Thursday, August 14, 2014

Disneyland Chicken and Sausage Gumbo

We recently got back from a family vacation to Southern California. It was amazing. We had great times with extended family, beach times, and of course Disneyland times. When I was little I lived close enough to Disneyland to see the fireworks at night. Great childhood memories. So I absolutely love Disneyland and think it really is the happiest place on earth - at least to me - and also one of the best places to eat on earth. Oh Disneyland eats!! One of my very favorite things to eat is gumbo in New Orleans Square. There are a few different places to get gumbo and on this last trip we fulfilled one of my childhood dreams and ate at the Blue Bayou - the restaurant inside Pirates of the Caribbean - and got gumbo. Heavenly gumbo. I don't know what it is, but that gumbo was so good that as soon as we were leaving I wrote a note to myself on my phone to try and recreate it as soon as we got home. 

So here it is. I looked all over the internet for a good copy cat recipe and in the end put together a couple of recipes and adapted them to make it as much like Disneyland gumbo as possible. I think it really turned out. My whole family loved it and oohed and aahed over how much it tasted like the gumbo we all had at the Blue Bayou. Well here is the recipe and I hope you love it as much as I do. BTW, this makes a big pot of gumbo. Enough for my family of 6 to freeze half for another dinner. If you have a smaller family or do not have a big stock pot to make it in, cut it in half. And don't let making the dark roux scare you, it is what makes this recipe authentic, thick, and flavorful.

Disneyland Chicken and Sausage Gumbo (Copy Cat Recipe)

Dark Roux:
3/4 cup butter
3/4 cup flour
10 cups chicken stock

Other Ingredients:
3 tablespoons canola oil
2 large yellow onions, chopped
12 oz package frozen okra (find in frozen section of most grocery stores)
1 complete bunch of celery, including leaves in center, chopped
10 oz package frozen chopped green peppers
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons butter
1 lb andouille sausage (I used Johnsonville), cut into quarters lengthwise, then sliced
5-6 cups cooked chicken, cut into large cubes (I used rotisserie chicken)
6 oz can tomato paste
28 oz can petite diced tomatoes
28 oz can regular diced tomatoes
1 1/2 tablespoons Cajun seasoning
1 tablespoon Creole seasoning
1/2 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon Gumbo File seasoning (I found this near the seafood counter - it's used in crab boils as well as gumbo)
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1/2 cup Ultra Gel (I used this to thicken it up even more, but you don't have to use this)

For Serving:
1 package Zataran's Dirty Rice mix, prepared with just water and oil (not ground beef)

Lets start out by making the roux. Now don't be afraid, but we are going to let this roux get pretty dark. In a large saucepan melt the butter. Add the flour and whisk. Cook on medium high heat, whisking, until the mixture begins to brown. Continue cooking and whisking until the roux becomes the color of dark caramel - you want it to look somewhere between dark caramel and chocolate. Once the roux is done add the 10 cups of chicken stock and whisk well until combined. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a large stock pot add about 2 tablespoons of canola oil. Add the onions and saute until onions are soft. Add frozen okra and cook until okra begins to break down and is soft. Add celery, frozen green peppers, and garlic and cook until all the vegetables are soft. You may need to add another tablespoon of oil to keep the vegetables from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Once tender add the roux/chicken stock mixture to the stock pot with vegetables. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer while you do the next step.

In a skillet (or you could clean out the saucepan you used for the roux) melt 2 tablespoons of butter. Add your sliced andouille sausage and cook until just browned. Add to the stock pot. 

Add chicken, tomato paste, diced tomatoes, and all of the seasonings to the stock pot. Bring to a boil. Add the Ultra Gel if you are using it (if not leave it out and it will be fine). Turn down the heat and let the soup simmer for about 30 minutes. You need to babysit the gumbo and stir it around to make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom. When ready to serve, place soup in a bowl and top with about 1/4 cup prepared dirty rice. Enjoy!

Here's a picture of the heavenly gumbo I was trying to recreate. This is from the Royal Street Veranda counter service restaurant in a little corner of New Orleans Square (it has a big banner that says "Try Our Gumbo"). I might just get some sourdough bread bowls from Panera next time I make this gumbo to serve it like this. Doesn't it look good?! 

At the Blue Bayou it's served as an appetizer in a bowl with rice on top like this:
And yes we did try the non-alcoholic mint juleps as well, but most of my kids thought it tasted like cough syrup and went for lemonade instead. If you ever get the chance, eating at the Blue Bayou is a neat experience. No matter what though, if you go to Disneyland try some gumbo from somewhere!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Cinnamon Chip Oatmeal Raisin Chewies

So this cookie is kind of a combination of oatmeal cookie and regular chocolate chip like cookie (with cinnamon chips instead). The oatmeal gives it a nice chew, but they aren't totally oatmealy, if you know what I mean. Anywho, these cookies are just delicious actually. The raisin/cinnamon chip combination is so yummy. If you can't find cinnamon chips (they usually have them during the holidays and I stock up on them and put a few bags in the freezer) you can substitute butterscotch chips. This recipe makes a lot of cookies, at least 3 dozen, so it's a great idea to bake half the dough and save the other half by freezing portioned out dough balls and putting them in the freezer. The cooking time for frozen dough is just a couple minutes more.

Cinnamon Chip Oatmeal Raisin Chewies

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla
3 cups flour (plus 2 tablespoons for high altitude)
1 cup quick cooking oats
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup cinnamon chips
1/2 - 1 cup raisins (just depends on how you feel about raisins :))

Preheat oven to 350.

Cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla and beat well. In a separate bowl combine flour, oats, kosher salt, and baking soda. Add dry mixture to wet mixture and mix well. Stir in cinnamon chips and raisins. Scoop dough onto cookie sheets, leaving at least 2 inches between cookies. Bake for about 8 minutes or until just lightly golden on edges. Remove from oven and allow to cool on cookie sheets for a few minutes before transfering to racks to cool.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

My Very Favorite Wheat Bread

I have a new favorite bread recipe. I just love this bread!! It rises so well (a bonus at the high elevation I live at) and it is soft and delicious. This recipe uses half whole wheat and half white bread flour, but I find that is the right combination for my family to really love it. Of course you can adjust the ratio of whole wheat to white bread flour to find out what is right for you and your family. Honestly, my family can't get enough of this bread and whenever I make it I have to freeze 2 of the loaves or they would all be gone the first day. There is nothing better than this bread fresh out of the oven with butter and jam. Oh so good. A great bonus is that this is a great food storage recipe as all the ingredients have long shelf lives. I bet this dough would make great rolls too, I just haven't tried that yet. I got the original recipe from Favorite Family Recipes and modified it to my tastes.

My Very Favorite Wheat Bread
-makes 3 loaves

3 cups really warm water
1 1/2 heaping tablespoons yeast (I use SAF)
1/4 cup shortening
1/4 cup honey
1 tablespoon salt
3 cups whole wheat flour (I used white whole wheat flour)
2 tablespoons dough enhancer
3-4 cups white bread flour

In a heavy duty stand mixer, fitted with dough hook attachment, (I have a Bosch) combine the warm water and yeast and let stand until frothy. Add shortening, honey, salt, 3 cups whole wheat flour, and dough enhancer. Mix until combined. Add white bread flour a cup at a time until dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl, for me I used just shy of 4 cups of white bread flour. Knead with dough hook on high speed for 5 minutes.

Place dough into large greased bowl and cover with non-stick sprayed plastic wrap. Allow to rise for about 40 minutes or until it has doubled in size.

Punch down dough and turn out onto a greased or floured surface (I often use non-stick spray rather than flour to roll out doughs). Knead a couple of times and then divide into 3 equal pieces. Form each piece into a loaf and place in a greased bread pan. Cover with non-stick sprayed plastic wrap. Allow to rise in pans for about 25 minutes or until the dough has doubled and reaches a little over the tops of the pans, be sure not to let them over raise.

Bake in 350 degree oven for 23-25 minutes or until the loaves are golden on top and bottom. Remove from oven and allow to cool in pans for 10 minutes. Brush loaves with butter at this point if you desire. Turn out onto racks to cool at least for another 10 minutes to make slicing easier.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Nilla Waffer Pear Crumble

My husband loves cobblers, crisps, and crumbles. His all time favorite dessert is peach cobbler (some day I need to take a picture and put my peach cobbler recipe on this blog!), but for Father's Day last month he asked for a pear crisp for dessert and I just happened to have clipped this recipe out of a Betty Crocker magazine and decided to give it a try. It was so yummy and perfect with vanilla ice cream. Oh man what a wonderful combination. The topping has just the right amount of crunch to go with the softer pears. My husband enjoyed his Father's Day dessert, so mission accomplished.

Nilla Waffer Pear Crumble

2 large cans sliced pears, drained very well (or 6 cup peeled and sliced fresh pears)
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons flour
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/3 cup flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup cold butter
12 Nilla Waffer cookies, crushed (about 1/2 cup)

Preheat oven to 375.

In a large bowl combine pears, 1/4 cup sugar, 2 tablespoons flour, vanilla, and ginger. Spread into a 8x8 square baking dish.

In a medium bowl combine flour and brown sugar. Cut in butter using a pastry blender or 2 forks until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs. Stir in the crushed Nilla Waffers. Sprinkle this mixture over the pear mixture in the baking dish. Bake for about 35 minutes or until top is golden brown. If using fresh pears you will need to bake it for 50-60 minutes. Serve with vanilla ice cream or a little heavy cream poured over it.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Baked Western Omelet

This is a great baked omelet recipe. I have made it multiple times now for breakfast for dinner nights, because it's so easy to throw together, and my whole family has loved it. If you like salsa on your scrambled eggs/omelets this is the recipe for you (we love salsa on our eggs). I got the recipe from Chef in Training and modified it slightly.

Baked Western Omelet

12 eggs
16 oz sour cream
1 cup salsa (I used Pace picante sauce)
8 oz grated colby jack cheese
1/2 cup crumbled bacon

Preheat oven to 350. In a large bowl whisk together eggs and sour cream until well blended. Set aside.

Spread salsa in an even layer into a greased 9x13 baking dish. Sprinkle half the grated cheese over the salsa. Pour the egg mixture over the grated cheese. Sprinkle the bacon over the top of the egg mixture. Sprinkle remaining cheese on top. Bake at 350 for 35 minutes or until the egg is firm in the center. Allow to cool for 5 minutes then cut into squares and serve.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Four Cheese Chicken Fettuccine Bake

If you have a comfort food night on your menu, this is the recipe for you! This is such a delicious dish. The pasta is creamy and cheesy and the buttery crumb topping is so good. My kids absolutely love fettuccine Alfredo, so they loved this one. I got the recipe from the Taste of Home magazine and modified it just slightly (their recipe has a can of sliced mushrooms in it and I decided to not push mushrooms on my mushroom hating children - I on the other hand would totally included the mushrooms if it was just for me). It's comfort food at it's yummiest.

Four Cheese Chicken Fettuccine Bake

12 oz uncooked fettuccine, strands snapped in half
1 can cream of mushroom soup
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 cup cream
1/2 cup butter
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
3/4 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
1/2 cup shredded Swiss
3 cups cooked and cubed chicken
pepper, to taste

1/3 cup seasoned bread crumbs
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1-2 tablespoons grated Parmesan

Cook fettuccine (which has been snapped in half) according to package directions.

Meanwhile in a large skillet, combine soup, cream cheese, cream, butter, and garlic powder. Stir in cheeses; cook and stir until melted. Add chicken; heat through. Drain the fettuccine; add to the sauce.

Transfer to a greased 9x13 baking dish. Combine topping ingredients and sprinkle over the pasta mixture. Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. Uncover; bake 5-10 minutes longer or until golden brown.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Sausage and Egg Breakfast Casserole

Here's another winner breakfast casserole. It's a great, bread based breakfast casserole. We had it for a breakfast for dinner night with sliced tomatoes and fruit salad. My family really liked it and my kids didn't even notice the bell peppers, which they usually don't like. It makes a lot and the leftovers reheat really well. Win, win.

Sausage and Egg Breakfast Casserole

10 eggs
3 cups milk
1 teaspoon salt
1 loaf bakery French bread, torn into bite size pieces
1 green pepper, diced
1 red pepper, diced
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 cups shredded colby jack or cheddar cheese
12 oz reduced fat sausage, cooked and crumbled
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Spray a 9x13 (or just the size larger) baking dish with non-stick cooking spray. Combine eggs, milk, and salt in a bowl, set aside. Distribute half of the bread pieces in the baking dish. Sprinkle half of the following ingredients over the bread: green pepper, red pepper, onion, cheese, and sausage. Repeat layering again, beginning with bread. Sprinkle black pepper over the top. Pour the egg mixture over the casserole as evenly as possible. Bake for 60 minutes.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Cherry Almond Poke Cake and other Macbeth Book Club Eats

I hosted a book club for Macbeth by William Shakespeare. It was really fun to make the treats for this book club. I made this cherry poke cake and called it "Out Damned Spot" cake, which I think is super fun. And the cake turned out to be really yummy on top of looking bloody, so yay! My kids also loved the leftovers of this cake and keep asking for me to make it again. Poke cakes are easy to adapt to whatever flavor you want. You could make it with chocolate cake to make a cherry chocolate poke cake or with orange jello to make a creamsicle like cake, the possibilities are endless. I really liked the little something something that the almond extract gave this cake. It was good.

Cherry Almond Poke Cake

1 white cake
ingredients on the box to make the cake
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 small box cherry Jello
1 cup boiling water
1/2 cup cold water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9x13 baking dish with non-stick spray. In a stand mixer combine cake mix, eggs called for on box, water called for on box, oil called for on box, and almond extract. Beat for 2 minutes on medium speed. Pour into the baking dish and bake for 22-25 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes.

Combine jello and boiling water, stirring for about 2 minutes or until completely dissolved. Add cold water. Set aside.

Using a wooden skewer or large fork, poke holes all over cake, about every 1/2 inch. Carefully pour jello over the cake. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours. After it is refrigerated frost with frosting below and sprinkle with sliced almonds.

8 oz tub Cool Whip, thawed
1/2 cup marshmallow fluff
sliced almonds, for topping

In a stand mixer combine Cool Whip and marshmallow fluff. Beat until mixed and fluffy. Spread over cake and sprinkle with almonds.
I kinda went overboard for my Macbeth treats. I had of course this cake, various candies in mason jars labeled with creepy names, a veggie tray, and Fresca labeled as "flying potion" and Diet Coke labeled as "bewitching brew". I love getting into book club eats! It makes me happy.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Beef Enchilada Casserole

Wow, it's been a while since I posted! Life can get so busy. Here's the recipe I made for our Cinco de Mayo dinner. It's so fast to put together and get in the oven and my whole family loved it. The salsa is the ingredient that will either give this spice or tone it down, so if you like it spicy, use hot salsa and if you don't, use mild salsa. I used medium. I hope you like it as much as my family did.

Beef Enchilada Casserole

1 lb lean ground beef
1 cup chopped onion
2 cups salsa
1, 15 oz can black beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup sour cream
1, 15 oz can corn, drained
1 packet taco seasoning
2 cups grated cheese, cheddar or colby jack
6 corn tortillas
diced tomatoes, for topping (I used halved grape tomatoes)
sliced olives, for topping

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a large skillet brown the ground beef. Add onion and cook until onion is tender. Drain off fat. Stir in salsa, beans, sour cream, corn, and taco seasoning. Spoon about 1/3 of meat mixture into the bottom of a 9x13 baking dish, sprinkle with 1/2 cup shredded cheese. Place 2 tortillas on top. Repeat layers 2 more times, ending with a healthy handful of cheese. Spray a piece of foil with non-stick spray and cover baking dish with the foil. Bake for 25 minutes or until hot and bubbly. Cool for 5 minutes before topping with diced tomatoes and sliced olives.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Creamy Italian Sausage Bowtie Pasta

This is an under 30 minute meal and it's delicious. It's a lot like the Italian Sausage Fettuccine I make a lot, but with bowtie pasta instead and some less fussy ingredients (that one calls for shallots, which I don't usually have on hand). This recipe is originally from Lilluna, but I modified it slightly. I served it with some sourdough bread from Costco and mixed veggies and it was a fast weeknight meal.

Creamy Italian Sausage Bowtie Pasta

1, 12 oz package bowtie pasta
1 lb bulk Italian sausage
pinch red pepper flakes
1/2 cup diced onions
1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
1, 14.5 oz can petite diced tomatoes, undrained
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried rubbed sage
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
3/4 cup grated fresh Parmesan cheese, divided

Cook pasta according to package directions, reserving 1 cup of the pasta water. Drain, and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a large deep skillet brown sausage, breaking up with a spatula, until cooked through. Add pepper flakes and diced onions and cook until onions are tender. Add tomatoes, cream, salt, rubbed sage, basil, and 1/2 cup grated Parmesan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 6-8 minutes or until slightly thickened. Add drained pasta, tossing to coat with sauce. Add reserved pasta water as needed to thin sauce to desired consistency. Garnish with remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Crock Pot Pork Roast with Vegetables and Gravy

This is another great recipe from Jamie Cooks It Up. It's the pork roast equivalent of a pot roast and the pork comes out tender and moist. The gravy that you make from the juices is so good and would be delicious over mashed potatoes. In fact, I think next time I'll just add the onions and carrots and have mashed potatoes with it instead of the chunked potatoes, because my family thinks every roast should have mashed potatoes and gravy along-side it. This really is a great Sunday dinner and a good switch up from the regular beef roast.

Crock Pot Pork Roast with Vegetables and Gravy

1, 3 lb pork roast
3 tablespoons olive oil
5 russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 large onion, cut into chunks
3 cups baby carrots
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup balsamic vinaigrette salad dressing
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup brown sugar

juices from roast
2 packets pork gravy mix
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup milk
1 can cream mushroom soup

Heat oil in a large skillet. Brown the pork roast on all sides and place in the bottom of your slow cooker. Place cubed potatoes, onions, and baby carrots on top. In a bowl combine minced garlic, soy sauce, balsamic dressing, water, and brown sugar; pour this mixture over the vegetables in the slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 7 hours or high for 4-5 hours.

After cooking time remove the pork roast to a cutting board and let it rest for 5-10 minutes, then cut into slices. Remove vegetables from crockpot to a large bowl and cover with foil.

Meanwhile, prepare the gravy by pouring the juices from the crockpot through a sieve into a large saucepan. Add pork gravy packets, water, milk, and cream of mushroom soup, whisking well together. Heat until boiling, stirring occasionally. Serve gravy over pork and vegetables.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Roasted Carrots and Green Beans

I could not find asparagus at any store last Friday. It was all sold out. I went to 4 stores. Wow, it was frustrating, but I did find carrots and fresh green beans so I decided to have that be our Easter veggie side dish instead. And it was wonderfully yummy. I roasted them in the oven and they came out great. You could definitely make this with asparagus instead of green beans and it would be great. Roasting vegetables really is the way to go. It's a fast, easy, and delicious way to add veggies to any meal.

Roasted Carrots and Green Beans

about 6 large carrots, cut into sticks
fresh green beans, ends trimmed
olive oil
kosher salt
fresh ground black pepper

Boil carrot sticks in enough water to cover for about 6 minutes or until tender. Drain, rinse with cold water, and set aside.

Wash and trim green beans. In a large bowl combine carrots and green beans. Drizzle with olive oil (as much or as little as you want - I just did enough to thinly coat veggies). Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Spread vegetables out on a non-stick sprayed or greased rimmed cookie sheet. Roast at 425 degrees for 15-25 minutes or until veggies have just started to brown.
Our Easter dinner was very simple this year: cheesy ham and potato casserole, roasted veggies, and deviled eggs made from our dyed Easter eggs. Simple, but delicious.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Creamy Chicken Noodle Chowder

This is the most decadent soup I have ever made. It is SO good! The creamy broth is so smooth and rich. It really is a wonderful chicken soup, but it's much thicker than a regular soup and has diced potatoes in it, so I'm calling it a chowder. When you look at the ingredients you might be scared. Lots of butter and yep there's Cheez Whiz in it, but it's the butter and Cheez Whiz that make it so rich and creamy - trust me. I, nor your cardiologist, would not suggest making this all the time. It is certainly not healthy to consume this kind of meal regularly, but I think this could be a great once a year soup. I make homemade donuts once a year, so I think I can make this once a year too (actually I'm thinking it would be great around Christmas time). I served it with these crescent rolls and it was a meal my whole family loved. Oh, and this recipe makes a ton of soup so you can either plan on having leftovers or this is a great soup to make for your own family and also share with someone who is in need of some homey, comforting, soup.

Creamy Chicken Noodle Chowder

2 tablespoons butter
1 onion, diced
4 stalks celery, diced
6 carrots, diced
12 cups chicken stock or broth
6 russet potatoes, peeled and diced
3-4 cups cooked and cubed chicken (rotisserie chicken works great)
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
1 cup flour
8 oz or about 1 cup Cheez Whiz
1/2 tablespoon chicken bouillon granules
1 teaspoon onion salt
2 cups dry egg noodles
salt and pepper to taste

In a large stock pot melt 2 tablespoons butter. Add onions, celery, and carrots. Stir and cook for about 6 - 7 minutes or until vegetables are softened. Add in chicken stock, diced potatoes, and cubed chicken. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.

In a separate saucepan melt 1 cup butter. Add flour and whisk and cook for a minute. Add this to the large stock pot of soup, whisking in to combine with soup. Add the Cheez Whiz, chicken bouillon, and onion salt. Bring to a boil, add in noodles, and simmer for another 15 minutes, stirring frequently, until noodles are cooked through. Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove pot from heat and allow to rest for 10 minutes before you serve.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Crock Pot Creamy Tomato Basil Soup

This is a super yummy slow cooker soup. It's rich and creamy and wonderful. I got the recipe from the cookbook 365 Days of Slow-Cooking by Karen Bellessa Petersen (a great slow cooker cookbook). My family really liked it and all four of my kids had it reheated for lunch the next day because they loved it so much. I served it with grilled cheese sandwiches and it was a delicious meal.

Crock Pot Creamy Tomato Basil Soup

2, 14 oz cans petite diced tomatoes, undrained
1 cup diced celery
1 cup diced carrots
1 cup diced onions
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon crushed bay leaves
4 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup flour
2 cups half & half
1 cup fresh grated Parmesan
1 can spicy V8
1 teaspoon salt
black pepper to taste

Add tomatoes, celery, carrots, onions, garlic, oregano, 1 tablespoon dried basil, crushed bay leaves, and chicken stock to a large slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 6 hours (you can do part of the time on high if you want to speed the process up).

For a smooth soup, use an immersion blender to blend up the soup until it is the consistency you like or you can blend in batches in a blender and put back in crock pot. You can skip this step if you want a chunky soup, but my family likes smooth and creamy tomato soup.

Melt butter in a saucepan. Add flour and whisk for about a minute. Slowly whisk in 2 cups of half and half. Whisking constantly bring this mixture to a simmer to thicken. Add this white sauce to the mixture in the crockpot. Add Parmesan, V8, salt, and pepper to taste to the crockpot. Stir well. Cover and cook on low for another hour. Serve with grated Parmesan on top.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Confetti Cake Batter Chocolate Chip Cookies

These are great, festive, chocolate chip cookies. They are a lot like these M&M cookies, which are awesome, but with sprinkles instead. They are chewy and delicious. I got the recipe from Sally's Baking Addiction. My kids thought these cookies were super fun and gobbled them up (we took some to friends, so they didn't gobble them all up :)). These would be great for a birthday party or any celebration.

Confetti Cake Batter Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 1/4 cup flour
1 1/4 cup boxed vanilla or yellow cake mix (190 grams if you have a scale)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup white chocolate chips
1/2 cup sprinkles

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a stand mixer, beat together butter and sugars until smooth and creamy. Add egg and vanilla and beat until mixed in well.

In a separate bowl combine flour, cake mix, and baking soda. Add this dry mixture to the butter mixture in the mixer and mix until well combined. Add chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, and sprinkles; mix in well.

Drop cookies onto ungreased cookies sheets, I used a regular size cookie scoop, about 2 inches apart. Bake cookies for 10-12 minutes are just until the edges are very slightly golden, centers will still appear very soft, but the cookies will set as they cool. Remove from oven and allow cookies to cool on baking sheets for about 5 minutes. Transfer to wire racks to cool.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Pasta e Fagioli Soup (Olive Garden Copy Cat)

Pasta e Fagioli soup is another Olive Garden staple that I love and this copy cat recipe is a great homemade version. It tastes so much like the original. It is a hearty, beefy, soup that is perfect for a cold night and it's surprising fast to put together (takes about 30 minutes). I got this recipe from I Heart Nap time and changed it just slightly. I served it with these bread sticks and some Parmesan on top and it was delicious. My whole family, including my 1 year old, gave it thumbs up.

Pasta e Fagioli Soup

1 lb hamburger
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
3/4 cup grated carrots
1 cup chopped celery
3 cloves garlic, minced
1, 11.5 oz can V8 juice (I used spicy)
1, 14.5 oz can petite diced tomatoes
1, 15 oz can tomato sauce
4 cups chicken stock
4 teaspoons beef bouillon granules
1, 15 oz can kidney beans, undrained
1, 15 oz can great northern beans, undrained
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon ground thyme
2 cups ditalini pasta

In a large soup pot brown the hamburger. Add onions, carrots, and celery and cook until vegetables are tender, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook another minute. Add V8, tomatoes, tomato sauce, chicken stock, beef bouillon, kidney beans, great northern beans, red wine vinegar, basil, oregano, and thyme. Bring to a boil. Add pasta and simmer for 20 minutes or until pasta is cooked through. Serve with grated Parmesan on top.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Laurel's Cinnamon Roll Granola

Oh wow, this is the best granola recipe!! It's from my friend Laurel over at Ducks in a Row and it is fantastic. It's sweet, crunchy, cinnamony, and delicious. It is fantastic with milk or almond milk (unsweetened vanilla almond milk is my favorite) for breakfast or a snack. My 7 year old has been having this with milk for breakfast and a little in a bowl for an afternoon snack every day since I made it. It's just so good. The most wonderful bonus is that it makes your house smell heavenly as it bakes and for hours after. Laurel adds dried cranberries to her cinnamon roll granola, but I add white chocolate chips and raisins because it reminds me the most of cinnamon rolls like that and my family loves it that way. I think butterscotch chips would also be so yummy. You can play around with any add-ins you'd like and I bet it would taste great. Thanks for a great recipe Laurel!

Laurel's Cinnamon Roll Granola

4 1/2 cups old fashioned rolled oats
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup flaked coconut (I used sweetened)
1 cup sliced almonds
3 tablespoons ground flax seeds
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon coconut oil
3 tablespoons agave syrup
3 tablespoons vanilla
3/4 cup raisins*
3/4 cup white chocolate chips*

*In place of raisins and white chocolate chips you can use 1 1/2 cups dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 300.

In a large bowl mix together: rolled oats, brown sugar, coconut, sliced almonds, ground flax seeds, cinnamon, and kosher salt.

In a bowl combine coconut oil and agave syrup. Microwave for 1 minute. Add vanilla. Pour this mixture over the dry ingredients in the large bowl. Mix thoroughly. Spread in an even layer on a greased or silpat lined rimmed cookie sheet. Bake for 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool for about 1 hour. Break up any clumps and pour cooled granola into a large bowl. Mix in raisins and white chocolate chips (or add-ins of choice). Store in an air-tight container (I use a Snap Ware container).

Monday, March 24, 2014

Pioneer Woman Crash Hot Potatoes

So that is a pretty awful picture, but this is a wonderfully delicious side dish! It's a recipe from Pioneer Woman so of course it's fab. I did change it just a little, in a naughty sort of way. I drizzled melted butter over the crash potatoes instead of olive oil before baking. Naughty, but oh so good. You can switch the herbs to what ever variety you'd like. I used dried dill, because I served this side dish with Swedish meatballs and lingonberries and I thought the dill gave it a nice Scandinavian touch. I think Italian seasoning or just dried rosemary would be yummy.

Pioneer Woman Crash Hot Potatoes

12 small red potatoes or new white potatoes
olive oil
1/4 cup butter, melted
kosher salt
ground black pepper
dried herbs of choice (dill, rosemary, etc.)

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add potatoes and boil until they are very tender.

Generously drizzle a sheet pan with olive oil. Place tender whole potatoes on the sheet pan, leaving plenty of room between each potato. Gently press down on each potato with a potato masher, rotate the potato masher 90 degrees and mash again. Drizzle tops of crushed potatoes with melted butter. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and dried herbs of choice. Bake at 450 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until potatoes are browned and skins are crisped.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Best M&M Chocolate Chip Cookies

This recipe is from Picky Palate and it is the best! These are soft and chewy little cookies with just the right amount of chocolate chips and M&M's. I think this is my kids' favorite all time cookie (at least right now it is). I really have loved every recipe I've tried from Picky Palate, especially her cookie recipes. The one thing you have to remember is not to over bake these cookies - they cool for 10 minutes on the cookie sheets which kind of finishes off the baking without browning them and they stay nice and soft after.

The Best M&M Chocolate Chip Cookies

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour
3 tablespoons instant vanilla pudding mix
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup mini chocolate chips
1 cup mini M&M's

Preheat oven to 350.

In the bowl of a mixer combine butter and sugars and beat until well combined - you want the mixture to be light colored, smooth, and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla and beat until smooth.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, vanilla pudding mix, baking soda, and kosher salt. Add this flour mixture to the butter mixture and beat until well incorporated. Add chocolate chips and M&M's, stirring in well to evenly distribute.

Scoop out dough with a cookie scoop or two spoons onto ungreased baking sheets. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until very lightly browned on the bottom, you will want them to be very soft and not browned on edges at all. Let cookies cool for 10 minutes on baking sheets then transfer to cooling racks.

Makes 2-3 dozen cookies

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Croissant French Toast

Oh man this recipe is so good! We had it for dinner the other night and I was wowed. It's Pioneer Woman's Croissant French Toast and it is the Frenchest toast you can make. SO good! I doubled PW's recipe because I always like to have enough for seconds and breakfast the next morning (my kids loved these heated up again in the morning). The French toast ends up so buttery and wonderful and served butter, maple syrup and sweetened sliced strawberries it is amazing. I'm sure it would also be wonderful with blueberry syrup - I might have to try that next time. YUM.

Croissant French Toast

12 croissants (I used Costco's croissants)
10 eggs
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup cream
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon vanilla

If desired, a few hours before making the French toast make the sweetened strawberries following the recipe below.

In a blender combine the eggs, milk, cream, sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla. Blend until smooth and pour into a large bowl. Split croissants in half and dunk halves in the batter. Let excess batter drip off before placing on a hot non-stick or greased griddle. Cook until browned on bottom, flip and brown other side. Serve immediately with butter, maple syrup, and sweetened strawberries.

Sweetened Sliced Strawberries:
2 lbs strawberries, sliced
2-3 tablespoons sugar

Place sliced strawberries in a bowl and stir in the sugar. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a couple hours - this makes lovely syrupy strawberries.