30 April 2010

Baked Potatoes in the Slow Cooker

Still too hot here to turn on the oven, but not hot enough for the air conditioning. All that will change this weekend, though. It's supposed to be 94 and May is a good month to relent and turn on the canned air. I'll be sad to close up all the windows--they won't be open again until October! This recipe for baked potatoes is so incredibly, ridiculously, insanely easy. They also taste better than oven baked potatoes. (Did you know that microwaves steam potatoes, not bake them?)

You will need:

slow cooker
baking potatoes
aluminum foil
2 paper towels

That's it! Scrub the potatoes super, squeaky clean and dry them completely. (I use my potato buddy. So adorable.) You can rub the skins with oil or butter and sprinkle them with salt, but I put butter and salt in the potato before eating it and I figure that's enough. Prick each potato a couple of times with a fork.

Wrap each potato tightly in the foil, place in the slow cooker and turn on low.

Take two paper towels (don't rip them apart from each other) and lay them across the top of the slow cooker, but not down into it. Place the lid on top. That will keep the moisture that builds up from dripping down onto the potatoes.

Cook on low for 10 hours or on high for 4-6 hours.
The potatoes turn a beautiful golden color inside, not white like in the oven. Cooking the potatoes this way gives them a richer, deeper flavor. (Please be careful unwrapping the foil because the potatoes are screaming hot.)

Top with butter,

sour cream,

cheese, etc. Bacon would be awesome, but I was out. Chives, too!

These are so filling that, paired with a salad, you really don't need anything else. Perfect for meatless night (which we do once a week). Absolutely perfect.


27 April 2010

No Bake Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars

I grew up in Virginia, but my family came down to Florida every year, in February, to visit my grandparents. Some years it was chilly, but usually it was hot and my grandparents refused to turn on the air conditioning because, "it's only February!" Even when it was 92. We used to poke fun of them for suffering through the heat, but then my husband, girls, and I moved to Florida. And now I flat out refuse to turn on the air conditioning until May. :) This past Saturday it was 88 outside, 86 in our house, but we all agreed it was still too early in the year for the air conditioning. (We ended up going to the beach to cool off, so I can't really complain.) Anyway, the season of heat is upon us and the very last thing I want to do is turn on the oven. But baking is what I do! It's my stress reliever! Luckily, there are many, many yummy desserts that can be made without using the oven at all. This No Bake Chocolate PB Bars recipe is one of my favorites. I'll be posting lots of slow cooker and stove top recipes for the next few months.

You will need:

2 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 cup peanut butter
1 cup butter (2 Smart Balance sticks)
2 3/4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips*

*One note on the chocolate--you definitely want to use the semi-sweet or dark and not milk. The bars are very sweet and milk chocolate would be overkill.

I make my own graham cracker crumbs, but you can buy them already smashed up in the baking section of any supermarket. I put two packages in a plastic bag, seal it up, and then use a rolling pin to crush the crackers. If you do it this way you'll have about a half cup of crumbs leftover, so 3 cups total from two packages of crackers.

Stir together the cracker crumbs, PB, and butter.

Add the sifted powdered sugar and combine thoroughly.

Press the mixture into a 9x13 pan, no need to grease it.

Melt the chocolate chips in a double boiler. I just use a metal bowl on top of a small saucepan with one inch of water in the bottom. Turn the burner onto low heat and stir often.

After they have melted stir them a few times--the more you stir the shinier the chocolate will become. Then spread over the top of your PB crust.

Chill for about 10 minutes or until the chocolate sets. Then cut the bars into squares, any size you please. Don't let the chocolate get hard or it will crack when you try to cut it. 10-15 minutes tops.

Sooooo good. Sweet, chocolaty, and they don't heat up the house. They don't last long! Great to take to bake sales and pot lucks, too.

You can store these in the fridge, but let them sit out for a few minutes before eating.


This week we are having Mandarin Chicken Salad and Margarita Chicken on the grill.

No Bake Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars

See No Bake Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars on Key Ingredient.

21 April 2010

What's For Dinner?

I have gotten more than a few questions from readers wondering how I decide what to make for dinner each night. So I thought I would detail how I make up the weekly menu. I start by knowing what I already have, i.e. the staples. I always have yellow onions, butter (Smart Balance), Lipton onion soup, white whole wheat flour, skim milk, half and half, eggs, peanut butter, applesauce, Italian bread crumbs, oil, cinnamon, cocoa, brown sugar, whole wheat tortillas, yeast, at least a couple of small potatoes, carrots, frozen green peas and butter beans, canned green beans, ketchup, tomato paste, brown rice, beef and chicken bullion, and Cheerios. Our house is never without these items. I keep a magnetic notepad on the side of the fridge and whenever I find that we are running low on something I add it to the list.

I also have an arsenal of dinner recipes that make a regular rotation in our house. Spaghetti sauce, meatloaf, split pea with ham soup, chicken pot pie, roast, macaroni and cheese, chicken fried rice, tuna noodle casserole, lemon chicken, pork loin, chili, chicken casserole, shepherd's pie, pot roast, Brunswick stew, vegetable soup, macaroni stew, pizza, taco soup, and tacos. Whew. :)

But sometimes I get in a rut, so I ask Bubba and the girls if they have any ideas. I don't know why I bother because the answers are always the same. Tink says meatloaf, Goose says tacos, and Bubba says, "whatever you make, I'll eat." :) :) Such sweethearts, but zero help with meal planning.

I go shopping once a week, Sunday or Monday, and get everything I'll need for the week. I actually prefer to go on Monday mornings because it is less crowded at Wally Mart and...well, because I like to clip the Sunday coupons with a cup of coffee and Desperate Housewives on my DVR. :) I grab the list from the magnetic notepad on the fridge, the coupons, a notebook for making my real list, my recipe box, my Cookbook of Awesomeness, and the magnetic wipe-off board.

Some weeks we have more in the budget than other weeks. That's a factor in what I decide to make, but I always use coupons. I save between $5 and $20 every single week just by clipping coupons from Sunday's paper. I go through them each week and set aside the ones I will need. I have found a little bit of zen in the clipping, organizing, and separating of coupons. :)

If I need ideas I go through my recipe box...

and my Tink-titled Cookbook of Awesomeness. It's a hard folder that holds all the recipes I find online. That's a little past time of mine. Don't get Bubba started on the amount of paper and ink I go through! Tink did the drawing on the cover. How cute is that chick with a frying pan?!!

You can see in the next picture that I write on these recipes about the changes I make (because I rarely make a recipe as written). I also spill things all over the paper.

I go through all the recipes, coupons, and write down the week's meal plan. I always try to have at least one recipe that will last for two days, like chili or stew. I organize my list by toiletries, produce, coffee/bread, frozen, meat, dairy, and the middle (which is everything else that's found in the middle of the supermarket).

Then I write the week's meal plan on a magnetic wipe-off board and stick it on the fridge. I started doing that when I got tired of hearing, "what's for dinner?" sixteen times a day. At least it felt like sixteen times. Now the girls don't ask anymore and take turns writing the menu, erasing meals we have finished, and drawing chickens and rabbits on the board. Bubba still asks "what's for dinner?"

I keep Saturdays free for getting pizza, Chinese, or having hodge podge, which is what we call it when we clean out the freezer. The kids absolutely love it. I got them cafeteria trays and each slot gets a totally different food. It's good to keep a bag of tater tots in the freezer to round out hodge podge night.

Whenever possible I try to pick up an extra ground beef or package of chicken to put in the freezer in case of emergencies. Say one night I go to bed and forget to put the leftover stew, spaghetti sauce, etc in the fridge. That's one night without a meal planned. Here's where the staples come in handy. You can cook up some ground beef with potatoes, onions, salt, and pepper and have hash for dinner. If you don't have a ground beef on hand you can always cut up some onions, saute them in butter, then toss them in a pot and cover them with water and a packet of Lipton onion soup. So good! Saute onions, carrots, green peas, add a cup or cup and a half of beef broth (made with the bullion cubes), put the mix in a small casserole dish with some creamed potatoes on top and you have a meatless Shepherd's pie made with just your staples. And any veggies sauteed in butter go great in some brown rice.

Getting into the habit of making a weekly meal plan takes practice. You have to set aside the time and then stick with the plan. It won't be long before it's easy and just how you do things. You'll also collect your own arsenal of dinner meals.

Some great food blogs to check :
Chickens in the Road (my absolute favorite!!)
Tasty Kitchen (The Pioneer Woman's recipe site. I'm not in love with the format--kind of hard to search for recipes like chocolate cake, but all the cooks are experienced and the recipes are fantastic.)
Smitten Kitchen (much more upscale meals than I cook, great for ideas)
All Recipes (Totally awesome. Fabulous recipes of every type from every type of cook with tons of great feedback so you can get ideas on what does and what doesn't work in the recipe)
How to Cook Like Your Grandmother (just like the title implies, this author's recipe are good old-fashioned home cooking! I love them all!)

Hope this answers some of your dinner planning questions!


15 April 2010

Dental Cleanings and Recipe Revisits

People don't believe me when I say that I love going to the dentist, but I really do! Maybe because I've never had any dental issues or because my mom was a dental hygienist or maybe because my current hygienist is super sweet. Probably all of the above. :) During today's visit we were swapping recipes and I told her about this blog, so I thought I would post a few recipes I think she might like. I can't wait to try the yellow squash casserole and meat pie recipes that she told me about!

Blackberry Pork Loin

Country Chicken Casserole

Hamburger Steak with Gravy

Vegetable Soup

Veggie Casserole

Chicken Pot Pie

13 April 2010

Lemon Cake

I'm sorry for my absence last week! We had house guests (my parents) and things got a bit hectic. My parents have bought a house here in Florida and will finally be moving down! Their new house has a pool so we are all looking forward to a summer of swimming. :) This lemon cake is the perfect kick-off to the warmer weather and will make a great housewarming gift. It's light, fluffy, and the perfect mix of tart and sweet.

You will need:

2 cups cake flour
1 1/4 white sugar
3 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3 egg whites
1 cup milk (skim is fine)
1 tsp lemon extract
zest from one lemon (minus 1 tsp)
1/2 cup butter, melted but cool
1 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp lemon extract
1 tsp lemon zest
milk (amount varies--enough to make thin icing)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour (don't use cooking spray for this cake) two 8-inch round cake pans.

When a cake calls for egg whites (or meringue) I always use All Whites in the little container found in the refrigerated section of the grocery store (near the sour cream and cottage cheese). It works perfectly and you don't have to waste a bunch of yolks. Beat the egg whites (the amount is listed on the container) until they start to thicken but are still moist.

Gradually beat in the 1/4 cup of sugar until soft peaks form. Then set aside.

I really recommend using cake flour, but if you have to substitute use 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour mixed thoroughly with 1/4 cup cornstarch. Sift together the flour, 1 cup of sugar, baking powder, and salt.

Add the milk, lemon extract, zest, and butter to the flour mixture and beat for 2 minutes. (About the lemon extract--you can't substitute lemon juice in this recipe. The pure lemon extract adds a punch of lemon flavor but none of the acids from the actual juice.)

Now fold the egg whites into your cake batter. Combine thoroughly, but carefully. You don't want to squash all the air out of the egg whites. Folding them in carefully will give you a light, fluffy cake!

Pour cake batter evenly between the two prepared pans.

Bake for 25 minutes and then transfer the cakes to a wire rack to cool.

Meanwhile, make the icing. Whisk together the powdered sugar, extract, zest, and milk until very thin and runny.

Place one cake onto a cake pedestal or plate and cover with about a third of the icing. You may need a bit more to get it covered.

Place the second cake on top and pour the rest of the icing over the cakes. Use a knife to help the icing run over the sides.

This cake is so amazing. Perfectly light and fluffy and the lemon is refreshing. Cut a nice thick slice because you won't want to stop eating it once you start!

Don't be intimidated by the egg whites. This cake is easy and super impressive. Take it to a picnic or pot luck and then stand back and let everyone rave on about it. You could very easily make cupcakes out of this recipe. Just fill each cup 2/3 of the way full (you'll probably end up with 24) and drizzle on the icing after they are cool.


While my parents were visiting I made my spaghetti sauce, roasted green beans, German chocolate cake, dinner rolls, strawberry shortcake, and blueberry muffins.

Fluffy Lemon Cake

See Fluffy Lemon Cake on Key Ingredient.