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.



Tips:
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.


Tips:
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.


Tips:
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.


Tips:
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!