Saturday, November 29, 2008

My Favorite Soup (for this week, anyway!)

Tired of turkey and shopping yet? Today's recipe, Taco Soup, is one of my very favorites, and makes a great comfort food during these cold winter months. It's easy, and as you'll see, very versatile. The basic recipe is this:
  • 1 pound of ground meat
  • 1 can of whole kernel corn
  • 1 can of beans
  • 1 can of tomato paste
  • 1 can of cooked tomatoes
  • 1 pkg of taco seasoning.
Brown the ground meat, drain, return to pot. Add all other ingredients, plus a can or two of water for the tomato paste. Bring to a "bubble", then cover and simmer at least 20-30 minutes.
Over the years I have varied this in lots of different ways. My family doesn't really like "chunks" of tomatoes, so I leave that out, and I usually use tomato sauce instead of tomato paste, so I use 2 or 3 cans of tomato sauce in place of the tomatoes and tomato paste. Once in a pinch I used a can of tomato soup and a can of cheddar cheese soup, and it was delicious that way, too.
I've used several different kinds of beans, according, again, to what I've had on hand. One of my favorites for this is small red beans, but I've used kidney beans, pinto beans, ranch style beans, and canned baked beans. I think it would be really good with a mixture of black and red beans.
You can also vary the meat if you'd like. I've made this with ground beef or turkey, and often use a mixture of both if I have them on hand.
My version that I make most often these days is 2 lbs of ground meat, 2 cans of corn, 1 can of beans, 2 or 3 cans of tomato sauce, and 2 packages of taco seasoning. This makes a big pot full. I've never frozen this, because we usually eat on it for a couple of days, and then have any other leftovers for lunches, but I think it would probably freeze well.
Serve this with grated cheddar cheese, crackers, tortilla chips, cornbread, or any combination of these! (It's really good with a little dollop of sour cream on top, but I'm the only one in my family who likes sour cream, so I seldom have any on hand unless I need it for a recipe!)
I think one of things I like about this recipe is that most of ingredients are things you can have on hand at all times. Obviously, you don't have to use just canned ingredients. I've made this using leftover cooked pinto beans and frozen corn from my parents' garden, and with frozen home grown tomatoes that I've thawed and run through the blender (to get rid of those pesky "lumps" of tomatoes).
Any way you make it, this is good!
Good cooking, and good eating!
edited to add: for links to more recipes, see The Grocery Cart Challenge

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Best Thing to Do With Leftover Turkey

After two days of it, is your family started to grimace at the "T" word? Are you sick of the thought of another turkey sandwich? Or turkey soup? Or turkey whatever? The internet abounds today with recipes of things you can do with leftover turkey. Some of them sound good, some of them sound bizarre.

First of all, realize this. Pretty much anything you can make with boiled or pre-cooked chicken, you can make with turkey. Chicken salad, chicken & dumplings, chicken & rice, chicken alfredo--all of these can be made with leftover turkey as a substitute for chicken.

But let me give you some advice. If you cooked enough turkey for an army, and after two days you still have turkey left, you can do the frugal thing without having turkey-ten-ways-for-ten-days-after-Thanksgiving. What you do is this: take it off the bone, bag it up, and freeze it. Bring it out later in a dish you usually make with chicken. Don't tell them it's ghost-of-holidays-past turkey. Just let them assume it's chicken.

Not long ago I did this when chicken was on sale. I bought a big pack of chicken leg quarters, then went ahead and boiled all of them at once in two big pots, then sat and removed the skin and took the meat off the bone. I divided it all up in meal-sized bags and froze them, then I had pre-cooked chicken ready for a quick and simple homecooked pot of chicken and rice, chicken alfredo, and chicken and dumplings. Boiling and de-boning the whole bag of chicken doesn't take that much longer than doing just a few pieces, and I only have the mess and clean-up once instead of every time I want to cook something that requires boiling chicken. It's an easy way to have "homemade" convenience food.

Leftover turkey can be done the same way, and is just as good in these kinds of dishes.

Do you have an all-but-unrecognizable turkey carcass with bits of meat left on it? Put it in a stock pot, cover with water, throw in some celery and onion or whatever you have on hand, bring it to a boil, then cover and simmer for a while. Once the carcass is boiled, any little bits left clinging to it should fall right off. The resulting stock can be strained and used now, or also frozen to used later, just like chicken stock.

What do you do after that? Or what if you have just a little turkey left, not enough to really bag and keep?

Here's the secret. Take a deep breath; let it out; and then--throw it away.

Did you get that? You've gotten your money's worth. Your family's sick of it. You've done well, grasshopper. It's time to move on. Give it a rest. Throw it away.

Happy "uncooking", until next time...


Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

No recipe this morning, just wishing you and yours a safe and blessed Thanksgiving.

Just remember to stop, take a deep breath, and remember---there's always next year!

Good cooking, and good eating!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sweet Potatoes You Can Eat For Dessert

With Thanksgiving here in two days, I though I'd share my favorite sweet potato casserole recipe. No marshmallow topping for me, this has a pecan topping that makes this taste like a sweet-potato/pecan pie without the crust. My husband usually eats this with his meal, and then has it again for dessert.

You can make this the night before and refrigerate it, just make sure you allow for extra baking time to bring it back up to temperature.

  • 6 c mashed sweet potatoes

  • 2 c sugar

  • 1 c melted butter or margarine

  • 4 eggs

  • 2 t vanilla

If you're using canned sweet potatoes/yams, drain and mash. If using fresh sweet potatoes, bake these ahead of time, then scoop out the insides. Add the sugar & melted butter. Beat eggs separately, and add after the butter has cooled a little. Add vanilla, and beat with mixer until ingredients are well blended. You will probably still have some lumps, unless you run it through a food processor, that's okay. You can mix by hand, but the batter will not be as smooth. Pour this into a greased or cooking-sprayed 9 x 13 pan or equivalent casserole dish.

In a separate bowl, mix together :

  • 1 c chopped pecans

  • 1/2 c flour

  • 1 c brown sugar

  • 5-6 T melted butter or margarine

Mix together the nuts & flour, then add the brown sugar and stir together. Add the melted butter last, and stir until everything is moistened.

Sprinkle the topping evenly over the sweet potatoes. Bake at 350 for 35-40 minutes, (longer if you make this ahead and refrigerate overnight) or until topping is melted together and browning on the edges.

I got this recipe years ago from a co-worker, and this is the sweet potatoes we've made at holidays ever since. I hope you enjoy this as much as we have over the years!

Good cooking, and good eating!


Monday, November 24, 2008

Turn Plain Crackers Into Seasoned Snack Crackers

I first titled this post "Make your own" seasoned snack crackers, but I was afraid that was misleading. I'm not advising rolling out dough and baking your own crackers, put taking plain saltine crackers and turning them into delicious, seasoned snack crackers.

Ordinarily, I am not a big fan of saltine crackers. My family likes them, but I'm more of Ritz gal, myself. When I first ate these crackers, though, they turned me into a saltine believer.

Mix together:
  • 1 1/2 c olive oil or canola oil
  • 1 pkg dry Ranch dressing mix
  • 3 T crushed red pepper or pepper flakes

Pour over the contents of 1 box of saltine crackers, in a sealable bowl. "Marinate" the crackers for 1 hour, turning every 15 minutes. Spread crackers out a cookie sheets or baking pans, and bake at 250 degrees for 15 minutes. Let these cool, and dig in.

I don't even need dip or spread with these, I like to just eat them plain. You can vary this easily by changing the seasoning. I think Italian dressing mix and a little Parmesan cheese would be excellent. If you don't think you'll use this quantity, make just enough for a stack or two of crackers, instead of the whole box.

During the holiday season we tend to make a lot of dips and spreads and party foods, and of course we have to buy chips and crackers to go with them. Most seasoned snack crackers can be a little pricey, especially when you look at the quantity that you're getting for your money. These are a tasty, frugal alternative, especially if you stock up on saltines when they're on sale. Several stores in my area run crackers on sale B1G1--these are especially good when they're made with free crackers!

Make them for the cost savings, but eat them for the taste!

Good cooking, and good eating, until next time...


edited to add: See links to more recipes at The Grocery Cart Challenge

Sunday, November 23, 2008

My Most Requested Cake

Today I'm going to give you the top secret recipe for my most requested cake, hands down. This cake is deceptively simple to make, but oh-so-good. It's kind of like the old nursery rhyme about Pease Porridge--it's good hot or cold, or even nine days old, if you can manage to keep it for that long. It's one of those cakes that actually seems to get better and more moist with age, as long as it's well wrapped. Kind of like cheese! It freezes well, and while I usually make it in a tube pan or a bundt pan, it also makes two perfect loaves if you want to freeze one or give one as a gift.

What magic cake is this? My world famous Poppy Seed Cake. Unlike most poppy-seed cakes or muffins, this one has no lemon, and it also requires no frosting or glaze--I sift powedered sugar over the top after it's cooled, and that's all it needs to be the perfect cake.

And now for the recipe...shhh...quiet, it's a secret...

  • 1 box of Duncan Hines butter recipe golden cake mix

  • 1 8oz container sour cream

  • 1/2 c sugar

  • 1/2 c cooking oil

  • 4 eggs

  • 3 T poppy seeds

Mix all ingredients but the poppy seeds, and beat for 2 minutes on low to medium speed. Mix poppy seeds into the batter. Pour into a greased or cooking-sprayed tube or bundt pan. Bake at 350 for about 50 minutes. If the top seems not quite done, I turn the oven off and leave the cake in it for about 5 more minutes. I watch for the edges to start pulling away from the pan. If I use a bundt pan, I loosen the edges with a butter knife, and remove from the pan immediately. Most of the time I use a tube pan--like an angel-food cake pan. I remove the cake from the outer ring, and let it sit on the inner ring until cool, then run a butter knife around the bottom and the tube in the middle. Once plated, sift powdered sugar over the top. I like lots of powdered sugar on the top. I'm making two of these this week for Thanksgiving, I'll try to remember to take pictures so you can see the finished product.

And that's it. As I said before, deceptively simple. It really is better the next day. These make good gifts, too, becuase they keep so well, and everyone I know who has ever eaten this has liked it.

Note: I gave this recipe to a friend many years ago. She never used the Duncan Hines cake mix, she used a different brand. She used meduim eggs, and I use large or extra-large eggs. She didn't put as many poppy seeds in hers.It was just not the same cake--not as moist, not as good. It was just an ok cake. So if you want to get the full effect, make it at least once with the name brand cake mix before you start tweaking it. The only thing I've ever left out were the poppy seeds when I used the recipe to make cupcakes for a pre-school class--they tend to not like "things" in their food, and it was still a good, moist, cupcake, just not a poppy-seed cupcake!

Good baking, and good eating; until next time...


The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies, Ever

With the holidays coming up, I wanted to give you one of my favorite, all around, recipes for Chocolate Chip Cookies.

Are you ready?

First you need to buy a package of semi-sweet chocolate chips. I've used the good brands, and I've used the store brands. I buy whichever is cheaper at the time--the good brand if it's on sale and I have a coupon, if not, then the cheap brand.

Start off with the basic cookie recipe on the back of the package. It should go something like this:

  • 1 c (2 sticks) of butter or margarine, softened
  • 3/4 c brown sugar
  • 3/4 c sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 t vanilla extract
  • 2 1/4 c of self-rising flour (or add 1 t salt & 1 t baking soda to regular, all-purpose flour)

Cream together the butter & sugar; add eggs & vanilla; add flour.

And now for the secret--add only HALF the package of chocolate chips, and only HALF of the amount of nuts called for on the package recipe. That translates to this:

  • 1 c semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 c chopped pecans

Bake as usual, 9-11 minutes at 375 degrees. Allow to cool for 1-2 minutes, then remove from the baking sheet and place on a rack or plate to finish cooling. (If you can keep your family out of them long enough.)

Don't tell anyone what you've done, just sit back and wait for the compliments.

This is not just to be cheap (I prefer frugal, thank you); it actually makes a better tasting cookie. It gives a better proportion of cookie to chunky stuff. I've done this literally for years, ever since a cheap frugal friend told me about this. She started it to save money, and got so many compliments that she just continued to do it. Luckily, she believed in sharing!

Good baking, and good eating; until next time...


Saturday, November 1, 2008

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