Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Lasagna Cups

I have seen on Pinterest recently a lot of lasagna cup recipes and decided to try my hand at making them.  I will warn you that these are kind of labor intensive, just as much as making regular lasagna, if not more.  So this would be a good recipe to keep for weekends, special occasions or when you're having guests over for dinner!  They're well worth it though, they're delicious and look really cool!

1 jar spaghetti sauce- any flavor or brand would do, I used Ragu meat flavored because I didn't want any big chunks in the sauce
1 lb. ground beef
1 10 oz. tub Philadelphia Italian Cheese and Herd Cooking Cream
1/2 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese
2 cups shredded Italian cheese blend (I always grab the 4 cheese Italian blend but just mozzarella would work)
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1 egg
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp basil
1 bay leaf
1 box of lasagna noodles

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Noodles- Fill a large pot with enough water to cook all the noodles, make sure to add salt to the water.  Bring that to a boil and gently add lasagna noodles, making sure to keep them in tact. Add a little olive oil to the water while the noodles are boiling, this will prevent them from sticking to each other.  Cook the noodles for about 8 minutes, you don't want them completely done.  Remove the noodles from the pot and place on a cookie sheet lined with foil, set aside.

Sauce- Brown ground beef in skillet.  Whenever I cook ground beef I always add spices to it while it's cooking.  I used dried minced onions, garlic powder, basil, oregano, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper.  Drain meat after it's completely browned then add the entire jar of spaghetti sauce and a bay leaf.  Let that simmer on medium low heat for about 10 minutes.

Cheese filling- Mix together cream cheese, Parmesan cheese, ricotta cheese, egg and spices until well incorporated, set aside. 

Now the fun part!  This part can be a little tricky but if you're patient you'll get great results!  I used my jumbo muffin tin for this recipe and for how much filling you need to put in each cup I would say that is the best pan to use.  I cut 12 squares of parchment paper big enough to line each cup.  I pushed each square into the cup, it's okay if it doesn't look pretty, it's there for function!  Now you're going to wrap each of the cups with one whole lasagna noodle around the sides.  This is a little tricky at first because the noodles will be kind of sticky but just take your time.  The noodles will overlap a few inches but that's what they are supposed to do.  Now that you have each cup lined with a noodle now you're going to build inside the cup.  Take the remaining noodles and cut into 5ths.  I have a handy pair of kitchen shears that I used to do this but a knife would work just as well too.  Grab a couple of measuring spoons and starting with the sauce you're going to spoon about a 1/2 tablespoon of sauce into the bottom of each cup.  Next, press one noodle piece into the cup on top of the sauce.  Top noodle with a generous tablespoon of sauce,  a generous tablespoon of cheese mixture, a sprinkle of the Italian cheese blend and then another noodle.  Press down on the noodle gently to compact the layers.  Then you're going to start all over: sauce, cheese mixture, Italian cheese and then one more noodle.  Once again, press down gently on the noodle to compact the layers.  Add another heaping tablespoon full of sauce on the top of the noodle then you're going to top all of the cups off with the remainder of the Italian cheese.

Pop the cups into your 350 degree oven for 25-30 minutes or until the cups are bubbly.  Once the cups are done, pull them out of the oven and you're going to want them to rest for about at least 10 minutes.  This gives the lasagna a chance to set up, other wise it'll just fall apart when you try to eat it.  Once you've let them sit, lift the cup out of the pan by pulling up on 2 of the sides of the parchment paper.  Slide the lasagna cup off of the parchment paper with a knife.  The noodle that is on the outside is going to be a little crunchy and not really consumable so what we do is peal back the noodle until it exposes the softer part of the noodle then you're ready to enjoy!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

White Chili

dinner chili deliciousI never thought that chicken and chili would go together but if you haven't tried white chili it's something you at least have to try once!  It's kind of a combination of chili and chicken tortilla soup.  I got a recipe online that I made once and since I've made it several times I've done a lot of tweaking to it to really make it my own.  This is my recipe for White Chili.  Enjoy!

3-4 boneless chicken breasts
4 cans chicken broth
6 cans Great Northern beans
1 4 oz can diced green chiles
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 package Monterrey Jack cheese
1 bag of Frito's

Place the chicken in the bottom of a large stock pot.  Season chicken (about 5-6 shakes of each) with salt, pepper, dried chopped onions, garlic powder, cumin and oregano.  Pour 3 cans of the broth around chicken until chicken is completely covered.  If you need to use more broth to cover the chicken it won't make much difference.  There's 2 ways you can cook the chicken: You can either simmer it on low heat for a couple hours to make it super easy to pull apart or you can just boil it on medium high heat for about 20 minutes. 

Once chicken is cooked, remove from pot and shred and then return to the pot.  Next, add the last can of chicken broth, 2 tsp cumin, 2 tsp oregano, 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper and green chiles.  Since I don't like chunks of peppers I puree my chiles in my food processor first but you can leave them as big as you'd like.  You're going to mix all this together and bring it to a boil.

Reduce heat to low and now you're going to add the beans.  I take 2 cans of the beans, drain one of  them and then mash them up in my food processor.  You could do this with a blender, a Bullet or even by hand if needed.  I add the mashed beans to the pot and then I drain 2 of the other cans of beans add those and with the remaining 2 cans I add them to the pot undrained.  Stir really well to get everything mixed together and now you're going to let it simmer for at least 30 minutes.  Once you're ready to eat, pour into bowls, top with cheese and Frito's and enjoy!

*Sometimes the chili comes out soupier than I like, so I will mix together 1/3 cup cold water with 3 tbsp corn starch and stir it into the chili.  This typically thickens it right up.  You can repeat this step a couple more times if necessary.

My Adventures in Cake Decorating

1st birthday boy
birthday cake boy one

Every year for my oldest son's birthday I made him a cake.  I would always bite off more than I could chew but somehow pulled it together in the end.  I've actually come to really enjoy making the cakes but can see the look of panic on my husband's face whenever I talk about the next cake I'm going to make!  I usually spend hours just trying to find the right ingredients and mostly I'm successful but sometimes the image I have in my head doesn't get brought to life.  This year was no exception with Parker's first birthday!  I found a couple of pictures on Pinterest that I thought were totally do-able so I made my plan of attack!  The lion cake was for Parker's smash cake and it went surprisingly very smooth!  The most tedious part was putting all the chow mein noodles on for its mane, that sucked!  I was quite pleased with how it turned out though.  The "ONE" cake was a totally different story though.  The "O" was simple enough because it was just an 8" round cake but I had to cut out the "N" and the "E".  The cutting out part was easy because I had made a template for it but the dirty icing part was horrible!  The cake just literally was crumbling as I was trying to dirty ice it.  I had a moment of panic thinking "oh my gosh, this isn't going to work!"  I took a second though to collect my thoughts, said lots of prayers and moved on.  I somehow pulled it together and was incredibly pleased with how it all turned out.  The best part was that the cake also tasted good!  That's always a pleasant surprise!  Now I have 6 months to plot my next cake for Mitchell's 4th birthday!

Here are the other cakes I have made:

1st birthday cake sports boysbaseball smash cake

         This was the cake I made for Mitchell's 1st birthday.  It was a "Baby All-Star" theme.

mickey mouse clubhouse cupcakes cakemickey mouse clubhouse cake
         The cupcakes I made for Mitchell's 2nd birthday.  Mickey Mouse Clubhouse was the theme.

        For Mitchell's 3rd birthday it was a rockstar theme so I made him this guitar cake.

Friday, May 18, 2012

5 Layer Mexican Dip

 This is a dish that I mostly make for work pot lucks.  It's one that Sean requests a lot for me to make because it's easily portable and just down right yummy!  There are several variations you can do to this recipe depending on how you like your Mexican dip.  I make this just slightly spicy but you could really spice it up by adding chili's and more Tabasco.  I don't have an exact recipe for this, it's pretty much different every time I make it so feel free to be as liberal or conservative with the spices as you see fit! 

16 oz sour cream
1/2 packet of Taco Seasoning
2 16 oz cans of refried beans
8 oz package of Mexican cheese
16 oz jar of salsa
1 bag of shredded lettuce

In a large bowl (I use my Kitchenaid stand mixer) combine sour cream and HALF of the packet of taco seasoning.  Using the entire packet overwhelms the sour cream so make sure to only use half or slightly less than half.  Mix together really well and then you're going to add some spices.  The spices I use for this recipe are:
garlic powder
onion powder
salt and pepper
mild chili powder
Cayenne pepper
Tabasco (typically 6-8 drops)

Once you've added the seasoning, mix it all up really well to make sure it's completely incorporated.  Give it a taste, or in my case have your husband taste it, and see if it's good.  There's typically something more you're going to want to add, Sean always wants more garlic and Tabasco.

Now you're going to start your layering.  Since I typically make this to travel then I use a disposable 9x13 foil pan but you could use any 9x13 pan.  The first layer is going to be the refried beans.  I dump the 2 cans into the bottom and use a rubber spatula to spread it all around and get it as even as I can.  I then sprinkle mild chili powder over the top to give it a nice dusting.

Next comes the sour cream layer.  Once again, dump the whole thing on top of the refried beans and spread it out evenly.

Next layer is the salsa.  You can use as much or as little of the salsa as you like, I typically use the whole jar.  Dump it on top of the sour cream layer and spread it out evenly.
On top of that sprinkle the cheese then sprinkle on the lettuce and you're done!

I would definitely suggest making this the night before.  When it sits in the fridge all night it gets really good flavor to it and the juices and spices play together nicely.  I buy the Tostitos Scoops to go with this because it definitely is a hardy dip so you'll need a chip that can handle it.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Oh Lord have mercy!

Not a recipe but wanted to share with you some righteous chips my friend Madison got me hooked on!  Sun Chips 6 Grain Medley Creamy Roasted Garlic chips are my new addiction (eating them as I type this).  I've never been a fan of Sun Chips but these are amazing and not that bad for you either!  I've noticed recently that the multi grain things that are coming out are actually super good!  I also LOVE the multi grain Tostitos.  The multi grain gives them a kind of sweet taste.  I find myself picking up a bag of these every time I'm at the store.  Curse you Madison!  :)

Coconut Oil

A couple of months ago my mom was telling me about all the health benefits of coconut oil and what a difference it makes in cooking so I decided to try it.  Wow.  Once you try it you'll never go back to using vegetable oil!  I found a couple of articles online about all the health benefits and all the different uses for coconut oil and it's just amazing.  Coconuts really are one of nature's most perfect foods.  I use it almost everyday in my cooking and use it in baking as well.  I originally started off using an organic version I found at the store but with how much I used it I was able to find a much bigger package of it at Wal-Mart.  Since whether or not it was organic didn't bother me I decided to use it instead.  It comes in somewhat of a solid form which first weirded me out because I was expecting it to be liquid like most oils.  It does melt at a very low temperature which is really helpful when you're using it for baking.  When I use it for baking, I'll measure out how much I need and then I'll pop it into the microwave in a measuring cup for a couple seconds to get it liquefied, especially if I'm using it in a cake or brownie batter.  I've used it for pretty much everything I've needed oil for since the very first time I used it.  Occasionally I still do use olive oil but I could myself phasing that out too.  Don't be fooled by the name because it has no coconut flavor to it at all, it takes on whatever flavor you're cooking.  I'm excited to try using it for some of the things I've read about on these website.

Parmesan Green Beans

The first time I made these Sean gave me this look like he fell in love with me all over again!  Once again, a super simple recipe that tastes like you slaved all day over it!

Package of fresh green beans, trimmed and washed  (as many or as little as you'd like)
Olive oil
Salt and Pepper
Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Place green beans in a bowl and lightly sprinkle olive oil on top, just enough to coat all the beans.  Now add your salt and pepper (to taste) and mix until everything is coated.  Lay your green beans onto a cookie sheet (I'd definitely suggest putting some foil down first) and then sprinkle a healthy amount of cheese on top, I coat the suckers!  Bake for about 15-17 minutes.  Green beans should be crisp outside but tender inside.  Keep an eye on them once they reach about 14 minutes because you don't want a bunch of shriveled up green beans!  Transfer to serving plate and there you have it. 

*This would also be great on asparagus!

Crock Pot Chicken and Stuffing

This is an incredibly easy meal that tastes like you spent all day on it!  I'm making this tonight for dinner and already the smell is amazing. 

4 thawed chicken breasts
Box of Stove Top stuffing mix (any flavor will do
  but I use chicken)
1/2 cup sour cream
1 can Cream of Chicken soup
1 cup milk

First and foremost- salt and pepper both sides of your chicken.  ALL protein needs to be salt and peppered before it's cooked.  To not salt and pepper it is to do it a disservice!  Be kind to your protein and season!

Put your chicken in the bottom of the crock pot.  Pour the package of dry stuffing over the top and pat it down so it is evenly coating the chicken.  Next, you're going to combine the sour cream, soup and milk in a small bowl and stir until well incorporated.  Pour the mixture evenly over the top of the stuffing.  Put the lid on and cook on LOW for about 4 hours.  If you need this to cook longer it could probably go as long as 6 hours but any longer would dry it out too much. 
When you're ready to eat, spoon out the chicken and stuffing and place on plate.  The soup mix acts as a gravy and you'll be amazed at how incredibly juicy and tasty the chicken is! 

Tonight I'll be serving the Parmesan Green Beans with this as well.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Pretzel Kisses

Snack pretzel kissThese are so incredibly easy it's ridiculous! They taste amazing and really hit the spot when you want something sweet AND salty!

Bag of tiny twist pretzels
Bag of Hershey's Kisses
Bag of plain M&M's

Just melt Kisses onto the pretzels (275 degrees for 3 minutes). Remove and immediately press a single M&M into the center of the Kiss. Refrigerate to harden and then enjoy!

You could make all sorts of different variations of these, especially around holidays. I'm thinking white chocolate Kisses with green and red M&M's for Christmas! You could also just use orange and yellow M&M's for Halloween, white Kisses with pink and red M&M's for Valentine's...the possibilities are endless!

Crock Pot Ranch Pork Chops

A very simple, low maintenance recipe that produces amazing results! This has become one of our staples. I have made the recipes 2 ways: just as written with the real mashed potatoes but I have also made it with boxed Hungry Jack potatoes and added garlic and seasoning to the potatoes and I gotta tell ya, not much difference between the two!

4-6 boneless pork chops (I use butterfly)
1 packet dry Ranch dressing seasoning
1 can Cream of Chicken Soup
1/2 cup milk

Salt and Pepper pork chops. Place pork chops in bottom of Crock Pot.  Mix together Ranch seasoning, soup and milk in a bowl and then pour over porkchops.  Cook in crock pot on low for about 6 hours or on high for 4 hours. 

4 lbs peeled, cubed potatoes
5 tbsp real butter
6 cloves roasted garlic (directions are below)
1- 1 1/2 cups warm skim milk
Salt and pepper to taste

Place potatoes into a large pot of cold water. Place onto stove top over high heat and bring to a boil. Once water is boiling, cook for 10-12 minutes or until potatoes are fork tender. Drain and transfer to the bowl or a stand or electric mixer. Mix on low until potatoes are mashed then add butter, garlic, milk, salt and pepper. Season to taste.

Place a large heap of mashed potatoes on plate, top with a pork chop then drizzle some of the gravy from the crockpot on top. 

Directions for roasted garlic
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place bulb of garlic with skins on, wrap lightly in tin foil and bake for 1 hour. Remove from foil and let cool for 15 minutes. Remove garlic from skins, place in a bowl and mash with a fork until completely mashed

Peanut Butter Cup Brownie Cookies

I'm not even sure what to call these because they're a cookie, a brownie, a muffin and have Reese's peanut butter cups in them! Yes, yes, yes and yes please!

1 package pre-cut refrigerated chocolate chip cookie dough
Reese's bite size minature peanut butter cups
1 box brownie mix (you'll also need whatever the ingredients on the brownie box are)

I used a mini muffin pan that had 24 cups in it so I kept my quantities pretty small. I had 24 pre-cut cookies so I cut them all in half. Spray your muffin pan with cooking spray then press cookie dough into bottom of cup. Then, press peanut butter cup into the cookie dough and then top that with a little bit of brownie mix. Since the cookie dough and brownie mix will expand when baking, make sure to leave enough room in the cup for it to bake. Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 12 minutes or until the brownies look done. I did stick a toothpick just barely into the top to make sure the brownie was done. Let cool for several minutes before removing from pan and sit on cookie rack to finish cooling.

Bacon, Egg and Toast Cup

One word: Delicious!! Super easy too!

6 slices of bacon, uncooked
6 slices of bread
1/2 cup shredded Colby Jack cheese
6 eggs
Salt and pepper
2 tbsp melted butter

Preheat oven to 400° F. Spray large muffin pan with cooking spray or you can line each cup with parchment paper

In a frying pan, cook bacon about 3-5 minutes, until partially cooked but not completely crispy. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. With a cookie cutter or a glass turned upside down cut round circles into each piece of bread.  Butter each side of the bread rounds and then press into the greased muffin wells. Curl a piece of bacon around the periphery of each piece of bread.  Sprinkle a small amount of shredded cheese in the center of each piece of bread. Crack one egg over each piece of bread being careful not to break the yolks.  Top with a little salt and pepper.
Bake until eggs are cooked through and bacon is crispy, about 15 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of each muffin well and pop the egg cups out. .