Monday, March 26

Crock Pot Beef Stroganoff

Earlier this month Roy and I went to Vail for a ski trip with a collection of friends and family.  Although there hasn't been as much snow as normal in the US, Vail was doing ok and we had good weather and a great time as we indulged in the opportunity to eat and drink as much as possible knowing we'd ski it off the next day.  Skiing may not be as relaxing as lying on the beach, but it does have it's perks :)





Vail is spectacularly gorgeous and even when I was stuck at the top of a run, terrified to go down, I was able to take a step back and enjoy the beautiful scenery.  I'm pretty sure I saw the actual Rockies that Coors taps when making their beer.  It was breathtaking.

[Perhaps now is a good time to mention I'm not a skier by nature. This was my second time skiing on real "west coast" mountains and not icy Midatlantic hills.  There were some love days and some hate days during this trip.  But overall the love outweighed the hate and I'm on board to go again next year... although it's easy to say that when "next year" is still 340 days away.] 

Despite coming home to unseasonably warm temps (60's - 80's which is just silly for Chicago in March), we were both craving some hearty winter foods.  Out came the crockpot and the ingredients for beef stroganoff.

I usually use a McCormick's seasoning packet when I make beef stroganoff but after sampling some wild boar stew in Vail, I knew that no seasoning packet would match up.  5 minutes of Internet searching later and I had found this recipe.  With over 2,800 reviews and an average rating of 4.5 out of 5, I felt pretty good with the choice.

I doctored it up quite a bit accordingly to this comment that I found:

"I read almost all of the 400+ reviews and made modifications based on them. To save everyone else some time, here's what they say to do (and what I did...and it came out great): (1) add salt, pepper, and garlic, (2) double the sauce but keep the cream cheese and Worcestershire the same, (3) use Golden Mushroom, not Cream of Mushroom or don't make this at all, (4) reduce the cooking time to about 5-6 hours on low, (5) add a "dollup" of sour cream when you add the cream cheese to get an extra "tang", (6) add a bullion cube, (7) add a half packet of onion soup mix, (8) serve over egg noodles, (9) add sauteed mushrooms about 1/2 an hour before serving. I know this isn't true to the original recipe, but I trusted others and I think it helped. Great slow-cooker recipe."

The reviewer was right.  This recipe didn't disappoint.  The sauce was a beautiful golden brown and had tons of flavor.  It was my first time using Campbell's Golden Mushroom soup.  It blows the original cream of chicken out of the water!  Again, the reviewer was right - do this with Golden Mushroom or don't do this at all.  I also loved the addition of fresh mushrooms.  If you're short on time you can skip the saute part and just toss them straight in the crockpot.

I used cubed stew meat per the recipe's instructions and it was a miss.  Next time I'll spend a few more dollars an upgrade to something that's of better quality. Besides that this recipe was spot on.  It's a good deal more flavor than a McCormick's crock pot packet with only a marginal amount of extra effort.

UPDATED APRIL 3, now with the photos I forgot in the original post. Sorry!




Fantastic tip from Mel at Upgrading Melissa, leave a wooden spoon on or over your pot of boiling pasta. When the pot invariably starts to boil over, this will stop it. Pretty cool and it works! PS: doesn't her recipe for roasted asparagus pasta with balsamic butter sauce look yummy?


Crock Pot Beef Stroganoff
20 mins active, 5-6 hours cook time
Serves 4-6

1 pound cubed beef of your choice
2 (10.75 ounce) cans condensed golden mushroom soup
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup water
1 bullion cube
1/2 packet of onion soup mix
Dash of garlic salt
Freshly ground pepper1 heaping Tbsp of sour cream
4 ounces cream cheese 

In a slow cooker, combine the meat, Golden Mushroom soup, chopped onion, Worcestershire sauce, water, bullion cube, soup mix and water.  Season with a dash of garlic salt and some pepper.

Cook on low setting for 5-6 hours (or high for 3-4).  Add sauteed mushrooms 30 minutes before serving.  Stir in cream cheese and sour cream just before serving.  Best served over egg noodles.

Wednesday, March 21

Squash and Tomato Casserole (Family Favorite)

One of the ways I've upped my daily fruit and veggie intake over the past few months has been by focusing on the veggies I serve with dinner.  It's not enough to grab something healthy and have it in the fridge.  I need something that is delicious enough that it's worth the effort at the end of a long day, or something that is delicious and already prepared (ie: yummy leftovers).  This casserole is that and then some... tasty, full of veggies (and a healthy dose of Velveeta cheese) and better on the 2nd and 3rd days. 

It's an ooold Southern recipe, something that my Mom was making for my Dad before I was even born.  It's a family favorite that pops up a lot at the holidays since it's best when made a day or two ahead.  Ironically, I wouldn't go near it until this past Christmas.  I just recently started to love and eat tomatoes, and despite the fantastic smell, when you're a picky kid it's not the most appetizing looking dish.  I have since seen the error of my ways and will never snub my nose at this one again.


My Mom doctored this and increased the sugar that goes with the tomatoes.  The original calls for 2 tbsp.  With 6 tbsp it's quite sweet which is a wonderful thing for tomatoes to be when served in combination with cheese and squash.  If you're unsure, I suggest going with 4 tbsp the first time you make it.

The original recipe called for full fat Velveeta cheese because back then, 2% wasn't really a thing.  Now a days, we've officially made the change to 2% and while it's a little bit less rich, it's not really noticeable. Make sure you use a large skillet because as you can see, there's a lot of veggies in this one!

Sauteeing squash, onions and herbs

Squash mixed with melty Velveeta cheese

And finally, topped with diced tomatoes

Because this is better on day 2 and 3, it's the perfect thing to make on a Saturday or Sunday and then eat during the week.  I whipped it up on a sunny Saturday while Roy moved the couch back a few feet so the most spoiled dog in the world could nap in a sun spot on the back of the couch. 


In case you were wondering who is in charge in these parts, it is most definitely Foster the Monster.



Squash and Tomato Casserole
Serves 6-8, 30 mins active, 60 mins total

12 small yellow squash, sliced
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 onion, finely minced
pinch of sweet basil
dash of garlic powder
1/8 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 tsp salt
1 8-ounce package 2% Velveeta cheese, cubed
2 16-ounce cans of diced tomatoes, drained
1/4 tsp salt
6 tbsp sugar

Saute squash in a large skillet with oil, onion, basil, garlic powder and pepper.  Stir well, cover and simmer until vegetables start to become limp.  Remove from heat.  Add 1 tsp salt and cubed cheese.  Stir until cheese melts.  Pour into a 9x13 cooking dish.

In pan used for squash, quickly heat tomatoes, 1/4 tsp salt and sugar.  Pour over squash.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Better if made 2-3 days ahead and refrigerated.  May be frozen.

Monday, March 19


Today is a big day in these parts.  My little brother turns TWENTY ONE!  He is officially legal.   

This little guy...






is now this not so little guy...

At the Ft. Myers Ronald McDonald house over the holidays

I feel like we've been counting down to 21 for years now and I can't believe it's finally here.  Unfortunately he's back on the east coast so I can't be there to buy him drinks tonight and Gatorade and greasy food in the morning.  But I can't wait to celebrate together sometime soon and sit at a bar while buying him some legitimate, legal drinks. 

We'll get back to the food posts later this week, but for now I want to raise an imaginary glass in honor of my kick ass little brother!  Ok, or maybe a real glass... after yoga tonight.  Come on, it's a Monday, pretend like a beer or a glass of wine wouldn't make it better ;)


Thursday, March 15

Butter and Cookies as a USDA approved food group??

This article popped up a few months ago in the November 2011 Food Network Magazine and gave me quite a good laugh.  I like cookies and sweets as much as the next person (ok, maybe more) but did you know they used to be actual USDA approved FOOD GROUPS?!?

Check out the shabbily scanned article from November's magazine.  Pretty interesting what the government used to advocate.  A diet of bread, milk and plain cookies in the early 1900's.  And then a revised version that made butter it's own food group in the 1940's. 

It's interesting to see the way our society has developed over the past 100 years.  And how far we still have to go! 

Sunday, March 11

"American" Chicken Enchiladas

Clearly my theme for 2012 is "let's add some veggies!".   On that note, here is a favorite that is very easy.  It's from a family friend down in Florida and I'm calling it "American" chicken enchiladas because while it's delicious, it's decidedly American in it's flavor profile. 


The base for these enchiladas is a rotisserie chicken which makes it about as easy as it can be.  A full rotisserie chicken makes 8 enchiladas which may be a bit overwhelming for a person who is cooking for one or two.  Feel free to cut this in half and use rotisserie chicken leftovers.  Or use two 8x8 dishes and put 4 enchiladas in each.  Then bake the first dish and put the second in the fridge and for bake them for "fresh" enchiladas later in the week. 



The original recipe included just chicken but I've added a green bell pepper and onion to the mix.  I experimented with a red bell pepper and some corn as well but those versions got shot down by the Royfriend.  1 bell pepper and 1 medium onion offer the perfect ratio of veg to chicken. 

The last time I made these I discovered that I'd purchased cream of mushroom soup instead of cream of chicken and what a happy mistake that turned out to be.  The cream of mushroom was much more flavorful!  It made the whole dish creamier and more delicious. 

This is a great recipe to feed a crowd and makes for some yummy comfort food when paired with some chips and guacamole.  And maybe a margarita or two :)


"American" Chicken Enchiladas
Serves 6-8, 30 mins prep, 55 mins total

1 rotisserie chicken, shredded
8oz. Monterrey Jack cheese, finely grated
1 - 10oz. can green enchilada sauce
1 - 4oz. can diced green chiles
1/3 can of condensed cream of mushroom soup
8 - 8inch flour tortillas
1 green bell pepper, roughly chopped
1 medium onion, diced

Shred chicken into a large mixing bowl.  Add grated Jack Cheese, saving some for the top of the enchiladas. Add diced green chiles with liquid in the can, 1/3 can of the mushroom soup, green pepper and onion.  You may add more soup or cheese to make a creamier version. Mix together well.

Spray a 9x13 (or 2 8x8 dishes) casserole with cooking spray. Spoon a thin layer of enchilada sauce on bottom.

Wrap 8 flour tortillas in paper towel. Soften in microwave on high for 30 seconds.  Spoon mixture onto tortillas and roll them snugly.  Place in baking dish with the fold side down.  A 9x13 dish holds 8 enchiladas.  An 8x8 dish will hold 4 enchiladas.

Spoon remaining enchilada sauce evenly over the enchiladas (as much or as little as you like). Sprinkle all the cheese you want on top and bake for 24 mins at 375 degrees until the cheese on top is bubbly and brown.  Serve with a side of sour cream, salsa or guacamole.

You can make ahead, cover & refrigerate. Bring to room temp before putting in oven.

Thursday, March 8

Homemade Banana Bread with Strawberry Jam

I'm not a huge fan of the banana + strawberry flavor combination but this banana bread with strawberry jam has me rethinking my choices.  I first made this as a gift for Roy's family at Thanksgiving. Another guest had made strawberry jam (did you know you could make that in a bread maker?!?! My mind is blown). Lo and behold... banana bread with strawberry jam. 


A few weeks ago as part of my fruit and veggie bender, I overbought on bananas and then they went ripe FAST.  Perfect opportunity for some banana bread! 

I modified this recipe based on some feedback from the reviewers - adding in a cup of natural, no sugar added applesauce and a 1/4 tsp of vanilla.  They were great recommendations, kept the bread very moist!  I also mash my bananas with a potato masher.  So much easier than a fork.  4-5 mashes and you're done. 

As for the jam, I went simple and picked up a jar of Smucker's spreadable fruit.  Feel free to use whatever your favorite is and play around with flavors.  If strawberry isn't your favorite grab something else. 



Homemade Banana Bread
20 mins active, 90 mins total

1 cup granulated sugar
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 large eggs
3-4 ripe bananas
1 tablespoon milk
1 cup natural, no sugar added applesauce
1/4 tsp vanilla
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Butter a 9 x 5 x 3 inch loaf pan.

Cream the sugar and butter in a large mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

In a small bowl, mash the bananas. Mix in the milk, applesauce, vanilla and cinnamon. In another bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

Add the banana mixture to the creamed mixture and stir until combined. Add dry ingredients, mixing just until flour disappears.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake 1 hour to 1 hour 10 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Set aside to cool on a rack for 15 minutes. Remove bread from pan, invert onto rack and cool completely before slicing.

Spread slices with strawberry jam or honey or try serving with ice cream.

Thursday, March 1

Bobby Flay's Vegetable Meatloaf

Last week I promised you a veggie meatloaf recipe from Bobby Flay.  I'm sure several of you were scratching your head thinking "Veggie... meatloaf....??  How does that even work?".  Or you may have been in the non-believer category, thinking there was no way a veggie meatloaf could be good.  But this one is.  And it has Bobby Flay's name and 185 five star reviews to prove it's point.

The base for this meatloaf is ground turkey so you're off to a healthy start.  Then you add in zucchini and 2 bell peppers which is quite a lot of veggies for a little meatloaf pan!  In my opinion, the secret and unexpected ingredient here is balsamic vinegar.  It lends the meatloaf a subtle sweetness that you typically don't associate with meatloaf. 


Full disclosure - this recipe doesn't come without some work.  The prep can take anywhere from 30-60 minutes depending on how much dilly dallying, wine drinking and chip dipping you're doing.  Or how "helpful" your sous chef is.  Roy got relieved from kitchen duty when he tried to mince the zucchini.


However, Foster very much enjoyed this part and scoured the kitchen for whatever flying leftovers he could find.


Then it takes 60-75 minutes to bake.  But it's so worth it.  Plus it makes enough for 8 servings so you'll have some good leftovers to work on.  It's well worth a bit of time on a Sunday afternoon. 

The first time I made this, I made the balsamic glaze for the top of the meatloaf.  But I've skipped it every time thereafter. In my opinion, the balsamic stinks up the house when it's baked this way and I don't really care for the baked balsamic/ketchup mix taste. We go low brow with our sauce - plain ketchup all the way!  However, I included that with the recipe in case you want to try it that way.  But whatever you do, don't skip the balsamic IN the meatloaf.  That part is not optional. 


Try it with some roasted or mashed potatoes and a salad. You'll lick the plate!


Bobby Flay's Vegetable Meatloaf
8 servings, 30 mins active, 90-105 mins total

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small zucchini, finely diced
1 red bell pepper, finely diced
1 yellow bell pepper, finely diced
5 cloves garlic, smashed to a paste with coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 1/2 pounds ground turkey (90 percent lean)
1 cup panko (coarse Japanese breadcrumbs)
1/2 cup freshly grated Romano or Parmesan cheese
3/4 cup ketchup
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Heat the oil in a large saute pan over high heat. Add the zucchini, bell peppers, garlic paste and 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes. Season with salt and pepper and cook until the vegetables are almost soft, about 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Whisk the egg and fresh herbs in a large bowl. Add the turkey, panko, grated cheese, 1/2 cup ketchup, 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar and the cooled vegetables; mix until just combined.

Gently press the mixture into a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan. [Optional:  Whisk the remaining 1/4 cup ketchup, 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar and 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes in a small bowl; brush the mixture over the entire loaf.]

Bake for 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Let rest for 10 minutes before slicing.

Per serving: Calories 270; Fat 14 g (Sat. 4.2 g; Mono. 6.3 g; Poly. 3.1 g); Cholesterol 104 mg; Sodium 451 mg; Carbohydrate 16 g; Fiber 1 g; Protein 20 g