Thursday, April 12, 2012

Breakfast Casserole

I spent my first Christmas away from home as a missionary in Ireland.  Several of the sisters had come prepared with recipes from home to use for their holiday meals.  One of my companions, Lisa Hansen, had a recipe for the breakfast that they ate every Christmas morning.  It was her family's tradition to have a breakfast casserole in the oven as they opened their gifts.  About the time the gifts were finished...breakfast was ready.  I thought that was a brilliant idea...and got her recipe. It has come in very handy throughout the years and is one of my family's oft requested breakfasts.   But I have to say--we have it quite a bit more often than just Christmas morning.  It because it is such a family favorite, it has since been passed on to many other families, who love it just as much as we do.
Breakfast Casserole
6-12 slices of bread (if thinner bread, double up the slices)
1lb cooked link sausage--cut into bite-sized pieces
12 eggs
2 cups of cheddar cheese
2 cans Cream of Mushroom soup
1 can condensed milk
salt/pepper/parsley flakes
cooking spray

I start by cooking the sausage links.  After they are blotted for grease and cooled, I cut them into small pieces.

Spray a glass baking dish with Pam before lining it with the bread.  Sprinkle the 2 cups of cheese evenly over the bread. 

Then place the sausage pieces on top of the cheese.  In a mixing bowl, crack the eggs and whisk.  Add the cans of soup and condensed milk, mixing until smooth and consistent.  Pour into the baking dish. 

I like to sprinkle the top with black pepper and parsley flakes.  Cover with saran wrap and place in the fridge overnight.  In the morning, preheat the oven at 350 degrees.  Bake for 1 hour. 

Cool slightly before cutting into pieces.  It's a hearty breakfast and a crowd-pleaser.  The best part: it leaves the kitchen clean in the morning, since all the work and clean-up was done the night before.  Don't forget to plan ahead for this one! 

The overnight fridge time is necessary for the bread to soak up all the wet mixture.  It's a time-saver in the morning and a fabulous delight for guests!

Yummy Broccoli Salad

Every once in awhile, I get a hankering for something really tasty that is typically "off-season".  It's like craving a turkey dinner with all the fixings, six months before Thanksgiving.  It was snowing and cruddy outside when I started craving summer salads.  One of my favorites is Broccoli salad.  You can buy a 3lb bag of broccoli florets at Costco for under $4.  So this flavorful summer salad was a breeze to make while winter was still looming outdoors.

Broccoli Salad
(for a Large bowl...cut recipe in half for smaller families)

1 bag of broccoli from Costco--cut into small pieces
1/2 lb bacon--cooked, drained, and crumbled
1 medium red onion--cut into small pieces
1 cup sunflower seeds--I like the salted/roasted ones
1-1 1/2 cups raisins
2 cups mayonnaise
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup vinegar

Mix the mayonnaise and sugar together in a bowl until the sugar crystals are dissolved.  Add the vinegar and mix well.
Trim the long stalk ends from the broccoli and break into small pieces.  Prepare the bacon and crumble into large mixing bowl.
Toss broccoli, onion, raisins, bacon, and sunflower seeds together in bowl.  Pour the dressing over the top and thoroughly mix together.  I use a bowl that has a lid.  At this point, put the lid on and stick it in the fridge for a few hours to chill and let the flavors "marry" together.  Serve as a side dish or has snack.  My kids LOVE it!

Hawaiian Chicken

I found a recipe on pinterest that I had to try...Hawaiian Chicken.  Total disclaimer: while I followed the recipe for the marinade, I did not grill the chicken like the recipe called for, but it was utterly delicious, nonetheless.  I'm sure that it would be totally amazing grilled...but wouldn't have the juices to create a beautiful and tasty glaze.

Hawaiian Chicken

3lbs chicken thighs
2 cups soy sauce
2 cups water
1 1/2 cup brown sugar
1 can coconut milk
1 bunch of diced green onions
1 tsp minced garlic
1 T sesame seed oil

Mix all the ingredients together in a container with a lid.  Add the chicken thighs and marinade for at least 4 hours.  Overnight is best, but that sometimes just doesn't happen!  The instructions called for grilling 5-7 minutes at low heat, on each side, until fully cooked.  I laid all the meat out on a large cookie sheet and baked at 350 degrees for 40 minutes. 

Then I poured the juices and marinade from the sheet into a small pan and thickened with a cornstarch and water mixture.  I then poured the glaze over the hot chicken before plating it. 

I served it with a side of rice and baby carrots.  A novel idea for a new kind of rice, is to replace half of the water with canned coconut milk.  Serving it with a side of grilled pineapple would have been epicurean perfection.  I'll definitely be making this again during BBQ season.

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

I got the best chocolate chip cookie recipe when I was a sophomore in college.  My best friend had a "date" at our apartment, attended by all of us roommates.  Poor guy.  How do you truly take a girl out when you are a poor, struggling student?  He wanted to make her the "best cookies ever!" but didn't have anything to make them with.  Thus, the date at our apartment.  I have to say--he didn't last in the annals of time, but his recipe and claim to fame did.  They are YuMmY!

The BEST Chocolate Chip Cookies
1/2 cup butter-flavored Crisco (or regular shortening, in a pinch)
1/2 cup softened butter
2 eggs
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda
2 T vanilla (the real stuff)
2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 bag good chocolate chips

Mix the butter and shortening together in the mixer first.  Then add the sugars and give it a good mix.  Then add the eggs; mix it up a little more.  I add the salt, soda, and vanilla into the "wet" batter and mix a little.  Then add the flour.  Finish off the recipe by adding the chocolate chips.  Semi-sweet are fabulous if you want a traditional chocolate chip cookies.  I like to mix half a bag of milk chocolate and half a bag of semi-sweet into the dough.  Nuts are optional, and work really well in this recipe if you're a nut-lover.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Bake for 8-9 longer.  That's the trick to a really soft and delicious cookie--no over baking!

I like using the ice-cream scoop to get a uniform shape in the cookies.  The Cash-n-Carry stores have a variety of different sized scoops.  I used a smaller scoop, but the cookies still at least 2" in diameter.

The texture is divine and the experience is complete with a glass of COLD milk! [I like to improvise and introduce "healthier" options to my old favorites.  Usually nobody can tell the difference in what I did, and this time was no different.  This time I replaced a 2/3 cup of the all-purpose flour with Oat Flour.  The cookies had a little more texture in the dough, and once baked, were still amazing.]

Monday, March 12, 2012

Fudgy Peanut Butter Bars

I've been so inspired by pinterest lately. I came across this peanut butter bar recipe several times. I pinned it because it looked yummy--but I made it because it used a cake mix, and I was intrigued.

The dough consisted of:
1 yellow cake mix
1 cup peanut butter (most recipes said creamy, I used crunchy)
2 eggs
1 cup of butter
Mix well. Pat all but 1 cup into a baking pan. (I doubled the recipe and used a large jelly roll pan. If you do this, make sure to reserve the equivalent extra dough.)

Melt 1 bag chocolate chips, 2 T of butter, and 1 can of sweetened condensed milk over low heat. Stir until it is smooth and thick, like fudge sauce.

Pour the fudge sauce over the uncooked cookie dough. I would reserve about 3/4 cup of the sauce if you double the recipe so that it doesn't fall over the pan while it's baking. (Use it on vanilla ice-cream......ooh! That would be so delicious.)
After I had the fudge spread out evenly, I took the remaining dough and patted it thin in my hand, and then laid it over the fudge.
Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or till golden brown; more or less, depending upon your oven.
Cool the pan completely before cutting. My kids were taking swipes at it with spoons while it was still warm. The fudge hasn't set up yet and just oozes into the open spot if cut too soon. At room temperature, the bars can be cut without any oozing. The butter in the recipe gives the cookie a crispy exterior, but is soft and moist, otherwise. They are super yummy and rich--so don't forget a glass of cold milk! Enjoy.

Corned Beef Brisket with Current Jelly

We had our St Patrick's dinner a week early. And if I had been thinking more Irish, I would have put the potatoes in the middle to mimic the tri-color flag. Anywhoo...
We had a "gorgeous" dinner with some family favorites. A few years back, a friend introduced me to corned beef brisket. It was so delicious, that we now have it several times a year and is one of Jeff's favorite meals. It's so easy to make and so worth sharing.

I start by putting a couple of large briskets in a crock pot and covering with water. I shake the little bag of seasoning from the package in and let it cook on low all day. The meat should be fork-tender after 5-6 hours. The I take it out and break it up into small pieces. Sometimes there is a lot of fat around the roast--I remove all of it. Then I put 2 bottles of Current Jelly over the top of the meat. [I put it in the microwave for 30 seconds to loosen the jelly from the jar. If you microwave it for a minute, it starts to liquefy and become pourable.]

I pour the jelly over all the brisket. It seemed a little odd doing this the first time--but it was so worth the risk. Finding the Current jelly wasn't easy or cheap. At the bigger grocery stores, I noticed that this was a 'specialty' kind of jelly. I happened to also find it made by Smucker's for half the price. The only store I've found that carry the Smucker's version is Fred Meyer (Kroger). I've tried this recipe with cherry jam and other exotic jellies I find--but we always come back to Current jelly because it tastes so amazing.

After I spread the jelly around the meat evenly, I put it in the oven to broil on low for 4-5 minutes. It's just enough to melt the rest of the jelly and have it turn into a sticky glaze. Watch the heat and the meat closely so that it doesn't burn or get hardened and dry. I use tongs to mix up the meat afterwards so that every bit is nicely coated.

To compliment our delicious meat, I served it with scalloped potatoes and steamed Parmesan asparagus. After the asparagus was done cooking, I pour melted butter over it and then sprinkled Kraft Parmesan cheese on it. Because of the heat and steam from the vegetables, the cheese started to melt. It was amazing and didn't need any other seasoning or salt.

I lived in Ireland for a year and a half, and I don't remember having corned beef brisket even once. I know that corned beef is a typical "St Patrick's Day" meal--but our family enjoys it year round because it is so delicious. Erin Go Bragh!!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Mini Strawberry Trifles

Sometimes you get whims and hankerings for a home-cooked goodness that reminds of you of happy times. I was having one of those moments yesterday when I was craving a good-ole-fashioned English Trifle. I first had one of these marvels in Ireland, almost 20 years ago. They are one of those decadent desserts that are SO good, but just don't get made that often.

We were having friends over for dinner...and they were bringing the "main dish" with them, which left me in charge of making dessert. Without needing to spend my afternoon cooking for two armies, I had some time to devote to the grand finale of the meal. So I decided that it would be fun to make Trifle, but with a twist...luscious mini versions. Clear cups made them look, not only beautiful, but made clean-up a cinch! And, oh...they were so good!

I started my making a homemade vanilla custard for the base. The difference between pudding and custard is that custard has eggs mixed into the base to create a richer texture and flavor. I doubled the recipe I used from: to start my dessert. Licking the pan was no burden either. I set it aside to cool while I hulled and slice the large strawberries and pound cake from Costco.

A couple of large boxes of instant vanilla Jello pudding would have worked--but I was wanting the "homemade" flavors of vanilla extract and salty butter in the sweet and creamy pudding. And when you have the is worth the effort!

To assemble: I put two large dollops of pudding in the bottom of each cup and then layered with cubes of pound cake, sliced strawberries, and more pudding. I tapped the bottom of each cup on the counter to move the pudding into the hollows between the cake and berries. I topped each trifle with a shot of real whipped cream and half a strawberry. Easy! Delicious! And definitely worth the stroll down memory lane.

Next time we are going to some variations that are sure to please, like: bananas, chocolate syrup, and pineapple for a Banana Split Trifle; and some strawberry syrup with our fruit. Cake layered with caramel, chocolate, and nuts would be divine as well. I truly think that the possibilities are endless. The Hillbilly Homemaker even has a recipe for Caramel Pudding. That might send this creation out of this world! Enjoy.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Maple and Brown Sugar Pork Roast

Sunday Dinner. It's the best dinner of the week...most of the time--unless we have something simply stupendous on Wednesday, or Tuesday, or get the picture? But, tonight was pretty stellar, if I say so myself. I made Maple and Brown Sugar Pork Roast, and served it with garlic and parsley roasted red potatoes and a vegetable medley of squash, carrots, and broccoli.

The recipe I have calls for pork loin...but they tend to be pretty temperamental when you are using a crock pot. (I have learned from many a sad and dry pork loin in the past!) So I picked up a couple of small tender pork roasts and used my handy-dandy crock pot to free up my Sunday afternoon without sacrificing the big dinner flavor. Prep time for everything=20 minutes, but tasted like at least 2-3 hours of work! I LOVE crock pots!!

Maple and Brown Sugar Pork Roast

2-4lbs pork roast
1/2 tsp salt and pepper
1 clove of minced garlic--(I cheat and use about 1-2 tsp of the store bought stuff that's in the jar ready-to-go)
4 Tablespoons grainy Dijon mustard
2 Tablespoons honey
2 Tablespoons brown sugar
1 T Balsamic vinegar (can substitute cider vinegar, but the Balsamic is tastier)
1/2 tsp dried /crumbled Thyme
1 Tablespoon pure maple syrup (, I used 2 T of Mrs Butterworth's...and it was still delicious ;)

I mixed everything together with a whisk right inside the crock pot and the put the pork roasts in. I like to drizzle them with some of the sauce before I put the lid on and call it good for 3-4 hours. I got off to a late start today and didn't start the crock pot until 3pm, so I set it on High. It was fork tender in 3 hours.

I doubled the sauce ingredients because I had 2 pork roasts. The roasts always seem to reduce in size and I wanted to make sure I had enough for the feast. Before I cut the meat into slices, I thickened the sauce with 2 tablespoons of cornstarch mixed with 2 tablespoons of cold water. The sauce is a little tangy and sweet...and very delicious. The kids slid their potatoes through the sauce to make sure that they didn't leave any on the plate. Clean plates are a sure sign of a winner!

For the roasted potatoes: I cut about 2 1/2lbs of baby reds in half and doused them with about 1/3 cup of olive oil. Then I added a heaping spoonful of the store-bought minced garlic, a spoonful of dried parsley, and a tsp of sea salt. I stirred it all up in a bowl, before pouring them onto a baking sheet. They roasted up perfectly at 375 degrees for one hour. These beauts are so easy to make and compliment any mouth-watering meat recipe.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Chicken Cordon Bleu Crepes

We had a heavenly dinner tonight! Chicken Cordon Bleu Crepes...with a side of buttered broccoli. It was so noteworthy, in fact, that it is blog-worthy! The kids know that they have to stop eating and put their forks down when the camera comes to the dinner table. I didn't have very many photo opportunities before it was inhaled and gone.

For the last six years, I've been hosting and assembling recipes for Once A Month Cooking (OAMC) nights that mass-produce freezer meals in one grand feat. It's incredible to assemble and create enough meals to feed any family for 2-4 weeks--all in a short 3-4 hours of time. I generally pick a Friday night during the month and send out an invitation for all that are interested to come and create dinners from the selections I provide. I offer between 12-15 menu selections and have between 7-15 people come. Once, in a month we did a selection of 20 marinades, I had 33 people that signed up to come. So I dividied the group in half and hosted a day and a night assembling party.

Working moms are my most faithful attenders, quickly followed by moms with 4 or more kids. Freezer meals are LiFeSaVeRs for busy and chaotic lives. For every meal in the freezer that is already to cook and eat--you save one HOUR of time during the week, per meal. OAMC "buys" you time from your own schedule that is used doing what you are already doing--but now you don't have to figure out what's for dinner inbetween the all the running and activities. It also means you save, not only time, but money because we tend to eat more processed and fast foods when we are busier. Store-bought meals also contain loads more sodium and preservatives---which is not so great for your bodies. So this is the ultimate "fast food" because it's homemade and ready to go! (Can you tell that I'm a "pastor" for my passions? Preaching to the choir, right? I usually do my best sermons in the kitchen, wielding a fork.)

This month, I offered 15 dinner options, which included: soups, casseroles, marinades, and entrees. The chicken crepes were requested by one of my ladies that comes faithfully every month. They are a little more labor-intensive then I usually like to get for mass-production, but so worth it in the end! Because of the price of crepes in the grocery stores, I opt to make them from scratch. I had 14 orders for this entree...which meant I needed 112 crepes. I make them on a large griddle, two at a time, using a basic crepe recipes. It took several hours to make the crepes, and thankfully, this was the last meal assembled--with the last crepe coming off the griddle just in the nick of time.

This is one of the recipes that I added to the repertoire last year...and it's an absolute favorite amongst dozens of families now. And it received five stars and pleas to be made again very soon by my own family tonight. So here's the recipe for the great and wonderful Chicken Cordon Bleu Crepes!

Basic Crepes:

1 cup all-purpose flour

2 eggs

1/2 cup milk

1/2 cup water

1/4 tsp salt
2 tablespoons melted butter

Whisk or blend everything except the flour together. Put the flour in a mixing bowl and mix in the wet ingredients gradually, until you have a thin and smooth batter. Heat a lightly oiled griddle or fry pan over medium to high heat. Pour or scoop the batter onto the griddle--between 1/4-1/2 cup, depending on how large you would like your crepe. I tried to keep mine at a uniform size of 7-8 inches in diameter. I spread the batter into a level circular shape with the back of a spoon. Cook the crepe for about 2 minutes and turn when barely starting to brown.

To make the quantity of crepes that we needed, I took this recipe and multiplied it by 6 to make each set of batter--of which we did four batches. Twenty four cups of flour, 4 dozen eggs, a pound of butter, a gallon of went a long ways! By the way--because this is a basic recipe, it would work fabulously for delicious dessert concoctions! Fill them with apple pie filling, fresh strawberries, cream cheese and berries, or just with butter and cinnamon sugar. Yum! But back to making a wonderful dinner....


2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons flour

1 tsp chicken bouillon powder or cube (crushed)

1 1/2 cups milk

1/3 cup shredded Swiss cheese

In a small saucepan, melt butter. Add in the flour and mashed bouillon cube. Stir and let cook for about 1 minute to incorporate the butter and flour together. Gradually whisk in the milk. Bring this to a boil, constantly stirring to avoid scorching. It will thicken and have a nice smooth texture. Add the grated cheese and stir until it melts.

Crepe Filling:

2 cups cooked and cubed chicken
1/2 cup chopped ham--cut into bitty-size pieces
1 cup shredded Swiss cheese or 1 slice of Swiss cheese

For this night, I purchased the Swiss cheese slices. So the ham and chicken were mixed together and divided between 8 crepes. A slice of cheese was added to each crepe and then rolled and placed seam down in a greased baking dish. The sauce was poured over the crepes to complete the assembling. For the OAMC purpose--they are then placed in the freezer to use anytime during the month for a delicious, homemade meal. Just pull them out in the morning to thaw--baking at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes or until heated through. I inadvertantly cooked mine for 40 minutes and they were still perfecto!

Next time I will make enough for leftovers! With kids licking the pan and their plates, we didn't have a single bite left to savor. And just for kicks--the filling can be added to and adjusted to fit any tastes. I think that mushrooms, broccoli, and any variety of onions would be delicious as well. The cheese sauce is the great enhancer to anything you have on hand. I think that these would be so classy served with roasted aspargus and candid carrots. Enjoy!!