Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Slow Cooker Creamed Corn

 Ok, so, once again, I'm turning to my trusty slow cooker for an easy Thanksgiving side dish. I knew I wanted to find a slow cooker creamed corn recipe, but wasn't sure which direction to go. Something cheesy and gooey? maybe. Something Southwest-ish with jalapenos? Hmm.. not sure. I needed to find the RIGHT recipe. So I started googling, and immediately noticed that I kept finding this one over and over... it's on MANY websites and frankly, I don't even know whose it is. (The FIRST found it on a blog called Damn Delicious, so I'll give them the credit.) I thought, well, if so many bloggers love this recipe enough to post it, then it much be good enough to try. And it looked easy enough so I went with it! 
 Well, Holy Thanksgiving, Batman, it's amazing! It's creamy and rich and just sweet enough. It's also stupid easy to make and it frees up your oven and stove top. It's verything you need in a Thanksgiving recipe, right? So basically, if you can open a can of corn, you can make this recipe. This is definitely the RIGHT recipe!!

3  15oz cans whole kernel corn, drained
1 cup milk
1 tbs sugar
1/4 tsp pepper
8 oz cream cheese, cubed
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into slices

 Place corn into a slow cooker. Stir in milk, sugar, and pepper until well combined. Without stirring, top with butter and cream cheese. Cover and cook on high heat for 2-3 hours. Uncover and stir until butter and cream cheese are well combined. Cover and cook on high heat for an additional 15 minutes. Serve immediately or keep warm until you're ready to serve.

You can also use fresh or frozen corn instead of canned, yellow or white, all good.
I added a few chopped scallions on top, just for a little pop of color, but that's completely optional.
I thought about adding a can of cream style corn, because why not? I figured how can that not be good? Maybe next time!

Monday, November 11, 2019

Slow Cooker Ranch Carrots

  One of the biggest questions that everyone asks me around the holidays is "With such a large family, who does all the cooking?" And the short answer is EVERYONE! I mean, yes, I'm lucky to have several siblings with the means to host different holidays.. Thanksgiving at Tommy's, Easter Brunch at Cathy's, New Year's Day at Michael's, Christmas Eve at Jeanie's, Christmas Pollyanna at Patty's... But the whole family always contributes to the menu, and the first thing everyone asks is "what can I bring?"
 Usually, for Thanksgiving, the menu planning committee decides what foods we want to have, and then an email goes out to the entire family, and the cooking tasks get divvied up between everyone. (yes, there really is a menu planning committee. not even kidding). Some of the more experienced cooks in the family will take on some of the bigger jobs such as roasting the turkeys, (yes, plural) and then the family members with a little less experience will take on the easier cooking tasks.
 So this recipe falls squarely into the latter category. It's really one of the easiest recipes you'll ever make so it's a cinch for the culinary novice. Not only that, it's perfect for Thanksgiving because it uses a slow cooker (your best friend in the kitchen) so it doesn't take up any oven or stove top space. You can also prep it in advance and then just turn it on when the time comes. So simple! And most importantly, it's delicious!!! Full disclosure, I'm not even sure where I found the recipe. Somewhere on the interwebs. But I made it for my Friendsgiving Dinner, and everyone loved it. I was an immediate fan, and I'm sure your gang will love it too! You should give it a try!

2 lbs carrots
1 sweet onion
1 stick butter
1 packet Hidden Valley Ranch dressing mix
Salt and pepper to taste

Peel and slice carrots. Chop the onion. Place them in a slow cooker. Top with pats of butter. Sprinkle with half the packet of dressing mix. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook on high for 4 hours. Sprinkle with remaining dressing mix, and toss all to combine. Turn slow cooker to warm until you're ready to serve.

To make things easier, you can just use baby carrots. No peeling or slicing! I must say, I prefer to cut  large carrots into chunky wedges, but any kind of carrots will work!
When I chopped the onions, I left them in large chunks as well, but then decided I would prefer a smaller dice next time.  
And one other thing.. I usually don't mention specific brands, but in this case, for me there's no ranch dressing other than Hidden Valley Ranch. And that's all there is to it.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Joey's Asparagus and Mushroom Casserole

  Ok here goes my flight of ideas..  Are you ready? Here we go:
I was thinking of coming up with a variation on the favorite classic green bean casserole, which my Mom always called Green Bean Bake. I liked the idea of doing a creamy mushroom sauce just like the classic, but instead of doing green beans, I decided to go with asparagus. So far so good. I sauteed mushrooms and onions, added the asparagus, made a basic white sauce and then baked the whole thing. It was pretty good, (in fact, my friend Nate said it was his favorite part of this year's Friendsgiving), but for me, it was kind of missing something. It needed another element. Cheese? Maybe, but what kind? Bacon? YES! How could that be a bad thing? Hmm.. So then I regrouped to see where things landed: Asparagus, mushrooms, onions, bacon... all good. Now what about the sauce....definitely staying with the basic white sauce instead of the classic canned soup ... and now the cheese... but what kind? Well, I don't want it to be like a mac and cheese sauce, so maybe not Cheddar.. I decided to go with mozzarella because it would give me that gooey cheese factor and it would brown nicely on top. Would all of that work?? Absolutely! Am I happy with the result? Definitely! It really hits all the points from the Green Bean Bake, and it's still something new and delicious. Maybe next time, I'll even top it with French fried onion rings, just for a little added texture! Who knows? Maybe THIS one will wind up being a classic too!

1 lb fresh asparagus
10 oz Cremini mushrooms
1/2 lb bacon
1 large sweet onion
1 large clove garlic
1-2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
2 tbs butter, if needed
2 tbs flour
1 cup milk
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

First, do all of your prep:
Trim off the tough woody ends of the asparagus and cut the spears into one inch pieces. Slice mushrooms. Chop onions. Slice bacon into small lardons. Mince garlic. Strip the thyme sprigs of their leaves.
Since different ingredients have different cooking times,  all you do is saute each thing separately, then add it to a big mixing bowl.
Here we go:
In a large pan, over medium heat, saute bacon until crisp, allowing the fat to render. Remove bacon to a big mixing bowl. Remove and reserve all but a couple tbs of fat from the pan. Add the onions. Saute until they begin to soften. Add asparagus. Toss and saute for a few minutes until the asparagus are bright green and crisp tender. Add garlic. Continue to cook for a minute or two. Add to the bowl with the bacon. Add mushrooms to the pan. Resist the urge to add more bacon fat to the pan! I know it seems like the pan is dry, but soon there will be a ton of moisture coming from the mushrooms. Saute until most of the moisture has evaporated and the mushrooms have become brown and slightly sticky. Add fresh thyme leaves to the mushrooms and let it cook for another minute. Add mushrooms to the mixing bowl with the other ingredients. Add about 2-3 tbs of bacon fat (or butter) to the pan. Add the same amount of flour. Use a whisk to combine and let it cook for about a minute, then add milk. Whisk to get out any lumps. Season with salt and pepper. Stir until it begins to thicken. Pour thickened cream sauce into mixing bowl over other ingredients. Add half cup of cheese to the bowl. Stir until well combined and coated with sauce. Adjust seasoning if needed. Pour into 2 qt casserole dish. Top with the rest of the mozzarella cheese. Bake at 350ºF for 20-30 minutes or until the cheese is melted and the sauce is bubbly.

The first time I made this, I added quite a lot of bacon. Sounds good, right? But here's the thing.. the smokiness from the bacon wound up taking over the whole thing, so maybe in just this ONE instance, we can allow ourselves to cut the bacon down to about 1/2 pound.
Speaking of bacon, yes the bacon is salty, but you'll still need to add some salt. Make sure you taste it to season it properly! And don't forget the black pepper!
One of the key ingredients is the fresh thyme. I suppose you can use dried thyme, but for me there's just nothing like fresh. It makes all the difference, so much so that I would make a special trip to the store to get it. Just sayin!

Monday, November 4, 2019

Bacon Apple Sweet Potato Casserole

  If you're looking for a recipe that SCREAMS Thanksgiving, this is it! For a while now, I've been doing a savory take on sweet potatoes, and this recipe ticks all the boxes. Don't get me wrong, I love love LOVE the favorite Candied Sweet Potatoes and the favorite Sweet Potato Casserole with all the brown sugar and such, but lately I've been embracing the sweet potato in a savory light.
 I found this recipe on a blog called Mel's Kitchen Cafe, and although I tweaked the amounts and method here and there, the recipe and inspiration clearly belong to Mel. I'm not sure I would have ever added shredded CHEESE to a sweet potato dish, but it's fabulous! How brilliant is that?? And tbh, I wanted MORE cheese the entire time I was INHALING it. More is more! At the same time, it has all the Thanksgiving flavors that you want in a casserole... rosemary, sage, I bet you could even add some thyme, because why not? They go beautifully with the cheese, and the apples enhance the sweetness of the potatoes. And the bacon, well, we all know it makes everything better.
 So if you're looking for a new take on sweet potatoes, seriously TRUST ME on this one. It's absolutely Thanksgiving worthy, and it tastes like Autumn in a casserole. It's literally one of my favorite new things that I've made in quite a long time. Like, not even kidding. You must try it!

5 lbs sweet potatoes
1 lb thick-cut bacon
2 medium leeks, washed well, trimmed of tough edges and sliced thinly
2 large honey crisp apples, cored, peeled and finely diced
2 tsp brown sugar
1 tbs finely chopped fresh sage
1 tbs finely chopped fresh rosemary
S&P to taste
8 oz shredded sharp cheddar cheese
8 oz shredded Monterey Jack cheese

In a large pot, boil sweet potatoes until fork tender. Remove from pot and let cool until you can handle them. Remove peels, place in a large bowl, and mash them until smooth.
 In a skillet, cook the bacon until crisp. Remove the bacon pieces to a paper-towel lined plate, leaving a tablespoon or so of drippings in the skillet and removing any excess grease. Chop the bacon to small bits. set aside.
Over medium heat, add the leeks, apples, brown sugar, sage, and rosemary to the skillet. Lightly season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, until the leeks and apples have softened and caramelized slightly
Add about 3/4 of both cheeses, bacon, and leek/apple mixture to the sweet potatoes, reserving a bit of everything to sprinkle on top. Stir to combine. Add additional salt and pepper to taste, if needed. Lightly grease a large baking dish and spread the sweet potato mixture evenly in the pan. Sprinkle the rest of the bacon, leek mixture, and cheese over the top. Bake for 30 minutes until hot and bubbly. Serve immediately.

The original recipe baked the potatoes instead of boiling them. Do whichever method you prefer!
I think I'll add fresh thyme next time I make it. Why? Because I LOVE fresh thyme!
I bet you could use another mildly flavored onion instead of the leeks. I'd do a Vidalia, I think.
Definitely go for a SHARP Cheddar. You want that  flavor to come through. The original recipe used Fontina instead of Jack. Again, you do you!

Monday, October 28, 2019

Brown Butter Apple Blondies

  Every so often, I'll receive a text from someone with a link to a recipe. Usually it will contain a message that says something along the lines of "this needs to happen" or "when are we making this?"  That's exactly how this recipe came to me, from my sister, Cathy. She sent me the link with a text that simply said "Yum." Clearly, that says it all! Browned butter, apples, brown sugar, and cinnamon?? What's not to love?  It has "This needs to happen" written all over it. Apple desserts are my absolute favorite, so I knew I needed to try it, especially since the recipe is from Sally's Baking Addition. (Seriously, if you've never checked out her blog, stop what you're doing right now and go check it out!!) This is a great party dessert because it's always good to have a sweet picky uppy something for your guests. Halloween? Thanksgiving? Christmas? They go with any holiday! Of course, they're also perfect for just any day when your kids want a little after school snack. SO good!
Cath, you were absolutely right about this one. YUM!

2 cups peeled chopped apples (about 2 medium apples) 
2 tbs pure maple syrup (or brown sugar) 
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces* 
2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour 
1 1/2 tsp baking powder 
1/2 tsp salt 
1 tsp ground cinnamon 
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg 
1 2/3 cups packed light or dark brown sugar 
2 large eggs, at room temperature 
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Brown Butter Icing:
1/4 cup unsalted butter 
1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar 
2 tbs milk 
1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract

  1. Important before you begin! I recommend browning the butter for the blondies and icing first. You can brown the butter for both the blondies AND the icing together. Once it’s all browned, set 4 Tablespoons (2 liquid ounces) aside for the icing in step 8. The rest (8 liquid ounces) is for the blondie batter, used in step 6.
  2. Brown the butter: Slice the butter into pieces and place in a light-colored skillet. (Light colored helps you determine when the butter begins browning.) Melt the butter over medium heat, stirring constantly. Once melted, the butter will begin to foam. Keep stirring. After 5-8 minutes, the butter will begin browning and you’ll notice lightly browned specks begin to form at the bottom of the pan. You will smell a nutty aroma. See photo and video above for a visual. Once browned, immediately remove from heat, pour into a heat-proof bowl, and set aside until ready to use.
  3. Prepare the apples: Meanwhile, return the pan to the stove. (No need to rinse out!) Add the apples, maple syrup/brown sugar, and cinnamon. Stir and cook over medium heat until apples have slightly softened, about 3-5 minutes. Set apples aside.
  4. Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Line the bottom and sides of a 9×13 inch baking pan with parchment paper, leaving an overhang on the sides to lift the finished blondies out (makes cutting easier!). Set aside.
  5. Make the blondies: Whisk the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg together in a large bowl.
  6. In a medium bowl, whisk 1 cup browned butter, brown sugar, eggs, and vanilla extract together. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until combined. Fold in the apples. Batter will be thick.
  7. Evenly spread batter into prepared pan. Bake for about 35 minutes or until the top is lightly browned and a toothpick comes out *mostly* clean. Remove from the oven and allow the blondies to cool completely in the pan set on a wire rack.
  8. Brown butter icing: Heat the remaining 1/4 cup (4 Tablespoons) of brown butter in the microwave for a few seconds since it has likely solidified by now. Whisk in confectioners’ sugar, milk, and vanilla extract. If needed, add more confectioners’ sugar to thicken or more milk to thin out. Drizzle over cooled blondies, then cut into squares.

Normally, I would tweak a recipe to suit my own taste, but this one is already perfect. In fact, I even left the directions exactly as Sally has written them, because there was no reason to change them!

Monday, October 21, 2019

Cheesy Dapper Apple Squares

  Do you like the combination of salty and sweet? I love love LOVE it, so it's always exciting when I find a new recipe with that particular dynamic. Usually my go-to is anything with salted caramel, but then I found this recipe. It uses a classic paring, apples and cheddar cheese, which is a marriage made in salty sweet culinary heaven! I once read an article that said "apple pie without cheese is like a kiss without a squeeze!" I guess I can't argue with that, huh?
 Now, if you've never heard of serving sharp cheese with apples, think of a fancy schmancy party where they serve different kinds of wine with a plate of different fruits and cheeses. It's the same thing! They just GO together. I've heard of melting slices of cheddar cheese over a warm apple pie, I've also heard of cheese being baked right into the pie crust, but I've never seen it baked into a layered apple square such as this. It's fabulous! I found this exact recipe on several websites and no one seems to vary it very much, so I immediately knew that it would be pretty perfect as is. I think I read somewhere that it's a Pillsbury Bake Off winning recipe, but I have no idea exactly who came up with it in the first place. I saw another comment that said she has been making this recipe for over twenty years, so it just goes to show you that you just can't beat something that stands the test of time.
 Give this recipe a go for your next Fall get together. Halloween Party? Thanksgiving? Or just any random day you're feeling a little salty and sweet. It's definitely a new favorite!!!

1-1/2 cups flour
1-1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) butter, softened
6 oz extra sharp Cheddar cheese, thinly sliced
2-1/2 cups baking apples, cored, peeled, and sliced
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup chopped nuts or slivered almonds

Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
In a large bowl, mix together the flour, graham cracker crumbs, brown sugar, baking soda, and butter. Set aside 1-1/2 cups of the crumb mixture and pat the rest into a 9x13-inch baking dish. Place the cheese slices on top of the crumb mixture.
In a medium-size bowl, combine the apples and granulated sugar. Layer over the cheese. Add the nuts to the reserved crumb mixture and sprinkle over the apples. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool completely, or chill,  then cut into 2-inch squares.

Extra sharp cheese is definitely the way to go here. You really don't want a mild Cheddar because it needs to stand up against the sweet. 
The only variation I saw on all of the sites I read was the addition of a little cinnamon in the crust. I contemplated adding spices, but decided against it because I didn't want it to compete with the sharpness of the cheese. I'm sure it will work whichever way you decide to go.
Instead of doing slices of cheese, I finely shredded mine. It just seemed to me that I could have more even coverage with the shreds. Tbh, I wanted MORE cheese, so I think I'll add a little extra next time.
And since I was using sweet Honeycrisp apples instead of a tart Granny Smith, I added a little spritz of lemon juice when I tossed the apple slices with the sugar, just to brighten the flavor a bit.  I left out the chopped nuts because I didn't hand any on hand, but you do you!
Oh, one other thing.. I've seen this recipe on some sites that say to grease the pan, others say ungreased. Anytime I'm making dessert squares, I always line the pan with parchment paper because it not only makes it easy to lift the whole batch out of the pan in one piece, but it also gives a little extra nonstick insurance, which is always a good thing.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Spiced Apple Chili

  What? Apples in CHILI? I know. I know. It sounds crazy, but just go with me on this one. Have I ever lied to you before? Seriously, it's one of the best chilis I've ever tasted! The apples bring a little hint of sweetness to the party, and the warm spices round everything out. So, with all the apples and cinnamon, you're probably thinking "does it taste like apple pie?" Nope! Not at all! It just tastes like a fabulous bowl of chili with a tiny little tweak, that's all. And the apples bring a heartiness to the dish, kind of in the same way that potatoes do in a beef stew. It's super easy to make too! You brown the beef and then basically just throw everything in the pot and let it simmer. It's ready in about an hour! Easy, right? Oh, I almost forgot to mention that the recipe is from Taste of Home, so you know it's tried and true and test kitchen approved. It's just plain delicious! I like mine with shredded Cheddar cheese and a dollop of sour cream, but you do you!

1 pound ground beef
1 large onion, chopped
1 can (6oz) tomato paste
3 teaspoons chili powder
3 teaspoons smoked paprika
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
3 cups beef broth
2 large Granny Smith apples, peeled and chopped
1 can (15oz) chili beans, undrained
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Optional toppings: shredded white cheddar cheese, diced red onion

 In a Dutch oven, cook and crumble beef with onion over medium-high heat until beef is no longer pink, 5-7 minutes; drain. Add tomato paste, spices, and garlic; cook and stir over medium heat 5 minutes. Stir in vinegar and broth until blended. Add remaining ingredients; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer. Simmer, covered, until apples are tender and flavors are blended, about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve with toppings as desired.

One of the things I love about this recipe is the balance of spices. Each one is definitely in the show, but nobody steals the spotlight. The amounts are exactly spot on. The only thing I might do differently is to add a few pinches of crushed red pepper flakes for a little spicy hit. I don't like to burn my face off with heat, but just a little spicy poke is pretty nice.
Btw, this would be FABULOUS on a hot dog. Is anyone else thinking Halloween dinner? Who's with me?