Saturday, November 17, 2012

Crock Pot Meal: Beef Fajitas

Slow Cooked Beef Fajitas adapted from Ring around the Rosies

 Placed in a tortilla shell and top with your favorite toppings! Here I used sharp cheddar cheese and plain greek yogurt (makes a great substitute for sour cream!)

  • 1 lb beef round steak cut into strips
  • 1 8 oz cans diced tomatoes w/ chiles
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 green pepper, cut into strips
  • 1 red pepper, cut into strips
  • 2 tsp cilantro, 2 cloves garlic, minced, 2 tsp chili powder , 2 tsp cumin, salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 jalapeno chopped 

Cook on low 5-6 hours (for me it was more like 10. And the food was still good!). Scoop with slotted spoon onto flour (or corn) tortillas, alternatively serve a top rice (although then it's no longer a fajita). Garnish! Ideas include sour cream (or plain greek yogurt), avocado, shredded cheese and pico de gallo.

This meal was easy to make and tasted pretty good. I know you could make this easier (and with a similar outcome) just by stir frying it but I do still love the convenience of coming home to something already warm after a long day. The only real change I would make would be to add some salt to the meat. You just need a little more salt (perhaps a teaspoon or two) to better bring out the flavor. Additionally, I served this alone, but I think I need to add a side. Spanish rice perhaps? Let me know if you have any good ideas.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Crock pot meal: Sausage and Shrimp Gumbo

Sausage and Shrimp Gumbo adapted from Whole Foods

Doesn't it look good? This isn't true gumbo, but it still makes a tasty supper. 
  • 3/4 lb bone-in chicken legs (what we had in the freezer)
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper
  • 1 celery stalk
  • 1 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1 potato, sliced into 1" pieces
  • 1 package frozen spinach
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 can (28 oz) diced tomatoes, with liquid
  • 1-2 Tbsp hot sauce
  • 3/4 lb andouille sausage, sliced into 1/2" slices
  • Shrimp
Combine chicken legs, onion, bell pepper, celery, broth, potato, spinach, bay leaf, tomatoes, salt and pepper, and hot sauce in a 5 qt. crock pot (3.5 qt works too, but it's a tight fit). Cook on low for 8 hrs. 30 minutes before eating, add the sliced andouille sausage and shrimp. Serve over rice.

I had a slightly difficult time finding andouille sausage. I ended up using Johnsonville Andouille sausage. My mom used to buy this sausage occasionally for our family dinners. It is delicious! But I think if you ate it every day you would turn into a sausage :) Additionally, instead of fresh shrimp I used frozen shrimp (and they were very small ones). I did turn up the crockpot to high when I arrived home, as I thought the mixture had a little too much liquid so I wanted to boil some off. I would probably add only 1 cup of chicken broth next time, and maybe even drain some of the tomato liquid. If your rice is slightly dry however, the extra moisture helps and makes the rice taste very good. I would also suggest not freezing your potatoes. My potato turned a very unattractive brown/black color. Next time, chop your potato the morning you plan on making this (or maybe in the fridge overnight).

We ate this for dinner one night (my boyfriend had a double serving) and then dinner again the next night (and there are still some left overs), so about 7-9 servings. He really enjoyed this one, although he suggested that maybe meat without bones would be better since everything else is very soft. I really liked this meal, although if you are expecting this to be close to real gumbo it is not. To me it had enough flavor, and even with the 2 Tbsp hot sauce, I could taste it without being overwhelmed by it.

This meal is definitely going to stay on the crockpot rotation :)

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

{Secret Ingredient} Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Cream Cheese Frosting

Over the weekend (or Sunday evening if I am a little more precise) I helped my boyfriend prepare two cakes for  his coworker's birthday. At his workplace they each take turns bringing birthday cakes for the birthday boy or girl and it was his turn. Since I love to bake, I helped out (last time it was a more even split, this time I enjoyed taking charge of the process).  Turns out the recipient likes funfetti, chocolate, peanut butter, and cream cheese. We ended up making two cakes - a funfetti one (from the box) and a peanut butter chocolate one (described below).

After searching Pinterest for good ideas, my inspiration came from Caroline Edwards over at Chocolate & Carrots and her {Secret Ingredient} Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake. What's the secret you ask? The cake is actually gluten free - and is made with black beans!! This cake was an ambitious undertaking, as it involved making the Black Bean Chocolate Cake, Dark Chocolate Ganache (middle layer), and Peanut Butter Cream Cheese frosting.

She makes two 6" circles and then assembles them into a layered cake. I have 9" circles, so decided to do that instead (and besides, we need to feed about 30 people with these cakes). This meant scaling up her recipe, but luckily through her original links, I was able to do such a thing.

Black Bean Chocolate Cake (Gluten Free) adapted from Healthy Indulgences where the author was making a 9" cake. For each 9" cake layer, you will need the following:
  • 1 15 oz can unseasoned black beans (rinsed and drained)
  • 5 large eggs
  • 1 Tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 6 Tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 c. white sugar
  • 6 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
I think 5 eggs is a LOT of eggs (but it worked well for the recipe).
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F
  2. Line the bottom of your 9" round pan with parchment paper and spray with cooking spray. This is the first time I used parchment paper on the bottom of my cake pans. I must say, it really helped me get the cake out in one piece!
  3. Blend the beans, 2 eggs, vanilla, and sugar in a blender (or food processor) until well blended. I turned my blender to "liquefy" and it only took 2 minutes or so. You will still see some bean skins, but it is pretty liquidy. 
  4. In a separate bowl, beat the butter until fluffy. I used pretty cold butter. For one 9" cake I melted the butter in the microwave before adding. For the other I just tried to cream it and ended up with butter chunks in the batter. Either way, remember to bring your butter to room temperature, otherwise I would melt it in the microwave. 
  5. Add bean mixture to the butter mixture. Mix well.
  6. Beat in your 3 additional eggs. 
  7. Add in cocoa powder, baking powder, and baking soda. I highly recommend stirring the mixture by hand once you add the cocoa powder, otherwise the cocoa powder seems to fly everywhere and you are breathing chocolate dust.
  8. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 40-45 minutes. Check with toothpick or fork tine for doneness. 
  9. After 15 minutes or so of cooling, remove cake from pans and place on a cooling rack. I don't yet have a cooling rack so mine were placed on regular dinner plates.
Dark Chocolate Ganache
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup 60% cacao chocolate chips
The recipe specifically calls for Ghirardelli chocolate chips. Since they were a dollar more than the 53% cacao Toll House chocolate chips, I went for those. This may or may not have been a problem (see below).
  1. Bring the heavy cream to a boil.
  2. Remove from heat and add in the chocolate
  3. Pour into a bowl and let cool. Then chill for 1 hour in the fridge.
  4. Remove from fridge and whisk until fluffy.
So, this was hit and miss for me. First off, it was DELICIOUS (if you ever need ice cream topping, this recipe is much better than normal chocolate syrup). I did have problems with the chocolate solidifying for me. I tried putting this between the two cake layers I made (after chilling it in the fridge for an hour) but it seemed much more like chocolate syrup than chocolate ganache. I ended up putting both chocolate ganache and peanut butter frosting between the cake layers, since the cake was sliding around more than I liked and I thought transportation to work would be an issue. 

Possible reasons the ganache didn't set:
  • Do Toll House 53% cacao chips have an additive that makes them less likely to solidify? (I really don't know if this is a logical explanation - will check)
  • The cream was not actually brought to a boil. It frothed immensely, but I don't know if I would have called it a boil. I was so worried about it scorching (I think that can happen?) that as soon as I thought it was hot enough, I added the chocolate. May have been too soon.
  • The mixture was not cooled enough. I had limited time, so perhaps was a little rushed. If I had let it sit in the fridge for 2 hours (maybe even 3) I might not have had the same problem. 
Peanut Butter Cream Cheese Frosting adapted from Kitchen Runway
This recipe makes enough frosting to cover a two-layer 9" cake (and I had leftovers for dipping pretzels in for a couple of days!)
  • 2 8oz packages of 1/3 fat cream cheese, room temperature. I couldn't find 1/3 fat, so I used one no fat and one whole fat
  • 1 1/2 c. creamy peanut butter. I didn't actually measure, since getting peanut butter from a jar, into a measuring cup, and back into your recipe is sticky business. I bought a small jar from the grocery store and used about 2/3 of it.
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 c. powdered sugar
  1. Cream the cream cheese and peanut butter together. This is where it is pretty essential that your cream cheese is room temperature. Trust me on this.
  2. Add in powdered sugar (a cup at a time) and beat until blended
  3. Spread on cake
When making the frosting, my hand held mixer was having a difficult time getting everything to combine. Probably because the cream cheese was not at room temperature. But I did add a couple of Tbsp of water to the mixture to help everything along. I think milk would also be good. 

Assembly (from bottom to top)
  • Chocolate cake layer
  • Chocolate ganache layer (plus some peanut butter frosting, especially if your ganache isn't quite as hard as you want it to be)
  • Chocolate cake layer
  • Peanut Butter Cream Cheese frosting
This peanut butter frosting is decadence in itself. Yum YUM!! But it is a pain in the butt to actually spread on your cake (or I should say, it is a pain to make sure it is spread evenly around your cake). I started off using my frosting spatula (similar), but after awhile switched to my silicone spatula (similar to these). I received them from my mother as a Christmas or birthday present some years back. Not only are they heat resistant (no more melting spatulas!) and resistant to food odors/stains (i.e. spaghetti sauce), they seem to have anti-stick properties as a result of these features. I ended up spreading my frosting with my spatula first (especially good for the sides) and then going back over parts of it with my frosting spatula. The frosting spatula made an interesting rough texture I wanted. Finally, I topped the cake with Reese's peanut butter cup pieces (just cut the large ones in eighths!) 

When my boyfriend brought it to work the next day, I told him not to tell people it the chocolate cake was made from black beans until after they had started to eat it and enjoy it. I knew some of them would react with disgust (like he did) when they learned the cake was made from black beans. As I anticipated however, it was well liked. Only one little piece made it home for me to taste. And half of that piece was eaten this morning for breakfast by my boyfriend who muttered through crumbs "this is really good." I guess he likes beans again. 

Overall, it was a good recipe. I would definitely use the frosting recipe again, as it was peanut butter cream cheese wonderfulness. I was not completely sold on the black bean chocolate cake recipe. To me, it seemed a little dry (although you definitely couldn't tell it was made from black beans!). I might have to try adding some milk or water to the mix next time and see how it turns out.

Happy Cooking!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Inaugural Post

Yay my first post!

As a very busy research assistant/graduate student, I sometimes don't return home until late in the evening. As my stomach growls, I try to figure out what to cook. Generally hurried and unprepared cooking does not make for the best food (unless you are my college roommate Kat who can make anything!). To overcome this, I have started to become an avid slow cooker. There is something wonderful about coming home to a nice warm meal! Meal planning is also great for the wallet, and has cut my grocery budget by half!

Here's what I've planned for our next 7 meals (sources in parenthesis):

Slow Cooker White Chili (making 1/2 the original) (Whole Foods)
Slow Cooker Chickpea and Lentil Stew (Whole Foods)
Slow Cooker Pork and Cider Stew (Whole Foods)
Slow Cooker Pot Roast (Whole Foods)
Sausage and Shrimp Gumbo (Whole Foods)
Slow Cooked Beef Fajitas (Ring around the Rosies)
Cilantro Lime Chicken with corn and Black Beans (Six Sisters)

I started out by finding recipes from Melissa Fallis (here). Following her numerous posts, I started to do mainly meat (to me veggies turn out too soggy and tasteless depending on the dish), but my boyfriend thought I needed more veggies (boys can be picky - if there is too much meat he says something, but if there is no meat he says something :) ) Melissa seems to get most of her recipes from Stephanie at Mama and Baby Love. Her ebook on slow cooking looks interesting, but I don't know if I am ready to spend $10 on it when there are so many free sources (thanks to Pinterest and your local library). Jaima, another blogger at Ring Around the Rosies has a lot of freezer cooking (round up here). She references Stephanie a lot (and reviewed her book), and also has freezer recipes for toddlers (not that I have any need for that).

I was really excited when I started poking around that I found recipes for slow cooking from Whole Foods. I am interested in eating healthy, and have an interest in organic food, so getting more veggies and beans into my diet is a good thing. I also like that the Whole Foods recipes don't have a lot of "Condensed Cream of X Soup." I am not sure canned soup is the direction I want to be going.

Anyways, I'm off to the grocery store in a bit to purchase everything. Look for reviews forthcoming!