Monday, April 14, 2014

Beef and Barley Stew (Slow Cooker)

I thought spring was finally here. On Saturday I was sitting outside soaking in the sun, drinking a beer, and rocking sandals. I thought winter had finally said her goodbyes. But no, I was wrong. Apparently we might get snow tonight. Really? Really? Really?

A ray of sunshine from behind the snow clouds-- I can share this beef and barley stew with you. It is a hearty delicious meal that is perfect for winter days... no matter if it is January or April.

Beef and Barley Stew
1 lb chuck steak, fat trimmed and cut into about 1/2 inch pieces
2 large carrots, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 large onion, diced
10 oz baby portobello mushrooms, sliced thinly
1 tbsp tomato paste
2 cups low-sodium beef broth
14.5 oz can petite cut diced tomatoes
3/4 tsp dried thyme
3/4 cup pearl barley, rinsed
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Heat a large pan over medium-high heat. Add the meat and brown for about 5 minutes. Remove from the pan. Add the carrots and onion to the pan and cook until browned about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook for an additional 7 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook 2 minutes. Dump into slow cooker. Add the meat, broth, tomatoes, and thyme. Cook on high about 3 hours (or low 6 1/2 hours). Stir in the barley and cook for 1 hour on high. Stir in salt/pepper and serve.

Serves about 6.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Shortcut Week Day 5: More Ideas!!

As I mentioned at the beginning of the week, I won't ever judge you if you need to take a shortcut just to get dinner (or lunch or breakfast) on the table. It happens to everyone. As much as I subscribe to the thought that cooking is a relaxing wonderful experience that I love, there are days when I just need a break. Here are some additional ideas that will hopefully make those busy days a little easier.

Quick and easy is essential.

Freezer-friendly recipes are great because you can prep them on the weekend and then just pull them out and cook as necessary.

The handy-dandy crockpot is crucial for nights when you know you'll be working late.

What is your go-to shortcut in the kitchen? I'd love to hear your ideas.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Shortcut Week Day 4: Brie Stuffed Cinnamon Rolls

Homemade cinnamon rolls have been on my bucket list for years. A quick perusal of my Pinterest boards shows at least 15 different recipes for these sweet breakfast treats. A while ago I made homemade cinnamon roll biscuits that were delicious and allowed me to get them to my stomach table in just over a half hour. But they aren't quite the puffy, fluffy, yeasty cinnabon-like rolls that I'm really craving to make from scratch. The ones I want to make take a long time: typically kneading, two rises of at least an hour each, plus baking. I'm sorry but I do not normally put that much effort into breakfast for myself. Now if you (any of you) came to visit and I had an excuse to get up extra early and make you a special treat, maybe I could convince myself the time was worth it.

Since most normal people don't spend hours prepping breakfast, today's shortcut recipe is a great one for when you want to impress your overnight guests. I cannot take credit for this ingenious idea of stuffing cinnamon rolls with brie cheese. One of my friends totally did this first and as soon as she told me about it, I put cinnamon rolls and brie on my grocery list. Oh it lives up to what you would expect. Delicious! And so easy!

Make this on Saturday. Or Sunday. And say thank you to Alison!

Brie Stuffed Cinnamon Rolls
1 package cinnamon rolls with icing
about 1/2 of 6 oz log of brie cheese

Preheat oven to 400 F. Lightly spray a round baking dish with cooking spray.

Slice the cheese into 6 pieces. There is no need to remove the rind. Pop open the cinnamon rolls. Working with one at a time, unroll the cinnamon roll, place of piece of cheese in the center and reroll covering all sides to seal in the cheese. Place into the baking dish.

Bake for 14-18 minutes until hot and browned. Let cool slightly and then spread the icing on top.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Shortcut Week Day 3: Mexican Tortilla Soup

My mom knows I love to cook so when she tries a new recipe that they love, she sends it along. This soup is one of hers. She said "I liked it because it doesn't take very long to prepare - just open the cans and heat!" It kind of resembles one of those 8-can soups but it is Mexican flavored!

All you need is 5 cans (chicken broth, corn, black beans, refried beans, chicken), a jar of salsa, some pre-shredded Mexican cheese, and cumin from your spice cabinet. It is so easy, how can you not make it?

Mexican Tortilla Soup (from my mother)
1 cup salsa (I used medium, but adjust to your desired heat)
15 oz can corn, drained
15 oz can chicken broth
15 oz can fat-free refried beans
15 oz can black beans, un-drained
10 oz can chicken, drained
2 tsp cumin
1 cup shredded Mexican cheese
For serving: tortilla strips or chips, sour cream.

Combine the salsa, corn, broth, beans, chicken, and cumin in a large pot. Heat over medium low until hot, about 15-20 minutes. Stir in cheese. Top with tortilla strips and sour cream, if desired.

Serves 4.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Shortcut Week Day 2: Peanut Butter Brownie Muffins

I was invited to an impromptu dinner party (does it count as a party if there were 3 of us?) the other night and asked to bring a dessert. I could have stopped and picked up ice cream (it was too cold) or packaged cookies (I've never liked those sugar cookies from the store) but you know me, I really wanted to make something. However, I didn't have a lot of time. I had a bag of mini Reeses cups that my mom sent home with me after the holidays so I decided to dazzle up a box of brownies. Apparently I'm not the only one to think of this, so I followed along with a recipe from one of my go-to dessert blogs, Bakerella. This is so easy but no one will be able to tell you took a shortcut with the box. They'll be too excited about the fact you gave them a brownie stuffed with a peanut butter cup!

Peanut Butter Brownie Muffins (adapted from Bakerella)
1 package Double Fudge Brownie Mix (I used Duncan Hines, but any brownie mix should suffice)
2 eggs
1/3 cup water
1/4 cup vegetable oil
15-20 mini Reeses cups, unwrapped

Preheat oven to 350 F. Place foil liners for cupcakes on a baking sheet.

Stir together the contents of the brownie mix, eggs, water, and oil until well mixed. Fill each liner with approximately 2 tbsp of batter.

Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and push a Reeses into the center of each cupcake. Bake about 10 minutes longer until cooked through.

Let cool completely.

Makes 15-20 brownie muffins.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Shortcut Week Day 1: Chicken Salsa Casserole (Slow Cooker)

Are you ready for another theme week?

You know those days when you are just crazy busy. Those times when you just need a shortcut. You must use pre-canned, pre-packaged, pre-cooked things to make your "home-cooked" meals. Otherwise there is no way you will get dinner on the table before 9 pm. It could be that you aren't running from one place to another but you are just feeling lazy. Maybe you don't want to wait for the yeast to rise, or maybe you don't feel like making your own stock, or maybe the thought of standing over the stove stirring risotto makes you want to cry.

Everyone has those days. And it is those days that we are celebrating this week. These dishes are meant to be the ones that you can turn to in a pinch. They promise to bring you the flavor and finesse without the time or work. All you'll have to do is recruit someone to wash the dishes and you will be in the clear.

We'll start the week off using my favorite kitchen appliance, the slow cooker. This chicken salsa casserole has actually been in my recipe box since college. My sister found it in a book (or maybe got it from a friend) and passed it on to me so I'm not really sure where it originated. If you have some diced chicken leftover from a night earlier in the week, this is super easy. Choose your spice level by varying the salsa. This was a hit among my college friends and I'm sure it will be a hit for your friends and family. Just don't tell them how simple it is!

Chicken Salsa Casserole in the Slow Cooker
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 1/2 cups salsa (I used medium)
1 cup shredded Mexican cheese
6 corn tortillas, torn into pieces
2 cups diced cooked chicken breast
1 tsp dried parsley
For topping: diced tomato, sour cream, lettuce

Combine the soup, salsa, cheese, tortillas, chicken, and parsley in your slow cooker. Mix to combine. Cook on low 6-8 hours (it can potentially go for 9 hours but I wouldn't let it go much longer unless you can change it to warm after the 6 hour mark).

Serve garnished with tomato, sour cream and lettuce.

Serves 4.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Banana Oreo Milkshake

On Wednesdays, we wear pink.

Everyone in Africa can read Swedish.

Oh my god, Danny Devito! I love your work.

She doesn't even go here.

I'm not a regular mom, I'm a cool mom.

Stop trying to make fetch happen!

**My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard**

Okay that last one is technically not a quote from "Mean Girls" but the song reminds me of the movie. And anytime I make a milkshake, I sing that song. Yes, I did that when I made this banana oreo milkshake. And if you ask me, I think it will bring all the boys to your yard. Or at least your kitchen.

Banana Oreo Milkshake 
1 frozen banana, cut into chunks
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
2 double stuff Oreos

Combine the banana chunks, milk, and yogurt in a blender. Pulse until fairly smooth. Add the Oreos and pulse until you reach your desired consistency.

Serves 1.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Garlic Sticks

I listen to the radio as I drive to and from work every day which means that typically my entire day only consists of 20 minutes of radio listening. Therefore, I have to pick my station very carefully. In the mornings, I am always hard pressed to find a station playing music constantly so I pick my go-to station by the characters on the morning show. I've settled into a station that I like here and one of the things that they do shortly before 9am (which is typically when I'm finishing up my drive in) is list 5 random facts of the day. Sometimes they are funny, sometimes they make you think, sometimes they are a little gross. But regardless I can start my day off my learning something.

Earlier this week, one of the facts of the day was that not having friends can be hazardous to your health. The study they were quoting apparently said that being friendless is like smoking 15 cigarettes a day. How or why someone measured that is beyond me but it made me thankful for all of my wonderful friends. Throughout all of the stages of my life, my friends have helped to brighten my days and I suppose to keep me healthy. For that, my friends, I thank you. And as I move on to the next stage of my life and make new friends (here's hoping), I want to thank you in advance for keeping me healthy.

So put down those "cigarettes", invite some friends over, and fellowship over these garlic sticks. They are a perfect combination of garlic and cheese and soft and crunch.

Garlic Sticks (Topping adapted from One Preppy Cookie)
1/5 recipe frozen homemade pizza dough (if you want to up the amount of garlic, when you make the pizza dough use garlic infused olive oil instead of regular olive oil)
1 tbsp freshly shredded parmesan cheese
1/8 tsp kosher salt
1/8 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp Italian seasoning
1/4 tsp onion powder
2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup mozzarella cheese

Let the frozen pizza dough thaw over the course of the day in the refrigerator. Remove from the refrigerator and let stand at room temperature covered with towel for 10-30 minutes before baking.

Preheat oven and baking stone to 500F.

Whisk the parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, garlic powder, Italian seasoning, and onion powder into the melted butter.

Roll or pull the dough into a circular shape, as thin as you can; brush with the butter mixture and sprinkle with the mozzarella cheese. Transfer to the preheated baking stone.

Bake for 8-10 minutes until golden and crunchy. Let cool for about 5 minutes before slicing.

Serve with pizza sauce (homemade or other) for dipping.