Saturday, February 25, 2012

Crook-Pot Cheesecake

3 8oz Packages of Philadelphia Cream Cheese
3 Eggs
3/4 Cup Sugar
6 Graham Crackers (full pieces), pulverized into crumbs
3 Tablespoons of Stick Butter, melted

Allow Cream Cheese to get to room temperature.
Open cream cheese and place in large bowl.
Add Sugar.
Mix until sugar and cream cheese are well blended.
Add the 3 eggs one at a time. After adding an egg, blend, then add the other etc.
In a separate bowl, add graham cracker crumbs and melted butter.
Mix well as this will form your crust.
Choose a pan or small crock type cooking pan that will fit in the bottom of your crock-pot with room left on the side. You want to be able to pull the pan out without too much difficulty.
Add the graham cracker crumbs mixture to the bottom of the pan.
With a spoon, pat the graham crackers out til you have a smooth layer.
Add the cream cheese mixture to the top of the graham crackers.
Add 2 to 3 cups water to the bottom of the crock-pot. You need enough to last 2 hours but not too much that it will get in your pan.
Place the cheesecake pan in the crock-pot and place the lid of the crock-pot on.
Cook on high for 2 hours to 2 hours and 30 minutes or until the center does not have a watery consistency when you stick a knife into it.
The cheesecake will begin to crack on the sides.
Let cool for 30m to 1h.
Remove and let set in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.

Healthy No Bake Cookies

1/2 cup agave
2 tsp. vanilla
1/3 cup creamy peanut butter
1/4 cup psyllium husks (you can substitute with wheat germ or oat bran too.)
2 tbsp. chia seeds
1 cup quick-cooking oats
1 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder

Combine all ingredients together in a large mixing bowl, using a wooden spoon.

Spoon 20-24 small balls of dough onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet and place the cookie sheet in the freezer for at least 45 minutes.

Remove sheet from freezer and transfer the cookies from the parchment to a Tupperware dish with a good fitting lid. The best way to remove them from the parchment is to get a good grip and twist slightly.

Store in the freezer (if you have any left over to store – don’t say I didn’t warn you!).

Sunday, February 12, 2012

10 Crockpot Recipes for Stress Free Meals

Thanksgiving is over and after all the effort put into the dishes made, I'm sure many of us can use some easy, stress free meals. In fact, if you have a slow cooker (aka Crockpot) that you want to get more use out of, I have some recipes to share! Unlike many crockpot recipes, I'm not a fan of cream soups so you won't find recipes calling for them below. Here are 10 Crockpot Recipes for Stress Free Meals to give you more time to relax and prepare for the upcoming holidays...

Korean Style Short Ribs
This is one of my all time favorite short rib recipes...
and its so flavorful and falls right off the bone tender.

1 cup soy sauce ( I use Silver Swan, a Filipino brand, but any would do, even low sodium)
1 cup packed light brown sugar
4 tablespoons sesame oil
4 tablespoons rice vinegar
4 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
I head of garlic, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
5 lbs beef short ribs, uncut whole ribs
1-2 stalks green onions, sliced thin for garnish
1/2 teaspoon white sesame seeds for garnish

Mix soy sauce, sugar, oil, vinegar, ginger, garlic and red pepper in a small bowl. Place ribs in a 5-quart slow cooker and pour sauce over. Cover and cook on high for 4 hours or on low for 6-8 hours. Remove ribs from crockpot and serve hot over a bed of rice with a garnish of green onions and sesame seeds.

*Alternately, if you don't have a crockpot/slow cooker, simply place the ribs in a foil lined baking sheet and baking in a preheated 350 degree oven for 1-1/2 hours until cooked

Pork Barbacoa
An interesting dish involving... a can of Coke?
Believe me, it's the secret ingredient for this dish!

5-6 pound pork roast
3-4 cloves minced garlic
1 onion, diced
water to cover half way
1 tablespoon cumin
1 cup dark brown sugar
12 oz bottle La Victoria taco sauce
20 oz Coke

Place pork roast in a crock pot with the garlic and onion. Add water halfway covering roast. Cook on low for 6-8 hours.

Drain water and add remaining ingredients. Cook 4-6 more hours on low. Shred pork and serve with tortillas, rice or whatever you'd like.

Best Ever Beef Dip Sandwiches
Ridiculously easy, this recipe transforms a beef chuck roast
into a flavorful, tender dish which gets better as it cooks!

4 pounds beef chuck roast
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon dried rosemary
3 bay leaves
1 cup soy sauce
6 cups water
Place roast in slow cooker. Season with garlic, rosemary, and bay leaves. Pour in soy sauce and water. Cook on low setting for 6 to 10 hours. Unlike most roasts, the longer the better.

To serve, place in hamburger buns or split french bread and top with your preferred cheese if desired. Feel free to dip your sandwich in the au jus left in the slow cooker too!

* To make ahead/freezer meal - Place all the ingredients except the water into a gallon sized freezer storage bag; seal and freeze. When ready to prepare, defrost completely. Place contents into your slow cooker and add 6 cups of water. Cook on low setting for 6 to 10 hours. Unlike most roasts, the longer the better

Cheesy Italian Meatballs & Marinara Sauce
Spaghetti and meatballs is never too much effort to make
when you make it in your crockpot!

Slow Cooker BBQ Ribs
Four ingredients is all you need for this super simple recipe...

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, chopped fine
2/3 cup tomato paste (equivalent to one 6 oz can.)
8 cloves minced garlic
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 cup red wine (I used Cabernet Sauvignon)
2 (28-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 pound Italian sausage, casings removed
2 large eggs
1 1/4 pounds 85 percent lean ground beef
3 tablespoons heavy cream
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil
minced fresh Italian parsley for garnish

Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onions, tomato paste, 6 garlic cloves, oregano, pepper flakes, and 1/4 teaspoon salt and cook until golden, about 8 minutes.

Transfer half of onion mixture to large bowl; set aside. Add wine to pot with remaining onion mixture and cook until slightly thickened, about 2 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, then transfer to slow cooker.

Add 1/2 cup Parmesan, mozzarella, sausage, eggs, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and remaining garlic to bowl with reserved onion mixture. Mash with potato masher until smooth. Add beef and cream to bowl and knead with hands until well combined. Form mixture into twelve 2-inch meatballs.

Microwave meatballs on large plate until fat renders and meatballs are firm, 4 to 7 minutes. Nestle meatballs in slow cooker, discarding rendered fat. Cover and cook on low until meatballs are tender and sauce is slightly thickened, 4 to 5 hours. Skim fat. Stir in basil and remaining Parmesan. Season with salt. Serve over pasta and garnish with minced parsley if desired.

* To make ahead/freezer meal - Prepare the directions as noted above for sauce however allow the sauce cool and set aside. Prepare the directions as noted above for the meatballs however nestle meatballs in an oven- and freezer-proof baking dish discarding rendered fat; allow to cool. Alternately, you can cool the meatballs and place in a gallon sized freezer bag. Cover the meatballs with the cooled sauce (either in the baking dish or freezer bag). Cover/seal and freeze. When ready to prepare, defrost.

If making in the oven - Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cover baking dish with foil and place baking dish on a baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Stir in basil and remaining Parmesan. Season with salt. Serve over pasta and garnish with minced parsley if desired.

If making in the slow cooker/crockpot - Place contents of freezer bag in a slowcooker/crockpot. Cover and cook on low until meatballs are tender and sauce is slightly thickened, 4 to 5 hours. Skim fat. Stir in basil and remaining Parmesan. Season with salt. Serve over pasta and garnish with minced parsley if desired.

Moroccan Chicken
Get a taste of some ethnic flavor with this dish and serve it up
with couscous for a super quick side dish.

2 teaspoons sweet paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground coriander
salt and ground black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
8 bone in, skin on chicken thighs (about 3 pounds), trimmed of excess fat
1 large onion, halved and sliced thin
2 tablespoons water
4 medium garlic cloves, minced
2 bay leaves
2 cups low sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup golden raisins
1 (2-inch) strip of lemon peel
3 tablespoons juice from 1 lemon
1/2 cup kalamata olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley or cilantro leaves

Combine paprika, cumin, ginger, coriander, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper and 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large bowl. Pat dry the chicken thighs with paper towels, then place in the bowl with the spices. Coat chicken with the spices.

Heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add half of the chicken thighs, skin side down, and cook without moving until lightly browned. Flip chicken and continue to cook until second side of golden. Transfer browned chicken to a plate and set aside. Repeat with remaining chicken thighs. Place chicken in a slow cooker/crockpot.

Add onion and water to the same skillet and return to medium high heat. Cook, scraping the brown bits on the bottom until the onion has softened and begins to brown. Place the onions in the slow cooker/crockpot.

Add the minced garlic, bay leaves, raisins, lemon peel, olives and chicken broth to the crock pot. Cover and cook on low for 4-6 hours or high for 2-4 hours.

To serve, add lemon juice to dish and stir. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour sauce over the chicken and sprinkle with parsley or cilantro.

* To make ahead/freezer meal - Prepare chicken as directed above and allow to cool. Place cooled, cooked chicken in a gallon sized freezer bag. Prepare the onions as directed above and place in the same gallon sized freezer bag. Add the minced garlic, bay leaves, raisins, lemon peel,and olives in the freezer bag; seal and freeze. When ready to prepare, defrost completely. Place contents of freezer bag in a slow cooker/crockpot. Add the chicken broth to the slow cooker/crockpot and cover. Cook on low for 4-6 hours or high for 2-4 hours. To serve, add lemon juice to dish and stir. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour sauce over the chicken and sprinkle with parsley or cilantro.

Roman Style Chicken
Chicken, bell peppers, artichokes, tomatoes, wine and fresh herbs make up this dish.
It's full of flavor and easy to prepare in advance!

4 skinless chicken breast halves, with ribs
2 skinless chicken thighs, with bones
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus 1 teaspoon
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus 1 teaspoon
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 cup olive oil
1 red bell pepper, sliced
1 yellow bell pepper, sliced
3 slices bacon, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup artichoke hearts
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
1/2 cup white wine
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon fresh oregano leaves
1/2 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons capers
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves

Season the chicken with 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper and 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder. In a heavy, cast iron skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. When the oil is hot, cook the chicken until browned on both sides. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Keeping the same pan over medium heat, add the peppers and bacon and cook until the peppers have browned and the bacon is crisp, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the artichokes, tomatoes, wine, and herbs. Using a wooden spoon, scrape the browned bits off the bottom of the pan. Return the chicken to the pan, add the stock, and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until the chicken is cooked through, about 20 to 30 minutes. Just before serving, add the capers and parsley; stir to combine and serve.

* To make ahead/freezer meal - Prepare the chicken as directed above. Transfer the browned chicken to a plate and cool completely, then place in a gallon sized freezer bag. Prepare the sauce for the dish as directed above, omitting the stock, capers and parsley (which will be added later). Cool completely before adding the sauce to the gallon sized freezer bag. Freeze the bag. When ready to prepare, defrost the freezer bag completely. Place the contents of the freezer bag into a slow cooker/crockpot. Add 1/2 cup chicken stock and cook on low for 2-3 hours. Just before serving, add the capers and parsley; stir to combine and serve.

Slow Cooked German Short Ribs
These short ribs are slightly sweet, slightly sour and every bit tasty...

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 pounds beef short ribs
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 slice onion, sliced
3/4 cup dry red wine
3 tablespoons packed brown sugar
3 tablespoons vinegar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup frozen peas

In a small bowl, combine 2 tablespoons flour, salt, and pepper. Coat the short ribs with the flour mixture.

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Brown short ribs in olive oil.

In a slow cooker, combine onions, wine, brown sugar, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, and chili powder. Mix thoroughly. Transfer the short ribs from the skillet to the slow cooker.

Cover, and cook on Low for 6 to 8 hours.

Remove ribs, and turn the slow cooker control to High. Mix the remaining 2 tablespoons of flour and frozen peas; stir into the sauce. Cook for 10 minutes, or until slightly

Maple & Brown Sugar Pork Tenderloin
The combination of maple syrup and brown sugar in this dish
makes for a sweet, yet savory flavor that works wonderfully with pork.

2 pork tenderloins, about 1 pound each
salt and pepper
1 small clove garlic, minced
4 tablespoons grainy Dijon mustard or country-style
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon cider vinegar or balsamic vinegar
(I used Champagne Orange vinegar)
1/2 teaspoon dried leaf thyme, crumbled
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup or Maple Sugar Seasoning
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon cold water

Wash and trim the pork and pat dry; sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Place pork in the slow cooker. Combine garlic, mustard, honey, brown sugar, vinegar, thyme and maple syrup; pour over the pork. Turn pork to coat thoroughly. Cover and cook on LOW for 7 to 9 hours, or on HIGH for 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 hours.

Remove pork to a plate, cover with foil, and keep warm. Pour the juices into a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Simmer for 8 to 10 minutes, or until reduced by about one-third. Combine the cornstarch and cold water; whisk into the reduced juices and cook for 1 minute longer. Serve pork sliced with the thickened juices.

I paired this pork tenderloin with mashed sage sweet potatoes and steamed broccoli.

Shredded BBQ Pork Sandwiches
Forget bottled BBQ sauce, this recipe makes it from scratch
and it's well worth the effort in this sandwich!

3-4 pounds pork shoulder or pork butt
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
8 hamburger buns (toasted if preferred)

BBQ Sauce:
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 bacon slices, diced
4 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed
1/2 onion
3 smashed garlic cloves
2 cups ketchup
1 cup peach preserves
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground paprika

Season your pork shoulder or pork butt with salt, freshly ground pepper and garlic powder.

Heat a 2-count of oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the bacon and render the bacon fat. Add the onion, garlic and thyme leaves cooking slowly for 5 minutes.

Add the rest of the sauce ingredients, stir and simmer. Cook slowly for 20 minutes to meld the flavors. Pour BBQ into your crockpot and add your seasoned pork shoulder or pork butt.

Cook in your crockpot covered, on low for 6-8 hours or on high for 4-6 hours.

While in the crockpot, shred the pork with 2 forks. Place the shredded pork in between two hamburger buns and serve hot.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Baking Soda Clay

Here's another homemade modeling compound that good for both kids and adult artisans. Compared to the homemade polymer clay I presented a few weeks ago, it's non-elastic when wet and much "softer" when dry---that is, easy to sand smooth or to reshape, to add etchings, and possibly even to carve (I haven't tried). I've used it to make a variety of small items, particularly small bowls and candle holders (shown below in order of finished-ness). It takes paint well but I would finish painted pieces with a coat of varnish.
Sanded nice and smooth!

* 1 cup corn starch
* 2 cups baking soda
* 1.25 cups cold water
* Non-stick pot
* Wooden spoon
* Med-large bowl (not pictured)
* Damp cloth, lid or plate (not pictured)

Combine ingredients in pot and stir until smooth.

Cook over low-medium flame, stirring constantly, until the mixture resembles mashed potatoes.

Remove from heat and let cool in a separate container either covered with a damp towel or mostly covered with a plate or lid.

Sculpt. If necessary, use a bit of water to stick bits of dough together. Be careful, though, as the softness of this dough makes it prone to dissolve.

Allow to dry, about 2 days depending on the size and thickness of your finished piece. You can speed up drying in a 150 F oven, cracked open, or a 350 F oven turned off (heat the oven to 350 F and then turn it off).

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Reynolds Wrap

Reynolds Wrap has lock in taps to hold the roll in place

Some useful information, in case you didn't already know.
If you did, then you are way smarter than me!

(Don't you even try and act like you already knew this, either.)

I had to go into the kitchen and check this out for myself. Whoever looks at the end of your aluminum foil box? You know when you try to pull some foil out and the roll comes out of the box. Then you have to put the roll back in the box and start over. The darn roll always comes out at the wrong time.

Well, I would like to share this with you.

Yesterday I went to throw out an empty Reynolds foil box and for some reason I turned it and looked at the end of the box. Written on the end it said, Press here to lock end. Right there on the end of the box is a tab to lock the roll in place. How long has this little locking tab been there? I then looked at a generic brand of aluminum foil and it had one, too. I then looked at a box of Saran wrap and it had one too! I can't count the number of times the Saran wrap roll has jumped out when I was trying to cover something up.

Brave Little Toaster

You can flip a toaster on its side and grill cheese in it.

Here's whatchaaaa need...

- 2 slices of muenster cheese
- 2 slices of white bread
- four thinly shaved pieces of speck
- 1 tbsp of good and evil pickles
(or any sweet and spicy pickles)
- 1 toaster

Now before you begin - please take these necessary precautions and pay attention to these slightly horrifying important parts.


Basically just pop a piece of bread in there to see if you have any hotspots. These are areas that burn quicker than the rest of your bread. If you have a new toaster, you probably won't have this issue. But if you've got them you need to be aware and take extra steps before you start to toast the cheesed up pieces. Of course, my crappy old toaster had one really bad hotspot; in the back of the top slot which caused instant burnt toast once it was flipped on its side. I'll tell you how I remedied this later on in the post.

Another point that I need to mention is that when I was doing the research for this post, I found that quite a few people had toasters that had these metal gates that sort of gripped the bread while it was being toasted. My hand-me-down vintage toaster is probably about 8 years old, so it doesn't have any fancy metalwork. But some do, and if yours does, this method won't work for ya. SORRY! The heated metal prongs will press into the cheese and start a smoky mess and maybe even start a fire which is not a lawsuit I'd like to deal with. So yeah, give up now if that's what's going on in your kitchen. Come back next week and I'll have a new method just for you!

So when you use the whole "toaster technique" you're going to want to use a super flat slice of cheese. Using shredded cheese would be an absolute mess and would definitely fill your house with the smell of burnt cheese. No bueno.

So yeah, stick to the sliced stuff and lay one slice on each piece of bread.

Also, now that you're aware of your hot spots and are ready to start to melt some cheese, go ahead and gently press down your toasting lever and watch the magic unfold.

I let mine toast for about two and a half minutes on the "low" setting. And because of my toaster's hot spot, I made sure to rotate my bread half way through so the back wouldn't get all burnt up and cause my house to smell like death. Yes, death. It's awful, but not as awful as burnt hair. That's the worst.

And here's another tricky part, if your toaster is anything like mine, it will projectile-launch your toast four feet across the room when it decides it's "done". This is a serious issue. Cheese burns are no fun and they seriously feel like molten lava if they just so happen to launch out and hit you in the stomach while you're wearing a bikini*.

Make sure to gently pop your toast out, and have a shirt on, please, please, please take my advice and have a shirt on.

Now this is the part when you need to work quickly. After the cheese has melted, take your toast out and start piling on the good stuff.
I threw on some speck, which is like a juniper flavored version of prosciutto. It's super yummy and salty and good, and I actually like it about 300 times more than regular ole' prosciutto.

Then I piled a couple of these delicious sweet and spicy pickles that my friend Bev mailed me from Florida. They're called good and evil pickles and they're made by the wonderful people at Mercier Orchards. Basically it's equal parts whole garlic cloves, sliced jalapenos, and cucumber rounds. They're super spicy but it's not overwhelming because the sweetness masks the burning which in turn, forces you to keep eating them so that you maintain this equilibrium of hot-to-not-so-hot balance.

Am i the only one that experiences this vicious and sometimes fattening cycle? I think that's why I always eat way too much chips and salsa at Mexican restaurants. Sorry, back to the point.

Once your fillings are all in, place the other piece of cheesy toast on top. If you're not afraid of a few hundred calories more, smear some butter all over the toast to make it more grilled cheese-ish. I felt really weird about not putting butter all over this sandwich but I'm going back to Florida for a visit next week and i might have to be in a bathing suit, so i figured I could go without it... even if i felt like a traitor.

Now slice it down the middle and serve immediately!

In conclusion, this is definitely a method that should be used only in desperate situations. To be honest, I'll probably never do the toaster technique again, but at least we all know that it can be done without the tricks of cable television! I mean, it's not that bad, just a little dry and anxiety provoking (totally didn't even think about cleaning out the crumbs before I did a test run which was a bad idea).