Friday, October 24, 2014

Pumpkin Cheesecake (made in the slow cooker!)

At the risk of repeating myself, I love all things Fall.  I love the beautiful weather, the new shows on television, sweaters and boots, but especially, pumpkin!  This time of year, I go a little pumpkin nutty.  I put pumpkin in everything!  My coffee (of course), muffins, pancakes, syrup, gravy, everything.  But I think this is my favorite, pumpkin cheesecake!  It is creamy and wonderful and spiced just right.  The mixture of cream cheese and ricotta cheese makes it so delicious.  Bonus:  you make it in a slow cooker!  Seriously!  I saw a lady do this on T.V. and had to try it.  I changed the recipe up a bit (added pumpkin for starters) and it came out great.  The moist cooking environment keeps the cheesecake from cracking (like it can in the oven).  Here's how I did it:


PUMPKIN CHEESECAKE

1 cup ricotta cheese
4 oz cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling! Plain pumpkin)
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
Zest of half an orange
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
pinch of salt
graham cracker crust (I buy the pre-made kind)

In a food processor (or stand mixer), puree the ricotta cheese until smooth (scrape down the sides as needed).  Add the cream cheese and process until smooth.  Add the sugar and process long enough so that it is not grainy (a minute or two).  Add the eggs, pumpkin, vanilla, orange zest, pumpkin pie spice and salt.  Process until smooth.



Place a bowl in your slow cooker.




Place a plate on top of the bowl.  This makes a stable surface for your cheesecake to sit on.  You don't want it directly on the bottom of the slow cooker.  It'll be too hot.




Place the crust on the plate.



Pour the batter into the crust.




Place a thick layer of paper towels (4 or 5) over the top of the slow cooker.  Don't let the paper towels touch the cheesecake.  The paper towels keep the condensation from falling down on to the cheesecake.



Put the lid on tight and cook on HIGH for 2 hours or until the cheesecake is set in the middle. (Don't keep lifting the lid to check on it!  Once you lift the lid, it takes a long time for the slow cooker to regain heat).



Let cool for 30 minutes then place in the fridge and chill.  I let it chill overnight, but it should be ok after a few hours.





All I can say is YUM!  If you like pumpkin pie, you will like this.  It's so creamy and spiced just right.  Plus, I just think it's cool that I made a cheesecake in the slow cooker.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Pork Chops with Apple Butter Gravy

I just adore Autumn.  But, living in South Louisiana, I don't see much of it.  Every now and then we get a glimpse of beautiful Fall weather, like the last few days.  Low humidity, sunshine and cool nights, just glorious!  Most years we get two Summers and head right into Winter.  So, I enjoy these days as much as I can and "Fall It Up".  By that, I mean I sit outside more, add pumpkin to just about everything, take my sweaters out and gaze at them lovingly, and make Fall Food.  This recipe is a great example of Fall Food.

PORK CHOPS WITH APPLE BUTTER GRAVY

4 bone-in pork chops (the bone adds great flavor)
2 TBS canola oil
salt/pepper
ground thyme
2 TBS soy sauce (I like low sodium variety)
2 TBS apple butter
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup water

Season the pork chops with salt, pepper and ground thyme on both sides.  Let them sit out on the counter for about 15 minutes (by taking the chill off the meat, it will cook more evenly and be more tender).  Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add canola oil.  Brown the pork chops on each side (about 3-4 minutes per side, depending on thickness).  Remove to a plate and set aside.  With the skillet still on medium-high heat, add the water and scrape the bottom of the pan to get up the bits of meat stuck to the bottom (flavor!).  Add soy sauce and apple butter.  Let this simmer (lower the heat a bit) for a few minutes.  Then, add the chicken broth and salt and pepper to taste (be careful because the soy and broth can be salty).  Return the pork chops to the skillet and let them simmer in the gravy for 10 minutes (flip them over halfway through).




That's it!  Super easy and so delicious.  This dish definitely tastes like Fall!  The pork goes so well with the sweet and spice of the apple butter.  Fall on a plate!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Broccoli Cheese Soup

The other day I got a hankering for broccoli cheese soup.  I called the hubby to see if he would swing by Quiznos and pick some up.  He told me that Quiznos had closed down!  Aw man!  I love their broccoli cheese soup.  What was I to do?  I searched the kitchen and guess what?  I had everything I needed to make it myself.  And boy was it good!

BROCCOLI CHEESE SOUP

2 TBS butter
2 TBS flour
1/2 an onion, diced
2 cups milk
1 cup chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese (shred it yourself)
1 cup shredded Velveeta
1 (12 oz) pkg frozen chopped broccoli
Salt/pepper

Microwave the broccoli according to the package directions.  Meanwhile, in a large pot, melt butter.  Saute the diced onion in the butter until soft (about 5 minutes).  Sprinkle the flour over the butter.  Let it cook, stirring, for a few minutes.  Salt and pepper (to your taste).  Whisk in the milk.  Bring it to a boil, whisking.  Once it comes to a boil, lower the heat and simmer until it thickens (it doesn't take long).  Add the chicken broth (to make it totally vegetarian, use vegetable broth instead), then add all of the shredded cheese.

A note about cheese:  Don't use the pre-shredded stuff!  It has some weird stuff on it to keep it from sticking together in the bag and it doesn't melt well.  Shred it yourself.  It's so much better!  And the reason I use cheddar and Velveeta is because cheddar has great flavor and the Velveeta makes it super smooth.  Good combo.

Once the cheese melts, add in the cooked broccoli.  Taste it and see if it needs more salt and/or pepper.  At this point you can leave it as it is (with big chunks of broccoli) or you can use an immersion blender to puree it.  I just got an immersion blender so, of course, I pureed mine.  (I love kitchen gadgets!). But, it's good chunky, too.




Smooth, creamy, cheesy goodness!  Sorry Quiznos, I like mine better.



Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Buffalo Baked Chicken

Just about everyone likes buffalo wings.  Delicious flavor, crispy skin, tender meat, yum!  That was the inspiration for this simple supper.  And, SURPRISE, my pickiest eater ever son loved it!  Woohoo, mom win!  Here's how you make it:

BUFFALO BAKED CHICKEN

Bone-in chicken thighs (you can use legs, too)
Salt/pepper
Louisiana hot sauce (I like Crystal brand)
Butter

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Meanwhile, salt and pepper the chicken on both sides.  Rub a little (or a lot) hot sauce into the chicken.  Massage it a little so it gets all over the chicken (under the skin, too).  Let the chicken sit a while (your preheating the oven anyway).


Cut butter into thin pats.  Place one pat on top of each piece of chicken.  This will help with the flavor and help crisp the skin.


Bake in preheated 400 degree oven for 30 minutes.



The chicken is crispy on the outside, tender and juicy on the inside.  Plus it makes a delicious little "sauce" on the bottom of the pan.  Spoon this over the chicken to make it truly decadent.  If you like things really spicy, add a lot of hot sauce.  If not, just use a little.  It will give it a wonderful flavor without being too hot to handle.  This one is definitely a keeper.  Anytime my pickiest eater ever son comments not once, not twice, but three times that he likes a dish, it becomes part of the repertoire.  (And I smile the smile of a truly happy Mom)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

(Crock) Pot Roast

My Old School Italian Husband loves pot roast.  It's one of his favorite dishes.  You know, slow cooked roast beef with potatoes, onions, celery and carrots that's simmered all day on the stove.  It is delicious but kind of a pain in the neck.  I mean, who has time to babysit a roast?  You gotta keep checking the liquid level and adding more water blah blah blah.  Who needs it?

I get the same result just sticking everything in the crock pot!  It's super easy.  I just throw it together in the morning and forget about it.  Then, I have a yummy, comforting supper waiting for me that evening.  My husband gets his pot roast and I get to relax all day!  Win win!

(CROCK) POT ROAST

2 - 3 lb. Chuck roast (great use for inexpensive cut of meat)
2 medium russet potatoes, cut into chunks
1 cup baby carrots
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
Salt and pepper
14 oz can diced tomatoes (no salt added)
1 packet brown gravy mix (McCormick)
1 tsp Italian seasoning

Place potatoes, carrots, celery and onions into crock pot.



Season with salt and pepper.  Place roast on top.  Season roast with salt and pepper.



In a large measuring cup, mix canned tomatoes (including juice), gravy mix and Italian seasoning.  Stir well.  (I zip it in the blender because my pickiest eater ever son hates tomatoes but likes tomato sauce.  Go figure.  But you can skip the blender if you like chunks of tomato).  Pour over the roast.





Cover crock pot and cook on low 6 - 8 hours.  The meat will shrink but it becomes tender and juicy and so delicious!  The tomatoes help to tenderize the meat and form a wonderful gravy.  The veggies soak up all the flavors, too.  Yum!








This recipe is a must try.  You'll love how easy it is and your family will love how yummy it is.  Like I said, win win!






Monday, September 22, 2014

Cutie Pies

Making a pie crust from scratch can be pretty intimidating.  I was lucky enough to learn when I was a freshman in high school.  My home ec class learned to make a pie crust, then we got to choose what kind of pie to make with it.  I chose to make this weird jello pie with strawberries, bananas and whipped cream.  (What was I thinking?  I couldn't tell ya).

Anyway, making a crust can be a little tricky. Getting the right amount of fat to flour.  Adding in just enough cold water but not too much.  Usually, it's just easier to buy one of those prepared refrigerated pie crusts in a box.  But, I recently came across a recipe that seemed so easy and almost foolproof.  I tried it and it came out great!  It's made with a combo of butter and cream cheese.  It's very forgiving.  You don't have to worry about it not coming together.  It really does work every time!  Plus, I almost always have butter and cream cheese in my fridge so when I get a hankering for pie I can just throw this together.  No trips to the grocery store.  Here's the recipe for the crust and how to make the cutie pies with it.

CREAM CHEESE PIE CRUST

1 stick butter, softened
4 oz cream cheese, softened
1 cup all purpose flour

Mix butter and cream cheese together in a mixer (or a food processor) until smooth.


Add flour and mix just until incorporated.  Place the dough into a zip bag and chill for 30 minutes in the fridge.


Once chilled, roll it out on a a floured surface (put some flour on your rolling pin, too.  If you don't have one, use a smooth glass).


Roll it out to about 1/4 inch thick.  Using a biscuit cutter (or circle cookie cutter or even that glass), cut out circles.


Lay half of the circles onto a cookie sheet.  Spoon some pie filling (not too much or it will explode) onto the center of each.  I used canned cherry pie filling that I doctored up with a little pure vanilla extract.


Place the other half of the dough circles on top of each.  Seal the edges by pinching (or just use a fork to crimp the edges).  I have a Cut-n-Seal gadget from Pampered Chef.  It cuts the circle then seals it when you press down on the plunger.  I love kitchen gadgets.  It's a problem.  Trust me a fork works just as well.



Using a sharp knife, cut a slit or two in the top.  This will let the steam escape and keep the pie from exploding in the oven.


Next, brush a little egg wash on each.  Egg wash is just an egg and a little bit of water whisked together.  This helps the top brown and look shiny.


Sprinkle a little sugar on top of each.



Bake at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes or until golden brown.



These are cute (hence the name) little handheld pies.  Perfect for any filling.  Try pumpkin spiced with vanilla, cinnamon, ginger and cloves.  Apple cinnamon is always a favorite (just add some cinnamon to canned apple pie filling).  You could even use Nutella as a filling.  

This crust works for sweet or savory pies.  It would be great for a chicken pot pie, crawfish pie or even a quiche.  It's so easy you just have to give it a try!  Your friends and family will be so impressed when you tell them you made it from scratch.  If they only knew just how simple it was.  (I won't tell if you don't).

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Chicken in a Bundt Pan

Have you ever heard of beer can chicken?  It's when you balance a chicken on top of a can of beer (in other words, the can is up the cavity).  Sounds gross, I know.  But when you roast a chicken sitting up like that it gets crispy on all sides.  Really yummy!  Well, I always had a hard time getting the chicken to stay on the beer can.  It would wobble or fall over and be a big mess.  So, I decided to try something a little different.  I have a stoneware bundt pan (from Pampered Chef) and it makes the perfect vessel for roasting a chicken sitting up.  It keeps it nicely in place while in the oven.  Plus, it has room to add veggies!  Here's how you do it:


CHICKEN IN A BUNDT PAN

1 whole chicken (3-4 lbs)
Potatoes, carrots, celery
Canola oil
Italian seasoning
Salt and pepper

Place your oven rack in the lower part of your oven.  You need room for the chicken (remember it's sitting upright).  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Cut up a few potatoes and a few carrots (or use baby carrots) into medium sized chunks.  Lay them in the Bundt pan.



Stuff a couple celery stalks (including the leaves) into the cavity of the chicken.  This flavors it from the inside out.


Next, use some paper towels to dry the chicken.  This will help it roast in the oven instead of steaming.  It also helps the seasoning stick.


In a small bowl, combine some canola oil, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper.  Whisk it together.


Brush this all over the chicken.


Sit the chicken on the tube of the bundt pan.


Tuck the wings up under themselves to keep them from burning.


Place the bundt pan onto a cookie sheet (makes it easier to handle) and place in the preheated oven.


Bake until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees.  (1 1/2 hours or so).


Let rest a few minutes before carving.


Roasting a chicken this way is great because it gets crispy on all sides.  Plus the juices drip down all over the veggies underneath.  So delicious!  Plus, it's easy!  Anyone can do it.  So, pull that bundt pan out of the cabinet and give it new life.