Monday, February 20, 2012

Crock Pot Sloppy Joes


Yesterday we had 10 friends and their kids over for a euchre tournament. My husband and I enjoy playing cards, and we have a lot of friends who do too. Sometimes we just play with one or two couples. But yesterday, there were 12 of us playing. We had three tables set up, with two couples at each table. After we all finished a round, one couple from each table moved to the another. That way each of the couple-teams got to play at least one game with all of the other couples. It was loads of fun.

Including kids, we had 22 people over. The whole time all the parents were playing cards, the kids were all upstairs, playing video games, ping pong, board games, etc. Everyone seemed to enjoy the evening.

Before the euchre tournament officially began, we all had dinner together. It needed to be something simple to prepare for a crowd. I made sloppy joes in the crock pot. My guests brought salads and chips and dips. It couldn’t have been easier than that.

Now when it comes to sloppy joes, my hubby is quite particular. He doesn’t like sloppy joes that are too ketchupy, too vinegary, too sweet, or too sloppy for that matter. Several years ago, I found a recipe in Better Homes and Gardens’ All-Time Favorite Crockery Recipes cookbook, and tweaked that a bit. He really likes that recipe…and our guests said they did too. I like it because it’s another do-ahead entrĂ©e that I can put together in the morning, and my food prep’s done. Here’s the recipe:

Crock Pot Sloppy Joes

3 ½ pounds lean ground beef
2 large yellow onions, chopped
2 green bell peppers, chopped
6 stalks celery, chopped
3 tsp. crushed garlic
¼ cups ketchup
3 T. dark brown sugar
¼ cup prepared mustard
¼ cup white vinegar
¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
1 T. (heaping) chili powder
16 to 24 hamburger buns, toasted

Brown ground beef, onion, bell pepper, celery and garlic together in large skillet. Drain grease, and then spoon into a large crockery cooker. Add brown sugar, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce and chili powder. Cook on low, for 6 to 8 hours. Spoon into toasted or steamed hamburger buns. Makes 16 to 24 sloppy joes (depending on the size hamburger bun you are using).


Sunday, February 12, 2012

Mini Fruit Pies

My family’s favorite all-time dessert, hands down, is pie. Sometimes, though, “we” can’t seem to decide on what type of fruit pie “I” should make. That’s when I like to make mini fruit pies. I make them in individual 6-ounce sized Pyrex custard cups. That way you can make more than one variety. If you don’t have baking cups or ramekins, you can also use muffin tins.

I use this crust recipe:

2 1/3 cups unbleached white flour
1 tsp. salt
6 T. unsalted butter (straight out of the fridge so it's very cold)
2/3 cup vegetable shortening (frozen)
5-6 T. cold water

Sift flour and salt into a mixing bowl. Using your fingers or a pastry blender, cut in butter and Crisco until the mixture resembles coarse meal. (If there are some pea-sized pieces of shortening or butter in the mixture, that is fine.) Sprinkle water on top of flour and salt mixture, 1 tablespoon at a time. After each sprinkling of water, gently mix in the water drops with some of the dry mixture. After 5 tablespoons of water has been sprinkled in, the mixture should hold together in a ball. If it doesn't, sprinkle one more tablespoon worth of water onto the dough. Shape dough into 16 equal-sized balls. Roll 8 of the dough balls into circles about 5 inches in diameter. Place these circles into the bottoms of 8 baking ramekins or muffin tins. The other 8 dough balls will be used to make the top crusts.

Next, make the filling. Here are the ingredients needed for the filling:

4 cups frozen blueberries, blackberries, raspberries or peaches, thawed slightly
1 cup granulated sugar (preferably ultra-fine or Baker’s Sugar)
4 T (heaping!) all-purpose flour
1 tsp. lemon juice
3 T. butter, cut into small pieces

Usually, I’ve always got a variety of frozen fruit in the freezer. The recipe I use calls for 4 cups total of frozen fruit. So I might make four different varieties of fruit tarts, using 1 cup each of blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and peaches. I’ll get out four small mixing bowls, and put a different type of fruit in each. Then I’ll divide up the sugar, flour and lemon juice among the among the four bowls. Each small bowl of fruit will make 2 tarts. Put the filling in each of the bottom crusts. Then dot the butter on top of the 8 mini pies.

Next, roll out the other 8 dough balls into circles about 4 inches in diameter. Dampen the rim of the bottom crusts slightly with water to seal on the top crusts. If desired, you can make out a small cut-out in the top crust. Or, you can just cut out a slit on top to allow the steam to escape. You may also make a woven crust, or top the pie with a crumb topping (the topping I used in Friday’s strawberry rhubarb crisp works great; you’ll just need to cut down the amount of the recipe you make based on how many mini pies you are topping).

Bake the pies in a 375 degree oven for 20-25 minutes—until crust is golden and filling is bubbly. These pies are wonderful right out of the oven with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

What I really like about these pies is you can make them up ahead of time, wrap them in plastic wrap, and then freeze them for a month or two. You would just need to thaw them in the refrigerator 12 hours or so before baking.


Friday, February 10, 2012

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp

I've been trying to empty out our large chest freezer. There are a lot of "forgotten" packages of frozen produce on the lowest layer that need to be eaten up. For instance, I just came across some bags of frozen rhubarb and strawberries, from last summer's garden. What better way to use them up than by making a strawberry rhubarb crisp? YUM!

The recipe I use is actually a combination of my grandma's recipe and one I found from Food Network. You know how it is...there's never one "ideal" recipe in your cookbooks for what you might want to make. Usually there's something I like about several different recipes, and at the same time, something I'm not crazy about each of the recipes. (It's not much different from house shopping; there's usually something I'm not crazy about every house we look at. Then, we end up just building our own, so we get exactly what we want.) My husband and I don't like ginger very much, nor do we like excessive amounts of nutmeg, and my youngest son dislikes that was a couple of strikes against two of the recipes. One of the recipes had way too much topping. One of them used fresh fruit, which is great if you have it, but I'm working with frozen produce right now (and that's going to be the case most of the year). So I had to "adapt" some recipes and kind of pick the best elements of each. I think I was successful.

What follows is the recipe for what I think is the perfect mix of ingredients for strawberry rhubarb crisp. It's great served warm, topped with vanilla ice cream or freshly whipped cream. I hope you like it as much as my family does!


Fruit layer:
16-oz. bag frozen rhubarb, sliced into 1/4 to 1/2-inch pieces
16 or 20-oz. bag frozen strawberries, quartered (about 2 1/2 to 3 cups worth, once quartered)
3 T. cornstarch
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Streusel topping:
6 T. cold, unsalted butter
¾ cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup oatmeal ("quick" or "old fashioned")
¾ cup dark brown sugar, packed
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg

Lightly butter a 2 quart baking dish. In a large bowl, combine rhubarb, strawberries, cornstarch, sugar and vanilla. Spoon into prepared baking dish. In another bowl, using a pastry blender or your fingertips, combine all the topping ingredients until crumbly. Sprinkle streusel over fruit. Bake at 350 degrees F for 40-45 minutes, or until bubbly and topping is golden brown. Let cool about 20-30 minutes. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.


Thursday, February 9, 2012

Hot 'n Spicy Crock Pot Chili

I said it before...and I'll say it again: I love my crock pots! (I say "crock pots" plural, because I have seven of them, in varying sizes. I use them all, often multiple crock pots for one meal. The main entree might go in a large 6 1/2- or 7-quart crock pot, and then I may have several side dishes cooking in the smaller or medium-sized crock pots. If I've got a large crowd coming over, I might have both of my two 7-quart crock pots cooking the same main entree such as roast beef.)

Cooking in a crock pot is an easy and stree-free way to entertain. You start the food cooking in the morning (You can even do all your advance food prep the night before and put the filled crock pot in the fridge until cooking time), and have very little, if any, food prep to do before your guests arrive (which means you can be relaxing beforehand!). And if it's a chilly day outside, you have the added plus of taking in all those wonderful smells coming from the kitchen all day.

I took advantage of my crock pot this past weekend. As I mentioned in previous posts, we had a Super Bowl party this past Sunday. We also had overnight, out-of-town guests coming over Saturday evening. I already had a lot to do Saturday night, with getting ready for the Super Bowl party. There wasn't going to be a lot of "free" time Saturday evening for fixing a big dinner. So my crock pot came to the rescue....again! I used my large crock pot, and made crock pot chili...which was enough for about 12 people. On the side we served sour cream, shredded cheddar and Monterey Jack cheese, diced onions, and Fritoes. Our guests brought corn bread and tossed salad. It was a very yummy...and filling meal. I made up the chili the day before--on Friday--and kept it in the fridge until Saturday morning. It cooked all day Saturday, and about 6 pm when our guests arrived, dinner was ready!

The recipe I use for chili is one that I adapted and tweaked from the small recipe booklet that came with my West Bend crockery cooker. Here it is:

3 lbs. lean ground beef
2 ½ cups chopped yellow onions (3-4 large onions)
2 ½ cups chopped green bell pepper (3-4 large bell peppers)
3 tsp. crushed garlic
1 (4 oz.) can diced green chilies, drained
4 (28-oz.) cans whole tomatoes (undrained), cut up
2 (15 oz.) cans dark red kidney beans, drained
2 (15 oz.) cans light red kidney beans, drained
4 T. chili powder
1 T. ground cumin
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. cayenne pepper

Brown ground beef with onion, green pepper and garlic in large skillet over medium heat. Drain excess grease. Transfer mixture to crock pot. Add remaining ingredients; stir to blend. Cook on low heat setting for 8 to 10 hours.



Monday, February 6, 2012

Super Bowl Quiz

We had a wonderful time at our Super Bowl Party yesterday. I say "our" but actually my 16-year-old son spear-headed the whole event. I thought he did a great job. He planned the guest list, the menu, the decorations, the food, and did all the set up and take-down.

My son also organized a couple of different football-related games for during the party. One of them was a Super Bowl trivia quiz, which he wrote himself. I've pasted the quiz below. We had a trivia quiz at last year's party and everyone said it was too hard. So, this year my son tried to include a mix of easy, medium and more challenging questions in the quiz. Yesterday's winning guest won with a score of 75 percent. Why don't you try out the quiz and see how you do?!!


GRAND PRIZE: Superbowl XLVI Mug with Bonus T-Shirt

Question 1. CATEGORY: EASY
What is the name of the team with a blue star as a logo?
A. Jacksonville Jaguars
B. Houston Texans
C. Tennessee Titans
D. Dallas Cowboys

Question 2. CATEGORY: EASY
Which team does Eli Manning currently plan for?
A. Indianapolis Colts
B. New York Giants
C. Denver Broncos
D. None of the Above

Question 3. CATEGORY: EASY
Which one of these teams is based in Illinois?
A. Bears
B. Cardinals
C. Chargers
D. Panthers

How many teams have never been to a superbowl?
A. 1
B. 4
C. 2
D. Every team has been in at least one superbowl.

Which team went to four straight superbowls and lost all 4?
A. Raiders
B. Steelers
C. Vikings
D. Bills

Which two teams participated in Superbowl III?
A. New York Jets & Baltimore Colts
B. Green Bay Packers & Kansas City Chiefs
C. Green Bay Packers & Miami Dolphins
D. Minnesota Vikings & Kansas City Chiefs

Question 7. CATEGORY: HARD
What was the name of the Tennessee Titans before they became the Tennessee Titans?
A.Houston Titans
B.Houston Oilers
C.Tennessee Oilers
D. Chicago Fire

Question 8. CATEGORY: EASY (Short Answer)
Name five NFL Quarterbacks:

Question 9. CATEGORY: EASY (Short Answer)
Name five NFL Running Backs:

Who has played both baseball and football professionaly?
A. Tom Brady
B. Marshall Faulk
C. Deion Sanders
D. Peyton Manning

Question 11. CATEGORY: EASY
Who is the current starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys?
A. Drew Bledsoe
B. Troy Aikman
C. John Kitna
D. Tony Romo

Question 12. CATEGORY: EASY
Whatone of these teams played in Superbowl 46?
A. Cleveland Browns
B. New England Patriots
C. Carolina Panthers
D. Detroit Lions

Which NFL team has won the most superbowls?
A.Pittsburgh Steelers
B. Dallas Cowboys
C. New England Patriots
D. Denver Broncos

Who was the superbowl I MVP?
A.Bart Starr
B. Joe Namath
C.John Elway
D. Vince Lombardi

What was the final score of Superbowl XLII?
A.Patriots 17,Giants,14
B.Giants 20, Patriots 17
C. Giants 17, Patriots 14
D. Patriots 20, Giants 17

Question 16. CATEGORY: EXTREME (Short Answer)
Which player has gained the most MVP (most valuable player) awards?

Question 17. CATEGORY: HARD
Which player holds the record for most passing yards in a single season?
A. Drew Brees
B. Tom Brady
C. Matthew Stafford
D. Dan Marino

Who did the Patriots beat in Superbowl XXXVI?
A. Denver Broncos
B. Philidelphia Eagles
C. Carolina Panthers
D. St. Louis Rams

How many people approximently watched Superbowl XLV (last year)?
A. 50 Million Est.
B. 162.9 Million Est.
C. 200 Million Est.
D. 500 Million Est.

Which City/Area has hosted the most superbowls to date?
A. City of Tampa Bay
B. Los Angeles Area
C. City of New Orleans
D. City of Miami

Answers: D, B, A, B, D, A, C, C, D, B, A, A, C, Joe Montana, A, D, B, D,

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Homemade Spinach and Chicken Ravioli

Today’s adventure was making homemade spinach and chicken ravioli. We had it for dinner tonight, and I made a lot extra to freeze, which I’ll serve to company at a dinner party in a couple weeks. To me, there’s nothing yummier than freshly-made homemade pasta (or homemade pasta that’s been frozen and thawed!).

I’ll be honest with you…it’s a several hour project to make your own ravioli. But…it’s just as easy to make several batches at once rather than just one. So I make a lot at a time and freeze it, which in that sense is a time saver. Now, in addition to having dinner ready for my family for tonight, I’ve got homemade ravioli frozen to serve to future dinner guests, and it’s all set to go.

I use pasta and filling recipes from a Cook’s Illustrated book, The Complete Book of Pasta and Noodles. I have “tweaked” the recipes a bit though. In this blog post, I’ll give you a rundown of the ravioli making operation at my house.

First, I’ll start with the recipes:


3 cups all-purpose, semolina or bread flour
1 tsp. salt
5 large-eggs, beaten
1-2 tsp. cold water

Place flour in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pour in flour and salt. Pulse food processor a few times to evenly distribute salt. Add eggs and pulse until mixture starts to cling together. It should come together in one large mass, without sticking to the sides. Mixture should not be wet. If it doesn’t stick together, add 1-2 tsp cold water, a half teaspoon at a time. Once it holds together, remove dough from food processor. Knead about a minute, until dough is smooth and elastic. Shape into a ball, and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate the dough for about 30 to 60 minutes. This will make the dough easier to handle. While the dough is “resting” in the fridge, make the filling.

Here's a dough ball, resting...


¾ cup thawed, frozen spinach
1 cup cooked chicken breast cubes
1 small onion
2 T. butter
½ tsp. salt
1 cup ricotta cheese (whole or part skim)
¾ cup Parmesan cheese (ideally freshly grated)

Put chicken in food processor and pulse until chicken is coarsely ground. Set chicken aside. Next, squeeze out excess water from the spinach. Then put spinach in the food processor and pulse until spinach is chopped fine. Set spinach aside. Next, dice onion in food processor. Melt butter in large saucepan and add spinach and onion. Stir about 5 minutes, until onion is cooked and tender. Add salt, chicken and cheeses. Filling is now ready. (At this point, you can refrigerate the filling—up to one day—until you are ready to assemble your ravioli. This is actually a good time-saver; making both the pasta and filling for the ravioli, and assembling it, can be too time consuming for one day.)

Here's a photo of the filling, ready to be put into the ravioli:

To assemble your ravioli, you will need a pasta machine (to roll out the dough). It’s also helpful to have a ravioli maker to help you shape your raviolis (If you don’t have one, you can just put one sheet of dough on top of anther, and cut out your squares using a pastry wheel cutter—with a small spoonful of filling in the center of each.). The ravioli maker I use is made by Norpro, and consists of two parts—a metal frame that has 12 “holes” in it, and an indented, egg-carton shaped plastic form.

I’ll post a series of photos here so that you can see the process. Basically, what you do is use your pasta machine to roll out strips of the pasta dough. Start rolling your dough at the thickest width setting, and then pass the dough sheets through the machine several times, each time at a thinner thickness, until you’ve the dough’s been through the thinnest setting. The dough will be thin and translucent.

Next, cut out 12X4 inch strips of dough. Place a strip onto the metal frame (dust the strip of dough with flour first, which will make for easier removal of the ravioli squares when you’re finished).

Use the egg carton-shaped form to make indentations in each square. Fill each of these indentations with a rounded teaspoonful worth of filling.

Then place a second 12X4 inch strip of dough on top of that (again, lightly flouring the dough strip first). Roll across the covered frame with a wooden rolling pin. This will seal the two layers of dough together. The edges of the frame—showing the outlines of each ravioli square—will start to show through as you’re rolling.

When you can clearly see the metal edges, turn the ravioli form over and lightly tap it on the countertop. The raviolis will fall onto the countertop surface. If they don’t fall out by themselves, you can use the edge of a paring knife to carefully pry the ravioli squares out of the form.

Place the ravioli on a cookie sheet lined with plastic wrap or parchment paper. Freeze for about an hour to harden the ravioli so that they won’t stick together when you’re storing them. You can then put the ravioli in freezer bags and freeze them. They freeze well for 1-2 months. Or, if you’re going to prepare the ravioli fairly soon, you can store the ravioli in the refrigerator for 1-2 days before cooking them.

If you’ve frozen the ravioli, thaw them in the refrigerator for 12-24 hours before cooking them. To cook the ravioli, place them in salted, boiling water. Let them cook for 8 minutes or until tender. Serve covered with marinara or Alfredo sauce.

I like to serve these ravioli with Afredo sauce. Here’s my recipe:


½ cup butter
4 T. cream cheese, softened
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup half and half
1 tsp. garlic powder
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. black pepper
2/3 cup freshly-grated Parmesan cheese

In a medium saucepan, melt butter. Add cream cheese and stir until blended with butter. Stir in heavy cream and half and half. Season with garlic powder, salt and pepper. Simmer for about 15 minutes over low heat, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in Parmesan cheese.