Thursday, December 30, 2010

Back to the Basics--Taco Soup

I don't know about you, but I'm getting just a tiny bit tired of holiday food! I love it all, don't get me wrong, but I wanted something hot and delicious and best of all, my famous words--"quick" and "easy" all rolled into one, so I made a little pot of taco soup for lunch today.

Today's version had:

  • Just over a pound of ground meat, cooked and drained
  • 1 can corn
  • 1 can pinto beans
  • 3 small cans of tomato sauce
  • 1 1/2 pkt taco seasoning

Cook the ground meat loose until browned, and drain. Mix all the other ingredients in the pot, then add the meat back. Bring to a bubble, then simmer for about 20 minutes. Top each bowl with a couple of tablespoons of grated cheese--today I used a combination of mozzarella and cheddar. Serve with cracker or corn chips, or both!

We really enjoyed having something warm and satisfying, and "real" on a cold, wet day!

This recipe is easily doubled, and can be made with almost any kind of beans--I've used everything from red beans to pintos to plain old pork and beans. You can also substitute any kind of tomato product--paste, crushed--I even used tomato soup once in a pinch, then added a can of cheddar cheese soup while I was at it. In other words--this is a recipe that's so basic, but is flexible to accommodate both your family's tastes and what you have on hand.

This post is linked to:

Ultimate Recipe Swap at Life as Mom

Let's Do Lunch, Breakfast, and Brunch at My Sweet and Savory

Recipe Swap at Prairie Story

Tasty Traditions at Coupon Cookin'

Frugal Food Thursday at Frugal Follies

Foodie Friday at Designs by Gollum

Beat the Winter Blues Comfort Food at Goodby City, Hello Suburbs

Until next time, good cooking, and good eating!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Gifts From the Kitchen--Microwave Fudge, Part 2

Earlier today I shared a recipe for easy microwave fudge; dark and rich, it's made from easily available items that most of us stock in our holiday pantry. This recipe is just as quick and easy, made from even more readily available ingredients, but it's a whole different taste and texture--more like the old fashioned cooked sugar fudge of my childhood--and has to be my absolute favorite holiday indulgence.

  • 1 box confectioners sugar (approximately 3 1/2 cups)
  • 1/2 c unsweetened cocoa
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 1/4 c milk
  • 1/2 c (1 stick) butter
Put everything in a microwave safe bowl. Don't stir or mix or do anything to it.

Microwave for two minutes, then get it out and start stirring. You'll think it isn't going to work, but just keep stirring. At one point, everything was blended except for a few stubborn lumps of sugar, so I stuck it back in for another minute, then stirred again. A lot. At this point you can add nuts if you'd like. I decided to leave this batch plain.

Pour into a prepared (greased) pan--or better yet, line with foil and spray with cooking spray. Let cool--I stuck mine in the fridge and just left it for a couple of hours.

Turn out onto a cutting board, peel back the foil, and cut.

This is the best fudge I've made I've ever made. It's not smooth and creamy, it's firmer, sort of dry-ish and crumbly, just like the old fashioned sugar fudge of my cravings.

This post is linked to:
Foodie Friday at Designs by Gollum
Food Friday at MomTrends

Until next time, good cooking, and good eating!

Gifts From the Kitchen--Easy Microwave Fudge, Part One

Number three in my installment of gifts from the kitchen is a variation of an old stand-by--rich chocolate-y fudge.

This particular recipe is by far one of the easiest recipes for quick fudge that I've ever run across. The basic fudge has only three ingredients, but it lends itself to any number of variations.

  • 1 12 oz pkg chocolate chips
  • 1 can sweetened , condensed milk
  • 1 t vanilla
Grease a 9 x 9 pan--I lined my with foil and sprayed with cooking spray--you could probably use parchment paper, as well.

Combine chocolate chips and sweetened condensed milk in a microwave safe bowl.

Microwave 2-3 minutes, stirring after every minute, or until chocolate is melted and the milk is incorporated (this picture is after 1 minute) I stirred again at 2 minutes and cooked it an additional 30 seconds just for good measure. Add vanilla and stir well. At this point, I decided on an add-in and stirred in about 1/3 cup of chopped pecans. (Next time I'd probably go with 1/2 cup).

Pour into your prepared pan and chill for about two hours.

Turn out onto a cutting board, peel back the foil if you used it, and it's ready to cut.
This made a thin, dark, rich tasting fudge. I used semi-sweet chocolate chips, but I think it would be good with milk-chocolate chips, and probably the peanut butter or butterscotch flavored chips as well. I think it would also lend itself to doing a layered fudge with two different flavors of chips.

I packed some of it in this cute little mini-lunch box tin that I bought in the seasonal decorations at Dollar Tree.
Besides the ease of this recipe, I liked the fact that the ingredients are items you can keep on hand for anytime, not just during the holidays. Chocolate chips and sweetened condensed milk may not be something you keep on hand in a really basic pantry, but I think most of us have them on hand or readily available, at least.
Why not stock up while they're on sale everywhere and surprise your family with this luscious bite of rich chocolate later in the winter, when they aren't expecting it? Maybe you can make your own goodies for Valentine's Day, too, instead of buying "store-bought" candy.
Tomorrow I'll have another easy microwave fudge, but one that makes one that's totally different in taste and texture.
Until next time, good cooking, and good eating!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Gifts from the Kitchen--Quick and Easy Coconut Macaroons

For my second installment in the Gifts from the Kitchen series, I chose a cookie that's unusual for me, especially in a homemade version.

Ya'll know that "quick and easy" is my middle name when it comes to recipes--this recipe is no exception, but I am so impressed with myself for making these--I had no idea that coconut macaroons were so easy to make, and oh, my, are they wonderful. These are not those horrible hard ridged squares that passed for coconut macaroons in my childhood. Chewy in the middle, crunchy around the edges, they're like taking a bite of sweet goodness that I can't even describe.


  • 1 14 oz pkg sweetened flake coconut
  • 2/3 c sugar
  • 6 T flour
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 4 egg whites
  • 1 t almond extract (I used vanilla)

The recipe I used stated to mix everything together in a bowl--it works better to get all of the ingredients evenly distribued and incorporated if you mix the last five ingredients first, then add in the coconut.

Placing heaping spoonfuls on your prepared cookie sheets. The hardest part was trying the mounds all close to the same size. (This will be easier if you have a cookie scoop.)

Bake at 325 degrees for 17-20 minutes.

This is not really a batter, it has the texture of a wet pile of coconut--but it smells wonderful. And tastes pretty good, even uncooked. Warning--it's extremely sticky, even after you lick your fingers. Don't ask me how I know this.

At this point, they smell so very heavenly. Remove from the baking sheet to a rack to cool.

The first time I made these, I followed the original recipe recommendation to grease and flour the cookie sheets. Can you see how the flour on the baking sheet starts to brown? When you take the cookies off, the spatula leaves big strokes of messed up flour. So you have to wash the cookie sheet before you can re-use it, but instead of greasing and flouring it again...

...come to your senses and use parchment paper instead.

This recipe makes about 4 dozen cookies.

I think they make a good addition to any goodie bags or boxes you're making up this holiday season. They're just enough different from the usual cookies and candy that we all make to be a welcome change!

What goodies are you baking this holiday season?

This post is linked to:

Tempt My Tummy Tuesday at Blessed with Grace
Recipe Swap at Prairie Story
Until next time, good cooking, and good eating!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Gifts From the Kitchen--Jar Mixes

The clock is ticking and the days are flying by on the calendar, but there's still time to make last minute gifts from your kitchen--made with common ingredients and with a minimum of fuss and muss.

First in my last-minute series of last-minute gifts and goodies from the kitchen, are these pretty layered mixes in a jar.

Right now everyone is getting inundated with goodies at every party and get-together--these ready-made mixes make a pretty gift, and will be appreciated one cold winter night when those New Years diet resolutions have worn off and the ready-made goodies they got at Christmas or Hanukkah are a dim memory.

All you need are the recipe ingredients and some quart jars with lids--wide mouth work better, but as you'll see, the smaller mouthed ones can work, as well. I got two of my recipes from Heart 4 Home's Gifts in a Jar, and used my own brownie recipe for the other. You can do this with just about any recipe, as long as the total volume doesn't exceed the size of your jar--in this case, a quart.

I gathered everything together this weekend for some major baking and "mixing" I had planned, and spread it all out with arm's length. Luckily I had a canning funnel to help fill the jars, but if you don't have one of these handy, you might want to make a loose funnel out of waxed paper for easy of filling with less spilling.

I started off planning to take pictures at each stage, but soon learned and handling "powdery" ingredients like flour and cocoa, and taking pictures don't really mix, so this is the only "during" picture that I ended up with.

The main thing to remember is that the ingredients need to be added with the finer textured ingredients at the bottom, the chunkier stuff at the top--if you start with chocolate chips and then pour flour over the top, for instance, the flour will sift down in between the chunks and mess your layers up.

Step number two is to try to smooth each layer and pack it as tightly as you can. I used a spice bottle for that--guess what, you can't tamp down flour or cocoa very well, the bottle sinks(!) Recipes with oatmeal pack well--add the flour, then the oatmeal, then tamp it down to your heart's content!

Next add the sugars, and last the chunky stuff.

Don't these look pretty? These are for Homemade Brownies, Cranberry Hootycreeks, and Cowboy Cookies.

I added circles of Christmas fabric cut with pinking shears, tied with ribbon and garnished with a berry spray. My last step will be printing out the recipe directions (add butter, eggs, bake at 350, etc ) on some card stock, cutting with the pinking shears, and tying to the jars with the ribbon.

Change the fabric, or leave it off and tie the recipe card on with some raffia or other decorative ribbon, pair a couple of them with a kitchen gadget or two and a pretty dishtowel, and you have a perfect gift for a kitchen shower or housewarming party.

Cranberry Hootycreeks
  • 1 c plus 2 T self-rising flour
  • 1/2 c oatmeal
  • 1/3 c packed brown sugar
  • 1/3 c sugar
  • 1/2 c dried cranberries
  • 1/2 c white chocolate chips
  • 1/2 c chopped pecans

Layer in the order listed. Recipe instructions:

  • In a medium mixing bowl beat together 1/2 c softened butter, 1 egg and t teaspoon of vanilla. Add the entire contents of the jar, and mix together until well blended. Drop by heaping spoonfuls onto greased or parchment paper lined baking sheets.
  • Bake for 8 to 10 minutes at 350 degrees or until the edges start to brown
  • Cool on baking sheet or wire rack
  • Makes 18 cookies

Easy Homemade Brownies

  • 1 c flour
  • 1/2 c cocoa
  • 2 c sugar

Layer ingredients in the order listed ( I messed this up by putting the sugar first--when I tried to tamp the cocoa, it started mixing with the sugar. Oops


  • Pour entire contents of jar into a mixing bowl
  • Add 1 stick (1/2 c) of butter or margarine, melted; stir slightly; then add 4 eggs and 1 t vanilla
  • Pour into greased or cooking sprayed 9 x 13 pan.
  • Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes

Cowboy Cookies

  • 1 1/3 c self-rising flour
  • 1 1/3 c oatmeal
  • 1/2 c firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 c sugar
  • 1/2 c chopped nuts
  • 1 c chocolate chips

Layer ingredients in order listed--tamp well after the oatmeal layer, and after the brown sugar layer. I made this one first, and did not "pack" everything tight enough, so the first one only held about 1/2 c of chocolate chips. I made another and figured out the best layers to tamp down and everything fit much better.


  • Empty entire contents of jar into a large mixing bowl, and thoroughly blend everything with your hands or a mixing spoon. Add 1 stick (1/2 c) of butter or margarine, melted; 1 slightly beaten egg, and 1 t vanilla. Mix until completely blended. This may require your hands! Shape into balls the size of walnuts, and place on greased or parchment lined cooking sheets.
  • Bake at 350 degrees for 11-13 minutes or until edges are lightly browned.
  • Cool 5 minutes on baking sheet, then remove cookies to racks to finish cooling.
  • Makes about 30 cookies

I had a lot of fun making these--now that I've gotten the hang of it, I may be doing more of these. Be sure to check out the jar mix "recipes" at Heart 4 Home, or do an internet search for "jar mixes", there are tons of different recipes and sites out there with lots of ideas, from sweet to savory.

What pre-made mixes or jar mixes have you made, or would you like to receive?

This post is linked to:

Three or More at the Gypsy's Corner

Just Something I Whipped Up at the Girl Creative

Tuesday Night Supper Club from Fudge Ripple

Until next time, good cooking, and good gifting!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Eggless Eggnog--Is That Just "Nog", Then?

I've been in a bit of a cooking rut lately, can you tell? No new dishes means no new posts. Even my holiday cooking (and lack thereof!) hasn't helped. It's only a week until the Big Day, and I haven't done the first bit of baking or candy making (what's that all about?) So I think I need to settle down and figure out a plan and a grocery list and hop to it. And just in case you find yourself in a similar predicament, this week I'm going to be sharing some of my favorite goodies that you can make for yourself, or package up for nice last minute gifts. As always, they'll be quick and easy to make with a minimum of fuss and no exotic ingredients.

To start us off right, how about cozying up with a winter holiday classic-with-a-twist, my easy and delicious Eggless Eggnog--or as I like to say, "Just Nog":

Previously Posted:

One of special treats to indulge in at this time of the year is Eggnog.

I've always wanted to learn to make homemade eggnog, but the recipes all seemed so complicated. Separate eggs, cook the custard, beat the whites, fold in, way too many steps for this everyday cook. Not to mention that everything you read warns against using real (raw) eggs, so you have to buy special egg white powder--who does all of that?

So I've become a real connoisseur of good "store-bought" eggnog--and trust me, all brands are not created equally! The problem with good eggnog, though, is that it's 1. expensive, and 2. extraordinarily full of fat and calories.

So imagine my delight when I found this recipe! It's super simple to make, inexpensive, and everything in it is a "regular food" ingredient, nothing exotic!

  • 1/2 gallon milk
  • 1 pkg instant French vanilla pudding mix
  • 1/4 c sugar
  • 2 t vanilla
  • 1/2 t ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 t ground nutmeg
Whisk together pudding mix and about a cup of milk. When it's all blended and dissolved, add the sugar, vanilla, and spices. Pour into a 2 quart pitcher, add the rest of the 1/2 gallon of milk, and stir well. Refrigerate for a couple of hours or overnight. Stir well before serving--the spices tend to separate and float to the top and bottom.

I've made this several times, and it's delicious--it tastes just like eggnog, except that it doesn't have the "thickness" or body that most eggnog has. (hint--if you miss the thickness, top with whipped topping and stir it in--it will thicken up nicely)

Use Splenda and sugar-free pudding mix, and skim milk for a really lo-cal version.

For someone lactose intolerant or with allergies, you could use your substitute milk of choice.

I made this with 2% milk; for a special occasion, try substituting half-and-half or cream for part of the milk.

Top with whipped cream for a real treat!

Until next time, happy (un)cooking, and happy sipping!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Giveaway Winner--Fresh Express Salad

Thank you to everyone who entered the Fresh Express Salad free coupon giveaway, sponsored by Fresh Express and FoodBuzz. The winners are:

Random Integer Generator

Here are your random numbers:

24 Lisa S
32 Brenda V
35 Ruth W
37 Rachel H
39 Dianne
46 Julie Z
49 James C
54 Kathy S
68 Lisa G
72 Julie L

Timestamp: 2010-12-03 02:07:05 UTC

I'll be notifying the winners via email--congratulations!

Thanks again to everyone who entered, I hope to see you back again soon!

Until next time, good (un)cooking, and good eating!