Thursday, December 29, 2011

End of the Rainbow

Crock-Pot Mac n' Cheese
I've got a real treasure for you today, think of this as a New Year's gift from me to you. There's not much to discuss about this recipe, because it's darn close to perfection in a bowl. Mac n' Cheese cooked in the Crock-Pot. Need I say more? It's easy, amazingly delicious and pennies per serving.

When all of us are tired after a slew of holiday baking, what can be better than throwing some ingredients in a Crock-Pot with minimal effort and hours later eating something delicious? I made this for a large group and must have "taste tested" it a dozen times - it was that good. Add diced ham or broccoli and make this a meal!

I feel like a leprechaun at the end of a rainbow who found his little pot of gold. Cheesy metaphor...I know (no pun intended). Enjoy!

Crock-Pot Mac n' Cheese
Cast of Characters: Elbow macaroni, milk, evaporated milk, butter/margarine, eggs, cheddar cheese soup, shredded cheese.

Cook pasta as directed on box.

Mix together remaining ingredients.

Combine cooked pasta and cheese mixture. Set on HIGH.
Make this tonight! You won't be disappointed.

Source Recipe: Lynn's Kitchen Crock-Pot Mac n' Cheese

I've added this recipe to my stockpile of favorites. I'm super excited about the great taste, high quantity and low cost because I cook for large groups of people a lot (church, parties, potlucks, etc). I think it would be fun to have a "Mac n' Cheese" bar with lots of fixins': steamed veggies, bacon, parmesan bread crumbs, ground hamburger, whatever! Or serve it in plastic shot glasses at a party for a Mac n' Cheese Shooters appetizer. What are your slow-cooker favorites? For the purists, I did make homemade Macaroni and Cheese here: *Girl From Scratch Homemade Mac n' Cheese. Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Now Bring Me Some Figgy Pudding!

Crock-Pot Rice Pudding
Every year when I sing that popular Christmas song I'm never quite sure what figgy pudding is, but I do know rice pudding is and that's all that matters for today's post. Rice pudding is one of my all-time favorite desserts, it's warm, creamy and comforting with just the right amount of sweetness. When I was trolling around my favorite Crock-Pot recipe websites, I yelped with joy when I came across this cinnamon rice pudding recipe. It was simple and delicious, and during the craziness of the holidays- what more could you ask for? Enjoy!

Crock-Pot Rice Pudding
Cast of Characters: Short-grain rice, cinnamon sticks, vanilla extract, evaporated milk, water, salt, raisins, sugar.

Combine all ingredients and stir. Cover and cook on High for 2.5 hours. Stir occasionally.

Important: Add more milk if the pudding "tightens" up and gets too thick. I did this and it turned out perfectly.
That's it! So simple and so tasty.
Source Recipe: Crock-Pot Rice Pudding

I hope you enjoy this easy dessert. Remember to keep your holiday recipes simple and fun, nobody wants a stressed out hostess! From the *Girl From Scratch kitchen, I wish you a very Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Perfectly Paired

Roasted Cauliflower Soup and Sweet Pea-Ricotta Crostini
For the past year or so, the Mister and I have casually discussed becoming vegetarian. We go through phases where we're super convicted about certain issues (which I won't bore you with), and then other times when we just don't care. My own personal hang-up is the eye-rolling that happens when people find out you don't eat meat. They automatically assume that you're high-maintenance. While I know I shouldn't care what people think, sometimes it gets the best of me. Also, becoming vegetarian or vegan would, as you can imagine, dramatically change the future course of this blog. And that's not even mentioning how darn tasty meat can be. As you can see, I'm conflicted about the whole thing:-)

While nothing's been permanently decided at the *From Scratch Household, there has been a new commitment to overall eat less animal products in general. Which I feel good about for many reasons, one of the more prominent being that meat/dairy is exorbitantly priced in NYC.

Roasted Cauliflower Soup and Sweet Pea-Ricotta Crostini is a delicious and subtantial meal that is meat-free (mostly vegetables and some dairy). It's delicious. The cauliflower makes a hearty and creamy soup and the bright sweet peas and ricotta crostini provide satisfying crunch.

Roasted Cauliflower Soup and Sweet Pea-Ricotta Crostini
Cast of Characters: For Soup- Cauliflower, water, broth, shallots, bay leaf, garlic, thyme, cream/milk, olive oil, salt/pepper. For Crostini- french bread, olive oil, thawed peas, ricotta, parmesan cheese, scallion, salt/pepper.

Chop cauliflower, shallots, garlic. Toss in olive oil and salt/pepper. (I added a few carrots after the picture was taken. It made the soup a beautiful blush color. When I made it without carrots a few months ago, it was a strange and unappetizing off-white color. Still tasty though!) Roast in oven on 425 degrees.

Add roasted veggies to stock, water and herbs. Simmer for 20 minutes.

Puree until smooth. 

Add a splash of cream and heat through. The original recipe (link posted below) calls for A LOT of cream, it seems unnecessary.

Drizzle with olive oil and salt. Toast in oven.
In a blender, food processor, or Magic Bullet (love it!) puree peas, ricotta, scallion, olive oil, and parmesan cheese.

It will look like this.
Source Recipe: Roasted Cauliflower Soup
Source Recipe:Sweet Pea Ricotta Crostini

Like this soup and bread, my husband and I are perfectly paired. Some husbands would scoff at the idea of a "no meat and potatoes" meal, but luckily we share similar thoughts on the subject. There are a variety of opinions on food nowadays; organic, vegetarian, farm-raised, grass-fed, pescatarian, kosher, vegan...What are your non-negotiables when it comes to the food you eat?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Let it Begin With Me

Pear-Rosemary Spritzers
A dear friend of mine is working closely with an awesome campaign that deserves some attention. I wanted to highlight this cause with a recipe for today's post. Now before you lose interest reading because you think I'm going to: 1) get on a soap box 2) ask you for cash or 3) ask you for pledges, check this out: No money, no 5K to sign up for, no t-shirts, and no rubber bracelets with this campaign...just talking!

December 8th is It's Time to Talk Day, an annual event sponsored by Liz Claibourne encouraging greater public dialogue about domestic violence. It's an issue that 1 in 3 women face in their lifetime, spanning all ages and races.

So basically, it's time to talk about promoting healthy relationships and communication. Check in with your coworkers, the teens in your life, girlfriends, even your younger sister, on how things are going with their relationships. You don't have to be a parent to be involved and make a difference in a young adults life.  Just talk to them, it's not difficult or time-consuming, but it is entirely worth it.

A great way to start this casual dialogue is to throw a girls night with all your best buds. This is an easy and laid-back opportunity to touch base with your friends, and make sure everyone is doing alright. You can do mini facials, an accessory swap, or 'tis the season for a white elephant gift exchange. 

Today's recipe is a creative cocktail that is innovative and fun, and the virgin-version is also interesting and delicious. Rosemary adds an earthy, holiday flavor and cuts through perfectly with the sweetness of the pear. Serve in a chilled pitcher and get that conversation started! Enjoy!

Pear-Rosemary Spritzers
Cast of Characters: Vodka, a mason jar, pears, sugar, sparkling water, rosemary, pear nectar/juice.

Pear-infused vodka! Pour plain vodka in a mason jar with as many pears as you can fit into your jar. The recipe says let it sit for 2 weeks, but I never plan that far in advance and a few days were just fine. Seal jar and let sit at room-temperature. (For the virgin-version just skip the vodka, or substitute Fresca or Sprite).

Combine water and sugar to make a simple syrup.

Add sprigs of rosemary and let cool. Discard rosemary after 30 minutes.
Combine pear-vodka, pear nectar, club soda and rosemary simple syrup. Stir.
Serve with ice and a sprig of rosemary for garnish. Refreshing!

Actual Recipe: Pear Rosemary Spritzer

There are many resources available to help get these conversations started. For tips and free handbooks check out The Love Is Not Abuse Website, or download the Love Is Not Abuse Iphone App. You can also raise awareness by mentioning It's Time to Talk Day on Twitter, #ITTTD.

Today on December 8th, start talking about healthy relationships with the people in your life, let's help bring an end to dating violence.  

Thursday, December 1, 2011

First Fiesta, Now Siesta

Tortilla chips for garnish.
This Thanksgiving marks the fourth in a row that I've either cooked and/or hosted. A well-deserved rest is in order I think! While many may reach for take-out menus and frozen pizzas when too tired to cook, I turn to my trusty friend the Crock-Pot when I want an easy home-cooked meal.

Chicken Tortilla Soup is probably the easiest recipe I own, and it's delicious! I have to be honest, there are no actual tortillas in this soup- only sprinkled on top as a garnish. I tried fervently to think of other, more creative names, some possibilities included; Confetti Soup, Mexican Fiesta Soup, or Latin Delight! But the further I got away from the original name, the closer I got to a recipe that sounded like a hispanic soap opera.

And so, Chicken Tortilla Soup it is. But what it lacks in name elegance, it makes up for in taste, price and convenience. Every time I prepare this, which is usually for a big group of guests, I run out. That is a testimony to it's greatness. In fact, I made this recently for an impromptu dinner party and barely had enough left for a final photo in this blog. To quote my eloquent, educated, two masters degree and one bachelor in English Literature husband, "This recipe is awesome and easy. You just slop cans in the Crock-Pot! An idiot could do this."

Thanks honey.

Chicken Tortilla Soup

Cast of characters: 2 cans black bean, 2 cans corn, 2 cans refried beans, 2 cans diced tomatoes, low-sodium chicken broth, some shredded chicken, assorted spices, (plus Coco the cat). Note:  Use low sodium variety on all canned goods if possible.

2 cans corn and and 2 cans tomatoes into Crockpot. Undrained. 
2 cans of black beans, rinsed and drained.
 2 cans refried beans. This makes the soup thick and creamy. If the chicken is the star of this soup, then the cans of refried beans are the Best Supporting Actor (Tony nom.). The refried beans are what turns this from a thin soup, to something hearty and special.
Add shredded cooked chicken.  I had some in my freezer  from a previous recipe Kitchen Sink Chicken, or you could use a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store. Then fill to the top of Crockpot with chicken broth. (You can also leave the chicken out and use vegetable broth to make this dish vegetarian!)
Spice it up! Add a big handful of cumin. Then salt and pepper liberally to taste. Cook on high in Crockpot for 2-3 hours and stir occasionally. Optional additions for extra pizzazz : can of diced green chiles, 1/2 packet of taco seasoning, cup of salsa, can of cream of chicken soup, cup of salsa verde, an extra can of pinto or kidney beans.

Garnish with sour cream, shredded cheese and tortilla chips. Enjoy!

With cold weather approaching, I plan on posting lots of new and creative Crock-Pot recipes. Desserts, entrees, appetizers, even beverages! One of my favorite resources is Ginger over at The Crock-Pot Recipe Exchange, check her out sometime. 

I'd love to know your favorite Crock-Pot staple recipes? (Especially when you're tired and need a break from cooking!) 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Cranberry 101

Cranberry Thanksgiving  By Wende and Harry Devlin
Growing up I loved reading mystery books and devoured every single one I could get my hands on. Nancy Drew was my hero. Imagine my delight when one Thanksgiving, my mom came home with a library book about a Thanksgiving mystery caper and a stolen recipe! To make it better, the cranberry bread recipe (that the grandmother keeps hidden behind a loose brick in the mantle) is printed on the last page of the book so you can make it when you're finished reading. Pure childhood heaven. Mom must have known she was raising the future *Girl From Scratch.

I had long since forgotten about A Cranberry Thanksgiving, until a few years ago when I saw it on a friend's bookshelf at a party. Before I could even think, I audibly squealed with delight, pulled the book off the shelf, and then sat on the couch being anti-social for the next 20 minutes relishing every page.

A few months later during Christmas, that same dear friend gave me the book as a gift, saying he would  never forget how my eyes had lit up when I saw the book on his bookshelf.

Today's post is my ode to cranberries. Instead of making the cranberry bread on the last page, this is my first attempt at homemade cranberry sauce. There really is no recipe to talk about, just flip over the Ocean Spray bag of cranberries and follow the simple steps. Cranberries, sugar, water that's it. So simple and yet, why is this the first year I've done it? I've also posted ideas and thoughts on how to serve.

Homemade Cranberry Sauce
Bring cranberries, water and sugar to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Stir continually. ( I added a dash of ginger and cinnamon, and the zest and juice of an entire orange. Of course I couldn't stick to the recipe.)

Instead of dirtying another serving dish, load your fresh cranberry sauce into jars of all sizes. Not only is it super cute, but when the meal is finished you just screw on the lid and pop into the fridge.

For a creative place setting, fill up individual baby food jars and finish with a bow and name-card. That way, everyone has their own little portion!

To make the name-cards I re-purposed shopping bags, string and ribbons. I'm in an especially thrifty mood this month.

Taking a break from the kitchen and a trip down memory lane.

The Secret Cranberry Bread Recipe on the last page. I love that it says "Get Mother to help."
When the Thanksgiving festivities are done, you will inevitably have extra cranberry sauce. Here are the top 5 things I plan to do with mine;

-A Cranberry Cocktail: muddle POM juice and cranberry sauce, add vodka and Sprite. Shake with ice.

-A Cranberry Quesadilla: Spread cranberry sauce on 2 tortillas, layer slices of Camembert cheese. Heat.

-A Cranberry Appetizer: Pour cranberry sauce on a baked wheel of Brie. Yum!

-A Cranberry Condiment: Mix cranberry sauce with mayo and a spritz of fresh lemon juice for turkey sandwiches the next day.

-A Cranberry Tart: Mix cranberry sauce with applesauce and sugar, pour in pie shell. Bake.

Any other ideas? Happy Thanksgiving!

*Devlin, Wende and Harry. Cranberry Thanksgiving, Parents' Magazine Press, New York, 1971

Friday, November 18, 2011

Weekend Whoopie

Ginger Whoopie Pies
Before you think I'm getting R-rated with my food blogging, today's post is my version of a Whoopie Pie. Being a midwest girl from Ohio, I had never heard of these things until recently, when I began to notice several Food Network chefs featuring Whoopie Pies on their shows. Cupcakes have been, and still are, all the rage here in NYC with specialty bakeries popping up all over the city and intense competition shows like Cupcake Wars gaining popularity. This sweet-sandwiched confection, a cupcake "cousin," if-you-will, is similarly decorative and portable, and has me wondering: are Whoopie Pies the new cupcake? (In my best Carrie Bradshaw voice.)

Ginger Whoopie Pies with Orange Cream are packed with tons on aromatic spices and then filled with a subtle, sweet, creamy filling and finished with notes of citrus. Ginger and orange are fantastic bed-fellows (get your mind out of the gutter!) in this perfect, whimsical weekend recipe.

Ginger Whoopie Pies with Orange-Cream Filling
Cast of Characters for Cookies: flour, sugar, molasses, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, butter, eggs, baking soda, salt and Orange Juice (although recipe calls for just water-I subbed).

Cast of Characters for filling: whipping cream, mascarpone cheese, orange zest, sugar and orange extract (optional).

Mix dry ingredients.

Mix wet ingredients.

Combine together.

Roll into balls and flatten, sprinkle with sugar. (Recipe says to roll them in sugar, but I don't like them to be too sweet.)

Combine filling ingredients and whip together.
Zest the orange into the whipped cream-mascarpone filling.
Let cool. Aren't they gorgeous?!

Below is the recipe for these cookies. This is hands-down the best cookie recipe I have ever made. I make these every year and they never disappoint. This is the recipe I will pass down to Junior *From Scratch one day. If the Pope paid us a visit, I would serve these cookies. They are real, real good.

Ginger Cookie Recipe: Big Soft Ginger Cookies from All Recipes.

The filling has no real recipe and is based more on preference. Some use marshmallow fluff or cream cheese in their Whoopie Pie filling, but I l fell in love with mascarpone in a similar recipe that I did here.