite a bit. My-kids-are-guaranteed-to-eat-it sorts of dinners. And frankly, those are some of my favorites too.

These shredded pork po' boys are one of my absolute favorite sandwiches. The pork is so flavorful and succulent, and the sauce is so creamy and spicy. Those two elements come together to make one messy, delicious sandwich. I can't wait to show you what I did with the pork leftovers this time around.

Every year, the facility where Will has preschool and Andrew has before- and after-kindergarten enrichment hosts a Thanksgiving feast for all of the kids 3 and up. This was Will's first year participating, and since I had to supply something for two kids' classes, I wanted to make the same thing for both boys to take. I immediately thought of these pumpkin cinnamon chip drop cookies, since the recipe makes a ton of cookies. I used white chocolate chips instead of cinnamon chips, since I can only find cinnamon chips at one store around here (ridiculously...) and I didn't want to make a special trip. They were good with the white chocolate chips, but a bit too sweet for my tastes. I definitely prefer them with the cinnamon chips.

I made this spicy sausage dip twice this month, which is about average. We just love this stuff. One night, when my mother-in-law had the boys, we ate this for dinner (because we go a little wild when we're kid-free). I also made it earlier today for the OSU/Michigan game, and ate a ton of it. And then I ended up regretting that, because I felt a little queasy throughout that entire game because the score was so close. The dip was delicious though, and so was the (very narrow) victory for the Buckeyes!

My family can't get enough of this chicken parmesan pasta and honestly, I really can't either. I love that this tastes exactly like chicken parm, but takes a fraction of the time to prepare. This is always a favorite in our house.

Speaking of favorites, it had been way too long since I'd made one of my childhood favorites: my mom's shredded chicken sandwiches. In fact, it had been so long since I'd made them, that I don't think either of the boys had ever tried them. We at these sandwiches two nights in a row (at their request!) because they loved them so much. These sandwiches are comfort food at its finest, plain and simple.

I turned this classic fried rice into a meal by upping the amount of eggs and adding about half a pound of chicken that I chopped, sauteed, and let finish cooking in soy sauce and honey. What I love the most about this recipe is that it uses up odds and ends I always have lying around: a little bit of rice, a couple of eggs, a handful of peas, a carrot, etc. 

I don't host Thanksgiving, so it's always a very relaxing holiday for me. Now that I think about it, that may partly be why it's my favorite holiday! I always make a couple of contributions to the meal, and they really never change: Mom's sweet potato casserole and the ever-popular broccoli salad. I think the sweet potato casserole just gets better and better every year, and I know you've heard me rave enough about the broccoli salad. I added honey-roasted almonds and dried cranberries to it this time to make it a little bit more festive (I just bought one of those salad packets in the produce section), and those were both delicious additions. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

Five-Ingredient Caramel Tassies

I posit that there are no cookies cuter than tassies. What could possibly be more adorable than a little cookie cup filled with sweet ingredients? I mean, even the name is too precious for words.

Not only are these cookies adorable and delicious; they're also incredibly simple. Those sweet cookies, in that picture up there? They're made with only five ingredients. Butter, cream cheese, flour, caramel sauce, and mini chocolate chips -- that's it. This fact alone makes them worth adding to your Christmas cookie trays. When you make as many types of cookies as I do (and believe me, I make a lot, as you'll see over the course of the next month or so), you really start to appreciate the super-simple-but-still-yummy-and-impressive-looking cookies. That's exactly what these caramel tassies are. They're just the best.

Five-Ingredient Caramel Tassies
adapted from Taste of Home

1 cup butter, softened
6 ounces cream cheese, softened
3 cups flour
Prepared caramel sauce
Miniature semi-sweet chocolate chips

1. In a large bowl, cream butter and cream cheese until light and fluffy. Gradually add flour and mix well. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour or until easy to handle.

2. Roll dough into 1-inch balls; press onto the bottom and up the sides of ungreased miniature muffin cups. Prick bottoms with a fork. Bake at 375 degrees for 15 to 17 minutes or until golden brown. Cool for 5 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks.

3. Fill each cup with caramel sauce and sprinkle with chocolate chips. Store in the refrigerator. Makes 4 dozen tassies.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Leftover Pot Roast Patty Melts

Inevitably, one of the first things people say to me when they discover that I have two sons is, "Just wait until the teenage years! Your grocery bill is going to skyrocket!" What I want to tell people when they say this is, Going to skyrocket? What is this going to you speak of? Since my older son turned five, my grocery bill has already skyrocketed. 

I don't know what is with Andrew lately, but it's like he has a hollow leg. It's the growth spurt that seems unending. He can eat and eat and eat and then ten minutes later, he's ready to eat again. It's like I already live with a teenager. You wouldn't believe the amount of food we go through in a week.

Since we're on a budget, it's been important for me to continue with my "make it once, use it a bunch of times" food philosophy so there is more room in the grocery column for Andrew's voracious appetite. 'Tis the season for pot roast, so when I made one in the Crock pot recently, I decided to use the leftovers in a couple of different ways. These patty melts were the first use, and in my mind, they may just be the best use of leftovers ever. I mean, come on. Look at all that gooey cheese.

You can use your favorite pot roast recipe for these sandwiches; this is ours. You can also use whatever type of cheese you like. The one thing I wouldn't skip is the special sauce (a combination of mayonnaise, steak sauce, and Worcestershire); it totally makes these sandwiches.

Give these a try, and I guarantee you that before you know it, you'll be making pot roast just so you can use the leftovers for patty melts.

Leftover Pot Roast Patty Melts

For the sandwiches:

2 cups leftover pot roast
8 slices sturdy bread
3 tablespoons butter, plus more for the bread
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
8 ounces sliced button mushrooms
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
8 slices Colby cheese (or Swiss, or provolone, etc.)

For the sauce:

1/2 cup mayonnaise
3 tablespoons steak sauce (like A1)
Dash Worcestershire sauce

1. Re-heat the pot roast in the microwave. Butter one side of all 8 slices of bread.

2. Melt 3 tablespoons butter in a large skillet. Add onions and mushrooms and cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until onion is softened and mushrooms are browned. Add garlic; season with salt and pepper and cook and stir for 30 seconds. Remove from heat.

3. Heat a griddle over medium-high heat. Place a slice of cheese on the unbuttered side of 4 slices of bread. Top each slice with 1/2 cup of the pot roast, a generous portion of the onion and mushroom mixture, and the other slice of cheese. Repeat with all four sandwiches and top with the other slice of bread, buttered side out. Grill, flipping once, until both sides are browned and crispy.

4. Combine all sauce ingredients. Serve the sauce with the patty melts.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Brown Sugar Ranch Carrots

My boys are both pretty good eaters and generally aren't very picky. However, like all kids, they definitely go through phases. Out of the blue, Will will turn up his nose at broccoli, insisting that he has never liked it, when he was gobbling it up the week before. Andrew will pick every single onion out of whatever he's eating with the most distasteful expression on his face, or inform me that he will no longer eat spaghetti because the sauce is made of tomatoes, and tomatoes are not yummy, Mommy. I know all of you moms out there understand exactly how this feels.

Thankfully, there is one vegetable they will eat at all times, in any way, shape, or form: carrots. They will eat them raw, steamed, roasted, or pureed. In fact, Andrew just walked in here at this very moment, looked at the photo on the computer screen, and said, "Oh, YUM." Carrots, man. They're a guaranteed hit around here.

This particular carrot dish couldn't be any simpler or more delicious. Carrots are steamed until tender, then tossed in a mixture of melted butter, ranch seasoning mix, and brown sugar. I think this is probably the best way to eat carrots, ever.

Brown Sugar Ranch Carrots
slightly adapted from Chef in Training

16 ounces baby carrots
5 tablespoons butter, melted
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 packet of ranch seasoning mix

1. Steam the carrots until fork-tender. Place in a serving dish.

2. In a small bowl, combine the melted butter, brown sugar, and ranch seasoning. Pour the mixture over the carrots and stir to coat evenly. Serve warm.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Loaded Cheesy Potato Soup

Well, it's official: No matter how much I tried to avoid it, I can no longer deny that I have my first cold of the season. Scratchy throat, runny nose, general feeling of name it, I've got it. Just one of the joys of having kids: I seem to be susceptible to every germ my sweet little petri dishes bring in to the house.

Thankfully, we live in a world where meals like this creamy, luxurious, flavorful, drool-worthy cheesy potato soup exist. Although this soup isn't a magical cure-all, its smooth texture is perfect for soothing a scratchy throat -- and for soothing the soul.

Recently one of my co-workers was talking about her craving for cheesy potato soup -- a craving that was instantly passed along to me the second I heard her mention it. She was kind enough to print out a copy of this recipe for me when she found it online, and we both made it that very weekend -- and we (and our families) absolutely loved it. 

This soup is the height of comfort food. The texture is so velvety and creamy, which contrasts nicely with the toppings, and it's incredibly flavorful. And it's loaded with cheese and bacon, so really, how could it possibly be anything other than delicious? A lot of times the leftovers of soups like this get thick and gluey, but I'm happy to report that wasn't the case with this one. I ate the leftovers for lunch the next day, and they were just as good as (if not better than) the night before. 

What I'm saying is, this is basically the ultimate cheesy potato soup. Please, please try it -- you'll love it!

Loaded Cheesy Potato Soup
adapted from Food Network

6 slices bacon, chopped
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 rib celery, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 cups chicken stock, plus more if needed
1 cup whole milk
One 12-ounce bottle light-bodied beer
2 large russet potatoes, peeled and chopped
2 cups grated extra-sharp cheddar (about 8 ounces)
Dash hot sauce
Dash Worcestershire sauce
Sour cream, for topping
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives or green onions, for topping
1. Add the bacon to a large pot over medium-high heat. Cook until browned and crisp; remove to paper towels to drain, reserving the drippings. 
2. Add the butter to the bacon drippings in the pot. Add the garlic, carrots, celery and onions, season with salt and pepper, and cook until the vegetables begin to soften, about 4 minutes. Sprinkle the flour into the saucepan to toast the flour, stirring constantly, about 2 minutes. Gradually whisk in the stock, and then the milk and beer. Stir in the potatoes and bring the soup to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer the soup until the potatoes are tender, 20 to 30 minutes.

3. Remove the saucepan from the heat and, using an immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth. Return the soup to low heat. Add 1 cup of the cheddar, a handful at a time, stirring until melted and smooth after each addition. Add additional chicken stock if necessary to adjust the consistency. Sprinkle with hot sauce, Worcestershire, salt and pepper. Divide the soup among bowls and top with the remaining cheddar, sour cream, the reserved bacon, and green onions or chives.

Friday, November 8, 2013


I'm breaking my self-imposed no-Christmas-talk-before-Thanksgiving rule to bring you some Christmas treats. Over the coming weeks, I'll be sharing some goodies that I made for last year's Christmas trays. I go kind of insane with my Christmas cookie trays every year; I just can't help myself, so I have lots of delicious things to share.

I thought I'd start off the Christmas cookie talk with my number one, very favorite Christmas cookie of all time: rugelach. Rugelach is a flaky pastry filled with walnuts and cinnamon sugar, and if you've never had it, you are really missing out. The nuttiness of the walnuts, the sweet spiciness of the cinnamon sugar, and the buttery pastry are such a delicious combination. These cookies keep for a long time stored in an airtight container at room temperature, and both the raw dough and the baked cookies freeze very well, making them ideal for preparing ahead of the Christmas baking rush. 

Some versions of rugelach call for raisins, chocolate, or raspberry or apricot preserves. I prefer a simple version with just nuts and cinnamon sugar. If you're not a fan of walnuts or you just want something different, try using almonds, pecans, or cashews instead; I think those would be delicious substitutions.

slightly adapted from Allrecipes 

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter
1 8-ounce package cream cheese
1/3 cup sour cream
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 cup finely chopped walnuts

1. Cut cold butter and cream cheese into bits. In a food processor, pulse flour, salt, butter and cream cheese, and sour cream until crumbly.

2. Shape crumbly mixture into 4 equal-sized discs. Wrap each disc and chill for 2 hours, or up to 2 days.

3. Combine sugar, cinnamon, and walnuts in a bowl.

4. Roll each disc into a 9-inch round, keeping the other discs chilled until ready to use. Sprinkle the rolled disc with the walnut mixture, pressing lightly into the dough. 

5. Using a chef's knife or pizza cutter, cut each round into 12 wedges. Roll wedges from wide to narrow, ending with a point. Place on ungreased baking sheets and chill for 20 minutes before baking.

6. After chilling, bake at 350 degrees for 22 minutes until lightly golden. Cool on wire racks.

Makes 4 dozen rugelach

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Baked Chicken Bacon Ranch Taquitos

Fact: I can turn any leftover shredded meat into a taquito. It's a life skill, really. I need to update my resume to include this little factoid; I bet it would make me very hire-able.

But seriously, though. I do enjoy using leftover shredded meat for taquitos for a couple of reasons: 1. Taquitos are delicious, duh! And 2. I love, love, love listening to my boys trying to say "taquito." 

"What are we having for dinner, boys?"




Tweetos, you guys. That's almost as good as sauce cake, am I right?

Anyway, I made this particular version of "tweetos" with the chicken I had left over from Monday's sandwiches. They were so delicious -- creamy from the cream cheese, with a spicy kick from the Mexican spices and green chilies, and a burst of sweetness and texture from the corn. And since this recipe still made a ton, I actually got three uses out of the chicken: I froze half of the taquitos for a later meal. 

(By the way, I know that these are technically flautas since I use flour tortillas -- I prefer them because they're easier to work with. But "flauta" isn't nearly as fun for my boys to taquitos it is.)

Baked Chicken Bacon Ranch Taquitos

2 cups shredded baon ranch chicken meat
1 8-ounce package cream cheese
3 tablespoons ranch dressing
1 can corn kernels, drained
1 4-ounce can green chilies
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
15-20 6-inch flour tortillas
Ranch dressing for dipping

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray and set aside.

2. In a bowl, combine all ingredients through garlic powder and mix until thoroughly combined.

3. Working in batches, heat the flour tortillas in the microwave for 10-20 seconds per batch until pliable. Add about 3 tablespoons of filling to each tortilla and roll tightly. Place on baking sheet. Repeat with all tortillas and filling.

4. Spray the taquitos with cooking spray. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until browned and crisp. Serve with ranch dressing for dipping.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Slow Cooker Chicken Bacon Ranch Sandwiches with Ranch Slaw

It happens every year around this time, when the weather starts gradually changing from fall to winter: I get really, really lazy when it comes to cooking. It gets dark earlier, my kids are more likely to be under my feet while I'm preparing dinner since they can't play outside, and basically I just want to curl up on the couch in my pajamas with a good book. Alas, my family needs to eat, so I still have to make something

So around this time of year, dinners start getting much simpler in our house. I start making more skillet dinners, more slow-cooker dinners, and other dishes that require very little hands-on work. 

These sandwiches are a perfect example of my late-fall-and-winter cooking philosophy. They require basically no hands-on work, and the results are absolutely delicious. You guys know what a sucker I am for the chicken-bacon-ranch combo, and when you cook them together and top them with a creamy slaw, you have one delicious dinner on your hands. And yet another thing to love about these sandwiches is that the leftovers can be turned into a completely different and delicious dinner the next night...which I'll share with you on Wednesday. 
(P.S. If you guys are getting sick of this whole make-it-once-use-it-multiple-times style of cooking I've adopted lately, I should warn you that it won't be stopping anytime soon. I just love the convenience and cost-effectiveness of it!)

Slow Cooker Chicken Bacon Ranch Sandwiches with Ranch Slaw
adapted from Eat at Home

2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breast halves
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 package ranch dressing mix
1 3-ounce package real bacon bits
1 bag cole slaw mix
Ranch dressing
Sliced cheddar cheese
Sandwich buns for serving

1. Add the chicken to the slow cooker. In a small bowl, whisk together the chicken stock and ranch dressing mix. Pour over the chicken. Top with bacon bits. Cook on low for 6 to 8 hours or on high for 4 to 5 hours. Shred the chicken.

2. Before serving, toss the cole slaw mix with ranch dressing to taste in a large bowl. 

3. Serve the shredded chicken on sandwich buns, topped with a slice of cheddar cheese and a pile of the ranch slaw. 

Friday, November 1, 2013

Revolutionary Baked Ravioli

When I shared my delicious bolognese sauce with you on Monday, I promised that I'd post a fantastic recipe on Friday that calls for it -- and here it is. I'm calling this "revolutionary" baked ravioli for one simple reason: When you're layering the casserole ingredients, you add the ravioli while it's still frozen. You don't even have to cook it first! That may seem like a small thing to you, but to me, it's huge. I know ravioli doesn't take very long to cook, but it still saved me from having to boil it in a separate pot, thereby dirtying more dishes that I would later have had to clean.

Another thing I love about this dish: It only contains three ingredients. The ravioli, the sauce, and the cheese -- that's it. Layer them all in a dish, stick the dish in the oven, and in 45 minutes dinner is served. You can use whatever kind of ravioli you like, and of course you can use jarred sauce to make this even easier. The version picture above, using my bolognese sauce and cheese ravioli, tastes exactly like lasagna -- and it was about 100 times easier to prepare.

I can't say enough good things about this recipe. I'll be keeping sauce and ravioli in the freezer at all times so I can make this whenever I crave it -- which I'm sure will be often.

Revolutionary Baked Ravioli
adapted from Tasty Kitchen

1 25-ounce bag frozen ravioli
4 cups bolognese sauce
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
Parmesan cheese for sprinkling

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Spray bottom and sides of a 9×13 rectangular baking dish with cooking spray.

2. Spread 3/4 cup of the sauce in the baking dish. Arrange half of the frozen ravioli in a single layer over the sauce; top with half of the remaining pasta sauce and half of the mozzarella cheese. Repeat layers once, starting with ravioli. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

3. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil; bake uncovered for 10 to 15 minutes longer or until bubbly and hot in the center. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.